TITLE: "At Home"
AUTHOR: Jesse Morgan
E-MAIL: JesseMorgan@acelink.net
SITE: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/At_Home_Sam-Josh-FF/
PAIRING: Sam/Josh
RATING: NC-17
ARCHIVE: Yes
SERIES: "At Home"
DISCLAIMER: Sam and Josh belong to Aaron Sorkin PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ~~ THANK YOU!

[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts. Chapters 27-44 , chapters 45-]

At Home by Jesse Morgan

Chapter 1

Snow had just started to fall when Sam stepped out onto the sidewalk. He looked up at the street lamp and saw it coming down in big flakes. Instinctively, he tilted his head back, stuck out his tongue, and tried to catch the flakes.

The air was cold but it felt good against his skin. He'd just played two hours of racquetball then took a steaming hot shower and his body was still warm when he dressed in black corduroys and a black turtleneck sweater. He had his jacket over his arm and his gym bag slung over his shoulder and enjoyed the brisk night air and the snow.

A car pulled up and stopped beside him, but Sam was lost in his childhood of catching snowflakes on his tongue and didn't see it. The driver lowered the passenger side window and leaned over the console.

"Hey Sammy, you gonna build a snow fort or are you comin' home?" Startled back to the present, Sam smiled and got in the car.

"Hey Josh," he said, and brushed the driver's lips with a kiss, "it's snowing."

"No shit. And you're standing in the middle of the sidewalk looking like a total idiot with your tongue stuck out."

Sam turned and tossed his gym bag and coat into the back seat.

"And why don't you have your coat on? It's only eight degrees out there," Josh continued.

"Fahrenheit?" Sam asked.

Josh looked at Sam with mild disbelief.

"Let's see..." Sam closed his eyes for a second. "That would be minus 13.33 degrees Celsius." He turned to Josh and smiled broadly.

"Minus? Then it's even colder than I thought!" Josh took his glove off and pushed Sam's damp hair back from his forehead.

"Didn't you even dry your hair after you showered? Are you trying to kill me, Sam? Are you trying to kill me or just drive me crazy from worry? Whichever it is, you've just about accomplished it. Eight degrees, Sam, eight Fahren-fucking-heit degrees and you don't have on a coat or gloves or a scarf and you have wet hair. And you're flushed."

"That's because I just played two solid hours of extreme racquetball, and Josh, when I say extreme, I'm talking extreme. You shoulda seen me. I was all over that court. I played my best game, Josh, none of them were better than 21-19. Incredible. I met this guy on a list..."

"You met a guy on a list?" Josh put the back of his hand against Sam's cheek; it was cold as ice. He turned the car heater up and handed Sam his own gloves. "Here, put these on."

Sam did as he was told.

"Yeah, it's a deal if you don't have a partner and you play at a certain level you put your name on a list and just play with whomever's next on the list. If you'd ever come to the gym and learn how to play racquetball you'd know these things and we could play racquetball together."

"I know how to play racquetball."

"Not like THIS."

"No, not like THAT, and I don't ever intend to play like you play. Extreme racquetball. Whoever heard of extreme racquetball? That's like saying there's such a thing as extreme dominoes. Racquetball is racquetball."

Sam looked at Josh and gave him that 'look'.

Josh glanced at him. "What?"

"You're scared," Sam teased.

"Don't start."

"You're scared."

"Go to hell." Josh chewed the inside of his lip. "I'm just saying..."

Sam laughed that hearty laugh Josh loved to hear. He could never get enough of Sam's laughter. In the headlights of oncoming traffic, Josh caught the twinkle in Sam's eyes as he laughed. He took Sam's gloved hand in his and brought it to his lips.

"God, I love you Sam."

Sam smiled and his eyes twinkled even more.

"And I love this snow. When I was a kid we'd have to drive for hours to get to snow. Here it just...just falls from the sky." He leaned forward and looked out the front window and up at the snow. Then he turned to Josh and smiled that smile again. "Ain't it cool?"

When they got home they found a parking space less than half-a-block away and were grateful. Josh made Sam put on his coat and scarf and since Sam wore Josh's gloves, Josh put on Sam's. Sam got his briefcase and gym bag, Josh grabbed his backpack, and the two headed for their townhouse.

"Try it," Sam insisted.

"No."

"Come on, there's nobody around to see you. It's nearly midnight. Just lean your head back and stick out your tongue and you'll catch snowflakes."

"No. I'll lose my balance or you'll trip me or something."

They were at the stoop to their building when they set their things down. Sam took hold of Josh's shoulders and turned him so the two faced each other.

"Trust me," Sam said. "I won't trip you and if you lose your balance, I'll be here to steady you. Trust me. I won't let you fall. You DO trust me, don't you?"

Josh looked into Sam's eyes and Sam looked directly into Josh's. Sam didn't smile now. He was dead serious. There was more to this little game than catching snowflakes on their tongues. For some reason Sam needed reassurance that Josh trusted him implicitly, unconditionally, without question.

Josh closed his eyes, leaned his head back as far as it would go, opened his mouth, and stuck out his tongue. Sam never loosened his grip on Josh's arms. Gently, snowflakes floated from the sky and melted on Josh's tongue. For a second he lost his balance and staggered a bit, but Sam immediately steadied him and pulled him in a little closer to himself. Then Sam put one hand behind Josh's head and gently brought it upright. Josh still stood there with his tongue stuck out. Sam smiled.

"You can close your mouth now," he said. "You've collected enough snowflakes for tonight."

He pulled Josh's face into him and kissed him gently on the lips, a sweet kiss, lingering and warm. They wrapped their arms around each other in a hug and swayed back and forth, their foreheads together.

After a few minutes Sam pulled his head away. "You `bout ready to go home?" he asked softly.

Josh nodded. "Yeah. More than ready."

END OF CHAPTER ONE

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 2

In their townhouse Josh, as he frequently did, took off his clothes and dropped them where they fell as he walked across the room. It was an old habit he returned to when he was especially tired or distracted. Shoes off right inside the door, then socks, belt, jacket, tie, shirt, and trousers. Straight to the TV, he turned on CNN or C-SPANN and stood directly in front of the large screen, oblivious to everything around him.

Sam looked at Josh in his underwear and socks while he stood in front of the television, engrossed in the nightly news. They had important jobs that made an impact on the country. On the world. Decisions they took part in were listened to and valued and could, in fact, change the course of history. Both men took their jobs seriously, sometimes TOO seriously, and their lives revolved around The White House and the President of the United States.

So when they were home, especially when they were home 'together', it was time cherished. It gave them a few hours when they could just 'be' and not have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They used their time at home to play with each other, things they couldn't do in the West Wing of the White House. They could love each other openly, hold and caress each other, share their sexual love freely any time, anywhere, and any way they wanted, and they could kiss.

They could use pet names and hold hands and look into each other's eyes and walk around naked, and they could kiss. They could snuggle on the couch and wear each other's clothes and wrestle on the floor and have pillow fights and laugh. And laugh and laugh because they were so full of love for the other and because, well, because it was 'better for things all around', Toby had told them, they had been asked to keep their relationship ~~ at home.

Toby was the only one who knew they were a couple. Sam had insisted that he and Josh tell him because he didn't feel comfortable working for Toby under the guise of deceit. Josh thought it was a stupid idea at the time and told Sam so, but Sam wouldn't budge and said he would do all the talking, he would take care of it, he would handle everything, and it would be ok. All Josh needed to do was sit there and be quiet. In fact, Sam thought, the less Josh said, the better.

"It's a stupid idea, Sam."

"No, it isn't stupid and we're gonna do it. I just don't feel comfortable being around Toby ten, twelve hours a day sometimes and him not knowing. I feel like I'm constantly lying to him," Sam replied.

"How do you figure that? Do you say 'Toby, I'm straight.' constantly?" Josh swirled his spoon in his Trix cereal so the milk turned an ugly shade of orangey-pink.

"Josh, don't be an idiot. You know that's not what I mean. By not telling him the truth I'm lying to him. He'll say, 'What 'cha got planned for tonight, Sam?' and I'll say, 'Oh, nothing special.' when I DO have something special planned. I plan on coming home to you and having a candlelit dinner then getting in the shower together and soaping each other all over then making love all night long and, Josh, THAT'S special. But I can't tell Toby that, so it's a lie."

Josh sighed. "Just Toby? Nobody else?"

"I swear. And I'll do all the talking. I'll take care of it. I'll handle everything. It'll be ok. You just sit there and be quiet. And stop doing that with your cereal...it looks gross."

"Yeah, ok. But you know this could cost us our jobs. Everything." Josh upturned his bowl, drank his cereal milk, and then set the bowl back on the table.

Sam put his hand on Josh's. "It won't happen, babe. I trust Toby. If I didn't, I wouldn't put 'us' on the line like this. I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do. You with me?"

Josh looked at Sam and sighed. That first-thing-in-the-morning look got him every time. Fresh-faced, clean-shaven, every hair in place, cobalt blue eyes sparkled, Sam smelled of soap with just a trace of cologne. Then he smiled and Josh was hooked. Sam could win the world with his smile ~~ and he knew it.

"Yeah, ok. I'm with you Angel. Anything for you."

Sam leaned across the table and kissed Josh on the cheek. "Thank you. I promise you won't regret it. I'm gonna do it Friday. I love you Josh." "Yeah, yeah, whatever."

Sam started to walk away from the table but Josh grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "Sweetheart, 'Yeah, yeah, whatever' doesn't mean 'walk away from me'," Josh said. "It means 'kiss me like you mean it'."

He rose up to meet Sam and the two lovers kissed like they meant it...because they did.

~~~~~~~~

Sam had been nervous that Friday. He'd decided on that day so the three of them would have the weekend to recover ~~ if Toby ever DID recover, that is. It was a relatively slow day and Sam knew they all would be getting out of the office at a reasonable hour, pending a national or international emergency. Finally, late in the afternoon, he dialed Josh's office.

"Josh Lyman."

"I'm going in," Sam said, almost in a whisper.

"You're going in? Now?" Josh's voice rose and Sam knew he was about to stress.

"Yeah."

"You sure about this? Are you really and truly 100% cross your heart and hope to die sure?" Josh cupped his hand around the mouthpiece of the phone.

Donna walked by his office and looked at him. He waved her on. "Go away! Go away!"

She rolled her eyes and kept going.

"Yeah. I'm sure." Sam hung up the phone.

Josh ran his hand through his hair and paced his office. He kicked his file cabinet, and then kicked it again just as Donna came back.

"Josh? You ok?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"Something up I should know about?" Donna pried.

"No. I'll be back."

"Where you going?"

"I've got a, a thing. I'll be back." Josh went into the men's room and threw up.

~~~~~~~~

"Toby? Got a minute?"

Sam walked into his boss's office without waiting to be invited.

Toby leaned back in his chair intent on reading a dictionary. Sam stood in front of his desk. Toby continued to read. Sam cleared his throat.

"I know you're there," Toby finally said.

"Ok. I'm fine."

Sam picked up Toby's pink rubber ball and nervously passed it back and forth between his hands. Toby peered over the book at the ball.

His eyes followed it as it flew between Sam's hands. He didn't say a word. He just peered.

Suddenly Sam got the message and set the ball back on Toby's desk, brushed away an unseen piece of dust, and shoved his hands in his pockets. Toby returned to his reading.

Finally, Toby put the book down and took his glasses off. He rubbed his eyes with the thumb and middle finger of one hand.

"What's up Sam?"

At that moment Sam thought it might be easier to go with the 'stick a needle in my eye' promise he'd made to Josh.

"Uh, well, uh, it's, uh."

"Seaborn, you DO realize you were hired as a speech writer for the President of the United States because of your exceptionally articulate way with words, correct? This sampling only verifies we made the right decision."

"Will you come to my place tonight?" Sam blurted.

A genuine look of surprise registered on Toby's face.

"Say that again so the words come out right," Toby said. He twisted one hand as if he were screwing in a light bulb.

"If you can, I'd really appreciate it if you'd come to my place tonight. There's something I need to talk with you about and the White House is an inappropriate place to talk...about...it."

Toby looked at Sam's eyes to see if he was serious. Sam was dead serious.

"What is `it'?" Toby asked.

"'It' is what I can't talk about here," Sam explained. "That's why I want you to come to my place. To talk about `it'."

"Now I'm intrigued. What time?" Toby said.

"Eight?"

"Am I supposed to bring a gift?" Toby asked. "I mean, is this a surprise party for somebody and I didn't get the memo?"

"No. Just you and...just you."

"Yeah, ok. Eight. Write out directions."

Sam returned to his office, sunk in his chair, and sighed with relief. He'd done it. It was over. Mission accomplished. All taken care of but the...oh shit. He hadn't told Toby anything. He'd just invited him to his and Josh's place to TELL him. Toby didn't even know Josh was going to 'be' there, much less that he 'lived' there.

It wasn't over. It hadn't even begun.

He dialed Josh's office.

"Josh Lyman."

"It's happening," Sam said in the same mysterious whisper.

"What's happening?"

"It! Dammit, Josh, are you even here today or what? You sound like a fucking moron. He's coming at eight tonight," Sam explained. "Now keep yourself together the rest of the day so you don't come off as the village idiot and everything will be fine. Ok? Can you do that?"

Josh took a deep breath and sat up straight in his chair. Be a man. "Ok Sam, no problem," he said.

"We'll be leaving here soon so it won't be that long. You can do it."

"Ok. I can do it."

Sam lowered his voice and spoke softly into the phone. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"You know."

Josh felt the tension leave his body as he relaxed his hunched up shoulders.

He gave only the slightest smile. Just as softly, he said to

Sam, "Yeah, I know."

~~~~~~~~

Toby arrived twenty minutes late.

Sam wore jeans and a light blue oxford cloth shirt Josh's Mother had given him. Josh wore jeans and a forest green sweater from Sam. Both were surprisingly calm and neither had a clue what they were going to say. Somehow they hoped Toby would just look at them and figure it out for himself and leave and nobody would have to say a thing. They both knew that wouldn't happen.

They were in the kitchen when Toby pounded on the door.

"Jesus!" Josh blurted and ducked his shoulders.

Sam smiled and gave Josh a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Not Jesus, just Toby."

Sam opened the door and invited Toby in. He was wearing the same clothes he'd had on at work and looked tired and rumpled.

"Just left the office?" Sam asked.

"Yeah. Leo caught me and wanted to talk about a thing. It was nothing." He looked around, taking it all in. "Nice place Sam. Really nice. Steps? You have an upstairs?"

"Yeah, this is a townhouse. Upstairs we have a master bedroom, a huge bathroom and another bedroom, but we use it for junk. Well, not junk really. Our books from college, my skis are in there, some stuff that belonged to Josh's Dad, old trophies I don't need to hang on to but I do..." Sam let his voice trail off and wondered if Toby noticed what he'd said. Toby didn't give any indication that he had. Josh still hadn't come out of the kitchen.

Sam and Toby moved into the living room. It was a big, open area with an extra-long, extra-wide over-stuffed couch with throw pillows and afghans Josh's Mother had made, a couple of over-stuffed chairs, a big screen TV, coffee table, end tables and tasteful artwork on the walls. A chess board with wooden Knights and Pawns to protect their Queen sat statue still at mid-game on an oval table in the bay window. There were distinctive lamps, one of antique stained glass, scented candles, and bookshelves filled with more books piled in neat stacks on the floor...things. Things that showed someone actually lived here and enjoyed living here. It was warm and inviting, comfortable and unpretentious.

There were framed photographs scattered throughout ~~ a young Josh in his cap and gown standing between his parents at high school graduation, all three beaming; a young Sam running in the Pacific surf with his dog; Josh and his Father the year before Mr. Lyman died; Sam and Josh with their arms around each other's shoulders ~~ Josh looking at the camera with that crooked grin and Sam looking at Josh with a smile that spoke volumes. One of Josh sitting with his back to a tree and Sam in front of him between his legs, leaning entangled together...the guys wrestling in the leaves on an autumn afternoon, the camera catching forever their faces alive with laughter...a black-and-white of Josh and Joanie in their pajamas when they were children...Josh held a stuffed rabbit by it's ear.

Sam laughed. "What's the matter Toby? Did you think I lived out of my car?"

"No, not at all, but this...this is nice. Tasteful furniture that matches, lamps with light bulbs in them, intellectual magazines on the coffee table, real artwork. What is this, cherry?"

"Walnut. Toby, you wanna sit down?" Sam waved his arm as an offer of any seat he wanted. "Can I get you something to drink? We've got..."

"Scotch." Toby dropped into one of the chairs.

This was it. The moment of truth.

"Hey Josh!" Sam called into the kitchen, "Scotch for Toby and a beer for me, please." Sam sat on the end of the couch nearest Toby's chair.

Neither said a word, then both looked up and watched when Josh came out of the kitchen. He carried two bottles of beer, a highball glass and a bottle of scotch. Just as he was about to set the drinks on the coffee table, Sam shoved a magazine under them.

"Hey Toby," Josh said. "Glad you could come." He drank half his beer in one gulp.

Toby slowly looked from Josh to Sam then back to Josh then back to Sam. He took a drink of scotch. He put his hand to his beard and pulled at it, deep in thought. He finished his scotch and poured

"Sit down Josh," Toby finally said.

Toby's eyes followed Josh as he walked around the table, past a chair, past the length of the couch and sat next to Sam.

Toby downed his scotch and poured himself another. His hand moved up to his eyes and he rubbed them with his thumb and middle finger.

Josh drank the rest of his beer and reached for Sam's, who hadn't touched his.

"You guys aren't just roommates, are you?" Toby asked.

This is what we asked him here came for, Sam thought. Just do it.

"No Toby, we're not," he said. "We're..."

Sam looked at Josh next to him and suddenly felt totally comfortable about his relationship in Toby's presence. It was as natural having Josh by his side as anything he'd ever felt. A peace overcame him. He took Josh's hand, kissed it and held it in both of his.

Still with a smile he asked, "What ARE we Josh? A couple? Lovers? Soul mates? Significant others? Life partners?" Then back to Toby, "Hell, I don't know Toby. I just know we ARE. And I, we, thought you should know." He squeezed Josh's hand and Josh squeezed back. Everything was cool.

Toby stayed well past midnight and heard all about the until-now hidden lifestyle of his two colleagues. Josh finally opened up and when he DID start to talk about he and Sam together, he didn't stop.

He was tentative at first, but the beer loosened him up and the fact that Toby took the news so well and accepted their relationship without judgment or even much surprise, made it easier. Josh ordered pizza and gave him a tour of their townhouse. He was especially proud of their bathroom and insisted Toby use it, even when Toby said he didn't have to.

"Come on Toby, it's a really cool bathroom," Josh urged.

"I can see that, but I don't need to go," Toby countered.

"Turn the water on in the sink or something, then you'll have to go."

"I don't. Have. To go." Toby was emphatic.

"Just walk around in there...it's huge! A small family could live in our bathroom. Sam, couldn't a small family live in our bathroom?"

"Keep me out of this," Sam laughed. "What time will the pizzas be here?"

"About twenty more minutes. Toby, check out the size of this shower. We could get six people in here if we wanted."

Toby gave Josh a sideways leer and raised one eyebrow.

"We don't! I'm just saying...I'm just saying we COULD."

Toby was never once cynical or sarcastic as he learned about something he knew nothing about. He asked questions and was genuinely interested in this way of life he'd never known up close and personal. All three were surprised at how comfortable everyone felt so quickly and how easy it was to talk about in such a short time.

"I knew you two were close," he said, "closer than most, but I sure as hell didn't expect this. I'm sure nobody at the office would."

And that's when he said it would be `better for things all around' if they kept their relationship `at home' for the sake of any repercussions that might reflect on President Bartlet or the Bartlet White House.

Sam and Josh expected this and were prepared for it. While they knew it wasn't fair, wasn't the way things should be in this world on this day, they also knew because of their choice of careers and the positions they willfully held, a compromise would be in the best interest of the man they'd given blood, sweat and tears to help get elected, and in the best interest of the highest office in the United States. The most powerful office in the world. The most powerful MAN in the world. And they didn't want to blow it now if they could make this concession, do as Toby asked ~~ be colleagues and friends in The White House and in the public eye because it would be `better for things all around', and be deeply in love with each other at home.

And so it came to pass that Toby kept their secret. When Sam and Josh went to work the following Monday it was business as usual, as though Friday night had never happened, no grand revelation, no hint of the coming out of two staff members, nothing. The `friends' walked on eggshells the first couple of hours that morning, but when they realized nothing had changed between Toby and them, they relaxed and went back to work.

END OF CHAPTER TWO

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 3

Sam shook out of his memory and looked at Josh in his underwear and socks, standing in front of the TV, engrossed in the latest out of the Mid-East.

"Oshie."

"Hmmmm?"

"Oshie."

"Yeah? Huh? What?" Josh finally turned and looked at Sam.

Sam pointed to the trail of clothes that started at the door and lead right up to where Josh stood. Josh looked at Sam then back at the clothes. He appeared genuinely surprised.

"Are those mine?" he asked.

Sam laughed out loud. "Osh, I am fully clothed. You, on the other hand, are nearly naked. Even Donna could figure this one out."

"Rut roh. My bad?"

"Good grief. Have you been in the junior high chat rooms again?"

Josh suddenly came alive with enthusiasm. "Sam, let me sign on to LemonLyman.com tonight, please? I won't say anything. I just want to see what they're saying about ME."

"No, Josh. Remember what happened before. Remember what we all went through. All new passwords. All new security software. Remember what CJ said she'd do. You KNOW she will too."

"Sam...?"

"Josh...?"

"Sa-uuum...?"

"Osh, you're whining again. The answer is `no way'."

Sam looked at Josh who gave Sam his sad puppy dog face. He had this way of looking pitiful when things weren't going his way. This was one of those times, but Sam knew he had to be strict or Josh would slip back into his newly learned habit of antagonizing the regular chatters.

Josh glanced over to both his and Sam's laptops then looked at Sam to see if he was being watched. He was.

Sam walked over to Josh and put his hand on his shoulder. "Have a seat," he said.

Josh sat on the arm of the chair and rubbed the back of his neck.

Just a temporary nervous twitch, something to do with his hands. Sam reached for that hand and they hooked forefingers and let heir arms sway gently.

"Will you say it for me, Josh?" Sam asked. "You talked with Leo about this and he said when you feel this way to say the First Step out loud until the feeling passes. Will you say it for me?"

Josh sighed. "We admitted we were powerless over our personal website, that our lives had become unmanageable."

"Ok. Now Josh, you know we're not making fun of AA don't you? Or ANY twelve-step program."

Josh nodded.

"But when you get on that site you go nuts, and you can NOT take a chance of compromising your own reputation or President Bartlet's and the White House, do you understand?"

Josh nodded.

"CJ and Leo have you under control in the West Wing and you're supposed be to trusted to be on your own at home, but Toby has me tailing you so don't screw up because I don't want the wrath of Toby coming down on my head, all right?" Sam continued.

Josh nodded.

"You gonna be ok?"

Josh nodded again.

"Wanna pick up your clothes and go upstairs with me?"

Josh nodded a fifth time.

Sam put his hands on either side of Josh's face and kissed his forehead. Later, he thought, if Josh slept soundly he'd come down and check out LemonLyman.com for himself. He signed on every few days just to see what people had posted about him. If Josh knew, he'd have a royal hissy fit that Sam didn't want to be around to witness. Still, Sam enjoyed the hell of it and often participated under the pseudonym of `Robin'.

Josh turned off the TV, collected his things, took them upstairs and put them where they belonged. Sam, as was his habit, nearly always went directly to the bedroom when they get home and meticulously put each piece of clothing in its proper place as he undressed so things would be where things were supposed to be when he wanted them next.

During times of passion when he and Josh fell in the front door, clawing wildly to get to the other, he didn't give a shit where his clothes went ~~ out the window for all he cared ~~ but on routine nights, Sam followed his routine.

This night it was late and the guys just wanted to go to sleep. Sam had showered at the gym, so he put on a pair of sweat pants and one of Josh's old sweatshirts he bought at homecoming a few years ago. `Harvard' was printed across the front but the letters had begun to peel off. Both Sam and Josh loved this shirt so they both wore it often and it had started to show the wear and tear of so much use.

Josh took a quick shower and came naked to bed, their favorite place in the house. They had a comfortable, larger than king-size bed with flannel sheets, homemade quilts, crocheted afghans, a thick comforter and lots of pillows. A bed where it didn't really matter in which direction a person ended up ~~ there was always something to cover up with and a pillow for his head.

The guys delighted in their bed. Josh called it their `play-pen' because there was so much room to romp and roll and tumble and wrestle and play and bounce and contort into every position imaginable. And because they spend so much time in their bed, not just sleeping but `playing', sexually or otherwise, the name suits it. Even when they fall off the bed during their lovemaking, they drag blankets and pillows with them so they can sleep the rest of the night on the floor and still be perfectly content and comfortable.

Sam was already in bed by the time Josh had showered and brushed his teeth. When Josh turned out the bathroom light the bedroom was dark except for the flame of a candle on the bedside table. Josh was cold after he left the steamy hot shower and sprinted across the cool room. He pulled back the covers and crawled in bed next to Sam.

Sam, God love him, was in the middle. No `your side/my side'. First one in was always in the middle. Tonight Sam faced away. Josh snuggled into the blankets and folded himself around Sam to get warm. Sam put his hand on Josh's arm that had fallen across Sam's chest.

"You're wet," Sam said softly.

"Yeah." Josh's teeth chattered.

"Why didn't you dry off before you came to bed?"

"I don't know."

Sam rolled over so he faced Josh. Josh had snuggled so far down in the bed his head came only to Sam's neck.

"Oshie, let me wrap myself around you until you're warm."

Sam raised his right leg and pulled Josh's bare legs into him, so they were between Sam's sweat-panted legs. He wrapped both arms around Josh's torso and pulled him in as close as he could, so Sam's sweat-shirted chest and arms enveloped Josh. Sam took his right hand and with a warm blanket, gently pressed the side of Josh's face into the crook of Sam's neck and held it there. Sam laid his own cheek against Josh's head, his hair still wet. He smelled like shampoo. Sam completely engulfed Josh, both physically and emotionally. The love that radiated from Sam didn't need to be spoken; it was evident in the way he draped himself around Josh.

Sam held Josh closer than two people could be without being one. And the love Josh gave in return, how he trusted himself over to Sam...it came so easy, so natural. There were no words. Their love was complete. And it was these moments of trust and vulnerability, of purity and sweetness that both thrilled and terrified them. Terrified them so much, they each silently prayed nothing would ever separate them.

"Sam?" Josh asked quietly.

"Yeah?"

"Where are you tonight?"

Sam kissed the top of Josh's head.

"Riding on the dorsal fin of Delphinus."

"Which would be?"

"The constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, the musical constellation, Josh. Amazing myth behind how Delphinus came into the realm of constellations. Can I tell you?" he asked hopefully.

Josh pulled his hand up and rested it on Sam's chest. "Uh, no, that's ok."

"Josh, there's nine stars in Delphinus," Sam said, with total disregard to Josh's protest. "One for the mouth, one for the back, two make up the tail, three make up the ventral fins and two comprise the dorsal fins. That's where I am right now. Riding one of the dorsal fins listening to Johann Strauss JUNIOR, not senior, there's a difference you know, senior didn't want junior to..."

"Riding one of the dorsal fins listening to what?" Josh interrupted.

"Listening to Austria's true hymn, written in 1867 mind you, The Blue Danube Waltz, the volume turned up to the max, gracing the heavens with her majesty and just blowing the shit out of the other constellations."

A gurgle of laughter escaped from under the covers. Josh ran his hand up and down Sam's chest. "How many stars did you say were in the dorsal fin?" he asked.

"Two."

"One for you and one for me. Can I ride along?"

"I think not. You laughed."

Josh slipped his finger just inside the top of Sam's sweat pants and slid it back and forth. "I wasn't laughing at your dolphin."

"You were laughing at my dolphin." Sam began to massage Josh's neck.

"I swear, I wasn't laughing at Flipper," Josh said, as he tried to suppress another laugh.

"Asshole."

Josh moved his hand a little further into Sam's sweats, played with the drawstring, teased him, enticed him. He ran his hand down to Sam's cock and felt it partially erect. Then he pulled his hand out altogether and rubbed Sam's chest again. He half-rolled onto Sam and licked and sucked around his belly button. His hand slid back inside Sam's sweat pants and he found Sam's penis rock hard and ready. He grasped it and slowly ran his hand up and down the shaft the way he knew Sam loved. Josh's tongue licked and lapped at Sam's abdomen, then inched it's way up his chest to Sam's firm, protruding nipple.

He took it in his mouth, sucked on it hard, then rolled it between his teeth and bit on it, gently at first, then with more pressure until Sam whimpered. Josh felt pre-cum start to bubble out of Sam's cock. He wasn't ready for Sam to finish yet, so Josh eased off and released Sam's nipple.

He then gave his full attention to Sam's penis. He pulled Sam's sweat pants below his hips. In one hand he clutched Sam's penis and with the other, he gently cradled his balls and juggled them tenderly. He ran his hand up and down Sam's shaft; slowly at first, then faster, almost to the point where Sam would explode, then he'd slow down the momentum so Sam would relax for an instant and then do it all over again. When he knew Sam couldn't take it much longer,

Josh took Sam's dick into his mouth and started to suck him off, but before he was able to do much for him, Sam thrust his hips forward, let out a moan, bucked once then thrust his hips forward again and held himself against Josh until the white, sticky cum over-flowed from Josh's lips.

When he was spent, Sam dropped back onto the bed, eyes closed, his breath labored. Josh reached over him for a hand towel on the bedside table. He cleaned off his own face, then gently cleaned Sam's penis, abdomen and between his legs. Sam just lay there and let him. Josh pulled Sam's pants up, lay next to him and pulled the covers up over them both.

They laid in silence except for flickers of candle wax that puddled around the wick and sizzled. Josh took Sam's face in his hands and just looked at him. By candlelight he was even more beautiful than Josh remembered from day to day. And he doesn't even know, Josh thought. This man/child has no idea what he does to me without even trying, just by being. He has the face of a little boy and at the same time, the classic cut features, the hard-set jaw of a man of determination and power. And his eyes. Soft and sleepy now, sweet and innocent. His long lashes opened and closed slowly, then finally stayed shut as Sam drifted off to sleep. Josh loved to watch Sam fall asleep. He would softly kiss each eyelid, his forehead and his lips, and then when he knew Sam was safe, Josh himself would close his eyes and go to sleep.

Another night, Sam would be the wild-eyed one, full of passion as he gave himself to the person he loves most in this world; his body taut and sweaty, strong and sometimes frightening, while he took control of every movement between the two lovers; guttural sounds from some jungle animal growled forth, larger than life, eyes fiery and intent, focused on Josh, denied him nothing, gave him everything, saw him and only him until Sam howled from the wildness of the jungle, pounded, pounded, he'd pull Josh closer than ever before, until they were nearly one man, the uncontrollable final shudder as he clung to his lover, wrapped tightly together, then they'd fall apart, laughing and crying, trying to catch their breath, arms and legs entangled, sticky and sweaty, unable to move and not wanting to. And then Sam's eyes would twinkle. That crystal blue twinkle that meant the boy was happy and content, and if Sam was happy and content, what else was there?

Sam cocked his head and smiled just a little.

"What 'cha looking at, Oshie?" he whispered.

"My Angel."

"I love you, Josh."

"I know."

Josh blew out the candle and they slept.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

"At Home" ~~CHAPTER 4

"Don-naaaaa!"

His assistant appeared at Josh's door.

"You don't have to yell. I'm right here."

"I didn't see you."

"Did you look?"

"Uh, no."

"Well, look next time."

"I wanna go to lunch with somebody. Is Sam around?"

"Nope. I'm free for lunch."

"Is Toby around?"

"Nope. I'm free for lunch."

"CJ?"

"Haven't seen her. I'm free for lunch."

"Where IS everybody?"

"I'm here."

"I repeat. Where IS everybody?"

"Sam and Toby went to play racquetball."

Josh's head jerked up. "Say that again. Slowly this time."

Donna sighed heavily and made a point of speaking very slowly, enunciating every word. "Sam and Toby went to play racquetball."

"I heard you the first time. They went together?"

"They walked out together carrying gym bags. One would assume...I'm free for lunch."

Josh leaned back in his chair.

"Didn't they invite you, Josh?" Donna had that smile on her face.

Josh sometimes wanted to just...

"Do you even know HOW to play racquetball?" She wouldn't let up. "I think what they play is called 'extreme racquetball' which is supposed to be VERY difficult. You might get hurt. You could have watched though, from behind the safety of the Plexiglas."

There was that smile again. Josh ran his hand through his hair.

"Since they didn't invite you, you could go alone and put your name on the list."

Josh looked up at her. "You know about the list?"

"Sure. Everybody knows about the list. You could sign up under 'C' level. It's kinda like the bunny hill for skiers. Then you work your way up to 'B' level then 'A' which is really, really good, but not the best. There's double 'A' and triple 'A' then after that you're pretty much a pro."

Donna smiled and tossed her hair back.

"How do you know these things?" Josh asked.

"Because I do." "You scare me."

"I know."

"I'm hungry."

"I know that too. Josh?"

"What is it, Donna?"

"I'm free for lunch."

"Call Ginger and see what time Sam will be back from lunch."

"Racquetball. Back from extreme racquetball."

"Whatever! See when he'll be back."

"We're in a mood, aren't we? People tend to get cranky when they don't eat. You really should have some lunch." Donna picked up the phone.

Josh ran his hand from his hair down his face, distorting it, and left his hand there.

"Josh?"

"Yes, Donna?" Josh sighed. His hand still covered his face.

"Ginger said Toby and Sam may not come straight back. If they don't, she expects them around three o'clock. If they do, she expects them in about an hour."

"Donna?"

"Josh?"

"Do you want to have lunch with me?"

"Oh, if you'd only asked earlier. When I was on the phone with Ginger we made plans. You can tag along, or I can bring you a doggie bag."

"Go! Go, go, go, go, go," Josh said, then mumbled to himself, "and don't ever come back."

"I heard that!" Donna called from the bullpen.

Josh dialed Sam's cell phone. It rang twice.

"Sam Seaborn." Sam worked to catch his breath when he answered.

Josh hung up. What am I thinking? It's just Toby. I'm not jealous of Toby, of all people. Those two have been alone together hundreds of times. Thousands. Millions. Trillions. Zillions. GA-zillions. Then why am I sitting here obsessing because THEY'RE playing racquetball, excuse me, EXTREME racquetball, which I believe will kill Toby, and I'm behind my desk and can't even find anybody to go to lunch with? Sam could have told me. SHOULD have told me. Is OBLIGATED to tell me. Whoa. Forget obligated. We both had decided that's a word we won't use. Commitment. Obligation. Expectation. Scary words like those.

Hell, I've eaten lunch with Toby and never considered it necessary to tell Sam. Hundreds of times. Thousands. Millions. And Toby and I never ended up in bed. What the fuck am I thinking? Toby and Sam aren't going to end up in bed! They're just playing racquetball!

Stop obsessing. Stop obsessing. Stop obsessing.

Josh got up and stood behind his door. He put his back flat against the wall and just stood there. It seemed to have a calming effect on him. Or at least that's what he told himself. There was some kind of mantra he was supposed to repeat, but he couldn't remember what it was. The therapist Dr. Keyworth sent him to said it would relax him. Said it would help with the PTSD. But this wasn't PTSD. This was just stupid. Still, he stood against the wall and made himself take deep breaths.

"Josh?"

He didn't move.

"Josh Lyyyy-maaaan?"

He recognized the cheery sing-song voice. It was CJ. No way in hell is she going to see me standing behind the door.

"Oh Joshuaaaa." She strung out his name like they were playing hide-and-go-seek.

Why doesn't she just leave? I'm not at my desk so I'm obviously not here. Except that I AM here. Please don't come in. Please, if there's a God in Heaven, you won't let CJ come into my office.

CJ came into his office. "Josh! What on earth are you doing behind that door?" CJ stood with one hand on her hip and looked at Josh incredulously.

Josh scanned his options: lie or tell the truth. He could never lie to CJ. She always knew.

"Relaxing?" he suggested.

CJ looked at him sideways, not sure if he was serious or putting her on. This time, Josh seemed sincere.

"Is it working?" she asked.

"Not yet."

"Do you want me to go away?"

Strangely, Josh didn't. He'd been so hyper 10 minutes ago, but now, CJ brought with her a calming presence. Sometimes she could be like a cyclone passing through and you'd better stand back, and at other times she was quiet and gentle and good to be around. Maybe this was one of those times. Or maybe it was because he was standing against the wall behind the door.

"I don't think so," Josh answered.

"Ok."

CJ clasped her hands under her chin and looked around Josh's office, not quite sure what to do. Josh stood against the wall. Minutes passed and neither said a word. CJ played with her necklace, then with the paper clip on the papers she'd carried in with her. Josh stood against the wall. Finally she couldn't stand it any longer.

"Josh? I think we need to either talk or I should leave or call someone or do something. This is kinda weird," CJ said.

"It's ok, CJ. This is a relaxation technique...I'm just relaxing."

"OK, but it's kinda freaking me out. Just standing here watching you relax. I think I need to go."

"Yeah, ok."

"You're ok then?"

"Yeah. Going down to the mess right now to get some lunch. You want anything?"

"No, I'm good. So I'm going back to my office now, ok?" CJ said as she backed out Josh's door.

"Ok. CJ, did you come in here for a reason?" Josh asked.

"No, no. Just a...it can wait. It's nothing, really. It can wait. You just relax."

"Ok."

CJ took one more sideways glance at Josh and left his office.

Josh continued to stand with his back against the wall and tried to picture Toby playing racquetball. Extreme racquetball. He couldn't see it. Then he pictured Sam and Toby in the locker room showers and slammed his fist against the wall he was supposed to be relaxing against.

Josh never ate lunch that day.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 5

Sam sat on the living room floor, his back against the couch, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. He wore faded jeans with holes in them, a white T-shirt and white socks. Josh lay nearby, his head on Sam's lap. He, too, wore jeans and a T-shirt from a Grateful Dead concert, and was barefoot. Several different Sunday newspapers were scattered around them on the floor, on the coffee table and on the couch and chairs. Both were engrossed in what they read. Without taking his eyes off the newspaper, Josh raised his hand. As he continued to read, Sam reached out and the two clasped hands and intertwined fingers.

"Josh?" Sam said.

"Hmmmm?"

"That was good this morning."

"I know," Josh smiled.

"How do you know?" Sam asked.

"I was there."

Sam laughed, leaned over and kissed Josh deep and long. He cradled Josh's head so he couldn't pull away if he wanted to ~~ but Josh didn't want to.

"Let's do it again," Josh said, when the two eventually separated.

"Can't right now. Later."

"Why not now?" Josh's voice got high and he stretched the words out.

"Don't whine. Toby said he might come over tonight and watch the hockey game. And you know we've gotta read all these newspapers."

"They all say the same thing."

"You're whining again."

"I don't care. All I'm reading are the comics anyway."

Sam laughed again and messed up Josh's hair.

"Do you think he really will?" Josh asked.

"Josh, I'm reading! Do I think who really will what?"

"Do you think Toby really will come over tonight?"

Sam shrugged his shoulders. "It was his idea, so your guess is as good as mine."

They went back to their reading. Sam rested his hand on Josh's head and gently ran his fingers through his hair, down the side of his face to his ear. He slid his hand around to Josh's cheek and absent-mindedly stroked it, stopping only to turn the pages of the newspaper.

"Josh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Would you do anything in the world for me?" Sam asked.

"Anything."

"Then would you go upstairs and put on a pair of socks?" Sam lifted the newspaper and looked down at Josh.

Josh looked up at Sam and smiled.

"I will," he said.

Then in the same breath Josh said, "Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Would you do anything in the world for me?"

"Anything," Sam answered.

"While my face is right here on your lap, can I..."

"Thought you'd never ask."

~~~~~~~~

When the phone rang an hour later it was Toby. Josh took the call.

"Sam!" he yelled.

"I'm right here Josh, you don't have to yell." Sam walked out of the kitchen with two grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on a paper plate, a bag of Fritos, two Cokes and six Twinkies.

"That was Toby. He said if it's still ok, he wants to come watch the game with us."

"Cool. You're not gonna freak out are you?"

"Not if he doesn't," Josh said.

"We'd better get this place straightened up. There's newspapers and pillows everywhere and why am I wearing your Grateful Dead T-shirt?" Sam asked. He looked down at himself and set their sandwiches on the table.

Someone pounded on the door. The guys looked at each other.

"Shit," Josh said in a loud whisper, "he must have called from the front steps."

Sam smiled. "Welcome to our world."

"I'm glad you can see the humor in this, Sam."

Josh leaned over the back of the couch to gather up newspapers. Sam tackled him from behind and they both tumbled over the couch onto the floor. Their impact pushed the coffee table a couple of feet and scattered more newspapers and a large bowl with what was left of tortilla chips. Sam grabbed the bowl of salsa and steadied it on an end table just as Josh pulled him back down on the floor.

Josh held Sam down and tickled him in the ribs, his tender spot for being tickled. Sam tried to curl into a ball to protect himself and laughed that uncontrollable laugh Josh loved to hear. Then Sam took control and rolled his body onto Josh and pinned his arms down so his crotch was over Josh's face.

"Do you see the humor in this?" Sam asked with a grin. "Do you REALLY want Toby to walk in here and see the Deputy Chief of Staff pinned to the floor with my dick in your face?"

Josh playfully bit at Sam's crotch with his teeth, but Sam pulled back and released Josh. Josh dove for Sam, grabbed him by the ankle and tried to pull him back, but Sam had a grip on the over-stuffed easy chair and wasn't about to let go.

The pounding on the door got louder, the fist behind it more intense. Josh let go of Sam and they both reluctantly stood up. Josh got right in Sam's face and poked him on the chest with his forefinger. "Next time Seaborn, next time your ass is mine!"

Sam chucked him under the chin and smiled. "I look forward to it."

Josh opened the door to find Toby, who had waited patiently during the scuffle. He clutched a brown paper bag in one hand and under his arm were two six-packs of beer.

"I, uh, brought my own scotch," Toby explained, "and some beer for you guys. I...think maybe it's the right brand. Wasn't sure. Maybe not. Drink it anyway."

"Sorry about the mess," Sam said. He took Toby's coat and led him into the living room. "We were catching up on world news and just haven't put everything back together yet. Let me put that beer in the refrigerator."

Josh busied himself around the living room. He collected newspapers and put pillows back on the couch and chairs.

"Hey, Toby," he said. He picked up the salsa and chip bowls and carried them into the kitchen.

Sam smiled at how relaxed and casual Josh's voice sounded and how he moved with ease in Toby's presence. At first stilted and cautious with every step he made, now Josh didn't give it a second thought.

He'd come a long way toward being comfortable having Toby in their home and Sam couldn't be happier. He turned the TV on, went into the kitchen and put a pot of chili on the stove, set the temperature to low, then returned to the living room and fell onto the couch. Toby sat on the same chair as his first visit, then took his bottle of scotch out of the paper bag and opened it. He sat there for a couple of minutes hoping someone would notice, but no one did, so he turned the bottle up and started to take a drink.

"Oh God!" Sam blurted and jumped up. "I'll get you a glass! I can't believe...Josh! Get...I'll get it."

Sam rushed to the kitchen and rushed as quickly back with a whiskey glass for Toby and a beer for himself. On his way back he frowned at Josh. Josh saw it, shrugged his shoulders and mouthed, "What?"

"Oshie, go put on your socks."

"Ok, ok, ok."

Josh promptly went upstairs. Toby looked at Sam then leaned forward.

"Sam, did you just say, "Oshie, go put on your socks?" he asked softly.

"Yeah."

"You know Sam, I'm trying. I'm really trying to understand this. That's mostly why I asked to come over here tonight, to try and figure out you guys. Then the first thing out of the gate you call Josh `Oshie'.

"I don't call him that at the White House," Sam reasoned.

"No, no you don't."

"And we've done as you asked. We keep 'us' at home."

Toby rolled his empty glass between his hands. "Yes, you do."

"And you say you want to understand this. So Toby, if you really mean that, you can't crap in your pants when I call Josh 'Oshie' or when he calls me 'Angel', which he's gonna do eventually, or when you see us touching each other or holding hands or kissing in front of you. You're in OUR territory now and you've pretty much limited our relationship to an 'at home' status, so once you walk through that door, you're in OUR reality. Are you sure you can handle this?"

Toby sat silent and digested what Sam had just said. It was true, every word of it. Finally he spoke. "I'm gonna make every effort, Sam. I really am. I wouldn't be here tonight if I wasn't."

Sam smiled at Toby but Toby didn't smile back. Josh came down the stairs, socks in hand.

"What's the score, Angel?" he asked.

Sam looked at Toby out of the corner of his eye. Toby didn't flinch but Sam noticed he'd threaded his fingers and had squeezed his hands so hard his knuckles were white. The three men didn't so much watch the hockey game as they watched each other watching each other. The game was there as a distraction, and none of them had a clue who was winning at any given moment.

Toby put the top back on his bottle of scotch and drank plain Seven-Up and at some point, felt comfortable enough to take his shoes off and sit sideways, his legs draped over the arm of the chair. After thirty minutes he was able to talk with Josh and Sam just like they were...Josh and Sam. It even sounded natural for him to say, "If you two would quit holding hands long enough, how about getting me something to eat? That chili smells pretty good."

At home, the guys touched each other as much as possible. Because of their limitations, physical contact is precious so they crave it when they're alone. Even if each is caught up with their own thing, they stay near the other and when one walks past, will stop for a kiss or run their hand down the other's arm. This evening they toned it down for Toby's sake, however, they still couldn't keep their hands to themselves.

Josh sat on the couch and Sam sat on the floor in front of him, between Josh's legs, which were wrapped around Sam with his feet in Sam's lap. Sam had long ago put Josh's socks on for him, an act that didn't go unnoticed by Toby, with a slight shake of his head.

Frequently Josh ran his hand through Sam's hair or simply caressed his forehead or cheek. Sam often laid his head on Josh's thigh or snaked his arm around Josh's leg, and several times he stretched his head back and Josh leaned forward for a slight, sweet kiss. Toby took it all in without a word.

Near the end of the hockey game Toby reached for a handful of Fritos. He tossed them one by one into the air and tried to catch them in his mouth.

"So, uh, this thing is for real, huh?" he finally asked.

"Excuse me?" Sam asked. He turned from Josh, who had started to whisper something close to Sam's ear.

"This `thing' between you guys is real."

"This `thing' Toby?" Josh looked at Toby with mild annoyance.

"I...I'm sorry. I can see that it's real. I just had to make sure."

"You came over here to check us out?" Josh asked. "To see if we're real as opposed to...?"

"...playing house?" Sam finished.

"No, no guys, not at all. This love thing. You two really love each...no...you two really are 'in love' with each other, aren't you?" Toby asked.

There was silence. Then Josh asked softly, "What do YOU think?"

Toby looked at Josh then Sam then back at Josh.

"I think yes."

It was nearly two o'clock in the morning when Toby said he'd better go home, he had to get up early, they all did. Josh invited him to crash there but Toby declined, said he couldn't show up at The White House four hours later in jeans and a NASA sweatshirt with chili down the front.

"At least let us walk you to your car," Sam offered. Toby accepted.

"Don't forget your scotch. You didn't even touch it," Josh said. He grabbed the brown paper bag.

"Uh, would it be ok if I just leave it here, for, uh, in case you invite me back?"

"We didn't invite you this time," Josh mumbled.

"Anytime Toby, you're always welcome here." Sam smiled graciously.

"I heard that Lyman," Toby said, as Sam closed the door behind them.

They said their good-byes at Toby's car and he drove off in his Dodge Dart. Sam and Josh stood on the sidewalk in front of their townhouse.

"Hey! It's starting to snow!" Sam said.

"I see it Sam."

"The weather channel didn't indicate this."

"Well, serendipity."

Sam looked at Josh with surprise. "Do you even know what serendipity means?" Sam asked.

"Not really, but you used it once and you were happy at the time so it seems appropriate now."

Sam laughed. Josh caught the twinkle in his eye. He had that little boy look tonight, the innocence, the `hey, it's starting to snow!' look that Josh loved about Sam. Tomorrow he would write words to be spoken by the President of the United States. But tonight it was snowing.

"Sam, you don't even have your gloves on."

Sam ignored him. He leaned his head back and looked up at the sky.

"Gonna try and catch snowflakes on your tongue again, babe?" Josh asked.

Sam continued to ignore him.

"God, I wish I was up there, above the snow. Can you imagine what it's like to look DOWN and see the snow fall?"

They stood in silence for a minute, and then Sam came back down to Earth.

"Try this, Josh." Sam stuck his tongue out. "Ifth youth dooth..."

"Sam, close your mouth. I can't understand you."

Sam closed his mouth. "I said...never mind."

He turned to Josh and grinned.

"You don't even have your gloves. Do you have any idea how cold it is out here? Are you trying to kill me?"

"Just do it," said Sam.

Josh closed his eyes, leaned his head back and stuck out his tongue.

He felt Sam's strong hands on his shoulders. Total trust. He knew Sam would hold him steady and never let him fall. Snowflakes melted on Josh's tongue. Then he felt Sam's lips on his and Sam's arms around him. Without opening his eyes he wrapped his arms around Sam and the two stood in a bear hug on the empty sidewalk as the snow fell.

"Oshie, you know..."

"Yeah Angel, I know..."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 6

Josh lay in bed propped on one elbow. It was early; the sun had just risen, and now splashed its spring colors through the window blinds. They were closed most of the way, but there were still some open slits and the sun found its way inside. The bedroom held that special calm and peacefulness that came with the sweet quiet before the rest of the world woke up.

Josh watched as Sam slept. Sam. Beautiful Sam. His head rested on the pillow, his brown hair mused, and a few random strands fell onto his forehead in little tufts. His chest rose and fell in a slow and steady rhythm. So deep in sleep, so safe, so natural for him to be asleep next to Josh. Where could he be, Josh wondered. Is he dreaming? Is he in some other time and place altogether, far away in his own private universe in the stars? Josh gently put his hand on Sam's chest over his heart. Sam's skin was soft, smooth and warm to Josh's touch. He felt Sam's heartbeat against his hand, and Josh said a silent prayer to thank God for this morning.

"Today's the day," Josh whispered, although he knew Sam couldn't hear him. Josh didn't know if he wanted Sam to wake up, stay asleep or if he was just going to throw up from nervous excitement because of what the day was to bring. He decided to let nature take its course.

Sam slept on. Josh watched. A half-hour later Sam's long eyelashes fluttered and his eyes slowly opened. They stayed sleepy-eyed, half-open and he saw Josh.

"The first thing I see in the morning is my Oshie," he said, his voice gravely. "I love you." Sam put his hand on Josh's, still over Sam's heart.

"And you, Angel," Josh whispered, "first thing in the morning..." He raised Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam moved closer into Josh. They lay quietly as sunrays snuck through the blinds and cast stripes across the bedroom.

"Josh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Why are we awake so early on Saturday?" Sam asked.

"Because today's the day."

"Ok."

They returned to the silence. Josh savored the closeness of Sam's bare skin against his own. He wanted to touch Sam with his hands, run them over every inch of his warm body, make love to him right then, but he had to control himself and resist.

"Josh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Today's WHAT day?"

Josh grinned. "THE day."

"Are you gonna tell me?" Sam asked in a yawn.

"You'll find out in time, Samuel. At the right time. Patience, my boy." Josh kissed Sam's head. "Wanna watch cartoons?"

"No, I wanna sleep a couple more hours, then go play racquetball with Dave and have a late lunch with him, then go by the bookstore and buy that novel I've been wanting and then spend the rest of the afternoon ensconced within the confines of these walls. I've got about three hours of work Toby wants...no, that Toby NEEDS to have by Monday, THEN I want to start that novel. I plan to hog the whole couch, you'll take my shoes off and cover me with a blanket, I'll become a book-reading vegetable and we'll have Chinese delivered to our front door for dinner. Doesn't that sound just perfect?"

"Yeah, right," Josh said sarcastically.

"What are you gonna do?"

"Watch cartoons."

"That's it?" Sam shifted so his and Josh's bodies were in perfect alignment with each other, his back against Josh's chest, their legs stacked together, one on top of the other. "Just watch cartoons all day? That sounds productive."

"Not all day. Eat cereal. Then I've got a thing. After that, come home and totally change your plans."

"Oh you think so, huh?"

"I KNOW so."

"How can you be so sure, Mr. Lyman?"

"Because today's the day, Mr. Seaborn."

Sam turned his head and looked back at Josh, who smiled broadly. Sam studied his face but got no clues. He looked into Josh's eyes, but they gave away nothing. Josh didn't even blink. He wasn't about to break.

"Well, it better be good to keep me from starting my new book. Now go watch Bugs Bunny and eat your Fruit Loops so I can sleep. Would you wake me in two hours please?

"No hot, wild, monkey sex this morning?" Josh asked. He ran his arm down Sam's chest.

"Pu-leeze." Sam pulled away from Josh and covered his head with an extra pillow. "I love you with all my heart Oshie, but hot monkeys at this time of day just doesn't work for me. Close the door behind you, ok? And keep the TV down? Two hours."

"All you do is bitch, moan and complain. And bark orders. I don't know why I bother."

Josh rolled out of bed and pulled on a pair of beat-up jeans over his naked body and didn't bother with a shirt. "And it's 'Scooby-Doo', not Bugs Bunny."

Before he left, Josh went back to the bed. He gently pulled the pillow off Sam's face and brushed the locks off his forehead. He kissed Sam on his cheek. "Sweet dreams, Angel. I love you too." Then he quietly closed the door behind him and went downstairs.

~~~~~~~~

Three-and-a-half hours later Josh ran across the parking lot at the Dulles Airport. Empty spots were a treasure on Saturday. He knew he had cut it close, but he hadn't planned on the morning going as it did.

He had gone back up to the bedroom to wake Sam and thought he'd turn on the lights to rouse him, open the blinds, shake him until he was alert and maybe pull the covers down so the chilly air would bring him to attention. He might even grab Sam's feet and drag him out of bed. A naked wrestling match sounded like fun. He didn't count on Sam being in an 'I need you Josh' mood. Whenever Sam was in such state of mind Josh took it seriously and found it especially endearing because it was a time when Sam totally let his guard down, not an easy thing for Sam. It was a time when he exposed his vulnerable side, was heart-needy and asked Josh to be there to hold and nurture him. It was a time Josh cherished because it was something he could give Sam that nobody else could.

For Sam to ask for this outright had been a long time coming. In the past he would roll himself into a ball, made himself as small as he could, hide his face in his arms and bury his hurt in his heart. But over time he came to trust Josh with something more than his life: with his emotions. Gradually he reached out to Josh for comfort when there was no one else to reach out to.

He came to learn it was ok to let Josh wrap him in his arms and just be held, because he came to realize Josh would never let go until Sam said it was ok. So now when Sam said, 'I need you Josh', there was no way in Heaven, Hell or on Earth Josh would refuse him. If he got to the airport late, he was late. Nothing was more important than Sam.

But he didn't know this when he walked into the bedroom. Josh put his hand on Sam's back and shook him. "Up, up, up! There's a racquetball court with your name on it hotshot! Let's go!"

Sam was already awake. He rolled over, his naked body tangled in the sheets. His eyes were wet, his lashes stuck together in little clumps. "I need you Josh," he said softly.

Without hesitation Josh crawled into the bed. Sam instantly clung to him, crushed his face against Josh's chest and wrapped his arms around his neck. Josh sank a little further down on the bed. He stroked Sam's hair with one hand and with the other, pulled Sam closer in to his own body. That slight movement told Sam, without words, that Josh had made Sam a part of himself and was there for the duration. Josh felt the desperation in the way Sam clung to him.

"Talk?" Josh asked softly...he felt Sam's tears on his chest.

Sam shook his head.

They reclined in silence. Josh held Sam as tightly as he could. Sam let him. Josh closed his eyes and rocked them gently. Toby asked us what our reality is, Josh thought. This, our 'covert' relationship that we have to keep within the walls of this townhouse and away from the rest of that world ~~ he felt Sam dry his tears on Josh's chest ~~ this, this Sam is my reality.

Sam sat up, his head bowed. He stuck one finger in the waistband of Josh's jeans and ran it back and forth.

"Talk?" Josh asked again.

Sam shook his head. "No. Thank you. I just needed you. You know how sometimes..."

"I know. You gonna be ok now or do you need some time? I'll stay here with you forever Sam, you know that."

Sam smiled a little. "God, Josh, if you only knew...if you only knew how that sounds to me. You have no way..."

Josh didn't know. He'd come from a warm family full of affection, where hugs and kisses and touch were never given a second thought.

Sam's background was different. He didn't talk about it much, but his family wasn't one to be demonstrative. So while Josh couldn't really and truly understand how Sam felt, he could understand why he craved physical affection. Not just sex, but the gentle, tender nurturing from one human to another. Josh knew that played a big part in why the two of them constantly touched each other when they were in their townhouse and could be free, at ease and natural with each other. Part of it was to make up for having to avoid any intimacy during the week at the White House, but a good deal of it was because Sam needed the warmth of human touch that said 'I love you' without words. And Josh gave it freely. It was because Josh adored Sam, but there was a more precious reason. Quite simply, the slightest touch between Sam and Josh connected them more deeply in their love.

~~~~~~~~

Josh looked sharp in his khaki slacks, light blue oxford cloth shirt and dark blue blazer. Sam had already left for racquetball when Josh showered and dressed, so he hoped he was put together right. He purposely didn't want Sam to see him dress and leave the house. There would be questions asked that Josh didn't want to answer. He remembered he wore this combination before without criticism so he felt safe wearing it to the airport today. He looked at his watch.

The plane should have landed forty-two minutes ago. Please, please, please be at the baggage pick-up. Don't make me have to go through security. Make this easy, God. I've been good. Pretty good. And this is a good thing I'm doing today. Amen.

Then he saw her. She stood alone on the curb, two suitcases on the sidewalk next to her, her purse clutched to her chest. He felt a lump in his throat and butterflies in his stomach and felt his eyes tear up. When he got closer it hit him harder than he'd anticipated. She wore a dress he thought he recognized, or maybe not, they all kind of looked alike. Thinner than the last time he saw her, hair noticeably grayer, she looked like a million bucks. She watched each car to see if it was Josh.

"Mom! Mother!"

Josh waved as he made the final sprint across the lanes of traffic to the curb. He gathered her in his arms, picked her up and swung her around twice before he set her back down. He beamed, she beamed and both talked at the same time: "It's so good to see you...you've gotten taller...you look great Mom...how's Sam...sorry I'm late...I brought brownies with walnuts...you'll like our place...it was such a pleasant plane ride...you're so thin...you look tired Joshua...work is good...I'll cook all your favorites...just having you here...how's that nice girl, Donna...I've missed you so much...and Sam doesn't have any idea......not a clue...good lord, you look so handsome son...I just can't believe today's the day."

"Yeah Mom, it is." Josh hugged her again and laid his cheek next to hers and let it rest there. He knew he worried more than he probably should about his Mother since his Father's death. The Bartlet Campaign had just taken off when Josh got the call, and immediately went home to Connecticut. His Mother hadn't let go of him the entire time he was there. Her only son ~~ her only child, since Joanie had...

He held her tighter.

"Move here, Mom," he said quietly.

"Joshua, don't start that again. Besides, standing here at this busy airport isn't the place to talk about such things. I want to go home. To 'your' home."

"Ok, you stand here and don't move. Don't talk to anybody. Don't make eye contact with anybody. Let me take your purse. Don't..."

She laughed. "Joshua, I've been off the farm before. Just go get the car, will you?"

"You've never been on a farm in your life," he said. "Be back in a flash."

He turned and headed back across the busy lanes of traffic and into the sea of parked cars and hoped he'd find his among the multitude. He'd gone through a car wash just before he got to the airport because his car looked 'lived in'. He would liked to have come in Sam's car, which was, as always, showroom perfect, but that would have only aroused Sam's suspicions, so he didn't mention it.

He drove under the sign that said "Arriving Flights" and saw his Mother just where he'd left her. He pulled to the curb, hopped out, and ever the gentleman, opened her door and held her hand as she got inside. He put her suitcases in the trunk and headed towards home. During the drive, neither of them stopped talking.

And if he said it once, he said it a hundred times. "Can you believe it, Mom? Today's the day."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 7

Sam sat at the gym's juice bar and drank a slushy strawberry/banana/peach/mango smoothie with extra honey and protein powder. He half-listened to the man beside him and wished he'd just go away. His regular partner didn't show up so Sam went to the list and waited for the next person in his category who also needed a partner.

He got Steve. After two hours of non-stop, fast and relentless racquetball, Sam showered and went to the juice bar to cool down and have some quiet time, but had the misfortune of being reunited with Steve. He'd seen him in the showers and was successful to avoid him, and again in the locker room while he dressed. Even though Steve was a hell of a good racquetball player, Sam didn't particularly like him and hoped to get out of the gym and not run into him.

"Sam! Over here!" Steve waved Sam over to the bar. Reluctantly, Sam went.

"Excellent playing," Steve said. "You had me running all over that court."

"You held your own," Sam shrugged modestly. He sat two bar stools away from Steve and set his gym bag on the floor.

"Yeah, but you're good, damn good," Steve went on. "I say we make this a regular thing, you and me, how about it? Partners?"

"Well, I don't work regular hours so I can't commit to anything. Sorry."

"We didn't get to talk much while we were playing," Steve continued. "What is it you say you do?"

"I'm in civil service," Sam answered.

"Oh, you work for the government. Like a mailman or something?"

"Or something." Just as Sam was about to make an excuse to leave, he glanced down the hall and saw someone he'd played with before, someone he'd also met on the list.

"Excuse me, Steve." Sam stood and picked up his gym bag. "I see someone I need to talk with. Thanks again for the games."

Steve started to protest but Sam ignored him and left quickly to catch up with the other man.

"Mike? Sam. We played a couple of months ago. From the list?"

The man was headed for the locker room, but turned when he heard Sam behind him. At first the man's face was blank, then he smiled with recognition.

"Sam! Good to see you again. Uh, it's Marc, not Mike."

"Mark. I apologize. Been awhile. It was snowing last time we played."

"Yeah, and colder than hell."

"Mark, I see you're headed for the showers so I won't keep you, but I'd like to give you something to think about," Sam said. "My regular partner just isn't showing up consistently at all, and I was wondering if you need a partner, maybe we could arrange something and start playing on a regular basis. Unless you already have a partner, that is."

"Actually, I don't. The guy I played with moved out-of-state and I haven't been around for a while, away on business, so...that's why I'm on the list." Marc laughed, a good hearty laugh. "Yeah, I'd like that. If I remember correctly, you're one hell of a competitor. And I see you around here all the time so I know you'll be dependable."

Why don't I see HIM around here all the time Sam wondered. At least not since that one time we played together last winter. I'm sure I would have noticed. God, he's good looking; about my size, maybe not so lean but definitely more buff, and he's got a great smile, one of those smiles where I just have to smile back...stop staring Sam, you idiot! You're grinning at this guy like a goon!

Control yourself. Ok, I'm in control. He seems to be about my age. His hair is longer than the people I work with but hell, whose isn't? I like his hair. Shaggy. Blondish-brown, sun-streaked... 'real' sun-streaked, not from a salon. He said he hasn't been around for a couple of months. Maybe a cruise. He has a great tan. Shaggy, sun-streaked hair, perfect tan, a two-month cruise... I'd be smiling too. Dammit, I AM smiling. Control yourself, Sam.

"Sam?"

"Yes? I'm, I'm sorry. I was just thinking of my schedule. Ok. Fine. Good. I have the court every Saturday from ten till noon and twice during the week and...you don't have anything to write this down on. You're wearing a towel," Sam said. He suddenly felt very awkward.

"I'll call you?" Marc suggested.

"Uh, let me call you. I'm hard to reach. I'll just get your number at the desk if that's ok. What's your last name?"

"Hayes."

"Hayes? H-a-y-e-s? Hayes like that?"

Marc laughed. "Yeah. Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all. Just making sure. I'm friends with, well, I know somebody, I work with......know somebody named Hayes. So it's Mark Hayes. I'll call you and we'll set something up."

"Uh, Sam?"

Sam turned and smiled. "Yeah?"

"That's Marc with a 'c'."

Sam watched Marc with a 'c' saunter into the men's locker room.

There's no way. He didn't detect a Southern accent. Lots of people are named Hayes and that doesn't make them related to Ainsley. They hadn't talked much. DOES he have a Southern accent? He definitely has a nice ass. Sam watched until the locker room door closed behind Marc, then he wondered why he did.

~~~~~~~~

Josh unlocked the door and stepped to the side so his Mother could enter first. He picked up her two suitcases, followed her inside and kicked the door shut with his foot.

"Oh, Joshua!" Rosemary looked around the townhouse. "Its lovely!"

"You've seen my place before, Mom."

"Not this place. I've seen YOUR place, yes. But yours and Sam's place together, no. Not here. This is something different. Some things I recognize, some things I don't. Those things belong to him, right?"

"Some things belong to Sam. Some things belong to me. Most things belong to us. Just about everything belongs to us. It all belongs to us. Feel free to take an inventory."

"Don't have a smart mouth," Rosemary admonished.

"Yes, ma'am. I'm taking your suitcases to the guestroom. Now, is there anything you want out of them before I take them in there?"

Rosemary Lyman stood by the couch as she considered what she might need.

Josh shifted the suitcases. What can she possibly have in here that weighs this much, he thought. She must have dead bodies in here. It never occurred to him to set the suitcases down while his Mother contemplated.

"I don't think so, sweetheart. But I do need to go into the ladies room and freshen up a little. What time will Sam be home?"

"We don't have a ladies room," Josh deadpanned.

Rosemary looked surprised. "You don't have a...? Joshua! If I'm going to have to put up with this the whole time I'm here, just take me back to the airport now!"

Josh cocked his head and smiled at his Mother. "You really wanna go?" he asked.

"Not in a million years. Take me to the men's room. And I asked you, what time will Sam be home?"

Josh led his Mother to the guestroom. "About four o'clock if he doesn't get lost in the bookstore, and you never can tell with Sam. I think he loves books more than he loves me."

Josh put her suitcases on the bed, opened the closet full of satin-covered, scented hangers he'd bought just for her, and opened several empty dresser drawers.

"I made this bed up with fresh sheets all by myself so Sam wouldn't get suspicious. Smell. I used fabric softener. Looks good, doesn't it?"

"It looks just fine son, and it smells wonderful. You did a good

"After you finish unpacking I'll get your suitcases out of the way."

Josh pushed the bathroom door open and flipped on the light. "Fresh towels, that goat milk soap stuff you like, bubble bath...I got pink, I didn't know...and a scented candle so you can relax when you take a bath."

Josh turned and smiled at his Mother in the bathroom doorway. She beamed and put her hand on his cheek. "Joshua, my sweet boy," she said softly. "You always did take care of your Mother. You're a good son."

Josh took her hand and kissed it. "I'm so glad you're here, Mom. This is so special to me and your being here makes it perfect."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world. Now scoot out of here for a few minutes so I can clean up and then I'll go to the kitchen and get busy."

"You don't need to go to the kitchen. I want you to relax. Take it easy."

"I relax in the kitchen."

"If you say so. Anything you need first? Coffee, orange juice, a beer?"

Rosemary smacked Josh on the arm. "You know I don't drink beer! No honey, I'm just fine. Now scoot!"

Josh backed out of the room and closed the door behind him. As soon as it closed he knocked on it.

"Who's there?" his Mother asked in a sing-song voice.

"It's me, Mom."

"Me who?"

"Mother, it's Josh. Who else would it be?"

"Well, you always tell me to be cautious," she laughed. "How can I help you, young man?" She took clothes out of her suitcase while she remembered how fun it is to tease her son.

"Uh, I just wanna tell you again how glad I am you're here," Josh said through the closed door. "I've missed you."

Rosemary Lyman put some of her things in an empty drawer then stood with her hand on her heart. "I love you too, son."

Josh sat on the couch and clung to a pillow. He had been ok until his Mother arrived and was actually in the other room. Now it was so much more real. Like it was actually going to happen. Hell, it IS happening. He looked at his watch. In just a few hours. It seemed like just yesterday it was weeks and now its just hours away.

And I can't wait!

Josh went into the kitchen and speed-dialed Toby. One ring, two rings, three rings. Answer Toby. Answer the fucking phone.

Toby picked up on the fourth ring. "Yeah?"

"Toby, Josh. You know, don't you?"

"Know what?"

Josh paled. "Know what? Toby, don't do this to me. Please tell me you didn't forget. You DO know today's the day, don't you?"

Toby hoped Josh could hear him smile over the phone. "Relax, Josh. Yes, yes, yes. I know today's the day. Like you're gonna let me forget?"

"And you know what to do and when and where?"

"Engrained in my brain for eternity. Calm down. Damn, the Inauguration wasn't as complicated as this," Toby said. "I'll do my thing with the thing when and where I'm supposed to, ok? Trust me."

Josh felt more assured. He trusted Toby. "Ok. See ya then. Oh, and you do..."

"Josh! I'm hanging up now! Did your Mom arrive ok?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Good. I'm hanging up for real now." With that Toby hung up the phone.

Josh ran his hand through his hair and looked at his watch again.

Now if Sam just does HIS part and comes home on time.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 8

Sam left the gym feeling good. He'd played some hard, fast, rough racquetball and met a new potential partner, Marc Hayes. He still couldn't get beyond the idea that Marc may be related to Ainsley. The odds were against it, but still...and he couldn't understand why it kept nagging at him so. Ainsley was just a colleague. And Marc was just a racquetball competitor.

He'd told Josh he was going to come home, do some work for Toby, then claim the couch and start on his new novel. Now that his adrenalin was rushing, vegging out on the couch didn't sound all that attractive anymore. He wanted to DO something, GO somewhere, but he wanted Josh to be with him. He didn't want to play outdoors in the sunshine alone. He wanted his favorite playmate along. When he got in his car he pushed #1 on speed dial and called home. Josh answered on the first ring.

"Sam?"

"How'd you know it was me?" Sam laughed.

"Just hoped," Josh answered. And caller I.D., he thought to himself.

"What a nice thing to say, Josh. That's sweet."

"Are you finished playing?"

"Yep. Just left the gym five minutes ago. I'm in the car now."

"Get some good games in?"

Sam smiled. Leave it to Josh to ask. "I did. I played like the Tasmanian Devil, bouncing off the walls."

"Did you hurt yourself? Bouncing off the walls? You didn't mess up your face, did you?"

"No Josh, my face is intact. That just meant I was nailing some really tough returns. I played well."

"That's my boy. Did you win?"

"Mostly."

"So you're on your way to have lunch with Dave?"

"No, the jerk didn't show again. I played with some guy named Steve from the list, which will never happen again. I'm on my way to the bookstore to pick up that book. You want anything?"

That damn list, Josh thought. "No, nothing, thanks. Then are you coming home?" Josh hoped he didn't sound too eager.

"Well, that's what I'm calling about. I'm really pumped Josh, my endorphins are hopping all over the place, and crashing on the couch reading just doesn't appeal to me right now. I'd feel like a slug. A big ole nasty, slimy slug getting slug prints on my new book."

Josh's heart sank.

"So I was thinking," Sam continued, "why don't I swing by and pick you up and we can go out and do something, work off some energy, you know?"

"Go somewhere?" Josh felt panic. He could see his plans fall apart right in front of him.

"Yeah. Maybe get our bikes out and ride some. It's really nice out today, Josh, and you know how I love being outdoors. Seems like we're always stuck inside. Let's take advantage of a beautiful day."

Josh was silent. Think fast. Use your head. Change horses in mid-stream. That's what you DO. You've done it in the Oval Office in front of world leaders who bought your story without the blink of an eye, so surely you can do it now.

"Bikes are good," Josh blurted. "Jackson Park. Is that ok?"

"Perfect!" Sam said with enthusiasm. "Small park, not too many people, a lake. Good choice. Go ahead and get our bikes out of the basement. See you in about fifteen. Love you."

"Love you too Sam," Josh said, and hung up the phone.

He sighed heavily. Any other day Sam would have come straight home and everything would have gone smooth as silk. But today he wanted to play outside. Today he wanted to ride bikes. Sam and his damn endorphins.

He called Toby.

"Yeah?"

"Toby, Josh."

"What's the problem?"

"How'd you know there's a problem?" Josh asked.

"Whenever you call me there's a problem. What's up?"

"Sam called and wants me and him, him and I, him and me, us, to go ride bikes instead of him coming home because he's pumped and his endorphins are doing the boogie-woogie, so he's coming by here to get me and our bikes and we're going to Jackson Park, so you have to come to our place and pick up my Mother and that guy and you and her and him be at the park by six o'clock and meet us and we'll do it there, ok?" Josh said in one breath.

Apparently Toby absorbed it all in one take. "Where in Jackson Park?" he asked calmly.

"You know the fountain near the gazebo by the lake? There's a short footpath to a scenic overlook. You and Mom figure out something. Be there at six o'clock with my Mother and the..."

"...who's gonna call the..."

"...my Mother. She knows him, not me."

"Josh, it'll be fine. Worry not."

Josh hung up the phone and started hitting himself in the head with a pillow out of sheer exasperation and his own adrenalin. Finally he called out, "Mom! Mommmmm!"

Rosemary came out of the guestroom in a robe and bedroom slippers to find her son flagellating himself with a grayish-ecru throw pillow.

"Josh? What in Heaven's name?" She rushed over and took the pillow out of his hands. "What's the matter, sweetheart?" She wrapped her arm around him and turned his face toward her.

"Nothing's working right," he whined. He nestled into her hug; it felt like home when he was a kid, before his Dad died, before Joanie died. He inhaled being in her embrace. He cherished this moment of being nurtured by his Mother. He wanted to cry for something he had a long time ago that he'd never have again.

"Don't whine, Joshua," Rosemary said. "We're going to fix it. Tell me everything."

Josh explained the situation to his Mother and she laughed and told him he was, as usual, getting all riled up about nothing that couldn't be taken of, and to take off his good clothes so he could wear them to work Monday.

"I've got other good clothes, Mom. A whole closet full. I even own a tuxedo. I don't have to rent one any more."

"Don't talk back," she chided. "And hang them up, don't just throw them across the bed for Sam to hang up later. Then after you change you can go outside and ride your bike."

Josh felt like he was 8 years old and loved it. He kissed his Mother on the cheek and bounded upstairs. With his Mom in charge, he knew everything would work out just fine. He threw his good clothes on the bed, put on a pair of sweats and went outside to wait on the sidewalk for Sam.

Mostly he paced, stretched, and did just about everything he could think of, except how the rest of the day would pan out. Then he saw Sam's car and his heart skipped a beat. Funny, he thought, how my heart still skips a beat sometimes when I see Sam coming for me. He waved as Sam pulled up to the curb and stopped. Sam lowered the passenger side window.

"Where's the bikes?" he asked.

"In the basement."

"Why didn't you get them?"

"I don't know."

Sam frowned, raised the window, turned off the engine and got out of the car.

"I know why you didn't get them," he said. "You're scared to go down there by yourself. Got the key?"

Surprisingly, he did. He dangled the key high so Sam could see it, and Sam gave him a thumbs up.

"Let's get `em and go then," he said.

"Sorry I didn't get them already, Sam. But I just couldn't decide whether to wear my latex riding shorts and halter top or my Speedos."

"You goof," Sam laughed. "Fashion has never been your first priority. You probably dragged those sweats out of the dirty clothes basket didn't you?"

Silence.

"Did you?" Sam repeated.

Silence.

"Josh! Did you get those out of the dirty clothes? You did! You're disgusting! Just ride down-wind from me."

The guys went into the security locked storage basement for the building and opened their assigned locker area. It wasn't well-lit and shadows cast exaggerated figures on the concrete walls.

"This place always creeps me out," Josh said.

"Why?"

"I don't know. I always imagine maniacal axe murderers or gigantic spiders being down here. Hurry up and get our bikes."

"Ok, ok, you could have had this done you know," Sam reminded him.

"I'm not coming down here alone," Josh finally admitted.

Sam found a flashlight and turned it on, then held it under his chin. When he knew Josh wasn't looking, he stood right behind him and stared with ghastly eyes that didn't blink and the face of a corpse frozen in time.

Josh pulled his bike off the hooks on the wall then turned and saw Sam.

"Holy shit!" he yelled. He dropped the bike and fell backward into a pile of boxes. "What the fuck are you doing...that's not funny...I just told you...asshole!"

Sam broke into laughter. "What a wuss! You are SUCH a weenie!" He reached his hand out to help Josh out of the boxes. Josh knocked Sam's hand away and got up by himself. He stomped and snorted and had a minor hissy fit, more embarrassed than anything, and muttered to himself about how scaring people like that could cause heart attacks and THEN he'd be sorry. Sam just laughed.

They got their bikes ~~ Sam's black 15-speed and Josh's red 12-speed, and attached them to the rack on the back of Sam's car, then headed for Jackson Park.

"So, how'd you spend your morning?" Sam asked. He put his hand on Josh's thigh and squeezed it with affection. Sam smelled good, like soap and shampoo, just-out-of-the-shower clean. And toothpaste.Sam always smells like toothpaste, Josh thought. I am SO in love with this guy. I can get off just smelling him. And I've got the strongest urge to give him a blow job right here, right now, the hell with the bikes.

"Went to Dulles and watched the planes take off and land," Josh answered.

Sam glanced at him. "What happened to this 100% honesty thing with each other all the time we agreed on?" he asked.

"I did!" Josh protested. "When we get home I'll show you my stub from the parking lot."

Sam laughed. "I just might hold you to that."

"Ok, I can do it. Just wait. You'll see. I have it, I do."

Jackson Park was one of D.C.'s best-kept secrets, except for the handful of locals who lived in the area. It was breath-takingly beautiful in early spring. Flowering trees bloomed and shouted with color. Shrubbery with feathered blossoms scattered in the breeze and snowed down on the park and lined the roadway and paths. A million petals from the glory of flowers filled the air with a fragrance so sweet it smelled like ambrosia.

Sam parked the car; the guys took their bikes off the rack, put on their helmets and started down the bike path. Josh just now thought this day was going to turn out better than he thought. He smiled and sped up so he could ride alongside Sam. They'd race, then ride slow so they could talk to each other, then speed up again.

Josh loved to watch Sam ride. Sam was in top physical condition. His muscles were taut and well-defined, 'buffed' as Donna called him, and with each revolution of the bicycle pedal the muscles of Sam's calves would tighten and glisten as beads of sweat formed on his tanned legs. He set his gears so he'd get the maximum resistance for the best workout. Josh had his set so he could just get through the park.

They rode at a fairly fast clip, Josh mesmerized by Sam's calf muscles as they steadily flexed and released, when Sam turned around and grinned at him.

"You holding up ok?" he shouted.

Josh gave him a thumbs up.

"Need to take a break?"

Josh shook his head. If he remembered correctly, the lake was close. He looked at his watch. If Toby had done his thing and his Mother had done her thing and if the 'whatever' had done his thing and if neither he nor Sam crashed their bikes into a tree a la POTUS '99, then he might actually pull this thing off.

"Hey Sam!" he hollered.

Sam turned around.

"You know!"

Sam grinned at him.

"You know too!"

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 9

When the lake was in sight, Sam pulled over to the side of the path and stopped. Josh pulled up beside him. "Look how the sun reflects off the water," Sam said. "Like little stars twinkling."

"You and your stars. How come you never became an astronaut, Sam? I'm serious."

Sam removed the cap off his water bottle and took a long drink. "Couldn't pass the eye exam and I'm nearly deaf in one ear. You know that."

"You mean you tried? You actually went through all the shit to try and be an astronaut? How come I don't know about this?" He took Sam's water bottle and drank from it.

Sam shrugged. "Nothing ever came of it so why mention it? I didn't pass the test so why talk about my failures?"

"But to get to the physical part didn't you have to pass a lot of written stuff?"

Sam nodded, a look of disappointment on his face.

Josh hopped around in disbelief. "Sam! I can't believe you! You walk into NASA and say 'I want to be an astronaut' and ace all those 'astronaut tests' but don't get in because you're wearing glasses! Do you have no perception of what an accomplishment just getting THAT far is? Dammit Sam, give yourself a little credit. When I tell..."

"DON'T tell anybody," Sam said, then his voice softened. "Please. It's something I don't want anybody to know. It was just one of those spur-of-the-moment things, you know?"

"No, I DON'T know! I've never just said on the spur-of-the-moment, 'I think I'll be an astronaut today' and waltz into NASA and be seriously considered. Sam, don't you realize what you've...do you ever talk to Toby about his brother flying up there in those shuttles?"

"No, and it wasn't like I just waltzed in the front door and said 'I want to be an astronaut'. Let it go. And yes, I've tried to bring it up with Toby a couple of times, made it pretty obvious that I wanted to talk about it in fact, but Toby wouldn't have a thing to do with it so I let it drop. I figured if he wanted to talk about his brother with me, he would. He made it clear he didn't. You ready to move on? I figure we'll go around the lake once, that gazebo will be the half-way mark of the entire trail, then take the loop back to our car. How's that sound to you?"

"Sounds ok," Josh said. "I'm glad you suggested this Sam, it couldn't be nicer. And remember what I told you this morning? Today's the day."

"Yeah, I remember."

"Well, today's still the day."

"Yeah, ok, whatever." Sam shook his head and pedaled at an easy pace on the trail around the lake with Josh close behind.

When they got near the gazebo Josh pulled up alongside Sam. "Let's pull over here and stop."

"Something wrong?" Sam asked. "You can't be tired already."

"I'm not tired. I want to go up this footpath. Have you ever been up there?"

"I don't think so. I usually come here just to ride my bike or run. The trails usually have walkers on them so I can't get a good run going. What's up there?" Sam asked.

"Let's lock our bikes up then we'll go see. It's a short trail, just a gentle slope actually. More like a walk to a scenic view," Josh explained. They started their walk up the wooded path, lined with flowers and blossoming shrubbery.

"You're acting weird all of a sudden Lyman," Sam said. He squinted at Josh. "Does this have anything to do with what you said this morning, about messing up my plans for the day?"

"Hey, don't blame that on me! YOU'RE the one who changed your carved-in-stone plans of sprawling on the couch reading a new novel all afternoon to 'hey-let's-go-biking-across-the-country'. I'm blameless in this one."

"Yeah, ok. What's up there anyway?"

"Patience, my boy," Josh admonished. "Patience."

Just about that time they turned at a bend in the trail. Around the bend a woman sat on a stone bench. She wore a fine pink dress, pearls and a white corsage. Sam literally did a double-take when he saw her.

"Rosemary? Rosemary Lyman? Is that you?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yes, it's me Samuel."

She stood as Sam rushed to her. He hugged her as tightly as he could without crushing her corsage. He held her close, truly glad to see her. Josh stood off to the side and grinned. Sometimes he thought his Mother loved Sam as much or more than she loved him, as much as she would a second son. And that was just fine.

"Josh, what is this? What's your Mother doing up here? What's going on? Rosemary you look so good. When did you get here?"

"Just a little further to go," Josh said. "Mother, just ignore his questions."

Josh took one of his Mother's hands and Sam took the other as the three continued on. Around the next small crook they saw Toby. He stood among the flowers and looked as out-of-place as anyone could look. He wore a tux with a rose in his lapel. When he saw the trio he gave a slight bow of acknowledgement and took Rosemary Lyman from the two younger men and placed her hand on his arm as her escort.

"Toby?" Sam was now totally at a loss for words. He felt like 'Alice in Wonderland' and couldn't imagine what he would come across next. He looked at Josh, who smiled like the Cheshire Cat. "Josh...what...what?"

Toby escorted Rosemary the short distance to the top of the hill. The guys fell back and walked slowly behind. They stopped by a cluster of trees and Josh pulled Sam into the woods.

"Will you please explain this?" Sam said in a loud whisper only Josh could hear. "You're freaking me out."

"They can't hear us. You don't have to whisper," Josh assured him. "And yes, I'll explain. What were the first words I said to you this morning?"

Sam just stood there, his mind blank. "Hell, I don't know. I can't even remember five minutes ago now. Fruit Loops, cartoons, let's fuck, I love you, today's the day, scratch my back...?"

"There! You said it. The first words I said to you this morning were 'today's the day'. Remember now?"

Sam thought. Josh could almost see the wheels turn in his head as Sam re-played the entire day's tape backward to early this morning when Josh's first words to him had, indeed, been 'today's the day'.

"Yeah, ok, and you've been repeating it ever since," he finally admitted.

Josh put his hands on Sam's shoulders and backed him up against a tree. He leaned into Sam so their bodies were pressed together and kissed him with passion. When he pulled away, Sam reached for him with his lips, eager for more kisses.

"Sam, we've been together a while now, a couple of years. And we've both said, independent of each other and with each other, that we want to stay together forever, right?"

"Well yeah, sure. O f course, there's no question about it. I love you, Josh. I always will. I'm in this for the duration."

"Me too, Sam. In an ideal world we'd be married right now. Do you agree?"

"Definitely. I told you that a long time ago."

"And you know we can't get legally married."

"Legally, yeah. And you're telling me this why...?"

"Because, my sweet Samuel, today's the day. Today I want us to devote ourselves to each other in the only way we can...our way... and to us it will be just as binding as any marriage license in the world. That is, if you, I don't want to say 'accept', that's too hokey. I guess I can say, if you..."

"I accept."

Josh took Sam's face in his hands and kissed him gently on the lips. "I accept too. Let's go. We were SUPPOSED to be wearing tuxes, but I guess sweats and shorts will have to do."

They held hands and walked the short distance to the top of the trail. Toby and Rosemary were there, as was a man that neither recognized. He wore faded jeans, a suede shirt with fringe and was barefoot. His long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

"He said `yes', Mom!" Josh shouted. "Sam said `yes'!" He grabbed Sam's face and gave him a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek. "Did ya hear that Toby? Sam said `yes'!"

"So I heard," Toby mumbled.

Josh went to grab Toby's face in the same way to kiss him. Toby raised his hand, palm out, and narrowed his eyes. Josh came to a halt so sudden he nearly lost his balance. Josh turned and went back to Sam's side.

"Everyone," Rosemary said, "this is Chief Soars Among Stars. I've known him for many years and later I'll explain how. I won't take the time now because there's something more important at hand. Chief, you've met Toby. This is my son, Joshua Lyman, and this is the man he's going to spend eternity with, Samuel Seaborn. Boys, the Chief is going to conduct the ceremony."

Sam's head spun. When he awoke this morning he had absolutely no idea this is what 'today's the day' meant. Never would he have guessed Josh would have done all this for...for him. It was at that moment it hit him how very, very much Josh must love him to do this, to truly want to spend life on Earth and into eternity with him. He looked at Josh.

Josh stared straight ahead with tears in his eyes. Sam knew if Josh looked at him, they'd both break down. Sam glanced at Toby. He had no idea what to expect. Sam was pleased with what he saw. Toby was totally into this ~~ intrigued even, by what took place before him.

Toby saw Sam look at him and winked. A grin spread across Sam's face.

The view before them was one they knew well ~~ The White House ~~ from a distance. The buildings, the monuments, and the spring flowers and trees were beautiful. The sight couldn't have been more appropriate. And being outdoors in the quiet, with only the gentle breeze and the birds, made it feel like this was the place they were supposed to be.

Sam and Josh stood next to each other and held hands. Rosemary stood next to Josh and Toby stood next to Sam. Chief Soars Among Stars faced them. Then he spoke:

"This day we stand upon holy ground, entrusted to us from the elders as a gift to cherish all the days we have upon this land. And when we rise from this place, we pass this holy ground on to those who shall honor it as we do. This tradition has lasted through the ages not because of one man, but because of man NEXT to man. What better gift than to share the most precious of these simple pleasures, our instinct for life itself and our passion for love and companionship with the soul of our choosing, the soul we shall stand next to in eternity, and pass on this holy ground to the children who follow us now.

Who among us willingly shares Joshua with Samuel throughout this life and life ever after with Mother Earth? Who passes Joshua over to Samuel with prayers for their spiritual and physical love and the eternal flame of hope for happiness, joy, understanding, trust and an intimacy as only they can share?"

Rosemary put her hand on Josh's arm. "I will share my given son, Joshua, and pass him over to Samuel." Josh leaned over and kissed his Mother on the cheek.

"Who among us willingly shares Samuel with Joshua throughout this life and life ever after with Mother Earth? Who passes Samuel over to Joshua with prayers for their spiritual and physical love and the eternal flame of hope for happiness, joy, understanding, trust and an intimacy as only they can share?"

Toby put his hand on Sam's arm. "I will share my chosen brother, Samuel, and pass him over to Joshua." Sam and Toby shook hands and then the two embraced.

"And with what symbol shall Joshua and Samuel demonstrate their commitment to each other?"

Toby reached into his jacket pocket and brought out two identical wedding bands and handed them to the Chief. He handed one to Josh and said, "With this ring, as a symbol of your love..."

Josh turned to Sam and took his left hand. "Sam, I put this ring on your finger as an outward symbol of my pure and sacred love for you. The ring is a traditional expression of our unity, however, our unity is non-traditional, and so must be the sharing of our commitment with others. Wear this ring on your finger when you can, and keep it in your heart when you cannot. Sam, in the eyes of God and the Spirits of Nature and those with us here today, I give myself to you and take you unto me from this moment on, throughout existence."

Josh put the band on Sam's left hand ring finger. "I love you, Sam."

The Chief then handed the other band to Sam and said, "With this ring, as a symbol of your love..."

Sam was totally unprepared with any vows, as such, but he turned to Josh and took his left hand. "Josh, I put this ring on your finger because the deepest parts of our souls have touched and come together, joining our spirits at the heart...the heart being the universal symbol of love. Though we can't show our oneness TO the world by wearing our rings, we can spread our oneness IN the world through our devotion and commitment to each other all the days of our lives and in holy union thereafter, until time is no more. Josh, in the eyes of God and the Spirits of Nature and those with us here today, I give myself to you and take you unto me from this moment on, throughout existence." Sam put the band on Josh's left hand ring finger. "I love you, Josh."

The Chief joined Sam and Josh's left hands. "May Mother Earth guide your feet. May Father Sky keep his arms around you. May Grandfather Sun warm your cold days. May Grandmother Moon keep the glow in your heart. May the Star Nations light the way to your next destination and the Great Spiritual ways keep you shielded from the pain. Blessings to you Joshua and Samuel. You are as One."

Sam and Josh kissed tenderly, then Rosemary hugged and kissed Josh, then Sam, then Toby, then the Chief, then started all over again with Josh. Sam was still in shock and had his hand wrapped around Josh's so tightly he was about to cut off the circulation.

"Guys," Toby said, as Rosemary talked to the Chief. "I don't mean to be the bad guy here, but you know those rings can only be worn in very limited places."

Instinctively, Sam and Josh both looked at their hands. "What if we wear them on our right hands on alternate days?" Sam asked.

Toby shook his head and looked sincerely sympathetic. "I wish it could be different guys," he said.

"I just don't want to take it off...ever," Sam continued.

"Maybe things will have changed enough so you can wear it all the time when it's your turn," Toby said.

Sam looked at him quizzically. "When it's my turn to what?"

"To be the President."

Sam looked at Josh. Josh grinned.

"Who told you about that? I didn't tell anybody except Josh."

Josh raised both hands with his palms out. "I didn't say a thing."

"I didn't hear it from Josh," Toby said. "I heard it from Jed Bartlet."

"No shit?"

"No shit."

"Boys, I don't care for that kind of talk." All of a sudden Rosemary Lyman was behind them, one hand on Sam's back, the other on Toby's, which startled them both. "I think we're ready to go now."

Sam turned, "I didn't get to talk to the Chief. Where is he?"

"He's gone, Sam. Another time maybe. Toby?" Then to Josh and Sam, "Don't be long boys."

Toby extended his arm and Rosemary held on to steady herself, then the two started back down the footpath.

Sam and Josh held back. They watched Toby and Josh's Mother walk away, both dressed as if they'd just been to a wedding, Rosemary with a corsage, Toby with a rose in the lapel of his tuxedo. And there stood Josh in sweats and Sam in shorts and a t-shirt. At the same time they looked at each other then at their ringed fingers and started to laugh. They didn't say a word to each other, they just laughed. Then Sam started to cry with joy, which made Josh cry. They embraced and held each other tight.

"Josh," Sam sniffled, "I...I just can't believe you'd do something like this for...for me."

Josh pulled them apart and put his hands on Sam's shoulders. He looked directly into Sam's eyes and asked softly, "Why not Angel? You KNOW how much I love you."

Sam just shook his head and tried to find his voice. "A person has to really love somebody to do this. I never knew you cared so much."

Josh looked stunned. "Sam, you're not serious. You never knew?"

Sam shook his head. "I knew you loved me, but...no one has ever...not like THIS."

"Oh Sam, my baby." Josh enveloped Sam as if he'd never let him go. "Why didn't I ever know this? How could I NOT know this? Sam, do you care this much for me?"

Sam nodded. "More. I love you more Josh."

"Then why can't you believe I'd do this for you? I don't understand, Sam."

"Your Mom came all the way out here...and Toby. Did you hear what Toby said? Did you make him say that?"

"No, Angel. Toby chose his own words. In fact, when I told Toby what I wanted to do, he asked if he could be the one to, 'pass you over to me'. I told him my Mom was coming and he asked who would be there for you and I said I hadn't figured that out yet. You know what he said? He asked if it could be him. I swear babe. Toby ASKED to do this for YOU."

Sam wiped away tears with the back of his hand.

"You have no idea, do you," Josh asked, "just how many people love and care about you?"

"You know what Father...my Father would do if he knew this was happening right now? He'd take a Glock .44 semi-automatic and shoot me through the heart," Sam said. He laughed through his tears. "Then he'd shoot you, then Toby, then that Indian Chief! Who WAS that guy anyway?"

Josh shook his head. "I have no idea. And Sam, he wouldn't do that," Josh said. "He's your Dad. He wouldn't."

"Yeah Josh, he would. I'll never be able to take you home."

"Home is with you, Sam. Come on, this shindig ain't over yet. We can talk more about it later."

"What's next?" Sam asked, as they started down the path.

"A hot shower then dinner at some frou-frou place. I'd just as soon have pizza, but Mother said no, so we're eating frou-frou."

Sam laughed. "She's staying with us, isn't she?"

"Yeah, for a few days. I picked her up this afternoon."

"So you WERE at the airport. I'm impressed you put all this together yourself." Then, "You didn't have Donna do this?"

"No way!"

"Just checking. Josh, do we have time to go fuck in the bushes before dinner?"

Josh laughed. "I wish, but no. Mom and Toby are headed straight to the restaurant. We have to go home for a quick shower and meet them there."

At the gazebo, Sam unlocked their bikes while Josh told his Mother their plans. There were reservations in Toby's name and they wouldn't be very long getting there. Toby held the door for Rosemary, but before he got in the car, he spoke to Sam and Josh as they got on their bikes.

"Guys, I, um, guess congratulations are in order. I've never attended one of these."

"Neither have we, Toby!" Sam laughed.

"Yeah, well, I have two things I want to say to you. It's ok to wear your bands tonight, but please, for God's sake, be VERY aware of who's in the restaurant, who's around us, and please, if either of you see anybody you even THINK you might have EVER seen in your entire lives, pocket the rings, ok?"

Sam and Josh both nodded. "Sure," they said in unison. "What's the other thing?" Josh asked.

Suddenly Toby became nervous. He looked around to make sure nobody could hear him and lowered his voice. "When you go home, now, to shower and get dressed...uh...please try to control yourselves."

Sam and Josh knew exactly what he meant, but decided to have a little fun.

"Control ourselves? What do you mean, Toby?" Sam asked innocently.

"You know. Your emotions are bound to be running high right now. So try not to...look at each other or touch each other or anything like that. Whatever it is you guys do that gets you going. Wait until later tonight, because we'll be waiting for you at the restaurant and I'm already hungry."

Sam and Josh did their best to keep from bursting into laughter.

"You mean I can't look at Sam because I might lose control of myself?" Josh asked.

Toby became more nervous and was obviously frustrated. "Well yeah, while he's, uh, partially undressed or in the shower or something...dammit, I don't know!"

The guys couldn't hold it any longer and exploded into fits of laughter. Sam fell on the ground and tried to catch his breath.

Toby's face reddened. "You little shits! You fucking assholes! When you come in to work Monday morning neither of you will have jobs, so don't even bother coming in! You're both fired! Do you hear me? And I'm not kidding! Little shits!"

With that he turned and marched toward the car and stood at the door. He had to compose himself before he got inside with Rosemary.

As he drove off, Toby looked in the rear view mirror and saw Sam and Josh put their bike helmets on and ride away. He smiled and turned to Rosemary. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I can't wait for the grandkids."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 10

"DON'T...scuff the paint," Sam begged as Josh let his bicycle fall against the dining room wall. The grip on his handle bar left a small black mark that Sam tried to wipe away with spit on his finger.

"Be careful with the pedals...PLEASE be careful with the pedals." Sam arranged both bikes so they didn't touch anything, put paper towels under the tires and followed Josh upstairs.

"I'll start the shower and you lay out our clothes, ok?" Josh said. "You know what goes with tuxes and we'd better wear them since I made Toby put one on. Then come on in."

"Nope."

Josh came out of the bathroom and looked at Sam. He had made two neat piles on the bed, one for each of them ~~ underwear, socks, ties and shiny shoes, upside down so the soles wouldn't touch the bedspread.

"Excuse me?" Josh asked.

"I'm showering up here, you're showing downstairs in the guestroom," Sam explained. "Which aftershave are you wearing? We don't want to clash."

"You've got to be kidding me." Josh stripped down to his underwear. He threw his sweats on the bed just as his Mother had told him not to do.

Sam picked up the dirty, sweaty sportswear with two fingers and flung them at Josh. "Nope. I'm not kidding. Me here, you there."

He turned to Josh who stood defiantly with his hands on his hips and his mouth wide open. Sam laughed. "You look like a big ole catfish, Josh. Close your mouth."

Josh did so out of habit. He'd grown so accustomed to doing whatever Sam told him to do that it had become second nature. It was easier than asking why on the little things because Sam was right more often than not.

"But we always shower together," he protested. "Or almost always".

"Not tonight. And stop whining." Sam started to undress as he headed for the bathroom. "Thanks for starting my shower, by the way."

Josh followed him. "Don't tell me you took what Toby said seriously."

"Yep."

"That if we get in a hot, steamy shower together, these two naked, buffed bodies, that we won't have enough self-control and we'll end up having sex all night and miss our own celebratory dinner?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Yep. Well, he actually said YOU wouldn't be able to control YOURSELF when you see ME, but close enough." Sam took off the rest of his clothes until he was naked.

He looked good and he knew it. He worked hard at keeping his body in shape and dressed to show off what he had underneath. He presented the best possible appearance he could at the White House and professional functions, but at home and when he and Josh were playing, he didn't pay any much attention to how he looked ~~ jeans, sweats, shorts and t-shirts. Most of the time. At other times he relished driving Josh absolutely crazy with his nude body, and even though Josh knew it, he fell for it every time.

Josh couldn't help himself. He'd tried on several occasions to muster the willpower to look away, to ignore Sam and beat him at his own game, but so far he'd never been able to do it and just melted whenever Sam teased him, flirted with him, played coy for the sole purpose of being a showman just for Josh.

Sam seemed to always have a tan; it was just the luck of genetics, and there wasn't a blemish on a single inch of his body ~~ Josh had checked. He was lean and his muscles were toned and well-defined, even when he wasn't flexing them. He's 'buffed', Donna had said. He's 'cut', Ginger had chimed in. 'His forearms look so strong I'll bet he could lift a girl out of bed with one arm and use the other to...'

Josh had slammed his office door before Cathy finished THAT sentence. What REALLY got him was when he finally emerged for a cup of coffee and Margaret said, `Even that sweet little butt of his is as tight as a tick.' Josh had slapped the back of his neck just at the thought of a tick and vowed he'd never look Margaret in the eye again.

"Ladies, are we working out here or are we appraising Sam's physique, on taxpayer's time, I might add?" he'd asked rather rudely. In unison they all said, "We're appraising Sam's physique." and Donna just had to add, "We're taxpayers too." At that moment Josh was SO glad he didn't have a woman to go home to.

Sam stood in the bathroom door and faced Josh. He hid nothing, especially his nearly full erection. He slid one arm up the doorframe until it was stretched to the top. This only showed off his muscles more, most notably his abs. Steam from the shower drifted toward the door and curled around Sam, which made him look almost surreal. He purposely closed his eyelids half-way; the look Josh always said was his most seductive. He gazed at Josh with something between a smirk and a half-smile.

Josh stomped his foot and swung his arm at nothing. "Sam, come on, be realistic. The water is already running and we can be in and out in ten, fifteen minutes, tops."

"Do you really believe you can get in that shower with that steamy hot water beating down on us, me all lathered up with soap as I run my hands all over my own body, jackin' off, 'cause I sure can't go to the restaurant like this, and you can't touch me or we'll be here all night. Is that what you're saying, Josh?" Sam ran his hand down to his cock and fondled it. Immediately it snapped to full attention and saluted Josh.

Sam almost felt sorry for Josh as he stood there in his undershirt and bulging BVD's.

There was silence as Josh watched Sam manipulate his own hard penis with his hand. He deftly played it like a fine instrument. Sam knew just what he wanted and worked it as a craftsman; his hand wrapped around the shaft as he handled himself until he almost came, then slowed and finally, gently stroked it with the same tenderness he gave Josh when they made love.

His half-smile turned to a sultry gaze, his lips became a pout. Sam's head tilted down, his cornflower blue eyes peered up through his lashes. He teased Josh, tempted him to come closer, dared him to, though he still admonished him to make a move. Sam parted his legs just a little.

Josh snarled, "Ok, goddammit! I've had it. Either you go in that bathroom and lock the door behind you or you come out and do me right here, right now, three minutes tops! I can't take this any longer.

What's it gonna be, hotshot?"

"You're gonna have to wait, hotshot, for a few more hours. Then you can have this body and do anything you want with it. This rock hard dick belongs to you now baby." Sam held it in his hand for emphasis. "And it will SO be inside you, you'll think you died and went to Heaven. Tonight you're gonna have the best sex of your life. Today was the day? Well, tonight is the night."

Sam gave Josh a slow, sexy wink with those long eyelashes, backed into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Josh stood there, not quite sure what had just happened. Suddenly the door opened just enough for Sam to stick his head out. "You! Go! Now!"

As soon as Sam closed the door he fell on his knees in the bathroom and covered his mouth with both hands so he wouldn't laugh out loud. His body shook with laughter. That persona was SO not Sam, but Josh fell for it every time and it took everything Sam had to keep a straight face. He loved the way Josh just stared at him like he was a hooker on the street corner. And to tell the truth, whenever he did it, Sam kind of enjoyed playing the whore. He made a mental note to actually act out that fantasy for Josh sometime soon and actually let him get the guy for a change. When he finally composed himself he hopped in the shower and savored the hot water beating on his tight muscles. But he missed Josh being in there with him. The bathtub seemed big and lonely without Josh.

Ever obedient, Josh turned and bounded downstairs, through the guestroom, and into the bathroom. It wasn't until he was in the shower he realized the only soap available was all that fancy stuff his Mother had brought. Soap with names like 'Morning Breeze' and 'Summer Lilac' and that goat milk stuff he'd bought for her. He decided on that and hoped that at least with the word 'goat' in it he would smell a little gamier than lilacs. And what's with this shampoo? This isn't like any shampoo I've ever seen before, Josh thought. It's orange and jiggley like Jell-O and it says 'Apricot-Mango' on the tube. Oh man, this is turning out so wrong. When he was as clean and sweet smelling as he could possibly be, Josh stood in front of the mirror wrapped in a pink towel. With no razor. But he knew better than to go upstairs until he was completely finished in the bathroom and ready to get dressed.

Josh felt guilty going through his Mother's many little bags on the countertop, but he had to find a razor. Ah, this must be it, he thought. It's got a pink handle. How come everything women have in their personal things is pink? What the hell? This isn't a razor! What's wrong with the handle? It isn't straight like a regular razor. It's rubber and it's all curvy and twisty and how am I supposed to shave with this? Tell me that! How do they even hold on to these things? And where does the blade go? I don't see a blade.

Shit!

He figured it out about the same time he realized he didn't have any shaving cream. He looked in another of his Mother's bags ~~ pink of course ~~ and pulled out an aerosol can. He shook it and something foamy came out in his hand. He glanced at the label and saw 'feminine hygiene 'something-or-the-other so he threw the can back in the pink bag, shuddered, and used 'Summer Lilac' soap on his face for shaving. Damn, he thought, I'm going to smell like a fucking fag.

Done, Josh stood at the bottom of the stairs. "Sam?"

No response.

"Sam?"

No response.

"Can I come upstairs now?"

At that moment Sam appeared at the top of the steps, fully decked out in his tux, quite easily the centerfold of GQ Magazine. He flashed that million-dollar smile.

"How do I look?"

He was the epitome of class and elegance. A top hat and tails and 'Pumpkin' would have dropped 'Jethro' like a hot potato for this boy toy.

Sam came half-way down the stairs and stopped. He looked perfect.

Josh stood at the bottom of the stairs wrapped in a pink towel, hair stuck out in every direction since he couldn't find a comb or brush, water puddled around him.

Sam came the rest of the way down and circled him. He leaned close and sniffed around Josh's ear. He sniffed Josh's armpit. Then he started to sniff his belly button when Josh blurted out, "Go ahead and say it!"

"Say what?"

"You know what."

"What? I wasn't going to say anything. Just that you need to get dressed really fast so we can go."

"You weren't going to say anything else?"

"No."

Josh eyed Sam suspiciously and started upstairs. When he got to the top step Sam called to him. "Josh?"

Josh turned, a look of defeat on his face. He knew it was coming. "What?"

Sam held up his left hand. "I love my ring."

Josh grinned. That wasn't what he expected. He held up his left hand. "I love mine too."

"You've got ten minutes!" Sam called upstairs.

"You've gotta do my tie."

"I know. Do you realize if it weren't for Donna and me, you'd never be able to wear a tie for you're the rest of your life?"

"I'd get those clip-on bow ties."

"Charming. You about ready?" Sam straightened his collar in the mirror and touched at his hair that didn't need touching.

"About."

"I'm starving."

"Who's driving?" Josh asked.

"I am."

"Why?"

"Because we're drinking tonight and you can't hold your liquor and you'll kill us," Sam explained.

Josh bounded down the stairs, his tie and shoes in hand. "I can hold my liquor with the best of 'em," he said with feigned indignance. He knew full well he couldn't because of his 'sensitive system'.

"Sure, if the rest of 'em are Brownie Troop #8. Stand here. Turn around and back into me." Sam raised Josh's collar and began to work on his tie. As he did, he leaned forward and sniffed Josh's neck, first on one side, then the other.

Josh instinctively pulled away. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Look what you did. Now I've gotta start all over. Come here and back into me again," Sam instructed.

Josh did as he was told, only this time he did it with a little wiggle. "I could get used to this," he said with a grin.

"Well don't get too used to it. We're outta here in one minute, tie or no tie. There, you're done."

He smacked Josh on his bottom as he walked away. "Nice ass baby,"

Sam said. "Think I might get me a piece of that later on tonight?"

"I doubt it. I've got some guy waiting for me upstairs. But I'll see what I can do. You're kinda cute." Josh winked at Sam.

Sam grabbed the keys off the dining room table, took a quick glance around to make sure everything was in order and opened the door.

Josh was nowhere to be seen.

"Josh? Joshua Lyman, where are you?"

"On my way!"

Sam heard the voice, but didn't see the body. He walked into the living room and there, in the middle of the floor amid the couch and chairs and tables, sat Josh, so fine in his tuxedo, about to put on his shoes.

Sam closed his eyes and smiled. God, how I loved this man, he thought. Sam knelt down and tied one shoe while Josh tied the other.

Finished, and out of the blue, Sam shoved Josh backward, flat on the floor, and fell on top of him. He hovered over Josh on his hands and knees, then lowered himself and gave Josh a deep, passionate kiss. They both smiled into the kiss, one of those that just yelled "You mean the world to me!" without words.

When they pulled apart, in that split second when their lips had barely separated, Sam said sweetly and gently, "Josh, I love you so much, and there's something I want to tell you."

Josh, still with a smile on his face whispered, "What's that, baby?"

Sam leaned forward and put his lips back on Josh's. "You smell like a girl."

~~~~~~~~

"Ziegler, party of four. Two should already be here." Sam told the maitre'd.

"Certainly. This way please."

Josh and Sam threaded their way through the restaurant, both with their left hands in their pockets. Toby, bless his heart, had arranged for a booth in the back in the corner in the dark. One of those circular booths where everybody just scootches in together. Toby and Rosemary were in the middle of the booth, a little too close, Josh thought. In fact, Toby should be standing at the door watching for Sam and me.

"Get lost?" Toby asked when they arrived at the table.

Both Sam and Josh took it as rhetorical and let it go. Rosemary took it literally.

"Did you get lost? I was beginning to get worried when you didn't get here right after us. It's so easy to get turned around in this town and I wondered what had happened to you. Where were you boys? What have you been doing all this time?"

Toby practically twisted out of his seat to avoid looking at anybody.

"Uh Mom, do you mind if we do some re-arranging with the seating?" Josh asked.

"Nice cover-up with the rings guys," Toby muttered sarcastically. "You're not obvious or anything."

"How about Sam and me in the middle, you next to me on the end Mom, and Toby next to Sam on the other end. Is that ok with everybody?" Josh asked.

"Well," Rosemary said, "Toby and I were involved in such a wonderful conversation, I thought it would be nice if I could continue sitting next to him, if that would be all right."

"It would be a pleasure Rosemary," Toby assured her.

"You don't want to sit next to me?" Josh asked, his voice beginning to rise.

"Don't whine son. We can sit Toby, me, you, then Sam. That way I'll be next to Toby AND you."

"But then Sam's left hand will be exposed."

Sam spoke up. "How about if we ALL shift so it's me, Josh, Rosemary then Toby. That way my right hand will be on the outside and my left hand will be against Josh and Josh's left hand will be against his Mother so nobody should see anything. Does that work for everybody?"

"Oh Sam! No wonder you're the smartest person in the White House! You work miracles! Toby is so lucky to have you for his boss. He'll learn so much from you," Rosemary gushed.

"Oh no ma'am," Sam started to explain, but Toby waved him away with his hand to indicate it wasn't worth the time and effort to explain. Toby put his hand to his temples and rubbed them with his thumb and middle finger. He felt like an unpaid extra in a bad 'Keystone Kops' movie.

"Toby," Rosemary continued, "we need to slide our drinks over then we need to scootch around to the other side."

"I'll just walk around to the other side, thank you. I don't scootch," Toby said. "I need to step away for a minute. I'll be right back."

Rosemary reached for both Josh and Sam's hands. She kissed each of their rings, remembering to be discreet. "Now its official," she said. "It doesn't count until the Mother says so. You know how Mothers have that free card where they can say 'Because I said so?' Well, I just used my free card and 'I just said so'. Damn the law!"

"Mother!" Josh said. He turned to Sam. "She doesn't usually cuss like this Sam. It's because she's been drinking. Uh, that doesn't sound good does it? She doesn't usually drink either. I don't think I've ever seen her drink a drop of alcohol. Mother, are you ok?"

She ignored her son. "Boys," she continued, "you don't know how happy I am today. I've always wanted two sons, and I couldn't have asked for a better man than Samuel to join our family. Joshua is so lucky to have found you."

"Yes ma'am," Sam replied, "but I feel like the lucky one to have found Josh."

"I just wish your Father was here..."

Things got quiet for an awkward moment.

"Do you really Mom? He never knew. I don't know how he'd take this."

Rosemary looked at Josh, tears in her eyes. "He knew Joshua. I told him the very day you told me. Your Daddy and I didn't keep secrets from each other. He had a right to know."

Josh reached for Sam's hand under the tablecloth and found it already open and waiting for him.

"Why didn't he ever say anything?"

"He figured if you wanted him to know, you'd tell him. His love for you never changed, Joshua. He thought you hung the moon. He was so proud of you, and he would have been proud of you today. He has scrapbook after scrapbook after scrapbook on you."

"I didn't know that. He never told me. I wish he'd told me, Mom. Why didn't he tell me?"

Toby came back and sat in the booth next to Rosemary. Minutes later a waiter came with a bottle of champagne.

"We are celebrating?" The waiter spoke in an accent that wasn't quite French but wasn't quite anything that could be identified. Later Josh swore he made it up.

"Yes we are," Toby answered, suddenly in a jovial mood.

"And the celebration is...?"

"The celebration is joyous," Toby responded.

The waiter poured four glasses of champagne, still curious, but never to find out.

Toby stood and lifted his glass of champagne. The others raised theirs. He spoke softly. "I am deeply proud...and honored...to be in the presence of these two...extraordinary people this evening."

Toby slightly bowed his head and graciously tipped his glass to Rosemary in acknowledgement. "And in the company of this charming lady."

Josh looked at his Mother. She smiled, her bottom lip quivered just a bit and Josh saw tears in her eyes as they glimmered from the candlelight on the table. He took her hand.

Toby continued, his voice low. "These two...wise men...are exceedingly brave as they move forward with unwavering and unquestionable...confidence in their obvious...complete and all-encompassing...love for one another. My respect for them has only... increased...as I've witnessed the determination they've shown and the sacrifices they will...endure...in order to continue to live out their...commitment...to this...union."

Toby hesitated and cleared his throat, then brushed at something that may or may not have been under his eye. "So, my colleagues, friends, and most importantly...my brothers...I pray for your happiness and joy, hope and understanding, health and wealth, and love and affection until the end of time...and most especially, peace in your hearts. Gentle Blessings and Mazel Tov to you both."

Sam, Josh and Rosemary quietly repeated, "Gentle Blessings and Mazel Tov", tapped their glasses together, then drank the first sips of champagne in a life that would change all of them forever. Toby and Sam downed their drinks in one swallow and Toby immediately poured re-fills. Josh and his Mother just sipped their drinks.

The meal was superb, the service impeccable and the conversation comfortable and relaxed, although Toby saw to it things didn't get TOO relaxed. Mostly it was Sam who forgot he was in a public restaurant instead of in his own dining room and pulled his hand from beneath the tablecloth. When in all innocence he merely reached for the saltshaker, within seconds his hand naturally slid over and rested against Josh's, and their pinky fingers over-lapped the other's.

This was a common show of affection for them, something they did without thought, and since Sam had continued to drink throughout the evening, he tended to forget the little things that just came natural to him. And Josh was too busy snuggled between his two favorite people in the world to even think about the ramifications. More than once Sam brought his left hand up and rested it on Josh's right hand. Josh automatically closed his fingers around Sam's and continued his conversation.

Toby waited for a moment until Josh and his Mother were caught up in conversation before he tried to get Sam's attention.

"Sam!" he hissed in a low whisper. Sam just sat there, eyes glazed over, a smile on his face and looked at the candle in the center of the table. "Sam!"

Sam heard his name, but wasn't quite sure where it came from. He turned in the opposite direction and looked behind him. Satisfied that he didn't recognize anyone, he returned his stare to the flame in the candle.

"Sam! Over here!"

Rosemary leaned forward and peered around Josh. "Samuel, I believe Mr. Ziegler is trying to get your attention." She then leaned back and continued to talk with her son.

Sam looked at Toby and tried to focus his eyes on him. "Are you trying to get my attention, Mr. Ziegler?" Sam asked.

"Yes I am, Mr. Seaborn," Toby answered, embarrassed at being caught by Rosemary.

"Awww, that's sweet," Sam said with a smile. "I'll give you all the attention you want."

"Sam, stop holding hands with Josh and put your ring in your pocket. In fact, both of you, put your rings in your pockets."

"Oh Toby, it's darker than a sewer in here. Nobody can see..."

"Now."

Sam tried to pull his hand away from Josh but Josh held on and wouldn't let go. He hadn't heard the conversation between Sam and Toby and didn't realize what was going on.

"What are you doing?" he asked Sam.

Sam finished the drink in front of him and motioned to the waiter for another. "Toby said we have to de-ring."

"What?" Josh continued to hold Sam's hand and Sam continued to try and loosen the grip.

Toby leaned forward to keep the conversation at a low level. "I told you both not to be obvious."

Josh raised his and Sam's clasped hands off the table. "This isn't obvious," he said. "Now THIS may be borderline obvious." Josh brought Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam burst out laughing.

"Josh, Sam is drunk. You're not. Give me both of those rings right now. You know the deal. I'll give them back to you when we leave the restaurant." He put his hand out.

Josh stared at Toby and Toby stared at Josh. Neither of them intended to yield to the other. Sam just smiled. Rosemary remained quiet, not sure what to do, if anything.

Finally Josh spoke. "Then I guess it's time to leave the restaurant, Toby, 'cause there's no way in hell I'm taking this ring off tonight."

Toby gave the slightest nod and maybe a trace of a smile. "Good answer," he said. "I'd be disappointed if you'd said anything else. And if you took that ring off tonight, I'd be ashamed of you. Let's get outta here."

Rosemary excused herself and went to the ladies room as Toby took care of the bill, a gift, he said. Josh was blown away by his unexpected generosity.

"Whatta guy," Sam said. Sam hadn't said anything for quite awhile. Mostly he just sat very straight, always posture perfect, his hand still clasped to Josh's, and every once in a while he would turn to Josh and give him a goofy smile.

When Sam drank too much he was either a very fun and playful drunk, or quiet and gracious. Never mean, ugly, or loud. And he seemed to know when it was appropriate to be which. Tonight, if someone were to observe him from another table, they wouldn't have the slightest idea he'd long ago passed the limit for being illegally intoxicated, as he was able to maintain every semblance of decorum and behaved in a manner that suggested nothing out of the ordinary -- from a distance.

What those unsuspecting voyeurs didn't know, however, was if Sam were to try and stand, his eyes would roll up into his head, his knees would buckle and he'd hit the floor like ton of bricks.

Josh turned to Sam. "Are you drunk?" he asked.

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

Josh turned to Toby. "What do you think Toby? Drunk?"

"Well, he looks immaculate, just as he did when he walked in here, like he just stepped off the top of a wedding cake. He's not slurring his words and he seems relatively alert. He ate all his dinner and part of your's when you weren't looking, but he drank the equivalency of what would kill two-and-a-half longshoremen. His eyes are glazed and fixated on the flame of that candle, he hasn't formed a complete sentence for over a half-hour, he's prone to startling outbursts of laughter at inappropriate times and the only movement he's made other than raising a glass to his mouth has been the occasional turn of his head to make goo-goo eyes at you. I'd say he's pretty much wasted."

"Goo-goo eyes? Did you say goo-goo eyes?" Josh asked.

"What's wrong with goo-goo eyes?"

"Nothing if it was 1955, but get real Toby, goo-goo eyes is not something today's man says when he goes a-courtin'. Did you make goo-goo eyes at Andi?"

"Why can't I exchange three civil sentences with you before you become critical and ridicule everything I say?"

Josh laughed. "You sound more and more like Sam when he's in a tizzy! Have you come over to the dark side Toby?"

"Who says 'goes a-courtin' these days? When's the last time you heard anybody say THAT?" Toby remarked. He threw his napkin on the table.

Toby stood up and looked around the restaurant. "I want to leave and I want to leave now. I try to be nice to you guys and this is what I get. I knew when you first told me about this, I KNEW I should have turned and ran in the opposite direction. Here comes your Mother. Are we going to have to carry this drunken bum out of here?"

"You know, Sam is the sweetest drunk in the world Toby. You know how there are mean drunks and nasty drunks and..."

"Lyman, just get your sweet drunk out of here with the minimum amount of disruption. Rosemary and I will meet you at the front door."

Josh leaned over and spoke softly in Sam's ear. "Hi Angel."

Sam smiled. "Hi Oshie."

"We're going home now. Do you think you can walk out of the restaurant by yourself?"

"Sure. Why wouldn't I?"

"Because you've had a few drinks and I'm not sure if you're going to be steady on your feet."

"I'd better be steady on my feet since I'm driving us home," Sam laughed.

"Yeah, right. Let's give it a try. Up you go." Josh put his hands under Sam's arms to support him. Thank God its dark in here, he thought. Josh hoisted Sam to a standing position, his legs planted a bit apart for balance. He put Sam's left hand in his jacket pocket and let go of him.

Sam swayed a little, then a lot, but quickly re-gained control and was surprisingly steady on his feet. When he stopped swaying he looked at Josh and smiled. "Ta-da! Told ya."

"Yeah, but can you walk?"

"Which way?" Sam asked.

"The regular way. One foot in front of the other."

Sam furrowed his brow as he tried to register what Josh had said. "Is that the way you're gonna do it?" Sam finally asked.

"Yeah, probably," Josh answered.

"Well, I'll just walk whichever way you do then."

"Ok. Good plan."

Josh got a good grasp on Sam's arm, maintained discretion, and walked them smoothly and as straight as he could toward the front door. Sam did very well and whenever he DID kick a chair or bump into someone, he was ever-so-gracious, apologized with promises it would never happen again and continued on as Josh tugged his arm. No, they weren't obvious. Josh was just thankful Toby hadn't hung back to watch.

"Oh, this night is beautiful," Rosemary said as they stood outside the restaurant. "Just lovely." She tucked her arm around Sam's while they waited for the valets to bring their cars. Toby and Josh stood off to the side.

"Josh, I'm going to tell you something and I don't want any whining, arguing or fit throwing. I want you to just take it like a man then drive Sam home, get some coffee into him and enjoy your first night together as...whatever. I'm tired of being PC with the world so from now on you two are 'whatever' to me. I've come a long way...you know I have. Now let me just go back to being the guy who does the thing," Toby said.

"What? What are you going to tell me?" Josh suddenly became very nervous.

"Your Mother isn't going home with you tonight."

Silence.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me."

"Where exactly is she going?"

"I'm taking her dancing."

Josh hopped around in circles on the sidewalk. The valets pulled up with both cars.

"Toby! You can't take my Mother dancing!"

"I can and I am."

"But she's my Mother! You've got to be kidding."

"I kid you not."

"Where are you taking her? When are you bringing her home? What...?"

"Josh, I said no whining, no arguing and no fit-throwing. You've managed to package all three into one little dance number. I'm not required by law to answer any of your questions and I'm not going to by choice either, so just shut up. Listen and listen carefully because I'm not going to repeat myself. I'm taking your Mother dancing and will return her to your home tomorrow sometime after breakfast. She will already have eaten. Is that understood?"

Josh opened his mouth to speak. Toby raised one finger that instantly silenced Josh. "There will be no improprieties, I assure you."

"Does she want to go?"

"Very much."

"She said so?"

"She said so. Besides, you've got your hands full tonight with your Angel." Toby gestured toward Sam, who leaned against Toby's car with Rosemary's arm around him, his head on her shoulder. "Now you put sweet Sam in your car and I'll put sweet Rosemary in my car and we'll see you tomorrow. Have fun. I know I plan to."

Josh stood alone on the sidewalk. Toby had just driven off with his Mother, taking her to God knows where to do God knows what until God knows when.

Sam was in the car and had already laid the passenger seat back to its most reclined position. Josh didn't know if he was asleep or passed out. He hoped he was just resting his eyes. What had happened to that nasty naked hunk that had teased him from the bathroom door only hours before? The self-proclaimed 'whore' who promised him the best sex of his life? From the looks of things, Sam was out for the night and Josh even wondered if he'd be able to get him inside their townhouse.

Josh sighed. Oh well. There's one consolation. I can always log onto LemonLyman.com and do battle with the chain-smoking site owner in her mu-mu without interruption. There could be worse ways to spend my wedding night.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 11

Josh sat on the stoop outside the townhouse at three o'clock a.m. The spring night had turned cool, but the fresh air felt good and was what he needed. He'd long ago traded in his tux for his favorite pair of jeans...the ones with the holes in them that Sam said were coming apart at the seams, and one of Sam's Princeton sweatshirts he'd got at homecoming when they went back a few years ago.

He was barefoot and had a mug of steaming coffee cradled with both hands to take the chill off. It was a white mug with red lettering that said 'World's Greatest Dad'. Josh had picked it out and bought it with his own money one Father's Day a hundred light years ago. His Dad said it was the best gift he'd ever gotten, and it must have been because Josh never saw him drink coffee out of anything else. Even when company came over and his Mom got out their good dishes, Noah Lyman's 'World's Greatest Dad' coffee mug sat at his place at the head of the table.

Sam hadn't been a problem to get inside. Josh found a parking spot fairly close and Sam seemed to stagger a bit more than in the restaurant, but he was happy and cooperative and did whatever Josh told him to do. Maybe it was the night air, perhaps because he'd slept in the car and just woke up, or just the very fact he was upright that jostled his equilibrium, but something had Sam discombobulated and he had no idea where he was. But he continued to smile through it all and still let loose with bouts of laughter for no particular reason other than he was having one hell of a party with himself.

Josh put his finger up to Sam's lips and said, "Shhh" to remind Sam not to make any noise. Sam responded with a "Shhh" of his own then laughed again. He held Josh's hand and followed him up the stoop, inside the townhouse and sat at the table where Josh insisted he drink four cups of coffee. Sam did, then said if he drank anymore his eyes would turn brown, so Josh let him stop. Josh also figured Sam would probably wet the bed if he put any more liquid in him.

He took Sam by the hand once more and led him upstairs to the bedroom. Josh let go of him for one minute, and when he turned around, Sam was sprawled across the bed sideways instead of length- wise. Josh knew he had to get Sam out of that tux, so he undressed him.

He started with his 'shiny shoes', his socks, cummerbund, trousers, jacket, tie and shirt. He even hung them up because he knew that was something Sam would have done. He looked at him laid out on the bed in his briefs and undershirt, hair mused, eyes closed and a smile on his face. Sam was the happiest drunk Josh had ever seen. He smiled in return.

Josh thought back to just a few hours earlier when this man among men stood just a few feet away as a coy prick tease, as he flaunted his hard body and made promises he intended to keep but now...now he couldn't get his eyelids up, much less his dick.

Not quite how I planned to spend this night, Josh thought, but we've got a lifetime ahead of us. He looked again at his wedding band, hardly able to believe he and Sam had actually made this commitment to each other. He kissed the band and whispered, "I love you Angel." Then to the business at hand.

"Sam? Sammy? Let's get you aimed in the right direction, ok?" he said.

Sam reached out for a pillow and brought it in to him. He curled around it and clutched it tightly to his body.

"So I guess this IS the right direction, huh? Do you have any idea how cute you look in your undies?" Josh gently put a pillow under Sam's head and covered him with a quilt and pulled it up to his chin. "You warm enough babe?" he asked, although he didn't expect an answer.

Josh sat on the bed, took his own comb and ran it through Sam's hair until it lay neatly, every lock in place. He then mused it again and played with it a few minutes. He ran his hands through the thick locks, massaged his scalp, combed it straight back, then forward over his eyes, and finally parted it on the side so Sam looked like a little boy who had just left the barber shop.

As Josh looked at Sam that way, asleep so peacefully, so innocent, a pillow clutched in his arms, the face of a child, Josh felt a sharp pang of sadness in his heart. He realized Sam reminded him of himself when he was a young boy. And the pillow would have been his stuffed rabbit, Floppy. Joanie had named him Floppy because the rabbit's ears hung down instead of standing up straight.

Josh stood but didn't take his eyes off Sam. He undressed and tossed his clothes on the chair. His mind took him somewhere else in an instant. Back. Other cool spring nights, snowy winter days, summers when it was too hot to sleep, autumn afternoons when he collected leaves. Back to Connecticut. The more he stared at Sam, the more Sam took on the appearance of young Joshua Lyman. Josh shook his head and tried to get the cobwebs out, then put on his ripped jeans and Sam's sweatshirt.

When he turned back to Sam, he had to rub his eyes with the backs of his hands balled into fists ~~ he could have sworn it was Josh the child asleep under that quilt. He put one knee on the bed and leaned over for a better look at the still face. It's me, he thought. That's Floppy and that's me...in peaceful sleep before the fires of hell destroyed this little boy.

Josh laid his cheek against Sam's. His skin was baby soft and warm. He held his face there and closed his eyes, then put his hand against Sam's other cheek. No stubble from being unshaven for hours; just the fine silky down on the face of a child. There was no alcohol on his breath; instead, he smelled of bubble gum. No hint of aftershave. No cigarette smoke lingered from the restaurant lounge. He smelled young and sweet and able to sleep with a smile on his face because he had no idea what was about to slam him before the night was over.

Josh rested his lips on Sam's forehead and let them linger there a few moments, then he kissed him. "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, let angels watch me through the night, until I wake to morning light," he said quietly. Then he kissed Sam's forehead again. "Good-night little Josh, sweet dreams Angel." He adjusted the quilt that didn't really need adjusting, left the room, got his coffee and went outside to sit on the stoop.

Josh thought about the prayer he'd just said. He knew it was a Christian prayer, but he liked it. It reminded him of Joanie. Joanie, who played 'Ava Maria' on the record player for hours at a time in her bedroom. And it was Joanie who taught him the 'Now I lay me down to sleep' prayer. They said it together every night before they went to bed.

Josh took a sip of his coffee. Hot, hot, hot! Dumb ass, he thought.

Maybe Joanie wasn't Jewish like Mom, Dad and me. Maybe somehow, Joanie was born something else. Christian. Can that happen? Then does she go to a different Heaven? Now I'm thinking stupid. It's just a song. It's just a prayer. Then why do I sometimes think Joanie's an angel and she's...this is nuts.

Josh wished his Mother hadn't gone dancing with Toby. He knew Toby was being kind so he and Sam could have privacy this night, but dammit, he wanted his Mother. Something had hit him when he was upstairs and saw Sam with different eyes than he ever had before. It had taken him to a place and time he had to sometimes struggle with to keep out of his head. And now it had come, full-force, and invaded his every brain cell and heart cell, and he felt lost and helpless and alone and scared. The two people he needed weren't within reach.

Josh knew it wasn't possible, but right now, this very minute, he wished he could sit in the comforting presence of Jed Bartlet ~~ on one of his 'Uncle Fluffy' days. Or Leo, when he wasn't too busy running the country and could stop and listen to him. Really listen, and not be interrupted every five minutes by something that was more urgent than the last intrusion. The President, Leo, or...somebody.

This wasn't the kind of thing he could talk with Donna about ~~ that would make him too vulnerable. And he could never read how CJ would react to something this personal. Sometimes she was good at this kind of stuff, sometimes she freaked, and sometimes she just turned it into a joke. He really didn't think she would make light of this, but he didn't want to take the chance.

And of course he couldn't talk with Toby because he was out who-knows- where doing who-knows-what with his Mother. Shit! Why didn't he just bring her home?

This DEFINITELY wasn't how Josh had planned to spend tonight. Everything had gone just fine until the clock struck midnight and instead of the carriage turning into a pumpkin, he felt like HE had turned into an emotional mess. He hadn't felt like this in a long time. Not since...not since those weeks leading up to the first Christmas after Rosslyn. No. This is nothing like that, Josh said to himself, although it reverberated so loud in his head he wondered if he spoke aloud so others could hear. But there was no one else around. Josh looked up and down the street. No, there was no one else around.

That was bad stuff, that trauma shit after Rosslyn, Josh. This is just melancholia because Mom's here and she's triggering memories. Don't use the word 'triggering', Josh. That's a psychological term and we don't want to use those kinds of words. And we also don't want to refer to ourself as 'we'. Or 'ourself' even. It's MYSELF. Head doctors use 'we' and 'us' to reassure the patient...don't say 'patient'...that we're...don't say 'we're'...that we're not alone in what it is we're dealing with and we're not dealing with anything here. Just having a few memories jarred by Mom's presence and Sam's looking so much like...before...and Dad...it's not right that Mom's here without Dad. God, I miss him.

What I really wish, what I really, really wish, is that I could talk to my Dad. He doesn't even know I work in the White House. That I'm kind of important. That I have my own dot com run by natzies. He'd get a kick out of that. He doesn't know Sam. I'd like him to know Sam. When I came out to Mom years ago she told Dad the same day. Why didn't he let on that he knew? We'd always been close. When did we build that bridge between us that neither dared cross? Was I THAT afraid of his reaction? Why didn't I trust him to love me and know that just being his son was enough? Why didn't I know that?

I'd like Joanie to have known Sam. She never will. She's dead. I killed her. I killed my sister. I just let her die. Let her burn up in those flames. In her yellow pajamas with little blue kittens on them. I ran. Then I just stood there and watched. Then I ran some more. I ran because I was scared. I just left her there in the fire to die. Why didn't I think SHE was scared too?

Mom and Dad were out. She was fixing popcorn for us and went to the refrigerator to get the Kool-Aid. And in those few seconds when the refrigerator door was open and she couldn't see the popcorn popper, a spark came out from the cord and landed on the toaster cover. And the toaster cover caught on fire. Then the flame went to the curtains on the window over the sink. And those pine shelves Dad had made to hold the sugar bowl and salt and pepper shakers and...and then Joanie was screaming, "Run Joshua! Get out of the house! Get out of the house! Get out of the house!" So I did. I ran and got out of the house, just like Joanie said to do. I ran to the edge of the fence then turned, certain Joanie was right behind me, but she wasn't. She was still in the house. By now it was engulfed in flames. "Come on Joanie! Come out of the house! Please Joanie, come out of the house! Joanieeeeeeee!"

Josh ran his hand through his hair. Where the fuck is this coming from? He stood up and paced on the sidewalk in front of the building. He held tight to his mug and sipped coffee as he walked and tried not to notice that his hand was trembling. He wanted to stop the voice in his head but he didn't know how. `And I hid behind a tree'. Josh's unwanted thoughts continued. Me in my pajamas with Cowboys and Indians and that goddamn Floppy the friggin' rabbit! Yeah, I managed to save my stuffed animal, but I couldn't save Joanie.

"SHIT!!" Josh slammed the coffee mug to the sidewalk. It shattered into dozens of pieces and flew in every direction. The pavement turned dark from the liquid. "GODDAMMIT TO FUCKIN' HELL!!" The breaking glass sounded loud in the quiet of the early morning. He began to walk down the street. His walk turned into a trot, then he started to run as fast as he could.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 12

Fourteen blocks from their townhouse was a bar called "Crawdads". Sam called it a `hang-out', Josh called it a `dive' and Toby called it a `joint, but the fact of the matter was, it was just a bar. Nothing fancy ~~ a couple of pool tables, a dartboard, a pinball machine and a few wooden tables and chairs. On the bar itself was a huge jar of pickled eggs and there was draft beer on tap, not much imported, nothing with the word `lite' on the label. Pretzels and peanuts, no charge. Music came from a juke box and a checkerboard and checkers sat on one of the tables. A tip jar with some change and a couple of one dollar bills leaned against the cash register.

Josh tried the door. It was locked. There was a light on so he looked through the window and saw the owner cleaning up. Chairs were upside down on the tables as he swept the floor. A big man, he always wore an apron and both Josh and Sam were certain it had never been washed. They didn't go there often, just every now and then to get a beer and cool down after biking or running.

Josh knocked on the window.

"We're closed!" the man hollered without looking up.

Josh knocked again, a little harder this time.

"I said we're closed! Are ya deaf?" He looked up and saw Josh's face in the window.

"Bubba, it's you!" A grin spread across the man's face and he couldn't get to the door fast enough to unlock it. He held the door for Josh as he came in, then locked then door behind him.

"Bubba, I haven't seen you forever and a day! How ya been?" He grabbed Josh's hand in both his giant hands and pumped Josh's in a handshake. He was from southern Alabama and called his friends Bubba, so Josh considered that a good thing.

"I'm good Crawdad, busy as hell." Josh tried to sound upbeat as he finally managed to pull his hand out of the man's vice grip.

"Yeah, I seen ya on the TV sometimes. I tell people I know ya, but they don't believe it. They say a fine man like you wouldn't come in here or be friends with me."

That's not making me feel any better, Josh thought. "Crawdad, I'll try to get down here more often for a beer, how's that sound?"

The big man grinned. "That sounds right nice Mr. Lyman. I'd like that a lot. What can I git ya tonight? I'm closed up but I'll git whatever ya want."

"Uh, you sell cigarettes here, don't you?"

"Yes sir, got a machine right over by the pinball game. And I got matches free."

"Great. That's just great. And a Bud, I'll take it with me, please."

Josh walked over to the cigarette machine and reached in his pocket for his money. There was none. Not in these jeans. And he hadn't brought his wallet because he hadn't expected to leave the front stoop. Shit.

How ballsy am I tonight, he thought. Or the question really is, how much pride do I have? Absolutely none at the moment. He turned.

"Crawdad, hey man, I just realized I don't have a dime on me. Can you carry me tonight and I'll pay you back double tomorrow?"

Josh held his palms out to show he didn't have any money. Jesus, I feel like a bum. What am I even doing here? I should be home in bed with Sam.

"That's no problem Bubba, I got this pack today and it's just missin' two smokes. You take this." Crawdad reached into his own pocket and brought out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Josh. "And you take two of these Buds. You look like you're havin' a bad night. Just settle up when you can."

"Crawdad, it's nothing like that. I've got the money, I just didn't bring it because I didn't plan on coming here. I'll be back in tomorrow." Damn, I'm taking the man's cigarettes out of his own pocket.

"Sir, I don't open up on Sundays. My woman drags me to church on Sunday and we stay the whole damn day. Anytime's fine Mr. Lyman. I know you're a man of your word. You and that President Bartlet, both of you. Upstandin'. Here, you take these."

Josh was embarrassed, but he reached out and took the cigarettes and beer from the man and thanked him. "I'll be back in tomorrow," he repeated as he turned to go.

"Tomorrow's Sunday Bubba. Church."

Yeah, ok. Monday then, for sure."

"I'll need to unlock that door," Crawdad said, as he hurried around from behind the bar. "And here. Don't forget these matches. They're free."

Josh took the matchbook and went back out into the night air that seemed colder now. He immediately put a cigarette between his lips and lit it, then took a deep swallow of beer and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He caught himself and looked down. No shoes, jeans with more holes than fabric, a dirty sweatshirt, in bad need of a shave, two opened beers in one hand, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, pre-dawn, no pager, no cell phone and no identification. Which, in this case, was for the best.

How did I get here? He thought. Just a few hours ago I was in a tuxedo with my Mother and two Senior Staff members of the White House, one of them being the love of my life, and now I look like I just crawled out of the gutter, and I feel like it too.

This `thing', it comes up quick. I didn't even realize... He took another drag off his cigarette and another swallow of beer then looked around, not sure where to go next. He knew he should go home, but he didn't want his Mother or Toby to see him. Or Sam. He wasn't sure who he didn't want most to see him like this.

He could get cleaned up but he was afraid they would see him. With his Mother it meant constant worry and attention and questions and reassurance and that might not be a bad thing ~~ he didn't know. But with Toby it might mean his job ~~ and he KNEW that was a bad thing.

I can't work for the President of the United States if I'm a fucking nut case. I know that. The only reason I went through therapy before was because the PTSD was a work-related whatever-the-hell they called it...where's my head? Word retrieval. The word retrieval part of our brain isn't working right. And why are we shivering? It's not that cold out here. What's going on? We don't belong on this street corner. So why ARE we on this street corner? Why ARE we just standing here instead of doing something about it? And why are we saying `we' again? Fuck!

Josh stood close to the wall outside the bar and thought about Sam at home, alone in bed, believing Josh was there to keep him safe. Just like Joanie trusted Josh to keep her safe. Or did Josh trust Joanie to keep HIM safe? He lit another cigarette with the butt in his other hand. He finished off the first beer and set the empty bottle on the sidewalk.

He was lost in his thoughts as he remembered that night, as he re- played it over and over, when two police cars sped past him, their lights flashed, their sirens screamed. They were right in front of Josh before he realized what happened. The shockingly bright blue lights blinded him and the wail of the sirens rendered him deaf for a few seconds and paralyzed him with fear. The police cars were gone as quickly as they had come, but the damage to Josh had just begun.

His first instinct was to run and hide behind a tree, but the closest one was in Adams Park two streets over and he couldn't even make his legs move. When he tried to lift them, it felt like they each weighed a ton and there was no way he could put one in front of the other. He wanted to run, but he couldn't. Panic set in when he realized there was no possible way to escape...nowhere to hide.

What if the sirens come back? What if the next ones are fire trucks? What if the fire trucks went to his townhouse? Sam would be asleep too soundly to know the place was on fire and he'd burn to death and it would be his, Josh's, fault. Again. Sam would die in the fire because Josh couldn't save him, just like Joanie, and Josh would have killed him too.

Josh dropped the second beer bottle on the sidewalk. It rolled to the curb and into the gutter. Sweat ran down his face. He was terrified. He was certain Sam was trapped in their burning townhouse but couldn't wake up and wasn't able to get out.

"Sam!" he yelled into the darkness. "Wake up Sam! Wake up!"

Josh put his hands behind the knee of one leg and with great effort, lifted that leg and put it in front of the other. Then he did the same with his other leg. And the other again. Under the street light he caught a flash off the ring on his left hand. No way was he going to let Sam burn to death.

Josh felt the strength rush back into his legs. He had to get to Sam. He had to save him. He wasn't going to let him die too. He started to run toward home.

He didn't notice the rough chunks of broken concrete on his bare feet as he ran. He didn't feel the pieces of gravel or shards of glass here and there. He didn't consider there might be early morning traffic as he crossed the streets and didn't bother to look. He didn't care that he looked like he'd robbed a convenience store and had just made his get-away. He only knew he had to get home and pull Sam out of the fire.

Even when Josh got to their stoop and saw there were no flames or smoke he wasn't convinced. He ran up the steps and couldn't get the door open fast enough. He could barely catch his breath from running fourteen blocks at full speed. He took the stairs two at a time and pushed through the bedroom door. He ran to the bed and came to a skidding halt.

Sam hadn't moved. He was still curled up with the pillow, every hair neatly in place, the quilt tucked under his chin, the sweet smile of peacefulness on his face.

Josh leaned over and rested his hands on his knees and watched Sam while his breath slowed to normal, then he laid on the bed so his face was next to Sam's, so close they almost touched. He could feel Sam's warm breath. Josh put his hand under the quilt and on Sam's chest. He could feel the steady rise and fall. Sam was alive. He smelled for smoke; there was none. He smelled for any indication of fire; there was none.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Are you awake?"

"Uh huh," he mumbled sleepily.

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"When you're awake for real, I've gotta talk with you about something real important, ok?"

"I'm awake for real now."

"Who's the President of the United States?"

Sam sighed heavily. "It's not CJ is it?"

"Will you give me some serious time tomorrow? I need you Sam."

They both spoke in near whispers.

Sam opened his eyes half-way. "I'm here for you now Josh. Always."

Josh gave a slight smile. "I know Angel, but I need your full attention."

"Then why'd you wake me up now?"

"I just need to hear your voice."

"That's sweet Oshie."

"Sam?"

"What?"

"Are you sober and awake enough to remember what we did today?"

"Yeah."

"For sure?"

Sam pulled his left hand out from under the quilt and held it up. He wiggled his ring finger. "Joshua Seaborn Lyman, today was a million, a trillion, a ga-zillion times more important than my Inauguration Day will ever be."

A big smile spread across Josh's face. "No shit?"

"No shit." Sam took Josh's left hand so their rings touched. "I wanna get these engraved."

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing," Josh said. He wrapped his fingers around Sam's hand.

They lay in silence for a while longer.

"Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Can I tell you one more thing then I won't bother you any more until tomorrow?"

"You're not bothering me. And it IS tomorrow"

"Ok. Technically it's tomorrow, but until we get up for good is what I mean."

"I know what you mean."

"Sam, I think my PTSD is back."

Sam opened his eyes all the way this time and he took Josh's face in his hands. "If it is we'll handle it, no matter what it takes. Only this time we'll do it together. Now come under this quilt with me and snuggle up and hold on to me, because no matter what comes to us ~~ I say `us' ~~ we're gonna face it head on together. Do you understand?"

Josh nodded. Sam held the quilt up and Josh crawled in next to him. Sam pulled Josh close and held him in both arms. "Wanna talk now?" "No."

"Ok darlin'. We'll just be quiet then." Josh tightened his grip on Sam and Sam did the same for Josh to reassure him that he was in safe hands and not going anywhere.

But Josh DID talk.

"Sam, I'm scared. I've been out tonight, for hours. Way far away, and I, uh, there were sirens and Joanie and red lights and I couldn't run and I thought, I thought...our place was on fire and you would burn up...and I thought you would burn up, Sam, because I couldn't get to you because my legs wouldn't move and I was going to hide behind a tree in Adams Park but Sam, I couldn't run...my legs wouldn't move so I screamed from 'Crawdads', I yelled, 'Sam, wake up! Wake up!' then I knew I had to get back here to save you so you wouldn't die like Joanie...like Joanie...Sam I killed her...and then I could run and I ran and I ran 14 blocks and I didn't stop until I was on this bed, on this bed right here, Sam, inhaling your breath and my hand was on your heart and you were still breathing Sam...you were alive...you ARE alive and now I can breathe too for the first time in 14 blocks and...help me Sam."

Josh broke down and buried his face against Sam's chest and sobbed. Sam put one hand behind Josh's head and stroked his hair and let the tears come. He knew there was much to talk about, but not now.

Sam knew as the sun came up this Sunday morning Josh needed to be held and loved, and he needed to cry.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 13

Sunday, Noon

"I believe we're well past the point of politeness," Toby said. He and Rosemary sat in Toby's car parked a half-block from the townhouse. They'd wrestled for twenty minutes with the dilemma of whether they should go in or not. Toby voted yes. Although he didn't verbalize his reasons in so many words, he knew Sam and Josh screwed like bunnies at every opportunity and just because they now wore rings to make it `legit', that didn't make one iota of difference in their sexual activity. Still, Rosemary was so caught up in the whole idea of love and romance and being a mother-in-law that she couldn't grasp the reality that it was actually acceptable to go inside now.

Finally, "Well Toby, if you're sure, if you're absolutely, positively sure it's safe to go in. You know more about these kinds of things than I do."

Toby wasn't sure how to take that ~~ he certainly didn't consider himself an expert on etiquette in same sex commitment ceremonies ~~ but he didn't waste any time to question it. While he had enjoyed the weekend immensely and found Rosemary a delightful companion for the last twenty hours, he had a whole 'thing' to finish writing and have on the President's desk by seven o'clock the next morning.

He hustled out of the car and around to the passenger's side. He opened the door and held his hand out for Rosemary. She took it with some familiarity, reached for her purse and stepped out of Toby's car. As she'd done since they'd met, she slid her arm through his as they walked the half-block to Sam and Josh's townhouse.

********

Earlier That Morning

As the sun rose over the White House Josh climbed into bed, under the quilt and he and Sam wrapped their arms around each other. Josh buried his face against Sam's chest and broke down in uncontrollable sobs. His whole body shook as he clung to Sam.

"Just let it out baby," Sam whispered, still asleep. "Cry all the tears you have inside you."

After a while the trembling slowed and the sobs subsided to an occasional whimper. Sam's shirt was wet from the tears and Josh wiped his nose on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. Finally he lay still and they both slept.

A few hours later Sam opened his eyes, wide awake, and realized Josh was in his arms. He dared not move ~~ he didn't want to wake Josh and it gave him some time to collect his thoughts about the events of yesterday and last night.

Sam getting drunk had its definite pros and cons the morning after. On the positive side, he never had a hangover. He could hop right out of bed and be ready to play racquetball or go to work or do whatever he wanted without the least physical impairment.

The negative effect was that he had absolutely no memory whatsoever of anything that happened from the moment he crossed the line into intoxication until he was stone sober and fully awake after a good night's sleep. Anything in-between was lost. He may `appear' to comprehend things said to him, but his mind was totally shut down.

Now Sam thought about the day before. The ceremony was crystal clear. He loved every second of it and even more, he loved that Josh had initiated and planned it.

It's something Sam had wanted for a long time, but was never sure enough of himself to actually say the words out loud to Josh. He looked at his left hand and beamed when he saw the ring was actually there. He leaned a bit and tried to see Josh's left hand, but it was clutched tightly into Sam's shirt and Sam couldn't see the band, although he was almost certain it was there.

But I've gotta know for sure, he thought. Carefully he pried Josh's finger from the clinch. Damn, Sam thought, he's got a death grip on me. Did he think he was gonna fall out of bed last night? Yes, the ring was there. "See, I told you," Sam said out loud.

He remembered he had teased Josh from the bathroom doorway. Did I follow up on that? I doubt it. We'd both be naked and I've got on underwear and Josh has on jeans and a sweatshirt. Why does Josh have on jeans and a sweatshirt? Did he go somewhere last night that I didn't go? Didn't we go to bed together? And why are we sideways in bed? Well, we often end up in weird positions after sex, but I don't think we had sex because we have our clothes on, or parts of clothes.

The more Sam studied the situation, the more it struck him that something just wasn't right. The fact that he held Josh in such a tight embrace was odd, as Josh had probably undressed Sam and put him to bed, as he's known to do when Sam's had a little too much to drink. That would indicate Sam was in bed first.

And with Josh dressed in street clothes suggests he may have gone back out, so one would think JOSH would come in and wrap himself around SAM in that wonderful protective, nurturing way he has.

Sam's logical mind was busy. And his instincts were that he had missed a major chunk of something important. He just didn't know what. He had no idea about the living nightmare Josh had experienced hours before.

There was one thing that troubled Sam that he couldn't ignore; in fact he tried to discount it as a dream ~~ it was too weird to be anything else. He thought he remembered, or dreamed most likely, Josh had said a prayer over him, one Sam had learned in Sunday School and would recite during his nightly prayers as a child. Then Josh said, "Good-night Josh, I love you Angel." Why did Josh call ME Josh? I'm SAM. So why did he call me JOSH, his own name?

"This is getting too out there for me," Sam muttered out loud. He slowly detached himself from Josh and rolled away then re-covered him. "Pretty soon I'll be hanging out with Bob the UFO Guy. Toby already thinks I'm one of the Funnel People."

Then to himself, Josh, why do you have to be asleep? I've got one hell of a hard-on that could use your special touch. Sam reached down and stroked his bulging penis through his cotton briefs. Oh yeah, that feels good. This needs immediate attention.

He turned and looked at Josh on the bed. Would I be a total bastard if I woke him up? It IS eleven o'clock in the morning and I know he'd want to be up and dressed when his Mom gets home. So technically I'd be doing him a favor. But he's soooooo sound asleep. Sam continued to massage his hardening cock as he debated the pros and cons of waking Josh solely for the purpose of being sexually pleasured. Try as he might, he just couldn't come up with any reasons not to.

He pulled his dick from the confines of his underwear and moved closer to the bed. He pulled his briefs off and kicked them away with his foot, pulled his undershirt over his head and flung it behind him and climbed back onto the bed. He crawled over to Josh. Let the man sleep for God's sake.

His moment of conscience lasted just that long, a moment. Then in all fairness, Sam knew what he was about to do was one of Josh's favorite ways of being awakened, so in all actuality, he was doing something not out of the ordinary, just not when he knew Josh obviously needed to sleep.

Sam balanced on his knees next to Josh. He grasped his fully erect cock in his hand and gently touched the tip of it to Josh's lips and slowly slid it back and forth across them. A soft moan gurgled from Josh. Sam smiled. He applied more pressure with the head of his penis and Josh instinctively opened his mouth. His eyes closed and Sam believed he was still asleep, but responded to what came naturally.

This was something Josh had asked Sam to do for him a long time ago, once they became comfortable enough with each other to ask for what they wanted, when they knew they would be given whatever their lover could give. He never said why he liked it so much, and Sam never asked, but Josh took on a whole different persona when he woke up to find Sam's hard, throbbing cock in his mouth. It was never so much a torrid, passionate thing between them. Instead it was gentle and nurturing. Sam was careful not to be rough and he always watched Josh's face as he responded to Sam.

Sam slid his cock further into Josh's mouth and Josh accepted it. He began to suck on it, softly at first, then with more enthusiasm when Sam started to pump his dick in and out of Josh's mouth. When Sam would pull it all the way out, Josh would raise his head a little, his lips apart, and search for the source that brought him this pleasure. Sam obliged and returned his sticky, wet penis to Josh's hungry mouth, and Josh would settle back contently and quietly suck on Sam.

It didn't take long. Sam was close to coming when he first fondled himself, then when the pre-cum seeped out as soon as his cock touched Josh's lips he knew it was only a matter of seconds. Sam maneuvered himself in and out of Josh's eager mouth until he could hold back no longer. He didn't want to ejaculate in Josh's mouth and choke him, so at the last instant he pulled out and shot his substantial wad into a nearby pillow.

Josh's mouth continued to move in a slight sucking motion. Sam used two fingers and scooped up some of his cum. He rubbed it on Josh's lips then put those fingers, up to the second knuckle, into Josh's mouth. Josh purred as he licked the cum off his own lips then wrapped them around Sam's fingers and nursed on them. Sam smiled down at Josh.

He truly enjoyed satisfying his lover more than he did being satisfied himself. That's how much he loved Josh. When Josh's mouth gradually slowed and eventually stopped, Sam grabbed the wet pillow and threw it on the floor, rolled off the bed and headed for the bathroom.

********

"I'll have to knock," Rosemary said. "They didn't give me a key."

Toby knocked on the door.

No answer.

Toby used his fist and banged on the door.

No answer.

He pounded harder.

No answer.

"See Toby, I told you it was too early," Rosemary fretted.

"Not at all," Toby assured her. "They just can't hear us." He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Sam's number.

Four rings later. "Sam Seaborn!"

"Why are you yelling?"

"What?"

Toby raised his voice. "Why. Are. You. Yelling?"

"I'm in the shower! Shampoo in my ears!"

Toby gets extremely frustrated when he can't say what he wants to say. This is not what he wanted to say.

"That's nice! Rosemary and I are at your front door! Somebody let us in!"

"Josh is sleeping! I'll be down in 10 minutes! Just chill on the stoop!"

Click.

Toby forced a smile as he hung up. "It'll be about 10 minutes. Why don't we step out front and enjoy the warm weather?"

Outside, the first thing Rosemary saw were shattered pieces of ceramic on the sidewalk.

"This needs to be cleaned up," she said, "or somebody's going to get hurt. I don't know why I didn't see it when we came in."

"We came from the other direction," Toby remarked.

Rosemary leaned over and started to pick up the larger pieces.

"Rosemary, don't. Somebody else can do that. Or we'll get a bag."

"Just the big..." She stopped in mid-sentence, stood up straight and looked away from Toby.

"Rosemary?" Toby couldn't help but notice a change in her demeanor. "Is there something wrong?"

Silence.

"Rosemary?" Toby walked to her and lightly touched her shoulder. She turned. There was a look of confusion mixed with sadness in her eyes. She looked directly at Toby.

"What is it?" he asked with genuine concern.

She held out several pieces of the broken glass. Toby shook his head and raised a hand ~~ he didn't understand.

"These are pieces of a coffee mug Joshua gave to his Daddy over 30 years ago. It said, `World's Greatest Dad' and now look." She held out pieces that had parts of letters to spell out the phrase. Not all the letters were there, but easily enough to make it evident the mug had once been imprinted with `World's Greatest Dad'.

"How can you be sure this belonged to Noah?" Toby asked. He took one of the sharp pieces from Rosemary.

"I know. I poured coffee into that mug, five, six, seven times a day every day for 34 and-a-half years. I should know."

Rosemary knelt down. "See this chip? This chip didn't come from being broken on the sidewalk, I'll tell you that. Noah chipped it in the garage against the lawn mower. I promise he did." She looked up at Toby with a kind of urgency in her voice as if she needed to convince him.

Toby took her arm and helped her stand up. It unnerved him to see this lady in her nicest pink dress with the wilted corsage down on the sidewalk, her hands soiled as they ran through the dirt and grime that had collected against the building while she searched for broken pieces of what was once part of her husband's life.

"Toby, try to find the part with the handle. It's been glued on at least..."

Toby turned her around so she faced him. "Even if this IS a mug that belonged to Noah, why are you getting so upset?"

"Joshua took this. After the...after Noah...after Joshua's Daddy's funeral he and...there was so much stuff to go through. Joshua found this in the kitchen cabinet where it always stayed and asked if he could have it and I said `of course'. His Daddy used it every time he drank a cup of coffee." She reached down to pick up more broken glass.

"Leave it. I'll get a broom from upstairs. You'll cut yourself," Toby said softly. Rosemary did as Toby said.

"Toby, why is it smashed out here on the sidewalk?"

"We'll find out. We'll ask Josh. Come on, I feel sure we can go in now."

********

Toby knocked on the door.

No answer.

He banged on the door with his fist. He'd already decided if there was no answer this time his next move would be to put his foot through the bottom panel.

The door flew open and Sam stood in front of them with his million- dollar smile. He wore dress jeans and a lightweight gray cashmere pullover sweater with the sleeves casually pushed up. He had on gray socks and his hair was still damp from his shower. He smelled like soap and shampoo and toothpaste. Damn him, Toby thought. He looks like he's 16 years old.

"Rosemary! Toby! Finally, you're here! Come in, come in!" Sam stepped aside and held his arm out, ever the gracious host, and welcomed his guests.

"I've got a blender full of smoothies just about ready. They'll kick- start you for the day."

"Samuel, where's Joshua?" Rosemary asked. She set her purse on the dining room table.

"Still asleep. Out like a light when I came down. I didn't wake him because he looked wiped out. Rosemary, can I get you a smoothie made with all fresh fruit? You'll love it."

"No Samuel, thank you, not at the moment. I'd like to see my son. Would you please go get Joshua?"

Sam looked from Rosemary to Toby then back to Rosemary and realized he was the only one in the room with a smile. What's going on here that I don't know about? What the hell happened that I missed? What's up with Josh?

Sam's tone took on a more serious affect. "Of course Rosemary, I'll get him right now. Toby, is everything ok?"

"Just do as his Mother asks, Sam."

Sam took the stairs two at a time and went into their bedroom and closed the door behind him. Josh was as he'd left him on the bed. Sam crawled up beside him and gently shook his shoulder. "Hey Oshie, you've gotta wake up now babe"

"Hmmmmm?"

Sam shook him a little harder and pulled the quilt off. "Your Mom's downstairs and she wants to see you NOW. Is there something I should know about?"

Josh opened his eyes slowly and took a couple of seconds to adjust to where he was and what Sam had said. "What?" he mumbled.

Sam rubbed Josh's cheek. "Your Mother and Toby just got here and the first thing your Mom said was `I want to see my son' and they're not sitting down or anything. So I've been sent to fetch you."

"Fetch me? You're gonna fetch me?"

"In fact, consider yourself fetched."

"I'll be down as soon as I shower and shave and get into some clean clothes. I look like shit."

"She wants to see you NOW. Let's go." Sam took Josh's arm and pulled him off the bed. Josh dragged the quilt with him. He landed on the floor and covered himself, head and all.

Sam tried to pull the quilt off but Josh held on tight. "Come on babe, I'm not kidding and your Mother isn't kidding. Don't make me send Toby up here."

"Oh yeah? What can he do?" came Josh's muffled voice.

"Open up a big ole can of whup ass on us both! Now let's go Josh, I'm not screwing around here. Something's up."

"I don't wanna go," Josh whined.

"Stop that obnoxious whining Josh. You're behaving and sounding like a child now. Knock it off."

"I AM a child..."

Sam looked at the lump on the floor and decided not to say anything, but he was painfully aware that the voice that crept out did sound suspiciously younger than Josh. Young, frail, scared. Josh really and truly didn't want to go downstairs to face Rosemary.

"Let's go," Sam said softly.

Josh slowly pulled the quilt off and accepted Sam's hand to help him off the floor.

"Come on. I'll be with you the whole time." Sam gave Josh a gentle sock-footed push on his butt. Josh slowly meandered down the stairs with Sam behind him. His Mother and Toby both stood in the living room.

"Good morning Mom, Toby."

"Come over to me Joshua," Rosemary said.

Josh turned back to Sam then walked over to his Mother and stood in front of her. She looked at him from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.

His hair was unkempt and stuck up and out. His face was dirty and tear-streaked and he had unshaven stubble. His eyes looked hollow and sunken, red and watery. His hands were filthy. The sweatshirt he wore had crusted mucus on the sleeves, beer down the front and a couple of cigarette burns on the word "Princeton". His torn jeans were unzipped. His feet, shoeless and sockless, were black with dirt and there were splatters of blood on them.

Josh wouldn't make eye contact with his Mother. Instead he looked down at the carpet. He wished Sam would come stand beside him.

"Rosemary, I think I'll leave now, unless you want me to stay," Toby said quietly. "This looks like a family thing."

She jumped, startled at the sound of his voice. "Toby, I'm so sorry. I forgot you were here and I've kept you way beyond what I should have. Of course, go. I'm afraid I've taken advantage of you and I apologize."

"Not in the least. The pleasure was mine. You have my number and please call me, anytime, day or night if you need anything, anything at all. Will you do that?"

Rosemary nodded. "Yes. Thank you so very much Toby. I'll see you out."

"Sam will see me out, thank you. Josh, anything you want to say to me?"

Silence.

"Josh, this is Toby. Do you need anything from me? Just name it man...if I can help."

Josh gave a slight shake of his head.

"Do you want to talk with me in another room? In private?"

Again, Josh gave a slight shake of his head.

Toby raised his hands in defeat and walked toward the door, Sam close behind. He opened the door and spoke in a low tone. "What's up Sam? What's with Josh?"

Sam shrugged. "I honestly have no idea. He put me to bed last night. I may have had a bit too much to drink, and when I woke up this morning he was asleep. When I woke him, he was like this."

"Well, I don't like it. Call me before ten o'clock tonight, do you understand?"

Sam nodded.

"Speak to me with words Sam, don't just shake your head. Ten o'clock tonight. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir, ten o'clock tonight. I got it Toby!" Sam started to close the door. Just as it was about to latch, Toby's arm stuck through and stopped it.

"Tomorrow's a work day Seaborn. No wedding bands in the White House." He started to leave again then turned and spoke one more time.

"If you need me before ten, you know how to reach me. Call me if anything..." He put his hand on Sam's upper arm and squeezed, then he was gone.

Sam locked the door behind Toby and walked back over to Josh and Rosemary.

Sam looked at Josh with new eyes, clear eyes. Why hadn't he seen this before? Because Josh had been under the quilt? It had been dark? Or maybe because he, Sam, had been drunk with no memory since the middle of dinner the night before. What the hell happened?

In the painful quiet of the room he studied Josh and strained to remember something, anything. Rosemary continued to look at Josh, confusion and hurt in her eyes. Josh stood before her, head bowed, silent.

Suddenly Josh fell to his knees and stretched his arms up and outward. "Why is everybody staring at me?" he screamed. "Am I a monkey in the goddamn zoo? Or the freak-of-the-week at the fuckin' freak show? What are you LOOKING AT???"

He fell forward onto the floor and leaned over until his forehead touched the carpet. He wrapped his arms over his head in a protective position. "Go away! Just go away! Make them all leave! Shut up! SHUT UP!!"

The he wailed the cry of an injured animal.

Toby stopped just as he got to the outside door and half-turned. He cocked his head. Had he heard something? Someone yelling? A scream? Surely not.

He opened the door to the stoop, but not without turning back one more time, and not without thinking he should go back.

But he didn't.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 14

Rosemary's first reaction was to step back and bring her hands to her mouth; Sam flinched at the outburst, uncertain what he should do.

Instinct told him to rush to Josh, take him in his arms and assure him everything was ok. But obviously, everything wasn't ok. He looked to Rosemary to see if she was going to say or do anything. She just stood there, paralyzed, unable to take her eyes off her son, unable to speak, unable to move.

Sam ran to Josh and kneeled beside him. He put his arm around him and spoke close to his ear, unsure if Josh comprehended what he said.

"Josh, Josh its Sam. I'm right here with you baby, I'm holding you, I've got you in my arms."

Josh raised his head off the floor and sat back on his heels. Tears streamed down his face.

"There were thousands of them, people everywhere." He turned to Sam. "Everywhere Sam. People in the street, people trampling in our yard, wrecking the grass and Mom's flowers."

He looked up at his Mother and laughed through his tears. "Remember that Mom? I thought you were gonna get really pissed about your flowers getting all torn up but you didn't even give a shit. All you cared about was..."

Josh stopped smiling and focused on something Sam couldn't see. "Those red lights. I could see those red lights even up there in the trees. It made it look like the trees were on fire too. `Round and `round and `round and `round...I thought they'd never turn those fucking red lights off and Mama, it made your face look funny, kinda red on one side like you were burned too, and Daddy's and THOSE PEOPLE!!"

Josh looked directly at his Mother and silent tears ran down her face. Her hands were at her mouth. She looked terrified. Surely this wasn't her son.

Sam reached out and put his hand on Josh's back but Josh knocked it away and he glared at Sam. "You weren't there! Where were you? If you love me so goddamn much like you say you do, why weren't you there to save Joanie? Huh? You say over and over and over `I'd do anything in the world for you Josh.' so why didn't you save Joanie?"

"Josh, I didn't even know..."

Josh turned back to his Mother with fire in his eyes. "I heard what they said, those people... 'Isn't is a shame about the children?' 'So young, so young.' `I heard it was just the one, the girl.' `What about the boy?' `How did the boy get out?' `Did the little girl burn up?' `Did the little girl burn up?' `Did the little girl burn up?' `I heard the girl pushed the boy out a window.' `I heard she pulled him downstairs.' `The boy was asleep and the girl got him out of bed and saved his life.' `Someone said the boy was playing with matches.' `She was such a sweet girl.' `I know of a boy who played with matches and it burned down a barn, but didn't kill anybody.' `This will stay on THIS boy's heart forever, that's for sure'."

Josh stood up and took a step toward his Mother. Sam took a step right alongside him, his hand on Josh's sweatshirt, yet Josh never even knew. His voice was barely a whisper. "Do you know...do you have any idea..."

Josh whipped around, "Get those people out of here! Get away from our burning house! This is OUR fire! Go away! Go away! And stop looking at me!"

For the first time he looked directly at Sam, eye-to-eye. "Please, make them go away," he begged.

Josh sounded exhausted, defeated. Then with renewed energy he shouted, "Or I will!"

He was at the front door before Sam or Rosemary realized it. He jerked the door open and was three steps toward the main door before Sam caught up with him. Sam grabbed him from behind, confined his arms, lifted him off the floor, carried him back into the townhouse and kicked the door shut with his foot.

As soon as Sam released him, Josh fell into a heap on the floor. Sam kept both hands on Josh's shoulders so he wouldn't run again. Josh's eyes looked wild and he breathed heavily.

"Rosemary, come over here," Sam instructed. "Now, please."

She just stood there.

Sam spoke with frustration. "Rosemary! Please! Sit down here on the floor beside your son." She did.

Sam loosened his grip on Josh for just a second so he could re- arrange his position. He sat behind Josh with his legs wrapped around him, crossed at the ankle, with Josh's back against his chest, his arms around Josh, hands clasped at the wrists. All in all, he had a good, tight grip on Josh. He rested his chin on Josh's shoulder so he could speak directly into his ear. He was going to deal with this now, then find out later where he'd been last night.

"Josh," he said softly, "this is Sam. You're wrapped in my arms and you're safe. I'm protecting you and nothing is going to hurt you. Do you understand?"

Josh kept his head bowed.

"Josh, your Mother is sitting here beside us. There's no one else here. Absolutely no one. Just you, me and your Mom. Do you want to look around and see?"

Silence.

"It's ok Josh. I won't let anyone hurt you. I promise. Look around."

Sam put his hand on Josh's forehead and gently raised his head until Josh was upright. He looked straight ahead. Sam brushed hair off Josh's forehead. "Will you let your Mother hold your hand Josh?"

Sam jerked his chin and indicated for Rosemary to take Josh's hand in hers. Still frightened from what she'd seen, she reached out hesitantly and touched Josh's hand. The instant he felt her touch, Josh grabbed her hand and clung to it. Josh started to slowly rock back and forth where he sat. Sam rocked along with him.

"Mama?" he said softly.

"What is it son?"

"I broke Daddy's coffee mug. On the sidewalk."

She squeezed his hand. "That ok sweetheart."

"Can we get him another one?"

Rosemary looked at Sam questioningly. Sam, who knew nothing about the mug, shrugged his shoulders.

"Of course we can," she finally said. "Whatever you want."

Josh nodded his head. The three sat in silence for a while.

"Are those people gone?" Josh finally asked.

"Yes Joshua, they're all gone," Rosemary answered.

"Are the red lights gone?"

Rosemary nodded.

"I said are the red lights gone?" There was a sense of urgency in Josh's voice.

"Yes. Yes, Joshua. The red lights are gone too." Rosemary looked again at Sam, her eyes begged for help, but this was something only she could do.

"Are the sirens gone?"

"Yes Joshua."

"Are they coming back?"

"No son."

"Are you mad at me Mama?"

"Joshua! Why in the world would I be mad at you?" Rosemary asked, truly surprised by his question.

Sam could feel Josh tremble against him. He wrapped himself closer around Josh and whispered in his ear, "I'm right here with you Josh. I love you."

"Mad because...because...mad because...because I killed Joanie." Josh lowered his head again. Sam could feel Josh's tears as they dropped onto his hands.

"Joshua! You didn't kill Joanie honey! Whatever in the world gave you that idea...is that what you think? Have you thought all this time that you...Joshua!"

Rosemary brought Josh's hand to her lips, kissed it and held it there. "Oh Joshua, no one ever, ever thought you killed Joanie. What makes you say that?"

"I didn't save her. She said `run out of the house Josh' and I did and I thought she was behind me but she wasn't. So I got behind a tree and she didn't come out and she didn't come out and she didn't come out and Mama, I killed her. I didn't go back in for her. I left her inside and she burned to death."

"Son, you were a little boy. You did what you were supposed to do. You ran out of the house. You didn't kill Joanie. Do you think people blame you because Joanie died?"

Josh nodded his head.

Silence. Sam wondered if he should call Dr. Keyworth. He didn't want to get Josh involved in something if he didn't have to be, yet he's not sure if he's able to handle what's going on here by himself. He knows Rosemary isn't. She's scared as a jackrabbit. If only she would show some strength, some confidence, give Josh some solid reassurance that he wasn't responsible for his sister's death.

Sam also half-wished Toby had stayed. Two minutes longer and he'd have been here when Josh had his initial outburst. Then again, that might have had negative repercussions if Toby felt obligated to report the incident to Leo. Sam just wanted what was best for Josh

"Mom?"

"Yes Joshua?"

"Can I go get cleaned up and then...then maybe we can talk about some stuff. I think I really gotta talk about some important stuff with you. Can we do that?"

She glanced at Sam who gave a slight nod of his head.

"Of course. Let Sam go with you, ok?"

He nodded.

"Can I fix you something to eat?'

"Sam, do I want something to eat?"

"Yeah Osh, I think that would be a good idea."

"What do you want Mama to fix for you boys?" Rosemary asked, glad to finally feel like she was being of some help. "Do you want eggs or grilled cheese or soup? I noticed lots of food in the kitchen."

"Pancakes," Josh said.

"What was that? I didn't hear you."

"I want my Mom to fix pancakes. She's the only one who knows how."

Rosemary patted Josh's hand. "That's what I'll fix then Joshua. Pancakes."

"Blue ones?"

"Blue ones."

Sam unraveled from Josh and at the same time, held out his hand to help Rosemary to her feet. He never let go of Josh's arm, even for a second.

"Give us a little while," he said to Rosemary. "I'll call down when we're about ready. You'll probably want to clean up and get into something more comfortable too."

She nodded absent-mindedly and brushed away tears.

"Your room is right over there, remember? Do you need anything?" Sam asked.

Rosemary shook her head. "I don't think so Sam, thank you. I just need to collect myself and wonder what in the world Joshua wants to talk with me about."

They spoke as if Josh stood somewhere other than right beside them. "I, I just can't imagine why he thought...all these years..."

She trailed off as if she went back to the night of the fire. Then she jerked her head back and gave Sam a half-smile. "I won't be long in here and I'll have those pancakes ready whenever you boys come downstairs."

"Blue ones?" Sam asked.

"Blue ones," she confirmed.

"Rosemary, how do you make blue pancakes?"

"Do you promise not to tell Joshua? He thinks it's `Mother's Magic' pancakes."

"I promise."

"A drop of blue food coloring in the batter. I can make them red or green or yellow. Any color I want. And Josh hasn't figured it out to this day! And I have to make the first one in the shape of a `J' or he won't eat it. He's spoiled rotten."

"Yeah, and now he expects all that from ME!" Sam laughed. "But I wouldn't have it any other way. Rosemary, thank you for giving me Josh."

Rosemary started to tear up again. Sam figured he'd better get away while he could. "We'll see you in a little while."

He took Josh's hand. "Come on hon, let's get you cleaned up."

Rosemary went into the guestroom and closed the door behind her. Alone, she fell across the bed and buried her face in the pillow so the boys wouldn't hear, and sobbed until there were no more tears to cry. She'd always wondered, somewhere deep inside, if her son felt the deep, deep pain she worried he felt over the loss of his sister. But he never talked about it, never came to her or his Father, never brought it up. So she just let it go, month after month, year after year and assumed he was ok. Why had she done that? Why couldn't she tell when her own son was hurting so much that he'd lived with his haunting secret for nearly all his life? She had to make it right. Joshua was all she had left. She couldn't go on living her life if she knew his was this tortured.

She took off her best dress and hung it on a hanger but didn't put it in the closet just yet. Instead she hung it over the top of the closet door. She wanted the good memories from yesterday to stay with her. She tenderly touched the wilted corsage and smelled it. The fragrance was gone and a petal or two fell to the floor when she touched it, but she knew she would put it in the freezer anyway to keep forever.

She remembered Joanie, even as a little girl she talked about her wedding day. "Everything in pink," she said. "Even Josh has to wear pink. "Pink roses in my hair, pink roses everywhere. Pink roses on my face, pink roses every place." And she twirled around the room with a pink bath towel as her wedding gown train and Josh would roll his eyes and purposely step on the towel when she walked by and Joanie, instead of screaming to their Mother that he'd ruined her wedding, turned and jumped on Josh and pummeled him until he called out for help.

She smiled through her tears and looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. She wore her slip and her hair needed fixing and she wanted to wash her face and brush her teeth. Finally she decided to just take a shower; she knew the boys would be a while. Joshua and Sam would need some alone time before Joshua would be ready to face her and talk, and more importantly, face the horrors of his childhood when he was certain he killed his sister.

********

Josh walked slowly up the stairs with Sam behind, his hands on Josh's back, as he gently guided him.

"First you don't want to come down and now you don't want to up," Sam said, with just a hint of laughter. "So where DO you want to go?"

"To hell."

"Well, not today. We're going to get this shit out of your head."

Upstairs, Sam closed the bedroom door behind them. Josh started to fall onto the bed, but Sam caught him and pulled him back up.

"No sweetheart. I know you want to sleep, but we need to get you cleaned up. Into the bathroom."

There, Sam left him unattended. "Stay," he said. Sam turned the faucets on in the bathtub, made sure the water was just the right temperature and let it fill. Then he turned his attention back to Josh, who stood just where Sam had left him.

"Let's get you undressed." He grasped the sweatshirt and pulled it over Josh's head. "Raise your arms for me darlin'." Josh did, and Sam pulled the shirt off. Sam undid the top fastener of Josh's jeans. "How come your zipper is down Josh?" he asked.

Josh shrugged. "I guess I had to take a leak somewhere. Against a building or a car maybe. I don't know. Are my pants wet?"

"No."

"Lift your leg up so I can get these off. Put your hands on my shoulders to steady yourself." Josh put both hands on Sam and obediently lifted each leg as Sam pulled his jeans down and off. Sam threw them off to the side with the sweatshirt.

Sam felt like he was undressing a child. "Josh, you don't have any underwear on baby. Where the hell did you go last night? No shoes or socks...nothing? And your wallet isn't in these jeans. Do you know where that is?"

"I didn't have it. We gotta go back and pay Crawdad for some cigarettes and beer. I bummed it off him."

Sam reached over and turned off the water faucets and felt the water. It was just right ~~ hot with just a trace of steam rising off the top. He knew Josh only reached for a cigarette when he was extremely stressed and then, he sucked them back one after another. They didn't keep any in the house and Sam couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Josh smoke one.

"I was just going to sit on the stoop and get some fresh air. I think that's what I did. I know I put you to bed so I just went outside. That's why I didn't put on any underwear or shoes."

"Come on, get in the tub. It'll feel good. Careful, it's hot." Sam held on to Josh's arm while he climbed into their deep, claw foot bathtub. Josh put his foot in and jerked it out immediately. "You trying to boil me like a goddamn lobster? Put some cold in there."

"Just go slow," Sam said. "You'll get used to it. Trust me."

Slowly Josh eased his body into the hot water and sunk down into the tub until the water came up to his chin. Sam put his hand on Josh's forehead and gently laid his head back so it rested on the curve of the tub. Josh's eyes were closed and Sam knew this must make him feel better on some level. It always helped him. He also knew Josh needed to feel Sam's loving, nurturing hands on his body. Not as a man would touch his lover, but as a parent would touch his child.

Sam got on his knees beside the tub and dipped a washcloth into the water. He used plenty of soap to work up a frothy lather. "Its me Josh," he said softly. "It's Sam. You're ok. I'm right here with you, just you and me. Rest and relax and let me take care of you. Will you do that?" Josh nodded. "Ok, I'm going to wash your face now."

Sam scrubbed the dirt and street grim from Josh's face, neck, back and ears. He was very gentle and loving, careful not to get soap in Josh's eyes. As he touched Josh, Sam would whisper sweet words of affection to him and occasionally kiss him wherever he touched him. Whatever it was Josh was experiencing this day, Sam intuitively knew it was in Josh's best interest to treat him in a child-like way, for now. He also knew when it came time to purge the mistaken ideas he'd carried with him all these many years, he was going to have to accept it as a man.

Sam dunked Josh under water to get his hair wet then shampooed his hair, twice. Gradually, he worked his way down Josh's body. He washed his arms, his chest, his genitals, his legs and his feet. He knew every inch of Josh's body. Every bump, every mole, the funny little way a bone stuck out further on one kneecap than the other. And he knew so very well what Josh's scar felt like. He didn't linger on it now, he just washed it as he did his chest, but sometimes when the two of them laid together and it was quiet, Sam would run his finger over the length of the scar and ask Josh about it.

Did you feel the bullet going in? Did you think you were going to die until Toby found you? Did you hate me because I wasn't with you? I should have been, you know. I was so scared Josh, Sam thought as he continued bathing Josh. I was afraid you were going to die, and if you did, I was going to die too. There was nobody I could talk with about it either. Because nobody knew. You were in the ambulance and gone before I even knew you were hit. I'm sorry.

It was when Sam started to wash Josh's feet he noticed they had cuts and scrapes on them. "What happened here?" he asked. "There's blood on your feet."

"From running."

"Running from what? Or TO what?"

"From Crawdads. I ran from Crawdads all the way home without stopping and I guess there was stuff on the sidewalk and in the streets and my feet got messed up some."

"Stand up sugar." Sam wrapped a king-sized towel around Josh and steadied him as he stepped out of the tub. He leaned over to let the water drain out then walked Josh out of the bathroom. "Here, sit on the side of the bed and we'll dry you off and get you dressed. Do you want sweats or jeans?"

Josh looked confused. "I...don't know. What should I wear Sam?"

"Sweats. You'll be more comfortable. Do you want to wear some of mine?"

Josh nodded. "Yeah. I wanna wear your clothes."

Sam tossed Josh some deodorant. "Here, use this while I get you something to put on." He brought out some underwear, socks and navy sweats.

"Arms up." Josh raised his arms and allowed Sam to pull an undershirt and sweatshirt over his arms and head. "Hands on my shoulders." Josh steadied himself on Sam's back and lifted one leg at a time as Sam helped him into his underwear and sweat pants. "Sit on the bed, but don't lay down." Josh did as he was told. Sam lifted each leg and put Josh's socks on him.

Josh started to fall back on the bed. Sam caught him and brought him back to a sitting position. Instead, Josh fell forward and leaned against Sam in front of him. Sam put his hands on Josh's shoulders.

"I'm not trying to be difficult Sammy," he said. "I just don't wanna go see my Mom and talk about this stuff."

Sam hugged Josh into himself. "I know you don't babe, but it's gotta be done. What if Toby had stayed just a couple of minutes longer and seen your outburst? He would have had no other choice than to tell Leo and then the President. People can't...we've got to get this under control ourselves, ok? What if this happened at the office?"

He rubbed the back of Josh's head. "We need to get your hair dry and you need to shave and brush your teeth and we'll be done, ok? Just remember, this is a family thing. You, me, and your Mom. Family." He felt Josh nod against his body. "Now go on in the bathroom and brush your teeth and I'll tell your Mother we're about ready. Go on."

"I wanna stay right here, up against you Angel, forever."

"I know you do darlin'. And when this is over, we'll have a whole lifetime of doing that. Just staying right up against each other forever. So the sooner we get through this shit, the sooner we can be just us again."

Josh slowly walked into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. Sam could hear him start to shave, so he went to the bedroom door and called downstairs.

"Rosemary! Blue pancakes in ten minutes! Will that work for you?"

Rosemary walked out of the kitchen and wiped her hands on a tee- towel. "They'll be ready. I've fixed enough for an Army. I don't know what got into me. Sam, is Joshua ok? Is he feeling better?"

"I think so Rosemary. Are you doing alright?"

She nodded. "This just came as a shock. Out-of-the-blue. I had no idea Joshua felt this way. He never let on...he never told me..."

"We'll be right down."

Sam returned to the bathroom where Josh had just finished shaving. He grabbed the hair dryer and a brush, told Josh to sit down and went about drying his hair. After a couple of minutes Josh protested. "I think I wanna do this myself," he said. "No offense, but I really don't think you have any idea what you're doing up there."

"Oh come on, I'll make you look cute," Sam teased.

"Cute isn't quite the look I'm going after."

Sam grinned. "Ok, have it your way." He turned the hair dryer and brush over to Josh and leaned in the bathroom doorway and watched while Josh dried his hair.

"I told your Mom we'd be right down so let's go," Sam said. "You're all puffed up and pretty now."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Can we have just five more minutes? I need to ask you something."

"I suppose. And, by the way, later I want to hear about your running home from Crawdads last night. I want to know why you were even AT Crawdads last night. But we can talk about that later. What do you need to ask me now?"

Josh wrapped his arms around Sam's waist and pulled him close. He looked directly into Sam's eyes. "Are you sorry about yesterday?" he finally asked.

The look of not understanding what Josh was talking about was evident and genuine on Sam's face. Sam shook his head a little and gave a half-smile.

"Sorry about yesterday? Do you mean this?" He held up the ring finger on his left hand. Josh nodded.

Sam stared at him in disbelief. He couldn't believe what he heard, that Josh had actually asked him that question.

"Josh, why...what on Earth would make you ask a question like that?" He put his left hand on Josh's cheek so Josh could feel the ring against his skin.

"I thought maybe, well, one day we have our commitment ceremony and that very night and the next day I freak out on you. You're probably wishing you could go shoot that old Indian and just undo everything we did. I'm sorry Sam. We don't have to keep..."

"Josh, listen to me carefully. I wouldn't trade yesterday for anything in the world. I wouldn't change a thing about our ceremony. It was perfect. We promised each other we'd be together forever in this lifetime and in whatever comes after that. If you think I'm going to turn tail and run every time we come upon a pile of shit in the road, you're badly mistaken. Josh, no matter how bad things get, I'm going to be at your side. And I trust you'll do the same for me. That's what commitment is all about. Do you understand? You're going through some mind-shit right now, but with you fighting to get out and me holding on to you so you won't get any deeper into it, we'll get you out, but we'll do it together. And I'm not afraid of getting shit on me in the process."

Sam put his hands on either side of Josh's face. "But you have to TALK to me. You can't just say `nothing' when I ask what's bothering you. Don't keep everything inside until you explode and scare your Mother and me half to death. Please go downstairs and tell her what's going on inside you. It's Joanie and the fire. Just get it out. Nobody will be around except your Mother and me. It's time to let that go, Josh."

"You'll be with me in case I don't know what to say or do?"

"The whole time. I'll never leave your side."

"Ok, let's go eat blue pancakes."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 15

"Don-naaaaa!"

Almost instantly she was standing in the doorway to Josh's office.

"How'd you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Just metaphysically materialize like that! A tenth of a second ago you weren't there and before I even got your name out of my mouth, here you are. I'm really impressed Donna."

"You're not Josh."

Sam smiled. "I'm not. Keen observation."

"You're sitting at Josh's desk going through his things. Does he know about this?"

"No Donna. I'm tossing Josh's office looking for information that will connect him to illegal conspiratory activity with the Republican Party."

Donna came into the office, a look of disbelief on her face.

"Oh Sam, surely not! Of all people, not Josh!"

"It's always the ones you'd least expect. Donna, there's a mole in the West Wing and all evidence points to Josh. We've been investigating him for over six months." Sam lowered his voice and spoke with serious authority as he pulled a file from here and a file from there and put them in his brief case.

Donna sat in the visitor's chair and put her hand to her mouth.

"Of course, you'll be interrogated too. I'm awfully sorry it's come to this Donna. We're almost positive you're not directly involved, but you'll have to testify against Josh in order to make a conviction."

"Sam, please tell me this isn't true."

"This isn't true."

"He's not the mole?"

"Nope."

"IS there a mole?"

"No mole."

"No investigation?"

"Uh uh."

"He's not a Republican?"

"Not in a million years."

Donna stood and used a rolled up section of the newspaper to hit Sam about his head and shoulders. Sam put his arms up in self-defense and laughed. "Watch the hair...watch the hair!"

Donna's face was red. "You...you...creep!" She turned, tossed her hair over her shoulder and marched out of the office. Sam laughed, which only added insult to injury.

"Don-naaaaa!"

Again she materialized at the door.

"How do you DO that?" he asked again.

"Do what?"

"Never mind."

"What do you want?"

"I called you in here for a reason the first time and you left."

"That's because you were being so Josh-like," she said.

"Josh-like? Just what IS being Josh-like?"

"Oh you know...cocky, smart-ass, sarcastic, cynical, thoughtless, mean-spirited, know-it-all, badgering, sexist, demanding, humorless, shall I go on?"

"That's how you think of Josh? Sweet, lovable Josh Lyman?" Sam leaned back in Josh's chair and put his feet up on his desk.

Donna rolled her eyes. "A good deal of the time. Most of the time. Pretty much all of the time. But he's got his occasional good moments too."

Sam frowned. "Hmmmmm, I didn't realize you disliked him so much."

"Dislike Josh?" Donna's eyes got big and she looked genuinely surprised. "I don't dislike Josh. I LOVE Josh!"

"But you just said..." Now Sam was confused.

"But that's just Josh. If he were any other way he wouldn't be Josh. Don't you just love him Sam, just like he is?"

"Uh, sure Donna, I could eat him up with a spoon."

Sam glanced down at his left hand. Even though he'd only worn it a day-and-a-half, his finger already felt and looked bare without his ring. He rubbed his thumb where the band should be and all of a sudden he missed Josh and wished he were home with him instead of here at the White House.

"Donna, I need you to get together the files Josh was working on with the environmental bill in the Everglades. He won't be in today and I'm going to go over some stuff with Toby. I'll be working with Josh on this project."

"Is Josh sick?"

"No."

Donna stood there and waited for Sam to elaborate. She was accustomed to Josh running his mouth constantly, and when Sam gave a succinct response, she wasn't prepared.

"Does he have a sprained ankle?"

"No."

"Car in the shop?"

"No."

"Waiting for the cable guy?"

"No Donna. Before you blow a gasket, Josh's Mother is visiting and he wants to spend the day with her. He'll be back at this very desk tomorrow."

Donna's face brightened. "Mrs. Lyman is here? I've talked to her on the phone a few times but I've never met her. I'd love to meet her. Do you think I could meet her while she's here Sam?"

"I have no idea. It's not MY Mother. We're keeping...Josh is keeping her busy sight-seeing and we have all this Everglades stuff to work on."

Donna put on her pouty face.

"But I'll mention it if I see him," Sam gave in. "Have you seen Toby this morning?"

"I think I saw him early. He was here before me."

"Yeah ok. If you'll please start gathering up that stuff for me, I'm going to see Toby. Just bring it to his office when you get it together please."

"Please. You say `please'." Donna said with a smile.

Sam walked past Donna as he left Josh's office. He leaned close to her ear and said in a low, ominous voice. "If you see the mole, the password is `the brown dog howls at midnight'."

She smacked him again with the rolled up newspaper and he had to dance his way out of the bullpen to avoid her playful wrath. They both laughed as he made his way down the hall. Sam knocked on Toby's door with the Morris Code distress signal for SOS.

"Friend or foe?" came the response from inside the office.

"Friend! Unless you know something I don't know!" Sam called back.

"Then take your chances and enter."

Sam went inside Toby's office and watched him throw his pink rubber ball against the glass window that separated their offices. In perfect syncope, he hit the same spot one time after another, and the cadence could hypnotize if one was to watch and listen for any period of time.

Sam dropped onto Toby's couch and put his briefcase and paperwork beside him. It could have been an awkward silence, but surprisingly, it wasn't.

"How's Josh doing this morning?" Toby asked.

"He had a rough night."

Toby didn't respond, but continued to bounce his ball.

Sam took that to mean he was supposed to elaborate. "He didn't sleep much. Had a couple of bad dreams. Mostly he just wanted to be body close and held."

Even though Toby had grown accustomed to seeing Sam and Josh together and hear them express their affection, sometimes it still startled him when he heard them talk so casually about their intimate moments. After the initial couple of sentences, it became familiar again and didn't seem so unusual anymore. Toby had come a long way.

"I'm sorry Sam, would you say that again?"

"I just said he mostly wanted to feel the closeness of our bodies and have me hold and caress him. This morning I woke him up to say good- bye before I left and he kept saying he didn't want me to go. When I DID leave I had Rosemary go up and sit on the bed with him and she said he went right back to sleep after I was gone. He's exhausted. I called her from the car. He's asleep now."

Toby nodded his head as if Josh being asleep was a good thing. He caught his rubber ball and held on to it, but studied it as if it were the first time he'd seen it. He still hadn't made eye contact with Sam.

"Rosemary?"

"Wrung out. Surprised at herself, I think, that she could go through something like this without falling apart. Right after you left Sunday, when all hell broke loose, when Josh lost it, I thought she was going to lose it too. But I believe after she really saw how difficult this was for Josh, she found her strength from somewhere ~~ God knows where ~~ and when we actually got in to it, she was rock solid. There's no way I could have handled Josh without her being there."

Toby resumed with his ball routine and the steady `thud, thud' overtook the room again. Sam knew Toby wasn't finished with this conversation. He wasn't ready to talk about the environment. Sam also knew the best thing for him to do was just sit and wait. Toby would talk when he was ready. Sam's eyes followed the rubber ball. Minutes passed.

"Sam."

It was a statement. Sam didn't believe he was expected to respond. He was correct.

"Sam, when you called me last night, you said you'd talked with Dr. Neilson. That's the psychologist Stanley referred Josh to after the last incident, right?"

"You told me to! You said it wouldn't be a problem! You said he..."

"It's not a problem Sam. Don't get your shorts in a knot. There's just a couple of things we need to consider. I'm not sure if we have to tell Leo. Josh talked with a psychologist, even if it was just on the phone, and I don't know if we have to tell the President. I just don't know. Maybe not. It was just a phone call."

"Ok..." Sam said with hesitance.

"The other uh...I don't know where things stand, exactly, because I don't have anything to work with." He set his ball in the middle of his desk. "Sam, I don't know what went on Saturday night and Sunday, or today, or right now for that matter, and theoretically it's none of my business. But because of the nature of our jobs and being public figures and our salaries being paid by the taxpayers and..."

"Cut the crap Toby. You want to know what's going on with Josh, right?"

"Yeah." He hadn't even flinched. "Be clear on this. I'm not asking because I want to be `Dear Andi' or anything like that."

"It's `Dear Abby', not `Dear Andi'. Shall I assume that was a Freudian slip?"

Toby picked up the ball and squeezed it until Sam thought surely it would burst. Toby's hand was red and his knuckles turned white from the pressure. Sam wondered if that expression of anger was directed at him or at Andi. Or himself. Or Josh. Or at everybody. He didn't ask.

"As I was saying, by now you should know I'm ok with your, uh," Toby lowered his voice, "relationship. You trusted me enough to include me in your, uh," he lowered his voice again, "lifestyle. So if I'm going to run interference for you here, now, if need be, you've got to trust me again and let me in on what's happening. I know you two well enough to be absolutely certain that if you try to handle this on your own, you'll screw it up royally. If you prefer not, let's get on with this environmental stuff and I won't bring it up again. But understand, if that's what you choose, don't come crying to me later to straighten out your mess. Got it?"

"Got it. Can I have a minute to process it?"

"Take five while I go down to the mess and get some pie. What can I bring you?"

Silence.

Toby lightly kicked Sam's leg.

"Seaborn, what do you want for breakfast? I'll buy."

"Oh, ummm, just coffee thanks," Sam was deep in serious thought. "Rosemary made green and purple pancakes." A big grin spread across Sam's face. "And they spelled out my name Toby. It was awesome. There was a purple `S' then a green `A' then a purple `M' then a green `M' and a purple `Y'. She can do any color you want!"

Toby stared at Sam incredulously. "Sam, when are you going to turn forty?"

"A while yet. Eight years. Why do you ask?"

"For some reason the number thirty-four more years comes to mind. I'll be back in five minutes. Have your answer ready."

Sam leaned over and put his head between his knees after Toby left the office. He covered the top of his head with his hands. He thought best in seclusion and this was the best he could do at the moment. If he told Toby everything, he'd betray a major confidence that belonged to Josh. Somehow he knew this was something Josh would want as few people as possible to know about. If Sam knew what happened that was ok. But Toby? Now we've got into a co-worker relationship and one that could, if necessary, be used as a trump card if things ever got ugly, not that Sam expected them to, but politics was a funny game.

Still, Toby was right. He and Josh had no idea how to pull this off without being blatantly deceitful and would no doubt get caught and that could mean both their jobs and that would definitely put Josh over the edge. Josh certainly didn't want Leo to know, although Leo had been there last time and MADE him get help. But that was different. Josh's difficulties before were brought about by an on- the-job risk. This wasn't. How many breakdowns was the President going to allow Josh before he decided to bring in a `more stable personality' to fill the position of Deputy Chief of Staff? He knew if Toby was on their side to run interference he'd get the job done using his finest quality ~~ manipulating words to their benefit ~~ and they'd all come out smelling like roses. He felt sure Rosemary would be in favor of Toby's involvement.

Ok, it was settled. If Josh hated him for it, that was just a chance he'd have to take. At this time, Sam was doing what he truly believed was best for Josh. And he believed Toby had Josh's best interests at heart too.

Toby came back with a tray full of food and a whole carafe of coffee. Sam was glad to see that. He had a feeling this was going to be a long morning.

"Ginger, Cathy, Bonnie, no calls," Toby said, "unless it's Josh, then put him through. Or the President. You can put him through too." He kicked the door shut with his foot.

He set the tray on his desk and scooted papers and file folders and whatever else might be in the way over to the side. Sam looked at the tray. It was piled high with scrambled eggs, lox, bagels, sweet rolls, hash browns, biscuits with gravy, biscuits with jelly, cereal, fresh fruit, Belgian Waffles, omelets, hot oatmeal...anything a person could want. And pie.

"Help yourself Sam." Toby took a plate and began to pile it with some of everything.

Toby hated styrofoam and paper cups so he kept several ceramic mugs in his office. He always drank from the one that had NASA printed on the side. His brother had given it to him when he'd taken Toby and Andi on a tour many years ago. He poured coffee into a mug with the Presidential seal and handed it to Sam.

Sam took his black and settled back on the couch. "Hey Toby?"

"Hmmmmm?" He'd just taken a bite of a Denver omelet.

"You think your brother would ever take me on a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA some day?"

"What makes you ask?"

"Your coffee mug reminded me he's an astronaut. I think about it sometimes when I see your mug and he was up there a couple of years ago. You think he would?"

Toby shrugged. "Couldn't say. I don't talk with him all that much. If the opportunity presents itself, I'll see what I can do."

"You think that might be soon because I..."

"Sam." Toby cut him off. "I said I'll keep it in mind and I will if I don't forget about it first. It may be a while. Don't bring it up again."

"Yeah, ok."

"So, did you give some thought to our thing?"

"I did."

Sam loosened his tie and took another sip of coffee. Again he noticed how bare his left hand looked without his ring. Amazing what a couple of days wearing it could do when suddenly it was gone. He wanted to get them engraved soon. He gave a heavy sigh.

"So, what'd you come up with?" Toby asked between bites.

"We need you."

"What? Didn't hear that."

Yes you did, you motherfucker, Sam thought. You just like to hear me say it.

"I said, we need you!"

Toby nodded his head. "I know. Ok, first things first. I need to know what went on. Everything." His voice softened. "And Sam, this isn't so much for running interference for you guys. I want to know because...because, well, I care about you and...you know...and I, uh, want to know what happened that got Josh fucked up. There may be a way I can help him. And if there, uh, if there is, then I want to do it. Help him, that is. And stop looking at me like that."

"I'm not looking at you like anything."

"Just stop it."

"But I'm not DOING anything!" Sam protested.

"Well just stop it and begin."

"Begin what? Where? When? How far back? Where do you want me to start?"

"After dinner Rosemary and I left in my car, you and Josh left in your car. Start there."

"Well, ok, but when I'm drunk I don't have very good recall, so it might have some gaps in it."

"We'll figure them out. Lox?" Toby offered.

"No, but I'll take those grapes. They're nature's perfect food, you know. Are they seedless? I only like seedless."

Toby passed a cluster of grapes to Sam.

"Have these been washed?" he asked.

"I wouldn't know."

"Would you mind if I go wash these real quick before I eat them? Pesticides you know."

"GINGER!"

The office door opened and Ginger came in.

"Ginger, would you take these grapes somewhere and wash them, very thoroughly, dry them, eat one and see if it has seeds. If it doesn't, cover them up so they stay sanitary and bring them back," Toby instructed.

"What if it has seeds?" Ginger asked.

Toby looked at Sam. "What if it has seeds Sam?"

"Then you don't need to bring them back Ginger. I don't care for grapes with seeds. I believe these are seedless though."

Ginger took the grapes. "Sure, is that all?"

"Uh, you might wanna take this Gala apple and wash it too please and...that's all. Thanks Ginger." Sam smiled up at her as she left.

"Now speak Sam, or I'll personally disembowel you."

"Ok, here's what happened. After dinner you and Rosemary left in your car and did who knows what, who knows where..." Sam started.

"Knock it off. I don't appreciate that."

"I apologize. I was out of line. And Josh and I left in our car. When I've had a couple too many I don't have very good memory recall so I'm really not sure what happened in detail, and when I'm really, really drunk my memory just shuts down completely."

"You said that already." Toby shoved a piece of cherry pie into his mouth.

"I did? I forgot. Anyway, from what I've figured out and from what Josh has told me, we went straight home, he poured a gallon of black coffee into me then we went upstairs and he tucked me in."

"Tucked you in?"

"Yeah. You know, undressed me and got under the covers with me for a while to keep me warm until I fell asleep. He just held me, stayed close, made sure I felt safe and loved and was comfortable and...how much detail do you want?"

"Just talk."

"Ok. So apparently I went to sleep pretty quick and slept like a corpse until ten o'clock the next morning. Sunday. When I woke up, Josh and I were in each others arms so I laid there for about an hour and just let him sleep while I thought about everything that had happened the day before and tried to remember what had happened that night. About eleven I got out of bed, left Josh there asleep, showered and got dressed, then met you and Rosemary at the door."

Sam purposely left out what happened between the time he woke up and the time he got into the shower. Toby had come far, but not THAT far. Not yet.

"So what about Josh? What did he do all this time while you slept? >From he time he tucked you in until you woke up at ten o'clock."

"That's where it gets weird and fuzzy and bad. God Toby, I feel like I'm just throwing Josh's life out on the table for the whole world to see. I don't know if this is the right thing to do."

There was a knock on the door and Ginger opened it slightly.

"Come on in," Toby said.

"I washed this apple and it's spotless." She sat it on Toby's desk wrapped in a paper towel. "And these grapes are as clean as any grape has ever been in its entire little grape life. I tasted one and it's sweet as sugar and there wasn't a seed to be found. I ate another just to be sure. Hope you don't mind." The grapes were also well wrapped in a paper towel.

Sam laughed. "Thank you Ginger. You don't know how much I appreciate it. Would you like one more grape?"

"Don't mind if I do." She reached over and plucked another grape and popped it in her mouth. Sam closed the paper towel, which indicated when he said one grape, he meant ONE grape. "Anything else?"

"We're fine Ginger, thank you. Close the door behind you please," Toby said.

Toby tuned back to Sam. Their eyes made contact and locked. Ordinarily this would have been uncomfortable for them both and they would have immediately looked away, but there was something about this connection that held them both there as they tried to determine what each really felt, believed, and wanted from the other. Both searched for honesty, reason and trust.

Sam wanted so desperately for Toby to mean the words he said, and Toby wanted just as much for Sam to trust him and gain a different kind of respect for him. He knew he already had Sam's respect as a colleague and his superior in the White House, but he wanted...needed something more.

They both felt it, that `something' that passed between them in that minute their eyes locked together. Sixty seconds felt like an hour. And they both made their decisions and knew without a doubt what they had decided was the right choice.

"This isn't going to screw things up, is it?" Sam asked softly.

Toby shook his head. "I don't see why it would. Not if we're discrete and do our jobs."

"What about Josh?"

"What ABOUT Josh?" Toby countered.

"He's so fragile right now Toby, so `on the edge'. I don't want anything to disrupt what we've got. It might scare him. He's feeling really insecure right now. Clingy. He needs me right there with him every minute when I get home."

"Then there doesn't seem like a better time. But Sam, if you've got doubts, any doubts at all...I don't want to mess up anything...you know I wouldn't do that for the world."

"No Toby. I want it. You do too, right? You DO want it."

Toby threw his rubber ball against the wall.

Finally, "Sam, I want it and I need it. And if you EVER tell a soul I told you that, I'll kill you. Now tell me everything. From the moment you were `tucked in' ~~ Toby shook his head ~~ until...until what happened between you and me just now."

Sam stuck out his coffee mug. "Fill `er up."

********

Toby listened intently as Sam reiterated how he'd woken up at about ten o'clock Sunday morning to find Josh and he wrapped in each other's arms and he wondered at the time why Josh had on jeans and a sweatshirt, but didn't think it TOO terribly strange. It wasn't unheard of for one of them to wake before the other and go out for fresh pastry, still warm from the oven. He did point out that Josh seemed to have a `death grip' on Sam's undershirt and Sam had needed to pry Josh's fingers open so he could get out of bed when he left Josh to sleep on.

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you want, or do you NEED to know every detail?"

"Depends on how relevant the information is you choose to leave out."

Sam studied the carpet. "What if it's of a sexual nature?" he finally asked.

"I thought you said Josh was still asleep?"

"He was."

Toby sat there for a moment and digested this piece of information. For a couple of seconds the room seemed to feel extra warm to both men and each wished he was somewhere other than where he was.

Finally Toby spoke. "Is it relevant to Josh's situation?"

Sam still stared at the floor. "If anything, I think it gave him a better start to the day."

"Then keep the details to yourself. I don't wanna know."

Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Just the very thought of what he had done to Josh Sunday morning made Sam start to get hard. He recalled Josh's mouth as he sucked on Sam's penis... He shifted on the couch, an adjustment that didn't go unnoticed by Toby.

"Thank God. Ok. I got up, showered, and that's when you got there. I let you and Rosemary in and you saw what happened after that. She insisted on seeing Josh and I have no idea what that was about, why she was so intent on seeing him that very minute."

Just then a cell phone rang. Both men checked to see if it was theirs.

"It's me," Sam said as he picked up his phone.

"Sam Seaborn." Immediately his voice softened and Toby noticed his eyes brightened and a smile spread across his face. He knew instantly who was on the other end of the line.

"Hi babe, it's good to hear your voice. Did you just get up? What color? She fixed purple and green for me." Sam laughed. Toby paid attention. It was a comfortable laugh. He liked the way it sounded. "So you're going to get into it heavy duty, huh?"

Sam lowered his voice a bit and without thought, turned slightly away from Toby. He forgot he'd tell Toby about this conversation as soon as he hung up.

"You need to do it Josh, you HAVE to do it. No, I can't come home, but I'll be with you in your heart and in my heart. You've got my clothes on?" Sam laughed again.

"Ok. You can call every five minutes if you need to. I'm in with Toby. No, he's not mad. You can do it Josh. Trust your Mother and trust yourself. And trust ME. And Josh? Trust Toby. What? Yeah, I said trust Toby. I'll explain when I get home. Stay in the present. I love you too. I miss you too. Yeah baby, you know."

Sam snapped his phone shut and looked at Toby. "That was Josh."

"Yeah." Toby couldn't understand the feeling he had in his stomach. Was it jealousy that these two had such a relationship and he was alone? Could it be that their love was so deep and real that it made him sad for something he desperately wanted and there wasn't even a prospect of it on the horizon? He tried to ignore what his stomach wouldn't let him.

"Well, when Rosemary insisted on seeing Josh and I went up to get him, he was adamant that he didn't want to go downstairs and see her. He didn't say why, but I had to push him down the steps. Literally. You saw him. He looked like shit."

Toby nodded his head, his thoughts still on the telephone exchange between Josh and Sam.

"So you left. I gotta tell you Toby, I wish you hadn't."

"Why's that?" Toby looked truly perplexed.

"Because you hadn't been gone thirty seconds when Josh..." at this point Sam's voice cracked. Up until now it had all been so matter-of- fact, and now it was getting real, too real. Now it involved Josh in a painful way, and it hurt Sam to even think about it.

Toby picked up on Sam's change in demeanor and voice inflection. He knew it was difficult for Sam to talk about this. While Toby gave Sam a few minutes to compose himself, he poked around with the food on the tray.

Sam drained his mug and held it out for more coffee. Toby wished he'd brought decaf. He didn't want a wired Sam on his hands.

"So after you left Sunday, about noon, Josh...Josh kinda, uh, fell apart, I guess you could say. Yeah, that's it. Josh fell apart."

Toby put his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, closer to Sam. He thought back to yesterday when he'd left their townhouse and the sound he was certain he'd heard. For a fleeting moment he wondered if it had been a scream or an outcry, but it seemed to have come from where he'd just been, so he'd dismissed it as a trick the body plays on its senses, or a TV from a different townhouse or, or something else altogether.

He couldn't ~~ or wouldn't ~~ allow himself to believe it had been Josh, although the tiniest chance that it might have been had haunted Toby from the moment he heard it. At the time he considered going back, just to ease his mind, then justified NOT going by reminding himself it was a family thing and if Rosemary or Sam or even Josh himself had wanted him to stay, they would have said so. He didn't want to intrude. That sounded as legitimate as anything.

Why then, had he worried all of Sunday afternoon, had trouble sleeping that night, and was the first person to arrive at the office this morning so he could see Sam first thing? For some reason Toby couldn't explain or avoid, as much as he wanted to, that he felt a kinship with this non-traditional family, a closeness he'd never felt with his own.

He tried to deny it was there, but he'd began to look at Sam in a different light ~~ still his superior at the White House, but he tended to `watch out' for him; to take an interest in where he was, what he was doing, who he was with and why. He was afraid to admit it, even to himself, but recently the words he dreaded to hear had crept into his thoughts.

At first they went away if he fought them hard enough, but now they came and stayed and try as he might, he couldn't deny them. Toby had developed feelings for Sam ~~ more that of a big brother than paternal; still, a strong urge to protect him, a need to be part of his and Josh's `family' and not just Sam's boss or `the guy who knew their secret'. And now that he'd met Rosemary and stood up for Sam at the commitment ceremony, the bond felt even stronger.

"Josh fell apart." Toby repeated back to Sam. "Sam, how do you feel about me asking you these questions? Truthfully. Don't take into account all I said before."

"Truthfully? You have no idea how thankful I am to share this burden with somebody Toby...not that Josh is a burden ~~ don't get me wrong, that's not at all what I mean, but the shit he's going through right now and me not having a clue how to help him...well, I have a CLUE but I've never done anything like this before so I'm just flying by the seat of my pants and praying for a smooth landing and did I just say that all in one breath?"

"Pretty much," Toby said with a slight laugh.

Sam laughed too and it felt good to release a little of the tension he carried. "Actually," he said, "I'm relieved you're concerned. `I' should be `thanking' you for wanting to get involved."

"Let's just get back to what happened and we'll talk about who should be thanking who later." Suddenly Toby felt embarrassed and somewhat guilty when he realized perhaps Sam needed him as much as he needed Sam.

"Ok, where was I?" Sam asked.

"Josh fell apart."

"Yeah, ok. He was just standing there, standing in front of his Mother and it's like she was scrutinizing him, Toby. Not in a bad way like judging him or anything like that, but looking him up and down like she was trying to figure out what was different about him, why he looked like he did. Well you saw him! He looked like shit! And he just stood there with his head bowed, staring at the floor. It wasn't our Josh at all. You noticed it, didn't you Toby? Didn't you notice something different in him?"

Toby nodded.

There was a knock at the door.

"Goddammit! Open!" Toby shouted.

Donna came in the office with a stack of paperwork. "Hi guys. Sam, here's everything I could find on the Everglades project. Everything but that blue folder. Anything else I can do for either of you?"

Both men shook their heads. "Thanks Donna," Sam said. "I appreciate this."

"Sure." She just stood there.

"Something else you want to say?" Toby asked.

"Have you heard from Josh?" she asked.

Toby looked confused. "Why would we hear from Josh?"

"Sam said he's taking his Mother sightseeing today and I thought maybe he'd call and tell us where he was or maybe bring her here. I'd really like to meet her."

"No Donna, we don't know where the tour bus is. Certainly not here," Toby answered gruffly as he shuffled through the paperwork she'd brought in.

"If he calls in would you..."

"Thanks Donna," Toby said. He looked up and peered at her over his glasses. "Close the door behind you, ok?"

"Sure." Donna backed out of the office and closed the door.

Toby shoved the files to the side. "So it was quiet and Josh was just standing there, head down, looking at the carpet."

"Yeah. Then all of a sudden he fell to his knees and started yelling and screaming, `Why's everybody staring at me?' but it was only Rosemary and me and he just goes off. It was like he was hollering at someone to `go away', `go away' and `make them leave' and this went on for several minutes and Toby, I swear to God, I would have done something, but I didn't know what to do. It happened so fast and Josh was so, I hate to say violent because it didn't seem like he was out to hurt anybody, but, I guess defensive is a better word, so like a jerk I just stood there." Sam looked sad when he said this. Sad like he had somehow failed Josh.

Toby flinched when Sam said Josh had yelled and screamed. It just confirmed what he'd known all along in his heart ~~ it WAS Josh he had heard ~~ but there was something about the desperate primal terror in the cry that made him keepnwalking when he'd heard it. Dammit, why hadn't he gone back? He KNEW it was Josh, he knew it at the time, but something kept him from going back. Why is this haunting me? Toby wondered if he'd ever be able to forgive himself for that act of cowardice. He doubted it.

"Rosemary just stood there too, stunned. Finally I collected myself and ran to Josh and just..." Sam's voice cracked and he couldn't talk.

Toby noticed tears welling in Sam's eyes. "You wanna take a little break? Walk around or something?" he asked softly.

Sam shook his head. "No. It just bothered me so much seeing Josh like that and I felt so helpless. I didn't know what to do. So I ran to Josh and put my arms around him, trying to comfort him, talk to him, do anything I could to calm him down. Finally Rosemary came over and eventually Josh started talking in a more rational voice and we found out what was bothering him ~~ he was having some kind of anxiety attack, or something, because he felt responsible for his Joanie, for his sister I mean, dieing in that fire."

"But that's not how it was!" Toby nearly yelled. "He was a little boy! A little boy for God's sake!"

"Not in Josh's mind. He's been carrying this around with him for over thirty-four years, convinced he's responsible. It's just now manifesting itself. This shit about Joanie and the fire has been tucked away in Josh's psyche all these years and only now is it being released. Something triggered the switch that opened the floodgates and to Josh, it's like he's experiencing the whole thing over again. The fire, him running away, Joanie not getting out of the house, the emotions he felt at the time. Something triggered him late Saturday night or early Sunday morning and now we, Rosemary and me, or Rosemary since I'm here and she's there, are trying to find out what brought all this on to take him to that place and bring him back to the present."

Toby sat back in his chair and laced his fingers under his chin. "For somebody who professes not to know how to handle this situation, you just gave a damn good oral dissertation on the subject. Care to explain THAT?"

Sam ignored him and went on to describe in detail what happened; how Josh fell on the floor and begged an unseen crowed of onlookers to stop staring at him, gawking, making false accusations that he was the reason Joanie was dead and in the tone of his wailing, `why not me'?

"Shit."

He described how Rosemary had recoiled in shock and fear at Josh's outburst, stunned because she only knew her son to be the strong man who had tried so hard to please his parents as their only child. He'd done well in school, been popular with many friends, and now held a top-level position in the White House and worked just a few feet away from the Oval Office for the President of the United States. Sam explained how his own shield of protection went up for Josh ~~ paternal,maternal, or fraternal ~~ he couldn't distinguish which, and he was at Josh's side without even feeling himself move across the room. Josh's cry for help cut through his heart and there WAS no time to think or rationalize anything ~~ he just knew he had to be with his lover to absorb some of the pain that was so obviously tearing him apart.

Toby put his elbows on his desk and hung his head over. With both hands he massaged the back of his neck. Sam wasn't sure how to read this. Have I said too much? Revealed too many personal details? Not enough? Did Toby change his mind and decide he doesn't want to get involved after all? Should I shut up? Should I go ahead and talk?

"Keep talking Sam," Toby instructed. "Keep talking."

A phone rang.

"It's me," Sam said. He picked up his phone. "Sam Seaborn."

Sam's voice softened and Toby noticed he sunk down into the couch a little.

"No, I'm glad it's you. Does there have to be a reason? Because I ALWAYS think of you."

There was a long silence and Toby wondered what Josh had said. Sam hadn't smiled so Toby assumed it wasn't sweet words of affection.

Finally, "Where's your Mother? Let me talk to her Josh. Josh, dammit!"

Sam's voice softened again. "Please hon, get your Mom. Me too."

Sam looked at Toby. God, how he hated this. Toby thought the same thing. They both wanted to be with Josh, yet neither of them were.

"Rosemary? What happened?" Sam listened and occasionally said `uh huh' or `ok' but from this end, Toby had no idea what happened. Sam stood up and walked around Toby's office as he talked.

"Rosemary, you're probably not going to believe me, but this is a good thing. You know I talked at length with Dr. Neilson about this and he said when Josh got to this point it would be a break-through. It means he's closer to looking at what happened from a `that was then, this is now' perspective. Yes ma'am. Right now anger is better than terror."

Sam looked at Toby to see if he could gauge his thoughts. He got nothing.

"Look," Sam continued. "why don't you try to get him to lay on the couch for a while and you take a break too. I'm sure you're both exhausted. Then pick it up again in an hour or so. How's that sound? Yes ma'am, just leave your door open so you can hear him if he gets up. Ok, can I talk with Josh again? Ma'am? I'm not sure. I'm going to try to make it a short day. Toby's coming home with me."

Sam glanced at Toby. This was a surprise. Toby raised his eyebrows but he didn't say no.

Sam's constant pace back and forth began to make Toby nervous. It wasn't that big of an office to begin with and Sam walked fast. He knew Sam was worried, but he also knew Sam had to calm down or he'd be no good to Josh when he went home to him.

"Oshie, hey baby. I want you to do something for me, ok?" Sam laughed. "I hope you didn't say that with your Mom standing right there. Oh, ok. Your Mom wants to take a little nap, so do you mind laying on the couch and taking it easy for a while so she can sleep for a bit? No, don't go upstairs. She gets kind of nervous in a strange place and asked if you'd stay downstairs with her. She's even going to leave her door open. Would you do this for her Josh? Cover yourself up with a blanket and relax. I'll be home as soon as I can get away. You're doing good stuff today Josh. Everything's gonna be ok, I promise. Yeah I do, I promise. Love you too."

Sam tossed the phone on the couch and continued to pace. He picked up Toby's rubber ball and passed it from hand to hand. Toby waited, but Sam was silent.

"Well?"

Sam jumped. "Jesus Toby! Don't sneak up on a person like that!"

"Sneak up? I haven't left my chair! What's going on? And you, put my ball back." Sam put the rubber ball on Toby's desk. "Where you found it." Sam moved it to its proper place. "Now sit down and give me your coffee mug." Sam did as he was told.

Toby reached into his pocket and took out his keys. He rolled his chair back to the filing cabinet behind his desk and with the smallest key, unlocked the bottom drawer. He brought out a cardboard box that said `Dictaphone' on the side and set it in the middle of his desk. He opened it and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. He poured Sam's mug half-full and his own three-quarters full, re-capped the bottle, put it back in the 'Dictaphone' box, returned it to the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, closed the drawer, re-locked it, put the keys back in his pocket and rolled the chair back to his desk.

"Drink that."

"All at once?"

Toby shook his head and laughed out loud. "Samuel Norman Seaborn, sometimes I would bet my life that you're the most intelligent person in this White House and then you open your mouth and I swear, I don't know how you got out of third grade. This is sipping Scotch. Just sip it. But make the first one a `big' sip. Moron. Now what was that phone call all about?"

"Josh and Rosemary are going over and over what happened, like Dr. Neilson told us to do, and Josh got to the point where he's feeling anger at what happened instead of blaming himself so much. He went on another raging rant, similar to Sunday morning, only not as bad and this time and he was directing his anger at the fire."

"Just him and Rosemary? Is she ok?"

"Yeah, that concerned me too, but Rosemary said she was fine, that Josh was kind of `controlled' instead of being `all over the place' like he was Sunday. He stood in the living room and looked up like he was watching the house burn, and he yelled at it and cursed it for taking his sister. She said he was..." Sam took a couple of sips of the Scotch. Toby noticed his hand trembled. "She said he shook his fist and kicked at something ~~ she was afraid he was going to kick the TV ~~ and sometimes he said things in a sort of child-like voice like he was speaking to Joanie, saying things only Joanie would understand.

Rosemary said she felt Josh was lashing out at the fire for Joanie too, since she wasn't there to speak for herself. Oh God, Toby. Why does Josh have to go through this shit? Do you have any idea how much this is killing me?"

Toby knew that wasn't a rhetorical question. And he had only an inkling of an idea how much Sam suffered because of Josh's pain. His thoughts had gone to Andi off and on during the day and he realized even at their best, he'd never loved her the way these two men love each other. It made his heart ache and he was more certain than ever about the unspoken decision he'd made earlier with Sam.

"I do Sam. I've never seen two people love each other more than you and...more than you two."

Sam fell back into the couch. He looked exhausted and spoke quietly. "Back to Sunday. Rosemary and I got Josh calmed down then cleaned up and Rosemary fixed him something to eat. I called Dr. Neilson, gave him a brief run-down of what had happened and he and Josh talked on the phone for about three hours. After that Dr. Neilson and I talked in private and that's when I learned all that psychobabble I gave you earlier. I didn't just `know' that stuff. I'm learning as we go along. So the three of us worked on it all of Sunday, well into the night. I called you at ten, like I said I would, and at about three this morning Josh and I finally went to bed. He was quiet, subdued, but obviously very afraid, very, I don't know, I can't think of the word."

"That's what we're paying you for Sam, to think of the words," Toby teased.

Sam gave a half-hearted smile. "I guess I'd better come up with something then, huh?"

Silence.

"Shattered. Josh was shattered."

That wasn't the word Toby wanted to hear.

"I'd told him the night before I'd be coming in to work today, that he'd be staying home and working more on this with his Mother. He was fine with that. This morning I woke him before I left, just so he wouldn't feel abandoned or think I snuck out on him, and he pretty much wouldn't let go of me. I asked Rosemary to come sit on the bed with him until he went back to sleep, then I called from the car and she said he curled up next to her and went back to sleep fairly soon. I got here, knocked on your door and now you know everything."

"Except where Josh was Saturday night," Toby said.

"Except where Josh was Saturday night," Sam repeated. "And what triggered this episode in the first place." Sam finished his Scotch. "That's what you and I are going to find out tonight, Tobias."

"What did you just call me?"

"Tobias?"

"Don't do that ever again."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 16

"You go."

"You go."

"You go."

"You go."

"I'll go."

"You go."

"You go."

"You go."

"I'll go."

"I'll go."

"Ok, make it quick!" Josh laughed.

"You asshole!"

"I, Joshua Lyman, have outwitted the wordsmith himself at his own game."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Sam grumbled as he tied the lace on his running shoe.

"Don't run home with them or they'll be nothing but crumbs," Josh said. He ruffled Sam's hair while Sam was bent over.

"You'll get what you get and be glad to have it. Have the coffee ready when I get back? Please?"

"Yeah, ok. You know I will. Put on a windbreaker hon, it's cool this morning."

Sam grabbed a jacket off the coat rack as he opened the door. "Anything special you want?"

"Something gooey, nothing with sprinkles."

"Oh, that tells me a lot."

"You know what I like Sammy."

Sam raised his eyebrows a couple of times like Groucho Marx. "I knooow what you like. You wanna do gooey things upstairs and forget the bakery this morning?"

"Go. Now. While they're still hot and fresh."

Sam turned and walked backward down the sidewalk. "I can be hot and fresh."

Josh smiled as his beautiful Sam back-stepped away and noticed he hadn't combed his hair. Josh put two fingers to his lips then brushed them off in Sam's direction...a kiss for the road.

"Just be careful!"

"Always!" Sam called back.

Josh was on top of the world.

********

Josh showed great improvement and was on the rebound from his 'episode', as Dr. Neilson called it. He talked for hours and hours with his Mother as they went over every detail about the events surrounding the fire. He worked hard to move on, but he continued to struggle to come to terms with what happened.

He talked at length with Sam ~~ he told and re-told the same story with the same details, and each time he accepted a little more of what had taken place and his innocence. He realized he was just a little boy when it happened and wasn't responsible for Joanie's death.

Eventually Josh would sit up late at night with Toby and told him the story over and over, from beginning to tragic end. Toby mostly listened, but that was a good thing for Josh. With Toby as a sounding board, it gave Josh the opportunity to sort out his thoughts without any judgment or feedback and he was able to come to those oh-so-important conclusions on his own.

Rosemary stayed over a month. She didn't dare leave until she was absolutely positive Josh had said all he wanted to say, all he needed to say, and he felt confident enough to let her go home. She had become a welcome and important member of the intimate Lyman-Seaborn universe with the ever-increasing presence of Ziegler added to the roster. Sam considered it an act of God that she was there to help Josh get through this. And to help HIM.

Then one Friday evening the four of them were in the middle of a game of Scrabble, which was in all actuality a battle of wits and words between Toby and Sam who used the alphabet as their weapons, with Josh and Rosemary just along for the ride. It was then Rosemary brought up the subject.

"Joshua?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"I was thinking, I've been here a while now and perhaps its time I go home."

Sam and Toby knew this was coming and continued to play. Josh toppled the tower he'd made with his wooden tiles and looked at her.

"Home? You just got here!" His voice was higher than normal ~~ he was stressing.

Under the table Sam put his feet on either side of Josh's. No matter where, when, or how, these two always found a way to comfort each other.

"Honey, I've been here nearly five weeks."

"No, you...no ma'am you haven't. Not that long."

"Yes."

"No."

"Joshua, we've come through it, both of us, 'all' of us, and you have Sam in your life, right by your side forever." She reached out and put her hand on Sam's arm.

He and Toby continued to play Scrabble, but listened to every word being said because they knew once Rosemary was on that airplane, they were on their own with Josh.

"And Toby," she continued, "has become such an important part of your life too." Josh glanced at Toby but Toby kept his eyes on the game board. "Joshua, you're not saying anything."

Josh flipped the 'Z' tile from hand-to-hand. "Not much to say really. If you're going, you're going."

"Joshua..."

"No Mom, it's ok. You just kind of threw it at me real sudden-like and caught me off-guard, that's all. When do you have to leave?"

"Tomorrow."

Josh nodded his head. "Yeah, ok. You guys in on this?"

Sam reached for Josh's hand but Josh pulled it back before Sam could touch him.

"Josh, it's not like we have a conspiracy against you or anything," Sam said.

"We just wanted to wait until the last minute so you wouldn't worry. You're back like 90%. You're 100% at work. Nobody knows a thing. We ~~ Toby and me ~~ we'll always be around. And Dr. Neilson. And you can call your Mom any time. You know that."

"And I can always come back if you need me son," Rosemary added.

Josh nodded his head and gave a smile that wasn't very convincing. "Yeah, ok. It's cool. What time tomorrow?"

"I thought I'd fix you boys a nice big breakfast, colored pancakes and the works, then we'll have most of the day together. It's an evening flight. But I know I need to get there early, with security and all."

Josh leaned over and kissed his Mother on the cheek. "I love you Mom. I'm gonna miss you."

Sam felt Josh's other foot come up against the others under the table, and toes caressed toes. Sam wrinkled his nose at Josh and got a little smile in return...it's the little things. Those are the best things.

"Triple word score AND double word score and I used a 'Q'!" Toby called out. "Seaborn, you're toast!"

The four went out for an early dinner to a Greek restaurant that had become a favorite for Rosemary and Toby. "Rings stay home guys,"

Toby reminded them. They both groaned, more for show than anything, and put them in a small cedar box Rosemary had bought especially for that purpose. It sat on the bookshelf next to a photograph of Josh and Sam that she particularly favored; it was autumn and the boys stood amid an array of fallen leaves of auburn and gold, copper and orange, tan and crimson. The had their arms around each other but neither faced the camera ~~ they looked into each other's eyes, totally caught up in the moment of just being together, oblivious to anything or anyone else.

When they returned from dinner Toby asked Sam and Josh to go on in, then he and Rosemary sat in Toby's car for more than an hour and talked.

"What are they DOING out there?" Josh asked for the twentieth time.

He paced the floor and tried to see out the window.

Sam sat on the couch, his feet on the coffee table, and watched the beginning of a "Twilight Zone" marathon on TV.

"Leave `em alone. They're just talking."

"They'd better be. Ewwww. It gives me the creeps to think... I'm going out there. I've just gotta go out there." He headed for the door.

Sam grabbed Josh by the arm and pulled him down on the couch so he was mostly in Sam's lap, his legs draped over the arm of the couch. He leaned over and put his lips on Josh's. Sam didn't kiss him ~~ he just rested his lips on Josh's. It was one of those intimate little games lovers play. Sam and Josh would put their lips together, leave their eyes open, and the first one who smiled or laughed would have to do anything the other one said. It was silly and childish, but it was one of those moments that brought them closer and let them share a secret that no one else knew of and call it their own.

Sam had his hands behind Josh's head and Josh had his behind Sam's. They laid with their lips on the other's, refused to smile, and looked directly into the eyes of the other. After about a minute Josh broke and a smile spread across his face. Sam smiled along with him, parted his lips just a little and released his tongue to flicker Josh's lips to announce his victory. They stayed in the same position. Neither wanted to move.

"You lost Oshie," Sam finally said, "so you have to do anything I say."

"And what's THAT going to be, lip-flicker champion?" Josh asked with a coy come-on.

"Kiss me like you mean it."

"I ALWAYS kiss you like I mean it."

Sam pulled back from Josh and stopped smiling. "No Josh, I want you to kiss me like you used to. Before whatever happened to you happened. Back when you might not have trusted the world, but at least you trusted me."

The smile left Josh's face too. "Have I been that bad Angel? Have I neglected you so much that I have to prove to you now...?"

"No sweetheart, you didn't neglect me. You were sick. We took care of you. It's so fucking good to see you smile and hear you laugh again. I just want you to kiss me. Kiss me and don't hold back. Kiss me like you mean it. That's all."

"Lay on the couch." Josh instructed.

They disentangled themselves and Sam stretched out on the extra-long couch. Josh lay on top of him. A slight shift to the right and their bodies were in perfect symmetry with each other. They'd come to know every inch of the other so well that they could lie on or against the other and their bodies were in perfect harmony.

"Think you can handle it?" Josh asked.

"Bring it on."

Josh gently closed each of Sam's eyes with his lips, and then kissed his eyelids ever so lightly. He brushed his lips and the tip of his tongue across Sam's forehead and left angel kisses there and on his cheeks, so wispy Sam wasn't sure if they were real, but he felt Josh's warm breath so he knew they must be. As he passed to the other side of Sam's face, he brushed his lips over Sam's and each time used his tongue to part Sam's lips a little more.

Sam didn't like his ears messed with, so Josh went for the nape of his neck instead. There he kissed and licked and sucked and nearly got carried away until Sam said, "Slow down babe, I can't go into work Monday looking like a cheap trick."

"You won't," Josh assured him. "You'll look like a million dollars."

Sam laughed. "Thanks for the compliment and I adore the way that feels, but save it for someplace that won't show."

Josh took Sam's hands in his and interlaced their fingers. He put Sam's arms above his head and held them down on the couch. He raised himself up on his knees and straddled Sam, crotch to crotch. Then he turned his attention to Sam's mouth. First he kissed Sam's eyelids again to make sure his eyes were closed, then he gently rested his lips on Sam's. They were still for a second, as if they to play the game again, then Josh kissed Sam 'like he meant it'.

He parted Sam's lips and drew Sam's tongue into his own mouth. Immediately he sucked hard on Sam's tongue, a favorite of Sam's. Sam instantly moaned with pleasure and Josh could feel a hardening in Sam's crotch. He continued to suck on Sam's tongue; his own tongue circled around it as he gently nibbled, pulled hard until it hurt, then gently sucked again. Sam arched his back and pushed his crotch into Josh's.

Josh's tongue went into Sam's mouth and the two tongues danced and chased and caressed each other while their lips seemed to devour the others. Josh held Sam down by his hands and had total control of everything that happened. He pulled his tongue out then pushed it back in. He teased Sam and made him reach for Josh's tongue with his mouth, and when he caught it, Sam moaned with pleasure at his prize, and the two went back to their kiss, so deep, so rich, so all-enveloping it felt as if they were inside the other.

Sam wrapped his legs around Josh to bring their erections closer so they could grind against each other...their tongues were buried deeply in the other's mouth. Josh held Sam down by his wrists with one hand, the other hand under Sam's chin to hold his face still...both moaned with pleasure...both were so totally caught up in the kiss they didn't hear the door open or see Rosemary and Toby walk in.

The two stood just inside the door. The back of the couch faced them, so they only had a partial view of the intense make-out session before them. However, there was no doubt in their minds what the moans and groans of pleasure implied, and the occasional rise and fall of one body or the other confirmed it.

Toby put his finger to his lips and indicated for Rosemary to be quiet as he walked softly toward the living room. He could have driven a herd of cattle through and the guys wouldn't have noticed.

Toby stood behind the couch, got a bird's-eye view, then put his hand, still cool from the night air, up the back of Josh's shirt.

"Motherfucking son-of-a-bitch!" Josh flew over Sam and hit the floor at a roll and slammed into the bookshelf. Books tumbled down on him from every shelf.

Sam had no idea what had happened and opened his eyes to see Toby inches from his face.

"Goddammit! What's wrong with you?" He rolled off the couch and crawled in whatever direction he landed and ended up behind a chair. He clung to a pillow just to get away from the image of Toby's face being so close to his own.

Neither Sam nor Josh had ever seen Toby laugh so hard. Tears came to his eyes and he had to catch his breath before he could talk. Even Rosemary laughed, although she tried not to.

Josh stomped around the living room and muttered, "You're crazy, man, you know that? You're one crazy motherfucker!" Sam finally stood, leaned with his forehead on his arm against the wall, and tried to get his breathing back to normal.

Toby tried not to laugh when he said, "I just walked your Mother to the door and wanted to say good-night to you boys. And Joshua?"

"Huh?"

Toby heard the sound but didn't see Josh.

"May I have the honor of escorting your Mother to the airport tomorrow? I'd like to spend as much time with her as I can."

"Uh, if that's alright with you Mom, I guess it's ok. Shit! Just leave, Toby!"

"Yes Joshua, I'd like that," Rosemary said, "and please Joshua, don't use swear words and don't be rude."

"ME don't be rude?" Then, "Yes ma'am," Josh muttered

"And Samuel, it's not becoming of you either."

"Yes ma'am," Sam said.

"Then it's settled. Thank you, again, Rosemary for a wonderful time." Toby kissed Rosemary's hand, her cheek, then opened the door and was gone.

When Rosemary turned back around neither Sam nor Josh would look at her. She went directly to her room. As she closed the door she sang out, "See you boys for breakfast or do you want to sleep in?"

Josh looked at Sam. "So, did that kiss do it for you?"

********

Sex was the last thing on their minds when the guys went upstairs to bed. They both still trembled from Toby's surprise. They took a quick shower together, brushed their teeth and went to bed sans nightwear. Sam rolled into his usual spot in the middle.

"You want my front or my back tonight babe?" he asked.

"Your back. Oh, first, look what Mom bought us." Josh went across the hall to the spare bedroom then came back with a gigantic down comforter. One side showed uneven forest green, navy blue, and ecru stripes and the other side was solid forest green. It was at least two feet thick.

"Is this cool or what?" Josh asked. "She got us the sheets, pillow cases, everything."

"She shouldn't have done that but yeah, it's beautiful!" Sam exclaimed. "Cover me up and we'll use it tonight."

"It's supposed to be for winter." Josh said.

"Says who? We'll use it whenever we want to. Come on, cover me up."

Josh covered Sam and tenderly tucked the comforter in around his neck. He then crawled under and curled up against Sam's back. He inhaled Sam. As nice as it had been to have his Mother visit and Toby around nearly every day, it would be good for him and Sam to get back to their normal routine.

He draped his left arm over Sam's chest from behind. Sam reached up with his left hand and the two hooked ring fingers so their rings rubbed against each other. It was another of those little intimate things they'd started doing since the ceremony. If one was working or reading or watching TV and the other walked by, they would 'hook up', as they called it, for just a few seconds, just to share that connectedness, that bond, that symbol of their commitment to each other that they couldn't share with the world. To them it was almost as good because they both knew they didn't have to prove their love to anyone.

"Good-night Oshie, I love you," Sam said.

"Good-night Angel," Josh said. "I love you more."

After a minute or two they unhooked ring fingers and Josh brought his arm back from being slung over Sam. Josh put his hand on Sam's back and started to gently rub small circles. His skin was smooth and soft, almost like a baby's, Josh thought.

"Ummmm..." came a sigh of pleasure from Sam.

"Does that feel good Angel?"

"Uh huh."

"Baby boy," Josh breathed.

"Hmmm...?"

"I called you my baby boy," Josh repeated.

"I'm your baby boy?" Sam whispered.

"Uh huh."

"I like being your baby."

"Shhh. Go to sleep Angel."

Josh rubbed Sam's back until he didn't remember doing it anymore.

They both slept well.

Chapter 17

If you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there.

Little more than a storefront, a shabby door, a big window with red-and-white checked curtains and an unpretentious neon sign with all the 'A's burned out so it read 'Crwdds', the small bar was hardly noticeable. But on weekends people spilled out onto the sidewalk and sometimes couldn't even get in.

Two pool tables and a jukebox didn't sound like that big of a draw, but there was just something about the place that attracted the neighborhood eclectic crowd night after night. On the last Saturday of each month jazz musicians gathered in the corner; no one ever knew who might show up, impromptu drop-ins who played for the pleasure of playing authentic jazz, and the crowd swelled.

This was the last Saturday of the month.

"You wanna drive or walk down there?" Josh asked.

"Walk? That's something like eighteen blocks isn't it?" Sam was surprised Josh wanted to walk any further than the mailbox if he didn't have to. Sam picked up the crossword puzzle in the morning paper and plopped down on the couch. He saw that Toby had almost finished it. Toby and Sam both worked crossword puzzles in ink.

"Something like that," Josh answered. "It's a nice night and I think I've gained like twenty pounds since my Mom's been cooking for us. Be kind of nice to get some exercise."

"Well yeah, sure, I'm always up for exercise," Sam said, "but are you gonna be able to make it BACK? I'm not gonna carry you."

"Screw you. I can run the distance barefoot," Josh replied.

"Yeah, right."

"I can."

"Uh huh."

"Honest Sam. I'll tell you about it while we walk. I wanna tell you the last piece of the puzzle, what started this whole thing."

"Are you sure? Just be positive you want to because you don't HAVE to."

"I am and I do," Josh assured him.

"You're the boss," Sam said.

Josh playfully smacked Sam on the back of his head as he walked past him. "And don't you forget it!" he said.

Sam put the newspaper in his lap. "Oh really?" He was not amused.

Josh turned. "Did that bother you?"

"Did what bother me?"

"That little exchange we just had. When you said 'oh really' I thought I detected a tone."

Sam tapped his pen on the folded newspaper. "A 'tone'? All I said was 'oh really' and you accuse me of adopting a 'tone'?"

"Sam, I didn't say you 'adopted a tone'. Let's not do this. Please. Let's don't get into something over nothing. Please Sammy, not tonight."

Sam continued to tap his pen. He clenched his jaw just for a minute then looked at Josh. Sam blamed his irritability on his own pent up stress from the past five weeks when he gave all his time, energy, attention and emotion to Josh. He was just a little on edge. He'd get a beer or two at Crawdads and be fine. He went back to the crossword puzzle and took some pleasure when he found a mistake Toby had made ~~ in ink. He drew a big star beside the error and made a mental note to take it into work Monday to gloat over Toby.

About thirty minutes later Josh came half-way down the stairs and sat down. "Hey Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"This is a weird question, but are we supposed to call Toby and see if this is ok or something?"

Sam tossed the newspaper and pen onto the coffee table. "Why would we wanna to do that?"

Josh shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I'm just so used to being told what to do and I've asked permission about everything for so long and Toby's been, you know, sorta like, in charge. . .I don't know. . .it just seems..."

"Josh, I hate to say this, but you've been freaking me out since your Mother left, and it's only been a few hours. I don't think we're required to check in with Toby every time we wanna go out the door."

"But what if he calls here and worries if we don't answer the phone?" Josh seemed sincerely concerned about how Toby would react if he didn't know exactly where he and Sam were tonight.

Sam didn't think it was necessary but he didn't want Josh to get stressed so he gave in. "Yeah, you're probably right. We don't want him to worry. Why don't you give him a quick call and let him know our plans."

Josh had the phone in his hand and Toby on speed dial. "Toby? Josh. Hey, uh, Sammy and I are going out for a couple of hours and we, well mostly me, uh, just want to let you know so...so you'd know in case...in case...this is really stupid...did my Mother's plane get off ok? Thanks a lot for taking her to the airport. I know she appreciated that."

There was silence on this end while Toby talked to Josh. While he listened Josh walked over and sat beside Sam's feet still propped on the coffee table. Sam lifted them and dropped them in Josh's lap. Josh wrapped his free hand around Sam's crossed ankles. All Sam could hear were occasional short answers from Josh: "Crawdads."; "One beer."; "Yes."; "No."; "We will."; "We won't.". Then, "Ok, here he is." He handed the phone to Sam. "Toby wants to talk with you."

Sam took the phone. "Toby? Sam."

"I assume this was Josh's idea to call me, correct?"

"Yep."

"So you guys wanna go down the street to Crawdads for one beer then come straight home, right?"

"That's the plan."

"Do you think it's a safe plan?"

"I hadn't given any thought to it being UN-safe until you brought it up. I think I'm ok with it."

"Don't THINK Sam. Are you ok with it?"

Sam looked at Josh who looked at him. What had started out as something very simple had now turned into something more complicated than Sam had anticipated. It unnerved him to think of Josh in terms of safe and un-safe.

Now HE wished Toby were with them. Fuck, we're grown men. This is nuts. I'm physically stronger than Josh. If anything happens I'll just take him down. That thought made his stomach turn over, but he equally didn't like this feeling of being emasculated, and the need to ask Toby's permission to leave his home to go get a beer made him feel that way.

He knew Josh had fallen into a role of dependence that Rosemary and Toby had filled, but how long was that going to last? Even more disturbing for Sam, he wondered if it was his own emasculation that made him uncomfortable or was it the increased dependence HE felt toward Toby and the comfort it gave that made him ill at ease? Sam didn't like this fog in his head.

"Yeah I'm ok with it Toby. We won't be gone long and we'll be fine. We'll play a game or two of pool, have one beer and head back."

"Will you call me when you get home?"

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"Yeah, ok."

"Take your pager and phone and have a good time, oh and Sam..."

"What?"

"Leave the rings at home."

Sam couldn't help but smile. He was glad they'd called. He snapped the phone shut. "We've got Dad's permission," he said to Josh. "Put my shoes on me and let's get the hell outta Dodge."

They put their rings in the cedar box and headed toward Crawdads. On the way Josh told Sam about how the meltdown had been triggered. How after their ceremony in Adams Park and dinner he'd put a drunk Sam to bed then come out on the stoop by himself. He drank coffee out of his 'World's Greatest Dad' coffee mug and was suddenly overwhelmed with grief and anger about Joanie and the fire that, although he didn't know it at the time, he'd never confronted. He'd worked on it in therapy, but always stopped when he got close to the hard stuff. Just seeing the coffee mug and being in his Mother's presence for the first time since his Dad had died ignited something in him that brought it all back...that this was all he had left of his family and it was his fault.

Sam wanted to put his arm around Josh's shoulder but knew he couldn't. They were on a public street with people around and there was no way to know who might be in one of the passing cars. He wanted to say something, but could sense Josh wanted to tell the story without interruption, in one breath if he could, just to get it out.

"So I lost it," he continued. "I threw my Dad's coffee mug on the sidewalk and it broke. It broke into all these pieces and it was like, like I'd lost something real important. A part of my Dad. I didn't know what to do. You weren't in any shape to talk. Mom was with Toby. So I just started walking. Walking, I didn't know where, it was late, I didn't have my shoes on and those old jeans, your sweatshirt. I ended up at Crawdads.

They started to cross a side street and a car turned in front of them. As an instinct, they both reached an arm in front of the other in a protective reaction. In that second, they took the other's hand and in the dark, Sam took a risk and brought Josh's to his lips for a quick kiss then released it.

Josh told how Crawdads was closed but he pounded on the window and Crawdad let him in. How he bummed money for cigarettes and beer. How he stood huddled against the wall in front of the bar and smoked the cigarettes and drank the beer and cried when the sirens came. How the bright beams of red and blue neon that came out of nowhere screamed at him, flashed their strobe lights and blinded him while the sirens wailed and he dropped his beer on the sidewalk and covered his ears, and as the sirens disappeared into the night and the lights faded into the dark he realized they were headed toward home. Home where Sam slept soundly. Too soundly because Sam was drunk and he'd never smell the smoke or hear the fire that crackled just inches away and the sirens and lights wouldn't get there in time to save him. The only one who could save Sam was Josh.

"That's when I ran," Josh said. "The eighteen blocks, or however many, I don't know. With no shoes. That's why my feet were bloody that night. That's why there was beer on my...your sweatshirt and my jeans. I have no idea why my zipper was down. I guess I took a leak on the wall or a car or something."

"So you ran to save me?" Sam asked quietly.

"I ran to save you. I knew if I could get there in time I could run through the flames like I should have done...was too young to do...with Joanie, and I could save you. I would carry you out, drag you out, whatever it took. I wasn't going to lose you Sam. When I got home and saw our building wasn't on fire I just crawled in bed with you and you wrapped your arms around me and we slept. The next morning Mom found the broken coffee mug and that's when she knew something bad had happened."

They were at the last side street before Crawdads. Music blared and they saw people on the sidewalk in the next block. The people talked, laughed, drank and seemed to have a good time as they drifted in and out of the bar. Sam took Josh by the arm and directed him down the side street and into the back parking lot of a dry cleaners closed for the night. There was a dumpster and a car used for the business with the dry cleaner's logo on the side. It stayed parked there even when the store was closed. It was dark ~~ so dark it was hard to see anything. Sam pulled Josh by his arm past the dumpster until they were between the wall and the front of the car.

Without a word, Sam pushed Josh down on the hood of the car, laid on him and kissed him hard and rough. It was a passionate kiss, a fiery kiss that came from deep within Sam. His tongue couldn't search any faster or more thorough in Josh's mouth. He bit Josh's lip until tiny bubbles of blood surfaced. He held Josh's head in his hands ~~ his mouth found it's way to Josh's neck. He licked, kissed, sucked, bit ~~ then to the other side where he did it again. When Josh started to cry out with pleasure Sam covered his mouth with one hand. "Quiet!" he hissed in a loud whisper.

While he kept one hand over Josh's mouth, Sam unfastened Josh's belt and the top button of his trousers, and then unzipped his fly. He reached inside and brought out Josh's erect penis and ran his hand up and down the shaft. It throbbed and quivered and jerked in uncontrollable tics. The head was already sticky wet with pre-cum. When Josh moaned or let out any kind of noise, Sam clamped his hand over his mouth harder, rougher. "Shut up!" he commanded.

Sam ducked down and took Josh's entire shaft in his mouth and began a mouth fuck. Josh's wet cock throbbed as Sam slid it in and out of his mouth...he pumped it hard and fast. . .Josh let out a groan.

Sam stood up and reached into his back pocket. He took his leather wallet and not at all gently grabbed Josh's hair and jerked his head back. He jammed his wallet into Josh's mouth and spoke directly into his ear. "If you make another sound I'll bite your balls off. Do you understand me?"

Josh nodded.

Sam went back down on Josh and it took only seconds until Josh shot his cum into Sam's mouth. Sam swallowed as much as he could, then licked Josh's penis clean.

Josh didn't move. He didn't make a sound.

Sam left Josh's zipper open so he could dry off a little before they went to Crawdads. He stood up and put his lips to Josh's ear again.

"Josh Lyman, I love you more than life itself." He gently took his wallet out of Josh's mouth and kissed away the droplets of blood. He smoothed Josh 's hair and reached out his hand to help him to a sitting position. Josh still hadn't uttered a sound. Sam felt inside Josh's pants to see if he was dry. He was, so Sam tucked everything back in where it was supposed to go, zipped him up, buttoned him up, and fastened his belt.

It was so dark they could barely see each other. The parking lot light had been shot out with a BB gun. Sam pulled Josh close and they looked into each other's eyes.

Softly Sam asked, "Did that scare you?"

"No."

"Did you feel like you were just raped?"

"No."

"Did you feel like you were taken against your will?"

"No."

"Did you like it?"

"Yes."

"Even when I hurt you? I drew blood you know."

"I know."

"Tell me what you think. Oh, you can talk now. Just do it quietly."

Josh hesitated. "I think my heart is going to jump out of my chest ~~ it's never beat so hard."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"Did I...did I ENJOY it? Sam...you've just opened up a whole new..."

"A whole new what?"

"I'm dry. Let's go to Crawdads."

As they neared the sidewalk next to Crawdads Sam shook Josh's hand loose from his own. "Let go of me!" he laughed. "You know we can't show any public displays of affection!"

They both laughed as they pushed their way through the crowd to get inside the bar. It was crowded, too crowded to stay and the pool tables had a list of people lined up to play next and next after that. The music was superb, but it was too smoky and noisy and the guys decided they'd rather get back out in the fresh air and just walk back home.

They had tomorrow together then it was back to the White House and time for some serious campaign strategy. Bruno would be there bright and early and that was never fun. Especially if he brought bald-headed what's-his-name and his mouthpiece, Connie.

Sam leaned against a wall, the only empty spot he could find, while Josh went up to the bar. He apologized over and over to Crawdad. The night he was there Josh had promised he'd come in the following Monday to pay for the beer and cigarettes and here it had been five weeks and he just now showed up. Crawdad just laughed and said he'd forgotten all about it and not to worry, that's what friends are for. Josh thanked him, paid him back what he owed him, bought four beers to go and gave Crawdad a one hundred dollar bill as a tip. Crawdad followed him and Sam all the way outside and tried to give it back but Josh wouldn't hear of it.

As they walked away they heard, "Thank ya Mr. Lyman! You two come back any time now! God bless ya and President Bartlet too!"

On the walk home Sam and Josh drank their beers but didn't talk much. There was a kind of newfound happiness between them. It wasn't just the spontaneous sex in the dark parking lot. It wasn't all the intimacy that had passed between them these past five weeks. It wasn't the ceremony. It was something neither could explain but both felt. So they just walked in silence.

When they got to the stoop outside their townhouse Sam asked, "So, you ran this whole way?"

"Yeah."

"With no shoes on?"

"Yeah."

"For me?"

"Yeah."

"Because you thought I was caught in a fire and you were going to save me." It was a statement, not a question.

"Uh huh."

"You would have," Sam said.

"I would have what?"

"Saved me. If I had been caught in a fire, you would have saved me."

"I know," Josh replied. "Or I would have died trying."

When they got inside Sam smiled and said, "You'd better call Dad so he won't worry."

Josh speed dialed Toby. "Toby Ziegler."

"Hey Dad, we're home."

"Are you ok?"

"Yes sir."

"Both of you?"

"Yes sir."

"How many beers did you have?'

"Two."

"Total or each."

"Each."

"You said you were going to have one."

"Well, we had two."

"Did you play pool?"

"No sir, it was too crowded." Josh grinned at Sam while he answered Toby's questions. Sam undressed while they talked.

"So you just sat there and drank?"

"No sir. We walked there, bought our beer and walked home."

"You walked down the street and drank beer?"

"Yes sir."

"Not smart. Don't do it again."

"Yes sir." When Sam got down to his underwear, he began to undress Josh.

"So what do you two have planned now?" Toby asked.

"We're gonna take a shower and go to bed. It's kinda late."

"Good idea. You sure you're ok Josh?"

"Yes sir Dad. I'm on top of the world."

"Let me talk to Sam."

Josh handed the phone to Sam. "Dad wants to talk to you."

"Hi Dad."

"Did he tell me the truth?" asked Toby.

"Yes sir," Sam replied.

"What's with this 'yes sir' crap?"

"Just being respectful, sir."

"Well stop it. It's...I take that back. Keep doing it. You SHOULD show me respect. So everything's ok, really?"

"Really Toby. Josh told me what happened to trigger this whole thing and I believe that's really kind of helped him come full circle with it. I know there will still be repercussions that we'll have to deal with...Josh, you and me...but we can do it. If..."

"If what Sam?"

"If, uh, I'm not sure how to say this Toby so I'll just jump right in. If you're still, if you'll continue to be part of, um, our family, for lack of a better word, Josh and me, Josh and I ~~ and Rosemary, of course ~~ still want you to be ~~ the word 'involved' probably sounds less intimidating to you than 'family', and. . .hell Toby, we want to stay if you're not totally pissed off that you got sucked into this mess, and we, Josh and me, we'd like you to still be, um, you know."

Toby closed his eyes in gratitude and liked the sound of 'family' just fine.

Sam waited in anticipation for Toby to say 'don't count me among your 'we'. When it didn't happen, both were relieved for their own reasons.

"Yeah, ok," Toby replied. "I'm there."

Sam, too, closed his eyes in gratitude and mouthed, "Thank you God" for the gift of Toby.

"Well then, good-night I suppose," Toby continued. "Oh Sam, Josh gets half the dosage of his anxiety pills ONLY if he's really stressing unless he's out of control. Then you call me immediately. They're in the guest room next to Rosemary's...they're in the cabinet in the guest room. But try not to give him anything if you can help it, ok?"

"Ok Toby."

"All his medication have the names on the bottles, but Rosemary wrote what it's for so it would be easier. And if he gets to stressing, you know about rubbing his back don't you?"

"No," Sam replied. "I don't."

"You don't? Then let me tell you. This is real important so pay attention. Are you paying attention?"

"Yeah. Of course I'm paying attention," Sam exclaimed. He shook his head, unable to believe this conversation was real. How things can change in such a short time...

Toby went on to explain how Rosemary used to rub little circles on Josh's back since he'd been a baby up until the time he left for college and how much it comforted him. He said she had returned to that while she was just here and for Sam to try it if Josh showed any signs of stress.

Why didn't I know that, Sam thought? Why the hell do I have to learn this from Toby? Then he remembered how Josh rubbed little circles on his back and how good it felt. Things connected.

"Thanks Dad, I will." Sam said. "Good-night."

When Sam hung up the phone Josh was right beside him with their rings. He slid it on Sam's finger, Sam turned out the lights and they both went upstairs. Sam even left his clothes lying on the living room floor. They took a quick shower together and washed each other's hair.

"Let's play camp-out tonight," Josh said as they each pulled on a pair of boxers.

"Sure." Sam was up for anything.

They stood on the same side of the bed and grabbed as many sheets and covers as they could and at the count of three, pulled everything off the bed and onto the floor. They pulled it to the middle of the large room, collected all the pillows they could find, got their new giant comforter and snuggled in for a night under the pretend stars.

"You're in front tonight," Sam said to Josh.

They re-arranged so Josh was nestled into the front of Sam, Sam glued to the back of Josh. After a few minutes Sam pulled back a little and put his hand on Josh's bare back. He began to rub in little circles. In the dark, Josh said in a very soft voice, "I don't deserve you Angel."

Sam kissed Josh's shoulder. "Sweet dreams Oshie."

********

Josh DID have sweet dreams and when he awoke Sunday morning he felt better than he had in a long, long time. He and Sam had to read newspapers from major cities, as they did every Sunday, but first, Sam left to get fresh pastry for breakfast.

While he was gone Josh sorted through the newspapers, threw out the junk and pulled out the sections they needed to read. He took the unneeded newspaper sections out to the recycling bin and looked down the street for Sam. There was no sign of him. When he came back inside he looked in the cedar box. Sam's ring was still there. Josh's was on his finger.

He set out the coffee mugs, plates, forks and napkins. The coffee was ready. Sam should have been back by now. He was going to run to the bakery, which wouldn't take any time at all, not for Sam, then the walk back would be brisk and it wasn't that far away. So where was he? Josh looked in the cedar box again.

He thought back to what happened right before Sam left:

"You go."

"You go."

"I'll go."

"You go."

"You go."

"You go."

"I'll go."

"I'll go."

I told Sam to Sam to put on a windbreaker because it was cool outside. Sam asked me what I wanted and I said 'something gooey, nothing with sprinkles'.

I walked outside with Sam and watched him back-step down the street in a kind of half-skip with his hands in his pockets. I noticed Sam hadn't combed his hair and that was so unlike Sam, even to go to the bakery early on a Sunday morning. I blew him a kiss and said 'Just be careful'. Sam had said 'Always' and I and watched until he was out of sight, and then I went back inside the townhouse.

The phone rang and Josh jumped. It rang a second time. He stared at it. He didn't want to answer. It rang a third time.

Chapter 18

Only one more ring and the answering machine would pick up. The caller I.D. read "unknown caller".

Who has this number anyway? Josh thought. Only a select few even know we have this phone. It's unlisted, assigned to neither he nor Sam, the bill is paid automatically each month from an electronic source and the voice answering on the tape is one of those impersonal, non-gender, pseudo voices that would just as soon tell you to fuck off than to take your message.

Josh wasn't sure why he hesitated to pick up the receiver. Everything's ok, he told himself. If it wasn't, the call would come through on the cell phone or the pager. He glanced over at the dining room table. His and Sam's phones and pagers sat side by side.

The phone rang a fourth time. The answering machine picked up and the non-voice went through its brief spiel. Then the beep. Then the message.

"Hey Cobra, Marc. Been missing you...you haven't showed up for a few weeks and things have gone to shit. I need you man! You ok? It's not like you to stand me up. Call me. Seriously Sam, I'm worried about you. Give me a call."

Click.

Josh stared at the phone and hoped it would ring again and Sam would be on the other end, laugh and say, "Man, I had you going! You thought that was my lover on the side, didn't you?"

That's exactly what Josh thought.

But the phone didn't ring again and Sam didn't call, didn't laugh, didn't say it was a joke.

Suddenly Josh didn't want to be home when Sam returned. In fact, he even forgot Sam was way over-due and his concern shifted to some other emotion he didn't have a name for. All he heard was a voice that pounded in his head that said `lover on the side', `lover on the side', 'lover on the side'.

Josh turned around and scanned the townhouse. Snapshots of yesterday flashed through his mind when the place was full of people, or full for his and Sam's universe anyway. Him, his Mother, Sam and Toby ~~ just hanging out together. It was nice. Toby sunk down in his chair as he whipped through the crossword puzzle, his Mother hummed as she cleaned the kitchen, Sam on the floor engrossed in a book about constellations. Josh walked by on his way to the kitchen and he and Sam hooked up with their rings, his Mother took a beer to Toby, Sam scanned the TV stations in search of a hockey game.

He ate another plate of green pancakes and wanted more. Rosemary hugged him from behind, kissed the top of her son's head and said he'd eaten the last one but she'd make more. He said no, that was ok, she'd just have to come back again sooner. Toby stretched out on the couch and fell asleep, Sam covered him with an afghan and put a pillow under his head. Sam noticed Toby had completed the "New York Times" crossword puzzle and two others in ink without a single mark-out. Josh put some mellow music on the stereo and slowed danced with his Mother in the living room. Sam watched them and thought about his own Mother and became sad and got himself a beer. Toby woke for a moment, looked at them dancing, rolled over and went back to sleep. Josh held his Mother tightly to him when they danced. He couldn't remember the last time they had done this. He closed his eyes as they moved with ease. Toby woke up again and this time Josh slow danced with Sam, the two of them stood close, their arms around the other, they barely moved as they swayed to the music, Sam's face buried into Josh's neck. Toby closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

How could it all go to shit in one phone call? The words `lover on the side', `lover on the side', `lover on the side' just wouldn't go away. It's too quiet in here, that's the problem. I'm used to being around people and now I'm totally alone for the first time in weeks. I need something to get rid of this shit in my head.

Josh walked over to the stereo and rifled through their generous collection of CDs. He finally pulled out Meat Loaf's "Bat Outta Hell", slid it in place and turned the volume up until the artwork on the walls shook. He opened the desk drawer and took out a single sheet of plain paper. He reconsidered, put it back and took out a sheet of his personal stationary imprinted with "Joshua Lyman". He reconsidered yet again and returned that to its place in the desk as well. Sam kept this desk so well organized, Josh thought, he believed he could account for every paper clip.

Josh pulled out another sheet of paper. This was their special stationary, top quality, watermarked, and embossed with both their names that left no doubt they were a couple. This and the matching cards were sent only to the few in their circle who knew and accepted their relationship and lifestyle and kept their privacy in tact.

Josh sat at the desk and wrote:

Cobra,

Mark called. He's worried because you've been standing him up. He needs you and is anxious for you to call. Message on machine.

He started to sign it "Love, Josh" or "Love, Oshie" or simply "Love, J", but decided against it this time. He just didn't want his name on the same piece of paper as Mark's. So he didn't sign it at all. Sam would know who wrote it.

Too catty? Too sarcastic? No, just a brief summation of the message. Josh knew better but decided to keep it anyway. He propped it against the phone, pushed 'continuous play' on the stereo and went upstairs.

Sam heard the music from outside as it pounded onto the street. What the hell? He thought. He went inside the townhouse, walked straight to the stereo and turned it off.

"Josh!"

He set two bags on the table.

"Josh-u-aaaaah!" He strung his name out and headed upstairs when he got no response. He hoped Josh hadn't left ~~ not on their first day alone.

Sam found Josh in the middle of the bed with one of the several newspapers they scanned every Sunday to keep up with world and national news.

"Hey Osh, you scared me. I couldn't find you." Sam was bubbly. He flopped down on the bed in the middle of the many sections of newspapers scattered around. "What `cha reading?" he asked.

"Newspaper," Josh answered with no emotion.

"Brilliant. Which one?"

"The 'Times'."

"WHICH 'Times'?" Sam rolled through the pages until he was on top of the section Josh was reading, being playful as he tried to get Josh's attention.

"'New York Times'", Josh answered. He still didn't smile and barely acknowledged Sam's presence.

Silence.

"Are you pissed at me or pissed in general, because it's not very attractive and it's most assuredly not sexy and I guarantee I'm not anywhere neared turned on."

"No, apparently YOU'RE the attractive one. And sexy. And the turn-on." Josh picked up another section of newspaper, put it on Sam's chest and continued to read. He still hadn't looked up.

Sam pushed the paper off him and lost his smile. "Where the fuck did THAT come from? I leave here and you blow me a kiss. I come back and hope for a blow job and instead, you're ready to blow me away."

"Bullshit," Josh spat.

Sam sat up. "Maybe I should leave and come back through the 'right' door next time, because this sure isn't the loving home I left."

"Whatever."

Sam sat on the bed and tried to figure what in the hell was going on. He hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, he was late getting back because he'd gone out of his way to do something RIGHT, or so he thought. Now he wasn't so sure. His main concern was why Josh was bothered so much. Why was he so upset? And at HIM of all people! Should he ignore him until he came around? Try to 'love him' into talking? Hell, he didn't know.

What he DID know was right now he needed to go back downstairs to get the warm pastry and two cups of coffee and bring it upstairs for him and Josh as originally planned.

Couldn't hurt...might help.

He rolled off the bed. "I'm gonna go get our breakfast Oshie. Gooey, no sprinkles."

"Maybe later," Josh said. "You go ahead."

Sam took off his shoes and threw them in a corner. "Josh, what's wrong? You're like ice here. Please tell me what's bothering you. Talk to me. Please?"

Silence.

"Please Josh? I don't know what I've done wrong. Please don't do this to me." Sam almost begged now. Josh could hear it in his voice and knew it was sincere. Still...

"You've got a phone message on the private phone. I left a note," Josh finally said.

"Who was it? Nobody calls that number." Sam started toward the door.

"That's right," Josh shot back, "just 'special' people...Cobra."

Sam stopped and turned around to look at Josh. "What'd you say?"

"You heard me."

"Josh, do you have any idea how much I hate this kind of back and forth crap? Of course you know because every damn time we do this bullshit I TELL you how much I hate it! We sound like two thirteen year old girls sniping at each other and that makes me wanna puke!"

"You've got a phone call to make, Cobra. Your friend is worried about you," Josh replied as though he'd never even heard Sam.

"Well, I'm worried about YOU!"

Sam left the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Downstairs he read the note Josh left. That Josh used their joint stationary wasn't lost on Sam. Now he was curious. He read the terse note and felt the emotion that dripped off the words Josh had written ~~ hurt, anger, fear. Sam pushed the 'play' button on the answering machine and listened to the actual message. He then pushed 'erase'.

Shit, Sam thought, no wonder Josh reacted like he did. After he heard those words it HAD to be rough. He sat at the table and ran his hands through his thick hair. He knew there was no use to talk to Josh right now, not in the state of mind he was in. He was in a totally bad place and nothing Sam could say would help.

So he'd call Marc.

Then Sam did something he probably shouldn't have done, but being a writer, he couldn't resist. He opened the desk and pulled out a red pen. On the message Josh wrote where it said, "Mark called" Sam scratched through 'Mark' with a red pen and wrote in the margin, "That's 'Marc' with a 'c'."

He edited Josh's message.

Now I'M being pissy, he thought, and started to tear it up, but no, he smiled and decided to leave it. Then he reached into the cedar box and put on his ring.

Sam got two pastries out of one of the bags and left the other bag on the table. He used the same red pen and printed 'JOSH' on the side in big red letters on the second bag. He put the pastries on a couple of paper towels, poured a mug of hot black coffee, turned the stereo back on Meat Loaf at full blast, grabbed his cell phone and went outside. He sat on the stoop, stuffed his mouth with a huge bite off a Napoleon, found Marc's number, dialed and then swallowed his pastry with a slurp of hot coffee.

In the background he heard "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" belted out by Meat Loaf. An excellent Sunday morning choice, he thought; his bubbliness had returned. He decided to let Josh stew in his own juices for a while.

Marc answered on the second ring.

"Marc? Cobra." Laughter. "Yeah, I'd gone out for pastry like almost every Sunday morning. A Napoleon at the moment then an apple fritter then I'll have to go back inside if I want more. Hell yeah there's more! Sure! Come on over!" More laughter. Sam nervously ran his finger around the rim of his coffee mug then took another drink. It tasted extra good. "Today? I don't know Marc, I've got a lot of reading to do. But you can give Steve my love." Lots of laughter.

It died down then Marc must have said something funny because Sam laughed again, really hard. "I can work the pastries off by running around the block a few times. Yeah, Tuesday's good. Eight o'clock? Sure. Same place?" Laughter. "No shithead, it hasn't been THAT long. Yeah, I'm ok. Family stuff. An out-of town guest. I should have called and I apologize. You deserve better. No! No problem at all with you calling. I'm glad you did. I've missed our time together too. Yeah, ok, see you Tuesday. Looking forward to it. Later man."

Sam set the phone down and finished his breakfast. What he didn't know was Josh stood behind him, door open and he had heard every word.

Sam drained his coffee mug, wadded up his paper towel, picked up his phone and turned around to find himself face-to-face with Josh. "Oshie! I didn't know you were there babe. When did you come out?"

"Right when Cobra started gushing over Marc with a 'c'...babe. "

"Let's go inside, turn that damn music off and let me explain everything. You're gonna laugh. Really, you are," Sam said. He didn't now when he'd ever seen Josh look so forlorn. He's serious about this, Sam thought. He really believes... "Inside. Now." Sam repeated. Apparently Josh didn't move fast enough to suit Sam. "I said now! This is bullshit and we're gonna clear it up right this minute. Move! Josh if you don't, I'll move you. You know I will."

Josh went inside and Sam followed him.

"Sit!" Sam barked at Josh and nodded at the couch.

Josh sat on the couch. Sam turned off the stereo, set his coffee mug, phone and wadded up paper towel on the table and walked back to the couch. He sat on the coffee table in front of Josh, his legs on the outside of Josh's, his hands on Josh's legs.

"Look at me," Sam said, a little more gentle this time. "In the eyes. Look at me directly in the eyes Josh." Sam put his hands on either side of Josh's face and raised it so it was eye-level with his own. Josh's eyes still looked down.

"Josh," Sam said softly, "please give me a chance here. At least let me plead my case and if you still find me guilty, do with me as you will. But let's pretend for a minute like we're attorneys here and give justice a try."

Josh's eyes met Sam's. "Do you have any idea how totally dumb that sounds 'Pretend we're attorneys'? We ARE attorneys, freakazoid."

Sam released a huge inner sigh of relief. He had connected. When Josh started to talk like a comic book character Sam knew he was coming around. He wasn't sure what it was that reached Josh, but at least he was getting him back. Now if he could just hold on to him.

"Josh, tell me EXACTLY what's got you so upset."

"I think you know."

"I don't think I do, exactly," Sam replied.

"Well, 'I' do, exactly."

"Then tell me what you THINK you know...exactly."

Silence.

"Josh? Talk to me. You know darlin', if you can't talk to me, who CAN you talk to? This is ME, Sam."

Sam hooked his ring finger around Josh's and they 'hooked up' and held on a little tighter than usual. And they didn't let go. Their hands rested on Josh's leg, still connected.

"I think...I think Sam...I think you've got. . .a. . .I think you've got a lover on the side. And that was him that called. Marc with a 'c'."

Sam didn't laugh or smile or do any of the things he initially planned to do, not once he realized how serious this was to Josh and how deeply it hurt him. The timing especially sucked ~~ the day after his support system wasn't with him twenty-four hours a day to watch his every move, check his every emotion. Sam leaned in and gave Josh a short, sweet kiss.

"Will you listen to what I say without any 'yes buts' or interruptions?"

Josh nodded somewhat hesitantly.

"Do you remember last winter when I told you Dave, my racquetball partner, had bailed on me so I was just taking guys off the list? Anybody who wanted to play, I would play? Remember that?"

"It sounds kinda familiar. You know I don't keep up with your racquetball stuff. That's your thing, not mine," Josh answered.

"Well, I just wasn't getting any satisfactory competition then one day I ran into this guy named Marc."

"With a 'c'," Josh interjected.

"Yeah, with a 'c'."

"And his partner wasn't reliable either so we started meeting to play and became regulars, and I'm SURE I told you about this Josh."

"Nope."

"Then that just shows you how insignificant it is to me. It should show you that when I leave the gym I leave Marc and everything that happens there too."

Josh thought for a minute. "Yeah, but he didn't stay at the gym today. His voice was in our house."

"And if you'd paid attention to the message you'd have heard why."

"Why?" Josh unhooked their rings and now held both of Sam's hands in his.

"We'd been meeting and playing regularly then all of a sudden I just don't call him to explain or anything so of course he's going to wonder why I'm not showing up, so he finally called to see if I'm dead or something. That's ALL there is to it Josh, I swear."

Josh looked at Sam with a genuinely perplexed expression on his face. "Sam?"

"Hmmm...?"

"Why haven't you been going to play racquetball?"

Now Sam was bewildered.

"Why haven't I been going to play racquet..." Sam realized, for the first time, Josh really had no comprehension how all encompassing he had been in Sam's life. How he had unintentionally turned Sam's life into a tailspin during his meltdown and recovery. He had no clue that every moment of Sam's time ~~ asleep and awake ~~ surrounded Josh, revolved around Josh, and Sam had set aside everything in his own life to save Josh's.

Josh didn't see Sam's sunken eyes, dark and drawn from lack of sleep. He didn't see how pale he'd become. He didn't notice Sam had lost 20 pounds from anxiety and loss of appetite. He didn't know Sam's migraine headaches had returned with a vengeance after they'd subsided for several years. He didn't know Sam had bouts of vomiting after he had to physically restrain a hysterical Josh so he wouldn't jump out their second story window. Josh believed he had to 'get away' when he thought the bedroom was on fire and he tried to drag Sam out the window with him to save his life too. Several times...

Even when Toby and Rosemary tried to relieve Sam and sat with Josh to give Sam a chance to get some rest, he couldn't relax. He'd sit in the chair and start to nod off and his chin would fall to his chest. That's when Rosemary insisted Sam go upstairs to bed. But Josh, unable to think clearly, would become anxious and agitated and unable to calm down until Sam was once again in his presence.

So Sam lay on the couch in the living room in clear sight of Josh, and Rosemary covered him with a blanket and he'd fall into a restless sleep. He woke often from his own nightmares or when he heard Josh raise his voice. Usually Sam found a pillow under his head, sometimes his head would be in Josh's lap, often in Rosemary's lap, and a couple of times, he came out of his sleep to find his head snuggled in Toby's lap. He was too sleepy to ask any questions and Toby offered no explanations. When it was time to go to bed at night, he'd crawl off the couch and take Josh upstairs and go through their nightly routine to get Josh tucked into bed safe and sound, then Sam would stay awake throughout the night with a protective eye on the man he loved. He'd sit on the bed or in a chair with a single light and do his work from the office before he went in to the White House the next day.

Josh just didn't grasp that Sam had done all this and kept up his job in the West Wing too.

"Sam?"

"Hmmm...?"

"Why haven't you been going to play racquetball?"

"Well Josh, I just haven't felt like it for a couple of months. More important things to do."

Silence.

"Me?"

Sam nodded his head. "Nothing's more important than you Oshie."

"But the call. He sounded so familiar with you. He said he's missed you and he needs you and he's worried about you. And what's this 'Cobra' stuff?"

"He probably misses me because he's had to play with assholes off the list instead of an ace like me." That got a smile out of Josh. "And he needs me to keep his game sharp. And he's worried because I didn't call. I always call to cancel or re-schedule. It's that simple Josh. That's all there is to it."

"Cobra?"

"The Cobra thing is silly."

"Tell me."

"Will you give me a kiss first?" Josh gave Sam a kiss. A good one. Sam was encouraged.

"Ok, when the score is really close and the win could go either way, I've got to pull out all my best shots. So I've got this one that goes straight to the left hand corner, I mean, right in the fucking corner, an eighth, no, a sixteenth of an inch off the floor, then straight down the left wall, so close to the floor it would kill an ant if there was one in its path, and its flying, I mean that ball is flying Josh, two hundred miles, no, three hundred miles an hour at least and nobody, I mean 'nobody' can return that shot. I mean NOBODY!" Josh loved to hear Sam talk about racquetball. He got so enthused and caught up when he re-played each game.

"So Marc..." Sam continued.

"With a 'c'." Josh interjected.

"Yeah, with a 'c'. So Marc calls that my 'Cobra' shot because it starts out innocent enough when I serve then it STRIKES! And it's a killer. Every time. So Marc just started calling me Cobra because of that one shot. See, I told you it was silly."

Josh's voice cracked when he spoke. "Sam, I thought...when I heard that message...I thought he was your...you were seeing someone else...you had a...you...you had...a lover."

Sam held up his left hand and wiggled his ring finger then kissed his ring. "I have one lover and I'm looking into his beautiful eyes this very minute, you moron."

Josh held up his ring finger and kissed his ring. "I have one lover too and I'm looking into his eyes and he looks like shit. What in the hell is WRONG with you?" For the first time, Josh noticed the physical toll the last five-and-a-half weeks had taken on Sam. A look of shock registered on his face.

Sam ignored Josh. "I got you a present Oshie. This is why I'm late. Had to wait for the gift shop to open." He went into the dining room and reached into one of the bags and held its contents behind his back. "Close your eyes," he told Josh.

He sat in front of Josh again and said, "Open your mouth, then your eyes but this isn't your present."

Josh opened his mouth and Sam stuffed a gigantic sweet roll covered with icing and sprinkles inside. Josh mumbled something unintelligible.

"What? What? Can't understand you!" Sam laughed. "Speak a little more clearly!"

Sam used his own mouth and removed the rest of the sweet roll from Josh's mouth.

"Sprinkles! I said no sprinkles and that thing is drenched in sprinkles!" Josh complained.

Sam mumbled something and pointed to the pastry. Josh took it back in his mouth.

"Yeah," said Sam, "but its full of goo and you specifically requested goo."

Josh mumbled again.

"Prove it? Is that what you said Josh?"

Josh nodded.

"Whatever you say." Sam clamped down on his end of the pastry, the other end in Josh's mouth.

Josh ate from his end and Sam ate from his end and when they met in the middle their lips met, covered with gooey cream filling, crumbs and sprinkles. They shared a messy kiss and licked the cream off each other's lips, the crumbs, even the sprinkles, and both purred contently.

"Now, how about we wash that down with a cup of coffee?" Sam asked. "I'll go get it."

On his way into the kitchen Sam picked up the second bag on the table. A couple of minutes later he returned to the living room with two mugs of hot coffee. A trail of steam followed him. He set his down on a magazine and handed the other mug to Josh. Josh took a big swallow then held the mug out in front of him for a better look. It was white with something printed in red lettering. It looked like the one he'd given his Father so many years ago. Except this one read: WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER.

Josh looked at Sam.

Sam held up his left hand and wiggled his ring finger. "I only bought one. I only have one lover."

Chapter 19

Tuesday morning

CJ swung herself around the doorframe and leaned into Toby's office. "Are you here?" she asked.

"Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed." He didn't look up from his desk.

"I'll pass on your tail but can I get a confirmation on those eyes please?"

Toby sighed and slowly raised his head with the pained look of frustration and annoyance on his face. He peered over his glasses.

"Satisfied?" he asked in a tone that indicated he really didn't care one way or the other if she was satisfied or not. He went back to his work.

"It'll do." CJ came the rest of the way into the office, closed the door and sat on the couch, her long legs stretched out in front of her.

Toby peered at her over his glasses once again. "Why don't you come in and sit down CJ?" he asked sarcastically, after she had clearly done so.

"Why thank you. Thought you'd never ask," she responded with equal sarcasm.

Again, Toby returned to his work. CJ leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and studied him. Finally he couldn't stand it any more. He set his pen down, took off his glasses and laid them on his desk next to his pen. He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Then he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms across his chest and looked directly at CJ.

"You've got my full attention now. What do you want?"

"I wanna know what's going on?"

Silence.

"Pork bellies are up, everybody in the Middle East hates everybody else in the Middle East and for the life of me I still haven't figured out why, and we're trying to get Jed Bartlet re-elected President of the United States and for the life of me..."

"...I still haven't out why," they finished in unison.

"Wrong answer. What's up with Spanky?"

"Sam? I'm not aware of anything being 'up' with him. Why do you ask?"

"Have you even looked at your Deputy this past month?" CJ asked. "Well, have you?"

"I've seen him in passing. CJ, really. I do have...please...get to the point."

"Sam looks like a...a...I don't know! Like he's been up there in the caves with the Taliban and just walked out for a mercy killing! Look at him Toby! Just look at him for God's sake!" CJ yelled.

"He's not here for me to look at, for God's sake!" Toby yelled back.

"Well, where is he?"

"Have you looked in his office?" Toby's patience was about to wear thin.

CJ lowered her voice. "Seriously Toby, Sam looks like shit and you need to find out why and fix it. He looks like he's about to drop in his tracks. Carol's already asked me if Sam's sick. Is Sam sick Toby?"

Silence.

"No." Toby picked up his rubber ball and squeezed it over and over and over.

"So you're not going to tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

CJ stood up and towered over Toby at his desk. She made quite the commanding figure.

"Dammit Ziegler! You're spinning me and its not going to work because I KNOW that's what you get paid to do! You're running me around the barn and I'm just concerned about Sam and want to give you a heads up before Leo wanders in here and asks you the same questions. And I guaran-damn-tee you, Leo's not going to fall for your playing dumb act!"

"Claudia Jean, calm down. Just sit and relax before you break something."

CJ sighed. "Ok, ok. But please Toby, LOOK at Sam. Look at his face, how thin he's gotten. Talk to him and try to find out what's bothering him please? Something's got that boy all strung over something ~~ or someone."

Toby nodded his head. "I will today, I promise."

"You'll talk to Sam?"

"I'll talk to Sam."

"About the thing?"

"About the thing."

"Think maybe I should stop by his office and give him a little pepper-upper? Maybe he'll open up to me?" CJ offered.

"I'm not sure what a pepper-upper is CJ, but I don't think he needs one. And what makes you think he'll open up to you?"

CJ shrugged. "I don't know. Responding to the inbred maternal instinct in me or something." She saw a smile start to form at Toby's lips. "I don't know! They say women have maternal instinct that naturally comes out in us! Don't look at me like that!"

Toby managed not to smile. "Nice thought CJ, really. Maybe just...let it go...for now...please. I'll take care of it."

CJ smirked. "The 'Good Ole Boys Club' is alive and well, isn't it? I thought you, of all people, would be a bit more evolved."

"Bullshit," Toby muttered.

"Bullshit," CJ spat back.

Toby slammed his fist down on his desk with a resounding smack that shook the things on his desk and made CJ jump.

"CJ, I said I'll take care of it! That means I'll take care of it! The 'Good Ole Boys' do not, and I repeat do NOT have a clubhouse in the West Wing of the Bartlet White House. If they do, I never received my membership card in the mail so PLEASE stop badgering me! If my Deputy, keyword being MY, has a problem I'll take care of it. Would you please, for the love of God, handle your own people and let me handle mine? Please!"

CJ stood silent and Toby wondered if he'd gone too far. She was just concerned about Sam and had his best interests in mind and here he had just blasted her because she tried to help. But there was no way he could break Sam's confidence.

"I apologize for interfering between you and your Deputy, for getting involved with the way you 'handle your people'," CJ said quietly. She turned to leave.

"CJ."

She stopped but didn't turn around.

"I...was out of line speaking to you that way. I appreciate your concern for Sam and I'd tell you if I could but I'd be betraying the most sacred trust ever shared between two people, so just trust me on this. We've known each other too long to have an argument of this magnitude over something I can fix. Just...just let me fix it."

CJ nodded. "Ok Toby. I'll let it drop. But fix it fast before it gets to the Oval."

Toby nodded even though CJ still hadn't turned around. "Top priority."

CJ started out the door.

"CJ? Has anybody said anything? Leo...?"

"Not yet. That's why I came to you first. Kind of a 'head `em off at the pass' thing." She turned and smiled. "Go on sheriff, I think your deputy needs you."

"CJ, one more thing. Uh..." Toby spoke very softly. "Thank you."

"Sure."

Toby followed CJ out of his office and let his eyes linger on her as she walked away from the bullpen.

"Bonnie, any messages for me?"

She handed him a stack of phone messages and two file folders.

"Anything important?" he asked.

"The President wants to see you and Sam at three o'clock and bring questions and ideas for a debate with Governor Ritchie. He said to ask if you the name 'Bruno' means anything to you and if the answer is 'yes', you might want to double your efforts. If the answer is 'no', you might want to find out who 'Bruno' is then triple your efforts. Josh wants you to stop by his office when you have a couple of minutes. A woman named Rosemary said she'd call you at home tonight. Everything else is routine."

"Wonderful. I love routine. I'll be in Sam's office. Take messages for us both."

"Okey dokey."

Toby knocked on Sam's door then walked in without an invitation.

Sam was in his chair, leaned over onto his desk, arms crossed, his head on his arms. He was sound sleep. Toby hated to wake him. He knew how exhausted Sam was, how much he'd been through, but apparently he hadn't realized how hard it had taken it's toll on Sam. Not until CJ had pointed it out to him. He walked over and gently shook Sam on the shoulder.

"Sam. Sam, wake up."

Sam was dead to the world, lost in sleep. Toby shook him a little harder. "Sam! You've got to wake up now!"

Sam shifted a little. "Hmmmmm...?"

Toby pulled him to a sitting position and Sam finally opened his eyes. Bleary, red, watery. He rubbed them with the backs of his hands. "Josh?"

"No, it's Toby. Come on son, let's go down to the mess and get some coffee and wake you up."

"Yeah, ok."

Sam stumbled when he stood and Toby helped him regain his balance. For the first time, Toby noticed what CJ meant. Why hadn't he noticed this before? Why hadn't Rosemary noticed? Had they all been so caught up in Josh that they lost sight of Sam and hadn't paid attention that he had made himself sick from worry and lack of sleep, over-work and not eating?

Toby held Sam at arm's length and looked at him carefully. He did indeed look like shit. Hallowed eyes, dark rings, sunken cheeks, pale complexion...his clothes hung on his thin, almost frail body. At least for Sam it looked that way.

"My God," Toby said, "we didn't even notice..."

"Notice what?" Sam asked with a yawn.

"Come on."

Toby discretely held onto Sam's arm as they walked to the mess. There, Sam found an empty table while Toby got their coffee. As soon as Toby sat down Sam came right out and asked him. "Toby, have I done anything wrong? Are you upset with me about something?"

"No Sam! No, no not at all. You just need some caffeine in you to wake up. Then we'll talk a little, but you're not in trouble. Far from it."

He reached over and patted Sam's hand. He normally would have been too self-conscious about such an overt act of affection, but it came natural for Toby this day, even in a place as open as the White House mess. Sam didn't notice it because he'd become used to Toby's gradual newfound comfort level and how vulnerable he'd let himself be with him and Josh.

"CJ's noticed how crappy you look," Toby said. "She's not only worried about your health, she's suspicious she's missed out on something and you know how she can be like a bloodhound."

Sam nodded and sipped his coffee.

"She's also afraid Leo or the President is going to get a good look at you and order a physical and you might be put on an ordered LOA." Toby continued.

"Oh no, that can't happen," Sam protested. "Not now. Not with the campaign. What do you suggest I do?"

"I suggest you go home this evening ~~ early ~~ and eat something nutritious ~~ don't stop at Taco Bell ~~ then go to bed and SLEEP, no fooling around, and sleep the night through. In the morning eat a healthy breakfast and continue this until you've gained about 20 pounds and your beautiful face doesn't look like 'The Swamp Thing' anymore. Sleep, eat, relax, slow down and don't keep a twenty-four/seven vigil on Josh. Get it?"

"You think I'm beautiful?" Sam teased.

"Got to hell. Do you understand what I just told you?"

"I suppose. But what if..."

"Don't 'suppose' and don't 'what if' Sam. Do it. And I'm going to tell Josh to start taking care of YOU for a while. That will do him some good too. Make him useful. And...and you can always call me, day or night, if you need me. You gonna do this?"

Sam nodded.

"Say it."

"I'm gonna do this."

"Do what?" Toby pressured him.

"What you said," Sam answered.

"Sam..."

"I'll eat and sleep and rest and let Josh take care of me."

"And?"

"And...and call you."

"Good boy. Now we have to meet in the Oval at three with ideas for debate questions with Ritchie. Feel up to that?"

"I've BEEN working on it for weeks. I think I'll take two more cups of coffee up with me though. I'm wiped out."

Toby held the back of his hand up to Sam's forehead, another move totally out of character for him. A shock of Sam's hair fell over Toby's hand. Toby welcomed the silky feel of Sam's hair. It felt familiar to him and he realized he missed the sudden break-up of the temporary family situation while Rosemary had been in town. "You're warm," he said. "I think you've got a fever."

"I'm ok."

"Work on the Ritchie debate and nothing else. And when we meet with the President, if he says you look like shit, tell him you're just getting over a cold. Understand?"

Sam nodded. "Stop by my office on the way back and I'll give you a couple of aspirin for the fever. Now let's get to work."

********

"DON-NAAAAAAAA!"

"You bellowed?" Donna appeared at Josh's office door within seconds.

"Where's Sam and Toby?" Josh asked.

"Josh, how am I supposed to know where Sam and Toby are? I do well enough to keep up with you."

"Neither one of them are in their offices."

"Did you try paging them?" Donna suggested.

"No."

"Did you try Ginger or Bonnie or Cathy?"

"No."

"What DID you do?"

"I called their offices directly."

"And what happened?"

"The phones rang and rang and nobody answered." Josh looked bewildered.

"Did you try their cell phones?"

"No."

"Josh, I think you're over-reacting. Shall I requisition cowbells so you'll know their whereabouts at all times? Or perhaps those ankle things like criminals on house arrest wear so if they go outside their jurisdiction all kinds of alarms will go off. Would you like me to check into that? I can call Ron Butterfield right now."

Josh looked at Donna with a smirk, but he considered the idea of the house arrest ankle bracelets. "Hey, what's the rest of today's schedule look like? What's my latest appointment?"

"Hang on." Donna went to get Josh's schedule off her desk. She returned quickly. "Let's see, this evening you have a seven p.m. for drinks with Amy Gardner to talk about marriage incentives. That's your last thing tonight."

"Oh great. That'll cause nightmares for sure. Ok, where are we meeting?"

"Her gym. She's working out first."

Josh's ears perked up. "Which gym?"

"Doesn't say. Just says 'Tuesday, Amy's gym in the juice bar, seven p.m.' Why?"

"Donna, find out which gym."

"Josh, you're not going to embarrass yourself, are you?"

"Like how?"

"Like wearing gym shorts or something, and showing your legs?" Donna scrunched up her face.

Josh was insulted. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with my legs! I ride bikes and run and have the legs of an athlete. If we weren't where we are, I'd drop trou in a second and show you."

"Thank God we're where we are then," Donna laughed. "I'll find out the name of the gym," she said and left his office. She hadn't been in her chair two minutes when...

"DON-NAAAAA!"

"You bellowed?"

"Where does a person go to get a piece of jewelry engraved?"

"You're getting something engraved? Awwww, that's so sweet. What is it?" Donna beamed.

"I didn't say that. I just asked where."

"Something for your Mother? I wish I could have met her while she was here."

"Next time. Find me an engraver, ok?"

"Yeah, sure. Do you want fast, good or cheap?"

Josh thought for a minute. "All of the above. No, change that. Quality. Quality definitely comes first."

Donna stood there and didn't move. She continued to beam.

Josh looked at her. "What?"

"Just awwwww. You're such a good son."

"Go away."

Josh dialed Sam's cell phone.

"Sam Seaborn."

"Hi babe."

"Watch it. These phones aren't secure."

"Sorry, it just slipped out. What `cha doing?"

"Making up questions for a Bartlet/Ritchie debate. Toby and I meet with POTUS at three o'clock. How about you?"

"Gathering ammunition. I'm meeting with Amy Gardner tonight. Hey, does she belong to your gym? That's where I'm supposed to meet her, at her gym."

"I've never seen her there. Of course, I'm not looking for her. You DO remember Josh, I'm playing racquetball with Marc tonight at eight o'clock. You DO remember, don't you?"

"I do and I'm fine with it."

"Ok, just making sure you remember. And also know you're welcome to come along. You're ALWAYS welcome to come play racquetball with me. In fact, I wish you would."

"It's cool."

"Ok, but I just want to remind you again to make sure."

Josh laughed. "It's ok! I've got Donna looking for an engraver for our..."

"Josh," Sam interrupted, "I don't think we should talk about that here. Let's save it for later, ok?"

"Yeah, ok. I was just, you know."

"I know. Toby ok?"

"Toby's fine." Sam knew Josh didn't want to hang up and wanted an excuse to stall. He wished he could go to Josh's office and just hold him, but it wasn't practical, wasn't safe. He hurt for Josh. He sensed how badly he needed to be with Sam. "Josh, imagine 'hooking up' right now. Can you feel it?"

"Yeah," came a soft reply.

"Nice, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Remember what your coffee mug says?"

"Yeah."

"Its 100% true." Sam could feel Josh smile on the other end of the phone.

"Remember that gooey pastry?" Sam continued.

"Yeah."

"Josh, just stay hooked up to me for the rest of the day and you'll be fine. I'll do it too. Will you do that for me?"

"Yeah."

"Ok. Hang onto that."

"Yeah, ok. Sam?"

"Hmmm...?"

"You know."

"I know. And you know too, Josh."

Sam knew he was taking a chance when he talked that intimately with Josh on a cell phone in the White House, but he knew Josh needed the connection, so he risked it. Some things were just too important.

Toby ran into Josh in the hall and they pedeconferenced about Sam's heath and Toby suggested Josh give special attention to Sam over the next couple of weeks to get him back on his feet. Josh jumped at the chance to do something in return for all Sam had done for him. His mind was still fuzzy so he asked Toby for suggestions on what he should do. Toby said to let him think about it and he'd get back with him later.

Toby returned to his office, got his messages, gave instructions for no calls, closed the door, and dialed Rosemary's number.

"Toby? I can't believe it's you! What's wrong? Is it Joshua? What's happened to Joshua?"

"Calm down Rosemary. Josh is fine. I just left him five minutes ago and he was prancing down the hallway of the West Wing wearing those new shoes you sent him. He's doing great." Toby reassured her.

"Is it Samuel?"

"Do you have a few minutes Rosemary? We need to talk."

~~~~~~~~

Sam and Toby's meeting with the President didn't go particularly well. In fact, it sucked big time through no fault of their own ~~ blame it on Jed. The two arrived promptly armed with an abundance of ideas, potential questions, appropriate and inappropriate responses, and even a good start on a devil's advocate scenario.

Leo was generous with his praises, rare for Leo in general, but not unheard of when he was truly impressed, and he complimented Toby and Sam more than once on their ability to get so much fighting fodder together in such a short time.

"But look at our opponent," Toby quipped, "Ritchie makes it so easy, the President only has to show up for appearance purposes."

"Does that mean you don't take this debate seriously Toby?" Jed asked.

"Of course I do," Toby responded. "I'd think you'd be able to tell just HOW seriously I take it from this massive amount of effort Sam and I've already put together. I'm behind you, Mr. President, and this debate 100%."

The meeting continued in that vein ~~ POTUS found fault with nearly everything Toby and Sam laid on the table, and Leo had to go to bat to defend it. Eventually Jed came around and saw the brilliance of each move and counter-move, but it was like pulling teeth. He finally apologized and mumbled something about the First Lady. Immediately the men understood.

Sam discretely glanced at his watch. Six-twenty. He knew Josh had to meet Amy Gardner at seven o'clock. He excused himself to go to the men's room. Instead he went to a nook where he had privacy and dialed Josh.

"Josh Lyman."

"It's me." Sam spoke softly.

"Hey!" Sam could hear the brightness in Josh's when he heard who it was.

"I'm only on a break and wanted to give you a quick call."

"How's it going? Is the President turning cartwheels with all you and Toby have to show him?" Josh asked.

"A less than stellar reception is more like it. Lukewarm doesn't even cover it."

"Aww shit man, what's he got up his ass?"

"Josh! Cell phones! Will you EVER grasp the concept of non-secure?"

"Balderdash," Josh replied.

Sam laughed. "Balderdash?

Josh laughed too. "Well, that's the first thing that came to mind. How long do you think you'll be?"

"I have no idea. I still hope to get to the gym by eight. You're still meeting the feminasta at seven?"

"Yeah. Gotta leave in a while. You ok?"

"Just tired and frustrated. Toby and I put a lot of work into this debate and it's only the first step in a long campaign. This is just a rough draft thrown at us this morning. Whatever's up his ass, as you put it, better come out soon, not just for Toby's and my sanity but for the sake of the country."

"Sam?"

"Hmmm..."

"I'm hooked up. Are you?" Josh asked softly.

Sam nodded then realized he was on the phone. "Always," he said. "Hey Josh, I'm not sure how tonight's gonna work out. I may have to move my racquetball time back, but I still wanna play, even if I go on the court alone and just beat the crap out of the ball. Do you hear and understand what I'm saying?"

"Yeah."

"You sure? I'm saying I may be late getting home tonight so don't worry. Ok? I'll call and let you know what's going on when and if my plans change. I promise. You ok with that?"

"Yeah."

"I'll call. I promise to let you know my plans," Sam assured Josh again.

"Ok. Don't forget me."

Sam laughed. "Have I ever forgot you?"

"No, so don't start now," Josh replied.

"I promise I won't forget you."

"Sam, aren't they missing you in the Oval?"

"They haven't sent the secret service for me yet, but yeah, I'd better get back."

"Yeah, ok. And you'll call?"

"I'll call. Have fun with Amy." Sam laughed.

"I'm gonna make THAT as short as possible and head straight home."

"Gotta go."

"Yeah."

Sam shut his phone and headed back to the Oval Office. He was surprised to see Toby and Leo at Charlie's desk, the three of them talking and laughing.

"What'd I miss?" Sam asked.

"Toby turned when he heard Sam's voice. "The First Lady came to our rescue," he said. "She needed him in the residence. They're going to barbecue or something."

"Get your brilliant butts out of here before she sends him back," Leo grumbled, "or I'll find something for you do instead of just standing around here goofing off. Beat it."

Leo headed in one direction and Toby and Sam in another. Leo stopped and turned.

"Men," he said, "good job." Then he went on without any more discussion.

"Sam, I want you to leave," Toby said as they headed back to their offices. It's six forty-five and you've put in a long day. Do you have anything at home to eat? Nutritious, that is?"

"Rosemary left tons of food and froze it in individual portions so I'll heat up something."

"Will Josh..." he stopped in mid-sentence when he realized he had become lax speaking about the two in the same sentence when it wasn't business-related.

"He's meeting Amy Gardner at seven. He has no idea how long that mission from hell will take," Sam answered the question he knew Toby was about to ask.

They arrived at the bullpen.

"Well, get a good night's sleep tonight. Do you need anything Sam?"

Sam was curious about Toby's sudden concern over his welfare, but decided not to question it. He figured he had just over-reacted to Sam's being a little run-down. He smiled. "I'm ok Toby. Really. Some of Rosemary's home cooking and a good night's sleep and I'll be good to go in the morning."

Toby squeezed Sam's shoulder. Even though no one else was around he said, "Give my best to your friend."

Sam felt guilty because he didn't tell Toby he was going to play racquetball instead of going directly home. But he knew if he did, Toby would nix that plan in a minute, and he really wanted to play. A couple of hours on the court would do him good, he told himself. If he DID have a fever, like Toby said, he could sweat it out there. Then he'd go straight home, warm up some of that home cooking he told Toby about, and go straight to bed. By tomorrow morning he'd be a new man and Toby would never know the difference. Josh was cool with it and he really, really needed a change of pace tonight.

As he drove toward the gym Sam thought he should stop and get something light to eat since he couldn't even remember what, or if, he had lunch, but knew if he ate anything before he played as hard as he did, he'd puke. Instead, he just had a Coke and a Milky Way for a burst of energy. Then he called Josh as promised and told him he was still on schedule. He reminded Josh that he and Marc would play two hours, clean up (he chose not to say 'they'd shower') then might get a smoothie in the juice bar afterwards to wind down.

"That's cool," Josh said. "I'm glad you didn't have to stay late at the office."

"Really. Toby has no idea I'm headed to the gym. He told me to go straight home, eat and go to bed. I think your Mom rubbed off on him a little too much." Sam laughed.

"Aww, he just wants to watch out for you. Be nice."

"I'll be nice, but don't you DARE tell him I've gone to play racquetball or you'll get it!" Sam warned.

"Get what?" Josh asked, suddenly coy.

"Uh, it's after seven. Can Amy hear this?"

"Give me a little credit, please?"

"Where is she then?" asked Sam.

"She got a phone call. Make that ANOTHER phone call. Disappeared to take it in private so I wouldn't hear the enemy's secrets. So here I sit."

"Josh, I love you."

"I love you Sammy, and you never told me what I'd get if I misbehave."

"Hmmm...just might have to turn you over my knee and give you a spanking."

"Then what?"

Sam arrived at the gym. He pulled into the office building's garage and backed into an empty spot up against the wall. The building and garage were pretty well deserted this time of evening with most people clearing out by five-thirty. He turned the car engine off.

"Then what?" Josh repeated.

Sam looked at his watch. Seven-forty. He had a few minutes to play with Josh. It was dark and quiet in the cavernous parking garage.

Sam lowered his voice to that sexy growl he knew turned Josh on. "Then what? Well, I'd sit in a chair and make you stand in front of me. I'd tell you to pull your pants down then I'd unfasten your belt and slowly pull it through the belt loops, one at a time, very slowly, until it was all the way off and drop it on the floor. Then I'd unsnap your jeans and slowly unzip them. Josh, if your dick gets hard while I'm telling you this I'm only going to make it worse. Do you understand?"

Silence.

"Josh, do you understand what I just said?"

Josh's voice was breathy. "I understand. And Sam, I'm getting hard."

Sam smiled. He knew Josh would be. It didn't take much. Sam knew he shouldn't do this with the chance Amy could return any minute, but he had so much fun when he got Josh excited with phone sex and Josh DID ask for it.

"Then what Sam?"

"Next I'd slip my hands inside the waist band of your pants and pull them down over your hips and past your knees until they're around your ankles. You're standing in front of me now in just your t-shirt and briefs and there's a huge bulge right in front because your cock is just bursting to come out of there. Remember what I said about your dick getting hard right now Josh?"

"Uh huh. Sam..."

"Do you want me to stop Josh?" Sam growled. "I can stop if you want me to."

"I'll go somewhere else. Don't stop. Just talk."

Sam continued. "Then I'll pull your underwear..."

"Oh shit! Here comes Amy!" Josh almost choked on his words. "Oh man, this is just great. Amy's in sight and here I am with a hard-on the size of Alaska! "

Sam laughed into the phone. "Don't flatter yourself Oshie. Montana maybe..."

"Seaborn, you son-of-a-bitch. You sorry ass son-of-a-bitch. You just better be ready to finish what you started when you get home tonight."

Sam laughed even harder.

"The thing is," Josh continued, "Amy's gonna think SHE'S responsible for this! She'll take credit for it!"

"Oshie, I've gotta go play racquetball. You go compliment Amy. Love you, my sweet little Eskimo." Sam grabbed his gym bag, locked the car behind him and got on the elevator that took him directly to the gym.

Marc had just signed in at the front desk when Sam walked up. Sam reached him just as he turned around.

"Cobra! You made it!" Marc was obviously pleased to see Sam.

The two shook hands; Marc grasped Sam's forearm with his free hand. "Really good to see you man."

"Yeah," Sam said as he signed in, "you have no idea how I've missed being on that court. I've got a lot of stress to work out with that little blue ball."

They walked together into the locker room and began to change into their gym clothes. At one point Marc couldn't help but take a second look at Sam. "Uh Sam, I hate to say anything, but you look kinda scrawny man. What's happened to you? Have you been sick?"

"No, just a little run down. Guess I didn't realize I'd lost a few pounds."

Marc laughed. "Well, I'll take it easy on you then."

"Don't do me any favors macho man. I can hold my own. Let's go before you wimp out on me." Sam slammed his locker door shut and the two headed toward the courts.

********

Josh finally got away from Amy Gardner at nine-thirty. She never mentioned the obvious bulge in Josh's trousers and after five minutes with her, it dissipated. Amy had a way of doing that to men.

On the way home he stopped at an all-night super-store and bought all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables. He was going to nurse Sam back to health and this was the best way to start. As he passed the floral department he selected a single red rose just about to open from a bud. It was in a crystal vase with baby's breath and greenery.

He went home and was again startled for a minute by the quiet emptiness of the townhouse. He wanted to shout out "Mom!" and have her come out of the kitchen drying her hands on a tee-towel. Then he re-considered and thought to himself, no, I really don't. Mother's visit was nice and it was fun for a while, despite everything else, to pretend he was a child again and his Mom was here to take care of him in a way Sam never could. But that wasn't the reality he'd chosen for himself.

His career reality was Deputy Chief of Staff for the President of the United States and he worked in the West Wing of the White House. He had a very important, very responsible job. His personal reality was Sam. And that said it all. His Mother was his Mother and always would be, but he couldn't pretend that he was her little boy anymore. It was time to get back to the reality of being Leo's Deputy and Sam's spouse.

Josh set the rose next to the cedar box when he reached in and took out his ring and slid it on his finger. He heated up one of the frozen dinners his Mother had left and grabbed a beer. He stripped down to his underwear and left his clothes where they fell, then watched the news while he ate. Every now and then he wondered what Sam was doing, if he was still playing, if he was winning, if he was drinking a smoothie, if he was on his way home, what Marc looked like.

Josh put his dirty dishes and empty beer bottle on the kitchen counter, took another beer out of the refrigerator and went upstairs to shower. He looked at the clock. Eleven-twenty. How long does it take to drink a smoothie? As if on cue Josh's cell phone rang. Josh pounced on it.

"Josh Lyman."

"It's me."

"Hey me. You called."

"I said I would."

"Yeah."

"Josh, I'm gonna be a little later getting home than I thought. I told you I'd let you know if my plans changed."

"Are you still at the gym?" Josh asked, disappointment clearly in his voice.

"Uh, no Josh. I'm at Marc's."

Silence.

"Why?"

"Well, since I hadn't played for so long I needed something a little stronger than a smoothie and Marc lives real near the gym so I just came by for a quick drink. Is that ok?"

Josh was caught off-guard. This was so totally NOT what he expected or wanted to hear. "Uh...mmmmm...sure, I guess so. But we've got stuff to drink here."

Sam burst into laughter. "You're funny!"

Josh thought it was an awful lot of laughter for something that WASN'T funny.

"I know you're tired too, so you go on to bed without me darlin'. I'll kiss you good-night when I get home."

"Sam, can Marc hear you?"

"No."

"Try not to be too late, ok Angel?"

"Ok, I'll try Oshie."

"I love you Sam."

"I love you too Josh."

Josh heard Sam say something, but it was unintelligible.

"What? What did you say Sam?"

"Nothing. Marc just came in and said something. So I'll see you after while. Good-night baby."

Josh started to say good-night back, but Sam's phone clicked. He and Sam were disconnected.

Chapter 20

Sam melted into the recliner and set his phone and keys on the table beside him as Marc came back into the room. "Here ya go," Marc said. "Try one of these." He handed Sam a tall, frosty glass of something brown and slushy; a bit of foam spilled over the top. "And this is what?" Sam asked, as he reached for the glass.

"A Rattlesnake. Drink a couple of these and when you try to stand up, it'll bring you to your knees then bite you in the ass."

Sam laughed. "Have you got a reptile fetish or something?" Sam took a sip of his drink. "Rattlesnakes, Cobra...should I worry?" He looked around the room in mock concern.

Marc laughed and sat in a chair across from Sam. He pulled an ottoman in front of him and put his feet up. "No, just one of those things. Make yourself at home."

Sam laid his head against the back of the recliner and brought his feet up. The leather was so soft it felt like melted butter. He took a big swallow of his drink, too big so that some of it seeped out of the corners of his mouth. Both he and Marc laughed as Marc got up and brought back a roll of paper towels.

"You expecting me to destroy your house?" Sam asked, while he wiped his face.

"Let's just say your drinking style isn't as smooth as your racquetball serve, Pretty Boy."

"Pretty Boy? Where'd that come from?"

"Well look at you Sam. You can't tell me you haven't looked in a mirror over the past thirty years. And don't deny you don't see people staring at you in the gym, women AND men. Excuse me, I'll be right back."

"Yeah, right." They both laughed it off as Marc went into a room just off the living room.

"This chair is evil!" Sam called out. "Its so comfortable I could fall asleep right here! I'm so wiped out I don't ever want to get up!"

"Just relax! I'll be right there!" Marc called back.

Sam downed the rest of his Rattlesnake and settled into the chair. We've gotta get one of these, he thought. Or two. He closed his eyes and wondered what Josh was doing. Had he gone to bed yet? Or maybe he was still in the shower. He wished Josh was scrunched into the recliner with him, both of them naked, the leather cool against their bodies, their bodies warm against each other. He squeezed the chair arms at the thought.

He imagined Josh running his hand over Sam's bare chest, licking his nipples, gently pulling on them with his teeth, then biting them just a little so they became hard. Josh used his tongue to flick the tiny chest erections, a favorite move Josh has that was a real turn-on for Sam. Josh sucked on Sam's nipples, alternating between gentle and rough. Then he climbed on top of Sam in the recliner and...

"You asleep yet?" Marc jolted Sam out of his Josh fantasy when he came back into the room. Sam's eyes flew open. He forgot he was in someone else's home and not in the privacy of his own.

"Ok, no, but just about," he said, as he shifted in the chair to hide any sign of a growing erection.

"You finish that Rattlesnake already?" Marc asked, when he noticed Sam's empty glass.

"Yeah, it was great, went down smooth, but I think your snake crawled up on a rock and died. I don't feel a thing. I like the chocolate taste though. Just like Dairy Queen."

Marc laughed and shook his head. "Dairy Queen my ass. Just don't say I didn't warn you. How about another?"

"Sure. One more then I gotta go. Add a little more ice cream this time to make it thicker. . .and a little more 'rattle'. Hell, add a little more everything. What else goes into that anyhow?"

"I'll tell you sometime when you'll remember," Marc replied.

Sam frowned at him. What's he talking about? I'm perfectly sober now. Marc drained his own glass and returned to the kitchen.

"Aren't you ever gonna sit down and take it easy?" Sam asked. "You haven't sat still five minutes since we got here."

"Soon as I bring these drinks in I'll sit, I promise. I'm just a little wired, that's all. Just sit tight."

Sam glanced over at Marc's aquarium. That motherfucker has GOT to hold five thousand gallons of water, he thought. There's at least two thousand, maybe three thousand fish in there.

"Here Sam."

Sam turned to find a glass in front of him. "Ah, Mr. Rattlesnake," he said. "When's this girlie blender drink gonna bring me to my knees and bite my butt?"

Marc just smiled.

Sam leaned his head back for another big gulp and when he came back upright, he was eye-to-eye with the biggest joint he'd ever seen in his life, even from his college days when pot was dirt cheap. Not like today when you had to take out a loan to buy half-an-ounce.

"Do you..." Marc asked, as he gave a nod toward the joint.

A million emotions blocked the circuits in Sam's brain all in the matter of a half-second. He hoped it didn't register on his face. He also hoped Marc couldn't hear Sam's heart beat so loudly Sam was sure it was about to burst out of his chest.

"Yeah, I do. I, uh...I did. I haven't for a while. No I...I don't, of course not. Sometimes when I can...yeah, I do."

Silence.

"Actually I don't anymore. I used to but I stopped. See, I...I'm rambling, aren't I?"

Marc nodded. "Pretty much. I'm gonna fire this up while you decide if you do or don't or did or..." His voice trailed off as he lit the cigar-sized joint.

As soon as the first cloud of smoke rose into the room Sam inhaled deeply through his nostrils. From the sweet aroma he could tell the marijuana was heavily laced with opium. He closed his eyes as the ambrosial fragrance filled his senses, his head and his memories.

When Marc offered the joint Sam didn't hesitate to reach for it. He drew deeply and held it in that special place where it gives the head rush so welcome and familiar to Sam. And he kept it there to sustain the buzz that instantly came to life just as it had. . .when? How long had it been? Yesterday? A year? Five years? Funny, he couldn't remember.

Sam passed the joint back to Marc and followed up with an icy gulp of the Rattlesnake. Again, he took too much into his mouth and it bubbled out. This struck both Sam and Marc as hilariously funny and they both laughed until they cried. Sam handed out sheets of paper towels and they dried their tears then laughed some more. In between laughing and trying to catch his breath, Sam choked, "Pretty Boy strikes again!"

Marc repeated what he said, "Yeah, Pretty Boy strikes again."

"That," Sam said, "is some good shit. I gotta tell you, it's been a while since I've smoked any weed that good. Hand it over."

Marc passed the joint back to Sam.

"So you finally figured it out? You used to, then stopped?" Marc asked.

"That's about it. Not quite that simple, but I haven't used for a while, so this tastes damn good."

Sam and Marc continued to pass the joint back and forth while they smoked and drank and talked about racquetball, football, hockey, sailing and other superficial stuff that sounded profound at the time. The conversation never got around to things personal.

"You have got a...'shitload' of fish," Sam said emphatically. "That fish tank, how many gallons of water is that? Like five thousand gallons?"

Marc slid down in his chair and laughed, then slammed his hand to his forehead.

"Five thousand gallons?" Sam laughed too, but he wasn't sure why. "Five thousand gallons?" Marc repeated. "No, it's two hundred-fifty gallons."

"Are you serious? Man, did I misjudge that by a...by a..."

They both sat there and tried do the math of how far off Sam was in his calculation. Sam started to laugh again. "You gotta calculator?"

"You know," Marc said, "it'd be easier to say it's a five-thousand gallon tank than to figure the difference. You're gonna have to get a set-up for yourself Sam. They're really relaxing and no trouble at all."

"It would take me a year to name all those fish," Sam said, dead serious. "And all that food. Whadda they eat? Fish chow?"

The both sat there and contemplated naming three thousand fish, Sam in an almost trance-like state. Then he shook out of it. "You know, this pot is exceptional, and the sweet stuff inside didn't go unnoticed. How'd you know that's my favorite?"

Marc shrugged. "Instinct. I can read people pretty well. Opium is sweet and you're..."

"Well, thanks for sharing it with me." Sam cut him off before he realized what Marc was about to say.

Marc smiled. "Glad you like it. This is primo stuff."

"No shit! You got any more of that chocolate milkshake?"

"You sure you want more Rattlesnake? Its really potent Sam."

"One more, then I've gotta get going. In fact, I need to make a phone call while you mix up those shakes."

Marc started toward the kitchen. Sam thought he walked in a jerky motion like a strobe light was on him and thought that looked pretty funny.

"Marc, you gotta roach clip?"

Sam doesn't remember Marc coming back, but all of a sudden the small end of the joint was in a clip held at Sam's lips and he was inhaling the last remnants of life out of the joint. It was then he noticed Marc had come back into the room with their drinks and had set them on the table. Sam took the clip from Marc and took the roach off the clip.

"All gone?" Marc asked.

"One dead soldier," Sam replied as he popped the tiny piece of paper and a smattering of pot into his mouth, chewed it, then swallowed. He took his drink off the table and took a big drink.

"You'd better slow down there Sam," Marc warned. "You're really wasted."

Sam either didn't hear him or it didn't register. Sam also couldn't hear his own voice. While the words came out right, he had begun to speak slower.

"This is a really nice clip,: said Sam. "Meerschaum?"

"Yeah, actually it is."

"My Dad has Meerschaum pipes. But I've never see a Meerschaum roach clip. Where'd you get this?"

"It was a gift. I don't know where it originally came from."

"Well I can tell you where it most likely came from. The Mediterranean."

"Is that right?"

"That's right. Do you know what it's made of?"

"White stuff?" Marc guessed.

Sam laughed and Marc joined in. Whenever he tried to start to talk, one of them would start to laugh again and Sam fell back in the chair and stomped his foot. Finally their laughter died down and Sam wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Shit man, you are ONE funny futhermucker," Sam coughed.

That set them off in fits of laughter again and Sam had to blow his nose on paper towels because his nose started to run. Once more, they straightened up, but now Sam had the sniffles.

"So, what was the question?" Marc asked.

"I asked you if you knew what Meerschaum is made of and you said white stuff," Sam repeated.

"Yeah. White stuff," Marc echoed.

"Yes, but do you know what the white stuff is?"

"No, but I have a feeling you're about to tell me."

"That I am. It's a mineral called hydrous magnesium. And guess what else? Meerschaum is sometimes called Sepiolite. Bet you didn't know that, did you?" Sam said with a nod of his head and a smile.

"Had no idea. How do you know all this stuff? I don't even know this kind of stuff when I'm straight," Marc said.

"You're straight?" Sam asked.

"What?"

"What?" Sam repeated.

"You said 'you're straight'." Marc replied.

"Why would I say that?" Sam was obviously confused with the direction the conversation had gone.

"Hell if I know," said Marc.

"I used to think I was a font of knowledge but now I'm one of the Funnel People." Sam veered off down a totally different road.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Marc asked.

Suddenly Sam's exhaustion caught up with him. He shook his head. "It's a long, long story Marc with a 'c', and really not worth telling. But I will tell you one more thing. Some types of Meerschaum floats. Why don't we drop your roach clip in the fish tank and see if it floats?"

Marc rubbed the back of his neck and considered it. "Think it'll hurt the fish?"

Sam sat in deep concentration. "You know, it just might and then I'd be in really deep shit with my boss. I'm working on this environmental thing and if I killed three thousand domestic fish in one swell foop..."

"Swell foop! Don't you mean fell swoop?" Marc asked.

Again, the hysterical laughter ensued.

"I'm gonna have to get me a couple of those Meerschaum roach clips next time I'm in the Mediterranean. Maybe get a pipe for my Dad too. The asshole."

"Oh, do you get to the Mediterranean often?" Marc asked.

"Well, not every day, but the next time I'm on Air Force One I'll just ask the pilot to make a stop-over. It shouldn't take long to find a head shop, as long as I don't tell the President what I'm shopping for."

This time Marc burst out with laughter but Sam didn't join him. "Yeah, right. Just cruise on over to Andrews Air Force Base and hop on Air Force One and say 'President Bartlet, I'd like to fly to the Mediterranean to buy a couple of Meerschaum roach clips please.' Cobra, you've got the most fascinating imagination of anyone I've ever met. I can see THAT happening. You ought to write a book."

Sam's heart was in his throat. He sobered up real quick for a moment of clarity. He couldn't believe he'd let that slip. Dammit! Never let your guard down, even for a second, and you did it, you fucking idiot! Fucking, fucking idiot!!

Fortunately, Marc just thought he was full of shit and let it drop.

"Did you make your phone call Sam?"

"I didn't! Thanks for reminding me! Weren't you going to make those drinks while I made my call?"

"Uh, sure." Marc already HAD made those drinks and they had already drunk them. But he was game to make more.

"By the way, I thought you said these Rattlesnakes would bring you to your knees and bite you in your butt. I notice you're up and down with no problem whatsoever," Sam remarked.

"Oh no, no, no, my naïve friend," Marc corrected. "I said these Rattlesnakes would bring YOU to YOUR knees and bite YOU in YOUR butt."

Sam sat there for a minute and tried to grasp the difference, get a handle on just where he was and what he was doing and why he wasn't home in bed with Josh.

He really wanted to be home in bed with Josh. Then he decided he was fine and in perfect control and he'd be home in bed with Josh soon.

"By the way, I AM writing a book," Sam called out to Marc in the kitchen.

"What?"

"You said a few minutes ago that I ought to write a book. Well, I AM writing a book. Two books simultaneously as a matter of fact, using the same material but in totally different ways. I'm using historical references from the ante-bellum period, covers eight years to be exact, as a basis for a novel, then writing a history of those events in detail to validate the..."

"Did you make your phone call?" Marc asked as he came back from the kitchen.

He set the drinks down then sat in his chair.

"Oh shit! I didn't!" Sam grabbed his phone off the table.

He dialed home on the private line. A groggy Josh answered. "Sammy?"

"Hi baby. Did I wake you?"

"Uh huh, but that's ok. I wanted you to call."

"I'm sorry I woke you. Been in bed long?"

Marc watched Sam rub his bare left hand ring finger as he talked. He had no idea who it was on the other end of the line.

"I don't know," Josh mumbled. "When you're not in bed with me it seems like a million years."

"That's sweet darlin'." Sam spoke candidly, and forgot for the time that he wasn't alone as he talked.

Marc busied himself with the evening paper, but he listened to every word.

"So when ya comin' home Angel?" Josh asked.

"I'll be on my way in about five minutes. Gonna use the bathroom then I'm outta here. Is that ok?"

"I'll try to stay awake for you," Josh said softly. "I wanna kiss you good-night."

"Go back to sleep. I'll wake you when I get home so you can kiss me good-night and I can kiss you good-night."

"Promise?"

"Couldn't sleep without your good-night kiss sweetheart. I'll be home soon," Sam said.

"Ok. I love you Angel."

"I love you too."

Sam clicked the phone shut and set it back on the table. He smiled without any self-consciousness. "Thanks for reminding me about that call Marc. If I hadn't made it...well, let's just say it's a good thing I did."

In the few months Sam and Marc had played racquetball they knew almost nothing about the other's personal life. They couldn't talk on the court, chose NOT to talk in the showers and afterwards, in the juice bar, they went over their games play-by-play. For some reason it never occurred to them to delve into the other's personal life and they never socialized outside of their racquetball games.

Sam said he was an attorney for the Democratic Party and left it at that. Marc said he owned and tended a bar, when he wanted to, and lived off a trust fund. Neither mentioned a partner, neither asked.

Marc knew a 'Josh' existed, but didn't know if Josh was a roommate, a brother, a friend, a lover...Sam didn't offer the information so Marc didn't push. Similarly, there were no photographs of anybody in Marc's house to indicate friends or family and he never spoke of either. But Marc knew the phone call Sam had made tonight was very intimate and he was curious who had been the lucky person who heard the words, "I love you too."

They both chugged the latest drinks Marc brought out because Sam said, "I really, really need to go home. But I'll tell you what, I'd pay a million dollars if I could go to sleep in that chair. It's the most comfortable chair I've ever...I already said that didn't I?" Sam grinned. "And I'm so fucking relaxed now...finally. I was starting to get a migraine."

"Why don't you just crash here for the night?" Marc suggested. "I'll grab a blanket and you can just close your eyes and melt in that recliner and be asleep in about 10 seconds."

Sam squinted his eyes and in his best Dustin Hoffman imitation said, "Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"

Marc didn't laugh.

There was an awkward silence.

"Sounds tempting Marc, but I've got someone waiting for me at home. Can't go to sleep until I say good-night. You know how it is." Sam looked around the empty house. "I guess you know how it is. I need to leave."

Marc smiled. "Sure, no problem Sam. I didn't mean anything by it. I was just offering my chair...my house. I'm sorry if I offended you."

Sam laughed. "Don't be ridiculous. I was just considering it. No problem."

"So we're on for..." Marc asked.

"Yep."

Sam picked up his phone and stood. He took two steps and his knees buckled. He was on the floor looking directly into the aquarium. There had to be at least four thousand fish in there. Sam's head, which seemed relatively clear just a few seconds ago, was now mush, at best.

Marc leaned over. "Sam! Sam! Saaaaaaam!"

Somewhere off in the distance Sam thought he heard his name being called. He tried to focus on one particular angelfish to get control of his senses. Then he lost sight of the angelfish and he lost sight of himself.

"Saaaaam!" That far-off voice again. It echoed in his head and bounced around, a ping-pong ball in slow motion. The voice sailed across the galaxy in his skull like a comet with a tail trailing behind. His eyes shifted back and forth and followed the comet tail into the aquarium, but he could never catch up with the voice, and it never became clear enough to identify. Marc shook Sam's shoulder.

Sam took a slurred, hopeful guess. "Josh?"

"Sam! It's Marc!"

Sam finally came around, somewhat. He looked at Marc through eyes that somehow were all of a sudden bleary and watery, and spoke in a voice that was husky and a throat that was dry and rough. "Yeah?"

"Where are you Sam?" The voice still sounded distant, but at least he knew who it was. "Do you know where you are?"

"On my knees." Sam asked.

"On your knees where?"

"On the floor."

"Did that Rattlesnake bite you yet?"

Marc leaned forward and looked into Sam's eyes. They were glazed and bloodshot, but at least they hadn't rolled back into his head. He was conscious. Pretty Boy was now the poster boy for "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

"If you'll just help me up I'll be on my way," Sam said, the words thick. "Water?"

Sam had no concept of time because instantly Marc was there with a bottle of Evian. Sam didn't even know he had left. He tried to open the bottle but couldn't get the top off and handed it back to Marc. Marc twisted it off and put the bottle in Sam's hand and made sure Sam's hand was securely wrapped around it before he let go. Sam guzzled the water to get rid of his cottonmouth. Again, water bubbled out of his mouth and ran down his chin but he didn't seem to notice this time.

"How many fish do you have in there?" he asked.

"About seventeen million," Marc told him.

"Yeah, I thought about that many." Sam watched the fish a few minutes more then said, "I've really gotta get home. Gimme a hand up?"

Marc tried to help Sam stand, but his legs were like rubber and he just couldn't keep him on his feet. Each time his knees buckled and he went back down to the floor. With each fall be became more and more disoriented until he could barely keep his eyes open.

"Sam, I really think you need to stay here or let me take you home or call a cab or a friend to come pick you up. You can't even stand up, or SIT up, for that matter, without falling over. There's no way you can drive. You'll kill yourself and who knows how many you'll take out with you."

"Marc?"

"Hmmm?"

"What do you think about mandatory seat belt laws?" Sam asked.

"What do I think? I don't. Not about that. Not now. You are SO wasted."

"I'm fine."

"Besides, you'll never find your car keys."

"Yes I will. They're in my, uh, my pocket on the table." Sam fumbled around in his pants' pockets.

"Don't bother Sam, I've got them."

"You've got them what?"

"I've got them keys," Marc answered.

Sam laughed. That struck him as especially funny.

"I've got them keys," he repeated and laughed some more. "Do you know what Toby would do to me if I wrote something like that? I've got them keys."

"Who's Toby?"

"My boss."

"Your boss where Sam?"

"My boss at work."

"Who do you work for Sam?"

Sam smiled. "You're not going to believe this Marc, but I work for you."

Marc frowned then gave him a half-smile.

"See, said you wouldn't believe me. People never believe us."

"So, who shall I call for you Sam? If you're sure I can't convince you to stay here or let me drive you. Or stay here. Why don't you just stay here? It's nearly morning anyway."

"Oh shit. No, I wanna go home." Sam started to slowly slump over onto the floor. "Uh...call...call Josh." Sam fell the rest of the way onto the floor. "No, call CJ. CJ said always first call. No, not CJ. Flatten me like a blue pancake." Sam started to laugh again, which got Marc started too.

"Blue pancakes?"

"Yeah, and green ones and red and...it's a long story. Hey, I'm ok to drive."

"Stand up and say that," Marc challenged.

Sam laid flat on the floor but he couldn't move any part of him, not even his eyes.

"Ok, so call Toby. Can I get something, uh, something else to, um, drink? A beer maybe."

"You sure you want a beer?" Marc asked.

"Sure. Shaken, not stirred. Wait, not shaken. Stirred. Yeah, hold the olive."

Marc must have left, although Sam didn't remember him going to the kitchen, although he was back in what seemed like less than a second with another bottle of ice cold Evian.

"Here Cobra drink this." He held Sam's head up so he wouldn't spill it on himself.

"What's it?" Sam asked.

"Just a bottle of water," Marc replied.

"Bottle of beer?"

"No, a bottle of water. Evian."

"Ya know," said Sam, "Evian spelled backward is naive. Did you know that?"

"I never really thought of it before, but I guess you're right."

"Marc, I really wanna go home now, please, help me get home."

"I'll make a deal with you Pretty Boy. If you can walk by yourself as far as my bedroom, I'll give you your car keys and you can drive yourself home. Deal? That'll prove to me you're sober enough to make your own decisions."

"Yeah, ok. Deal." Sam struggled to get up off the floor, but he couldn't even stand up. Each time his knees gave out and he went back down, just as Marc had said he would. Finally he gave up.

"I'm sorry Marc, I tried. But I just can't make, uh, you know, to your bedroom. Can I go home now? I wanna see my..."

"See your what?" Marc asked.

"Uh, see my, my, uh, my own bed."

Marc looked at Sam and knew there was more to his answer the he wasn't going to give up. "Sure, no problem," he said. "Who do you want me to call? Josh, CJ or Toby? Or do you want me to drive you?"

"Josh. I want Josh. Get my phone and I'll call him. Better that way."

"Ok, give me one second. Just count the fish."

"Yeah, ok."

Sam lay on the floor and closed his eyes, but when he opened them the room spun and he had to grab onto the floor to keep from falling off. So he just stared at the ceiling and tried to remember his own phone number.

When Marc returned he sat on the floor and put Sam's head in his lap. He stroked Sam's hair and forehead and Sam either didn't notice or didn't mind. Marc had rolled another joint, this one smaller than the first and straight pot, not laced with any extras. He handed Sam his phone. "You want me to dial for you?" he asked.

Silence.

Sam?" Marc shook Sam's shoulder. "Sam?"

Sam jumped at the touch and sound of his name. "Josh?"

"No Sam, it's Marc. You're gonna call Josh. Here's your phone. Do you know the number?"

"Yeah. You were...my hair. It was nice...I thought...was Josh."

Sam was about to pass out. Now Marc was nervous. He hadn't meant for it to go this far. What he didn't know was how run down Sam was to begin with, that he'd only wolfed down half a chicken salad sandwich and a Milky Way bar all day, then played two hours of extreme racquetball when he was supposed to be in bed. Instead, he'd drank ~~ how many? ~~ too many, extremely alcoholic beverages in a short period of time and very quickly, and smoked a large amount of marijuana laced with fair amounts of pure opium, hashish and a touch of LSD. Marc also didn't know Sam hadn't used street drugs of any kind for several years, and now in this moment of weakness had just thrown his hard-earned clean time out the window. If Marc had known all this, they would have had a fruit smoothie at the gym and he would have followed Sam home to make sure he didn't fall asleep while driving. He really did like Sam.

Sam held the phone over his head and speed dialed home. It was answered before the first ring finished.

A breathy, rushed voice spoke. "Josh Lyman."

"S'me."

"Sammy, Angel. You ok? I was worried. It's late."

"Sorry you worried. Didn't mean to be out...I'm sorry..."

"You headed home now?"

"Ready come home...I want come home but Josh, I think...I might...need a ride. Had a couple drinks...better not drive." Sam couldn't get out a complete sentence.

"Are you drunk?" Josh asked, as he pulled on his jeans and grabbed a sweatshirt.

"Drunk? Naaahhh. Not even close. Nowhere NEAR drunk. Unsteady, that's all." Sam reached for the joint Marc offered him.

"Where are you?" Josh asked.

"On the floor."

"WHERE on the floor? And why are you on the floor? Are you ok Sam?" Josh' s worry turned to alarm. This didn't sound right. "Who's floor are you on?"

"Marc's."

"What's the address?"

"Don't know."

Josh heard a voice in the background and realized Sam wasn't about to retain or relay information. The next voice he heard wasn't Sam's.

"Hey, I'm Marc, Sam's racquetball partner. Let me give you my address."

Josh bristled. The last person he wanted to talk with ~~ or listen to ~~ was Marc.

"Go ahead." Josh was short and rude with Marc.

"It's two-fourteen Aldridge, just off Lambada. Do you know where that is?"

"I'll find it. Apartment?"

"No," Marc answered, "it's a house in a cul-de-sac. Brick, one level, American flag out front, black Range Rover in the driveway and of course, you'll see Sam's car."

"Of course. Hey...Marc...what have you done to Sam?"

"I haven't done anything to him. He just played too hard and had a little too much alcohol on an empty stomach. He'll probably be sleeping like a baby when you get here."

Josh's voice took on a tone even HE didn't know he had. "He'd better be. Let me talk to him again."

Marc took the joint from Sam's mouth and gave him back his phone.

"Josh?"

"Sammy, I'm on my way to get you. Just relax and DO NOT drink anything else, do you understand?"

"Uh huh."

"Say it."

"DO NOT drink anything else." He reached for the joint. "Can I have some water?" "Water's ok. No more alcohol. I'm on my way."

"Yeah, ok, so Josh, coming now? Right?"

"Right this minute," Josh assured him. "Don't move Sam. I'm gonna hang up now. You do the same thing. Hang up the phone Angel."

Click.

No 'ok', no 'good-bye', 'see ya soon'. He just did as he was told and hung up the phone. Josh literally ran to his car to go find Sam and bring him home.

"Keeps you on a short leash, huh?" Marc asked.

Sam laid the side of his face on Marc's leg and looked upward at the fish, totally lost in his own world.

"Sam? I asked you a question."

"Huh? Lost count. What'd you say?"

"I said he keeps you on a short leash, doesn't he?"

"Who?"

"Josh. Your..."

"My what?"

Sam wasn't playing games. He just did his best to answer the questions.

"Your brother?"

Sam laughed. "Josh isn't my brother. That's funny."

"Your roommate?"

"I don't have a roommate."

"Your friend?"

"What? What friend?"

"Is Josh your friend?"

"Hell yeah! Josh is my best friend!"

We're not getting anywhere here, Marc thought. He's WAY too messed up to get any information out of tonight.

"Can I get, um, to drink? Mouth so dry."

"Sure, and one more joint before your 'friend' gets here?"

"Already rolled?" Sam asked with a grin.

Like a magician, Marc pulled a joint from behind Sam's ear.

"How'd you do that? You, you never cease to, to, to amaze me. I mean that."

"Just keep thinking that way Sam. Don't ever forget that I amaze you." He handed Sam an opened bottle of water and the lit joint. "Can you sit up?"

Sam took a huge toke and laughed. "No way. Never get off this floor. Noooooo way!"

Marc smiled. Oh how he wished that were true. "Ok by me Pretty Boy. Wanna call Josh back and tell him to forget it?"

"No, I want Josh. I wanna go home."

Marc held Sam's head up and helped him drink the water. He ran his fingers up through Sam's hair and let his hand linger there longer than he needed to. He wanted so badly to kiss him, but with Sam, he could never tell when he might have moments of lucidity and he didn't want to take that chance.

Instead, he sat cross-legged on the floor with Sam's head in his lap. He stroked Sam's forehead and played with his hair and wished whoever Josh was would never arrive.

He looked down at Sam. Eyes closed, face smooth and relaxed, the slightest smile on his face.

"You," Marc said softly, "look like an angel."

Chapter 21

Josh was relatively familiar with the area and it was no problem to find Marc's house. There, he didn't knock on the door ~~ he banged on it with his fist. Both Sam and Marc jumped at the explosion in the quietness.

"Holy shit!" Marc said. "The whole cul-de-sac is gonna answer their doors. Is this guy a maniac?"

"No," Sam sighed, "he just loves me."

Marc let Sam's head rest gently on the floor then opened the door.

"Where's Sam?" Josh asked gruffly.

"Right in here. I'm Marc." He extended his arm for a handshake but Josh ignored it. Marc shrugged it off, stepped aside and waved Josh in.

Josh was immediately hit by the blast of marijuana smoke. It not only filled his nostrils and burned his eyes, he saw how it hung in the room ~~ layer upon layer, it floated in the air and rippled only when someone walked through and upset the stillness. He looked down and saw Sam on the floor, flat on his back, an empty water bottle on his stomach, half an unlit joint between his lips. His eyes were closed and he had a goofy grin on his face. Josh picked up the empty glass next to him, sniffed it and set it back on the floor.

"We had a couple of blender drinks," Marc offered. "Sam called them 'girlie ' drinks."

Marc tried hard to get some sort of positive response from Josh but Josh totally ignored him.

Josh kneeled next to Sam and removed the joint from his lips and tossed it off to the side and didn't care where it landed. He picked up the empty water bottle and did the same. He felt like Sam had been used as a trash pile and that enraged him. But he kept his anger in check, for now. He gently put his hand on Sam's cheek and leaned close to his face.

"Sam?" he spoke softly. "Sam, can you hear me?"

Silence.

He patted Sam's face and rubbed his cheek. "Sam!" He spoke louder. "It's Josh! Sam, wake up for me!"

Sam came around and shook his head. He tried to get his bearings but his head spun and the room spun and he didn't know where he was.

"Sam!"

He did, however, recognize Josh's voice and the feel of his hand on his cheek. He reached up and put his hand on Josh's.

"Josh? You here?"

"Yeah Angel, I'm here."

"Josh, I wanna go home."

"That's what I'm here for. I'm taking you home right now." Josh cradled Sam's head against him and with lips against Sam's ear, spoke softly so Marc couldn't hear what he said. He stroked Sam's hair occasionally and Sam would nod in agreement with whatever it was Josh said to him. Marc stood silently and watched the intimate interaction between the two.

Josh pulled back a little. "Sammy, do you feel kinda ok or do you feel really rough?"

"Not so good." He leaned his face into Josh's hand. "If you'll just help me up..."

Josh put his arm behind Sam's back as they struggled to get him into a sitting position.

"Whoa! That was a trip!" Sam laughed. "Marc said, 'spend the night, spend the night' so guess should so you wouldn't, didn't, you stay in bed."

Josh tried to figure out what Sam said, then turned and glared at Marc. "Yeah, I'll bet he did."

"He was gonna get me a...a...a blanket, and let me, my head in his lap."

"What a guy." Josh still hadn't taken his eyes off Marc.

"Yeah, what a guy," Sam repeated.

"Ok Cheech, think you can stand up now?" Josh asked. He kept his hand on Sam's back for support.

Sam laughed. "You called me Cheech. That's funny. Cheech! Know what Marc calls me? Pretty Boy!"

Josh couldn't even look at Marc. He knew if he did somebody would end up in the emergency room and somebody would end up in jail, and Josh didn't want to call Toby to bail him out of jail this night.

"I'm gonna put my arms under yours and hoist you up and you grab on to that chair there for support, ok? Can you do that Sam?"

"Yeah, ok. I'll count to three then go," Sam responded.

"Ok. You do that."

"Ok. Ready Josh?"

"Ready Sam."

"Onetwothreego!"

Sam pushed himself off and up away from the floor and Josh pulled and together they got Sam to a standing position. He seemed to be made of Jell-O.

"There," Sam said, "we did it."

Then his knees buckled again and he was back on the floor. Sam closed his eyes and fell forward until he leaned against Josh and wrapped his arms around Josh's waist. Josh instinctively put both his hands on the top of Sam's head and ran his fingers through Sam's hair. A feeling surged through Josh that he needed to protect Sam, not just from this man, but from all the bad people that wanted to take advantage of him. He pulled Sam's head closer to him.

Both he and Marc knew it was a stand-off as to who would speak first. Marc had nothing to lose ~~ he was already home and could go to bed any time he wanted. So it was left to Josh to swallow his pride and ask for help. He wouldn't have done it for anyone else but Sam.

"Hey Marc," he finally said, "you wanna give me a hand and get Sam into the car?"

"Sure, all you had to do was ask."

"Sam, " Josh said, "we're gonna stand up now, and this time for sure."

"Can I show you, uh, something first?" Sam asked.

"What?"

"This fuckin' fish thing...five thousand gallons of water...three thousand eight hundred seventy-two fuckin' fish. I counted. Twice. To make sure. Ain't it cool? Can we get one?"

Josh looked at the aquarium then looked at Marc. Marc smiled and shrugged.

Josh didn't smile back.

Between Josh and Marc they were able to get Sam into Josh's car. The whole way out the door and to the car Sam, being the polite and gracious guest he is, continued to thank Marc because he had him over and showed him a good time.

Once he had Sam in the passenger seat, Josh leaned across him to buckle Sam' s seatbelt. Sam kissed him on the cheek and grinned.

"I love you Oshie," he said.

Josh turned and was grateful to see Marc had gone back inside his house. He kissed Sam's cheek.

"I love you too baby," he said. "Now, if you're gonna puke, tell me in plenty of time, ok?"

Sam nodded and laid his head back against the seat.

Josh pulled out of the driveway and was half-way down the block when he stopped.

"Where's your phone Sam?"

Sam looked around the car, turned to check in the back seat, and when he opened the glove compartment, Josh slammed it shut. Sam jumped at the sudden move and loud noise.

"It's not in there Sam! Where's your goddamn phone?"

Josh grabbed Sam by the back of his neck and squeezed, maybe a bit too hard, as Sam's hand reached to his neck to find the source of his pain. For some reason, Josh didn't let up on his grip.

"I don't...can't remem...Josh, I don't know...maybe at Marc's...at Marc's. My phone's at Marc's. By the fish tank. Right by the fish."

Josh backed down the street and into the driveway, turned off the ignition, got out of the car and slammed the door behind him. Again, he banged on Marc's front door with his fist. Marc took his time to answer, which further angered Josh. Finally he opened the door and looked surprised to see who stood on his front porch.

"Something wrong?" he asked.

"Sam's phone is here, by the fish tank. I'd like to have it," Josh said tersely.

"Come on in." Marc stepped aside.

Josh looked around the aquarium but couldn't find the phone. "Did Sam sit on the couch or in a chair?" he asked.

"That leather recliner most of the time. He had it fully reclined and that's where he called you from the first time. Feel free to check it out."

"I will." Josh felt down the sides, on the floor around it and even pulled the chair out into the middle of the room to see beneath it. No phone. He didn't bother to put the chair back the way he'd found it. He checked all the other furniture in the living room.

Josh stood with his hands on his hips, frustrated. "He said it was by the fish tank. He called me from there."

They both looked all around the aquarium. Josh even looked IN the aquarium, but there was no phone.

"Marc," Josh finally said, "it's extremely important for Sam to have his phone at all times. Do you mind if I look around a little? Sam could have wandered around and left it anywhere. Would you mind?"

"Help yourself. Check out my house from top to bottom. Toss it if you want to," he said sarcastically. "Sam could have gone to the bathroom or...anywhere. I'll help you look."

Josh did a quick check of the kitchen and bathroom and it didn't take him long to find what he had come back for. The phone was on the bedside table in Marc's bedroom. The bed was un-made and unkempt. Josh picked up the phone and double-checked to make sure it was Sam's. It was.

He turned to Marc. "How'd this get in here?" he asked.

Marc shrugged.

"Don't give me that innocent shit. How'd Sam's phone get in this bedroom?"

"Hey, I didn't babysit Sam every minute he was here. He could have brought it in here at any time. He's a big boy."

Josh took a step toward Marc. "What are you trying to do?"

"What are you talking about? And I think its time for you to go now that you found your phone."

"I'll go when I'm ready to go. Why'd you want Sam to come to your house instead of just staying at the gym? Didn't he say he was tired?"

Silence.

"Well, didn't he?" Josh moved another step closer to Marc.

"Yeah, but I didn't notice any objections to come home with me."

"What'd you give him to drink?"

"Just an ice cream blender drink. Ladies drink them. No big deal," Marc replied.

"Just how many of these 'no big deals' did Sam drink?"

Marc didn't answer quickly enough.

"How many?" Josh demanded.

"Shit man! I don't know! Five or six maybe. I lost count. He never turned one down though."

Josh moved a step closer and Marc moved a step away.

"Did you drink too?" Josh asked.

"Glass for glass," Marc answered.

"Then how come you're not drunk?"

Marc shrugged.

"Will you stop that with your fucking shoulders? I'm so sick of your non-answers and I've only known you fifteen minutes! Now tell me why you're not drunk and Sam can't stand up!"

Marc suddenly looked somewhat nervous. He felt sure Josh would physically hurt him with little or no provocation.

"I just don't like as much alcohol in mine as the recipe calls for," Marc explained.

"Is that right?" Josh sneered.

"So I just made the 'lite' version for myself."

"Asshole. Now what in God's name were you thinking to mix pot and what appears to be a 'lot' of alcohol when you know the man is already tired? You knew it would double, at the very least, the potency."

"Hey, I smoke in the privacy of my own home. I rolled one, gave Sam the opportunity to say yes or no and he couldn't get his hands on it fast enough. He's of legal age to drink so I figured he could make his own decision about smoking too."

"Is pot the only drug he had?"

Silence. Then Marc asked, "Are you his attorney or something?"

"Yes I am."

Silence.

"Marc, tomorrow I'm going to have a sample of Sam's hair analyzed at the most accurate toxicology lab in the country and I'll get the results back within minutes. I'll know everything in that boy's body down to what flavor Tic Tac he's had in the last six months. Believe me, if there's a chemical other THC, I'll know it. And then I'm gonna come back over here with the results and a couple of Federal Marshals and we'll discuss those results. Or do you just wanna go talk to the Federal Marshals tonight? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Marc nodded. "I understand."

"So what'd you give him?"

"Marijuana, laced with opium and a little hash. And maybe a touch of acid. Not much acid though. Maybe a quarter, maybe a third of a tab. That's all. I swear. He smoked a lot though."

Josh clinched and unclenched his fists the whole time Marc talked. In his mind he tried to calculate the punishment for assault. It just might be worth it.

"The phone?" he continued.

"What if I told you it was in my bedroom because Sam and I had consensual sex in my bed and he loved it?" Marc asked casually.

Josh felt his face turn red. The rage was so strong he couldn't see, but he was in control. Thank God, he thought, I'm in control.

"Would you repeat the question please?" Josh asked.

"What if I told you it was in my bedroom because Sam and I had consensual sex in my bed and he loved it?"

Josh gave his cocky smile and stared directly into Marc's eyes.

"I know you didn't," Josh replied. "When I was close to Sam I smelled him and I knew he hadn't had sex. I can always smell when Sam has had sex, and he was clean. We both know I don't need to give you a warning about never seeing Sam again. You'll need to change your gym membership tomorrow."

Josh started to leave the bedroom. At the door he stopped and turned back.

"Are you a Democrat or a Republican?" he asked.

"Republican, why?"

Josh smiled and shook his head.

"Go to hell."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 22

Josh woke first. Sam clung to him like a Koala bear to a eucalyptus tree, his arms and legs wrapped tightly around Josh. Josh loved the feel of their bare bodies against each other like this. He loved when they couldn't get any closer unless they were making love, when one was inside the other and they were connected in body as much as in spirit and soul. He wished they could stay this way forever ~~ this close, this peaceful, this much in love. It was during these quiet times when he and Sam were entwined in each others' arms, Josh realized just how blessed he was. He knew how much he loved Sam, and since their wedding he had absolutely no doubt Sam loved him just as much. Despite everything that had happened in his life, Josh considered himself the most fortunate man in the world.

Sam shifted next to him and moved his leg a little so it fit better into a tiny space left open between him and Josh.

Josh kissed Sam on the forehead. "Sammy?" he said softly. "You awake Angel?"

"Ummmmm..."

Josh stroked Sam's cheek with his thumb. Scratchy stubble. As much as he loved the clean-shaven Sam, the occasional rough-faced Sam between his legs did it for him big time because he didn't get it that often. He put his hand against the back of Sam's neck and pulled him in closer. "I love you Sam."

"Ummmmm...you too."

"Are you warm enough?"

"You're warm enough for me." Sam's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Are you my Angel?"

"Yeah."

He sounded so young. Josh had been scared last night. He knew Sam was at Marc's for a drink, but he had no idea at the time what Marc had done to him. Josh continued to beat himself up because he didn't go over there when Sam first called so things wouldn't have gotten out of hand. But it sounded innocent at the time and Josh hadn't suspected anything. It made Josh cringe to think of Sam being plied with drinks with more than usual alcohol and marijuana mixed with who knows what. He wondered if Sam had ever even smoked pot before. They'd never even talked about it. To be so brilliant, sometimes Sam could be so stupid.

"Sam, how do you feel this morning?" he asked. "I feel good."

"You know we gotta talk about last night, don't you?" Josh continued.

Silence.

"Sam?" Josh massaged Sam's neck. "Did you hear me?" Josh spoke softly. He didn't want to disrupt the morning's peaceful solitude.

Sam didn't say anything, but Josh could felt Sam move against him. He kissed Sam's head and let his lips linger in his hair.

Sam raised his left hand and wiggled his ring finger. Josh wrapped his finger around Sam's and they hooked up and stayed hooked up.

"Do you hate me?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, can't you tell?" Josh laughed.

"Josh, you know when I get drunk I can't remember anything. I don't know what happened last night. Just that we decided to go to Marc's for a drink. I remember part of the first drink and that's it."

"Well darlin', you had one hell of a night. I'm gonna tell you because you need to know."

Josh told Sam everything that happened the night before ~~ the strong drinks, the joints laced with illegal street drugs, the phone in the bedroom ~~ everything. And there were still things even Josh didn't know.

Sam didn't say a word the whole time. He just listened. While he told the story Josh continually had his hand on Sam to comfort him. He rubbed his arm or his head or his back ~~ anything to reassure him he hadn't done anything wrong and Josh still loved him as much or more than he ever did.

"...then somehow I got you home and the first thing I did was put your ring on your finger because you're MINE and I needed both of us to go to bed and wake up this morning with these rings on," Josh continued.

Sam kissed their hooked fingers when Josh talked about their rings. He let part of Josh's ring finger slip into his mouth and gently sucked on it while Josh talked on. "Then I got you up here and undressed, which was a major job. I just dropped you on the floor and undressed you like a rag doll." Josh felt Sam smile, even with Josh's finger in his mouth. "You and your clothes reeked of pot so I gave you a nice hot bubble bath."

"You did?" Sam's words were muffled.

"I did. In fact, to keep you from drowning, I just got in the tub with you. I sat behind you and you lay back against my chest and that's how I washed most of you, then we switched places and that's how I washed the rest of you. And I shampooed your hair and dunked you under the water until bubbles came out of your mouth."

"Then what?" Sam's voice became more child-like and it became apparent to Josh that Sam was in a place where he needed Josh's full attention and to be nurtured, that he'd experienced something bad, something he couldn't even remember, and he now turned to the one person he trusted most in this world to let his guard down, to show his vulnerabilities, to have the luxury to become young, safe, free of embarrassment, shame, or fear. Instead, he had the freedom to slip into whomever he needed to be to get his needs fulfilled and he knew Josh would be there to satisfy him emotionally, no matter what it took.

"Then I wrapped you up in a giant towel and made you brush your teeth twice and floss and use mouthwash."

"What about my plaque buster?"

"Nope, didn't use the plaque buster last night. You can use it this morning."

"Ok." That peaceful solitude returned for a few seconds. Then, "Thank you Josh. Uh, Josh?"

"Hmmmm?"

"Next time try to remember to use the plaque buster too, ok?"

"Yeah, ok," Josh laughed.

They lay in silence. Josh massaged Sam's neck and Sam began to run his hand up and down Josh's thigh.

"Then what?" Sam asked.

"Well, you were real unsteady on your feet so I..."

"Why?"

"Why what?" Josh asked.

" Why was I real unsteady on my feet?"

"Sam, you really have no idea what happened last night? Nothing?"

"Nothing."

Silence.

"Josh, I'm cold."

Josh unwrapped one arm and reached for another blanket and covered Sam and himself. He pulled the cover up to Sam's chin and tucked him in.

"Better babe?"

Sam nodded.

"Ok, we've only got a little while because we have to get to work."

"Work! Today? It's Sunday!" Sam was genuinely surprised.

"No, it's Wednesday."

Sam looked at the clock. "Shit! It's nine o'clock Josh!"

"Relax. Toby has us at a bogus meeting but we need to get there pretty soon."

"Oh man, you told Toby? I feel so stupid."

"Sam, I told you to let it go. We'll talk about this when we get home tonight. Right now we need to get up and dressed."

"Will you love me first?"

"I always love you Sam."

"You know, bring yourself inside and love me."

"Angel, I'd give the world to make love to you right now, but we have to get to the WHITE HOUSE and run this country." Josh reminded him.

Sam whimpered.

Josh laughed at Sam's attempt to keep Josh in bed. "Come on. The sooner we get there the sooner we can come home and tangle ourselves together in this bed again and I'll love you inside and out. Can you wait that long?"

Sam shook his head. "I need you now."

Josh pulled Sam's face to his and kissed him gently on his lips. "Later sugar. I promise."

"Please Josh, I need you to love me now. Please?"

Josh thought of all the times he'd said, 'I need you Sam' and Sam had dropped whatever he was doing and come to Josh and gave Josh whatever he needed, without question.

Josh rose up and kicked the covers off him and Sam. He pushed Sam flat on his back and straddled him, then leaned over and kissed him. Sam's lips parted willingly when Josh's tongue slid its way into Sam's mouth. They sucked on each other's tongues in a feverish rush as though it was the first and last time their lips had ever touched or ever would again.

Josh pulled his tongue from Sam's mouth and Sam licked his lips. He hungered for any taste of Josh he could get. Josh ran his tongue down Sam's chest and stopped to suck on his nipples. It was how Sam had imagined it while he sat in Marc's leather chair, only better. Josh licked Sam's nipples and swirled his tongue around first one then the other, then gently he nibbled on them. Finally he bit a little harder and pulled at them with his teeth and they instantly hardened. Josh then flicked his tongue on Sam's erect nipples and occasionally bit at them, which caused Sam to flinch in welcomed pain. Josh knew Sam loved this so he didn't stop, even when Sam cried out, "No, no, it hurts!" If Josh started to pull away, Sam grabbed Josh's head and pulled it back into his chest.

Josh's tongue then trailed down Sam's chest to his belly button, circled it and flicked his tongue in and out. He cupped his mouth over it and sucked, that created a vacuum and made a popping noise when he let go.

Josh lifted Sam's lower torso and shoved two pillows beneath him. He spread Sam's legs open and draped them over his shoulders and pulled him down a little on the bed and settled him in just the right position on the pillows. Then he put a third pillow in place so Sam was fully exposed.

Josh had already reached into the drawer of the bedside table for the lubricant and began to massage the gel onto his own hard and throbbing erection.

The room was silent.

Josh lubricated Sam as well and was going to prepare him with his fingers, but there was no need to. His body was accustomed to Josh's regular penetrations and Sam had already opened himself up for his lover.

Josh got on his knees and slowly at first, entered Sam. He felt Sam flinch and started to pull out, but Sam's hand immediately joined Josh's between his legs and silently urged him to put his dick back inside him. With Sam's hand on Josh's, Josh guided his throbbing penis into Sam, slowly, then with Sam's lead, a final thrust so that Sam took Josh's entire cock inside him. Josh pounded against Sam. He knew Sam wanted it like this and knew Sam could take it as much as Josh could give it.

The two fell into a syncopated rhythm as smoothly as if they were one body that moved in tandem. The silence between them was unique, as they usually shared words of intimacy and endearments when they made love, or screams of pleasure as uncontrollable desire released and sated them.

This was something different from merely making love. This was raw animal instinct, body against body, man into man, sweat mixed with sweat, semen mixed with semen, bodies arched, bucked, lurched, pounded, throbbed, bit, sucked, licked, fucked ~~ raw animal sex. There WAS nothing to say. Sam and Josh became one person.

Sam said he wanted it, so Josh let him have it. Josh exploded inside Sam as Sam came in Josh's hand and on his stomach. When they were spent they both laid still, Josh across Sam's chest, Sam totally satisfied and fulfilled. The silence continued.

Finally Josh spoke.

"Is that kinda what you had in mind?" he asked.

Sam laughed. "Did anybody ever tell you you're an over-achiever?"

"You're all sweaty Sam."

"So are you. Sweaty and sticky and icky."

"Guess we'd better take a shower before we go in to work. People might talk."

"Yep."

"Let's go. Toby can cover for us only so long, you know."

"You go first," Sam said.

"No, no, no, no, no," Josh countered. "YOU go first. And make it hot and steamy."

"No, YOU go first," Sam laughed,

"YOU go first."

"Why me?" Sam asked.

"Because I adore watching your sweet little baby butt as it waddles away from me," Josh replied.

With that, Sam pounced on Josh and the two rolled all over the bed like puppies. They threw the covers over each other's heads, tossed pillows, laughed and tickled. Each tried to push the other off the bed to be 'King of the Mountain'. Sam finally won when he used both his feet and shoved Josh to the floor, with most of the bedclothes in tow. Sam laughed and jumped off the bed, over Josh, ran to the bathroom and started the shower. He made it hot and steamy as Josh had asked, and when his lover joined him, Sam gave Josh the best blow job Josh could remember since the last time Sam had given him a blow job.

They stayed in the shower until the water turned cold then decided they'd better head for the West Wing.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 23

"Dammit Sam! How can you be so stupid?"

Sam looked out the side window of the car's passenger seat.

Josh put his hand on Sam's thigh and squeezed it with affection. "I'm sorry I yelled. You're not stupid. It's not your fault, it's not your fault." Josh was more frustrated than angry.

"That's the only place they can be Josh. I put my phone and keys on the table right by the chair where I sat. Now they're nowhere."

"They're somewhere," Josh grumbled. "They're at Marc's."

"Are you SURE they didn't fall out of my clothes last night?" Sam asked hopefully.

Josh shook his head. "You know we've looked all over the townhouse. We even turned this car inside out."

"I'm sorry. I can't say it enough. I feel like shit."

"Sam, let it go. Don't worry about it or you'll just make yourself sick. SICKER. We'll go by there after work and get your keys and your car and it'll be over and done with. It's not big deal. You're not stupid and I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry, ok?"

Sam nodded.

Josh squeezed his thigh again. He knew how badly Sam felt about the incident from the night before and now it was obvious he'd left his keys at Marc's, which made the situation worse. The plan to just stop by and have Sam drive his car out of Marc s driveway and head home now meant someone had to go to the door and ask Marc for the keys.

"You hang on today at the office and if you need me for ANYTHING, call me immediately, ok?" Josh said as they pulled into the White House parking lot.

"Yeah, ok. But I feel good," Sam replied.

"Well, just keep it that way."

Josh pulled into a parking spot and turned off the ignition. They sat there for a minute quietly.

"I don't wanna leave you," Josh finally said.

"Me neither," replied Sam. "After this morning, it just doesn't seem right that we have to pretend like we, like we're just friends inside that building. Sometimes when I see you I wanna just put my arms around you and I can't and Josh, you know what? That really hurts."

Josh looked at Sam but he didn't touch him this time. He couldn't put his hand on his leg and comfort like like he wanted to. There was no way to tell who might see them.

"It hurts me too Angel. But we've gotta do what we've gotta do. And just keep it in your head that you'll be going home with the guy that brung ya." He smiled at Sam and winked. Sam smiled back. They both knew they could get through another day.

As they entered the West Wing Sam and Josh each went to their own offices. Neither of them wanted to leave the other, but they had no choice and couldn't make it obvious how difficult it was. They could say nothing more than "See ya later" as they went their separate ways.

"Hi Sam," Cathy said as he wound his way through the bullpen.

"Hi Sam," Bonnie echoed.

"Good morning Sam," said Ginger.

Sam walked on as if the room were empty. He went into his office, closed and locked the door behind him.

Cathy looked at him oddly when he passed. Sam was always friendly and in good spirits and never failed to make small talk, pay a compliment or ask for his messages. She wondered if she should knock on his door and offer to give his messages to him. She knocked tentatively on his door. No answer. She knocked a little louder.

"Who's there?" Sam called from inside.

"Sam? It's me, Cathy. I have some messages for you. I think you need to see a couple of them. May I come in?"

"Uh, sure Cathy, just a second." Sam unlocked the door and opened it. "Come on in. I'm sorry I ignored you. Good morning."

"Good morning Sam. How was your meeting?"

"Hmmmmm?" He looked at her, obviously distracted.

"About the Alaskan drilling. You've been there all morning with Josh. Earth to Sam?"

"Yeah. It was...it was ok. Not much to it really. Nothing we haven't heard before. Anything else besides these messages?"

"No, except Toby wants to know when you get in," Cathy answered.

"Is he in his office now?"

"No, he's at a thing, but you're supposed to page him and let him know you're here. A couple of other messages in that stack need attention too. I put them on top."

"Ok, thanks. Oh Cathy, take messages unless it's Toby or Josh. Or the President. And close the door behind you, please. Thanks Cathy."

Cathy shut the door when she left Sam's office and heard it lock behind her. She wondered if she should say something to CJ. This just wasn't normal behavior for Sam.

Sam hung up his jacket and paged Toby. He typed: "Robin's in the BatCave." and disconnected. He wondered if that would satisfy Toby or if Toby would call him back. Just at that moment the phone rang.

Sam answered, "BatCave, Robin speaking."

"What if this wasn't me?"

"But it IS you," Sam countered and smiled.

"What if it wasn't?"

"But it is!"

"What if it wasn't?"

"That's a moot point because it IS you. We have no argument here." Sam loved to debate Toby when he knew Toby couldn't win.

"It could just as easily been someone important."

"Toby, did you just say you don't think you're important? Sounds like a self-esteem problem to me. I think we need an intervention. I'll call Josh and CJ and Leo and..."

"Game's over Sam. How do you feel this morning?"

"Great. Good. Great. Couldn't be better." Do I sound like I need to convince Toby or myself? Sam wondered.

"I'll be out of this thing in about ten minutes and back in my office. You be in YOUR office because I'm gonna drop by for a visit, ok?" Toby said.

"Sure, I'll be here."

"Thank you Sam. Please see that you are."

"In fact, I'll go to the Men's BatRoom right now and get that out of the way." Sam couldn't resist.

Toby sighed. "Are you gonna be like this all day? Don't answer. Let it be a surprise. Ten minutes."

Sam hung up and turned to look out his window. He stuck his hands in his pants pockets and just looked. He's sure he must have thought about something as he stood there, but if someone were to ask him later what it was, he wouldn't have known. He stared out the window until a knock on the door startled him back to the present. He unlocked and opened the door to find Toby with a large plastic bag. Ten minutes had passed already? He'd just stood there and looked out the window for ten minutes?

"May I come in?" Toby asked when Sam just stood there.

"Yeah, sure Toby. Come on in."

Sam was definitely on slow motion auto pilot today. He closed the door behind Toby and started to lock it.

"I don't think that's necessary," Toby said. "I've heard this place is relatively secure."

Toby sat in a visitor's chair and set the bag on the chair beside him. "Sit," he ordered. "Make a space."

"What?"

"Move stuff over. I brought lunch for us and I don't want you to spill anything on your work. You DO have work on your desk, don't you?"

Sam reached into his bottom desk drawer and brought out a stack of paper napkins and covered his entire desk while Toby watched with amusement.

Fastidious Sam ~~ ya gotta love him for all his idiosyncrasies.

Toby brought out two turkey sandwiches on whole wheat piled high with lettuce and tomato, two cartons of potato salad, Caesar salads, fruit cups and bottled water.

"Do we expect company?" Sam asked. "Look at this spread."

"Nope, just the two of us. We need to put some weight on your bones, oh little fighter of Republicans, if you want to be my sidekick. When was the last time you ate?"

Sam's mouth was stuffed with turkey and he couldn't speak. He mumbled something and finally shrugged that he didn't know. When he was able to talk he said, "I think it was day before yesterday. Maybe a candy bar yesterday. And some ice cream. I forgot."

"A comedian once says it takes a special kind of stupid to forget to eat. Sam, don't take this wrong, but you're really special." He grinned at Sam. "Now listen, this campaign hasn't even started yet and you're crucial, a key player. We're going to have twenty-five hour days, eight-day weeks, and Saturdays and Sundays won't exist. I can't have my people ~~ you ~~ crash on me before we even get the bumper stickers printed, do you hear what I'm saying? No, do you UNDERSTAND what I'm saying?"

"I'm gonna be ok Toby. I am. I am, really. I'm eating this and I'll eat a big healthy dinner and tonight I'll be in bed before ten. A full night's sleep," Sam said with assurance.

"Saying it sounds good. Doing it's a whole 'nuther ball game. I'm gonna have a talk with Josh too because he's as responsible for you as you are."

Toby instinctively turned around to make sure the door was closed. "I'm not talking pizza and McDonald's every night either. I mean vegetables and rice and fruit and protein and here." Toby reached in his pocket and pulled out a plastic bottle. "Rosemary said to take one of these every day with food."

Sam picked up the bottle. "What is it?"

"Some special kind of vitamin compound she swears by. She told me to get some for Josh and myself too. So use them, one every day. Will you?"

"I'm overwhelmed. Getting all this attention. Really though, I'm fine." Sam began to feel embarrassed the way Toby doted on him. He loved it, expected it and cherished it from Josh, but this somewhat awkward attempt of Toby's to nurture Sam, in his own way, made Sam feel uncomfortable for Toby's sake. He adored what Toby did, especially by his own accord, but he ached at how difficult it must be for him.

"Now," Toby continued, "I had the cook in the mess make a big pot of vegetable barley soup ~~ it'll simmer all day ~~ and you boys take it home tonight and it'll last a couple of days. It's really good. I've had it before but it's been a long time. I'd like to have it again sometime because it's that good. And I will...someday...I hope....because it's really good..."

"Hey Toby, I have an idea. Why don't you come over and eat supper with Josh and me tonight? We're having vegetable barley soup." Sam grinned.

"Well, uh, I'll have to check my schedule. I'll get back with you and see if I can make it. I'll let you know later. Probably can."

Damn him, Sam thought. Is he made of stone or what?

"Here Sam, eat this." Toby handed Sam a banana.

"Why?"

"I know you like bananas and they have potassium and that's good for your electrolytes or something. Rosemary said to make you eat bananas."

"Why are you doing all this for me?" Sam asked as he peeled the banana.

Toby's discomfort level elevated about 15 notches with that one question and it became painfully apparent.

"I told you. I don't wanna get stuck with all the speech writing and spontaneous remarks and every other word that's gonna come out of the President's mouth over the next, however long this thing is gonna last. If you crash and burn I'm up shit creek and that's a trip I don't wanna take. Can't you get that through your thick skull?"

Sam nodded.

"Now don't you get all...you know...and think I'm watching out for you out of some...something that might possibly have...you know...the potential to bring us..."

Sam yawned. "Excuse me."

Toby frowned. "...to bring us closer than mere superior and subordinate and..."

Sam laughed out loud.

"Toby, you are SO full of shit! Just say what you want to say."

"Alright! I'm concerned about you! There, you made me say it, are you happy now?" Toby looked away to avoid eye contact with Sam.

Silence. More silence. Uncomfortable silence.

Finally Toby couldn't stand it anymore and glanced at Sam. Sam leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, fingers laced, a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.

"What?" Toby barked defensively.

"Nothing. I just appreciate you."

Toby looked down, still unable to make eye contact with Sam. "Thank you," he said, so softly Sam could barely hear him. "I have a great deal of...for you too. You and Josh both."

Toby finally looked up and his eyes met Sam's. "You know Sam, it's just not my way...not my way to be so..." Toby stopped and picked up an unused plastic spoon. "...it's just not way to be so open and familiar with anybody. Anybody. But these past few months something has changed that and I feel somewhat ok, a reasonable amount of ok-ness, and I feel sorta different toward you two."

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you shut up?"

"Yeah, ok."

There was a knock on the door.

"Yes?"

"Ginger! May I open the door?"

"Sure Ginger! Come on in!" Sam called back.

Ginger opened the door, again with hesitancy.

"Toby, Sam, Charlie just called and said the President wants to have a meeting with the Senior Staff about pre-campaign strategy. Oval Office in thirty minutes."

"Thanks Ginger, we'll both be there," Toby responded. Then to Sam rhetorically, "What the hell is pre-campaign strategy?"

"I guess whatever we write it to be," Sam laughed and began to clear the lunch remnants from his desk.

"Don't get too full of yourself, Robin, or you'll find yourself writing your resume. I'll stop by in twenty-five minutes and we'll walk over together." He opened the door to leave.

"Toby, thanks for lunch."

Toby grunted as he walked away.

Sam closed the door and dialed Josh.

"Josh Lyman's office."

"Donna, Sam. Is Josh around?"

"Sorry Sam. He's in with Leo."

"Hmmm." He hoped the disappointment wasn't too evident in his voice. "He knows about the meeting in the Oval doesn't he?"

"Yep, I do my job pretty well around here Sam, but thanks for the heads-up."

"I'm sorry Donna. I didn't mean...just tell him I called, ok?"

"Sure Sam."

Click.

Silence.

Louder silence.

Sam felt a sudden loneliness. It was TOO quiet. And he was restless. Josh was unavailable, Toby had gone, and his office was way too empty. He looked at his watch. Not enough time to start any real work.

He knew he shouldn't, but he decided to take the risk anyway. He paged Josh in Leo's office and left the message: "YOU KNOW". Then he leaned against the edge of his desk, crossed his arms and waited. What seemed like an hour was less than a minute until his pager went off. The message read: "YOU KNOW TOO". He smiled. His and Josh's secret code for "I love you" when they couldn't say it helped a little. Sam looked at his watch and sat at his desk. He looked at his watch again. It was ten seconds later.

He'd always bragged he never had a hang-over after he drank too much alcohol the night before, and that was true. But he'd forgotten, or at least worked hard not to remember, the otherworldly pull of the drugs as they began to wear off. They were still in his system and the need for a re-fill, a fix, had just started to kick in. It was as familiar as it had been...how many years ago? And he was just starting to feel it.

A twitch here, a hardly noticeable tic there, Sam realized all of a sudden he had clenched his jaw, his leg bounced under the desk, and more than usual, he tapped his pen on his computer with in a rapid fire beat. A habit he'd had for as long as he could remember, Sam's pen-tapping became worse whenever he was nervous, frustrated, angry or in this case, jonseing for a joint.

Sam also knew it wasn't independently psychological or physiological ~~ it was a combination of the two. He had that *thing* in his brain, that little misguided wire that zigged when it should have zagged and flipped the switch at the first trace a foreign chemical had invaded his body. There were the physical signs that he could sometimes keep in check, then there was the insanity in his head that only one thing could relieve: more mind-altering chemicals.

Sam tapped his pen with one hand and drummed his fingers with the other. He knew what he wanted to do. He knew what he shouldn't do. He knew what he was gonna do.

Sam opened his Rolodex and looked under 'Hayes', flipped past Ainsley and stopped at Marc. He used his cell phone and dialed the number and under his breath said 'Please answer, please answer, please answer.' Marc answered.

"Hey Cobra! You're among the living!"

"Do you always answer your phone like that?" Sam asked.

"No, I just knew it was you."

"How's that?"

"I figured you'd call today, and now's just about the right time." He laughed.

Sam decided to let that comment slide. He really didn't understand how it was meant to be taken and didn't want to know.

"So, how are you feeling today Sam? Any rattlesnake marks?"

Sam laughed. "You weren't kidding about those snakes. I'll never doubt you again about that. I'll tell you what Marc, why I'm calling. I needed to relax last night and well, I definitely relaxed and I want to thank you again for having me over."

Marc didn't say anything.

"Marc? You there?"

"Yeah, I'm here," Marc said tentatively. "You're saying you had a good time at my house last night?"

"Yeah, it was great!"

"How much do you remember about last night Sam?"

"Well," Sam laughed, "to be honest, not a whole lot. When I get, um, relaxed, my brain tends to shut down. But I remember we laughed a lot and I remember you have one hell of a fish tank." Sam looked at his watch. Plenty of time.

"Do you remember going home?" Marc asked.

"No, but I must have because I woke up in my own bed this morning."

"A friend came and got you," Marc said.

"Josh."

"Yeah, Josh."

"Yeah, and that's why I'm calling. I left my keys at your house and I need to come by and pick them up this evening so I can drive my car home. Is that ok? Will you be there?"

"Uh, I don't know Sam. I haven't seen your keys. Where'd you leave them?"

"On the table by the recliner, right by my phone. They've gotta be there."

"Your phone wasn't on the table. Didn't your friend..."

"Josh."

"Yeah, Josh. Didn't Josh tell you any of this?"

"Any of what?" Sam was totally perplexed. He had absolutely no idea what Marc was talking about. "What's there to tell?"

"Ummmm Sam, I really don't know what the situation is here, but I thought your friend..."

"Josh."

"Yeah, Josh. I thought he would have talked to you already. He wasn't very happy when he took you out of here last night. But hey, I don't want to get in the middle of anything."

Sam's leg shook under the desk and he had just about beat the hell out of his pen. His jaw was clenched even tighter and he felt the sweat that had beaded on the back of his neck and his forehead. He looked at his watch. Toby would be here in just a few minutes.

"Marc, you're not in the middle of anything. I don't know what impression you got, but everything's cool. Believe me, I'll ask Josh about it this evening. I wanna know what happened last night. Will you tell me?"

"Sure."

"But not now," Sam interrupted. "I'm about to go into a meeting."

"What kind of meeting?"

"Democratic re-election stuff. For the campaign coming up. Nothing too exciting."

"Yeah."

"So Marc, will you check around for my keys and I'll stop by this evening?"

"I'll look, but I have no idea where to start," Marc said. "Can you stay for a while? I promise to stick to beer and we can order a pizza or something."

"Uh, sorry, I've gotta work late tonight. I'll just pick up the keys and then I've gotta work until who knows when. Those keys, Marc, they're on the table by that amazing leather recliner, right by where my phone was."

"I told you, your phone wasn't there. Your friend..."

"Josh."

"Yeah, your friend Josh came in and looked around until he found it."

"Where was it?" Sam asked.

"In my bedroom."

********

Toby banged on Sam's door with his fist then turned the knob and pushed it open.

"Let's go!" he shouted. "Oval Office!"

Sam put his jacket on. He was in a fog. He walked slowly out of his office toward Toby.

"Grab a legal pad," Toby instructed

"A legal..."

"Here Sam," Cathy said as she stuck one in his hand. "Brand new, fresh out of the box."

"Legal pad. Legal pad. Do I need anything else Toby?" Sam looked around the bullpen.

"No, I've got everything we need. Retreat to your office." He put his hand on Sam's arm and directed him back inside. Toby closed the door behind them. He turned Sam around to face him so they were only inches apart.

"What the hell's going on?" Toby demand to know.

Sam shook his head. "Nothing?"

"I thought you and Josh needed a few hours this morning because HE was having a rough time, but now I'm beginning to think YOU'RE the one with something loose up here."

He rapped his knuckles on Sam's forehead. "Talk fast. And fix your collar. You look like a walking zombie."

Sam just shook his head again, bewildered.

Toby opened one of Sam's eyelids, leaned in close and looked first at one eye, then the other.

"What's up?" Toby asked. "I say talk fast and you just shake your head. Talk to me Sam."

"Nothing's up! I said nothing!" Sam said loudly.

"Let's go," he said gruffly. "Well talk later. Get your legal pad ~~ THIS thing," he lifted Sam's arm that held the tablet, "and a pen," he picked up Sam's pen off the desk and put it in his other hand then closed his fingers around it, "keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, but don't make eye contact with anybody except me. And try not to fall down." He adjusted Sam's collar for him and gave him a not-so-gentle slap on the face to try and bring him around.

"Ginger, Oval!" Toby shouted as he and Sam walked through the bullpen.

The President, Leo, CJ and Josh were already in the Oval Office when Toby and Sam arrived. Sam immediately locked eyes with Josh and gave him a 'Get me outta here' look. Josh's eyes in return said, 'I would if I could but there's nothing I can do'.

Fortunately, the meeting was more of a sit down, shut up and listen to POTUS brainstorm as opposed to a participatory round table discussion. Jed Bartlet was full of ideas he wanted to put before his Senior Staff and he threw them out as fast as he could talk.

"Sleep on 'em, chew on 'em, mull 'em over in your head," he said. "Run these ideas around the barn and we'll meet again on Friday to put together some concrete ideas. Bruno, Doug and Connie will be here so look sharp. BE sharp. Don't make me look like a jackass."

At least now Toby knew what a pre-campaign strategy meeting was. The Senior Staff listened, took notes, nodded their collective heads, then returned to their offices and got back to the real task at hand and put together the campaign. If their ideas happened to coincide with the President's, all that much better.

As they filed out of the Oval Office the President said, "Sam, hang back a minute."

"Yes sir, Mr. President."

Josh turned to see if he could any get indication of what this personal audience might be about ~~ he got nothing. Toby tried to stall to see what the President wanted with his Deputy as well.

"Thank you Josh, thank you Toby. That's all. Wanna close that door on your way out?"

When everyone else was gone Jed Bartlet put his hand on Sam's back and gave him a friendly pat. "Sam Seaborn, I just want to tell you what a superb job you did on that last proposal I asked you for. That one about the Everglades and the sugar industry and how this will grab Ritchie by the short hairs. Toby tells me that whole idea was yours. Is that correct?"

"Yes sir, but I'm sure you would have thought about it in a day or so. As would Josh or Toby."

"Sam, you've got to stop that."

"Stop what sir?"

"Passing off your good works to other people. You do an exceptional job and you need to start accepting the credit for it. You carry more than your weight around here and I want you to know it doesn't go unnoticed. You're a good man Sam."

That was the last thing Sam expected to hear. Given the fact he'd dedicated so much time and attention to Josh lately, he didn't realize his extra efforts at work had been so well-received.

"Thank you again sir. I don't know what to say."

"The thing is, son, you look like shit. If you're going to stand next to me while I'm out there stumping, I want the prettiest girls and the best-looking men up there with me 'cause I'm not much to look at. That way, even if the voters don't listen to what I say, they'll at least remember the hotties ~~ is that the word they use these days? Hotties?"

"I wouldn't know sir."

"Anyway, get yourself together, back like you used to look before, before...am I working you too hard son?"

"Oh no, sir!"

"Well, do something. You look like shit. Now go home."

Jed Bartlet picked up a folder off his desk. "Sam, this piece of work, topnotch. Keep it up. Good night son."

"Good night, Mr. President."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 24

"So today went ok?" Josh asked as he pulled away from the White house and into traffic. "Yeah, it went ok."

"I'm sorry I couldn't check in with you more babe. Leo snagged me the minute I walked in and..."

"It's ok Josh. Really. Toby didn't take his eyes off me all day. He brought me a wonderful lunch and gave me vitamins your Mother says I have to take."

Josh laughed and beat the steering wheel with his fist. "She's making you take those big green horse vitamins that'll make you gag just to smell 'em? You'd better take them too, buddy, because she'll know telepathically if you don't!"

"Laugh while its still funny, hotshot, she told Toby to get a big bottle for you too." Sam reached over and messed up Josh's hair.

"Oh man!"

"Stop whining."

"This is whine-worthy. Why was Toby talking to my Mother?" Josh suddenly bristled.

"Josh, I think now is a good time to tell you something."

"What? I don't like the sound of that. What?" Josh's voice started to rise. He was stressing.

Sam put his hand on Josh's thigh to calm him. "Relax, relax. It's a good thing."

"Tell me. Tell me now."

"Toby and your Mother are nothing more than simply good friends who have one thing in common ~~ they both care deeply for us. That's it."

"That's it? That's what?" Josh's voice was still high.

"That's all. You've been worried there was something creepy going on between them, weren't you?"

"Kinda, maybe, no, sorta, a little bit, eeeeeewwww, no, gross!"

"Well, there's not. That first night..."

"When we got married?" Josh looked over at Sam and smiled.

"The day we got married. The best day in my life." Sam moved his hand up Josh's thigh toward his crotch. "That night Toby took your Mother dancing and back to his place..."

"His place?" Josh interrupted. "Are you serious?"

"Hear me out. They went back to his place. He actually had a rent-a-maid service come and sandblasted it and he very gentlemanly-like gave her his bedroom and he slept on the couch."

"No shit?"

"No shit. I got the same story from Toby AND your Mother. You're not going to doubt your Mother, are you? She'll know telepathically if you do."

Josh bounced in his seat. "No! No! No way!"

"The next morning he took her out for some elegant breakfast then showed her around DC a while before coming to our place."

"That is SO cool!"

"And the rest of their 'dates' were just dinner and dancing. That's it," Sam concluded.

"So Ziegler was just screwing with my head, right?"

"Not really. YOU created the whole thing in you own head and Toby just let you run with it. Turn left on Dodger."

"I know where I'm going," Josh responded with a hint of irritation. "When we get there I'll just go to the door, get the keys and we'll leave. No small talk. Ok?"

"No, not ok."

Josh looked at Sam and gave him that 'why are you questioning me?' look.

"Did you say 'no'?" he asked

"I said 'no'," Sam responded. "I'll get the keys. You'll stay in the car."

Sam noticed Josh's hands tighten around the steering wheel. He didn't like being told 'no' about anything, especially when it involved his lover and another man, which hadn't happened often.

"Make a right on Thomas, another right on Aldridge and we're there. Two-fourteen," Sam said.

"I know where I am now, thank you. I'll find it."

They rode in silence.

Finally Sam spoke. "Josh, it's no big deal. It's just that I'm not a kid and am more than able to walk to the door to get my own keys. If you go it'll embarrass me. Please see it from my point of view."

Josh nodded. "You're right. I apologize. It's just that the bastard..."

"And I also want you to tell me what happened last night when you came to pick me up," Sam interrupted. "You just drove past his house."

Josh slammed on the brakes and backed up. Sam knew Josh was totally pissed off because he had to be here and even more pissed because he missed the house. Sam wanted to make this as quick and simple as possible. Josh pulled into the driveway and turned off the ignition.

"You're ok with this Oshie?"

Josh nodded. "Sure. No big deal. I'm being stupid."

"Yeah, you are." He ran his hand quickly over Josh's crotch and copped a feel. Josh looked at him, caught off-guard a bit, and Sam smiled. "But I'm glad you're being stupid. 'Us' comes first, always. It'll just take two minutes. Are you gonna wait or go on home."

"Whaddya you think? You've got two minutes." Josh looked at his watch.

Sam smacked his arm. "Putz."

Marc answered the door after two knocks. He waved an acknowledgement to Josh, which Josh ignored, and invited Sam in. Both Josh and Sam hoped Marc would just hand him the keys at they door, but they both also knew it wouldn't be that simple. When Marc closed the door behind them, Josh's blood pressure rose. If all he had to do was give Sam the keys, why did he have to close the door? Josh sat in the car and fumed and told himself it would only humiliate Sam if he went to the door. He trusted Sam implicitly, so he relaxed a little and resigned himself to the fact he would have to have to wait it out.

"Hey Cobra," Marc said when he opened the door, "come on in."

Sam turned back and glanced at Josh with an 'I can't help it' look, then went inside.

"Beer?" Marc offered.

"No thanks, just came for my keys," Sam said.

"Good to see you again so soon. You're up and on your feet all by yourself."

"Was I really THAT out of it?" Sam asked. "I swear I don't remember a thing after that first Rattlesnake."

"Seriously? Nothing?"

"Nothing. Except those fish." Sam looked at the aquarium. "It looks a lot different today. Much smaller."

They both laughed, somewhat nervous, not as nearly as comfortable with each other as they'd been the night before.

"Marc, I'd like you to tell me what happened last night," said Sam.

"Is it that important?"

"It is if we get together again to get shit-faced."

A huge grin spread across Marc's face. "Well, we've got plans for racquetball. Wanna skip the game and I'll just tell you all about last night instead? Believe me, it's quite a story."

Sam hesitated. That really wasn't what he had in mind. He didn't want to cancel racquetball just to talk. He liked to play and looked forward to it. He'd already missed too many workouts at the gym and had let his racquetball games go while Josh went through his rough time, and he was anxious to get himself back in shape.

The way Marc said 'wanna skip the game?' just didn't sound right to Sam. But more important, the idea of going behind Josh's back turned his stomach. To tell Josh he was going to the gym then come to Marc's was something Sam's morals and ethics wouldn't allow. He could never do that. And if he told Josh he was coming back to Marc's, well, Sam knew that wouldn't be taken well at all. Still, he wanted to know what happened when he was alone with Marc, what had been said and done... like why Sam's phone was in Marc's bedroom. Especially now that Josh knew it.

"Can I get back with you on that?" Sam asked. "I've got a thing after we play and if we come here instead..."

"You wouldn't be putting me off, would you Cobra?" Marc put a joint between his lips, but didn't light it.

Sam couldn't take his eyes off the joint. He tried his best not to let Marc see how much he wanted it. But he couldn't hide it ~~ Marc knew. He could tell.

"Sounds good," Sam said.

"Great!"

"I need to go Marc. Josh is waiting for me."

"Josh is waiting for you?" Marc said with a laugh. "Uh, you've got your own car now Sam. He doesn't NEED to wait for you."

Sam put his hand on the doorknob and opened the door a few inches so Josh could see he was on his way.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?" What is it?" Sam was distracted, anxious to leave and get back to Josh.

"Want your keys or do you plan to jump-start your car?"

Sam felt his face turn hot and knew he had blushed. What an ass I am, he thought. That's what I came for and got completely side-tracked. If I'd gone back to the car without the keys, I'd never hear the end of it from Josh, and rightly so.

"Dammit! Thank you. I...I just..."

"Did this distract you?" Marc took the joint from between his lips.

Sam laughed. "Maybe a little. I DO remember that was some killer weed."

Marc opened the supply drawer under the aquarium and pulled out a small, purple velvet bag. He took the joint from between his lips and dropped it into the bag and zipped it shut.

"There's a few in here to hold you over until we meet again," he said. "I'm sure you're getting a little itchy right about now."

"You know it. What do I owe you?" Sam reached for his wallet.

Marc held the bag up in front of Sam. "Consider it a gift. A gift to celebrate the start of a long and special friendship."

Sam wasn't so sure. He liked to play racquetball with the guy, but he had no interest in it going any further. Maybe if Marc had a male partner the four of them could hang out, but the situation as it stood would never work. Hell, Sam didn't even know if Marc was IN a relationship. He just couldn't read the man.

Sam took the purple bag and shoved it into his inside jacket pocket.

"To friendship," he said.

But Sam didn't intend to have a 'friendship' with Marc; he was more interested in what Marc had that he wanted.

"So I'll see you here at eight o'clock," Marc said as he opened the door all the way.

"Right," Sam replied, still not sure if he could follow through with those plans.

"Sam?"

Sam turned. Marc dangled the keys in front of him. Sam closed his eyes and scrunched up his face. "Did it again, didn't I?"

Marc smiled and nodded.

"You know, usually I'm a lot smarter than this." Sam took the keys and closed his fist around them.

"Go," Marc said as he started to close the door. "I don't want your friend..."

"Josh."

"Yeah. Josh. I don't want your friend Josh to send the Marines in after me. See ya later." Then he closed the door.

The porch light went dark and Sam walked to the driver's side of Josh's car.

"What took you so long?" Josh asked with a trace of irritation.

"Sorry. We talked about how the fish tank really isn't as big as I thought."

Already the guilt began to churn inside Sam's stomach. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep his end of the deal, to 'skip racquetball' and get wasted at Marc's house.

"Well, I'll see you at home in a few minutes, right?" Josh asked.

"Oh yeah, and Toby's coming for dinner," Sam blurted out.

"Toby? Tonight? What's the occasion?"

"Seems Toby had the White House chef fix up his vegetable barely soup and it simmered in the White House kitchen all day and is now in this gigantic pot in the trunk of your car, still boiling hot. I got an intern to put it in right before we left the office. It's supposed to last us for days. Toby pitied himself an invitation."

Josh laughed and forgot his irritation with Sam. "Do we have beer?"

"Yeah, we're good. However, YOUR Mother said I'm to drink water. Water, milk or orange juice. Can we change our phone number?"

"She'll still have Toby's and call him," Josh reminded Sam. "Face it. She's seen our nest and is out to feather it. Let's get outta here."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 25

Josh found a parking spot close to the front of their townhouse and snagged it. Sam was right behind him and carried the kettle of soup inside while Josh got the mail and newspaper. As soon as they stepped inside Josh started to undress as he walked toward the living room, a trail of clothes behind him.

Sam put the soup on the stove and turned the setting to low. When he came out of the kitchen he saw Josh in front of the TV in his boxers and an undershirt. On the screen were previews for 'Scooby-Doo'. Sam came up from behind and hugged him and kissed him on the back of his neck.

"That doesn't look like CNN," he said.

"I'll switch over in a minute. I wanna see what happens."

"They're not going to give away the ending in the previews, silly."

Josh didn't answer. He was enthralled.

Sam licked Josh behind his ear. "Do you wanna go see that movie so you can watch the whole thing? I'll be your date."

"For real? You don't like this kind of movie. You can't even stand that 'Let's go out to the lobby' thing."

"I'd go with you."

"You hate this stuff Sam."

"I'd go with you. I'd go anywhere with you."

"Even to see 'Scooby-Doo'?"

"Especially to see 'Scooby-Doo'."

Josh laid his head back against Sam. "I adore you Sam."

Sam wrapped his arms around Josh's neck. "And I you, Joshua." Sam closed his eyes and buried his face in Josh's hair. His heart was about to burst for the complete, unconditional love he had for this man who stood in his underwear and watched 'Scooby-Doo'.

Sam felt he lacked when he showed his love to Josh. He never felt anything he said or did was good enough for him. A perfectionist, he forever felt he had to do more. He pulled Josh closer. His body started to shake. It had caught up with him.

Josh turned around. "Angel? Baby? Are you crying?"

Sam nodded. Tears ran down his face. Josh sat him on the arm of the chair and kneeled in front of him. He brushed Sam's hair back. "Angel, what is it? Why are you crying sweetheart? Talk to me."

Sam shook his head, unable to speak. He pointed to the cedar box. Josh got their rings out and put Sam's on his finger then kissed it. He gave his ring to Sam. Sam slid it on Josh's finger and kissed it.

"Can you talk about it?" Josh asked

"Josh, I don't deserve you. I'm not good enough. You could do so much better." Sam started to sob.

"Sam, where the hell is this coming from? What are you talking about?"

Sam fell forward and wrapped his arms around Josh's waist. His face rested on Josh's chest. Josh was scared. He'd never heard Sam talk like this before. It had to be exhaustion and the strain of the past few weeks, he thought. He didn't realize how serious this had become. He held Sam and stroked his head until the tears stopped, then held him some more

"What time's Toby coming over?" Josh asked.

"I don't know for sure. Any time I guess."

"You want me to call and tell him not to come?"

Sam shook his head. "No, its ok. I know he wants to come and it's fine. Toby's fine. I want him to be here. I like having Toby around."

"Why don't you go upstairs and get out of that suit, put on some sweats or shorts or something and I'll set the table. When you come back down I'll tuck you in on the couch, ok? New game plan around here. Look at me."

Sam raised his face to Josh.

Josh used the end of his undershirt and dried Sam's tears. Then he took Sam's face in his hands and kissed him tenderly. "Sam, we have so much to talk about, but it seems like we just don't have the time. We need to make a date, just to catch up."

Sam smiled a little.

"Now go put on something you can be comfortable in then come back down to me because I'll miss you. Go. Now."

"What should I put on?" asked Sam. He was too tired to think for himself.

"Sweat pants and a sweat shirt. Mine if you want. And socks.

"Yeah, ok. I'll wear your's."

Sam slowly stood and headed for the stairs. He put one foot on the bottom step, looked at them and suddenly felt all the energy drain from him.

"Sam?"

He turned. "Yeah?"

"You ok?"

"Yeah."

Josh was used to seeing Sam bound up the stairs, and now, for him to stand with one hand on the banister and the other hand on his bent knee, dreading the climb to the second floor, unnerved Josh.

"You want me to go up with you?" Josh asked.

"No, I'm ok.

"Splash some cold water on your face. I don't want you to fall asleep before you eat. Will you do that Sam?"

"What?"

"Will you splash some cold water on your face to wake you up a little?" Josh repeated.

"Um, yeah, ok, I'll do that with the water."

Sam took each step as if he carried a five hundred pound weight on his shoulders, and went into the bedroom. He took the velvet bag out of his jacket pocket, unzipped it and looked inside. There were six good-sized joints, plus the one Marc had taken out of his mouth in front of Sam. Now, what to do with it?

Damn, he hated the idea of being deceitful with Josh. Sam was torn. He'd never lied to Josh before, except once for that surprise birthday party at the White House. But that was different, nothing like this.

Sam finally went into the junk room, opened the closet and put the bag in the pocket of his Princeton letterman jacket. It hadn't been touched in years. He closed the door and felt nauseated, like he'd just betrayed his best friend and spouse.

That's because he had.

Sam changed into Josh's grey sweatpants and red sweatshirt then went into the bathroom and threw up. He washed his face, brushed his teeth twice, gargled with mouthwash and combed his hair. He looked at himself in the mirror. He had to agree with the others. "I look like shit," he said aloud.

As he stood there, Sam thought about the joints in the other room. I could really use a couple of hits right now, just to help me relax, calm down. That's all. Just a couple of hits. But Josh would smell it and be furious. Of course, I could stand by an open window and the smoke would go outside and it wouldn't get in my hair or clothes. And I can always brush my teeth again.

"Sam, you ok?" Josh called upstairs.

"I'm ok! Washing my face with cold water!"

"Toby just called! He'll be here in fifteen minutes!"

"I'll be down before then!"

"Ok! Am I supposed to heat this bread?"

"What?"

"What do I do with this bread?"

"Heat it up!"

"Ok!"

"Do you know how?"

"Put it in foil in the oven?"

"Yep!"

"Do I slice it first?"

"What?"

"How do I do it?"

"Slice it but not all the way through and be sure and cut on the slant! Put garlic butter in between the slices then melt a little garlic butter and...can you hear me?"

"Yeah!"

"Melt some garlic butter and brush it over the top then wrap it in foil and put it in the oven!"

"Ok!"

Sam wondered why they just didn't come to the top and bottom of the stairs and talk instead of yelling, but by the time he got to the top, Josh was back in the kitchen. He found himself just outside the door to the junk room. He hesitated just a moment, then went inside, opened the closet, and pulled the purple bag from the jacket of his Princeton jacket. He unzipped it and took out the first joint he touched.

Just the feel of it in his hand made Sam's heart race with anticipation. He felt deeper into the bag and pulled out the Meerschaum roach clip. Another check turned up a lighter with 'Disney World' on the side. This guy had thought of everything.

Sam took the joint, lighter and clip, went into the bathroom and closed and locked the door behind him. He didn't think their bathroom door had ever been locked before. He took off his sweatshirt so it wouldn't pick up the smell and dropped it on the floor then stepped into the bathtub. He raised the window so there was just the screen between him and the outside. Sam brought the joint to his lips. Just that one simple action, the smooth movement of sliding a tightly rolled joint between his lips was part of the ritual, part of the whole start-to-finish process that brought him the pleasure he so desperately craved. Desperate. Did the word 'desperate' just pass through his mind? Desperate. And crave. Pretty strong words.

Sam flicked the lighter, held the flame to the tip of the joint and inhaled until it caught then began to burn on its own. He inhaled deeply and took the smoky nectar to that special place again and held it there, and smiled as he felt it rush to his head. He held the joint close to the screen so any excess smoke was lost outside. It was at that moment he decided to get a pipe so he wouldn't lose any pot. He released out the screen and took another deep draw. He'd planned on three but took five hits, then put the red ember out on the drain of the bathtub and cleaned the black ash with water. He wasn't stoned, but he had a good, laid back buzz.

Maintain, he said to himself, maintain. That had always been the magic word that got him through situations when he had to appear straight. Tonight was one of those times, but he wasn't worried. At least, the hunger for the drug had been fed and Sam felt good. He purposely left the bathroom window open, re-brushed his teeth, twice, gargled with mouthwash, put his sweatshirt back on and started downstairs.

********

"He's upstairs changing clothes," Josh said when he opened the door to Toby. "I want him comfortable so he can curl up on the couch and take it easy tonight."

Toby looked at Josh who stood at the open door in his underwear. He peered around him at the trail of clothes that led to the TV. "Well, you've certainly made yourself comfortable," Toby said. "I'm glad you feel like you didn't have to dress up for me."

Only then did Josh realize what he had on, or didn't have on would be more accurate. Josh smiled in his cocky way. "We're doing kinky tonight Toby, strip down."

"That not EVEN funny, Lyman," Toby said, "when are we gonna eat?"

"Its almost ready. Have a beer in the meantime." Toby got his own beer from the refrigerator, lifted the lid to the soup and stirred it, inhaled deeply and let out an 'ahhhhh'. He rinsed the spoon and set it on the spoon holder and the two returned to the living room. Toby took his regular chair and Josh flopped onto the other.

"Josh, have you noticed Sam being kind of, uh, distracted lately?" Toby asked.

"Like how?"

"I don't know. Before we left for the Oval he seemed to be in a daze. I've noticed other things too, like he wasn't there. His body was, but his mind just wasn't turned on."

"I think it's just exhaustion. He went through a lot with me and kept working too. I'll take care of him now. I'll feed him and make sure he sleeps and he'll be fine. I'll see to it."

"Before I forget, I have some vitamins for you," Toby laughed. "With love from your Mother."

"Gee thanks, I hate those big green things."

"Mind your Mama."

"So you think Sam's just tired?" Toby asked again and took a drink of beer.

"I think so. He doesn't seem sick. He hasn't had any migraines for a long time. In fact, I can't remember the last time he had a bad headache."

"Come to think of it, I remember Sam used to get migraines while we were campaigning. Knocked the shit out of him." Josh took a swallow from his beer. "Uh huh, then they got better and he only has them every now and then. He tries not to let on and work through them. You know Sam."

"I DO know Sam. That's why I wonder if there's something up besides him just being tired," Toby said again.

"What are you getting at Toby? What are you not telling me?" Josh's concern returned. For a few minutes he'd convinced himself he was over-reacting, but now that Toby was making such an issue out of it, he wasn't so sure.

Toby shook his head. "Nothing Josh. I'm sure you're right and he's just really tired. Don't worry about it. Just do whatever you'd planned to do and I'm sure you'll bring him around."

But Josh DID worry about it. Toby wouldn't have kept bringing it up without a reason. And now that Josh had shown an interest, Toby wasn't going to elaborate.

"Is he screwing up at work?" Josh asked.

"No, not at all. In fact, his writing is better than ever. And the ideas that come out of that boy's head continue to amaze me, even while he's been..."

"Even while he's been...?"

"You're just looking for something to get mad at me about, aren't you?" Toby laughed. "I'm not gonna get caught up in that. Is the soup hot yet?"

"You were gonna say even while he's been taking care of me, weren't you?" Josh asked.

"Well, yes, but I didn't mean anything by it. You were going through a rough time, Josh. You needed Sam's time and attention."

"But I didn't mean to do it at the expense of Sam's health. How could I not have noticed Toby? How did he get this run-down and I didn't even see it?" Josh rubbed his forehead.

"Don't beat yourself up. It snuck up on all of us. Sam's young and strong. He'll come around real quick. Is that soup hot yet?"

"Yeah, we're just waiting for Sam. I'll go check on him." Josh stood but didn't move to go upstairs. He ran his hand through his hair and finished his beer. "Toby?" he said in a quiet voice.

"Hmmm?"

"Since I can't, uh, you know, watch out for Sam at work...uh, would you..."

"Yes Josh, I'll keep an eye on him. You know you don't have to ask."

"Well, I didn't think I had to, but I wanted to. You know what Sam means to me."

"Yeah, I know," Toby said.

Josh shook his head. "Thanks Toby.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 26

"Hi guys."

Josh and Toby both looked up to see Sam as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Hey baby," Josh said, "feel better?"

"Much."

"Hey baby," Toby said, just to see if he'd get a reaction.

"Hi Toby. I'm glad you're here." No reaction to the 'hi baby' whatsoever.

Josh and Toby glanced at each other and Josh shrugged.

"You guys go ahead and sit down at the table," Josh said. "I'm gonna run upstairs and put something on."

"Wanna beer Toby?" Sam asked as he went to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and got one out for himself and one for Josh.

Toby followed him. "Got one, thanks."

Toby used two oven mitts and carried the kettle of soup to the table and carefully set it on the warming plate in the center of the table. "Get a ladle Sam."

Sam opened the drawer. "Ladle, ladle, ladle, ladle, ladle, ladle, ladle, ladle. Got it."

Josh joined them in the kitchen. He wore a pair of shorts and an 'Alf' t-shirt. Sam handed him an opened beer and Josh took a swallow and kissed Sam on the cheek.

"Hey Toby, I fixed fresh homemade bread," Josh said.

Sam put his hand to his mouth and tried to conceal a laugh.

"Really Josh? I had no idea you knew how to prepare homemade bread. I look forward to it."

Sam laughed out loud.

"What's so funny Sam?" Toby asked.

Sam composed himself. "His fresh homemade bread came in a plastic wrapper from the bakery." He turned to Josh. "Slant?"

"Uh huh."

"In-between?"

"Uh huh."

"Brushed?"

"Yep."

"Rolled?"

"Got it covered!"

"We're in. When?"

"S'hot."

"So?"

"Now."

"Cool. You? Me?"

"Me. You sit."

Toby's head moved back and forth through this exchange. Josh and Sam talked their own language of shorthand, a single word here and there, incomplete sentences only they understood. Toby wondered if he'd ever be included in this language, or if it was so intimate, something only Sam and Josh shared, that he'd always be on the outside. They did this all the time, but he only really noticed it now as he watched them work in tandem to get things done, as they moved with ease and grace winding around each other, a seemingly choreographed dance where each knew where the other was at all times, what the other was doing, and the end result was a beautiful meal on the table.

Sam said he wanted to make a toast before they ate. The three men held up their beer bottles toward the center of the table.

"Thanks to Ho Chi Minh and Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhouse Nixon," he said, "there were no American casualties reported in North or South Viet Nam or Cambodia again today. Praise be."

Sam clinked Josh's and Toby's bottles while Josh and Toby just sat there, not sure what to think.

"Praise be." Sam repeated, with a little more emphasis.

"Mazel Tov," Toby said softy.

Sam smiled and nodded his head. "Yeah!"

"Mazel Tov," Josh repeated.

"Yeah," Sam said. "Now let's eat. I've got the ladle."

They ate the hearty vegetable barely soup and Joshua's fresh homemade bread from the bakery. Conversation was mostly superficial. Sam was animated and ate two bowls of soup and drank three beers. Josh hardly took his eyes off Sam and Toby watched them both.

Finally Toby could stand it any longer. He had to ask. "Sam, I'm curious about something."

"What's that Tobster?"

"Don't call me that. I'm curious about your toast. What prompted you to choose that topic and those people?"

Sam frowned and re-filled his bowl. "Nam? No American casualties today? Isn't that worth a toast?" Then he gave the famous Sam grin.

Toby suddenly felt ashamed of himself. He closed his eyes while he lay open the simple logic behind what Sam had just said. Out of the mouths of babes...

He raised his eyes to meet Sam's. "Praise be."

They ate in silence for a while then Toby asked Sam, "So, what did the President say to you after the staff meeting today?"

"At first I thought I was in trouble for something, but then I remembered I hadn't done anything to be in trouble about," Sam laughed.

"So then what? What did he say to you?" Toby repeated.

"He said, he said...you know, I can't remember right this second what he said. It was all good. Let me think about it a few minutes then I'll tell you."

"You don't remember?" Josh asked. "Nothing?"

"Ummmmm, he said I was doing a top-notch job, son, and to keep it up. And to..." Sam's voice trailed off.

"Yeah, ok," said Josh quietly.

They finished their meal then all sat back, stomachs full and content.

"We have homemade peach ice cream for dessert," Josh volunteered.

"How come everything is homemade with you?" Toby asked. "Later. You two go on into the living room and I'll clean this up." Toby stood and started to clear the table.

"No Toby, you're company. I'll get it." Josh said.

"I take that as an insult. I hope you guys still don't consider me company. Please, let me do it."

Josh looked at Toby with used soup bowls in each hand. He was serious. He didn't want to be treated as company. He wanted to participate.

"Ok, fine by me. Just don't break anything and most importantly, don't let Sam see how you put the dishes in the dishwasher. He'll have a royal conniption fit if even one spoon is aimed the wrong direction."

"Are you talking about me?" Sam suddenly recognized his name. Josh bent down and kissed him on the cheek. "Always. Let's go in the other room and get snuggly. Toby, you wanna watch a movie?"

"Sure, what have you got?"

"We just got 'Apocalypse Now Redux' on DVD and it's fantastic. Have you seen it?"

"No. Just the original. I've been wanting to. Give me just a few minutes and I'll be there."

Josh wrapped one arm around Sam and put their feet together, then they walked in tandem into the living room. Whenever they mis-stepped, they would laugh and re-align to try again. Josh pointed them in the direction of the couch.

"Do you want your head at this end or that end?" he asked.

Sam studied the couch.

"What's the hold up?" Josh finally asked.

"I need to weigh the pros and cons of each," Sam explained.

"Well, if you put your head up here, you can talk to Toby without raising your voice because he'll be in his chair. If you put your head down there...there really is no benefit to putting your head down there. Put it up here."

Sam rolled onto the couch and Josh stuffed two pillows under his head. "Do you want a blanket or an afghan?"

"Yeah."

"That wasn't a 'yes' or 'no' question Sam. Which do you want? A blanket or an afghan?"

"Oh. That blanket on the bed in the guest room."

Josh went to the guest room. The door had been closed since his Mother left. The instant he opened it he could smell her. The scent of the cologne she'd put on the day she went home lingered in the air, the fragrances from those little soaps she left. For a moment Josh wanted her back, back in that guest room to help him take care of Sam. He pulled the blanket from the bed, left the room and closed the door behind him.

Sam's eyes were already closed. Josh put the blanket over him and pulled it up around his neck. Sam's eyes fluttered open and he smiled up at Josh. "Know what?"

"What?"

"For a minute I thought your Mother just tucked me in," Sam said quietly.

"I thought so too. Kinda nice, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I miss her. Josh, I wanna put my head in your lap."

"Sure babe." Josh sat on the end of the couch and Sam laid on his side and put his head on Josh's lap. Josh rearranged the blanket so Sam wouldn't get chilled.

"You guys want anything before I close up the kitchen?" Toby called.

"Angel?" Josh asked.

Sam shook his head.

"No, not yet! Come on!"

Toby flicked off the kitchen light and started toward the living room. Before he sat down he followed the trail from the TV to the front door and gathered up Josh's clothes. He wasn't quite sure what to do with them so he just tossed them upstairs. He figured Sam would find them in the morning and know what to do. The he joined the others in the living room.

"Toby, Toby, Toby, don't sit down!" Josh caught him before he settled in. "Since we're already situated, would you put the movie in?"

Toby glared at Josh. "Where is it?"

"That cabinet on the right, below the CDs, open it."

Toby did, to find as many DVDs as he'd ever seen together in one place. "Jesus! Do you guys own everything ever put out?"

Josh laughed. "We're homebodies Toby. We like to make out at the movies so we..."

"I don't wanna hear about it! No making out tonight. What are we watching?"

"Get 'Apocalypse Now Redux', not to be confused with the..."

"...original." They all three said in unison.

"They're alphabetized by movie title," Josh said. "Of course, Sam also has them cross-referenced by director, year of release, genre, subject matter and a couple of other things. I just put a little yellow stickie on the ones I like. Drives Sam crazy to open that cabinet and see those little yellow stickies all over the DVDs. Talk about a hissy fit!" Josh caressed Sam's hair when he talked about it.

"Here it is," Toby announced. "Right where it's supposed to be."

"Did you ever doubt? Do you know how to work that thing?"

"Josh, if you have any reservations about me touching your equipment you can get up off your butt and do it yourself," Toby grunted.

"Not at all. I'm just trying to watch out for Sam's stuff. It's state-of-the-art and he's very particular about who touches HIS equipment." Josh gave his snarky double-innuendo smirk.

It didn't register with Toby immediately. "Then get Sleeping Beauty off HIS butt and he..."

Then it hit him. Toby stood up. "No way. You just turned this simple task into something...something...ah shit."

Toby put the movie in and claimed his regular chair. He kicked his shoes off, slid down in the overstuffed easy chair and propped his feet on the coffee table. He'd brought himself a cold beer and a coaster. Finally, he was comfortable.

About five minutes into the movie Josh said, "Toby, before you get too comfortable, will you dim the lights please. It's gotta be just right in here or it causes a glare and I can't get the full effect."

Toby slowly turned and looked at Josh. Josh gave a weak smile and pointed to Sam, curled up and covered up, his head on Josh's lap. Toby assumed the smile was a feeble attempt to mean, 'I would if I could but we need to nurse Sam back to health, remember?'

"We wouldn't want to disturb the Little Prince, would we?" Toby said sarcastically. "Since I obviously haven't gotten comfortable yet, is there anything, anything at all, you want before I sit down? Again. Think hard Josh, because I'm not getting back up. Even if you cough up blood, I'm not gonna get out of this chair."

"Uh, I guess I'll take another beer then...since you're up anyway."

Toby clenched his jaw and headed for the kitchen when he heard Josh's voice. "Wanna grab those cashews while you're in there Tobster?"

Toby returned and set the opened bottle of beer on a coaster on the table next to Josh. "Can you reach that?"

Josh nodded.

Toby handed him the opened bag of cashews and a napkin. "Will one napkin do?"

Josh nodded.

"Now, I'm going to the dimmer switch. I'll start to dim the lights. When you say 'stop' I'm gonna stop. We're not gonna have any of this 'up a tad', 'down a squooch' crap. Do you understand? When you say 'stop', I'm gonna stop and the light will stay as dim as it is at that moment. If you don't like it, you can roll Sir Samuel off onto the floor and dim it any damn way you want it. Understand?"

Josh nodded.

"Don't nod. Say it out loud."

"I understand! I understand! Now sit down and watch the movie! You made me miss what they said."

"Miss what they said? You mean to tell me, you've been watching the movie while I was up running around like your houseboy? You didn't even hit the pause button?" Toby didn't wait for an answer. "Hold on! Back it up! Back the whole fucking movie up to the very beginning, right now. What's the running time on this thing?" He looked at the box. "Three hours and twenty-three minutes. Start from the very beginning because I'm going to see all two hundred and twenty- three minutes of this sucker it if takes us all weekend. I can't believe you Josh. Back it up, back it up, back it up."

Josh rewound the movie as Toby got himself re-situated in his chair. "Now, everybody ready?"

"I am," came a quiet voice.

"Sam? You awake?" Josh pulled Sam's eyelids open.

"How can I sleep with you two fighting like an old married couple? Is it too late for me to take a leak and get a beer?"

There was silence in the room. He didn't wait for an answer. Sam threw back the blanket, leaped over the back of the couch, made a mad dash for the downstairs bathroom, ran to the kitchen for a beer, jumped over the back of the easy chair and was back on the couch, under the blanket, his head on Josh's lap in less than a minute. "OK, I'm ready."

Toby pushed play and no one said a word.

A half hour into the movie Josh put his hand under the blanket and inside Sam's sweatshirt. He slid his cool hand onto Sam's warm back and began to rub little circles. He heard a soft 'Ummmm' of pleasure. The little circles widened until his hand rubbed Sam's whole back. Sometimes he used the palm of his hand, sometimes his fingers and sometimes he used his fingernails and scratched ever-so-lightly and caused Sam to shiver at his touch.

Josh was slumped on the couch and every now and then he ran his hand to the waistband of Sam's sweatpants and dipped his fingers just inside, just enough to get Sam's attention.

About ninety minutes into the movie Toby broke the silence.

"Ya know, that guy on there, he reminds me of somebody."

"Which guy?" Josh asked.

"The main one. The star. Steen."

"Sheen."

"Whatever."

More silence as they were engrossed in the movie. Twenty minutes later.

"So, who does he remind you of?" Josh asked.

"Who?"

"The guy."

"What guy?"

"Steen. The one by the thing."

"Sheen," Sam mumbled, his face buried in Josh's lap. "His name is MartinfuckingSheen. Say it right or don't say it all. It drives me nuts when people don't get names right or you know what else? When people sing the wrong words in a song but they don't know it and they sound like morons. Ed and Larry do that with 'Pretty Woman' and it's all I can do to keep from throttling them."

"They both do it?" Toby asked.

"No, just one, but I'm really not sure which one, so I'd throttle them both."

"So who does he remind you of?" Josh asked again.

"That kid who played in 'Young Guns'. I can't think of his name."

"Keifer Sutherland?" Josh volunteered.

"Keith Sutherland?" Toby questioned.

"Keifer Sutherland."

"No, hell no. The other one," said Toby.

"There was more than one."

"Emilio Estevez," Sam said. "He reminds you of Emilio Estevez."

"Yes! That's it! I knew I'd think of it!"

Sam raised his head and looked at Toby. "You didn't think of it. You thought Keith Sutherland was the son of some guy named Steen. Can we pause? I need to go to the bathroom again."

Toby clicked 'stop' and everyone unwound from their perspective positions, stood and stretched.

"Did somebody mention homemade peach ice cream?" Toby asked.

"Sure did," replied Josh. "Sammy?"

"L. I'll be right back." Sam went upstairs to their bathroom this time.

"L? What's that mean?" Toby asked as he collected empty beer bottles and followed Josh into the kitchen.

"What size bowl he wants. 'S' for small, 'M' for medium, 'L' for large, 'XL' for extra large and 'C' for bring the whole carton. So what about you?"

Toby smiled. "You two really do have your own little universe here, don't you?"

"Yep. And you're one of very few to experience it Toby. So...?"

"Uh, 'L'." Toby smiled. "This is kinda fun. What about you?"

"Oh, definitely an 'L' and I may do a 'double-L', you never know. Hand me those bowls, will ya?"

"Let me guess...two bowls full, right?"

"Ah, you've cracked our code."

Josh scooped the ice cream into the bowls while Toby dumped the empty beer bottles into the trash then got three spoons out of the drawer and some napkins.

"Sam seems to be doing ok tonight, rested, kinda laid back," Toby said. "And he ate good. I'm glad to see that."

"Yeah. I still can't believe he got all run down like this and I didn't see it. I guess I was just too caught up in my own shit."

"Don't blame yourself Josh. We all should have noticed. Everybody in the West Wing saw Sam every day and nobody said a thing until just last week. We get so wrapped up in work we see each other all the time but we don't honestly pay attention. We don't truly 'look' at each other. I'm going to 'look' at you guys a little closer from now on."

"Oh great."

They carried their ice cream into the living room but Sam hadn't returned. Josh set Sam's bowl on a magazine on the coffee table but didn't wait to start into his, nor did Toby. A few minutes later Sam joined them.

"Toby, are you gonna sit in that chair?" Is it 'in' that chair or 'on' that chair? Which is grammatically correct? In or on? Oh, who cares? Are you gonna sit there?"

"Well, I'm sitting here at the moment, so unless you have a burning desire to have this seat yourself, I'll just stay here. Is that ok with you?"

"Yeah!" Sam answered with enthusiasm. "That chair, this chair, the couch, the floor, the bed, anywhere. I just want you to be comfy."

"Thank you, I'm quite comfy."

"This mine?" he asked as he picked up the bowl on the table. He didn't wait for an answer and jabbed his spoon into the ice cream. He sat at the far end of the couch and put his feet in Josh's lap. He grinned.

"I wish it would snow," he said. "Jed could call a snow day and we could all stay home."

"Jed?" Toby asked.

"Yeah. Jed Bartlet. The President?"

"Oh, I know who he is. We just don't usually call him Jed," Toby responded.

"Well, we should."

"Why's that?"

"That's his name! Abbey calls him Jed."

Josh and Toby glanced at each other.

"I think we oughta try it tomorrow," Sam continued.

"Let's not," Toby replied.

"Hey Toby, you wanna sleep over?"

"How about we watch the rest of this movie and we'll discuss sleeping arrangements later, ok?" Josh suggested.

"Yeah, sure. Who's got the thing?"

Toby pushed 'play' on the remote and the screen was once again filled with the image of MartinfuckingSheen.

Josh and Toby both noticed Sam was more animated and playful than he'd been before their intermission. He watched the movie but talked through it, which was totally out of character for him since he usually wanted to hear every word. He ate his ice cream quickly then set his bowl on the carpet without the use of a magazine or placemat. As Josh continued to eat, Sam threw a pillow at him and nearly knocked the bowl from his hands.

"Sam! What's wrong with you? You almost spilled this!" Josh admonished him.

Sam giggled. "But I didn't."

"No, you didn't. But you almost did."

"But I didn't."

"Come back up here at this end. You're hyper again and I want you to relax."

"I'm relaxed."

Toby had put the movie on 'pause' when Sam threw the pillow. He watched Sam and Josh.

"Sam, come up here and put your head in my lap again, ok?" Josh asked.

Sam got off the couch and went to the kitchen. "Who wants a beer?" he called.

"No thank you Sam, I'm good," Toby answered.

"No Sam, and I don't think you need another beer either. Drink a bottle of water." Then in a quieter voice to Toby, "See? Up, down, up, down. He's had a lot of beer tonight, but he's not drunk. This isn't Sam. This is 'scary'. What's your take?"

"He might be taking pills."

"What? You are SO wrong!" Josh exclaimed. "No way."

Sam returned to the living room with a nearly empty beer bottle and a full one. He set them both on the coffee table, then fell on the couch and put his head in Josh's lap. He immediately rose up and grabbed the nearly empty bottle and finished it off. A belch to be proud of, a 'scuse me' and he set the empty bottle back on the table. He fell back on Josh and asked, "Cover me?"

Josh tucked the blanket snugly over Sam and rested his hand on his face. He rubbed Sam's cheek and forehead and gently ran his finger around his ear. Pills? No way in hell, Josh thought. I know he smoked pot with Marc and drank alcohol, but there's no way he has any weed in this house and has smoked it tonight. If he has, I'd smell the smoke. TOBY would smell the smoke. I'd smell it on Sam.

Josh casually leaned over and buried his face in Sam's hair. Shampoo.

"What'cha doin' Osh?" Sam smiled.

"Just lovin' on my boy. Is that ok?" Josh responded.

"Oh yeah. Gimme kiss."

Josh kissed Sam. His breath smelled of beer. Just beer. Then Josh noticed a glob of white toothpaste on his red sweatshirt. To be absolutely sure, he scooped up the glob with his finger and smelled it. Toothpaste. Then the final test because he wanted to give Sam every benefit of the doubt, Josh stuck his finger in his mouth and tasted it. Toothpaste. No way had Sam smoked pot. Not tonight. Not in this house.

Josh lifted his face and looked toward Toby. Toby stared at him. Their eyes locked and somehow Josh knew Toby knew something. He wasn't exactly sure what it was, what either of them knew for that matter, but Toby knew more than Josh just by the wisdom Toby was born with. And now Toby watched Josh to see his reaction as he recognized it too.

Josh gently used his hand to close Sam's eyelids and got no resistance. He cradled Sam's head in his arms and laid his own head on Sam's and closed his eyes.

"Sam, Sam, Sam my love," he said quietly. "What are you doing my Angel?"

"Is he asleep?" Toby asked.

"Not yet. Almost," Josh answered.

"Just relaxing my eyes," Sam mumbled. "I'm alert. Watching the movie."

Sam's voice was slurred and heavy and no one had been watching the movie. It wasn't even on.

"Ok baby, just close your eyes and watch the movie."

"Oshie?"

"Hmmmmm?

"Will you rub my back?" He rolled onto his side.

Josh put his hand inside Sam's sweatshirt and picked up where he'd left off and began to rub small circles on Sam's warm back. He loved Sam's back, whether he touched him in a paternal way to comfort him during a rough night of scary dreams or in a sensual way as he dug his fingernails into Sam during an orgasmic spasm, legs wrapped around Sam, he would pull him closer as he tried to bring Sam into himself to make them one.

Then they would lay still and Josh would caress the sweat on Sam's back as Sam's body heaved up and down on Josh. Sam's weight made Josh feel captured, possessed, restrained by this man ~~ he breathed heavy, sweat dripped onto Josh and Josh clung to Sam's back as the final quiver of their love-making stilled them both.

Now Josh rubbed small circles on Sam's back and tried to relieve whatever it was inside him that caused his Sam so much inner turmoil. You're gonna have to tell me Sam, he thought. Like I told YOU. Otherwise, you're gonna go crazy.

Thirty minutes later a phone rang.

"Not mine," Toby said. He went to the table and brought Josh's cell to him.

"Josh Lyman," Josh said, as he took the phone from Toby.

He mostly listened and barely got in a 'yes' or a 'no' and finally said, "Can't this wait until tomorrow? It's late and I've got guests." "None of your business." Josh listened a while longer. "Dammit Amy, just because YOU don't have a life doesn't mean 'I' don't." "Ok, ok, ok, ok! Hold on."

Josh set his phone on the table.

"It's Amy Gardner. She needs ten minutes that 'absolutely positively' can't wait until tomorrow or the free world as we know it will crumble before our very eyes. I'll get rid of her in five. Come here Toby."

"What for?"

"Come over here, take my phone, and put a pillow over it."

Toby covered the phone so Amy couldn't hear them. "What?"

"We're gonna do an exchange."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'm gonna slide out and you're gonna slide in and if we do it right, we won't wake Sam. He's finally asleep."

"Hold it. Can't you just shove a pillow under there and he'll think it's you?"

"Won't work. He knows the difference between a pillow and a lap."

"How?"

"Movement, body warmth, smells. Sam's a very tactile person. He notices things like that."

"He's gonna smell me?"

"Toby! Just do it! And rub little circles on his back or he'll wake up. UNDER his shirt."

"Wait. I didn't sign on for this. I'm not rubbing any body parts," Toby said and shook his head.

"Tactile. Skin against skin. He's gotta have it."

"I don't..."

"Dammit Toby, just do it! I swear to God, you will NOT turn gay!"

Carefully, Josh lifted Sam's head and scooted out from underneath him and passed Sam's head into Toby's hands as Toby took Josh's place on the couch. Sam was limp as a rag doll and never knew of the trade-off. Josh re-tucked the blanket and kissed Sam on the forehead.

"Little circles, little circles," Josh whispered and made a circular motion with his own hand.

Then he flipped the pillow off his phone, picked up his backpack and went upstairs to take the call in private.

"Hurry," Toby grumbled.

Toby wasn't thrilled that he had been asked to stick his hand up Sam's sweatshirt and rub his back. But with Josh gone, he suddenly found himself with Sam's head in his lap, about to do that very thing. He looked down at Sam's face. Sam looked peaceful enough ~~ eyes closed, lips turned upward in a slight smile. Toby had never been able to study Sam this closely. They'd slept in the same general vicinity while they were on the first campaign trail, several of them crowded into the same motel room, cots and roll-away beds brought in, but he'd been too tired and disinterested in anything except the campaign to care who slept next to him.

Toby had found Sam taking catnaps on his office couch during all-nighters at the White House, or curled up there with a pillow over his head as he tried to fight off a migraine he hadn't told Josh about. He'd just let him sleep and worked at his desk.

Sam is beautiful, Toby thought. Handsome, of course, but beautiful, absolutely, and breathtaking. When he thought back to the times he'd seen Sam in a tux, the only word Toby could think of was elegant. Prince Charming. A Knight in Shining Armor. The guy in the white cowboy hat. He noticed the classic cut features of Sam's face. Strong jaw, high cheekbones, perfect nose. And what he'd only heard about from the women in the West Wing but never actually checked out for himself ~~ those long, luscious eyelashes. Did I just say 'luscious' about a man, Toby wondered? He looked at Sam again ~~ long, luscious lashes...apparently so.

He looked sweet. Too sweet to be a shark in these political waters. Toby hoped whatever it was that bothered Sam didn't have anything to do with his job. But he knew work must be involved somehow. Sam was already IN the political waters and bound to go deeper, much deeper ~~ all the way. He knew it, Josh knew it, Leo knew it, and the President knew it. Hell, everybody knew it but Sam.

In order to go all the way Sam would have to compromise his ethics and morals and goodness. And, Toby thought, his sweetness. Toby feared sweet Sam would become cynical, sarcastic Sam. Just like the rest of them. Toby vowed then and there he would do everything in his power to keep Sam's head above water, and more importantly, he made a lifelong commitment that he'd never let President Samuel Normal Seaborn drown.

Surprisingly, it seemed natural and comfortable for Toby to rest his hand on Sam's cheek. He rubbed his thumb against Sam's skin. Sam shifted and murmured a small sigh of contentment. Something stirred inside of Toby. He wasn't sure what he felt, but an emotion arose in him that was definitely new, and one that warmed him. He wasn't sure why, and at the moment he didn't want to explore the reason. He just wanted to savor this time.

Toby moved his hand to the top of Sam's head and stroked his hair. Silk. Toby had never thought of himself as a tactile person before, but when he touched Sam it brought about more than buried emotions, but associations he hadn't connected with since his marriage to Andi. Her hair was silky too. But as he ran his fingers through Sam's hair, Andi was the last thing on his mind.

Sam rolled over onto his stomach, one arm wrapped around Toby's thigh, the other arm scrunched underneath his own body. Toby pulled the blanket up to Sam's neck and smoothed it. 'Rub his back', Josh had said, ' rub his back'.

Toby tentatively slid his hand under the blanket and pulled up Sam's sweatshirt. He felt Sam's bare skin. He'd never touched a grown man's naked back before. He was surprised at how soft Sam's skin was. He didn't know what he expected but not this. Hesitantly, Toby laid his hand flat and began to rub little circles. Sam shifted his body and gravitated toward Toby. He burrowed his face into Toby's stomach, took a second to rub his nose on Toby's shirt, tightened his grasp around Toby's leg, and brought his knees up. But it was the sound that startled Toby. As he rubbed Sam's back, Sam made a little noise that Toby hadn't heard before ~~ not with Andi, not with any lover he'd ever been with. It wasn't a sigh or a moan, and it didn't have any sense of sexuality. It wasn't a cry or a groan, but it was definitely an indication of pleasure. Toby didn't try to figure it out and just rubbed Sam's back and knew whatever it was he was doing what a good thing.

With the movie off and Josh upstairs it was just he and Sam in the dimly lit room. Toby felt a deep warmth inside him. He longed for something he couldn't put his finger on. A neediness he didn't want to feel. Was it affection? He tried to shake it off. This is crazy, he thought. I can't get mixed up with these guys and their 'universe', as they call it. I don't need this...I don't WANT this. I might start to care and then what? Then I might start to like them and it might turn into more than just fulfilling this obligation, this promise I foolishly made to Rosemary to watch after them until Josh got back on his feet. Well, Josh seems to be back on his feet so my duty has ended. So how come I'm sitting on their couch tonight with a sleeping Sam's face in my crotch, my hand up his shirt rubbing little circles on his back to comfort him so he can sleep like a baby? Hell, I'm getting too old or too mellow or too something.

But Toby slouched down into the couch and continued to rub Sam's back and found it wasn't because Josh had asked him to or because he felt obligated to Rosemary, but because he hoped it made Sam, in some small way, feel a sense of safety and security against whatever it was that had upset his soul. He leaned over and gave Sam a light kiss on his head. Sam's silky hair felt like nothing Toby had ever felt before. Perhaps this is how if feels to kiss your own sleeping child, Toby thought. Toby put his lips near Sam's ear. "Sam? Sammy?"

No response.

Toby leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes in peaceful meditation.

"Good-night Angel."

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