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[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts.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

At Home by Jesse Morgan

Chapter 45

Josh savored the familiar feel of bare skin against bare skin. He didn't realize how much he'd missed this man. Their love had endured and now he could return to that place, that comfortable place, and be with him in the way he'd longed for. The sexual tension had been building and he knew it was only a matter of time before it needed to be satisfied.

Josh looked at the man next to him whose head shared a pillow with his.

"I love your eyes," he said.

"You always have."

"Not so much as right now. I'd forgotten."

"I love your eyes too, Josh. There's a little gold fleck in them that shines when the candlelight hits these sheets just so."

"God only knows how much I adore you, Sam. You have no idea. Even I don't know. Only God knows."

As Sam's fingers intertwined with Josh's, he felt their wedding bands press together.

"When did you put my ring on?" he asked with surprise.

"Last night," Josh replied. "I re-married you while you slept."

Sam smiled. "I do."

"I do too, Angel."

Sam brought Josh's hand to his lips and kissed it.

"I don't remember much about last night," he said. "I guess I fell asleep. What'd you do?"

"I slept with you for a couple of hours, then got dressed and went downstairs. What's-his-name cooked some chicken, we ate, talked a while, then I came back up here to do some work Leo needs tomorrow and I just hung out with you until I went to bed."

"What's-his-name?"

"What's whose name?"

"You said `what's-his-name'," Sam repeated.

"Oh, Scott," Josh replied.

Sam kissed Josh's hand again and let his lips linger on their wedding bands.

"Why'd you call your old friend `what's-his-name'?" Sam asked. He took Josh's finger into his mouth.

Josh felt his penis move against Sam's leg.

"No reason. He's just. . .he's. . .his name. . ."

Sam looked into Josh's eyes and began to suck on his finger.

". . .his name isn't important," Josh continued. "HE isn't important."

Sam slid Josh's finger from his mouth and licked his lips seductively. He didn't take his eyes off Josh's. Josh couldn't look away.

"Tell me what else you did last night," Sam said in a gravely voice.

He slipped Josh's finger back inside his mouth and let his tongue slow dance with it in a shameless tango.

"I, uh, called Leo to...to tell him about your, uh, accident," Josh said, clearly distracted. "He. . .he said Toby had, um, Toby had, um. . ."

Sam smiled at Josh and opened his mouth to reveal his tongue as it toyed with Josh's finger. Josh's stirring was now a full erection and he ached to replace his finger in Sam's mouth with his hard cock.

"Leo said Toby had already called and told him and said I'd pick you up and bring you to work until you could drive yourself will you suck on my dick Sammy I've gotta have it will ya?" Josh said in one breath.

Sam pulled Josh's finger out and separated their hands. He slowly closed his eyes then opened them half-way and looked at Josh through his long lashes. He crooked his own forefinger and beckoned Josh.

"Bring it on," he growled.

Josh threw back the comforter and top sheet. He pulled Sam down until he was in the center of the bed. Then he swung his leg over Sam so he was on his hands and knees over him, his dick over Sam's face, his face over Sam's dick.

As he lowered himself and took Sam's entire cock into his mouth, Josh felt Sam's lips wrap around his throbbing erection and take it all in.

Josh rocked forward and back on his hands and knees as the two lovers licked and lapped and sucked and throat fucked each other in perfect symmetry. Then Josh put his hands beneath Sam's hips and buried his head between his legs for Sam's final thrust as he exploded in Josh's mouth. A fountain of white semen bubbled from Josh's lips as he tried to swallow the nectar from the man he loved.

At the exact same instant, Sam sucked Josh's cock as deeply into his throat as he could and clung to it with his lips as Josh released his wellspring of cum into Sam's mouth. Sam swallowed what he could, but still it overflowed onto his face and ran down onto the bed.

When they were both spent and still, Josh stayed on his hands and knees over Sam but didn't move. They both breathed heavily, winded from their short but vigorous workout. Then Josh turned his body around so his face hovered over Sam's.

"If I could bottle and sell that sensation I'd be a ga-zillionaire," he said with a grin.

Sam laughed. "Let's do it again."

"I'd love to sugar, but it's Monday morning and I've gotta get to work," Josh responded.

"I'm going too," Sam answered.

"Do you feel up to it?"

"Sure. I feel great."

"Are you sure you're sure? What about your leg?" Josh asked with concern. "Does your knee hurt?"

"A little, but not enough to keep me home. I've got stuff to do Josh."

"What about your wrist?"

"I'll manage."

"Is your headache gone?" Josh persisted.

"Yep."

"Well. . .maybe. . ."

"Josh, I'm not asking your permission. I'm telling you. I'm going to work," Sam replied.

"Not if I say `no' you're not."

"Yes I am."

"Well, it's a moot point because I'm saying ok, you can go," said Josh.

Sam grinned, but his smile soon disappeared and his face became serious. He reached up and brushed the hair from Josh's forehead with the tips of his fingers extended from the wrist brace. Even after Josh's hair was back, he rubbed his forehead a couple of times.

"Do you love me Josh?" Sam asked.

That was the last thing Josh expected to hear. Surprise registered on his face and he pulled back a little. Sam's fingers were left stroking the air.

"What kind of question is that?" Josh asked in disbelief. "What in God's name would make you ask me that?"

"Do you love me Josh?" Sam repeated.

"You know I do. Of course I do! Yes Sam, I love you."

Sam put his braced wrist behind Josh's neck. "More than you loved Scott?"

********

"Ok CJ, what's it gonna take?"

"You don't have what it takes."

"You never know. My ship might have come in."

"Yeah, well, when your ship comes in, you let me know and we'll ride off into the sunset together."

Danny sat in the chair opposite CJ.

"What are you doing in here so early anyway?" she asked.

"I like to get here early. I might miss something otherwise."

"Humph."

"So, what's it gonna take?" he repeated.

"Diamonds and rubies and roses and breakfast in Paris, lunch in Madrid, dinner on the beaches of Kokomo and you'll need to grow about a foot-and-a-half taller."

"My, aren't we cocky this morning?"

"Yes Danny, I'm cocky this morning. Cocky, cocky, cocky. I'm so full of cock. . ." she paused, ". . .i-ness that I'm beside myself."

"Speaking of Simon," Danny said in his monotone voice, "I pulled in fifty dollars because of you."

"Fifty? That's a big one, isn't it? I thought the cap was twenty- five." CJ tossed her pen on the desk.

"Yes, but I got a bonus for a special category."

"I'm almost afraid to ask."

Silence.

CJ stared at Danny. Danny stared at CJ.

"Well?" she finally said.

"Well what?"

"What the hell is it?" she yelled.

"You said you were afraid to ask. I didn't wanna cause you any undue alarm."

Danny tapped on the glass fishbowl sitting on CJ's desk.

"When's the last time you fed Gail?"

CJ glared. "This morning. Gail is fine. Danny, if the guards didn't know you were in here. . .what's the special category?"

"You know, technically we're related."

"What in God's name are you talking about?"

"Gail. We're Gail's parents."

"We are SO not," CJ exclaimed.

"If not legally, by common law. Face it CJ, we're married." Danny grinned.

"Get this straight, you Howdy Doody throwback. Not legally, not illegally, not common law, not against the law. . .in NO WAY are we even close to being remotely married, engaged, or otherwise related. Do you understand?" CJ announced.

Danny nodded.

"Now, what's this special category?" she demanded to know.

"Doodles."

"Doodles?"

"Yeah. I found some original doodles, by you, by your own hand."

"And that's worth fifty dollars?" CJ asked incredulously.

"Not normally, but it's what these doodles SAY that make them special."

CJ looked sideways at Danny and squinted her eyes.

"Just what do these doodles say. . .exactly?" she asked.

"Stuff like 'CJ Donovan', 'Mrs. Claudia Jean Donovan', 'Simon and CJ Donovan'. Little hearts with your initials in them. Little flowers. You dot the "i" in Simon with a happy face. You know, the normal pre-pubescent doodles."

CJ closed her eyes. "Shit. And where are said doodles?"

Danny just smiled.

Suddenly CJ stood up and loomed over Danny.

"Where did you get these doodles, you little half-person, half-garden gnome? Were you in my office when I wasn't here?"

Silence.

"Danny, I'm not kidding around. NOBODY comes in my office when I'm not here. NOBODY!" Her face turned crimson. "And you looked at papers on my desk? Do you realize. . .? Have you any idea. . .? I could have your credentials for that! You'll never work in Washington again, you. . .you. . .you plastic toy that comes in a cereal box!"

Danny just smiled.

"Not only will you never work in Washington, you'll never work in the United States. Or Canada. Or Mexico. Or. . .or. . ." CJ let out a scream that made Danny nearly jump out of his chair.

CJ picked up the phone. Danny had seen CJ angry before, but never this angry.

"In fact, I'm gonna call Ron Butterfield this very instant and have you escorted out of the building and off the grounds! I'll have the President deport you! If Simon were here I'd have you shot! What the hell are you smiling at?"

Danny spoke very calmly. "I never came in your office alone, CJ. I never touched your desk or even looked at your desk. I have more ethics than that. You should know better. You should be ashamed."

"Then where'd you get my doodles?"

"You left them on the table in the mess a few weeks ago. Remember when I walked past your table as you were leaving and asked if I could join you? What did you say?"

The color left CJ's face.

"What did you say, CJ?"

"I said, 'Sure, hop on the tray and you can ride through the dishwasher'," CJ mumbled.

"What's that?" Danny asked. "I couldn't hear you."

"I said, 'Sure, hop on the tray and you can ride through the dishwasher'," CJ repeated in a louder than usual voice.

Danny just smiled.

"So I sat at the table you vacated and there, amid a couple of wadded up napkins, voila! said doodles. Voila! fifty dollars."

CJ smiled sheepishly. "Danny, I apologize. I shouldn't have. . .hey wait, don't you need a witness? How can you prove I doodled those?"

She squinted her eyes and hoped for a loophole.

"Voila! one more time. Donna had come down to get lunch for Sam and was waiting for them to cook the bacon for his club sandwich. She saw you doodle and wad up said doodle. After I knew I had gold, I snagged her as a witness and she verified it, just like the rules require. Voila!"

CJ sighed deeply. "If you say 'voila!' one more time, I'll personally remove your voila! from your. . .you know, this thing is being run more efficiently than. . .never mind. Give me the money."

"What?"

CJ wiggled her fingers at Danny.

"Hand it over. That money is mine."

"I think not."

"I think so."

"Come and get it," Danny grinned broadly.

"Oh get real. Like I'm gonna give you a cavity search for fifty dollars? Yeah, right."

"How 'bout a hundred dollars?" Danny asked.

"No way."

"One twenty-five?"

"Danny! I can't believe we, two adults, are standing just a few feet away from the Oval Office and you're pimping yourself to get felt up for a hundred and twenty-five dollars. Two hundred."

"One fifty."

"One seventy-five," CJ countered.

"One sixty-two fifty," Danny said.

CJ thought a minute. Then she burst out laughing.

"This is so outrageous, it's unbelievable! I mean, it's hilarious! I wish Josh and Sam were here to see this! They'd love it!"

"They might even get in on the bidding," Danny suggested.

"Oh, I'm sure. Josh and Sam paying money to cop a feel of you?" CJ said as tears rolled down her cheeks from laughing so hard. "The day THAT gets past ME is the day I get out of the news business."

Danny just smiled.

*********

"DONNA!"

Josh loosened his tie and unfastened his top button.

"Donna! Get in here!"

She appeared at his office door.

"Do you ever get tired of the sound of your own voice?" she asked.

"No. Listening to myself speak is my greatest joy in life."

"You must be a happy, happy man Josh Lyman. How may I serve you?"

"The Technology Challenge Fund. All the folders I had about the Technology Challenge Fund were in a single file on my computer and now I can't find it and I needed it an hour ago. What did you do to it?" Josh demanded more than asked.

"First of all, I didn't do anything *to* it," Donna said. "Secondly, your files are in your folder; your folders aren't in your file."

"Whatever. Just fix it. Find it."

Josh ran his hand through his hair with frustration.

"Do I hear `please'?

"Donna, an hour ago? We've gotta meet with the Vice President and I need that information."

"Get up. Let me sit in your chair."

Josh stood and Donna sat in front of his computer.

"With a little notice I could have had this ready and waiting for you," she said as her hands sped over the keyboard.

Josh paced.

"This IS the notice. Leo just dropped it on me. Did you find it yet?"

"Hunting. Why are you meeting with the Vice President?"

Josh looked at his watch.

"Did you find it yet?" he repeated.

"One. More. Second. And. I've…got it!"

Donna hit the final keystroke with a dramatic flair.

"You've got it?" Josh asked eagerly.

"Yep. Josh, why do you have LemonLyman.com book marked under Favorites? I thought you learned your lesson when CJ threatened. . ."

"Up, up, up, up. Get out of my chair. I've got work to do."

Josh rattled the back of his chair to get Donna's attention.

"Ok, ok, I'm up. And you're welcome."

Josh slid into the chair and leaned forward to study the screen. Donna stood behind him and read over his shoulder. They were both silent, Josh deep in thought. Then Donna spoke close to Josh's ear.

"Have you seen Sam today?"

"Holy shit!" Josh spun around. "What the hell are you doing? Don't hang over me like that! Scare a man to death, will ya?"

Donna put her hand to her mouth to suppress a giggle.

"Why does Hoynes make you so jumpy?" she asked.

"I'm not jumpy."

"You jumped."

"I didn't jump."

"You jumped just now when I asked you why Hoynes makes you so jumpy."

"Hoynes doesn't make me jumpy. YOU make me jumpy the way you *slither* around here and sneak up on me. Don't you have something to do?" Josh replied.

"Nope. All caught up."

"No way."

"Really, my work is all caught up," Donna insisted.

Josh cocked his head and looked at his assistant in disbelief.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

"Don't be an idiot Josh. Of course my work isn't all caught up. My work will never be caught up. My work is like the eternal flame ~~ it will continue to go on forever and ever and ever and. . ."

"Of course, what was I thinking? Now go away. And thank you."

"You're welcome," Donna replied with a smile.

She was barely out of Josh's sight when she heard. . .

"DONNA!"

"Don't tell me you deleted the folder," she said as she re-appeared at his door.

"What about Sam?" Josh asked.

"What ABOUT Sam?"

"You asked me if I'd seen him today. Why?"

"Because he looks like he ran into a concrete wall!"

"That's because he DID run into a concrete wall Donna," Josh explained. "He was playing racquetball and. . ."

"Extreme racquetball," Donna corrected him.

Josh rolled his eyes. "Extreme racquetball. He was playing extreme racquetball, misjudged the distance to the wall and it ran into him."

"The wall ran into HIM?"

Josh had returned to his computer screen.

"Josh?"

No response.

"Josh?" Donna repeated.

He turned and faced her. "Get Sam on the phone. I need to talk with him."

Donna returned a minute later.

"Sam on line two"

"Finally! And close the door on your way out!"

Josh pushed the button on his phone. "Hey," he said in a much softer tone.

"Sam Seaborn."

"Hi babe."

Sam grinned into the phone. He would have swiveled his chair so his back was to the door, but his right leg was propped on a straight chair and he couldn't maneuver that easily. He wished his office door were closed.

"Who's always saying these phone lines aren't secure?" he asked.

"I don't remember," Josh answered. "You or me, one of us probably. You?"

Sam laughed. "I don't remember either, but you know we shouldn't talk like that here."

"I couldn't help myself. This morning Sam. . ."

"Josh, what can I do for you?"

Sam hated to cut Josh's words short ~~ he, too, would loved to have talked about this morning, about what he and Josh had shared, but he knew the risk was too great. He had to be realistic

"Uh, yeah. Ok. You're not gonna like it."

"Just tell me," said Sam.

"How's your headache?"

"Better. Tell me."

"Ok. Health, Education and Welfare is marking up the Internet Education Act tomorrow," Josh said.

"Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow."

Sam leaned back in his chair. He picked up his pen and began to tap it on his desk.

"And you found out about this when?"

"An hour ago."

"Nice."

"That's what I thought. And get this. They're zeroing out the Technology Challenge Fund," Josh continued.

Sam sat upright in his chair.

"That's the Vice President's thing."

"No shit. You wanna know how long it's been the Vice President's thing?" Josh said. "I was working for him when he created it."

"Does he know about this?" Sam asked.

"No."

"He's gotta find out. What do you think he's gonna say when you tell him?"

"I think he's gonna say, `Josh, you look remarkably like Sam Seaborn'." Josh replied.

"Oh no. This is definitely not a good idea Josh. I can think of somebody a LOT better suited for this than me."

"Like who?"

"Like Leo," Sam said.

"It was Leo's idea to send you Sam," replied Josh. "I'd go but. . ."

"I'm supposed to just walk in there and say, `I'm sorry Mr. Vice President, this isn't gonna happen'? Don't you think he's gonna be somewhat miffed if it comes from the Deputy Communications Director instead of the Chief of Staff? Or the Deputy Chief of Staff even? Josh, think about it. Something like this, the choice of messenger might be of significance here."

"Well, we don't want you to say it's not gonna happen. We want you to work with him and MAKE it happen. For him."

"For him?" Sam asked.

"For him," Josh confirmed.

"Save the bill FOR him?"

"Save the bill FOR him."

"Ok then. When?"

"His office expects you in fifteen minutes."

Sam sighed. "Ok. Anything I need to know?"

"You know," Josh said in a softer voice, far away from the Internet Education Act.

"You know too Osh. You're not making this conversation easy."

"I'm sorry. It's just that this morning. . ."

"Josh. Anything I need to know before I meet with the Vice President in…thirteen minutes?" Sam interrupted.

"I've got some stuff I just pulled up. I've got all these folders in a file. . .you can come by here and look at it."

"Files in a folder Josh, not folders in a file. Will you ever learn? I'll be right there as soon as I get my leg down off this chair. It's kinda stiff anyway."

"You know what, Sam? You know as much about this bill as anybody. You don't need to look at the stuff on my computer. I just wanted you to come to my office so I could see you," Josh admitted. "That would be extra steps for you and that's just not right. How's your knee? Besides stiff."

"It's pretty sore, but not as bad as I thought. My wrist is a pain in the ass though. I can't do anything with my left hand. I don't feel like I've gotten anything accomplished this morning."

"Did you bring your pills with you?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded.

"Did you bring your pain pills Sammy?"

"Um, I think so." Sam looked at the medicine bottle already in his hand.

"Have you taken any today?"

"No, not yet."

"Are you going to?" Josh continued.

"I don't know. Maybe. . .maybe before I walk much. It hurts and I don't wanna have to think about my knee while I'm talking with Hoynes. Maybe I should take one. Or half of one. What do you think?"

Sam twisted the cap off the bottle and shook two into his hand.

"If you hurt Sam, then do it. That's what the doctor gave them to you for. Hell, you just got out of the hospital. I know you won't misuse them, right?"

"Uh uh."

"Right Sam? You won't misuse them?"

"I said no, Josh. Do you wanna come watch me. . .I'm sorry. No, I won't misuse them. I might not even take one. I'll probably be ok," Sam insisted.

He took the top off his bottle of water.

"I didn't mean that. It's ok, if you're really in pain. Just be careful. You know. . .I worry. . .just be careful."

"I'll be careful. Do you wanna hold onto the pills Josh?" Sam asked softly. "It's ok if you do. That way you'll be more at ease and confident I'm following the doctor's instructions."

"No, I'm over-reacting. I know you'll be careful. You'd better get going Hop-Along."

"Yeah, ok. Uh Josh, speaking of Hop-Along, when's Scott leaving?" Sam asked.

He swallowed two Vicodin.

"That's the Lone Ranger, and I'm not sure. Soon. Why? Do you want him gone?" The question caught Josh off-guard and made him uncomfortable.

"No, I just wondered. I've gotta go."

"I know. Call me when you get back and let me know how it went."

"Maybe I'll stop by."

"Even better. "

"Ok, see you later then."

"Wait! Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"About this morning. . ."

 

********

"Good afternoon Sam."

"Good afternoon. I believe the Vice President expects me."

"He does indeed. Go right on in."

"Thank you."

Sam went inside the Vice President's office and closed the door behind. He liked John Hoynes. He'd always liked John Hoynes and got along well with him. They'd first met when Josh worked on his campaign for President, and Sam had briefly considered joining his campaign when the then Governor of Texas personally asked him to be his speechwriter. But the draw of corporate law enticed him and he declined, but not without hesitancy and gratitude at being asked. John Hoynes had called him and asked him a second time, and a second time Sam turned him down. He told himself that if Hoynes asked him a third time he would accept, but the call never came.

Now Sam wondered, if Hoynes became President after Jed Bartlet and if John Hoynes made the same offer, would he accept it? Communications Director? Probably.

Then again, since Josh left Hoynes' campaign and joined Bartlet's, the two of them had never been on steady ground and Sam wondered how Josh would feel if Sam had such a close working relationship with a man Josh no longer felt such a kinship with. That, Sam decided, was a few years off and he could think about it then. First they had to get Jed Bartlet re-elected for four more years THEN he could worry about being the Communications Director for President John Hoynes.

Sam hadn't discussed this with Josh. He didn't think there was any need to yet. But he would when the time was right. If that time ever came.

"Sam! Good to see you. Did you have to wait long?" Hoynes asked when Sam entered his office.

"No sir, I just got here."

"Good, good. I got held up at another meeting and thought I might be late. What the hell happened to you?"

He motioned for Sam to a chair as he half-sat, half-leaned against his desk.

Sam explained about the accident on the racquetball court.

"Damn! You've gotta rein it in a little there, son." Then he laughed. "What am I saying? I'd do the same thing. You and I both love sports, Sam. Neither one of us would ever hold back on a playing field."

"No sir."

"I hear you had Caps tickets."

"Yes sir, I did. I went with Toby Ziegler."

"How was it?"

"Not very good."

"Have you ever seen a good hockey game?" Hoynes asked with a laugh.

"No sir, to be honest, I haven't."

"Me neither. I love most everything else, but I just can't get into hockey. See, I think Americans like to savor situations. One down, bottom of the ninth, one run game, first and third, left handed batter, right handed reliever, in field at double play depth, here's the pitch." Hoynes walked around his office as he pantomimed the action. "But scoring in hockey seems to come out of nowhere. The play-by-play guy is always shocked. LePeiter passes to Huckenchuck to who skates past the blue line. Huckenchuck, of course, was traded from Winnipeg for a case of Labatts after sitting out last season with…'Oh my God, he scores!' So, what's going on Sam?"

The Vice President sat behind his desk.

Sam sighed deeply. "They're marking up the Internet Education Act tomorrow," he said.

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes sir, and they're zeroing out the Technology Challenge Fund. I'm sorry."

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes sir. We only heard about it ninety minutes ago."

"We're going to save this thing," Hoynes said with determination. "You know that, don't you?"

"Yes sir. That's what I'm here for."

"It's only fifty-two million Sam."

"I know."

"Twenty five percent of the poorest Americans don't have Internet access. Sixty percent of blacks and Hispanics don't have Internet access. I have to make some calls."

"Yeah, well the problem is. . ." Sam started.

"The problem is what? What's the problem Sam?"

"The Chairman. You attacked him at the DNC Spring. . ."

"You guys SENT me to attack him!" Hoynes replied.

"I understand. I do."

"They're marking it up tomorrow?" he asked again.

"Yes sir."

"So you're gonna do this for me Sam. You're gonna get this done? You're gonna get this bill passed? You know this is my thing. It's been my thing for a long time."

"I know that sir. That's what I'm here for," Sam repeated.

"There must be one hundred, one hundred ten million dollars for distance learning and telemedicine. Can we shave that down any?"

"There are three rural members on the committee who love distance learning."

"I'm not sure I see the point of the rural poor not having Internet hook-up. Why don't we just plug the entire bill?" Hoynes asked.

"Sir?"

"We get our Internet for fifty-two million, they get to add fifty-two million for Internet blocking software of whatever they want. Why can't we do that?"

"Well, one of the problems is they're deficit hogs," Sam explained.

"And we're deficit hogs too, aren't we?" Hoynes pointed out.

"That's the, uh, that's the other problem."

"All right Sam, work with me here. What do they want? A bridge? A highway? A Coke machine? What the hell do they want?"

Sam hated this part. "They want our name off the bill." He cleared his throat. "Sir, they want YOUR name off the bill."

Hoynes sat silent. He made eye contact with Sam. Then he spoke.

"I like what Daniel Webster said when the Whig party offered him the Vice President. `I do not propose to be buried until I am dead'. I used to be every Republicans' favorite Democrat. Screw it Sam."

"Absolutely Mr. Vice President."

"Take my name off the bill."

"Yes sir," Sam replied softly.

The two men sat quietly for a couple of minutes.

"Wanna cup of coffee Sam?" Hoynes asked.

"Sure, yes sir, that would be nice. Black."

"You can relax the `yes sirs' for a while Sam."

"Thank you sir."

John Hoynes smiled. He picked up his phone and pushed a button.

"Send in a coffee tray please. Thanks."

He hung up and turned back to Sam.

"You like to play poker, don't you Sam? I think you've sat in on some of our games."

"I love poker. And yes, I play every chance I get," Sam replied.

"Did you know I have a special group that meets on Thursday nights for a poker game?" Hoynes asked.

"No sir, I didn't know that."

"What are you taking for your pain Sam? From your accident?"

"Sir?"

"Your pain meds. What is it?"

"Vicodin. May I ask why you. . .?"

"No reason. Think you might wanna come to my poker game some Thursday night?"

"Sure. What are the stakes?"

"High."

Chapter 46

Scott was in the townhouse when Sam and Josh got home Monday evening. Neither of them especially wanted him there ~~ Sam just didn't feel comfortable around the man, and Josh had decided it was fine with him if he didn't see Scott for another twenty years. Just the short time he'd been around him he knew their day was over forever and he was ready for that period of his life to move on.

"Hey fellas," Scott greeted them. "Welcome home."

Sam shot Josh a glance that didn't go unnoticed.

"Did you bring the wine?" Scott asked.

"What wine?" Josh reached for Sam but was left holding his crutches as Sam limped across the living room without him.

"I left a message at your office and asked you to bring home a nice red wine to have with dinner. Didn't you get it?"

"I'm sorry Scott," Josh apologized. "I got the message, but forgot to get the wine. Sam, we've got wine here, don't we?" Josh walked up behind Sam at the bottom of the steps.

"Sure," Sam replied. "A nice variety. Help yourself. Josh, you can show him where it is. . .I'm going upstairs."

"I've got dinner about ready Sam," Scott said. "Come on and eat with us."

"Thanks but no, I'll fix a sandwich later."

Josh put his hand on Sam's arm and stopped him before he could leave. "Did you have lunch today?" he asked quietly. He didn't particularly want Scott to hear their conversation.

"I ate at my desk," Sam replied. "Cathy brought it up from the mess."

"What'd you have?"

"Chicken salad sandwich and mixed fruit. Then Toby brought us each a piece of pie and coffee."

"What kind of pie?"

Sam smiled, took hold of Josh's tie and pulled him in for a kiss. "Coconut cream. And it was good too. All smushy in my mouth. . .I thought of you."

Josh circled his arms around Sam and pulled him close. "Sammy, I've gotta go back to the office for a few hours after supper. I wish you'd eat with me so we can be together before I leave."

"Go back why?" Sam was obviously disappointed with the news. "I'd hoped we could spend the evening alone together."

"I know, me too babe. Leo snagged me at the last minute and we need to finish up a thing. He has a seven a.m. with Senators Beahan and Cornett tomorrow and he needs a little more prep time. I've gotta do this. It's Leo."

"I understand. Anything I can do to help?" Sam volunteered.

"No, but thanks. Leo would appreciate the offer. You stay here and feel better and I'll get back as soon as I can. Then we'll have the rest of the night for just us. I promise," Josh assured him.

Sam laid his head on Josh's shoulder in the supportive circle of his arms. Josh put his lips close to Sam's ear. "Have you got a headache honey?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "Just a little. It'll go away."

"The doctor said you'd have one for a few days."

"He wasn't kidding. It'll go away."

"Maybe it would help if you eat something. Then when I get home I'll give you a head massage, ok?" Josh asked hopefully.

"Ok, I'll eat dinner. It DOES smell good. What's-his-name is a damn fine cook," Sam conceded.

Josh kissed the side of Sam's head and smiled. "He is that, but I like your cooking better," said Josh.

Sam raised his right arm. "Unless you let me take this brace off, YOU'LL be pulling kitchen duty around here for a while."

"That's why God created Pizza Hut. Let's get out of these clothes."

Josh turned so he didn't yell in Sam's ear. "Scott! How long till dinner?"

"Twenty minutes!" Scott called from the kitchen. "I found the wine! Open season?"

"Can he serve any bottle he wants, Sammy?" Josh asked in a softer voice.

He knew how particular and protective Sam was about his wine collection. He had bottles ranging in price from pocket money to several thousand dollars. Josh rarely opened a bottle without checking with Sam first because he had no idea what was what. This was fine with Josh. Sam always chose the perfect wine whenever they served it in their home, whether to guests or just for them.

"Sure. Whatever."

Sam knew Josh thought a lot of Scott and apparently cared for him deeply, even though he HAD called him `what's-his name'. Sam was certain that was for his benefit, to minimize his long-time relationship with Scott and maybe even diffuse any strong feelings that may have re-surfaced since he showed up in Washington and moved into their home.

Of course, Sam didn't want Scott to drink his best wine, but he'd never tell Josh that. He figured Josh would want only the finest for his friend.

"Yeah, sure. Anything he wants," Sam replied. "Tell him to help himself."

"Maybe you should go pick it out, babe."

"Its fine, Josh. Whatever Scott wants, Scott can have."

Scott re-appeared at the door. "I forgot to tell you," he said, "your Dad called."

Josh whipped his head around. In the instant it took Scott to say those three words, Josh was propelled back in time thirty years. How many times he'd heard Scott say, "Your Dad called" when he was a kid. . .

"Your Dad called, Josh. He said you've gotta go home and do your homework."

"Your Dad called, Josh. He said you've gotta get ready for Temple."

"Your Dad called, Josh. He said it's ok, you can camp out in my back yard."

"Your Dad called, Josh. He said your Bubbe is sick and to get on your bike and ride as fast as you can to her house. I'll go with you."

"My Dad called?" Josh barely spoke the words.

"Josh. . ." Sam said softly.

Scott shook his head with a grin. "No, man. Sam's Dad called."

"Josh?" Sam repeated.

"He wants you to call him back tonight," Scott continued. "Kind of an abrupt guy, not much for small talk is he?"

Sam ignored him. His eyes were focused on Josh.

"So how IS Noah?" Scott asked. "Your old man was the coolest Pop in the neighborhood. What's he up to these days?"

"He's dead." Josh's voice cracked.

"You're shittin' me. Noah Lyman's dead? When? What happened? I'm sorry, man, I didn't know."

"It's ok, you had no way of knowing. It happened about four years ago."

"I'm really sorry Josh. What happened?" Scott asked sincerely.

"He, uh. . .he had cancer. He'd just been diagnosed with it a little over six months earlier and he. . .he went for, uh, Mom took him for his chemotherapy and he developed a pulmonary embolism. That's a. . .a. . ." Josh took a deep breath. "That's a blood clot."

Josh looked at Sam. He wanted to be with Sam. Just Sam. "It went to his heart and he went into cardiac arrest. And he died."

"Oh man, I'm sorry," Scott said again. "How's your Mom?"

"She's doing well. She was just out here not too long ago. She's fine." Josh turned back to his guest.

"Scott, why don't you go on into the wine pantry and have a look around and I'll be there in a minute," he said.

"Yeah, sure." Scott walked back into the kitchen and out of sight.

"You ok darlin?" Sam asked. He put his hand against Josh's cheek.

Josh closed his eyes and nodded. "I wish he'd never come here. He's brought nothing but bad memories."

"I thought you enjoyed having him around," Sam replied.

"I thought I would," Josh said, "but it hasn't turned out that way. Let me go show him the wine and I'll be right back." Josh turned his head and kissed the palm of Sam's hand, then he too, walked away.

He found Scott in the wine pantry off the kitchen and down four steps. The door was thick, solid oak, the steps smooth, flat river stones, and the room dark and cool. Scott held a bottle in his hands and read the label.

"Good stuff?" Josh asked.

"Exceptional. When did you become a wine connoisseur?"

"I'm not. That's Sam's bailiwick. He buys it and I drink it."

"Well, he sure knows his stuff. There's some good shit in here. Did he say which bottle he wants me to open?" Scott asked.

"He said to help yourself," Josh replied. "That's quite a compliment. Sam hardly allows ME in here."

Scott grinned. "I'm honored. I figured Sam hated me, or at the very least is intimidated by me."

Josh bristled and felt a cold chill run through him in the already cool room.

"Intimidated? Sam intimidated by you?" Josh laughed. "Why in the hell would Sam be intimidated by you?"

"Because of us," Scott said matter-of-factly. "Because of what we have."

Josh shook his head. "What we have? Tell me exactly what we have, Scott. I'm a bit confused."

"Tonto, you can't honestly stand there and deny there's something between us again. Still. That it never really went away," Scott stated.

"I can honestly say there's nothing between us, Scott. It went away. Really. It did."

Scott grinned. "There is Josh. I can feel it. YOU can feel it. Last night. . ."

"There WAS no last night. You're delusional, and you've gotta knock this off."

Scott slid the bottle back into its cradle in the wine rack.

"Settle down, relax." He took the few steps to Josh, stood in front of him and put his hands on his shoulders. He began to massage Josh's muscles.

"You're all tight and knotted up," he said. "I know you've got all this tension because you're conflicted about me being here and you're worried about Sammy and. . ."

"Sam."

"Sam, and your emotions are all over the place," Scott continued.

Josh closed his eyes. Scott's hands were big and strong and his fingers digging into Josh's muscles felt surprisingly good. He felt his shoulders droop as Scott expertly smoothed out the knots and caressed the muscle fibers one by one until they were stretched and relaxed. Then he felt Scott's hands on his neck. Josh's eyes flew open and he grabbed Scott's wrists and pulled his hands away.

"What was that all about?" Scott asked. "I was just gonna massage your neck. It's hard as a rock too. You used to love it when I gave you a massage."

Josh knew he'd over-reacted, but the feel of Scott's hands around his neck churned up too many ugly memories that he didn't want to re- live. It was a knee-jerk reaction to save himself that he'd learned long ago when he felt Scott's hands wrap around his neck.

Scott held his hands up in a defensive stance. "Take it easy, Josh," Scott said. "I'm not gonna hurt you."

"Yeah, ok. It just. . .startled me."

"Relax," Scott said softly. "Relax. . .relax. . .relax. . ."

Josh started to let the tension go again. Maybe he WAS just on high- alert about everything these days. It would be better when Scott was gone. Soon he and Sam would be alone again and life would get back to normal. Relax. . .relax. . .

"Why didn't you call me when your Dad died?" Scott asked.

Once more, Josh was caught off-guard and although he didn't want to believe it, he suspected Scott did it on purpose.

"Call you?"

"Yeah. I would have dropped everything and been at your side in an hour."

"I had somebody at my side," said Josh. "It never occurred to me to call. . .Scott, why don't you get this?"

"Why don't you?

Josh felt the back of his neck get hot and wasn't sure why. He walked away from Scott and went up the four steps. At the oak door he turned.

"Just for the record, NO ONE intimidates Sam Seaborn."

Josh left the wine pantry and went upstairs. Sam had already changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt and lay across the bed. Josh closed and locked the bedroom door behind him and peeled off his jacket, tie and shirt. He kicked off his shoes and slung his pants on the chair with the rest of his clothes. In his underwear and socks, he crawled onto the bed and lay on his stomach next to Sam. He put his arm across Sam's chest and rested his head on his shoulder.

"Hi," he said.

"Hi yourself," Sam responded.

"I missed you."

"I missed you too."

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell me you love me."

"I love you, Josh."

"Yeah, I know."

The two were silent. Sam used the tips of his fingers that protruded from his wrist brace and gently rubbed Josh's forehead. He tucked a loose tuft of hair behind Josh's ear. His chest rose and fell against Sam at a quickened pace at first. Then as he was quietly soothed by Sam's tender touch, Josh's heartbeat slowed and he was calmed in the arms of the man who said, "I love you, Josh."

"You know what?" Josh said softly.

"What?"

"I miss my Dad."

Sam kissed the top of Josh's head. "I know you do, baby."

"He just. . .died. . .you know? He just. . .died."

"He didn't mean to."

"But he died anyway."

Sam brushed his thumb across Josh's eyelashes. They were dry.

"What do you miss about him, Josh? Tell me." Sam spoke softly.

"His smell. I miss the way he smelled."

Sam felt Josh's face muscles pull and knew he had smiled. He smiled with him. Sam ran the tips of his fingers through Josh's hair.

"He smelled like coffee and pipe tobacco," Josh continued. "When I was a kid I gave him this big coffee mug that said `World's Greatest Dad' on it and after that, he always drank his coffee out of that mug."

Josh laughed a little.

"He and Mom would have people over, important people you know, and Mom would have out her good dishes, china I guess, and Dad would have that big ole red and white mug at his place at the table."

"Mom would say, `Noah, can't you use a china coffee cup like everybody else?' and Dad would say, `No Rosemary, I can't. My boy gave me this and I'm proud of it'."

Josh clutched Sam's t-shirt in his fist. "God, I miss him Sam."

"You and your Dad were close, Josh. Do you realize what a blessing you were given to have had that?"

"And what a motherfucker it was to lose it?"

"But you HAD it! I wouldn't wish my Father on anybody, but if you could experience an hour of what it's been like to have him as a Dad. . ." Sam's voice trailed off.

"I. . .I don't know what to say to that."

"You don't have to say anything. Just cherish knowing you can still smell pipe tobacco and coffee and smile because it makes you think of your Dad."

Josh nodded against Sam's shoulder and they were silent again.

"Sammy?"

"Hmmm?"

"I never told my Dad."

"I know."

"Why? Why didn't I tell him?" Josh asked himself as much as he asked Sam.

"It doesn't matter, darlin'."

"But I told my Mom. Why didn't I tell my Dad?"

"Don't do this to yourself. It doesn't matter."

"But why?"

"Joshua, coming out is NOT an easy thing to do. You know that. And to your Father? Let it go."

"Sometimes I wonder, if he hadn't died, would I have told him about you? About you and me? About us?"

Josh propped himself up on his elbow and searched Sam's face. He looked into Sam's eyes and lightly ran his finger the length of the cut on Sam's forehead. He kissed Sam's lips.

"Would I have kept you hidden, Sam? Sometimes I wake up in the night wondering. Am I ashamed of who. . .of what. . .of who I am? What I am?"

"Are you ashamed of ME?"

"God, no! If I could I'd hold you up and shout to the world, `This is my Sam!' I swear on my Dad's grave I would."

"Don't say that. You know you're not ashamed of who you are. Do you actually believe I'd marry a lesser man?"

Josh searched Sam's eyes again.

"Kiss me, Josh," whispered Sam.

Josh kissed him.

"Kiss me again."

Josh kissed Sam again.

"Did you like that?" Sam asked.

"I loved that."

"Are you ashamed of what we just did?" Sam persisted.

Josh kissed Sam again ~~ deeply, passionately. He kissed Sam with all the love he had to give. He kissed Sam like he never wanted their lips to separate.

"There's no shame in who I am," Josh said when they did break away from each other. "I wouldn't want to live my life any other way."

Sam smiled. "I'm glad you said that. It'd be a bitch if I had to spend eternity alone."

"Not a chance."

"That's my Josh."

"But why didn't I tell. . ."

"Let it go," Sam interrupted.

"But why didn't I. . ."

"Let it go."

"But why didn't. . ."

"Let it go."

"But why. . ."

"Let it go."

"But. . ."

"Josh."

"It's gone."

"Ok."

"Hungry?" Josh asked with a grin.

"You know what? I AM hungry," Sam replied.

"Think what's-his-name has dinner ready?"

Sam laughed. "If not, we're gonna eat it as is. And I wanna see what he's pilfered from my wine pantry. Do you feel like going down?"

Josh nodded and rolled off Sam. "Yeah, but I think I'd better put some clothes on. Skivvies aren't proper dinner attire when we have a house guest."

"Especially when the house guest can't take his eyes off the host," Sam muttered as he pulled himself to a sitting position.

"What'd you say?"

"Nothing."

"You said something. What'd you say?" Josh insisted.

"I just said Scott seems to keep a close watch on you."

"Sam, he does not."

"Josh, he does too."

"Doesn't."

"Does."

Josh cocked his head to the side and grinned. "Can you blame him?"

"I'm being silly and jealous and overly sensitive and making something out of nothing, aren't I?" Sam asked with a sheepish smile.

Josh nodded. "Yep. But I kinda like it."

"I'm sorry Osh. My imagination just got the best of me and. . .I'm sorry. Let's go see what he's cooked up."

Josh couldn't look at Sam. Instead he silently got dressed then held on to Sam to steady him as they went downstairs to see what Scott had cooked up.

********

After dinner Josh stood, made his apologies to Scott, said he hated to eat and run, but he had to go back to the White House and work a few hours with Leo.

"I totally understand," Scott said. "I'll clean up the kitchen and take care of our patient while you're gone."

Sam clenched his jaw so he wouldn't speak, only because he was Josh's friend. He had plenty he wanted to say, but didn't want to embarrass Josh.

"Well, he's not *our* patient," replied Josh," and Sam's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. But thanks for cleaning up the kitchen. Make it sparkle."

Sam looked up at Josh and gave him a little smile. Josh responded with a wink and just the slightest twitch of his nose.

"I'll walk you to the door," said Sam, as he pushed back his chair.

Scott had already started to clear the table and had taken a stack of dishes into the kitchen.

"Let me get your crutches," Josh started.

"Didn't you just say I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself? Didn't you just say that?" Sam teased.

"Well yeah, but I didn't mean it."

"Josh please, I adore you for taking care of me, but really, I'm doing fine. I don't feel nearly as bad as I look."

"You look. . ." Josh laughed. "You know."

Josh opened the door and stepped halfway out. Sam stood close against him and put his good arm around Josh's waist. He pulled him in with a quick thrust.

"Come home soon?" he asked in a low voice.

"Quick as I can."

"Make love to me?"

"All night long."

"Be my baby?"

"Forever."

"Kiss me good-bye?"

Josh put his hand behind Sam's neck and kissed him with a hunger that surprised ~~ and pleased ~~ them both.

"I've gotta go Angel," Josh purred in Sam's ear.

"I know. Drive carefully."

"Always."

Josh gave Sam a quick peck on the cheek, turned and walked toward the car. Sam watched until he was out of sight before he closed the door. Then he returned to the living room and eased himself onto the couch. He tossed a pillow onto the coffee table and propped his leg up so his foot rested on the pillow. He picked up the remote and clicked the TV on.

It wasn't long before Scott came out of the kitchen and flopped onto one of the easy chairs. "What'cha watching?" he asked.

"Will and Grace."

"What's that?"

"A sit-com. Josh and I like it," Sam responded.

"I mostly watch sports."

"Uh huh."

"Do you like sports?" Scott asked.

"Yeah."

"Whaddya like?"

"Lots of stuff."

"Like what?"

"Uh, most everything," Sam replied.

"You don't much wanna talk with me, do you?"

Sam looked at Scott. He clicked the remote off so the TV went black.

"I'm sorry, that was rude of me. Of course I'd like to talk with you Scott. Give me five minutes so I can go upstairs and brush my teeth first. I'm kind of obsessive about dental hygiene."

Scott laughed. "Sure, no problem."

Sam had learned to maneuver the steps with little difficulty now. One hand on the banister and a few quick hops and he was at the top in no time. Still, he liked the reassurance of knowing Josh was behind him when he stood close and followed him up the steps.

The last thing Sam wanted to do tonight was listen to Scott; the second to last thing he wanted to do was respond to him. But he felt obligated on Josh's account. He'd much rather watch TV alone or sequester himself in their bedroom and read. Or continue the chess game he and Toby were playing over the telephone. Or stick a hot poker in his eye.

But Sam was well-bred and gracious and knew his role was host of the manor, so host he would, as painful as it would be. But first he needed to dull the pain a little.

He went into the bedroom, closed and locked the door. He reached under the pillow on the edge of the bed, pulled out the purple bag, went into the bathroom and closed and locked that door as well.

Sam looked at himself in the mirror and moved in for a closer exam of his forehead. The redness had gone and the stitches had started to disintegrate. It was close enough to his hairline and the suturing had been done so well he didn't think there would be much of a scar, if any. His hair would cover it if there was one, but he wasn't worried. The other bruises had faded a bit and the cuts had scabbed over.

He took the brace off his arm and moved his wrist up and down. It was stiff. Dr. Adams said not to let it stay immobile constantly, to let it move as he could tolerate it. Sam decided to leave the brace off for a while and allow some flexibility back into his wrist.

He decided to leave his knee brace on. A torn tendon was nothing to fool around with and he didn't want to do permanent damage.

He dreaded going back downstairs and spending the evening with Scott. He already missed Josh and he knew Josh didn't want to leave. Sam felt Josh wanted to talk more about his Dad, but also knew he had an obligation to return to the White House and work with Leo, so he left things unsaid that he wanted and needed to say. Sam didn't like to think about tonight. It was just bad on so many levels. . .

He didn't have a headache but he anticipated one after a while with Scott. It'd be easier just to take a pain pill now than to have to come back upstairs later and get one, he reasoned. Preventative medicine. Plus, my wrist is probably going to get sore being out of the brace, so I really should take a pain pill now to dull that too.

Sam opened the bottle of Vicodin and shook two tablets into his hand. Damn! he thought. I'm getting low on these things. I need to call in a re-fill. He held a paper cup under the cold-water faucet, popped the pills in his mouth and swallowed them.

Next he went through his oral hygiene routine of brushing, plaque busting, fluoride treating, gargling, flossing, rinse and repeat.

Now, just a little something for ME to take the edge off wasting my night with that son-of-a-bitch in my living room, Sam thought. He opened the purple bag, felt around with his fingers and brought out a small vial. He set the bag on the counter and pushed it off to the side. He picked up the rectangular hand mirror, wiped it clean with the corner of his t-shirt, then set it face up near the sink. He flicked at a speck of dust that may or may not have been on the mirror. Sam used the tips of his right hand, careful not to strain his wrist, and opened the vial. He poured a small pile of the white powder onto the mirror and replaced the top of the vial and dropped it back into the purple bag.

Sam opened the drawer that held his personal hygiene items ~~ his hairbrush, eye drops, fingernail clippers, mud facial masque ~~ and reached to the very back. He pulled out a package of platinum chrome double edge razor blades and popped out a new one. He returned the package to the back of the drawer and closed it.

Quickly and deftly Sam halved the small heap of cocaine with the blade and formed two straight lines the length of the mirror. He scraped the glass to make sure every particle was included in one of the lines and none was left astray. Sam wrapped the razor blade in four Kleenex and stuffed it in the purple bag. When he brought his hand out, he held onto an eight-inch clear glass tube, the diameter of a drinking straw.

Sam put his forefinger against one nostril to close it off and put the end of the straw to his other nostril. He placed the other end of the straw at the edge of one line of coke and as he ran it down the length of the white powder, he snorted it in through the straw and into his open nostril. When one line had disappeared Sam leaned his head back so there would be no backwash and nothing would be lost. He sniffed a couple of times to catch anything that may have fallen out and make sure he had caught it all. A couple more sniffs. Then he put his finger against his other nostril and repeated the ritual until he had snorted the second line.

As a final touch, Sam licked his forefinger and ran it over the glass to pick up any reside or bits of powder that was missed in the line- up. When he was satisfied he had it all, he put his finger in his mouth and rubbed it onto his gums then licked his finger clean. He licked the end of the straw that had been in the coke then rinsed it under warm water, dried it with a tissue and slipped it back into the bag. He rinsed the surface of the mirror, dried it and set it back on the counter next to the sink.

Sam left the bathroom and the bedroom and went into the junk room across the hall. He opened the closet and reached for his letterman jacket. Once again, he stuffed the purple bag inside the pocket, closed the closet and left the junk room. He held the banister for support and carefully made his way downstairs to the living room.

Scott was in Toby's chair and had already taken the liberty of going through his and Josh's music collection and had the stereo on.

"Rubber Soul," Sam said as he took his place on the recliner. He pulled the lever so his legs were elevated and tilted the chair back just a little to make himself comfortable.

"Josh used to love the `Beatles'," replied Scott.

"He still does. He's got every album they ever recorded. All vinyl, mint condition."

"I gave him some of those. I gave him this `Rubber Soul' album as a matter of fact."

"Umm," was all Sam could utter. What else WAS there to say?

"You want some more wine, Sam?" Scott asked.

"No thanks, but help yourself."

"I'll have a beer. You wanna beer?"

"I'll have water please."

Scott went to the kitchen and returned a minute later with a beer for himself and a bottle of water for Sam. After he handed Sam his water, he brushed his hair back and looked at the cut on his forehead. Sam flinched at this unexpected touch.

"That's not too bad. When I was playing ball we wouldn't even have had that stitched up," Scott said with a grin. "Guess you political- types aren't so tough, huh?"

Sam didn't want to argue with this guy. He wanted to punch him out. But he'd told himself he'd be cordial. . .for Josh.

"Guess not. We just sit around and run the country instead of brawling and splitting each other's heads open," Sam remarked.

The grin left Scott's face. "So, what'd Josh tell you about us?" he asked.

It came unexpected, out of the blue, a surprise, brazen, none of his business.

"Uh, not much really. Just that you'd been friends when you were kids and he hadn't seen you in about twenty years. That's about it," Sam answered honestly.

Scott laughed. He laughed harder and longer than Sam thought he should have based on the answer he'd given. He couldn't help but wonder what he said that was so funny. He didn't want to ask.

But Scott sure wanted to tell him.

"Seriously, Josh didn't tell you about us?" he asked again.

"Us? As in you and him?"

"Yeah. Us as in me and him," Scott clarified.

"No. He didn't tell me about *us* as in you and him," replied Sam.

"We were lovers."

Sam did his best not to react. He knew that's what Scott wanted and he was determined not to give it to him. That thought had passed through Sam's mind but he had shoved it out before he allowed himself to give it any credence. He couldn't bear to play out that scenario, real or imagined. Any way he pictured it was gut wrenching so he had convinced himself they were *just old friends* like Josh had said, and had been content with that explanation.

That all changed with three little words.

"I said, `we were lovers'," Scott repeated.

"I heard you."

"Ok. You didn't say anything, so I didn't know if you heard me or not."

"What do you want me to say, Scott? How nice for you both?" Sam tried to hide the sarcasm in his voice. "Why did you feel you needed to tell me this?"

"I thought you should know," Scott answered.

"Don't you think that should have been Josh's decision? Don't you think if he wanted me to know he would have told me?"

"Well, Sammy. . ."

"Sam."

"Well, Sam, there's a little more to it than just telling you we used to be lovers, and you need to know because it involves you."

Sam felt his stomach turn over. He wanted Josh here. Something didn't feel right about this conversation. If there was something he needed to know about Scott and Josh that was this important, Josh needed to be here.

"Why don't we wait until Josh is here to talk about this? I don't feel comfortable discussing a relationship you had with him and he not be here," said Sam.

"Josh didn't wanna be here. He thought it would be better if I told you alone. He said he just couldn't do it."

This isn't happening, Sam thought. Whatever *this* is, it's not happening. He knew his head was fuzzy from the Vicodin, but he knew what Scott had said.

"I didn't come here on business, Sam. I came to Washington for Josh."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Josh and I were lovers, Sam. We were a couple and we lived together. We were deeply in love and that love never went away. I came to Washington to see if Josh still feels the same way about me and I found out: he does. Josh and I are still in love with each other and we wanna get back together."

Sam felt paralyzed in the chair. He didn't believe it, yet the words were being spoken as a fact. Scott told it as if it was unquestionably the truth. Sam didn't believe it, yet the words pounded in his ears and echoed in his skull and screamed so loudly all he could hear was the shrill primal shriek of a man dieing a slow death. He was that man.

"I don't believe you," he finally said.

Scott shrugged.

"Josh and I are married. He wouldn't leave me."

"Are you sure?" Scott asked.

"Of course I'm sure." Sam was indignant now. "You're full of shit Major. I don't know what you're trying to do here, but it's not happening. I'm not stupid and I know Josh better than any other person on Earth. He wouldn't do this to me. And I'll take that beer now. Bring me two."

Scott laughed and started toward the kitchen. "Josh wouldn't do this to you? Do you think Josh would say the same thing about what you're doing to him?"

He went into the kitchen and returned with four beers. He handed two to Sam and kept two for himself. Sam wanted a joint. The coke was making him hyper and he needed something to calm down, to stop his heart from racing. He really needed a joint.

"What do you mean, `Do I think Josh would say the same thing about what I'm doing to him'? I'm not doing anything to him. If you're gonna talk, talk straight and not in riddles. I don't have time to try and figure out your cryptic bullshit," Sam said.

He was nervous what Scott's answer would be. He chugged half-a- bottle of beer.

Scott leaned forward and rested his elbow on his knees, a bottle of beer dangled casually from his hand. He grinned. Sam hated that grin.

"What do you think Josh would say, how do you think Josh would feel, if he knew you were buying and sneaking drugs into the home you two share, and using them behind his back? If I told him that he'd say, `I don't believe you, Scott. You're full of shit. I know Sam better than any other person on Earth. Sam wouldn't do that to me.' The same words you just said about him. But you're doing it. Why can't he have a secret too?"

Scott finished his beer and sat the bottle on the floor. He stared at Sam.

Sam hoped his face didn't reveal the horror he felt. This morning had started out so good, and now the worst possible things that could happen were happening, right in his own living room.

"That's not true," he said without much conviction.

"Marc Hayes," Scott said.

"How do you know Marc?"

"I'm a police detective, Sam. It's my job to know stuff. You'd be surprised what I know about you. Josh would *really* be surprised. I even know you've done cocaine tonight. Am I right?"

Sam swallowed hard. "What makes you think that?"

"The way you keep sniffling. You don't have a cold and you're sniffling and rubbing at your nose the way a guy does after he's done a couple lines of coke. Am I right?"

Sam propped his elbow on the chair arm and rested his face in his hand.

"Why are you here?" Sam finally asked. "What do you want?"

"Josh."

********

Josh and Leo worked straight through for three hours before they took a break. Then Josh went down to the mess to see if anything was left to eat for some energy. He came back to Leo's office and closed the door that they'd previously left open. He set a tray on Leo's desk with four cups of coffee and two pieces of very old pie. He slumped into his chair.

Leo closed the file folder he was reading from and reached for a Styrofoam cup.

"You look worn out," he said. "It's been a long day, hasn't it?"

Leo McGarry and Noah Lyman had been friends since before Josh was born. Since Josh's Father had died, Leo had taken it upon himself to keep a silent and subtle paternal eye on Josh. He never spoke of it, some wondered about it, but no one ever asked. Josh *felt* it, but had never called upon the elder man for reasons he either didn't know or didn't understand.

He hadn't quite figured it out. Maybe because he worked so close with Leo he didn't need ~~ or want ~~ an emotional attachment. He knew Leo was there, and he knew he could go to him, but he never had.

But now, he had to know something and there was no one he could go to except Leo for the answer.

"I need to ask you something, if you've got a minute," Josh said. "I won't take long then we can get back to work."

"Yeah, ok, we can take a little break while we eat this feeble excuse for pie. What's on your mind, son?"

Josh knew it was just a term of affection he and Jed Bartlet both used with several staff members ~~ himself, Sam, Charlie. The President had even addressed Simon Donovan as `son' from time to time. So Josh didn't take it personally. Still, the timing was ironic.

"Leo," Josh said, trying not to appear nervous, "an old college buddy of mine is in the city and we've been getting together and catching up. You know, old times."

"Harvard?" Leo asked.

"No, he, uh, he went someplace else."

"Ok."

"Anyway, this guy told me something kind of, uh, surprising, I guess is how you'd put it, and he asked for my advice and direction," Josh continued.

"Ok."

Josh shifted in his chair. He took a drink of coffee. He ignored the piece of pie. The longer he sat and the more he talked, the more uncomfortable he became. He was beginning to wish he hadn't started this, but it was too late now.

"So, I was thinking, I'd really like to know what my. . ." Josh choked up a little and had to stop talking for a few seconds to regain his composure.

"Sorry. I'd, uh, like to know what my Dad would think about this guy's, uh, his situation, and except for my Mother, you probably knew my. . .knew my Dad better than anyone and well, I thought maybe, um, if I asked you, because I really can't talk to my Mom about this, I thought maybe you'd tell me what. . .you know, his opinion, my Dad's, how he'd feel, what he'd say, what he'd think, uh, what, uh. . .sorry again. . .what he'd think about this guy."

Silence. Josh hoped Leo would say something, but he didn't. He just studied Josh with no expression whatsoever and sipped his coffee.

Josh continued. "Because you knew him so well. . .my Dad I mean. . .and it's something that never came up in our house, there was never any reason for it to," Josh laughed nervously, "and you and Dad thought a lot alike, I guess, didn't you? And I figured you'd know how to advise me to advise my friend and Leo, I. . .I. . .it's really important to me to know what to tell my friend."

Dammit! I'm rambling and sound like a fucking lunatic, Josh thought. Just shut up and talk like you have the sense God gave a goose! Slow down, lower your voice, and stop repeating yourself. Dammit!

"Relax, Josh. You're about to wet yourself," Leo said. "What exactly is it you need to advise your friend about?"

Josh stood and paced Leo's office. What the hell have I done? he thought. I do NOT want to be in here doing this. He's gonna see right through me and I'll out both Sam and myself and we're ruined. Politically, socially, my Mother, Sam's family, the Bartlet administration. . .shit, what have I done?

"Josh?" Leo's voice was uncharacteristically gentle. "Sit down, son."

"I'm NOT your. . ." Josh stopped himself before he finished the sentence. He wouldn't hurt Leo's feelings for anything in the world, and he knew Leo was purposely calling him `son' now as he way of trying to calm and comfort Josh. Even Leo could see Josh was in a great deal of distress.

"Sit down, Josh."

Josh sat.

"I don't mean any disrespect to your Father, Joshua, when I call you `son'. Noah Lyman was one of my dearest friends and to assume. . .I apologize and since it obviously bothers you a great deal, it won't happen again."

Josh looked at the floor. He didn't want to make eye contact with Leo. Josh hated himself for snapping at Leo when he knew Leo was only trying to help.

"I know all that," Josh said. "He felt the same about you. I remember him talking about you all my life. You don't need to apologize to me. I was wrong. I should be apologizing to YOU."

Leo didn't take his eyes off Josh. Is he looking for signs and symptoms of my PTSD? Josh thought. Straighten up. Maintain. Be cool. Don't blow it.

"And Leo, it's ok if you call me `son' now and then. I kinda miss it. From my own Dad, you know? It's just hard."

"I miss him too. You know, I still call your Mother every once in a while to see how she's doing," Leo said.

"You do?" Josh was genuinely surprised.

"Yeah. Every once in a while. Just to see if she's ok and if she needs anything."

"She never mentioned that," Josh said, suddenly uneasy. "Do you and she ever talk about me?"

Leo laughed. "No. Believe it or not, two people can actually have a conversation and it doesn't revolve around you. Can you imagine that?"

Josh smiled. He was glad Leo was checking in with his Mother. It made him feel there would always be a connection between his parents, by way of Leo, that would exist as long as Leo was alive. He wondered if Jenny kept in touch with his Mother too, but didn't ask.

"So Joshua, tell me about your old college buddy and his problem," Leo said.

Josh had almost forgotten how this all started in the first place. Now the issue was at hand again. I guess the best thing is to just say it, Josh thought. No sense in stalling any longer.

"He's gay," Josh said, "but he hasn't told his Father. He wants to, but he's not sure how he'll respond and react. I want to advise him the way my Dad would, so could you give me an idea what his feelings were about homosexuality? We never talked about it, Dad and me."

"Don't you have your own opinion about that? Tell him what YOU think. Not what you believe your Father thought," Leo said.

"Can't you just give me an *idea* what my Dad would tell him, Leo?" Josh insisted. "I'm just real curious now that my friend brought it up."

Leo stared at Josh for a long time. Finally he sighed deeply. "Do you wanna know what I believe your Father would REALLY say, or what you'd LIKE your Father to say?" he asked.

"The truth."

Leo looked directly at Josh. "Without hesitation, he'd call your friend a fucking, flaming fag who deserves to have the shit beat out of him at every opportunity. Joshua, your Dad was a wonderful man in almost every way. He had strong opinions about everything ~~ hell, you know that ~~ but he had zero tolerance for homosexuals. If he knew your friend was gay, he'd forbid him to come into his home and do everything in his power to see that you sever all ties with him. I don't know if that answer is what you wanna hear or if it's helpful when you talk to your friend, but there's no question in my mind that would be his true sentiment."

Josh closed his lips tightly together and nodded. He felt a huge lump in his throat and thought he was going to puke. My Mom told my Dad about me only I didn't know it, he thought. He'd known for years, yet he never let on. Did my own Father think of me as a fucking, flaming fag who deserved to have the shit beat out of him at every opportunity? Leo said my Dad would forbid a homosexual to come into his home, yet he hugged and kissed me, his son, every chance he got. Welcomed me home with open arms. Bragged about me to strangers. Said he loved me. This doesn't make sense. Leo must be right though. He knew my Dad so well. Did Dad only tolerate me to please my Mother? No, I don't believe that. Shit, I knew I shouldn't have done this.

"Yeah, ok," Josh said.

There was an awkward silence.

"Leo? Is that the way you feel too?" Josh asked quietly.

Silence.

"Leo?"

"Josh, I'm an old man. I just don't see it. That stuff, it doesn't make sense to me. I'm not sure what I even know about it nor do I want to. I don't even wanna think about it."

"Do you feel like homosexuals are fucking, flaming fags who deserve to have the shit beat out of them at every opportunity?" Josh pushed for an answer.

Leo didn't want to be having this conversation. "Josh, why all the questions? Is your friend a White House staff member who came to you for advice?"

"Would that make a difference?"

"I'm just asking," Leo said, looking and sounding weary all of a sudden.

"You're not gonna tell me how you feel, what you think about homosexuals, are you Leo?" Josh finally bottom-lined it.

"You came in here asking what I thought your Father would say. I told you. It doesn't matter what I think."

Josh tapped his pen against his forehead. "It matters to me."

Leo looked at Josh for several minutes. Josh shifted in his chair, crossed and uncrossed his legs and finally stood and walked across the room. He pulled a book from Leo's shelf and leafed through it.

"Look Leo, I found out what I need to know, so, um, let's get back to work, ok?" He put the book back on the shelf. "Thanks for giving me Dad's opinion."

"Josh. . ." Leo hesitated. "Let's call it a night here. I've got everything in order for my meeting tomorrow. Why don't we go somewhere and talk about this some more, whaddya say?"

"I found out what I need to know," Josh repeated. "Thanks for the offer. I just wanna go home."

"You know where to find me, son."

"At Home" ~~Chapter 47

“You’re still up. . .”

“Is that a statement or a question?”

“Don’t sass me.”

“Good evening, Mr. President.”

“Good evening, Leo. It was neither a statement nor a question. It was intended as a subtle suggestion for you to leave this place and go wherever it is you go when your ass isn’t glued to that chair behind that desk and get some sleep.”

“That was subtle,” Leo grumbled. “Home for me is ‘Hotel New Hampshire’ and the digs here suit me just fine. But never think for a minute I don’t appreciate your concern.”

Jed Bartlet leaned against the doorframe to Leo’s office with his arms crossed over his chest. He wore jeans, a Notre Dame sweatshirt, and tennis shoes. His hair was tousled and he yawned.

“Seriously, why are you still here, Leo? It’s after midnight.”

Leo pushed his chair back from his desk and shook his head. “That young man is a puzzlement,” he said. “He makes me crazier than the Sunday crossword in the “Post”, and you know what that does to me.”

“A travesty, a downright travesty.” Jed nodded his head in agreement. “Things really went to hell in a hand-basket when Ben Bradlee retired, didn’ t they?”

“Don’t mock me.”

“I wouldn’t.” Jed walked into Leo’s office and sat on his couch. He laced his fingers behind his head.

“And you’re still up because?” Leo asked.

“I never get a good night’s sleep when Abby’s away,” Jed replied. “I just get restless. You know how your bed feels so big when you’re the only one in it? That empty space that isn’t supposed to be empty?”

“I vaguely recall someone else being in my bed with me, yes sir,” Leo deadpanned as he walked around in front of his desk and leaned against it.

“How’s Jordan?” Jed asked with a sly grin.

“So, you couldn’t sleep?” Leo replied to change the subject.

“Nah. I came out onto the portico for a smoke and saw your light on so I came into see what you were up to.”

“All done, about to head out. Unless you need me for something, sir.”

“Who’s your puzzlement, Leo?” asked Jed. “Who’s deepening those worry lines in your face? I KNOW it can’t be me.”

Leo hesitated. He was torn between his confidentiality with Josh and a loyalty to his friend. He loved them both. There had to be a compromise. How much could he tell and still not give anything away?

“It’s Josh,” said Leo. “He still frets about Noah, but he’ll only go so far and then he’ll shut down. He just won’t let himself fully grieve and get out of the mindset of being Daddy’s good little boy.”

Jed stretched his legs and crossed them at the ankles. “Does any son?” he asked.

“I do ok.”

“You’re a marvel, Leo. What does Josh fret about? What’s he done so dreadful that Noah Lyman would disapprove of his good little boy?”

Leo sighed deeply. He’d never lied to Jed Bartlet in the thirty-two years he’d known him and he didn’t want to start now. But this was Josh. He cared about Josh almost as much as he did Mallory.

How did his love for Josh Lyman stand up to his loyalty to Jed Bartlet?

”Josh is afraid. . .concerned. . .he’ll give some bad advice to a friend,” Leo explained. “He wanted my take on what I thought Noah would say.”

“Did you tell him?”

“He asked.”

“Was it what he wanted to hear?”

“What?” Leo was distracted by his own thoughts.

“What you told Josh,” replied Jed. “When you told him what his Father would say, was it what Josh wanted to hear?”

Leo rubbed his forehead. He twisted his neck and it popped in several places. Was it what Josh wanted to hear? Probably not. Hell, of course it wasn’t. But just as he couldn’t lie to Jed Bartlet, he couldn’t lie to Josh Lyman.

“Leo? I asked you if it was what Josh wanted to hear,” Jed repeated.

“No.”

The two men sat in silence. Jed pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, shook two out, put them both between his lips, and lit them. He walked over to Leo and handed him one. Leo took it. Jed drew on the other and sat in the chair by Leo’s desk.

“Is Josh all whacked out?”

Leo chuckled. “When isn’t Josh all whacked out?” he replied.

“I retract my statement,” Jed laughed. He took another draw on his cigarette.

“You know, it’s against the law to smoke in the White House,” Leo remarked.

Jed raised his eyes and watched as Leo tilted his head back and released a trio of smoke rings.

“Leo, I’m not gonna ask you what it is you and Josh talked about, but I can tell from your stewing over it that it was something more serious than smoking in the White House. Something that’s close to the hearts of both you and Josh.”

“Now why would you say that?” Leo asked.

“Because I know you better than you know yourself, my friend. Your face is an open book to me and you know how well read I am. Whatever it is you said to Josh, it’s got you tangled in a knot as much as it must have Josh. Do you have any coffee in here?”

“Three hours old and cold as hell. What’s your point?”

“I need you, Leo. And I need Josh. It’s imperative you both run on a full tank to keep me straight and you know it. Josh doesn’t know it like YOU know it, but. . .”

“You’re doing fine, Mr. President,” Leo said.

“Don’t bullshit with me at midnight. My mind is muddled at midnight and I can’t think of a snappy comeback. Whatever it is between you and Josh, fix it.”

“Yes sir, but there’s really nothing to fix. He asked me a question, I answered it. End of story.”

“End of story, my Aunt Fanny. It’s midnight Leo, but I’m not so muddled I can’t tell when you’re bullshitting me. I need to know something,” Jed said as he crushed his cigarette butt in a Styrofoam cup. “And I’m gonna be frank.”

“Ok, but can I still be Leo?”

Jed glared at his Chief of Staff. “I can see YOU'RE not at a loss for snappy comebacks. I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you. . .*Leo*.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Leo prayed his long-time friend wasn’t about to ask him what it was he and Josh had talked about. If he did, Leo still didn’t know how he would answer.

“This *thing* ~~ and I’m not gonna ask you what it is because that’s between you and Josh ~~ but this *thing*, is it gonna cause Josh to have another. . .is he headed. . .I wanna be diplomatic here. . .hell, is Josh headed for a meltdown?”

Leo looked up, surprised that Jed could have been so perceptive with such little information. Then again, he should have known better. Jed Bartlet was a man who seemed to instinctively know the heart-things long before anyone else, even the people whose hearts were involved.

“I won’t let that happen, sir.”

“I never thought you would.”

“Rest assured,” Leo said.

“You know Leo, I don’t advocate and won’t tolerate anything less than the whole truth, so help me God, especially when it comes to the people we care about the most,” Jed continued. “But there are those defining moments in a man’s life when we have to protect those we love from themselves, from the hurtful things they do to themselves brought about by things such as, oh, for the sake of this conversation, say, guilt. Even when the guilt they allow to suffocate themselves with isn’t justified or even realistic. Do you follow me, Leo?”

“I believe so.”

“From time to time, perhaps it’s better to allow a person we care so deeply for, off the hook. Just tell ‘em what they wanna hear. It saves their shit, it saves your shit. . .and selfishly, it ultimately saves me.”

“I can’t lie to Josh,” said Leo. “I won’t.”

“At the risk of losing him?”

“We’re not gonna lose him.”

Jed stood to leave. “At Rosslyn. . .”

“This isn’t about Rossyln.”

“At Rosslyn, we all thought we were gonna lose Josh,” Jed continued. “After Rosslyn, we thought we were gonna lose him again. Josh can’t have a relapse.”

“This isn’t about Rosslyn sir,” Leo repeated.

Jed looked at Leo and studied his face. “Do we need to call in Stanley?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“Can you handle this?”

“Yes, sir.”

“WILL you handle this?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We can’t lose Josh, Leo. See to it. Now get your ass outta here so you can have it back IN here in about six hours, got it?”

“Got it,” Leo replied.

Jed turned one more time. Leo had cleared his desk and was about to leave.

“Leo?”

Leo looked up.

“We can’t lose Josh,” he said softly.

“Good-night, Mr. President.”

********

“What did you say?” Sam asked.

“Josh. You asked what I want and I said ‘Josh’,” replied Scott.

Sam stood up. Scott stood up. The two men faced each other. Scott grinned. Sam didn’t.

“You’ll have to kill me first,” Sam said.

“I can do that.”

“Then give it your best shot, because that’s the only way you’ll take Josh from me.”

“You’re a tough guy, aren’t you?” Scott taunted.

“Do you wanna see how tough?”

Scott laughed. “Gimp leg, gimp wrist, stoned. . .yeah, I’m scared.”

“Try me.” Sam’s expression didn’t waver.

“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, Sammy, because you know I could take you out before you’d know what hit you.”

“Oh, I mean it.”

Scott’s grin faded. “I think you do.”

“Get your things and get outta here.”

“Uh, you don’t seem to understand the situation, Sammy. I told you, Josh and I have decided to get back together. He’s not at the office right now. He didn’t have to go back and work with Leo. That was just an excuse to get out of the house because he didn’t have the heart to tell you himself.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“He said you’re weak, that you’d fall apart if he told you,” Scott continued. “He said you’d whine and cry and beg him to stay and he didn’t wanna go through that drama. So I said I’d do it.”

“Bullshit.”

“Josh said he’s tired of your drug problem and he’s not gonna put up with it anymore. He said you’re gonna bring him down in his career and you’re not worth the risk. He’s sick of you sneaking around behind his back, screwing around with that Marc fella, so the hell with you.”

“Josh didn’t say that.”

“Oh yeah. . .Josh said it.”

“Get your things and get outta here, Major.”

Sam wished he hadn’t had that second beer. He wished he hadn’t had the first. A sharp pain seared through his head and he didn’t feel very steady on his feet. But there was no way he was going to show any discomfort or difficulty in front of Scott. He had to maintain. He took a step toward Scott.

“You’re a scrappy one,” Scott laughed. “Josh said you were. Scrappy like a pup.”

Sam moved a step closer. Scott seemed unfazed.

“While you were in the hospital, Josh and I slept in your bed,” Scott went on. “Your’s and Josh’s bed, and he said lots of things about you.”

“Josh was at the hospital with me,” said Sam. “He was there the whole time.”

“Was he? Even when you were so drugged up you were out of your head for hours at a time? And when I say we 'slept' in your bed, I use the term 'slept' loosely.”

Sam wanted to reach out and grab on to the table to hold himself up. But he didn’t. He stared at Scott and didn’t falter.

“He was there,” Sam replied. “I know that for a fact.”

“The surgeons did a nice job, did they?” Scott grinned.

“What?” Suddenly Sam was confused. He hadn’t had surgery while he was in the hospital.

“On Josh. That scar on his chest healed up real nice.”

“When did you. . .?”

“I told you, Sammy, Josh talked about you a lot while we, uh, 'slept' in your bed. He told me why he wants to get rid of you. He said he had to teach you everything about what it takes to please a man. That you barely knew what to do with your own dick, much less his.”

Sam blinked and tried to focus. Scott’s voice began to sound like it came from a place far away. Things started to close in on Sam. He began to see only black. Tunnel vision. He felt like he might pass out.

“And I taught HIM well, so every time you get fucked by Josh, you have me to thank, Sammy.”

Sam had Scott on the floor and was on top of him before either of them realized it. Sam gave him an upper cut to the jaw, a right cross, and a blow to his gut that caused Scott to pull his knees to his chest to save himself from a second flurry of Sam’s fists. Sam had his hands around Scott ’s throat, had tightened his grip, and began to slam Scott’s head against the floor when the front door opened.

Josh didn’t react at first because he couldn’t believe what he saw. Sam straddled Scott, his right leg straight out to the side in the knee brace, a death grasp on Scott as Sam pulled him up then shoved him back down with no mercy. Scott’s hands were on Sam’s biceps but he had been caught by the element of surprise and the fury of Sam’s rage and didn’t have a chance at getting Sam off of him.

“What the hell?”

Josh ran into the living room and grabbed Sam from behind and tried to pull him off Scott, but Sam wouldn’t let go. His fingers were embedded in Scott’ s neck and he had no intention of releasing them.

“Sam! Let go!” Josh shouted over Scott’s gurgles and gasps for air. “You’ re gonna kill him!”

But Sam was relentless and wouldn’t let go. Josh wrapped his arms around Sam’s chest and pulled but still, Sam had determination in his soul and blood in his eyes and held fast.

“Sam! Stop it! Sam! Let him go!”

Josh went to his knees and tried to pry Sam’s hands from around Scott’s neck. Scott was silent now, unconscious, limp as Sam shook him. Finally, Josh put both his hands on Sam’s sprained wrist and with a grimace as though he could take some of the pain he was about to inflict, bent Sam’s wrist back and twisted it.

Sam’s hands fell from around Scott’s neck as he grabbed his own wrist. Scott’s head dropped and he lay still and quiet. Sam continued to straddle him, but held his own wrist in his hand and brought it to his face and pressed it against his cheek to try and calm the spasms that shot through him. Sam’s whole body heaved as he tried to catch his breath.

Josh put his own fingers to Scott’s neck to find a pulse and lowered his face near Scott’s mouth to see if he was breathing. He found a faint beat in his vein.

“Scott!” he yelled at the man. “Scott! Wake up, man!”

Josh patted first one cheek then the other, gentle at first, then harder so Scott would come to.

“Come on buddy, wake up!”

Josh turned and looked at Sam, then back at Scott. Sam rolled onto the floor and leaned against the couch. Finally, a moan came from Scott, then another, and he slowly opened his eyes, closed them, then opened them again. It was then Josh sat on the floor and let out the breath he had held since he walked in the door.

Nobody said a word. Then Josh looked at Sam, really looked at him, for the first time. His color was ashen grey. His eyes were blank. His face was without expression. Josh crawled past Scott and leaned against the couch next to Sam. He put his arms around him and pulled him close. Sam laid his head against Josh’s. His breath came in short, labored spurts.

“Slow and easy babe,” Josh said quietly. “Take slow, deep breaths and calm down. I’m here. We’re ok.”

“Did I kill him?” Sam whispered.

“No. He’s coming around. He’s just shaken up. He’ll be all right.”

“Is he dead, Josh?”

“No sweetheart, don’t worry. Everything’s ok.”

Josh brought his hand up and put it on the side of Sam’s head and kissed his cheek. He had no idea what had transpired while he was gone, but at the moment, it didn’t matter. Sam needed him, and he was there, and that’s all that was important.

Scott slowly sat up, felt the back of his head, checked for blood, and realized there wasn’t any. He sat for another minute then looked over at Sam and Josh. He pointed his finger at Sam, but spoke to Josh.

“That man’s crazy! A fucking lunatic!” he said.

“Enough Scott,” Josh said. “One of you tell me what just happened here.”

“Tell you what happened?” Scott rubbed the back of his neck. “You walked in on it! You saw what happened!”

Josh tried, but not very hard, to suppress a smile.

“Yeah, I saw Sam kick your ass. I guess I should have asked why?” His snaked his fingers through Sam’s hair and tugged affectionately at his ear.

“Because he’s insane. He’s coked up and he jumped me. He’s also under arrest for assault on a police officer,” Scott said as he stood.

Josh let go of Sam and stood also. He still didn’t know why Sam and Scott had fought, and he wasn’t sure if it was over, but he wasn’t going to take any chances and be on the floor if Scott decided to go another round. He stepped in front of Sam so he was between him and Scott.

“Just sit down Scottie and take it easy,” Josh said in a calm voice. “Catch your breath, let me get everybody some water, and we’ll figure out what’s what. Ok? Will you just sit down?”

Josh took a step toward Scott with his hands out, palms upward, non-threatening. His mind jumped back to the days when he and Scott were kids, then teenagers, and wrestled, play fought, and on a few occasions, had a couple of real fistfights. Smaller and always outweighed by Scott, Josh never had a chance of beating him, but he always tried and was never the first to quit. It was always Scott who eventually pulled back and ended the brawl. Josh knew there were times, most times, when Scott took it easy with him when they wrestled, and it angered Josh and made him go at it even harder. Scott had just grinned and said, “Come on Tonto, give me your best shot.”

But Josh didn’t want to hear those words tonight. He knew Scott was stronger and could easily over-power him if he wanted to. Of course, that was before Sam had taken the wind out of his sails. Josh had no idea what Scott was capable of at the moment. He just knew he didn’t want to find out the hard way.

To Josh’s relief, Scott sat in the club chair near him. Josh could see the red marks on Scott’s neck left by Sam’s hands where he choked him. He also noticed a trickle of blood from Scott’s nose. Scott noticed it too, as he put the back of his hand to his face.

“Let me get some paper towels,” Josh said as he headed for the kitchen.

“No. It’s stopped. It’s. . .it’s just a little. And it’s stopped now.”

Josh had never seen Scott this shaken. There was a part of Josh that was disappointed, maybe saddened, to see this man taken down from the pedestal Josh had put him on so many years ago. But a much bigger part of him was ecstatic that it was Sam who had taken him down.

“You sure, man? I’m going in there anyway,” Josh insisted.

“Just go.”

Sam and Scott ignored each other while Josh was in the kitchen. He came out a few minutes later with his hands full and walked over to the bookshelf. He set down the things he carried and picked up the small cedar box. He opened it, took out his wedding band, and slipped it on his finger. Then he picked up the items he’d brought from the kitchen and walked toward the other men.

“Here.” He offered a bottle of Evian to Scott, who waved it away.

“I’m not gonna offer again,” said Josh.

This time Scott took it.

Josh went the couch and kneeled in front of Sam. “Hey babe,” he said quietly as he unscrewed the cap from his water bottle. “Take a drink.”

Sam took the bottle in his left hand and put it to his lips. He didn’t take it away until it was drained. A few drops ran down his chin and Josh wiped them away with his finger.

“More?” Josh took the empty bottle from Sam. “Yes? No?”

Sam shook his head.

“Let me take care of you then.”

Josh had his back to Scott and spoke quietly to Sam. He didn’t want Scott to be a part of these intimate moments with Sam. He felt Scott to be an intrusion now and Josh wanted to protect Sam from him. From everything about him.

Josh took a throw pillow from the couch and put it in Sam’s lap. He picked up a bag of frozen peas he’d brought from the kitchen, shook it a couple of times, then set it on the pillow. He gently lifted Sam’s right hand and let it rest on the bag.

Sam instinctively jerked it away when he felt the cold against his skin.

“Sorry Angel,” Josh said as he caught Sam’s hand and carefully put it back on the frozen bag. “Your wrist is swollen and we need to ice it.”

Josh put a bag of frozen baby carrots on top of Sam’s wrist so it was encased in the cold vegetables. He very lightly put his own hand on top until he was sure Sam wouldn’t pull out again.

“Ok?”

Sam nodded.

“I’m sorry I had to re-hurt your wrist, but. . .”

“It’s ok,” Sam interrupted.

“It’s not ok.”

“It’s ok.”

Josh brushed Sam’s hair back. “Ok.”

He stood and turned to Scott. “You all right?” he asked.

“I could have his career, you know,” Scott snarled. “I could have his reputation, I could have him arrested, I could have . . .”

“You could be dead so knock off the bullshit. I wanna know what happened between you two and I wanna know now.” Josh stared at Scott. Scott stared back.

Josh turned to Sam.

“Sam, how did this start? What were you two fighting about?” he asked.

As much as Sam wanted to tell him, to repeat all the lies Scott had told, the wicked untruths he’d fabricated about Josh, he decided not to. He knew Josh had known this man for almost all his life and despite everything, he didn’t want to come between a relationship of that duration. If Tonto was going to lose respect for the Lone Ranger, Sam was determined HE wasn’t going to be the hombre who snitched.

“Sam?”

“We had a disagreement over drilling in Alaska,” he finally said.

“Sam?” Josh repeated.

“That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Josh turned back to Scott just as he stood again.

“Josh, I think I oughta take off,” Scott said. “I appreciate your hospitality, but it’s time I move on.”

“Now?” Josh asked. “It’s the middle of the night. You can stay until morning.”

“I’ll be gone in fifteen minutes.” He started toward the guest room.

Josh kept his eyes on Scott until he was out of sight. Then he sat on the couch, one leg on either side of Sam on the floor in front of him. He wrapped his arms around Sam from behind and rested his chin on top of Sam’s head.

“NOW, will you tell me what happened?” he asked.

Sam slung his arm over Josh’s leg. “I wish you wouldn’t ask me to do that,” he replied.

“Why?”

“He and I just had a misunderstanding, words were exchanged, and we both lost our tempers. I apologize for almost killing your cowboy friend.”

Josh snickered and hugged Sam from behind. He crossed his arms against Sam’ s chest. Sam laid his head in Josh’s lap and looked up at him.

“How about if I just tell you I love you?” Sam asked. “Will that suffice?” A smile finally appeared on Sam’s face.

“For the moment, but you know Sam, we DO need to talk about this eventually. You could have seriously hurt Scott. I need to know why, but not right now. Why don’t you go on upstairs and get ready for bed? I’m gonna speak to Scott and see him out then I’ll be up.”

“Yeah, ok. Josh, I want. . .” He stopped abruptly.

“You want what baby?” Josh stroked Sam’s cheek with the back of his hand. He ran his thumb over Sam’s eyebrow.

“I want you. I want you to hold me in our bed and make love to me. Would you do that?”

Josh smiled down at Sam. “Nothing would make me happier.” He leaned over and kissed Sam. “I’ll be up just as soon as I can get Scott out of here,” he said. “Don’t start without me. And take the peas and carrots with you.”

He kissed Sam again, gently lifted his head off his lap, and swung his leg over so he no longer had Sam in his hold. He went to the guest room and knocked on the door.

“Scott? It’s Josh. Can I come in?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned the knob, opened the door, and went inside.

Sam stayed on the floor and re-arranged the package of frozen carrots on his wrist. It hurt like a motherfucker. Josh definitely re-injured the sprain when he had to pry Sam’s hands from around Scott’s neck.

Sam still wasn’t quite sure what happened. He remembered Scott said: ‘And I taught HIM well, so every time you get fucked by Josh, you have me to thank, Sammy.’ and the next thing he remembered was Josh telling him to take slow, deep breaths.

He didn’t remember covering the distance between him and Scott or jumping him and taking him to the ground. He didn’t remember hitting him in the face twice and once in the stomach. He didn’t remember wrapping his fingers around Scott’s neck and tightening them, pressing harder and harder, relentless as he tried to choke the man, strangle him, kill him? He didn’t remember pulling him off the floor and slamming him back down with a sickening thud. He didn’t remember feeling Scott struggle beneath him or fight back. He didn’t remember hearing him gasp for air or cough as the life was being squeezed out of him. He didn’t remember when Scott lost consciousness and fell limp in Sam’s grasp. It all just happened so fast. His mind was blank with rage. Sam didn’t know he was capable of such a thing.

Maybe I went too far, Sam thought. Crossed the line. Took that one step over the edge that a clear-thinking man wouldn’t take. A step I wouldn’t have taken under most circumstances. What circumstances? You know what circumstances, Sam. I should have known better. I DO know better. I wasn’ t raised to be a common street fighter and I shouldn’t have let Scott goad me into being one. I have more pride than this. More self-respect. That wasn’t me. I don’t know the man who brawled on the floor over words. I’m a wordsmith, not a pugilist. I should have fought him with words. I was wrong. For God’s sake, I could have killed the man! I need to apologize. I need to make amends before he leaves. I’ve got to go set things straight with him now.

********

Scott already had his suitcase on the bed and had begun to pack his clothes when Josh came into the guest room. He took shirts off hangers in the closet and underwear out of drawers.

“Scottie, are you sure you won’t wait until tomorrow morning? It’s the middle of the night!” Josh said. “Be reasonable.”

“No way, Tonto. That guy’s nuts. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Josh leaned against the dresser. “Would you at least tell me what went on between you two? Why were you fighting?”

Scott tossed a pair of jeans into the suitcase. “You want me to tell you? You really wanna know?”

“Yeah, I really wanna know.”

“Ok, then I’ll tell you,” said Scott. “But you’re not gonna like it. It puts your precious boy in a bad light.”

“Sam?”

“Yeah, Sam.”

“Why? What did Sam do?” Josh asked.

“I really feel bad telling you this. It might change the way you feel about Sam.”

“But you two were fighting Scott! That’s not normal behavior between two grown men in a civilized world. I need to know!”

“Well, ok then.” Scott stopped packing and faced Josh. “Ever since I got here, Sam has been, um, I’m really uncomfortable about this.”

“Go on.”

“There’s been a few times, a lot of times, when you weren’t around and Sam would take that opportunity to make a snide remark about you. Insults, a jab, a put-down, a criticism. At first I thought he was kidding, you know, just trying to be funny because he felt out of place. Kinda like a third wheel around us,” Scott continued.

Josh furrowed his brow. “Sam out of place? A third wheel? Scott, you’re a guest in OUR home, remember? If anything, I’d think YOU might feel that way. Certainly not Sam.”

“Well, I’m just telling you what he told me. And he said he could tell there was very obviously something still between us. . .you and me. . .and it concerned him because he was afraid he was going to lose you to me.”

Josh laughed. “That’s bullshit. Sam didn’t say that.”

“Oh yes, yes he did.”

”Come on, Scott, be serious.”

“He resents me being here because of us and. . .”

“I’ve told you, there is no *us*. And I’ve made it clear to Sam there is no *us* and he’s very secure with that. He knows he has nothing to worry about,” Josh replied.

“There’s more,” said Scott. He stood next to Josh and propped himself on the dresser with his hand. “Tonight, after you left for the office, Sam and I had a long talk. He brought it up. He’s the one who wanted me to know all about it. He said. . .Josh, I can’t. I can’t tell you this.”

“What’d he say?”

“He. . .Josh, I’m only telling you this because you’re an old friend and I care about you. Sam said you and he are having, uh, marital problems and he ’s not happy in the relationship and with me here, it’s only making things worse because you might see I’m a better partner for you and that might be what prompts you to leave him and go with me.” Scott put his hand on Josh’s shoulder as a supportive gesture.

Josh stared at Scott in disbelief. He couldn’t comprehend what he’d just heard. He didn’t believe one word of it. All lies. It was some cruel manipulative ploy by Scott to try and come between him and Sam. But why? Because he couldn’t have Josh? Now, more than before, he couldn’t leave quick enough for Josh. While he knew it was all contrived bullshit, he didn ’t want to argue with Scott. It wasn’t worth the effort. He just wanted to get him out of their home so he could go upstairs and make love to Sam.

“It’s not too late Josh,” said Scott.

“What?” Josh was lost in his own thoughts and hadn’t heard what Scott had said.

“Go with me.”

“What? Are you out of your fucking mind? Get out, Scott. I’ll send the rest of your stuff to you. I’ve had enough of your crap. Leave. Now.”

Scott grabbed an unsuspecting Josh and pulled him into a tight embrace. He put his lips on his and kissed him. He kissed him hard and forced his tongue into Josh’s mouth. Josh was stunned and couldn’t move. He didn’t struggle, he didn’t try to pull away ~~ he didn’t react at all. He just stood there in Scott’s arms and let himself be kissed.

Finally Scott released him and took a step back. Josh’s hand immediately went to his mouth to wipe away any of Scott that was left on him. Then he saw something that made his stomach come up into his throat and he thought he was going to vomit. Sam stood in the doorway. He had seen them kiss.

“Sam!” Josh started toward the door. “Sam, this isn’t anything. He just grabbed me and did it. There’s nothing. . .”

When Josh reached the door Sam put his arm up to stop him.

“Sam, you don’t honestly believe there’s anything going on here. You know better than that. You know, right?” Josh asked.

Sam looked into Josh’s eyes. He lightly put his middle and forefingers to Josh’s lips. “I know,” he said softly. “Throw that piece of shit out of our home now please. I need you, Josh.”

When Josh turned Scott was behind him, suitcase in one hand, cowboy hat in the other. Both Sam and Josh stepped aside to let him pass. The three walked to the front door without a word. There, Scott turned and spoke.

“I could still have you arrested for assaulting a police officer, Sammy, but you’re not worth the paperwork. And I could have your ass for those drugs, but I like President Bartlet and don’t want to embarrass his administration. I could out you both as queers, but again, you’ve got Jed Bartlet to thank for that because he doesn’t need the hassle. Josh, you don’t know what you’ re missing, Tonto. Well, yeah you do know what you’re missing. You never had it so good as you did with me and you never will. Not with this tight ass. I’m gonna take off now, but I leave you each with a promise. You haven’t seen the last of me, Josh. You haven’t seen the last of me, Sammy.”

Scott opened the door and started out.

“Scott?”

He turned and faced the man with his wrist tucked between bags of frozen peas and carrots.

"Whadda you want?" he asked.

“It’s Sam.”

********

Josh didn’t bother to dry off after his shower. He sprinted across the candle-lit bedroom, slid between the sheets and snuggled against Sam’s back. His body was still hot from the steaming shower and Sam’s bare skin felt cool against his. He wrapped his arms around him and draped one leg over Sam’s, mindful of his brace.

“I’ve wanted to be in this very place since we were here this morning,” he whispered into Sam’s ear. “I love you Angel.”

“Are you angry with me, Josh?”

“Angry? Why would I be angry with you?”

“Because of what happened with Scott. I beat him up. He’s your friend.”

Josh put his hand over Sam’s mouth and held it there. “Sam, listen to me and listen carefully. Scott WAS a friend of mine a long time ago. Yes, we had a relationship and lived together briefly, but I left him and when I did, I had no intention of ever seeing him again under any circumstances. When he showed up at the White House it was a total surprise to me. Twenty years had passed and I guess I got caught up in that nostalgia shit or something and that’s why I invited him to stay here. Yes, I’ll admit, in hindsight, that was probably a mistake, but it’s over and done with and as far as I’m concerned, he’s out of our lives forever. I don’t consider Scott my friend. He’s part of my past that’s just that ~~ passed.” Josh removed his hand slightly from Sam’s mouth and asked him, “Can you breathe?”

“Uh huh.”

He covered Sam’s mouth again. “Ok. My whole life is you, Samuel Seaborn-Lyman, and will be for eternity. I don’t have to tell you that, but I want to because I like the way it sounds. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never kiss another man. . .or woman. . .and if anyone ever tries to take you from me, I’ll fight them to the death. I want you to forget about Scott Major and about what happened tonight. You don’t have to tell me why you two fought. I know it was probably over lies he invented just to provoke you and repeating them will just be unpleasant for us both. Forget it. Unless you have questions for me. Do you?”

“Uh uh.”

“Can you still breathe?” He loosened his hold over Sam’s mouth. He liked the feel of Sam’s warm breath against the palm of his hand.

“Uh huh.”

“Something else. I’m sorry I had to hurt your wrist. You had a death grip on Scott and the only way I could get your hands from around his neck was to re-sprain your sprain. I’m so sorry baby, but I didn’t want you to get in trouble if he died. Do you forgive me?”

“Uh huh.”

“If I take my hand away from your mouth will you stop talking crazy talk?”

“Uh huh.”

Josh took his hand from Sam’s mouth and ran it down to his neck. He started to rub Sam’s chest with his warm hand.

“Can I say one more thing about Scott?” Sam asked.

Josh sighed. “One thing, and that’s it.”

“We lost some damn good kitchen help.”

Josh laughed and let his hand slide down to Sam’s stomach. He kneaded his taut muscles, then ran his hand back up to Sam’s nipple. Josh rolled the brown nub between his thumb and finger and it immediately hardened. He knew Sam loved to have his nipples stimulated and if he were in a better position, Josh would suck and bite on them. Instead, he pulled and twisted Sam’s nipples until he was rewarded with a little yelp of pleasured pain. It was the yelp Josh wanted to hear; the yelp that said Sam was having a good time.

Sam nestled back into Josh and filled any empty spaces that might have been open. He felt Josh’s full erection against him and raised his left leg so Josh could slide his cock into the warm spot between Sam’s legs.

Josh’s hand traveled back down Sam’s chest to his abdomen. There his fingers became entangled in the silky soft patch of pubic hair; he was careful not to touch Sam’s penis. Not yet.

Sam had started to rock back and forth against Josh; Josh’s dick slipped in and out from between Sam’s legs with each movement. Sam moved his hand to the front of his legs so when Josh’s penis pushed through, Sam’s hand was there to wrap around the head of Josh’s cock and caress it before it disappeared between Sam’s legs again. Grunts and groans of pleasure and sighs of contentment flowed freely from them both.

“Osh?”

“Yeah?”

“I want you inside me,” said Sam.

“I don’t know sweetheart. It won’t be very easy with that leg brace in the way.”

“I’ll take it off. I’m not supposed to wear it all the time anyway. Remember? The doctor said it would stiffen up if I did.”

“I just don’t wanna hurt you,” Josh said.

Sam reached down and pulled open the top Velcro strap of his knee brace. Then the next strap. Then the next until it was unfastened. He took it off his leg and tossed it onto the floor. He rolled onto his side so he faced Josh.

“I NEED you to be inside me. It’s more than just *want*. I need you to bring your body inside my body, to connect with me so I can feel you move inside me and know we’re one body joined together. I need that, Josh. I need us to be as close as we can possibly be tonight, and the only way we can do that is if you come inside me.”

Josh kissed Sam tenderly. “I’ll never wanna come out,” he said.

“Stay until I go to sleep.”

“Are you relaxed?” Josh asked.

Sam nodded his head and reached out for Josh. Josh lowered his body on top of Sam and kissed him. Their kisses came easy and tasted sweet. Every kiss was unique; whether it was passionate or simply tender, they were always new yet familiar. Each knew the curves of the other’s lips, the shape of their tongue, the special way they brought their mouths together so an intimacy passed between them that couldn’t be expressed in any other way.

Josh reared back on his knees and collected several of the many pillows on the bed. He propped them under Sam’s hips, being careful not to jar his right leg. Sam had put his wrist brace back on and let it rest still beside him. When Sam’s hips were elevated, Josh spread his legs open wide.

“Does that hurt your knee?” he asked softly.

“No, I’m fine,” Sam replied. “Really, it’s ok.”

“Tell me if it hurts?”

“I will.”

Josh leaned forward onto Sam and kissed him again, then ran his tongue down his neck and kissed and nibbled as he went until he came to Sam’s nipple. His tongue circled it then he pulled it in-between his lips and sucked until it became erect in Josh’s mouth. Josh smiled as he felt Sam arch his back beneath him and push up toward Josh. A shiver of pleasure ran through Sam’s body. Josh gently bit Sam’s nipple until he heard a soft cry of delighted pain, then he sucked on his lover some more.

Josh dragged his tongue across Sam’s chest to his other nipple and repeated his playful game there. As Sam became more excited, his penis grew harder and larger and he now had a full erection. Josh casually reached above Sam’ s head and pulled the tube of lubricant from between the mattresses and set it off to the side. He then ran his tongue down Sam’s body until he came to his stiff cock. He lightly ran his tongue from the base to the tip and there, circled his tongue around the head ever so lightly. He knew this drove Sam wild and just as he expected, Sam was already about to come.

Sam’s eyes were closed and he had a smile on his face. His body quivered and little moans of pleasure eeked out as he let Josh make love to him. Sam relished how Josh went from being prickly sharp with his nipples one second then whisper soft with the velvet smooth head of his penis the next. Sam never knew what to expect from Josh, and the anticipation of the unknown kept him eager for his lover’s touch.

Josh ran his tongue around the ridge of Sam’s penis and flicked that special little spot on the underside that caused Sam to clutch Josh’s hair and pull at his scalp.

“Oh God, Josh, you know what that does to me,” Sam moaned.

He arched his back so his pelvis lifted toward Josh. When he did, Josh took the whole of Sam’s penis into his mouth. It went deep into his throat, but he loved being full of Sam and took all of him in with one easy swallow. His tongue swirled around Sam’s dick and raced up and down the shaft as he sucked and licked and nibbled and bit. He juggled Sam’s balls in his hand with great care, as his lips and tongue had their way with Sam’s penis.

Josh knew Sam was about to come, but he wasn’t ready for him to just yet. He wanted to extend Sam’s pleasure. He gently scraped his teeth along the length of Sam’s cock then slowly pulled it out of his mouth. Pre-cum was on Josh’s lips and chin. He leaned forward and Sam licked it off. His tongue lapped at Josh’s lips like a kitten after sweet cream, then when it was gone, Sam hungered for more.

Josh filled his palm with gel and rubbed his hands together. He wanted the lubricant to be warm when he massaged it into Sam. He leaned forward and kissed Sam again, deep and long with a passion straight from his heart that went directly to Sam’s heart.

“I love you Sam,” Josh whispered when he eventually pulled his mouth from his lover’s. “I love everything about you.”

“I couldn’t live with you, Josh. Come inside me now. Be part of me.”

“I’m already part of you, Angel. We’re already one person, one heart, one soul.”

“I adore you, Josh.”

Josh got on his knees and opened Sam’s legs a bit further. He lifted Sam’s left leg and draped it over his own shoulder and pulled him up a bit on the pillows so Sam was fully exposed to him. With his hand full of warm gel, he gently lubricated Sam’s anus and inserted two, then three fingers.

“Come on baby,” Sam pleaded.

Josh slathered gel on his own penis and with his hand, guided it into Sam. He entered him with a single push and Sam took Josh’s entire shaft. He sucked in a gasp of air when he was finally filled with Josh.

“Do you feel me?” Josh asked. “Do you feel me inside you?”

“Oh yeah,” Sam replied in a breathy voice.

Josh rocked his hips back and forth as he began to slowly pump his cock in and out of Sam. Sam caught the rhythm and the two moved in perfect syncope that only these lovers could know. Josh looked at Sam and the two locked eyes. They stared deep into the soul of the other as they fulfilled Sam’s longing and became one. With a final thrust Josh pushed himself into Sam and released all that he had to give. Sam arched and pressed against Josh as he tried to get even closer. When Josh was spent he again took Sam’s erection in his mouth and in a matter of seconds, Sam exploded the pent-up passion he’d held until Josh returned to him. Then the two slowed until neither moved at all, Josh’s penis still inside Sam.

Sam reached down and put his hand on Josh’s head and stroked his hair. It was damp with sweat and little ringlets curled at his ears and forehead. Sam pulled the curls through his fingers.

“You need a haircut,” he said.

“Did I hurt your knee?” Josh responded.

“No. Did I hurt yours?”

Josh laughed. “My Angel.”

They lay silent.

“Sam?”

”Hmmm?”

”Were you serious about me staying inside you until you fall asleep?” Josh asked.

“Yes.”

“This is, uh, kinda awkward and we can’t snuggle. Are you sure about this?”

“Well. . .I guess not,” Sam conceded.

“You know, Sam, I’ll still be inside you. My heart and my soul and my spirit. . .and all the love in the universe that I have to give. . .that will still be inside you, always. You’re never without that. Wherever you go and whatever you do, I’m right there with you. We ARE one. When we can physically join together like this, it just re-seals the deal. But I’m always inside you and you’re always inside me. That will never go away.”

The two still hadn’t taken their eyes off each other. Sam gave a little smile and his eyes twinkled by the candlelight.

“When did you first know you loved me,” he asked.

Josh grinned and without hesitation said, “You had me at ‘hello’.”

“Come lay with me.”

Josh slowly and gently pulled out of Sam, tossed the pillows aside, and crawled up next to him. He put his arm around Sam and Sam put his head on Josh’s shoulder and his braced arm across Josh’s chest. They tangled their legs and Josh pulled the sheet and comforter up to cover them. Sam leaned his head back and looked up at Josh’s face.

“What?” Josh said.

Sam smiled. “Hello.”

“You’ve already got me.”

“I know,” replied Sam.

“I know too.”

Sam snuggled into Josh’s shoulder again. He was happy and content in the arms of the man he loved. It had been a long day, his wrist hurt, and he was ready to sleep. He wanted to take a Vicodin or two, or three, for the pain, but didn’t want to get up from the warm spot he had nested into. He kissed Josh’s chest and closed his eyes.

He was just about asleep when he heard Josh’s voice.

“Sam?”

He ignored him. He wanted to sleep.

“Sammy? Are you asleep?”

“No.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“I need to ask you something,” Josh said softly.

“What?”

“Why were you beating the shit out of Scott?”

Josh felt Sam tense against him.

“Why are you laying in our bed thinking about Scott?” Sam responded.

“I’m not. I’m thinking about you, and why you were so angry. I’ve never seen you like that before. I’m wondering what would have happened if I hadn ’t come home when I did.”

Sam didn’t answer.

“What would have happened, Sam? How far would you have gone if I hadn’t stopped the fight?” Josh prodded. “Would you have killed him?”

Silence.

“Would you have killed him, Sam?”

Josh felt Sam’s head move against his shoulder.

“Is that an up and down ‘yes’ or a back and forth ‘no’?” asked Josh.

“It’s. . .it’s. . .Josh?”

“Yeah babe?”

“Can we not talk about this? Can we never mention Scott or that fight or who said what to whom ever again?” Sam touched Josh’s face with the tips of his fingers that stuck out of his wrist brace.

“It’s that important to you?” said Josh. “You really have an aversion to that whole episode, don’t you? You just want it gone.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Ok then, I’ll never mention it again. You obviously have your reasons and I’ll respect them. Case closed.”

“Thank you.” Sam ran his forefinger over Josh’s bottom lip. “I love you, you know?”

“I know.” He pulled Sam’s finger into his mouth up to the first knuckle and wrapped his lips around it.

They both closed their eyes and savored this time together. The touch, the taste, the scent of each other. Never enough, never enough.

“Josh, I wish we could just lay here together like this forever,” Sam said quietly. “Just you and me. That’s my wish.”

Josh parted his lips and Sam’s finger slipped out. He put his other arm around Sam, clasped his wrists together, and pulled him closer. Then in his sweet tenor he softly sang, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything you heart desires will come to you. . .”

Sam looked up at him and opened his mouth to speak.

“Shhh. Gey shlafan, go to sleep Angel,” Josh whispered.

Then he softly sang again, “If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme, when you wish upon a star as dreamers do.”

Josh was quiet as he listened to Sam’s breathing. He was still awake. He gently rocked them a little, just enough to lull Sam to sleep.

“Fate is kind, she brings to those who love, the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing. Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you thru, when you wish. . .upon a star. . .your dreams. . .come. . .true. . .”

Sam’s chest rose and fell slow and steady against Josh as he finally slept. Josh held him tightly in his arms and stared at the ceiling. He was wide awake. What he’d seen tonight disturbed him more than he had allowed either Sam or Scott to see ~~ or admit to himself until now.

He couldn’t get the image out of his head, the image of Sam on top of Scott with his hands around his neck, beating his head against the floor, Scott unconscious and unable to fight back. Sam oblivious to Josh’s presence and shouts to stop and he DID stop only when Josh physically re-injured his wrist and rendered him incapable of going further.

How far would he have gone? That question dogged Josh. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Would he have actually killed Scott? What in the hell had Scott said to provoke such a reaction from the usually reasonable and rational Sam? Sam, the peacemaker. The dove. The gentleman on the side of the angels.

Josh had told Sam he wouldn’t press the matter, and he wouldn’t. Maybe someday Sam would tell him, but Josh wouldn’t ask again.

Josh was also shaken by Scott’s kiss. He shouldn’t have been surprised ~~ Scott had flirted with him since he arrived in Washington, but Josh didn’t take him seriously. He thought Scott was just being Scott; always the joker, playing around, cracking jokes. How wrong he’d been. He was totally caught off guard when Scott had grabbed him in the guest room and kissed him. He felt nothing but revulsion from the kiss. Something he used to hide in closets and sneak behind the garage to steal now seemed like a dirty thing. Something so distasteful, it only made Sam’s kisses that much sweeter.

Sam sighed next to him. Josh felt Sam’s warm breath against his bare skin. God, how he loved this man. How blessed he was to have him. How blessed he was that Sam would have HIM. Josh rubbed his wedding band with his thumb.

He thought about his conversation with Leo earlier that evening. Maybe it would be best if he. . .if they came out to the senior staff at the White House. Neither he nor Sam were ashamed of who they were or who they were in love with. It would be so much easier than keeping up the clandestine existence they carried out every day, cautious of every word they spoke, every look they made toward each other, fearful that every time they made eye contact someone would notice there was something more than mere friendship between them.

Then Toby’s words came back to him, “Maybe it’s best all around if you keep this at home.” he’d said. Best for who? The President? Leo? The Vice President? Toby? CJ? Their jobs? The Bartlet administration? Best for who? Maybe Toby’s wrong. Maybe it would be best to be honest and tell the entire West Wing that he and Sam are married and stop the lies and day-to-day covert operations just to keep their secret.

Maybe tomorrow. “Like a bolt out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you thru. . .” Josh stared at the ceiling.

********

Jed Bartlet stared at the ceiling in his own bedroom. He couldn’t sleep either. He missed Abby. A month was way too long for her to be gone and he wanted her to come home. He looked at the clock next to the bed. Almost three a.m. Damn, I’ve gotta get up in a couple of hours. One more cigarette. He got out of bed and put his bathrobe on over his pajamas and left the residence and went outside. It was a cool evening and he walked to the portico, his favorite place to sit in the evenings when he was alone.

He was close to the Oval Office, but not IN the Oval Office, so he could think things out and not have to be quite as reverent as he would have to be if he were actually indoors. Just being able to peer into the window for inspiration had given birth to profound ideas that Toby and Sam had turned into masterpieces. Besides, he couldn’t smoke in the Oval Office and he could on the portico.

The light was still on in Leo’s office. He said he was going home three hours ago! Jed said to himself. He'd better have just forgot and left his light on.

With cigarette in hand, Jed went inside and to Leo’s office. He knocked lightly and when he got no response, he opened the door and went inside. Leo was asleep on the couch, shoes on the floor, his jacket over him for a cover. A soft snore assured Jed he slept soundly.

Jed looked at his best friend. Why are you still here, Leo? he wondered. What is this puzzlement that Josh has you in a tailspin over? And why won’t you tell me? I love Josh too. Can’t you trust me, Leo? Can’t Josh trust me?

It was cool inside Leo’s office. Jed walked to the closet and found an all-weather coat. He took it off the hangar and went to the couch.

“Leo, Leo, Leo. D.H. Lawrence said it well: ‘And if tonight my soul may find her peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower, then I have dipped again in God, and new-created.’.”

He spread the coat over Leo to warm him.

“Sleep in peace, my friend.”

Jed turned out the light in Leo’s office and walked back out onto the portico. He lit his cigarette and looked out over the grounds of the White House. He was worried. He was worried, but he didn’t know what he was worried about. He took a long draw on his cigarette and watched the smoke drift away from him into the breeze. He turned and looked at Leo’s window and half-expected the light to be on again. It remained dark. He finished his cigarette but wasn’t quite ready to go back to the residence just yet. He wanted to stand outside Leo’s window and keep watch over his office while he slept, even though there were armed guards a few steps away. It was something he wanted to do. The President moved closer to Leo’s window and stuck his hands in the pocket of his bathroom.

“Sleep in peace, my friend,” he said quietly. “Sleep in peace.”

"At Home" ~~Chapter 48

"Ginger!"

No answer.

"Ginger!" Toby spoke a little louder.

"Yo! Ginger!"

No answer.

Toby let out a frustrated sigh and pushed back from his desk. He picked up his rubber ball and stepped just outside his office into the bullpen. Ginger sat at her desk, head down, the "Wall Street Journal" spread out before her. Toby walked to her desk and stood directly in front of her, but Ginger still didn't look up or acknowledge him.

"Find something interesting to read?" he asked.

"Yes I did, as a matter of fact, thank you for asking," she answered, still engrossed in the "Journal".

"It must be fascinating, because you apparently didn't hear me call you ~~ three times."

Ginger finally raised her head nonchalantly. "You called me?"

"I did."

"Three times?"

"I did."

"Just now?"

"Just now."

"From your office?"

"From my office."

"Oh Toby, I'm sorry! I'd didn't hear you. You did it wrong," she said.

"I didn't realize there was a right and a wrong way." Toby squeezed the rubber ball. "Is there a manual or did I miss the memo again? Why do I always miss the essential memos? Dammit, the President will hear about this today!" he declared sarcastically.

Ginger's eyes opened wide. She was never quite sure when Toby was being serious.

"Toby, there's not really an official way. It's just that Josh has mastered the most effective method and has set the bar by which all assistants are most easily reached, crude and barbaric as it may be."

"And that masterful method would be . . .?"

"DON-NAAAAAAAA!"

Ginger shouted so loudly and without warning of any kind that Toby jumped, took two steps backward, dropped his rubber ball and nearly knocked down Bonnie.

"What the hell?" he shouted back.

"And she appears right at his door," Ginger explained with a smile.

Toby closed his eyes and tried to remember why he'd taken this job at the White House in the first place. Oh yeah, to serve at the pleasure of the President.

"So what do you want, Toby?" Ginger asked.

"Huh? What?"

"You said you called me three times. What can I do for you?"

"Never screech again like that within five miles of me would be a good start. Have you seen or heard from Sam this morning?" he asked. "It's not like him to be this late."

Ginger held up several pink slips of paper. "Here's your messages. Sam called while you were on the phone and said he'd be late because he had a thing this morning."

"A thing? Did he say when he'd be in?"

"Nope. Just that he had a thing."

"Back to your reading, Ginger."

Toby picked his rubber ball off the floor, returned to his office and closed the door behind him. He dialed Sam's cell phone.

"Sam Seaborn." He nearly sang his name.

"What's this `thing' you're at?"

"Oh hi, Toby!" Sam was so cheerful Toby could almost see a glow through the phone line.

"Hi Sam. We've established who's who. What's this `thing' you're at?" Toby repeated.

"Toby, you're gonna love it! Guess what I'm doing right now? Right this very minute?" Sam bubbled.

"I don't wanna guess."

"Oh, come on. Guess."

"I don't wanna guess," Toby said again.

"Just one guess. It won't kill you," Sam insisted.

"It'll kill me."

"One guess."

"Sam, I don't have time for guessing games. Talk to me. Now."

"Ok. Josh and I are at Clements Jewelers making arrangements to have inscriptions engraved in our wedding bands. How just absolutely perfect is that?"

Toby sat in silence, not sure he'd actually heard what he thought he'd heard. He ran his hand over his head, to his neck and tried to massage away the tension that had started to build in his muscles.

"Toby? Did you hear me?" Sam asked.

"Every absolutely perfect word."

"Would you have guessed that?"

"Never in a million years," Toby droned.

"But it's ok," Sam continued. "I'm with Josh."

"THAT'S supposed to make things better because you're with Jo . . . HIM? That's like Heckle babysitting Jeckyl! Does Leo know where Josh is and what he's doing?"

"Of course not, Toby. Nobody knows about . . . you know . . . but you." The enthusiasm had drained a bit from Sam's voice.

"What about the jeweler? Hasn't this aroused a little suspicion?"

"Give us some credit. She doesn't know they're for us."

"How far into this project are you?" Toby sighed.

"We're looking at fonts. It'll be a while," Sam said. "Something going on there?"

"Nah, we're just running the country without two of our key senior staff members and advisors to the President of the United States. Sam, this is not a suggestion. This is an order. I don't give a damn what Josh does, but you deflect your eyes from those fucking fonts immediately, put your ass in your car and get to the White House now. If you don't leave the ring at the jewelers, leave it somewhere because if it's on your finger when you get here, Sam, so help me, I'll cut it off. Do you understand?"

"I understand. I'll be there as fast as Josh can drive."

"Well, don't drive stupid."

"Yeah, ok. And don't call me stupid."

"I didn't call you stupid. I said don't DRIVE stupid."

Sam started to laugh. "I know you didn't call me stupid. Didn't you see `Airplane', Toby? `And don't call me Shirley'? `What's your vector Victor'? Does any of this register with you, Toby?"

"Sam. Come in now."

"Yes sir." Sam clicked his phone shut and put it in his pocket.

"Orders from headquarters," he said to Josh. "I've been summoned by Toby."

"Five more minutes," Josh replied. "He'll get over it."

"We've gotta go, Josh. Toby's kinda perturbed. Come on."

"Aaaawwwww maaaaaaan," Josh grumbled.

Sam took Josh's arm and gently tugged him toward the door. Josh wanted to stay at the jewelry shop, choose the font and place the order to have their wedding bands inscribed. But he knew better than to make such an important decision in a hurry and would rather come back when they had more time. He and Sam would wear these rings for the rest of their lives, and they both wanted everything to be perfect. Just like the rest of their lives would be ~~ perfect.

When they got to the door, Sam stopped and turned to Josh. "Take your ring off," he said. "We're going to work and we can't be seen with these on."

"Let's wear them in the car and take them off just before we get there," Josh replied.

"I don't think so. We took a risk by wearing them HERE, and we shouldn't even have them on now. What if that jeweler sees us?"

Josh laughed. "Relax. You worry too much. Just leave it on until we get to the White House parking lot. It's cool."

Sam shook his head in resignation and pulled his sleeve down on his left hand as they walked out onto the sidewalk. They reached the car and Josh had just begun to unlock the passenger door when they both jumped at the sound of a familiar voice behind them.

"Hi guys!"

"Danny, I swear you do that on purpose!" Josh spun around to find the reporter right behind him and Sam.

"Do what? I just walked up!" Danny protested.

"You SNEAK up. You don't WALK up like a normal human being. You slither! You scuttle! You sidle, you slink, you . . . you . . ."

"Skulk?" Danny asked.

"Skulk!" Josh agreed as dangled his keys in Danny's face. "Yes! So stop it!"

"Whatcha doin'?" Danny changed the subject.

Both Sam and Josh had jammed their left hands into their pockets. Danny looked from one to the other.

"We're, uh . . ." Josh looked at Sam.

"We're working," said Sam. "What are YOU doing?"

Danny jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

"Just had breakfast at that little coffee shop by the jewelry store. Good waffles. You oughta try it sometime, since you have business over this way and all." He smiled first at Sam, then at Josh.

"We'll keep that in mind, Danny. Thanks and good-bye. Let's go, Sam."

Danny stood on the sidewalk and watched as Sam and Josh got into the car. He watched as Josh used his right hand to cross over his body and close the car door. He watched as Sam buckled his seatbelt over his left arm because his hand was still stuffed into his pants pocket. He watched as they pulled into traffic and headed toward the White House. Then he walked away with a smile on his face.

Toby leaned back in his chair after he hung up the phone. Even though he knew Sam should have come into work instead of going font shopping, he felt bad because he hadn't shared even a little of Sam's excitement. Six months ago I'd have reamed his ass into the middle of next week, Toby thought. Now I worry about him getting that same ass here safely. Shit. I've turned soft. When did that happen? HOW did that happen?

Toby made a mental note to ask Sam what he and Josh were going to have inscribed in their rings. He took his own wedding band off and read the sentiment Andi had inscribed in his ring ~~ how many years ago? He knew exactly how long it had been. Toby rolled the ring around in the palm of his hand until it became warm. He held it up and studied it. No longer round, it had formed to the shape of his finger and flattened some on the bottom. He warmed the ring in his palm again and carried it to his face. He inhaled and hoped to catch the fleeting fragrance of Andi. He knew that was unrealistic. The only thing he smelled was a tinny, metallic, uncaring fragment of the past with an inscription that was now a lie. Toby put the ring back on and tried not to wonder what Andi was doing that very moment.

********

"Margaret, would you call Donna and set up a nine o'clock with Josh in my office?"

"Yes sir, I'll do that. Shall I tell him what it's about or shall we surprise him?"

"Let's surprise him," Leo said. "It's the highlight of my busy schedule to keep Josh uninformed and in the dark, totally out of the loop, so when he comes to my meetings he's completely ill-prepared and nervous as hell and is absolutely of no benefit to me OR the President OR the purpose of the meeting. Would you like to ask that question again?"

"No sir, I wouldn't. But you don't have to get snippy."

"I was born snippy, Margaret. Tell him it's about John Hoynes and Ulysses S. Grant being on the ticket in November. Damage control, yes or no," Leo said.

"Okey dokey. I'll set it up pronto."

"Margaret, did you say `pronto'?"

"I did, indeedy."

"Yeah, ok." Leo returned to his office.

********

"Margaret, before you tell Leo that Josh isn't here, PLEASE give me a few minutes to track him down, ok? I think I can do it."

"Ok Donna, but make it quick. Nine o'clock isn't that far off you know, and Leo's being snippy this morning."

"I thought Leo was always snippy," Donna replied.

"He has these moments when he forgets and says something nice, but he hasn't had any of those moments this morning. I'll do what I can."

"Thanks Margaret, I owe you one."

Donna disconnected Margaret and immediately pressed number one to ring Josh's cell phone. Answer, answer, answer, she willed him.

"Josh Lyman."

"Where are you?" Donna demanded.

"Well good morning to you too, Miss pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow," Josh replied.

"What time is it, Joshua?"

Josh looked at his watch. "Ten till nine and that had better not be why you called me."

"No, I called you to save your cute little hiney," she said.

"My cute little what?"

"Hiney."

Josh laughed. "My hiney? You think my hiney's cute?"

"Shut up. Margaret said Leo wants a meeting with you at nine o'clock in his office and I have to call all over town to find you."

"Leo. Shit," Josh groaned. "And pushing speed dial one time constitutes calling all over town?"

Donna ignored him. "How far away are you?"

"Twenty-five minutes."

"Josh-uu-ah!" Donna wailed. "Why aren't you here anyway? Where are you? What are you doing?"

Josh ignored her barrage of questions. "Tell Margaret I'll be there."

"You can't make it."

"I'll make it."

"You can't."

"I can."

"You won't."

"I will."

"Ok."

"Wait! Donna, wait!"

"What?"

"Did Margaret tell you what the meeting is about?" Josh asked.

"Let's see. To quote Margaret quoting Leo verbatim: `Tell him it's about John Hoynes and Ulysses S. Grant being on the ticket in November. Damage control, yes or no'. That's it."

"Got it. Thanks Donna. Hey, would you run down to the mess and get a couple of blueberry muffins for me to take to the meeting? I didn't eat any breakfast this morning," Josh said.

"If you'll tell me if Grant is really going to be on the ticket in November."

"Yes, he is."

"Ulysses S. Grant is ~~ was ~~ a Republican," she responded.

"Yeah. About those muffins . . ."

"A Republican and a drunkard."

"I'll need coffee too."

"He's also dead."

"Yeah, yeah, minor details. He probably didn't have a chance anyway. Muffins?"

"Sure. Drive carefully Josh."

"Yeah, ok."

Josh clicked his phone off and smiled at Sam. "Hang on, Mr. Spock. We're about to hit warp speed."

Donna called Margaret. "Can you stall Leo?" she asked. "Josh is twenty-five minutes away and there's no way he'll be here by nine."

"I can try, but no promises. He's snippy."

"Thanks Margaret. I'll drag him there myself the minute he walks in."

"Please do," Margaret said. "He's . . ."

"Snippy. I know," Donna laughed. "I've gotta run down to the mess before Josh gets here. Thanks again, Margaret. Good luck!"

********

"Hi Sam. Toby wants to see you the instant you walk in the door," Cathy said, "and here's your messages. The one on top is from your Dad. He says it important and he wants you to call him right away."

Sam looked at the message and started toward his office.

"Sam, he said the *instant* you walk in," she repeated. "If you don't, I might get in trouble. He's a little high-strung today."

"Alrighty then, wouldn't want that to happen." Sam shifted direction and knocked on Toby's door.

"In!"

Sam went inside Toby's office and closed the door behind him. Toby motioned for him to sit on the couch. Sam did, and sat quietly while Toby finished what he was writing then tossed his pen down on his desk. Toby turned his chair toward Sam and leaned back.

Sam held up his left hand, pointed to his ring finger and grinned. "Not wearing it!" he said.

"Is that your accomplishment for the day?" Toby asked.

"One of them. I'll do other things later, of course, but this is a good start, don't you think?"

"Lean forward Sam."

He did. Toby rolled his chair close to the couch until he was directly in front of Sam and propped one elbow on his knee. With his other hand he used his forefinger and thumb and pulled Sam's eyelid open wide and looked closely at Sam's pupil and the white of his eye. Then the other one. Satisfied, he let Sam's lids settle back in place.

"I don't believe you did that!" Sam exclaimed

"Well, you're all hopped up about something."

"Hopped up? Hopped up?" Sam laughed. "What are you, a beatnik? Did you watch the "Reefer Madness" documentary on the History Channel last night?"

He brought his right leg up onto the couch and stretched it out to the side.

Toby didn't laugh. He just looked at Sam.

"You don't have your knee brace on," he finally said.

Sam cocked his head to the side. "Toby. I haven't worn my knee brace for over two weeks."

"Seriously? I didn't notice."

"It's this how-to-make-myself-invisible trick I learned. That way people don't notice I'm around. Thanks for the boost to my self- esteem."

"How's the tendon in your knee?" Toby asked.

"I went to the doctor a few days ago and he said it's healing nicely," replied Sam.

"Your wrist ~~ is that ok too? I haven't seen that brace since . . . since I don't remember when."

Sam raised his right arm and smiled. "All better."

"So your injuries weren't that serious?" Toby asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Well, I've seen you taking those narcotics . . ."

"Pain pills," Sam interrupted.

". . .pain pills . . . all along," Toby continued, "and I thought you were really busted up. But now you seem to have recovered rather quickly, so I'm just saying . . ."

Sam sat up straight on the couch. "You were there, Toby. You know those pain pills ~~ doctor prescribed, I'm apparently AGAIN forced to point out ~~ were justified. I need those prescriptions."

"Don't get so defensive there, kiddo." Toby spoke calmly. "I know you had serious injuries. I was at the hospital, remember? I know you were justified getting that Vicodin re-filled four times."

"Three. It was only three times. I'm not taking those pills for fun, Toby. I have a torn tendon in my knee and a sprained wrist. I'm in a great deal of pain. I choose not to wear the braces to the office because I don't want sympathy from anybody. So why'd you call me in?" Sam took his leg off the couch and leaned back.

"Why'd I call you in?" Toby repeated. "Why don't you take a shot at answering that one? You seem to like guessing games."

"Ok." Sam sat in silence for a couple of minutes, deep in thought. He furrowed his eyebrows, squinted, chewed on the inside of his mouth, ran his fingers through his hair and drummed on his thigh with his pen. Every now and then he started to speak then stopped, shook his head, and thought some more.

Finally Toby slammed the palm of his hand on his desk.

"Sam! You're making me crazy this morning! What is POSSIBLY going on in that cavernous skull of yours? Why I called you in can be answered in three simple words: `I work here'. You've turned this into an exercise of solving the mysteries of Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, women, Republicans . . ."

Sam snickered.

"I pulled you in because the President is slated to tape a series of thirty, sixty, and ninety second campaign promos and he wants about a half a dozen drafts on all the hot topics. Homeland security gets top priority because nine-eleven is quickly approaching and will get a shit load of attention on the anniversary date and that's right before the election. He wants HIS name and HIS face out there before Ritchie's."

"Isn't late August a little soon for campaign promos?" Sam asked.

"Therein lies the rub. These nine-eleven spots have to be disguised so it won't sound like he's campaigning. We wanna give the appearance he's just a concerned President."

"But he IS a concerned President," Sam said. "That World Trade Center attack about did him in. Do you know how many friends and colleagues he lost that day? My cousin died in . . ."

Toby sighed. "Yes Sam, we all lost somebody. That's not what we're here to talk about today and that's not the point of these promos. Stop thinking with your heart and think like a Deputy Communications Director from this moment forth, because that's who I need to talk to now. Is that who I'm talking to now? Is it?"

Sam nodded his head. "Yes."

"I don't mean to be harsh, Sam and I certainly don't intend to minimize what happened that day, but you're only allotted the luxury of grieving on your own time, whenever that may be. When you're in the White House you're on the President's time and that's the way it is. Now, to whom am I speaking?"

"The Deputy Communications Director for the President of the United States."

"A little more enthusiasm would have been nice, but I'll take what I can get at this point. By noon, I want you shaking pom poms and grinning like a possum because you're the Deputy Communications Director. Disguise these quote-unquote campaign PSAs as a concerned citizen bringing a broken country together ~~ again ~~ as we remember this time of tragedy . . . got it? Six drafts by noon that focus on the attack and six by noon that focus on homeland security so the country will feel safe. Write them so they're applicable for all three time slots; thirty, sixty, and ninety seconds. Plain talk but don't dumb 'em down. Reassurance is key in them all but don't make promises we can't keep, and that's straight from the President himself. He says he wants to be the one out there seen as the man of compassion AND of strength and retribution, kind of an I'm-a-nice-guy- but-don't-fuck-with me attitude, and he said over and over he wants himself and the White House, the actual structure, to be the anchor of our country. Oh, throw in zero tolerance for terrorism. People feel comforted hearing that. Any questions?"

"Nope."

"Got it?"

"Got it."

"Good. Go write." Toby said.

Sam stood and opened the door. "I do have one question," he said. "What's his second priority?"

"Blowing those motherfuckers over there to smithereens."

"Well, that one pretty much wrote itself, didn't it?" Sam said as he left the office.

"Sam!" Toby called. "Get back in here!'

Sam came back and stood just inside the door.

"So, what are you and, you know, gonna get inside the, you know?" Toby asked.

Sam grinned, held up his left hand, and wiggled his ring finger. "This *you know*?"

Toby nodded and motioned for him to put his hand down.

"Don't take it personally Toby, but I'm not gonna tell you. It's just between . . . us. But they're gonna be nice. Real nice," Sam said. There was a pride in his voice that couldn't be hidden. Not that he tried.

Toby smiled. "I'm sure they will be," he said. "You know, I carried them with me before you even knew they existed."

Sam's eyes glistened as he thought back to that spring Saturday a few months ago when he and Josh rode their bikes in the park and were married on the hillside as Toby and Rosemary Lyman witnessed their union. He'd never told Toby how much it meant to him when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder and Toby ceremonially gave him over to Josh. He remembered that once-in-a-lifetime sensation as Toby pulled their wedding bands from his pocket and watched as Josh slipped his on Sam's finger for the first time. He looked at Toby and caught himself being studied.

"What?" he said.

"Have I mentioned to you lately how proud I am of you?" asked Toby.

Sam's head straightened up as he looked at Toby with surprise. "No. You haven't."

Toby picked up the pen he'd set on his desk when Sam had come in earlier. He looked at his tablet and put pen to paper. "I've been remiss," Toby said softly. "I need to say that more often. Go. Write."

"Yeah, ok." Sam again stared down at the telephone message he held. The words "Call your Father right away" stared back at him.

"Sam! Think fast!"

He looked up just in time to see a pink rubber ball speed toward him. Sam stuck his right hand up and caught the ball with a hard thud. His fingers curled around it as he held his arm suspended above his head. Then he realized what he'd done.

Without a word, Sam set the ball on Toby's desk, but he wouldn't look him in the eye.

********

Sam dialed the number on the message Cathy had given him. He turned his chair so the back was to the closed door of his office. He made a fist with his right hand and released it, then did it again. And again.

"Seaborn Law Offices."

"Daniel Seaborn please," he said.

"One moment."

Sam laid his head against the back of his chair and closed his eyes.

"Daniel Seaborn's office."

"Hello, this is Sam Seaborn. May I speak with Daniel Seaborn?" he asked.

"One moment."

Sam got restless and was about to hang up when the voice returned.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Seaborn is unavailable to take your call."

"Would you try again, please? This is his son. I'm returning his call and he said it was important."

"One moment."

One moment, one moment, Sam thought. I've got things to do too. I should just hang up.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Seaborn is still unavailable to take your call," the woman said.

"He can't talk with me?"

"No sir, I'm sorry. Will there be anything else?"

"Did you tell him it's his son? Sam Seaborn?"

"Yes sir. He said he's unavailable to take your call. Will there be anything else?"

"No. Thank you."

Sam felt like he'd been kicked in the gut from 3,000 miles away. His Father had a way of doing that to him. Without even seeing his face or hearing his voice, Daniel Seaborn had managed to devalue his son. Sam dropped the phone back in its cradle. Almost immediately he picked it up again. He knew he shouldn't, but he dialed anyway.

"Josh Lyman."

"Hey."

"Uh, hey," said Josh.

"Where are you?" Sam asked.

"Hang on." Josh stood up. "Leo, will you excuse me for just a minute? I need to take this in the outer office. I'll just be a couple of minutes."

Leo waved him off and picked up the document in front of him. Josh stepped outside Leo's office and away from Margaret. He went around a corner where there was less foot traffic.

"What's up?" he said quietly into the phone.

"Can you come to my office?" Sam asked. "Or can I come to your's?"

"I'm in with Leo. What's wrong?"

Sam took a breath in so his voice wouldn't give him away. He didn't want to worry Josh.

"It's ok. I just . . . I just wanted to see you. It's ok."

Josh looked around him. He was being ignored.

"Talk to me, Angel."

"I'm being stupid. I just tried to call my Dad and couldn't get through and, see, it's nothing. I . . ." Sam blinked back tears. "I just miss you."

Sam wanted to say, "And I just lied to Toby and Toby knows it. First I told him my wrist and knee don't hurt any more then I told him I need the pain pills because I'm still in pain then he threw me a fast ball and I caught in with my hand that I just said hurts and he'd told me how proud he is of me but now he knows I lied to him and I can't even face him and I feel like crap." But Sam didn't say that. He didn't want to admit how badly it bothered him that he'd disappointed Toby.

Josh didn't know Sam had re-filled his prescription three times or that he still took the Vicodin even now that the pain was gone. And Sam didn't want him to know. Sam had decided he wasn't going to take any more of the pills. He'd keep the few he had in reserve, just in case, and that would be it. He was tired of all the deceit, the sneaking around, using behind Josh's back. It's gotta end. Now.

Josh made a fist and gently bounced it off the wall. He wanted to go to Sam, but knew he couldn't. That was one of the realities they both knew and understood. Boundaries had to be observed and respected within the hallowed halls of the White House. Josh hated that it had to be this way, but it did.

"I. Can't." Josh spoke apologetically.

"I know. Go back to Leo. I'm being silly."

"You're not being silly," Josh said in a loud whisper. "I've gotta get back in there but I want you . . ."

"I know," Sam interrupted.

". . . but I want you to remember something."

"What?"

"Remember what we talked about a couple of weeks ago?" Josh looked around him again, took a few steps, and lowered his voice. "Always inside you? No matter when or where? Remember that?"

Sam smiled. "Of course I remember."

"Well think of that now. Right now, when you want me. Know that I'm there with you, inside you." Josh looked up and down the hall and was glad to find it empty. "Loving you, making love to you, moving inside you, becoming part of you. Do you feel me?"

Sam nodded.

"Do you feel me?" Josh repeated softly.

"Yes, I feel you inside me."

"And you know I'm with you always?"

"Yes."

"And . . . you know?" Josh wanted so much to say the words `I love you' but knew he'd already gone past the self-imposed boundary he and Sam had agreed upon. He knew he was taking a chance saying as much as he already had.

"Yeah," Sam whispered back, "I know."

********

"Hey toots!"

No response.

"Hey Skipper!"

No response.

CJ put her forefinger in her glass of lemonade and stuck it in Sam's ear. He jumped and slapped her hand away, not sure at first what or who it was.

"What the hell?"

CJ grinned. "What? You've never had a wet willie before?"

"Yes, I have, but never with lemonade and never in the White House. Now my ear will be sticky."

Sam pulled a paper napkin from the dispenser, wet the corner in his glass of water, and washed the lemonade from the inside of his ear.

"Well, you're sitting there like you're in a coma and I was trying to shock you out of it. May I sit with you?"

CJ pulled out a chair and joined Sam at the lunch table in the mess before he had a chance to answer.

"I can attest to the fact your shock treatment works. And thanks for caring. Please, join me," Sam said.

CJ was well into her club sandwich by the time Sam got the words out. She reached across her tray and took a handful of potato chips off his plate.

"Why so glum, chum?" she asked, as she swallowed a huge gulp of her lemonade. "You look like you just lost your puppy."

Sam jabbed his fork into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "I wish I HAD a puppy."

CJ dipped her head and smiled up at Sam. "Are you pouting?

Sam suddenly realized he WAS pouting, and to hide it, he put on his stern face and tried to appear annoyed. "Of course I'm not pouting," he replied, enunciating each word. "I'm merely stating a young canine companion would be . . . a joy."

"You gonna eat that pickle?"

"Yes."

CJ reached for the pickle. In a flash Sam pinned CJ's hand to his plate with his fork. Her eyes widened and her jaw fell open. As he held the fork in place, Sam picked up his sandwich and took a bite.

"A true joy," he repeated.

"Sam?"

"CJ?"

"You've stabbed me with your fork."

"That I have."

"Because of a pickle?"

"Not so much."

"Then why, pray tell?" CJ couldn't believe her hand was being held captive on Sam's plate by his fork while he nonchalantly ate his lunch.

"Because you totally disregarded my very presence. You ignored me. You treated me like I didn't even exist Claudia Jean. So I just made you *aware* that I am, indeed, sitting here with every intention of eating that pickle." Sam reached over to CJ's tray and took back his potato chips.

CJ half-smiled. "Sam?" she asked in a quiet voice.

He popped a chip in his mouth and looked at her.

"Would you please remove your fork from my hand?"

"Will you keep your mangy paws off my pickle?"

CJ smirked. "I promise not to touch your Baby Gherkin."

"And we laughed and laughed. See, there you go again, treating me like a lesser," Sam said. He lifted his fork and put his pickle on CJ's plate.

"A lesser what? Sam, what's up? A lesser what?"

"A lesser . . . never mind. CJ, it's just that it's August."

"Ok. I'll give you that one."

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Sam finished first, wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it onto the tray.

"How was your lunch, Sam?" CJ asked.

"Four star."

"You like PB&J, huh?"

"There you go again CJ! Condescending. Do you LIKE to mess with my head or do you really not see what's going on?"

CJ finished her lunch and pushed her tray to the side. "Sam, there's more to this than the puppy and the pickle and the peanut butter and jelly. What's bothering you?"

Sam studied CJ's face. After Josh, and now Toby, Sam had always felt closer to CJ than any other staff member at the White House, or the whole inner and outer sanctums in D.C. for that matter. Maybe it was her incredible sense of humor, perhaps her intelligence, her razor sharp wit or her extraordinary ability to perform her best under pressure and keep her cool under fire. Maybe it was her vulnerability, her honesty, her passion, her idealism. Or maybe it was just because she was hot. But Sam always had a special fondness for CJ.

"It's August CJ," Sam said. His voice took on the same sadness it had when CJ first sat down. "And that means September is just around the corner."

"I'm . . . I'm sorry Sammy, it's just not clicking."

Sam smiled, obviously forced, and in an attempt to change the subject asked, "So how's your Dad?"

She squinted her eyes and looked directly into Sam's. It was clear he was uncomfortable as his eyes darted to his lunch tray. "You gonna eat your Jell-O?" he asked.

CJ set her cup of Jell-O on Sam's tray. "Bring it to my office, and don't forget your spoon," she said.

"You just can't let it go, can you?" Sam muttered as he picked up the Jell-O.

"Can't let what go?" CJ asked.

"Mother-henning me to death. Constant peck, peck, peck, pecking. Queen of the peckers ~~ and don't EVEN say whatever it is you're thinging. You just HAVE to know every morsel of my life or you're not happy."

"I'm not pecking. I'm just watching out for you."

"Like a mother hen," Sam remarked.

"Well, come along to my office, my little chick-a-dee, and don't forget your spoon."

In CJ's office Sam settled into one corner of her couch and she made herself comfortable at the other end. She kicked her shoes off, brought her legs up and tucked her feet between two couch pillows.

"Mind if I look in your drawers?" Sam asked.

"Excuse me?" CJ raised her eyebrows at the question.

"Your DESK drawers, dirty girl," Sam laughed. "I need something to eat this Jell-O with."

"Didn't I tell you to bring a spoon? I said, `Don't forget a spoon.' And whaddya do? You forget a spoon. Sammy, Sam-Sam."

CJ unfurled her legs and went to her desk, opened the bottom drawer and immediately produced a plastic knife. "This is the best I can do. Think you can handle it?"

Sam held out his hand. "I'm an Eagle Scout. I can handle anything."

"Like when you and Josh nearly burned the White House down and all the alarms went off everywhere and the President had to be roused from his sleep and . . ."

"Totally Josh's fault. I almost wasn't even there," Sam declared.

"Posh! You brought the kerosene! Donna said the minute the smoke starting coming out into the fireplace you ran like a girl!"

"Posh?"

"Yes Posh, and no, you don't get any money for me saying that," CJ said sternly. "And pardon me for asking, Smoky the Bear, resident environmentalist, but if . . ."

"It's not `Smoky THE Bear'," Sam interrupted. "It's Smoky Bear. A lot of people make that mistake. It's common."

"Excuse me?"

"Check your sources. It's Smoky Bear. That's his name, not his title. You wouldn't say `Santa THE Claus' or `Easter THE Bunny' would you?" Sam asked.

"Nooooooooo, but I would say `Sam THE Funnel Person'. Are you sure about this?"

"Positive. I know important things like that. It's Smoky Bear. Not Smoky THE Bear. Honest. Trust me. I'm an Eagle Scout." Sam was emphatic. "Ronald Reagan made Eagle Scout."

CJ squinted her eyes at Sam. "Then why is it `Erik THE Red'?" she asked.

"Because he's a Viking. Or was a Viking."

"So he gets a `the' just for being a Viking?"

"There's a Viking clause or something," Sam said patiently, "but you wouldn't say Sam THE Seaborn' would you?"

"I wouldn't, but I can hear Josh boasting `Josh THE Lyman' as if HE was something special." CJ laughed and Sam had to laugh along with her, although to Sam, Josh WAS something special.

"Let's forget Smoky and Santa and get on with what you were saying," Sam said. "I think it had to do with being the resident environmentalist."

"Yes, ok, all right. I said, you being the resident environmentalist, if you're so resourceful, how come you need a spoon to eat a little Jell-O?" CJ demanded to know.

"I don't NEED a spoon," he replied. "It's just a convenience and I try to be civil in the White House. By the way, this plastic utensil isn't biodegradable and is hell on the environment. You shouldn't even have this on the White House grounds."

"I'M not using it ~~ YOU are. And if you don't like it, why don't you just stick your face down there, Sam, and suck! Suck till it's dry and you're begging for more!"

There was a short rap on the half-open door. "Can I get a little bit of that action?"

Both Sam and CJ looked up to see Simon walk in with a broad grin on his tanned face. His perfect white teeth sparkled and his green eyes danced with amusement. "There's always room for Jell-O and Special Secret Agent Sunshine, isn't there?"

"Hey Slick!" Simon nodded to Sam as he took a couple of strides to reach CJ.

"Enchanté, mon chéri." Simon put his hand under CJ's chin and tipped her face upward. He lowered his lips to her and they met in a kiss. When Simon started to pull away, CJ stood so their lips wouldn't separate. They wrapped in an embrace that elicited growls and caused Sam to lean to the side a little to see what Simon was doing that perhaps he needed to learn.

"Uh, shall I come back another time, CJ?" Simon asked. "At you two working?"

Sam almost answered 'no, don't go' but was grateful he only thought it to himself.

CJ hesitated and looked from Simon to Sam then back to Simon. "I. Don't. Know." she said hesitantly, unaware of what Simon's plans were. "Is this a business call, a social drop-in, or am I blessed to have you for the entire afternoon?"

"Just stopped by to say hi to my best girl," he explained, "and there's the extra bonus of finding Sam here too." He flashed his thousand-watt smile that knocked both CJ and Sam off their respective feet. "I'm meeting Ron Butterfield and a couple of other guys and I came early just to see you."

"Be still my heart," CJ breathed in a hushed whisper. She gave the slightest smile and her eyes actually twinkled. She couldn't take them off Simon.

Sam watched, completely enthralled. He'd never heard anybody say `Be still my heart' in a serious way and make it sound so right. He'd never seen CJ speechless. He'd never seen CJ in love. And she wasn't merely *in love* ~~ she was totally, one hundred percent, head- over-heels, madly consumed, all the way in love with Simon Donovan.

Sam smiled. He thought it was terrific, the best thing that could happen to CJ. And in Sam's eyes, there wasn't a man more fitting than Simon. When Sam realized he was staring, he blushed and looked away. He suddenly felt like he had intruded on something very personal, too intimate to be shared. Not only that, his eyes were drawn to Simon, not CJ.

"Sam! You doing ok?" Simon asked, still looking at CJ.

"Yes. Yes I am, thank you." No way could he have read my mind, Sam thought. This is just one of those spooky coincidences that happen every now and then. He hoped his voice was steady and that the sudden warmth he felt on his face wasn't a blush. "Thanks for asking."

"I'll call you the very first opportunity I get CJ, " Simon continued, as his eyes made love to CJ. "I'm sorry, but I need to go now. Believe me, I'd much rather stay here and just look at you all afternoon. You're breath-taking."

CJ had no words. Just this extraordinarily peaceful look on her face that Josh would call *goofy*.

As he backed out the office Simon looked directly at Sam and pointed his finger at him. "I'm watching you," he said. "Especially when you don't know it." He winked at Sam then was gone . . . to the obvious dismay of CJ and the silent dismay of Sam.

After Simon left CJ sat behind her desk and Sam sat on the couch; neither spoke, both lost in their private thoughts of Simon. Each hoped, but neither really expected Simon to return. When it was clear he wouldn't, CJ clasped her hands on the desk in front of her.

"So," she said.

"So," he said.

"What can I do for you, Sam?"

"Uh, CJ, you asked ME to come to YOUR office," her reminded her. "Did you get all confoozled by the stardust in your eyes?"

"I am confoozled, confoozled I am," CJ laughed. "Does it show that much?"

"Oh no. The CIA and the FBI and the KGB together couldn't crack this one," Sam assured her.

"Sam?" She hesitated, started to speak, hesitated again then asked, "Sam, is there really stardust in my eyes?"

Sam looked at CJ. Her eyes DID look different. Happier, less stressed, less pained, more hopeful, ready to move on to that next stage in her life. "Yes CJ," he said, "I can see the stardust."

CJ couldn't speak. She mouthed the words 'thank you'.

They both sat quietly in their own thoughts of Simon.

"Hey, guess who's back on our beat?" CJ finally blurted

"Woodward and Bernstein?" Sam guessed.

"That's funny. Danny Concannon."

"Oh yeah? I like Danny," Sam said. "He reminds me of a leprechaun."

"Yeah, he was down in the mess a while back trying to make me think he's got some big scoop," CJ said. She tapped a pencil on her desk.

"Does he?" Sam asked.

"Does who what?"

"Does Danny have a big scoop?" Sam asked again.

Silence.

"CJ! Earth to CJ!" Sam spoke loudly. "Are you here or did you and your heart leave with Simon?"

CJ put her pencil in her mouth and began to chew on it "How about you Sam? Did you and YOUR heart leave with Simon?"

More than surprise registered with Sam. He didn't know what his face gave away, but inside, his stomach turned upside down and inside out and his blood ran cold. More than anything, he wanted to be with Josh as that moment, alone, safe, under the covers in their bed. He immediately felt his left ring finger and hated that it was bare.

CJ broke into her raucous laughter. "I'm sorry Spanky, couldn't help myself but I figured since I love Simon, the whole world should love him too. I didn't mean anything by it."

"No problem," he prayed his voice was calm and steady. "Your question just startled me. I've never been asked a question like that before."

"Sam, Sam, Everybody's Man! I don't believe that for one minute," CJ snickered.

Sam KNEW his face was bright red now. "What are you talking about?"

"You can't tell me that at some party, some time in your life a fraternity brother or the quarterback on your high school football team or one of your sailing buddies or *some* guy has never come on to you? Never made a pass at you? Come on, Sam. You can't think of a single time when another man didn't just "want `cha?" CJ grinned. She didn't have a clue.

"No."

CJ turned her head away and looked at him from the corners of her eyes, the grin gone, but a smile still on her face. "Seriously? I always thought guys, you know, sometimes hit on guys that were good- looking and, you know, *pretty*," she said.

"Are you calling me pretty?" Sam asked.

"Well yeah, in a masculine sort of way."

"And you're worried your boyfriend is going to hit on me?"

"No, I didn't say that," CJ's smile was gone.

"So, are you more afraid or more jealous," Sam continued, doing his best to confuse CJ.

"I'm not afraid OR jealous."

"Simon's an awfully handsome man, CJ. And if he thinks I'm pretty and available and KNOWS I'm right down the hall . . ."

"Ok! Ok, ok, ok! I take back what I said and I'm sorry I ever said it! Just don't talk about it!" CJ exclaimed.

"I hate to point this out, CJ, but again, you brought it up. You seem to have this knack for bringing things up then not following through on them. LIKE WHY AM I IN HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE WHEN I HAVE WORK TO DO?"

"Yeeeeaaaah . . ." CJ strung the word out. She cleared her throat. Obviously the image of Simon and Sam together was not one she wanted to think about, although like Sam said, she HAD been the one to bring it up. "It's just that you seemed bummed out at lunch and as a friend ~~ and colleague ~~ and apparently a mother hen ~~ I just wanna make sure things are ok and see if there's anything you wanna talk about, besides Simon, or get off your chest or share," she finally managed to get out.

"Toby would fire me if I wrote a run-on sentence like the one you just rambled on with," Sam said.

"Yeah, and I should burn all my psychology books for asking if you want to *share*. The thing is, Spanky, you mentioned August a couple of times and got all moody. You said, 'It's August' and your face turned into a Mr. Potato Head when you put the mouth on upside down."

"Did you know I never had a Mr. Potato Head?"

"No, Sam, that's a news flash. Did you know my brothers ATE my Mr. Potato Head?" CJ informed him. "He was French fried."

"Life isn't kind, is it?" Sam reflected.

CJ threw the pencil onto her desk. He eyes took on a far-away look. She was lost in thoughts of somewhere and someone else.

Oh shit, Sam thought. Now I've got CJ all depressed about something she'd put away in her mind and now I've emotionally triggered her and she'll be out of sorts for who knows how long. Why do I always say the wrong things?

"CJ?" Sam asked softly. "Are you ok? Did I strike a nerve?"

She nodded.

"When I said `life isn't kind'?" he continued.

CJ nodded again.

Sam walked over to CJ and put his hand on her shoulder. "Wanna share? Wanna tell me what you're thinking about?" Sam's voice was soft and sympathetic.

CJ nodded.

"I was thinking," she started, as though she was going to cry, then she burst into a voice full of unbridled gaiety, "how unkind life is that Simon and I both have to work and we can't just stay in bed all day making wild, hot, monkey love and getting all sweaty and just doin' it and doin' it and doin' it and . . ."

She looked up at Sam and grinned. "Life couldn't be any more kind to me at the moment, Sam. Believe me, I've been through some shit, but Simon has turned things around and . . . am I blushing?"

Sam smiled and touched CJ's cheek for a second then put his hand back on her shoulder. "Like a fire engine, but rightly so. You've got a good man there, CJ."

CJ reached her hand to her shoulder and placed it on Sam's. "Sam, I truly believe that someday your prince will come." She laughed. "Your princess, sorry. It'll happen for you in time, hopefully sooner rather than later."

Sam's thoughts went straight to Josh. My prince HAS come. He wears Elmer Fudd underwear and puts Yoohoo on his Capt'n Crunch cereal. He brings flowers to me for no special reason and won't peel his own oranges because he says he doesn't know how to `start' them. He wanted to be a ballerina when he was four-years-old because he liked how the word sounded and he puts popcorn and M&Ms in his mouth at the same time to balance out the sweet and salty. He's convinced Bambi's Mother made it out of the fire. He hates fire. He's the third most handsome man I know, the second smartest, and the first in my heart. But most important, Josh IS my prince and I'm his and in that respect, life has been more than kind to me.

"Yeah, my princess will come CJ," he said, "but in the meantime, I couldn't be happier with my life."

She turned in her chair and looked at Sam for a full minute. "You know? I believe you."

CJ paused as Sam walked away from her desk. "But I still wanna know what it is about August."

Sam continued to walk and called back from the hall, "It comes right before September!"

********

Sam walked briskly toward his office. Toby had given him an assignment to be completed by noon and here it was nearly two o'clock and the promos were still on his desk. He wished now he hadn't stayed with CJ, but her office was warm and inviting and he dreaded having to face Toby.

"Hey, Road Runner!" Josh came out of a side hallway and fell in step with Sam. "Somebody chasing you?" he asked.

Sam glanced behind him to make sure they were alone before he answered. "Hi. You're exactly who I wanna see right now."

Sam reached out and took Josh's hand, squeezed it briefly, then let it drop. He wanted to grasp Josh's hand, pull him close and melt into his arms, lean into his chest, feel Josh's arms around him and just be consumed by Josh's presence. He wanted to say, "I need you Josh" but knew that wasn't possible here and now, and to do so knowing Josh couldn't come to him would do more harm than good to them both, so he said nothing.

"Hi back, babe," Josh said. "What's wrong?"

Sam smiled wryly and came to a sudden stop. "You always know, don't you? All you have to do is look at me for a trillionth of a second and you can tell when I'm off track."

Josh spoke in a whisper. "That's because I know you better than you know yourself. Wanna sneak away and talk for a while?"

Sam shook his head with a downcast look. "I . . ."

"I what, Angel?" Josh put his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"I need . . ."

"You need what?" Josh knew Sam was hurting. He just didn't know why.

Sam was churning inside. How badly he wanted to say, "I need you Josh" but how selfish he knew that would be, the worry it would cause Josh the rest of the day until they could finally be alone at home. He wanted to tell him how he tried to call his Father and was given the brush-off. He wanted to tell him how he'd lied to Toby about his injuries and the pain pills. He wanted to tell him about his decision to put a stop to all drug use ~~ now. Immediately. Today. He wanted to but he couldn't.

"I need to get a shitload of promos to Toby that he wanted before lunch and I haven't given them to him yet. I have a feeling he's gonna be pissed."

"Why?" Josh asked, his hand still on Sam.

Sam shrugged. "Instinct I guess. I don't think he was too thrilled with the fact I went font shopping with you this morning and didn't tell him."

"Ah, don't worry about that. It was my idea. I'll take the fall. Are the promos nearly finished?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded his head. "They were finished before lunch. They've just been sitting on the corner of my desk."

"Why didn't you just give `em to Toby then? What's the hold up?"

"Gentlemen, is this a meeting I was meant to attend and Margaret screwed up again?"

Sam and Josh had been so engrossed in conversation they didn't realize Leo had walked up behind them. Both men turned when they heard his voice.

"Hi Leo," Josh said, as he casually his hand fall from Sam's shoulder. "Nope, no meeting. We're discussing the promos Sam wrote this morning and he just wants my advice about a couple of things before Toby sees them."

Leo looked at Josh with rightful skepticism. "Sam wants YOUR advice about writing?"

"It could happen!" Josh said with indignance. "Well, mostly he just ran his ideas past me, as the common man, to get my reactions. He doesn't wanna write over the head of the general public, so he used me as a sounding board."

"Nice going there on insulting 95% of the country, Josh. That comprises the general public you know," Leo deadpanned. "Like your reaction represents 95% of the country."

"Thank you, Leo. You're such a pleasure to work for. I appreciate your adjusting the position of Deputy Chief of Staff to match my abilities so I can keep my job."

"It's the least I could do to keep you off the streets."

"What a guy," Josh shot back.

"Yeah," Leo said as he walked away. "I'm a peach. I think we all have our own work to do boys. Oh, how I dread when it's my week to be hall monitor."

"So much for our little rendezvous," Sam whispered when Leo was out of sight. "I guess I'll see you at home."

"You can count on it."

Neither of them wanted to leave the other, but knew they had to. So close, yet they couldn't even embrace to say good-bye or share the slightest kiss.

"So, at home?" Sam repeated.

"At home," Josh assured him.

Sam nodded slightly then turned and headed toward Toby's office.  

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 49

Josh unlocked the door to the townhouse and held it open with his back as Sam passed through. Sam set his briefcase on the table and Josh dropped his backpack on the floor. Then they were in each other's arms. Sam nuzzled his head against Josh's neck.

"I am SO glad to finally be home," he said. "I missed you."

"You had a wonky day, didn't you?"

Sam nodded.

"Well, we're home now and you've got me and we have all night together," Josh said to soothe him.

"You don't know how good that sounds to me, Osh. But we're gonna go out for a while later."

"Out where?" Josh asked.

"I'll tell you in a few minutes. Just hold me right now."

They stood close and swayed. Josh wasn't going to release Sam until he made the first move. He wanted Sam to know he would stand there with his arms around him as long as Sam wanted him to.

Josh had only gleaned bits and pieces from Sam, but knew he hadn't had a particularly good day. Something about getting the brush-off from his Father ~~ again, the sorry-ass son-of-a-bitch. And a run-in with Toby? Sam got caught in a lie maybe? Or was it about some campaign promos Sam was supposed to write and didn't . . . or something about pain pills or . . . dammit! I should have listened closer. I should have paid more attention to Sam instead of allowing my mind to stay with Leo. What's more important? Sam or naming a Vice President to run on the ticket with Jed Bartlet in November?

Sam, of course.

Their ride home from the White House had been virtually silent. Josh tried to get Sam to open up, but whatever had Sam in a tailspin stayed with him as Josh maneuvered in and out of traffic.

"Wanna tell me about it?" Josh had discretely put his hand on Sam's thigh as he pulled away from a traffic light.

"No. Not right now," Sam replied. He covered Josh's hand with his own and folded them both into a gentle embrace.

"Just you and me darlin'." Josh looked over at Sam and smiled.

"Yeah, and *just you and me* alone in this car is exactly what I need. But I just wanna close my eyes and think for a few minutes. Is that ok?"

"Of course it's ok. Just take it easy, relax, and we'll be home in a little while. Need to stop anywhere?" Josh asked.

Sam shook his head.

"Wanna listen to some music?"

Sam laid his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes.

"Want me to pull over so we can get in the back and fool around?"

Sam smiled and squeezed Josh's hand.

"How about if I just shut up and drive?"

Sam gave a slight nod.

And so their ride home from the White House had been virtually silent.

"I'm gonna put dinner in the oven and take a quick shower," said Sam as he squirmed out of Josh's arms. "And I've gotta make a move on Toby."

"I beg your pardon?" Josh laughed.

"Our chess game. It's my turn and I figured it out in the car," Sam explained.

"I'm glad to hear that. I thought maybe you had this sudden attraction . . ."

"Eeewww! Don't even put that image anywhere near my brain. I'll need a full frontal lobotomy to get rid of THAT visual."

Josh put one arm around Sam and pulled him in. "I like the visual of your full frontal," he growled.

Josh kissed Sam and was rewarded with the kiss Sam had wanted to give him all day. Tender and sweet, their lips touched and melted together with a familiarity that had evolved from their deep intimacy and constant love.

"I love you, Josh."

"And you know I adore you, Sam."

Without another word, they both reached into their pockets and brought out the wedding bands they'd carried with them all day. They smiled at each other because the thought had come to them at the same moment. They put their rings on and hooked fingers.

"So, what's for supper?" Josh asked.

"Lasagna. I already made it and just have to put it in the oven. And bread and salad and a bottle of wine. Ok with you?"

"Perfect."

Sam gave Josh a peck on the cheek and headed toward the kitchen. On the way he stopped at the table next to the bay window where the chessboard sat. The pieces were situated in an on-going game between Sam and Toby. Sometimes they played when Toby visited; sometimes they played over the phone; sometimes they played by leaving a note on the other's desk at work. Then each moved their chess piece on their board at home. Sam replaced Toby's castle with his own knight and wrote it on the tablet so he could tell Toby he was in checkmate. Then he went into the kitchen to start supper.

When Sam came out of the kitchen he found Josh in the middle of the living room, oblivious to everything except the big screen TV. He wore only his boxer shorts, socks and his dress shirt, opened at the top. Sam looked at the trail of clothes from the front door to where Josh stood ~~ jacket, tie, shoes, belt, pants. Sam walked up behind Josh and put his arms around him. Josh immediately put his hands on Sam's forearms crossed against his chest.

"Do you have any idea how cute you look?" asked Sam. He buried his face in Josh's hair and kissed him behind his ear. He sucked Josh's ear lobe into his mouth and sucked on it, then nibbled and kissed his neck.

"Yeah, I'm cute as hell," said Josh.

"There's something about me being in a business suit holding you in your underwear that really turns me on," Sam purred.

Josh laid his head back against Sam. "Seriously? You never told me that."

"Seriously."

"Tell me why," Josh urged. "What about it turns you on?"

Sam pulled Josh closer into him and ran his hands over Josh's chest from behind. He started to slowly unbutton Josh's shirt.

"Just the sight of you with your tie off and your shirt open and kinda wrinkled and the way it hangs down over your shorts. It's sexy as hell. And your socks. They're uneven and I find that sweet."

"So what are you gonna do about it?"

"I'm seriously thinking about leaning you over the back of that chair and fucking you," Sam replied.

All the buttons were undone and Sam pulled Josh's shirt open. His hands glided over the smooth cotton of Josh's undershirt.

Josh turned and faced Sam. "I'm good with that."

"But I think I'll stick to `Plan A' and take a quick shower."

"What's wrong with `Plan B'?" Josh asked in a disappointed tone. "I like `Plan B'. What IS `Plan B'?"

Sam smiled and kissed Josh. "`Plan B' comes later. I need to go with `Plan A' while I still have the nerve."

"The nerve for what? What's `Plan A'? What's `Plan B'? What are all these plans?" Josh just wanted to lean over the chair and get fucked.

"I'll tell you all about it after supper. Trust me, ok?" Sam asked.

"Always. `Plan A' it is. How long until supper?"

"Forty-five minutes. Just watch TV."

Sam gathered and folded Josh's clothes as Josh turned his attention back to CNN. He double-checked his chess move, was satisfied with his decision, and started up the stairs for his shower. Half way up he stopped and turned.

"Josh?"

"Huh? Yeah?" Josh turned away from the TV and looked up at Sam.

"I'm supposed to call my Dad tonight. And Lisa wants me to call her too."

"Lisa? What the hell does Lisa want?"

Sam shrugged. "I have no idea. But both messages said `Urgent' and to call back tonight. So I guess I'd better. Lisa's message said to call her before I call my Dad. I don't know how she knows my Dad called too, so something's up."

"Ok . . . Am I supposed to say something?"

"No. Just wanted to tell you."

"Yeah, ok. Thanks." Josh watched Sam go the rest of the way up the steps and into their bedroom. Then he turned his attention back to the news.

Upstairs Sam stripped down to his underwear and neatly put his clothes where they belonged; shoes in the closest, socks in the dirty clothes hamper, suit on a wooden hanger, shirt in the hamper for the laundry service, tie on the tie rack, wristwatch in his jewelry box. Ring on his finger.

He thought about `Plan A'. He needed to have a serious *come clean* talk with Josh tonight and tell him he was going to do just that ~~ come clean. Stop all his drug use, stop the deceit, he didn't need the stuff and was going to get rid of anything . . . everything . . . he had in the house and not get anymore. He wanted to tell Josh he would find a different racquetball partner and not see Marc again. He knew he needed to get as far away as possible from all connections and contacts, and STAY away from them to keep temptation out of reach.

So that made three unpleasant phone calls he had to make: his ex- fiancé, his Father, and Marc. He didn't want to talk with any of them, but knew he had no choice.

Sam also knew he had to go to all his hiding places, bring out his stashes, and destroy whatever drugs he had put away. The addictive part of his personality said, "Save a little bit just in case." but the rational Sam said, "Save your marriage to Josh." "Save your relationship with Toby." "Save yourself."

After my shower. After supper. I'll tell Josh about `Plan A', make my phone calls, then I'll bring everything out in the open and confess all, Sam thought with a feeling of accomplishment, and everything will be ok. But now, just one final joint to relax before I call it quits. This will be the last of it forever. One more won't hurt, and will surely make it easier to come clean to Josh.

Sam rolled a blunt with the last of the marijuana in his underwear drawer, got his lighter and the Meerschaum roach clip Marc had given him, and went into the bathroom and opened the window.

********

Josh watched the news a while longer, got a beer, then stretched out on the couch to read the sports section from the evening paper. His head was propped on two pillows and one leg was draped over the back of the couch. He heard Sam start down the stairs then stop. Josh lowered the newspaper and glanced at him, then did a literal double take.

It happened every so often, never expected, and Josh was as stunned each time as he was the time before. He never knew when he would experience it, or where, or how long it would last. He only knew it was so extraordinary it took his breath away and carried him back to `That Night'. That night when Josh saw Sam for the first time.

It was early autumn then and Sam was about to enter Princeton as a freshman as Josh prepared to leave for England to study under the Fullbright Fellowship. It was that night when fate or karma or God or perchance caused Josh to look up from the pool table in that crowded neighborhood bar. The air was thick with smoke and smelled of beer and aftershave and perfume. The laughter of college students mixed with rock music from the house band. Something compelled Josh to hesitate from making his shot, rest his fingers on the green felt of the pool table, and raise his head. That's when he saw the boy in the V-neck tennis sweater who stood off by himself, quiet and hardly noticeable. He leaned against the wall and nursed a beer that had turned warm an hour ago.

"Make the shot, Josh!" his friends called out. "Don't take all night!"

Josh did, missed, and immediately glanced at the boy. The boy smiled just a little at the easy shot anybody could have made, but Josh didn't. Again and again Josh found his attention directed toward the boy in the tennis sweater. He wasn't just cute, he wasn't just pretty. He was drop dead gorgeous. Then, during one of his quick looks, Josh caught the young man looking at HIM and their glances turned into a mutual stare. The stare became a gaze that pulled Josh away from the pool table and his friends, across that crowded, smoke- filled bar, and over to the boy he thought he'd never see again after that night.

The image of the man-child who stood in that, so young and innocent, naïve and lost ~~ the man-child so sultry and seductive and so in control he mind-fucked Josh with just his eyes . . . that image stayed with Josh long past that night. He carried it with him through their years of education and separate career paths and into their marriage, and it appears from time to time with no rhyme or reason. Each time it does, Josh is astonished that he can be, once again, completely and whole-heartedly swept off his feet simply by the sight of Sam as he looked that night.

This night, Sam stood with a foot on one step, the other leg bent with a foot on the step above and behind him. One hand was on the banister, the other against his leg, his thumb thrust through a belt loop. He wore a pair of jeans. Nothing else. No shirt, no underwear or shoes, just jeans . . . oft-worn jeans, faded jeans, faded noticeably in the crotch, slung low on his hips and fit snug to his body. Sam had stepped out of the shower and into the jeans without benefit of a towel. His hair was wet and he'd run his fingers through it only once. There were still water droplets on his chest, shoulders, arms, and face.

Josh looked at Sam and Sam looked at Josh. Their eyes locked and now after years of familiarity and maturation, they both felt the stirring that made their dicks hard, the anticipation of that first touch that shook them to the core, the trust, welcoming the other man's body into his own, the freshness their relationship brought every day, the deep, deep love and respect they shared . . . all said with their eyes. These two could live the rest of their lives and never speak another word. Their eyes read the other's soul, and their souls held the libraries of the ages.

Sam strode the rest of the way down the stairs and to a fresh red rose he had brought home the day before. He gently held the bud between two fingers, leaned over, closed his eyes, and inhaled its fragrance. He turned to Josh. His relaxed eyelids made him look sleepy, sultry, sexy.

Stoned.

Stunning, Josh thought. His body is a sculptured piece of art. It's perfect. His face is flawless. And all he has to do is stand there in a pair of faded jeans. Sam exudes so much sensuality that when he walks into a room I can smell it. Or maybe its just raw sex that secretes from his every pore. He's putting out so much right now I don't know if I can hold back and simply nurture him or if . . . we'll do whatever Sam wants.

Sam took the few steps to the couch and stood over Josh, still in his underwear and wrinkled shirt. Josh dropped the sports section to the floor. Sam put his knee on the couch against Josh's outstretched leg, propped his hands on the couch arm, and slowly lowered himself onto Josh.

His lips met Josh's and they kissed long and slow and deep. Then Sam pulled back just a whisper away from Josh's face.

"Hi sweetheart," he said.

"Hi beautiful," Josh replied.

"You think I'm beautiful?"

Josh smiled. "Yeah."

Sam's lips found Josh's and they kissed again, this time with more passion than the gentle sweetness of their kiss a moment before. Josh took Sam's head in his hands and combed his fingers through Sam's hair. Water sprinkled Josh's face, but he didn't even notice.

Sam brought his other leg up and laid flat on Josh as their kiss became more intense. Josh wrapped his legs around Sam's body and rose to meet him as Sam pressed down against Josh. Their hard cocks moved together. Sam began to grind his pelvis in a circular upward motion as he lifted his hips and pushed down on his lover. Josh ran his hands the length of Sam's bare back; his fingernails etched thin crimson lines as he sucked in his breath and tried to hold back his orgasm.

It didn't matter how often they made love . . . both Sam and Josh were instantly aroused by the touch of the other. It was much more than a sexual attraction ~~ it was a natural sexual fixation.

Sam moved from Josh's lips and kissed his neck. Josh arched his head so his neck was fully exposed and vulnerable to Sam. He savored the nibbles and bites and licks and feel of his skin being sucked between Sam's teeth.

"You smell good," Josh said in a husky voice. "I love the way you smell."

"What do I smell like?"

"Sex. Soap and shampoo and Aquafresh and sex."

"You smell like Josh, and that smells like sex to me." Sam licked Josh's neck.

"God, you are SO hot, Samuel. Just your name makes me hard. Kiss me. I wanna suck on your tongue."

Sam's tongue dove into Josh's mouth and Josh eagerly sucked on it with little whimpers of pleasure. He loved the weight of Sam's body on his, Sam's chest against his, Sam's arms on either side of him.

Josh held Sam's head as they kissed and let out a moan when Sam's hand moved from the couch arm and slid inside Josh's undershirt. Sam's hand felt cool against Josh's skin and caused him to shiver with anticipation. He tightened his leg grip around Sam and dug his fingernails into Sam's back.

Slowly, Sam's cool hand inched its way down Josh's chest to his abdomen to the waistband of his boxer shorts. He dipped one finger just inside the edge and inched it back and forth across Josh's stomach.

"Pull `em down," Josh said in a hushed voice.

"Hmmmm?" Sam tugged at Josh's ear lobe with his teeth.

"My shorts. Take my shorts off," Josh repeated.

"Hmmmm?"

"Fuck me babe."

Sam stuck his hand fully inside Josh's boxers and curled his fingers around Josh's erection. It was thick and hard and pulsated in Sam's palm.

"Take `em off," Josh said again.

Sam broke through Josh's legs wrapped around him and propped up on his knees between them. Josh's eyes were closed and he had a smile of anxious contentment on his face. Sam started to pull Josh's underwear down, lifted his own leg to maneuver it off, then tossed it over his shoulder. Josh's penis sprung to attention in its freedom. Josh bent his knees as Sam balanced between them.

Josh took his own dick in his hand and began to massage it as he locked eyes with Sam. With a sly smile, Sam unsnapped his jeans and very slowly pulled down the zipper. The front of his pants gaped open as his own erection ached to be released.

"Fuck me Sam," Josh said again. "Fuck me now and fuck me hard."

Sam eased his jeans below his hips, eyes focused on Josh. He began to rub his own hard penis with one hand, his other hand on the back of the couch.

"Say something," Josh said.

"This feels really good," Sam replied with a wink. "I give the best hand jobs."

"I know you do, so give me one now."

"My hand's busy at the moment, Oshie," Sam grinned.

"You're a prick tease, you know that? A real prick tease."

"Yeah, I know." Sam continued to pump his cock as it grew bigger and harder. White pre-cum seeped out onto Josh's undershirt.

Josh squirmed beneath him. "Sam . . ."

"Ok sugar, I'm comin' in."

Sam used his own knees to spread Josh's legs, slid his hands under Josh's hips and lifted him up. He reached behind the couch cushion and brought out a tube of lubricant. He warmed a generous palmful and opened Josh, then slathered the lotion on his own penis. He put his hands under Josh's hips again and raised them off the couch. Josh wrapped his hand around Sam's penis and guided it just inside his own anus.

"Ok?" Sam asked softly.

"Do it hard," Josh replied.

With a thrust, Sam pushed his cock all the way into Josh as he pulled Josh's hips toward himself. Josh gasped as he felt the full throttle of Sam pound against him.

"Harder," he exhaled. "Fuck me harder, Sam."

Sam rocked in and out of Josh with a fierceness equaled by Josh as Josh bucked against him. Sam looked at Josh's face. His eyes were squeezed tightly together and he chewed on his bottom lip. His whole face was scrunched up and Sam knew he was in that wonderful place between pain and ecstasy that hurt so good he wanted to cry out but never wanted it to end. Sam had been there many, many times when Josh made love to him in this brusque way. Those times when their lovemaking was gentle and nurturing was precious. But when they fucked hard and rough was just as good.

It didn't take long for Sam to climax and fill Josh with his warm semen and as he did, Josh came in his own hand. Cum spilled out of his fist and covered his penis. Sam slowly pulled out of Josh, pushed Josh's legs down onto the couch, then lowered his mouth over Josh's cock. Josh finished off with his *dying quiver*, those few seconds Josh swore were the best, then Sam licked Josh's dick clean. Sam again lay on top of his lover and gently kissed his lips. They stayed that way for a while, then Sam propped himself up over Josh with his hands on the arm of the couch.

"Hi sweetheart," he said.

"Hi beautiful," Josh replied.

"I needed that."

"Happy to oblige. Anytime . . ."

Sam smiled. "You know, I make a living putting words together to make them say the right thing."

"Yeah, I heard that somewhere."

"Well . . . Josh . . . when it comes to, uh, when I try to express, to uh, tell you how much I, uh . . ."

"You're doing great so far, Mr. Speechwriter. I can see why the President is so impressed," Josh laughed.

"I'm trying to be serious here."

"Sorry. Go ahead."

"Josh, I can't put into words how much I love you. How much you mean to me. How . . . how my life wouldn't be worth shit without you." Sam cupped Josh's face with his hand. "You're . . ."

Josh put his hand on Sam's. "I know," he said quietly. "I couldn't have said it better myself."

Sam kissed Josh again. "You want some lasagna?"

"Yeah."

"After we eat I've gotta make my phone calls," Sam said as he climbed off Josh and stood next to the couch. He pulled his jeans up and fastened them.

"Is that `Plan A'?" Josh asked.

"Part of it. The rest involves you. And Toby. And a road trip."

"You gonna tell me about it?"

"Soon."

Josh got off the couch and looked around for his shorts. He found them on the staircase banister and pulled them on. "Yeah, ok. I'm sure you know what you're doing. Let's eat."

********

Sam sat on the edge of the bed after supper. He wore his faded jeans, was bare-chested and bare foot. His hair stuck out in little spikes, as he still hadn't combed it since his shower. In one hand he held the telephone and in the other, a glass of Jack Daniels over ice. Downstairs Josh slept on the couch, spent from his and Sam's rowdy lovemaking, a big dinner, and a bottle of wine.

Sam threw back a drink and retrieved his personal phone book from the drawer of the bedside table. He'd left the messages Cathy had written on those dreaded little pink slips in his briefcase and didn't want to go back downstairs for them. He knew his Father's phone number would be the same. Change that. He ASSUMED the number would be the same. "Be just like the bastard to pick up and move and not tell me", Sam mumbled aloud.

Or maybe he called from HER place, he thought. Still, I'm gonna call the house and not go downstairs to see what number he left.

And Lisa. "Hell, she'll never leave her condo," he muttered. "It's `fixed just right' now. It's cool. Like she's always wanted it. She probably has her phone number tattooed across her forehead." That's mean, he thought, but didn't particularly care at the moment.

He didn't want to talk with either of them, but knew if he didn't they'd just call again. Because of the time difference, he flipped through the pages and found `Sherbourne, Lisa' first.

He's not sure why, but Sam lit a couple of candles and turned out the bedroom light before he dialed her number. He had absolutely no feelings for his one-time fiancé any more, but it just seemed right to talk with her in the dark. After the candles were lit, Sam pushed the door closed. Again, he didn't know why. He wouldn't mind if Josh was in the same room while he made this call, was on the extension, or even in Sam's arms, so he wondered why he did what he did. Still, he did it.

As an afterthought, he decided to smoke the last joint he had ~~ the VERY last joint ever. It wouldn't hurt. This was a tough phone call and after tonight he'd never smoke marijuana again, and since he'd had one before supper, one final joint to mellow him out would be a good thing. He didn't need to be stressed when he talked to either Lisa or his Father.

Sam lit the joint and sat on the bed. As soon as he saw Lisa's number in his phonebook it came back to him. So familiar. How many times had he dialed that number in anticipation of hearing her voice? Tonight he dialed and hoped her machine would answer. She picked up on the second ring.

"Hello?"

Silence.

"Hello?" she repeated.

"It's Sam."

"Sam?"

"Sam Seaborn. How many Sams do you know?"

"More than just Sam Seaborn."

Lisa – one; Sam – zero.

"Yeah, it's Sam Seaborn, returning your call. Your `urgent' call."

"One of several," Lisa added.

"Today's is the only one that said `urgent'," Sam replied.

"Ah, well now I know the secret to getting Sam Seaborn's attention. If it isn't `urgent' it isn't worth a call-back."

"Hi, Lisa."

"Hi, Sam Seaborn."

"I believe we've established I'm not the only Sam in the world. How about we drop the Seaborn for the sake of time. I've got a couple of other calls to make tonight."

"You haven't called your Dad yet?" Lisa asked.

"You told me not to until I spoke with you."

"Since when did you start doing what I asked?"

"The word I used was `told', not `asked'. Big difference there, Lisa," Sam commented.

"Semantics," Lisa said.

"Damn right semantics. I make my living because of semantics."

"And a fine living it is, Sam Seaborn."

"Not as fine as you'd think. How about I just hang up and we start this whole thing over?" Sam suggested, already irritated.

"Because I'm in bed and don't want to be disturbed by the phone ringing again," Lisa responded.

Sam poured himself another drink and it was gone before he set the bottle down. He poured another and set it on the bedside table. Ok, he thought, I'll try to be cordial because . . . just because, hell I don't know why but I will. Friendly conversation ~~ I can do it.

"How are you, Lisa? You doing ok?" Sam asked.

"I am. Thanks for asking."

"How's work?"

"Couldn't be better. You?"

Sam reached for his glass. He noticed his hand trembled. He picked up the glass anyway.

"Good," he responded.

"Just good?"

"Couldn't be better. Still at 'Vanity Fair'?" Sam asked

"Yep. Still at the White House?"

"Yep. That's where I pick up my messages, you know."

An awkward silence followed. Sam stood and walked around the bedroom. Candlelight exaggerated his shadow on the wall. He'd run out of friendly conversation with Lisa. He took a deep drag on the joint.

"So, how's Josh?" she asked.

Lisa's question startled Sam. Josh and Lisa had a history of true disdain for each other since before they even met, just because of the one thing they had in common ~~ Sam.

"Josh?"

"Yes. Josh Lyman. You DO know the man, don't you?"

"Well, yeah. I'm just surprised you'd ask," Sam said.

"Why?"

Lisa was straight to the point if nothing else. What's she doing? Sam thought. She doesn't like Josh, never has and never will. She doesn't care how he's doing. So why's she asking about him? And why doesn't she tell me what was so urgent in the first place? Sam finished his drink and set the glass on the dresser.

"Why?" Sam repeated. "Because you've never been a big Josh fan and I'm curious why you're asking me about him now."

Lisa sighed into the phone. "Sam, you don't even know how to have a simple social phone conversation anymore, do you? If you don't hear `Hail to the Chief' in front of everything you say, you're at a loss for words."

"I didn't know this was a social call. It came to my White House OFFICE and said `urgent'. I'm just returning your call, Lisa. I apologize if my phone manners aren't up to your standards. But why should that surprise me? Josh is fine, he's great, he's wonderful, he's perfect, he's ducky, he's batting a thousand, and he couldn't be better. Anything else?"

"No, Sam. Forget I asked. Let's just get to the reason I called," Lisa said. "And I'm calling as a favor to you, by the way."

"Fine."

"Fine. Have you called your Dad yet?" Lisa asked.

"No. Your message said not to," Sam replied. "What do you know about it?"

"Seems one Daniel N. Seaborn, Esquire called me a few weeks ago to tell me the Seaborn Family Every Five-Year Reunion is scheduled for mid-September. Are you aware of this?"

"I think I sort of subconsciously knew it was about time for it to come around, but I hadn't heard anything official." Sam's gut feeling was confirmed. "So why are YOU telling me about MY family? How are you involved?"

"Daddy wants Sammy to bring his fiancé." Oh, how she loved dropping that bombshell.

Sam sat on the floor in the middle of the room. He didn't know if his head was fuzzy because of the pot, wine, and Jack Daniels or if he just didn't hear Lisa correctly. He THOUGHT she said she was expected to attend his family reunion as his fiancé.

"Lisa, I'm a little drunk," Sam said. "Would you repeat what you just said, only say it slowly and clearly?"

"Why are you drunk?" she asked.

"What?"

"I said why are you drunk?"

"Because I am and, no I'm not drunk, and shit, Lisa, it's none of your fucking business! Now tell me again what you said!" Sam raised his voice into the phone.

"Why are you drunk, Sam?"

"I'm not drunk, dammit!"

"Did you have to get drunk just to call me? I'm impressed." There was a sneer in her voice.

"Lisa, just tell me what the message said, slowly and clearly, please."

Lisa repeated what she'd said slowly and clearly and the message hadn't changed.

"Well, you know that's impossible," said Sam.

"Impossible? Why's that? Are you taking Josh?" Lisa asked sarcastically.

"Maybe. No, of course not! Dammit Lisa, you just call me out of the blue and dump this on me. I've gotta think about it." Sam was confused. He wished he hadn't had those last few drinks. "And leave Josh out of this. It's none of your business."

"Apparently it IS my business Sam, since your Dad called and invited me. And if you'd returned one of his many phone calls `I' wouldn't be dumping this on you out of the blue, you'd already know about it, so don't blame your ignorance on me because of your fucked up dysfunctional family, Sam Seaborn!"

Lisa had a point and Sam didn't have a response. Except there was no way he was taking her to the reunion and pass her off as his fiancé. Had it been that long since he'd had any contact with his family? Apparently so.

"Lisa, can we talk about this tomorrow when I've had some time to think it over?" Sam asked.

"You mean when you're not drunk?"

"I'm not drunk."

"You just said you were drunk," she reminded him.

"Lisa. Typical Lisa," Sam said. "Can we just talk tomorrow? I need to call my Dad and get his side of the story before it gets too late."

"Get HIS side of the story? Oh yeah, like I'm making all this up. You'll find our stories SO different, Sam. I really want to take time off from work and fly to California and masquerade as YOUR fiancé so you can save face for another five years," Lisa snapped.

"Save face? Where the hell did that come from? What are you saying, Lisa?"

"Don't be stupid, Sam. I know how petrified you are of your Daddy. You still haven't told him, have you? Well? Have you?"

Silence.

"Have you?"

Silence.

"Sam, have you told your Father?" Lisa demanded.

"No!" Sam shouted into the phone.

"Then that answers your question about saving face. I'm sure the great Daniel N. Seaborn, Esquire would much rather take his son to his exclusive country club with me on your arm than with Josh Lyman as your date."

"Leave Josh out of this," Sam said. His whole body trembled now and his head spun. He crawled across the room and sat with his back to the wall so he wouldn't fall off the floor.

"Trouble in paradise?" Lisa asked.

"Leave Josh out of this."

"You're still dating him, aren't you? Sam, are you seeing Josh?"

"I'm not going to tell you again, Lisa." Sam was surprised at how calm his voice sounded when he was about to throw up.

"Exclusively? Going steady? Sleepovers?"

"Ok, now you're just being an asshole. I'm hanging up now."

Sam hung up the phone. He sat against the wall a full ten minutes and tried to contemplate what Lisa had said, what he'd said in response, her accusations, her on-target remarks, his denials. Had he denied Josh? He couldn't remember. Dammit! I TOLD my family Lisa and I had ended our engagement! Why are they insistent that it isn't so? Don't they KNOW we'd be married by now if we were actually going to marry? Or are they suspicious, and I'm afraid they are, that I'm never going to marry ~~ a woman.

Dammit! Why do I feel like I've just betrayed Josh? Kept him hidden? Didn't admit to loving him? Said he was `just ducky'. I WANT the world to know, especially Lisa and my Father, that Josh Lyman and I are MARRIED!!!

But I can't. I can't do that to Josh or myself or President Bartlet. Not now. Not yet.

Sam stood, his palms against the wall for balance, and waited there until he was steady enough to walk. Then he left the bedroom and went across the hall to the spare room. He flipped on the light, opened the closet, found his letterman jacket, and felt in the pocket. He didn't think it was likely, but he hoped somehow, something had fallen out of the purple bag Marc had given him ~~ one more joint, a Quaalude, a vial of cocaine, a few pills, something . . . anything. I don't need much, just a buzz.

Please God, let me find something.

He scoured the pocket then turned it inside out. Empty. Shit! He stuck his hands in the sleeves and shook them. Nothing. He checked the pockets again. And again. Shit! Shit!

Then Sam felt it. That moment every junkie experienced when he HAD to have it. HAD to have something. It didn't matter what. He just knew he had to have it and knew he didn't have it to have. Sam panicked.

He kicked the wall then went down on his knees, hoping something may have fallen out during one of the times he'd handled the bag. He pushed a shoebox out of the way, two sailing trophies, and a stack of books. Nothing. He ran his hands over the carpet in the closet. There's gotta be a couple of pills here somewhere. Some Vicodin. God knows I've bought enough of it. I just need one joint. Just enough for a bowl. Just to get over these shakes. That's all. Then I'll be ok. Or a couple lines. One line. That's all, please God.

Sam pulled more jackets and coats from their hangers. As they fell on him, he dug into their pockets in hopes he'd hidden his stash there and forgotten. Nothing. He threw Josh's cashmere coat into a heap. He checked his red ski jacket. His blue ski jacket. He found a stale pack of Juicy Fruit gum in Josh's old raincoat. He tossed his tennis racket over his shoulder. He pushed Josh's law books aside. He rummaged through more shoe boxes. Nothing.

His hands trembled. Sweat broke out on his forehead. I can't call Dad like this. I've gotta calm down. Fuck Lisa! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I'm married to the man I'd die for and I can't even say it! I hate living like this! Sam picked up one of his sailing trophies and threw it across the room. It hit his golf clubs and fell to the floor. The miniature sailboat on top broke off.

Sam ran his hands through his hair and pulled at his scalp. I'm NOT gonna call Marc to get drugs. Not after all the shit I've gone through. What Josh went through, and Toby. No way. But just one little joint. What harm could it do? WHAT THE FUCK HARM WOULD IT DO???

Sam's had to catch his breath.

One joint. One pill. One line. One tab. One blotter. After that, Dear God, nothing. I promise. These are extenuating circumstances. It would be a one-time deal. Nobody will have to know. Then I won't do it again, never again. I promise.

Sam clenched his fists and hit himself in the forehead, over and over again. No, I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. He hit his head again with his fists. Again and again and again and again.

Then Sam crumbled on the floor, clutched his letterman jacket, and sobbed.

********

Josh was jolted awake by a loud noise. He sat upright on the couch, shook his head to get his bearings, and realized someone was banging on their door. He sleepily shuffled across the living room and opened the door. He was surprised to see Toby in jeans and a sweatshirt with NASA printed across the front.

"Are you gonna wear that?" Toby asked. He waved his hand toward Josh in his underwear and socks.

"Am I gonna wear this where?" Josh replied with a yawn.

Toby pushed his way inside and went straight to the kitchen. Josh slowly followed him and leaned against the doorjamb while Toby opened the refrigerator, got a beer, opened it, and took a drink.

"Wherever it is we're going," Toby replied.

Josh yawned again. "Toby, I think I'm dreaming that you're standing in my kitchen drinking a beer talking in riddles. I'm going back to sleep so I can wake up and you'll be gone."

"Oh no you're not. If I have to go on this . . . thing . . . YOU have to go on this . . . thing. No way are you going back to sleep. Where's Sam?"

Josh scratched his head and looked around. "He's not in here, is he?"

"Do you see him in here?"

Josh looked around again. "No."

"Get dressed, get Sam, and let's get this over with so I can go home and go to bed," Toby said gruffly.

"Toby, I swear, I don't have any idea what you're talking about. Sam's upstairs on the phone. What are you doing here anyway? It's kinda late."

Toby glared at Josh.

"Sam told me to come here tonight and bring my telescope. Seems the three of us are gonna take a road trip."

"What the hell?"

"'What the hell' is right. Get Sam."

"Yeah, ok. Uh, help yourself to a beer or something." Josh started to walk out of the kitchen.

Toby tossed his empty beer bottle in the trash. Josh turned and fished the bottle out and put it in a container next to the trashcan.

"We recycle," he said. "If Sam sees that bottle in the trash, he'll wring your . . . my neck."

"Get Sam."

"Yeah, yeah."

Josh took the stairs two at a time and went into the bedroom.

"Sam! Toby's here. What's up?"

When he didn't see Sam, Josh went into the bathroom.

"Sam? You in here?"

He pulled back the shower curtain. Something tugged at Josh's heart. He jogged back through the bedroom, across the hall, and went into the spare room. There he found Sam on the floor, half in and half out of the closet, his face buried in his letterman jacket.

"Baby!"

Josh dropped to the floor and put his arm around Sam. He leaned his head down so his face was near Sam's.

"Sam, what's wrong? What's the matter sweetheart?" Josh's voice was gentle.

Sam ignored him.

"Sam! Sam, tell me what's wrong. It's Josh, Sam. Talk to me and tell me what's wrong . . . please!"

Sam pulled himself to his knees, wrapped his arms around Josh, and burrowed his face against Josh's neck.

"I don't wanna do this anymore, Josh," he cried. "I don't wanna do it! I can't!"

Josh put one hand behind Sam's head and stroked his hair. His other hand went to Sam's back and he began to rub little circles to comfort him. He didn't know what Sam meant, but if Sam didn't wanna do *it* anymore, Josh was sure as hell gonna make sure he didn't have to.

"It's ok baby, you don't have to," Josh said softly. "I'm right here with you to make sure. You don't have to do it anymore. It's ok."

Josh rocked them both as he tried to calm Sam, but Sam couldn't be calmed. He sobbed against Josh, his body limp, his tears soaked through Josh's shirt.

"Josh?"

Josh looked up to see Toby in the doorway. He gave a half-shrug and shook his head to indicate he didn't have a clue why Sam was so upset. He gently stroked Sam's head and rubbed his back. Toby kneeled down next to them.

"What's . . .?"

"I don't know," Josh said quietly. "I found him this way."

Toby stared at the two men before him. He couldn't imagine what demon could possibly be in Sam's head to cause him this much anguish. He'd seen Sam cry before ~~ a little ~~ but nothing like this. Tears of joy the day he and Josh were married. Tears of sadness at Mrs. Landingham's funeral. Tears of frustration when he saw the less fortunate go uneducated. Tears of pride when President Bartlet gave his Inauguration Speech he and Sam had written together. But nothing like this.

For a moment, Toby was scared. Then that gut-wrenching emotion he had no name for took over and his only concern was Sam. Toby dipped his head so he could see Sam's face against Josh. He put his hand on Sam's chin and turned Sam's face toward his.

"Sam? Look at me," he said softly.

Sam tried to resist but Toby forced his head so Sam couldn't look away.

"Sam? Why are you crying?"

Josh cocked his head to the side. He was stunned at the tenderness in Toby's voice and the simplicity of the question.

Toby cupped Sam's face with his hand and patiently waited until the sobs stopped. Sam sniffled and had a short burst of tears, sniffled again, then finally stopped altogether.

"Look at me Sam," Toby instructed.

Sam slowly looked up and stared into Toby's eyes. He'd never noticed they were hazel. Then he felt something he'd never felt before . . . it was a gut-wrenching emotion he had no name for, and it just took over.

"Tell us why you're crying."

Sam turned his head so he faced Josh. Toby let go of him.

"I don't wanna do drugs anymore, Josh," said Sam. "I knew earlier . . . I was gonna tell you tonight . . . then just now . . ." Sam looked at Toby briefly then turned back to Josh. " . . . then just now I *really* knew, you know? If I keep using . . . if I keep using like I am, Josh, I'm gonna die."

Josh and Toby both exhaled. Neither realized they had held their breath almost since they first saw Sam in such torment. Now that he'd uttered those words they'd wanted so desperately to hear ~~ "I don't wanna do drugs anymore" ~~ they allowed themselves to relax just a fraction.

"Never again," Josh assured him. "Never, ever again. I'm gonna help you and Toby's gonna help you. Whatever it takes babe."

"I'm serious."

"I know you are."

"No more," Sam repeated.

"No more."

"Toby?" Sam turned to him again. "I'm not dieing right now, am I?"

Toby smiled a little. He took the baggy sleeve of his sweatshirt and wiped Sam's face dry. "No Sam, you're not dieing. You just gave yourself a second chance to live. Now get up off the floor."

Josh said he'd straighten up the spare room tomorrow then he, Sam and Toby went downstairs. Toby poured them each a tall glass of orange juice and came back into the living room. He found Sam and Josh on the couch with their legs stretched out and propped on the coffee table. Josh's arm was around Sam.

After Toby handed them their juice, he pulled his comb from his pocket and ran it through Sam's hair. He parted it on the side so Sam looked like a little boy just after his first hair cut.

"Don't you ever do this when you're at home?" he asked. "You're always wet when I come over here. And shouldn't you have a shirt on?"

"It's August, Toby," Sam replied. "It's pretty warm."

Toby ignored him.

"And look at you." Toby motioned toward Josh. "Still in your underwear. What's the matter with you two?" He sat in his usual chair. "Sam," he continued, "I'm so proud of you."

Josh tousled the hair Toby had just combed. "Not as much as I am," he said. "MySam just did a . . . a really hard thing." He pulled Sam closer to him.

"The hard part will be following through, right Sam?" Toby looked straight at Sam and their eyes met again. Sam knew right then he would never disappoint this man again.

"Right."

"Thanks for coming over Toby," Josh said. "I'm . . . I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah, thanks Toby," added Sam. "This was something I wanted to talk about with you too anyway. I figure you've both put up with me long enough."

"So that's why I'm here tonight? Because you finally grew a brain in that empty skull?" Toby asked.

"Well, that and . . . shit! What time is it?"

Toby looked at his watch. "Almost eleven. Why?"

"We've gotta go!"

Sam jumped up from the couch, grabbed Josh's arm, and pulled him up.

"We've gotta get dressed! Toby, did you bring your telescope? Come on Josh, you need pants. I need a shirt. Toby, will you get a couple of quilts out of the guest room? They're in the linen closet."

"What the hell . . .?"

Sam dragged Josh upstairs and into their bedroom. Josh pulled on a pair of jeans and took off his dress shirt. Sam tugged a grey sweatshirt over his head and tossed a green one to Josh. They both scrounged for tennis shoes and Sam got his tied first.

"Go on down," he said to Josh. "I'll be right there. Hurry."

"Where are we . . . ?"

"Just go!"

Josh bounced down the stairs. Toby stood at the bottom with a quilt under each arm.

"Where's Sam?" Toby asked.

"Upstairs."

"I know that. What's he doing? Why isn't he ready?"

"He's . . . uh . . . he's . . ."

"He's what?"

"Brushing his teeth."

Toby sighed and rolled his eyes. "Give me your keys. I'll wait in the car." Toby held his hand out.

"We're taking my car?" Josh asked with surprise.

"We're not taking mine!"

Josh handed his keys to Toby. "I still don't know . . . where are we going?"

"God only knows. God and Sam." Toby slammed the door behind him.

They headed out of town. Toby drove Sam's car, Sam rode shotgun, and Josh sat in the back seat with Toby's telescope and the quilts.

"I'll tell you as soon as we're out of the city limits," Sam responded each time Josh asked where they were going. Sam seemed like a new man. His voice was alive with excitement and he looked first out the side window then the front. He looked to the sky. Finally, Sam turned in his seat so he could address both Toby and Josh.

"Ok," he said, "I know you're both wondering what this is all about so I'm gonna tell you."

"It's about time," Toby groused as he sped up.

"You, my friends, are about to experience a phenomena that will never again occur in our lifetime or in the lifetimes of anybody alive today. This amazing and astounding will won't take place again until the year two thousand, two hundred and eighty-seven. Can you imagine that?"

"Get on with it," said Toby.

"Ok, tonight, this very night, the planet Mars is going to come to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and we're gonna see it happen. With our very eyes, and Toby's telescope, we're gonna see something that no human has ever seen in recorded history. Think about that guys, no human in recorded history has seen what we're gonna see in . . . what time is it?"

"Eleven-twenty-two," Josh offered.

"One hour and eight minutes," said Sam.

"Could you be a bit more precise?" Toby asked.

"Actually I can. It'll reach its azimuth at three twelve a.m."

"What's an azi . . ." Josh started to ask.

Sam ignored him. "Get this. Mars will be so close, it'll be the brightest object in the sky, except for the moon, of course. It's just gonna jump out at us."

"Then why'd I have to lug this telescope along?" said Toby.

"So we can get a closer look," Sam explained. "Magnified seventy- five times, Mars will look at big as a full moon. Don't you wanna see it, Toby? I'd think you of all people . . ."

"Of all people?"

"Well yeah, because of your brother."

"My brother being a payload specialist on the space shuttle has nothing to do with me standing out ~~ wherever it is we're going ~~ in the middle of the night looking at Mars, Sam. Don't confuse my family affiliation with my lack of interest in the celestial wonders."

"Sorry. I thought you'd enjoy this."

"I wanna see it," Josh spoke up from the back seat. "I didn't even know this was happening. How do you know this stuff?"

"I read."

"Why?"

"So I'll know this stuff."

"No, why is Mars doing this?"

"Oh, that's simple. Because of the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit and the . . ."

"Never mind," said Josh.

"So where are we going?" Toby asked. "And when do we get to go home?"

"Just beyond the city lights so we can get a clear look. We won't stay long. I wanna take some pictures, then, Toby, then you can go home. And you'll thank me for this one of these days."

"Just not tomorrow."

They found themselves on a secluded two-lane road in a small town none of them had ever heard of when Sam finally said, "Stop here." next to a freshly mown field. Josh carried the quilts, Toby carried his telescope, and Sam ran ahead to find a good spot for the best view.

"Here! Over here!" he called in a loud whisper.

"Why are you whispering?" Toby said. "There isn't a house for ten miles! Not a dog, a cow . . ."

"Just Martians," Josh laughed. "What am I supposed to do with these quilts?"

"Look. There she is." Sam's voice was full of awe as he pointed to the sky. There, glimmering against the black night sky, shone the Red Planet, Mars.

********

I've gotta call him, Sam thought. I've gotta call Marc right now and tell him I can't see him anymore, can't play racquetball with him, that I'm not gonna buy any more drugs from him or accept them as gifts or . . . I've gotta do this right now. Sam felt an urgency, like he couldn't wait another minute to make the phone call.

He knew he should call his Father since he hadn't called him last night.

Sam, Josh, and Toby had stayed in the field until nearly three o'clock in the morning. They spread the quilts in the grass and lay on their backs and talked and looked at Mars and talked and looked at Mars some more. They saw two shooting stars and Sam got to make both wishes.

They finally packed up and left, Sam still with his eyes to the sky as they drove back toward the city lights of Washington, D.C. Toby said a weary `good-night' and went home.

Sam and Josh went straight upstairs and to their bedroom. They both silently undressed then stood naked by their bed. They took each other's hands and put their foreheads together.

"Hold me," Sam whispered.

Josh took Sam in his arms. They stood close and swayed. Josh wasn't going to release Sam until he made the first move. He wanted Sam to know he would stand there with his arms around him as long as Sam wanted him to. Sam laid his head on Josh's shoulder and Josh kissed his hair. Ten minutes later they were in bed, asleep in each other's arms.

Now Sam stood in the living room with the phone in his hand and Marc on his mind. He knew he should probably go upstairs and get back in bed with Josh. But he felt pulled to call Marc this very moment to make his decision *real*, and that took precedence over everything.

Sam turned on the stereo, not too loud, just enough to muffle his voice in case Josh came downstairs. This is NOT to hide anything, he told himself. This is to protect Josh. If he comes down and finds me on the phone with Marc this morning, well . . . I don't want him to get hurt over nothing. Because this phone call IS nothing.

He dialed Marc's number and paced the room.

"Hello?"

"Marc? Sam."

"Cobra, my friend! You survived the wall!"

Sam's heart skipped a beat and he wished it hadn't. This was a voice he hadn't heard in a while, someone who had been on his mind a lot these past few days as he weighed what he needed to do. Damn that voice.

"Yes, yes I did, and I've got some great battle scars to show my grandchildren," he said.

"I'd love to see `em," Marc replied.

"Well, they're really not that impressive. I'm sure my grandkids will be thoroughly disappointed."

Marc laughed. "You know, if that wall hadn't kicked your ass, you'd have made that shot."

"Damn straight!" Sam's voice took on that comfortable, animated tone. "And won the game, no problem."

"Ya think so?"

"Absolutely," Sam declared.

He missed this back-and-forth banter with Marc. He just hadn't realized how much.

"I've missed you at the gym, Sam. I need my racquetball partner back."

Sam lowered the volume on the stereo. Marc's voice had softened and Sam couldn't hear him very well and he wanted to. Something about Marc's voice captivated Sam.

"I need to talk with you about that, Marc. I should have called you before."

"Before what?" Marc asked.

"Just . . . before."

"Well Sam, for what it's worth, I'm glad you called me and I wish you'd called before too. I'm sorry you waited so long."

Sam's heart skipped a second beat, but this time for the wrong reason. It wasn't because he was started to hear Marc's voice ~~ it was because he was startled that he missed Marc's voice.

Marc made him laugh. Always. No matter how badly things had gone at the office or on the Hill, how rough his day had been, once Sam got on that racquetball court with Marc he whole perspective changed and nothing seemed quite as serious as it did before. Marc brought that `what-the-fuck' attitude to life in any situation and took Sam with him. He made everything simple, carefree, unimportant, and uncomplicated. When Sam was with Marc, he forgot he worked in the White House for the President of the United States, and every now and then, for a little while, that could be a good thing.

"So, why'd you call me?" Marc asked.

"Uh, what?" Sam had lost his train of thought.

"What's up?"

"Yeah, it's about racquetball," said Sam.

"Great. Can you play today? It's Saturday," Marc replied.

"Hardly. I'm not healed a hundred percent yet so there's no way I'm physically ready to get on a court. Mentally, I'd be there in a New York minute but my knee and wrist would mutiny from my body."

"Can you still play?"

"Excuse me?"

Marc laughed and Sam could hear him grin through the phone.

"I said," he repeated, "can Sammy come out and play today? I haven't seen you since the accident and I've got a get-well gift for you."

"You do? Marc, you don't need to give me a gift . . . what is it?"

"Ah, just like a kid at Christmas. I've piqued your interest and now you've just gotta know, right?"

"No . . ."

"Yes you do," Marc teased.

Sam's eyes stopped on a framed photograph on the bookshelf. It was of him and Josh last Christmas at the official White House Christmas Party.

Anybody who was anybody was there and the party was in full swing. Both Sam and Josh had worked the crowd all night, said the right things to the right people, had their voices heard in a casual setting when a formal meeting hadn't been possible, disguised politics behind the glitter of Christmas decorations, and whenever they could, flirted with each other over punchbowls of egg nog and platters of crab puffs. A glance, a smile, a wink, a brush of hands as they both reached for the same demitasse. They let their hands linger against the others' for a moment ~~ just a moment ~~ and their eyes met despite their concerted efforts not to.

It was then Josh couldn't take anymore. He couldn't be in the same ballroom with Sam and not be near him. Not touch him. Not kiss him. Not put his arms around him and feel his heartbeat. Sam, in white tie and tails looked as handsome as he'd ever looked. A fresh haircut, face baby smooth after Josh had shaved him in their shower not long before, his eyes twinkled from the lights of the Christmas tree.

Josh leaned across the dessert table. "Rose Garden, ten minutes," he whispered.

Sam raised his eyebrows. "For real?"

"Oh yeah," Josh said as he casually looked away. "For real."

"Make it five."

They both walked away from the dessert table with a piece of cheesecake.

Sam was already in the Rose Garden five minutes later when he heard Josh's footfall and turned to see him approach. Josh, also in white tie and tails, his self-assured swagger quickened when he saw his lover.

"Hello beautiful," he said quietly when he was only inches away from Sam.

"Awwww, I'll bet you say that to all the boys," Sam replied with a shy grin.

Josh dared to press his lips against Sam's cheek and keep them there for a moment. He closed his eyes and Sam cast his downward, the bashful smile ever-so-slight, radiated a peace and joy unspoken.

The next day after lunch Sam found a sealed manila envelope on his desk. Inside was an 8-1/2 by 11 black-and-white photograph of that chaste Christmas kiss in the Rose Garden under the December moon. A note attached read: "Merry Christmas from a friend. Shalom."

Sam didn't ask and no one told. Josh freaked but Sam just laughed and said to consider it a Gift from the Magi, liken it to Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Sam told him he'd go with him to see "The Grinch" if he'd drop it, so Josh did.

The photograph looked elegant in the sterling silver picture frame Rosemary had given them as a gift ~~ it was one of their favorites.

"Sam? Did you fall asleep on me? Sa-uummm?"

Marc's voice jolted Sam back to the present. He pulled his eyes away from the photograph and turned his attention back to the conversation.

"Hmmmm? Oh, I'm sorry Marc. I just . . . my mind wandered for a minute there. What'd you say?"

"How about we get together tonight so I can give you your present. I chose it especially for you and I know you'll love it. And you NEED it," Marc said. "I'd really like to give it to you."

Sam hesitated. He'd tried to avoid Marc while he recovered from his injuries, but when his physician refused to re-fill his prescription for Vicodin, Sam called Marc and asked if he could find some for him. Marc said `no problem' and he'd have them by the time Sam got to the bar. Sam didn't particularly want to go back to Dutchman's, but he really wanted some painkillers, was convinced he needed the narcotics, so he'd made two visits to make the illegal purchases. He'd gone during lunch and of course, hadn't told Josh where he went or even that he got them. He carried the guilt with him as if he'd actually lied to Josh.

Sometimes Sam hated it that Josh trusted him so much that he didn't count his pills, didn't ask why the bottle was never empty.

Sam knew something Josh didn't know: leniency, not severity, was Josh's greatest downfall in helping Sam. But Sam also knew Josh's love for him made being severe almost impossible. Sam knew he would have to be near death before Josh could take that step. He just didn't understand. Toby did, but Josh . . .

Now, since Sam realized he needed to stop drugs altogether, he knew being around Marc was a dangerous thing. He was the epitome of temptation. Marc Hayes was the slippery slope he needed to stay away from or else he'd slide right back into his addictive ways. But a quick stop by the house to explain to Marc why he couldn't play racquetball with him anymore was the considerate thing to do. Sam believed it was best to tell Marc face-to-face why they had to stop being friends.

"I . . . I don't know, Marc. It sounds harmless enough. But it seems like every time I come to your place I end up completely and totally wasted."

Sam wanted to see his friend, especially since he knew this would probably be the last time they would be together if he was serious about giving up drugs ~~ and he was ~~ but he also knew how easily Marc could lure him into `just one joint' or `just one line' and after that, Sam was out of control.

I can do this, he thought. Now will be the perfect opportunity to prove to myself just how serious I am and that I *can* resist the temptations set before me. If I can turn down the offerings of the charismatic Marc, I can turn down anything. So it's a smart move on my part to tackle the most difficult obstacle first and it will be downhill from there. A piece of cake. A breeze. A cinch. A done deal. No problem-o.

"Yeah, ok," Sam finally said. "I can drop by your place for just a few minutes tonight. But I can't stay long."

"No problem-o," Marc said. " Can you get away from your . . . uh . . . will . . . you know . . . let you . . ."

"Marc, don't worry about it. I do what I want. I have no restrictions."

"If you say so."

Sam bristled at the sarcasm in Marc's voice. Although they had never talked about his and Josh's relationship, Marc would have to be a fool not to know they he and Sam were more than friends and co- workers.

Marc brought up Josh's name fairly often, but Sam always changed the subject. He sometimes worried that he may have said something he shouldn't have, spoken too intimately about Josh, given away their secret during a moment of vulnerability precipitated by the fuzziness the chemical invoked. But he was never sure and he didn't dare go back to Marc and ask, "What did I say the other night? What exactly did I tell you about Josh?"

All the more reason to get this shit out of my system once and for all, Sam silently reminded himself. And all the more reason to get Marc out of my system as well. I'm not, God knows I'm not, but under different circumstances, in a totally different time and place ~~ Southern California for instance ~~ I could fall for a guy like Marc. But I'm not. I'm not. God knows, I'm not.

So going to his place tonight to say good-bye, once and for all, forever, is a good thing in more ways than one. In fact, I pretty much HAVE to go. I don't really have a choice. This has to happen.

Finally, Sam had convinced himself and felt no guilt.

"So, nine-ish?" asked Sam. "I'll only have a half hour."

"Nine-ish to nine-thirty-ish," Marc agreed. "It'll be good to see you."

Sam hung up the phone and flopped on the couch. It'll be good to see you too, Marc.

Chapter 50

Sam hung up the phone and went back upstairs. It was nearly noon. He knew he needed to call his Father, but the idea of crawling back under the covers with Josh sounded like a much better idea. He'd call Daniel Seaborn this afternoon. Or maybe tomorrow. But definitely not now.

He slid under the quilt and snuggled against Josh's naked body. It was warm and Sam savored the comfort of Josh's back. He pressed his face against it and closed his eyes. My protector, he thought. No one can hurt me because Josh is here to take care of me. As long as I have this man by my side, nothing can do me harm.

Josh turned over and pulled Sam to his chest. With his leg, he brought Sam's legs into his and held them there. He kissed Sam's head then laid his cheek against it.

"My Angel," he said softly. "My love, my life, my universe, my raison d'être. You bring me such warmth."

"I love you too, Josh."

"Would you do something for me?"

"Anything," answered Sam.

"Don't ever leave our bed again," Josh smiled.

"Deal."

"God, you're beautiful."

"Make love to me, Josh."

Josh kissed Sam with a gentle passion that aroused them both to full erections. They kissed deeply, a kiss that said more between them than words could ever express. Their connection was so strong neither wanted to separate for fear something very special would be lost. It wasn't.

Josh rolled over onto his back and took both of Sam's hands as Sam straddled him. Sam spread his legs and lowered himself onto Josh's hard erection. When Josh was fully inside him, Sam rose up and down on Josh's shaft as Josh rocked beneath him and pumped in and out of Sam. They clutched hands and locked eyes as they became even closer than their kiss had allowed them. Sam rode Josh slowly at first, then at a fevered gait, and then relaxed to a gentle pace again. Josh winked at him, and Sam knew it was time to bring it home. He pulsated up and down as Josh rose to meet him in perfect tempo. Josh tightened his fingers around Sam's as his penis emptied into Sam and he shuddered with an orgasm he hadn't felt for some time. Sam let Josh's cock slide out of him and inched forward onto Josh's chest. Josh took Sam's penis into his mouth and began to lick at it. Sam had already started to come and Josh suckled him until he was spent. Then Sam fell onto Josh and they both laughed.

"Let's do it again," Sam panted.

"Ok, you start."

"Give me a couple of hours."

The two lay in silence and enjoyed the feel of each other's body. Then Josh took Sam's hand.

"Sam, I've gotta tell you something," he said.

"I don't like the sound of that."

"It's not bad, it's just kinda crappy."

"I still don't like the sound of it. How crappy?" Sam asked.

"Amy Gardner and her femi-natzi shiksa comrades . . . "

"Do you realize you just insulted half the U.N. there?" Sam laughed.

". . . are having some kind of wing-ding tonight and I have to go and this is gonna kill you but, you're not invited."

Sam laughed. "Hallelujah! What kind of wing-ding?"

"Who knows? A fund-raiser or something for `Women Without Brains' or, I have no idea. Sweetheart, I hate to leave you alone on a Saturday night." Josh kissed Sam.

"Well Josh . . . I didn't wanna talk about him . . . this . . . in our bed, but I spoke with Marc and I'm gonna meet him tonight. I was gonna tell you after we'd showered and were downstairs."

"Oh. Marc. In our bed."

"Be reasonable. He's not literally in our bed," said Sam.

"No, just in my head."

"Josh, do you wanna get out of bed and talk about this?"

"No, I'm just being a shit. Go ahead, you spoke with Marc and . . .?"

Grateful that Josh was being understanding, Sam told him about their conversation and that he was going to Marc's house that evening. That's the part Josh didn't quite understand.

"That guy doesn't need to give you any presents."

"It's a good-bye gift," Sam explained. "I'll never see him again. Not after tonight. It's probably a book on how to play racquetball or something."

"Can't he mail it?"

"Josh . . ."

"Cab it over?"

"I made it clear I could stay only thirty minutes, not a second longer. One half hour. Maybe . . . probably . . . less than that. As in, grab my gift, and leave. I'll be home in time to see "South Park".

"I'm not worried."

"You know Osh, if you didn't have a date with Amy I'd insist you go to Marc's with me. That's what my plan was until you told me about your wing-ding."

"It's ok baby," said Josh. "I trust you. And it's not a date with Amy."

"Ok."

"Ok."

"Fine."

"Fine."

"You hungry?" asked Sam.

"Half-dead from starvation."

"What do you want for lunch?"

"Taco Bell."

"Josh?"

"Hmmm?"

"You sure you don't mind if I go to Marc's tonight?" Sam had to ask one more time.

Josh tipped Sam's chin up and gently kissed him.

"Go with my blessing. What could possibly happen?"

********

Sam circled the block twice before he pulled into Marc's driveway. He doused the lights and sat another five minutes before he turned off the ignition, pulled out the key, and opened the car door. He wore a vertical striped burgundy and oatmeal rugby shirt and tan jeans. He looked at his watch: eight fifty-eight. Sam was a fanatic for promptness and planned to knock on Marc's door at exactly nine o'clock. He had allowed himself some wiggle room when he told Marc nine-ish.

He rubbed his bare ring finger with his thumb. He wished Josh had come with him. They could go in together, Sam could explain the situation, and they could leave. There would be no questions, doubts, or reason for miscommunication to cause Josh any worry. Josh said he WASN'T worried, but still . . . If Marc still wanted to give him a gift, fine. If not, that was ok too. Sam really didn't care one way or the other. He had all he wanted and needed in Josh. He just wanted to get this over with and go home.

He started toward the front door. Thirty minutes, he told himself for the tenth time since he'd left home. Thirty minutes and no longer. On the way home I'll stop for Ben and Jerry's `Chunky Monkey' ice cream and surprise Josh with it later. Marc will be a thing of the past and I'll be on the road to recovery. Life will finally get back to normal.

Sam knocked on Marc's door with a newfound optimism. I can do this, he thought. I WILL do this. For Josh, for Toby, but most of all, for me. If I don't do this for myself, then it's not gonna happen.

"Cobra, man! You're like BigfuckingBen! It's exactly nine o'clock. Come in, come in."

Marc held the door open and Sam brushed past him. He went into the living room and straight to the aquarium.

"Looks like you got some new fish," he said. Sam bent down and watched the tropical fish weave in and out of the green plants that swayed in the crystal clear water.

"I've added a few," Marc replied. "Have you set up a tank yet?"

Sam laughed. "No way. I do good to find time for myself, much less take care of a school of fish."

"Well, I just know how much they relax you whenever you're here. You can't take your eyes off them."

Sam smiled and pecked on the glass next to a fish that seemed to watch Sam as he watch the fish.

"I'm serious Sam. You should consider getting one. I'll help you pick it out and set it up. That'll give us a chance to spend some time together off the racquetball court."

Sam straightened up. "Uh, yeah Marc. I need to talk with you about that."

He had butterflies in his stomach and couldn't understand why. Sam had stood before the most powerful world leaders and confronted the highest officials in the country and didn't blink an eye. So why does this guy have me all in knots? he thought. This shouldn't be such a big deal. But I've turned it into one. Just do it.

"Have a seat then," Marc said, "and we'll talk. There's your favorite chair."

Sam melted into the butter-soft leather recliner he'd sat in the first time he'd been in Marc's house and every visit since. Each time he made a mental note to buy two of them ~~ one for himself and one for Josh ~~ but he still hadn't done it.

"What's your poison?" Marc called from the kitchen.

"Diet Coke? Caffeine Free if you have it."

"Regular Coke and it's full of caffeine. Caffeine Free Diet Coke is like drinking brown water. What do you want in it? Captain Morgan's Rum? Kentucky Bourbon? I've got Jim Beam, Makers Mark . . ."

"Plain, with ice," Sam responded.

Marc came into the living room with two glasses of Coke and a bowl of cashew nuts. He set the bowl on the table next to Sam, handed him a glass, and kept the other for himself. He sat on the easy chair across from Sam. Immediately he brought out his brass case and put a joint between his lips. He lit it, took a deep draw, and offered it to Sam.

"No . . . thank you . . . but no," Sam said before he could change his mind.

Marc made an exaggerated face of disbelief. "Did I hear correctly? Sam the Stoner just turned down a joint?"

Sam nodded.

"This isn't JUST a joint Sam, my friend. This bud rolled off the plane from Columbia this very afternoon. Smell this shit."

The joint was in Sam's hand before he realized it. He ran it under his nose and inhaled. It had been a while since he'd smelled any pot this succulent, this fragrant, this seductive.

"Nice," he said as he offered the joint back to Marc. A halo of smoke swirled around his head.

"Nice? Take a hit, Cobra. Don't waste that stuff." Marc held his hands up with his palms out. "One toke. Go on."

Sam set the joint in the ashtray. He wanted to take a hit. God knows he wanted to. But he didn't. He knew if he was going to keep the promise he made to Josh and Toby ~~ and himself ~~ then this was the moment of truth. The real test of his mettle. The determining factor of what Sam is really made of.

"I don't smoke that stuff anymore," Sam said. "Thanks for the offer, but please don't ask me again."

Marc looked genuinely surprised as he picked up the joint and sucked hard on it. When he exhaled, he blew the smoke in Sam's direction.

Sam pulled his head back and turned away. He didn't need this to be more difficult than it already was. He popped a handful of cashews in his mouth and drained his glass of Coke.

"So, what's this all about?" Marc asked. "You coming clean?"

"Actually, I am."

Marc laughed. "Come on, you're not serious."

"I've never been more serious in my life."

"Sam, be reasonable. This is just a little pot. You're into the environment ~~ it's a weed! It's not gonna hurt you." Marc held the joint out to Sam again and waved the smoke his direction.

Sam swallowed hard. The sweet fragrance of the smoke smelled like ambrosia to him. It WAS just one joint.

"No thanks Marc," he said. "I've made a decision and I'm gonna stick with it. No pot, no pills, nothing. Please don't ask me again."

Marc finished the joint and left the roach in the ashtray.

"Well Cobra, if you feel that strongly about it and you're sure that's what you wanna do, I'm all for it, man. You've got my support."

Sam smiled and munched on another handful of cashews. He never expected it to be this easy. Why had he doubted Marc? He's my friend. Maybe we CAN still play racquetball together.

"Thanks Marc. I appreciate that more than you know. I thought this was gonna be difficult."

"Difficult?" Marc stood and took a couple of steps so he stood in front of Sam. He leaned over and put his hands on the arms of the chair and put his face close to Sam's. He spoke softly. "You've always been able to talk with me, Sam. We're friends. We're always gonna BE friends. That's a promise."

Marc wore Eternity. Sam liked Eternity. He laid his head against the back of the recliner.

"I've gotta get me one of these chairs," he said. A whiff of Marc's cologne suddenly made Sam feel uneasy. Just a *little* something to take the edge off couldn't hurt.

"We ARE friends, aren't we Sam?"

"Marc . . ."

"Can I freshen your drink?" asked Marc as he straightened up.

"Yes, please. Have you got Crown Royal?"

Marc laughed. "Have I got Crown Royal? I own a bar, hotshot. I can give you anything you want. Crown Royal, the smoothest blend of rye and corn whiskey Canada has to offer. Goes down like silk." He put his hand against Sam's cheek. "You're smooth as silk, Sam. I can give you anything you want, and we both know what you want."

What the hell? Sam thought as Marc went into the kitchen. Sure, Marc had harmlessly flirted with him before, but never so overtly. Sam had always ignored his subtle sexual innuendos and convinced himself Marc was just one of those guys who liked to be physically close and touched everyone when he talked with them and had no ulterior motive.

Josh often told Sam he trusted too easily, and Sam told Josh he was too cynical. Sam knew he needed to come to a middle-of-the-road compromise, but he'd fallen hard under Marc's charismatic spell and thought he could do no wrong. Even now, when Marc touched his face with something more than simple, friendly affection, Sam shrugged it off as his own insecurity and the need to see the best in people.

Sam pushed the lever on the recliner so it laid back. I've GOTTA get a couple of these for Josh and me, he reminded himself. This leather is unreal.

Marc returned a couple of minutes later with two glasses of Crown Royal and another joint between his lips. He handed Sam his glass then sat on the floor next to him.

"It won't bother you if I still light up, will it?" Marc asked. He didn't wait for an answer and flicked his lighter. Again, the smoke drifted into Sam's face and up his nostrils. Sam inhaled and caught the aroma of his beloved marijuana and opium.

Sam took a big drink of the whiskey. It never occurred to him he'd been baited. He didn't realize he'd already taken the bait. He had no way to know he'd just passed through the gates of his own hell.

"That DOES go down smooth," he said in a slow voice, a bit slurred. He funneled another handful of cashews into his mouth and chased them with another drink.

"So Cobra, when do you think you'll be able to get back on the racquetball court? I'm sick of that list. Nobody on there can play like you." Marc propped his arm on the recliner and it rested against Sam's leg. Sam didn't pull away.

"We need to talk about that, Mr. Hayes."

"Mr. Hayes?" Marc laughed. "Where did THAT come from?"

"Hell if I know. It just sounded good at the time. Offer me another drink and I'll tell you the rest of the story." Sam reached for more nuts. "Damn, these things make me thirsty. I should drink water instead of alcohol because I've gotta drive home in a few minutes. Bring me some Evian, would you?"

"Sure. Anything for you, love."

Love? Sam caught that, but for some reason, it didn't sound that out of place coming from Marc. Not as out of place as he would have expected an hour ago. He looked at his watch. Ten after ten. Shit! Have I been here that long already? I've only had a Coke and a glass of Crown Royal, or two glasses of Coke, or two glasses of Crown Royal or . . . I can't remember. I didn't smoke a joint though. I know that for a fact. No drugs. Ok, there are some ~~ Leo comes to mind ~~ who would argue that alcohol is a drug. I can handle my alcohol. That's not a problem. Josh would be proud of me right now.

"Hey!"

Sam jumped.

"Where'd you go?"

Sam looked up to find Marc standing over him. He hadn't even seen or heard him come back into the room.

"What?"

"You were off in some other world. Here's your drink, and I'm gonna give you your present now. You're gonna love this," Marc said.

Sam blinked a couple of times. He felt groggy. It's this chair, he thought. This chair would put anybody to sleep. I've gotta tell Marc what I came here to tell him and go home. I said thirty minutes and pretty soon it's gonna be thirty minutes.

Sam had been there almost an hour and a half now.

His mouth was dry and he downed the liquor. He forgot he'd asked for water.

"Stay here and don't move," Marc said. "Can you do that?"

Sam laughed. "Not a problem. I don't think I can move. I hope my present is this chair because that would make me a happy, happy man."

"I'm sorry, it's not, but I'll still make you a happy, happy man."

"Well, ok then. Bring it on."

Sam snuggled into the chair and closed his eyes when Marc left the room. His thoughts went to Josh. He felt an ache to be with him. He missed Josh. He wanted to be held in Josh's arms right then. He felt far away from the man he loved, and even though Sam knew he wasn't doing anything wrong, a sense of guilt gnawed at him.

Maybe I'll call him, just to say I'm thinking about him, that I miss him, and I love him. No, he's working. He's on a date with Amy Gardner. Sam smiled at the thought. I'll be home soon and so will he. We'll wrap ourselves around each other and we'll make love all night.

Sam felt a soft kiss on his lips. He knew it wasn't Josh but he didn't pull away, and it still took a few seconds before his eyelids fluttered open.

"Am I losing you, love?" Marc asked softly.

"I'm here," Sam whispered.

"Check this out."

Did Marc just kiss me? Sam's mind was fuzzy. Surely not. I was thinking about Josh and just imagined Marc kissed me. He raised his arm to take the gift from Marc but he could barely lift it. His muscles were weak and his arm trembled.

Marc set the gift in Sam's lap.

Sam took the big red bow off the Eketron Triple Threat Vendetta Racquet. Top of the line. Best of the best. This is the racquet the pros use. Marc must have paid upwards of four hundred dollars for this fine piece of equipment. His own racquet was little more than mangled aluminum after it's run-in with the wall.

He turned it over and over in his hands. He wrapped his fingers around the handle. It felt as though it was custom-made for his palm. He wanted to get on the court right then.

"Marc . . . I don't know what to say. This is way too much. I can't accept this."

Marc smiled. "You like it?"

"Like it? I love it! This is . . . amazing!"

Marc laughed and put his hand on Sam's thigh.

"But I can't accept this, really."

"You have to," Marc replied. "Look."

Marc pushed Sam's hand aside and pointed to COBRA engraved on the handle.

"It's yours, man. Non-returnable."

Sam had to squint to read what was written on the handle. His vision was blurry. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and looked again but it wasn't any clearer. His eyes burned.

He looked up at Marc. "I don't know what to say man. Thank you."

Marc kissed Sam again. His lips were soft and warm. They tasted sweet. Eternity. Sam let himself be kissed. He couldn't NOT let himself be kissed.

Marc squeezed Sam's thigh. "My pleasure."

Sam felt Marc's hand high on his leg and noticed it tighten and maybe, maybe move higher. He wasn't sure. Marc hadn't done this when they were `just friends'. Just friends. That jarred his thoughts back to the reason he'd come here in the first place. Sam set the racquet on the floor beside him.

"Marc," he said. "I need to . . . to talk with you about something serious then, then, then I've gotta go home."

Sam was vaguely aware that his voice wasn't his own. I sound like I'm talking through a megaphone, he thought. A megaphone turned backwards so all the words are tiny and almost in . . . in . . . dammit! What's that word? Inaudible. Get this done.

"I hadn't planned to, uh, stay even this long. I'm sure the half- hour I, uh, alott, alott, gave myself is nearly up," he said. "It's gotta be close to, um, um, nine-thirty by now."

It was midnight.

"Sure. What's so serious?" Marc asked. "You can talk with me about anything. I'm here for you."

"Will you stop . . . will you please . . . stop saying that? You're being too nice about all this, Marc . . . my man Marc . . . and that's the problem. Hey, I'm cotton-mouthed. How about another, you know, Evian?"

"Comin' up."

While Marc was gone, Sam held his arms straight out in front of him. I know they're stuck out, but I can't feel them, he thought. And I don't think I could lift my legs if my life depended on it. I'm not drunk. I haven't smoked any pot. What's wrong with me? Am I still at Marc's? I should be home. Where's Josh? Maintain. Don't let `em know how fucked up I am. And. I. Am. Totally. Fucked. Up.

"Here you go, love."

Marc handed Sam a glass of Coke. Sam drank half of it in one swallow.

"That wasn't water," he said. "You put something in there."

"Just a dash of Captain Morgan's Rum. Good, isn't it?" Marc replied.

"Well yeah, but . . ."

Sam's head spun. It's not even the second-hand smoke from the constant joints Marc has smoked since I've been here. I'm high ~~ way high ~~ too high ~~ but a different high than I've ever been before. I've never felt this trip. Talk to Marc now, fast, so I can go home and sleep this off. I'm not home now, am I? No, I'm at Marc's and I've gotta tell him something important. Get your shit together, Sam, and just say it. He slid down into the chair.

"Marc." Sam's voice was slurred and sounded like he spoke from inside a barrel. It echoed inside his head and was distorted. "I can't play racquetball with you anymore. You'll have to find a new partner. I'm sorry. We can't hang out."

"Why the hell not?" Marc's voice wasn't so gentle anymore.

Sam slumped further down into the soft leather recliner.

"Well . . . you know . . . I told you I wasn't gonna do anymore, uh, drugs. Nothing. Not even, uh pot. I know myself, Marc, and if, if I'm around you . . . I'll be too tempted. You make it . . . way . . . waaaay too easy and waaaay too fun," Sam explained in a slow, drawn-out voice that didn't seem connected to his body.

"Is that right?" Marc blew smoke in Sam's direction again. He'd done so all night and Sam didn't bother to fan it away anymore.

"I have asbolutely, uh, asbolutely, uh, absolutely no will power around you," Sam tried to speak distinctly. He didn't know if he did or not. He wasn't even sure if he spoke at all.

Damn! My mouth didn't even move when I said that, Sam thought. Who said that? Why am I so thirsty? He drained the glass, caught an ice cube, and began to crunch on it. I feel like a jellyfish . . . limp and loose and way too limber. I hear Marc's voice but I can't make out his words. Every now and then one will make sense, but mostly its just garble. But shit, I'm relaxed. I'm relaxed as hell. I've gotta get me one of these chairs.

"I . . . water," he uttered. Sam started to hand his glass to Marc but dropped it in his lap. A couple of ice cubes fell out.

Sam lowered his head and looked down but made no move to pick them up. His hand coordination hadn't caught up to what his eyes wanted to see and tried to tell his brain what to do.

"I'll take care of that, love." Sam heard from far away. That's Marc's voice. But where is he?

Then Sam felt Marc's hand in his lap. Ok, that doesn't seem odd, but it does. It feels right to have a masculine, strong hand rub my penis instead of a feminine one, but that's not the familiar hand I know so well. That's not Josh's hand.

"Noooooo . . ."

Sam's voice was hollow and otherworldly. It surprised him that it even came out of his mouth. He raised his hand in protest then it dropped and fell on top of Marc's.

A moment of lucidity came to Sam.

"Don't do that Marc," he slurred. "I need to go."

Sam started to stand up. With just a tap on Sam's shoulders, Marc easily pushed him back into the chair.

"You don't really mean that, love," he said. "You've wanted me since the first day you saw me."

"No, that's . . . that's not true," Sam denied.

Marc unsnapped Sam's jeans. Sam didn't even realize it. He was too horrified at the accusations being made about him.

"You picked ME up, Sam. All I had on was a towel and YOU came over to me and asked for my name and phone number. You chose ME as your racquetball partner. Remember?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"Who calls who for pot, Sam? And painkillers and cocaine and those other fun things you can't get anywhere else because it's too big a risk. You must have a lot of trust in me, Sam."

Marc unzipped Sam's jeans and pulled them open. Sam was oblivious.

"And who sneaks away from his lover to spend time with me? Huh Sammy? You can't get high with ole Josh and you're a druggie, so that makes me your best friend," Marc laughed.

Sam was confused. His head pounded. He wondered if this was his reality and if he'd ever get back to the way he thought things once were. Or were they? Maybe this IS my universe now. Has been forever. But what about Josh? There's no Josh in this universe, in this reality. This isn't reality. I'm fucked up. On what? Hell if I know. I'm not just drunk. This is something I've never known before. I wanna go home. Gotta go home.

I need you, Josh.

But Josh wasn't there for Sam this time. Just when Sam needed him most, Josh wasn't there.

It was then Sam felt the hand that wasn't Josh's inside his underpants massaging his penis and caressing him. His jeans and shorts were halfway down his hips. Then Marc was on top of him, his mouth covered Sam's as he kissed him, his tongue inside Sam, his hand tightened around Sam's cock.

Sam tried to struggle against Marc but he was so weak he could barely move. When he lifted his head he was dizzy and fell back against the chair. Everything was blurry and he saw flashes of bright light that reminded him of shooting stars. Sam squeezed his eyes shut but he still saw them. He wasn't sure, but he thought his pants were being pulled down . . . but he wasn't sure. Sam wanted to call out, but Marc's mouth covered his and he could barely breathe, much less speak.

Sam felt a heavy weight on him as he was pushed deeper into the chair. Hands covered his body . . . on his face, in his hair, under his shirt, inside his pants. He felt himself being kissed . . . on his face, in his hair, under his shirt, inside his pants.

He struggled again and with a burst of energy, brought his knee up hard. He heard someone cry out then felt the impact of a fist slam against his jaw.

"You motherfucker!" a voice yelled.

Sam felt the sting as he was backhanded across the other side of his face. It took all his strength, but he brought his knee up again and shoved it between Marc's legs.

"You're dead Seaborn!"

Everything went black for Sam.

********

"Toby Ziegler."

"I've lost Sam."

"Josh?"

"I can't find him."

"What time is it?"

"Two o'clock."

"In the morning?"

"Yes, in the morning!"

"And Sam's not home?"

"No, he's not home! Why would I call you and say `I can't find him' if he was home? Dammit Toby, I've lost Sam!"

Toby sat up in bed and looked at his clock. It really was two o'clock in the morning.

"Calm down Josh. He's not lost."

"Then where is he?" Josh's voice was stressed.

"When was he the last time you saw him?" Toby asked. "Tell me again his plans tonight."

"He said he was going over to Marc's at nine o'clock and would stay no longer than a half-hour and come straight home. Then he was going to organize our bookshelf until I got here. He was adamant about it."

"I still can't believe you let him go to Marc's."

"Toby. Now is NOT the time to . . ."

"Ok, ok. Have you tried to call him?"

"Of course. I'm not stupid. I've called him every five minutes since eleven o'clock. No answer. It just rings."

"Pager?"

"Nothing."

"So where is he?"

"Toby! That's why I called you! I've lost Sam! You've gotta help me! Something's happened. I know something's happened."

"Calm down, Josh. We'll find him. He's gotta be somewhere. We'll find him."

"How? What's your plan?" Josh asked.

"My plan?"

"Yeah. You said we'll find him so what's your plan to find him?"

"Well Josh, I don't really have a plan . . ."

"Toby, Sam and I have never been separated like this. You know, where we don't know where the other one is?" There was desperation in Josh's voice. "I don't like it. Something's wrong. I know it. I can feel it. You've gotta help me."

"I'm gonna help you Josh. YOU'VE gotta calm down. Where does Sam hang out?"

"Sam doesn't hang out. We stay home."

"You NEVER go out?" said Toby.

"Sometimes we go down to Crawdads and play a little pool, but I've called there about five times and Crawdad hasn't seen him. He said he'd call me the minute Sam walks in . . . IF Sam walks in. He might be closed by now. Hell, I don't know."

"Anyplace else?"

"No. We don't go anywhere Toby. You know we work and come home, work and come home. Just like you."

"Josh, did you call Marc's house?" asked Toby. He didn't want to, but he knew he had to ask.

Josh hesitated before he answered. "Yeah. I get his answering machine. At first I just hung up then I left messages for Sam to call me, then I just hung up again. I just tried again and got the answering machine."

"Did you call that bar Marc works at or owns or whatever?"

"Yeah. They said he's off tonight."

"Did you drive over there?" Toby asked.

"Over where?"

"To Marc's house."

"Did I drive over to Marc's house?" Josh repeated.

"Yeah," said Toby.

"No."

"Why not?"

"I didn't wanna leave in case he came home," replied Josh.

"How about if I come pick you up and we'll go to Marc's house and see what's going on. How's that sound?" said Toby.

"Yeah, ok. That sounds good. How long until you get here?"

"Just a few minutes. Try Sam's phone and pager again and I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Yeah, ok. Toby?"

"It's raining."

"I hear the rain."

"It's not just the rain," Josh replied. "It's a summer storm. There's thunder and lightening. Sam doesn't . . . Sam doesn't do well with storms."

"I'll be there as soon as I can. And Josh?"

"What?"

"Stay calm. We'll find Sam."

"Yeah, ok."

Josh put his shoes on as soon as he hung up the phone and paced from the bay window to the front door. He tried Sam's cell phone again but it just rang with no answer. He tried Sam's pager but got no response. He called Marc's house and the answering machine picked up. He called Crawdad's and the line was busy. He stood at the bay window and watched the lightening streak across the sky. He listened to the rain pound against the glass panes. He paced the living room. He picked up a photograph of him and Sam together on a beach in the Hamptons this same time last summer and wondered where Sam was now.

He should be home, here in bed with me, Josh thought, wrapped in my arms, safe from the world and whatever or whomever has him in their clutches tonight. Where is he? What's he doing? Is he hurt? Is he scared? Is he cold? Is he wet: Is he hungry? Is he asleep? Who's he with? Where the hell is he?

Josh set the photograph down and rubbed his wedding band. He went to the cedar box on the bookshelf and opened it. Sam's ring was inside. Josh picked it up and brought it to his lips.

"Where are you Angel?" he whispered. "Where's my baby tonight?"

Josh started to put Sam's wedding band on the ring finger of his right hand. Sam's fingers were slimmer than Josh's and his ring was a tight fit, but he worked it over his knuckle until it was on his finger.

The first thing I'm gonna do when I find Sam, he thought, is put this ring on him and he's never gonna take it off. Never. And mine will never come off my hand either. If people see them and wonder, screw `em.

Toby knocked once and was about to knock a second time when Josh jerked the door open. "Let's go," he said.

Josh closed and locked the door behind him then re-opened it and ran to the closet. He grabbed Sam's jacket then slammed the door as he left their townhouse.

Toby followed Josh's directions as they drove to Marc's house. Sam's car wasn't parked on the street and it wasn't in the driveway. All the lights in the house were out and there was no activity.

"Pull in the driveway," Josh said. "I'm going to the door."

Josh was halfway out of the car before it was stopped. He walked quickly to the porch and Toby had to jog to catch up with him. Josh rang the doorbell twice then pounded on the door with his fist. He stepped back and rocked from foot to foot. Impatient, he pounded on the door again. A sheet of lightening lit up the sky.

"Hayes!" he yelled.

"Josh!" Toby said. "Don't holler like a banshee at this time of morning. People are asleep. Just ring the doorbell again."

Josh did, but got no answer.

"Shit!" Josh spat as he turned in circles on the porch. "Where's that son-of-a-bitch?"

"Let's go to his bar," Toby suggested. "Do you know where it is?"

"Yeah, I know."

Josh kicked the front door then followed Toby back to the car.

`Dutchmans' parking lot was full and Toby had to park across the street and halfway down the block. Josh started to cross and Toby had to grab his arm and pull him out of the way of a passing car. He held onto Josh's arm and shook him to get his attention then looked him in the eyes.

"Josh! Look at me!"

Josh blinked a couple of times then it registered that Toby had said something to him.

"What? What'd you say?" he asked.

"You need to crank it down about a hundred RPMs. You're a volcano about to erupt here. Now settle down, take a breath, and let's walk in that bar like we're two somewhat normal people. You go in like this and everybody's gonna look at you like you're crazy. We're drenched to the bone as it is. Stop and take a couple of deep breaths."

Toby continued to hold Josh's arm. He thought it might help ground Josh if he could feel the tactile presence of someone with him. He'd never seen Josh this scared before. He had been worried when Sam had his accident on the racquetball court, but that was different. Josh knew right where Sam was and knew he would be ok and go home with him. But this . . . not knowing where Sam was had already taken it's toll on Josh, and Toby could see the fear in Josh's eyes.

The two stood on the sidewalk a minute. Josh collected himself and ran his fingers through his wet hair. Rain streamed down his face. He straightened his shirt and put a piece of chewing gum in his mouth.

"You ok now? You ready to go?" Toby asked.

Josh nodded. "I'm ok. I'm fine. I can do this."

They were told the same thing by the bartender as Josh had been told over the phone: Marc isn't working tonight. No, we don't know where he is. We're not sure when he'll be back in.

Ten minutes later they were back in Toby's car with no more knowledge than they had before. The storm had turned the air cooler and Josh shivered. He wondered what Sam had worn and if he was warm enough. Sam still hadn't gotten used to the difference in weather from Southern California and Washington, D.C. and tended to get cold easily. In late summer when the nights began to turn cool, Sam would put on a sweatshirt in the evening while Josh still wore a t-shirt.

"I hope he isn't cold," Josh said quietly, more to himself that to Toby.

"What's that?"

"Huh? Oh, I just said I hope Sam isn't cold. He can't get used to the weather and . . ."

"I'm sure he's fine," Toby lied.

"So what now? We've gotta find him."

"I guess going to the police is out of the question," Toby wondered.

"Ya think? We can't turn this into a political thing."

They sat in Toby's dark car and thought. Josh started to bounce his leg. He started to get stressed again.

"Josh, would Cathy know anyplace Sam might go? I know they're kinda close and they talk sometimes," Toby suggested.

"She wouldn't know anything I don't know. Nobody would."

"Ok, don't freak out when I ask you this question. Is there ANY chance Scott Major would have come back in town and . . . I don't know . . . want to get back at Sam because . . . don't make me finish this sentence, Josh."

"Sam told you about that?" Josh asked with surprise.

Toby nodded. "Yeah, he did. He was having a tough time dealing with it and one day I asked him what was bothering him and he told me. I made him tell me, Josh. Don't be angry with Sam. He was worried about it on your account."

"It's ok. I'm glad Sam has you to talk with. He really doesn't have anybody else he can go to when he needs to talk about, you know, us. Thanks for doing that Toby. No, I don't think Scott would be that stupid."

"Do you think he might have gone back out in the field to look at Mars again?" Toby asked.

Josh shook his head. "He would have told me. Left a note, called. Something. And he'd be back by now. He can't see Mars in a storm like this. Unless he was in a wreck. What if he was in a wreck? Should we call the hospitals?"

Both men jumped when Josh's phone rang. It sounded loud in the car. Josh fumbled his phone open.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam? Hello? Josh Lyman here. Who's there? Sam?"

"It ain't Sam."

"Who is this?" Josh looked at Toby.

"It nobody, man."

"How'd you get this phone?"

"I took it off yer boy, but I ain't keepin' it."

"Where is he? What's wrong with him?"

"He strung out on somethin' bad, man. So I callin' to say you better come git `em or he gonna die."

"Where is he?" Josh yelled into the phone. "Where are you?"

"I didn't steal no phone. I jus' push a button."

"Where . . ." Josh started to scream again when Toby took the phone from him.

"Please tell me where the owner of that telephone is. We'll come and get him."

"Minnesota."

"Pardon me? Minnesota?"

"Minnesota Avenue."

"Minnesota Avenue? Could you tell me where . . . ?"

"Minnesota off Ramen," the man interrupted. "Across from `The Tattoo Parlor' at the statue."

"What tattoo parlor?"

"'THE Tattoo Parlor'".

"That's the name of it? `The Tattoo Parlor'?" asked Toby.

"Yeah man, `The Tattoo Parlor', across from the statue."

"What statue?"

"The big one. Hercules or Superman or some shit. Listen, I ain't gonna be here, man."

"That's fine. Thank you, thank you for calling us. Is he . . ."

The phone went dead. Toby snapped it shut and handed it back to Josh. He did a one-eighty in the middle of the street and stepped on the accelerator.

Minnesota Avenue was in southeast D.C., a part of town that Josh and Toby had never been to before. It was a rough area, gangs hung out there, it was dangerous. People got killed just for showing up. How in the hell did Sam get there? Toby knew where the area was, but he had no idea where that exact street was.

"Open my glove compartment," he said to Josh. "There's a city map in there. Get it out and find Minnesota Avenue. About three miles east of the White House."

Josh found the map and switched on the overhead light. He ran his hand down the side of the map until he found Minnesota and put his thumb there to mark it.

"What'd he say the cross street is?" Josh asked.

"He just said Minnesota off Ramen".

Josh looked for Ramen Avenue.

"I can't find it," Josh said. "I can't find the damn street! It's not on here!"

"It's gotta be on there, Josh. Just slow down."

Josh started at the top and read down the list again.

"It's not on here. The street doesn't exist. We're never gonna find Sam. There IS no Ramen Avenue!"

Toby pulled over to the curb, stopped, and snatched the map from Josh. He ran his finger down the list of names and almost immediately stopped at Ramen Street.

"There! Ramen Street. That's gotta be it. Give me a pen."

Josh looked around and patted his chest and jeans pockets. "I don't have a . . . "

"In the glove compartment. Get a pen out of the glove compartment." Toby tried not to sound impatient with Josh. He knew Josh was terrified at what they would find when . . . if . . . they reached Sam.

Josh got a pen and handed it to Toby. Toby circled the intersection of Minnesota and Ramen on the map in big strokes and held it against the steering wheel as he pulled away from the curb. Josh turned the light out. Neither spoke as they went to find Sam. Both said silent prayers they would find him alive.

********

Toby took Ramen Street to Minnesota Avenue. The traffic light was green at the intersection but he stopped anyway; he didn't know whether to turn left or right.

"Do you know anything about a statue down here, Josh?" Toby asked. "The guy on the phone said he's across from `The Tattoo Parlor' at a statue of Hercules or Superman."

"Superman?"

"I'm just saying . . ."

"Just go Toby, just turn one way or the other. We've gotta find Sam."

Toby took a left and hoped for the best. He drove slowly as they scanned both sides of the street for a tattoo parlor and a statue. The rain fell harder now and the windshield wipers couldn't keep up with the water as it flooded the window. It wasn't just difficult to see ~~ it was almost impossible. The further they went the more distressed Josh became. He couldn't sit still, he strained to read the sign on every storefront, he urged Toby to drive faster, he thought maybe they should turn around and go the other direction. Toby told him to hold it together.

There was little traffic and hardly anybody on the sidewalks to ask directions, if they even dared to stop. A few homeless people shuffled along with their heads down to keep the rain off their faces, a drunk lay against a building, oblivious to the weather as he slept off that night's binge. On the corner a group of young men huddled in a close circle and eyed Toby's car as it passed and hollered something neither Toby or Josh understood or asked them to repeat. In the next block, more homeless, more drunks, more young men waiting for trouble.

Three blocks later Josh pointed out the driver's side window. "There it is! The statue! That's gotta be it."

Toby looked the opposite direction and saw `The Tattoo Parlor'. He crossed four lanes with looking behind him and stopped alongside the curb. A lot had been cleared and turned into a small park that was run down and neglected. There was a rusty sign that read: "George Washington Community Park ~~ The Pride of Our Neighborhood". In the center of the lot stood a concrete statue of the country's first President as he was depicted in history books ~~ standing in a boat while he crossed the Potomac River, one hand on his hip, his other arm raised triumphantly above him. On this statue, that arm was broken off at the elbow and there was bird shit and green mildew on the rest of President Washington. Four cement benches faced the statue and at each corner of the lot, was a tall concrete pillar. Etched on each pillar were facts about George Washington. The benches and pillars had bird shit and green mildew on them too. All this was lost on Josh and Toby.

Josh grabbed the jacket then he and Toby jumped out of the car and ran to the statue. No Sam.

"Where the hell is he?" Josh said as he turned in circles. "Sam! Where is he Toby? Sam!"

"Sam!" Toby called. "Sam, are you here Sam?"

Josh reached down and picked something up in the mud. "Here's his phone! He's gotta be around here somewhere. Where is he Toby? Dear God, where's Sam?"

"Sam!" Toby yelled. "Sam, are you here Sam? Sam?"

"Sam!" Josh looked around the statue and under the benches. "Sam! Where are you, Sam? Answer me! Answer me!" Josh was frantic. "Where are you Sam?"

"Over here," Toby replied. He ran toward one of the pillars.

Sam lay on the ground against the pillar in a fetal position, his legs pulled up to his chest, his head tucked down, his hands crossed in front of him. His rugby shirt was pulled partly over his head and one sleeve was torn nearly all the way off. His shoes were gone and one sock was missing. His jeans were unfastened and pulled down to his knees. Sam was drenched from the rain and muddy from the grime he lay in. He didn't move or make a sound. He was pale and appeared lifeless.

Josh and Toby feared the worst.

They both went to their knees in the mud next to Sam. Josh draped his body over Sam's and pulled the shirt away from his head. He put his face close to Sam's.

"Sam! Talk to me Angel!"

Josh put his hand against Sam's cheek; it was cold and clammy. He spread the jacket across Sam, cradled Sam's head in his arms, and began to rock him. Sam's body was limp as a rag doll.

"Josh, move aside," said Toby. "Let me get in there."

Josh stayed where he was and continued to rock Sam. Toby put his hand on Josh's shoulder and leaned close. It was then he heard Josh. Softly and in-between sobs, murmured the words of the Mourner's Kaddish.

"Magnified and sanctified is the great name of God throughout the world, which was created according to Divine will. Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba b'alma di v'ra chir'utei; v'yamlich malchutei b'hayeichon u-v'yomeichon, uv'hayei d'chol beit yisrael, ba-agala uvi- z'man kariv, v'iru amen."

Toby then realized Josh believed Sam was dead. He was, in his own way, giving him last rites.

"Josh, get out of the way! Let me see him," Toby said

Josh shook his head. "No, I won't let him go."

"Josh, listen to me! Sam isn't dead! He needs medical attention! Now get out of the way and let me see what's going on!"

Josh gently laid Sam onto the ground and moved away. Toby tried to pull Sam onto his back, but he snapped again into the fetal position. This is a good sign, Toby thought. He has some life in him and he shows a little strength.

"Don't hurt him!" Josh shouted over the rain as it beat down on their backs. Thunder cracked and lightening split the sky.

"Let me see his face," Toby said. "Let me see if he's conscious."

Toby lifted Sam's head and rested it in the crook of his elbow. With his other hand he dug into Sam's tightly crossed arms to his hands, clutched into fists, and put his fingers on Sam's wrist to feel for a pulse.

"Sam! Can you hear me, Sam? Open your eyes and talk to me!" Toby spoke loudly and close to Sam's face. He smelled alcohol on his breath and clothes.

After he found a weak pulse, Toby looked at Josh. His face was ashen and his eyes blank and tortured. He knew Josh would trade places with Sam if there was any way he could.

"He's alive Josh," Toby said. "I found a pulse. Sam's alive."

"Do something Toby! Make him wake up! Make him say something!" Josh yelled over the storm.

Toby patted Sam's cheek, gently at first, then harder. Sam's head flopped to the side with each slap.

"Don't hurt him for God's sake!" Josh demanded. "Just help him!"

Toby ignored Josh.

"Sam, it's Toby and Josh! We're here to take care of you! Open your eyes right now and talk to me!

Sam didn't move.

"Sam, if you don't open your eyes and talk to me this minute, I'm gonna bust your ass! I'm not fooling around here Sam! Open your eyes goddammit, Sam!"

"Toby, don't!" Josh pleaded.

Slowly, Sam opened one eye. Sam looked at Toby and tried to focus. It took a minute, then a glimmer of recognition registered and he opened his other eye half way. Both were red and watery, the pupils dilated.

"Toby." Sam mouthed the word but no sound came out.

"Come on Sam, can you roll over here and let us see you? Josh is right here! Come on Sam!"

Toby started to pull Sam away from the pillar but again, Sam curled into a ball. Together, Josh and Toby pried Sam from his fetal position. He fell forward against Toby and tried to wrap his arms around him, but he was too weak and they just fell to his side.

"Come here Josh," Toby ordered.

Josh slid in to Toby's place. Toby lifted Sam's arms and put them around Josh. Sam's head pressed against Josh's chest and Josh pulled him in close. He put his hand behind Sam's head and put his lips to his wet hair. He spoke Sam's name over and over.

Sam fought to keep his eyes open but they were barely slits. He couldn't sit by himself and stayed propped against Josh as Toby quickly checked Sam's arms, legs, and torso for injuries. Then he felt his head and face.

"I don't think there's anything broken and he doesn't seem to be hurt," said Toby.

"Then what's wrong with him?" Josh asked.

"Sam's wasted Josh. He's got so many drugs in him he doesn't know which way is up. We've gotta get him to a hospital."

"Call nine-one-one. Do we call nine-one-one?"

"Josh, calm down! Look at me and listen to what I say!" Toby grabbed Josh's arm. "We've gotta drive Sam to the hospital ourselves. We can't call an ambulance. This can't hit the media. Sam is high as a kite and he's half naked!"

"He can die!"

"Josh! He can die while we sit here and argue about it! Get under one shoulder and I'll get under the other and we'll carry or drag Sam, or do whatever we have to do, but we don't want cameras waiting for us at the emergency room door! Do you understand me?"

Josh took a deep breath. "Yeah, ok, let's do this."

Josh started to pull away from Sam so he and Toby could stand him up. Sam clutched at Josh's shirt and brought his knees up again so he was almost in Josh's lap.

"Noooo," he wailed in a weak moan. "Josh . . . don't leave me . . ."

Josh looked at Toby. His eyes carried a pain Toby had never seen in a man before and never wanted to see again. A crash of thunder punctuated the despair in Josh's face.

"Tell him it's ok, assure him we're not gonna leave him, Josh, then we have to get him in the car," Toby said. "Don't let yourself hear him. I know you wanna comfort him, but we need to get moving. There will be time to comfort him later."

Josh pulled Sam's hands from his shirt as Sam struggled to hang on. He cringed as Sam begged him not to do the one thing Josh swore he never would.

"Help me . . ." Sam cried. "Josh . . . don't . . . leave . . . me . . ."

"Sammy, it's Josh, and I'm not gonna leave you. I'm taking you home with me. But you've gotta stand up. Stand up, baby, so we can go home."

Josh and Toby stood and began to pull Sam to his feet. He was like a puppet and each time, they caught him as he started to crumble into a heap on the ground. Josh tried to wrap the jacket around Sam's shoulders but it was soaked through and served no purpose.

"Don't leave me Josh," Sam pleaded. "Please, God, don't let Josh leave me."

Toby and Josh finally got Sam to his feet and one arm around each of their necks. They both held the hand that hung over their shoulder and used their other hand to hold on to the waistband of his jeans to keep him upright. Sam lurched forward and vomited on the concrete pillar he'd just been laying against. His body jerked violently and vomit splattered on Josh and Toby. They tightened their grip as Sam nearly fell down. He heaved again and Toby turned his head away to avoid being hit in the face by more of Sam's vomit. When he was finished, Sam hung his head as threads of spit and puke dribbled down onto his shirt. Then he lost consciousness.

Sam slumped and Josh lost his footing and fell to the ground. Toby caught Sam under his other arm and hugged him to his chest. Sam's head bobbed then rested on Toby's shoulder. He was dead weight and Toby struggled to hold him up as they stood in the slick mud. He tightened his grasp on Sam while Josh pulled himself up.

"Hang on Angel," Toby spoke softly into Sam's ear. "You stay with me." He pressed his lips to Sam's head and closed his eyes.

Josh and Toby half-carried, half-dragged Sam through the mud to the car and managed to get the back door open. Toby held Sam balanced against the car while Josh got in the back seat and slid to the far side. Then Toby maneuvered Sam inside and with Josh's help, laid him across the seat with his head in Josh's lap. Toby ran around to the driver's side, got behind the wheel, and sped toward George Washington Hospital.

In the back seat, Josh cradled Sam in his arms and put his face close to his. Even though Sam had passed out, Josh spoke softly to him.

"Sammy, darlin', it's Josh. I'm here with you baby. You're gonna be ok. I'm gonna stay with you the whole time." Josh wiped some of the mud and vomit and grit and grime off Sam's face, then pushed his hair off his forehead. He could barely see Sam's light scar left from his run-in with the wall on the racquetball court.

Josh tugged at Sam's wedding band on his own right hand. When it was off, he glanced around the back of Toby's car for something that wasn't covered in mud. He saw several packages of Toby's dress shirts that had been laundered, folded, and wrapped in plastic. He ripped one open and with the sleeve, carefully wiped the mud from Sam's wedding band. Then he cleaned Sam's left hand ring finger and slid the band on, as he'd told himself he would do.

"Go faster, Toby," Josh said. "He's not moving. He's barely breathing. Hurry Toby, please hurry."

"Josh, I'm running red lights as it is and this damn rain is coming down in sheets. I can barely see. I'm doing the best I can. Check his pupils."

Josh pulled Sam's eyelids open but it was too dark and he couldn't see anything. Truth be known, he didn't want to see. He was afraid Sam's eyes would be rolled up into his head and that was a sight he wouldn't be able to tolerate.

Toby called ahead to the hospital and was grateful Dr. Adams was on duty in the ER. Toby spoke directly with him and gave him a quick explanation of the situation, asked that he again, be discreet, and to please have someone meet them at the emergency room entrance.

"He's still out!" Josh said in a panic. "I can't find a pulse! I can't feel his chest move! Do something Toby!"

Josh broke into tears with his face on Sam's. He rocked him and cried, "I love you Sam, I love you so much. Don't die, Angel, don't die."

Toby turned into the Emergency Room circle and stopped at the door. Two orderlies, two nurses, and Dr. Adams waited outside under the bright lights. By the time Toby got around to the passenger side, Sam was out of the car, on the gurney, and being rushed inside.

"Dr. Adams asked me to park your car, sir," someone said. "You can go on in."

Toby looked at the young man in green scrubs. "Yeah, ok. The keys are in . . ." his voice faded off.

Josh and Toby just stood there. All of a sudden it was out of their hands. They were helpless. All responsibility for Sam had been snatched from them and they didn't quite know what to do with themselves. What, just seconds before, had been the most important thing in the world, was gone from their sight, gone from their realm of knowledge, gone from their presence.

No way.

The both ran inside the Emergency Room and down the hall to find Sam.

********

Where the hell am I and why can't I feel my body? Where's Josh? Why can't I open my eyes? Am I dead? I hear voices, but they sound so far away. What are they saying? That's not Josh's voice. Where's Josh? Where the hell am I? I'm cold. I'm so cold. I want Josh to warm me. Why can't I speak? Josh! Josh! There's no sound. Am I dead?

The medical staff around Sam worked quickly. They moved him from the gurney to an exam table and each went about their own job with expertise and without hesitation. Someone pulled his jeans off while someone else took off the jacket and his rugby shirt. At the same time another person put small oxygen tubes in Sam's nostrils while someone else wrapped a blood pressure cuff to his arm and inflated it. Someone's hand attached electrodes to Sam's chest and clipped the heart monitor to his finger while someone else inserted a thermometer into his ear to take his temperature. A butterfly IV had already been inserted into his right arm with a saline drip while a phlebotomist drew blood from his left arm to be sent to the lab for tests. Dr. Adams rattled off orders as he examined Sam. Sam smelled of alcohol, vomit, and urine. There was blood on his crotch and underwear.

Josh and Toby stood just inside the exam room, against the wall, out of the way. They both left puddles of water at their feet.

"Tell me what happened," Dr. Adams said to them. "What do you know?"

Toby and Josh glanced at each other, neither quite sure who should speak, what to say, how much to reveal. They both wanted to protect Sam's addiction problem, but it was Toby who came to his senses first and realized that in order to save Sam, they needed to be totally honest.

"He has some difficulty with substance dependency," Toby said. "He was with someone tonight who . . . who seems to have an endless supply of these, these chemicals and, hell, we don't know. He was supposed to be home hours ago and wasn't then somebody called us, we don't even know who, and said he was on Minnesota Avenue passed out so we went and found him like this."

"Has he been conscious at all?"

Josh stepped toward the exam table. "He came to for a few minutes and recognized us," he said. "He talked to us."

"What did he say?"

"He said . . . " Josh started. "He just said our names." Josh couldn't bear to repeat the words Sam had really uttered: "Don't leave me, Josh. Please God, don't let Josh leave me."

"Please step back sir," Dr. Adams said. "We need to work here."

"And he vomited," Toby added.

"And we smelled alcohol on him," said Josh.

"Any idea what drugs he might have ingested?" asked Dr. Adams.

Neither Josh nor Toby did.

Why am I so cold? Hands are all over me. They're not Josh's hands. They pulled my clothes off. Am I naked? There's something in my nose, something squeezed my arm, a lady's voice said, `This needle might pinch a little, hun', but I didn't feel anything pinch. Why did that lady stick me with a needle? I need to open my eyes and see where I am.

"Sam, open your eyes for me," Dr. Adams said in a loud voice. "Can you open your eyes?"

If I could, I would, jackass. Where's Josh? What's all that noise? Who are all these people? Are they talking about me? What are they saying? Why is everyone touching me? I'm so cold. I want Jack. Where's my brother? Save me Jack!

"Blood pressure, seventy-four over thirty."

"Pulse, thirty-two."

"Temperature, ninety-six point eight."

"Get those labs back!"

"I want a gastric lavage kit stat. I don't want to lose him."

Josh looked at Toby. "What are they gonna do?"

"Pump his stomach."

Sam's head lolled to the side and for a second or two his eyes opened.

I'm in a hospital or a morgue.

"Open your eyes again Sam! Tell me your name!" a woman's voice commanded.

You know my name. You just called me Sam. What the fuck? Sam felt latex-covered fingers pry his lips open and somebody jammed something made of hard rubber inside his mouth to hold it open. If I can move my arm I'm gonna take it out.

"Get the restraints. He's going to fight us," a man's voice said. "He's already pulled that IV out once. For somebody so drugged up, he's putting up quite a fight."

They've tied my wrists to the steel bars on the sides of the bed. Did somebody say I was gonna fight? I can't even feel my arms, much less move them. Don't tie me down! What are you doing to me?

"Somebody grab his legs! He's kicking now!"

No! Don't tie my legs down! Somebody stop them! Josh, help me!

"Let's do it."

Do what? Where are those voices coming from? They sound a million miles away. They come and go Maybe it's me coming and going. Sam tugged at his arms and legs but they were restrained and he couldn't move them. Then he felt a wide rubber tube being stuck in his mouth and inched down the back of his throat. His gag reflex caused him to jerk his head and torso off the table, but he was pulled back down by the restraints.

Josh put his hand on Toby's arm, but his eyes were riveted on Sam.

When the tube reached Sam's stomach, he began to regurgitate all it's contents. It was a violent act. His body lurched and shook with each heave. As the vomit came up through the tube, some of it came out Sam's mouth and spilled onto his face and neck. Some of it ran down onto his chest. He shook his head and tried to get the tube out.

A man put his strong hands on Sam's head and firmly held it in place. Someone else held the tube with his latex-covered fingers.

"You're doing good Sam!" a female voice said. "Get it all out. Get rid of that poison. You're doing good."

What's good about puking my guts out? I'm either tied down or held down and have no control over any aspect of my body. My throat is being torn apart. My stomach is coming out of my mouth. Some motherfucker has my head in a vice grip. Yeah, I'm doing real good.

Sam's head rolled to the right. He opened his eyes again. Then he saw him. Josh stood just inside the exam room next to Toby. He barely saw Toby, and Josh was blurry, but the expression on Josh's face was one Sam would never, ever forget. It was the look of a man experiencing himself dying a slow and torturous death. The look of hurt, of pain, the total tragic loss of all things precious . . . a look Sam had never seen before and would never see again. It lasted only a split second because his eyes drifted shut again, but in that moment that felt like a lifetime for Sam, his love for Josh had never been more powerful or certain.

Dear God, Sam prayed, I swear before you, I will never do this to Josh again. Nothing is worth that look on his face and the hurt in his heart. Please God, let me survive this . . . for Josh.

"Ok Sam, we got it all. Now listen carefully. The tube stays in and we're going to put charcoal into your stomach now. Don't throw it up. Do you hear me Sam? If you throw it up, we're going to put more down there. And we're going to keep doing it until you don't throw it up. Do you understand Sam? You can do this."

I can do this. Don't throw up the charcoal.

Sam felt a cool liquid fill his stomach. He gagged and vomited. His head fell forward and the black charcoal splattered on his face, arms, and chest.

"Ok Sam, let's try that again. Hold it down."

Hold it down. Hold it down.

Sam felt the cool liquid again. This time he used all the self- control he could muster and didn't throw up. After a couple of minutes, someone pulled the tube out of his throat and took the rubber wedge out of his mouth.

"Untie him," a man's voice said. "He's settled down. Let me see those blood results."

Sam lay exhausted. He felt the restraints loosen on his wrists and ankles. There's a terrible taste in my mouth. I'm thirsty. I wanna go home now. It's over. Give me my clothes. I just wanna go to bed. Why can't I keep my eyes open? I'm so cold. Where's Josh. I want Josh.

"Clean up his face and chest only," the same man said. "I'm going across the hall with these gentlemen."

"Dr. Adams," Josh asked, "can I just see him for a minute?"

"Sure, I'm sorry. Go ahead."

Josh walked to the exam table, but Toby held back. He looked down at Sam, still and quiet now. He took Sam's hand in his, careful not to upset the IV in his arm. With his other hand he pressed Sam's cheek.

"He's cold," Josh said to the nurse closest to the exam table. "Can you get him a sheet or something? He's cold as ice."

"Dr. Adams?" she asked.

"Go get a couple of those heated blankets, and when they cool off, bring fresh ones. I want his body temperature brought up," Dr. Adams replied.

Another nurse stood by with a tub of warm, soapy water and a washcloth to clean Sam.

"May I do that?" Josh asked.

"Dr. Adams?"

"Sure, then I need you to come across the hall."

"Yeah, ok."

Toby watched as Josh dipped the washcloth into the warm water, wrung it out, and gently washed the mud, vomit, and charcoal off Sam's face and neck. He started to wash his chest when Toby walked over and put his hand on Josh's back.

"Josh, we need to go talk with Dr. Adams. Let the nurse take care of this," he said."

"I need to clean him up, Toby. Sam doesn't like to be dirty."

Toby took the washcloth from Josh and dropped it in the tub of water. He started to pull Josh away from the exam table. "You've done most of it. The nurse will make sure he's clean. Come on Josh, let's go."

No! Don't take Josh away from me. It felt so good to have his hands on me. To feel the warm water on my cold skin. To feel Josh's hands on my face. Please don't take Josh away from me! Can't somebody hear me?

Josh leaned over and gently kissed Sam, first on the lips then on the forehead. He brushed his cheek with the back of his hand. "If you can hear me Sam, I'll see you in a little while. Toby's here too, and we're not gonna leave you. I'll be right across the hall for a few minutes then I'll come up to your room and stay with you." He kissed Sam's forehead again. "Sam . . . you know."

Toby stepped up to the exam table. He put his hand on Sam's shoulder. He'd tried to stay distanced from everything that had happened since Josh first called him, and he'd done pretty well until now. But the feel of Sam's cold, clammy skin, his pale face, and the fact he just lay there . . . he just lay there . . . was almost more than Toby could handle. He wanted to do something. He wanted to fix Sam, to make him ok again, but there was nothing he could do. So he just squeezed Sam's shoulder. "We're here for ya, kiddo."

********

"Sit down gentlemen," Dr. Adams said. "Let's talk about Sam."

Toby and the physician both sat but Josh paced the small room.

"Just tell us," he said, "what's wrong with him? What the hell happened?"

"Sit down Josh," Toby said.

"I don't wanna sit down. I'm too upset to . . ."

"Sit down Josh."

Josh pulled out a chair and sat next to Toby.

"Sam has ingested, or been given, which is my guess, an overdose of a very dangerous drug called flunitrazepam," Dr. Adams began. "The trade name is Rohypnol and the street name, is commonly known as is roofies. You may have heard it called rophies, roach, roach-2, R-2, Mexican Valium. It has a number of names."

"The `date rape' drug," said Toby. "I've heard of it."

"Exactly."

Josh stood up. "Sam o.d.'ed on the `date rape' drug? This is insane. You got his blood mixed up with somebody else's."

"Sit down Josh."

Josh sat down.

"Is Sam gonna be ok, Dr. Adams?" Toby asked.

"I'll be honest with you, Sam's very sick. He also had a fair amount of alcohol in his system and when those two components mix . . ." Dr. Adams looked at Josh then back at Toby, " . . . the combination can be lethal. However, it looks like we . . ."

Josh jumped up so abruptly his chair fell over. He took two steps and slammed his fist into the wall. "Shit! I'm gonna kill that motherfucker! I swear to God, I'm gonna kill him!"

"Josh, listen to what else the doctor has to say. Let's get Sam through this and then I'll help you kill that . . . but right now, let's see what we can do to help Sam. Please, sit down beside me and listen."

"I can't sit down Toby. Let me just stand up and listen. Please . . ." Josh pleaded.

"Ok, but don't hit anything."

"Let me see your hand, Josh," said Dr. Adams. A trickle of blood ran down Josh's finger and his hand had begun to swell. "I'm going to get an ice pack. Don't leave this room. You, Josh, calm down or I'm going to sedate you. Do you understand?"

Josh nodded.

"He'll be ok," said Toby. "He won't break anything."

Dr. Adams left the room.

"Toby, he said it could be lethal. Lethal! That means dead!" Josh yelled.

"Sam is NOT dead so just shut the fuck up!" Toby yelled back. Then his voice softened. "Hear him out. He was about to tell us something else about Sam when you busted your hand on the wall. Now please Josh, sit down before you have an aneurysm. I'm serious. You're not helping Sam by flying off the handle. I know you're upset but you've got to get a hold of yourself. Will you try?"

Josh sat next to Toby and took a couple of deep breaths. He nodded. "Yeah, ok. I'm sorry. I just . . . I just can't believe this has happened."

The door opened and Dr. Adams came back into the room. "Let me clean that cut and put this ice pack on your hand Josh," he said. "Then I'll bring you up to speed on Sam. He's been admitted and taken to his room. He's in intensive care."

"Intensive care? Why's he in intensive care?" Josh pulled his hand away. "They don't put people in intensive care unless it's really bad. I was shot in the chest and I was in intensive care."

"Give me your hand, Josh. We put Sam in intensive care so we can keep a closer eye on him. He'll get more attention there. His vitals are better so just relax a little. Now put your hand up here on the table."

"I'm going to the men's room," Toby said. "I'll be right back."

Toby left and pulled out his cell phone as he walked down the hall. He stepped just outside the emergency room door and dialed before he even looked at his watch. The rain had slowed to a drizzle this Sunday morning. There was an answer on the other end.

"Yeah, this is Toby. We've got a thing and I need you. How soon can you get here?"

Toby took three cups of coffee back into the consultation room. Josh's hand shook when he reached for it. His other hand had a small bandage on it and rested on an ice pack.

"Ok, now that we've taken a few minutes to settle down," Dr. Adams began, "let's get back to Sam. Because of the nature of this drug, it's extremely unusual to believe Sam would take an overdose and drink alcohol unless he was trying to commit suicide. Do either of you believe he had any intention . . ."

"No!" Josh and Toby both answered in unison.

"Absolutely not," said Josh.

"No way," Toby agreed.

"I didn't think so. Then he was apparently drugged."

"How?" Josh asked. "How could somebody as smart as Sam let himself be drugged to this extreme? Wouldn't he notice?"

"That's what makes roofies so dangerous. They're colorless, tasteless, and odorless. All somebody has to do is crush the tablet and dissolve it in liquid, ideally alcohol if they really want to cause harm, and the victim has no idea they've been drugged. The first dose takes effect in fifteen to twenty minutes and one small tablet can keep the effects active for twelve hours or more. Sam had ingested so much, it's hard to tell how long it would have been in his system if you hadn't brought him here when you did."

Dr. Adams put his hand on Josh's arm. "Josh, when I said the combination of the drug and the alcohol can be lethal, I meant it. But you didn't let me finish. It's my opinion you got Sam here in time and with the gastric lavage, we were able to flush his system and get the bulk of the poison out of him and I feel comfortable telling you I believe he's going to pull through this with no serious adverse affects."

Josh burst into tears and laid his head on the table. Dr. Adams patted his arm. Without a second thought, Toby put his hand on Josh's back and rubbed little circles. He wanted to soothe Josh and the only way he knew how was to call upon Rosemary's maternal instinct to comfort her son when his heart hurt and all she could do was put her hand on him and let him feel her touch. Toby let Josh feel his touch.

"After you pumped his stomach, you put charcoal down the tube," Toby said. "Why?"

"The charcoal absorbs any residual bits of the drug that didn't come up with the pump. That will stay in his system about a week and continues to catch anything that passes through him." Dr. Adams gave a little smile. "Actually, it's the gift that keeps on giving."

"How so?" asked Toby.

"Because your friend is going to shit black diarrhea about every half hour for the next ten days or more. Probably a little longer because we gave him the `hungry man dose'. We wanted to be thorough."

Toby smiled. "Thank you. I'm sure he'll appreciate your being so conscientious."

"I'm glad you two think this is so funny," Josh groused.

"Josh. It's a good thing." Then to Dr. Adams, "You said the effects would appear within fifteen to twenty minutes after ingestion and last twelve hours or longer," Toby said quietly. "What are those effects?"

"Sam's central nervous system was drastically and rapidly attacked. The pharmacological effects include extreme sedation, muscle relaxation to the point the victim is unable to move her, or in Sam's case, his extremities, his psychomotor skills were grossly impaired, his reaction time was almost non-existent, he experienced visual disturbance and . . ."

"Shit," Toby interrupted. Josh tapped his fingers nervously on the table. Dr. Adams continued.

". . . because Rohyprol is a depressant, Sam came in with dangerously low blood pressure, but we've brought that up some, his pulse was extremely slow, and his temperature was down. We'll keep warm blankets on him and get that back up in no time. It's not doing him any harm."

"He gets cold easily," Josh said. "Can I bring a quilt from home? He needs to be warm."

"We'll make sure he's warm," said Dr. Adams.

"Can I bring my pajamas? They're too big but they're warm. He needs to be warm."

"Josh . . ." Toby kept his hand on Josh's back.

"We'll make sure he's warm," Dr. Adams repeated.

Toby looked at his watch.

"Roofies cause dizziness and an inability to maintain balance so I suspect Sam had difficulty standing up. It causes drowsiness then sleep and finally, the victim falls unconscious. It seems Sam was drifting in and out of consciousness when you brought him in."

"This stuff sounds potent," Toby said.

"Damn straight," Dr. Adams replied, "and it's addictive. Pure flunitrazepam is twelve times more potent than Valium, and mixed with alcohol, well . . ."

The three men sat in silence and finished their coffee. Then Dr. Adams broke the silence.

"You said something about Sam having a some difficulty with substance dependency. Could you elaborate on that?"

"Is that necessary?" Toby asked. "Under the circumstances . . ."

"We don't need to go into detail this minute, but I'll need to know about it so I can safely treat him."

"Ok, but in the meantime," said Josh, "would you NOT refill his prescription for Vicodin four times in less than two weeks. I'd think you would have picked up on something there."

"Whoa! Are you talking about after his racquetball accident?"

"Yeah. You gave him Vicodin in the ER then refilled it four times in about ten days. I didn't think that was very responsible but Sam insisted `Dr. Adams says it's ok' and I trust Sam and Sam apparently trusts you so I went along with it. I personally think you're nuts, but that's just me," Josh replied.

"All due respect, Josh, but its hospital policy that Emergency Room physicians do NOT refill prescriptions given in the ER. That's standard operating procedure in just about every hospital in the country. And as an ethical physician, there's no way I would refill Vicodin four times in ten days for ANYBODY. Not even the President. Could you be mistaken?"

"No, I could NOT be mistaken. And if you're calling Sam a liar . . . "

"Josh!" Toby slammed his fist on the table. "Will you shut up or talk about the situation at hand? You're not helping matters here!"

The room was silent again.

"I apologize, Dr. Adams," Josh said quietly. "The `date rape' part. Tell me about that."

"Josh, in addition to all the effects I just told you about, roofies create confusion in the mind of the victim. All that stuff going on is enough in itself, but the victim's mind is muddled and they don't know what's happening to them while they're under the influence of the drug. The woman, or man, is rendered virtually helpless, unconscious, and unable to defend her or himself, and in most cases is . . . in most cases is sexually assaulted."

Josh sat up straight in his chair and his breathing came quick.

Dr. Adams continued. "Afterwards, after the assault, the victim suffers memory loss, an amnesia of sorts, and doesn't remember anything for several hours after ingesting the drug. They can't recall the assault, are unable to identify the assailant, or the events surrounding the physical evidence associated with the incident. This makes it difficult to prosecute the rapist."

Josh covered his eyes with the palms of his hands. His body shook but he made no sound. Dr. Adams addressed Toby.

"I know this is difficult, but I need to speak with you both about a delicate topic. I believe you both need to be present." He turned to Josh. "Josh, do you need a minute to get yourself together?"

Josh shook his head, but kept his eyes covered with his hands. Toby ran his hand over his head and took a deep breath. He bounced his empty coffee cup on the table and left his other hand on Josh's back. He dreaded what Dr. Adams was about to say.

"There's blood on Sam's inner thighs and underwear," Dr. Adams said. "That alone doesn't indicate there was a sexual assault, but given the nature of the drug involved, a rape kit wouldn't be uncommon. Sam is incoherent and unable to authorize such an exam and I need permission from a family member to conduct the examination."

Josh ran his hands down his face and left it distorted. There was no way on Earth, Heaven, or Hell he was going to contact Sam's family. And he knew when Dr. Adams examined Sam he would find plenty of evidence that Sam had been anally penetrated regularly. He would know Sam was gay. He would suspect Josh was his partner. Dr. Adams was sworn to patient/doctor confidentiality by the Hippocratic Oath, but everybody can be bought for a price. And two senior staff members in the White House caught in a homosexual relationship would be worth a lot of money.

Josh looked over at Toby with tired, red, watery eyes. Josh's face was drawn and pale. He was scared. He was scared for Sam. He was scared for himself. He opened his mouth to speak, but there were no words.

"Sam doesn't have any family," Toby said.

"No one?" asked Dr. Adams. "There's no one we can call for permission?"

"No sir."

"You're Sam's closest friends, am I correct?"

"That's correct. And I'm his direct supervisor where we work."

"Do you believe Sam would want this examination? Given the evidence of blood on his upper thighs and underwear, the fact that his pants were open and partially down, and all the information I've just given you about this drug being used primary to render a victim helpless both physically and cerebrally for the purpose of sexual assault ~~ and since you've just told me Sam has no family members to make this decision for him ~~ do you believe your friend would authorize this examination?"

Toby tried to read Josh's face. He got nothing. It was his call. If Sam had been sexually assaulted he could have internal injuries. He could have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. If it wasn't discovered, he could pass that STD to Josh. If Sam was found out to be an active closet homosexual with another senior staff member in the White House, it could have devastating repercussions on the upcoming Presidential election and may put conservative Republican Governor Robert Ritchie in the White House.

"Do it," Toby said.

Josh closed his eyes. Toby didn't know if it was out of relief or fear. JOSH didn't know if it was out of relief or fear.

"Good choice, Toby. We'll take care it right away. I assume the confidentiality arrangements are the same as when Sam had his accident on the racquetball court."

"Dr. Adams, I can't stress the magnitude to which the confidentiality arrangements are to be kept under lock and key at all times. The ONLY two people outside your medical staff with whom you're to discuss this case are Josh and myself. I'm sure I don't need to tell you . . ."

"No, you don't need to tell me."

Suddenly the door opened and a nurse spoke in a rushed voice. "Dr. Adams, he's seizing."

"On my way." He stood, picked up Sam's chart, and started out the door. "I'll send someone to show you to a private waiting room near Sam." Then he was gone.

"That was about Sam, wasn't it?" Josh asked. "There's something wrong, Toby. Sam's dead. I know he's dead!"

"Josh, will you stop it about Sam being dead! SAM! IS! NOT! DEAD!" Toby shouted.

"Gentlemen?"

Both turned to find a young woman in pink scrubs at the door.

"Dr. Adams asked me to take you to your waiting room on the intensive care unit. Would you come this way please?" she said.

"Come on, Osh."

Toby put his hand on Josh's arm and pulled him to his feet. Josh lost his balance and had to grab the table to steady himself.

"You ok?" Toby asked.

"Yeah. Let's go. I wanna see Sam."

Toby looked at his watch and the two men followed the Nurse's Assistant to the elevator and rode up to the Intensive Care Unit. There was a hub of activity in one of the rooms. Josh and Toby couldn't help but look in as they passed and both stopped when they saw Dr. Adams and several others next to the bed.

Josh rushed into the room.

"Sam? What's going on here? What's happening?"

Dr. Adams turned and ushered them back out. In the hall he spoke in a low voice. "Sam had a mild seizure. It's not uncommon and . . ."

"Dr. Adams, he's seizing again!"

He looked at Toby and nodded his head toward Josh. "Get him out of here."

>From the hall Josh and Toby watched as strange hands tried to hold Sam on the bed while his body jerked and contorted out of control. Josh put his hand on the doorjamb to keep himself on his feet. For the first time, Toby felt the fear Josh had carried with him since that phone call when he said, "I've lost Sam." For the first time, Toby was afraid they might lose Sam.

"Gentlemen? This way please."

Wordlessly, they followed her to the few steps to the room with the word "Private" on the door.

"You won't be disturbed in here," she said. "If you need anything, my name is Jillian. Ask for me."

"Thank you Jillian," Toby said. "You're very kind."

She turned the doorknob, pushed the door open, and walked away. Toby put his hand on Josh's back, guided him inside, and closed the door behind them.

Josh ran his hands through his hair and slowly raised his head. He took one step forward and fell into Leo's arms.

END OF CHAPTER FIFTY

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