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[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts.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 1-26 , chapters 45-]

At Home by Jesse Morgan

Chapter 27

Sam's eyes flew open at the sudden "Beep! Beep! Beep!" in his ear. It took him a couple of seconds to realize the side of his face rested on someone's hand and his ear was directly on a wristwatch. The alarm had just gone off and jarred him from a sound sleep.

Sam knew he wasn't on Josh's hand. It didn't feel like Josh's hand and it didn't smell like Josh's hand and Josh's alarm on his watch had a different tone. The lap Sam's head laid on wasn't Josh's lap, nor was it Josh's crotch Sam's face was snuggled into. Sam wasn't sure who's thigh his arm was wrapped around but he knew it didn't belong to Josh, and his other hand was partially up the back of a shirt on a body of someone he wasn't sure he even knew, but he knew for sure it wasn't Josh.

Sam carefully pulled his hand from inside the shirt of the mystery person and pushed the button on the watch to turn off the alarm and looked at the time: five o'clock a.m. Then he lay still and quiet to get his bearings and figure out where he was and whom he was with.But most importantly, why wasn't this Josh and where WAS Josh?

He thought back and tried to remember the last thing he knew for sure. As the early morning cobwebs cleared, bits and pieces flashed in his head like photographs...Marc dangled car keys in front of him, garlic bread cut on the slant, a purple velvet bag, ladle ladle ladle ladle ladle ladle ladle ladle ladle, "top-notch job son, but you look like shit", Amy Gardner, put on Josh's sweats, smoked weed in the bath tub, Ho Chi Minh, MartinfuckingSheen, the blanket smelled like Rosemary, peach ice cream, "Good-night Angel". Toby.

Sam realized he was in his own home and his head was in Toby's lap.

He slowly rose up and sure enough, he was on Toby and they were both on the couch. Toby had slouched down sometime during the night and his head had fallen forward so his chin was on his chest. Just a slight growl of a snore rolled out of his barely-opened mouth. One hand was under Sam's head and the other was inside Sam's sweatshirt and rested on his bare back. Sam was covered up with the blanket that smelled like Rosemary and he wore Josh's sweats. Ice cream bowls and empty beer bottles sat on the tables and floor. An early morning news program was on TV but the sound was off.Josh was asleep on the easy chair. He was sprawled sideways so his legs were draped over the arm of the chair and his upper torso was snuggled into cushions he'd piled against the other chair arm. He was covered with an afghan Rosemary had crocheted and clutched a pillow in both his arms.

Now that it all made sense, Sam relaxed and settled back down into Toby. He probably wouldn't have if Toby hadn't been in such a deep sleep, but he was, so Sam decided to stay snuggled against him. He wasn't sure why. Sam just knew for quite some time he'd had a deep longing for a physical relationship with Toby. Nothing sexual, nothing romantic ~~ purely platonic. Pure. What an appropriate word, Sam thought, to describe whatever it was between him and Toby. Pure. To be whatever it was. He liked to think of Toby as his big brother, as the big brother his real brother could have been, should have been, but never was. He liked that Toby cared about him beyond the boundaries of supervisor/subordinate. He liked that Toby accepted his and Josh's marriage with such an open mind and had never used that against them for any reason, in any situation. He liked that Toby wanted to be part of his and Josh's universe and enjoyed being with them, even if he grumbled and complained at times and made it seem he was doing them a favor by honoring them with his presence.

Sam liked that Toby was just now able to physically touch him and apparently be comfortable enough with it that he could fall into a deep sleep with another man's face in his crotch and not freak out. Sam liked knowing he could go to Toby and talk about anything, especially if it was something about Josh that he couldn't take to anybody else. He liked that sometimes Toby was jealous of him and Josh but would never admit it. He liked that Toby believed ~~ that Toby KNEW he was going to be President of the United States one day. He liked that Toby would be his speechwriter.

Sam liked the way Toby's body felt beneath him, against him, around him. It was so different from Josh's...nobody felt like Josh...but familiar in it's own way, kinda like he expected it to feel. Although Josh was just a couple of years younger than Toby, Toby's body felt much older. His stomach was rounder than Josh's and softer. Josh managed to fit in 500 crunches a day and had tight, firm abs. Toby had a slight paunch. Sam took comfort in the weathered wear of the older man. Sam felt a sense of calm and security with Toby. He was always...almost always...the voice of reason and rationale when it seemed like things were upside down. But he could talk with Toby and Toby usually made things sound a lot less serious than Sam made them out to be. When Sam felt overwhelmed, Toby had a way to underwhelm him.

Not that Josh couldn't do these things, but sometimes Josh was too close to the situation, too emotionally involved, so overly protective of Sam that he wasn't able to stand back and look at things from an objective point of view when Toby could. And Sam trusted that Toby had his and Josh's best interests at heart when he DID keep an eye on their relationship.

Sam felt protected by Toby. He'd carried that with him for a while, but now, more than ever, as he lay in the early morning stillness when things were quiet and light was just beginning to overtake the darkness, the sensation of his body against Toby's warmed and pleased him.

Sam closed his eyes and burrowed a little further into Toby's lap. He fell back into a peaceful sleep.

********

Josh shifted in the chair and stretched as his internal alarm clock told him it was time to wake up. He immediately knew he wasn't in bed because his legs hung over the arm of a chair and had no circulation in them and his head was scrunched into the corner of the chair. He was also wearing jeans, the blue pajama top that was too big, and one tennis shoe ~~ not what he usually wore to bed. He quickly sat up and made little "ow", "ow", "ow"noises when his feet hit the floor and the pins and needles set in as the circulation returned to his legs.

He rubbed his eyes with balled-up fists, yawned and looked at the clock. Five-thirty. Damn. A workday. How much he'd rather spend the next few hours in bed with Sam...holding him, being held, savoring the wonder of bare skin on bare skin, caressing Sam, allowing Sam to caress him, laying back as Sam's hands gently glided over Josh, seeking out the special places only he and Sam knew about, the places that made Josh moan with pleasure, arch his body into Sam's hand, reach for his fingers to hold in his own and keep them in that special place so the rapture would never end, the moment of being on the edge of ecstasy would last a while longer, to hold on, to hold on, to hold on...but Sam's fingers knew too well that special place and cherished the joy he brought Josh, so he gently and lovingly carried him to the edge then over, and stayed with Josh while he fell into that abyss of delirium as euphoria overtook and sated him. Then Sam would hold Josh and stroke his face and kiss him and tell him he was the most beautiful man God ever created.

That's what he wanted to do.

Instead he looked over at the couch. He smiled when he saw Toby and Sam curled up together. He wondered if Toby would smile if HE could see what Josh saw. At that thought the smile left Josh's face. He knew Toby had become comfortable with he and Sam, but would he want to be found in such an intimate position this morning?

Josh remembered last night. He was on the phone with Amy Gardner longer than intended and when he came downstairs Toby had stopped the movie and turned the sound down. The room was dark except for the glow from the TV.Sam was on the couch with his head on Toby's lap, just as Josh had left them.

"How's my boy?" Josh asked quietly.

"Asleep. Out like a light." Toby brushed Sam's hair back and let his hand rest on Sam's head. "I thought you'd gone to bed."

"Amy Gardner. Amy, Amy, Amy. I swear Toby..."

"She's in love with you Josh."

"She could turn any man gay. You wanna beer? Coffee? Water? Anything?"

"Nah, I guess I'd better be going. It's kinda late," Toby answered.

"Have a cup of coffee with me, Toby. I don't like to drink alone."

"Just one cup. Then I've gotta run."

"Sure. You want anything to eat?" Josh asked.

"Uh, any more of that pecan pie left?"

"Don't you know by now we ALWAYS have pie in this house just on the off chance you might stop by? Pie and coffee coming up."

While Josh was in the kitchen Toby looked down at Sam. His heart swelled for a moment at the sight. He could only see part of Sam's cheek, one closed eye, some of his forehead, and brown tousled hair. He ran his fingers through Sam's hair and was again reminded of its silky texture.

When did this happen, Toby thought? When did I fall in love with you, Sam?

Not as a man loves another man, but as a man loves his brother. When did I allow myself to get so close that you mean this much to me? WHY did I let this happen? This isn't something I want. This isn't something I need. I'm not emotionally prepared for this. I can't invest myself, my emotions in another person. That ended with Andi. God knows I'm not in love with you, Sam. But God knows I love you.

"Pecan pie and coffee, black." Josh set the plate and coffee mug on the end table next to Toby. "Wanna do the exchange-a-roo so you can get out from under Sleeping Beauty. You must be totally pissed at me for leaving you alone with him piled up on you for so long. I'm really sorry Toby, but you know how Amy gets."

"Forget it. Let him stay while I eat my pie, then I'll just roll him onto the floor when I leave."

Josh and Toby ate in silence while the light from the TV flickered.

Then Josh set his plate down and spoke.

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"I...um...thanks for being around these, however long it's been while, uh, you know, while things have been rough. I know Mom appreciated it," Josh said.

"It's ok. I didn't do anything. Not really."

"Yes, yes you really did."

Toby set his plate down. He was uncomfortable being complimented. He was glad the room was dim.

"You were a strong shoulder for Mother," Josh continued. "Somebody she could talk to that wasn't Sam or me. God knows neither of us were capable of holding an intelligent conversation. Sammy was so wrapped up in me and keeping his head above water at the White House, and me...me. I must have been a real piece of work. A blubbering idiot's more like it."

"Josh, don't say that."

"I lost it Toby. I fuckin' lost it."

"It happens. You got through it. Be grateful for that."

"You have no idea how grateful. When I think of what could have happened. If someone had seen me that night...do you realize how much damage I could have done to the administration? What if...?"

"Don't EVEN start to what if," Toby said. "Once you start that you'll just drive yourself nuts. There was no *what if* so don't let it mess with your head now. Nobody saw you, the administration is fine, you're safe, the President's safe, so just don't go someplace you don't need to go."

"Yeah, ok."

"Get me some more coffee, will ya?"

Josh took both their mugs into the kitchen and came back with fresh, hot coffee. After Josh handed his to Toby, he sat in the easy chair and slung his legs over the arm. He kicked one shoe off and started to pry the other off with his toe when his tongue touched the hot coffee and he yelped.

"Shit! That's hot!"

Toby chuckled.

"Josh?"

"What?" Josh replied, a bit harsher than intended.

"How are you doing these days? Honestly." Toby asked.

Josh was taken back by the question. It's not what he expected to hear. He didn't know WHAT he thought Toby was going to say, but it wasn't that.

"I'm good."

"Are you really?"

"Really. My Mother wouldn't have left Toby, if she didn't think I was back to some semblance of normalcy. For me anyway. Trust me. She wouldn't have left," Josh said emphatically.

"I know," Toby agreed. "It was hard for her to leave even when she did."

"How do you know that?"

"She told me. Josh, your Mother was really worried about you. She never knew how strongly Joanie's...Joanie's death affected you. I mean, she knew...but for you to blame yourself...that came out of the blue for her."

Josh leaned over and picked up a throw pillow on the floor and hugged it to his chest.

"That's not something a person just goes around talking about Toby. Hey, I killed my sister."

"You didn't kill your sister. I thought you said you were good with this,"Toby said.

"I am."

"You need to be Josh. We've got a sick boy here who's on the verge of exhaustion himself and I'm afraid he's gonna crash if we don't get him healthy again."

"I can't believe we let him get so run down and nobody even saw it,"

Josh said, his voice quiet. "I never knew I could be so selfish."

"Josh, you're doing it again," Toby replied. "WE'RE to blame for this, not you. If you'll remember, you haven't been at your best lately either so you wouldn't be expected to notice. Me, on the other hand, dammit, I should have. I work with him every day, right beside him. And I've been over here at least every other day. I can't believe *I* let it get this far."

"You were here every other day when?" Josh asked, genuinely surprised.

"While you were going through your shit."

"Seriously?"

"At least. Sometimes every day, when things were especially...you didn't know that?"

"Uh, no. I sorta remember you being here some, but not THAT much."

"Well, I was."

"When things were especially what?" asked Josh.

Toby drank from his coffee mug.

"When things were especially difficult. You know, that PTSD stuff, that's nothing to mess around with. That motherfucker just blindsided you and you were down for the count before you even knew what hit you. There's no way you could have seen it coming Josh."

"I was bad, huh?"

"You weren't bad. You were sick. T here's a big difference. You couldn't have stopped what happened to you that night," Toby replied.

"What was so scary Toby, is how I just lost it. I've never been out of control before. Was I out of control?"

"Why do you wanna talk about this tonight?"

Josh shrugged. "Because Sam won't. Whenever I ask him about it, he changes the subject. It's like if he tells me what happened, it'll come back and it scares him."

Toby didn't respond.

"Was Sam scared?" asked Josh.

Toby drained his coffee mug.

"Toby, was Sam scared?"

Toby nodded. "Yeah, Sam was scared. He was real scared. He thought he was gonna lose you Josh."

"Lose me?"

"There were times you got so far away from reality, Sam was afraid you wouldn't come back."

Sam shifted, raised his head and looked around through eyes that were open barely more than slits.

"Josh?" he said sleepily.

"Yeah babe?" "Where are you?"

"In the chair, right next to you," Josh answered.

"Where's Toby?"

"On the couch. You've got your head in his lap."

Sam's head slowly scanned the room like a turtle just out of its shell.

"Toby's head's in my lap?" Sam asked.

"Well, yeah, close enough," Josh laughed.

"What's funny?"

"You are. Go back to sleep Angel."

Sam's head dropped and he was asleep immediately. An *oof* escaped from Toby.

"Next time you give him a direct order," Toby said, "would you add the word*gentle* in there. I'm not wearing a cup you know."

"Yeah, ok. Sorry `bout that. Uh, Toby?"

"What?"

"I remember when I was...you were around a lot, now that I think about it. I remember you were here. A lot. And I, uh...I kinda remember it was, um, sorta...sorta, you know, nice. You know." Josh spoke slowly and softly.

There was a quietness in the room. Toby stroked Sam's chin with his thumb.

"Yeah, I know," Toby finally said.

"I mean, it was nice for Mom. Having you around. You know."

"Yeah, I know."

"And nice for Sam. He needed you too, I'm sure."

"Sure."

"And I...I guess it was good for me too. I don't really remember, but...I guess it was."

"I guess."

Silence.

"You want some more coffee Toby?"

"No, thanks Josh, I've gotta get going."

"Yeah, ok."

********

"Ow, ow, ow."

Josh shook each leg until the tingling stopped then took the couple of steps over to the couch. Sam's face was almost completely covered. He pulled the blanket down and gently shook Sam's shoulder.

No response.

"Sam," he whispered.

No response.

"Sammy," he said a bit louder. Josh shook Sam's shoulder a little harder.

No response.

Josh took Sam's head in both his hands and pulled it up off Toby's lap.

"Huh? What?"

"Shhh..." Josh cautioned. "Be quiet."

Sam looked up at Josh through half-open eyes and smiled.

"Hi baby," he said.

"Hi baby your own self. Very carefully and very quietly get up and off Toby without waking him. Can you do that?"

"Sure, why?"

"Just do it."

Sam did as Josh asked him and disentangled himself from Toby and got off the couch without disturbing him. Toby's head rolled to the other side of his chest and he closed his mouth and licked his lips, but within a few seconds the gentle growl continued.

"Awww, look at him Josh. He's like a big ole sleeping bear," Sam whispered.

"Uh huh. Let's leave sleeping bears lie and go upstairs. We need to get to work," Josh answered.

"Are we just gonna leave him there?"

"No, we're not just gonna leave him there, numb-nuts. We're gonna let him wake up and leave with dignity."

"Wake up and leave with dignity? What the hell are you talking about? And don't call me numb-nuts."

"Think about it for a minute. Don't you think Toby might feel a little embarrassed if he wakes up with his deputy all snuggled up and wrapped around him? I mean, it's what I live for, but Toby might not be so wild about finding your open mouth pressed against his dick," Josh smiled.

"Yeah," Sam conceded, "I see your point. Man, wouldn't he freak if actually..."

"Sam, that's not funny."

"Yeah, it IS funny."

"You're right, it's funny. Now let's go upstairs and take a shower and go do what we do." Josh kissed Sam on the cheek, took his hand and started to lead him toward the steps.

"Uh, Josh?"

"Yeah."

"We can't just leave the sleeping bear lying on our couch. He'll stay there till noon and give us hell for it later for missing a third of a day of work," Sam pointed out.

Josh stopped. "Oh, yeah. We've gotta wake him up."

"With dignity," Sam added.

Sam and Josh stood in their living room and stared at Toby snoring on their couch.

"Yeah..." Josh thought about it. "Maybe we could go half-way up the stairs and throw books at him then run the rest of the way up the stairs he'll think he just woke up on his own."

"Or maybe we could just say `Toby! Wake up!' Think that might work?"

Josh looked at Sam. "I'd rather throw books at him."

Sam took Josh's hand and led him upstairs. When they got to the top they stopped.

"Ok," Sam said, "holler down there and wake him up."

"Why me?"

"Because, you're his peer. He's my boss. It'd sound better coming from you."

"You think too much, did you know that?"

"But I'm right. Right?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, you're right. You're always right. Go start the shower."

Sam started toward the bedroom.

"Wait!" Josh grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him back. He put his hand behind Sam's neck and brought him in for a deep kiss. As Sam pulled away, Josh tightened his grasp and held Sam's head in place and kissed him deeper.

"No greater love," he said.

Sam smiled. He put his hand on the back of his neck and laced his fingers with Josh's.

"Aucun plus grand amour."

Sam winked at Josh, unwound their fingers, and disappeared into the bedroom.

Josh watched him go then leaned down the stairs and at the top of his voice yelled, "TOBY!! WAKE UP!!"

"At Home" ~~Chapter 28

"Don-naaaaa!" "Yowza?"

Josh looked up from his desk at Donna standing in his office doorway. "What did you say?"

"Yowza." She grinned. "Yowza, yowza, yowza."

"May I ask why in the hell you would say 'yowza'?"

"I heard it on a movie last night and liked the sound of it and am going to use that as my code name," Donna explained.

Josh looked at her for a full minute before he spoke. "Donna, have you lost your mind? People who work just a few steps from the President of the United States don't go around saying 'yowza'. Forget it."

"That's not fair. Everybody else has a cool code name," Donna complained.

"Not everybody. Just the Senior Staff."

"I like Sam's best."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Everybody likes Sam's best."

"Princeton." Donna dramatically ran her hand across the nothingness before her as if she were reading the word on a theatre marquee. "It just sounds so...collegiate. So preppy. So homecoming-ish. So jocks in their letterman sweaters. So panty-raid-like."

"Donna! I got the it!"

"CJ hates hers you know," Donna continued. "Flamingo." She did the dramatic thing with her hand again, reading the word in the clouds. "I think it's a pretty name. Flamingo. It sounds elegant. Do you know why flamingos are pink?"

No response.

"Josh? I asked you a question. Do you know why flamingos are pink? Josh! I'm talking to you!"

"And I'm ignoring you! Or trying to. I've been in my office less than five minutes and all I've heard about are pink flamingos and how wonderful college boys are. Don't you think you're dipping into the cradle a bit?"

"Then what do you want?" Donna asked in a perturbed voice.

"What?"

"You called me in here. What do you want?"

Josh frowned. "I have absolutely no idea. You do something to me Donnatella. I came in to work this morning perfectly capable, confident and in control and within minutes you've reduced me to a blubbering..."

"Idiot?" Donna finished his sentence.

Josh's nostrils flared. He'd never admit it, but that's the exact word he was going to use.

"If you say ONE more word, you're fired. I'm not kidding either," Josh snarked. "Hit the road Jack and don't `cha come back..."

"...no 'mo, no 'mo, no 'mo, no 'mo..."

CJ danced her way into Josh's office, snapping her fingers as she sang. "Hi cutie pie. What 'cha doin'?"

"Not much. Just watching Josh have a whine party resulting in total amnesia and threats of inappropriate use of his position of authority to intimidate, make that TRY to intimidate a valuable member of his office staff."

CJ looked at Donna with mild amusement. "Sorry to burst your bubble Donna, but you're not the cutie pie I was addressing. Believe it or not, I want the one hosting the whine party."

Donna's hand flew to her mouth with embarrassment. "Oh CJ, I...I don't know what to say. I apologize for being so presumptuous." Donna backed out of Josh's office muttering apologies and closed the door behind her.

"How come she shows you respect and not me?" Josh asked.

"Because I follow through," CJ explained. "You just blather on with no intention of actually carrying out your threats. With me? People aren't so sure. You know we've got a meeting in the Oval in 15 minutes? I think its gonna last all day."

"Yep, gotta get this campaign off the ground sometime. Today's as good a day as any," Josh replied. He dug through his backpack and pulled out what he'd need for the meeting. He was well aware of CJ watching his every move. She continued to sing "Hit the Road Jack".

Finally Josh couldn't stand it any longer. "What? What do you want from me? I know you didn't just drop by to call me 'cutie pie' and serenade me with that song. It's a dumb song anyway. What do you want? What have I done? Why are you here? I can't stand the suspense!"

"Joshua! Get a grip! If you aren't guilty of something you're missing a good opportunity. I just dropped in to say 'hi' and maybe ask you a question."

"See!" Josh said accusingly. "I knew it! What's your question? Go on, get it out, lay it all out on the table. Let's clear the air."

"Calm down Josh! This isn't an interrogation. Good grief. Why are you so jumpy? Don't tell me you've already been misbehaving THIS early in the morning!"

Josh felt his face blush pink.

A smirk spread across CJ's face and she broke into song again, "Ain't Misbehavin'."

Josh swiveled his chair around and looked out the window.

CJ stopped singing. "Come on cutie pie, I'll walk you to the Oval. We'll stop on the way and I'll get you a Xanax from Margaret."

Josh spun his chair back around. "Does Margaret take Xanax?" he asked.

"Wouldn't you if YOU worked for Leo?"

"I DO work for Leo," Josh deadpanned. He stood and gathered his things for the meeting.

"Oh yeah," CJ laughed. "Well, let's hit the road Jack." She stood, stretched her tall, graceful body and released a long sigh of pleasure. "Oh, that felt good," she said.

The two walked into the bullpen. "You know where I am if you need me," Josh said to Donna as he passed her.

"Shrimp," Donna said, matter-of-factly, almost snapping the word out of her mouth.

Josh stopped walking but didn't turn around. "Ok."

"Flamingos eat lots and lots of shrimp and that's why they're pink."

CJ glared at Donna as she and cutie pie headed toward their meeting with the President.

"So what's the question?" Josh asked CJ.

"I have no idea."

********

Sam arrived at the White House about 10 minutes after Josh. He was totally prepared for the meeting and psyched for his presentation.

"Buon giorno!" Sam greeted the assistants as he entered the bullpen. "Signore belle tutto l'intorno."

"Here's your messages Sam," Cathy said, handing him a stack of pink notes. "Your Dad called again. Aren't you EVER going to call him back?"

Sam started to read his messages but looked up to respond to Cathy. "What makes you think I HAVEN'T called him back?"

"Well, it's just, he keeps calling so I thought maybe you were avoiding him."

"Why would I do that?"

"I don't know! Stop it Sam! You're supposed to be with the rest of the Senior Staff in five minutes!"

Sam laughed because Cathy was flustered. He started to flip through his messages again. A slap on the back stopped him.

"You're almost late Sam," Toby said. "Wanna allow for some wiggle room in the future?"

"You're anal Toby. 'Almost late' is a sure sign of serious anal-retention. Kinda like you 'almost made me wait'. We're not gonna be late if we leave right now. It's just five minutes away."

"Yeah, and the meeting starts in three minutes. Let's go."

Sam stuffed his messages in the front of his daytimer, still unread. As he and Toby headed down the hall, Toby said to Ginger, "In the Oval. Don't hesitate to get us if you need us. Try to find an excuse every hour on the hour."

On the short walk Toby barely had time to ask, "Sam, how are you feeling this morning?"

"Real good," Sam answered.

"Rested?"

"I am. I had a peaceful sleep last night. I feel relaxed today."

"I'm glad to hear that," Toby said. He casually put his hand on Sam's back as they walked, without even really thinking about it, and rubbed a few circles just as they reached the Oval Office. Charlie was on the phone but waved them on in.

Josh sat on the couch going over the notes he'd written. On the table beside him was a cup of steaming coffee and a half-eaten bear claw on a piece of china, which was part of a set given to President Bartlet as a gift from the King of somewhere ~~ nobody could ever remember where, not even POTUS himself. Every time they used it the President called it exquisite and told a forty-five minute story of its history that no one believed since he didn't even know where it came from.

Josh had said, away from Jed's earshot, that he thought it was tacky as hell. CJ said it was gaudy. Even Sam, who rarely criticized anything, especially a gift, finally admitted it 'might' be a bit busy. Leo said it was none of anyone else's business and Toby just grunted and drank out of his own NASA mug he'd brought with him.

Josh glanced up when Sam and Toby entered the office, said, "Hey guys," then went back to his papers without waiting for a response, and he got none. CJ was off to the side, her long arms twisted in a seemingly impossible pose as she used hatha yoga to relax her muscles for the long day ahead. President Bartlet and Leo were obvious by their absence.

"When's this thing gonna get underway?" Toby asked to no one in particular.

"Charlie said it'll be another fifteen minutes," Josh volunteered. "The President and Leo have a thing."

"What kind of thing?" Toby prodded.

Josh shrugged. "I have no idea. Really, I don't. They were gone when CJ and I got here."

Toby gave a look of impatience, set his things down then walked over to the credenza where there was an abundance of pastries and fruit, bagels and coffee cake, yogurt and quiche, and a variety of beverages for the staff. He took a plate and began loading up.

Sam leaned against the wall next to the credenza eating a banana, and finally got around to looking through his messages. Routine, routine, routine, Daniel Seaborn, routine, routine, Lisa? Why in the world was Sam's ex-fiancee calling him? He thought he'd seen the last of her at the "Vanity Fair" interview fiasco. Routine, routine, routine and then the message that made the color drain from his face, his knees go weak and caused him to grab the food table to steady himself with such force that the china rattled, an apple rolled to the floor and Toby stopped serving himself and looked at Sam with alarm.

Sam's eyes were riveted to the small piece of paper.

Toby inconspicuously moved to that end of the credenza. "Sam?" he said softly.

No response.

"Sam!" he repeated with a little more force in his voice.

No response.

Toby gently slipped the paper from between Sam's fingers. Sam didn't even notice. His eyes were now fixated on his empty hand. Toby looked at Sam's face. His eyes were blank and his mind obviously not in this room. Where IS Sam? Toby wondered. He gently lowered Sam's arm to his side so he wouldn't look so conspicuously rattled. It was then Toby read the message.

Dated today, about twenty minutes before Sam arrived, the message was addressed to Sam from someone called Marc, no last name. It had first been spelled 'Mark' then scratched through and re-spelled `Marc' with a 'c' as though the caller had made a point of having his name spelled correctly. Toby looked at Sam's face again. He was looking at Toby now. Their eyes connected and locked. Whatever that message said had scared the shit out of Sam. His eyes were pleading with Toby to help him, but Toby didn't know why or how. He finally read the message.

"Cobra, still on for 8:00? I look forward to seeing you. I'm ready to go for it again. Don't be late and plan for an all-nighter!"

Toby's eyes met Sam's again and whatever this cryptic message meant, it had knocked the breath out of Sam. Toby didn't know if he should alert Josh or not. Something in his gut told him this was probably not the best time or place to share this information. Both Toby and Sam were grateful Josh hadn't seen Sam's shocked look and stumble against the food table. No one had but Toby.

"We're gonna step out into the hall and go over a couple of things," Toby said. "Charlie will send us in if the President gets back before we do."

CJ pretty much ignored them, but Josh watched with great interest, especially since Toby had his hand on Sam's elbow and guided him toward the door.

Once in the hall with the door closed behind them, Sam fell against Toby. Toby put his arm around Sam to keep him on his feet then as discretely as he could, walked him into the men's room. Sam put his hands on the sink while Toby turned on the cold water.

"Splash some of that on your face before you pass out," he instructed. "You're white as a sheet."

Sam leaned over the basin and cupped his hands under the stream of water, then lowered his face into the little puddle he'd made. He left his face in the cold water, then rose up and rubbed his face, as water dripped off his nose and chin. He repeated it. Toby kept his eye on the door and hoped nobody would come in.

"That message kicked your feet out from under you, didn't it?" Toby said.

Sam nodded and again dipped his face into his hands cupped with cold water. When he raised his face, wet hair was plastered to his forehead. "Oh God Toby, you have no idea. This is bad on so many levels."

"It's none of my business."

There was a thick silence. Sam swayed to the left and slid on the wet, slippery counter top. Immediately Toby was at his side and caught him before he fell.

"Sam, listen to me and listen carefully. Do I have your full attention?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm ok. I'm listening."

"Sam, you've got to get yourself together before we go back into that meeting, which will be in about two minutes. I won't ask you about that message, but you've got to get your shit together...now. Right now. Get the color back in your face and for God's sake, stand up on your own two feet. I can't sit in there and prop you up. You'll have to talk too, you know? You've no doubt got the best ideas of anyone in that room and will have the most to say, and everybody will be looking at you and listening to you. And you need to not only be coherent, but you need to make a major impression. We can save our razzle dazzle horse and pony show for Bruno and his gang, but right now, we...you...have to convince the President that what we've put together is what's going to win the election in November and keep him ~~ and us ~~ in this White House another four years. Do you understand me?"

Sam nodded again. "I understand Toby. I know how important this is. I just need another minute. I'm gonna be all right. Just another minute. I was caught off-guard by a phone message I received."

"Yeah, ok. I saw that message and I read it. I didn't understand it, but I read it. Whatever it is, you've got to put it away for the next few hours or Sam, you could be in deep shit. The way you look right now and the way you're behaving, don't you think Leo and the President will notice the minute they walk in the door? Get your act together NOW."

Toby pulled some paper towels from the dispenser and handed them to Sam. Sam wiped his face dry and slapped his cheeks to bring some color into them. Then from nowhere, it seemed, Toby held his own comb out for Sam to take. Sam looked at Toby, who nodded for him to go ahead and take it. Sam wet it and ran it through his hair then rinsed it off and handed it back to Toby.

He stepped back from the sink and faced Toby. "How do I look? Am I ok to go back into the meeting?"

Toby straightened Sam's tie and smoothed down a couple of stray hairs near Sam's ear. "You look like you're ready for your first day at school. Let's go kiddo."

Sam gave him a half-smile.

When they got to the door of the men's room to leave Toby stopped and blocked Sam. "Sam, there's just one thing I have to ask you. I...uh...I hate to, but...I hate to ask you this Sam, but I need to know."

"What is it Toby?"

"Are you cheating on Josh?"

Cheating on Josh?

Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh. Cheating on Josh.

Cheating on Josh?

Sam's two-minute walk from the men's room to the Oval Office felt like an hour. He moved in slow motion, each arm, each leg, weighed a hundred pounds. He knew Toby was in front of him, but Toby was just a blur. All sounds were far off in the distance and distorted, played on slow speed and drug out so Sam couldn't understand anything that was said. Lights grew dim then bright again. Don't lose sight of the blur, Sam, don't lose sight of the blur or you'll lose your way forever.

Nothing makes sense. Nothing makes sense. Nothing makes sense.

Why am I walking so slowly? Why can't I move my arms and legs? And my head ~~ why doesn't my head want to turn? Is that Toby in front of me? Why is he just a fuzzy outline of himself? Is that him talking? What's he saying?

"Huuuuuuuurrrrrrrryyyyyyyy!"

I don't understand...I don't understand...Toby! What are you saying to me?

"Huuuuuuuurrrrrrrryyyyyyyy!"

Wait for me Toby! Why did he ask me, "Are you cheating on Josh?" Why would he say such a thing? Never, ever, ever in a million years would I cheat on Josh. Josh and I are married. We've made a commitment to each other for eternity. I love Josh with all my heart and soul and everything else I have to love him with. Josh is my reason for living. There's nothing or no one I would choose over Josh for any reason in the entire universe. WHY then would Toby ask me, "Are you cheating on Josh?"

Toby had to have a reason. Something prompted him. He wouldn't just ask such a question if he didn't have a reason. A good reason. A good enough reason to cause me the emotional turmoil he knew it would ignite. But what reason? What reason? What was it that gave Toby the idea I might be cheating on Josh? What was it Toby had seen or heard, rather THOUGHT he'd seen or heard that would give him the totally false idea I might be cheating on Josh? What piece of misinformation had caused him to jump to this conclusion? It had to be something serious, because Toby isn't one to act hastily. What does Toby think he knows? What had he seen? What had he heard? What had he read? What had he been told? What had he been asked? What had he...what had he read!

GODDAMMIT!!! GODDAMMIT TO HELL!!!

Sam lurched forward in his subconscious slow motion gait and desperately yanked at Toby's jacket; however in reality he propelled himself forward at full force in response to Toby's "Hurry!"

With Sam's strength and the element of surprise, Toby was not only jerked to a halt, but one foot actually left the ground as Sam pulled the sleeve of Toby's jacket completely off one arm and partially down the other.

He spun around and glared at Sam. "What the hell are you doing?" He had to control himself to keep his voice down, as they were just outside the Oval Office. He pulled his jacket back on and adjusted the sleeves and collar.

Charlie stepped into the hall. "The President is arriving now," he said.

Toby didn't turn around. "Thanks Charlie. We're on our way."

"Toby, you asked if I was cheating on Josh..." Sam barely got out in a gravely whisper.

Toby leaned in so his face was an inch from Sam's. "Sam, at this moment I don't give a shit who you're screwing. I don't care if you're screwing the First Lady, I don't care if you're screwing Governor Ritchie. I don't care if you're screwing Ed and Larry or President Putin. I don't care if you're screwing yourself, upside-down, inside-out and backwards. We're going into the Oval Office now to meet with the President of the United States and give him a presentation that, please God, you better have been working on and damn me to hell because I didn't have enough sense to look over your shoulder every five minutes to make sure you weren't just doodling or playing Solitaire on your laptop. Now you're up first because the President is expecting the most from you, and if he knew what I know...God help us all...so you're setting the bar. Everybody else has to live up to what you do in there and I'm thinking now that's not going to be very difficult. I'm not expecting you to razzle dazzle anybody, least of all Jed Bartlet who's going to bitch about every comma, period and question mark, but PLEASE Sam, for God's sake, at least, AT LEAST stand up there and try to get ten minute's worth of complete sentences out of your mouth that have some semblance to the topic. You DO know what the topic is, don't you? Please nod your head yes."

Sam nodded his head. "Uh huh."

"That's my boy," Toby mumbled sarcastically. "Remind me to have Ginger update our resumes and start getting them out."

"Toby?"

"What?" Toby barked, not sure if it was out of frustration of concern.

"I think maybe I can razzle dazzle," Sam said softly.

"Forget it. Leave that to Bruno. He was supposed to be here and he's not. Just smile. You're cute. You're cuter than hell Sam. Think cute, not razzle dazzle."

********

Sam razzle dazzled the President and everyone else in the Oval Office for five-and-a-half hours that flew by with his out-of-left field presentation that detailed how he believed the upcoming campaign should be developed and executed from the moment the first bumper sticker was stuck until the last Inaugural Ball was over. He'd invented 'spontaneous' answers to ' spontaneous' questions the president was sure to be asked over and over while glad-handing, back-slapping and baby-kissing with his adoring public.

Sam even created three mock debates between President Bartlet and Governor Ritchie with a significant sampling of potential questions, potential answers, potential rebuttals and potential reactions to the potential rebuttals. He even highlighted when and where he felt the President should show facial expression, hand expression and offered advice on what Jed Bartlet should wear. Of course, it would take the entire staff and Bruno's people to cover every facet of the campaign, and still things would fall through the cracks, but Sam had most definitely single-handedly led the Bartlet team to a highly impressive head start.

He went through the presentation with an ease and self-confidence none of the other staffers had seen for a while. He never faltered, never hesitated and never questioned his own ability. He went from beginning to end with the professionalism and expertise that carried him into the White House in the first place. There, before the rest of the Senior Staff was the 'old Sam'. Sam at his best. Sam, who could take the impossible and make them all believe it with their hearts and souls. Sam who spoke with such eloquence and grace he could read the DC phone book aloud and keep his toughest audience enraptured. His charisma, his smooth, reassuring voice, his tone, his inflection and his choice of words became poetry ~~ and the passion behind those words made each person in the room believe Sam had just read a love letter written especially for him or her. That's how beautifully Sam had done his job.

Sam awed them. No, he did more than that ~~ he blew them away. Josh was so proud he was about to burst, but he couldn't say anything more than "Great job Sam! I'm totally impressed!"

Toby beamed, not just for the actual work his protégé put forth that even HE didn't know about, but because he did it under such trying circumstances, more trying than he was soon to realize.

CJ jumped out of her chair, grabbed Sam's hands, swung him around and sang "Happy Days Are Here Again", the President's self-proclaimed favorite song, after the Notre Dame Fight Song, of course.

"Sparky, you're gonna run this whole campaign all by yourself! The rest of us can just ride along on your coat tails and rest on your laurels!"

Leo actually smiled and said, "Damn good job Sam. I'm glad to see 'someone' around here has gotten something accomplished. Excellent work young man."

All eyes turned to Jed Bartlet. Sam stood in the middle of the Presidential Seal on the floor in front of his desk, cool as a cucumber.

How does he do that? Josh wondered. I'd be sweating like a hog in August and there's my boy, face-to-face with the most powerful man in the world and he's got ice in his veins. Man, I'd love to get my hot hands on that ice cold body right now and melt him down. He is SUCH a turn-on when he exudes self-confidence like this. He's so self-assured and masculine. Do I think about sex too much at work?

Josh caught himself staring and daydreaming and quickly looked away. But he needn't worry. Everyone was looking at the President, who leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head.

"Mr. Seaborn, please correct me if I'm mistaken. My Senior Staff met here, in this very office, approximately a week ago and I gave this assignment. Is that correct?"

"Yes sir, that's correct."

"And this is what you managed to come up with. Is that correct?"

"Yes sir, that's correct."

"Let's see, you came on board my staff, what, nine months ago? Is that correct?"

Sam smiled. He knew the President was messing with him now. "No sir. I've been working for you since you were Governor of New Hampshire. You brought me on board during your 'first' run for President sir."

Jed Bartlet stood up. "Ah yes, I think I remember now. I've always had trouble with names. You're the young one. That kid Josh drug in with him. Is that correct?"

Sam dipped his head a bit. His self-assurance now gave way to humility. Sam had no problem flaunting his expertise and being cock-of-the-walk when it served its purpose for the administration, but when he received compliments after he'd done his job, his duty, his service to the President and the praise turned personal, he became shy and uncomfortable. Sam considered the work he did in the White House civil service, genuinely in the best interest of the country, however idealistic or naïve that may be, and to take credit for what he did for a government paycheck or personal gain just never set well with him.

Sam Seaborn served at the pleasure of the President.

"I say, is that correct? You're the kid that tagged along behind Josh Lyman. Correct?"

"Yes sir, that's correct."

Jed finally broke into a grin and put his arm around Sam. "Well sir, I think we're gonna keep you on. I've been waiting for you to screw up so we could get rid of you and I thought sure this would be it, but by damn, I don't think it could have been done any better. And to hell with Bruno. I'd like HIM to have seen this. That would take him down a notch or two. Sam, I'm just as proud of you as if you were my own son."

The President embraced Sam. When he released him, Jed still grinned but Sam had a look of real surprise on his face. That was the last thing he expected. All he could say was "Yes sir, that's correct."

Jed and Leo had a good laugh over that. Sam thought he heard Leo say to the President, "He'll be just fine when he sits in here, sir." but he wasn't sure.

"Toby, Josh, CJ, Sam...get all this, every scrap of paper out of here and in that room Charlie got cleared out for us...Charlie!"

Charlie appeared at the door. "Yes sir?"

"Did you get that...?"

"It's ready sir. New paint, new carpeting, computers, telephones, tables, chairs, file cabinets, dry erase boards, copier, shredder, everything they'll need."

"Excellent Charlie! Give these good people a hand moving all this stuff, will you please? Thank you Charlie." Then back to the staff. "So we'll get all Sam's stuff, well, everybody's stuff I mean, into that room which is now officially, as of...what time is it somebody? Oh hell, use Sam's watch, it's his baby. Officially as of..."

Charlie walked into the office again. "Excuse me, Mr. President. The First Lady is on line one."

"Thank you Charlie. Well, you people know what I want. Set that room up as our first campaign headquarters, think up some snazzy name to put on the door, Charlie, call and have the lock re-keyed and give keys to, well you know who gets keys and get the file cabinets re-keyed too. We got finished ahead of schedule and I'm gonna ask my wife out on an early date and I just might get lucky so you all get the hell out of here so I can sweet talk her and thanks everyone ~~ Sam, exceptional work. Now beat it." The President punched line one on the phone on his desk. "Hi Snookums..."

********

Sam set his third box of computer print-outs against the far wall in the temporary campaign room. CJ lugged her presentation in and complained the whole time about how a little help wouldn't hurt. When Sam set his own things down and offered his assistance, she put her hands on her hips, glared at him and said, "No thanks wonder boy, wouldn't want your halo to slip."

Sam was taken aback by her uncalled for remark, then she broke into a grin, flung her arms around him and gushed, "You be da man Sparky! I owe you a nooner on my office couch for the show you put on in there today!"

Sam ducked his head and gave CJ his bashful smile, this time, strictly for show. "Twelve o'clock tomorrow good for you CJ?" he asked.

"You be there and I'll have the wine chilled," she laughed. "And I'm holding you to it."

Sam gave a quick glance toward Josh. He wore his half-smirk and his eyes gleamed. He knew if Sam gave out any 'nooners' tomorrow, he'd be the lucky one at twelve o'clock, not CJ.

CJ whistled "Happy Days Are Here Again" as she carried the rest of her presentation into the room. Her enthusiasm generated excitement among the whole staff and when she returned with her last load, Charlie carried it and hummed along.

"Is she gonna sing or whistle that damn song from now until Inauguration Day?" Leo grumbled. He'd come along just because of the enthusiasm and didn't want to miss out on this early campaign excitement. "Just because it's the President's favorite song, are WE gonna have to listen to it every damn day?"

Charlie stopped humming. "It appears that way sir. She told me I'd better learn the words or else."

"Or else what?" Leo questioned.

"She didn't say, but I'm learning the words just to save myself."

"Charlie, when you're finished with CJ could you grab my stuff please? The rest of it anyway, there's not much. Donna just paged me and I've gotta take a call about a thing that's..."

"Sure Josh," Charlie replied, "no problem."

"I owe you Charlie. But not a nooner!" he laughed on his way out the door. A second later he stuck his head back inside the door. "By the way Sam, you really are something else, you know that? See ya later."

Sam was finally able to lock eyes with Josh for the first time since they'd arrived at the White House that morning.

"Thanks Josh," he said in a tone that meant so much more than merely 'thanks Josh.' It meant "I adore you Josh", "Let's make love Josh", "You mean the world to me Josh", "I want to hold you Josh", I want you to hold ME Josh", "Take your clothes off Josh", "I love you more than life itself Josh".

"Ok Sam?"

"Huh?"

"I said 'see ya later'." Josh repeated.

"Yeah, yeah, ok, later." Josh disappeared, but Sam continued to stare thinking ~~ more like hoping ~~ he'd see his lover's face pop around the side of the doorframe again.

"Ok fellas, I'm outta here. I've got real work to do," Leo said, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. "We've had a good day. These are the kinds of days I like, getting something accomplished. Take it easy on yourselves the rest of the afternoon." Then to Sam, he nodded his approval and winked. Leo didn't need words to say a lot.

Sam and Toby were finally alone in the room. In a deep voice Toby announced, "We are now officially in business!"

Silence.

"Sam? You're supposed to laugh. That's my best Ted Baxter voice. It doesn't get any better than that."

Silence.

"What." Toby stated instead of asked.

"Toby, I've gotta..."

Silence.

"Speak or don't speak. I have work to do."

"I've gotta talk to you Toby," Sam finally said.

Toby hopped up and sat on one of the tables. "What is it?"

Sam shook his head. "No, not here. What I have to say is really important ~~ I mean REALLY important ~~ but we can't talk here."

Toby expected something like this after he'd read Sam's message from Marc and saw Sam's reaction to it. He also knew his 'Question of the Century' ~~ "Are you cheating on Josh?" had messed with Sam's head big time, but he didn't know what was coming. Toby also questioned how involved he wanted to get in this, this 'whatever it is' if there actually WAS something going on between Sam and Josh that wasn't good. Or between Sam and Marc.

Toby had seen, and been involved in, his share of fractured and broken relationships created in the name of love, enough that he'd grown cynical of the very idea two people could actually fall in love and 'stay' in love. With just each other.

He'd somehow become a part of Sam's and Josh's universe ~~ he wasn't exactly sure how it had actually happened ~~ and once he trusted and believed, he'd never once doubted their complete and sincere devotion to one another and knew that's why he felt so 'right', so comfortable being in their universe, albeit only as a guest. Now, the very idea that Sam may be cheating on Josh was incomprehensible to Toby. More than that, the very idea of it broke his heart.

And Toby would swear on all things sacred that he didn't even have a heart to break. Then why did this bother him so?

"So you wanna go to my office or your office or the mess or where? And when? This weekend sometime?" Toby didn't look forward to this at all.

"Neither office because I don't want any interruptions unless we're really needed. An empty room somewhere or outside. A car. One of the tunnels, the helicopter, a closet, the steps of a monument ~~ pick a monument, any monument ~~ Arlington National Cemetery..." Sam's voice got louder and he spoke faster, "...the Pentagon, my place, your place, we'll get a room at the Watergate, the Hyatt, the Rose Garden, the Viet Nam Wall, the lawn and garden shop at Sears! Hell, I don't know! Somewhere! Anywhere! Here! Now! Please Toby! Help me out here! I've gotta talk with you and it's the most important thing I've ever talked about in my life and I need you...I need you to help me...please. If I had a Father who cared a crap about me half as much as you care about me, believe me Toby, I'd go to him. But I don't, and I know you're not old enough to be my Father but Toby, you're the closest thing...I kinda think of you...sometimes I do...as my...I mean in life years and wisdom years, you're the most knowledgeable, most intelligent man I know. In academia, in life, in...in...in stuff."

The two locked eyes and looked inside the other in silence.

Sam spoke, quietly this time. "I have some decisions to make. I might be in trouble. I can't figure this one out by myself and I can't go to Josh. I have no one else to go to. If I make the wrong decision, I could lose Josh forever. If I lose Josh, I don't have anything."

Silence.

"When?"

"Now."

"If we take separate cars will you be able to drive afterwards?" Toby asked.

Sam nodded. "Yes."

"Ok, close up your office and I'll tell Ginger to page us only if we're really needed. Be sure you've got your phone. I'll tell Leo we've got a thing. We'll be ok."

Sam exhaled a sigh of relief. He could only mouth the words, "Thank you" then left for his office.

He scanned the rest of his messages, gave Cathy several of them with instructions, and put the messages from Marc and his Father in his inside jacket pocket. While he waited for Toby, he called Josh on his cell phone.

"Josh Lyman."

"Me."

"Hey! Sorry I had to run out of the campaign room so fast. Congressman Howard was..."

"S'ok. I still smelled you after you left."

Josh smiled and Sam knew he did just by the way his voice sounded. Josh's voice was softer, quieter when he smiled.

"What did I smell like?" He looked up at Donna in the bullpen and wished his door was closed.

"Mmmmm..."

"Tell me."

"Like you." Sam played with Josh.

"And what's that like?"

Sam lowered his voice too, even though his office door was closed. "In that campaign room you smelled like sex. Raw animal sex. It smelled so good I could almost taste it. I WANTED to taste it. I wanted to taste YOU."

"Oh Sammy, you know you've just started something I don't think you can finish any way soon. You little vixen."

Sam laughed. "Vixen am I? Isn't that one of Santa's reindeer?"

"Like I know reindeer? I'm Jewish, my little Protestant buddy. I'm not supposed to do Christmas."

"You do Christmas bigger than I do."

"You ARE going to church on Christmas Eve with me this year," Josh stated, matter-of-factly.

"Don't start Josh."

"What? Don't start what?"

"You know. The whole Christmas-Jewish-Santa-Reindeer-Protestant thing. Not today," said Sam. "Besides, I've gotta tell you something."

"But I like our whole Christmas-Jewish-Santa-Reindeer-Protestant thing. What do you need to tell me, Rudolph?"

"Toby and I are leaving the building for a while and I don't know when we'll be back. You might already be gone. I just wanted to let you know where I'll be."

"Where WILL you be?" Josh asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, thanks for passing on that vital information. I feel so much more informed," Josh laughed. "That's cool, as long as you're with Toby."

"Yeah, I'll follow him in my car. I'll keep in touch by phone if my plans change." Sam's stomach began to churn. It felt like deceit, and deceit was so unlike Sam, so unfamiliar, so sickening. He hated it.

"Yeah, ok," Josh said, "so I'll see you at home?"

"Oshie, Toby's motioning for me to hurry it up. I've really gotta go. I'll call, ok?"

"Sure, go, go."

After Sam hung up he pulled out his wastebasket and leaned over it. He thought he would throw up but he only gagged a couple of times, dry heaves. He hadn't eaten all day. A thud from the rubber ball on the glass window between his and Toby's offices jolted him and he raised his head. Toby threw the rubber ball against the window again and when he saw he had Sam's attention, Toby jerked his head to say, "Let's go."

Toby told everybody who needed to know anything what they needed to know and the two men left the White House.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 30

"Where we going Toby?" Sam asked once they were outside. "Andi's."

"Andi's?" YOUR Andi?"

"She's not my Andi anymore and yeah, is that a problem?"

"Not for me if it's not for you. It's just, I mean, Andi is your ex-wife. Does she know about this? Is she gonna be there? Will she..."

"Relax, relax, relax. Andi's out-of-town for a few days so we'll have the place to ourselves. Don't worry."

"Well I AM worried! Does she have the place bugged?"

Toby finally laughed. "Sam, I assure you, Andi does NOT have her own apartment bugged. We can talk freely there. Just follow me."

It surprised Sam that Toby had a key to Andi's apartment on his key chain.

"Do you keep that on there all the time?" Sam asked.

"What?"

"Andi's apartment key."

"Why do you think I need to answer that question?" Toby responded, as he slid the key into the lock and pushed the door open.

Sam followed him inside. "I suppose you don't NEED to answer it but I've gotta tell ya, I'm extremely curious."

Toby took his jacket and tie off and hung them over the back of a chair. "I feed her cat when she's out-of-town," he explained.

"Andi's got a cat?" Sam looked around. "Where is it? What's its name? I love cats." Sam didn't move from the spot where he stood, but peered around the room hoping for a glimpse of the pet.

"Don't bother. She hides. You'll never see her. Get comfortable, don't touch anything, and NEVER ~~ I repeat NEVER ~~ tell a soul you were here. WE were here. Ok?"

"Can I tell Josh? Eventually, I mean, when it comes up. This conversation I mean. The whole point of this, you and me talking, now, here, today, has everything to do with Josh, so to stay totally honest with him, can I tell Josh? Eventually?" Sam asked.

"Sure."

"Thank you. What's the cat's name?"

"Fluffy or Snowball or George or Rover or one of those. Cat names all sound alike to me." Toby directed Sam to the living room and he went into the kitchen. "Take a seat!" he called out. "You want anything to drink?"

"Yes please, a beer!"

Toby came into the living room and tossed Sam a bottle of water and screwed the top off the same for himself. He sat in a chair across from Sam, who sat in the middle of the couch. Toby took a drink of water, looked straight at Sam and said, "Ok, you've got me. I'm your's, one hundred per cent. Talk to me."

Sam's mind immediately went blank. All the thoughts and emotions and feelings and fears and ups and downs and ins and outs were gone. All he could think of was "Are you cheating on Josh?"

"No!" he blurted out. "I'm not cheating on Josh! I'm not Toby, I swear to God I'm not!"

"Whoa! Slow down! Who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?"

Sam slumped in the couch and burst into tears. He didn't try to hide them, he didn't try to stop them. He just sat there and sobbed. What once would have made Toby so uncomfortable he would have left the room, he now just sat and waited out. He went into the bathroom and returned with a box of tissues and sat them on the table next to Sam. Sam was grateful, and used them to blow his nose, wipe his eyes, dry his cheeks and chin and clench in his fist.

Without apology or explanation, Sam began. He reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a pink slip of paper with a message on it. He handed it to Toby.

"I guess the best way to do this is to start at the most recent link in the chain of events and work backwards," he said.

Toby read the message while Sam sat still. Finally Sam could stand it no longer. "Well, I know you've got a million questions. Where do you want me to start?"

Toby held the message up in front of him between two fingers then lowered it slowly. "I have but one question."

Pause.

"Have you called your Dad back yet?"

Sam was totally confused, especially when Toby broke into a smile. "What the hell?"

Toby handed Sam the piece of paper. It was the wrong one, the one from his Father, not the one from Marc.

"Dammit! I'm trying to be serious here and you're just screwing with me! Damn you Toby!"

"Calm down Sam." Toby spoke in a very soothing voice. "I'm not screwing with you. Don't go jumping on me because you don't know how to get this thing started. This 'thing' being something you got yourself into in the first place, I might add. None of this is my fault, whatever 'this' is. I'm here because YOU asked me to be. So YOU stop screwing around and start talking. And Sam, I know you tend to go on and on sometimes so please, try and be succinct. To the point. Just the facts. Leave out the little details about your emotions. I know how you feel about Josh. If you have emotions about someone else, maybe we'll talk about THOSE, but, oh hell, let's just do this."

Sam took a deep breath, removed his jacket, and rolled up his shirtsleeves. "Ok, Toby, please don't hate me when this is all over. I'm not sure where to start, but I'll just...ok, you know how every now and then you go to the gym with me and we play racquetball and I let you win?"

"Sam..."

"Sorry. But for the record, I DO dumb down my game from extreme racquetball to bunny slope racquetball when I play with you," Sam laughed nervously.

"Sam..."

"Ok, I'm stalling."

"No shit."

"Well, last winter I met this guy off the list. See, there's this list..."

"Sam..."

"I met this guy just by chance, and we played a few times and had some really good games. That was it. Strictly racquetball. I swear. That's all there was to it."

"I believe you. But I DON'T believe you let me win. Go ahead."

"Then we didn't play for a while and I really didn't think anything about it."

"What's this guy's name?"

"Marc."

"Marc like in the message?"

Sam nodded his head. "Yeah, Marc in the message. Am I being succinct enough because I could add a lot more detail here."

"You're doing just fine."

"Well, this is the easy part," Sam continued. "So a week or so ago I went to the club after not going for a while, since I've been staying home with Josh a lot, so I went and I ran into Marc and we played some really hot racquetball that night. Toby, I gotta tell ya, I hadn't had a work-out like that in months. It felt great! I was all over that court ~~ we both were, and my heart was pumping and ~~ not succinct, too much unnecessary detail, right?"

"Right. More water?"

"Yeah, I'll have another beer."

Toby went into the kitchen and returned with two more bottles of Evian. He tossed one to Sam.

"Ok, go on."

"Its about to get difficult Toby. I'm kinda scared to tell you."

"If it's any consolation, so far you haven't said anything incriminating."

"It's coming up real fast, believe me. I'm not proud of what I'm gonna say next."

"Take your time."

Toby saw Sam's demeanor change before his eyes. The excitement of the racquetball game was a thing of the past. His relatively casual approach now reflected one of obvious tension. Sam moved to the edge of the couch. He began to tap his foot. He balled one hand into a fist and bounced it off his knee in a steady beat. Toby thought his coloring had paled or taken on a grayish hue. He hadn't missed Sam heaving into his trash basket at the office.

"After we played and showered we got a smoothie from the juice bar at the racquetball club and pretty much re-hashed the games, you know, play-by-play, arguing over who really won each shot. All in fun banter."

"How much does he know about your personally?"

"Me? Not so much. I just told him I worked for the Democratic Headquarters or something vague like that. I made it sound boring so he wouldn't ask questions. I'm really not sure WHAT I told him frankly. He didn't seem too interested so I let it go. I'm pretty sure I told him I'm a lawyer. I never told him I work for the President or at the White House. I'm sure of that. Probably not ever...did I tell him."

Toby held up the paper the message was written on but didn't say anything. It was clear then that Marc knew Sam works in the White House or he wouldn't have known to call there. Sam lowered his eyes. He couldn't face Toby. He took a nervous drink of water, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and wished it were beer. "I'd like that cat to come in here," he said. "I love cats."

"So on this night, recently, you and Marc got your usual smoothie and talked about racquetball?"

Sam shook his head slowly. "No. He suggested we go to his place to 'catch up'. Man, what a fucking cliché. Can you believe I fell...? Go there so we could 'catch up' since we hadn't seen each other for a while. That sounded so ok to me at the time. I didn't see anything wrong with it, honest Toby, I didn't, so I agreed and followed him to his place in my own car. Telling it to you now, out loud, sounds so STUPID! Something an innocent child would do. I mean, I actually fell for a line! Can you believe..."

"Sam."

"Sorry."

"Did you call Josh and tell him about your change of plans?" Toby asked.

Again Sam shook his head. "No. That was my MAJOR fuck-up. Not my FIRST fuck-up, but my first MAJOR one. I ALWAYS call Josh when I change my plans. He always calls ME when HE changes plans. I should have called right then and there before I even left the club and invited him to join us. What am I saying? I shouldn't have gone at all! Just the sound of Josh's voice probably would have knocked me back to reality and I would have gone straight home instead of heading off to Marc's where I had no business going."

"Why do you think you didn't called Josh? Was he home?"

"Yeah, he was home. And I don't know why I didn't call him. Believe me Toby, I've thought about it a million times, why I didn't call him. And I just don't know. It's so not me."

"During any of these millions of times when you thought it over, did you ever find a hidden agenda?" Toby asked softly.

Sam couldn't believe what he'd heard. Toby couldn't have said that, he thought. No way. If Toby DID say it, I'll kill him.

"Excuse me?" Sam said. "I don't believe I heard you correctly."

"During any of these millions of times when you thought it over, did you ever find a hidden agenda?" Toby repeated slowly, his voice even softer.

Sam stood up. Toby looked up at his face. It showed no emotion. Sam's eyes were blank. It appeared he wasn't breathing.

"Are you suggesting...?" Sam finally uttered.

"Sit down Sam."

"I won't."

"Sit down Sam."

"Not until you explain yourself." Sam's voice rose in anger. At Toby? At himself? Both his hands were fisted now.

"Sit down Sam." Toby's voice remained soft and calm.

"I won't. You are SO outta line." He took a step toward Toby.

"Sit down Sam."

The breath Sam held inside rushed out in a great whoosh and Toby saw his heart was beating again. Sam slowly unfitted his hands and sat down. Toby gave him a minute to collect himself before he spoke.

"Now, you explain YOUR self," Toby said. "Why didn't you call Josh?"

All the bravado and cockiness had left Sam with that whoosh of breath. Now all he had left was to answer the questions and tell the truth. There was no more game-playing, no more fucking around. He'd asked for...no...begged for this meeting with Toby, this coming-clean time, and here it was. There was no way out, no second chances with Toby. And they both knew it.

"I didn't call Josh because I believed we were going to Marc's for a beer, maybe, and to talk about racquetball for a while and then I'd head home. I didn't expect it to last any longer than it would have if we'd stayed at the gym." Sam's voice was lifeless.

"Is that what happened at Marc's?"

"At first."

"Talk to me Sam. This isn't a deposition. I'm not going to drag every word out of you. Tell me what happened at Marc's. I know this is difficult but this is what you wanted to do. Remember? You pleaded with me to listen. Well, I'm listening now. Talk to me."

Sam slumped in the couch again after he'd sat back down. His eyes were red and moist. His hands trembled just a bit. He made every effort to avoid eye contact with Toby, but when they did connect, Toby would look straight at him, and his eyes never left Sam's. And Sam saw no judgment in them.

"I got to Marc's and we had a beer, no, no we didn't have a beer. Marc's a bartender and he made these blender drinks called Rattlesnakes and he fixed us each a Rattlesnake. He told me to get comfortable, make myself at home, you know, just being a gracious host, a nice guy. So I sat in this leather chair that, Toby, I gotta get me one of those chairs. Anyway, I was just wiped out from taking care of Josh and trying to keep up at work and not sleeping and I guess I hadn't been eating very well and not taking care of myself then we'd just played some really hard ball and Marc put some soothing music on and that chair was... and the next thing you know, I think that drink maybe went to my head." Sam paused and took a drink of water. "If I wasn't the dumb shit I am I would have stopped right then, called Josh and told him I was on my way home and left. Right then."

"But you didn't?"

"I didn't."

Silence.

"Toby, I really don't want to tell you about this next part. I'm going to, but I don't want to."

Silence.

"Marc brought out...brought out this really big...ok, Marc brought out this really big joint that was uh, laced with opium and a little acid..." Sam paused, put his hand to his face and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and middle finger. And then it was if he wanted to get it all out as quickly as he could so it would be over.

"So we smoked it and Marc kept making those Rattlesnakes and they were almost one hundred per cent alcohol and there were more joints and more drinks and we talked and laughed and I'm not sure what all was said, I can't remember, but I think I may have mentioned Air Force One maybe a couple of times and those drinks kept coming and I might have drank beer too, I'm not sure, and sometimes we had two joints going at one time and there were only two of us and I might have said something about telling the President something the next time I see him but I'm not sure about that and Toby, he had this fucking fish tank that held five thousand gallons of water and had thousands and thousands of fish in it or so I thought, but when I went back the next day I saw how totally I'd mis-judged that, so I DID call Josh finally and told him I was on my way home because I was, but when I stood up to go the Rattlesnake bit me on the butt like Marc said it would and from what I've been told my knees just buckled and I went down and I don't know how long I was on the floor with my head in Marc's lap and I don't even remember this part, but I apparently, well obviously I called Josh and told him where I was, or maybe Marc told him and Josh came and got me and Toby, I don't remember being that fucked-up in a LONG time and I don't think Josh was very happy with me or Marc either, for that matter and Josh couldn't find my phone, he told me this later, and when he found it, shit man, it was on Marc's bedside table in his bedroom but I don't remember how it got there and so Josh took me home, but he didn't yell at me or anything and I don't remember it but I think some time in there we had some fantastic sex."

"Who? You and Josh or you and Marc?"

Sam got that blank look on his face again. He blinked his eyes very fast, tear drops gathered on his long lashes, and what color there may have been in his face was completely gone.

"Me and Josh."

Silence.

"I'm pretty sure it was me and Josh."

Silence.

"Oh God Toby. I can't remember. I'm not sure."

Silence.

Toby got up after a couple of minutes and took the few steps over to Sam. He put his hand on Sam's shoulder closest to himself and squeezed. "I'm gonna feed Andi's cat then we're going to my place. That ok with you?"

Toby may have seen Sam nod, he wasn't sure. It may have been Sam crying silently, or his body shaking for a hundred new reasons that were just now occurring to him...or it may have been a nod. Toby didn't know. It didn't matter, because he was taking Sam with him whether Sam objected or not.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 31

"Josh Lyman."

"Josh, Toby."

"Hey Toby. You and Sam still at the thing?"

"Uh yeah," Toby answered. "Josh, do you trust me?"

"Yeeaah?" Josh let the word draw out, apprehensive of what might come next.

"If I tell you something will you just trust me and not bombard me with questions?"

"What's happened to Sam? Where's Sam? Toby...?"

"Sam's fine. He's with me. Calm down."

"Ok then, what?"

"Sam and I are talking about things that are non-work related, some personal things that are bothering him, and he feels more comfortable talking at my place than at the office. I'm calling to tell you where he'll be and he might be a little late getting home. I'll call you again if it's gonna run past eight o'clock."

"Toby, what's going on? Let me talk to Sam."

"Josh, this is the part where you need to trust me."

"Can I talk to him?" Josh asked. He was anxious. He had no idea what Sam could possibly want to talk with Toby about that he couldn't talk with HIM about. And why hadn't Sam made the call himself? Today had started out so good.

"After while. Give us a couple of hours first, ok? Trust me Josh. You know I Iove...care about Sam and wouldn't let anything in the world happen to him. If you start to panic call MY cell."

"He's got racquetball at eight o'clock tonight," Josh said. "The court's reserved in his name. You need to remind him to call and cancel or get ahold of that other guy and let him know if he's not going to make it in time. The club gets pissy with no-shows. And his gym bag is at the townhouse. He was gonna go home first before he went to play. Maybe you guys should run by and get it in case you finish up early. He'll really want his gym bag. He's gotta have his gym bag Toby."

Toby felt a tug in his heart as he listened to Josh's concern for Sam. God, why couldn't I just have stayed an asshole so nobody would want to be my friend? It would be so much easier.

"Josh, relax. Sam's with me and you know I won't let anything happen to him. Give us a couple of hours and I'll give you a call. He's fine. He just needs to talk."

"Why can't he talk with me? Is this ABOUT me?" Josh asked.

"No, it's not about you. You'll learn about it soon enough. Just trust me, will you Josh? I'll call you."

"Yeah, ok. You sure he's ok?"

"He's ok. Trust me. I'll call you in a couple of hours," Toby reassured him.

They hung up and Toby returned to the living room. Sam hadn't moved.

"Get your jacket Sam, we're leaving." Toby picked up his own jacket and tie and headed for the door.

Sam stood up and followed Toby. At the door Toby saw Sam didn't have his jacket. He went back and put it over his arm, picked up the empty water bottles and took them into the kitchen. He debated between putting them in the trash or putting them back in the refrigerator empty. He decided to put them in the trash, then closed and locked the door behind him, and he and his Deputy left Andi's apartment.

"Give me your keys," he said when they got to Sam's car.

Sam handed Toby his keys.

"Get in."

"Did you feed Fluffy?" Sam asked.

"Huh?"

"The cat. Did you feed the cat? That's what we came over here for. To feed Andi's cat. Did you feed her?"

"I did indeed."

"So she's ok? The cat?''

"The cat is fine Sam. Don't worry about the cat. Now get in."

"I never saw her. I was just saying..."

"Get in the car."

Sam got in the passenger side of his own car and Toby drove. Neither said a word as they made their way across town. Toby tried to imagine what must be going through Sam's mind. Toby couldn't even comprehend such a notion. Not to know if you'd had fantastic sex with your lover or a complete stranger?

Toby looked at Sam. He sat hunched over in the seat, his eyes focused on the floor. His jacket was in his lap, his face expressionless. Toby wanted to say or do something to comfort Sam, but he didn't know what could possibly be said or done to bring him solace.

Then without any self-conscience, Toby's palm went to Sam's back. It was familiar to him now. He rubbed little circles. He knew it helped, because the instant he came into physical contact with Sam, he felt Sam's muscles give just a little, let go, relax a bit.

Josh was the only other person who would have noticed it, the change was so slight; in fact, Josh would have noticed a change of even less touch because of the intimacy their bodies shared where every twitch, every sigh, every nuance was noticed, often anticipated and always cherished. It gave Toby a sense of ~~ not satisfaction, not happiness ~~ maybe paternal comfort on his own part to know he was able to bring some calm into Sam's cluttered soul.

Sam had never been to Toby's apartment. No one he knew had been to Toby's apartment. It was in an old neighborhood of Victorian homes, renovated to meet all housing standards, but still kept the original buildings in-tact and as they were during their time. They sat on a long boulevard lined with dogwood trees, apple blossoms, azaleas, forsythia, weeping willows, oak trees, silver maples and hyacinth. Ivy and honeysuckle wound around the wrought iron fences and gates and all but hid the latticework bent with roses.

Toby rented the third floor of one of these mansions. The apartment was primarily one huge room with a fair sized bedroom, bathroom and separate kitchen. It had handsome hard wood floors, high ceilings, abundant windows, skylights, two low-hanging ceiling fans and green plants ~~ live ones ~~ everywhere. And books. There must have been a million books. Built-in shelves went from the floor to the ceiling and those that didn't fit on the shelves were stacked on the floor. Toby even had a sliding ladder to get to the books near the top. He had a roll-top desk that was open and not surprisingly, looked like a cyclone had just come through. In the center of the room were two couches and several easy chairs in no particular arrangement. There was a huge globe, a telescope aimed out the window toward the sky and maps on the walls of places nobody ever heard of. A Mezuzah hung just outside Toby's bedroom and a well-worn Tanakh sat on the windowsill. He had a stereo with a turntable and most of Toby's music was still on vinyl. There wasn't a single photograph in the entire apartment. Artwork was limited. A framed prayer written in Hebrew on very old parchment sat on Toby's desk.

Toby unlocked the door and motioned for Sam to go in ahead of him. "Come in here," he said. "Might as well get comfortable." He led Sam into his bedroom and threw a variety of clothes on the unmade bed. "Here's sweats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, jeans...just, uh...put on whatever you want then come on back out. There's a bathroom the next door over if you need to...you need anything?"

Sam shook his head.

"Ok, well..." Toby grabbed a pair of jeans and a Navy blue sweatshirt and left the bedroom, with the door open.

A few minutes later Sam came out of the bedroom in a pair of Toby's grey sweatpants and his own white t-shirt. He carried one of Toby's grey sweatshirts and wore a pair of Toby's sweat socks.

"Well, not tailor-made, but it'll do. Come on over here Sam. Sit down."

Sam sat on one of the couches and immediately reached for one of the pillows and clutched it in his lap. Toby flipped on the over-head fans and cool air began to gently swirl throughout the apartment. Sam laid his head on the back of the couch and looked up at the blades as they rotated. He listened to the quiet cadence and wanted to sleep.

"Do you want something to eat?" Toby asked.

Sam shrugged. "I don't care."

"Well, you're gonna eat. There's a deli not far from here and I just ordered enough food to last us a while. You like potato soup?" Toby asked.

Sam nodded.

"Well, they make the best potato soup in the world."

"I'd like to taste the best potato soup in the world."

"Well, you're about to. I called Josh and told him you're here with me."

Sam's head shot up. "You called Josh?"

"He's cool with it. Worried about you, but I told him we have some personal stuff to talk about. He wants me to remind you that you have a racquetball court reserved for eight o'clock tonight. If you're not going to show up, either cancel it or call the guy you're going to play with and let him know. That's from Josh."

"That's part of my predicament Toby. At eight o'clock Josh thinks I'm gonna play racquetball. At eight o'clock Marc thinks I'm coming to his house to get stoned. That's a predicament, right?"

"No shit that's a predicament! What are you gonna do?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? You don't know? Dammit to hell Sam! What the fuck would possibly make you say 'I don't know'?" Toby tried not to yell but he couldn 't keep his voice down.

"I don't know."

"I don't know, I don't know," Toby repeated. "Sam, what does this asshole Marc have to offer, besides getting wasted, and getting YOU wasted, that's worth throwing away your relationship, your once-in-a lifetime, once-in-a-MILLION-lifetimes relationship with Josh? It just doesn't make sense! The answer is so fucking obvious, Sam, I don't even know why we're having this conversation. Are you attracted to Marc? Are you in love with Marc? Was the sex with Marc THAT good? Why would you throw away Josh for Marc? Tell me, you idiot, because I don't understand!" Toby's voice got louder. "And if you say 'I don't know' one more time, I swear Seaborn, I'm gonna break your neck!"

"No! No, no, no! I'm not attracted to him! I don't love him! And we didn't have sex!" Sam shook his head with conviction.

"How do you know? Before you said you didn't KNOW if you had sex! Your phone was in the bedroom and apparently you were so out of it you thought he had a five thousand gallon fish tank! Come on Sam. You don't know if you had sex with Marc that night or not. And you're not attracted to him? The hell you're not!"

Sam shook his head again. "No, it's not like that! Somebody can be very attractive and a person's not attracted to him. And I know we didn't have sex. We couldn't have. You're mixing things up here Josh...uh, Toby. It's not like that. It has nothing to do with Marc."

"Then what DOES it have to do with? By the way, speaking of Josh, have you two got your rings engraved yet?"

Silence.

"That was a low blow."

"And what you're doing to Josh ISN'T a low blow? Shit. When I asked if you were cheating on Josh I never would have thought you really were. Not you Sam, of all people. If this has nothing to do with Marc, what DOES it have to do with? And this better be good."

"I'm a drug addict."

********

Josh dropped the phone receiver back in its cradle and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. He couldn't even guess what Toby's and Sam's 'thing' was about. He knew he had two options: one, he could drive himself crazy while he tried to figure it out; or two, he could put it out of his head and trust Toby. He decided to take the easy way out and trust Toby. He considered going home but the idea of being there without Sam didn't appeal to him. He was in the mood to play with Sam, to rough-house and roll around on the floor and giggle and tickle and make out and tear Sam's clothes off and lick him all over and... Josh left his office to see who he could find to kill a little time with.

He grabbed the doorframe of CJ's office and swung himself partially inside. "Hey!"

"Hey toots! Where's your other half?"

Josh was caught off-guard. "Huh? My what?"

"Your other half? All I can see is from your waist up. Bring the other half of your body in and park it. I'm bored."

Josh swallowed hard. I've got to stop being so paranoid, he thought. He hopped inside and fell on CJ's couch.

"Why are you bored?" he asked.

"Just am. All the fun people are gone and I'm not in the mood to work and Simon's on a secret thingy all night and I'm having company come for a few days and I wanna be home so I can get ready to get excited about that."

"You have to *get ready* to get excited?"

"Well yeah," CJ replied.

"And what do you mean, 'all the fun people are gone'? I'm fun and I'm here."

"Yeah, ok."

"Are you saying I'm not fun?" Josh persisted.

"I never said that."

"Then what ARE you saying?"

"Nothing. Look at Gail. She learned the breaststroke this week." CJ tapped her finger on the goldfish bowl.

"You mean your fish has little boobies?" Josh squinted and looked closer at Gail.

"Ha! And they say you're not fun!" CJ hooted.

"Who says I'm not fun?"

"Josh! Let it go!"

"I just wanna know if people say I'm not fun," Josh persisted.

"No, people say you're the funniest thing they've ever seen. They laugh at you non-stop Josh. Just the sound of your name and people break into uncontrollable laughter," CJ said sarcastically.

"Now you're just being mean. I don't wanna talk about it any more. Who's coming?" asked Josh.

"Who's coming where?"

"You said you're having company. Who?"

"A girl I went to college with. Can you believe that? We've kept in touch all these years, just on and off, and she's coming to DC and is going to stay with me for a few days. I'm really excited to see her."

"But not yet. You have to *get ready* to get excited, right?"

"Right."

"That's the most girly-girl thing I've every heard," Josh laughed.

"You're pathetic."

"Is she cute?"

"She was the last time I saw her."

"Which was, what, thirty years ago?"

CJ threw her stapler at Josh. He raised and crossed his arms in defense but it still caught him in the chest.

"Ow! That hurt! What are you trying to do, knock me unconscious?"

"Stop whining! Just be glad it wasn't loaded. You know damn well I wasn't in college thirty years ago. I was barely born thirty years ago."

Josh laughed. "By whose calendar? The same people who made the upside down map?"

"She's extremely attractive. Women our age are not 'cute'. We're either drop dead gorgeous, lovely, beautiful, attractive, extremely attractive, or..."

"So where do you put yourself on that list?" Josh asked. "You got anything to eat in here?"

"Do you have Attention Deficit Disorder? And I ask that in all seriousness. Yes, I do have food and I'll give it to you but first, where do YOU put me on that list?" CJ smiled coyly, flipped her hair over her shoulder and sucked in her cheeks.

Josh rolled his eyes. "It depends on what you've got to eat."

"Goldfish, a granola power bar, a Milky Way ~~ you can't have that ~~ it's for Simon..." CJ looked up and grinned "...did I strike gold with Special Agent Sunshine or what? Josh, Simon is..."

"I know, I know, dreamy. If I hear the word 'dreamy' one more time to describe Simon I'm gonna puke. Gimme the goldfish."

CJ tossed the package of cheese crackers to Josh. "Ok, where am I on the list?"

"Lovely," Josh said without looking up.

"Ah, that's sweet," CJ gushed. "And you're so full of shit."

Josh snickered.

"Hey toots, I wanna ask you something for real," said CJ.

"Go ahead."

"My friend who's coming, her name is Jillian."

"Yeah?" Josh muttered through a mouthful of goldfish.

"Do you think Sam would go out with her ~~ and Simon and me of course ~~ like on a double date? I'd hate for her to feel like a third wheel and there's NO WAY I'm not gonna see Simon on account of her."

Josh stopped chewing and left his mouth open.

"What's the matter? Did you think I was going to ask YOU to be her date? Just look at yourself right now. Your mouth is hanging open and half-chewed goldfish are falling out onto your clothes. You need a bib. Do you think Sam would?"

"I don't know CJ. You'll have to ask Sam. I'm not his social secretary," Josh's tone was sharp.

"I'm sorry. He's your best friend. I just thought you might..."

CJ was interrupted by her phone.

"CJ Cregg. Yes he is. Just a minute please." She punched the hold button.

"Speaking of social secretaries, this is for you."

"Who is it?" Josh didn't move.

"I don't know. I don't care."

"Will you ask?"

"Josh!"

"Please? I don't wanna do anything else today. Please...?"

CJ squinted her eyes and glared at Josh. "You are such a whiner. The World's Biggest Whiner. Biggest Whiner in the World. King of the Whiners. I don't know why I put up with you."

Her voice had a sudden change to pleasant. "May I tell Mr. Lyman who's calling please?"

She punched the hold button again.

"Marc."

Josh jumped off the couch and goldfish scattered on the carpet. "Uh, tell him...I'll get those goldfish later...no, don't tell him that, tell him to hold and I'll get it in my office. I'll get those goldfish later CJ." Josh ran down the hall to his office. As he ran through the bullpen Donna stepped in front of him.

"Josh, you've got three..." she started to say.

"Not now Donna, I've got a call I need to take."

"Is that the one I transferred to CJ's office?"

"Yeah, why?"

"He didn't give me his name but I recognized his voice. He called here three times asking for you in just the past couple of minutes. Each time when I started to transfer the call, he hung up before I could get it through. I'm sorry."

"S'ok Donna. Thanks."

Josh slammed his office door behind him and grabbed the phone receiver and pushed the blinking button at the same time. "What do you want?" he said gruffly.

"Good afternoon to you too," Marc said.

"What do you want?" Josh repeated. "Is Sam ok?"

"You don't know where Sam is? You don't know if he's ok?"

Josh paced as he talked. He put his hand to his forehead. Shit! Shit! I've already given him the upper hand! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I KNOW where Sam is. WHY did I ask him that? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

"Why did you call here Hayes?"

"Well, as I'm sure you know, Sam and I have a date to play racquetball at eight o'clock tonight and I was calling to confirm, but I can't reach him. So I just thought I'd check with you to make sure everything's ok. You know, make sure he didn't have to fly out on Air Force One or anything. He mentioned the other night that he has to do that sometimes. He just tells the pilot where he wants to go and they go." Marc laughed. "That Sammy, he's so funny, isn't he?"

Josh could feel his anger rising. Don't call him Sammy. Don't call it a date. Don't talk about him being funny. Say what you have to say and hang up.

"As far as I know Sam's plans haven't changed," Josh said. "I'm glad to hear that. The last time we talked our plans were firm, and I'm just double-checking to make sure we're still on."

Silence.

"Josh, you don't mind Sammy and me getting together, do you? Does it bother you that I play with Sam?"

Josh would have killed the guy if he could have gotten to him at that moment. Instead, he tried his best to sound calm.

"No, not at all. Why would I? Sam says he gets a fairly decent game out of you. He breaks a sweat."

Marc laughed. "Yeah, he 'does' get that body sweaty, doesn't he? We're not in that little room ten minutes, just me and him, before his shirt is clinging to his chest, soaking wet. It's like he doesn't even have a shirt on, you know, because, well, I can see every muscle rippling and he's got sweat on those strong legs and..."

"Knock it off. I'll tell him you called."

"Hey Lyman, you're the one that mentioned Sammy's sweat. I'm just agreeing with you. Are you SURE you don't mind me playing with Sam? We're just fooling around. You sound a little pissed."

Josh wanted to kick the file cabinet but he didn't want Marc to hear how angry he was. This guy was so careful with each word that it drove Josh crazy...'you don't mind me playing with Sam?'...'we're just fooling around'...just the thought of him watching Sam's sweaty body and Sam not knowing it...Sam not knowing it... Sam didn't know it. Did he? No. Sam didn't know it. Sam wasn't putting on a show for Marc, was he? Of course not! That's SO not Sam. He does that just for me. What are Sam and Toby talking about?

"I'll tell him you called," Josh repeated.

"That's ok. I'll probably see him before you do. Thanks anyway. Give my best to President Bartlet."

Josh then heard a dial tone. He sat in his chair and turned it around so Donna couldn't see him. Sam, he thought, what have you done? What in God's name have you done to us?

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 32

"I said, I'm a drug addict," Sam repeated.

"I heard you the first time," Toby said. "Besides that one night at Marc's ~~ and I assume it's the one night ~~ are you actively using drugs now?"

"No."

"Ok."

Silence.

Sam shifted on the couch. He pulled Toby's sweatshirt on over his head. He scratched the back of his neck. He pulled his socks up. He turned his head around and looked at Toby's books. He looked up at the fan. He chewed on his manicured thumbnail.

"Have you smoked any pot since that night at Marc's? The night Josh came and got you?" Toby asked.

"No."

"What about the night I came over and we watched 'Apocalypse Now'? The new version. What about the pot you smoked upstairs before the movie? Have you smoked any more since that night?"

Sam locked eyes with Toby. How did he know? He'd been so careful to get rid of all traces. Why hadn't Toby said anything before? Had he told Josh?

"No. Just that once," Sam lied.

"Ok."

The knock on the door interrupted them. Toby answered and came back with several bags of food. He set it on the table in the kitchen and got two Cokes out of the refrigerator. "Come on in here and eat, Sam."

Sam shuffled in and just stood there. "Sit down, sit down. You're gonna love this. You hungry now?"

"Yeah, I guess I am." Sam went over to the sink and washed his hands and dried them on a paper towel, then sat in one of the two chairs at a butcher block table.

"Here," Toby said, setting a Styrofoam bowl of steaming soup in front of Sam. "Eat this first while it's hot. You're gonna love it. Big chunks of potatoes, little pieces of celery, carrots, onion, nice and thick. Here, put a little salt and pepper in there."

Toby handed Sam a plastic spoon and a napkin. "Try that."

Toby got a bowl for himself. Before he ate he reached over and opened Sam's Coke, then his own.

"Is that good? Is that good?" he asked after Sam's first bite.

Sam actually laughed a little. "Yeah Toby, this is good. It's really good. Thank you."

"I got us all kinds of stuff. I order from there all the time and I just told Gary to fix us up good. You like that potato soup?"

"Yeah Toby, I like this potato soup."

"Wait till you taste the mustard on those subs."

They ate in silence then Sam asked, "Can I call Josh?"

"Why?"

"I miss him. I just want to tell him that. And that I love him."

Silence.

"I mean, before we get started again. Please?"

"Yeah, ok. Go do it now while I clean this mess up. The good thing about ordering from a deli is you don't have to wash dishes. You just scoop it all up and throw it away."

"Did you ever think about recycling? This is all paper and plastic and if you'd just sort it and take it to recycling bins, the environment..."

"Go on in the bedroom and make your phone call if you want some privacy. Five minutes. Go."

Sam jumped up and hurried to the bedroom. He rummaged through his clothes until he found his phone and speed dialed Josh.

"Josh Lyman."

"Hi." Sam fell across the bed.

"Hey sugar! I'm so glad to hear your voice. I know it's only been a couple of hours but it seems like forever since I've seen you. I miss you so much." It all came pouring out of Josh in one breath.

Sam laughed. "Oshie, that's exactly what I was going to say to you. Verbatim. I swear it was."

"I know baby. That's why I said it first. Sam, what's going on? Where are you?"

"I'm at Toby's. He told you that, didn't he?"

"Yeah, he told me. Just making sure you're still there. I never want to not know where you are ever again. Don't ever be out of my sight Sam. I love you so much." Josh couldn't say it enough.

"Are you ok Josh? You sound kind of stressed. Did something happen?" Sam sounded worried. "Where are YOU, by the way?"

"At the office." Josh rubbed his forehead with his thumb and forefinger.

"Why haven't you gone home? You could have left early."

"Sam, Marc called here."

Sam blanched. "He called me there again?"

"Again? How many times has he called you here at the White House?"

"Just once. This morning. He wanted to confirm our racquetball game."

"Yeah, well, he didn't call for you this time. He called ME," Josh said.

"Oh fuck."

"Seaborn!" Toby called from the living room.

Sam held the phone from his mouth so he wouldn't yell in Josh's ear. "Two more minutes!" He then brought the phone back.

"He's timing your call?" Josh asked.

"Nah, I'm just calling while he's cleaning up from dinner. Josh, go on home, please. I want you there when I get home. Please go."

"Sam, what are you and Toby talking about?"

"I can't tell you yet, but you'll know all about it soon enough. I promise."

"Why can't I be there now?"

"I need to get it all straightened out in my head first, so when I tell you it'll be just right. And I need Toby to help me with that."

"Why can't 'I' help you with it?" Josh asked.

"You're whining." Sam smiled. He so much wanted to be home with Josh.

"I'm whining 'cause I want my Angel and this is weird. We've always been able to talk about anything and everything. I'm scared something bad is going on." Josh hesitated. "I need you Sam."

"Josh, don't. Don't say that now. I can't come to you this time. Please don't do this to me."

"I don't like us being separated and you talking to somebody else about stuff that involves us. This DOES involve 'us', doesn't it?"

Sam nodded his head.

"Sam? You there?"

"Oh yeah. Sorry. I nodded."

"You do that a lot."

"So do you."

Toby knocked on the bedroom door and walked in. "Time's up kiddo, say good-bye."

"Toby, I want Josh to come over."

"What?"

"Josh is right. It's not fair that I'm discussing something this important that involves both of us and he's not here. He should be here. I want him here. Can he come?"

"Tell him you'll call him back in five minutes."

"Josh, Toby's gonna maybe let you come over. I'll call you back in five, ok? Don't go anywhere," Sam said.

"Five minutes? You promise?" Josh asked

Sam nodded.

"Sam?"

"Yes. Yes, five minutes. You know."

"You know too."

Toby sat on the bed beside Sam. Sam's attitude seemed better. Toby knew it had to be from his contact with Josh. Maybe it WOULD be easier to get Josh over here and just go through this whole thing only once. He knew, now that he was involved in this, he'd rather be the moderator than the advisor or decision-maker. He still wasn't quite sure how he got in the middle of this, but the more the story unfolded, he knew there needed to be a third person and admitted he was probably the best person for the job.

"Do you want Josh to be here?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to be totally open and honest and tell both of us everything you were going to tell only me?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to be honest like you were when you told me you had only smoked pot once?"

Sam lowered his eyes. "No. I'll be totally truthful about everything. Honest. Really, I swear I will Toby."

As Toby sat on the bed with Sam laying next to him, he had a dissociative experience of a father talking to his young son. It ran concurrent with the actual conversation, so there was no lag in time, no alter-ego who stepped in that Sam would notice, no change in behavior or tone. But Toby felt it inside himself and it was so very real that it shook him to the core. He was actually convinced he had paternal authority over Sam, not in a negative controlling way, but in a positive protective way. He felt he was guiding and teaching his son, helping him with a mistake the boy had made, helping him sort it out so he wouldn't make the same mistake next time. And Sam, in his innocence and naiveté, unwittingly played his role without a flaw because he was in such a state of mind that he WAS the awkward adolescent reaching out to the Father he loved and trusted and obeyed.

Toby knew little about Sam's relationship with his birth father, but he knew it in no way resembled the ideal father/son relationship being played out now between Sam and himself. He didn't know if Sam felt it too ~~ he believed Sam did ~~ but he knew HE wasn't going to let go of it. He could never see himself stepping into that role overtly, but for now, his secret persona fit him well and provided a satisfaction he was certain he'd never be able to understand or obtain in any other way.

"Ok, it's probably for the best if he comes."

"Great! I'll call him."

"I'LL call him. You go back into the living room and get your memory working a little better so you don't accidentally give wrong answers, ok?"

Sam nodded.

"Sam, I'm serious. I will NOT tolerate lies and the next one you pull, you're out the door. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir, I understand. No more lies. I promise."

"Give me your phone. Speed dial one I assume?"

"Of course."

"Now go away." Toby dialed the number.

"Josh Lyman. Sam?" He answered before the first ring stopped.

"No Josh, it's Toby."

"Where'd Sam go?"

"He's in the living room. He wants you to come over here. Is that what you want too?"

"Yes. Very much."

"You're gonna hear some stuff you don't wanna hear," Toby warned.

"Is Sam in trouble?"

"Probably not." "Probably? Is he sick?"

"Nothing we can't fix. Do you have my address?"

"No."

"Its 111 Cunningham. Do you have any idea where that is?"

"Yeah. Those old places that look like doll houses?"

"Right. I'm on the third floor. Outside entrance. Park on the service road."

"Want me to bring anything?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. Go home first and change into comfortable clothes and bring something for Sam to wear. And get Sam's gym bag. Don't forget his racquetball stuff."

"Ok. Toby, will you give Sam a message for me?"

"Sure," Toby sighed, "what is it?"

"Tell him I love him."

"Josh..."

"Toby?"

"Aw shit. All right. I love you too."

Josh cocked his head. "What?"

"That's from Sam. We both know that's what he's gonna say in return."

Josh laughed. "See ya."

Toby returned to the living room. Sam was studying the globe. "Josh says 'I love you'."

"I love you too," Sam responded.

Toby rolled his eyes. "Josh is on his way. Before he gets here I wanna talk about this drug thing. Sit down. You want a cigar?"

Sam took his seat on the couch. "No thanks. Statistics have proven that smoke from cigars is..."

"I don't care. I'm gonna smoke my cigar if it kills me." Toby snipped the end off his cigar and lit it with a wooden match. Sam watched the smoke swirl upward into the pull of the fan. Still, he could smell its aroma and knew it had to be good. His Father smoked, maybe he still does, the best cigars from Cuba. Sam enjoyed a good cigar from time to time and wished he'd accepted the one offered by Toby.

"Ok, just tell me. No bullshit. I don't like to pull rank or scare you, but I have an obligation to go to my immediate superior to report any known illegal drug use by any staff member. That would be Leo. I'm gonna use my discretion here so don't give me a reason not to believe or trust you. Both our jobs are at stake here Sam, and once Josh gets involved, so is his. So don't you dare lie to me, understand?"

"Implicitly."

"Talk."

"Ok. Uh, well remember I told you I was at Marc's that night instead of the juice bar? After racquetball? Well Toby, I was so messed up Josh came to Marc's and took me home. I couldn't even stand up. I accidentally left my keys there so the next day after work Josh drove me by there and I went in to get them. The keys. I just stayed a couple of minutes, but before I left Marc gave me a bag of pot, joints already rolled."

"Oh really?"

"I just couldn't turn them down. It had been so long since I'd had any and after the night before and that taste and smell and the feeling and..." Sam drifted off to that other place. Toby saw in his eyes that he'd left the present and had returned to the memory of some drug-induced state that he loved.

Sam's eyes moved back and forth as though he was watching some scene in front of him that Toby couldn't see. It was the same look he had the night they'd all watched the movie together. Toby had seen that look then too, and mixed with the beer, only enhanced Sam's magical mystery tour.

"Sam."

No response.

"Sam."

No response.

"Sam! Snap out of it!" Toby clapped his hands together creating a sharp staccato crack in front of Sam's face. Sam jumped at the sound. "You're pathetic. You can get a contact high just by thinking about pot. How much of an addict are you?"

Sam shook out of his trance. "No offense Toby, but that's a really stupid question."

"Excuse me?"

"That's like asking 'How pregnant are you?' Either you are or you aren't. An addict is an addict is an addict. There are varying degrees of severity, but the ones you see shooting up in the alley are no different from the ones sitting in the West Wing of the White House. And I respectfully include Leo and...Leo among us. Alcohol's a drug you know."

"The stuff Marc gave you, what'd you do with it?"

Sam laughed. "I'm sorry Toby, but you're just asking questions that are funny to a druggie. I smoked it. All of it. The first opportunity I could I sucked that stuff down and when it was all gone I wanted more."

"And Marc's the person you can go to for more."

"He is, but he certainly isn't the ONLY person. If I was sitting behind my desk any day of the week in the White House, I could make one inner-office phone call and have whatever I wanted on my desk within minutes. And swear to me Toby that what I'm about to tell you, the names of the people I'm about to say will NEVER go beyond this room. I'm just telling you so you'll know just how easy it would be."

"You've got my word."

"And understand, these people don't use. They just know where to go, who the connections are."

"I understand."

"I could whisper what I want in Donna's ear, in Charlie's, Amy, Ed and Larry, Mandy, Danny. ZOEY even!"

Toby sat in silence stroking his beard. "These people use drugs Sam?"

"Not at all. I just said they don't use. I'd be very, very surprised if any of them did. In fact, I'd bet just about anything that all of them DON'T. I'm just saying they all know where to go, who to talk with, to get them. Drugs are everywhere Toby."

"Inside the White House?"

"Inside the White House."

"Have you ever had any of these people get drugs for you?"

"Hell no! Toby, I told you, until I went to Marc's that night, I'd hadn't done 'anything' for a long, long time. Nothing. Clean. Clean, clean, clean. Except for alcohol. But I'm not a drunk."

Toby was interrupted by a knock on the door. An anxious knock.

Sam heard Josh's voice. "Where's Sam? I wanna see Sam."

Sam stood up and turned around as Josh entered the apartment and they saw each other at the same time. Josh set down Sam's gym bag and half-ran to Sam. Sam moved toward Josh and when they met, they wrapped their arms around each other and each buried their face against the other's neck. Josh put his arm around Sam's head and pulled him closer. The two stood and rocked in each other's arms. Toby could hear parts of words slip out but he couldn't tell what they said. Sounds of intimacy meant only for each other reached Toby's ears. He knew he should look away, walk away, give them some privacy, but he couldn't. He was drawn again to the pure, unconditional love they had between them, and again, Toby's heart ached yet he wasn't quite sure why.

When they pulled away Josh opened his hand. "I brought these," he said. In his hand were their rings. The both leaned in until their foreheads touched and each put the ring on the other's finger. They exchanged a sweet kiss, oblivious to Toby just a few feet away. Josh took Sam's face in his hands.

"I don't know what's going on here babe, I have no idea. But whatever it is, no matter how bad, we're going to work it out together. Ok?"

Sam nodded.

"Toby's gonna help us. Whatever it is, it can't be that bad."

Sam started to lower his head because of the shame he felt, but Josh lifted it back up.

"No, don't do that Sam. Look at me. Look me in the eye. Nothing you may have done ~~ nothing ~~ will ever change the love I have for you. Nothing. If there's something we need to fix, we'll fix it." Josh used his thumb to wipe away a tear that just start to roll down Sam's cheek. He pulled Sam back into him for another embrace, held him close against his body and rocked him. Josh put his hand on the back of Sam's head and ran his fingers through Sam's hair.

Toby stood by and watched, the gentle circulating fans the only sound. He inhaled it all. The comforting sound, the smell of leather mixed with a trace of cigar smoke in the room, the sight of Sam and Josh unashamedly so deep in love that it overcame everything else. He wanted to be part of that embrace, for them to hold out their arms and beckon him in. But that wasn't going to happen. Their bond was so tight...so tight that there was no room for anyone to even get close to what they share. It made Toby sad for a moment, then he rejoiced that there was such a thing still alive in this world.

He raised his cigar to them, although they didn't see, and very softly said, although they didn't hear, "L'Chayim", to life.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 33

Josh sat next to Sam. His right arm extended across the back of the couch behind Sam and his left hand held Sam's left hand in Josh's lap. Their fingers were intertwined and their rings constantly touched. Every now and then one or the other would bring their joined hands to their lips and kiss their rings.

Once, when Josh did this, Toby found himself rubbing his own wedding ring with his thumb. He stopped when he realized it and was glad his thumb was hidden beneath his fore and middle fingers so no one else would see. His thoughts returned to Andi's apartment. She had no cat. There was no Fluffy. There was no reason to take Sam to her place other than Toby wanted to be there.

She WAS out of town; that's how he knew she wouldn't walk in on them. He smiled just a little when he thought of her coming home later that night and finding empty water bottles in her freshly lined kitchen trash can and the Kleenex box on her coffee table instead of in the bathroom. Then there were the many crumpled tissues Sam had put...what DID Sam do with those tissues after he blew his nose and wiped his eyes? Toby smiled a little more. Andi will find them, he knew, and took some joy in that.

Toby slowly, calmly and accurately brought Josh up to speed on what he and Sam had discussed. Toby had asked that Josh not interrupt until he was finished. Josh agreed, but the instant Toby stopped talking, Josh started. Sometimes he addressed Toby, sometimes he just spoke in general, but mostly he turned to Sam with his questions. He started out non-accusatory enough, but both Sam and Toby knew Josh wouldn't be able to hold his temper forever.

"So you're attracted to this guy Sam? Is that what I'm hearing?"

"No Josh, it's not like that at all. I don't know where that even came from. He IS good looking, but I don't...didn't look at him like that. I don't look at ANYBODY that way but you."

Sam thought back to the first time he saw Marc at the gym, when he asked him if he wanted to be his racquetball partner. He remembered how he watched Marc walk into the locker room with just a towel wrapped around his waist and he wondered why he let his eyes follow him down the hall and through the door. He remembered how he continued to look at the door even after it had closed behind Marc.

"You don't KNOW if you had sex with him?" Josh stood and ran his hand through his hair.

"I didn't! I swear I didn't!"

Josh's voice softened. "You said you couldn't remember." Josh looked at Sam with more hurt than anger. "Isn't that what he said Toby? That he couldn't remember?" Josh didn't take his eyes off Sam.

"At first he said he wasn't sure, then he said he knew it didn't happen," Toby reported.

"That doesn't sound very reliable to me Sam. Sounds like you don't know."

"Josh, I didn't. I don't know what else to say to convince you." Sam sounded like he was trying to convince himself at the same time.

"Why was your phone on Marc's bedside table?" Josh asked. He turned to Toby. "Did he tell you about that? I found it there myself."

Toby nodded. "Josh, you don't really believe Sam would do that, do you?"

"I wouldn't have before but..."

Sam sat on the edge of the couch. "Josh, think a minute. Did you smell me? You've told me lots of times that after we have sex, no matter if I take a shower and put on after shave, you can still smell the sex on me for hours."

Toby closed his eyes and wished he was anywhere but listening to this.

Sam continued. "Don't you think if I'd had sex with...that guy, you'd have known? When you came to pick me up you'd have smelled sex on me."

"Yeah, ok," Josh conceded. "You were clean. I remember thinking that at the time. There's no way."

And later...

Sam and Josh were back on the couch, Josh's arm behind Sam, their hands together in Josh's lap once more.

"Why did you agree to go to his place tonight and tell me you were going to play racquetball?" Josh asked. "That's a flat-out lie Sam. We don't lie to each other. Why would you do that to me?"

The hurt in Josh's voice was almost more than Sam could bear. He looked to Toby for help.

"Josh," Toby explained. "Sam told Marc he'd come over tonight just because he wanted to get high. He doesn't want to see Marc, he wants what Marc has and can get for him."

"And the drugs Sam," Josh pleaded, "why didn't you tell me that had become a problem again?"

"It's not a problem again. I would have told you if it was. Or if it is, or is gonna be. But it's not. Just that once." Sam glanced at Toby. Toby had his hand to his face, stroking his beard. Sam couldn't make eye contact with him.

Josh clenched his jaw and felt his heart race. Sam had just deliberately told him a lie. Toby had told Josh that Sam smoked pot the night they watched 'Apocalypse Now' and now Sam said, 'Just that once'.

Josh tried his best to remain calm. He clenched his hand behind Sam into a fist and lifted it off the couch. He beat his fist in the air, but never let it come down to make contact with the couch.

"That's it?" Josh finally asked.

Sam hesitated then nodded his head slightly, barely any movement at all, his eyes focused on the floor.

"Just the one time?" Josh wanted to give Sam every opportunity to tell the truth.

Toby had told Josh that addicts behaved this way when they felt cornered. Even though they knew they were trapped, they'd still lie to try and protect themselves. Sam knew Toby had told Josh the truth, yet he felt desperate enough to grasp at any straw he could to deny there was a problem. The lies turned into confusion and eventually the addict would lose track of what they said to whom, what lies they'd told, and that's when they became introverted and stopped talking altogether to those closest to them. Josh didn't want that to happen, but it broke his heart to hear Sam deliberately lie to him.

Sam barely breathed the word. "Yeah."

Josh lost it. He jumped to his feet, grabbed Sam's arm and jerked him off the couch. He pulled Sam to him so they stood face-to-face, only inches apart. Toby watched with caution but didn't interfere.

"Dammit Sam! You have pot in the house, in OUR house, and have used it! You just lied to me! Twice! Just now! Is this because of Marc or the drugs or what? Make me understand this, Sam. I just don't get it!" Josh shook Sam as he yelled at him. Sam didn't resist.

"I don't get it either," Sam's voice was barely above a whisper.

Josh's nostrils flared and his breath came quick. It was then he realized how tight his grip was on Sam's arm. He released Sam's arm but the two continued to stand and face each other.

Silence.

"Dammit Sam!"

Silence.

"If you don't get it, how am *I* supposed to? I don't know the answers to any of this shit! YOU'RE the only with the answers! Or the one who SHOULD have the answers! I don't know Sam, I just don't know!"

Silence.

"Would you have gone over to Marc's tonight and not told me?" Josh looked at his watch. "In fact, there's still time. What are you gonna do Sam?"

"I don't..." Sam started.

"You don't what? You don't know?" Josh interrupted. "Do you wanna go spend the night with Marc and get stoned? Is that what you want babe? Is that what you want?"

"Josh," Toby said.

"Because if that's what you want," Josh ignored Toby and continued to yell inches from Sam's face, "if that's what you really want..." His voiced trailed off and he turned his back to Sam.

Again, there was silence in the room. Josh stood with his hands on his hips and looked at the floor. Sam stared at Josh's back. Toby watched them both.

"Dammit Sam!" Josh whirled around with his hand raised above his head. Sam pulled back and flinched. Toby was on his feet. Josh stopped and stared. He'd never seen the look in Sam's eyes he saw at that moment.

It wasn't fear. It wasn't surprise. It wasn't betrayal. It wasn't hate. It was failure.

Josh put his hand on the back of his neck and rubbed it. He looked at the floor and stretched his head to the left and right then looked to the ceiling and twisted his neck. His eyes returned to Sam's. It was still there. An emotion he had brought up in Sam that he'd never seen before and never wanted to see again.

Josh put his arm around Sam's shoulder and pulled him in close. In spite of everything, he loved Sam more than life itself and that would never change. He wrapped his other arm around Sam and brought him in for a tight embrace.

"Oh Sammy," Josh said with a choke in his voice, "do you think I was really gonna strike you? There's nothing you could ever do that would cause me to hit my boy." He put his lips against the side of Sam's head and kissed him, Sam's hair soft against his face.

Toby realized he hadn't breathed during this whole exchange and exhaled a sigh of relief. He watched the two men in their embrace and noticed how their bodies fit so comfortably against the others, how they moved in sync as one person, how they looked more natural when they stood together than when they were apart.

He couldn't hear when Josh said, but saw his lips moving close to Sam's ear and from to time Sam would slightly nod or shake his head in response to what Josh said or asked him. Occasionally Josh would stroke Sam's hair. One time, Josh looked over at Toby, smiled and winked.

"Sam, first know that I love you," Josh said quietly into Sam's ear when he first pulled him close. "You DO know that, don't you?"

Sam nodded.

"No matter what happens here today, or has happened in the past, I will always love you. Do you understand?"

Sam nodded.

"Just now," Josh continued, "I wasn't gonna hit you. I swear to God, Sam, I was NOT gonna hit you."

"I know," Sam whispered.

"Do you know? Do you really Sam? If you ever, ever believe I would hit you..."

Sam kissed Josh's check. "I know."

Toby watched the interaction unable to hear their words, but was intrigued at how one instant the hot-tempered Josh Lyman could be so volatile and the next, so gentle. He remembered when Josh needed a cooling down period of at least twenty minutes after an encounter with less intensity. Yet now, in a matter of seconds, he was docile and calm as he comforted Sam.

"Ok baby, now listen to me carefully, because this is real important Sam. Are you listening?"

Sam gave a slight nod and the two started to barely sway as they stood together.

"We've got something serious here. For some reason, you've started to smoke pot again, and I know you haven't done that for a whole lot of years. There 's gotta be a reason why. That's one thing we can take care of together. Piece-a-cake." Josh stroked Sam's hair.

"The other thing Angel," Josh continued. "the other thing...the other thing we 've gotta talk about, right now, right this minute while we stand here...is Marc."

Sam tensed in Josh's arms. Josh tightened his grasp on him as a thought passed through his head so quickly he wasn't even sure he had it, that Sam was about to bolt. "Marc's nothing...nobody," Sam replied.

"Oh yeah, Marc's something all right. He stole a night of you from me, he stole part of your brain, he stole your dignity, he stole your sobriety, he could have stolen your life, he might steal your job, your entire political career, your Presidency, he might steal MY job, he might embarrass my Mother on national television, and we won't even mention how he might embarrass Jed Bartlet. Marc caused me to raise my voice at you this evening and deny it all you want, but both you and Toby will always wonder if I was going to hit you or if I really just intended to rub my neck. Right this minute Marc is affecting us Sam. We could be home making love; instead, we're standing in the middle of Toby's apartment talking about the son-of-a-bitch."

Sam laid his head on Josh's shoulder. "We can make love in the middle of Toby's apartment. I'm game."

Josh kissed Sam's forehead. Then he looked over at Toby, smiled and winked.

"Angel?"

"Hmmmm?"

"I need to ask you a question and you need to answer me, ok?" Josh said softly, gently.

Sam nodded.

"Yes or no. There can't be any grey area here, all right?"

Sam nodded.

"Is there something going on between you and Marc?"

"No."

"Yeah, ok."

Sam and Josh loosened their embrace and Sam tucked his thumbs into the waistband of Josh's jeans. He continued to look at Josh, but he turned to Toby every so often.

"Can I say something?" he asked, without waiting for an answer. "This is for you too, Toby. You both know Marc expects me at his place at eight o' clock. I want you both to PLEASE believe me when I tell you, I don't want to see him. I just want what he's got. I wanna get high. Marc's just the guy with the stuff. I'm just the guy who wants the stuff. All business."

"But why Sam?" Toby asked. "Why do you wanna get high?"

Sam looked blankly at Toby.

"The second part is this," Sam continued without answering Toby, "Marc knows Josh and I both work in the White House. If I get him angry with me, there might be repercussions. I don't know what or why and I hate myself for getting us mixed up in something, or maybe we're NOT mixed up in anything, I just don't know. I DO know I feel like shit."

"So you're gonna let this dickhead control your life from now on?" Toby asked.

"Nooooo," Sam answered with some hesitance, "but I've got to consider the President and the whole administration and Josh's reputation. And now maybe yours. So I need to be careful how I get rid of him."

"Does he know we're a couple?" Josh asked.

Sam shook his head. "I don't know for sure. Probably. I don't want to risk everything by guessing he DOESN'T know. How did it seem to you when you came and picked me up that first night?"

"Screw that first night," Josh answered.

"I'm more concerned about your drug use," Toby said. "I know about addictions and I know about relapses. Even after many years clean, half-a-joint can put you right back where you were when you quit. That's what I'm worried about. I'm worried about Sam. Screw Marc."

That's what I'm worried about, thought Josh. He didn't have any experience with how serious a little marijuana could be to a person with an addictive personality and assumed a relapse meant now that Sam had smoked his pot, it was over. He was more concerned with Marc.

"Can we take a half-hour break Toby?" asked Josh. "Just to get away from all this talk for a few minutes? I need to digest a lot of information and just get it out of my head for a little while."

"Sounds like a good idea. I've got an errand to run so you two take it easy for a while. Make yourselves at home, eat, drink, walk around, have anything you want. Just don't touch anything." Toby picked up Sam's car keys and left his own apartment.

Josh fell back on the couch and pulled Sam with him. Sam turned sideways and brought his legs up over Josh's. He wrapped his arms around Josh and laid his head on Josh's shoulder. Josh circled his arms around Sam and clutched his own wrists to keep Sam close to him. They both closed their eyes and gently rocked in silence to feel the others' heart beat, to feel the other breathe.

They sat that way for a long time.

Josh let his nostrils fill with Sam's sweet aroma. He buried his face in Sam's hair and reveled in the familiarity that was Sam. Traces of after shave, nearly worn off now. His sweatshirt was kinda sweaty, musky. Josh smiled. That was his fault. When Toby had told him to bring clothes for Sam he'd grabbed the first thing he saw ~~ Sam's sweatshirt laying in a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the bathroom waiting to be laundered, something Sam never would have chosen for himself. Josh kissed Sam's head.

Sam allowed himself to relax his muscles and let the tension go now that he was safely ensconced in Josh's strong arms. There were times when Sam felt especially vulnerable...young and even small in stature. It was at these times Josh would gather Sam in his arms and hold him as he would a child, comfort him without words, but just with the assurance of those strong arms that said "I have you, I'll hold you up, I'll keep you safe against me and never let you go".

Sam leaned into Josh and unabashedly let Josh be his rock and support him as he let his body go limp.

It felt right. And they just wanted their normal lives back. They listened to the fan, its rote lulling them into a peacefulness they didn't want to let go of.

"Sam," Josh asked, "do you love me?"

"I do."

"Would you ever love anyone else instead of me?"

"No," replied Sam.

"Ever?"

"Ever. For eternity."

The fan brought down cool air that blew little tufts of Sam's hair. Tears welled in Josh's eyes.

"All this shit is just something that got out of hand, isn't it Angel? And Marc means nothing to you, right?" asked Josh.

"He means nothing. That's all it is Oshie," Sam assured him. "Something that got out of hand but it's over now."

"Would you have gone to Marc's tonight instead of playing racquetball?"

"If I was, I'd be there now instead of on Toby's couch, snuggled up with the person I love most in this world."

Then the mood changed when Sam said, "You know Josh, I've gotta call and cancel at the club. They're gonna hate me at this late notice, but at least I'll have called."

"It's been done."

Sam looked at him, surprised.

"They don't hate you. You canceled with hours to spare."

"Who...?"

"It doesn't matter. You're still scheduled for Saturday at noon," Josh said.

"Something else," Sam said so quietly Josh could barely hear him.

"What?"

"There's something else I have to do."

"What's that Sam?" Although he knew what it was.

"I need to call Marc and tell him I'm not coming to his place."

Josh's entire body tensed. He couldn't believe Sam actually said it, even though he knew it was bound to be said.

"Do you REALLY believe you have to make that phone call? Sam, he's an asshole. WHY do you need to explain anything to him? Why can't you just not show up?"

"You know, expressing a negative sentiment in two different ways in the same sentence can really be unclear to some people. It would be better if..."

"Sam."

"I can't help it. Wordsmithery is what I DO Josh. It defines me. I'm sorry. You were saying why can't I just not show up and I'm saying I don't work that way. You should know that by now. Just a quick courtesy call. Also, there's the administration to consider. I don't wanna piss him off because I don't know what he'll do. It'll just take a minute. I'll sit right here by your side and call so you can hear every word."

"Why don't you let ME call? Then he'll hear some words all right."

"Josh, please. I need to do this," Sam explained. "Leaving somebody hanging, even if it's him, I just don't do things that way."

Sam reluctantly climbed off Josh and got his cell phone from Toby's bedroom. He returned to the couch and sat next to Josh, who immediately stood up and walked to the telescope and looked through the eyepiece.

"Don't touch that," Sam warned.

Josh glared at him.

Sam dialed Marc's number.

"You've got it memorized?" Josh mumbled.

Sam ignored him.

Josh could only hear one side of their conversation.

"Marc, it's Sam."

"You're late."

"That's why I'm calling. I can't make it tonight."

"Flack from the old man?" Marc laughed.

"No, nothing like that. I just don't think it's a good idea. But I've got the court reserved for Saturday, like always."

"So he's pissed at his boy for having a playmate, right?" Marc taunted him.

"Then we'll get a smoothie at the juice bar, as usual, at the club."

"I just got some stuff that'll put you over the moon Sammy. Come by the bar for a sample. If you like it I'll give you a good deal. If you come to my place to get more than just the sample, it's on the house. The best I've got in all season. Think about it Cobra. Two hits and you're flying. I'll be at the bar tomorrow from four o'clock on. I'll be looking for you."

"See you Saturday. Bye." Sam hung up the phone. Then to Josh. "See? Harmless."

"Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"How bad is your drug situation?"

"We talked about this a long time ago Josh, when we first got serious. Don' t you remember?"

Josh lifted his head from the telescope. "Sure I do babe, but that was like a zillion years ago and you were clean and it wasn't an issue then so I didn't think all that much about it. It was history. But I AM thinking about it now because it, uh, it seems to be a struggle for you now, right?"

"Pretty much. No, not really. It's ok. It's over. Well, kind of a struggle."

Silence.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Was getting trashed that night at Marc's, was that the beginning of your relapse?" Josh asked.

"Technically that WAS my relapse. What I did after that constitutes using again," Sam explained.

"Besides that night and what he gave you that you hid and used behind my back, have you used any other times?"

Silence.

More silence.

"Sam?"

Uncomfortable silence.

"Sam?"

"I don't wanna tell you about it Josh."

"I'll take that as a yes then," said Josh. He sat back down on the couch "Talk to me."

Sam closed his eyes. Josh instinctively kissed each eyelid, part of their bedtime ritual. Sam opened his eyes and smiled just a little. Josh could tell how difficult this was for Sam. Josh wondered if Sam had any idea how difficult this was for HIM.

"That stuff Marc gave me, you know, when I went back for my keys, I went through it pretty fast. Once I had the taste for it again, I just had to have it. I didn't need to get wasted every day, but I needed to get high every day. Just a little." Sam paused to see if Josh would react. He didn't, so Sam continued. "So when I ran out, I got more."

Sam picked up the pillow and hugged it to him. Josh knew he used it as a comforter, and it hurt him that Sam had turned to an inanimate object and hadn't reached out to him.

"Can I hold your hand babe?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded and reached his hand toward Josh. Josh's hand had already started toward Sam and they joined halfway. Sam squeezed Josh's hand tightly, but he still didn't let go of the pillow.

"Tell me when you're ready," Josh coaxed. "I'll be right here with you and nothing you say can change the way I feel about you."

"Don't be so sure Josh. I've done something really bad."

"At Home" ~~ CHAPTER 34

"Don't be so sure Josh. I've done something really bad."

Josh's heart went to his throat. That was the last thing he expected to hear from Sam. Maybe because it was something he never heard from Sam that it caught him off-guard. He just never connected the word *bad* with Sam under any circumstances.

"Does Toby know what you're about to tell me?" asked Josh.

Sam shook his head. "No. I was too ashamed to tell him. But I know if I'm gonna keep you, if I want you to ever trust me again, then I've gotta tell you. For God's sake Josh, I just lied to you. A flat-out lie in front of you and Toby and you both knew it. Both of you stood there and listened while I lied to you and neither of you called me on it!"

Josh cocked his head. "I. Don't. Understand. Were we SUPPOSED to call you on it?"

"Josh."

"I'm sorry! I've never dealt with a drug...with someone who does this. I don 't know the rules Sam. Are Toby and I supposed to do the "Scared Straight" thing or the "Tough Love" thing or the "Let You Take the Road Less Traveled" thing or what? Give me the instruction book and I'll cram for it tonight!"

"Please don't yell at me again?" Sam said softly, more as a plea than a statement.

Josh closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. He rubbed one eye with the heel of his palm.

"I didn't mean to yell Angel. I'm just...frustrated...because I don't have a clue how to deal with this and I'm afraid I'll screw up and you'll get hurt because of my stupidity. I just wanna take care of you and I don't know how."

Sam put his hand against Josh's throat and gently massaged it with his fingers. He ran his hand down Josh's chest until it rested in his lap.

"I'll be ok Josh," he said. "This is nothing to worry about, really."

"Toby seems to think it's something."

"You know how Toby over-reacts about everything. He's just blowing it all out of proportion."

"Are you sure?" Josh asked. "Do you really have a handle on this?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, but I still need to tell you what I did, just to get the slate clean."

"Sure. I understand. There's nothing you can't tell me. Nothing can be that bad."

"Wait and see if you can still say that after I tell you what I did."

********

Sam reached into the pocket of his letterman jacket and pulled out the purple velvet bag. He reached inside and pulled out the Meerschaum roach clip and the Disney World lighter. He felt inside the baggie but it was empty. His heart skipped a beat as he pulled the baggie out. It COULDN'T be empty! There were two joints in there just... Then he remembered he'd smoked them. He'd smoked everything Marc had given him. There were no roaches, no crumbles of loose pot in the corner of the bag ~~ nothing.

But I need some, he thought. Josh will be at the office a couple more hours and I really need a joint just to relax from the day and I've gotta get some and I've gotta get it NOW. Shit, I didn't realize I was out. I've really gotta be more conscientious about these things.

Without giving a thought to the consequences, Sam used his cell phone and called Marc. His only thought was getting high.

"Marc."

"Marc, it's Sam."

"Cobra! You're alive! I thought if the Rattlesnakes hadn't killed you, Josh would have."

"No, everything's cool with Josh. What's all that noise?" Sam asked.

"I'm at the bar. Just a usual night ~~ good and crowded. Come on over."

"Marc, I, um, really appreciate that little 'gift' you gave me when I came by for my keys. You know, in the purple bag." Sam started to undress as he talked.

Marc laughed. "I thought you'd enjoy that. Just my way of saying I enjoy playing racquetball with you and I had a great time with you that evening."

"As did I," Sam laughed, "what I remember of it. That's kinda why I'm calling Marc. I sorta went through that pretty fast. It was some good shit, and, well, could I get some more to hold me over until we get together on Thursday?"

"I think that can be arranged. When do you want it?"

Sam was down to his underwear now. He looked at himself in the mirror as he talked. "Is now too soon?" he asked hopefully.

"No problem. I'm working. Can you come by my bar?"

Sam hadn't counted on that. He had planned on keeping a low profile. Maybe if he stopped in for one drink and did what he needed to do it would be ok.

"Where's your place?" he asked.

"Dutchman's. Ever hear of it?"

"Sorry. No."

"Corner of Lowe and Whitford. Either of those sound familiar?"

"Whitford off Schiff, right?" Sam asked.

"Exactly. Turn onto Whitford off Schiff, go south one mile and you're there. Can't miss it"

"Ok, Marc, I can't stay. I'll have one drink, not a Rattlesnake, get the stuff, and leave, ok?" Sam tried to sound firm.

"You got it. What do you want?"

Sam placed an order for pre-rolled joints, half laced with opium and acid, half laced with hashish and acid. He asked about cocaine, but didn't get any.

"No 'X'? You strike me as a real lover-boy."

Sam laughed. He knew Ecstasy was an aphrodisiac and made the user extremely aroused and impassioned, and not easily sated. "I'm not doing that alone," he said, and I'm sure as hell not getting Josh into this, he thought to himself. "So no thank you. I'd go crazy taking that by myself."

Marc laughed right along with Sam. "Who said you had to do it alone Sam? I'll do it with you. I'll see that you don't feel unloved."

Sam stopped laughing. He squeezed his eyes tightly together and literally hit himself on his head with his fist because he was so conflicted. He turned and looked at the bed he shared with his spouse, with Josh, then he thought of a night of pure ecstasy mixed with...apparently whatever he wanted. Except Josh.

Dammit, dammit, dammit!! He looked at himself in the mirror again in only his briefs and t-shirt. He pulled the t-shirt over his head. He looked at his erection at just the thought of what could be. But this time when his erection quivered his mind wasn't on Josh.

He hit himself on the head with his fist again. No way! No way! No way! There would NEVER be another man or woman in his life but Josh. How could these horrible thoughts even pass through his head? Sam hated himself so much at that moment he wanted to die.

"Sam? You there?"

"Yeah Marc, I'm here. No 'X'. Not tonight. Maybe some other time."

"Ok Cobra, but you don't know what you're missing."

"Yeah, yeah, I think I do Marc. I think I do know what I'm missing. So what's this gonna set me back?"

"Hold on."

Sam pulled on a pair of khaki cargo pants and a navy blue camp shirt while he waited.

"That comes to twelve hundred eighty two dollars, cash only," Marc finally said.

Sam swallowed. Prices most definitely had gone up since his previous using days. He hadn't ordered that much, relatively speaking, and it was costing him twelve hundred eighty two dollars, in cash.

"Ok, I'm on my way," he said.

"Sam, I own this place and can leave whenever I want. Sure you wouldn't rather meet at my house?"

"I'm sure. I really need to get back here. I can only stay a minute."

"Well, maybe you'll change your mind once you get here. We'll just leave it open."

"No Marc, fifteen minutes and I'm outta there."

"Whatever you say Cobra. We'll just leave it open."

Sam had no trouble finding Dutchman's. In fact, he was sure he'd been there before with Josh, Toby, CJ, Charlie, Donna, Cathy, Carol, Ginger and maybe even Ed and Larry, but he couldn't remember why, since it was off the beaten path. Maybe that was why. He had to park three blocks away and walk.

Inside he threaded among the customers until he reached the bar. He stood at the end and just watched before he even tried to get Marc's attention. He didn't want to seem too anxious. After a few minutes a waitress came over and took his order for a double Rumplemintz and ice water and he said he'd like to speak to Marc. A couple of minutes later Marc brought him his drink and the same for himself, without the water.

"You do the end of my bar a great justice," Marc said.

"I'm sorry?"

"I'll pay you to park yourself there every night and just look good. You'll be great for business."

Sam laughed. "You seem to be doing all right without me as your masthead."

"Haven't you noticed how many people ~~ women AND men ~~ have been checking you out since you walked in here exactly eight minutes ago?"

"Uh, no." Sam never noticed when people admired him. He was so unaware of the way others saw him. He only cared about how Josh saw him.

"Well, lots of eyes followed you all the way from the front door to this spot here and they're STILL staring."

"So you saw me come in?" Sam asked.

"I see everybody who comes in." Marc answered.

Sam threw back a Rumplemintz and chased it with ice water. Marc did the same straight up.

"So, you coming to my place?"

"No, thank you Marc, I really need to get back. But I'd sure love to spend a couple of hours in that chair of yours."

Marc smiled. "I know what I'm getting YOU for Christmas!"

"Well, can I get what I came for?" Sam asked.

"Sure. Come back to my office."

Sam followed Marc down a hallway and into an office behind the bar. It had a two-way mirror so Marc could see the entire bar from there. He unlocked his bottom desk drawer and pulled out a purple velvet bag, just like the one he'd given Sam, only bigger. He laid it on the desk.

"Care to check it out?" Marc asked.

"No thanks, I trust you."

Sam put a blank white envelope on the desk next to the bag.

"Care to count it?" he asked.

"No thanks, I trust you."

Simultaneously Sam and Marc reached out. Sam put his hand on the purple bag and Marc put his hand on Sam's. Sam knew he should have pulled away but he didn't. He was curious about the sensation he felt from the touch of Marc's hand on his. Marc's hand was large; it covered all of Sam's, and looked a bit delicate, the hand of an artist. But Sam knew the strength of those hands from the way he slammed the ball with such force during their racquetball games. Yet now, as Marc's hand rested on Sam's, it felt neither delicate nor strong, but cold and lifeless, clammy and sticky damp.

Sam pulled away.

"Well, I enjoyed seeing your bar." He shoved the purple bag into one of the over-sized pockets of his cargo pants. "Thanks for your help tonight."

"No problem. The offer still stands to go home with me. You won't regret it."

"I'm flattered, but not tonight. Is there a back way out of here?"

Marc directed him to the service door. Sam couldn't get out of there fast enough. He pushed it open and ran out without looking back and didn't stop to breathe until he was past the parking lot, away from the whole atmosphere of the bar and especially the feeling of Marc clinging to him. Sam suddenly felt dirty. He didn't know if it was the seedy vibrations given off by Marc, the smoky, cramped, alcohol-and-sweat smell of the people, or the illegal act he'd just committed and the money he'd just thrown away, or the lie he was keeping from Josh, but he just knew he couldn't get home fast enough to get into the shower and wash all that filth off him.

As Sam drove home he hoped Josh wouldn't be there. That was a first. He was afraid Josh would smell the putrid stench of his sin and reject him. Or worse, Josh 'wouldn't' realize Sam had just been in a hellish situation and want to make love and Sam, who never said no to his lover, could only cringe at the idea of passing this shit on to Josh.

Josh wasn't home and Sam couldn't get undressed fast enough. He grabbed the purple bag out of his pants pocket, tossed it in his underwear drawer for the time being, stuffed his clothes in the hamper, and stepped into the steaming hot water. He squirted a larger than normal glob of shampoo in his hand, stuck his head under the spray and massaged the shampoo into his hair. He closed his eyes as streams of soapy lather ran down his face and neck. He scrubbed vigorously, thinking maybe Marc and everything connected with him would go down the drain.

Sam put both his hands on the shower tiles in front of him and hung his head forward. He stretched his neck muscles and let the hot water run over his shoulders. As the tension started to wash away, he wished he'd brought a joint into the bathroom with him. He considered going to get one. It would just take a minute. Everything was right there together. Yeah, a joint would be just the thing about now.

Just as Sam started to turn in the shower he felt a cool draft and a hand on his ass. He spun around, whipping shampoo on an equally surprised Josh. They stood and looked at each other for a minute then both grinned and started to laugh.

********

"And that's the only other time I've gotten anything else," Sam said, his thoughts now back in Toby's apartment, as he sat on the couch next to Josh.

The only sound was the turn of the fan.

"So that's pretty much it," Sam continued. "No, not 'pretty much' it. That's it. That's everything. That's it."

Silence.

"Josh?"

Silence.

"Josh, say something. Don't just sit there. I can't read your face."

Silence.

Sam stood up. He walked over to the globe, spun it and looked out the window. He put the tip of his finger lightly on the globe as it spun.

"So you're not going to say a word? You're just going to sit there and do this to me because I screwed up? What happened to 'nothing you say can change my love for you'?" Sam asked.

Sam turned around and saw Josh had stood too. "Let's go home," Josh said.

Sam smiled just a little, afraid to be too confident.

"Together? You and me both? To our own place? Together?"

"Isn't that what home means, shit-for-brains?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, but even after what I've told you?"

"Especially because of what you've told me."

Sam cocked his head and spun the globe again. "How's that?"

"Because you told me. Because you TOLD me Sam. You didn't have to, but you did. And I believe you've told me everything."

"And you don't hate me?"

Josh walked over to Sam and took both his hands in his. "Sam, 'hate' doesn't exist between us, no matter what. Never has, never will."

"So you still love me?"

Josh hooked his ring finger with Sam's. "For eternity."

Sam brought their hands to his lips and kissed Josh's hand.

"But you know Sam, we've got a long way to go with this. Gotta get you away from those drugs, stay away from Marc, make sure you..."

"Make sure I what?"

Josh lightly kissed Sam. "Not important. Let's go home."

"Make sure I what?" Sam repeated.

"What happened to Toby? He's been gone an awful long time. He said he'd be right back." Josh wondered aloud.

"Make sure I what?" Sam persisted. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what you were going to say. And I mean it. I won't leave."

Josh sighed. "Ok, ok, ok, ok. I was gonna say, but I didn't because I know how stupid it is now, but I was gonna say, 'make sure you know who you wanna be with'. But I didn't mean it Sam. It just started to come out. I'm sorry babe."

"That's ok. I brought this on myself. I don't blame you for not trusting me. I've a lot to make up for. And I will." Sam said. "Let's just go home."

"What about Toby?"

"I guess we can leave him a note. I feel bad about just running out on him like this," Sam said.

"It's up to you Sam, but I think he'll understand."

Sam agreed to leave even though Toby wasn't there. Josh wrote the first note that read: "We're gone. J & S" which caused Sam to roll his eyes, crumple the paper and toss it in Toby's trash basket. Sam then sat down and wrote a more civil explanation.

"Come on, come on, you don't have to write him a novel," Josh complained and paced the apartment while Sam wrote.

"It's gotta be just right," Sam explained. "Toby put a lot of time and energy into this. Besides, he's my boss. He might edit this and give it back to me with corrections." Sam laughed at his own joke but Josh didn't see the humor. "Go get my clothes in the bedroom and when you get back, I'll be finished."

Josh did as he was told, and when he came back, Sam had just signed their names.

"Done!" he said, and smiled at Josh.

"Great. Let's go."

"Where should we put it?" Sam asked.

"Anywhere."

"Anywhere? Anywhere won't do. It's gotta be someplace he'll see it right away."

"Tape it to the door."

"On the inside or the outside?"

"Sam, I don't care. Either side."

"Well, if we put it on the outside, somebody might take it."

"Yeah, I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who'd love to get their hands on that," Josh said sarcastically.

"...and if we put it on the inside," Sam continued, ignoring Josh, "it may be a while before he sees it."

Josh walked to the front door and leaned against it. "Don't you think when he comes in and doesn't see us he'll notice we're gone?"

"I could put it on the refrigerator, or the TV screen, or the light switch. How do you vote?"

Josh let out a fake snore.

"You're no help," Sam grumbled. "I'm trying to be considerate. I'll tape it on the light switch and we'll turn all the lights out so he'll HAVE to turn it on and that way he can't miss is. Good idea?"

"Sam, that's the best idea you've ever had. You out-did yourself. Now let's go home."

Sam meticulously taped the note over the light switch, made sure Josh had gathered the right clothes, and started to pull the door shut behind them.

"Wait! There's one thing I have to show you Josh! Just one thing! It'll only take a second!" Sam could barely contain his excitement.

Josh slumped and hung his head in mock despair. "What is it?"

Sam led Josh over to the far corner where a huge fichus tree grew tall in a large terra cotta pot. Sam had checked it earlier to see if the soil was moist. It was.

"Check this out," Sam whispered, as he knelt by the pot. There, with their feet firmly in the dirt, standing side-by-side, each with one arm out-stretched ready to take on the world, were the action figures of Batman and Robin.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 35

Sam and Josh were emotionally drained by the time they got home. It had been a long day and they both just wanted to take a hot shower, crawl into bed and fall asleep in each other's arms. They didn't even want to have sex. Josh unlocked and opened the door to their townhouse, they went inside then he pushed it closed with his foot. He immediately pulled his shirt off and dropped it on the floor. Sam did the same thing. They both took a step or two further inside and took off their shoes and socks and left them where they lay. Josh's jeans and Sam's sweats followed, then their sweatshirts and t-shirts were left in a pile on the floor. As they headed upstairs, a pair of boxers hung on either side of the banister.

They didn't turn on the bedroom lights. Josh lit a candle on each bedside table while Sam lit two big candles in the bathroom, started the shower and stepped in. Josh joined Sam, who stood under the showerhead, his own head thrown back so the water hit him directly in the face.

Josh stood behind Sam, wrapped his arms around him and pulled him into his chest. Sam let himself go. He knew Josh would support him, hold him up, keep him standing...and it felt so good to just lean against his lover and know Josh wouldn't let him fall, would never let him fall...would never let him go. Sam loved the feel of Josh's strong arms around him.

He put his hands on Josh's forearms and felt the energy and strength in them. Sam loved the masculinity of Josh, the way he felt sheltered and inviolable when Josh held him in this almost possessive way. Sam reveled in Josh's protective ways and even though in theory their relationship was equal, they both knew there was that unspoken, slight tip of the scales that determined Josh held the dominant role with just a narrow edge. It was something they never talked about, an understanding they'd both just known from the beginning, and each had slipped into their respective roles naturally and with an ease that only made their relationship more perfect. Sam felt safest this way and Josh felt fulfilled.

They didn't speak. They didn't have to. More often than not their showers consisted of just getting in and taking care of business then getting out. Their luxury was showering together without having to rush. They cherished the intimacy of rubbing their soapy hands over each other's body.

Josh squirted a glob of shampoo on Sam's head, massaged his scalp and worked up a thick lather in his hair. He liked to play with Sam's hair and make little spiky points, a Mohawk or swirly twirls. He used the tips of his fingers to caress Sam's head gently, lovingly. Sam hung his head forward so Josh could massage his neck and shoulders, hard and knotted with tension. Josh made a mental note to give Sam a full body massage when they both weren't so tired. He reached for the loofa that hung against the back wall in the shower, got it soapy and scrubbed Sam's back until it turned red. Sam leaned forward and put his hands against the tile so his back was fully exposed. He closed his eyes. He could have fallen asleep right then and there.

Josh kneeled behind Sam and lifted one foot off the ground then the other and washed Sam's feet. He massaged the pressure points as Sam had taught him to relieve tension in other parts of his body. He smiled at Sam's pedicure. Josh ran his hands up Sam's muscular calves and his thighs with long, even strokes as hot soapy water ran down his legs. Then Josh put his hand between Sam's upper thighs and Sam moved so that his legs were spread apart. Josh gently washed between Sam's legs and his genitals. He caressed them with love and rubbed him tenderly. As he washed him, Josh kissed and nibbled Sam on his behind, and sucked him hard enough to give him a hickey to be proud of. Sam fidgeted a little and Josh knew Sam was getting turned-on, so he stopped. No sex tonight.

Josh stood and washed each of Sam's arms with both of his hands; he used the long, even strokes he'd used on Sam's legs. He started at the shoulder, slowly ran his hands down Sam's arm to his wrists and tried to work some of the tension out, then massaged his hands and each finger. When Josh washed Sam's ring finger, he brought it to his mouth and kissed it.

Josh turned Sam around so they faced each other.

Sam smiled. "Hi," he whispered.

Josh looked at Sam, his soapy hair in little spikes all over his head, and kissed him. The candlelight in the bathroom cast a shadow through the shower curtain that made Sam look extra big on the shower wall. As he looked at Sam with his spiked hair and semi-erection, Josh tried his best to suppress a laugh, but it slipped out anyway.

"What?" Sam asked innocently.

Josh shook his head.

"What's funny?"

"I just love you so much, Angel, you bring laughter to my heart," Josh said.

"Bullshit. But I'll take it."

Josh smoothed Sam's hair down so he could get through the rest of the shower without laughing. He concentrated on Sam's face and gently washed his forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, ears and the front of his neck. He put one hand under Sam's chin and turned his face back and forth to see if he missed any places.

"I think you missed my lips," Sam said.

"So I did, so I did." Josh kissed him.

And a few minutes later...

"I don't think you've washed my lips yet," Sam said.

"I believe you're right." And again, Josh kissed him.

Josh used the loofa to wash Sam's chest. He loved this part. He used lots of soap and churned it into a good lather before he used both hands to have a field day on his lover's chest. He rubbed, he massaged, he kissed, he licked, he sucked on nipples, he tongued Sam's belly button and he didn't want to stop. When he finally did, he went to his knees again.

Josh soaped his hands and washed Sam's penis. It was fully erect now, as was Josh's. He cleaned Sam thoroughly, mindful to keep sexual thoughts out of his head. Josh knew if he didn't he would already have made love to Sam, and this was intended to be 'just' a shower. When Sam's penis and everything attached couldn't be any cleaner, Josh couldn't resist, took it into his mouth and sucked it gently. The soapy bubbles tasted familiar by now, and he wanted the most intimate, the most precious part of Sam inside him at that moment.

Josh wrapped his arms around Sam's hips and pulled him closer as he sucked on his penis. Simultaneously a groan of pleasure came each of them. It didn't take long to bring Sam to climax. Josh caught it in his mouth and swallowed as much as he could, but Sam always shot so much, it invariably bubbled back out of Josh's lips. They both laughed as Josh gave Sam's penis a quick re-wash.

Josh took the sprayer and rinsed the shampoo out of Sam's hair, then rinsed his whole body all over and hung the sprayer back in its clip.

"There," he said, "one sparkling clean Angel."

"Good, now it's your turn."

Sam reciprocated and lovingly scrubbed Josh from top to bottom, then he turned off the water and the two stepped out of the shower. They dried each other with big, fluffy navy blue towels and again got lost in a kiss. Sam went through his oral hygiene routine while Josh merely brushed, swished with mouthwash, then stuck his head under Sam's arm to rinse and spit into the sink.

"What do I have to do to convince you to floss?" Sam called after him as Josh walked to the bedroom.

"I can't!" Josh hollered back.

"What do you mean, 'you can't'?"

"My fingers get all tied up and then if I ever DO get the floss between my teeth I'm afraid I'll pull them out with the string. Come on to bed." Josh climbed in bed and settled in the middle.

Sam blew out the bathroom candles and walked into the bedroom. "You're pathetic, you know that? Your teeth are your friends. You have only one set of permanent teeth and once they're gone..."

"I know, I know, Captain Tooth Fairy."

"Captain Tooth Enamel," Sam corrected.

"Sorry, Captain Tooth Enamel, fighter of tooth decay. Be good to your teeth and they'll be good to you. Come to bed Angel."

Sam jumped on the bed with a temporary newfound energy and hovered over Josh on his hands and knees. He closed his eyes and leaned down to kiss him, but Josh grabbed a pillow and stuffed it between them so Sam got a face full of pillow instead of Josh's lips.

"What the fuck?"

Josh laughed and threw the pillow to the side. He grabbed Sam and flipped him over so he was suddenly on the bottom and Josh was in the dominant position.

"Gimme some of that sweet sugar, Sugar." Josh laughed. He pressed his lips on Sam's and kissed him like he never wanted to stop.

Sam was just as eager and when Josh started to pull away, Sam lifted his head off the bed to catch Josh's lips with his own and continue their kiss. After a couple of minutes Josh rolled off Sam and the two lay side-by-side and faced each other. The room was dark except for the low-burning candles and a few strands of moonlight that blushed a glow on Sam's face.

"You are," Josh said, "my beautiful one. I love you, Samuel Seaborn."

"And I love you, Joshua Lyman."

They moved closer and rested their lips on the others. Neither knew who fell asleep first.

********

Sam thought it was a dream then realized the phone really WAS ringing. He threw the covers back and tried to get to it before it woke Josh. It was the private line, the one known only to a small handful of people. The one with the broken caller I.D. He grabbed the receiver on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"Cobra, my man."

Sam looked back at the bed to see if Josh was still asleep.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Sam hissed into the phone. "It's four a.m. and you shouldn't call here anyway. What are you thinking?"

"I'm lonely."

"You're crazy! You know better than to call here. What if 'I' hadn't answered?"

"But you did," Marc responded.

"You son-of-a-bitch. I'm hanging up."

"Wait! Wait, wait, wait! One second Sam."

"What." Sam voice was flat and disinterested. "When will I see you again?" Marc asked.

"I've got the court reserved for Saturday. I play EVERY Saturday. You know that Marc."

"You gonna cancel on me again?"

"I'm playing racquetball Saturday and I'm hanging up now."

"Ok. Good-night Sammy."

"Hey Marc, don't call me Sammy, ok?"

Sam hung up the phone and quietly slipped back in bed. The candles had burned out a long time ago. Before he got the covers arranged the phone rang again. Sam grabbed it.

"What?" he said angrily.

"Sam..." Marc's voice was quiet and subdued.

Sam softened his voice too. "What is it?"

"Sam, I'm sorry for calling this late. Early. Whatever. I was just...you know...wanted to talk."

"It's ok, but I can't talk to you at this time of the morning. I've gotta get up in a little while and go to work."

"Yeah, well...are you alone?" Marc asked.

The question caught Sam totally off-guard. His head was foggy anyway from being awakened from a deep sleep, but he didn't expect Marc to ask him that question from out of the blue. He'd never given any thought to how he'd answer when the time came because he didn't know what he would say. Marc wasn't stupid and Sam figured Marc already suspected about him and Josh.

"Um, no," Sam replied. "I'm not, as a matter of fact."

"I didn't think you would be. I'll bet you've never slept alone a single night in your life, have you? And on clean sheets every time."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sam asked. "Never mind. Marc, I need to hang up. I'll see you Saturday."

"Ok, ok. One more thing Cobra."

"What's that?"

"After we play racquetball, do you wanna get a little buzz on?"

Sam's head whipped to look at Josh asleep in bed. A little buzz. Probably a couple of beers and a joint. That's it. No big deal. He hadn't told Josh he'd never use again...had he? Sam couldn't remember. At Toby's. Had he promised Josh he wouldn't smoke pot anymore?

Sam ran his hand through his hair. He honestly couldn't remember. Then he must not have. He'd remember if he did. It was just a few hours ago. He'd remember if he'd said that. One joint wouldn't hurt. Josh wanted him to relax. This would help.

"Uh, Marc? If we get finished with racquetball early enough so I can get home when I normally would, then I'll drop by your house. But just for a little while, ok?" Sam finally told him.

"Sure. Sounds good. If things work out," Marc agreed. "So I'll see you at noon Saturday at the club."

"Yeah, noon Saturday."

"Good-night Sam," Marc said gently. "Sleep well."

Sam hesitated. There was something about the tone of Marc's voice...no, it's just my imagination, Sam thought. I'm still half-asleep, that's all.

"Good-night Marc," he said.

Sam crawled back in bed, snuggled against Josh and tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, they flew open - all he saw was Marc, and that's the last thing he wanted in his head OR in his bed. Sam leaned over and kissed Josh's cheek, then kissed it a second time because once just didn't seem like enough. He lay back on the pillow, still unable to sleep.

Then out of the darkness, "I love you Angel."

********

Friday

"Sam, Sam, the Sunshine Man, try and catch me if you can!"

CJ cha-cha'ed into Sam's office. "Wisk me away to some tropical island and serve me slushy pink fruity drinks with umbrellas under the sun and green, green Grasshoppers under the moon and rub warm coconut oil aaallll over my booooody and read trashy novels to me in an exotic accent."

"Yeah, ok."

CJ plopped herself in the chair across from Sam, put her feet on his desk and crossed them at the ankles. Without looking up, Sam moved his laptop to the side a couple of inches without missing a keystroke.

Suddenly CJ burst into song. "Aruba, Jamaica, ooo I wanna take ya, Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama, Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go, Jamaica, off the Florida Keys, there's a place called Kokomoooooooo."

She raised her arms over her head and allowed them to sway to some imaginary ocean breeze. She snapped her fingers in time and totally lost herself in the moment of her fantasy.

"Bodies in the sand, tropical drinks melting in your hand, we'll be falling in love to the rhythm of a steel drum band, down in Kokomoooooooo."

"I'm a Parrot Head," she announced.

Finally Sam looked up. "Based on...?"

"This song, silly boy. It's 'Montego Boy' by Jimmy Buffett so that makes me a Parrot Head."

Sam smiled. "That's 'Kokomo' by the Beach Boys, CJ. You could be a Beach Head. Hey, that's funny, a Beach Head."

CJ frowned and shifted her eyes back and forth then started to sign again. "Aruba, Jamaica, ooo I wanna take ya..."

"Aloha CJ," Sam said, a grin on his face.

"That means 'hello', right?"

"It also means 'good-bye'."

"Well, Aloha right back at 'cha," she sang. "Sammy, am I glowing?"

"Absolutely."

CJ stopped her singing and swaying and leaned back in her chair. She threw her head back and ran her hands through her hair.

"Oh Samshine, I'm all a-glow and all a-twitter. I'm glowing and twittering right here in this chair even as we speak."

Sam laughed. "Well, clean up after yourself when you're finished please. Do I dare ask why you're glowing and twittering, or shall I just assume you're going to tell me whether I wanna hear it or not?"

"Your assumption is correct and thank your lucky stars..."

"Guess what?" Sam interrupted. "I actually DO have a favorite star, or group of stars to be more precise. A constellation really. It's called Delphinus the Dolphin and..."

"Sam!" CJ snapped. "This is about ME for a change!"

"Ex-cuuu-ssse meeee!"

"As I was saying, I chose you as the first person to tell my most exciting news of all time. Top Secret, Confidential, Private, Keep Out, from my lips to your ears," she continued.

"CJ," Sam deadpanned, "I'm about to burst with anticipation. Do tell, do tell." Sam leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.

CJ took her feet off Sam's desk, sat on the edge of her chair and leaned forward. She had a huge grin on her face and lowered her voice to a husky whisper. She crooked her forefinger and wiggled it for Sam to come closer.

He unclasped his hands and leaned forward across his desk. "What?" he whispered.

She strung the words out and spoke very slowly and deliberately for dramatic effect. "I'm in love with Simon Donovan and Simon Donovan is in love with me. We both said the 'L-word' out loud to each other last night. How 'bout THEM apples?"

CJ sat back in the chair, a smug look on her face. She crossed her arms over her chest, gave a knowing nod of her head and winked at Sam.

Sam sat for a full minute in disbelief. Finally he spoke.

"CJ, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you're the LAST one to know. The entire West Wing has known since the first week Simon was assigned to you."

CJ looked genuinely surprised and confused. "You've known 'what', exactly?"

"Well, when he was officially assigned to you it was subtle, then when he didn't NEED to protect you anymore, you two have been blatantly, totally, completely, in-your-face, gaga, goofy for each other. In fact, I've already made twenty-five dollars in the pool and Margaret's making out like a bandit."

"What are you talking about? What pool? You talk and you talk now, pretty boy."

"Oh my God," Sam realized he'd just revealed something that had, until this instant, successfully been a well-kept secret.

CJ stood up and planted her hands firmly in the middle of Sam's desk and leveled her face with his.

"Speak to me NOW or I'll hurt you and I'll hurt you bad."

"I have a meeting with the President in thirty seconds CJ. I have to leave immediately or he'll come looking for me. We'll talk later."

"We'll talk now! The President can sit and twiddle his thumbs. Out with it!"

Sam took a deep breath. "Some of the staff have a little pool, an innocent little pool, about landmarks in you, um, in your 'relationship' with Simon. We're just playing for fun. And chump change. That's all."

"That's all? That's ALL? Sam, I don't believe this! What are my so-called 'landmarks'?"

"You know, just little things like the fist time he sent you flowers, the first time he took you to the theatre, the first time you made love, little stuff like that."

CJ's face was crimson. "How in the hell do you know the first time we made love? IF we've even made love, that is. And how DARE you assume, the very idea, thinking that you, MORONS, if Simon finds out, SO outrageous, I've never been, if I EVER, I can't believe, and to think, I'm gonna kill each and every one of you until you're dead! Do you understand me? Do you?"

"Somewhat."

CJ crossed her arms over her chest again and paced in circles. Sam sat still and kept his mouth shut.

"Just out of curiosity, how'd you make your twenty-five dollars, WHICH, by the way, ain't chump change."

"Ten dollars on the first time he had roses delivered to your office where the attached note used a pet name, and fifteen dollars for catching you two making out in the West Wing other than your office and getting two witnesses to verify my discovery."

Sam smiled, proud of his accomplishments.

CJ let out a heavy sigh. "This just goes beyond all comprehension. You read my card in my flowers. You sneak around like one of the Hardy Boys trying to catch us...whose idea was this?"

Silence.

"And you said Margaret's making out like a bandit. What's her specialty?"

"Jewelry. She's got a great eye for new jewelry."

CJ sighed again. "Ok, somebody has to be keeping track of all this. Who has the stats?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

"No way, CJ. Kill me if you have to, but I won't sacrifice any of my fellow staff members."

Silence.

"Donna?"

Silence.

"Ed and Larry?"

"No, but they were my witnesses to your make-out session. Just for future reference."

Suddenly CJ's eyes lit up and her jaw tightened. "I'll be damned! I know who it is! I know EXACTLY who it is! And I want that twenty-five dollars!"

CJ marched out of Sam's office and slammed the door behind her so hard the glass in Sam's window rattled. Almost immediately she opened it again.

"And I can be a Parrot Head if I want to!"

She slammed the door again and Sam sat perfectly still to see if she would return. She didn't. He wondered if he should call and warn the keeper of the stats. He decided against it. Save yourself Sam, he thought. Every man, woman and child for themselves. Finally his conscience got the better of him and he picked up his phone and dialed the extension. Answer, please answer, he thought. The phone was picked up on the other end.

"Charlie, run! Run now!" Sam yelled into the phone. "CJ knows and she's headed your...Charlie? Charlie?"

The phone went dead.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 36

Sam hadn't heard from Josh all morning and he wished he had. Just to hear his voice ~~ no other reason. He'd returned to work after CJ left and hadn't realized how quickly the morning had gone by.

He clicked 'Save' on his computer and rubbed his tired eyes. He noticed his hands were shaky and he was a bit light-headed. Sam knew he needed to eat. That was part of the deal ~~ to take better care of himself, to get healthy again. He stood and stretched then put his hand on his desk for a second to steady himself. He was a little dizzier than he thought. He paused for a minute or two with his hand on the desk to wait for his head to clear.

Sam's jacket hung on the coat tree and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. He wore suspenders today. Josh had specifically asked him to. Josh said suspenders made him look sexier than any man deserved to look. He said they made Sam look distinguished. Then he said if Sam wore them with shorts he'd look like a young British schoolboy. That resulted in a playful wrestling match that ended with Sam pinned to the floor, Josh on top, and instead of making him cry 'Uncle Sam', Josh made him recite "The Declaration of Independence" with a British accent.

"When in the Course of human events," Sam rattled off, "it becomes necessary for one people..."

"Not British enough," Josh laughingly complained.

"This is my cockney accent," Sam said. He tried to jump ahead in the document and hoped Josh wouldn't notice. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

"You skipped some," Josh pointed out.

"Come on, give me a break. 'That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness'. Can I pursue my happiness now?"

"Keep talking John Hancock." Josh thought it was funny now, but it wasn't so funny when HE was the one who had to quote "The Constitution".

"Ok, something, something, something, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, something, something, something, and accordingly all experience hath shewn ~~ that's my favorite part; I like to say 'hath shewn' ~~ something, something, something, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security, something, something, something, to prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. The end. Let's fuck."

Josh laughed. "Sammy, you KNOW that's not the end. You can recite "The Declaration of Independence" forwards, backwards, upside down, inside out and in your sleep."

"I know, but I want my Oshie. The rest is just a list of things the King screwed up on and then the people who signed it. Can't we just skip to the end?" "Name two things on the list, in a GOOD British accent, then name five of the signers and I'll let you off the hook."

"Ok, I'll try my Liverpudlian accent. 'He has erected a multitude of New offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.' I like that one because of the part where it says 'he sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people'. You know, nobody talks like that anymore and I think we should. Well, Jed Bartlet talks like that but not in public. He should. Maybe I'll start writing those types of phrases into his speeches. Think he'll notice?"

"He'll notice. One more off the list."

"Two, 'For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. Three, For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretense offences. Four, He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.' Can you imagine that?"

"You only had to do two, Sam."

"I know, but I'm kinda getting into it now. This is such a prodigious document, so noble. Just listen, Josh:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of Immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions of the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment or their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislature. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended Legislation For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States. For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world. For imposing taxes on us without our Consent. For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury. For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses: For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Government For suspending our own Legislature, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolution and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free People. Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

"Wow! Doesn't that just blow you away?"

Josh looked at Sam. His eyes were bright with excitement. It was almost as if he was right there with those men on July 4th, 1776 and help put the final touches on the document and Toby stood next to him and said "Good job Sam."

Josh had never known anyone who could get so caught up in a historical document, read every word and take it to heart so passionately that he would actually have favorite passages. To make Sam recite "The Declaration of Independence" wasn't a punishment at all; it was a true joy for him. And when he filled in with 'something, something, something' it wasn't because he didn't know the words ~~ it was just to have fun with Josh.

"Yeah," Josh agreed, "that's really cool."

"Are you making fun of me?"

"No, no I'm not. That document is...it's noble."

Sam smiled at Josh. He knew Josh didn't get as enthralled in the historical background as he did, so when Josh said it was 'noble' and didn't crack a smile, Sam believed him. And he loved Josh for it.

"Ok, five signers and the states they represented. Can you do that too?" Josh asked.

"Piece-a-cake," Sam responded.

"Knock yourself out."

"Well, I'm gonna skip the most obvious to the rest of the free world, but out of loyalty I'll say Josiah Bartlett, with two 'ts', from New Hampshire, Samuel Chase from Maryland because his name is Samuel and Samuel Huntington from Connecticut because HIS name is Samuel and he's from Connecticut, so that's for you. That's three, right?"

"Right."

"Two more...Lyman Hall from Georgia in YOUR honor, Mr. Lyman," he grinned at Josh. "And finally, Button Gwinnett just because a man with a name like Button, you know he's gotta be a character. That's five. Can we get naked now?"

"Was there really a guy named Lyman?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, from Georgia. You didn't know what?"

"No. Maybe I'm..."

"You're not," said Sam.

"How do you know what I was gonna say?"

"I know."

"Well how do you know I'm not?" Josh persisted.

"He wasn't Jewish."

"What was he?"

Episcopalian," replied Sam.

"How do you KNOW these things?"

"I just do."

"Freak."

"YOUR freak."

"Do you know how good you look in suspenders?" Josh asked.

Sam smiled. "As a matter of fact, yes, I know that too."

And that's how Sam came to wear suspenders this Friday.

"Cathy, I'll be in the mess," he said as he left his office. "I won't be gone long. Want me to bring anything back for anybody? Ginger? Bonnie?"

"No thanks Sam, I'm good," Cathy answered. "And Sam, I've been meaning to tell you, well, those suspenders look great on you."

"Yeah," Ginger chimed in, "you should wear them more often. You already look like you're in college, but they make you look ten years younger."

Sam grinned. "Thanks ladies. You just made my day. I'll bring back muffins for all."

As Sam walked away, Cathy, Ginger and Bonnie all three leaned out to watch him from behind. Any view of Sam warranted a halt to whatever was happening at the moment just to look at him.

When Sam got to Josh's office he found the door closed, but saw Josh through the window. He also saw Josh wasn't alone. There was a man in the visitor's chair Sam didn't know, didn't recognize, and had never seen before. Josh had pulled his chair out from behind his desk and sat next to the man, side-by-side. There was a three-ring binder of some sort balanced between them, half on Josh's lap and half on the lap of this stranger. Sam thought they sat too close and were too friendly toward each other. They laughed too much for it to be a business meeting.

Who IS this guy? Sam thought.

He studied the man through the window. A cliche, he knew, but he had the ruggedly handsome, weathered good looks of the Marlboro Man. His light brown hair was tousled and full, his skin tanned from the sun. A brown corduroy jacket was slung over his chair. He wore a light blue shirt, a tie loosened at the neck, jeans and dusty cowboy boots. A Stetson sat upside down on the middle of Josh's desk.

Who IS this guy?

"Donna, who's that guy in there with Josh?" Sam didn't take his eyes off the scene through the window.

"Cute, isn't he?"

"I wouldn't know. Who is he?" Sam repeated.

"Major Scott Major. He's been in there all morning. They haven't come out for hours. It's been so quiet without Josh's bellowing."

Major Scott Major? Who the hell is Major Scott Major? Do I know him? No, I don't. Obviously Josh does. And enjoys his company. A lot.

"Is Major like his military rank and Scott Major is his name?" asked Sam. "Or is his first name Major and his middle name Scott and his last name Major? And what's this meeting about? What group is he with? Who does he represent? Did he leave a card with you?"

"So much for quietness," said Donna. "You sure are interested in those two. Not jealous, are you?"

Sam spun around. "What'd you say?"

Donna laughed. "Just thought you might be jealous because you don't have the Marlboro Man in YOUR office to drive Ginger, Cathy and Bonnie crazy. You'd earn brownie points with them if you were entertaining that hunk-o-hot-stuff instead of wasting him on Josh."

"Hunk-o-hot-stuff? Where do you come up with those things?"

"Just sitting around in my spare time," Donna answered sarcastically.

"So is Josh REALLY entertaining this cowboy or is it a business meeting?" Sam continued.

"Sam! Why the third degree?"

"Nothing. I just need to talk with Josh and don't want to interrupt an important...whatever. If it IS important."

"For your information," Donna explained, "Josh drew a line on his calendar from seven a.m. until two p.m. and at the top wrote 'Scotty'. When hunk-o-hot-stuff got here they hugged like they hadn't seen each other for twenty years, Josh said, 'Major! You turd face! It must be twenty years!' and hunk-o-hot stuff said, 'Josh! You pussy boy!' And they've been locked up in there ever since. I swear that's all I know. I'm content just to sit here and look through the window. I hope he never leaves."

Sam felt unsteady on his feet again and reached out for the doorframe.

"You ok Sam?" Donna asked.

"Yeah, sure, thanks. Blood sugar thing. I just need to eat."

"Ok, go eat. Take care of yourself." Donna put earphones to her head and began to transcribe Josh's dictation.

"I will," Sam said to nobody.

Sam knocked on Josh's office door. Josh opened it part way and looked surprised.

"Sam!"

"Hey Josh, you busy?"

"Well, I'm in a meeting. Do you need me for something?"

"I'm headed to the mess for lunch and I though, hoped, you might go with me. Can you get away for just a few minutes?"

Josh put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "I wish I could. I really do. But I'm going to Wilson's with my friend here, uh, Scott. We're gonna leave in about ten minutes. Let me introduce..."

"No, it's ok." Sam lost his balance and started to slump. Josh grabbed Sam to keep him on his feet.

"Are you all right? What's the matter?" he asked with alarm.

Sam put both hands on Josh's shoulder to keep from going down.

"Come in here and sit down before you FALL down babe," Josh said

Josh led Sam to a chair in his office and shut the door. He kneeled in front of Sam and put the back of his hand on Sam's forehead.

"Do you need to put your head down? Are you gonna pass out?"

"No, I'm ok Josh. I think I just need to eat."

"You haven't eaten lunch yet? You mean you've had nothing to eat since breakfast?"

Sam didn't answer.

"You DID eat breakfast, didn't you?"

Still, no answer.

Josh put his hand on top of Sam's head, then behind his head and rubbed it with affection. He went to his desk, opened the bottom drawer and took out a package of M&Ms; and a Snickers candy bar. He opened the M&Ms, turned Sam's hand over and poured half the bag into his palm.

"Eat those," he instructed.

Sam put them all in his mouth at once and crunched. When he finished, Josh poured the rest of the M&Ms into Sam's hand and slightly tipped his hand up. Sam funneled them into his mouth. While he ate, Josh unwrapped the Snickers.

"Ok Angel, eat this."

"Josh, I'm gonna have a sugar high and bounce off the walls the rest of the day."

"I WANT your blood sugar up so you can walk a straight line. I can't have you staggering around the halls. Dammit Sam! You KNOW you're supposed to eat breakfast!" Josh was firm but his voice was soft and gentle with concern.

"I had to brush up on "The Declaration of Independence" this morning and didn't have time." He looked up at Josh, raised his eyebrows a couple of times and grinned. Josh couldn't help but grin back.

"Well, you could have gone to the mess when you got here and eaten. That's no excuse."

"I think I'm ok now Josh. I can go."

Josh turned to the Marlboro Man. "Scott, will you excuse me for just a few minutes? I'll be right back."

"Sure, take your time."

"Come on Sam. Can you walk ok?"

Sam stood. He reached out and held onto Josh's arm. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Just get your sea legs," Josh said. "We're not going far. You're pale and you're clammy so take it easy. Scott, just hang out in here. I'll be back in a few."

Josh led Sam out of his office and they stopped briefly at his assistant's desk.

"Donna," Josh said, "go down to the mess and bring up a club sandwich, potato salad, fruit cup, two extra bananas, a bowl of vegetable soup and four cartons of milk? It's for Sam."

"Sure Josh. Sam, are you ok?" Donna replied. "He's fine," Josh answered. "He needs food so please, just go get food." Josh reached into his wallet and tossed a twenty dollar bill onto Donna's desk. "Go!"

Donna picked up the money and left the bullpen.

Josh discretely walked Sam to the men's room. Josh directed Sam to the sinks. He put Sam's hands on the counter and made sure he had his balance before he let go of him.

"Don't fall down," he instructed.

"I'm not gonna fall down, Josh. You're over-reacting. I'm just a little light-headed but I'll be fine."

Josh pulled out several paper towels and held them under a stream of cold water. When they were soaked he squeezed the excess water out of them so they were only damp, and held them to Sam's forehead.

After a minute or two Josh tried to open the wad of paper towels, but they tore apart into little pieces and the more he tried, the smaller the pieces became and dropped to the floor, useless for his purposes.

"Damn cheap government shit," he muttered.

He pulled out two more and folded them very neatly before he wet them, gently squeezed out the bulk of the water, then held them up in front of Sam.

"That's how it's done. Turn your face to me."

Sam turned to Josh. Josh put one hand under Sam's chin and with the other, gently skimmed the moist towel over Sam's face.

"Does that feel better?"

Sam nodded. Not only did the cool water refresh him and take away the clamminess, it felt good to have Josh touch him, take care of him, risk being caught in such an intimate position in the White House.

"Close your eyes," Josh said softly. Sam did and Josh lightly kissed his eyelids.

Sam's eyes fluttered open. "Josh? Somebody could walk in here. We've gotta be careful."

"I know babe. But I love...I just wanna take care of you so much, make you feel better, I can't help it. I've missed you these past few weeks. It feels like we've been apart, distant. I can't help it. It want US back."

They stood in silence and just looked at each other.

"You look SO hot in those suspenders," Josh said with a smile. "Makes me wanna do you right here, right now."

"Oh gross, not on the bathroom floor, Josh."

Josh laughed. "Yeah, not so good, but they make you look..." Josh let out a groan and started to go for Sam's neck for a kiss but Sam stopped him. He turned and put both his hands on the sink counter again.

"What?" Josh asked.

Sam just shook his head.

"What?" Josh asked a bit more firmly.

"I'm sorry for everything. All the shit I've put you through. And Toby. When I think about..."

"Shhh." Josh put his arm around Sam's shoulder. "Angel, this isn't the time and DEFINITELY not the place to talk about it. Let's wait until we're at home so we can cuddle up and hold each other and talk freely and not have to be on guard every second, ok?"

"Yeah, ok. It's just that I wanna do that NOW."

"Me too, but you know we can't. Donna's brought something up from the mess for you to eat then I want you to go on home early and..."

Sam slammed his fist on the porcelain counter so hard the sound echoed throughout the men's room. Josh jumped at the sudden outburst.

"Dammit Josh! I can't just run home every time I don't feel good or get lonely for you!"

"Well, you don't have to break your hand either! That'll make it real easy to write speeches!" Josh was taken aback by Sam's uncharacteristic behavior.

"At least I don't put my fist through a glass window pane when *I* feel overwhelmed!"

Sam immediately regretted his words and wished he could take them back. He turned to Josh and saw the hurt in his eyes. He took Josh's hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed the scar from the gash in Josh's palm. Josh let him.

Sam spoke softly. "Standing this close to you, barely touching, wanting to wrap my arms around you and not being able to ~~ it's driving me crazy this very moment Joshua Lyman. It's not a sexual thing. It's a love thing. I want us BOTH to go home and just BE with each other. But we can't We don't have nine-to-five jobs out there in the real world. We don't punch time cards and have allotted sick days and coffee breaks and if we don't finish our work today, it can't wait until tomorrow. We serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States and that's a whole 'nuther ball game. If I over-protect you or you over-protect me here, eventually someone's gonna notice and that's not a good thing. And we can't just leave at the drop of a hat. Hell, I'd love to go to the sauna right now or swim a hundred laps and get a massage and make love to you. But we don't have that luxury. That's why I lashed out and I apologize. I know you meant well. And I'm sorry I didn't eat breakfast. Or lunch."

"Will you now?"

"Will I now what?" Sam asked.

"Eat lunch."

Sam nodded. "I'll take it to my office and eat quietly, finish up at a reasonable hour and leave. When do you think you'll be home?"

"Sam, I was gonna talk with you about this. Shit, I hate to do our stuff in the bathroom."

"What is it Osh?"

"That guy in my office, Scott, he's a friend of mine from way back."

"Twenty years," Sam offered.

"Yeah, twenty years. Anyway, I'll explain this at home, but he's in town for a few days and I've...uh...I was gonna ask you first but it just came out...uh...I sorta invited him to stay at our place and he accepted. Is that ok?"

Sam blinked. Josh was gonna bring the Marlboro Man home.

"Yeah sure, of course. No problem."

"You sure it's ok Sam?"

"Of course it's ok. When do you think you...you two will be home?"

"Early. I promise." He took Sam's face in his hands. "Sammy, this in no way will keep us from being alone. Scott is an old friend and of course I'll have to include him to some degree, but my main emphasis when we get home is YOU. He'll understand. He'll HAVE to understand."

"You sure? I still get you first thing? Even with him in the house?"

Josh nodded and held up his left ring finger, although it was bare. Same gave a half-smile and hooked his own left ring finger with Josh's. Their fingers clung tight and bound them forever even without the rings.

"You feel a little more steady now? Ready to eat?"

"Yeah," Sam answered.

"Everything cool with us?"

"Past cool. All the way off the charts so it starts over again and come back to hot."

Josh gave Sam a quick hug, wary of taking any more changes than they'd already taken. "That's my boy. We've already pushed our luck in here. Eventually somebody's gonna have to take a whiz."

Sam gave Josh a kiss on the cheek. Josh glared at him. Sam shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "I can't help it. I like to live on the edge."

"You go first and I'll be out in a minute or two," Josh said. "I'll think of you all afternoon in those suspenders, my little British schoolboy...see you at home." He pulled one of Sam's suspenders and let it snap back in place.

Sam nodded, washed his hands, dried them, then left the men's room. Josh did the same, waited another minute, then left.

Thirty seconds passed and one of the stall doors opened. Danny Concannon walked out with his notebook and pen. He, too, washed his hands, dried them and left the men's room, whistling.

Chapter 37

Sam sprawled on his stomach over the full length of the couch. His face was buried in one pillow and another pillow was over his head. His wrinkled shirttail had become untucked from his trousers. One shoe was on his foot; the other had fallen to the floor. His breathing was steady and relaxed. Toby didn't want to wake Sam. He knew he needed this deep, restful sleep but Josh had already called twice, so Toby figured he'd better wake Sam and send him home. Toby left his desk and put his hand on Sam's back. His first inclination was to snap Sam's suspenders to wake him, then he reconsidered and opted instead for the kinder, gentler way. But damn, he REALLY wanted to snap those suspenders. Another time, when Sam was back 100%.

Instead Toby rubbed Sam's back. "Sam? Sam?"

No response.

Toby spoke a little louder and shook him. "Sam, come on, time to wake up son."

Sam shifted on the couch and burrowed in, and a faint 'ummmmm' slipped from beneath the pillows. Toby took the top pillow off Sam's head and tossed it aside. He leaned close to his ear.

"Sam, I'm sorry to wake you, but Josh has called twice to ask when you're coming home. Come on, sit up."

Sam finally raised his head and looked around. It took him a few seconds to realize he was in Toby's office on Toby's couch and apparently had been asleep for quite a while.

"Sit up."

Toby helped him come to an upright position. As he did, he let his hand slip down Sam's back and he gave him a quick snap with his suspenders. Sam didn't even notice.

He rubbed his eyes with his hands balled into fists and yawned. "I'm sorry Toby. Josh made me eat enough lunch to feed a small Army. After that, I remember I looked at my computer screen and my hands were on the keyboard, and the next thing...you're waking me up. I'm embarrassed. I apologize."

"Don't be. Just make sure you're fully awake before you drive home."

Sam's left hand shot to his face and he dug his palm into his left eye and grimaced.

"Sam? You ok?" Toby asked.

"Yeah. Just a...a thing trying to start."

"A migraine?"

"Yeah," Sam responded. He ran his hand onto the top of his head, grabbed a handful of hair and pulled until his scalp was stretched to its limit. Then he released and did it again.

"You haven't had a migraine for a while, have you?"

"No. It'll go away when I get home. I'll be fine. You say Josh called?"

"Twice. He's worried. Should he be?"

"What time is it?"

"Almost eight-thirty."

"Aw shit," Sam stood up, stretched and yawned again.

"Sam, SHOULD he be worried?"

Sam shook his head. "Not for the reason you're thinking. I haven't used anything and I'm not going to. If he's worried it's because I told him I was gonna try and get away early. That's all. But if he knows I'm in here sleeping with you and..."

"Don't say it like that," Toby interrupted.

Sam smiled sheepishly. "If he knows I'm sleeping in your office and you're in here watching over me...you WERE watching over me weren't you?"

Toby grunted. "I was working. Didn't even know you were there till you started snoring."

"I don't snore. I have references to confirm that."

"Whatever."

"So, you're leaving now too?" Sam asked.

"Soon. I wanna finish this up.

Toby went back to his typing.

"Something I can help you with?"

"No, but thanks. It's personal."

Sam smiled as he tucked his shirt in. "You're writing something personal? What is it Toby? Let me see."

"No. Personal means personal, private, for my eyes-only. And the recipient. We have several excellent dictionaries at arm's length if you need clarification."

"I know what personal means. I'm just curious. Is it a letter? A love letter? Do you see my other shoe?"

"On the floor at the end of the couch and no, it's not a love letter. Go home Sam."

Sam put on his shoe. "Andi? Are you writing a love letter to Andi?"

"Go home Sam."

"Are you writing a love letter to Tabitha?"

Toby stopped typing and looked at Sam. "Why would I write a love letter to Tabitha?"

Sam shrugged. "She's our official Poet Laureate and you dated her a while."

"A short while."

"Are you writing her?" Sam repeated.

"You're like a snappy little pit bull aren't you? You just grab on to me and won't let go. I can shake and shake but you hang on with those sharp little pointy teeth and just won't give up until Animal Control comes and shoots you with a tranquillizer dart. And even then they'd have to pry you off me. Go home Sam!"

"I'm intrigued."

"You're nosy."

"It's just that you don't often do anything personal."

"How do you know?"

That silenced Sam.

"Good point Toby," he finally conceded. "Ok, if you've got some secret paramour you're having a covert tryst with and you don't trust me enough to tell me about it, that's ok. Have a good weekend. Thanks for the use of your couch. May you rot in hell." Sam started toward the door.

"Rosemary."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"You're writing a love letter to Josh's Mother?" Sam asked in disbelief, his voice low, even though no one was in sight.

"I never said it was a love letter. Don't you think you're jumping to some drastic conclusions? You just flunked Journalism 101 big time. Who are your sources? Can you back up your facts?"

"Yeah, well...no."

"Go home Sam."

"No way!"

Toby sighed with exasperation. "I'm gonna tell you just to get rid of you Sam. Yes, I'm writing a letter to Rosemary Lyman. She and I correspond occasionally so I can keep her up-to-date on Josh and you. She's concerned about how Josh is doing after she left and since I see him every day, she asked if I'd let her know every now and then how he seems to be getting along. I told her I would and I am."

"Wow!"

"Since her son rarely calls and she's not one to intrude, I agreed to do this because Josh means so damn much to her and he has no idea how important he is to her so...forget it."

"Did you tell her about my thing with, you know, Marc and, you know, that mess?" Sam rubbed his left temple with his thumb and middle finger.

Toby didn't answer. He let Sam wiggle on the hook for a few seconds. He knew how much Sam respected Josh's Mother and cared about how she regarded him. He knew Sam would be crushed if she thought badly about him. Finally Toby decided he'd let Sam sweat long enough.

"No."

"Thank you. I appreciate it. I wouldn't want her to know I'd done...that. Ok, I'm going home now. Wanna come? The Marlboro Man's gonna be there."

"No. Call Josh on your way. He's worried."

"Don't you wanna know who the Marlboro Man is?"

"No."

"Yeah, ok. Hey Toby?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"If I hadn't been sleeping on your couch, would you have gone home earlier?"

"Yes."

"Then why didn't you?"

"Because you were sleeping on my couch."

********

"Josh Lyman."

"I'm on my way."

"I thought you were coming home early, Angel. Early-ish. What happened?" Josh asked in a concerned tone.

"I fell asleep on Toby's couch. After I ate that big lunch I just zoned out. I'm sorry."

"Don't always be apologizing to everybody Sam. Especially not me. I called and Toby told me you were in a really deep sleep so I said not to wake you. I knew you needed it. And I'm glad you ate! Then it started getting later and later."

"I shouldn't have worried you Osh."

"I knew you were ok if you were with Toby."

"He was there the whole time," Sam said.

"Are you too groggy to drive?"

"I'm fine. I've got a cup of coffee and I got a good nap so I'm ok."

"How long till you're home?" asked Josh. "I want you here."

"Don't whine. Fifteen minutes."

"I can't wait that long. Make it fourteen."

Sam laughed. "You got it. I wanna be home too. We need our weekend."

"We're gonna have a big supper, so don't stop for anything on the way," Josh said.

"You cooked?"

"No, Scotty is. He's great in the kitchen. But I'll set the table, ok?"

"Oh, ok. Almost home. Love you Oshie."

Sam wasn't sure how he felt about a stranger in *his* kitchen. He kept everything just so, right where it belonged, and the idea of someone else rummaging around through *his* things, cooking on *his* stove with *his* utensils didn't set well with Sam. He wasn't sure how he felt about Josh's friend even being in his...their home. He pressed on the accelerator.

"Love you Angel. Drive careful."

"Always."

********

An early James Taylor CD filled the townhouse when Sam got home. He came in, put his things down, hung up his jacket and made it all the way to the kitchen without being noticed. There, Josh sat on the counter drinking a beer and the Marlboro Man stood at the stove, sautéing with one hand and holding a beer with the other. Sam stood at the kitchen door and didn't say anything. He just watched and listened. Josh and Scott talked and laughed non-stop about people, places and things Sam knew nothing about. Finally Josh saw him.

"Sammy!"

Josh hopped off the counter and rushed over to Sam. He took him in his arms and kissed him without any self-consciousness. Sam leaned into Josh and welcomed the kiss. He'd waited for this all day. Not necessarily in the presence of the stranger who just took a jar of cayenne pepper off their spice rack, but if it was ok with Josh, it was ok with Sam. Ultimate trust. Sam never questioned it. Unconditional love.

"You two gotta meet," Josh said with enthusiasm. "Whoever thought I'd ever introduce you guys? This is SO cool!"

Josh dug into his pocket. He pulled out Sam's wedding band, took his hand and slid the ring on his finger and didn't let go.

"Sam, this is Major Scott Major. And no, he never was a real Major, but when we were kids and we'd play Army, Scotty would always be the Major and make us call him Major Major and it just kinda stuck." Josh grinned at his friend. "We were friends as kids and high school and for a while in college. Then we took totally different roads and lost track of each other and here he shows up after, what, nearly twenty years, just out of the blue. Can you believe it?"

Sam and Scott shook hands.

"No, I can't believe it," Sam said, but he was sure neither of the other men heard him.

"And Scott," Josh continued, "this is Sam Seaborn, my Sam. I've already told you all about him, but here he is in all his glory. Was I right?"

Josh took Sam's hand and kissed it.

"Was I right?" he repeated.

Scott was obviously uncomfortable and Sam also felt awkward. He didn't know how much Scott knew about his and Josh's relationship, but he apparently knew it was more than platonic.

"You were right," Scott finally said.

"Sam is my everything. He's my reason for living, Scott," Josh said, all serious now. "If I didn't have this man..." Josh shook his head. "I'd be totally lost in this world. I don't know what I'd do."

Josh put his hand on Sam's cheek and stroked it gently. Their eyes locked and they were immediately alone in their universe.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you Samuel?" he asked, as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind Sam's ear.

Sam barely nodded, just enough for Josh to see and know that "fixing my hair is so totally nurturing me at this moment and exactly what I need". Josh knew what that slight nod of the head meant. No one else would have even noticed it.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you Samuel?" he repeated.

"No more than I love you Joshua."

Slowly and reluctantly they eased out of their universe and returned to their guest.

"Anyway, this is Sam."

"Well, I can see he's everything you said he is," Scott said. "Hell Sam, I was trying to catch up these past twenty years in Josh's office today and every other word that came out of his mouth was 'Sam'. Sam this, Sam that. Sam, Sam, Sam. So I'm glad to finally see you're a real person and not made out of gold and diamonds sitting up on some throne."

He and Josh laughed, but Sam looked down at the floor, embarrassed by the praise.

"Hardly," he said. "Josh tends to get carried away sometimes."

"Well I hope I'm not intruding in your home, Sam, just busting in like this with no warning. I sure appreciate it."

Sam put his hand to his forehead for a second, then pulled it away before Josh saw him.

"No problem. Glad to have you. Josh said you're cooking...do I have time to change before dinner?"

"Does he Scott?" Josh asked.

"Oh yeah. It'll be a good half hour or more till we sit down. Closer to forty-five minutes"

Sam tugged on the sleeve of Josh's t-shirt. "Come with me?" he asked softly.

"Scott, I'm going upstairs with Sam. Is there anything you need in here?"

"Nope. If I don't see it, I'll look for it. If I don't find it, I'll improvise," he responded.

"Cool. If we're not down before it's ready, just yell or beat on the door or something. Just make sure we hear you because it already smells great and I'm starving," Josh said.

"You got it." Scott never looked up from what he doing.

Sam and Josh went upstairs to their bedroom. Sam closed and locked the door behind them and flopped on the bed.

"You locked the door?" Josh said with surprise.

"Yeah."

"I don't think that door's ever been locked. How come you did that?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't know. I just did. Is that ok?"

"Well...sure...if you feel like you need to. Do you feel like you need to?"

"I don't know Josh!" Sam said with exasperation. "I just want the door locked, ok? Can we just keep the door locked?"

"Sure darlin', don't get upset."

Josh got on his hands and knees and hovered over Sam on the bed. Sam's arms were stretched out over his head and he held a pillow between his hands. Josh leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.

"Does it bother you that Scott's here?" Josh asked.

"No."

"That doesn't sound very convincing."

"It doesn't bother me Josh. Its just...too weird," Sam replied.

"Too weird how?" He kissed Sam's other cheek.

"All of a sudden there's this guy in our house that you've known all your life and I've never heard of him. I didn't even know he existed. You two apparently have some major history together and it just feels..."

Josh laughed. Sam stopped when he was interrupted.

"Feels like what?" Josh prompted.

"Nothing. Forget it," said Sam.

"What?"

"You laughed and I don't remember anything being funny so forget it."

Josh sat down so he straddled Sam. He put his hands on his thighs. "You DID say something funny. You said Scott and I have some major history together and his name is Major and that struck me as funny. I can't help it if I laughed."

Sam closed his eyes. Josh looked at him and realized he'd said the wrong thing. Sam wasn't in the mood for word games. He wasn't in the mood for ANY kind of game. Sam was bothered by something and Josh couldn't help but wonder if it was Scott Major in their kitchen. Suddenly Josh's heart swelled and he couldn't remember when he adored Sam more. Sam was jealous.

"Sam, total honesty. Are you maybe just a little bit pissed because I've known Scott longer than I've known you and we have inside jokes that don't include you and we know people you don't know and I'm having a real good time with him and you know you're not gonna have all my attention for a few days?" Josh spoke gently and good-naturedly.

Sam kept his eyes closed and hesitated before he spoke.

"Maybe," he finally admitted.

It took everything Josh had not to grin. Sam really WAS jealous. He was jealous because of another man. And Josh was thrilled. But there was no way he could let Sam know.

"Oh baby," Josh said, "Scott's just an old friend and he'll be gone in a couple of days. Do you think I'd actually...?"

Sam opened his eyes.

"You two seem awfully friendly," he said.

"Of course we're friendly! We've been friends since we were kids! Sam, honey, I love one man and one man only, and that's you. It will always be you."

Josh leaned over Sam again on his hands and knees and in his clear, sweet tenor voice softly began to sing:

"Are the stars out tonight? I don't know if it's cloudy or bright. 'Cause I only have eyes for you...dear."

Sam blushed and slowly closed and opened his eyes so his lashes would do that thing Josh loved them to do. It worked, because Josh bent closer and kissed one of Sam's eyelids.

"I love when you sing to me," Sam whispered. He clasped his hands behind Josh's neck.

"The moon may be high, but I can't see a thing in the sky. 'Cause I only have eyes for you...babe."

Josh kissed Sam's other eyelid. "Sam, it will always be you."

Sam nodded. "I know. I'm just being stupid."

"You're not stupid, you idiot! It's just that we created the Eighth Wonder of the World right here, right now," Josh said.

"What. Are. You. Talking. About?"

"Sam, you can deny it till the cows come home. Did I just say till the cows come home? I've been around Donna too long. You can deny it but you ARE sorta good looking and me? Not so much. Relatively speaking. Put me up against an average guy, well ok, an above average guy and I can hold my own, but next to you I'm horsemeat. And here you are JEALOUS."

"I'm not jealous," said Sam in an unconvincing voice. "And Josh," he took Josh's face in his hands, "you're the most beautiful man God ever created. Don't you know that every time I look at you, you take my breath away?"

"Sam..."

"Don't you know that sometimes I just sit in bed and watch you sleep because I don't want to miss a single minute of looking at you? In my eyes, Josh, in my eyes, there is no one more handsome, more sexy, more extraordinary, more compelling, more beautiful, more intelligent, more kind, more gentle, more intriguing, more sensitive, more loving, more...more perfect...more perfect than you, Josh. I could never be half the man you are."

Josh was silent. There were no words to express how he felt. So he turned to what got him through every other situation that left him speechless ~~ humor.

"You're jealous," Josh chided.

Sam couldn't suppress a smile. "I'm NOT jealous."

Josh fell over onto Sam and began to tickle him. "Sammy's jealous! Somebody else is checking out my butt and Sammy's jealous!"

Sam laughed and let himself be bounced around by Josh. It was true. He was jealous and didn't know how to handle it. It had driven him nuts all afternoon just to think of Josh being with another man in a personal way. Then to have Josh bring him home. And to be so relaxed and familiar with him.

It had bothered Sam so much that he couldn't concentrate on his work, couldn 't think straight, couldn't do anything but obsess about Josh and Scott. His head began to hurt even though he ate lunch. He felt it begin to turn into a migraine. He wanted to sleep to avoid the headache. He wanted to sleep so he wouldn't think about Josh and his friend since childhood. He wanted to sleep to hide from it all.

That's why after Sam ate lunch, he swallowed a Quaalude with his last carton of milk then shortly after, fell into a deep sleep on Toby's couch.

Chapter 38

Josh bounced Sam on the bed, stole a kiss here and there and opened Sam's shirt to lick at his belly button. Sam pulled his knees up in mock protest, threw back his head and laughed and let himself be kissed. Then they lay still, side by side, Sam's head tucked under Josh's arm. "Oshie, would you take my clothes off and put my other clothes on? But without sex."

These were their most private moments, their most vulnerable. The secret words Sam and Josh spoke only to each other when they knew they could say anything, ask anything, be anybody they needed to be and not be afraid of what the other would think or do. Private moments when nothing else mattered but the two of them together in their universe, when time and reality was suspended and the core needs and wants of one were expressed without shame or embarrassment, and they knew the other half of their soul was there to fill that need.

Josh recognized Sam's deep need to be reassured and nurtured, to be taken care of because there was a stranger in their home who had Josh's attention. Someone Josh knew before he knew Sam. Someone the child-Josh played Army with. Someone who probably knew Joanie. Could he hear the sirens from his house? Did he watch the flames. Josh has a history with the man downstairs longer than he has a history with Sam, and that scared Sam.

He didn't know why. He knew Josh wasn't going anywhere. He knew Josh wasn't leaving him for Scott. He'd be here just a few days then be on his way. He knew this cerebrally, still, it jabbed at Sam's heart and gnawed at his stomach, and Josh knew it. And Josh knew because of Sam's family history, he needed to give extra attention to Sam while Scott was in town to reassure his lover he was the only man in his life. He could say it a ga-zillion times, but Sam needed to experience it.

And if it meant Sam needed to be parented in the privacy of their universe, Josh was honored to be the one Sam reached out to.

"Of course I will baby."

"And I wanna tell you something real important," Sam continued.

Josh took Sam's shoes and socks off. "What's that?"

"Right now, this instant, I love you more than there IS love in the universe," said Sam. "There's no more love inside me to give you...you've got it all."

Josh unfastened Sam's suspenders and took them off. He neatly hung them over the back of the chair. He loosened Sam's tie, pulled it off and laid it next to the suspenders. Sam closed his eyes.

"What brought that up Sam? Why did you say that just now?" Josh asked. He unbuttoned the one button still intact on Sam's shirt.

Sam spoke softly. "Because I do."

Josh nodded but Sam didn't see him through his thick eyelashes.

"Sit up sweetheart."

Josh helped pull Sam to a sitting position and pulled his shirt down his arms and off his back. Then he pulled Sam's undershirt over his head. "Ok, lay back down."

Although he didn't have to, Josh supported Sam as he lowered himself back on the bed. He brushed his lips across Sam's forehead. "You sure you're ok with Scott here?" he asked.

"I am, but this is our time right now. No Scott in our bedroom, ok?"

"Ok."

"Ever."

"Ever."

Josh unfastened Sam's trousers and unzipped them. Sam raised his hips while Josh pulled his pants down, then off. Josh neatly hung them in Sam's closet and made sure there were no wrinkles.

"What do I do with your shirt?" Josh asked.

"Dress shirt goes in the bag for the laundry service, undershirt and socks in the hamper."

Josh sat cross-legged on the bed next to Sam and put his hand on him. He lightly ran his fingernails over Sam's chest and abdomen and every once in a while Sam would shiver from the sensation. "Angel, I gotta ask you something," Josh said. With his free hand he clasped Sam's.

"Is it bad?"

"That's up to you."

"Am I in trouble?"

"Not if you don't wanna be."

"Ok. But I don't think I wanna do this."

"We've gotta do it. Now. I need to let go of you and get off the bed for a second."

Josh released Sam's hand and did a backward somersault to get off the bed. He went to Sam's underwear drawer, opened it and brought out the purple velvet bag Sam had picked up at Marc's bar. The bag Sam had tucked away in his cargo pants. As Josh walked back he tossed the bag on the bed and it landed against Sam's arm. Sam didn't look at it and he showed no reaction. Josh climbed back on the bed next to Sam.

"Sweetheart, you've got a decision to make and you can't make it for real as long as this shit is right in front of your face. Having it so available, you KNOW you're gonna use it one of these days...real soon."

No response.

"Is this what you bought at the bar that you told Toby and me about?"

"Yes."

"Have you used any of it?"

"No." Pause. "Do you believe me?"

"With all my heart."

"Why?"

"Because you told me so."

Sam rolled onto his side and brought his legs up. He put his head on Josh's lap. Josh immediately put his hand on Sam's head and stroked it. Sam crossed his arms against his chest in front of him.

"It's all there. I haven't even touched the bag since I put it in there. I've SEEN it, but I haven't touched it."

"Ok. Sam, uncross your arms."

"Why?"

"That shows you're on the defense, like you have to protect yourself. You know you don't have to guard against me. Ever. You and I don't work like that. If you open your arms it'll show you've let me in, that you trust me. If you keep them crossed, you keep me out."

Sam unfolded his arms and freed his hands. When he did, Josh had a hand right there to take one of Sam's hands. He took it to his lips, then pressed it against his cheek and just held it there.

"You'll let me in now, with everything?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. Josh noticed tears on the brim of Sam's eyes, about to spill out. This couldn't be easy for Sam. He was giving up a good friend, an old friend. It was hard for Sam to let go of what was inside that purple bag. Josh knew that and he hurt for Sam, but he would have hurt more if Sam had chosen differently.

"Josh, how did you know that bag was in there?" Sam asked.

"At the risk of making you very angry with me..."

"Go on."

"Toby and I talked about it ~~ at length ~~ and we decided I needed to go through your things. We felt if we asked for it and you'd decided you weren't going to give it up, you'd just move it to a different hiding place, probably not even in the townhouse, and we'd never find it. We didn't want you to have the chance to get ahead of us. I'm sorry I did that baby, but I was so scared you were going to get fucked up on drugs and ruin yourself. Kill yourself. You have no idea how scared I've been."

Josh covered his eyes with his hand and his whole body shook as he broke down and sobbed. He laid his face on Sam's head and felt his hair, soft against his cheek. Sam didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.

Finally Josh sat up. His eyes were red and watery, his eyelashes stuck together in little clumps, his cheeks wet. "You have no idea what I've gone through Angel. I knew that shit was in the house, I knew how badly you wanted it, I didn't know if you had used it, I knew you'd lied to me before - that's the only time you've ever lied to me Sam, about drugs ~~ and every day I wondered if 'today's the day' you would crumble and give in to the temptation and open that purple bag or go back to Marc's bar or worse, go back to Marc's house."

Josh used the corner of the sheet to wipe his eyes.

"When I picked you up at Marc's that night and you were so fucked up you couldn't even stand up, Sammy, part of my heart stopped beating seeing you that way. I've asked Toby every day 'What can I do? What can I do?' and Toby says 'There's nothing you can do Josh, it's all up to Sam.' He said you're the only one who can make that decision and all my love can't change your mind if you decide to use because that's how powerful drugs can be once they've got somebody in their clutches. Sam, I gotta tell you, that scared the crap outta me when Toby said that. I felt so helpless. So I just wait and wonder and try to look into your eyes to see if they're normal. I watch you...your behavior, to see if you act differently. Toby is too. We hope you haven't noticed. He's scared too, Sam. Toby, if you can believe that. He's really concerned for you honey. He and I talk on the phone several times a day about you. We both watch you so closely it's...its unbelievable."

Josh laid next to Sam and they curled into each other's arm. Sam's face was against Josh's chest. They held tightly ~~ neither wanted to let go.

"Sam, you wanna know how scared I've been for you?"

Josh felt Sam's head nod against his chest. "I'm at least as scared for you having those drugs and knowing you might use again as I was..." Josh's voice cracked and he couldn't talk for a few seconds. When he gained his voice he said, "Are you too chilly in just your underwear? Do you want me to dress you first?"

Sam shook his head no. "How scared?"

"How scared?" Josh cleared his throat. "Remember when I got shot? I was down on the concrete and that bullet inside my chest seared through me like a fireball and I looked up and saw Toby's face and you know what? Toby looked down at me like I was already dead. I saw it in his eyes, Sam. Toby thought I was dead. So I thought maybe I was dead too, and that scared me because I didn't wanna be dead. That scared me real bad. And you know how I felt when I was a little kid hiding behind that tree watching my house go up in flames and Joanie was in there and I couldn't save her and knew it was my fault...I was pretty damn scared then too. All that together, that's how scared I am now. Because of you."

Josh tightened his grip on Sam.

"God Sam, Toby told me not to bring it up, not to try and talk you out of it, not to beg and plead, not to yell and scream or threaten or give ultimatums or make an issue out of it and you'd either come to your senses because you're a brilliant man and you know what's right or you'd lose your senses because you're a brilliant man and you know what's right but you'd say 'fuck it' and you'd have a good ole time for a while and then one of two things would happen and either way, they'd happen real fast."

"What two things?" Sam asked quietly.

"One, you'd revert right back to that fuckin' junkie you were all those years ago when you were using, only this time you'd be a total mess because you're not a kid anymore and you can't get away with it quite so easily and you'd either o.d. trying to get that feeling back or you'd get some bad shit and it would kill you. I mean kill you dead. Like morgue dead. Body bag dead. Casket dead. Hole in the ground dead. Flowers that look good for a couple of days then wither up on your grave dead. Dead that would make me wanna be dead too. I don't wanna live if you're not with me Sam. There's no point."

Sam didn't say anything. Josh knew he was taking it all in and processing it quickly. Toby said he would. Toby said he'd also dwell on it for a long time and that's why Josh had to use the tough words Josh recoiled at, like 'body bag dead'.

"I can't say that Toby! No way!" Josh had protested.

"Josh, listen to me!" Toby said. "If you don't use the words 'body bag dead' then there WILL be a body bag and Sam will be in it! Listen to me! Don't be such a whiney wuss! You can say 'I love you Sam' from here to Kingdom Come, but Sam needs to hear words right now to knock some sense into that confused brain of his, turn him around and make him see just how dangerous this game is that he's decided to play. I would do it, but it'll be a hundred times more effective if it comes from you."

"But I..." Josh stammered. "But, but, but..."

"Josh, it's crunch time." Toby continued. "The longer those drugs are in your place, the closer we come to losing Sam. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME??? I'm going to write out a few phrases and I want you to USE THEM!! Don't turn into a fuckin' girl at the last minute and bail on me or I swear to God Josh, we'll lose Sam, one way or the other, Sam will be gone. GONE!! Dead, in jail, or in an institution. Those are the three options for a using addict. Dead, in jail, or in an institution. Go through his things, find the stuff, show him you've got it, then give him the talk. I'll keep my phone clear if you need to call me or come over. Can you do this or not?"

Josh knew he had no other choice. Yes, he could do it. He HAD to do it.

"Yeah, I can do it," he told Toby.

"Ok." Toby's voice softened. "Tonight."

"Tonight? Where will YOU be tonight?" Josh had asked.

Toby's eyes met Josh's. "Temple. I go every night to pray for Samuel. He can't have too much brocha at a time like this. Wouldn't hurt you to do the same."

Josh had thought long and hard about what Toby said. Prayer. He knew Toby was a much more spiritual man than he was, and he was most grateful for that now, when Josh didn't even know what to say or what to ask for. It was at this time, when he needed his faith most, Josh regretted being so cavalier about taking it for granted all his life.

He also knew he had to go home and invade Sam's privacy, something he never imagined he would ever do. Then confront him with harsh words of reality. Words he had to memorize and regurgitate without listening to himself because if he did, he knew he would fall apart believing they might be true. Worse, KNOWING they were true.

"And what's the second thing?" Sam asked.

"You'll get caught. You'll cause a scandal in the Bartlet Administration right in the middle of Bartlet's campaign. He'll lose the election, lose his Presidency, Republican Governor Robert Ritchie will replace Jed Bartlet and take over our offices, we'll all lose our jobs ~~ you, me, Toby, Leo, The President, CJ, well, everybody you work with every day ~~ you'll be disbarred and won't be able to practice law anymore, we'll both be outted because of the investigation, we'll lose all our friends from the White House staff because we ~~ you ~~ screwed them over, you'll be arrested, I may be too and if you're stupid enough to hide drugs in Toby's apartment, he may be arrested as well. The Republicans will run the country and I don't have to tell you what that means...we'll go to war You'll be a national disgrace, a joke, the front cover of the "National Enquirer". And you'll probably end up in prison and I'm not EVEN going to go there Sam. As pretty as you are? When you and I have sex, we make love and it's the most wonderful, beautiful, perfect thing in the world. Sex with a three hundred pounder slamming you up against the wall with no lubrication and he's ripping your ass apart and twenty other guys are cheering him on waiting their turn, won't be like you and me with candles and nice music and..."

"I got the picture, thank you."

"Hey guys, five minutes!" Scott hollered up the stairs.

"Be right down!" Josh called back. Then to Sam, "What do you wanna wear?"

"My black faded jeans and my black long-sleeved t-shirt."

Josh somersaulted off the bed and collected Sam's clothes. Sam was unusually quiet, deep in thought.

"Raise your arms," Josh said.

Sam did and Josh pulled his shirt over his head and arms.

"Put your arms down."

Sam did.

"Put your legs in here."

Sam aimed his legs into the jeans. "Stand up or lay down?" he asked.

Josh laughed. "If you lay back down we'll never get to supper, so you'd better stand up."

Sam did, and Josh pulled his jeans up, but stopped halfway over his hips. He stuck his hand inside Sam's jeans and caressed his penis through the cotton briefs. Sam immediately rose to the occasion. He put his hands on Josh's shoulders. "Do it some more," he said.

Josh smiled impishly. "My Angel like that?" He rubbed a little harder and got the results he expected.

"Uh huh," Sam hummed. He slowly rotated his pelvis with Josh's hand inside his jeans then gave a thrust against Josh's hand. "Fuck me baby," he said in his dead-on Elvis impersonation.

Josh laughed, removed his hand, pulled Sam's jeans up the rest of the way, zipped them and fastened the snap. "Bitch."

"Yeah, but I'm your bitch." Sam leaned in and gave Josh and kiss.

********

Downstairs Scott had just put supper on the table. He'd prepared an authentic southwestern meal made with all fresh and natural ingredients served with ice cold Dos Equis beer. Conversation was at a minimum because everyone was hungry and preoccupied with their food.

"Scotty's a detective with the Denver Police Department," Josh said in between bites. "Been there, what, twelve years?"

Scott could only nod because his mouth was full.

"Well, if you ever leave police work you could always get a job as a chef," Sam said. "This is fantastic."

"Thank you," Scott replied. "I've always enjoyed cooking so to me it's a joy instead of a hassle."

To be such a well-built, rugged-looking man, Sam found Scott to be rather quiet and soft-spoken. He offered his share of rowdy reminiscing with Josh, but his true personality seemed to be laid-back and low-key. He guessed he liked him well enough, and he hadn't seen Josh this bubbly and excited in a long time. He acted like he had a new toy to play with and show off. Sam just wasn't exactly sure whom Josh was showing off to whom. He bounced back and forth from re-telling adventures of he and Scott, to bragging about Sam.

After they'd eaten all they could and then a little more, the men pushed back from the table, all talking at the same time...'best meal I've ever had'...'I'll never eat again'...'I'm going to burst'...'a real art to preparing a meal like that'...

"I'll clean up so you two can visit," Sam volunteered. "It won't take long."

"No way," Scott insisted. "I made the mess, I'll clean it up. Please. You've already opened your home to me. And Josh, it's kind of late already so if you don't mind, I'd like to get to bed pretty soon."

"Sure Scotty. I know it's been a long day for you, driving in from Denver and spending all day at the White House then fixing that feast and now cleaning up. Let me make sure the guest room is in good shape. Sam, come help me."

The guest room was in perfect order, just as Rosemary had left it. Fresh sheets on the bed, fresh towels in the bathroom, and new fancy little soaps. Josh expected nothing less. He just wanted to get Sam alone for a minute.

"Sammy, are you sure this is ok with you?" Josh asked.

"What?"

"Scotty being here."

"Yeah, it's ok. He's a nice guy," Sam said

"Ok, does the room look ok?"

"It looks perfect, just as we both knew your Mother would leave it. What are you so nervous about?"

"I'm not, but you know, after not seeing someone for so long, I just want things to look nice."

"Things look nice Josh. Extremely nice. Exceptionally nice. Things couldn't look any nicer."

"Ok. I'm just acting goofy, aren't I?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. "Extremely goofy. Exceptionally goofy. You couldn't act any goofier."

"Come on, gold and diamonds on a throne, let's get out of here."

Scott had everything either washed or in the dishwasher when Sam and Josh came out of the guest room. "I'll put those away in the morning," he said.

"He's kind of handy to have around," Sam laughed.

"Hey, I have a question I wanted to ask you guys. Do you two have anything planned for tomorrow? Now be honest with me."

Sam and Josh looked at each other.

"Uh, I might play racquetball at noon for a couple of hours, but that's not definite yet. Other than that I don't have anything going on," Sam replied.

"I'm wide open man," answered Josh. "What do you have in mind?"

"This is going to sound SO geeky-dorky-nerdy...I can't even believe I'm asking," Scott said. "I don't have to meet with the PD here until Monday and I kinda want to do a little sight-seeing and thought maybe...this is embarrassing ...maybe you guys could show me around a little?"

Josh laughed. "You mean you wanna put on shorts that are too long and flowery shirts and wear white socks with sandals and cameras around our necks and..."

"Forget it. If that's how you go sight-seeing, count me out!" Scott laughed.

"We'd love to, wouldn't we Sam?"

"Ah, can I let you know in the morning?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, whatever works for you guys. I'm at your mercy. I'd like to see the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Wall if that's not too much trouble. And Arlington National Cemetery. I really wanna see where John Kennedy is buried."

"Scott, you write down everything you wanna see and do and we'll see and do them all," Josh said.

"Cool. Well, good-night Josh, good-night Sam. A real pleasure to meet you," Scott said as he headed toward the guest room. "What do you want for breakfast?"

Josh raised his eyebrows hopefully. "Blue pancakes?"

********

"I can't help it CJ. It's funny and when something strikes me as funny, I laugh. Just a character flaw I guess."

"I see absolutely no humor whatsoever knowing the entire West Wing watches every move I...you...we make. And YOU think it's funny."

CJ fell back on her bed, the phone in one hand, her other hand unbuttoning her blouse. "Are you sure you can't come over?" Her voice took on a much softer tone.

Simon adjusted his shoulder holster under his arm and pulled it snug against him. "I wish I could darlin'. I really do. You have no idea how much I'd rather be with you tonight than working."

"Guess what I'm doing?" CJ teased. She sounded playful and feminine.

"Word jumble of the day?"

"Nooooooo. I'm laying across my bed unbuttoning my blouse and I just pulled it open."

"Which blouse?" he asked.

"The silk cream-colored one you gave me with the little pleats down the front. You know the one?"

Simon smiled into the phone. "I know the one. When I run my hands over that silky smooth blouse and feel you underneath it, I just wanna rip those buttons off and get inside and...what are you wearing under the blouse?" Simon shifted the phone to his other ear and picked up his .357.

"A camisole. A very lacy, girlie camisole. I know you like feminine things on me so I'm wearing this just for you." CJ's voice became husky and seductive. "If you were here, sweetheart, you could bury your face in my lacy, girlie camisole."

Simon held his weapon at eye level and looked through the site. He shoved a full clip in the bottom of the handgrip, made sure there was a bullet in the chamber, clicked the safety on, slid his firearm into it's holster and snapped the strap over it.

"If I was there," he said, "I'd do more than bury my face in your lacy, girlie camisole."

"When will I see you again Simon? I miss you."

"I miss you too. Not before Monday or Tuesday."

CJ threw her pillows off her bed in frustration. "Can you call?" she asked.

"CJ, you know..."

"I know, I know. But I still don't like it. Can't you tell me SOMETHING about where you'll be or what you'll be doing?"

"You know better than to even ask," Simon replied.

"Just one thing. I promise not to say a word to anybody."

"No."

"One thing. One tiny little morsel. It'll make me feel closer to you if I know just one itty bitty thing. Nothing secret. Just something vague and I won't ask again," CJ pleaded.

Simon hesitated. He knew he shouldn't, but one little detail wouldn't give anything away.

"Ok, one thing. I'm gonna meet with a guy from Denver."

"Why?"

"CJ! No more!"

"If you call while you're in the field I'll talk dirty to you on the phone."

"Claudia Jean, are you trying to tempt me?" Simon laughed.

"Maybe. Is it working?" CJ sat up in bed, her moment of seduction passed.

"Listen darlin', I've gotta go. Be sweet and I'll call you as soon as this assignment is over, I promise," Simon assured her.

"You promise?"

"I just said I promise."

"I'm stalling to make the conversation last longer," CJ said.

Simon put his jacket on. "I've gotta go for real CJ."

"I know. I'll miss you Simon."

"I'll miss you too darlin."

"Be careful."

"Always."

Simon Donovan closed the door behind him. CJ ran her hand over the silky blouse he'd given her and looked at the roses he'd sent earlier that day. She smiled. He said he couldn't call but she knew he would. He could never resist when she talked dirty to him over the phone.

Chapter 39

"Lock it." Josh locked the bedroom door behind them then jiggled the handle to make sure Sam knew it had been taken care of.

"Just kinda weird with a total stranger downstairs," Sam explained.

Both men started to undress.

"I told you," Josh replied, "he's not exactly a total stranger. I've known Scotty since I was a kid. We grew up together."

"You haven't seen this guy for twenty years. You don't know anything about him anymore. You know who he WAS, but who he IS, not so much. Jesus, be realistic. You suspect Donna of stealing your Twinkies yet you invite this cowboy to move in..."

Josh spun around and found himself face-to-face with Sam.

"Do you have a problem with Scotty staying here?" he interrupted. "Because if you do, just say the word and he's outta here first thing in the morning. Hell Sam, if its gonna make you freak, I'll kick him out tonight. Right now."

Sam put his hand on Josh's cheek. "I'm sorry Oshie, I was out of line. I don't have a problem with your friend being here. Really, I don't. I'm glad you're getting to see an old buddy."

Josh looked at his lover who stood before him in his black faded jeans. Lean and bare-chested, Sam's sculpted muscles screamed to be caressed. His eyes smoldered, sleepy and half-closed, those remarkable lashes slowly drifted apart then fell together again. His expression was serious...sultry. But more than the striking physical beauty, Josh adored the heart that was Sam Seaborn. The magnificent body and incomparable good looks were simply a sun-kissed blessing that dressed the soul within.

He tucked his forefinger inside Sam's waistband and ran it back and forth against Sam's abdomen. Josh cocked his head. "I don't care so much for the cowboy type," he said. "I like the pretty boys."

Sam took a half-step closer to Josh but kept just a fraction of an inch between them so they didn't touch.

"Am I a pretty boy?" he asked in a throaty voice. The stubble on his face was pronounced. He licked his lips. He drove Josh wild.

Josh's sudden erection pressed against his pants and ached to be released.

"Yes," Josh said softly, "you are. I like pretty boys because they like to be fucked." His forefinger stopped at Sam's navel and popped open the top button on Sam's jeans He dipped deeper inside until he felt soft curly pubic hairs against his fingers.

Sam pulled Josh's hand out of his pants and let it fall to the side. He put his hands on Josh's waist and pulled him close so their bodies touched, crotch pressed against crotch, both with full, hard erections. Sam began to grind his pelvis slowly against Josh, punctuated every couple of revolutions with a thrust that caused Josh to expel an utterance of pleasure each time.

"Pretty boys like to be fucked? Now why would you say a thing like that Joshua?" Sam smirked just a little.

"Because you pretty boys are..." Josh reached out to touch Sam's bulging cock. Before Josh realized what happened, Sam snapped his hand around Josh's wrist and stopped his hand just before it touched Sam.

"You prick tease," Josh snarled. "You're all alike. Pretty boys are easy."

Sam squeezed Josh's wrist harder. "Oh yeah? And what makes us pretty boys easy?"

Josh used his other hand and pried Sam's off his wrist. Once he had both hands free he cupped Sam's face and pulled it to him. Josh kissed Sam hard on the mouth; a kiss of passion, a kiss of power, a kiss Sam didn't expect and in his surprise, he relaxed into Josh's hands and let himself be overtaken.

When Josh pulled away he noticed Sam's eyes were closed and his mouth slightly open. He slipped his tongue back inside and this time, kissed his lover more gently, and the response was as sweet as he'd hoped.

Sam and Josh stood in the dark room, each in just a pair of jeans, each barefoot, forehead to forehead. Josh draped his arms over Sam's shoulders and put his lips to Sam's ear.

"I'm gonna fuck you now, pretty boy," he whispered. "Wanna do it the hard way or the easy way?"

"Thought you said I was easy?" Sam whispered back.

"You, baby, are a sure thing."

Josh let one hand slowly slide from Sam's shoulder down his chest. He rubbed Sam's nipple between his thumb and middle finger and felt it harden. He squeezed and twisted it and smiled when Sam's body jerked. His hand traveled down Sam's abdomen to the top of his open jeans and slowly pulled down his zipper. Neither spoke. He put his thumbs in the waistband of Sam' s pants and slid them down over Sam's hips, his thighs, to his knees and over his calves until they were at his ankles. Sam stepped out of them and kicked them to the side.

Josh looked at Sam in his white briefs. Sam's erection stretched against the cotton fabric.

"Take those off." Josh's voice broke through the silence.

Sam obediently removed his underwear and let them drop to the floor. He stood naked before Josh. Sam had come far from the early days of their relationship when he was shy about the stark vulnerability when he looked at Josh as Josh looked at his body. Then Sam felt ill at ease while Josh studied him but didn't touch. Now he savored those times when he would stand before his lover and let Josh take him in with his eyes. Sam worked hard to keep his body fit, as much as, if not more for Josh than for himself. He wanted Josh to be proud to stand beside him.

Sam could see Josh's silhouette against the vertical blinds with the light of the moon behind them. Josh gave one nod of his head.

Sam immediately went to his knees. He unfastened Josh's pants, pulled the zipper down and took his jeans and underwear off. Josh's erection sprung out as soon as it was unhindered.

"Suck it, pretty boy."

Without a word, Sam took Josh's penis into his mouth. He wrapped one hand around the base of the cock and he put his other hand on Josh's ass to pull him closer. Josh was big. Sometimes Sam couldn't take all of him into his mouth, but tonight he could and did. He spiraled his tongue around Josh's dick as he slid it in and out of his mouth. He encircled the mushroom-shaped head and suckled it, then flicked the under-skin until Josh groaned and uttered, "Slow down."

Josh put his hands on Sam's head and ran his fingers through Sam's hair while Sam gave him the blowjob. He stood with his legs apart and Sam took Josh's balls in his hand and gently kneaded them, which elicited another groan from Josh and another warning to "Take it easy. I'm gonna come and I don't want to yet."

When Josh couldn't wait any longer, he tugged on Sam's hair. "Over to that chair," Josh ordered. He prodded him toward the recliner in the corner.

Without a word, Sam went and sat in the chair and opened it to a reclined position. Josh was right behind him.

"You're about to get fucked, pretty boy," Josh said. "Scoot down and spread 'em."

Sam scrunched down into the big chair and pulled his legs up He opened them widely and put his feet up on the chair arms. It was dark in the corner. Sam was glad he hadn't lit any candles. He became especially aroused on the occasions when Josh gave him orders and Sam knew Josh was going to "take him", whether Sam protested or not. Sam had never protested in seriousness, but it was the game of "Fuck the pretty boy" that turned them both on.

Josh had lubrication on his hands and because he couldn't see well, Sam was startled when he felt Josh's wet, smooth fingers slide inside him. They went in easily and Josh began to slowly rock them in and out. Sam pushed against Josh's hand so he could take Josh's fingers deeper inside him. Josh felt Sam move against him and knew he was hungry for more.

Josh pulled his hand away.

"No," Sam almost whimpered

Josh climbed onto the recliner and balanced on his knees between Sam's legs. He pulled Sam a little further down so he was fully exposed. He picked up the tube of lubricant and spread more on both his hands. He could feel Sam squirm with anticipation. Josh spread the gel generously on his own penis, then worked it around and inside Sam.

"You ready to be fucked, pretty boy?" he whispered ominously.

"Let me have it," Sam responded in a low, husky voice.

With one movement, Josh pulled Sam toward him as he leaned in toward Sam and entered him straight on, without the usual gentle prodding and gradual entry. He just drove his penis fully inside Sam and didn't stop.

Sam took it all and lurched toward Josh for more. He wrapped his arms around Josh's neck and kissed him with a passion that seemed to have been locked up for too long. He burrowed his tongue into Josh's mouth and mimicked orally what Josh was doing to him with his cock. Josh responded with as much intensity as Sam gave.

They took each other in, open-mouthed and frantic to taste as much of the other as they could, almost desperate in their need to posses the very body of their lover so they veritably COULD be one in the same.

When Josh penetrated Sam he immediately began to pump him, foregoing the usual slow, gentle, even movements to used to ease Sam into the comfort zone. This night he went straight to the more aggressive moments in their love-making

Josh had Sam pinned to the chair as he fucked him. Sam was in such a submissive position it made Josh seem all the more dominant as he loomed over Sam and slammed his body against the other man's. This left Sam totally exposed and vulnerable, no part of his manhood private or protected, completely dependent upon Josh to keep him out of true harm's way.

"Don't stop! Don't stop Josh!" Sam cried out.

"You like this, pretty boy?" Josh growled.

"Oh God, yes!"

"Pretty boys are easy, aren't they?" Josh prodded.

Sam nodded, then managed out a "Yes" in staccato rhythm as Josh maintained his stamina and kept his fevered pace.

They came simultaneously...one of those little serendipitous pleasures in life that caused Josh to fall over onto Sam and in laughter, bring one knee up and roll so far to the side that he would have fallen off the chair if Sam hadn't caught him. One of those *secrets* lovers carry with them for the next few hours and just a glance at the other will cause them both to smile and they may not really be sure why. They just know their souls feel closer than they did before.

"Let's go to bed Angel," Josh said quietly.

"I'd follow you anywhere," Sam replied.

Josh took Sam's hand and helped him up from the chair "Wait here." When Josh came back he had a warm, wet washcloth. He gently cleaned Sam, then cleaned himself when he returned to the bathroom. He turned out the light, went back into the bedroom and found Sam where he'd left him. He took his hand again and without a word, led him to their bed. Sam pulled back the covers and immediately crawled to the middle. Josh sat on the edge, struck a match and started to light a candle on the bedside table.

"Josh, let's not," said Sam.

"Not what?" Josh asked.

"Let's not light any candles tonight. Let's leave it dark."

Josh blew out the match.

"Ok. If that's what you want."

"That's what I want," Sam responded.

Josh rolled under the covers and scooted over next to Sam. He put his head on the same pillow and they faced each other.

"Hi," Josh whispered in a husky voice.

"Hi," Sam replied.

Sam reached over and put his hand on Josh's chest, on the scar where he'd been shot and had surgery to save his life. He let his hand rest there.

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"When you got shot...and you looked up and saw Toby's face...his eyes...did you really think you were dead?"

"I was sure of it. I'll never forget Toby eyes. It was like he didn't so much look AT me, but he looked THROUGH me, like my body was there, but my soul was gone," Josh explained. "It was so fuckin' freaky Sam, I can't even begin to tell you what it was like."

"You know, I didn't even know you were shot until later. They took the President and there was so much commotion and ambulances and police and everybody running around and the Secret Service all grabbed us and wouldn't let us move so I couldn't come find you," said Sam. "I didn't see you and I didn't see Toby so I just thought...I just thought you were with some agents on the other side of the car and I couldn't see you. I didn't know Josh."

"It's ok."

"No, I should have gone to you."

"You couldn't have," Josh said. "You know that."

"I would have."

"I know."

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"You were really scared, huh?"

"Shitless."

"And you're that scared now? Because of me?"

"Moreso," Josh answered.

"Why?"

Josh propped up on one arm and with his other hand, he stroked Sam's cheekbone with his thumb.

"You're playing a dangerous game, sweetheart. I'm scared to death it's gonna take your life from you AND from me. And I don't have a life without you. I don't WANT a life without you."

"Why?"

"Sam, Sam baby, you really don't understand, do you? I cherish you Angel. I adore you. I just want you safe and happy and healthy," Josh said.

"I am."

"Turn over, Sam. I want you to back into me so I can hold you in my arms. I don't wanna let go of you all night."

Sam roll over so his back was to Josh. The two came together like pieces of a puzzle and Josh wrapped his arms around Sam. He nuzzled his face into Sam 's neck and put his lips close to Sam's ear.

"Sam?"

"Hmmm?"

"Earlier, if it sounded like I was...you know...I'm just scared. I know you're too smart to do anything foolish." He brushed Sam's ear with a kiss. "Right?"

Sam's right hand clutched the purple velvet bag. He'd meant to put it away before they went downstairs for dinner, but it was still on their bed where Josh had tossed it after he'd pulled it from Sam's underwear drawer. He hated that it was in their bed, in his hand.

"Right Sam?"

Sam shoved the bag under the pillow next to him. He didn't know what else to do with it.

"Right Sam?" Josh repeated.

"Yeah. Right."

********

Josh and Scott left early for a day of sight-seeing in Washington. Sam planned to meet Marc at noon for a couple of hours of racquetball then come home and get caught up on some work, then the three had reservations for dinner at Weston's. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the breeze was warm and it looked like it was going to be a good day.

Sam was in a deep sleep when he felt something wet on the back of his neck. He squirmed a little and moved his head. He felt it again. He reached up to slap it away. He turned his pillow over so the cool side was against his face and went back to sleep. The he felt something wet slither from one side of his neck to the other.

"What the hell?" He raised his head and when he did, was taken by surprise from behind by Josh, whose tongue trailed from Sam's neck to his lips and kissed him.

"Good morning Angel," Josh grinned into the kiss.

Sam let his head go limp over Josh's arm and closed his eyes. "Good morning Oshie."

"We're about to leave," Josh continued, "and I just wanted to let you know and tell you good-bye."

"Good-bye." Sam may have fallen back asleep.

"You're ok with me spending the day with Scott?"

Sam gave a slight nod. "If you behave. You're ok with me playing racquetball with Marc?"

"If you behave."

Sam nodded again. "I will."

Josh gave him a gentle kiss. "I will too. Is your alarm set?"

"Uh huh."

Josh lowered Sam's head gently back onto the pillow, kissed each closed eyelid and brushed the hair off his forehead. "My Angel," he whispered. "God go with you."

********

Marc was merciless on the racquetball court and uncharacteristically beat Sam by skunking him in the first game, seven to nothing. That had never happened before. Sam was draggy, he missed easy shots, he let the ball go by when he normally would have run across the court for it. After the first game they both sat on the wood floor and leaned against the wall.

"So what's up Cobra?" Marc asked.

"What's up with what?"

"You are DEFINITELY off your game, man. I've never even come close to that kind of lead before and I just slaughtered you. What's your problem?"

"That goodie bag you fixed up for me. I hadn't expected the little samples in the bottom and I took a lude yesterday afternoon because I needed to sleep. I guess it hasn't worn off yet and I'm just kind of in slow motion a bit." He turned to Marc and grinned. "Not at the top of my game I suppose you could say. The next one's mine though."

"You wanna little picker-upper?" Marc asked.

"I could run down and get a couple of protein bars and orange juice," Sam replied. "That should give me some energy."

"My boy, I've got something much better. Quicker, easier, more effective and you don't have to go to the juice bar. Just get your bottle of water."

"What is it?"

"Black Beauty."

Sam shook his head. "No Marc, I don't think so. Thanks, but I don't wanna do any speed. I'm gonna do it the natural way today."

"One little harmless capsule Sam! It's little more than caffeine."

"It's WAY more than caffeine. I know what speed is. Thank you, but no."

"We might as well quit now then, because your game is shit. You're not a challenge for me today, Cobra. You just can't keep up and it's a waste of my time if every game is gonna be a blow-out. Let's hit the showers." Marc started to stand up.

"Wait! I wanna play. I'm not ready to give up. I NEVER give up," Sam insisted.

"Well you can't play like this. I won't have it."

Sam sighed. One hit of speed wouldn't hurt. It was true. He didn't have any energy at all and he had several hours of racquetball ahead of him then a long evening with Josh and Scott on the town. He wanted to make a good impression for Josh's sake and if he fell asleep with his face in the soup, that wouldn't quite be the impression he had in mind. He wanted to be awake, alert and able to carry on an intelligent conversation. He'd decided he'd over-reacted about Scott's visit and wanted to make up for it tonight by being as friendly and accommodating with Scott as he could. And to do that, he needed to be on the ball.

"Ok. Just one. And just this time."

Marc dug into his pocket and Sam got his water bottle from the door stow-away box. Sam held out his hand and Marc dropped the black capsule into Sam's palm. Sam hesitated a couple of seconds, then popped it in his mouth and washed it down with water.

They played extreme racquetball over three hours with only occasional breaks for drinks of water. Each game was neck-in-neck as usual and both were relentless in their personal crusade to win. It didn't take long for the effect from the speed to kick in and Sam was quickly full of energy and all over the court.

His swing was powerful and he hit the ball with a vengeance. His returns were equally as forceful and he traveled the court with speed and dexterity that even challenged himself at his best.

"I'm done," Marc said after three hours. "You've worn me out."

"Done?" Sam asked in mock surprise. "We just started. One more game."

"You trying to kill me Cobra? I'm wiped out," Marc responded.

Sam twirled his racquet in the palm of his hand and laughed. "Oh come on. Just one more...I'll go easy on you."

"I don't NEED you to go easy on me sport. I can take you whenever I want to and you KNOW it. Go ahead and serve."

Sam smiled. He and Marc were both tired and soaked with sweat, but Sam was pumped and on a winning streak and wanted to fit in one more game before he had to go home and work on the President's speech before the American Medical Association. It was almost finished, but he wanted to clean it up before he gave it to Toby on Monday.

This was the best work-out he'd had in a long time and the freedom to let himself go on a racquetball court gave him renewed energy.

He served in this last game with more determination that he ever had. The blue rubber ball slammed against the front wall with great force and returned to Marc at high speed, low to the ground...a perfect serve. Marc expected it, returned the serve and the two volleyed back and forth until Sam scored. They continued to play until it was eight-seven, Marc's favor.

All their games were this close, always within one or two points of the other, never any further apart than that. The match-up was perfect and Sam often felt as if he was playing against himself. Each game could belong to either one of them, because their skill and style were so similar. That's why Sam loved to play with Marc. He was the first partner he'd ever had who was a real challenge. Because of Sam's work schedule it was difficult to keep a regular partner, so unless someone had an extremely flexible schedule, he played with whomever he could find. As a result, he either wound up with someone way out of his league who clobbered him senseless or with a novice who was no challenge for Sam and gave him no competition. But he and Marc were the perfect match-up and Sam looked forward to their time together on the court because he knew he could count on an exhilarating physical work-out and a mental challenge as well in predicting Marc's next move. It was not unlike a game of chess, only quicker. Their games were fast, rough, high-spirited and calculated and Sam had worked back up to playing three times a week and was grumpy if he missed one.

And while he wouldn't admit it to Josh, he enjoyed Marc's company.

Josh was glad to see Sam getting healthy again, getting strong, pushing his body to the limit. He noticed Sam's muscles coming back to life, back to the way they'd been before Josh had his PTSD reoccurrence and Sam had put his own life on hold to take care of him, ignoring his own needs.

Marc served, Sam returned, Marc answered and Sam missed the shot. The score was tied, eight-eight.

Sam served and it was almost an identical play.

Marc served, low and to the right corner. Sam returned to the center and Marc back to the left. The ball flew down the left wall and Sam ran across the court and barely caught it for a high return. His racquet hit the wall hard and vibrated in his hand. Sam tightened his grip. Even his glove was soaked with sweat and it was difficult to get a good hold on the handle. And he was body tired. His mind ran at break-neck speed, but physically, he was exhausted.

Marc had managed to get Sam in the unenviable plight where he had to run back and forth across the court while Marc stood in the center and controlled the ball, and Sam hated to be put in that position.

Sweat soaked through his drenched headband and trickled into his eyes. He lost sight of the ball. Then he heard it whiz by his ear, so close it brushed against his hair. Sam knew it would hit the back wall and if he could get there fast enough and give the ball a powerful uppercut, it could rebound and make it to the front wall and he could score. With Marc in the position he was in on the court, back and center, there was no way he could return the ball.

Sam back-pedaled a couple of steps and stretched his arm out to the side to hit the ball as hard as he could to make the shot. He then turned and ran at full force toward the wall.

In his fatigue and because of the sweat in his eyes, Sam mis-judged the distance. Just as he swung his racquet, both it and he slammed against the wall at top speed. The sound of hard aluminum breaking against concrete and the sickening crunch of human bone snapping resounded in the small enclosed court. Then there was an equally sickening silence.

Sam was flat against the wall, racquet still in his hand, his face sideways against the surface. Time hung in suspension, then Sam slowly slid down the wall into a crumpled heap on the wooden floor. He left a wide streak of smeared blood on the white wall.

Fade to black.....

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 40

Scott Major stood with his hand over a name etched into the black marble at the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial. It was cool and smooth and he gently outlined the name with his finger. Josh stood off to the side and watched his friend. After a couple of minutes Scott walked over to Josh and stood in front of him.

"Ok, we can go now," said Scott.

"You sure?" Josh replied. "We didn't stay very long."

"Long enough. I just needed to come here and see him...see this place. I can 't believe I've waited this long."

"Who is it Scott?" Josh asked softly, then took off his sunglasses. "I'm sorry. You don't have to say. It's none of my business."

"Just somebody I knew. A mentor, a mentor type guy, sort of. Somebody I looked up to." Scott glanced back at the wall then faced Josh again.

"When did he get killed?" Josh asked.

Scott put his hand on the side of Josh's neck and squeezed it. Josh didn't flinch, pull away or seem surprised by his touch.

"I don't know that he DID get killed. He was listed as MIA and his body was never found. As far as I'm concerned, he's not dead. He just hasn't come home yet."

"Scott, it's been thirty years."

"He just hasn't come home yet." Scott tucked a lock of Josh's hair behind his ear. Josh let him.

"Yeah, ok."

The two men listened to the silence that surrounded the Wall. The reverence, the respect, the unspoken emotion. Josh's phone rang and broke the silence. He pulled it from his pocket and answered in a quiet voice.

"Josh Lyman."

"Yeah, this is, uh, Marc Hayes. I'm a friend of Sam's and..."

"I know who you are," Josh interrupted. "Where's Sam?"

"Well, that's why I'm calling. Sam and I were playing racquetball and he had a little accident."

"What happened? Where's Sam? Talk to me now," Josh demanded. He started to pace while he talked.

"He's not dead or anything."

"Dammit Hayes! Cut the bullshit and talk to me now! Where's Sam? Don't make me kill you! I will, you know!"

"He ran into the wall while we were playing racquetball and he's, uh, well, he's banged up a little and he's out," Marc explained.

"What do you mean, 'he's out'?"

"Unconscious. He hasn't come to yet."

"Where's Sam?"

"GW."

Josh clicked his phone shut.

"Scott, Sam's had some kind of accident at the gym and I need to get to the hospital. George Washington University Hospital. I'm sorry I have to leave you. Take my car and just use our place like it's your own. I don't know when I'll be home. I'll call you when I know something."

"Want me to go to the hospital with you?" Scott asked.

"No, no. I'm fine," Josh said as he walked toward the street to hail a cab. "Here's my keys. Go check out the city and have a good time. You don't need to spend your time in an emergency room. I'm sorry Scotty."

Scott kept pace with Josh.

"It's not your fault. If Sam's hurt, you might need me. You used to like it when I was there for you."

Josh locked eyes with Scott. "I've gotta be there for Sam now. Taxi!" He tried to wave down a cab but it passed him by. "Dammit!

Josh turned back to Scott. "It's probably best if you don't. I appreciate the offer, you know that, but I think I'll go alone." A taxi pulled up to the curb and stopped.

"Sure, Tonto. Call me."

Josh's head shot up as he opened the car door. Tonto. He hadn't heard that in a long time. He hadn't been CALLED that in a long time. It sounded so familiar, yet so far away and long ago at the same time.

"Yeah, ok." He slammed the door and the taxi sped toward George Washington Hospital.

Josh half-walked, half-ran into the double Emergency Room doors. There were people in front of him at the desk but he cut in front of them and spoke to the woman behind the counter.

"Seaborn. Sam Seaborn was brought in here a while ago. Where is he?"

"Excuse me sir, you'll have to wait your turn," the woman said.

"If you'll just tell me where he is..."

"Sir. To the back of the line please," she cut him off.

"Josh!"

Josh turned at the sound of his name and saw Marc walk toward him. As much as he despised the man, he was relieved to see him.

"Where's Sam?" Josh asked. "How is he? What happened? How bad is he hurt? Take me to him."

"Down this way," Marc responded.

He led Josh to exam room four. Inside Sam was alone and lay still on the gurney. An IV needle was taped to the inside of his arm and led to a bag of clear liquid that hung beside the bed. A blood pressure cuff was attached to his other arm and periodically inflated and tightened to take a reading that appeared in red on one of the monitors he was attached to. A small device was clipped to his forefinger to constantly monitor his heartbeat. A steady "beep, beep, beep" reassured Josh that Sam's heart still beat. A tube went into his nostrils to give him oxygen. Sam was bare from the waist up and the rest of his body was covered with a white sheet. He didn't move, except for the slow rise and fall of his chest.

Josh walked to his side and looked at him. There was a gash across his forehead that had already been stitched up. It was red and swollen around the wound and puffy where the stitches pulled at his skin. Bruises had already started to darken his forehead.

There was another, smaller cut on Sam's cheekbone. It had yellow antiseptic on it but there were no stitches. His chin was scraped and yellow from the medicine as well, but no bandages had been applied.

Dried blood was splattered on his face and neck and Josh wondered why no one had cleaned it off.

"Why didn't somebody wash his face?" he asked of no one. "Can't they see there's blood on his face?" As Josh spoke, he licked the tips of his fingers and began to wipe the blood off Sam's cheek, gently so he wouldn't cause him any further pain. "Somebody get the goddamn blood off his face!"

Josh turned and saw Marc was the only other person in the room.

"Go get somebody," Josh ordered. "I wanna know what's going on here. Why won't he wake up? What's wrong with him? When did this happen?"

"His knee's hurt too Josh," Marc said.

"Which knee? What happened to his knee? How did this happen if it was just a game of fucking racquetball? Sam? Don't go silent on me Sam!"

Marc pulled back the sheet to reveal Sam's left leg. It, too, was bare except for a large brace that went from mid-thigh to mid-calf.

"What the hell?" Josh reached out to touch Sam's leg but stopped just short, afraid he would hurt Sam.

"He's got something torn in his knee, some long word for it," Marc explained. "They could use this or a cast and I chose this. I thought Sam would rather..."

"YOU chose this?" Josh interrupted. "YOU thought Sam would rather? Who the hell do you think you are to make these kinds of decisions. ANY kind of decision for Sam? Who do you think you...just how long have you two been here? When did this happen? How long did you wait before you called me?"

"My first concern was to get Sam to the hospital, man. I thought that was more important than calling you while he laid there unconscious and bled."

"How long Hayes? And don't bullshit with me. NOBODY bullshits with me. How long ago did Sam get hurt?" Josh moved closer to Marc and got in his face. Marc didn't move back.

"I don't know. About two-and-a-half hours I guess," Marc shrugged. "I don' t wear a watch."

Josh's face was red with anger.

"Two-and-a-half..." Josh turned and swept his arm across the counter top. Steel medical instruments, rolls of gauze, plastic cups, file folders, and a phlebotomist's tray with syringes and glass vials flew across the room landed on the floor with a clatter. He instinctively turned to Sam to see if the noise had startled him, and didn't know if he was relieved or horrified that Sam hadn't even flinched.

Neither had Marc. Josh returned his stare and they continued their face-off until a nurse came into the room.

"What happened in here?" she asked. "Why are these things on the floor?"

"Ma'am, would you please tell me the condition of this man?" Josh didn't take his eyes off Marc when he spoke. "What are his injuries? Why won't he wake up? What he hell's going on around here?"

The nurse looked at Josh blankly, then turned to Marc.

"Mr. Hayes, is everything all right? Do we need to call security?"

"Security? Lady, do you..." Josh started.

"No ma'am," Marc interrupted. "I'll handle him."

Josh was so angry he could only turn in circles and clench his fists.

"Please do," she said as she picked up the items Josh had knocked to the floor. "And explain to this gentleman we only give information to the friend or family member who accompanied the patient to the emergency room. Will you do that, Mr. Hayes?"

"Yes, uh, Ellen is it? Give me just a minute to calm my friend down, Ellen, then I'd like an update on Sam, please. My friend just needs to collect himself."

Ellen glanced at Josh as she put the last of the supplies back in place and left the exam room.

Josh's breath came in quick, short bursts. He put his hands on his hips and tightened his fingers around the belt loops of his jeans. He hesitated then tried to speak as calmly and deliberately as he could.

"Hayes, we're gonna walk out to that nurse's station and you're gonna tell whomever's in charge that I'M the one to confer with about Sam and that you have absolutely no authority whatsoever to make any decisions about him or his treatment. Do you understand? Then you're gonna tell me EXACTLY what happened, when it happened and where it happened. You're not gonna leave out a single detail. You got that?" He glared into the other man's eyes.

Marc glared back. When he saw a twitch in Josh's left eye, Marc decided to talk.

"Relax man, I was just doing what was best for Sam. I swear. I'll be right back." Marc left to explain to those in charge that Josh was, indeed, the man to talk with.

Josh released the tension in his muscles after he took a few seconds to consider what Marc said. He realized he'd lost his temper, but it was a knee-jerk reaction he couldn't control when the nurse assumed Marc was...with Sam.

"So how is he? What are his injuries?" Josh asked in a calmer voice when Marc returned. "How'd he get hurt? Give me some answers here."

"Well, he's got that gash in his forehead that needed stitches and his tendon or ligament or something is torn or pulled in his knee. Or it might be fractured, I'm not sure. Maybe it's sprained. Hell, I don't know. His wrist is hurt too. Broken I think. You'll have to talk with the doctor."

"You're a lot of help." Josh gently touched the brace on Sam's knee and looked at the brace on his right wrist. "Why won't he wake up?"

"He has a concussion," Marc answered.

"Yeah, but why doesn't he wake up?" Josh repeated.

"I don't know. They did some tests but I don't know..."

"Don't know! Don't know! Is that all you can say? Where's the damn doctor? I wanna talk with the damn doctor."

Josh left the exam room and went to the nurse's station. He recognized Ellen.

"Excuse me, I need to speak to Sam Seaborn's physician," he said to her. "I 've been here a while and he hasn't come in yet. Could you get him please?"

Ellen looked up at Josh. "Yes sir," she said. "I'll ask him to come in right away."

Josh thanked her and returned to the exam room to find Marc by Sam, his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"Get away from him," Josh said.

"You've gotta relax, man," Marc responded, although he didn't turn from Sam or move his hand. "I'm not gonna hurt our boy."

Josh bristled. "He's not a boy, and he's not ours. He's..."

Marc slowly turned his head and grinned at Josh. "He's what?"

Josh clenched his jaw and balled his hands into fists again. One shot, he thought. All I want is just one shot.

"He's what?" Marc repeated. "Your's?"

"Mr. Lyman?"

Josh turned when the doctor came in. He extended his arm and the two men shook hands.

"Yes, I'm Josh Lyman. What can you tell me about Sam?"

"I'm Kyle Adams. I saw Mr. Seaborn when he was brought in and I've followed his care since he's been here."

"Ok, well how bad is it?"

The doctor began to examine Sam. "Excuse me, I need to get in here."

Marc stepped back and stood next to Josh.

"It's time you leave," Josh said to him.

"I'd rather hang around and see how Sam's gonna be," Marc replied.

"He's gonna be fine."

"I'd like to hear for myself, if you don't mind," Marc insisted.

"I mind."

"Come on, man. Don't you ever take the cork out of your ass?"

"Get out." Josh's left eye twitched.

Marc raised his hands, palms outward and stepped back. He made a wide arc around Josh and he left exam room four.

"It's not as bad as it looks," Dr. Adams said. "His injuries aren't serious."

"Aren't serious? He's in a coma! That's not serious? People in comas die," Josh responded.

"Calm down, Mr. Lyman. He's not in a coma. Mr. Seaborn has been sedated. He's been conscious and has talked with us. He's not in a coma and he's not going to die."

Josh was finally able to swallow the lump that had been in his throat since he first got the phone call that Sam was in the hospital.

"Mr. Seaborn has a laceration here on his forehead, mostly at the hairline as you can see. It required eight stitches and we've got that all sutured up." Josh looked where the doctor pointed on Sam's forehead. Eight stitches. When he'd first come in it looked more like eighteen stitches. Or twenty-eight.

"And some abrasions and bruises on his chin and a little on his cheek here," the doctor continued. "His face will be sore for a few days but these will go away...and he's going to have a major headache. His nose was bloodied but he doesn't have any broken bones in his face. Or his neck or spine, for that matter. We did a CT Scan and an MRI from stem to stern and there's nothing broken...except his racquet. He did one hell of a job on that racquet."

"Can it be fixed?" Josh asked. "I gave him that racquet and he loved it."

Dr. Adams laughed. "There's not enough left of that thing to make a paper clip. When his brother showed it to me, I didn't even know what it was."

"His brother?"

"That fella you just kicked out."

"He's NOT Sam's brother and please, don't talk with that man about Sam under any circumstances," Josh said.

"Don't worry, Mr. Lyman, it's been made very clear in his chart that you're the only one I'm to speak with. He DID tell our staff he was Mr. Seaborn's brother, however, so if that's something important you need to know, well, now you know it." "Thanks. What about his leg? If nothing's broken, what's that thing on his knee?"

"Mr. Seaborn has a partial tear of the ligament in his left knee. What I have to write in his chart is Posterior Cruciate Ligament Sprain, but it's a partially torn ligament," Dr. Adams explained.

"Well THAT sounds serious."

"If he'll wear this protective knee brace 'religiously', it should heal in three to four weeks. Keep him fairly inactive the first week ~~ he can be up and around, but no racquetball."

Josh smiled. He swore he'd never let Sam play racquetball again.

"Also," Dr. Adams continued, "his right wrist is sprained. I've got a brace that partially covers his hand and goes up to his mid-forearm. His thumb comes through here." The doctor showed Josh the flesh-colored brace held closed with Velcro.

"Why not just an Ace bandage? I thought you just wrapped an Ace bandage around a sprained wrist," Josh said.

"Because I suspect Mr. Seaborn's not one to sit still and just let his hand rest. An Ace bandage wouldn't provide enough support or protection for him. This has a steel bar in it to hold his wrist in place and it will heal much quicker because he won't be able to move it like he could in an Ace bandage."

"Yep, you're right about that. He's gonna balk at that thing."

"Then you see that he wears it if you want him to get better," the doctor replied.

"Don't worry," Josh muttered, "he'll sleep in the damn thing." When he realized what he'd said he looked to see if Dr. Adams had heard him. He didn't react, so Josh assumed he either didn't hear or didn't care.

"We gave him a Tetanus shot, something for the pain, he's been sedated and we'd like to keep him overnight for observation. Someone will be in to take him to his room as soon as we're finished. They'll need some more information for his admission paperwork. Do you have any questions?" He closed Sam's chart and leaned against the counter.

"I, uh, don't think, uh, I guess not. He's gonna be ok, right?"

"He's going to be fine. He's just banged up a little."

"Yeah, ok. Did you get him a private room?" Josh asked.

"Mr. Lyman, I know who you and Mr. Seaborn are. I've arranged for a private room and the staff will be discrete. Are there are special instructions I need to give to the head nurse?" Dr. Adams replied.

"Yes, actually. Absolutely no visitors. Nobody but me. No exceptions, no questions."

"No problem. He'll come around in a little while, he'll be groggy and he'll be hurting. I've prescribed pain meds and I'll be in to see him in the morning. I'm on-call tonight so if anything comes up, I'll be around."

Josh shook the doctor's hand again. "Thanks a lot Dr. Adams. I feel much better about...things...Sam...I feel...thank you."

The doctor opened the exam room door and before it could close two orderlies came in and prepared to take Sam to his room. Josh stepped out. Marc was still there, leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. Josh walked over to him.

"You wanna tell me how this happened?" he demanded.

"We were playing racquetball and had just finished for the day but Sam insisted we play one more game. I told him I thought we'd had enough, I told him he looked worn out, but you know Sam..."

"Yeah, I know Sam," Josh interrupted with a sneer. "Go on."

"He always wants to push himself beyond the limit. So I agreed to one more game. He went after a difficult shot, was moving fast, apparently got confused or disoriented about the distance he had open, and he turned and slammed right into the wall at a full dead-on run." Marc gave a little laugh. "You know, it kinda reminded me of the Road Runner. He sorta stayed up against the wall like he was suspended there for a few seconds then just slid down the wall into a pile of body mess."

Josh used both his hands and grabbed Marc by his collar, pulled him away from the wall then shoved him back against it. "You think this is funny asshole? You wanna feel what it's like to be slammed against the wall like the fuckin' Road Runner? You want body mess? One more word outta you...just give me a reason..." Josh shoved Marc again and let go of him. "Get out of my way and get out of my sight."

Josh followed the orderlies as they rolled the gurney into the hall and onto the elevator. He stood quietly beside Sam as they went upstairs and into his room. He stayed out of the way while they worked swiftly and efficiently to get Sam settled into his new bed. After he was situated to their satisfaction and again connected to his monitors, one of them spoke to Josh.

"Is there anything else, Mr. Lyman?" he asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Is there anything else we can do for you or Mr. Seaborn?"

"No. Thank you. Everything looks...ok...thank you," Josh replied. "Maybe close the door?"

The orderly nodded and closed the door behind him as they left.

They were alone. Josh looked at Sam. His first thought was that Sam looked so small in the hospital bed. Maybe it was because of the monitors and equipment around him and connected to him, or maybe it was because Sam was so vulnerable unable to speak or move. Josh wanted to climb on the bed and hold Sam's head in his lap and comfort and protect him more than he ever had.

But Josh knew he couldn't do that.

Instead he stood at Sam's bedside and just looked at him. He put the back of his hand against Sam's cheek.

"Hey. You."

Josh stroked Sam's jaw line with his thumb.

"You can wake up now sweetheart. It's just you and me."

Sam didn't move. For the first time that day, tears welled up in Josh's eyes. Now when he didn't have to hold it together in front of the hospital staff ~~ and Marc ~~ he didn't. First the tears came silently, then Josh broke down while he cried over the man he loved. His whole body shook as he sobbed.

He knew Sam's life wasn't in danger. He knew Sam would go home in a day or two. But the pent up emotion and the initial fear, the anger of Marc's constant presence and the sight of Sam helpless and hurt body was more than Josh could bear.

He lay over onto Sam's chest as he cried, and he stayed there until there were no more tears. Then he cried some more.  

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 41

"Andrea Wyatt."

"Excuse me?"

"Andrea Wyatt?"

"Andi?"

"Yes?"

"Toby's Andi?"

"Well, I don't put that on my business cards, but I've been called worse."

"Why did you answer Toby's phone?"

"Excuse me?"

"You answered Toby's phone. Why did you answer Toby's phone?"

"Is this Josh Lyman?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Josh, do you want to talk with Toby?"

"Yes, please."

"He's asleep."

"Ma'am?"

"Toby's asleep."

Josh hesitated.

"Could he...be awakened?"

"I'm sure he could be."

There was a pause, then a bemused Andi asked, "Would you like me to wake up Toby for you Josh?"

"Yes ma'am, if you would please."

"Just a minute."

Josh put his hand to his forehead and kneaded it while he waited. He never took his eyes off Sam.

"This better be good," Toby answered sleepily. He waved good-bye to Andi as she quietly slipped out the door of his house.

"Toby..." Josh's voice cracked.

"What's happened?" Toby was suddenly wide awake.

"It's Sam. We're at the hospital. He..."

"He what? What's happened to Sam?" Toby interrupted, an anxiousness in his voice.

"He's gonna be ok. He hurt himself playing racquetball and he's done some damage, nothing too serious, but he's gotta stay here and I wanted to tell you."

"How 'not too serious' is it Josh?" Toby asked.

Josh described Sam's injuries. He stood at his bedside as he talked and put his hand on Sam's chest.

"I'll come down," Toby said. "I need to take a shower and get dressed then I'll be down."

"You don't have to do that. I mean, it's great that you'd make the offer, but there's really nothing you can do. Nothing I can do."

"Being there with him is all he needs from you Josh," Toby assured him. "You're doing plenty."

"You think so? I feel like a big ole slug doing nothing."

"You're doing everything expected of a slug. So what's the plan?"

"The plan is, I'm not leaving this room until Sam gets to come home," Josh responded.

"Do you want me to go by your place and get anything for either of you?" Toby asked.

"Shit!"

"Sorry, you've gotta provide your own shit."

"No, I just remembered, I've got a house guest!"

"Well, that's a surprising bit of news. May I ask who it is? This house guest of yours?"

"A friend of mine from a hundred years ago. Sammy doesn't even know him. He came in yesterday unexpectedly and I invited him to stay with us a few days. In fact, I bailed on him at the Wall when Marc called," Josh explained.

"Whoa, back up. When Marc called?"

"Yeah. That's who Sam was with when he got hurt. They were playing racquetball together at the time."

"So Marc took Sam to the hospital and called you?" asked Toby.

"He called EMS and they brought him here in an ambulance, but I didn't know about it for two-and-a-half hours, the jackass."

"So about this friend, what's the deal with him?"

"What's the deal with him?"

"Yeah, you're there with Sam so what are you gonna do with...what's his name?" Toby questioned.

"Scott. Scott Major. I don't know. What SHOULD I do with him?"

"Don't ask me Josh. I make it a rule never to have houseguests for this very reason. I never know what to do with them."

Josh managed a laugh. "Really. In fact, I need to call him and let him know what's going on. I gave him my keys and my car and just told him to see the city on his own and make himself at home."

"How long's he staying?"

No response.

"Josh?"

No response.

"Josh? You ok?" asked Toby with concern.

"I'm ok." Josh's voice cracked again and Toby could barely hear him.

"Where are you Josh?"

"George Washington."

"You ok?"

"I'm ok."

"Ok."

"You'll, uh, call later?" Josh asked.

"You know I will. I'll come down if you want."

"No, that's...you don't need to. There's nothing you can do."

"You gonna be ok?" Toby asked again.

"I'll be ok," Josh replied.

"Ok, if you're sure."

"I'm sure."

"Ok then. I'll call later, ok?"

"Yeah, ok. Thanks Toby."

Josh snapped his phone shut, laid his head back against the chair and closed his eyes.

********

"Toby, I'm sorry for laughing," CJ said as she tried to suppress a giggle. "No, it's not at all funny about Sam, but yes, it's funny as hell about Andi."

"I confide in very few people about my personal life, you being just about the only one. I now have deep regrets for that error in judgment."

"Tobes, you did good telling me about Sam. That's something I need to know and can be prepared to explain truthfully. Mr. Seaborn was playing racquetball with an unnamed guest of the club, sustained minor blah blah injuries and will be fully recovered in three-to-four days."

"That's not totally true CJ."

"Close enough for government work. Besides, that's not the funny part." She started to laugh again.

"You've always had this thing about Andi and me, haven't you?" Toby asked.

"A thing? About you and Andi?"

"Yes. A thing."

CJ stopped giggling. "Is Sam really gonna be ok?" she asked.

"Josh said he will, and you know Josh goes for the dramatic, so I'd say yeah. You've always had this thing about Andi and me, haven't you?" he repeated.

"Yeah, ok, maybe."

Silence.

"You know I have, Toby. A little...thing."

Toby smiled and wished CJ could see his face, just for the pure satisfaction of him being right and her admitting it.

"But now...not so much," she continued. "Now there's Simon and you're just...just..."

"Just what?" Toby asked. He stretched out on his couch and looked up at the ceiling fan as it slowly revolved above him.

"Just...you," she finally said quietly. "And why are you bringing this up?"

"I don't know." Toby toyed with the wedding band on his left hand. "Maybe sometimes I miss...just...you."

"That's sweet."

"I don't mean anything by it."

"Something every girl loves to hear," CJ laughed. "Still, you said it, and it's sweet that you did."

"And you DO have this thing about Andi and me, don't you?"

"It's a funny story about Andi and you, that's all! You invite Andi over hoping for a little hootchie kootchie..."

"Did you just say hootchie kootchie?" Toby asked.

"I did say hootchie kootchie. So you lure her to your home to satisfy your sexual hunger and instead, you fall asleep before you get any!" CJ snorted.

"You've got a colorful imagination, my dear, but are so mistaken. Yes, she was here, yes I fell asleep, and everything in-between is of your own assumption."

"WAS there? Is she gone?" CJ questioned.

"Why are you so curious? Wanting to come over to satisfy your own sexual hunger?" Toby's smile turned into a grin.

"Buttface."

"You've always had this thing about Andi and me and it just galls you to admit it."

"Toby," CJ said in a serious tone. "What DID happen to us?"

********

Josh walked over to the bed and looked down at Sam. He couldn't even hold his hand. One was attached to a heart monitor and the other had that damn brace on it. He didn't want to stroke his face for fear of touching a bruise or scrape. He knew there was a big bump somewhere on his head, but he couldn't remember where the doctor said it was. He put his hand on Sam's right leg, the only part of him he felt was safe from pain.

The sheet was cool. Josh wanted to feel the warmth of Sam's skin. He slid his hand under the sheet and onto Sam's bare thigh. God, how I want this morning back, he thought. Sam slept then too, but all I had to do was lick his neck and he woke up. I asked him if it was all right if I spent the day sight seeing with Scott and he said sure. He asked me if it was all right if he played racquetball with Marc. I said sure. He'd let his head fall back across my arm, closed his eyes and smiled in that sweet way only Sam has. I kissed his eyelids. I love to kiss Sam's eyelids and feel his long lashes against my lips. I made sure the alarm was set so Sam wouldn't wake up late for his game. I SENT him there. I said, "God go with you." Why did I say that? What did I know that Sam didn't? Why didn't I stop him? I could have stopped him...should have stopped him. He wouldn't have gone if I' d asked him not to.

Josh ran his hand up and down Sam's thigh, but it only made his heart hurt for him more. He felt lost without Sam. His own heart swelled at the thought that Sam may never wake up, even though the doctors assured him he would. With his hand still on Sam's leg, Josh again laid over onto Sam's chest, his head gently resting on him.

"Sam, my Angel," he whispered, "you are precious in my eyes. You fill my heart with joy...and I adore you."

Josh felt movement in his hair and realized it was Sam's fingers. He reached up and touched Sam's hand and the plastic clip that led to the heart monitor. He wrapped his hand around Sam's and raised his head to look at him. Sam's eyes were only half-open and he was groggy, but he was awake.

"Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?" Sam asked in a husky whisper.

Josh cocked his head to the side, smiled and gave a look of puzzlement.

"Your hand," Sam continued, "is under the sheet and creeping toward my naked shaft. I think you're trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson."

Josh grinned. "Hi Sugar."

"Hi Oshie."

Josh pulled his hand from under the sheet and lightly touched Sam's face, "I've missed you," he said.

"Where was I?"

"Wherever people go who try to run through a concrete wall," Josh responded.

"Is that what I did?"

"That's what you did. You don't remember?"

Sam winced. "Not so much."

"Yeah, well you ran into the wall like a cheetah and knocked yourself out."

"Where do I hurt?" asked Sam.

"You don't know?" Josh laughed.

Sam started to laugh then stopped when he realized pain shot through his whole body at the slightest movement.

"Yeah, I know now," he said. "Am I hurt bad?"

Josh leaned over so his arm rested on the pillow above Sam's head and their faces were close.

"Just a scratch," he said quietly.

He tenderly kissed Sam's forehead, careful to avoid the sutured gash. He let his lips linger there so Sam wouldn't see the tears that had again welled up in his eyes. How is it possible to care so much for another person, he wondered? Is this what they mean when they talk about that pure, all-embracing, profound love a Father feels for his child the first time he sees his baby? I feel this love for Sam naturally. I. Am. So. Blessed. Thank. You. God.

"Will you take me home now?"

"What?" Josh was jostled out of his thoughts by the sound of Sam's voice.

"Will you take me home now?" Sam repeated. "I can do THIS in our own bed."

"No baby. They wanna keep you over-night for observation. I'll stay with you."

"My head hurts. It hurts really bad Josh. And I'm thirsty. My throat's dry."

"I'll make them give you something. I don't want you to hurt. They probably should know you're awake too. If I leave the room, you promise you won't go any place?" Josh kidded.

"I promise. Just don't be gone long."

"Back in a flash." Josh glanced his lips across Sam's as he stood.

"Mr. Lyman." The Head Nurse opened the door and walked in just as Josh turned from Sam. "I have strict instructions that absolutely NO visitors be allowed in Mr. Seaborn's room at any time," she said.

"That's right," Josh replied.

"Well, there's a gentleman, and I use the term loosely, at the nurse's station insisting...no...demanding that he be allowed in to visit Mr. Seaborn. I've explained the order to him, but he won't accept that and has asked to speak with my superior. Mr. Lyman, when I'm given an order I follow it and..."

"Excuse me, excuse me," Josh tried to get a word in. "Let me go see who it is and I'll clear this up." He turned to Sam. "Back in a flash."

At the nurse's station Toby leaned over the counter and tried to read the list of telephone extensions taped to the desk. It was upside down to him so his neck was contorted as he attempted to decipher the numbers. He held the phone receiver in one hand and the other was poised over the keypad, ready to dial.

In his low monotone, Toby spoke to the young woman in pink scrubs. "Tell me the name of your supervisor Miss, or I'll call the Administrator of this hospital. The Administrator will personally come to this nurse's station and take down your name and every other nurse's name and write it on his special list and there WILL be repercussions."

"Mr. Zeigler, honest, I'm not even a nurse yet," she said with a quiver in her voice. "I can't tell anybody anything, even if I knew!"

"Seaborn. Sam Seaborn. How hard is it to look up his name and tell me what room he's in?" Toby growled.

"That's him," the Head Nurse said to Josh. "If you just say the word, I'll call security."

"No, don't do that. He can come back. Toby!"

Toby turned and hung up the phone when he saw Josh. "It's easier to get into Fort Knox than it is to get into Sam's room," he complained. "Where is he?"

"Down this way. Hold on a sec." Then to the Head Nurse, "Mr. Seaborn's been awake a few minutes and he's in a great deal of pain. Could you get him something please? A pill or a shot or something? And water. He's thirsty."

"I'll check with Dr. Adams and get right back to you," she said.

"Thanks. This way Toby."

The two men walked down the hallway but Toby grabbed Josh's arm and stopped him before they reached Sam's room.

"Josh, what medication is Sam taking?" Toby asked.

"I have no idea."

"You didn't ask?"

"No."

"WHY didn't you ask?" Toby struggled to keep his voice low.

Josh felt Toby's hand tighten around his arm and he sensed the alarm in Toby 's voice. He hadn't yet grasped the implication of Toby's question.

"I...I knew they were taking care of Sam," Josh stammered. "I knew they wouldn't do anything to cause him harm."

"Of course not, but they don't know he's struggling with a substance abuse problem Josh. "

"He was hurting! He's hurting now! They couldn't just let him lay there in pain. They had to do something. Be reasonable Toby."

Toby released his grasp on Josh. "YOU be reasonable! There are alternatives Joshua. Yes, he's in pain. No, it's not life-threatening. He can be treated with something non-addictive."

"Maybe they are," Josh reasoned, afraid to admit Sam's problem could be this serious.

"Maybe they are," Toby echoed. "Let's just hope so. AND we'll talk to the doctor when he comes in."

"We can't do that. We can't tell the doctor Sam might have a...thing. Nobody can know about that."

Toby thought a minute. "Josh, after we go in and see Sam for a little while, will you go somewhere with me, then we'll come back here?"

"Sure, I guess so. Where do you wanna go?"

Toby made direct eye contact with Josh, and when he was sure he had his full attention he said, "The morgue."

Toby's unexpected remark sliced through Josh and cut him to the quick. He was too shaken to go into Sam's room and blanched at the stark reality that Sam had an addiction problem. He was jolted by his own cavalier attitude and the way he had ignored the situation and hoped it would just go away when he really deep down inside knew it wouldn't. It made him tremble when he finally admitted to himself that his own fears caused him to pretend there wasn't a problem, and his avoidance of the truth only endangered Sam's life and could possibly kill him. He put his hand flat against the wall to steady himself.

"Joshua?" Toby said quietly.

"Huh?"

"You ok?"

"Yeah."

"Let's go see Sam," said Toby. "I'm sure he's ready for you to come back."

"No!"

"No?"

"Uh, no," Josh said in a much softer tone. "I need a couple of minutes. You go on in. He'll be glad to see you."

"What about you?" Toby asked.

"I'll be there in a minute or two. I just need...I just need...tell him I'll be right back."

Toby watched Josh turn and walk away at a quick pace. At the end of the hall Josh pushed open the door to the stairway and let the door close behind him. What Toby didn't see was Josh run up the steps two at a time as he tried to run away from the truth that he'd just now been forced to see.

The nurse passed Toby and went into Sam's room. She carried a tray with a pitcher of ice and a two plastic cups on it. He waited until she came out then he went inside and closed the door behind him. Sam heard the door shut but didn't turn his head.

"Josh? Is that you?" he asked.

"No Sam, it's just me. Sorry." Toby walked to the side of the bed and looked down at Sam.

"Hey Toby. What are you doing here? Where's Josh?" Sam's speech was slurred and he fought to keep his eyes open.

"I came to see what an extreme racquetball player looks like after he's gone beyond the extreme. Not a pretty sight, my boy, not a pretty sight at all," Toby replied.

Sam gave a little smile. "Where's Josh?"

"He went to stretch his legs. He'll be back in a few minutes."

"Did he leave?" Sam asked.

"No, Sam. He'll be right back. Don't worry."

Toby put his hand on Sam's shoulder. He had an unfamiliar urge to gather Sam in his arms and hold him, to comfort him, but he just let his hand rest on Sam's shoulder and let his urge go unfulfilled. He looked at the cuts and bruises on Sam's face and the braces on his wrist and knee.

"Looks like the wall won," he said.

"I'm thirsty."

Toby looked around and saw the tray the nurse had just brought in.

"Ice chips," he said. "She brought you ice chips to crunch on. You want some?"

Sam barely nodded his head.

Toby used one of the cups and scooped up some ice. He turned and held it out toward Sam. "Here ya go."

"I...can't..." Sam looked from one of his hands to the other so Toby would see he wasn't able to use them.

"Oh. Uh..." Toby put his other hand self-consciously to the back of his neck, unsure of exactly what was expected of him.

"Just put some in my...go get Josh."

"Yeah, ok."

Toby set the cup down and quickly left the room. He walked down the hall toward the door to the stairway Josh had disappeared into. He jerked the door opened. Please be there Josh, he thought. I don't wanna climb these stairs to find you.

Josh wasn't there.

Toby let his shoulders droop and rubbed his face with the palm of his hand. Did he go up, he thought? Or did he go down? Did he get off at a floor? Which floor? Can I just yell his name and let it echo through the stairwell? Shit. Just as he was about to take his first step up, Toby heard the sounds of someone coming down the stairs. Please be Josh, he thought. Please be Josh, please be Josh.

It was Josh.

"Sam needs you. Go to him," said Toby.

"I'm going. I need Sam too."

Toby stepped in front of Josh and stopped him.

"Did you not hear what I said?" he asked.

Josh looked at Toby, startled by his behavior.

"I heard you. 'Sam needs you. Go to him'."

"Sam needs YOU. Not 'I need Sam too'. Go take care of him. Don't think about what Josh needs right now. Think about what Sam needs. He needs YOU and he needs you with a head on your shoulders. He asked for you. More than once. Go to him." Toby stepped aside.

Josh nodded and started down the hall toward Sam's room. He quickened his pace and pushed open the door.

"Sam, I'm here..."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 42

"Sam, I'm here..."

Josh went to Sam's bedside and looked down at him. Sam's eyes were closed. He opened them at the sound of Josh's voice.

"I'm here baby," Josh repeated.

"I'm thirsty."

"Dammit! I TOLD the nurse to get you some water!" Josh turned to leave.

"Josh! No!" Sam's voice was so gravely he could barely speak. "Ice. On the tray."

Josh stopped and looked at the roll-away tray near the foot of the bed. He saw the pitcher and the cup of ice.

"Oh yeah, ok. Ice chips. I remember ice chips."

He poured the nearly melted ice down the sink and re-filled the cup with fresh chips and went to Sam. He propped his left forearm on the pillow above Sam's head and held the cup in his left hand. With his right hand he picked out a few pieces of ice. He leaned his face close to Sam's.

"Ok Angel, I'm gonna take care of you now," he said.

Oh-so-gently, Josh rubbed a piece of ice on Sam's dry lips. Sam let his mouth open just a little as Josh's cool, wet fingers touched him. It felt good to Sam, not just the moisture, but also Josh's fingers as they soothed him.

As the ice melted, Josh brought more. He slid two fingers inside Sam's lips and rubbed the cold chips against his gums.

"Swallow this as it melts," he said softly, "and it will take away your thirst. When this is gone I'll give you more."

Sam closed his lips around Josh's fingers as Josh massaged his gums with the ice. As it turned to water, Sam swallowed and with Josh's tender care, Sam' s thirst was sated. He looked up at Josh and the two locked eyes. Barely a movement at all, Sam started to suck on Josh's fingers.

Josh smiled at Sam. For a moment he wasn't sure if Sam reminded him more of a sweet, innocent kitten as he suckled, or if he was being aroused by the sensation of his lover, as he took Josh inside his mouth and fondled him with his lips and tongue.

"Feel better?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded his head just a little and Josh slid his fingers out of Sam's mouth.

"Yeah," Sam replied quietly. "You always make me feel better. Thanks for being here."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else. You know that."

Josh put some ice chips in his own mouth and put his lips on Sam's. As Sam' s lips parted, Josh passed the ice to him with his tongue, and the two fell into a kiss.

Toby stood just inside the room and leaned against the door so no one could open it from the outside. His arms were crossed in front of him as he watched Josh minister to Sam.

Josh pulled back from the kiss but stayed close to Sam's face.

"Did they give you something so you wouldn't hurt so much?" he asked.

"I think so," Sam muttered. He was still groggy, or groggy again...Josh couldn't tell.

"Do you know what it was?"

Sam closed his eyes.

"Sammy?"

No response.

"Sam?"

Sam opened one eye half-way. "I'm here."

Josh gently brushed Sam's hair off his forehead, careful not to touch the cut.

"Are you getting sleepy?" he asked.

"No," Sam barely got out.

"I think you are baby." Josh kissed Sam's forehead. "You got some stitches up here."

"Ok."

"Does it hurt?"

"No."

"Does your knee hurt?"

Silence.

"Sam, does your knee hurt?" Josh repeated.

"Is my knee hurt?" Sam whispered.

"I think we've about lost him," Toby said as he walked over to the bed. "Whatever they gave him has kicked in and he's just about gone."

Josh straightened up. "Yep. I wasn't ready for him to go away just yet. I wanted to talk with him a while."

"He's probably better asleep Josh. You're not really gonna stay here all night, are you?"

"Of course I am," Josh said adamantly. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, to be honest, he's not hurt all that bad. I just don't think an all-night vigil is necessary, if you ask me," Toby replied.

"Well I didn't ask you and yes, I'm gonna stay."

"You DID ask me, and stay already."

"I am," Josh stated.

"Ok," said Toby.

"Ok."

"Do you want me to stay with you?"

"Maybe for a little while," Josh replied, "if you don't have anything else to do."

"Many, many things but nothing so important as...maybe for a little while."

The two men stood at Sam's bedside as he slept. He looked peaceful and free of pain. Again, that longing welled up in Toby that he couldn't identify or explain away. Though still unfamiliar, this time he was more comfortable with it and he didn't draw back at the idea.

He purposely didn't look at Josh. Not that he was afraid Josh would sense his deep emotions toward Sam at that moment, but that he, himself, would precipitate images in his mind that he didn't want to be there. He knew those things existed and that they weren't just images, it was an absolute with Sam and Josh, and no matter what feelings Toby had during these random moments of ~~ whatever ~~ that wasn't going to change.

"Wanna sit down?" Josh asked.

"Sure. I'm gonna uh..." Toby jerked his thumb over his shoulder," get some coffee. You want some?"

"Yeah, ok. Lots of sugar."

Toby left for the cafeteria and Josh pulled out his cell phone. He needed to call Scott and let him know he wouldn't be home that night.

He dug through his jeans pocket until he found the small, folded piece of paper with Scott's cell phone number on it. He opened it and saw below the number Scott had written: "Remember how good it was..."

Josh stared at the words. He couldn't believe what he read. He had opened the piece of paper and expected to see a phone number and instead he saw: "Remember how good it was".

He dialed the number.

"Scott."

"Scott, Josh."

"Hey, how's Sam?"

"He'll be ok. Some cuts and bruises, he tore a tendon in his knee, a sprained wrist. He'll be here overnight, but he's ok," Josh explained.

"Ow. The tendon thing sounds painful, but it could have been a lot worse. I was afraid it would be a spinal injury or something really serious," Scott replied.

"Yeah, hey Scott." The words tumbled out before Josh knew what he wanted to say.

"What is it?"

"Uh...uh, Scott...on this paper...with your phone number..."

"Yeah?"

"You...uh...you wrote something else. Do you know what I mean?" Josh still didn 't know what he would say next.

"Sure. I wrote 'Remember how good it was'. Is that what you're talking about?" Scott asked.

"That's it."

"What about it?" Scott was very unconcerned with what he'd written, totally different from Josh's reaction.

"What about it?" Josh's voice began to get high. "Scott, you can't just WRITE something like that and hand it to me!"

"Would you rather I have said it over dinner in front of Sam?"

Josh instinctively looked at Sam at the sound of his name.

"I'd rather those words didn't exist at all! Scott, we've gotta talk about this, soon. You've got it all wrong, man."

"Got what all wrong?" Scott asked. His voice remained calm and steady.

Josh opened his mouth but nothing came out. He knew what he thought and he knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn't form the words and make them real. The idea was so unfathomable that his vocal cords were paralyzed.

"Josh? You there?"

"Yeah." Josh's voice had returned to normal. He ran his hand through his hair then to the back of neck and began to rub it. "Hey Scott, we've really gotta talk. But not on the phone."

"Come on home...I'm here...and we'll talk," responded Scott.

A chill ran down Josh's spine. *Home*. Nobody called the townhouse *home* except he and Sam. It repelled him that Scott used it so casually as if he was somehow a part of it.

"I won't be...home...until Sam's discharged. We'll talk after that," he said. Josh's eyes stayed riveted on Sam.

"That's cool. I'll take care of things here until you get home. A day or two, right?"

"Right."

"Fine," Scott replied.

"Ok, well make yourself comfortable and I'll let you know how things go here," Josh answered.

"Let me know if I can do anything. Good-bye Josh."

"Bye Scott."

"Wait, Josh!"

"Yeah?"

"You DO remember how good it was, don't you?"

********

Josh remembered.....

********

Toby and Josh drank coffee and talked little. Mostly they just sat and watched Sam sleep. The nurse came and went and took his vitals...Toby and Josh drank their coffee and looked on.

Neither wanted to broach what both were thinking. Had Sam taken something before he went onto that racquetball court? Sure, Sam had his moments of being less-than-graceful...he tripped over wastebaskets occasionally, he fell off a boat, dropped stacks of files just outside the President's door. Hell, even Josh had gone to sit in his own chair and landed on the floor instead. Nobody's perfect *all* the time, not even Sam.

Josh smiled at the thought. Well, to ME he's perfect, even when he DOES roll off the bed in the middle of the night.

So it was out of character for him to run into a concrete wall at full speed. He bragged that it was *extreme* racquetball, no doubt about that, still, something just didn't feel right about this accident. Sam was a gazelle on the court ~~ racquetball, handball or tennis. He'd played them all since he was a boy and during high school, had even considered the possibility of going pro. His coach told him he could be a star. His coach told him he could have it if he really wanted it, could have gone to the top, and Sam might have gone to the top, gone pro, if he'd only...why hadn't Sam gone pro? Josh thought.

He looked at Toby. Toby drained his coffee cup, scrunched it into a ball and threw it across the room and into the trashcan. He returned Josh's look.

"What?" Josh stated.

"You can't do that," replied Toby.

Josh finished his coffee, wadded up his paper cup and made the shot with ease. He turned back to Toby and smirked.

"Do it again," Toby said.

Josh twisted in his chair and found a sheet of paper with the next day's menu on it lying on the windowsill behind him. He locked eyes with Toby and kept his smirk while his hands carefully formed a paper ball. Then he took aim and lobbed it in. Another smirk.

"Two points," he said.

Toby looked on the windowsill but it was clear. Nothing else to play with. Game over. Josh won.

"I won," Josh declared.

Toby stood and stretched. Something cracked somewhere and Toby rubbed his shoulder.

"I'll be back. Gonna get some more coffee. You want..."

"Yeah. Turn the light out, ok?"

Toby flicked the switch as he left the room. The door closed behind him.

Josh went to Sam's bedside. Only the monitors connected to him provided any light or offered any sound. Josh stared at Sam's steady heartbeat on the screen, then suddenly spooked that his intense concentration would cause the blip to spike or flatline, he jerked his head away and focused on Sam's face.

Josh dipped his forefinger into a cup of melted ice, now just cool water. He lightly put his finger to Sam's lips and wet them. His mouth was open just a little, and Josh welcomed the feel of Sam's breath against his skin. He leaned over and kissed Sam's cheek.

"Where are you tonight Angel?" he asked softly. "Why...tell me why in God's name did you slam into that wall today?"

You just wouldn't do that! Josh thought. Your coach said you could have been a star. Your coach said you could have had it if you really wanted it, could have gone to the top, and you might have gone to the top, gone pro, if only...if only what? Why didn't you go pro, Sam? What happened today? Your coach said you could be a star. Where are you tonight, MySam? You could be a star...

********

"You could be a star Seabreeze!" she yelled across the court. "All you have to do is..."

"I know, I know! All I have to do is listen to you and do everything you say!"

Sam trotted toward the net where his coach stood. Sixteen years old, he looked like a young colt. His long, lean legs were chestnut brown from the Southern California sun and his thick hair trailed him like a mane as he glided over the net and landed next to her with a grin. White shorts, white shirt, white tennis shoes, white socks and white teeth in that smile...the immaculate virgin boy had arrived.

He twirled his tennis racquet in the palm of his hand, flipped it into the air, spun around and caught it, flipped it again and this time, captured it behind his back without taking his eyes off the woman he wanted so much to please.

"You're a showboat Sam," she laughed, "and you could be a star!"

"I already AM a star," he said with a mixture of innocence and bravado. "What else is there?"

She put her hand on the side of Sam's face and left it there.

"Sammy, Sammy Seabreeze. My sweet boy, you have no idea."

His smile slowly dissolved and for a second, he cocked his head, furrowed his brow and thought about her words. Then his eyes twinkled, that smile broke out again and Sam laughed out loud.

"No ma'am, I don't. But if it can get any better than this, I'm gonna find it and I'm gonna keep it."

She patted his cheek then took her hand away. "I don't doubt that for a second. One of these days you'll find it at Wimbledon and that will be yours forever. All you have to do is...

"...listen to me and do everything I say," they finished in unison.

"And don't you forget it! First thing we're gonna do is increase your practice time," she said, all business now. "Starting tomorrow. Six a.m."

"Tomorrow? Tomorrow's Sunday!" Sam objected. "I can't tomorrow."

"Why?"

"I'm going sailing. My brother might come and I CAN'T miss Jack."

"Do you plan to sail your way to Wimbledon?"

"No, but..."

"No buts. Do you want to be sailor or do you want to be a star, Sam?"

"A star?"

"Are you asking me?"

Sam opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then said emphatically, "No ma'am. I'm telling you. I wanna be a star."

She winked at him.

"That's my boy. You know what to do."

***

Five o'clock Sunday morning came early for Sam. He'd already hit the snooze button on his alarm clock twice, and if he did it one more time, he'd be late. He switched the alarm to "off" and pulled himself up to a sitting position in the middle of his bed.

"Good morning," he mumbled.

Buck's ears perked up and he raised his head at the sound of his master's voice.

"Coulda gone sailing today but noooooo, Coach says I've gotta practice more if I'm gonna be a star."

Buck responded with a short bark.

"Qui-eeet," Sam whispered as he wrapped his hand around his dog's snout. "You wanna get me in trouble?"

Buck's next bark was muffled and Sam laughed. He threw back the bedspread, wrapped his arms around the brown dog, and the two playfully wrestled until they both fell off the bed.

Sam laid on the floor in just his white underpants as Buck planted a paw in the middle of Sam's chest and licked at his face.

"No! No! Mad dog! Mad dog! Somebody help me!" he giggled quietly as the game continued. "Mad dog!"

Then he wrapped both his arms around Buck and gently wrestled him to the floor, where boy and dog snuggled together for a few more minutes of closeness on this early morning.

The sound of his bedroom being opened brought Sam's head up off the floor.

"What are you doing?"

Sam froze and clutched his dog's fur in his hand.

"Nothing," he answered.

"What are you up to?" his Father questioned again.

"Nothing."

Daniel Seaborn walked into Sam's bedroom and stood over him. Neither boy nor dog moved.

"Don't lie to me, Sam. I know when things aren't right in this house. I suggest you tell me now."

Sam swallowed hard.

"It's only tennis practice. I need to be there at six," he finally said.

"Tennis practice? Since when did you start tennis practice on Sunday mornings?"

"Today."

"This family goes to church on Sunday morning. Not to the tennis courts. And don't you know your brother's coming?"

"Yes sir."

"Aren't you two going sailing?" his Father continued.

"My Coach said..."

"I asked you a question, Sam. Aren't you and Jack going sailing?"

Sam wanted to look away when he answered his Father, but Daniel Seaborn stared directly into Sam's eyes and took him hostage. Sam could only blink.

"No...no...no sir."

"You changed the plans? Talk to me. And don't stutter."

Sam swallowed again and clenched his jaw, his eyes still riveted on his Father's. He spoke slowly.

"My tennis coach said...she said if I wanna be a professional..."

"Want. To. Be. Not wanna be. Speak like you've seen the inside of a school."

"My tennis coach said...if I want to be a professional player...I need to increase my practice time. She said...she said I need to add Sundays to my schedule and we start this...we start this morning at six. At six o'clock. This morning."

"A professional tennis player? Is that what you said?"

"Yes sir."

Daniel Seaborn gave a little chuckle.

"When did all this happen?"

"Sir?"

"When did you decide you wanted to become a tennis pro?" Sam's Father asked.

"I'm good," Sam answered.

"Answer the question."

"May I stand up please?"

Daniel didn't respond for a full minute, then, "Get off the floor."

Sam quickly rose and stood in front of his Father, already dressed for church except for his jacket. Sam felt small and insignificant next to him, almost naked in just his underwear.

"It's something I've thought about for a...wh...while," Sam started, "and my coach says I'm good enough to turn pr...pr...pro, but I'll need the extra practice."

His Father seemed amused. "Sam, I know you like to play tennis and I know you think you're good, but these lessons are just for fun. You don't seriously believe you have the potential to become a tennis pro, do you?"

"Yes sir."

Daniel Seaborn chuckled again.

"Are you really serious?"

"Yes sir."

His Father casually walked over to Sam's chest of drawers and opened the top drawer. He rifled through Sam's clothes then pushed it shut. He opened the second drawer and did the same thing.

"No," Daniel Seaborn eventually said.

"What?"

"No."

Tears stung Sam's eyes. That was the last thing he wanted ~~ for his Father to see him cry.

"Why?" he implored.

"Everyone in this house goes to church on Sunday morning."

"What if I get her to ch...change the time? Can I, may I practice in the afternoon? On Sunday afternoons?"

Daniel started toward the door.

"Jack's coming today to go sailing with you. You're not going to play tennis while your brother's here."

"But he doesn't come every Sunday! Wait!"

Daniel turned and again caught Sam's eye.

"May I..."

"It's settled Sam. You're not going to tennis practice on Sundays. Mornings, afternoons, whether Jack is here or not."

"But why?"

"Don't whine, goddammit!"

Sam looked down. Buck lay at his feet.

"In fact, if you're so good, maybe you don't need lessons anymore."

Sam went silent. In the distance was the sound of the surf as the morning tide pounded the beach. Buck panted a couple of times then licked his chops and rested his head on Sam's bare foot.

"I'm not that good."

"What?" his Father asked.

"I'm not that good."

"Raise your head when you speak to me."

Sam looked up but he didn't make eye contact with his Father.

"Now," Daniel asked, "what did you say?"

"I said, I'm not that good. I need lessons. I want...I'd like to keep going to my tennis lessons."

"Maybe you need a different coach. I'm not sure this woman has your best interests at heart."

"No! Please Da...Dad, I need...I want...I'd like to keep her as my coach. Please..."

"Sam!"

Sam was startled as his Father's voice cut him off in mid-sentence.

"Don't ever...ever...let me hear you beg for anything again in your life. Not from me, not from anybody. Do you hear me?"

"Yes sir."

"Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir."

"I. Will. Not. Have it. What's so special about this coach?"

"Tennis," Sam said, surprised by the question. "She's the best tennis coach on the West Coast. You sought her out to coach me, remember?"

Daniel Seaborn stood silent at Sam's bedroom door, his hand on the knob.

"You know what time we leave for church."

***

Sam took a cold shower, then put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, socks and running shoes. He patted the side of his leg.

"Come on Buck, let's go!"

He went downstairs and into the kitchen. Miss Glory stood at the sink making a fruit salad. Sam leaned over and Buck looked up at him. He put his finger to his lips.

"Shhhhh," he whispered to his dog.

Sam quietly snuck up behind the woman he adored and put his hands over her eyes. She jumped when she felt him, then relaxed when she recognized Sam's soft hands.

"Good morning, my dear. Did we have a restful sleep? Guess who!" Sam said in one of his many voice impersonations.

"Oh, Mr. Cary Grant! Right here in my kitchen!"

Sam grinned and let his hands drop as Miss Glory turned around.

"You always know it's me," he laughed.

"My Precious, Mr. Cary Grant would give his eye teeth to be as young and pretty as you," she said as she wiped a dab of toothpaste off his lip.

"Awww, I'll bet you say that to all the boys," Sam said with feigned bashfulness. He dipped his head and looked up at her through his eyelashes.

"My Precious. You sit down and let Miss Glory fix you some breakfast. Sit down now." She started to shepherd him toward the kitchen table.

"No ma'am, thank you," he said, "I'm gonna run...going...to run this morning. I 'll eat when I get back, ok?"

"Ok, just so long as you don't go to church hungry. Wouldn't do to send My Precious off hungry."

Sam kissed his nanny on the cheek.

"I won't go hungry Miss Glory. You'll see to that."

She pointed her finger at Sam and in a serious voice said, "You run careful."

"Yes ma'am."

"Watch out for cars."

"Yes ma'am."

"And keep Duke on a leash at ALL times."

Sam smiled. "His name is Buck and yes ma'am, I will."

"Alrighty, then you can go."

"Yes ma'am."

"And child, you know what time church starts so you be back here in plenty of..."

"Yes ma'am." Sam laughed, snapped Buck's leash onto his collar and headed out the back door.

He started across the yard in a jog, went down the trail, past the tree fort and came out onto the sandy beach that framed the Pacific Ocean.

"Ready to run Buck?" he asked when he reached the wet, hard-packed sand near the water's edge.

Buck looked up at Sam eagerly, tail wagging with anticipation.

"Let's go!"

Sam shot off like a bullet, with his dog beside him, and began their run up the beach.

Chapter 43

Josh pushed the door to their townhouse open and stepped aside. He put his hand on Sam's elbow to guide him in.

"Watch out for your knee," he cautioned. "Careful, don't hit your wrist."

"Josh, I've walked through doorways before," Sam laughed. "I can do this."

"Use your crutches. Will you use your crutches?"

Josh ignored Sam and admonished him because he chose to carry his hospital issued crutches instead of using them the way they were intended.

"I don't need them. I'm fine!" Sam insisted.

Josh ushered Sam inside and closed the door behind them. It was good to be home. Away from the sterile antiseptic smell of the hospital. Away from the unfamiliar sounds in the night that kept Josh awake, even though he couldn't sleep anyway. Away from the untimely intrusions of the nurses as he tried to steal a kiss from Sam when he was confined to his bed.

He hoped Scott wasn't there. He wanted to be alone with Sam. Toby had offered to come along when Josh brought him home, but Josh said no, thank you, just Sam and me.

"Scott! Anybody here?" Josh called out after he closed the door. "Scott?"

No answer.

Josh grinned at Sam. "We're alone," he growled. "You know what that means."

"What does *that* mean?" Sam teased.

He'd been just as miserable as Josh with their physical separation over the past two days. It was rare for them to go so long without full body contact and both longed for it.

"That means I've got you all to myself, my little boychik. Come over to the couch."

Sam started to follow Josh across the room.

"Use your crutches! Will you *please* use your crutches?" Josh pleaded with Sam.

Sam just laughed and eased himself onto the couch. He started to prop his right leg up on the coffee table. Josh was immediately at his side.

"Wait, wait, wait," he said. "Let me fix things up for you."

Josh fluffed a pillow and put it on the coffee table. Very gently he picked up Sam's leg and lowered it on to the pillow.

"Does that hurt?" he asked. Josh let his hand rest on Sam's knee brace.

"No, it's fine. Honest," Sam insisted. He settled back against the couch and smiled up at Josh.

Josh pushed Sam's hair back off his forehead. "My Angel," he said. "I love you so much."

Josh swung his leg over Sam's so that he stood in front of him, his legs on either side of Sam's. He leaned forward and put his hands on the back of the couch, one on each side of Sam's head. Josh put his knee on the couch, then bent down and kissed Sam.

He kissed him gently and tenderly at first. Almost immediately Josh felt himself get hard, and he began to kiss Sam with more passion. His fervor pushed Sam's head against the back of the couch.

Sam let out a little moan when he felt Josh push him deeper into the cushion and hold him there. He let his lips fall open to Josh's tongue as it thrust into Sam's mouth and hungrily sought its prey. Sam put his left arm around Josh's back and pulled him closer.

Josh ran his hand through Sam's hair and felt the bump on his head. It was then he remembered he'd just brought Sam home from the hospital so he pulled back and took his weight off him.

"I need to get you in bed," Josh murmured.

"No problem," Sam replied softly. "I'm easy."

"You're also hurt. I'm putting you to bed. But first, I'm gonna change the sheets so you'll have a fresh bed to crawl into."

"Aww, that's sweet. You don't have to do that for me Osh."

Josh put his hand under Sam's chin. "I do it because I want to, because I love you."

"Ok. Uh, do you know where the clean sheets are?"

Josh chucked Sam's chin. "Funny boy. I'll be back in five minutes. Which sheets do you want?"

Sam took Josh's hand in his. "Whatever you choose will be fine. I promise."

Josh gave Sam a quick kiss. "Ok, you stay here."

"I'll stay here."

"Don't move.

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"Ok."

"Ok."

Josh kissed Sam again and unstraddled him. He started toward the stairs.

"Josh?"

He turned without missing a beat and returned to Sam. "At your service."

"Would you get me some water before you go up?" Sam asked.

"Orange juice?"

"Water's fine."

"A Coke?"

"Just water."

"Diet Coke?"

"Water."

"Iced tea? Lemonade?"

"Josh! All I want is water!"

A bottle of Evian later Josh was upstairs and Sam sat alone in the living room. He winced at the pain in his knee and wrist and dug in his pocket for his prescribed medication.

He read the label: Vicodin, 1-2 Tablets every 6 hours for pain. WARNING: Will cause drowsiness and fatigue. Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, sedatives and tranquillizers if you are taking this medication. This medication is habit forming and should only be used under a doctor's supervision. Take each dose with a full glass of water.

One-two tablets every 6 hours for pain. Sam's knee and wrist were really hurting, but more than that, he had a headache. A motherfucker of a headache. Josh wanted to make love to him. He wanted to make love to Josh. A headache would only get in the way. No way was Sam gonna say, "I have a headache."

He popped two into his mouth and swallowed them with a big gulp of water. The jerk of his neck sent a sharp pain searing through his skull. He palmed another and looked at it. He wanted to be sure the headache went away. He took a third Vicodin.

Sam laid his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. It was good to be home.

********

Josh threw back the thick comforter on the bed then tugged at the sheets to free them from the mattress. He crawled across the huge bed to untuck the fitted sheet from the corners and tossed it all in a pile on the floor. He went to the linen closet and chose a set of moss green 400 thread count percale sheets that Sam said brought out the best in Josh's eyes.

"You have a tiny fleck of gold in your eyes," he told Josh one night after they made love by candlelight. "When the glow from the flame reflects off this mossy green pillowcase, your eyes. . .I fall into your eyes, Joshua, and they capture my heart." He ran his thumb over Josh's eyebrow. "That golden fleck has mesmerized me and I can't look away. . .don't wanna look away. Don't ever close your eyes to me, Josh."

Josh had looked in the mirror and tried to see the fleck that so enthralled Sam, but he could never find it. He wondered what it was Sam saw that he didn't, then decided maybe it was just the passion in his lover's own eyes that enabled him to see things with more beauty than was really there. Josh had smiled and remembered that's why he adored Sam.

Whatever it was about those sheets that aroused Sam, Josh wanted them on the bed this afternoon. He sat on the bare mattress, pulled off his shoes and socks and ran his hand through his hair. He needed a minute to collect himself. It had been an emotional couple of days. He'd spent most of Saturday sightseeing with Scott then gone straight to the Emergency Room and spent the whole evening at the hospital, all night, and well into the next day.

He'd tried to sleep in Sam's room but couldn't. After Toby left around midnight he closed the door and opened the recliner into a fold-out bed. The nurses brought him a couple of sheets, a blanket and a pillow and asked if he needed anything else. He'd asked for a washcloth, towel, toothbrush and toothpaste. They were happy to oblige.

Alone, finally, just him and Sam in the dim room, Josh had stripped down to his underwear. He went to the sink and played with the faucets until he had a cool stream of water flowing. He knew what he wanted, and it wasn't hot, it wasn't cold, it wasn't warm. It was cool. What Josh REALLY wanted was anything to keep his mind off his heart and soul laying still and quiet in the hospital bed bloody, bruised and broken.

Josh lathered soap into the washcloth and scrubbed the city's grime off his face, behind his ears and from the back of his neck. He bent his head forward and massaged his tight neck muscles. "Note to self," he thought, "Ask Sam for a neck massage." Then "Dammit! He's got a wrist brace on."

Josh wasn't accustomed to Sam being restricted. He believed there was nothing Sam couldn't do. Of course, Josh thought it was all hot air when Sam said the same thing about him.

He glanced at Sam. He hadn't moved.

Josh ran the soapy washcloth up and down his arms, legs and feet then rinsed. The cool water felt good. He brushed his teeth, gargled with mouthwash, then ran a comb through his hair. It wasn't much, but he felt refreshed, in a primitive sort of way.

He looked at Sam again. He knew Sam would want to feel the same way. Clean. And for his own purposes, Josh wanted to touch the man he loved. So far his only physical contact had been light, guarded taps mostly just to prove to himself Sam was alive. He wanted to really touch him. To stroke and caress him. For his body to let Sam's body know he wasn't alone.

Josh got a clean washcloth, wet and soaped it and went to Sam's bedside.

"This may been a little cool," he said quietly to Sam. "So don't be startled when I touch you. I'm gonna clean you up a little, ok?"

There was no response.

"Ok Sam?"

No response.

"Well ok, we'll just do it."

Josh lifted Sam's left arm and very gently, washed it with the cool, soapy water. He began at his shoulder and with slow, long strokes ran the cloth to Sam's fingertips, careful to avoid the IV. He diligently washed between each finger ~~ Josh didn't want to let go of Sam's hand. He brought Sam's ring finger to his lips and held it there.

He did what he could on Sam's right arm; he could only go so far as the brace then he had to stop. And just the tips of Sam's fingers were exposed, so Josh very gingerly washed each one.

Josh rinsed Sam's arms, re-soaped, pulled the sheet down to Sam's waist and washed his chest and abdomen. Josh loved Sam's chest. "Wonder how many times I've fallen asleep with my head on that chest?" he thought. "A thousand? A million? A ga-zillion?" He smiled. "Not enough."

He rubbed little circles. He hoped Sam felt it and in some small way, it comforted him. Josh held the washcloth in the stream of cool water until it ran clear, then he rinsed Sam. He laid his head on his chest very gently and pretended, just for a minute, that Sam wasn't in a hospital bed, that they were home in their own bed, and Sam was just in a natural sleep and tonight was no different than any other time.

He closed his eyes and felt Sam's chest rise and fall. He thought he would fall asleep there when suddenly the blood pressure cuff automatically came on and began to inflate on Sam's arm and ballooned against Josh so he had to move. One twenty over eighty. A perfect reading. Perfect Sam.

Josh got the washcloth soapy again to wash Sam's face. He looked at it a long minute before he actually touched him. There were scrapes and bruises and he was afraid anywhere he put the cloth would cause Sam more pain. But he also knew Sam would want the specks of dried blood and antiseptic stains washed away. As gently as he could, Josh dabbed at Sam's face, then rubbed a little harder when he saw things weren't that bad. He washed Sam's face and neck and ears and lips, then rinsed him until his cheeks shone in the dim light of the heart monitor. Josh wet his own hands and ran them through Sam's hair a couple of times so it was back off his face. He lightly rubbed a couple of ice chips on Sam's lips to moisturize them, then kissed him. He was surprised when Sam returned the kiss.

"You're awake?" Josh asked when they finally drew apart.

"I'm not sure," Sam replied. "I was sort of waking up and there was this angel giving me a bath, so I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven. Then the angel kissed me and I was SURE I was in Heaven. I'm afraid to open my eyes because if I do, the angel might not be there."

"Why don't you give it a try," Josh said, with a smile in his voice.

Sam opened his eyes and looked into Josh's. He grinned.

"Yep, I'm in Heaven. And the angel is still here."

Josh kissed Sam again and Sam returned his love.

"Is it time to go home?" he asked.

"Darlin', it's two-thirty in the morning. The doctor won't be here for several more hours and then he'll check you out and decide if you get discharged or not. If he says yes, I'll take you home."

"I hate being hooked up to these things and confined to bed. I'm restless." Sam's voice was still groggy.

Josh dabbed at Sam's face with the cool cloth again.

"That feels good," Sam murmured. He closed his yes. "I thought you were an angel."

"Do you want me to wash your legs Sam?" asked Josh. "I've done your face, arms and chest. I can do your legs and feet if you want."

"That'd be really nice. You don't mind?"

"Anything for MySam."

Josh went back to the sink and opened the cabinet next to it. Inside was a plastic tub just for this sort of thing. He filled it with water, a little warmer than before, got the soap and washcloth, and carried it to Sam's bedside. He put the tub on the cart.

"I'm gonna do the right leg first," he said. "That knee brace intimidates me."

He lifted the sheet and folded it over onto Sam's left leg, exposing the right side of his body. He knew every centimeter of that leg, every peak and valley of his muscle definition, the scratch on his shin he got yesterday when he tripped over the open dresser drawer, the contour of his calf muscles and the dimple in his knee. Sam was ticklish behind his knees, and it was also a spot of erotica when Josh licked and sucked that tender hidden spot during their love- making.

Josh wanted to be that close to Sam now, to touch him in a way no one else did, to bring him to the point only Josh could find where Sam cried out in pleasure and begged for more.

"But here? Do I dare give him a hand job in his hospital bed?" Josh asked himself. "What if somebody comes in? Better not."

Josh began to wash Sam's leg with long strokes from his hip to his ankle and back up. . .the top, the outside, the inside of his thigh. Sam's penis quivered when Josh touched it.

Josh dipped the washcloth in the water, rung it out and re-lathered it with soap. He lifted Sam's foot off the bed just a little and washed it, top and bottom.

"You have beautiful feet Sam," Josh said.

"I know. All the Seaborns were blessed with good feet."

Josh raised his foot higher. "Just look at this thing. It's long and lean and all your toes are proportioned just right, none of them are gnarly or deformed. And Donna would kill for your toenails."

"Anybody can get a pedicure," Sam replied.

"I'll bet you had cute little baby feet."

"Hey!"

"Cute little pudgy baby feet toddling around on the sandy beach."

"Josh! No more about my baby feet, ok? Are you gonna give me a hand job or what?"

Josh laughed. "No I'm not gonna give you a hand job! I can't believe you even thought of that!"

"Please Oshie?" Sam turned on his I-can-get-anything-I-want-with-this- voice.

"No. What if somebody walks in? A nurse. An orderly. We can't take that chance Sam. Believe me, if I could I'd crawl right up in the bed with you. We just can't."

Josh covered Sam's right leg and very gently washed his left leg, careful not to hit the brace protecting his knee. When Sam's legs and feet were washed and rinsed, Josh poured the water down the sink and got a fresh tub of warm water and brought it back to Sam's bedside.

"Josh?"

"What is it Angel?"

"Please. . .?"

Josh looked at Sam. There was no way he could resist that face, that voice, that body.

"Ok sweetheart," he said. "If we're getting busted, we're going out in a blaze of glory together. You watch the door."

Josh stood with his back to the door and pulled the sheet down to Sam's mid-thigh. His penis was already getting hard at the idea of Josh's hand soon to be around it, and the added danger of possibly getting caught only made what they were about to do more forbidden and exciting.

Josh glanced over his shoulder then laid the warm, moist washcloth over Sam's partially erect penis.

"Mmmmmmm," escaped from Sam's lips. He reached out and put his hand on Josh's forearm.

All business at first, Josh tenderly washed Sam's penis and scrotum, gently juggling Sam's balls in the palm of his hand. Sam grew hard at Josh's touch and Josh felt himself strain against his pants.

"Feel good?" Josh whispered.

"You know it does."

Josh rinsed Sam's penis with clear, warm water and set the tub on the floor out of the way. With a small towel, he gently stroked Sam until he was dry. Sam's erection was full and hard and it pleased Josh to know he excited his lover so easily. Josh squirted lotion into his palm and rubbed his hands together to get it warm. Then he wrapped both hands around Sam's dick and began to massage him.

"Oh God, just fuck me now," Sam moaned.

Josh laughed. "I'm not gonna fuck you Angel. Just a quick hand job before somebody comes in here and catches us, so you can't hold back."

"I couldn't hold back even if I wanted to, not with your hands. Get in the bed with me Oshie."

"I can't baby. Didn't you hear a word I just said?"

Sam responded with a groan of pleasure.

"You like that?" Josh asked quietly.

"Uh huh," Sam muttered.

"Tell me."

"I like that."

"Tell me what you like," Josh prodded.

"I like your warm hands around my dick. Make love to me Josh."

"I *am* making love to you, baby."

"Go faster," Sam urged.

Josh slid his hands up and down Sam's cock, the lotion smooth and warm. He pumped Sam almost to the point of coming, then slowed down to a lazy knead that brought him back from the edge and let him catch his breath. Josh knew Sam loved this cat and mouse game, and at another time and in another place, he would play it to the extreme and drive Sam into a frenzy until he could contain himself no longer and erupt in a spasmodic fit of pure sexual pleasure.

But here, in this hospital room at two-thirty in the morning with the possibility of someone walking in on them, Josh had to use some restraint and bring Sam to a quick and relatively calm orgasm.

So he did, and it made them feel equally good. . .and close. . .and that's something Josh missed as he'd watched Sam drift in and out of sleep for the past however many hours it had been.

Josh washed the sticky cum off his hands and some that had dripped onto Sam's stomach, then he pulled the sheet back up and tucked it under Sam's chin. He put his hand on the bed's side rail for balance, propped his forearm on the pillow above Sam's head and leaned close to his face.

Sam smiled at him. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"Thank YOU," Josh answered. "It was all my pleasure."

"Maybe not all. Come on, get in bed with me Josh."

"You know I can't do that sweetheart. I would if I could, but. . ."

"I know. It's just wishful thinking. Why aren't you asleep Josh?" Sam asked.

"I'd rather watch you sleep."

"No really, what aren't you asleep?"

"I tried, but I couldn't. I opened up the bed and laid down, but it just didn't feel right without you." Josh kissed Sam's forehead. "I went to the middle and you were supposed to be there but you weren't and I didn't like it. I tossed and turned then just when I thought I might actually fall asleep, I'd reach out for you and just find nothing."

Sam was quiet.

"Sammy?" Josh said softly to break the silence.

"I love you Josh."

"Hold on baby, don't go anywhere."

Josh pulled the sheet off the recliner and dragged the visitor's chair to the side of Sam's bed and sat down. He laid his left arm across Sam at the waist and wrapped the sheet around himself to make a tent. He laced the fingers of his right hand with Sam's left hand and tucked their arms at Sam's side. He kissed Sam on the lips then he laid over so his head rested on Sam's shoulder. Now he felt like he could sleep.

"Good-night Angel."

"Good-night Oshie."

And they both slept.

********

Josh smiled as he sat on the side of their bed and thought about those early morning hours because the next thing he remembered, Dr. Adams gave Sam a clean bill of health and told him he could go home. He handed Sam a bottle of pain pills and a written prescription and gave them both instructions on Sam's care over the next few weeks.

"And now he needs to rest," Josh thought, "so I've gotta get up off my butt and make this bed."

Josh grabbed one of the pillows and shook it free from the pillowcase and put on a fresh, moss green one. He reached for a second pillow. Then another, then. . .

"What the hell?" he said out loud.

He picked up the purple velvet bag that had been underneath the pillow. Josh was stunned. He hadn't expected to find anything in their bed, but this would certainly have been at the bottom of the list had there been one.

He didn't look inside, but he could tell by its weight the bag wasn't empty. He squeezed his eyes together and felt his chest tighten. It was the first time Josh truly realized that his denial had to eventually come to an end.

And this was the end. The end of Josh's blind faith in Sam's promises and excuses, his half-truths and second chances. This was the beginning of Josh's new purpose for his very existence, his most important goal ever. . .to keep Sam alive.

He dropped the purple bag on the floor and quickly made up the bed with no thought toward the hospital corners Sam was so particular about. Nor did he pull the sheets tight enough to bounce a quarter off of or make sure the excess overhang was exactly the same on both sides before he tucked them under the mattress. He fanned the comforter and let it float down onto the bed, wiggled the rest of the pillows into fresh pillowcases, punched them until they fluffed and slung them into a casual row against the headboard.

He turned down the covers, picked up the bag, tossed it on the bed then went downstairs to get Sam.

"Hey Tonto," Scott said. "I was about to come wake you from your nap." He winked at Josh.

Josh's eyes darted to Sam for a reaction. There was none, so Josh didn't know if Sam had seen Scott's indiscretion or not. Shit, I wish he wasn't here, Josh thought. Not today. Not right now. Then a niggling familiarity pushed through ~~ but I still want to spend time with him. And with this last thought, Josh found his eyes back on Scott.

"I wasn't taking a nap. I was. . . When did you get here Scott? I didn't hear you come in."

Josh walked over and stood behind Sam and put his hands on his shoulders. He felt Sam's muscles relax at his touch.

"Just a few minutes ago. I found Sam all by himself so I've entertained him with stories about some of the hell you and I used to raise," Scott replied.

"Oh yeah? Have you been entertained Sam?" Josh asked.

"Enlightened," Sam smiled.

"Josh, you wanna beer?" Scott asked as he stood. "I'm gonna get a couple for Sam and me."

"No. No thanks. And Sam doesn't want one either, do you Sam?" Josh squeezed Sam's shoulders.

"No, I'm good Scott," Sam responded. "I've got water. Thanks."

"I'll be right back then." Scott left for the kitchen.

"Come on Sam," Josh said. "Let's go upstairs."

"Yeah ok, but don't you wanna visit with your friend?"

"You're my friend. Let's go."

Josh stood in front of Sam and held his arm out for him to pull up on. Sam gave a little grunt of pain when he stood.

"You ok baby?" Josh asked.

"Never been better, Tonto."

Josh whipped his head toward the kitchen then back to Sam. "Don't call me that," he said in a low voice.

Sam laughed. "What? Tonto?"

"Yeah, that. Let's go."

Josh picked up Sam's crutches and tucked them under Sam's arms. He put his hand on the small of Sam's back and gave him a gentle push toward the stairs.

"I don't need these," Sam protested.

"Just use them."

"He said he doesn't need them," Scott remarked as he came back into the living room. "Don't make a gelding out of that young stallion."

Josh turned and clenched his jaw. He took a deep breath before he spoke. "Excuse me Scott, Sam and I are going upstairs. Make yourself comfortable. There's the couch, there's the remote, there's your cowboy boots, there's the door. Just leave us alone. Or just leave. Or stay. Or. . .whatever. Let's go Sam."

With one crutch and the banister, Sam made his way up the stairs. Josh took each step behind him and stood close to catch him in case he lost his balance. They went into their bedroom and Josh closed and locked the door behind them. Sam turned and faced Josh.

"I didn't mean anything by the Tonto comment," he said.

"Forget it," Josh replied with a sheepish smile. "It just caught me off-guard. When we were kids Scott was the Lone Ranger and I was. . ."

"Tonto." Sam finished his sentence.

"Yeah."

"Well, for what it's worth, I always thought Tonto was the cool one."

Josh's almost embarrassed smile turned into a grin. "Yeah?"

Sam returned the grin. "Yeah."

"Thanks, Kemo Sabe."

Josh reached for Sam and gave him a sweet kiss. After the kiss he kept Sam's face cradled in his hands. "We've gotta talk, Sugar."

"Talk about what?" Sam asked.

Before Josh could answer the private phone rang. He jumped and tightened his grasp on Sam. "Shit!"

Josh looked at the caller I.D. and saw "Private Number". Marc, he thought. He picked up the receiver.

"What the fuck do you want?" he demanded more than asked.

The voice on the other end of the phone was soft-spoken. "Sorry to disturb you, but I went to the hospital and they said Sam had been discharged and I'd like to know how he feels. That's the fuck what I want, to make sure my Deputy is ok."

"Oh man Toby, I'm sorry! I thought you were Marc and he's the last person I wanna talk with and Scott's downstairs and I just didn't think. . ."

"You can end your sentence right there with `I just didn't think'," Toby interrupted.

"Yeah, ok," Josh meekly agreed. Then, "Well, if you didn't have an unlisted number I'd have known it was you."

"Forget it. So how's he feeling?"

Josh turned to Sam. "Toby wants to know how you're feeling."

"Couldn't be. . ."

"And don't say `couldn't be better'," Josh broke in. "How do you REALLY feel?"

Sam took a deep breath and actually let his body slump onto the crutches for the first time.

"Ok, I'll admit it. I've got a hell of a headache and my whole body feels like I ran into a concrete wall," Sam conceded. "I just wanna clean up a little and get in my own bed."

"Did you hear that Toby?" Josh asked into the phone.

"Yeah. Let me talk to him."

Josh handed the phone to Sam.

"Hey kiddo," Toby said with affection. "Feel kinda rough, huh?"

Sam nodded then caught himself. There was something in Toby's voice that soothed him. Maybe it was the soft demeanor or the candid closeness that he allowed so few people to see; but there was something about the lull of Toby's monotone that brought Sam a fraternal comfort. Not better than what Josh gave him ~~ just different.

"I do," Sam replied. "It hurts Toby, but Josh will take care of me."

"Without a doubt. Do what he tells you Sam."

"I am. He won't let me make a move on my own."

"Well that's a good thing. I know you're a hotshot, Sam, and won't wanna use your crutches or wear your braces but you need to do that to heal and not do more damage, ok?"

Sam nodded again.

"Sam?" Toby spoke louder. "Sam?"

"Uh, yeah. I'll obey Josh." He gave a little laugh. "I always do."

"I don't wanna hear about that, thank you. Listen to me. Take it easy, do what you're supposed to do, and let yourself heal. I need you back in the West Wing. Understand?"

"I'll be there Monday morning," Sam answered.

"Only if you feel up to it," Toby replied. "I need you, but I need you to be of some use to me."

Sam laughed. "I'll be fine by Monday. I'll be in the office a half hour before you."

"Don't push it. Let me talk with Josh."

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for calling," Sam said with humility. "I didn't expect. . .it was nice of you to think of it."

"Why wouldn't I think of it?" Toby asked.

"I...I don't know. You didn't have to."

"Sam, why do you make this so difficult?"

"Make what so difficult?"

Toby wasn't prepared to say the words he felt. Not just yet. He wanted to say, "Why do you make it so difficult to let yourself be loved?" but he couldn't. Not in the light of day. Not over the impersonal telephone wire. Not just yet.

"Nothing. Let me talk with Josh."

Sam handed the receiver to Josh. "He wants you again."

Josh took the phone with one hand and wrapped his other arm around Sam's shoulder.

"Toby? You want me?" Josh asked.

"Did Sam get pain meds?"

"Yep."

"Do you have them?"

"Nope."

"He has them?"

"Yep."

"Are they narcotics?"

"Yep."

"Did you get a chance to confront Sam about his drug use like we talked about?" Toby asked.

"Yep."

"Is the stuff gone?"

"Nope."

"Shit. So he hasn't made any kind of commitment to stop using yet?"

"Apparently not."

Sam took the phone from Josh. "Hi Toby. Sam here again. I'm gonna take a shower now so you and Josh can talk about me and don't have to resort to cryptic one-word answers. Thanks for checking on me. Good- bye Toby."

Sam handed the phone back to Josh, kissed him on the forehead and headed toward the bathroom.

"Hold on Toby," Josh said. "Sam, let me help you with that."

Sam waved his hand and didn't stop. "I'm fine. You and Toby talk amongst yourselves."

"At least use your crutches," Josh pleaded.

But it was too late. Sam disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door.

"We handled that well," Toby said sarcastically when Josh came back to the phone. "Tell me what happened."

Josh explained how he'd followed Toby's advice and gone through Sam's things and found the purple velvet bag in Sam's underwear drawer. Sam was vague and distant and never made a commitment to get rid of whatever drugs he had. He said he told Sam he had to make a decision about what he was going to do with whatever was inside ~~ Josh hadn't asked what that was and Sam hadn't offered to tell him.

"Didn't you look?" Toby asked.

"No," Josh replied. "I didn't wanna know. I think if I did, it would scare me too much. This is a true case of ignorance being bliss."

"You can't stick your head in the sand Josh. You can't help Sam if you don't know what you're fighting."

"Sam swore he hadn't used anything from the bag," Josh continued, "and that he'd tell me if he did."

Toby gave a half-laugh. "And you believed that bullshit?"

Josh bristled. "I'm not so sure it WAS bullshit."

"Josh, trust me. It was bullshit. All that stuff I told you to tell Sam. . .I didn't just have you blowing smoke up his ass. It was all true. Every word of it. I suggest you go back and remember what you said to him and if you have to, think about it every day. Every hour if necessary. Addicts don't lie to be malicious. Sam lied to you because he was scared. If he thought you believed he was gonna use he knew you'd take his stash and that would terrify him. It's called junkie's panic when they don't have any drugs on hand."

"He's not a junkie dammit!"

"Calm down Josh. I didn't say he was. I said what Sam feels is called junkie's panic. He has to know he has something available at all times. Sam didn't wanna lie to you, but whatever it is in his psyche that makes him an addict also makes him lie about his drug use. God knows he's the most honest person I've ever known in my entire life. The most moral and ethical person ever created. But he has this little glitch in his brain that other people don't have and that's what gives him an addictive personality. Sam's not doing anything wrong or bad. He was born with that glitch. We just have to keep the shit away from him so the glitch won't be triggered. Sam's not bad. He's the best person I know."

"Better than me?" Josh asked.

"Seven-fold," Toby deadpanned.

"The irony of that is, you're right," Josh agreed. "Toby, it kills me to say this, but I need your advice."

"Don't ya hate when that happens?"

"More than you know."

"Talk to me," said Toby.

"Sam said he's not gonna use anymore, but he's made no effort to get rid of the stuff. In fact, it's right here. On our bed."

"On your bed? Just sitting there on your bed?"

"Yeah. I'm looking at that damn purple velvet bag right now Toby, I swear to God. So what do I do? Get in the car and take this stuff and destroy it now while Sam's in the shower? How do I destroy it? I can't just throw it away ~~ some kid will find it. I can't burn it. I can't take it to the police. I can't throw it in the river. How do you get rid of something like this?"

Josh ran his hand through his hair. He felt anxious.

"You know, when I found that bag in Sam's drawer it blew me away. I thought it was all out of the house. I didn't think he'd used anything and now I don't know WHAT he's taken. And there's that fucking Marc character. How do I get Sam away from that guy? If he keeps playing racquetball with him, who knows what THAT could lead to? But I can't dictate to Sam who his friends are. What am I going to do Toby? I'm at a loss. All I've got going for me now is my trust in Sam."

"Do you?"

"I trust Sam with all my heart. I think. I did. I do. I do, dammit! It's Marc I'm worried about. Sam is still vulnerable while he's got the taste of drugs in his head, even if they're out of his system now. But I don't KNOW if they're out of his system now since I found this bag. If you hadn't told me to do that Toby, I never would have known about it. Marc is smooth and has this charismatic way about him and he has some kind of hold over Sam that I can't see, but he has an ability to pull Sam in. This is killing me. I don't let Sam see it, but it's killing me. I'm so scared Toby. Tell me what to do."

"Calm down Josh. You won't do Sam any good if you freak out. When was the last time Sam was with Marc before they played racquetball Saturday?"

"Hell Toby, I don't know. I feel like I don't know anything anymore," Josh admitted. "One day last week during Sam's lunch. He went straight to the club and back. Nothing could have happened."

"It just takes a fraction of a second to move something small from one gym bag to another Josh. You've got your head in the sand again. Listen to yourself trying to hide from this."

Josh exhaled the breath he'd held through most of his conversation with Toby. "I don't have a clue what I'm doing. When I start to talk with Sam about this stuff I get all emotional because I'm scared as shit and out of my league and Sam's so cool and seems totally unconcerned. Do I force him to talk? Do I demand that he confess to me what he's doing?"

"No, no, no Josh. We both know that'll never work. The last thing we want is for Sam to get angry or upset and barge out of the house. He'd go straight to Marc's. You know he has to WANT to stop using or he won't, no matter how much you beg or browbeat."

"There's nothing to STOP Toby. He's not using," Josh corrected.

"How do you know he's not using?"

"Because he said he's not."

"And that's good enough for you?"

Josh was silent. He looked at the purple bag, he looked toward the bathroom and listened to the water running in the shower, then turned his attention back to Toby on the phone. "Yeah. That's plenty good enough for me," he lied.

"Ok, he's got to get rid of what he has in the house and not want to START again. He's got to make that decision on his own. Josh, we've been over and over and over this a hundred times and I can't tell you anything you don't already know. I'm just repeating myself and you're not listening, you don't understand, you don't want to hear, or you're stupid. I know for a fact you're not stupid, so what's the problem here?" Toby sighed heavily.

"You're wrong Toby. I AM stupid. Otherwise I'd know how to help Sammy." Josh's voice cracked.

"Joshua," Toby said with gentleness and patience, "you're just frustrated because you can see the obvious answer and its driving you nuts because Sam, who is so brilliant, so solid, so together in every other way, can't see the clarity of what he needs to do."

"So I'm just coming to you for reassurance?"

"Well yeah, that and support and the fact that I'm as concerned about Sam as you are and want to see him get straightened out. Josh, I'm not saying we can't talk about Sam, the same stuff over and over if that's helpful to you, but I have nothing new to offer."

"Yeah, ok." Josh sounded dejected.

"Osh, plain and simple, you want to fix this for Sam because it's so painful for you to watch him struggle. You know he is and just won't admit it to yourself. Just keep doing what you're doing. The bag is out in plain view now and the axe will fall one way or the other soon. He can't ignore forever the fact that you know he's using. He knows you found the bag in his drawer. And he left it out on the bed. My guess is he wants you to catch him and make him face up to it. But that's just me."

"He didn't really leave it out. . .it was under the pillow. After I found it in his drawer and we talked about it we. . .well, we were in bed and. . .later. . .later the bag was still there and apparently he just shoved it under the pillow to get it out of the way," Josh explained. "Well, he's not going to any great lengths to hide it from you," Toby replied.

"That's what scares the shit outta me. He's being so brazen about it. And now with Scott here. . ."

"Who's Scott?" Toby asked.

"My friend from Denver. He's in town for a few days and. . .I told you about him at the hospital."

"Oh yeah, him.

"So I've got to spend time with Scott and can't watch Sam every minute."

"Do your best Josh. Last time he was using right under your nose and you never knew it. If Sam wants to use, he's gonna use whether you're babysitting him or not. Enjoy your friend and try not to worry. And Josh. . ."

"Yeah?"

"You know I'm, uh, I'm always just a. . .just a phone call away. Any time, day or night."

"Todah rabah. Thank you Toby. Hey, Sam's shower stopped so I'm gonna hang up and help him get some clothes on."

"Yeah, ok. Let me know if anything happens. Good-bye Josh."

"Good-bye Toby. Um. . .thanks."

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"You can call me."

"Yeah. . .ok."

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Call me."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 44

Josh hung up and walked toward the bathroom. Just as he got there the door opened and he felt the hot air and damp steam roll out. He smelled the sweetness that was Sam as he came closer through the haze, his footfall barely a touch on the carpet. Then Josh smelled the minty scent of toothpaste as Sam nuzzled Josh's neck with his lips and tongue, still wet and warm from the hot shower.

Josh wrapped his arms around Sam and pulled him close. Sam's naked body was hot and damp and Josh was immediately aroused. He ran his hand down Sam's back and brushed away tiny droplets of water until he felt the soft fuzz of Sam's bare bottom. He dipped his middle finger just inside the crease and let it slide up and down as Sam pushed his pelvis into Josh.

Sam let his head fall back, his neck exposed. Josh's tongue licked the length of Sam's neck then down again. He kissed Sam's neck and his lips sucked at Sam's skin.

Sam pulled away. Josh leaned forward toward him, but his mouth only took in air.

"What?" he asked gently.

"You know I can't go into the White House tomorrow with a hickey," Sam whispered. "Not on my neck."

"Then somewhere that won't show," Josh said in a husky voice as he started to travel down Sam's body.

"I need to sit down. . .or lay down," Sam said.

"Oh yeah, I'm sorry Angel," Josh replied as he suddenly remembered Sam had just come home from the hospital. "Let me get you in bed."

Sam put his arm around Josh's shoulder and let Josh support him as he hobbled across the room and to their bed. Josh eased him down onto the edge and held onto his shoulders.

"You steady?" he asked.

"I am," Sam smiled up at Josh. "It feels good to be back in our own bed."

Josh leaned down and kissed him.

"Let's get you situated here and I'm gonna take a quick shower," he said, "then I'm gonna come back and make love to you."

"Don't be gone long," Sam said.

"Five minutes. Let me help you up here."

"You go on Oshie. I can do it myself."

"You sure?"

"Josh! Just go!"

Josh kissed Sam again and sprinted to the bathroom.

Sam rolled to the middle of the bed and pulled the comforter down. He smiled when he saw his favorite sheets. He ran his hand over the soft fabric and loved Josh because he thought to put them on. He crawled between the sheets and pulled the comforter over him. It was then he saw the purple bag.

His heart skipped a beat. He'd forgotten about sliding it under the pillow. . .when? Was that just a couple of nights ago? Obviously Josh had found it when he changed the sheets. Why hadn't he said anything? Why had he acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary? What must Josh be thinking? What could possibly be going through his head?

Sam half-sat, half-propped himself up against the headboard. He opened the purple bag and looked inside. Everything was in place. Nothing had been touched. Nothing was gone.

He zipped the bag closed and. . .and what? Sam didn't know what to do with it. He didn't want to get off the bed again to put it back in his underwear drawer. He didn't want to leave it in plain view. He leaned over and tucked it under the pillow that was farthest away. Then he slid down into the bed, closed his eyes and waited for Josh.

Minutes later Josh emerged from the bathroom and walked across the bedroom with Sam's knee and wrist braces. He set them on the bed then lit two candles on the bedside table. He closed the window blinds so the room was dark except for the glow from the candles. Then he climbed on the bed, crawled to the middle and hovered on his hands and knees over Sam. He leaned close to his face.

"Are you awake, Sleeping Beauty?" he asked.

Sam's eyes fluttered open and a smile crept across his face. He reached up and touched Josh's cheek.

"My Prince has come," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Do you have any idea how beautiful you look to me Joshua?"

"I'm your Prince?"

"You're my Prince."

Josh put his left knee between Sam's legs and spread them apart, careful not to hurt Sam's knee. He kissed Sam again, his tongue eagerly welcomed inside Sam's mouth. Their kiss was long and deep and wet and passionate and Josh felt Sam's erection against his leg grow harder as his own throbbed with excitement and impatience.

Josh's hands slid down Sam's arms. He wanted to raise them over Sam's head and pin him to the bed in the dominant position that turned them both on. As soon as he grabbed Sam's right hand, Sam cried out in pain. Josh pulled away.

"Oh baby, I'm sorry. I forgot about your sprained wrist. I'm so sorry. I'll fix it."

Josh settled back on his knees and reached for the wrist brace. He carefully slipped it on Sam's arm and pulled the Velcro tabs through the clasps and gently pressed them closed.

"Too tight?" he asked.

Sam shook his head. "No, it's just right. That feels a lot better."

Josh picked up Sam's knee brace. "You've gotta wear this too Sammy. I want that tendon to heal."

He put his hand on Sam's leg and gently made little circles around his bruised knee. Sam laid still and let him. Josh's hand was warm and his touch felt good. Sam looked at Josh's face as he intently concentrated on Sam's knee. Maybe Josh thought if he stared at it hard enough he could will it to heal and take the pain away from Sam. They both knew when Josh rubbed little circles on Sam's skin it nurtured him in their own special way and brought him a comfort only they could share. And to Sam, that meant more than anything else Josh could do for him.

Sam's eyes were fixated on Josh. His hair was still damp from the shower and curled on his neck in little ringlets. Sam wanted to reach out and run his fingers through the curls, but he didn't. He knew if he did Josh would turn his head, and Sam wanted to look at him undisturbed, unaware.

Josh sucked his bottom lip into his mouth as he tenderly massaged Sam's knee. He did that with his lip when he was caught up in the task at hand, lost in his thoughts, at work on something important. Sam loved the way Josh's strong jaw had the scruffy growth of going unshaven a few days. How long? Sam wasn't sure. He remembered Josh was clean-shaven the morning he left to go sightseeing with. . .with. . .the cowboy. . .what's his name?

He remembered because Josh's cheek was smooth against his when he kissed him good-bye and he smelled of after shave that lingered on Sam's face long after Josh had left. Sam liked when that happened. When he went back to sleep he dreamed of Josh because his scent was on Sam, and Sam brought Josh inside him in his mind. It had been a good morning.

Josh turned his head and looked at Sam. The flame from the candle reflected off the moss green sheets and caught the gold fleck in his eyes and made them the color of rich milk chocolate. Eyes with a golden spark that pierced Sam's gaze and went straight to his soul.

Josh took Sam's breath away. Sam caught a quick gasp as he stared transfixed into the eyes of the man before him, on top of him, above him. The man who touched him and made him shiver with sexual anticipation. Who made him raise his hips off the bed in an offering of himself. The man he loved and trusted with more than his life ~~ with his emotions, his body, his heart.

The flame shone in Josh's eyes, and Sam saw his own eternity in them with that man. A surge of contentment flooded Sam. A peacefulness overcame him. He felt safe.

Josh cocked his head to the side and gave Sam a half-smile.

"What?" he said softly.

"You," Sam replied.

Josh cocked his head to the other side.

"Yeah. You too."

Sam and Josh just looked at each other for. . .neither knew how long. It didn't matter. They both knew they had forever together.

"I think you should take something for the pain," Josh finally said. "Where's the pills the doctor gave you."

"In the bathroom," Sam replied.

"What are they?"

"Vicodin."

"That's a narcotic, isn't it?" Josh asked.

"Yes."

"You ok with that? Will that be a problem?"

Sam gave a little laugh. "No way." he said. "They're for pain, Josh. Not recreational use. Give me a little credit."

"I know they're for pain and I know you're IN pain. I just don't want them to. . .you know," Josh replied.

"You don't want them to what?"

"To, um. . .you won't get dependent on them, will you?" Josh asked.

Sam shook his head. "Josh. Don't worry. I just got out of the hospital. You saw the doctor give these to me. He prescribed them in the hospital. If you don't trust me. . ."

"I trust you Angel. I'm sorry. I'm just concerned. I'm sorry. Let me get one for you."

Josh kissed Sam's forehead, rolled off the bed and started for the bathroom.

"It says one-to-two if the pain's bad and it's really hurting right now Josh. I've got a killer headache. Would you bring two?" Sam asked.

"You hurt bad? Your head too?"

Sam nodded.

Josh couldn't bear to see Sam in pain of any kind. It was just one prescription from Dr. Adams. It WAS medication, not drugs Sam had scored on the street.

"Yeah, ok. Sure baby."

Josh brought the two Vicodin and a glass of water to Sam and watched him swallow, unaware these made the fifth he'd taken in less than an hour.

"It says they'll make you drowsy," Josh read from the bottle. "I guess we'll have to save our hanky-panky until later."

"The hardware kinda took away the mood, didn't it?" Sam agreed. He raised his arm with the brace and tapped it against his knee brace.

"Would you like me to lay with you until you go to sleep?"

"I'd like that Oshie."

Josh got between the sheets and scooted to the middle where Sam was. The air was cool against their bare skin so he pulled the comforter up.

"How do you want me to hold you?" Josh asked. "What's most comfortable?"

"Will you hold me from behind?" Sam's voice sounded groggy and slightly slurred. He spoke quietly.

Josh attached himself to Sam's back. He kissed Sam's neck. He inhaled the scent of shampoo in his hair. He hugged Sam's chest and felt it rise and fall into a slow, steady cadence. He knew Sam was on the verge of sleep.

"Sam?" he said.

No response.

"Sam?"

"Hmmmm?"

"I wanna ask you something," Josh continued. "It's real important."

"Ok," Sam muttered.

"Can you hear me?"

"Uh huh."

"When you played racquetball with Marc, did you use any drugs that day?"

Josh couldn't believe he actually asked Sam that question. But Toby said he needed to, and Toby seemed to know about this type of thing.

No response.

"Sam?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Did you do drugs with Marc before you played racquetball?"

"Maybe a little," Sam replied sleepily.

Josh swallowed hard. This wasn't what he wanted, nor expected, to hear. He rubbed Sam's arm. He kissed his shoulder.

"What was it darlin'?" he asked. "What did you take? Tell me."

Sam shifted a little. He laid his head back so it was against the side of Josh's face. His hair felt soft on Josh's cheek. Josh kissed Sam's head and let his lips linger there for a moment.

Then, "Sam, I have to know Angel. What did you take when you played racquetball? Please tell me."

"I, um, I did a. . .a couple lines before I left. . .then. . .then I smoked a. . .joint. Just one. . ." Sam's voice faded away.

"A couple lines? Of cocaine?"

No response.

"Sam? Cocaine?"

Sam jerked awake.

"Oh, and Marc gave me some, uh, some speed on the. . .on the court. . .so I could play. . .better. Let me sleep Josh."

"Anything else baby? Did you do anything else?" Josh persisted.

He felt Sam's body release and knew he was asleep. Josh didn't know just how deeply Sam was going to sleep, and it never occurred to him to count the pills in the plastic medicine bottle that said: "Use with extreme caution."

********

Josh woke up two hours later. He was on his back, and Sam was partly on his side and partly on top of Josh. Josh's arms were wrapped around Sam's chest and his hands clasped his wrists together like a seatbelt around Sam. Sam's head was on Josh's shoulder, and the comforter came up to his chin. He was in a deep sleep. The candle had burned out and the room was dark.

Josh slid out from under Sam, careful not to wake him. That wasn't a problem ~~ Sam was totally out.

Josh didn't bother with underwear. He pulled on a pair of jeans, Sam's Princeton sweatshirt and ran his hand through his hair. He kissed Sam on the cheek, left the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He had just reached the bottom step when he smelled something tantalizing and his stomach growled.

Josh walked into the kitchen. It looked eerily familiar to see Scott with oven mitts on and a wooden spoon in his hand, but grossly out-of- place for him to be at his and Sam's stove.

Scott turned. "Hi hun, sleep well?"

Josh stopped in his tracks. "What did you say?"

"I asked if you slept well. You've been out for a while and I just hope you're rested. You needed it."

"Scott, you called me hun."

"Yeah, so? I always call you hun. What's the problem?"

"The problem IS," Josh said emphatically, "you CALLED me HUN! That's not appropriate anymore. Not anywhere, any time, but especially not in this house with Sam upstairs."

Scott laughed. "Lighten up. Don't make this into something it isn't. Come on, have a beer." He opened the refrigerator and reached inside.

Josh hesitated then thought perhaps Scott was right. Maybe he HAD over-reacted. Most likely a slip-of-the-tongue. No way would Scott come on to him. Not now. Not here. Not again.

Josh walked toward Scott and reached for the beer in his hand. Just as he wrapped his fingers around the bottle, Scott clamped his hand around Josh's wrist.

"Remember how good it was?" he said quietly.

Again, Josh remembered.

He didn't move from Scott's grasp and he didn't understand why not. Then Sam's face flashed in front of him and it became crystal clear. He started to take his arm back. Scott tightened his grip. Josh hated that a streak of electricity shot through him.

"Don't pull away Josh," Scott said. "Not again."

"Then let me go," Josh replied.

Scott caught Josh's eye and gave him a smile that implied hurt more than happiness.

"Not again," Scott pled.

Josh jerked his arm free and nearly spilled his beer. He took a step back.

"For God's sake Scott, I'm married! Sam's just upstairs in OUR bed. This is OUR home."

"That's supposed to be our bed."

Josh slapped his hand to the back of his neck and paced the kitchen. He chugged three-quarters of his beer.

"Scott, let's sit down. We need to get some things straight."

"I've cooked dinner. Wanna talk while we eat?" Scott waved toward the stove.

Josh felt the casual atmosphere of supper might diffuse what he needed to say to Scott. Besides, he was hungry and Scott's chicken and sage stuffing casserole was one of his favorite dishes.

"Sure, I'm starving."

Scott smiled. He believed he always had a way to Josh's heart through his sensitive system.

"Great. I made a salad to go with it and left out all the stuff you call `yucky'."

"I like salads," Josh said in defense as Scott brought the meal to the table. "They're not yucky."

"Plain salads. You don't like purple cabbage and garbanzo beans and radicchio," Scott replied.

"Yes I do. I love garbanzo beans."

Scott laughed. "Since when? You used to have a fit when I put that stuff in our salads. You'd pick it out."

"But I like it now."

"Naw, not radicchio," Scott argued.

"Yes Scott, I do. Sam fixes salads full of all kinds of things and I love them," Josh insisted as he took a big bite.

"I'm impressed."

"Its just lettuce," Josh shrugged.

"Well. . .yeah, but..."

And so they talked while they ate. But they didn't talk about what Josh needed to say. They talked about baseball. About how they played baseball in Scott's back yard when they were kids. About how they played baseball when they were in high school.

They also didn't talk about their first kiss in the dugout on July fifth at two-fifteen a.m. after the fireworks display that capped off the neighborhood double-header and all-day picnic to celebrate Independence Day. The revelers had long since gone home, sleepy children over their shoulders, empty coolers dragged behind them, mustard stains on their t-shirts.

Josh and Scott hung around and watched the pyrotechnicians dismantle their equipment after the fireworks display. The men paid each boy five dollars to help clean up the area and left the two sixteen-year old best friends alone in the early hours of the morning.

"You gonna stay over?" Scott asked.

"Your Mom said it's ok, right?"

Scott laughed. "Josh, my Mom thinks you're one of her own kids. It's always ok."

"Cool. Wanna cut across or go around?" Josh replied.

"Walk across a grassy baseball field that they'll probably name after me or an ugly blacktop parking lot around the school?" Scott grinned. "Are you nuts Tonto?"

They started across the dark baseball field.

"I can see it now," Josh laughed. "The `Lone Ranger Baseball Stadium'."

As they got to second base Scott put his arm around Josh, not an unusual move. They'd been best friends since third grade and theirs was a somewhat physical relationship. They wrestled, they shared a small pup tent on camp-outs, they slept at each other's houses, they embraced without shame or embarrassment, they wrestled. . .a lot. . .in their front yards, in their back yards, in Scott's swimming pool, in their kitchens, in Noah Lyman's den, in the garage, on their bikes, in the front row of the picture show, in their pediatrician's office, in their bedrooms, at Scott's Grandmother's funeral, in the car. . .they wrestled a lot, and sometimes they put their arms around each other when they walked and talked.

"Can we stop off in the dugout for a minute?" Scott asked. He nudged Josh in that direction.

"What for?" Josh nudged him back.

"I can't find one of my gloves. I wanna see if I left it there."

He pushed Josh a little harder and Josh lost his balance and nearly fell. Josh laughed and jumped on Scott's back. Scott had grown a couple of inches taller than Josh, and because of his dedication to long hours of baseball practice, he was broader, more muscular and stronger.

Josh wrapped his legs around Scott's waist and his arms around his head so Scott's eyes were covered. Scott began to stagger in mock distress as he pretended to try and shake Josh off his back. The more Scott spun and jerked, the tighter Josh clung to him like a bull rider on a wild animal. Finally Scott fell to the ground and Josh tumbled on top of him, both with snorts of laughter. Scott tousled Josh's shaggy brown hair with affection.

Then they lay on the cool grass with their hands behind their heads and looked up at the summer sky. Both got very quiet. There was no moon, there were no stars.

"It's dark out here," Josh finally said.

"You scared?" Scott asked.

"No, I'm not scared. I just said it's dark."

They grew quiet again. Scott inched his foot over and gently poked at Josh's shoe. Josh jumped.

"Scare you Tonto?" Scott laughed.

"No," Josh replied, embarrassed at being startled.

Scott poked at Josh's foot again. He hooked it over Josh's ankle and left it there.

That's when Josh felt it. He didn't know WHAT he felt, but he knew this touch was different from when he and Scott usually wrestled. Something stirred in his jeans. He shifted on the ground. He pulled his bottom lip into his mouth. He clutched at a fist full of grass. He wondered if Scott could hear his heart beat.

"How could you leave your baseball glove in the dugout?" he asked. "You never leave your glove anywhere."

Scott shrugged. "It's an old one. It might be in there, it might not. I just wanna look."

"Yeah, ok."

Scott stood up and extended his arm to help Josh off the ground. When Josh took his proffered hand, he felt it again. . .whatever *it* was. Josh just knew he couldn't deny something was there that had never passed between him and Scott before.

And he liked it.

The boys walked from second base to the dugout and down the three steps into the dark catacomb. It smelled of forbidden cigarette smoke from teenagers who snuck in there to cough through a couple of Parliaments to prove they were grown up. It smelled of sweat and testosterone from high school jocks who played baseball from daylight to dusk on hot summer days. It smelled of sex from young lovers who rendezvoused past curfew for those first times. . .a bra unsnapped, a zipper pulled down. . .awkward grappling and unkept promises of enduring love.

"I can't see shit in here!" Josh exclaimed. "How do you expect to find your glove?"

"Just feel around. It's gotta be somewhere. Try the bench."

Josh ran into the bench with a thud. "Found it," he laughed.

"My glove?" Scott asked.

"No, the bench."

"Turkey. Keep feeling."

Josh put both hands on the wooden bench and slowly walked the length of the dugout, careful to cover every inch in search of the elusive baseball glove. When he reached the end, he found his hands on Scott. It startled him and he started to back away, but Scott grabbed him by his wrists and held him.

"Scare ya?" Scott asked.

"A little," Josh replied. "I didn't know you were there."

"I know."

Scott's voice was strangely soft and serious. Like when they were thirteen and he told Josh his parents were getting a divorce and started crying. Like when they were nine and he told Josh his older brother had to go to Viet Nam and he didn't even know what or where Viet Nam was. Like when they listened to "Ave Maria" twenty times in a row and he told Josh it wasn't his fault Joanie had died in the fire. Scott's voice was like that now.

"I wanted you to find me," he said.

"How come?" Josh asked. "I thought you wanted to find your baseball glove."

"My baseball glove isn't in here Josh."

Scott kept his hold on Josh's wrists, even though Josh no longer resisted. Scott raised Josh's arms above his head and pinned them to the wall of the dugout and with his body, he pushed himself against Josh. In that smooth move, he dipped his head and kissed Josh on the mouth.

Josh's reaction and response was natural and comfortable. He welcomed Scott's lips on his and literally felt himself go weak in the knees when Scott slipped his tongue inside Josh and pressed harder against him. If Scott hadn't been holding Josh up, Josh would surely have slid down the wall into a heap on the floor.

After the kiss Scott kept his lips near Josh's.

"Did that scare you?" he asked quietly.

Josh shook his head and when he did, he felt how close Scott's face still was to his.

"Did I scare you Josh?" Scott repeated, his voice barely above a whisper.

"No."

"Will you run if I let go of you?"

"No."

Scott released his grip on Josh's wrists and they fell to Josh's side.

"Josh, you wanna feel something really good?" Scott asked.

Josh inhaled deeply to catch his breath, sucked his bottom lip inside his mouth, and hesitated. It was all happening so fast. In the back of his mind, where he pushed thoughts he knew he shouldn't have, these moments lingered. Sometimes he woke up the middle of the night aroused, with his hand around his erect penis and his mind on Scott, wondering how it would feel to be living this very reality. Yes, he wanted to feel something really good.

He shook his head.

Scott pulled Josh into his arms and hugged him and Josh hugged him back. This embrace was a whole new kind and took on a totally different meaning, and Josh knew their simple boyhood hugs of pal- between-pal were gone forever. He was in love with Scott and he was pretty sure Scott was in love with him.

Scott's hands moved to the small space between them and without a word, he unfastened and unzipped Josh's blue jean cut-offs. He pulled them and Josh's white cotton underpants down to his ankles.

Josh's penis immediately sprung straight out. He wasn't quite sure what Scott was gonna do, but he knew he was so turned on it wasn't gonna be very long before he ejaculated. He'd done enough experimenting with his own hand behind the locked door of his bedroom that he knew his limitations, but now that he was no longer in control of the situation, he might come at any time.

Josh couldn't see in the dark, but he knew Scott dropped to his knees in front of him. Then he felt Scott's hands on his penis. He jumped at the unexpected touch. Scott's hands were warm and damp with sweat and rough from hours of wielding a baseball bat. But he was tender as he caressed Josh, slow and gentle and clearly something he had anticipated.

Then Scott slid Josh's penis into his mouth and wrapped his lips around it. Josh leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Soft moans of pleasure escaped from his throat as he put his hands on Scott's head and clenched fists full of hair. Scott pumped and sucked and used his lips and tongue to bring Josh to a quick and rocking orgasm in the dark dugout on the baseball field in the early hours of that hot July morning.

********

But they didn't talk about that this evening while they ate chicken casserole. They talked instead about how Scott earned an athletic scholarship to college, carried his team to the Division Play-Offs and brought home the title four years in a row while he maintained a 4.0 GPA in Criminal Justice at the same time.

They talked about how Scott was drafted into the minors and was the showboat pitcher every scout in the country wooed while he just had a good time playing ball. Scott knew he wasn't going to make sports his career ~~ he wanted to be a police officer, a detective, that's what he really wanted to do ~~ so he didn't take it all that seriously. But for a few years, he just wanted to have fun playing baseball.

"You looked like you were having fun," Josh said as he pushed his plate away and wiped his mouth with his napkin.

"You saw me?" Scott asked with surprise.

"I made a couple of games."

Scott grinned. "I didn't know that. Why didn't you tell me? You could have come to the locker room, we'd have gone out."

"That's why."

"Josh. . ."

"We couldn't have gone out," Josh said.

"Just for a drink. We could have gone someplace, had a beer, talked. That's all," Scott explained.

"Talked about what?" asked Josh. "And don't say old times."

"Old times."

"That wasn't gonna happen."

"Why?" Scott asked.

Josh cocked his head and offered a bittersweet smile. "You know why."

"Tell me why Josh."

"It was too soon."

"But you came to the games. You must have wanted to see me."

"I came to the games because. . ." Josh started, "because. . ."

"You wanted to see me," Scott said.

"I didn't say that."

"You wanted to say that."

Josh was silenced. Could he deny what Scott just said? Had he gone to the baseball games because he wanted to see him? Talk with him? Talk about what? Old times?

That would have been. . .

. . .their last years of high school when their secret love grew. How they stole away to private places to do private things they had only dared imagine in the dark of night behind closed doors. How they touched each other in ways boys weren't supposed to touch other boys, and liked it. How they explored and experimented and kissed and laughed and whispered "I love yous" only they could hear.

That would have been. . .

. . .the two years they shared a small apartment when they attended separate colleges, Scott studying Criminal Justice and Josh in Pre- Law. How wonderful it was in the beginning. . .Scott cooked their meals and Josh kept them laughing. How they attended classes during the day, studied in the evening, and made love all night. How they kept their relationship to themselves because they both knew they had high-profile, public careers ahead of them and were smart enough to know discretion was in their best interests. How Scott's tough boy persona evolved into a tough man persona and they didn't laugh quite so much and the "I love yous" didn't come nearly as often. How Scott's love became obsessively possessive and he decided Josh *belonged* to him. It wasn't a healthy adoration; it was a destructive domination.

That would have been. . .

. . .how at the end of two years Josh couldn't take it anymore, being Scott's property. He didn't want to be accountable for every minute of every day because of Scott's unfounded jealousies. He didn't want to look over his shoulder every time he did something unplanned or spoke with someone Scott didn't know. Josh didn't want to make love when he no longer was IN love. He had to tell Scott he was leaving him.

That would have been. . .

. . .the yelling and cursing, the fist through the wall, the foot through the door, the broken guitar, the broken lamp, the broken dishes, Josh's torn shirt, the overturned chairs, the upset table, the shattered glass, the hollered threats, the hands around the throat, the swinging baseball bat seen through the window from outside, the neighbors calling the police.

"No sir, there's no reason to press charges," Josh assured them. "I'm not hurt, he's calmed down now, I'll take full responsibility. Everything's fine. He just got bad news and it shook him up, that's all it is."

"Why's your shirt torn son?" the Police Officer asked.

"It's. . .been torn a long time. It's an old shirt.

"That's a fresh tear. And there's a bruise on your neck. If you wanna press charges we can take him to jail tonight."

"I'm ok," Josh insisted. "He didn't touch me."

"How'd you get that bruise. . .those bruises. . .on your neck?" the Officer said as he turned Josh's head to the side and shined the flashlight on him.

"Playing baseball."

"Baseball?"

"Yes sir. I got hit in the neck playing baseball. I swear."

The policeman looked at Josh's neck another minute then clicked off his flashlight.

"You wanna press charges for assault or not? He hasn't been drinking, so unless you press charges, we've gotta let him go and he's your problem again."

"Let him go," said Josh.

"You sure? A couple of nights in jail will cool him off."

"Let him go," Josh repeated.

Scott spent the rest of the night crying and sobbing and begging Josh not to leave him. He said he'd change. He wouldn't be so jealous. He'd give Josh more freedom. He wouldn't question his every move. He'd try not to get so angry. He loved him. He couldn't go on alone. He couldn't live without him.

Josh packed his suitcase and collected his things in the middle of the living room floor. He gathered his schoolbooks. He got his pillow. He rifled through the stacks of record albums and pulled out the ones that belonged to him.

"Please Josh, please don't leave me," Scott pled. "I'll change. I promise. Things will be different. It'll be better."

"I've gotta leave Scott," Josh replied. "We've been through this before."

"This time will be different. I swear."

"I'm leaving."

"No. Please. . ." Scott begged.

"I'm leaving."

"I love you Josh."

"You hit me Scott!"

"I'm sorry! I can't help it. I'll stop. I promise, I'll stop."

"I've heard that promise too many times and you don't stop. For God's sake, you hit me Scott! You've BEEN hitting me for over a year! I can't let you do that anymore," said Josh.

"But I love you."

"You're loving me to death."

That's why Josh didn't go to the locker room to see Scott. He didn't want to talk about old times. He just wanted to watch a baseball game.

"Dinner was great," he said as his thoughts returned to the present. "You'll have to give Sam the recipe."

"Sure. Does Sam know how to take care of you in the kitchen like I do?" Scott asked.

"Did. Like you did. Let's leave the dishes and go in the living room Scott. We've gotta talk." Josh stood and pushed his chair back. "We've really gotta talk."

Scott did the same. "Whatever you say Tonto."

Scott sat on the couch and Josh sat in Toby's easy chair. His first thought was to go upstairs and check on Sam, but he was sure he was sleeping soundly and he wanted to get this over so he could return to Sam and stay with him for the rest of the night.

"Scott, why are you here?" he asked bluntly.

"I told you, police work," Scott replied.

"But why are you HERE? With me?"

Scott grinned. "Because you invited me. In your office I said I'd get a hotel but you told me to stay here, that I'd be welcome in your guest room. Don't tell me you didn't say that."

"I said it."

"But did you mean it?"

"I meant it. But I invited you here as an old friend, not as an old. . ."

"Lover?" Scott said the word Josh couldn't.

Lover. The sweetest sound on Earth when spoken by Sam. But from Scott, it created a tsunami of emotions Josh wasn't sure how to sort out.

"Josh? Anybody in there? Yo, Josh!"

"Uh yeah, I'm here, sorry," Josh said. "That just caught me off guard a little."

"Lover? You got all shook up because I called us lovers?"

"We're not lovers," Josh hissed. "Don't say that ever again."

"We used to be hun, and you can wish it away till the cows come home, but you can never deny it."

"I'm not gonna deny it Scott. But that was a long time ago and my whole life is different now. I've got Sam."

Scott grinned. "If you say so. But does Sam have you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Is there a commitment between you two? A sincere commitment?"

"I don't believe I'm having this conversation in my own living room," Josh said with a tinge of anger. "I don't have to justify my relationship with Sam to you. That's between him and me and it's nobody else's fucking business. Certainly not your's."

"Does he really love you Josh? Really, really love you?" Scott persisted.

"More than there are stars in the sky. And I feel the same way about him. I told you, we're married. We're together for eternity."

As Josh spoke he walked to the small cedar box on the bookshelf and took out his and Sam's wedding bands. He started to put one on his finger then realized it was a bit too snug. Sam's fingers were longer and leaner than Josh's and his ring was just enough smaller than Josh's to be tight. Josh wore it anyway. He wanted and needed the closeness to Sam and with his wedding band on, it brought Sam to him.

"Then why does this townhouse have only the name `Joshua Lyman' on the lease?" Scott threw at him.

"What the hell?"

"And why does Sam keep an empty apartment across town rented month after month in the name of `Samuel Seaborn'? The rent comes out of his checking account automatically on the first of the month and he's never been seen at the apartment."

Josh dropped into the easy chair. "What have you done?" he asked.

"Just a little detective work," Scott answered. "I also know the unlisted private phone is in just your name. Sam has an unlisted number in his name with permanent call forwarding to your number. For all intents and purposes to the rest of the world, you and Sam have completely separate residences and lead separate lives. . .married couples don't do that." He paused for affect. "Unless there's trouble in paradise."

Josh looked at Scott incredulously.

"You actually checked me out? I can't believe you did that!"

"I need to know."

"Need to know. . .?"

Scott rose from the couch and pulled the coffee table closer to the easy chair in front of Josh and sat down. One of his knees was between Josh's legs and the other was on the outside against Josh. A familiar urge welled up in Josh that he didn't want to be there. He stroked Sam's wedding band with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand.

"Need to know if you're ready to come back," Scott said quietly.

Josh's heart skipped a beat and he blinked his eyes several times in rapid succession. He was speechless. It felt like his ears were stopped up. The leg pressed against his didn't feel like Sam's. He drew his bottom lip into his mouth and bit down hard. Unaware that he did so, Josh pulled the wedding band off his finger and it disappeared into his palm.

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