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[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts.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, chapters 45-50]

At Home by Jesse Morgan

Chapter 51

Josh slumped in Leo's arms. Leo caught him and held him tightly to his chest. Josh was inconsolable as he wept against Leo's shoulder. Leo stood with his feet planted solid, his back straight, and his arms strong. He peered over Josh's head at Toby.

He looked weary. Like Josh, Toby's clothes were caked with mud. He had bits of vomit in his beard and his eyes were red and reflected the stark reality of the situation. He walked across the small room.

Toby dropped onto one of the couches and laid his head back. He closed his eyes and rubbed them with his thumb and forefinger. He used the toe of one shoe to pry off the other, then removed the second shoe with the heel of his sock covered foot. His socks were still wet with mud and he left a brown puddle on the carpet, but he didn't seem to notice or to care.

Josh's sobs gradually subsided until they were peppered with little more than sniffles. Leo hadn't loosened his grip and just let his Deputy get it all out ~~ whatever *it* was. He still wasn't sure why Toby had called him in the early hours of this Sunday morning. He'd said, "We have a thing. Can you come?" So he came.

Jillian had met him at the Emergency Room door and escorted him to the private waiting room in the Intensive Care Unit. Leo asked her no questions and she gave him no answers. So he stood alone in the small room and waited. He didn't sit down, he didn't look out the window, he didn't pace, he didn't watch TV, he didn't drink coffee. He stood and looked at the closed door and waited.

Leo held Josh until he was quiet.

"Do you wanna sit down son?" he asked.

Josh nodded his head. Leo kept one arm around Josh and lead him to the empty couch. He didn't let go of him until Josh sat down, and even then, was hesitant to release the arm that trembled and felt so fragile.

"You guys want some coffee?" Leo asked.

"Yeah, " Toby said. He ran his hand over his head. "Thanks."

"Josh? Coffee?"

Josh looked up at Leo. "Huh? What?"

"You want some coffee?"

Josh looked at Toby. Do I want coffee? he thought I don't know. Do I?

"Josh'll have some coffee too, please Leo," Toby answered.

Leo went to the table and poured three mugs full and gave one to Toby and held one out to Josh. When Josh reached for it, his hand shook so badly Leo took Josh's other hand and wrapped them both around the mug. He held his own hands on Josh's until he was sure Josh wouldn't drop it or spill it on himself. Only then did he feel safe letting go. Then he sat on the couch next to Josh with his own mug, and sighed deeply.

"Does somebody wanna tell me what's going on here?" he asked.

Nobody spoke.

"Toby?"

Toby scratched at his beard. He knew it was time to bring Leo into the mix. Things had turned too serious. It wasn't as simple as a sprained ankle and broken racquet anymore. It had gone beyond just smoking a joint now and then to mellow out. Sam may have been raped. Could have been killed. But he still needed to protect Sam and Josh's relationship.

"Well, you know how Sam is . . ." Toby started.

"How Sam is? How IS Sam?"

"He . . . likes people. He trusts people. Sometimes too much. Sometimes the wrong people."

"I don't like where this is headed," Leo said. "What did Sam do?"

"He didn't really DO anything," Toby continued. "I mean, he didn't mean to . . . he didn't know . . ."

"Cut the crap."

"Last winter, at the beginning of this year, he hooked up with this guy, a guy named Marc, and they became racquetball partners. The asshole turned out to be a, well, an asshole," Toby explained. "Seems the guy deals in drugs . . ."

"Jesus," Leo spat.

" . . . but Sam didn't know this at first. He didn't. And, stay calm Leo, Sam's been smoking a little pot with this guy . . ."

"How long?"

"A few months."

"And you're telling me now?" Leo tried to keep his voice down so he wouldn't excite Josh. "Toby, I swear if Josh wasn't leaning on me I'd come over there and wring your neck! Sam's been using and you didn't come to me? Of all people, you didn't come to ME? What in God's name were you thinking? You WEREN'T thinking! And Josh knew this too?"

"We've been counseling him, trying to get him to stop and he recently made the decision not to use anymore, Leo. He's serious about it and had, uh, he'd already stopped. So it's not as bad as it sounds," Toby lied. "It was just an occasional weekend thing."

Leo pursed his lips together and shook his head. "This conversation isn't over. This conversation hasn't even STARTED. With you, Josh, AND Sam. But not tonight. I can believe those two, Toby, but not you being in on this. So what happened?"

Toby told Leo how Josh had called him, without the details of "Sam didn't come home" and their visit to Marc's house and the bar then the anonymous phone call from southeast D.C. He told him about their search for the park and the statue across from "The Tattoo Parlor". Toby told Leo how they found Sam drifting in and out of consciousness in the mud during the storm and carried him to the car and rushed him to the hospital. He said they pumped his stomach then explained to Leo almost everything he'd learned that night about the drug Rohypnol. He left out the part about it being known as the `date rape' drug.

He also didn't tell Leo there was blood on Sam's legs and underwear and that his jeans had been pulled down when they found him. He didn't mention Sam was being examined as a possible rape victim right then and they were waiting for the results.

He couldn't believe it himself and seriously doubted he could verbalize it to Leo anyway. He couldn't begin to imagine what could possibly be going through Josh's mind right now. Toby wasn't ignorant or blind to homosexuality. He knew Sam and Josh had sex ~~ lots of it ~~ but he didn't dwell on the particulars and when the thought DID unexpectedly pass through his mind, he'd come to accept it as an ok thing. Surprisingly, better than ok. Good. Better than good.

Perfect, if there could be such a thing, he'd concluded. As hard as he tried, Toby could find no fault with Sam and Josh's love for each other, with their marriage, and he envied what they had. He wanted the same thing ~~ with a woman ~~ but he ached for the perfection they'd found in each other and often wondered if he'd ever be so fortunate to find such contentment.

"You shoulda seen him Leo," Josh mumbled, the first words he'd spoken since they'd entered the waiting room. "He was a zombie. He couldn't stand up, he couldn't talk . . . he didn't even . . . he didn't even know me."

Josh's voice cracked. "I thought . . . I thought Sam was . . . dead. I thought Sam was dead, Leo."

Josh listed toward the older man. Leo put his arm around Josh and let him rest against his chest. When he felt Josh burrow his face in the crook of his arm, Leo pulled him in closer and patted his arm in reassurance.

Toby watched with appreciation. He was glad he'd called Leo. There was a time in the Emergency Room when he wasn't sure if Sam was going to survive, and he knew he wouldn't be able to handle Josh's emotional breakdown if that were to happen. Toby wasn't sure what his own emotions would be had Sam died. Or if he still did.

Toby shook that thought out of his head and concentrated on Josh and Leo.

As close as he'd grown to Sam and Josh since they invited him into their private universe, he felt an undeniable bond with Sam that wasn't quite as strong with Josh. Maybe it's this big-brotherly affection I developed for him that grew despite my efforts to suppress it, he thought. I look at them both with new eyes now, but I just don't have the physical comfort level with Josh that I do with Sam. Maybe he reminds me a little of David. Funny, no, not so funny ~~ ironic ~~ I feel closer to Sam than I do my own brother.

Leo looks so natural with Josh in his embrace, Toby thought. Probably because he's the Father of an adult child and I'm used to seeing him with Mallory. And there's always been that unspoken paternal connection between Leo and Josh that Josh is too stubborn to admit, especially since Noah died. Only God knows why Josh won't allow himself the comfort of that relationship; only God knows because Toby was certain Josh sure as hell didn't know.

He still won't let go of his Father. He still doesn't want to accept that Noah died before he saw his only son in the White House. He won't allow a surrogate to step in when Leo is right at the threshold, ready to drop everything at the first indication Josh needs him. Stupid, stubborn Josh.

Then from somewhere deep, somewhere Toby didn't know he had inside him, he felt a surge of protection for Josh. A rush of that big brotherly love he thought he held only for Sam, suddenly seemed right for Josh too.

"Put your hand on his back," he said softly.

"What?"

"His back. He likes it . . . it makes him feel better if you . . . little . . . never mind . . . circles . . . do you want some more coffee, Leo?"

Toby stood, stretched, and walked in his socked feet toward the coffee maker.

"Yeah." Leo cocked his head to try and see Josh's face. "Josh, do you want some more coffee, son?"

Josh barely shook his head `no'.

Toby handed Leo a mug and sat his own next to the couch. He paced the room and stopped at the window. He parted the slats of the blinds and looked outside.

"Rain stopped," he said.

He was met with silence and let the blinds rattle back into place. He looked down at Josh again. He looks cold, Toby thought. Wet and cold. Damn, now I sound like Josh. But he COULD use a hot shower and clean clothes.

Toby went to the drawers and rummaged through them until he found a blanket. He carried it to the couch and let it unfold then spread the blanket over Josh. He straightened it, and not quite satisfied, tucked the edges of it underneath Josh's chin and between his back and Leo's arm.

The sudden warmth seemed to comfort Josh, as he dug a little deeper into Leo and stretched his arm across Leo's stomach.

"I think he's almost asleep," Leo said quietly.

Indeed, Josh's breathing had slowed and Leo felt the steady rise and fall of his chest against him. His body would occasionally jerk and he would stiffen, raise his head and look around to get his bearings, then settle back into the warm place he'd made against Leo and for a few more minutes, find some solace there.

"Yeah," Toby said, "he's exhausted. He hasn't slept all night. I'm gonna, I'm gonna go in there and clean up a little. If the doctor comes in will you . . .?"

"Yeah. Turn that light off, would you? I want Josh to rest."

Toby drained his fifth cup of coffee, flicked the light switch off, went into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him.

There was just the soft glow of the nightlight that lined the baseboard near the floor around the room.

Leo looked down at Josh and brushed his hair back. He picked out a little clump of dirt and flicked it onto the floor. Josh looked up at Leo through sleepy eyes.

"I thought you were asleep," Leo said quietly.

"I might have been for a few minutes. Then I thought I heard the doctor come in."

"That was just Toby closing the bathroom door."

"You would have woke me if it had been the doctor, wouldn't you?" asked Josh.

"Yes." He left his hand on Josh's head.

Josh closed his eyes for a minute then opened them again. "Why are you here Leo?" he asked.

"Go to sleep, Joshua."

"Why are you here?"

"Because this is what men do for sons of their old friends."

Josh took in a sharp breath and remembered for a moment a spring day thirty-something years ago. Little League. The Wildcats against the Eagles and the score was tied. Bottom of the seventh, two outs, Josh was on third, batter up. He eyed the bleachers again. He saw his best friend Scott, but no Dad. He knew he had to take a deposition today, but promised he'd try to make it. The pitch. A grounder. Josh ran toward home. The short stop scooped up the ball and threw it to the catcher who snagged it just as Josh slid into home plate. Dust flew, arms and legs and bodies tumbled over each other. The ump waved his arms in from of him and shouted, "He's safe!"

The Wildcats won by one run. Josh's run.

Suddenly there was a crowd of people around him, cheering, shouting, jumping up and down. Josh felt himself being pulled to his feet by a strong hand, then off his feet and into familiar arms.

"Atta boy, son! I'm so proud of you!"

Josh looked at Leo. The man who held Josh beamed with pride at his best friend's boy.

Josh grinned back. "I did it, Uncle Leo! Did you see me? Did you see me?"

It was one of those things men did for their friend's sons . . .

"I'm scared, Leo," Josh said. "Sam didn't look so good."

"I know you're scared."

"He's really sick."

"They're taking good care of him," replied Leo.

"You didn't see him."

"No, I didn't."

"Do you think he'll be ok?" Josh asked.

"I think so."

"Will you stay here?"

"Yes," Leo reassured him.

"Ok."

Leo put his hand on Josh's shoulder. A couple of minutes passed.

"Leo?"

"What is it son?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"You know you can."

Josh hesitated. "Maybe now's not a good time."

"What is it Josh?" Leo asked.

"You and my Dad were best friends, right?"

"Best friends until a certain point in our lives, then I chose politics and he kept practicing law and we weren't together as much. We didn't stay as close. I don't know if grown men have `best friends' Josh. Noah was my friend for many, many years and I valued him as one of my best friends."

"The night we won the New Hampshire primary . . ."

"The night your Father died."

"Yeah. You didn't come to his funeral."

Leo knew it would come back to haunt him. And here it was.

"Joshua, we'd just won the primary. We had just hit the ground running and none of us knew what to do next. We were trying to get Jed Bartlet elected President and . . ."

"Governor Bartlet came to the airport that night and offered to go home with me," Josh interrupted.

Leo was silent.

"He came from the victory party and tried to buy a plane ticket to fly to Connecticut with me. He didn't think I should be alone when my Dad had just died."

Leo had no response.

"He was your best friend, Leo. And you didn't come. You didn't come to be with my Mother, and you didn't come to be with me," said Josh. "I've just needed to say that for a long time."

Leo spoke quietly. "I'm glad you said it. I wish you'd told me sooner."

"I hoped . . . maybe you'd figure it out on your own."

"I should have gone."

"Why didn't you Leo? I never understood why you didn't go to my Dad's funeral."

"I guess I was too self-important and thought I needed to stay in New Hampshire to get the President elected, that he wouldn't BECOME President if I didn't make it happen."

"But HE was gonna come," Josh said. "That just never made sense to me. He didn't even know my Dad and you'd been his best friend since before I was born."

Then, "You know Sam and I are best friends, don't you?"

"Yeah."

The room was quiet again.

"Leo?"

"What is it son?"

"I'm glad you came tonight."

********

The bathroom light was starkly bright and Toby squinted at its harshness. He looked at himself in the mirror. Shit. I look like I've been on a three-day drunk. And I could use a Scotch just about now. He pulled his eyelids down. His eyes were red and bloodshot. His face was dirty. His hair was unkempt. He stuck his tongue out; it felt thick and looked nasty.

Toby turned the faucets on and let the stream of water run over his hands until it was warm. He picked up one of the small bars of soap and started to unwrap it. He suddenly became aware that his own hands shook. He fumbled with the paper wrapper but couldn't get it off the soap.

"Dammit!"

He ripped the paper as his fingers tumbled over themselves and the soap fell to the floor. Toby put his hands on the sink counter and looked down between his arms. Then with the heel of his foot, he ground the small bar until the paper was in shreds and soap in crumbs.

He let his head drop and closed his eyes. He wanted to cry, but couldn't. Tears didn't come easy for Toby and even now, he couldn't allow himself to do what his heart felt. He braced his hands on the linoleum counter and heaved into the sink. He only spit up the coffee he'd just drank and it burned his throat and tasted bitter in his mouth.

He turned the faucet so the water came out harder; he didn't want Leo to hear him. He gagged again, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The dirt turned to mud again and smeared across his face.

Toby tried to block all the thoughts that raced through his head. The first, the worst, the obvious ~~ that Sam would die ~~ he refused to accept. He pushed it to that part of his brain he called "Pandora's Box: Open With Caution". Better yet, "Do Not Open".

He could barely form the words in a complete sentence in his head. They just didn't belong together. It sickened him that the same sentence kept screaming in his ears: What if Sam was raped?

Toby couldn't even begin to imagine the ramifications that would create. For Sam, for Josh, for Sam and Josh together. Their universe would never be the same. Both may very possibly never recover. Sam's physical injuries would heal, but the emotional and psychological repercussions could very well bring them both to their knees and damage irreparably the only true love story Toby had ever known.

He picked up another bar of soap and tore the paper off. He wet a washcloth, worked up a lather, and washed his face and neck. The warm water felt good to him and he dug mud out of his ears and watched brown water swirl down the drain when he rinsed out his washcloth. He lathered the soap in his beard and washed out Sam's vomit, spit, and snot. He longed for a hot shower and fresh clothes but didn't want to miss the doctor when he came with an update of Sam's condition and the results of his test.

Toby rummaged through a drawer and found several toothbrushes and toothpaste. Grateful for the amenities, he brushed his teeth and gargled with mouthwash then ran a comb through his hair and beard. Toby took a leak, washed his hands again, and splashed cold water on his face. He cupped his hands and made a little reservoir of water, dipped his face into it and left it there. Then he let it spill into the sink and looked at himself in the mirror one more time.

A little better, he thought, but that's not saying much. Truth is, I still look like shit. I need to get back in there with Josh. I don't want him to wake up and find me gone.

What's taking the doctor so long? Is that good or bad? I want the results, but I don't want the results. When did this happen? Shit, when did I come to love Sam as a . . . no, more than a brother? I can't even remember the last time I saw my own brother. I talked with David on the phone after the space shuttle landed but . . . I don't remember when Sam's and my working relationship evolved into a friendship or when our friendship evolved into . . . this. Whatever *this* is. Dammit! If Marc Hayes hurt our Sam, if he raped our Sam . . .

Toby's legs went weak and he sat on the bathroom floor and wept. All the emotions he'd held in when Josh was near hysterics now came out in garbled sobs. His shoulders shook as he tried to stifle his outburst lest anyone hear.

Toby's rush of grief left as suddenly as it had come. He got it out of his system, regained control of his emotions, and was ready to face Leo and hopefully soon, the doctor. The longer it took to get the results back, the more fearful Toby became that the news would be bad.

Toby returned to the waiting room, just now aware of how tired he really was. He moved slowly, his back and shoulders sore. He saw Josh and Leo where he'd left them. Josh had slid down so he now lay on the couch with his head on Leo's lap. His legs were drawn up toward his chest. His back was to Toby and his face was pressed against Leo's stomach. Josh's left hand poked out from beneath the blanket and lay across Leo's wrist. Leo slowly and gently ran his forefinger back and forth over Josh's wedding band.

Toby looked down at them. Leo had one hand on Josh's shoulder. Toby wanted to say, "Put your hand on his back, Leo. Rub little circles. That will comfort him." He wanted to say that, but couldn't.

"He fell asleep just a few minutes after you left," Leo said quietly. "He's taking this really hard."

"Yeah, he's had a rough night, no doubt about it." Toby hesitated. "Leo, thank you for coming. I didn't know what was gonna happen with Sam and . . ."

"It's ok."

"No, I didn't know what was gonna happen with Sam and I felt it would be better if you were here to handle Josh."

"Yeah."

"You just seemed like the most obvious . . ."

"Yeah."

Josh shifted on the couch and burrowed deeper into Leo. He made a sound that could have been a whimper. Leo patted his shoulder.

His back! Toby wanted to say. Rub his back! But he chose not to reveal just how close his friendship with Josh and Sam had become.

"Is it cold in here Leo?" Toby asked. "Do you think Josh is warm enough?"

Toby reached down and put his hand against Josh's face. He let it stay there for a moment. He was glad he'd handed Josh over to Leo in case the unspeakable happened, but he still felt a need to stay connected to him. Toby surprised himself that he wasn't quite ready to let go.

But he did, flopped onto the other couch, and he too, was soon asleep.

Leo looked straight ahead and held vigil for Sam and did not sleep.

********

There was a knock on the door and Dr. Adams came into the waiting room. He was taken aback to see a third person.

"Good morning, I'm Dr. Adams," he said.

"I'm Leo McGa . . ."

"Yes sir, I know who you are. It's an honor to meet you sir."

Toby heard the voices and woke up. He quickly sat and rubbed his eyes as he collected his thoughts. Josh didn't move.

"Did you get some rest, Toby?" Dr. Adams asked.

"A little, I guess. I don't even know what time it is. How's Sam?"

Dr. Adams hesitated. He wasn't stupid. He knew he stood before the Chief of Staff, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the Director of Communications for the President of the United States He knew the Deputy Director of Communications had been brought into the Emergency Room several hours earlier after being drugged and abandoned in a dangerous part of town. He'd conducted an examination on the man because there was reason to believe he may have been raped. He'd been given strict instructions to speak to only two people about Sam. And Leo McGarry wasn't one of them.

Those same thoughts came to Toby as the cobwebs cleared. He certainly wanted Leo to know about Sam's medical condition, but not that the questionable examination was even a matter of consideration. He had to say something and could only hope the physician was on the same wavelength.

"It's ok to speak about Sam's medical condition in front of Mr. McGarry," Toby said.

"Good. I'm very happy to tell you Sam is out of the woods ~~ he's going to be ok," Dr. Adams said.

Toby exhaled a sigh of relief. Leo showed no reaction. Josh slept.

"We've got his temperature up to 98.4 which is fine, but his pulse is still slow. That's to be expected and is being monitored. We're giving him Midodrine to bring his blood pressure up and he'll stay on that until it's back to normal and stays there on it's own. That won't take long."

"Ok," Toby said matter-of-factly.

"There's no organ damage, no brain damage, the MRI came back normal, and he doesn't have any broken bones. Sam is fortunate. As I told you earlier, an overdose of this quantity mixed with alcohol could have been lethal. I've seen people die from less and without the added trauma of being dumped in the ghetto during a storm. Sam's in remarkably good health and takes good care of himself. And he's got one hell of a will to live. He's a fighter."

"Yeah." Toby was anxious and nervous. He wanted the results from the rape exam, but he didn't want to hear them in Leo's presence. He wanted to get the word to the doctor somehow not to reveal anything in front of Leo.

But Dr. Adams was one step ahead of Toby.

"Toby," he said, "may I speak with you in the hall for a moment please?"

"Sure." Toby leaned over and started to put on his filthy tennis shoes.

"You won't need those. We won't go far."

Toby followed Dr. Adams into the hall, grateful for his discretion. A flash of guilt passed through him and he wondered if he should wake Josh. But it was just a flash and it passed quickly when he realized if the news was good there wouldn't be a problem, and if the news was bad . . . well, he'd deal with that when the time came.

Toby followed Dr. Adams into an empty patient room across the hall. The doctor closed the door and motioned for Toby to sit down, then he pulled up a chair and sat across from him. He had Sam's chart in his hand.

"How are you holding up?" Dr. Adams asked.

"I feel somewhat better now, after what you just said about Sam. But I won't deny I'm still worried."

"Did you get any rest? I noticed Josh is asleep."

"I slept for a while. It was, uh, fitful . . . I slept a little. I sense you're stalling, Dr. Adams," Toby remarked.

Dr. Adams smiled a little. "Call me Tony."

"Tony, you're stalling, and that makes me nervous. I get nervous whenever anybody smiles."

"Ok Toby, I'm going to be totally up front with you. Do you want to bring Josh in here?"

Toby got a lump in his throat.

"Should I?"

"Why don't you let him sleep a few more minutes."

Toby nodded in agreement.

"Ok, if I'm off-base, I want you to tell me. For Sam's sake, though, I need one hundred percent honesty, even if it's awkward or uncomfortable. Do you understand?"

"I understand. Anything for Sam," Toby said. He had no idea what to expect.

"It appears Sam was not raped."

"Todah Adonai," Toby said quietly. "Thank you, God." Toby felt a rush of relief pass through him. He put his hand to his eyes to shield the tears that welled there.

Dr. Adams gave him a moment to regain his composure. When Toby lowered his hand. Dr. Adams continued.

"We conducted a thorough examination and there were no signs of trauma normally associated with rape."

Toby made eye contact with Dr. Adams. Something was left unsaid. There was more to this. What did he say? `It APPEARS Sam was not raped.' What the hell does that mean? Why didn't he say `Sam was not raped.'? What's this `appears' shit?

"Tony, what aren't you telling me?" Toby asked. That lump in his throat returned.

"We found evidence of semen in Sam's anus that's less than twenty- four hours old. There's no evidence of a traumatic or violent sexual act . . . "

"No signs of trauma? Excuse me, there was blood. We all saw blood on Sam's . . . "

"Legs and underwear. There was blood on his jeans too," said Dr. Adams.

"But no trauma," Toby replied a bit too cynically.

"Not from a sexual assault. Toby, I'm on your side here. I know this is hard for you, but listen to what I have to say, ok?"

Toby nodded. "I'm sorry. We see blood, you say no trauma, I just want this to be over. I apologize. Please . . . continue."

"There was blood on Sam, but not from a sexual assault. There were several lacerations on the insides of Sam's legs, and that's where the blood came from. When we debrided the wounds we found small pieces of glass. That's apparently what caused the initial cuts and most of the blood. But we also found bits of grass and mud and tiny pieces of gravel, very minute items, excised with very delicate tweezers."

"How . . . "

"I'd guess whoever drugged Sam took him to the park and dragged him to wherever he dumped him. Since his pants were open and partially down, whatever was on the ground got inside his open wounds and further irritated them and bloodied him more."

"Are the cuts serious?"

"No. After the debridement we flushed them, got him all cleaned up, and gave him a tetanus shot. I believe the chances of infection are minimal. They'll be fine."

"How do you suppose he got cut?" Toby asked.

"Sam won't remember and we can only speculate. There was alcohol in the lesions so I would guess they're from a broken liquor bottle or drinking glass. Sam may have dropped it, the other guy may have purposely broken it, something could have happened in a struggle. We'll probably never know."

Toby nodded. "Ok."

"Can I go on?" Dr. Adams asked.

Toby nodded again. He was tired.

"As I said, we found evidence of semen in Sam's anus that's less than twenty-four hours old. There's no evidence of a traumatic or violent sexual act but there's no question Sam had anal intercourse with a male sometime yesterday."

Dr. Adams paused so Toby could digest what he'd just been told, and let him prepare for what Toby must know was about to come.

"Toby, if Sam was NOT raped, as we believe, is there a possible . . . a likely scenario that Sam had consensual anal intercourse with another male in the past twenty-four hours?"

Toby leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. Never in his life did he imagine he would ever have to answer a question like this. Here he was called upon to speculate whether or not Sam and Josh had sex yesterday. He didn't even like to think about it in the most abstract terms, and here it was laid out before him in specific detail.

"Yes," he answered curtly.

"Ok, that's a good thing Toby. I have some more questions. You ready to go on?" asked Dr. Adams.

Toby nodded.

"Rapists rarely take the time to put on condoms. It would be in Sam's best interest if we could get a DNA sample from the person he chose to have intercourse with before all this happened. We would match it against the evidence we found in Sam and if it's the same, we have further reason to believe Sam wasn't raped. If it doesn't match that person, then we've got some other options to look at."

Toby tried to remain calm, but inside he felt like his heart would beat out of his chest. He knew he should say something, but he hadn't a clue what to say.

"Did you hear me Toby?"

"What?"

"You look a little stunned. Do you need a minute to absorb this?" asked Dr. Adams.

"No. No, I'm fine. Go ahead," Toby replied. "What options?"

"The person who drugged Sam could have had intercourse with him but in a . . . I'm sorry . . . in a consensual manner. That way there wouldn't be any signs of trauma and the evidence of semen would be present. Obviously . . ."

"No!" Toby interrupted. "That's not an option. Sam wouldn't do that, drugged or not."

"Hear me out," Dr. Adams continued. "Obviously, if there was consensual sex ~~ hear me out Toby, this is important ~~ a condom wasn't used and the semen would be the assailants. If that's the case, there's a chance Sam has been exposed to STD's and will need to be tested for various sexually transmitted diseases."

"Sam wouldn't have consensual sex with that man," Toby growled. "No way, no how. He would have fought."

"I'm just saying . . ."

"What other options do you have?" asked Toby. "Give me something I can live with."

"Sam didn't have intercourse at all with the man who drugged him."

"I can live with that," Toby replied.

"But he's had regular anal sex with someone for a substantial period of time. His sphincter muscles are stretched and . . ."

"Yeah, ok. I, uh, I don't need to hear the details."

"So is the second scenario within the realm of possibility?" Dr. Adams asked gently.

Toby twisted his head to the left then to the right. His bones crackled and he put his hand to his neck and massaged it. His muscles were tight.

"Yeah, the second scenario is accurate," he finally said. "Can I, uh, can I get some water please?"

"Sure."

Dr. Adams stepped outside the room and summoned Jillian to bring a pitcher of ice water and two glasses. Then he came back in and sat down.

"Toby, I know this is extremely difficult for you and I'm sorry to put you through it, but I'm sure you understand why it's necessary. It's to protect Sam."

"I understand." Toby gave a wry smile. "It's better than making his funeral arrangements."

"You got that right. So, you ready to go on?"

"Yeah," Toby sighed. He knew what was coming next.

"We need to get a DNA sample from the last person . . . "

"The ONLY person," Toby interrupted.

"Of course . . . the only person Sam had sexual intercourse . . . anal intercourse with prior to his being drugged and abandoned. I need to ask you if you know who that person is and if so, I need you to tell me so we can get the sample."

There was silence in the room. Toby wanted to be anywhere but here.

"I'm not judging anybody," Dr. Adams said. "You've got to trust me on this. It's strictly for medical reasons. I have to know for Sam. I wouldn't ask if it weren't for Sam."

No response.

"Toby, I'm pretty sure it's either you or Josh, and I believe it's Josh, but I have to be positive."

Toby hated what he had to do, but he knew it had to be done. When Sam and Josh welcomed him into their universe, he never dreamed he would one day betray them by revealing their most private secret.

He barely nodded his head. "It's Josh," he whispered.

Dr. Adams was all business. Strictly professional. Toby was grateful.

"Ok, we need to wake him up and get him to the lab for a sample and put this rape thing behind us."

"Yeah."

"You ok Toby?" Dr. Adams asked.

Toby nodded. But he wasn't ok. He just did something he swore he'd never do to the two people he cared about most in the whole world.

"You did a good thing. We need to do this now. Do you want to tell Josh or do you want me to do it? Or we can do it together."

"I'll do it. Can I bring him in here? Nobody knows about . . . you know . . . Sam and Josh . . . it's best no one else finds out . . ."

"I understand. When he's ready have him come out in the hall and Jillian will escort him to the lab. You're welcome to go along if that's what you and Josh want."

"When can we see Sam?" asked Toby.

"Not for a while. He needs to sleep off the effects of the drugs. After we take care of this, I suggest you all go home, get cleaned up, and get some rest. Sam's going to be asleep for hours. Toby, you need to go get Josh now."

********

"Everything ok?" Leo asked.

"What?"

"You and Doc Holliday out in the hallway. Everything ok?"

"Uh, Leo, I need to wake Josh and he and I are gonna take a little walk," said Toby.

"Everything ok?"

"Leo, could you, uh, stay? Josh is still gonna . . . I think it would be best for Josh if you could stay."

"There's no where more important I need to be right now. I'll stay."

Leo didn't ask any questions about the clandestine behavior among Toby, Josh, and Dr. Adams. He had been called to be there for Josh, so that's what he was gonna do. Be there for Josh. He knew he'd eventually learn the answers, but right now wasn't the time to probe.

Toby leaned over and shook Josh's shoulder. He hated to wake him. He hated to talk to him about something so intimate. But better him than a stranger.

"Wake up Josh," he said. "Come on buddy, you've gotta get up now."

Josh raised his head and looked first at Leo then at Toby through groggy eyes.

"Sam?"

"Sam's fine. You need to get up Josh. I have to talk with you."

Josh let his head fall back onto Leo's lap.

"Josh, come on."

Toby pulled the blanket off and tossed it aside. Leo shook Josh's shoulder. Josh snuggled deeper against Leo in protest.

"Lemme sleep," he whined.

"Sam needs you now!" Toby said sharply.

Josh rolled over and almost fell off the couch in his haste to get up. He looked around, disoriented, as he tried to find Sam.

"Where is he? Sam? Where's Sam?" Josh mumbled.

Leo stood, took hold of Josh's arms, and shook him.

"Josh! Wake up son! Look at me!"

Josh focused on Leo.

"Listen to me. Toby needs you to go with him. Now go splash some water on your face and pay attention. Do you understand me?"

"Yes sir."

"Go!"

"Going."

Toby put on his dirty tennis shoes while he waited for Josh. Then the two started to leave. At the door Josh stopped and turned.

"You're gonna stay, right?"

"I'm gonna stay," Leo assured him.

Across the hall Toby didn't let Josh sit down; he needed him alert so he could comprehend what he was about to tell him.

God, I hate this, Toby thought.

"Josh, Tony brought up the test results," he began.

"Who's Tony?"

"Dr. Adams. Tony Adams. He said to call him Tony. Just listen."

"Well, I didn't know. Don't yell at me."

"I'm not yelling."

"Ok, just don't."

"Sam wasn't raped, Josh."

Josh closed his eyes and made a fist with his right hand. He brought it to his chest and beat at it in small motions, over and over.

Toby took Josh's arm and stopped him.

"Josh, you don't need to do that."

"You don't know . . . you don't know what I would have done if that son-of-a-bitch had . . . if he had . . ."

"What would you have done?" Toby asked.

"I would have killed him. I know I would have gone to prison, maybe been executed but still, I would have killed him with my bare hands. I would have ripped his heart out of his chest and shoved it down his throat. Nobody will EVER do that to Sam."

Toby looked at Josh long and hard.

"I believe you."

Toby looked at the ceiling then back at his friend.

"Josh, there one more thing we . . . you . . . need to do to be absolutely, positively sure."

Toby offered to go the lab with Josh, but he opted to go alone. Toby stood in the hall and watched him walk away with Jillian, then he went back into the waiting room.

Leo stood at the window, hands in his pockets, looking at the parking lot. He turned when he heard the door close behind Toby.

"Did you get Josh off to wherever he needed to go?" Leo asked.

"Yeah. He had some business to take care of."

Toby poured another cup of coffee and dropped to the couch. He and Leo were both silent with their own private thoughts. Leo paced the room, looked out the window again, then sat back down.

"Toby?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"This guy . . . this guy who drugged Sam . . . "

"Yeah?"

"Did he violate him?"

********

When Josh came back into the waiting room Toby stood up.

"I wanna see Sam," Josh said.

"He's asleep, Josh. Dr. Adams said for us to go home and come back later when he wakes up," Toby explained. "There's nothing we could do but watch him sleep."

"Then I'll watch him sleep."

"Josh . . ."

"I wanna see Sam," he repeated.

"Be reasonable. You're exhausted, you're filthy, you need to go home for a few hours then you can come back."

"I wanna see Sam."

Toby looked at Leo. "Talk to him."

"He wants to see Sam," Leo said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Would a few minutes hurt?"

Probably, Toby thought. He'll see him and fall apart because Sam will look helpless and Josh can't tolerate an incapacitated Sam. Or maybe *I* can't tolerate an incapacitated Sam. I'm used to Josh's emotions tumbling out at every turn, but mine . . . not so much. I'm not sure I could look at Sam again right now while he `sleeps it off', as Dr. Adams put it. My last images of Sam are ugly ones. Images of Sam alone and afraid in a dirty, run down park. Sam, wet and muddy and covered with his own puke and urine, his shirt over his head, pants down. Scared, drugged, out of control. He clung to me . . .

Toby couldn't shake that picture of Sam when he turned to him and they made eye contact and in that instant, Sam had a spark of recognition, of hope, the sign of a familiar face he knew was there to save him. Toby would never forget the sight of Sam as he mouthed his name and fell against him as he turned himself over to Toby in complete faith that he would take care of him.

Save him. Take care of him. I didn't sign on for that. That's Josh's job. But there's no way Josh could have taken care of Sam by himself this morning. He was a mess. Josh is a brilliant politician, but when Sam gets a splinter, Josh is an emotional nightmare. I just can't watch Josh lose it over Sam again right now, Toby thought. Not now.

"I don't think you should, Josh," he said, "but I can't stop you."

Dr. Adams came into the waiting room.

"Why don't you guys just go home?" he said. "Sam is stable and he just needs to sleep now."

"Please?"

Dr. Adams glanced at Toby. Toby shrugged and gave a slight nod. He knew Josh wasn't going to be satisfied until he saw for himself that Sam was alive . . . until he could touch him and make sure he was really there. The last time they saw Sam, surrounded by strangers in white jackets and scrubs while he seized out of control, was not a picture either of them wanted to take home with them.

"Only one visitor," Dr. Adams said. "Hospital policy in the Intensive Care Unit. And just stay for a few minutes. Sam's in a deep sleep so don't try to wake him. He's not comatose and he's not in pain. Speak to him if you want to, but it's unlikely he'll hear you."

"Is he . . "

"Yes, he's warm. His body temperature is back up to normal and we have heated blankets on him."

"Yeah, ok. It's just that he gets cold easy and he was so . . . you know . . . before. He was shivering. He couldn't stop shivering. He didn't have his jacket."

"He's warm now," Dr. Adams assured him. "One of you, then I want him left alone until this evening."

Josh looked from Toby to Leo then back to Toby.

"Ok if I go?" he asked.

"Knock yourself out kid," Leo replied.

Toby motioned toward the door with his hand. He knew he needed to give Josh a ride home because they couldn't take the chance of Leo driving him back to the townhouse and inviting himself in. There was too much of Sam there to keep it secret any longer ~~ if it still WAS a secret.

Toby began to second-guess himself on whether he should have called Leo. That lasted a fraction of a second when he was certain he'd done the right thing.

Intensive Care rooms are stark. Just the necessities for patient care. No amenities for the visitor.

Josh stood at the side of the bed and looked down at Sam. There wasn't much of him to see. Only his head was visible from beneath the blankets that covered his body and were tucked under his chin. Josh studied Sam's face. Clean and quiet now, he looked like he was just asleep. Peaceful, natural, unscathed, content, sleeping Sam.

How can it be, Josh wondered? Sam went from a terrified, primitive animal relying on it's most basic instincts to survive, clinging to whatever life reached out to him and holding on; and now he lies surrounded by a serenity that every man should hope for, and his face the face of an angel.

Josh reached out and gently touched Sam's face, careful not to wake him. Dr. Adams said he "couldn't" be awakened, his sleep was that deep; still Josh didn't want to upset the calm Sam seemed to have found. Josh stroked Sam's cheek. It was warm.

That's good, Josh thought. He's being taken care of. But *I* should be doing this. There have been enough strangers' hands on him already. I need to stay. I need to be with him and take care of him. I can never let him out of my sight again.

Josh's irrational thoughts came from the emotional trauma he'd gone through over the past twelve hours. He'd been a raw nerve, exposed to anything and everything thrown at him from all directions. He'd imagined every possible scenario in his head and followed-through with the consequences. None were good. And even now, when he finally saw Sam, safe and quiet and still, he wasn't convinced he was free of pain or out of danger.

Josh's muddled thoughts told him he still needed to save Sam, to protect him, to put himself between Sam and the rest of the world, everything and everybody who might want to do him harm. In his irrational state of mind Josh made a decision that at the time, seemed perfectly reasonable.

He leaned close to Sam's ear and whispered to him.

"I'm never gonna let you out of my sight again, Angel. I'm gonna hold you in my arms forever."

Josh kissed Sam on the cheek then on the forehead then gently on the lips. How he longed to be home in their own bed with Sam. Josh climbed onto the hospital bed next to Sam. He used the top blanket and covered them both. He put one arm protectively across Sam's chest and his other arm on the pillow above Sam's head. His face pressed against Sam's.

"Just sleep on, baby," he whispered. "I'm gonna stay right here with you and we'll walk out of here together. You're safe. I'll keep you safe."

Then he closed his eyes and fell back to sleep, comforted by the knowledge he held his lover in his arms and would never again lose him.

Toby leaned against the wall in the hallway with his eyes closed and Leo stood nearby with his hands in his pockets. Neither had said a word since Josh went inside Sam's room. Neither had looked at their watches. Neither knew what Dr. Adams meant by `a few minutes'. They just waited. After what seemed like a long time, Dr. Adams walked in their direction, saw them, and stopped.

"What are you two still doing here?" he asked.

"Waiting for Josh," Toby replied.

"You mean he's still in there with Sam?"

Toby nodded.

"I said a few minutes! Do you realize it's been over an hour?"

Dr. Adams pushed the door open and went inside Sam's room. What he saw stopped him: Josh was piled up in the bed with his arms around Sam, both of them sound asleep.

He knew he was dealing with a delicate situation. He also knew at this point Leo was definitely the most lucid of the three, but because of the nature of what was being played out before him, discussing this with the older man was off-bounds. Yet he felt more comfortable bringing in Toby than waking Josh himself.

Dr. Adams stuck his head out into the hall.

"Uh Toby, could you come in here a minute. We have a . . . thing."

"Is Sam alright?" Leo asked.

"Sam's fine. I just need Toby for a . . . thing," Dr. Adams repeated.

Toby followed him into the room and the door shut behind him. He saw what Dr. Adams had seen.

"Oh, shit," he mumbled.

"You know this won't do," Dr. Adams said.

"I know. I'll get him up and we'll get out of your way. I apologize for all this."

"No problem. I understand."

Toby walked over to the bed. He put his hand on Josh's arm and shook him. "Come on buddy, we need to go home and let Sam . . ."

Josh shot up, grabbed Toby's shirt with his fists and shoved him backwards. Toby hit the heart monitor but caught his balance and didn't fall.

"Stay away from him!" Josh warned. "Both of you!"

It took Toby a minute to regain his composure. A violent response from Josh was the last thing he expected. He thought he'd have to shake and cajole him awake then practically carry him to the car. Where did THIS come from?

When he was steady on his feet he motioned with his hand for Dr. Adams to stand back, then he spoke softly to Josh, who was on his knees on the bed, ready to protect Sam from whomever might approach.

"Josh, it's Toby. You were just having a bad dream. Just now . . . a bad dream."

"I'm awake. It's not a dream."

"Yeah, but a minute ago when you pushed me, you don't think I was really going to hurt Sam." Toby gave a weak smile.

"I can't trust anybody anymore."

"Dammit Josh! It's me! You know I'm not gonna hurt Sam!" Toby said with frustration. "Come on over here and sit down and let's talk about this. You're not making any sense."

Toby approached the bed again. Josh brought his fists up. Toby stopped.

"I told you. Stay away from Sam," said Josh. There was an edginess to his voice that Toby had never heard. It made a chill run up his spine.

Toby took one more step.

"You! You've been warned. I'll kill you if I have to."

Toby turned to Dr. Adams. "He's talking out of his head. He doesn't even recognize me. And he'd never threaten my life. This isn't Josh."

"Does he take any medication?" Dr. Adams asked. "He could be having a reaction if he's missed a dose or two during this ordeal."

"No, he doesn't take anything," Toby replied.

"Again, I'm sorry to ask, but does he use any . . ."

"No!"

"Does he have any psychological problems that you know about?"

"What this hell is this?" Toby lashed out. "One minute I'm in my warm bed and the next thing I'm spilling my guts about the most personal details of my two best friends! This is bullshit! What's wrong with Josh?"

"Does Josh have any psycholo. . ."

"He's had a couple of bouts with PTSD. He talked with a psychiatrist and he's fine," Toby said curtly. "What's he doing?"

"He's reacting to the extreme stress of the events of the past thirty or so hours, sleep deprivation, unrealistic ideation in his mind that Sam is in danger. It's not uncommon in these kinds of situations. He needs to be sedated before he hurts himself or someone else. Do I have your permission?"

"Sure, what the hell. Put him down."

Dr. Adams started to leave the room.

"You! Stop!" Josh pointed at him. "Where are you going?"

"I have other patients," Dr. Adams said. "I need to leave."

"Lock that door behind you," Josh ordered. "I want you to check on Sam every half hour. You understand?"

"I understand."

"But if you hurt him, if you do anything to cause him any pain, I swear to God I'll kill you. Go. And lock the door."

Toby decided to give it one more try.

"Josh, it's just me. Toby. Will you please listen to me?" Toby asked gently.

No response.

"I came in here to take you home so you can take a hot shower and sleep for a few hours then I'll bring you back and you can sit here with Sam. Then when he wakes up, we'll leave and you two can be together at home. How's that sound?" Toby tried to sound upbeat.

"I think you're full of shit. Maybe YOU tried to rape him."

"Josh, you know better than that." Toby took a step toward the bed. "I love Sam. I would never do that."

"Somebody did." Josh's voice had softened.

"But they didn't. Nobody raped Sam. He's ok."

"No he's not ok! Look at him!" Josh yelled. He kept his eyes on Toby but pointed to Sam.

"He's asleep Josh. Sam's in a deep sleep. A drug-induced deep sleep."

A drug-induced deep sleep, Josh thought. That sounds better than an overdose. A cruelly-inflicted overdose where Marc virtually paralyzed Sam and tore his clothes off and touched him and . . .

Josh clenched his jaw. The idea of another man putting his hands on Sam drove Josh wild. Even before they made love the first time, Josh considered Sam "his", and the image of Marc's hands on Sam . . . caressing his face, running his fingers through his hair, trailing his hand down Sam's chest, opening his jeans, reaching his hand inside Sam's pants, touching, rubbing, kissing . . .

Josh looked away.

Toby took one more tentative step. He was within reach of Josh. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the door open and Dr. Adams came in. He subtlety raised his hand and Dr. Adams stopped and stood quietly.

"Why would somebody wanna hurt Sam?" Josh asked. "He's never done anything to anybody in his whole life. Why did somebody drug him and dump him in the middle of the night during a storm? Why did they just leave him there to die?"

"I don't know Josh."

Josh started to cry. "I couldn't find him. He was lost and I didn't know where he was or what had happened to him or if he was . . . if he was dead. And it was storming and there was rain and thunder; he doesn't like thunder, and lightening and rain."

Josh wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "He had to be scared. You know he had to be scared in that storm all by himself. He didn't know where he was but he knew one thing. You know what that one thing was? You want me to tell you?"

"Tell me," Toby replied.

"He knew I wasn't there. I wasn't there to take care of him and that's the ONE thing he knew." Josh's cries turned into sobs. "I promised Sam I would take care of him the rest of his life, and when he needed me most, I wasn't there."

"He knew you would have been there if you could. And he knew you were coming for him."

Josh shook his head and sat back on his heels. He put one hand to his face and continued to cry. Dr. Adams started to come forward but Toby raised his hand to stop him. If Josh was a danger to himself or someone else that was one thing, but he didn't want to sedate him unless it was absolutely necessary. Right now he just seemed more grief stricken than violent. He kept telling himself it was for Josh's own good, but still, he felt like he was playing the villain in a bad James Bond movie and double-crossing a fellow agent. He wondered if Josh would ever forgive him.

"I can't leave him Toby. I've gotta be here when he wakes up."

"It's gonna be hours. He has to sleep all that shit out of his system and it's gonna take a while. We can go home and get back here before then. Be reasonable."

Josh wiped his eyes dry. "This, here . . ." he put his hand on Sam's leg " . . . is my life. He's just been through something brutal. I don't even know what it was. But look how we found him. He should have been dead. The doctor said he was a fighter. I believe . . . I believe he fought to stay alive for me."

Toby swallowed hard. That same thought had passed through his mind. He believed it too.

"I've gotta be here when he wakes up, and I can't take a chance and leave, even for ten minutes. And I'll fight both of you and everybody you bring in here or I'll take him with me. I swear I will."

Josh glanced around at Dr. Adams then back to Toby.

"Don't make me do this Toby. Let me stay. I wanna be the first thing Sam sees when he opens his eyes. Please."

"Tony, is there any way you can make an exception and let Josh stay," asked Toby. "I know its hospital policy but . . . is there any way?"

"He's GOT to go take a shower first and get that grime off him and I'll have some clean scrubs for him to wear. We'll fix something up for him to sleep on next to the bed. He can't sleep IN the same bed. Do you understand me Josh?" Dr. Adams replied.

Josh nodded.

"If something comes up and I tell you and leave the room, you'll leave immediately, understand?"

"What could come up?"

"Do you understand?"

Josh nodded again.

"You're not going to take a swing at anybody?" Dr. Adams asked.

Josh shook his head. "No."

"Do you know where that waiting room is with the shower?"

"Right next door?"

"Yeah."

"You'll find everything you need. Go on, and I promise, Sam won't wake up while you're gone."

Josh reluctantly got off the bed and looked at Sam's face. "I'll be right back," he said. "Don't go anywhere."

After Josh was gone Toby closed his eyes and rested his forehead in his hand.

"This is hard for you, isn't it?" asked Dr. Adams.

"More than you know," Toby replied. "More than I ever would have imagined."

Dr. Adams put his hand on Toby's shoulder. "You're a good man. Those two are lucky to have you for a friend."

Uncomfortable with the compliment, Toby let it pass.

"I need to go arrange for a rollaway bed in here and Sam needs fresh sheets now. You can stay a minute or two then I'll have to ask you to go back out with Leo."

Toby found himself alone with Sam. It was the first time since he'd turned him over in the park and Sam opened his eyes and showed that initial spark of recognition. He'd mouthed Toby's name but no sound came out. He'd clung to Toby as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did. I'd like to be here to see Sam open his eyes again too, Toby thought, but that's Josh's place, not mine.

Toby held his hand over Sam's chest, but didn't touch him. What if I wake him up? he thought. He's not supposed to wake up yet and that could be a bad thing. The doctor said it was a deep sleep. One light touch won't hurt.

Toby slowly lowered his hand and let it rest on the blankets that covered Sam. Toby watched Sam's eyes. They didn't move.

"The doctor said it's unlikely you can hear me talking," Toby said quietly. "And you'd probably just ignore me anyway. But if, uh, if this reaches you Sam, I want you to fight with every fiber of your being to come through this. I know it's not just a matter of you waking up and going home. You've been poisoned and your body has to fight it off." Toby rubbed little circles over Sam's heart. "If you don't do this Sam, I'm gonna be so disappointed in you I won't allow you to work at the White House anymore. That part better get through because I'm serious. Now . . . sleep well my friend."

Toby stood back with his hands in his pockets while a nurse quickly and expertly changed the sheets on Sam's bed, barely disturbing him. When she finished she put fresh, warm blankets over him and took his vitals.

"Things look good?" Toby asked.

She smiled at him. "Things look good."

An orderly brought in a rollaway bed and set it up next to Sam's bed. He made it up with sheets, a couple of blankets, and a pillow.

A while later Josh came back. He had washed the filth from his body and out of his hair. He'd brushed the foul taste of too many hours of drinking coffee from his mouth and even found a disposable razor to shave his face. He wore a pair of blue scrubs and Peds socks.

Toby gave a little laugh. "You make a funny looking doctor," he said.

"You make a funny looking Director of Communications. How's Sam?"

"Real good. They came in and took his vitals and everything was fine. They brought this bed in for you, right by Sam."

"Toby, you understand why I wanna be here, need to be here, don't you?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I know you wouldn't be able to sleep at home anyway. Be thankful Dr. Adams is being so lenient with you."

"I am."

"Josh, are you ok from earlier?" asked Toby.

"What from earlier?"

"When you shoved me and threatened to kill me when I approached you."

Josh cocked his head. "You're crazy."

Toby didn't respond.

"I never did that Toby," said Josh. "I'd never do that or say that."

"Ok. You go on to bed and I'll see you in a few hours," replied Toby.

There was a knock at the door and a nurse came in with a tray. "Dr. Adams said you might want this," she said and set the tray on the counter.

On it were two bowls of steaming hot vegetable soup, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and Ginger Ale.

Toby and Josh were both hungry and grateful for the meal. Neither spoke while they ate.

"Ok then," Toby said when they were finished. "Sleep. And don't screw up in here or they'll kick you out."

"How can I screw up?"

"Do NOT get in bed with Sam. You're already pushing it."

"Ok, ok, but can you see why I need to be here? Can you?" Josh asked.

Toby nodded. "Yeah, I can. Sleep in peace, my friend, and I'll see you in a few hours."

After Toby left Josh smoothed Sam's blanket and tucked it around his shoulders so it was just right. He ran his fingers through Sam's hair, then did it again. And again and again. He kissed Sam's forehead and both eyelids. Then very gently he kissed Sam's lips. He kissed Sam a second time, hoping for some reaction, some sign of life. But Sam lay still and didn't move. His lips didn't answer Josh's, didn't open up to him, didn't welcome him as they always did.

He put his lips to Sam's ear. "I'm here Angel. I'll be here when you wake up. Don't be afraid. I love you."

Josh made himself comfortable in the bed next to Sam's and lay on his side facing him. He snaked his arm under the covers until he found Sam's hand and took it into his own. He laced their fingers and felt Sam's ring. It was only then Josh could take a breath that wasn't full of anxiety and fear. He worried, but he knew as long as he could stay connected to Sam's body, as long as he could pass his own warmth to him, Sam would be ok.

Josh fell asleep with his hand tightly clutching Sam's, and the peace he found brought him comfort.

********

Hours passed. Everyone was where he was supposed to be.

Sam rested in his drugged slumber and would emerge when it was time. Josh slept next to the man he loved, determined not to leave his side until they could walk out together. Toby sat outside the door, chin to chest, finally able to sleep now that Josh had settled down and was with Sam. He decided not to go home just yet, it might be best to stay in case . . . just in case. And he could shower later. In the next room Leo stood at the window with his hands in his pockets and stared out the window. It had started to rain again and tributaries ran down the windowpane and gathered at the bottom. He had been called because there was a thing and could he come. He came. It was still a thing. He stayed.

********

It was late into the night when Josh felt the first stirring. He thought it was just a tickle against his palm and moved his hand to brush it away. Then something caught his hand and he realized it was Sam's fingers, not wanting to break the connection.

Josh shoved his covers aside and stood next to Sam's bed. His eyes were closed and he looked like he was still asleep. But he moved, Josh thought. I felt him move, I know I did. The doctor said don't wake him. Screw the doctor.

Josh took Sam's face in his hands. He kissed first one eyelid then the other. He felt Sam's eyelashes flutter against his lips. Josh pulled back just a little.

"Sam? Sam honey, it's Josh. Open your eyes and look at me. Sam? Open your eyes, Angel."

Sam opened his eyes and found himself looking straight into Josh's, just inches away.

"You came and got me," he said, his voice hoarse from the tube that irritated his throat.

The rims of Josh's eyelids glistened.

"I came and got you."

"I don't even know where I was." Sam's voice was barely above a whisper.

"But I found you."

"You found me."

Sam brought his arms from under the covers and wrapped them around Josh's neck. Josh pulled Sam up and held him in a tight embrace. He pressed Sam's head against him and held him there.

"You came and got me," Sam whispered.

"Was there ever any doubt?"

Sam shook his head.

"I . . . I don't even remember . . . I just know you were there."

Josh brushed Sam's hair back and kissed the side of his face.

"How did you know I was there baby?"

"The Angel told me."

Josh loosened his grip on Sam and looked at his face. His skin was ivory and there was a glow to him that Josh had never seen before. Josh put his hand under Sam's chin and tipped his head up just a little. Sam lifted his eyes until they met Josh's. They were a color Josh had never seen before; an azure blue, the clear blue of an unclouded sky, the color Milton called "Heaven's azure". Josh cocked his head to the side.

"The Angel told you?" he asked.

"Yeah. There was all this rain, pounding rain, and flashes of lightening . . . it lit up the sky Josh, like fireworks . . . and the thunder sounded like cannons booming. Then, then I think I might have died. Maybe for just a heartbeat, and it all got quiet and I couldn't breathe and that's when the Angel told me."

Josh took Sam's hands in his.

"What did the Angel tell you Sam?"

"The Angel said, `He has come. The one who loves you has come for you.' and I caught my breath and knew you were there. I couldn't see you and I couldn't hear you, but I knew you were there. The Angel told me."

Sam smiled at Josh . . . the smile of an angel.

Chapter 52

Toby chose not to go into the room after Sam woke up. He didn't want Sam to see him dirty, scruffy, barely able to keep his eyes open, body weary, emotionally drained. Toby wanted to be at his best the next time Sam saw him. He wasn't sure why, but Toby just didn't want Sam to know how much he'd gone through, how much it had taken out of him to find Sam and get him to the hospital then sit for hours and wait until he was absolutely certain Sam was ok.

And even then, when Toby and Josh walked out the wide, electronic doors of the emergency room, he wasn't absolutely certain. Toby didn't know if he was scared, sad, or just angry. He was pretty sure the most frightening part had passed, unless Sam had another seizure. Dr. Adams said that wasn't likely, although the first one had caught them all by surprise too.

Toby dropped Josh off at home, but didn't drive directly to his own place after that. He'd planned to, but when he got to the first intersection, he turned left instead of going straight.

He slowly drove past Dutchmans, circled the block and drove past again. The third time he pulled alongside the curb, stopped, and turned the ignition off. He reached into the glove compartment and rummaged for a cigar and lighter. He bit off the tip of the cigar, opened the door just a little and spit it out, then drew on the cigar until it burned on its own. He blew a few smoke rings and stared at the bar.

A half-hour later he snapped open his cell phone and paged through the listings until he found the number he wanted. He dialed and was glad it was answered on the first ring.

"Simon Donovan."

"Simon, Toby Ziegler."

"Hey Toby!"

Toby didn't waste any words. "I need to meet with you as soon as you've got some time. Your first opening."

"What's up?"

"I don't feel comfortable speaking on a phone. I wanna talk with you in my car."

"Ok, is now soon enough for you?" Simon asked.

Toby closed his eyes with gratitude. "Better than I could have hoped for. Tell me where you are."

He took several hard puffs on his cigar and opened the car window a couple of inches to let the smoke escape, then he pulled away from the curb and went to meet Simon Donovan.

********

Leo wasn't given the luxury of choosing whether or not he wanted to see Sam. The door to the waiting room opened, Toby said Sam was awake and doing fine, and they could leave now. He said he'd take Josh home and they'd both see Leo at work the next day. Josh wasn't with Toby when he gave Leo the news, so Leo didn't talk with Josh before he left the hospital.

Instead, Leo half-listened to Toby's thank-you for coming in, got in his car, and contemplated the goings-on over the past several hours as he drove.

Leo thought a lot about what he'd seen and heard and already suspected. Now he just had to decide what to do with it all. Or not do with it.

I wasn't especially alarmed when the phone rang in this morning's early darkness; all due respect to Sam, but I was relieved it wasn't an international crisis. When Toby said Sam was sick and in the Emergency Room it unnerved me, but he said he felt sure Sam would be ok. Toby said he was more concerned about Josh and would appreciate it if I could be there in case Josh lost it. Well, what he REALLY said was Josh is losing it and I need you to handle him.

Leo chuckled to himself. Josh DOES tend to lose it fairly easily, sometimes with good reason, sometimes because that's just the kind of man he is. Passionate, enthusiastic, intense, expressive, animated ~~ never one to shy away from what he feels or believes in. And that can work in his favor or against him.

Damn, stubborn, proud Josh.

And yes, at times he does need a handler.

Leo slowed at a yellow light and stopped before it turned red. Josh has never been able to hide his emotions. He always speaks before he thinks. It's gotten him in trouble more than once. More than twice. Hell, it pretty much keeps him in trouble. A habit that's endeared him to some, made enemies with others.

I suppose that's why I'm so frustrated with him now. Frustrated? Disappointed maybe, that he can't bring himself to come to me with his greatest secret that I can see weighs so heavily on his heart. A burden he doesn't have to carry alone. Well, not alone obviously, but one he doesn't have to hide from me.

He may share his secret with one other, that's for damn sure, but the intricacies of it are his and his alone. Why doesn't Josh trust me with his secret? I love him like a son. Doesn't he know that?

Leo hit the steering wheel hard. Dammit! He DOES know that! Why won't he acknowledge it?

How strangely, wonderfully natural it felt when Josh first came through that waiting room door and collapsed in my arms. Not that I've wanted an emotional breakdown to bring him to me, not that I've wanted anything bad to befall Sam or anyone else to get close to Josh, but oh how I've wanted to pull that boy into my embrace again. It's been so long. Not since he was a child has he let me hold him without reservation. How I've needed him to need me. How he's resisted giving me that. And I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Is it because I didn't go to Noah's funeral? Is he holding a grudge against me for that? Rosemary understood. Josh has never mentioned it before. Why now? Why when he's at his most vulnerable, curled up on a couch with his head on my lap, tired and scared ~~ why then did he choose to ask me why I didn't attend his Father's funeral. Has it been gnawing at him all this time? For the love of Christ, why didn't he just ask me to go to Connecticut with him?

Leo knew the answer to that one: it doesn't count if you have to ask.

Then I've wondered too if it's because Josh suspects "I" suspect about his lifestyle and he's afraid to get too close, afraid I'll somehow find out and he's worried about how I'll accept him. IF I'll accept him. Or if I'll have the same attitude his Father had. Damn, I should have held my tongue when Josh asked me what Noah thought about homosexuals. But it happened so fast. Josh asked me and I told him. It never occurred to me at the time to tell him anything but the truth. Now in retrospect . . .

Leo found a parking place and went inside the hotel he called home. He collected six Sunday newspapers at his door, dropped them on the couch, then stretched out on the bed and stared up at the ceiling.

I'm not a gambling man, but if I was, I'd bet my reputation Josh and Sam are . . . what do they call them? Lovers. I believe they have been for a while now, probably seeing each other exclusively, maybe even talking about moving in together some day. Well, maybe not that serious, but I'll be damned if they're not sleeping with each other.

Sleeping with each other. That's a crock. Why do people who have sex call it `sleeping with each other' when they're clearly not sleeping? They're having sex, goddammit.

I can't believe I just said that out loud in my head, even if I didn't name names. Josh and Sam having sex?

Leo smiled wryly. Nah. No way. Not Noah Lyman's boy. Not Josh. Sam . . . maybe. But Josh? IF Josh, and that's a big IF . . . IF Josh, then who else but with Sam?

I've seen the looks they give each other that go beyond colleague-to- colleague and even friend-to-friend. I've noticed one's hand on the other's arm or back that lingers just a little longer than necessary. I've found them standing close, maybe too close, in the halls speaking quietly to each other then scurrying apart when they see me.

Shit, I need a drink. No, I don't need a drink. I `want' a drink, and there's the difference. No, I don't even want a drink. But if I'm ever gonna lose my sobriety, and I'm not, thank you God, it will be over Josh sleeping with . . . make that, having sex with Sam. I said it again. Hell, I've said it a million times over these past few months.

Then Josh's actions today pretty much clinched it. He had every reason to be upset about what happened to Sam, but to this extreme? Josh was distraught. Inconsolable. Vulnerable enough to let me see him in such a state, which was over the top for "just" a co-worker, albeit we're a tight group of co-workers. Josh displayed the hysterics someone felt for a loved one. More than a loved one. Josh reacted like his whole world was in the balance. Maybe it was.

Then there was that deal with Sam's phone. Leo came back from walking the hall to stretch his legs and found Josh at the bathroom sink trying to wash Sam's cell phone. There was mud impacted in every hole and crevice but Josh was determined to get it out. Even if he did it would be worthless.

But there he stood, almost desperate in his efforts, thinking maybe if he could `fix' Sam's phone he could `fix' Sam. And so he worked at the sink with a childlike innocence, eerily animated and unrealistically enthused.

"I'm gettin' it, Leo," he said. "I'm cleanin' this sucker up and it's gonna sparkle."

"Give it up Josh," Leo had told him as Josh used his thumb to pry a glob of mud loose. "He might get a call. He hates to miss a call," Josh insisted. He banged the phone against the side of the sink. A piece of plastic fell off.

"We'll get him a new phone. Look, you've already cut your finger."

"It could be important. He could get a really, really . . . really, really, really important call!"

"That phone's no good anymore. We'll get him a new one."

"This one's fine. I'll fix it. As soon as I get it cleaned up, get the mud out, it's gonna ring. I know it's gonna ring and Sam'll need his phone so I've gotta get Sam's phone ready for when he wakes up." Josh was hyper and spoke fast.

Leo put his hands on Josh's and stopped his frantic efforts to clean the useless phone.

"Josh! Stop it!"

Josh jumped at the sound of Leo's raised voice and stared at the phone. Water continued to run over it.

Leo's voice softened. "Who could call that's more important than you, Joshua? And you're here."

Josh absorbed what Leo said then nodded. Leo was right, of course. All Sam had to do was whisper his name and Josh would hear him. Why didn't Sam just whisper his name?

And then Josh handed the phone over, Leo recalled. But he tried like the devil to get it clean for Sam. Like it was the most important thing in the world for him to do at that minute.

Shit, maybe I'm making too much out of this and just looking for things to build a case, but what about that ring on Josh's left hand? I never noticed that before and it sure as hell looked . . . no, no way. I'm letting my mind play games with my common sense now.

But what was that with Toby and Josh? Those two have never been especially close that I know of. Close in a "we're the Senior Staff to the President of the United States" a "brothers-in-arms" sort of way, but I'd never expect to see Toby put his hand on Josh's face to see if he was too cool then spread a blanket over him to keep him warm.

Would Toby do it for Sam? Yeah, maybe. Probably. Would Toby do it for Josh? No way in hell.

It almost felt like they had a friendship outside of work that I don't know about. Of course, I don't have to know the personal lives of everybody that works at the White House, but I spend so much time with these guys and they give the impression they wouldn't be caught dead together at a cock fight, so for them to actually have a social life together, just makes me think even more I'm not imagining things, and that Toby knows all about it.

Dr. Adams DID speak directly to Toby as the man in charge, but hell, Josh was in no position to make any decisions and Dr. Adams didn't know me from . . . I was gonna say Adam but that sounds like something Margaret would say and I don't wanna go there.

I know Josh wants to tell me, to talk with me about it. He's come to my office and tried, but he just can't get the words out. I'm not gonna ask him. I'll never ask him. If he wants me to know, he'll have to be a man and make that decision on his own and tell me. He probably assumes I feel like his Dad felt, but he doesn't know that. I wish to God Josh would give me a chance and find out for himself what I believe.

Damn, stubborn, proud Josh.

It sure felt good holding him today. I haven't done that in a long time, not since he was a little boy and he ran to me eager to be picked up and swung in the air. It was nice with him sleeping next to me, his head on my lap. I didn't realize how much he looked like Noah until I was able to study his face without him cocking his head and sneering. I miss my old friend. I'm glad Toby called me. I hope I was a comfort to Josh.

If he IS in a relationship with Sam, and if he DOES have some misgivings about it, I want to be able to comfort him about that too. Please Josh, talk to me. Trust me. Talk to me Josh.

********

While Sam recovered in the hospital, Josh returned to the White House and tried to concentrate on his perception of running the country. He called Sam so many times the first two hours, Dr. Adams had Sam's phone turned off and told Josh he couldn't call him again until five o'clock that afternoon.

Neither Toby nor Leo mentioned the ordeal to Josh or to each other. They all carried on with business as usual.

Sam's car was found two blocks from the park where he had been dumped. It had been stripped and was unrecognizable. Every useable part was gone and what was left had been spray painted with graffiti or smashed. It was towed to a junkyard and left in a heap with other scrap metal.

Josh knew they would need to buy Sam a new car in the next couple of days and get their locks changed on the townhouse door and what else? Josh thought. He was almost positive Sam kept his office keys separate from his house and cars keys. But "almost" positive didn't settle well with him and he started to get a headache the more he tried to remember.

Did Sam have his billfold with him that night? It wasn't on him when Toby and I found him in the park. Did Marc steal it? Oh God, what all did Sam have in it? Credit cards, White House identification and clearance, driver's license, library card, Blockbuster, a photograph of the two of them together, his gym pass, Dr. Neilson's phone number . . . I told him he didn't need to carry my psychologist's phone number in his pocket, but Sam just grins and kisses me every time I say it so what the hell.

Sam stayed in the hospital a couple of days for observation then was discharged with the ok to return to work. Josh couldn't wait to get him home where he belonged and back into their bed where he could hold him and comfort him the way he'd wanted ever since he first saw him shivering and half-conscious in the rain.

They left the hospital, stopped at a deli for Reubens and German potato salad, then headed home. Josh unlocked the door to their townhouse and stepped aside so Sam could enter first. He put his hand on Sam's back and guided him in.

"I'm fine Josh, really, I am."

"I know. I just wanna get you inside . . . and get inside you."

Sam smiled. "Why the rush?"

Josh closed the door behind them. "In here you'll be safe and I can watch over you and nothing bad can happen."

Sam stared at him. Josh spoke like he believed it, and maybe Sam believed it too. As long as the two of them were together at home, they were immune to the dangers of the world. All you need is love.

"What?" Josh said.

"Nothing. You just look so good to me right now, I can't take my eyes off you," Sam replied.

Josh pulled Sam into a bear hug. The two stood inseparable, their bodies comfortable against the other. They were at ease now with the familiarity both missed when the other wasn't there to complete the one body they formed together.

They stood silent and cherished this time; neither wanted to let go.

But eventually, they did.

Sam made a quick scan of their townhouse. Unread newspapers and unopened mail was on the entrance table. He shuffled through it but left it where it lay. He walked across the room to the couch. He saw a bed pillow at one end and a quilt half on the couch and half on the floor. A pair of Josh's boxers and three socks were on the coffee table. Sam smiled. It was good to be home.

He picked up the quilt, folded it, and set in on one of the chairs. He pulled the pillowcase off the pillow, put the pillow on top of the quilt, and picked up Josh's underwear and dropped it in the pillowcase.

Josh took off his suit jacket and tossed it onto the couch.

"I'm guessing you didn't do any laundry," Sam said.

"Uh, no. You always say I never do it right," Josh replied.

"Good choice."

"Do it later Sam. You just got home."

"Ok. Tomorrow," Sam agreed.

Instead, Sam gathered up empty beer bottles, paper wrappers from Taco Bell, and other empty food containers and carried them into the kitchen.

"I'll do that Sam," Josh protested. "You take it easy."

"I'm fine. Honest. Is this the kind of stuff you ate while I was gone?"

"Well . . . yeah?"

Josh followed Sam into the kitchen. Sam set the beer bottles in the sink and threw away the trash. There were more bottles on the counter and a couple of empty Coke cans. Sam put those in the sink and started to rinse them out. Josh stood behind Sam and put his arms around his waist.

"You need to rinse these out or they'll attract ants," Sam said. "Then put them in the recycling bin. I've asked you before Josh. It just takes a minute ad we don't want ants."

"I didn't think about it. I'm sorry."

Sam turned around and faced Josh. Josh tucked his thumbs in the waistband of Sam's sweatpants and tugged him closer.

"Did you sleep on the couch while I was gone?" Sam asked.

Josh nodded. "I can never sleep in that big bed when you're not in it with me. I just put a pillow and blanket down here, but I don't really sleep."

"Really? You can't sleep without me?"

"Nope."

"That's sweet Josh. You know, it's just not the same for me either, when you're not next to me. I don't like it," Sam replied. He let Josh's tie cascade through his fingers, over and over. He liked the smooth silk against his skin.

Josh gave Sam a tender, gentle kiss. "It'll be nice having you back in my arms tonight. I'm never gonna let you go."

Then from out of nowhere Sam asked, "Are you angry with me Josh."

"No."

"Do you know what happened?"

"Do you?" Josh replied.

Sam didn't reply.

"Why don't we sit down and talk a while, baby."

Sam nodded.

They returned to the living room and both flopped onto the couch and sat close. Josh loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. Sam wore the sweats Josh had brought to the hospital. They both kicked their shoes off, slouched down into the big couch pillows until they were comfortable, and leaned into each other. They joined hands and let them rest where their legs came together.

"You put my ring on me," Sam commented. "When did you do that? I didn't have it on before, did I?"

Josh ran his finger over Sam's wedding band. "No, you didn't. I put it on you . . . you know Toby and I took you to the hospital, don't you?"

Sam nodded.

"While Toby drove, I sat in the back seat with you in my lap and I put it on you then. Before we went out to look for you I put the ring in my pocket and swore when I found you I'd put it on your finger and it would never come off again. Mine either."

"Josh . . ."

"It's time Sam."

"Josh, we need to talk about that."

"I've decided," Josh said matter-of-factly.

"WE need to decide."

Josh looked into Sam's eyes. He was right. Josh had acted on emotion and hadn't thought about the repercussions and consequences it could entail. Maybe now was the right time, maybe it wasn't. Either way, it was a decision he and Sam needed to make together. Something they needed to discuss. And at a time when emotions weren't so raw. Of course Sam was right. He kissed Sam's forehead.

"Yeah, it just seemed like a good idea at the time."

Sam smiled. "Your ideas always seem like a good idea at the time."

Sam finished loosening Josh's tie and snaked it from around his neck. He unbuttoned his dress shirt, pulled it open, and ran his hand over Josh's chest against his soft cotton undershirt.

"You look so sexy in a suit Josh. Have I ever told you that?"

"Not too long ago, as a matter of fact. How do you manage to get through a day watching me strut around the West Wing?"

Sam poked him in the ribs and started to tickle him. Josh reciprocated and the two fell into a heap on each other as they playfully wrestled and laughed. Sam ended up on the bottom and Josh hovered over him, Sam's wrists pinned to the couch. Josh looked down at Sam then lowered himself on top of him and gave him a long, slow, deep kiss.

All of a sudden Sam turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. Josh felt Sam's body tense and his hands that Josh had pinned at the wrists became fists.

Josh released his grip and lifted his body off Sam's. He saw Sam's chest rise and fall quickly as his breathing became labored. Josh gently put his hand on Sam's cheek.

"Sam?"

Sam jumped at his touch, then opened his eyes and turned to face Josh.

"What?"

"Are you ok sugar?" Josh brushed Sam's hair back.

"Yeah, why?"

"You just . . . I kissed you and . . ."

"I'm sor . . . sorry," Sam stammered.

"No, it's ok. What just happened?"

Sam didn't respond. Josh sat and pulled Sam up with him.

"We need to find out what that was all about."

"My mouth's dry," Sam said as he stood up. "I need something to drink. You want anything?"

"Yeah, I'll get it," Josh said. "You sit down. What do you want?"

"No, let me go. I've just been laying around for days. I need to get up and move around some."

"Ok, whatever you get yourself will be fine."

Josh leaned back against the couch while Sam went into the kitchen. Sam had never pulled away from his kisses. Ever. Oh playfully, being a flirt, a tease, but never because he seemed bothered by it. But he was `definitely' bothered by this kiss, and Josh was concerned.

Sam came back into the living room with two bottles of LaBatts, handed one to Josh, and started to take a drink out of the other. Josh jumped up from the couch and grabbed the bottle from him.

"Sam! No!"

Sam's head snapped back, startled, and he blinked several times, his hand still curled from where the beer bottle had been.

"You can't have alcohol," Josh said in a quieter voice. "You know better."

"Wh . . ."

"And don't EVEN ask why. You KNOW why."

"It's just a beer," Sam replied.

Josh rubbed his forehead. "Sam, please tell me we don't have to have this conversation."

Sam put his hand on Josh's head and rubbed it for him. "We don't. It was just, you know, habit. I do know better. I'm sorry."

Josh took Sam's hand in his. "Will you stop saying `I'm sorry' every five minutes. You haven't done anything wrong sweetheart. You just sit down and I'll get us something to drink."

He looked at Sam before he let go of his hand. "God, look at you. I thought you were . . ." Josh's voice cracked.

"You thought I was what?"

"Nothing," Josh replied.

"No, tell me. You thought I was what?" Sam insisted.

"I thought you were dead. When we found you, Sam, I thought you were dead. And now, I just look at you and you look so good to me and . . . God, I love you Sam."

Sam gave Josh an almost bashful smile and dipped his head. He looked up at Josh through his eyelashes. "I love you too Josh."

Josh let Sam's hand drop and went into the kitchen. He brought back two frosty glasses of 7-Up and sat on the couch, but left some space between him and Sam. He didn't know what had spooked Sam before, but he didn't want it to happen again. They each took a drink, neither sure who would speak first.

"Do you know what happened?" Sam asked again.

"Do you?"

The same exchange they'd had before.

"I think I do, mostly from what Dr. Adams told me. There's some stuff I need to ask you about. And I have a lot of questions for Marc."

"Yeah, that's not gonna happen."

Sam didn't respond.

"Sammy, will you tell me what happened when you went to Marc's?"

Sam took a drink of his 7-Up.

"I don't remember everything that happened at Marc's. And that's the truth. I can tell you what I know, but I swear Josh, there's stuff I honestly can't remember," he said.

"I know. Do you feel up to telling me what you CAN remember? I don't want you to have to go through that shit again baby, but I need to know. I really need to know what happened."

Sam nodded. "It's ok. I wanna tell you. I want you to know everything I know."

Sam slid his hand across the couch and took Josh's hand. "I need to hold onto my anchor when I tell you this," he said. "Things are kinda fuzzy and I'm a little shaky and I think I should be grounded to my rock so I don't fall."

He tried to laugh, but it wasn't convincing.

"That's what I'm here for," Josh replied. "My sole purpose in life is to make sure you don't fall. It never looks good for the President of the United States to trip and go splat." He grinned at Sam. He didn't want to make this any more difficult for Sam than he knew it was already gonna be.

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

"I wanted you to go with me," he said. "You know I did. I asked you to . . ."

"Don't even start," Josh interrupted. "I know you tried to get me to go with you. That's not even an issue."

"None of this would have happened if I'd waited until you could go along. Or I shouldn't have gone at all."

"Sam, we're not gonna do `what might or might not have happened'. It happened."

"I didn't know I was gonna get blindsided," Sam continued.

"What did I just say?"

"You said it happened."

"I said it happened," Josh repeated. "Now just tell me about it."

Sam squeezed Josh's hand. He wanted to tell Josh, he really did; he just didn't know it would be so hard to begin.

"I was only gonna stay thirty minutes, at most. Tell him we couldn't be racquetball partners anymore, then leave. That's all."

"I know."

"He offered me a drink and I asked for water. We talked a little. I told him I was gonna stop smoking pot . . ."

"All drugs."

"All drugs. And about racquetball and well, everything I went over there for."

"But you got more than you went over there for, didn't you." It was more of a statement than a question.

Sam lowered his eyes. "Yeah."

He stared at nothing. He tried to remember. Dr. Adams told him it wouldn't be easy. He may not recall anything at all, or he may have flashes of bits and pieces of what went on that night.

"I sat in his chair," Sam said as he made eye contact with Josh. "I've told you about that chair haven't I?"

"Until I wanna puke," Josh muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing. Yeah, I know about the chair. You were in the chair?"

"Uh huh."

Sam drained his glass of 7-Up and chewed on an ice cube.

"He said, the doctor said, he said I was drugged. He said Marc dissolved something in my drinks and I couldn't taste it or smell it so I didn't now. Is that true? Is that how he did it?"

Josh nodded. "That's how he did it. Rohypnol. Roofies."

"I've heard of it. He gave me a lot and I didn't know it. And I drank alcohol, right?"

"Yeah."

"And then I got fucked up."

Sam didn't consciously cover the distance between him and Josh, but the next minute he was nestled against Josh and Josh's arm was around him. He brought his legs up and across Josh's lap; his head rested on Josh's chest and his arm was around Josh's neck.

Josh felt Sam's hair against his cheek. He seems so young, Josh thought. He's practically in my lap, snuggled into me, his sweat pants and sweat shirt feel like pajamas, sock footed . . . he seems so young. I want to protect him from everything and everybody that could hurt him. I want to build a utopia and take care of Sam for the rest of our lives. How did our love ever get to this point? When did I cross the line of adoring him to him becoming my reason for living? How in God's great universe was I blessed with the gift of Sam?

"Things got fuzzy fast," Sam said in a quite voice. "Before I knew there was anything wrong, he'd already given me way too much. The doctor said it acts fast, and I guess he got it into me pretty quick."

"You had a major overdose. It could have been fatal."

"But you saved me."

Sam raised his head and looked at Josh's face.

"You saved me, right?"

"Several factors saved you Sam. The kindness of a stranger, Toby, the doctors, your fight to stay alive . . ."

"But you came and found me. You saved me. In the storm, you came," Sam insisted.

Josh swallowed hard. He remembered what a useless mess he'd been that morning. Slopping through the mud, looking around blindly calling his name after Toby had already found Sam and had him in his arms. Giving Sam up for dead when Toby pulled him to his feet and shook him into consciousness. Toby held Sam while Sam vomited all over him, then Toby had to practically drag them both to the car. But that's not what Sam wanted to hear. That's not what Toby would want him to hear.

"Yeah, I saved you," Josh said. "I came in the storm and saved you."

Sam nodded.

"So you remember the storm?"

Silence.

"Sam? Do you remember being in the park during the storm?"

"No."

"Then how . . ."

"The doctor told me I was dumped in a park during a storm. I just knew you came and saved me."

"Toby was there too Sam," said Josh. "He saved you too."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Josh rumpled Sam's hair. "You puked all over him. I mean, you got him good."

Sam laughed. "Oh man, I'll bet he was pissed."

"He'll never admit it, but I think at that point he was pretty damn happy." Josh's voice cracked. "Sam, we didn't know where you were for so long and I was so scared. I thought I'd lost my baby."

"Rock me."

Josh put his other arm around Sam, laid his head on his, and the two of them sat in silence and rocked. Josh softly hummed and felt Sam's muscles relax against him.

There's so much to talk about, Josh thought, but not now. Sam needs to be in this place he's made for himself to be comforted and nurtured. I'm gonna hold him and rock him for as long as it takes, until he decides it's safe to step away from my arms If he needs to be little to get what he needs, that's fine. I'll be big.

Between the rocking and the humming, Josh lulled Sam into a peaceful sleep. Soon after, Josh's chin fell to his own chest. Sometime during the night they stretched out on the couch next to each other, Josh's arms and legs wrapped around Sam like a Koala bear on a Eucalyptus Tree, still determined not to let him go.

Sam's last thought before he drifted off and the one he carried with him into sleep ~~ Josh saved me.

********

"Please Sam, please, please, please call your Father. He scares me," Cathy pleaded. She handed a stack of pink telephone messages to Sam and two file folders as he headed toward his office. "And the message on top needs your attention right away."

"Thanks Cathy."

Sam went into his office, set his briefcase down, and looked at the top message. It was from John Hoynes. "Call as soon as you get in." He glanced at the next two messages ~~ both were from his Father.

He picked up the phone and dialed the Vice President's extension.

"Vice President's Office"

"Good morning, this is Sam Seaborn. I'm returning Vice President Hoynes' call."

"Yes, sir. He'd like to see you in his office this morning."

"Of course. When does he want to see me?"

"Are you free at eight o'clock?"

"I am. Do I need to prepare anything?"

"No, sir. He'll expect you at eight."

"Thank you."

Sam hung up and wondered what that was about. He didn't have time to think about it now; he had a lot of work to catch up on. He started to sit down, but just as he was about to land in the seat of the chair:

Thud.

Toby's rubber ball against the window summoned him.

Thud.

He caught himself and went to Toby's office next door.

"You rang?" he grinned.

"Head's up."

Toby tossed something to Sam. Sam caught it and looked at his new cell phone.

"You'll need that," Toby said. He bounced his ball off the wall and caught it.

"Thanks. I was gonna get a new one at lunch today."

"Well now you won't have to. Don't lose this one."

"I won't."

"We've got a lot to work on Sam. I'd like you to spend most of the day in my office," Toby said. "Go get your stuff and come on over."

"Yeah, ok. I've got an eight o'clock, otherwise my schedule is clear."

Sam turned to leave then hesitated. "Toby, did Josh tell you to have me work in your office today?" he asked.

"Since when did I start taking orders from Josh?"

"I'm just saying . . . it sounds like something . . . he worries . . . nevermind."

"Don't be late for your eight o'clock." Toby hit the wall with his rubber ball.

********

Sam adjusted his tie and buttoned his jacket as he walked down the hall. He ran his fingers through his hair and smiled when he reached the secretary's desk.

"Good morning Tess," he said. How's your day going?"

"Hi Sam! It's good to see you." She wiped a trace of milk from the corner of her mouth and hoped there were no muffin crumbs on her blouse. "Why don't you come over here more often?" she purred.

"Well, they keep me pretty busy in the West Wing so I don't get out much."

Tess laughed. "You can go on in Sam, he's expecting you."

Sam entered the Vice President's office and closed the door behind him. John Hoynes sat at his desk and looked up when he heard the door shut.

"Sam! Come in. Thanks for coming."

Hoynes stood and walked from behind his desk. He shook Sam's hand with both of his, a strong, firm grasp, a handshake that made Sam feel comfortable and welcome.

"Thank you, Mr. Vice President."

"John. We've always been informal with each other Sam."

"Yes, sir."

It was true. John Hoynes had immediately taken to Sam when Josh first introduced then Governor Hoynes of Texas to Sam Seaborn, Attorney-at-Law, in the Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport. Hoynes was on the campaign trail for President of the United States and Josh headed up the team. Bad weather had all flights cancelled in and out of the airport and as Hoynes and Josh headed toward the VIP Lounge, Sam brushed against Josh in the crowd.

"Excuse me," said started to apologize, "I didn't . . . Josh?"

"Sam!" He clutched his long-time friend in a bear hug and nearly lifted him off his feet.

Hoynes stopped and grinned at the two.

"Josh! I can't believe . . . what are you . . .? I'm socked . . ."

"In, just like everybody else. It's this . . ."

"Weather! Who knew this morning it would . . ."

"Be clear?"

"I've missed you," Sam said softly. He either didn't notice or didn't care that Governor Hoynes stood only a foot away and watched the reunion with interest.

"You too," Josh barely got out. "I've missed you too." He cocked his head to the side and smiled just a little.

Sam nodded.

"So, you're in . . ."

"New York. Gage Whitney."

"Yeah."

"And you're still with . . ."

"Oh God!" Josh turned to the man next to him. "I'm sorry, sir. Governor Hoynes, this is a very good, long time friend of mine . . . Sam. Uh, Sam Seaborn. Sam, Governor John Hoynes, our next President of the United States."

"So I hear."

Hoynes shook Sam's hand with both of his, a strong, firm grasp that reminded Sam of his Father's.

"You headed anywhere special Sam?" Hoynes asked.

"Just trying to find a quiet corner to get some work done until the weather clears," he replied. "But I don't think that's possible with all these people."

"Come on to the VIP Lounge with us and wait there. Get something to eat, relax. You and Josh can catch up."

"Sure, thanks!"

The three men sat at a table near the window, took their jackets off, and settled in. A waitress came over to take their orders.

"Go ahead Sam," Hoynes insisted.

"I'll take the roast beef on a Kaiser roll, potato salad, and a Sam Adams," he said.

Josh closed his menu. "Same for me, but make sure the roast beef is well done. Really well done. I have this sensitive system and I need my meat cooked all the way through. Really well done."

Sam glanced at Josh and tried not to smile.

The waitress looked at Hoynes.

"Sounds good to me," he said. "Medium rare is fine with me. I'm not quite as sensitive as my friend here."

"And a Sam Adams for you too?" she asked.

"Iced tea."

The men talked politics while they ate, then John Hoynes excused himself to make a phone call.

Josh leaned toward Sam and lowered his voice. "You look great Sam," he said. "When I saw you out there in the terminal . . ."

"Mine too. It's still beating fast."

"Come work with us," Josh said with an urgency.

"I can't."

"You can."

"I can't."

"I want you to."

"I can't.

"Why?"

"You know why Josh. I don't know this guy. It's gotta be the right guy," Sam answered.

Josh turned around and scanned the room.

"Then just come," he whispered. He put his hand on Sam's arm.

A shot of electricity fired through Sam and his body flinched. It was a good kind of flinch. A familiar kind of flinch. The kind he remembered from the first time Josh ever touched him. Sam opened his mouth to speak, but there were no words.

"Come with me Sam," Josh repeated. "I think about you. I want you around. I wanna be with you. I want . . ."

"Josh," Sam interrupted. "Lisa and I are getting married in September."

Josh's hand slowly slid from Sam's arm. But the electricity stayed with Sam.

"You remember Lisa," Sam continued.

"Yeah." Josh's voice was flat and empty.

"My parents have this family reunion thing in September and we're gonna get married in California. It's kinda stupid really since all our friends are in New York, but my Dad . . ."

Josh stopped listening.

"Can I get you another Sam Adams?" the waitress asked. "Sir? Would you like another beer? Sir? Sir?"

Her voice faded away.

"What can I get you Sam? Coffee? A soft drink?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

"Excuse me?"

Vice President Hoynes smiled at Sam.

"Did you drift off there? I asked if you wanted something to drink?"

"I'm sorry. I was thinking . . . apple juice please, if you have it," Sam replied.

"I do."

Hoynes stepped just outside his office and asked Tess to get their drinks, then pulled a chair up next to Sam and sat down.

"You look fit Sam. Get to work out much?"

"I go to the gym about twice a week, three times if I'm lucky, I play some racquetball, I like to run early in the morning, and I ride my bike when I can."

Hoynes laughed. "Damn! When do you find time to come to the White House?"

Tess knocked on the door and came in with two tall glasses of cold apple juice.

"Anything else, sir?"

"No, that's all Tess, thank you. Hold my calls please, unless it's Senator Katz. I need to speak with him."

John Hoynes leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and took a drink.

"Make yourself comfortable Sam, tell me how you're doing these days."

Sam took a sip of apple juice. What's this all about? He wondered. Is this a social call? I don't know of any reason the Vice President would need to see me this morning. There's nothing on the agenda that he needs to be involved in.

"Keeping busy," he answered.

"Staying out of trouble?"

"Sir?"

"Taking care of yourself? Using your head?"

"I don't quite understand what you're asking me, Mr. Vice President."

"John."

"Yes, sir."

"Sam, I'm going to tell you something about me that only a handful of people know. Ten, to be exact, so I guess that makes it two hands full." Hoynes smiled at his own cleverness.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you remember a few months ago I asked you if you like to play poker?"

"Yes, sir."

"And I said I'd like you to come to one of my games some time?" Hoynes continued.

"Yes, sir."

Hoynes laughed. "Sam, I swear, for a speech writer your vocabulary is somewhat limited. No offense, but my eighteen month old niece can string together more words than you."

Sam smiled. "I'm just answering the questions, sir. Pre-law 101 teaches if we're on the stand and the prosecutor asks us what time it is, tell them three o'clock, don't tell them how the whole damn clock works."

"Touché. Sam, I'm a recovering alcoholic and my weekly poker games are Alcoholic Anonymous meetings disguised as card games."

Sam sat up straight in his chair and looked at the Vice President. He didn't believe it. He didn't know why Hoynes would make up such a story, but he was certain there wasn't any truth to this one. What his motive to lie was unfathomable to Sam, but he must be. He would know if the Vice President was an alcoholic. He knew LEO was an alcoholic. And AA meetings in the White House? Impossible. Who could possibly attend? And why was Hoynes telling him this? Why him? Why now?

"You probably don't believe me," Hoynes continued. "How could we possibly have AA meetings in the White House without anybody finding out? And how could someone attend and keep the anonymity AA holds so sacred? Did any of those thoughts cross your mind?"

"Well, I was just trying to digest everything," Sam responded.

"It's my meeting. I hold it in the basement every Thursday night at eleven p.m. There's a guard outside the door and those who attend tell the guard they're there for the card game. The ten members have held true to the AA promise of anonymity. What is said there, stays there."

Sam's surprise was obvious. He drained his glass of juice.

"May I ask, without betraying that confidence, the people who attend, are they our people?"

"Yes. We have three Senators, two Cabinet Secretaries, two Agency Directors, one Federal Judge, and one Vice President," Hoynes said.

"That's nine."

"And one Chief of Staff."

Sam brought his hand to the bridge of his nose and looked away. He felt like he'd just been told an intimate secret about someone that he didn't want to hear, and now it was too late to make it go away.

"I thought you weren't supposed to tell and since there's only one Chief of Staff in this White House, didn't you just break that code you hold so sacred, Mr. Vice President?" Sam asked.

"Look at me Sam," Hoynes said in a gentle voice.

Sam did.

"Leo is aware I might reveal this information to one person who may benefit from know it."

"What did Leo tell you?" Sam suddenly became defensive.

"I haven't spoken with Leo."

Sam's mouth was dry. He ran his hands through his hair. He wanted to be anywhere but here. What the hell is going on?

"Could I maybe get some more apple juice?" he asked.

"Of course you can."

When Hoynes stood he put his hand on Sam's shoulder and let it rest there just for a moment before he went to his secretary's desk. Sam had forgotten had big John's hands were and how at ease they made him feel.

He took an almost-too-big mouth of juice and swallowed it before he spoke.

"All due respect, Mr. Vice President, and I usually wouldn't be this accusatory, but I believe you'll agree, these are somewhat anomalous circumstances, so please be benevolent when I ask this question, which by it's very nature could, in an instant, justifiably mark the end of my political career. Did I sound like Ainsley Hayes just then?"

"I don't know Ainsley Hayes."

"Just as well."

"What's your question, Sam?"

"All due respect, Mr. Vice President . . ."

"Cut the crap Sam, what's your question?"

"What do you think you know about me that is probably unfounded and untrue?" Sam asked and hoped he hadn't just made the biggest career mistake in his life.

"What do I think I know about you? Sam, I have to be on Air Force Two in three-and-a-half hours so there isn't possibly time to even begin to start with what I think I know about you. May I just cut to what's relevant to this conversation?"

"That would be fine, sir."

"I know for a fact you have a difficult time with chemical addiction, just like me. I know for a fact you've been struggling over the past several months. I know for a fact you've been using illegal street drugs and mis-using prescriptions drugs. I know you've stopped that bullshit now and for that I say that's the smartest decision you've ever made or WILL ever make in your life. That includes marriage ~~ one day, if it's in the stars ~~ children, but a namesake doesn't have to be your legacy, and more important than your decision to run for President of the United States after my two terms have run their course."

The Vice President smiled.

"Don't look so serious boy. You look like you've just lost your best friend. You don't know it yet, but truth be told, you've just met your new best friend."

Sam's gaze shot up to meet Hoynes. John was already looking him straight in the eye.

"I think I know more," he said.

Sam swallowed hard and closed his eyes for a couple of seconds longer than he intended to. When he opened them, John hadn't broken contact with him.

"What . . . do you know?" Sam asked.

"I know what happened this past weekend. Thank God you're ok and rest assured that motherfucker will never put drugs in a person's drink ever again. Not even his own."

"What do you mean? What happened to Mar . . . him? What'd they do?"

John shook his head incredulously. "Like you care? You actually CARE about what happened to that guy? Jesus, Sam! He nearly killed you! Don't tell me you had a . . ."

"Had a what?"

"Nothing. That was a close call Sam. You should be on your knees thanking God you're alive today. Not many people would have survived the amount of shit he gave you. And after you thank God, you should stay on your knees and thank Toby and Josh. And Leo."

"Again, Mr. Vice President, all due respect, but how do you know all this?"

John Hoynes grinned. "I'm from Texas, son. We know it all."

"You're not gonna tell me, are you?"

"No, I'm not."

The grin left Hoynes' face and he was as serious as Sam had ever seen him.

"Sam, I want you to come to my poker game tonight. I don't want you to tell anybody where you're going or why. Nobody. That includes the President, your Grandmother, your dog, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your invisible friend, nobody. Understand?"

Sam could only nod. This was happening way too fast. He didn't even understand what it WAS that was happening. He looked at the floor.

"Sam? Do you understand what I just said?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who do you tell about the poker game?"

"I don't tell the President, my Grandmother, my dog . . ."

"Nobody!" he boomed. Then his voice softened. "Sam, nobody."

Sam looked up. "Nobody."

Hoynes nodded. "That's right."

"Mr. Vice President . . . "

"John."

"Sir, with all due respect, I just don't think I can call you John," Sam replied.

"You used to."

"That was before you were the Vice President."

"I'm still John."

Sam had no response to that.

"How do you know all . . . everything."

"Everything I `think' I know?" John asked with a smile and stood up.

Sam stood and nodded.

The Vice President faced Sam put his hands on each of Sam's shoulders. Those hands again, Sam thought. Please don't squeeze my shoulders.

Hoynes squeezed Sam's shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes.

"Someone loves you Sam," he answered. "Someone loves you more than you can fathom. More than you have brain cells to absorb. More than you could take in during many lifetimes. Just accept that gift and come to my poker game tonight, ok?"

Sam was stunned with the forthrightness of what the Vice President had just told him. He thought for a moment he might sink to the floor. But the strength of those hands held him up. He stood straight and tall and nodded.

"Ok, John."

********

"Where is he?"

"Not here." Donna swiveled her chair to face Sam.

"I see that. Where is he?"

"Where ISN'T he? Josh hasn't been able to sit still all morning. Up, down, in, out, back, forth. He's like a thibibijibit."

"A what?"

"You know, a whirling dervish," Donna explained.

"Well, where's he now? I need him. I, uh, I need to talk with him," Sam corrected himself.

"Here, there, and everywhere."

"Donna, I don't usually say this, but you're really irritating me today."

"He's right behind you."

Sam spun around to see Josh come into the bullpen.

"Josh! You got a minute?"

Josh jerked his head toward his office and Sam followed him inside and shoved the door closed with his foot. Behind that protective shield, away from the exposed windows, Sam reached for Josh's arm and turned him around. He found Josh's hands, laced their fingers together, and wound them into a tight clutch. He pulled Josh close and kissed him.

Josh smiled. "I've got another minute. Do that again," he said.

Sam did.

"Let me have my hand back and I'll return the favor," Josh growled. He started to pull his hand away.

"No!" Sam tightened his grasp on Josh's hands. "No," he said with less urgency, "I wanna hold your hands."

"Ok."

Sam closed his eyes and laid his cheek against Josh's. He savored the feel of Josh's hands entwined with his. Familiar, warm, the only hands he wanted touching him. Not as big as John Hoynes' hands, not as strong, but better. They were Josh's hands.

He felt some of the tension dissipate and his body relaxed against Josh. "I love your hands," Sam whispered.

Josh turned his head just a little and kissed the side of Sam's face. "I love my hands on you," Josh responded softly. "I love my hands in your hair, and I love my hands on your beautiful face." He took a step closer to Sam so their bodies pressed together. "I love to put my fingers in your mouth and the feel of your lips sucking on them. I love to run my hands down your chest, your stomach, your abs . . . God, I love you Sam." They began to gyrate their erections against each other. "I love it when my hand rips open your pants and crawls inside and wraps around your dick and . . ."

Sam disentangled their fingers and recoiled from Josh. There was a thud that jarred him and he found himself with his back against the door. His forehead was damp with sweat.

Josh stood with his mouth open, stopped in mid-sentence. He took a step toward Sam and reached his hand out toward him. "Sam, honey . . ."

"Don't touch me!"

Josh froze. What the fuck is going on here? One minute Sam won't let go of my hands, the next he won't let me touch him. What'd I do?

"I've gotta go." Sam turned, grabbed onto the doorknob, and started to open the door.

Josh leaped past him and slammed the door shut before Sam could get it open. "You're not going anywhere," he said. "I wanna know what just happened here."

Sam was cornered and Josh was inches away, but he didn't touch him. He gave him that much, but he wasn't going to let Sam leave until he knew what was causing his bizarre behavior.

"Talk to me Sam."

Sam hung his head.

Josh put his arm up so his hand was on the door next to Sam. He spoke softly and gently. "What is it darlin'? You can't hide it from me forever. And the longer you keep it to yourself, the more it's gonna come between us. Jesus Sam, if there's anybody on this Earth you can talk to, it's me. I'm your husband."

Sam ran his hand over his face, then through his hair that left it standing up in little spikes. Josh resisted the urge to smooth it down for him. He didn't wanna push his luck and touch him before he was ready. Sam still wouldn't look up.

"His hands," he finally whispered. "His hands."

"Whose hands?" Josh took a chance. He put two fingers under Sam's chin and gently lifted; Sam let him and their eyes met. Sam's were wet with tears.

"He touched me."

"Marc? Marc touched you?" Josh slowly let his fingers open so his hand cupped Sam's cheek. Sam pressed his face against Josh.

"What I just said I wanted to do to you baby, with my hands, did Marc do that to you?" Josh asked. He held his breath waiting for an answer.

Sam's mouth was dry. He wanted some of the cold apple juice he'd just drank with John Hoynes. How can I tell Josh? How can I tell him what happened?

He opened his mouth to speak and licked his lips.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

The door shook. The fist on the other side pounded just at Sam's head level and vibrated shock waves through him. He fell forward and Josh caught him in his arms.

"Josh!" Donna yelled as she rattled the doorknob. "That phone call you've been waiting for is on line two and I can't get your door open! Josh? Let me in! Josh?"

Sam buried his face into Josh's neck and clung to him. Josh wrapped his arms around Sam and instinctively began to rub his back to calm him.

"Go away Donna!" he yelled.

"Line two!"

"Go away!"

Josh walked backward and pulled Sam with him. He kept rubbing Sam's back, and with his free hand, picked up the telephone receiver and punched line two.

"Josh Lyman."

"Josh, Tony Adams."

"What? Who is this?"

"Dr. Adams. George Washington Hospital. You've been expecting my call."

"Yeah. I'm sorry, I was just . . ."

"Is this not a good time?" Dr. Adams asked.

"It's ok," Josh replied.

"I have the other test results you asked about from the DNA sample."

"Yeah."

"They match, Josh. You might wanna think about contacting the Mother."

Chapter 53

It had been a long day. Josh was tired when he pulled the leather straps of his backpack over one shoulder and buckled them. He turned out his light and headed toward Toby's office to get Sam and go home. Donna was gone. Ginger, Bonnie, and Cathy were gone. Josh was glad. He didn't feel like any idle chitchat with any of the assistants.

The bullpen was dark and quiet. Toby's door was open and a soft glow emanated from his office. Josh stepped just inside and leaned against the doorframe.

"What'd you do to him?" Josh nodded his head toward Sam.

He was asleep on Toby's couch. His legs were drawn up and his arms were crossed in front of his chest. The sleeve of his jacket covered his eyes.

"Migraine," Toby said quietly.

Josh let his backpack slide off his shoulder and onto the floor.

"Has he eaten?"

"He had a club sandwich about seven, and some pie. He didn't finish his pie."

"Any leftovers?" Josh asked with a good-natured smirk.

"Pie, Josh. You're speaking to the original pieman. You won't find a crumb."

"The bacon on that sandwich, that's what did it! The shit they put in the bacon to give it a shelf life of three hundred years, that preservative, what's it called? It starts with an `M'. Sometimes it gives Sam a migraine," Josh explained.

"Another reason not to eat bacon." Toby tossed his yellow legal pad and pen onto his desk.

"How'd he do today? I was in meetings from the minute I walked in the door and only saw him a little while this morning. Did he do ok?"

"He did ok. Better than ok. He put in more than a full day's work . . . despite how things may appear at the moment," Toby replied.

"What'd he do?" Josh persisted.

"His job! He did what he does!"

"Did he say anything?" Josh ignored Toby's feigned impatience.

Toby leaned back in his chair and scratched his beard.

"No. He sat here mute all day."

"Toby, sarcasm isn't attractive on you any more." He grinned. "I know you too well now."

Toby rolled his eyes.

"I mean, did he say anything to you about what happened?" asked Josh. He sat on the arm of the couch near Sam's head.

"Not a word. He was just . . . he was Sam. Did his job, was productive, no complaints, sharp, on his game. How's he doing at home?"

"We haven't talked about it," he lied. "I'll let him bring it up when he's ready. If he wants to. He'll be fine,"

Toby started to get his things ready to leave.

"You'd better rouse sleeping beauty there," he said. "Take him home, put him in his own bed." Toby wanted to say, "Hold him gently tonight, Josh. He needs you." But he stopped himself.

Josh put his hand on Sam's head under the jacket sleeve and wound Sam's hair around his finger.

"Did he take anything for the migraine?"

"Nope. He said he had some, uh, Imi . . .?"

"Imitrex."

"And something that starts with a Z."

"Zomig."

"Yeah," Toby continued. "He said he had that but he didn't wanna take ANY medication. He said maybe he could sleep it off."

Josh absentmindedly ran his finger around the inside of Sam's ear.

"Thanks for keeping an eye on him today, Toby."

"We had a job to do. I wasn't babysitting."

Josh looked at Toby and cocked his head to the side.

"You can't tell me you weren't a little bit concerned about him. You didn't peek over every now and then?"

"I don't `peek' and I wasn't concerned in the least," Toby said emphatically. He stood and looked around to make sure he'd cleared his desk of anything he didn't want left out overnight. "Are you gonna leave or are you gonna sit on my couch all night and watch my Deputy sleep? I've got a thing and need to go home and change."

"What thing?"

"Just a thing."

"What thing?"

"A thing with CJ."

"A thing with CJ?"

"A wine-and-dine for the press."

"Shouldn't Sam be there if it's a press thing?"

"Nah, it's just a nice-nice that I do NOT want to attend but CJ's making me. We've got it covered. With Sam's migraine he wouldn't be any good to us anyway. Take him home and put him to bed."

"We're outta here," Josh replied.

Toby headed for the door.

"I'm gonna see if there's any pie left in the mess. Have Sam on his feet when I get back and we'll walk out together."

After Toby left, Josh got down on one knee next to the couch. He slowly pulled the jacket sleeve from across Sam's eyes and replaced it with the palm of his hand. He wanted to shield him from the sudden light when he opened his eyes.

"Sam?" he said softly.

With his other hand, Josh shook Sam's shoulder.

"Sam, wake up sugar. We're going home."

Sam stirred at Josh's touch and the sound of his voice. He reached up and felt Josh's hand on his face and clutched two of his fingers.

"Josh . . ."

"Hey sleepyhead. You ready to go home?" He leaned over and kissed Sam's fingers wrapped around his.

"Take me home, sailor."

Josh smiled. "You're not gonna use that `I've got a headache' excuse on me tonight, are you?"

"Not a chance," Sam whispered.

He put his hand behind Josh's neck and pulled him in until their lips met. He kissed Josh sweetly at first, then with more passion as he tugged Josh's bottom lip into his mouth and sucked on it. Josh let Sam decide how far to take it, let him determine the comfort level. He didn't want Sam to pull away a third time. He wasn't going to let Marc intrude upon their life any more than he already had.

Sam caught Josh's neck in the crook of his elbow and dragged him down on top of him. Josh lost his balance and nearly fell.

"Toby's coming," he laughed as Sam continued to kiss him.

"Idoncare," Sam mumbled.

Josh let himself be kissed and wanted to respond with the same eagerness Sam expressed, but at that moment he heard Toby come into his office.

Toby stopped and looked down. Sam had Josh in a headlock and was kissing him. Josh was on the floor next to the couch, struggling to stay on his knees, laughing as he tried not all that hard to escape Sam's grasp. Toby stuffed an over-sized bite of coconut cream pie into his mouth. A dab stayed on his lip.

"Want me to hang a `Do Not Disturb' sign on the door?" he muttered.

Then, "Get up off my couch! Take it home or get a room or something. Just don't do that kinda stuff in here."

He flicked the light switch a couple of times to get their attention.

Sam released his grip on Josh and Josh stood, brushing his pants to smooth them. But there was no way to hide the very obvious erection that ached to be released. He held out his hand to Sam and pulled him to a sitting position on the couch.

Sam's hair was mussed and his eyes half open. He rubbed at them with the backs of his hands. His tie was loosened and his shirt wrinkled. There was a pinkish crisscross pattern on his cheek where his face had pressed against the couch cushion.

Josh got a lump in his throat when he looked at Sam. So young, so young, Josh thought. Not that I'm old, but nearly a decade between us? Sometimes that counts for nothing; sometimes a decade carries a lot, maybe too much life experience. Sometimes it marks the measure of a man against a boy.

Sam's no boy, not by any means, Josh quickly told himself. But when I look at him like this and see a nineteen- year-old looking back ~~ I wonder if I've cheated Sam out of something better. Like ten years of our marriage.

Why me? Josh wondered. Sam could have any man he wanted. With just the slightest dip of his head or the way he looks up through his eyelashes . . . that way he has of bubbling, "Look! It's starting to snow!"

I hadn't even got the words out last spring when Sam blurted, "Yes! I'll marry you!"

Has Sam ever regretted it? Josh questioned that for a fraction of a second before he knew how ridiculous it sounded. In that instant, Sam leaned into him and rested his head against Josh's shoulder.

"Oshie, take us home," he said, sounding so young, so very young.

Josh helped Sam into his jacket, ran a comb through his tousled hair, put a protective arm around him, and took him home.

********

Josh kept his hand on Sam as they maneuvered in and out of traffic ~~ on his shoulder, his arm, his leg. He didn't want to break their physical contact. He felt a need to silently reassure Sam through his touch and the words he spoke so often ~~ that he loved him, he would be by his side forever, he was Josh's world. Tonight it seemed especially important to Josh to pass those truths to Sam silently, tacitly and constantly.

Sam laid his head back against the seat and closed his eyes as Josh drove.

"Know what we're gonna do Saturday?" Josh asked.

"Uh uh. What?"

"Go buy you a new car."

Sam opened his eyes. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. You know we can't drive in together forever," Josh replied. "You need your own car."

Sam smiled. "I do."

"You do."

Josh squeezed Sam's thigh. "I like when you say that," he said.

"Say what?"

"You do."

"You do?"

"I do," Josh laughed.

"I do too." Sam put his hand on Josh's

"Any idea what kind you wanna get?" asked Josh.

"What kind of . . .?"

"Car. Any idea what you want?"

"I know EXACTLY what I want," Sam replied. He looked over at Josh with a sly grin.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"And that would be . . .?

"A Harley Davidson Screamin' Eagle Softail Deuce."

Josh blanched. "That's a crotch rocket."

Then Sam began to laugh. "Calm down Josh. I'm not getting a motorcycle. And it's not a crotch rocket, it's a touring bike. Big difference. But it's a moot point because I'm not getting one."

"Damn straight," Josh muttered. Then louder, "And don't even joke about it. I'll get you a nice station wagon with wood paneling and white walls."

"I wanna Jaguar."

"There's a place!"

Josh whipped into the only available parking spot, a block away, and they sprinted to their townhouse. It had started to drizzle when they turned off Pennsylvania Avenue and now it had become real rain.

Inside, they laughed and shook their jackets dry. A pink slip of paper fluttered out of Sam's inside pocket. Sam picked it up, glanced at it, crumbled it and tossed it onto the table, then hung his jacket on a wooden suit hanger. He picked up Josh's jacket from where he'd slung it over the back of a chair and smoothed it free of any remaining raindrops. Then held it up to his face for a moment and inhaled Josh's scent before he put his jacket on a hanger too.

"A Jaguar, huh?" Josh continued. "Tell me about it."

"Well, it's a Jaguar XJ8, 340 horsepower V-8 engine, six speed with, get this, sixteen-way electrical adjustable memory front seats." Sam took his tie off and neatly spread it on the table to dry. He untied Josh's, pulled it from around his collar, and laid it parallel to his.

"So we can do it sixteen ways in the front seat?" Josh asked with a grin. Josh kicked his shoes in the direction of the stairs. He pulled off his socks and left them on the floor where he stood.

"Yes! And on the softest grain premium leather you can imagine and if we roll onto the floor we'll land on lambs wool rugs. The seats are heated and so is the steering wheel. Sweet, huh? The interior is trimmed in walnut and has a 320 WAH Alpine Audio System with compact six disc auto changer and six speakers."

Sam took off his shoes as he talked, walked across the room and set them on the bottom step. He removed his belt and pants, carefully folded his pants, and put them on top of his shoes with the belt coiled into a circle on top of that to take to the bedroom the first time he went up.

"Done your homework, huh?" Josh took off his belt and tossed his on the table next to the ties. He removed his pants and hung them over the back of the chair

"Yeah, and it's got a navigational system that . . ."

"So you won't have to use the Delta Shuttle from LaGuardia anymore?" Josh laughed.

"I was navigating by the stars that night, Osh. Celestial navigation. Toby just THOUGHT it was the Delta Shuttle. Anyway, it has a navigation system, Sepang Wheels with . . ."

"Ok, ok, I've got the picture. Have you decided on a color?"

"Seafrost with Sand interior." Sam took his damp shirt off, opened the utility closet, and put it in the bag of clothes to be sent to the laundry.

"What the hell is `Seafrost'?"

Sam furrowed his eyebrows, a hurt expression on his face. "Green. Muted green. Kinda like your favorite sheets. Classy green. Rich green. Elegant green."

"And what color is Sand?"

"The color of sand."

"And just how much IS this baby?"

Sam laughed. "Does it matter?"

"Well, yeah, I think it does."

"Yeah, ok. It's seventy-six thousand, nine hundred ninety five dollars. And ninety-five cents. Sticker price. We'll haggle. But it doesn't really matter."

"Why doesn't it matter?"

"Josh, be reasonable."

"Sounds good to me. We'll get it this weekend," Josh said.

"Yeah, right," said Sam.

Josh was now in his boxers and dress shirt and Sam wore boxers and an undershirt. They were both glad to be home.

Josh rifled through the CDs and found one that Sam had burned; love songs they both liked and often slow-danced and made love to. It had become their favorite. He put it on and turned the volume low.

Sam stood by the bay window and stared down at the chessboard. It was the one President Bartlet had given him as a gift of appreciation for a job well done for writing the State of the Union Address. It was called the "Lotus" and was hand-carved from camel bone from China. Sam cherished the chess set. He would never forget the first game he played on that board. It was right after he lost that game to Jed Bartlet that he told Sam he would be President of the United States some day. Not to be scared. He could do it.

Sam had put Toby in checkmate before he went to Marc's. The chess pieces hadn't been moved. Toby hadn't responded. Looking at it now, Sam saw an out for Toby and was surprised Toby hadn't already caught it and countered, pulling Sam into checkmate to win the game.

"Sam?"

No response.

Josh put his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"Sam?"

Sam looked up from the chessboard and turned around.

"What? I'm sorry. I was . . . did Toby call you about moving a chess piece?"

"No."

"He should have. That's not like him to miss something so obvious." Sam glanced back down at the chessboard, then back to Josh.

"I need to call State Farm about getting my car fixed. It's fully insured and my deductible isn't much, so I should be ok."

Josh looked at Sam with surprise. He really didn't know. Josh thought Sam had been serious about already knowing what kind of new car he wanted. He assumed Sam had done the research and was ready to buy it. But Sam didn't have a clue his car had been destroyed and had been joking about getting a Jaguar.

"It's done. I took care of everything Monday," Josh replied tentatively. "But your car can't be fixed, Sam. It was totaled."

Sam suddenly looked very sad, like he knew his car was gone but hadn't heard it said out loud yet so maybe there was some small chance it was still in one piece. Sam's eyes clouded over.

Josh knew Sam's thoughts had turned to how he'd been duped by Marc; how he'd been drugged and dumped and because of it, his car had been destroyed. And Sam himself had almost been destroyed. For Sam not to be in control of himself at all times was a character trait Sam saw as weakness. Something his father would abhor.

"Where's my car, Josh?" he asked.

Sam had loved his car. He took it to the car wash at least once a week; not the drive-through kind that took ten minutes, but the one where six men used soft chamois to wash and dry it by hand and detail the interior and exterior until it sparkled. There was never a gum wrapper on the floor or a scrap of paper on the seat.

"Where's my car, Josh?" he repeated.

Josh took a deep breath and opened his arms.

"Come here, sugar."

Sam went to Josh and felt Josh's arms envelope him.

"Your car's gone. When Marc dumped . . . left you in the park, he left your car a couple of blocks away and it got pretty much annihilated."

"Can I see it?"

"No."

"Did you see it?"

"No."

"Where's my car, Josh?"

"At a scrap metal . . ."

"Junkyard," Sam said flatly.

"Junkyard." Josh ran his fingers through Sam's hair. "I'm sorry, baby."

Sam shrugged and made a sound of resignation. "It's ok. I could have been the one annihilated I suppose."

Josh kissed the top of Sam's head.

"You need a haircut, Sammy." He ran his forefinger across the back of Sam's neck. "Kinda shaggy and over your collar," he said.

"Maybe I'll let it grow long."

Sam pulled back a little and smiled at Josh.

"Remember when we first met?" he asked. "My hair was sorta long then."

Josh grinned back.

"You were a baby."

Sam leaned forward so his forehead rested against Josh's.

"I wasn't a baby," he said in a little boy voice.

Sam felt flirty. His and Josh's hands gravitated toward the others' and clasped at their sides. They started to sway to the music.

"You were MY baby," Josh said sweetly. "And you still ARE my baby."

Bryan Adams' "When You Love Someone" started to play and they began to slow dance.

Sam nestled his face against Josh's neck and closed eyes. Josh softly sang to him: "When you love someone, you'll do anything, you'll do all the crazy things that you can't explain . . . you'll shoot the moon, put out the sun, when you love someone."

"I love you, Josh," Sam whispered.

"I know Angel."

"Am I still your baby?"

"Always."

Josh put his hand behind Sam's head and played with his hair as he sang: "You'll deny the truth, believe a lie, there'll be times that you'll believe that you can really fly . . . when you love someone, you feel it deep inside, and nothing else could ever change your mind."

Sam dragged his tongue across Josh's neck then pulled some of Josh's skin between his teeth and sucked on it. A groan of pleasure gurgled from deep within Josh. He lolled his neck to the side to expose it more to his lover. Sam took more of Josh into his mouth and sucked harder. Josh savored it, but knew he had to stop him. He pulled his head away.

"Not where it shows, sugar," he said. "I love it, but I can't go into the White House tomorrow with a hickey on my neck."

Sam stopped sucking, but he continued to lick Josh's neck. Josh turned, ducked his head, and kissed Sam. He kissed him softly and tenderly . . . sweetly and gently. Then he kissed Sam's forehead and cheek and nose and ear and eyelid and finally, his lips again.

"When you love someone, you sacrifice, give it everything you've got, and you won't think twice. You risk it all, no matter what may come, you shoot the moon, put out the sun, when you love someone."

Sam snuggled a little closer into Josh's arms and fell naturally into the curves of his elbows and against the breadth of his chest. Josh hummed quietly as they moved as one man.

"Josh?"

"Hmmmm?"

"I could stand here in your arms forever," Sam said.

"I'd like that."

"You know, after what happened . . ."

"Yeah?"

Josh hoped this was a sign Sam wanted to talk about it. When he'd called his own psychologist, Dr. Neilson advised him to let Sam come to terms with it in his own time, to bring it up when HE was ready, and for Josh to be there to listen when Sam wanted to talk. It probably wouldn't be easy for Sam to speak the words or for Josh to hear them, but it was the only way for Sam to get past what had happened and for the two of them to get their lives back to normal. It could take a long time, it could be quick. Josh prayed for the latter. He didn't want Sam to have to carry any emotional burdens like he did with Joanie.

"Yeah?" he repeated when Sam trailed off.

"I'm not sure how to say this, " Sam hesitated.

"You?" Josh laughed. "THE wordsmith of the millennium? And last millennium. THE best Presidential speechwriter to ever live and breathe? Not SURE how to say something? That's not possible."

"Toby's the best Presidential speechwriter to ever live and breathe. And the wordsmith of the millennium, not me."

"I'm biased. I like the ones I sleep with best."

"Ones?"

"You're my one and only, Sam, you know that."

"I do."

They moved in silence. It had started to rain harder, a steady rain, the straight up and down kind that draws couples to walk hand-in-hand without an umbrella, to inspire poets to touch pen to paper and write, to cause lovers to dance in their underwear.

"After what happened," Sam started again, "I keep thinking I want to, or need to, or, or something . . . I don't know . . . damn, when did I lose my ability to be articulate?"

Josh had never seen Sam at a loss for words and it made him worry about what must weigh so heavily on Sam that he couldn't express it.

"Talk to me, Sam."

"I just need to know your arms will always be around me to protect me and . . . you'll always be . . . here . . . that you'll take care of me . . . forever."

Josh stopped the dance and took Sam's face in his hands.

"Look at me," he said.

Sam looked into Josh's eyes. The two men held a steady gaze and spoke to each other without words; a gaze that penetrated deep into the other's soul and surpassed the need to speak.

Again, Sam was acutely aware of Josh's hands on him ~~ the warmth of his palms, the length and strength of his fingers, the gentle firmness with which he held Sam's head in place.

Josh used his thumbs and began to massage Sam's temples, then his head. Each finger pressed against his scalp and found the pressure points he knew sometimes relieved Sam's migraines. Sam's hair fell over Josh's fingers as he rubbed Sam's head.

Sam's eyelids slowly dropped shut.

"Look at me," Josh said in a low voice.

Sam's eyes met Josh's again.

"I'll protect you for eternity, Sam. I swear on the life of my firstborn, that I'll never let anything or anybody harm you again."

"I wanna go to bed," Sam said.

"Do you understand what I just said to you?"

Sam nodded his head.

"The day we married I gave my life to you, and took you to become one with me. I adore you, Sam. I would do anything in Heaven or on Earth to protect you from harm. I'd give my life for you. There's no one ~~ no one, Sam ~~ I love more than I love you. And I'll be here to take care of you for eternity. You never have to wonder about that. That's the one sure thing in your life. I'll never leave you. Do you believe me?"

Sam gave the slightest nod of his head and his lips turned up just a little. His eyes twinkled.

"You need to eat something. Toby said all you've eaten today is a sandwich and pie. That's not enough."

"Yeah, ok. I'm kinda hungry."

"I'll fix us something. What sounds good?"

"Spaghetti," Sam answered with a smile. He knew it was one of the few meals Josh could prepare.

"Ok. I can do that." Josh was glad for the opportunity to take care of Sam. And he was glad Sam had said spaghetti because that was one of a small handful of thing he knew how to make.

"You're gonna use those mushrooms that come in a jar, aren't you?" Sam chided him.

"Yeah."

"There oughta be a law."

"And I'll bet you won't grate the cheese, will you?"

"Why should I when it comes in one of those tall green cans?" Josh explained.

Sam laughed. "I love your spaghetti, Josh."

Josh couldn't quite get a handle on Sam's mood shifts. One minute he was laughing, the next, solemn and lost in his own thoughts. Talk to me dammit, he thought. I know how much better I felt when I finally let it all out about Joanie. Just talk to me, Sam. But Josh knew it had to come in Sam's own time.

"I wrote a poem for you," said Sam as he followed Josh to the kitchen.

"You did? When?"

"A couple of days ago."

"Can I read it?"

"When we go upstairs. It's an upstairs poem," Josh said. He made a u-turn and nearly bumped into Sam.

"What about my spaghetti?" Sam laughed.

"Right. You sit here and take it easy while I fix supper. Then as soon as we eat, we'll go upstairs and you can read poetry to me." "I don't have to read it ~~ I just know it."

"Even better. So you sit down right here . . ."

Josh started to back Sam onto the couch.

"You know what?" Sam stopped him.

"What?"

"While you fix supper I've gotta call my Dad. I HAVE to, Josh. I can't put it off any longer."

"He called again," Josh said. It was a statement more than a question.

Sam nodded. "I've got to."

"Ok, babe. I'll be cooking spaghetti with outlawed mushrooms. Won't take long."

Sam smiled. "I love you, Josh."

Josh kissed Sam's cheek and went toward the kitchen. At the door he stopped and turned back to Sam. He stood near the table with the chessboard and stared out the bay window.

Sam looked lost. He held the phone in one hand and had run his other hand through his hair and left it there, entangled with the too-long locks. He DID need a haircut, Josh confirmed. In his underwear and looking still, oh-so-young, Josh thought he looked like a schoolboy about to call home with a report of bad grades and dreaded the inevitable verbal tongue-lashing he was about to receive. But Josh knew this was much more complicated than fear of a scolding over bad grades at school. He didn't know why Sam dreaded to call his Father; it was something they'd never talked about, a piece of Sam he wasn't ready to share. Still, Josh knew the very suggestion of speaking with his Father visibly upset Sam.

Josh didn't know much about any of the Seaborn family members. It was something Sam avoided and Josh knew not to ask. He knew Sam would tell him in time.

"Hey, Blue Eyes."

Sam's lost gaze flashed to Josh and sparkled once again and he smiled.

"How's your headache?" Josh asked.

"Gone," replied Sam. "Forgot all about it. Must be your healing touch."

Josh put one finger to his lips and in an unbroken motion, brushed a silent kiss toward Sam with a wink. He was rewarded just a hint of a wrinkled nose. And that was enough.

********

"Because I have to."

"Not good enough."

"Because the President SAID I have to?" CJ turned her head first to one side then the other so she could see her reflection in the mirror. She'd turn as far as she could then peer out the corners of her eyes for the best view.

"Not good enough."

"Then you're going to have to tell him yourself why I'm conspicuously absent from this shindig tonight, Simon." She put a pearl drop earring in each ear and lightly touched her hair when it didn't need touching, just to reassure herself it looked ok. It looked perfect.

"I will! I WILL tell him, dammit!" Simon crowed in mock anger.

CJ laughed lightly into the phone. Others had, but she hadn't yet noticed how nearly everything about her had toned down a bit since she and Simon had started dating. It wasn't intentional, but it showed up as a slightly different CJ she shifted into when they were together. A natural softening that added a femininity not always seen before. Her voice had a lilt to it and her tone was less frenetic. When they walked together, Simon held his arm out for her and she always took it. When they sat together, it was common for them to exchange occasional whispers and very often, CJ's face would turn pink with blush after Simon's private words.

She liked this new feeling of `being a girl', she'd confided to Carol. She enjoyed dressing up and hearing the words she hoped she'd hear from Simon. She relished the attention he gave her. She cherished the romantic notion that he was `wooing' her ~~ his word. She loved a good argument with Simon ~~ a knock-down, drag-out fight over anything, over nothing, it didn't matter, just as long as they were both passionate enough about their views to be willing to fight for their ideals.

She loved that he was a gentleman in every respect of the word, that he was playful, intelligent, tall, was good to his Mother (it just made things easier) and he respected her, Claudia Jean Cregg.

Those goofballs and their betting pool. What did they know? Someone got big bucks for guessing the first time they had `done it' when in reality, they hadn't even `done it' at all. There was a whole lot of lovin' going on, but the eyeballs of the entire West Wing would have collectively bugged out if they knew CJ Cregg and Simon Donovan had not made love . . . yet.

"Simon," she explained for the umpteenth time, "this is a fancy schmancy do-dah we put on for the press once a year to show how much we appreciate them and give them free food so they'll write nice things. This year it's especially important . . ."

" . . . because it's an election year," Simon finished her sentence.

"Yes! And as Press Secretary, don't you think it would be a bit rude if I don't show up? If I have to leave all the schmoozing to Toby, we'll be dead ducks."

"Sam can schmooze. I've seen him schmooze. He even schmoozed me. Let Sam schmooze, Toby can be the dead duck, and you and I can disappear into the night."

CJ grinned and hoped like hell it didn't show through the phone. "Can't do it."

"Why?"

"Because I have to go. And Sam's not even going to be there. Toby gave him the night off."

"Tell me again what time I'm supposed to pick you up. I forgot."

"You didn't forget."

"I forgot! Tell me so I can take a shower and find something to wear."

"Simon! You're supposed to be here in . . ." CJ looked at the clock on her bedside table, "now! You're not even dressed?"

"Now? I'm supposed to be there `in now'?" Simon laughed. "Anything for you, darlin'."

The doorbell rang and CJ closed her eyes and tried to keep from laughing. Please God, she thought, don't let me act ga-ga over this man in front of everybody tonight.

She walked from her bathroom into her bedroom. In the corner was a child's antique rocking chair with a very old, well loved, often played with teddy bear snuggled into the seat. She went to the bear and leaned over.

"Do I look ok, Scruffy?" she asked her life-long companion. "Am I put together pretty good tonight?" She pet the stuffed animal on the head. "I think so too. Thanks for the kind words."

The doorbell rang again. She hopped toward it on one foot as she put her shoe on, then had to stand still and balance herself with her hand on the back of a chair to slip on the other. Then she opened the door.

CJ had to catch her breath. Simon stood before her, tall and straight in a classic black tux, his arms casually behind him. His shoes were spit-shined, and there was a small, unassuming red rose bud in his lapel. CJ looked at his face. He was so very, very handsome. Her eyes rested on his. They were green with the slightest hint of turquoise.

"You look beautiful," she said softly. "I'd forgotten how gorgeous you are."

"Since this afternoon?" he asked.

She nodded.

"May I come in?"

She nodded again.

Simon stepped into CJ's apartment and closed the door behind him.

"This," he said, bringing a red rose bud from behind his back, "is for you. Step back so I can see you."

CJ backed up a few steps, clutching the flower. Simon studied her as she had studied him. She was wearing an emerald green dress, long- sleeved on one side, bare shoulder and arm on the other. There was a slit on one side that went high on her thigh, and the sight of her half-hidden leg made Simon look away. Not from being pure of heart, but from being excited of penis. She wore pearl drop earrings, a simple single strand of tiny pearls, and a simple bracelet on the wrist of the bare arm. Her hair was swept up and her wonderful long neck created an elegance only CJ could carry.

"Vous semblez exquis," he said.

Simon covered the distance between himself and CJ, took the flower from her and snapped it so there was just a small piece of stem. He carefully put the rose bud behind her ear and tucked the stem discretely into her hair so it didn't show at all.

"Look at yourself," he said, taking her shoulders and turning her toward the large mirror over the piano.

She looked.

"Now smile," he encouraged.

She smiled.

"And you worry about your femininity? Claudia Jean, every lady should be so lucky."

She believed him.

"Oh, one more thing!" She took off for the bedroom and came back a minute later with two bottles of perfume.

"Which do you like best?" she asked, putting one up to Simon's nose.

He sniffed. "I like this one."

"You haven't tried the other one yet." CJ held the other bottle up for him to smell.

He sniffed. "I like this one too."

"That's a great help. Which one do you like BEST?"

"I don't know. They both smell good," Simon answered.

"Typical," CJ mumbled. "I'm going to wear one of these. Which one do you want me to wear?" She held both bottles up for him to see.

Simon's eyes went back and forth between the two, as though that would help. Finally he pointed to one. "That one," he said.

She looked. He'd chosen Rive Gauche. "No, I think I'll wear Bill Blass. Thanks for your help."

She set the bottle on the piano and started to dab on the perfume, but hesitated. "You know what they say about putting on perfume, don't you?" she asked.

"I don't think so," Simon said. "I don't know much about perfume. My Mom always wore Chanel Number Five when I was growing up but other than that, I just know what smells good."

"Those who know such things say a woman is supposed to dab on her perfume wherever she wants to be kissed," CJ said coyly.

"Is that right?" Simon stepped closer until he and CJ nearly touched.

"May I have the honor of dabbing?" he asked.

"How do you know where I want to be kissed?"

Simon took the perfume bottle from CJ.

"Let me start, and if I begin to dab somewhere that's off-limits, you say `stop' and I'll stop. Agreed?"

CJ didn't hesitate. "Agreed. Now just an itty bitty bit or I'll be drenched in it. I can't show up at the White House smelling like a French whore."

"You wouldn't be the first. Get me a Q-tip, will ya?" Simon asked.

"A Q-tip?"

"Yeah. I don't want any of this on me," Simon explained.

CJ headed toward the bathroom, muttering the whole way. "You are the ONLY man I know who can take a perfectly good romantic moment and turn it in to an arts and crafts project."

She was still muttering when she came back out, sarcastically carrying five Q-tips, three band-aids, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, tweezers, a tube of antiseptic, and an Ace bandage. She set it all on the piano bench.

"Think you can handle it now?" she asked.

Simon laughed. "Now I remember!" he said.

"Remember what?"

"Why I love you so much."

Simon didn't give CJ a chance to respond. He had her in his arms before he finished his sentence, kissing her. It wasn't a passionate kiss. It was a playful kiss. He dramatically dipped her. CJ's head fell back and one leg pointed toward the ceiling through the slit in her dress. They both laughed. He kissed her neck, he licked her neck, he nibbled her ear, and then he kissed her neck some more. When he stood her back on her feet, she was light-headed and unsteady, both from the dip and from the kiss. She swayed a bit and Simon caught her and pulled her into him and wrapped his arms around her so she wouldn't fall.

"I love the way your body feels against mine," he said softly into her ear. "Everything fits together just right."

"Uh huh," she sighed.

"You're not wearing anything under that dress, are you?"

"What makes you think that?" CJ asked.

"I can tell just with my body up against yours. There's nothing beneath that dress except sweet, sweet CJ. Am I correct?"

CJ blushed again. "I don't have to answer that."

"I have ways of finding out."

"You're awfully sure of yourself tonight, Special Secret Agent Sunshine."

Simon flashed his smile. "Yes, I am. Now let me dab you with itty bitty bits of perfume in all the places I'm going to kiss you tonight so we can blow this pop stand, baby. Our limo awaits."

********

"Daniel Seaborn."

"Dad? It's me."

Silence.

"Dad? It's Sam."

Silence.

"Your son?"

"I know who you are."

"You didn't say anything so I wasn't sure."

"You don't have to be a smart ass."

"I wasn't." Sam picked Toby's queen up off the chessboard and made a fist around it.

"Have you replaced your secretary?" the elder Seaborn asked.

"Sir?"

"I've left messages at your office over a period of several weeks for you to call me. Obviously you fired that inept twit of a secretary who never gave you those messages and hired someone who knows how to write. Why haven't you returned my calls, Sam?"

"I apologize."

"I didn't ask for an apology. I asked why you haven't returned my calls."

Sam looked toward the kitchen. Josh stood at the stove stirring the spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon. Steam rose from the big pot on the back burner from water that had come to a rolling boil. He smiled just a little. Josh didn't believe there really WAS something called a rolling boil and made Sam prove it by looking it up in a cookbook and showing him. Then they'd lay on their stomachs and gone through the cookbook and Josh picked out the recipes he wanted Sam to make. And Sam did.

Josh raised his head and turned toward Sam. He pointed to the spaghetti sauce, then put his fingertips to his lips, kissed them, and tossed them out as if he were an Italian chef preparing an exquisite meal. Sam grinned.

"Sam!"

He turned away from Josh.

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

"Goddammit boy, do you start every sentence groveling? Making excuses for yourself? `I'm sorry.' `I apologize'."

"No sir, I don't. I haven't returned your calls because I've . . ."

"Been busy," Sam's Father interrupted.

". . . been busy," Sam continued. "You know it's an election year and the campaign has taken up . . ."

"Your time."

". . . my time."

There was an awkward silence between father and son. Sam smoothly snaked the queen in and out of his fingers.

"Don't waste your time," Daniel finally muttered.

"Sir?"

"The election. Don't knock yourself out."

Sam knew better than to talk politics with his Father. Daniel Seaborn was a life-long Republican and supporter of Florida's Governor Robert Ritchie. Sam was certain he'd contributed generously to the "Ritchie for President" campaign and was baiting Sam into a heated debate. Sam wasn't going to bite.

"I talked with Lisa," he said instead.

"So I heard. She said you told her not to come to the family reunion. Is that correct?"

"Yes sir."

"I invited her."

"She told me."

"Then why did you UN-invite her?"

Sam walked over to the easy chair and fell into it sideways so his head rested in the corner and his legs draped over the chair arm. He was ready for this conversation to be over.

"Dad, I've told you before, Lisa and I aren't getting married. We broke up a few years ago. There's no reason for her to come," Sam replied.

He wanted to add, "And you had no right to intrude upon my privacy" but he let it go.

"I want you to marry that girl."

Sam touched two fingers to his temple. He felt a sharp pain behind his left eye.

"That's not gonna happen."

"Why?"

"We've talked about this before. It just didn't work out."

"You fucked up," Daniel said.

Sam bristled.

"I didn't fuck up." He regretted it the instant it passed his lips.

"You fucked up. Lisa Sherbourne is the best woman you'll ever have a chance with and you fucked up."

Sam despised his Father at that moment. He dropped the chess piece to the carpet before he broke it in half.

"Yeah, ok," he said.

"So, you're coming." It wasn't a question.

"Yes sir."

"Are you bringing Lisa?"

"No sir."

Josh came up behind Sam and wrapped his arms loosely around his neck so his hands rested on Sam's chest. He buried his face in Sam's hair and kissed his head. Sam reached up and put his hand on the back on Josh's neck.

"Sam," his Father continued, "bring Lisa out here to California with you, sit down with your Mother and me, and we can work this out. All couples have their ups and downs and there's nothing between you and Lisa that can't be fixed."

Josh ducked his head to the side and kissed Sam's cheek. Sam didn't let go of Josh's neck.

"It can't be fixed Dad. I swear to God, it can't be fixed."

"Everything can be fixed if you want it bad enough."

"I don't want it bad enough."

Josh eased around the chair and tumbled onto Sam's lap.

"I want something else," said Sam.

"What do you want, son? I just don't understand you. Jack? A Father's joy. Your sisters? Never gave me a minute's worry. But you, Sam, I just don't get it. What do you want, son?"

Josh sprawled over Sam. His head hung over one end of the chair and his legs hung over the other end. Sam put his free hand under Josh's undershirt and rubbed his stomach.

"I want . . . I'm happy with my life like it is."

"Your life sounds like a million bucks, kid. Living alone in some little walk-up on the East Coast putting words in the mouth of that little prick Jed Bartlet."

"President Bartlet."

"Not for long."

Daniel Seaborn laughed. "Foolish boy. When Ritchie's in office you'll be asking me to call in some favors and get you a job at Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania. It won't be in the West Wing, I can guarantee you that, but I'll see what I can do." He laughed again and Sam felt that pain cut through his head again.

"I'll have somebody call you with the details," he continued.

"What details?" Sam was distracted by his headache.

"Sam, when you come to California and you're around my friends, try not to embarrass me by being so addle-brained, will you? The details about the reunion. It's coming up soon. I've got things to do."

"Ok, good-bye Dad."

But Sam was talking to a dial tone before he got the words out. He threw the phone to the couch. It hit the back cushion and bounced onto the floor.

Josh put his hand on Sam's, still under his shirt.

"You ok?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"You don't sound ok. You sound pissed."

"I AM pissed. No, I'm not pissed. I'm . . . it's just that my Dad . . . he's got this way of . . . "

"Of what, baby?"

"Of making me feel like a stupid six year old," Sam replied.

Josh tightened his hand over Sam's.

"Well, we both know that's not true, so just forget it."

"I can't forget it. He does this every fucking time we talk, Josh. EVERY fucking time!"

"Not every time . . ." Josh said calmly. He tried to add some reason to Sam's perception.

"Yes! Every time! He has since I . . . never mind."

"Let's talk about it Sammy. Tell me."

"No."

Josh massaged Sam's hand.

"I'm sorry Josh," said Sam. "I didn't mean to be short with you. I just don't wanna talk about my Father. Not now. Not tonight."

"It's ok, but will you before we go to California? I'd like to know what I'm getting into before I walk into Daniel Seaborn's lion's den."

Sam nodded. "Sure. Just not tonight."

"Not tonight," Josh agreed.

"Maybe tonight, just not now."

"Not now."

They sat quietly a few minutes. Then Josh asked, "Does your head hurt again?"

Sam shook his head. "No. Maybe. Just a little. It'll go away."

"I'll make it go away."

"You gonna lay in my lap or are you gonna serve me some spaghetti with fake mushrooms?" Sam asked.

"Lay in your lap."

"I want sketti."

"Then sketti you shall have, my dear. Anything for MySam."

********

"May I put my hand on your derrière, Miss?"

CJ smiled and slightly nodded a `hello' across the room at the wife, whose name she didn't know, of a beat reporter, whose name she couldn't remember, from the `Washington Post'.

"Do and I'll snap that hand off at the wrist," she said, still smiling, not moving her lips.

Simon discretely took CJ's hand in his and laced their fingers together. He stood close enough beside and behind her that no one could see him press both their hands against her backside.

They both appeared as if nothing was out of the ordinary. CJ looked graceful and elegant in her emerald green dress. She had received many compliments throughout the night Simon stood proudly next to her . . . handsome, gracious, and congenial. But it was a working party for CJ, over-seeing the guests with her ever-present smile greeting and acknowledging everyone who came through the door.

Schmoozing.

"You're gonna snap my hand off at the wrist?" Simon asked.

"Sure am. Hello Catherine! So glad to see you!" CJ waved to someone she recognized.

"Then are you gonna use my bloody, scraggly hand to wave at your friends?"

CJ snorted and put her free hand to her mouth to keep from drawing attention to herself because she snorted again, and yet, again.

"Will you STOP it!" she said, more of a rhetorical command than a question. "You're gonna make me laugh and I'll say or do something I shouldn't and it'll be all over the front page tomorrow morning."

"Oh, you think you're that important that you'll be on the front page?" Simon went on, walking his fingers over her rear end like a spider.

"It depends on what we do," she answered.

"WE? Now you're dragging ME into this?"

"You're the one with your hand up my ass," CJ said, just a tad louder than she intended.

"I knew I'd eventually find the fun people."

Both CJ and Simon turned to see Toby beside them. Simon dropped CJ's hand and held his out to shake Toby's. Toby waved it off.

"No thanks," he said. "I know where that hand has been."

Simon burst out with a horselaugh and CJ turned red. Even though she and Toby had been close friends for many, many years and were briefly, at one time, lovers, it still knocked the wind out of her sails a bit when Toby said that. She was trying to be feminine when she was with Simon and here, again, as always, she felt just like one of the guys. Under any other circumstances SHE would have made that remark, but tonight was different. She wished Toby hadn't said it. She liked having Simon's hand on her bottom ~~ it felt intimate and a little risqué in front of all these people who didn't suspect a thing, then Toby's innocent comment had taken that away and turned it into just another guy copping a feel. At least that's how she felt.

"As though yours hasn't?" she hissed in Toby's ear while Simon laughed.

Toby raised his glass of Scotch. "Touché!"

"Say Toby," Simon asked, "do these media people wind down at a decent hour or do they pull all-nighters?"

"Nah, they'll be outta here before the eleven o'clock news. The night's still young for you kids."

CJ glared at Toby.

"Excuse me, Simon," she said, as she grabbed Toby's arm and dragged him behind a huge floral arrangement.

"What the hell's going on with you?" she demanded when they were out of sight.

Toby looked at CJ with a blank expression. "I . . . I don't know what you' re talking about CJ."

She studied his face. He wasn't kidding. He had absolutely no idea why she pulled him away. "Well if you don't know I'm sure not . . ."

Her voice had softened a little. "Come with me."

CJ led Toby into her office and shut the door, then turned and faced him.

"CJ, if I said something inappropriate, I apologize," Toby said. "I honestly didn't mean to embarrass you."

"No, no, no. It's me. It's all me, Toby. It's just that, you know, I'm not used to being with men, I mean, you guys are men but not REAL men, you know, and Simon, he's really a man, and so, I can't even decide on which perfume, and suddenly I'm with him and it's different, and then, you, Toby, I see you every damn day and on Monday my heart says tie this man up and keep him in your closet and then on Tuesday, blah, and Wednesday it's WOW! then Thursday, blah again in the morning by the afternoon I think I'll die if he doesn't call and on Friday he kisses me, oh Toby, he kisses me . . . then YOU come sauntering in here tonight looking like, looking like YOU and dammit, you open your mouth and, your voice Toby, those middle-of-the- night phone calls, your voice dammit! you've got that soft, sweet voice and you're drinking Scotch and that makes your voice even smoother and sexier than ANY man should sound and you've been, Toby you've been smoking a cigar haven't you? Yes, yes you have and you know I love that and you don't even have to answer and . . . and then there's Simon and there's you and, God Tobes, don't you know? Of course you don't but you're stupid if you don't, but you've GOT to know I really care about Simon, I really do, but I'll always in my heart, and look at this dress! Is this a dress or what?"

"It's a dress," Toby said.

"So you see, Tobes, that's why I lost it." CJ raised her hands and her eyebrows at the same time as though her explanation made perfect sense.

Toby stared at her for a full minute. "CJ, I have absolutely no idea what you just said."

"I'm saying, Tobias Zachariah Ziegler, that until Simon came along, I was never really over you. Not really. Now I've fallen in love with Simon. Then you came walking up to me tonight and it's like, it's like, it's like you and me again and, dammit!"

Tears overflowed from CJ's eyes. She hated that they were, but she couldn't stop them. Toby put his arms around her.

"CJ," he said softly, "I'll always love you and I know, in some way, you'll always love me. But it's time for you to BE in love. To be romanced, charmed, wooed, swept off your feet. And there's no better man than Simon. What we have, CJ, is indesinent. It'll never go away. But it's your time to be with Simon."

Toby released CJ and kissed her lightly on the lips. "I'm not gonna do that tear-wiping-away thing because I know I'll mess something up," he said. "Now are we clear on things?"

CJ nodded and dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. "I DO love you, you know."

"I know."

"And you DO love ME, you know," CJ continued.

"I know," Toby responded.

"But Simon . . ." she started to tear up again.

"I know."

A knock on the door interrupted CJ in mid-sentence. The door opened slightly. "CJ? Everything ok in here?"

"It's Simon," CJ mouthed to Toby, the tears back again.

Toby nodded then winked at CJ. "Go get `em. Lock him in your closet."

"Uh, yeah! Yes, Simon, I'm fine. I'll be finished in here in five minutes and we can leave. Is that ok with you?"

"More than ok. I'll call for our limo."

"That's good, that's a good . . . thing . . ." she answered. The door pulled shut.

"So I have your blessing?" CJ asked, her voice back. She dabbed away the last of the tears and tried to re-gain her composure before she returned to Simon.

"As though you really need my blessing, but yes, you have my blessing," Toby said.

"Thank you. I'd hate to have to dump Simon at this point," CJ finally smiled.

Toby looked at the floor and shoved his hands in his pockets.

"What?" CJ asked.

Silence.

"Toby? What? I know there's something up when you do that. Tell me what it is Toby. What's going on?" CJ insisted.

"Well . . . I sorta need your blessing too then, if we're gonna play it this way," he finally said.

CJ squinted her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I'm, uh, kinda . . . I met this lady and, uh, we're . . . we went out a few times and . . ."

"Toby! You've got a girlfriend!"

Toby grinned. "Maybe."

"You do! Tell me everything!" CJ was back to her old self.

"No, not yet. I'm not ready to introduce her to you guys. I don't wanna scare her off. But I think she, um, might be around a while."

"This is so cool! Do you know how cool this is? We can double date and . . ."

"Slow down CJ. This isn't junior high. Let me get to know the woman myself first and THEN we'll start thinking about going to the drive- in and the hop and all that stuff, ok?"

"Ok," CJ giggled. "Will you just tell me her name?"

There was a knock on the door. Simon opened it, stuck his head inside, and smiled.

"Hi Toby. I'm glad it's just you. I was getting worried CJ was in here with somebody who would try to steal her away from me. I feel better now." Then to CJ, "Let's go babe, the limo's here." He reached out his hand to her.

CJ looked at Toby, her eyes on his, questioning, wanting to know more about his life at the moment. What's happening, where's it going, who's stolen Toby's heart?

She turned to Simon, her eyes on his now, seeing the man in HER life, the man wanting to know everything about HER. Without turning back she said, "See you tomorrow Toby. We'll talk then." She reached out for Simon's hand and took it.

By far the most exquisite couple in the White House this evening, CJ and Simon walked the hall of the West Wing and exited into the warm night air. Just before they got to their waiting car, Simon took her in his arms and kissed her and then, the dip, with her head nearly touching the ground and her leg extending through the slit in her emerald green dress pointing to the stars. When he brought her upright they both laughed and kissed again.

"I love you, CJ."

"I love you, Simon."

And they got into the limo and disappeared into the night.

********

Josh held Sam's hand and with the other, flicked off light switches in the townhouse then the two started upstairs. Dinner was over, the dishes were washed, and they were headed upstairs for the night. At their bedroom he reached to turn on the overhead light.

"Leave it off," said Sam. He put his hand on Josh's arm and stopped him.

"Sure. Candles?"

"No. Keep it dark."

"Ok, sweetheart. Come with me."

Josh led Sam into the middle of the bedroom and stopped. A soft glow from the street light shown through the foggy haze and warmed the room; otherwise, it was nearly black.

Josh felt Sam more than saw him. He didn't need to see to know every centimeter of Sam's body. He knew it better than his own. His hands had touched Sam. Held Sam. And caressed Sam so much that if Sam had a paper cut under the nail of his little finger, Josh would know.

Josh put his hands on either side of Sam's face. He used his thumbs and gently closed Sam's eyelids then rubbed them. He massaged his temples and his forehead, the slide his hands down to Sam's neck. Josh's strong fingers dug deep into Sam's muscles to unknot them and release the tension. He rolled Sam's head in a circular motion and Sam let his head go limp.

"Feel good?" Josh asked quietly.

"Ummmmm," Sam breathed a sigh of satisfaction.

Josh's hands moved to Sam's shoulders and down his chest.

"Raise your arms," he said.

Sam did and Josh pulled his undershirt over his head and tossed it in the corner chair. Josh ran his hands over Sam's bare skin. Strong and muscular, Josh felt a stirring between his legs.

Josh circled Sam's body and ran his hands down Sam's back to the top of his boxer shorts. Sam always stood ramrod straight, but there was this little dip at the small of his back where Josh's palm fit perfectly.

He let the tips of his fingers slide just inside the rim of Sam's underwear. Then his hand slipped a little deeper until he cupped Sam's firm ass.

Josh smiled as he felt the baby soft down of hair of Sam's bottom, barely there. He let his forefinger find the top of the crevice and just settle, while his thumb stroked the familiar place at the small of Sam's back.

Then he hooked his thumbs in the waistband and pulled Sam's underwear down around his ankles.

"Step out," Josh instructed.

Sam put his hands on Josh's shoulders to steady himself and kicked his shorts to the side. He stood naked in the dark.

Sam's fingers crawled to Josh's chest and he slowly unbuttoned Josh's shirt and spread it open.

"You gave me this shirt," Josh said.

Sam nodded. Josh couldn't see him, but he knew he nodded. It's what Sam would do.

"It might be my favorite," Josh continued.

"You're my favorite," Sam replied.

He slid Josh's dress shirt and undershirt off in one move. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband of Josh's boxer shorts and pulled them down.

"Step out," Sam instructed.

Josh put his hands on Sam's shoulders and kicked his underwear aside.

He, too, stood naked in the dark room.

Sam and Josh stood close but they didn't touch. Heat radiated off them both and the other could feel the sensuality that passed between them. Josh wanted so much to reach out and pull Sam into him and make love; but he hesitated because as Sam said, `after what happened' Josh could be one hundred percent sure yet Sam was ready.

Sam found Josh's hand and without a word they walked into the bathroom. Sam closed the door behind him so they were in total darkness. He turned the shower on and steam began to fill the room. They stepped inside and were enclosed in a black chamber of hot water beating down on them from both directions. They stood in silence.

Then Sam was on his knees before Josh, Josh's penis in Sam's mouth. Josh took in a sharp breath at the unexpected sensation of Sam's cool lips on his hot dick. His erection instantly hardened. He put his hands on top of Sam's head and ran his fingers through his wet hair.

Sam took all of Josh's penis into his throat and sucked at it, trying to bring more inside him. One hand caressed Josh's balls, gently squeezing and tugging; his other hand was on Josh's ass, pushing Sam with a rocking motion as Sam savored what he knew Josh was feeling. He couldn't look up and see him ~~ the dark and the steam would have hidden Josh's face ~~ but Sam took his pleasure when he felt Josh's body quiver with sexual excitement, when he felt his dick pulsate in Sam's mouth and grower harder and bigger as Sam made love to it with his lips and tongue. Sam found his joy when Josh pressed Sam's head into his crotch while he made his final thrusts in and out of Sam's mouth as his milky cum shot down Sam's throat and filled his mouth and overflowed from his lips and trickled down his chin. Sam got pleasure in licking clean his husband's penis, kissing it, caressing it with his lips as he wrapped his tongue around it to lap up every drop of his precious seed.

Josh kept his hands on Sam's head, not sure if he should reciprocate. He quickly learned it wasn't his decision to make. Sam took Josh's hands and gently pulled him to the floor of the large shower. Still without speaking, Sam had Josh lay on his back. His own penis was hard and full and about to explode. He bent Josh's knees and spread his legs open wide. He put his hands on the insides of Josh's legs at the knees and slowly let them glide down toward the center. Josh pushed his pelvis up toward Sam in anticipation, but Sam repeated teasing Josh with the sensitive insides of his legs.

Sam had long, slender fingers. Not delicate, not feminine, but very sensual. And he knew how to use them to drive Josh crazy.

Then when he knew he, himself, could hold back no longer, he filled his palms with a liquid gel in the corner of the shower. He rubbed his hands together then lubricated Josh's anus. He filled his palms with more gel and slathered it on his own penis. Before the water could wash it off, Sam slid his hands under Josh's hips and lifted him slightly and pulled him forward. Then with a single thrust, he shoved his dick inside Josh until Josh took it all.

Sam rocked back and forth, his penis inside and outside of Josh, using his hands on Josh's hips to maneuver them. He felt Josh writhe beneath him and that made him push harder and deeper. It didn't take long until Sam burst, his warm semen filling Josh. Sam came powerfully and if they hadn't been in total darkness and if there hadn't been water to wash it away, Sam would have looked at his own penis and seen Josh's blood.

********

Josh held Sam until Sam felt asleep. They both had crawled to the middle of the bed and Josh pulled Sam into him so Sam's back pressed against Josh's chest. They tangled their legs, their feet paired with the other's.

Sleep came quickly for Sam and Josh was grateful. Sam seemed be coping well enough, but Josh knew after what he'd been through, along with his self-detoxing, just the day-to-day façade of normalcy was difficult. He also knew Sam was strong-willed and determined and Josh had all the faith in the world Sam would be a better man for having fought and won this fight.

Sam's next battleground seemed to loom in Southern California, and his next enemy, his Father.

Josh stared into the darkness. He felt Sam's chest rise and fall against his arm.

Fathers and sons. Josh wanted Sam to tell him what it was between Daniel Seaborn and Sam Seaborn that kept them at such a distance.

Fathers and sons. What he wouldn't give to be able to just pick up the phone and call home and say, "Dad, it's me." like Sam had done.

Fathers and sons. He'd heard the words Dr. Adams said that day, but they didn't register, not really, not then. They were just words until those quiet moments when Josh was alone and he re-wound the tape of the brief conversation in his head and pushed "Play". That's when: "I have the other test results you asked about from the DNA sample. They match, Josh. You might wanna think about contacting the Mother." punched him in the gut so hard he had to stand with his back against the wall so he wouldn't sink to his knees.

Josh carefully disentangled his legs from Sam's and pulled his arm from under his head. Sam slept deeply and let himself be moved ever so slightly so Josh could roll away and get out of bed. He knew the bottoms of his blue pajamas that were too big were across the foot of the bed, so he pulled them on, tightened the drawstring, and left the bedroom. He closed the door behind him and went downstairs.

It had stopped raining and it was quiet in the living room. Josh sat at the desk and turned on the small lamp that only lit the working space. He and Sam shared the desk. It had `their' stuff in it and was functional more for mundane purposes such as paying bills and balancing the checkbook than actual work. Sam sat behind it more than Josh. He said he liked the feel of "pen to paper on a good walnut finish" and would often sit there until late into the night and write words and sentences and thoughts and feelings that Josh never read. And Josh never betrayed Sam's trust by opening his journals to see what was deep inside Sam that was yet to come out.

Josh opened the bottom right drawer and dug around until he found what he wanted ~~ an old address book. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, the book in his hands, and stared at it unopened.

Do I really wanna do this? he thought. Is this a call I should make? NEED to make? Am obligated to make? I don't have to. Nothing or nobody says I have to. I asked to have the DNA sample tested; I wasn't made to. I could just put this address book back in the drawer, forget what Dr. Adams told me, and we could all just go on with our lives like we have for the past . . .

Josh opened the book to the letter "P" and put his finger under a name.

Could be a different number, he said to himself. Could have moved. No, that house has been in her family since the Mayflower. She's not going anywhere.

Josh picked up the phone and leaned back in the chair. It squeaked and he shot a look toward the stairs.

Silence.

The number didn't sound familiar, but the area code sure did. 203: Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Is it too late to call? Hell, it's the middle of the night. But if I don't do it now, I may never . . .

Josh dialed the number and rubbed his forehead while it rang. Once, twice, three times.

"Hello?"

Josh's mouth was too dry to speak. He got up and walked quickly to the kitchen.

"Hello? Who is this?"

He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water, screwed the top off, and took a big drink.

"Jeanne," he said, his voice still gravelly.

It was her turn to be silent.

"Jeanne? Hello, Jeanne?"

"Josh?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it's me."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing! Nothing's wrong." Josh leaned against the kitchen counter and took another drink. "I know it's late and I probably shouldn't call in the middle of the night like this . . ."

Silence.

"Jeanne, there's something you need to know."

Chapter 54

Neither Sam nor Josh could sleep this Thursday morning. The rain had stopped, the sun had yet to rise, and it was this quiet time when Sam's and Josh's thoughts ran deep and brought forth those things they couldn't talk about in the light of day. Later in the light of day, just not this early in the morning.

So they pondered these unintentional secrets and tried to reason them through before they shared their most private thoughts with the other.

Sam saw the first glow of light from the sun; just a glow, orangey- yellow, not enough to color the sky but Sam knew it wouldn't be far behind. He burrowed deeper into Josh and tucked his feet between Josh's. Gently, barely a movement at all, Josh's toes rubbed against Sam's feet. Sam smiled.

Then his mind turned to things more serious.

Why did John Hoynes invite me to his AA meeting tonight? How does he know I've been struggling with this addiction nightmare? Only two people know ~~ Josh and Toby. And neither of them would tell the Vice President, for one thing.

For another thing, neither of them knows about the well-guarded secret meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous to even tell him about my need to attend.

Hoynes said only a handful of people know: three Senators, two Cabinet Secretaries, two Agency Directors, one Federal Judge and himself ~~ and the Chief of Staff.

Leo.

Leo doesn't know about my addiction. Does he? Not unless Josh or Toby told him. And they wouldn't. Would they? And Leo wasn't at the hospital that night. Was he?

Sam put his hand on Josh's arm and followed it down to Josh's hand. He put his palm against Josh's and matched their fingers together. Then he closed his hand around Josh's and Josh held on.

I know, without question, Josh was at the hospital that morning. I saw his face and felt his hands. Heard his voice, tasted his lips . . . his scent came to me even in my deepest sleep and stayed with me.

I know Toby was there too. I saw him in the Emergency Room and I heard his voice. The memory is muted, hazy from the drugs, but I turned my head to the side and saw Toby. I don't ever wanna see that look on his face again. He looked like someone he loved had died. He looked right at me.

Someday . . . someday soon I need to talk to Toby about that night. To apologize for what I must have put him through. Toby doesn't care about a lot of people, but he cares about me. This I know. It's what I DON'T know that bothers me.

Was Leo at the hospital that morning? I don't think he was. I have no memory of him and WHY would he be there? He doesn't know about my addiction and I can't imagine any reason why Josh or Toby would call him.

Then it all comes around to the AA meeting. Obviously Leo knows about it because while Hoynes didn't name names, he said the Chief of Staff attends, and that's Leo. Did Leo tell the Vice President I'm an addict? Did Leo tell the President?

These questions are driving me nuts. Who do I go to for answers? If I ask the wrong person I may break a confidence I don't mean to break. I could put somebody in deep shit.

Sam felt Josh stir behind him. God I love this man. He's the only one I CAN ask. Josh is the only person I can trust unconditionally. I've gotta ask him these questions so I can tell him I'm going to the Vice President's *poker game* tonight.

Sam brought Josh's hand to his lips and kissed it. He held it there for a moment and whispered, "Thank you God, for giving me Josh."

Josh heard Sam whisper the short prayer and in silence added, "And for giving Sam to me."

Josh had slept little after his phone call to Jeanne. When he got back in bed, he never let go of Sam during the night and at times would stroke his arm or run his fingers through Sam's hair and play with his silky soft locks.

Sam DOES need a haircut, Josh thought, and I wanna make sure he gets one before Toby has to say something to him about it.

He kissed the top of Sam's head. How in the hell am I gonna tell him about Jeanne and the DNA test and . . . shit. There are so many ways to begin this story and none of them are good. And NONE of them need to be started before the weekend. He's gonna need some "what-the- fuck?" time and with that damn reunion right on top of us. And how's he gonna react when I throw Scott Major into the mix?

Then again, knowing Sam, he'll probably handle it better than me.

Hell, it hasn't even sunk into my thick skull yet. If it had, I wouldn't be calmly processing this in my mind ~~ I wouldn't have a mind left.

Sam rolled over. He threw an arm and a leg over Josh and snuggled his face against Josh's neck. Heat radiated off them both.

"You know what you feel like?" Josh asked softly.

"Uh uh. What do I feel like?"

"A hot dog."

Sam laughed. "I feel like a hot dog?"

"Yeah, and I wanna eat you up."

"I'm all yours. Every inch belongs to you. Bon appetit."

Josh rolled Sam onto his back, climbed on top, and devoured him. An hour later the alarm went off but neither of them heard it.

********

"DONNA!"

"You're late."

"I'm not late."

"You're late," she repeated.

Josh dropped his backpack to the floor and took the phone messages she held out to him.

"I don't punch a time clock. I'm a salaried government employee and keep odd hours. I don't have an appointed time I'm supposed to report in every morning or check out every night, ergo, I'm not late," Josh said in his defense.

"You're late."

"What do you want, Donna?"

"You called me."

"Oh."

Donna dropped a stack of folders in the middle of his desk. "Are we having a morning, Josh? Do you wanna tell me what it was that made you late?"

Josh tried to suppress a smile, but it came across as a cocky smirk.

"Oh, you'd love to know. You'd be the most popular assistant in the West Wing if you knew why I was late this morning."

"Ah ha! You just admitted you were late!" Donna said with a victorious nod.

"Go away."

Donna turned to leave.

"Come back."

She stopped.

"My schedule looks relatively clear today. Did you add anything I need to know about?" he asked.

"Gates at eight, Seaborn at nine, Bruno and his gang MIGHT come in at two-thirty, and a conference call . . ."

"Hold it. Seaborn at nine. Who's that?"

"Who's what?"

"Who's Seaborn?"

Donna looked blankly at Josh.

"Sam Seaborn. Deputy Director of Communications. The White House," she replied.

"MY Sam?"

"Well, OUR Sam, but if you feel that strongly about him, I guess . . ."

Josh let his slip-up go and hoped Donna wouldn't make a big deal out of it.

"Sam doesn't usually make an appointment to see me. It just caught me off-guard."

"Well, knowing OUR Sam, HE won't be late. May I get back to work now?"

"Yeah, yeah, go, go."

Josh put his feet up on his desk and crossed his hands behind his head. He couldn't imagine what was so important that Sam felt he needed to make an appointment to talk with him about. They were just together twenty minutes ago and everything seemed fine. He looked at his watch. Nine o'clock couldn't come fast enough for Josh.

********

"Vice President's Office."

"Tess, Sam Seaborn. How are you this morning?"

"Sam! So good to hear your voice. You just made my day."

Sam laughed. "Well, I'm glad to be of service. Maybe you can help me in return. Is there any way the Vice President would have a few minutes to see me this morning? I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

"Let me see . . ." Tess' voice trailed off as she checked the Vice President's calendar. "You're in luck, Sam. He has a little while now if you can come on over."

"Perfect. I'm on my way."

Sam walked out of his office and didn't stop as he spoke to his assistant. "Cathy, I'll be out of the building for a little while."

"Ok, where are you going?" she asked.

"Out."

"When will you be back?"

"In a while."

"Do you have your . . . ?"

"I have my phone and pager."

"Ok."

It didn't take Sam long to reach the Vice President's office. Tess looked up and greeted him with a smile.

"Hi Sam. Twice in what? A week? We need to make this a habit."

Sam grinned at Tess. He'd always liked her and knew she had more than a passing interest in him. He was polite and friendly but never returned her subtle, and often not-so-subtle, remarks that she was attracted to him.

"Is he free?" Sam asked.

"Sure. I told him you were on your way. Go on in."

Sam went inside the Vice President's office. It smelled of fresh coffee and Sam's stomach growled. He just realized neither he nor Josh had eaten breakfast. After their playtime in bed, they'd both drifted back to sleep and missed the alarm, and it was just a fluke that Josh woke up when he did. A quick shower and they were out the door; Sam didn't even insist they take a granola bar to eat in the car. Now the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans made his mouth water.

"Good morning, Sam! Come in, have a seat." John Hoynes waved him in. "Are you hungry? I was just about to have breakfast and they bring enough for a small army."

"Yes sir, I'd like that."

Sam joined Hoynes at the credenza. They lifted silver domed lids off several platters and set them off to the side. Sam picked up a piece of Blue Delft china and filled his plate with a rib-eye steak, eggs, hash browns, grits, biscuits, and stewed apples. He poured a cup of coffee and sat at the table with the Vice President.

"This is a cattleman's breakfast," Hoynes said. "None of that frou- frou crap they serve in, no offense, other offices. Steak every morning."

"Yes sir."

"Try this jelly, Sam. It's muscadine."

Sam spread some on his biscuit and took a bite. "That's good. I've never had it before."

"From my own vineyard. A delicate grape," Hoynes explained.

"I didn't know you had a vineyard. Do you have a label?"

"'Just Jelly'."

"Sir?" Sam cut into his steak; it was so tender he didn't even need a knife. He was hungrier than he thought and wondered if Josh had anything to eat.

"That's all we make is jelly. It's no big deal, just a mom-and-pop business, a few thousand acres. We make jelly for friends and family and have a good time. Did you think I was a vintner, Sam?"

"I wasn't sure. I wouldn't think so . . . who runs your business?"

Hoynes laughed. "Mom and pop."

Sam laughed with him. "No, seriously."

"You're not here to talk about jelly, Sam." He wiped his mouth on a cloth napkin, pushed back from the table, and walked toward the middle of his office. He sat in a chair and motioned for Sam to sit across from him. Sam did.

"No sir, I'm not. I've got a concern, Mr. Vice President, and I'd like to speak with you about it this morning," Sam started.

"What's that?"

"I plan on coming to your poker game tonight and I can't help but wonder why you invited me."

John Hoynes leaned back and crossed his legs. If he'd been a smoker and it wasn't seven-thirty in the morning, he would have pulled out two cigars, lit them both, and offered one to Sam.

"Someone suggested to me that it might benefit you to attend my meetings. I didn't just randomly pull your name out of a hat, Sam. You were specifically chosen."

"Who made the suggestion? Who specifically chose me?" Sam asked.

Hoynes hesitated before he answered. "I think we both know it was Leo. He's the only person in that meeting that you know on a first name basis, if you know at all."

Now the questions get harder, Sam thought. "Why?" he asked.

"I'm sorry?"

"Why did Leo tell you I might benefit from attending your meetings?"

"Because he cares about you," Hoynes replied.

"How did he . . . how does he know? How does he know I need to . . .?" This had become too real. It was hard for Sam to find the words he needed to say when they applied to him.

"That I can't say."

Sam tugged at his collar. He didn't want to ask this question, but he needed to know the answer.

"Will you tell me what Leo told you? When he made the suggestion, I mean."

"No. That's between you and Leo. I told you who gave me your name. If you wanna know what he said, you'll have to ask Leo."

"Uh, Mr. Vice President . . ."

"John."

"Yes, sir."

"I would really, really . . . really prefer if you'd tell me. I don't wanna go to Leo with this question," said Sam. "Would you please tell me what he said?"

"No son, I won't."

"John, If you'd just . . ."

"Talk to Leo," Hoynes repeated.

". . . just give me some idea."

The Vice President put his hand on Sam's leg. "Sam, no!"

Sam silenced himself, closed his eyes for a moment, opened them and looked at Hoynes.

"What's the one thing, the one certainty you learned from me when I was Governor of Texas?"

Sam closed his eyes another moment before he answered. "No means no."

"And that hasn't changed, nor WILL it change. Understand?"

Sam nodded his head.

Hoynes squeezed Sam's leg. "Don't make a thing out of it. It's between you and Leo."

Sam nodded his head again.

Hoynes gave Sam an affectionate pat on the cheek and smiled. "What happened to `Yes sir, Mr. Vice President'?" he asked.

Sam gave a smile of resignation. "Yes sir, Mr. Vice President."

"Ok. You're coming tonight? For sure?"

"Yes, sir."

"You know where?"

"In the basement."

"You know what to say to the guard?"

"I'm there for the poker game."

"And you're to tell . . .?"

"Oh, that brings up one more question," Sam replied.

"What's that?"

"I get the `Anonymous' part, but do people . . ." God, Sam thought, why am I so fucking honest, now that I've started this question, how in the name of all that is good and pure do I get the hell out of it? ". . . ever tell ANYBODY where they're going? Like a family member? Or a close friend? In case there's an emergency. . . or something. Like, do you tell Mrs. Hoynes? I don't mean to get in your personal business, but do these people just disappear at eleven o'clock every Thursday night without telling someone? Who may . . . need . . . to know? I'm just saying . . ."

Hoynes laughed. "Have you got somebody you need to check in and out with, Sam? Do you need to account for your Thursday nights?"

Sam was embarrassed. Marc had asked him a similar question. Not that he HAD to explain, but he wished he COULD explain the difference in having to ask permission and being considerate.

"I'm sorry to laugh, Sam. I just can't picture Sam Seaborn having to explain his personal time to anyone." Hoynes stood and Sam did the same. "I've gotta be somewhere and I'm gonna be late if I don't leave now. Sam, you know the ramifications if anyone, and I mean ANYONE, finds out about this meeting. But if you believe someone needs to know where you are tonight and you trust that person, I trust you. I'll see you tonight."

********

Sam sat in his office and did nothing until five minutes until nine when he had his appointment with Josh. Then he made his way through the bullpen.

"Sam, you should wear suspenders every day," Donna said. "You look hot."

Sam grinned. "I do? Then I will."

"Just roll your sleeves up almost to the elbow and loosen your tie a little and I guarantee, thirty women will throw themselves at your feet before noon."

"Can't beat that. Maybe I'd better not just for my own protection," he said.

"If you change your mind, I got dibs!" Donna called out as Sam knocked on Josh's door then went inside and closed it behind him.

Josh looked up and smiled. "Hi, Angel. What took you so long?"

Sam looked at his watch. It was exactly nine o'clock. "You're lucky to have me at all. Donna just told me thirty women will throw themselves at my feet before noon because of my suspenders."

He dared a quick kiss on Josh's cheek then sat in the chair next to his desk.

"They'll have to get through me first. God, you DO look hot. Let's do it."

"Josh! We can't just `do it' right here."

"Sure we can," replied Josh. "Take your clothes off."

"Do you just love me for my body?" Sam asked.

"Pretty much. It's kinda sexy that you made an appointment to see me."

"I'm a sexy kinda guy," Sam growled.

"Why don't you make this a regular thing? I'll have Donna put it on my calendar."

"Josh, I honestly made the appointment because I wanna tell you something and it's time sensitive and you know how our schedules are, so I figured unless I made an . . ."

"Just tell me. Why do you writer types use ten words for every one word regular people use?"

"We're born with it. It's instinctive. We don't mean to be verbose, it just happens. Elaborating on a point is our natural . . ."

"Sam!"

"You asked."

"I did. And I know better than to ask again. So, what's up?"

Sam turned around to make sure the door was closed. He knew he wasn't about to reveal secrets of national security; still, he was appreciative of the seriousness and sanctity of the anonymity of AA and he'd been entrusted to use that information with discretion.

He picked up a pen and began to tap it on Josh's desk and lowered his voice.

"I was invited to attend an AA meting tonight," Sam began. "It's here in the White House."

Josh's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak, but was silent. After a few seconds he was able to draw out one word, more a statement that a question.

"Reeeaaally . . ."

"Really." Sam confirmed. "I was as surprised as you are."

"How? Where? Who invited you? Are you allowed to talk about this?" Josh was full of questions.

"I can tell on a need-to-know basis, and I believe you need to know. I'd like to go to the meeting, Josh, and we never hide anything from each other . . . anymore," he added with a sheepish smile. "So when I leave the house tonight I want you to know exactly where I'll be and what I'll be doing."

"It's really here? How come I didn't know about this?" Josh asked.

Sam laughed. "Believe it or not, sweetheart, there are a few things that get past you every now and then."

"Very little. So, where is it? Who invited you? Leo?"

"It's in the basement under the guise of a poker game. I'm supposed to tell the guard at the door I'm there to play cards and he lets me in and it's really a meeting."

"I'll be damned. That sounds like Leo."

"Leo didn't invite me, Josh."

Sam stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles. Josh moved his chair a few inches so his leg pressed against Sam's.

"If not Leo, who?" Josh asked. "He's the only person we know on the staff in recovery."

"The only one we know ABOUT, but not the only one." Sam continued to tap his pen on Josh's desk.

Josh reached out and took it from him and tossed it out of Sam's reach. "Who else?" he asked.

"Hoynes."

Josh took a second to let it sink in.

"Reeeaaaally . . ."

Sam nodded.

"So Hoynes invited you to the meeting?"

Sam nodded again.

"Not Leo?"

Sam shook his head.

"Does Leo know about the meeting?" Josh prodded.

"Yep. He goes."

"And it's cool that you're telling me this? I thought AA meetings were some big secretive deal and if anybody told who was there you'd get shot or something."

"Josh, don't be an idiot."

"Well, I've heard things," he said in his defense.

"This particular meeting has to be kept secret for obvious reasons, but I don't think anybody's gonna get shot. Still, don't say anything."

"I'm not, I'm not. Who else goes?"

"Josh! It's a secret!" Sam chided him.

"You just said . . ."

"You're about to bust, aren't you?"

"Not so much, but since you brought it up, I'm curious now," Josh back-pedaled.

"Let's talk about this at home, ok? I'd just feel better. I don't wanna say too much about it here."

"Yeah, ok," Josh conceded.

"My question is, what prompted Leo to suggest to Hoynes that I be invited?" Sam asked. "How'd he know I have a, or had a substance abuse problem?"

"I sure didn't tell him," Josh said with a laugh.

"I didn't think you did, Josh."

Josh thought he heard a touch of hurt in Sam's voice and realized he'd been flip with him about a subject that was serious to Sam. He slid his chair a little closer and put his hand on Sam's leg. He ran his palm up and down Sam's thigh.

"I wouldn't tell anybody about your personal business, you know that."

"Then how did Leo know to tell Hoynes?"

Josh picked up Sam's pen. "Sam, Leo came to the hospital."

"Last week? After the over-dose?"

"Yeah." Josh was tentative. He had no idea how Sam would react to this news. Sam's response surprised Josh.

"Am I gonna lose my job?" he asked.

"What the hell kind of question is that?"

"Because I fucked up."

"Sam, baby."

Josh knelt in front of Sam and put his hands on the arms of the chair. "You didn't fuck up. Don't ever say that again. Ever. And no, you're not gonna lose your job. What would ever make you say that anyway?"

Sam tightened his hands around Josh's forearms.

"If Leo was at the hospital he had to know why. The President can't have a drug addict on his staff."

"Sam, listen to yourself. LEO is a known alcoholic. And there's the pill thing with him. He's the Chief of Staff for God's sake! And from what you just said, the Vice President's in the club, too. You're not gonna lose your job, honey. Get that out of your head right now. Just relax."

"You're right. I just think too much."

"About crazy stuff. You're ok about this losing your job nonsense now?"

Sam smiled and nodded.

"That's my boy." Josh leaned in and kissed Sam on his forehead. He pulled at a shock of hair with his teeth. "You're getting a haircut on the way home."

"Osh, how did Leo know I was at the hospital?" Sam asked.

It sounded like an easy enough question, but it caught Josh off- guard. He honestly didn't know the answer.

After that weekend he'd returned to work and immersed himself in his job so he wouldn't have idle time to let his mind wander to what may or may not be happening with Sam.

When he DID remember those couple of days, his memories were fragments and even then, they were fuzzy. So he tried not to think about it because one image that kept coming back to him ~~ half asleep on a couch with his head in Leo's lap ~~ made him uncomfortable. He couldn't decide if it was a good or a bad feeling. Just uncomfortable.

Toby had also returned to his job and the two mentioned what had happened only in brief, cryptic, incomplete sentences. Toby never explained Leo's presence and Josh never asked. It was one of those things they both seemed to think was better left unsaid.

Now, though, Sam had brought it up so it seemed like it was about to be said . . . by somebody. But not by Josh.

"I don't know," he said in a quiet voice. "I think, I guess Toby called him. I didn't."

"You don't know?" Sam asked incredulously. "You were there, Toby was there, and Leo was there. That was early Sunday morning and this is Thursday, and you don't know? Don't you guys talk to each other?"

"Not about that."

Sam stood and pulled Josh up by his forearms. "I'm gonna ask Toby."

"Because . . .?"

"Because this is me, my life. I wanna know what happened before I just walk into that meeting . . . poker game . . . and face Leo without a clue. I'm gonna ask Toby."

But Sam didn't move. He stood just inches from Josh, his hands still on Josh's forearms. "I was real scared after that overdose, Josh," he said.

"So was I."

Sam tightened his grip. "When we go to California . . ."

"Yeah?"

"When we go to California, I'm gonna tell my family about you. About you and me."

Josh cupped Sam's face with his hand. "Let's talk about it when we get home. Right before the election might not be the best time."

"No, I wanna tell them. I want my Father to know about us. And Jack."

"Your brother?"

Sam nodded. He turned his head and kissed Josh's palm against his face. He wanted to be naked and he wanted Josh to be naked and he wanted them to be in California on the beach below the house he grew up in.

He wanted to feel the warm sun on his face and allow it to soak all the poison out of his veins He wanted the salt air to clear his head so he could have confidence in his wisdom and judgment again. He wanted to challenge the Pacific surf and let the water bring the strength back into his body.

He leaned into Josh and kissed him. "I want," he whispered against Josh's lips.

Josh's hand slid down Sam's back and beneath his suspenders. His other hand cradled the back of Sam's head. One of them, maybe both, moved closer so there was no space between them anymore. Sam slipped his arms inside Josh's jacket and wrapped them tightly around him.

"What do you want?" Josh murmured.

"I want you. I want everything."

Josh kissed Sam tenderly. "You've got me," he said.

Sam pulled Josh into him with a quick jerk that made Josh laugh.

"Then I've got everything." Sam looked into his husband's eyes. "I adore you, Osh."

They kissed again ~~ gently, sweetly. Neither wanted to let go of the other. Both wanted to do more, kiss more, touch more. . . .

"We've gotta stop, darlin'," Josh said, but he didn't make a move to detach himself from Sam. He ran his hand through Sam's hair. "Donna's gonna come busting in here any minute . . . I can just sense her trolling the hall outside my door. She's about to burst in here to know why you made an appointment to see me. Did you lock the door?"

Sam shook his head. "I made the appointment to tell you about the poker game tonight. I didn't expect you to lose control and ravish my body."

Josh laughed that infectious laugh again. That laugh that so endeared him to Sam and almost everybody else who caught Josh's natural joy for life and not just the cynical, sarcastic, public politician's persona he felt he had to display to keep his edge.

Sam kissed Josh in that special place behind his ear. He nuzzled Josh's hair and inhaled him.

"You smell good," he whispered in a throaty voice.

Josh clutched a handful of Sam's shirt and continued to caress the back of his head. He cocked his own head to the side just a little and exposed his neck to Sam.

"What do I smell like?" he asked.

Their lips came together and Sam smiled into the kiss.

"You smell like Josh."

********

Sam couldn't keep his mind on his work. There were too many questions unanswered. How did Leo know to come to the hospital? If Josh didn't call him, Toby must have. But would Toby . . . Toby who said it would be best for everybody if they kept their relationship at home, Toby who threatened them if they wore their wedding bands to the White House, Toby who . . . no, Toby wouldn't tell Leo, of all people, about him and Josh.

Hoynes had said, "Someone loves you, Sam. Someone loves you more than you can fathom." Leo and I aren't especially close. I feel a much stronger connection with Toby. Why would the Vice President say that about ME? Leo doesn't *love* me.

Thump.

Thump.

Sam jumped up from his chair and hurried into Toby's office.

"You thumped?" he asked.

Thump.

Thump.

Toby threw the ball and Sam stuck his hand out and caught it in mid- air before it could hit the window again. He didn't know who was more stunned ~~ him or Toby.

"I probably shouldn't have done that," he said.

Toby held out his hand and Sam tossed the ball to him. Toby set it on his desk, wasn't happy with its position, moved it a quarter of an inch, seemed satisfied, and looked at Sam.

"I've called a meeting in my office with my Deputy Director of Communications and the Deputy Chief of Staff," he said.

"That would be me and Josh, correct?"

"Yeah."

"Ok." Sam turned to leave.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, Toby?"

"I've called a meeting."

"Ok."

Silence.

"Oh, you mean now?" Sam asked.

"See my face?"

"Right, yeah, ok, now. I'll get Josh."

Thump.

Sam turned at the door. "Can I tell Josh what the meeting is about?"

"You don't KNOW what the meeting is about."

Thump.

"Right. We'll be surprised."

Thump.

Sam started toward Josh's office. He could have called, but he wanted to stretch his legs. After he'd met with Josh he hadn't left his desk and he was restless about tonight's meeting. Also, it would give him a couple more minutes alone in Josh's office. His appointment had ended too soon and left them both unsatisfied. He wanted just another private moment, another stolen kiss, another feel of his lover's hand on his . . .

"Hey, pal!"

Sam, startled out of his thoughts, turned. He hadn't seen or heard the man fall in step beside him.

"Danny! Where've you been? I haven't seen you for a couple of weeks. "

"Oh, I've been snooping around, digging up the good stuff," Danny replied.

Sam glanced at him.

"That's my job, Sam! If I didn't snoop and dig, I might as well become just a plain ole speechwriter. See my point?"

Sam laughed. "Yes, Danny, point taken. Snoop and dig at will. That's what you're here for. Just promise you'll give me a heads-up if you find anything incriminating about me, ok?"

"That takes all the fun out of it, Sam. The element of surprise. Opening that newspaper every morning and never knowing what you might read. Or see. Wondering if YOUR picture might be on the front page. Keeps you on your toes. Hey, where are we headed?"

"Nowhere now. We're here. See ya, Danny." Sam walked into Josh's office and stood in front of his desk.

Josh was on the phone, but held up his finger and indicated he'd be off in a minute. He finished his conversation, hung up the phone, and said, "Hi, Sam. Hi, Danny."

Sam whirled around. He didn't know Danny had followed him into Josh's office. When he said, `See ya, Danny', Sam figured Danny understood that was the end of their conversation and Danny's cue to keep walking. Obviously, Sam was mistaken.

"Danny, what are you doing in here?" Sam asked.

"You brought me."

"I brought you? I did no such thing!" Sam turned to Josh, who seemed amused by the whole exchange taking place in front of him. "Josh, I didn't bring him here. He tricked me! He said he was snooping and digging and the next thing I know, it's like he's on my tail spying on me."

"Sam, I promise you, I'M not on your tail," Danny assured him with a grin.

Sam shook he head. "Danny, what in the hell are you talking about?" he asked.

Danny, still with a grin, turned to Josh. "So, Josh, do you have anything to say?"

"About what?" Josh replied.

"This."

"This what?" Josh asked, totally confused, but still amused.

"This!" Danny waved his arms around the office. "You know." He nodded his head toward Sam. Josh looked at Sam who appeared as confused as Josh.

"This?" Josh asked. He nodded his head at Sam, just as Danny had done.

"Yeah! Now you've got it!" Danny was delighted.

"Like an official statement?" Josh continued.

"Well, if that's the way you wanna go. I've never done one of these before."

"Yeah, that's the way I wanna go."

Sam looked at Josh then at Danny then back at Josh in disbelief.

Danny got out his tape recorder, his pad of paper, and a pen. "Ok, I'm ready. Shoot."

"Come stand beside me, Sam," Josh said. "You're in this just as much as I am."

Sam hesitantly walked behind Josh's desk and stood beside his chair. He had absolutely no idea what Josh was up to.

Josh cleared his throat. "My official statement on `this'," he said, "is . . . YOU'RE NUTS! Now get out of here, Danny. Go play court jester to CJ or something, because Sam and I have a meeting to go to. And don't let the door hit you on the butt on your way out."

"No scoop?" Danny asked one more time.

"Out!"

Danny put his things away. "Watch your back," he said as he closed the door behind him.

"What the hell was that?" Josh asked when they were finally alone.

"I have no idea," Sam said. "I was walking and all of a sudden he was right there and, hell, I don't know." Sam leaned against the desk so his back was to the door and he faced Josh. He crossed his legs at the ankles.

"Wanna make out?" Josh asked.

"With you?"

"Well, yeah." Josh looked hurt.

Sam laughed. "Osh, if there were a way, I'd clear this desk with one swipe of my arm and have you stripped down and on this desk in less than thirty seconds."

"Then what?"

"Then I'd make love to you with so much passion that your legs would turn to mush and you wouldn't be able to close your mouth for a month," Sam said in deep, sultry voice.

"Then what?"

"You'd beg for more," Sam continued.

Josh put his hand on his desk close to Sam. "Think we can get away with it?" he asked in a serious voice.

Sam laughed out loud. "Joshua! Don't be insane! We're not even supposed to hold hands in this place, much less do what we WANT to do. And what we did this morning . . . for God's sake, Josh, I can't believe we did that. Much less with the door unlocked! Can you imagine if Donna had come in?"

"You made my dick hard just talking about it," Josh said.

"Well that's just great, because we have that meeting with Toby."

"What meeting with Toby?"

"I thought you knew! You just told Danny we had a meeting to go to. Toby didn't call you?" Sam stood up. "He wants us in his office like, ten minutes ago."

"Oh man, why didn't you say that before you came in here talking trash and getting me all worked up," Josh whined.

"Stop whining. I didn't get you worked up. Danny did," Sam laughed.

"Not in this universe. You've gotta get me off, Sam. I can't walk through the bullpen with `this'." Josh pushed his chair back so Sam could see the erection that strained against his trousers.

Sam bent over laughing. "What are you? Twelve years old? Getting all hot and bothered over nothing."

"It's not over nothing, asshole. You'd get like this too if you walked into your office and saw yourself like I see you. Paint you blue and you'd be a walking Viagra." Josh wasn't laughing.

"Well, Toby wants to see us NOW, so I suggest you deflate somehow," Sam offered.

"You could get under the desk and suck me off," Josh suggested.

"You've been reading the Penthouse Forum again, haven't you?" Sam dangled his arm at his side so his hand was out of sight behind Josh's desk. He wiggled his fingers. Josh reached over and wrapped his hand around Sam's fingers and squeezed them with affection.

"Love you," Josh whispered.

Sam winked at Josh.

"You know what?" Sam said, his voice quiet. "I really want us to get our rings inscribed right away. Can we take them after work?"

"We'll have to leave them there for a while. Think you can stand it?"

"Well, my finger will feel naked, but it'll be worth it," replied Sam.

"I'd like to feel YOU naked," Josh grinned.

"Dirty boy."

"Pretty boy."

"Shall I disrobe here and now, Josh, so you can not only feel me naked but see me naked too?"

"Don't tease me, Sam."

"I tease you not." Sam loosened his tie with his free hand.

Josh gazed up at him and wondered how far he'd actually go.

A knock on the door put that thought to rest. The guys instantly released hands and Josh rolled his chair forward so the desk hid his erection.

"Come on in!" he called out.

Donna opened the door and walked in with her arms full. She dumped everything in the middle of Josh's desk.

"These are the files you requested by way of eight sticky notes stuck to my computer screen with your chicken scratch that you expect to pass off as penmanship," Donna began, "and here's all your transcription, up-to-date, your out-going correspondence that needs your signature, your mail, prioritized, and your phone messages. I'd like to take the liberty of reading one aloud since it's directed at both you, Josh, and you, Sam. May I?"

"Uh, yeah, sure," Josh said. He thought `Danny'.

As Sam turned to face Donna, he re-tied his tie that hung loose around his neck. Donna looked at him out of the corners of her eyes, furrowed her brow questioningly, and then shook her head.

"Do you want this verbatim or paraphrased?" she asked.

"Who's it from?" Josh questioned.

"Shit," Sam muttered. He knew whom the message was from.

"Paraphrase, Donna," Sam said quickly before she had a chance to read it.

Donna held the pink slip in front of her face for effect. "Extremely paraphrased, Toby expects you both at a meeting in his office right now." She lowered the piece of paper. "Do you want to save this to read in full later?" she asked.

Sam snatched it out of Donna's hand. "Thanks, Donna. That's all, you're excused."

Donna looked at Josh. "Have we had a personnel change that I'm not aware of? Do I work for Sam now?"

"No, you don't," Josh said with authority. "You still take your orders from me."

Silence.

Then Josh spoke. "Thanks, Donna. That's all, you're excused."

Sam looked at Josh. "I just said that," he spoke in a loud whisper.

"She takes her orders from me," Josh whispered back.

"But it was redundant. You just repeated what I said word-for-word."

"Still, I wanna make it clear I'm the boss of Donna."

"Josh," Sam continued in his whisper, "I'm well aware who you're the boss of, I'm just saying . . ."

"Boys," Donna interrupted. "If I may put a `pause' on your bickering for just a moment, I'd like to point out that the person of whom you speak as being the boss of, is standing right here and even though you're whispering, it's coming through loud and clear. If I were you, and if I'd heard Toby's tone of voice, which I did, I'd have been out of my chair and in Toby's office so fast it would make my head swim. Heavens to Betsy, you two sound just like my parents! Make that my GRANDPARENTS! Now GO!"

Both men jumped, pushed past Donna, and headed toward Toby's office. Josh 's arousal problem had resolved itself.

"Why didn't you tell me we had a meeting?" Josh asked as they walked.

"You distracted me and I forgot!"

"What's it about?"

"It's a surprise," Sam answered.

"We're dead."

When they arrived at Toby's office he was nowhere in sight. The door was closed. The light was off.

"Ginger?" Sam asked. "Where's Toby? We're here for a meeting he just called. Do you know where he went?"

"Yes," Ginger responded.

Silence.

"Ginger? A little more information please?" Sam continued.

"Pie."

"Pie. Toby went to get pie?"

Ginger nodded her head.

"Any idea when he'll be back? And Ginger, don't hold back. Fill free to spill your guts," Josh said sarcastically.

Ginger sighed. "He's been gone twelve minutes. He said IF you two show up, to have you wait in his office and under no circumstances are you to leave or you'll be shot on the South Lawn at sunset. Any more questions?"

"Can I go to the bathroom first?" Josh asked.

Ginger glared at him and did a dead-on Dirty Harry. "Do you feel lucky?"

Josh looked at Ginger with a new respect. He didn't take his eyes off her as he spoke to Sam.

"Call my Mom if I don't come back." He took off toward the men's room at a gallop.

Sam went into Toby's office, flipped on the light, and sat in the middle of the couch to assure a seat next to Josh. He leaned back, put his hands behind his head, stretched his legs, and closed his eyes. A couple of minutes later Josh ran back in and slid to a stop in front of Toby's desk. He put one hand on the desk and took a minute to catch his breath.

"You've gotta start running with me again, Josh," Sam said. "That shouldn't have worn you out."

"Ginger scared me and I don't feel all that lucky today," Josh explained. "Besides, I don't like to run." He sat on the couch next to Sam and put his hand on Sam's thigh.

"After you did it for a while you were enjoying it and you were good. I had you up to five miles without puking," Sam said.

"Yeah, well, we'll see."

"Do it for me?" Sam asked.

Josh turned and looked directly into Sam's crystal blue eyes. Sam purposely gave him that wide-eyed innocent gaze and slowly blinked his eyes. The eyelashes did it. Josh was hooked. He could never say no when Sam peeked out at him through those long, thick eyelashes.

"Ok, ok dammit, I'll run with you. But we've gotta start slow."

"No problem," Sam said. "It'll be fun and healthy too. And you've got great runner's legs." Sam leaned over and put his hand on Josh's calf. "You've already got good definition. All we need to do is build that up and make them stronger and work on your endurance so . . ."

The door slammed shut behind Toby. "Are you two always in heat? Take your hand off Josh's leg and move away from each other about three feet. Sam, before you leave today I want a two-page definition on the word `now'. Josh, I have no jurisdiction over you and that's a mixed blessing. I just request your presence and pray you show up. Sit down."

There was an awkward pause.

"Toby," Sam said slowly, "we ARE sitting. You're standing."

"It appears that way." Toby leaned on his desk directly in front of Sam and Josh. He reached behind him, got his rubber ball, and began to squeeze it first with one hand and then the other. He still didn't say anything and was obviously nervous.

"Toby," Josh offered, "do you want me to get things started?"

"Sure, go ahead."

Sam looked at Josh with amusement. They didn't even know what the meeting was about. How was Josh going to start it? And why is Toby acting so weird?

"Ok," Josh said in a serious voice, "roll call. Lyman. Present. Seaborn."

"Present," Sam played along.

"Ziegler," Josh continued.

All eyes were on Toby.

"Ziegler," Josh repeated.

"So, what are you guys doing Saturday?" Toby asked, oblivious to the roll call shtick.

"We're gonna take our rings to Clements Jewelers in the morning to get them engraved . . ."

"Mid-morning," Sam interjected. "First, we're going on an early morning run in Adams Park."

"Yeah, what he said, " Josh continued. "Run, then the jewelers, and after that a "Scooby-Doo-Fest" at the dollar cinemas and lunch at the junk food joint of my choice. Why do you ask?"

"And buy me a new Jaguar," Sam interjected.

"And buy Sam a new Jaguar. Why do you ask?" Josh repeated.

Toby ran his hand over his head. "I've . . . and this doesn't leave my office until I say so, do you both understand?"

Sam and Josh both nodded eagerly. What the hell was going on with Toby?

"I've met a . . . woman, a lady . . . and I thought maybe . . . if you guys are home Saturday evening . . . maybe I'd bring her over so you guys and . . . and she . . . maybe I'd bring her over so you guys and she can meet. If that's not a good time I'll understand. It's probably not, so just forget it and we'll do it some other night."

"We'd love to have you, Toby! Make it for dinner!" Sam grinned with enthusiasm.

He was glad to see Toby excited about something. More importantly, somebody. Toby tried hard to mask his feelings, but it was no secret to Sam and Josh that Toby longed for someone in his own life to love and to love him in return. Sam was keenly aware that Toby watched him and Josh during some of their intimate moments ~~ a kiss, holding hands, lying side-by-side on the couch when Toby came over to watch TV.

He knew Toby didn't mean to intrude upon their privacy or be judgmental when he caught them unaware. He just knew Toby was lonely for a lover of his own, a woman he could hold and touch and kiss and tell his heart to and whose heart he could get lost in.

He knew Toby needed a girlfriend.

"Bring her to see "Scooby-Doo" with us if you want!" Josh chimed in.

Sam and Toby ignored Josh.

"Who is she, Toby?" Sam asked. "Where'd you meet her? What's her name? Tell us everything. This is great!"

"What's she look like?" Josh asked.

"Just sit there and I'll tell you a little about her, but not much. Yet. You'll find out on a need-to-know basis." Toby sat behind his desk. "Ok, her name is Julianna and she's lovely. She's a magazine editor and I met her about six weeks ago at a thing her publisher sponsored. We first saw each other at the food table when we both reached for the last crab puff and . . ."

"They had crab puffs?"

Josh turned to Sam. "You love crab puffs, don't you?"

Sam turned to Josh. "I do. I've tried them other places but they're just not the same as they serve at our White House parties. Do you think the chefs would make a batch for me and I could take them home and freeze them?"

Josh shrugged. "You could ask. We could take out a few at a time and heat them up."

"Guys?"

Sam and Josh turned back to Toby.

"Oh, sorry, Toby. We got sidetracked by the . . . go ahead," Sam said.

"I was saying, we both reached for the last hors d'oeuvre, the crab puff, the lone crab puff, and our hands kind of, you know, ran into each other . . . not on purpose . . . I wasn't even looking, don't get me wrong. So we, uh, touched . . . I mean our HANDS touched and it was like, like, either of you laugh and it'll be the LAST time you laugh . . . but it was like kismet." Toby's eyes went from Josh to Sam and back to Josh to see if either was going to laugh. They weren't, so he continued.

"We barely introduced ourselves and, uh, decided to leave the White House, I mean, just like that we up and left. We went to a little coffee shop in my neighborhood and, well, we went there for coffee. And we, uh, we, uh, we talked until the wee hours of the morning and we've, you know, ever since," Toby rushed the last part, glad to finally get it out.

"Is she a secret?" Sam asked.

"For the time being, pretty much," Toby said.

"Why?"

"Just because. I said so. Just because I said so. So I'd appreciate it if you guys don't say anything, all right?" Toby asked.

"You've got my word," Sam said.

Toby and Sam both looked at Josh.

"What?"

"Will you keep quiet about this?" Toby asked.

"Sure, sure. I'm just messing with you, Toby. I think this is great. We'd love to have you over Saturday," Josh said. "You tell us what time and we'll be the perfect hosts."

"Six ok?"

Sam and Josh both said that would be fine.

"Uh, you'll fix supper, right?" Toby continued.

"Yeah," Sam said.

"Something you can't screw up?"

"Toby, don't worry. It'll be fine. Shit, you're acting like you're bringing your first date home to meet your parents. Relax," Sam reassured him.

"Yeah, ok. You're right."

"Does she know about us?" Josh asked.

"No. Meeting adjourned. Go back to work."

As the guys started out the door Toby stopped them. "Hold on! Come back in here a second and close the door," he said. "Did you say you were gonna take your rings to Clements Saturday?"

"Yeah, why?" Josh asked.

"You cut our visit short last time, Toby" Sam reminded him.

"No offense intended, but I don't believe you guys are thinking straight. You can't get those rings engraved here in town. Or in a five hundred mile radius. You're gonna have to send them out. Colorado. Michigan. Not here."

Of course, Toby was right. They couldn't just go waltzing into any jewelry store and have their wedding bands inscribed with words of eternal love. That would be picked up in a second. Sam looked especially disappointed.

"Yeah, you're right, Toby," Josh replied. "We just weren't thinking. Good catch."

"No problem. I know of an extremely reputable place in Colorado if you want to send them there."

They both nodded.

"Just type out what you want on each, or the same thing, or whatever, and give them to me and I'll take care of it," Toby said. He felt bad for the guys. He knew they were hoping to have them done over the weekend.

They nodded again.

"Now, out of my Bat Cave! I've work to be done! You, Robin, hang back. Don't come in tomorrow unless you get a haircut. Let's talk press releases."

********

Sam parked Josh's car alongside the curb and turned off the ignition. He purposely avoided the streetlight and sat in the dark silence. He rested his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes.

He was drained. It had been a full day and now it was nearly one a.m. and he still wasn't home. He needed to call Josh and tell him why was late, but he wasn't quite sure what he was going to say.

He'd attended the AA meeting as planned, wasn't impressed, tried to leave early, was called on the carpet by Hoynes, and now he was angry and frustrated and felt compelled to make a stop before he went home.

Sam opened his eyes and looked at the house he'd driven to. It was dark, not a single light on. His car was there, so Sam was pretty sure HE was home. And that's when Sam decided to go ahead and take a chance ~~ go to the door, wake him up, go inside, and . . . that's when the wheels fell off his plan because Sam didn't know exactly what he'd say or do next.

He pulled out his cell phone and called home. Josh answered on the first ring. "Hi baby," he said. "Where are you?"

********

After Sam and Josh met with Toby their schedules quickly filled and they didn't see each other again until they left the White House at eight-thirty. When they got home, Josh ordered Chinese while Sam spread a quilt on the living room floor for a picnic. They changed into shorts and t-shirts and ate with chopsticks out of white cardboard cartons while they caught up on their afternoons.

Josh sat with his back against the couch and Sam sat with his back against the chair. They stacked their legs over and under the others and when their meal was over, held hands, and just relaxed in the comfortable silence of being together, alone finally and away from the constant drone of the White House.

"I really don't wanna go to this thing tonight," said Sam as he cracked open his fortune cookie. "I think I'll blow it off."

"No, I don't think you will. What's it say?"

Sam crunched the cookie and read the little slip of paper: "'Your heart opens like a lotus to only one' Aawww, that's kinda nice. What's yours say?"

Josh broke open his cookie and it crumbled in his lap. He picked up the biggest piece and popped it in his mouth. "It says, `Pluck the lotus'."

Sam looked surprised for a second then laughed. "No, it doesn't. But I like the sentiment."

"We've got time for a quickie before you leave," Josh said. "Right here on our picnic site."

"I really don't think I'm gonna go Josh," Sam replied. "It's Alcoholics Anonymous and I don't have a drinking problem. And it's late and I'm tired and I just wanna . . ."

"You're going," Josh interrupted.

"I'm not using anymore. I don't need to go."

"Come here, my lotus." Josh pulled his legs out from between Sam's and held his arms out.

Sam smiled at being called lotus and crawled the couple of feet toward Josh. He sat next to him with his back against the couch, and Josh put one arm around Sam's back and the other across his chest. He clasped his own wrist with his hand so he held Sam in the oval of his arms. Then he kissed Sam's cheek.

"Give it a try . . . please . . . just one time. Obviously Leo thinks you need to be there or he wouldn't have arranged for you to be invited."

"I still wanna know what Leo knows."

"You didn't get to talk with Toby?"

Sam shook his head. "No. Bruno and Doug got there about two o'clock and we went round and round with them all afternoon. I thought Toby was gonna take Doug out a couple of times."

"No shit?" Josh laughed. "You should have called me. I'd have brought popcorn."

Sam slumped down a little against Josh. "Let's go to bed," he said.

"Sam, I want you to go to that meeting."

Josh spoke in a firm voice. Not an angry voice, but it left no question in Sam's mind that the discussion was over and he was would go to the AA meeting. He glanced at his watch.

"Tell me what you told Leo at the hospital," he said quietly. He put his hand on Josh's chest and rubbed little circles.

"I . . . uh . . ." Josh was caught off-guard. In the back of his head he knew Sam would eventually ask him this question, but still, it took him by surprise. "I don't remember."

"You. Don't. Remember? Josh! How can you not remember?"

"I just don't remember."

"I was drugged and left for dead! I was in intensive care! Somebody, probably Toby, called the Chief of Staff! And you don't remember what you told him? Josh!"

"I was preoccupied! I thought you were gonna die! I'm sorry . . . I'm sorry, Sam."

"I just don't like the idea of walking in that room without the facts."

"You'll have to ask Toby," said Josh.

"Ask Toby, ask Toby."

Josh unhooked his hands and ran his fingers through Sam's hair. "You didn't get your hair cut. Want me to give you a quick trim?"

Sam pulled away from Josh. "Are you nuts? I'd rather stick my head in the salad shooter."

"Then let's fool around. We've got a little while."

Sam smiled at Josh. "You just can't keep your hands off me, can you?"

Josh put his hands on Sam's shoulders and pushed him as Sam slid down onto his back. Josh crawled on top and propped himself up over Sam. "The meeting won't be so bad," he said. "Just go once, ok?"

Sam wrapped his arms around Josh's neck. "Ok, for you."

"No, not for me. Go for YOU. Sam, my Angel, if you take care of yourself, that's the most important thing in the world you can do for me."

Sam looked up at Josh's face and a rush of love for this man traversed through him. The fortune in the cookie was right. His heart would always open up to only one.

********

"Yes sir, Mr. Seaborn. How may I help you tonight?" The Marine stood in front of the door in the basement of the White House. There was no way he was going to move unless Sam said the right words.

"I'm here for the card game," Sam replied.

"Yes, sir." The guard turned the handle, pushed the door open, and stepped aside.

Sam nodded his appreciation and went inside the room. To his relief, the first person he saw was John Hoynes. He sat at a rectangular table with a blue binder and a cup of coffee in front of him. When he saw Sam he stood and went to greet him.

"Sam, I'm glad you came," he said. "I never doubted you would."

The two men shook hands. Sam glanced around the room. He recognized the others. He didn't see Leo.

"Come on and have a seat, make yourself comfortable," Hoynes continued. "We're about to start. Grab a cup of coffee."

Sam waved off the coffee and sat next to the Vice President. He was nervous. He felt ill at ease, out of place. But he'd told Josh he would come and he was here, so he'd try to make the best of it.

"I'm John, and I'm an alcoholic."

Sam turned at the Vice President's voice. He knew he was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; he knew who had invited him; but until the words came out of John Hoynes' mouth, it never really registered with Sam that the Vice President was an alcoholic. Now that he heard the words, it shook him. He wanted to bolt.

"I'm going to read the Twelve Steps and Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. Number one, we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. Number two . . ."

I don't have an alcohol problem, Sam said to himself. I don't belong here. What have I got myself into?

Sam half-listened as Hoynes read and was only vaguely aware as the man to the right of the Vice President introduced himself by his first name then added, ". . . and I'm an alcoholic." Then the man to the right of him, then the next, and the next. Then silence, and Sam realized all eyes were on him. He glanced at Hoynes, who gave a slight snap of his head toward Sam to urge him to speak.

"I'm, uh . . . " He knew what he was supposed to say, expected to say: "I'm Sam and I'm an alcoholic." But he couldn't. There was no way he could say those words. "I'm Sam," he said. He could feel the eyes bore into him. They waited. If felt like the clock had stopped and the walls had started to close in. "I'm Sam. And. That's all."

"Ok then," Hoynes said, "let's get this meeting started."

Fifty-two minutes later Sam looked at his watch again. I've gotta get out of here, he thought. None of this applies to me and I've wasted an entire night when I could be home in bed with Josh. I'll excuse myself and go to the restroom, just take off, and by then the hour will be over and they won't even realize I never came back. Eight minutes is eight minutes.

Sam muttered an "Excuse me", pushed back from the table, and left the room. He walked down the hall, passed the first restroom, and ducked into the second one he saw. When he finished he washed his hands and splashed cool water on his face then opened the door to leave. Directly in front of him, leaning against the wall, stood John Hoynes.

"Hey Sam," he said.

"Mr. Vice President."

"You ok?"

"Yes, sir."

"There's a restroom closer to where we met," Hoynes said.

"I . . . passed it."

"Yeah. You ready to come back to the meeting now?"

Sam looked at his watch. "It's after midnight. Isn't it over?"

Hoynes shook his head. "What made you think it was over?"

"I just figured . . . I just figured it would last an hour."

"Well, you figured wrong. Come on back, Sam."

"Sir, if it's all the same to you," Sam took a couple of steps in the opposite direction, "I think I'll just take off."

Hoynes reached out and grabbed Sam's arm. "It's not all the same to me," he said. "Come on back, Sam."

"Sir, I don't really belong in there."

"Why's that?" The Vice President still held onto Sam.

"Because I'm not one of you guys."

"Us guys?" Sam felt Hoynes' already firm grasp tighten.

"I don't mean `you guys' like `you guys'. I mean, I'm not an alcoholic. I don't have an alcohol problem," Sam explained.

Hoynes hesitated before he spoke. "Sam, I'm not gonna stand here in the hall and recite the substances you abuse like a grocery list. Alcohol is a drug and a meeting is a meeting and you know it."

"I don't need the meetings, John. I can do this by myself."

"Fine. Maybe you can and I pray you're right. But you will NOT disrespect me by getting up and walking out of MY meeting and sneaking out of the White House like this, do you understand?"

"I wasn't sneaking . . ."

"Sam! Why do you continue to provoke me when you know how I'm going to react? Why is it that every damn time . . .?"

The two locked eyes. Hoynes let go of Sam's arm.

"Sam, no."

"I didn't say anything."

"You don't have to. You're looking at me."

"You're speaking to me! First you say don't respect you then you jump on me because I'm looking at you? I don't know how I'm supposed to act around you, John. What do you want from me?"

"Don't start, Sam."

"I didn't say anything," Sam protested.

"No."

"I didn't . . ."

"No."

"But I . . ."

"Sam, what did I ask you in my office earlier today? And don't say you don't know what I'm talking about," Hoynes interrupted.

Sam closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then made eye contact with the Vice President again. Hoynes didn't look away. "You asked me what was the one certainty I learned from you when you were Governor of Texas," he replied.

"And the answer?"

Silence

"Sam? The answer?"

"No means no."

John Hoynes put his hand on Sam's shoulder and ran his thumb along Sam's jaw line. His voice softened. "Sam, you know why it has to be this way."

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I know. Sometimes it just sucks though."

"I'm always gonna be in your corner, Sam. You know that."

Sam brushed Hoynes' hand off his shoulder. "I don't want you in my `corner'," he said cynically. "I can have people lined up to be in my `corner'. You know what I want."

Hoynes straightened Sam's collar then patted his cheek. "We don't always get what we want. Now come back into the meeting and stay until it's over. I can see you've got your head wrapped around this so we'll talk about it again. Tomorrow maybe. Now come on. And stop looking at your watch."

The Vice President put his arm around Sam and the two returned to the AA meeting.

********

Sam didn't go home after the meeting. He felt compelled to make a stop first. He parked Josh's car alongside the curb and sat in the dark for a few minutes, then called Josh and told him where he was and why he'd be late. Then he got out of the car and headed toward the door of the house. There were no lights on, but he went to the porch and banged on the door with his fist. He waited, but there was no response. He pounded again, and saw a light come on inside. He jammed his hands into his back pockets when the porch light came on and the door opened.

Toby looked out through half-open eyes. He wore a pair of green pajamas. "What?" he mumbled.

"I need to talk with you."

Toby held the door open and Sam went inside.

Chapter 55

Josh hung up the phone and rolled back into the middle of the bed. He loved their bed, but it didn't feel right when Sam wasn't in it with him. He stretched his arm out to where Sam would have been, should have been, and thought about their conversation.

"Hi baby. Where are you?" he'd answered.

"I'm sitting in the car in front of Toby's."

Josh pulled himself up and leaned against the headboard. He wasn't sure he'd heard correctly.

"Say that again."

"I'm gonna go in and talk with Toby," Sam said.

"Angel, it's . . ." Josh looked at the bedside clock. ". . . one . . . one something . . . my eyes won't open all the way, but it's late. What do you have to talk with Toby about in the middle of the night?"

"Leo."

Josh crawled to the edge of the bed and turned on the light. He was too sleepy for Sam's words to make any sense. He walked around the room in his boxers and R.E.M. t-shirt to get his bearings as they talked.

"Leo," Josh repeated. "You need to talk with Toby about Leo now?"

"Yes."

"Why, Sammy? Why now? What about?"

Sam leaned his head against the car window. The glass was cool against the side of his face. "About why he brought Leo into this," he said.

"Into what darlin'?"

"Into . . . into us."

Josh stopped pacing and stood with his back flat against the bedroom wall. He straightened his body and pressed his shoulders into the wall. He backed up until his heels touched the baseboard.

"How do you figure Toby brought Leo into us?" he asked softly. "Where's all this coming from? And what does that even mean, brought Leo into us?"

"Toby had Leo come to the hospital and God knows what he told him. Obviously Leo knows I've been using or he wouldn't have told Hoynes to invite me to his meeting. There's no telling what else Leo knows about us. What if he knows . . .? I've gotta find out, Josh. I need to know what Leo knows."

"You sound pissed at Toby."

"Ya think?" Sam's voice almost squeaked. "He betrayed me . . . us. We trusted him with our LIFE and he spills his guts to Leo. You're damn right I'm pissed at Toby!"

"Sam, calm down," said Josh. "Just calm down and listen." Josh ran his hand through his hair. "We have no idea what Toby told Leo. I don't think he betrayed us. Toby wouldn't do that. And I don't think Toby brought Leo `into us'."

"Leo knows I'm using. I had to go to an AA meeting tonight, which I hated."

"Yeah, but . . ."

"And now the Vice President knows? My chances of occupying the Oval Office aren't looking too bright right now, Osh. What if Toby told Leo about us? That we're married? What then?"

"Toby wouldn't do that. Will you please calm down?"

"I'm calm," said Sam. He rubbed his eyes. He was tired and wanted to go to bed. He wished he was home with Josh instead of sitting in his car in front of Toby's apartment.

"Will you just come on home then?" Josh asked. "You can talk with Toby tomorrow."

"No, I can't come home yet. I've gotta talk with Toby tonight. I won't be long."

Josh leaned his neck to the right then to the left and heard it crack. He lolled it forward until his chin touched his chest then let it rest against the wall again.

"Sam?"

"What?"

"Listen to my voice a minute," Josh said quietly and calmly.

"I'm listening."

"I can't change your mind about talking with Toby tonight, but I want you to go with an open mind. I want you to talk quietly and reasonably. Hear his side of the story. Don't jump to conclusions. Don't go in like gangbusters, ok?"

Sam nodded in the dark.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, ok."

"You know Toby wouldn't hurt you, or us, for that matter. He just wouldn't and you DO know that."

"I know."

"Ok, so you'll show some restraint when you talk with Toby? He's not out to cause you any harm, Sam. He's not the enemy," Josh said.

"I'll show restraint."

"And be home soon?"

"I promise. Can I wake you when I get there?" Sam asked.

"You betcha. But I'll probably be awake. I wish you were here now."

"Me too, Josh, but I've gotta do this. Trust me."

"Always. See you soon, baby. Drive safely."

Sam snapped his phone shut and opened the car door. The night air was cool and he hunched his shoulders so his jacket closed around him. He walked around the side of the old house and up the stairs to Toby's apartment.

Sam knocked on the door, and then pounded it with his fist until a light came on inside and finally, the porch light. He jammed his hands into his back pockets and waited while the door opened. Toby looked out through half-open eyes. He wore a pair of green pajamas.

"What?" he mumbled.

"I need to talk with you," Sam said.

Toby held the door open and Sam went inside.

"Sit." Toby waved toward the living room but walked into his bedroom.

Sam slumped onto the couch and waited. He remembered the smell of Toby's apartment and liked it. Leather, cigar smoke, old books. Open sections of the "New York Times" were spread on the coffee table, along with a cardboard pizza box and three empty beer bottles. Sam leaned forward and opened the pizza box. A pile of crusts were in the middle along with some wadded up napkins. Sam let the top drop shut and leaned back against the couch.

Toby returned to the living room in jeans and a NY Yankees baseball jersey and eased into the chair across from Sam.

The two men looked at each other.

Toby spoke first. "What's on your mind?" he asked.

"I wanna know why you brought Leo to the hospital," Sam replied.

Toby squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head slightly. It didn't register.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"When I had the over-dose. When Marc . . . when I was drugged. Did you tell Leo I was in the hospital and ask him to come?" Sam's voice had an accusatory tone to it.

"Yes."

Sam stood. "Why?"

"Lower your voice and sit down, Sam."

"Why did you do that, Toby?"

"Lower your voice and sit down." Sam did as he was told.

"I called Leo because at the time I felt it was the right thing to do. I still feel that way and would do the same thing again under the same circumstances," Toby explained.

"I wish you hadn't done that, Toby. I didn't want Leo there. I don't want him to know what happened to me."

"Sam, I didn't call Leo for you. I called Leo for Josh," Toby said with a heavy sigh.

Sam looked surprised. He hadn't expected that response. "For Josh? What do you mean, for Josh?"

"You have no memory of this, no concept, but Josh . . . we both . . . but particularly Josh, thought you were gonna die after you were drugged. You were in pretty bad shape when we carried you in there and Josh was terrified. He thought you were dead in the park, Sam, and began to say Kaddish over you, for God's sake. He thought you were gonna die in his arms in the back seat of my car on the way to the hospital."

Sam looked away. He didn't want to hear this.

"I had no idea," he said softly.

"Look at me, Sam," Toby said.

"I can hear you."

"You woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me a question. Now you're gonna look at me while I answer it."

Sam faced Toby. "I had no idea," he repeated.

"You and Josh haven't talked about what happened at the park and the hospital?" Toby asked.

"Not so much," Sam admitted.

"That sounds like Josh. Always wanting to protect you."

"Protect me? Protect me from what?"

Toby stood and walked into the kitchen. A couple of minutes later he returned with two fat glasses of milk and a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies. He pushed aside the pizza box and set them on the coffee table.

"From life, my young friend," Toby said. He dug into the bag for a cookie and brought out two. "That's what Josh does."

"What do you mean, that's what Josh does?" Sam picked up one of the glasses.

Toby shook his head. "Nothing. I shouldn't have said that. Forget it."

Sam took a big drink of milk and drained half his glass. "No, I won't forget it. Why'd you say Josh protects me?"

"Because he does. Josh mother hens you. He wants so much to shield you from anything that might cause you the slightest moment of pain, anything that could disillusion you or hurt your feelings, that he goes out of his way to avoid telling you the truth. Josh seems to think he can cover your eyes and ears by withholding the ugly and unpleasant things in real life from you, and it's wearing him down."

Toby washed his cookies down with his milk and reached for another. Sam thought about Toby's words. He had no idea. He knew Josh was over-protective of him at times, but he never realized the extent Josh went to in an effort to keep him out of harm's way on a day-to- day basis.

"I still don't understand where Leo fits in. I swear I'm not trying to be difficult."

Toby didn't want to reveal his actions to Sam. He hadn't planned on this the night he called Leo from just outside the Emergency Room door at George Washington Hospital. He never thought it would come to this.

But Sam wouldn't let it go. He was like a pit bull ~~ when he wanted to get to the bottom of something, he grabbed hold and wouldn't let go until he had every bit of information he sought. Sam. The unrelenting seeker of truth or a pesky lawyer . . . either way, he wasn't going to give up.

"I couldn't handle Josh if you died. He would have lost his mind, Sam, and I mean that in the very literal sense of the phrase. I don't know exactly how that would have manifested itself, but I know Josh would have been out of control and inconsolable and I wouldn't have been able to deal with him . . . not your death and Josh's melt- down too."

Toby went back into the kitchen and returned with the carton of milk.

Sam sat on the edge of the couch and looked at the floor. His elbows rested on his knees and his hands were clasped so tightly his knuckles were white.

Toby tapped him on the shoulder with the milk carton.

No response.

He tapped him again.

Sam was startled to attention and looked up at Toby.

"Josh would have been ok," Sam said quietly. "Give him some credit."

Toby used his forefinger and wiped a splash of milk off Sam's upper lip. Then he re-filled both their glasses.

"You're wrong. He wouldn't have been ok," Toby replied.

"Josh is a strong man, Toby! He didn't need to be `handled'!"

"You weren't there, Sam! Your shell of a body was in that hospital bed, but `you' weren't there."

"I was . . . "

"You weren't even close to being there. And I'm not going to argue with you about what I did or justify my actions. I did what needed to be done to protect Josh."

Sam locked eyes with Toby. Without a second thought, Toby reached out and brushed Sam's hair off his forehead. Toby was aware that it felt like a natural thing to do. He wasn't self-conscious, he wasn't uncomfortable, and he wasn't freaked out. For Toby to touch Sam in an innocent, intimate way had become second nature to him.

"So, you wanted Leo at the hospital for Josh?" Sam asked softly.

"Yeah." Toby let his hand rest on Sam's head.

"Not so much because of what happened to me?"

"Not so much."

Sam took a minute to let that sink in. He directed his eyes to the bag of cookies on the table then looked back up at Toby.

"Thank you. Thank you for looking after Josh like that. I know he was scared. It was good for him to have Leo."

Toby gave the back of Sam's neck a gentle squeeze then sat back down on the chair across from him. He set the milk carton on the table and pulled two more Chips Ahoy from the bag. He broke one in half and dipped it into his glass of milk.

Sam smiled. "Josh gets grossed out if I do that," he said.

"What? This?" Toby stuffed the soggy cookie into his mouth.

"Dunk. Cookies, doughnuts, anything into my coffee or milk. He doesn't like to see the crumbs floating on top."

"Josh is a strange bird," Toby laughed.

Sam crunched into another cookie and fell sideways onto the couch. His head landed on a trio of throw pillows. He pried his shoes off and brought his legs up onto the couch and stretched out.

"Make yourself comfortable," Toby said sarcastically.

Sam lay on his back and clutched a pillow to his chest. He bounced his socked feet against each other.

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Does Leo know about Josh and me?"

"About Josh and you . . .?"

"Yeah."

"I didn't tell him. I don't know what he and Josh talked about when I wasn't around. You'd have to ask Josh. Leo hasn't given me any indication that he knows about your relationship. If that's what you're talking about."

"That's what I'm talking about."

Sam threw the pillow straight up and caught it when it came back down. The two sat in silence for a few minutes. Sam threw the pillow into the air and caught it again, and again, and again. Toby just watched him.

Finally, "Sam?"

"Hmmm?"

"What are you doing here at this time of the morning? Why aren't you home in bed?" Toby asked.

"I was out. I had a meeting to go to and this question about Leo was weighing on my mind. I just had to find out and didn't wanna talk about it at work."

"Kinda late for a meeting. At the White House?"

"Ummmm, it wasn't work-related," Sam replied. He wanted to tell Toby about the AA meeting, but he knew he couldn't reveal the confidentiality of it. He'd already told Josh, and that was only because they were married and he didn't want to keep any secrets from him.

"You weren't with Marc, were you?"

Sam caught the pillow and held on to it. "No. I wasn't with Marc. I was at a poker game."

"A poker game?"

"The Vice President invited me to his weekly poker game and I went," Sam explained. "Ok?"

"Ok, ok, I just had to ask. Does Josh know where you are now?"

"Dammit, Toby! I'm not sixteen years old! I don't have a curfew! Don't treat me like a kid!" Sam threw the pillow at Toby. "Is this how it's gonna be?"

"Yeah, this is how it's gonna be until Josh and I are positive you've got your head on straight."

"I do!"

"So it seems. I just wanna make sure Josh knows where you are. You guys asked me into your universe, Sam, and now that I'm in it, I don't wanna have to follow you around and clean up your messes. Like the phone call I got when Josh couldn't find you that night. I don't wanna hear that voice again," Toby replied. He threw the pillow back at Sam.

"He was a total wreck. He didn't know where you were. He couldn't reach you by phone or by pager. He'd called Marc's house and got nothing. It was already morning and you were hours over-due. He was in a panic. His imagination ran in every direction, Sam, and none of them were good. I know you were drugged, you didn't do it on purpose, but just going to Marc's . . . Sam, if you were my son or my brother . . . you just can't fathom what you did to us . . . to Josh."

Toby let his head fall back and looked at the ceiling.

Sam rolled onto his side so his back was to Toby. He pressed his body against the back of the couch and clung to the pillow. No, he couldn't fathom what he'd done. Just now did it begin to sink in what he'd put Josh, and even Toby, through over the past months.

A moment later Sam felt Toby sit on the couch behind him. Then Toby's hand on his arm. He liked the touch.

"Hey," Toby said quietly.

"What?"

"You ok?"

Sam shrugged. "I just feel like I owe so much to you and Josh. I can never repay you, Toby."

"No, no. It's nothing like that. You don't owe us anything. We were concerned, and still are, because we care about you. I don't expect anything in return, except that you take care of yourself and do what you know you have to do. There's no debts to pay off, Sam."

Toby put his hand on Sam's back and slowly rubbed little circles. "Do you wanna crash here tonight? It's late," he asked.

It sounded like a good idea to Sam. It would be nice to just let Toby rub his back until he fell asleep, then let Toby cover him up and he wouldn't have to wake up for hours. But he wanted to be with Josh ~~ see him, touch him, kiss him, sleep with him. And if that meant going back out into the night air and driving home at this hour, then so be it.

"Yeah, but I want Josh more. I wanna go home."

Toby continued to rub Sam's back. Sam let him. He closed his eyes. It fulfilled something for them both. For Toby, a safe way to nurture Sam when he knew Sam hurt to his soul because of things he'd done. For Sam, a few moments of comfort from a man who didn't give affection easily, so Sam knew it came from the heart, and that made it all the more sweeter. They both gave and they both soaked up what the other offered. Sam savored the feel of Toby's hand on his back. He thought of what Toby had said: "If you were my son or brother . . ." Sam though of Jack and how his brother used to rub his back.

He turned over on the couch. "I've gotta go, Toby. I need to get home."

"Yeah, ok." He pulled his hand back. "Get that hair cut tomorrow; I'm not gonna tell you again."

Sam sat up and put his shoes on. "Yes, sir. And you're coming Saturday? You and Julianna?"

Toby grinned. "You're gonna love her."

"Looks like somebody already does," Sam replied.

"Go home, Sam. Drive safely. I'll see you in a few hours."

Toby walked Sam to the door, waited until he had reached the bottom of the steps, then turned his porch light out and went back to bed. Sam got in the car, put on his seat belt, and sped home to Josh.

********

Candle glow lit the living room when Sam got home. He took off his jacket and hung it on the coat tree, then walked further into the townhouse. Josh was sprawled in one of the recliners with an afghan over him, sound asleep. One bare foot stuck out from under the afghan. His hair was mussed and his mouth was open just a bit. He had a yellow sticky note on his forehead that read: "Wake me".

Sam smiled down at him. He was glad to be home. He was glad to be with his Josh. He felt a rush of warmth careen through his body. Sam wrapped his hand around Josh's foot and wiggled it back and forth. Josh's foot twitched a little, then relaxed. Sam pulled the sticky note off Josh's forehead and kissed where it had been then he kissed Josh's eyelids, his cheek, and finally, his lips. Josh breathed a sigh of pleasure in his sleep.

Sam kicked his shoes off then took off his pants and shirt and tossed them onto the couch. Also in boxers and an undershirt, he quietly crawled onto the over-sized recliner and lay partly next to and partly on top of Josh. Josh gave another sigh of contentment and adjusted his body so Sam fit into the caves and crevices as they settled into one.

Sam kissed Josh again, a kiss of need, hunger, want. Sam's tongue slipped inside Josh's mouth and danced around his tongue. Josh responded with more than a sigh. They kissed long and deep.

"Is that you?" Josh whispered when they pulled apart.

"Were you expecting someone else?" Sam cupped Josh's face in his hand.

"There IS no one else."

Sam kissed Josh again. "The note said to wake you," he said. "Are you awake?"

"Oh, yeah. Put your hand right here and you'll see how awake I am."

Josh guided Sam's hand to his penis, hard and twitchy. Sam smiled at what he'd done and curled his palm around it.

"Did I do that?" he asked with feigned innocence.

"The second I heard you unlock the door . . ."

"So you weren't asleep?"

Josh slid his hands under Sam's t-shirt and pulled it over his head. He ran his hands over Sam's chest and back ~~ hard, lean, muscular. He loved the feel of Sam's body. Smooth skin taut over defined muscle. Fit as a racehorse, flawless as a thoroughbred, frisky as a colt. Josh started to push Sam's boxers down and Sam finished for him. He lay back on top of Josh, naked now, and the two continued to kiss each other with a loving passion familiar to them both, but always new and exciting.

Sam straddled Josh and ran his hands up the back of Josh's shirt. He scraped his fingernails up and down Josh's skin until he felt Josh shiver beneath him.

"Sam, you know what that does to me," he cooed. "It feels so good." "I know what you like, sugar."

"God love ya for it."

"And I serve at the pleasure of Josh Lyman."

Sam scrunched down in the chair between Josh's legs, snagged the bottom of Josh's t-shirt with his teeth, and pulled the t-shirt up Josh's chest. He tried to pull it over his head using his grip, but it got stuck over Josh's face and they both started to laugh.

"I appreciate your concept of being smooth and suave," Josh said, as he pulled his own t-shirt off and tossed it over his shoulder, "but let's be realistic."

Sam balanced over Josh with one knee on either side of him pressed into the chair cushion. The recliner was extended and Josh was snuggled in to it. Sam kissed Josh's neck, that special place behind his ear that caused Josh to hook Sam's neck in the crook of his elbow and pull him close. Sam sucked Josh's earlobe into his mouth and let his tongue fondle it, pulled it between his teeth, and pinched it. Then he ever-so-gently sucked it like a kitten at his mother's teat. He felt Josh squirm with anticipation. His penis was hard against Sam's.

Sam's greatest pleasure was making love to Josh, knowing how to make Josh's body respond to his touch, teasing him with his tongue until he brought Josh to the edge of orgasm then backing off and pulling away only to delay the inevitable and prolong the sweet gift of Sam as he gave himself wholly and lovingly to the man he adored.

They both had to restrain themselves when they wanted their lovemaking to last longer. They each wanted desperately to satisfy the other and had to hold back to keep the anticipation at bay. But tonight, Sam was eager for his lover, not just to satisfy him, but to satisfy himself. He had a need to be close to Josh, to be part of him, to create a physical connection where they would meld into one.

Sam licked Josh's neck and gently sucked him, careful not to leave marks. Josh closed his eyes and took in the love Sam gave. Josh missed Sam. It had been a long time since this morning and finally, he didn't have to look over his shoulder to check who might be listening or watching.

Josh reached between Sam's legs and took Sam's hard cock in his hand. It was long and thick and pulsating. Josh was ready to take it, but he knew Sam wasn't ready to give it up yet. He ran his hand up and down Sam's shaft and let himself be loved on.

Sam moved his kisses from Josh's neck to his chest. He let his tongue slowly encircle Josh's right nipple, then pulled it into his mouth and sucked harder. He heard Josh gasp as he clenched the hard, protruding nub between his teeth and gently bite it and roll it in a circular motion as he continued to bring all of Josh's nipple into his mouth.

Josh squeezed hard on Sam's shoulders. He stroked the back of his head and ran his fingers through Sam's soft hair. When Sam went down on his tender nipples, Josh clutched a fistful of Sam's hair and pulled at it, a knee-jerk reaction to his own painful pleasure.

"Do that again, Sammy," he breathed in a husky voice.

Sam moved across Josh's chest to his other nipple and let his mouth nearly bring Josh to orgasm. Josh put his hands on either side of Sam's face and pulled him up.

"Hold on, hold on, hold on," he said. "I'm about to lose it, and I'm not ready yet. Slow it down a little."

Sam snaked his tongue down Josh's chest to the top rim of his boxers. He dipped his tongue inside and ran it back and forth along Josh's warm skin. Josh cradled Sam's head in his hands and gentle massaged Sam's scalp. He laid his own head back, closed his eyes, and smiled.

"Angel, I liked where you're headed," he muttered.

Sam grabbed a mouthful of cotton and started to pull Josh's shorts down. He tucked his thumbs into the waistband and tugged them further.

"Lift up," he said.

Josh raised his hips and Sam slid Josh's underwear off and dropped them to the floor. Both men wrapped their naked bodies around each other in the extra-wide recliner.

The candlelight cast a soft glow in the room. After the busyness the day, they both relished the silence.

Sam propped himself up over Josh with his hands on the arms of the chair. "I wanna make love to you, Joshua Seaborn," he said.

"It would be my pleasure, Sam Lyman," Josh replied.

Sam lowered himself onto Josh and kissed him. He took Josh's penis in his hand and began to pump it.

"Let me suck on you, baby," Josh said.

Sam shifted forward and Josh guided Sam's penis into his mouth. He took it all and sucked hungrily, swirling his tongue, gently nipping at it's soft head, flicking that special place on the underside that drove Sam wild. Drops of pre-cum seeped into Josh's mouth and he eagerly swallowed it, afraid to miss any part of Sam that Sam had to give. Josh licked his lips when a stream of the white liquid tried to escape.

Sam pulled out of Sam's mouth and reared back. He lifted Josh's legs and pulled him down into the chair. He spread Josh's legs and draped them over the arms of the chair. He lubricated his penis and Josh's anus, then inched himself into his lover. Half-way in he gave a final thrust and was rewarded with a satisfied groan of appreciation from Josh.

Josh dug his fingers into Sam's hips and the two moved in syncope as Sam rocked in and out of Josh. His rhythm started slowly then gradually increased until he worked them both into a steady cadence. Josh wrapped his legs around Sam and pushed him deeper inside. The muscles in Sam's hips and legs rippled as he gave himself over to Josh. He gave all he had, but made sure he kept it gentle too. His love for Josh flooded him and he truly wanted to *make love* to him tonight and not just fuck him.

Josh clung to Sam as they climaxed together. Sam held onto Josh's hips as he pumped his pelvis against his. They both came with groans of delight then a mutual release as they let their muscles relax and their arms and legs fall to the side after built-up passion was spent.

Sam fell partly on top of and partly beside Josh, the way he was before this all began. He kissed Josh's neck and put his hand flat on his chest. It rose and fell as he caught his breath. Josh put his own hand on top of Sam's Sam slung his leg over Josh's.

"That was fantastic, Angel," Josh said quietly. "You always know just the right . . ."

"I love you, Josh."

"I love you, baby."

"I could crawl all over you," murmured Sam. "I wanna touch every little spot that IS you. I just can't get enough of my sweet, sweet Josh."

"You're being awfully snuggly tonight. Did Toby yell at you or something?"

"No, it went good with Toby. Can't I just be tender with my baby?"

"Twenty-four hours a day," Josh replied with a smile.

Sam slowly rubbed Josh's chest and Josh's hand went along for the ride. One of the candles had burned down and flickered out with a sizzle.

"So, things went good with Toby?" Josh finally asked.

Sam nodded.

"And you got your answer? About why he called Leo to the hospital that night?"

Sam nodded again.

Sam ran his hand over Josh's scar. He did it a second time then let it rest there. He could feel the seam of skin raised above the rest of his body. He knew it was pale, pinkish, and may never blend in with the rest of his skin again. But he also knew what it represented would never blend in with the rest of Josh's life again either.

"He wanted Leo at the hospital in case I died," Sam explained. "He thought it would be best to have another person there."

Josh thought about it for a minute. "Ok. Makes sense . . . I guess."

"Toby didn't tell Leo about my drug use. He said I'd have to ask you about that. Whether or not you told him when just the two of you were talking." Sam hesitated. "Did you? Did you tell Leo?"

Josh had to stop and think back to that night. It was all such a blur. So much happened . . . things were mixed up in his head . . . Toby said . . . the doctor said . . . Leo said . . . the nurse said . . . Toby said . . . strange voices said . . . Leo said . . . what did Leo say? What did I say to Leo?

Sam ran his fingernails lightly over Josh's scar. "What did you tell Leo, Josh?" he asked again.

Josh wrapped his fingers around two of Sam's. "I . . . I wish I knew. But I've gotta be honest with you, baby. I couldn't tell you if my life depended on it."

"How can you NOT know?"

"All I knew that night was you might die, and that's the only thing that mattered. I don't remember anything except the doctor saying you were gonna be ok and I could take you home.."

"No heart-to-hearts with Leo?"

"I'm sorry Sam, I really am, but I just don't know. My only thoughts were of you. I'm really not sure why Leo was there."

Sam chose not to repeat what Toby had told him.

"Well, he had to have some reason to tell John Hoynes to invite me to his AA meeting. Somehow he got the impression I needed it."

"How'd the meeting go?" Josh asked. He wrapped his free arm around Sam so Sam's head was on his shoulder.

"I hated it, Josh. I didn't have anything in common with those guys, it seemed to go on forever, I was bored . . . I'm never going back."

Josh released Sam's hand and stroked the side of his face.

"Hey, it was one meeting. Maybe try one more and see how it goes."

"Let's not talk about it right now, ok?" Sam asked. "The meeting. Let me tell you about it another time."

"Sure, it can wait. Or never if you don't want to. It's ok. I know about that anonymity thing. But you said you hated it and I thought my might wanna . . . never mind. We won't talk about it right now."

"Osh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Do you have any inclination, one way or the other, if you told Leo about us?" Sam asked.

"About us?" Josh's voice cracked a little.

"Yeah. When you two were talking about things you don't remember, is it possibly you told him that we're a couple? In love maybe? Perhaps even married? Any chance?" Sam's voice was purposely calm and nonchalant.

Josh's chest tightened. One more thing to add to his worries. What did I say? What did I say to Leo, dammit? What have I done?

"No baby, I'm sure I didn't tell him anything about us," he finally said.

"If you can't remember the other, how can you be so sure about this?" Sam asked.

"Pure gut instinct. When we tell people about *us*, it's going to be an *us* decision."

"So you're not concerned?"

"Of course not. Just relax, sweetheart." Josh gently rubbed Sam's cheek and brushed the hair off his face. He started to hum softly to him.

Josh felt Sam's body settle into the contours of his own frame as the last bit of tension melted away. He smiled. I say `relax, sweetheart' and am goes into relax mode. If it could all be so easy. He kissed the top of Sam's head.

"Sugarbear?" Josh said.

"Hmmmmm?"

"Do you wanna sleep here or do you wanna go upstairs and get in bed?"

"Right here feels good," Sam answered sleepily.

"Yeah, NOW. But do you think we'll be too cramped and stuff in the morning?"

"Not me!" Sam exclaimed. "I'm limber and lithe and will bounce right up. You, however, may not be able to straighten up."

Josh pulled Sam's ear. "You little whippersnapper. I'm as lithe as you any day."

Sam laughed. "Let's sleep here. I don't wanna disturb what we've got."

"It IS nice to be all glommed together like this, isn't it?"

"We really should blow those other two candles out, Josh. It's not safe to leave them lit if we go to sleep," Sam said, being sensible as always.

"They're just barely going. I think they'll go out on their own any minute. Don't get up just for that."

"You're a stickler for burning candles, Josh. You sure?"

"Yeah, it's ok." Josh stretched over and behind them and pulled a flannel blanket off the back of the chair to cover them. With his ribs exposed, Sam tickled him, but got only a slight response before Josh cupped Sam's chin in his hand and kissed him. They had just separated when Sam sought Josh's lips and the two lay silent in the sweet embrace with their lips just barely touching.

Josh had covered them, pulled the blanket up, and tucked it under Sam's neck. Warmth passed from one naked boy to the other and made a cocoon. Their hair mingled together, their legs wound round about the other, hands moved without boundary.

It was late, but neither man wanted to sleep. Sam and Josh treasured these times of pure tranquility and knew although they had the rest of their lives together, that wasn't long enough to share these quiet times. They cherished when they could shrink their universe to the size of a cocoon.

"Who's my baby?" Josh's lips brushed against Sam's as he whispered to him.

"I'm your baby," Sam whispered back.

"Yes, yes you are." He gently tugged Sam's bottom lip into his mouth and sucked on it for a few seconds. "Who loves you most?" Josh asked.

"Josh does."

"Yes, Josh does," Josh answered. "And who will take care of you forever and ever?"

"That would be you. " Sam's lips moved against Josh's.

"Yes, my little Starshine, that would be me. Now drift off to sleep in my arms and know that you are adored."

Josh brushed Sam's lips with a tender kiss. Sam was nearly asleep and let himself be kissed.

A minute later the cocoon was silent and all were in peaceful slumber.

********

A thunderclap shattered the darkness followed by a streak of lightning that lit up the sky. Sam's body thrashed about in the recliner as his blood ran cold. He still hadn't outgrown his fear of thunderstorms, and to be awakened out of a sound sleep by the sudden jarring that shook the walls unnerved him. He writhed and jerked and his elbow whipped back and struck Josh's cheek hard, just below his left eye. Just being awakened from a deep sleep by a punch to the face, Josh's initial reaction was to fight back. He brought his left fist around and nailed Sam in the same place under his right eye. Sam half-fell over onto Josh, then as the thunder cracked again, jerked straight up into a sitting position.

"Josh!" he cried out.

Josh sat up and encircled Sam with his arms.

"Josh!" Sam yelled again. "Josh!"

"Sam! I'm here! I'm right beside you, Sam!" Josh shook Sam to get his attention.

"Josh!"

Sam was almost in a trance and breathed heavily. Josh started to rub big circles on Sam's back with the palm of his hand.

"Sam, wake up! Come on, honey, shake it off. Josh is right here. It's ok." Josh felt Sam's body slump as little as the tension released and Josh knew he was fully awake. He continued to rub his back.

"It's just thunder, baby," Josh said. He lowered his voice to try and soothe Sam. "It's not gonna hurt you. Turn around here and look at me. Can you hear me?"

Sam nodded, but he continued to look straight ahead. Josh put his hands on Sam's head and turned it so he faced Josh.

"Look me in the eyes."

Josh gently shook Sam's head. Sam's eyes finally focused and he made contact with Josh.

"There's my boy," Josh said. "Now just breathe deep and relax. It's thunder and it's scary, but it's not gonna hurt you. You were in a deep sleep and it startled you, but you're safe. I'm right here with you. Do you hear me, Sam?"

Sam nodded.

"Do you understand what I'm saying, Sam?"

"Yeah. It's just thunder."

"You wanna get up for a while and get your shit together?" asked Josh.

"No, my shit's just fine," Sam said with a sheepish smile. Then with real surprise, "What happened to your face?" He touched his forefinger just below Josh's left eye. Josh flinched and pulled back.

"Uh, you decked me with your elbow while you were asleep. Can you tell?"

"Can I tell? It's already swollen and bruised. Oh God, Josh, I'm sorry!"

"Take a look at yourself, pretty boy." Josh cocked his head to the side and grinned.

"What the hell . . . are you saying I'VE got a black eye?"

"It's well on its way . . . puffing up a little and an assortment of shades of blue and purple and black. In a couple of hours you're gonna have a shiner any twelve year old boy would be proud of," Josh replied.

"How'd "I" get a black eye?"

"You really don't know, do you?" Josh asked.

"No, I really don't. I'm totally oblivious to this whole . . . I don't have a clue . . ." Sam poked at his own eye and pulled back when he discovered it was sore.

He looked closely at Josh's eye. The skin had been broken and dried blood was on the cut and his cheek. The bruise was already dark and swollen.

"Does mine look like yours?" he asked.

"About the same," Josh replied. "We both did quite a job on each other."

"How did this happen?"

"I gave you a round-house left hook."

"What the fuck?"

"Baby, it started to thunder real bad and you freaked. You were flailing all over the place and you nailed me. You didn't mean to, but you elbowed me in the right eye and gave me this trophy. It woke me up from a sound sleep and my instincts just caused me to react to protect myself and I . . . well, I clobbered you. I'm sorry?"

Sam looked at Josh long and hard with no emotion or expression. He had no idea whatsoever how Sam would react.

Suddenly Sam started to laugh. Just a little at first, then a full- throttled, from the gut laugh. Josh laughed with him. He saw the humor in it too . . . sort of.

"I just wanna snuggle up with you again and go back to sleep," Sam said. "We should probably put ice on our eyes, but I don't wanna get out of this chair.

"You got it, darlin'. Gimme kiss."

Josh brought Sam's head to him and gave him a tender kiss. With their lips together, Sam mouthed the words, "I love you." Josh mouthed back, "My Angel."

Sam ran his fingers through Sam's hair. "My sweet boychik," he murmured. He used the Yiddish term with affection. "You need a haircut."

********

The storm never came. Nor the rainstorm.

Josh woke up and he knew. He touched his eye gingerly, winced, and he knew. It wasn't a dream. He and Sam really had beat each other up in their sleep.

"Sam?" he whispered.

Silence.

"Sam?"

No response.

Sam was asleep. Josh leaned over and looked closely at Sam's face in the first light of dawn. His suspicions were confirmed. And he knew they had a problem. How would they explain their matching black eyes to the staff at the White House today?

Despite his inner voice that screamed, "Don't do it! You'll be sorry!" his common sense voice said, "You KNOW what you have to do."

CJ had said to both him and Sam on more than one occasion, "I'm your first call!" And every time she'd said it, her face was red, her eyes bulged, and her voice could have broken all pieces of good crystal within a five-mile radius.

"I'm your first call!" echoed through Josh's head. It bounced off one side and then the other. It got louder and louder until he knew what had to be done. He had to call CJ and tell her he and Sam had matching black eyes and ask how they would explain them to the White House staff in a practical, logical way that made sense.

He knew he should probably talk it over with Sam first, but . . . Josh looked at Sam again. He had managed to go back to sleep after the thunder passed through and he finally looked peaceful. Josh didn't want to wake him. He was sure ~~ pretty sure ~~ Sam would agree it was the best thing anyway . . . to call CJ . . . at least that's what Josh told himself.

He gently disentangled himself from Sam, crawled out of the recliner, got his cell phone, then wrapped himself back around Sam under the covers. He stroked Sam's head as a nervous habit. He had no idea what time it was. He speed dialed CJ's number. The phone rang four times before there was an answer.

"Yeah?"

"CJ?" He spoke quietly so he wouldn't wake Sam.

"Do I sound like CJ?"

"Nooooo, not so much."

"Josh?"

"Simon?"

"Hey, Josh! Yeah, it's Simon. You want CJ, right?"

Josh cringed. Simon sounded like he was in much too good of a mood at this time of morning, whatever time it was, to have been awakened from sleep.

"Uh . . . yeah . . . if she's not . . . uh . . . if . . . uh . . . if she's not . . . what's she . . .?" Josh stuttered.

"Josh?" Simon sounded like he was about to laugh.

"Yeah?"

"You wanna talk with CJ?" Simon asked again.

"Yeah, ok."

"Hold on."

Dammit, Josh thought. What have I done? Why in the world did I call CJ in the middle of the night or the morning or whatever the hell time it is and probably interrupt her and Simon doing who knows what? "I" know what! The same thing "I" would be doing if "I" was in bed with Simon in the middle of the night or the morning of whatever the hell time it is.

Josh made a fist in Sam's hair that pulled just a bit too hard at his scalp and lifted Sam's head off Josh's chest.

"Heeeeyyyyyy . . ." Sam complained in his sleep. "Nooooo . . ."

Josh released his grasp the instant he realized his reaction had been in response to the thought of Simon in bed with CJ. Or may just the thought of Simon in bed. Or maybe just the thought of Simon.

"Sorry, Sammy," he whispered. "Go back to sleep." He massaged Sam's head with spider fingers. "It's ok, I'm here."

"Josh? What's wrong?" CJ already sounded worried when she answered the phone.

"Why do you automatically assume there's something wrong just because I called you?" Josh asked as he smoothed Sam's hair back in place.

"Because there is. Talk to me."

"Can't I just . . .?"

"TALK TO ME, JOSH!"

"Ok, ok, ok. Don't get your panties in a knot. Why do you always think the worst of me?" he asked.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" CJ ignored his question.

"Uh, no. Is that important?"

"It is if you've called to chit chat. Did you call just to chit chat with me, Josh?"

"CJ, you know I'm not a chit chatter, so no, that's not why I called." Josh suddenly regretted that he HAD called, but it was too late now.

"Two seconds. Two seconds or the secret service will bust down your front door with weapons brandished, so help me God," CJ threatened." Talk to me, Josh. Now!"

Josh sang like a canary.

"CJ, remember how you've always told us if we ever find ourselves in a situation that might, um. . ."

"Cut the ummm."

"That might need some across-the-board explanation not only to the President, but to the Senior Staff and maybe if the situation presents itself, the Senate, perhaps the Congress, and from time to time, the American people as a nation, and none of us are smart enough to come up with a believable explanation on our own?"

"What. Have. You. Done?"

There was an edginess to CJ's voice that in some perverted way intrigued Josh.

"When Sam and I come in to work today we're both gonna have black eyes and that might arouse suspicion." The words tumbled out of Josh's mouth.

Silence. More silence.

"CJ?"

Her laughter was so loud Josh covered the earpiece on the telephone so it wouldn't wake Sam. Just when Josh thought she was going to stop, she started to laugh again.

"CJ? CJ!"

Finally she collected herself and was able to talk. "Josh, did you just say you and Sam have matching shiners? Is that what you just told me?" She barely got it out before she burst into laughter.

"I'm glad you find it funny, CJ," Josh said with a trace of indignance. "Go ahead, get it all out, all the laughter. Then stop and give a moment's thought to the ramifications for Sam and me and see how funny it sounds." Josh wasn't at all amused with CJ's cavalier attitude.

It got quiet on the other end of the line. After a few seconds a serious CJ came back to the conversation.

"Josh, you're serious, right?"

"Dead serious. You told us to make you our first call, and this is it. Our . . . my first call. Fix it, CJ. Please."

CJ sighed. "Ok, before I `fix' it, I need you to tell me exactly what happened . . ."

"But . . ." Josh interrupted.

"EXACTLY what happened," CJ overrode Josh, "and you've got to tell me the truth, Josh. Because if I spin this for you and it comes back to bite me in the ass because you lied to me, so help me, a black eye will be the least of your worries. Now, tell me TRUTHFULLY, exactly what happened."

Only then did it dawn on Josh if he told CJ the truth, he would out Sam and himself. Why hadn't he thought of this before? He closed his eyes and tried to think. Here he had taken it upon himself to make a life-altering decision that affected not only himself but also Sam, and he hadn't even discussed it with Sam. He'd just picked up the phone and dialed without a second thought that he might actually have to tell CJ how they got their black eyes.

"We were wrestling," he said, "and we accidentally hit each other. I think I hit Sam with my elbow and I think he hit me with his, uh, with his elbow too."

"Let me get this straight," CJ said with total disbelief in her voice. "You and Sam, two grown men, were wrestling and you each elbowed the other in the eye? Is that correct?"

"Yeah?"

"Give it your next best shot, peabrain."

Josh was genuinely concerned. He didn't know what to say or what to do. He and Sam had talked about how they might one day confide in CJ about their relationship, but that was ONE DAY, not necessarily today and certainly not like this. He thought maybe he should wake Sam and tell him what he'd done.

"CJ, can't you just come up with a story without having to know the details?" Josh asked.

She could tell he was serious and uneasy. She also knew he didn't want to tell her how they really got injured.

"Josh," she said gently, "I'm your friend. You know I don't buy that story about you and Sam wrestling. Why don't you wanna tell me what really happened?"

"I did. We were wrestling," Josh answered.

"Josh. I'm not stupid." Then, "Ok, maybe you WERE wrestling, but why?"

Silence.

"Josh?"

No answer.

"Josh?"

No answer.

"Josh. Talk to me, Joshua."

"I . . . I can't, CJ. Just use what you have, ok?"

"Is Sam there with you," CJ asked. "May I talk with Sam?"

Josh instinctively looked down at Sam cuddled against him, his head on Josh's shoulder. It startled him when he saw Sam's eyes open and focused on Josh.

"Hold on," Josh said into the phone. He covered the mouthpiece.

"How long have you been awake?" he whispered to Sam.

"Since you mistook Simon for CJ." Sam's voice was hoarse and barely audible.

"So you've heard . . ."

"Everything."

"Are you . . ."

"No, it's ok."

"Should I . . ."

"No, let her use what you've already told her. I'm not ready for CJ to know about us," Sam whispered. "Unless you need . . ." "No, I'm . . ."

"Ok then."

"Ok," Josh replied.

"Love you, Oshie."

"Love you, Angel."

Then to CJ, "I have no idea where Sam is, CJ. Please, just use the information I've already given you. Sam and I both have black eyes. I'll leave for work at five-thirty this morning and I assume Sam will leave about the same time. Call us each on our cells and let us know what the story is so we'll both know before we get to the White House."

Josh spoke with authority. He rarely pulled rank on a colleague and disliked when it had to be done, especially with someone as close as CJ, but he didn't hesitate now. He knew he stepped lightly around CJ and deferred to her more often than not on matters of public relations, press and image, but he WAS Deputy Chief of Staff and was her superior. If the need to point this out was necessary to protect Sam and their relationship, he would do anything. And if Sam wasn't ready, HE wasn't ready ~~ and he really wasn't ~~ so he had no qualms at all to use his position and give CJ an order.

It also occurred to him he didn't like the fact CJ had automatically assumed he had done something incredibly stupid without any knowledge of the fact, and more than that, it angered him she would think SAM, of all people, would do something incredibly stupid. Himself he could maybe understand, but for someone to unjustly believe Sam had done something less than stellar was just a bit too much for Josh. Besides, she had called him a peabrain and that really pissed him off.

CJ recognized the change of tone and demeanor immediately. "So you want me to use the wrestling story?" she asked.

"Use whatever sounds plausible that will keep the staff and the press from hounding Sam and me until these bruises go away and see that it's not mentioned again. I know there's nothing you can do about the rest of the Senior Staff having a field day with it, but I don't want a word from the assistants or anyone below them."

"So that's it then?" CJ asked to make sure she was certain what was expected of her. "Whatever I come up with goes?"

"Within reason," Josh confirmed. "And CJ, don't screw me on this. I'm not kidding around here."

"I can tell that. I'll call you."

"I know you will," he said. "Apologize to Simon for me, will ya?"

"Yeah, ok. Wait, Josh? Are you, are you guys alright? Your eyes, I mean. Do you need medical attention?" CJ asked.

"We're fine. Good-bye, CJ."

"Josh, wait!"

"What?"

"Sam's face . . .is it . . .?"

"He's still pretty, CJ. Good-bye."

Josh clicked his phone shut and looked down at Sam. His eyes were closed, but Josh couldn't tell if he was asleep. Josh bounced his shoulder. Sam's face wobbled up and down and back and forth, but he didn't open his eyes.

"Fake," Josh said. "You're not asleep."

"Yes I am."

Josh smiled. Sam sunk down into the chair. His face was cool against Josh's warm stomach. Josh engulfed Sam's head with his arms and hugged it to him.

"Josh?" The voice sounded small and far away.

"Josh?" The voice sounded muffled.

"Josh?" The voice laughed. "I can't breathe."

Josh loosened his grip and exposed Sam's head.

"You about suffocated me under there!" Sam coughed and laughed at the same time.

"You stuck your head in there in the first place!" Josh countered in just as playful a mood.

Then Sam got quiet. "Hold my hands."

Josh took Sam's hands in his and brought them all together in a cluster between Sam's face and his own.

"Is CJ gonna take care of it?" Sam asked.

"Yeah."

"Do you know what's she gonna say?"

"No. She'll handle it ok though. Just as long as she doesn't make us out to be pugilists."

"I don't know," Sam said, with a slight swagger in his voice. "I kinda like the sound of pugilism."

"Not as long as your body belongs to ME," Josh laugh. He hesitated. "Was I too rough on her, Sam?"

"No, not at all. That's her job."

"I know, but still . . ."

"Josh?"

"Hmmmm?"

"Did you ever love somebody so much, so much that everything you said or did or thought or wondered or planned for the rest of your life depended on or revolved around that person?" Sam asked.

Josh knew that depth of love well. It described his love for Sam.

"I know that kind of love," he answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Have you ever loved somebody TOO much?" He ignored Josh's question.

"I'm not sure you CAN love somebody too much. Do you feel like that happened to you? Are you warm enough, Angel?"

Josh felt Sam's face move against him as Sam nodded.

"I think . . . I think with my brother, I loved him so much . . . TOO much. Josh, I never saw that Jack was, just Jack. I always thought he was going to hold my hand forever and protect me from everything and everybody up until the day I died. I had our whole life together planned out," Sam explained.

"You did? You really did that?" Josh asked.

Again, Sam nodded and let out a laugh, one of sadness and cynicism.

"Yeah, neither of us would ever get married and we'd live in our own place right on the ocean. We'd both be firefighters and work together and we'd ride all over town in his Mustang and it would be just him and me always. We didn't have room . . . I didn't wanna MAKE room for anybody else."

Sam shifted and brought their cluster of hands closer to his chest.

"But ya know?" he continued. "The thing, the one thing that never ever in a million, trillion, gazillion years, the one thing that never ever occurred to me was that the first time I really, really needed Jack to protect me, to come and save me, to be on my side when it mattered most . . . that's when he . . . Josh, that's when he aban . . . abandoned me. Just when I needed him most in my whole life, that's when he left, and he's never come back for me."

"You've got me. I know I'm not . . ." Josh hesitated. He didn't want to say it and the words stuck in his craw when he DID say it, but he knew it was the best thing for Sam to hear. "I know I'm not as good as being your biological brother, but at least you know I'll never leave you."

"Josh?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"You know Jack has always been my idol, my hero, the most important person in all of creation, right?"

"Well, yeah Sam, you've never really gone into it but I guess I know."

"All that. All that and more doesn't even begin to touch how much I love you."

Josh curled over onto Sam and rested there a few minutes. So close, so intimate, they spoke volumes and didn't say a word. They were so wrapped around each other, so wrapped up in each other . . .

"Do you love me, Josh?" Sam asked.

"Yes."

"Do you love me more than anything or anybody in the world?"

"Yes," Josh answered.

"Would you ever hurt me?"

"No."

"Would you ever shame me?"

"No," Josh replied.

"If I did something bad would you leave me?"

"No."

"If I died, what would you do?"

"I'd die too," said Josh. "There'd be no reason for me to live."

One of the last two candles flickered out, then the other.

Chapter 56

"You know what?" Sam asked as they drove toward the White House.

"What's that?"

"We need to ask for some time off to go to California," said Sam. "That's just a couple of weeks away and they like us to give them as much advance notice as possible. Especially with both of us wanting to leave at the same time."

"Shit, you're right," Josh agreed.

"You think it'll be weird?"

"What? Us both wanting to take off at the same time?"

"Yeah," replied Sam. "Are we gonna tell them we're traveling together?" He looked at Josh.

Josh stopped for a red light, turned the radio off, and smiled at Sam. "I think we have to," he said. "They'll need to know where we are, how to get a hold of us, all that stuff. We've gotta be honest with them at least about where we're going. But we don't have to tell them why." He winked at Sam.

Sam smiled back.

"You talk with Toby and I'll see Leo," Josh continued. "You're NOT going out there alone. I told you I'm going to meet your family and I mean it."

"You don't know how much this means to me, Osh," replied Sam. "I've known for a while that the next time I saw my family I wanted you to be with me. The time is right."

"If you say it's right, then that's good enough for me." Josh moved on when the light turned green.

Sam put his hand on Josh's thigh. "You know, don't you, this is the second biggest thing to ever happen in my life? Telling my family I'm married to a man?"

Josh let his own hand fall into his lap over Sam's. "What's the biggest thing?" he asked

Sam squeezed Josh's leg. "Getting married to a man."

Both were silent the rest of the drive. Sam pulled his hand away when they got close to the White House; there were too many chances of being seen by someone who would recognize them. Josh had just turned into the parking lot and found a space when his phone rang. It was CJ. She had come up with a quasi-plausible story for them to explain their matching black eyes. A moment later CJ called Sam and gave him the same details. Josh sat quietly while Sam listened, then he then reached behind him and got his backpack and Sam's briefcase. They both slammed the car doors shut, Josh beeped the alarm, and they started across the parking lot. Sam mis-stepped on purpose so he bumped into Josh. He lingered a few seconds before he let himself straighten up and get on track again.

"You ok, Josh?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

"I don't know. You just seem distracted. Something on your mind?"

"Not so much, " Josh lied. "Just . . . thinking."

Josh's mind was teaming with worries. And they weren't the kinds of things he could just sit down and talk about with someone; they were too complicated for that, too intermingled, too personal.

I've got to tell Sam about Jeanne and the DNA results, he thought. Well, I don't absolutely HAVE to, but I'm going to. He may never find out, but if he does and I haven't told him, the foundation of our relationship (after love), trust, will be a sham and I believe irreparable. And if that's not bad enough, when I tell him Scott Major is involved . . .

Then I've got to somehow find out if Leo knows about Sam and me. I kind of remember talking to him in a fairly personal way at the hospital when he and I were alone in the waiting room. But for the life of me, I don't know what Leo knows. Especially after I went in there are asked him what my Dad thought of homosexuals. That kind of set up the scenario. I don't know if he believed I was asking about a friend or not. Leo isn't stupid.

And how much does he know about Sam's addiction? Obviously enough to go to John Hoynes and ask him to include Sam in his AA meetings.

I'm terrified Sam is going to relapse. He hasn't shown any signs or symptoms, but still, I'm scared to death. He's bound to be nervous about going to see his family, and I don't want him to use because of that. He says he hasn't and I believe him one hundred percent. There's been no indication that he has . . . He looks better than he has in months. Toby said his work has never been better. So why do I worry? Because I do.

I worry that Marc will show up out of the blue one of these days. I still don't know what Simon did when Toby called him. I've never asked and neither Simon nor Toby has ever offered the information. Do I wanna know? Someday, probably, but do I wanna know now?

How much does the President know about all this? About everything?

I haven't called my Mother since . . . since I can't remember when.

And what's REALLY gonna happen in California? I told Sam I'd support whatever he chooses to do, but is it really a good idea for him to come out to his family now? Right before the Presidential election? He said his Father is a major Ritchie supporter and contributes large amounts financially. If Mr. Seaborn is the prick Sam says he is, he could throw a monkey wrench into this whole election if he wanted to. But Sam's determined now's the time, so I'm gonna be right there with him.

"Josh? Josh!"

Josh jumped, startled by Sam's voice. They were standing in the hallway of the West Wing.

"What?" he asked. He had no idea what Sam had said to him.

"You missed your turn," Sam laughed. "You go that way, I go this way. Are you sleep walking?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess so," Josh replied.

Sam lowered his voice. "Are you sure you're ok? You don't seem to be firing on all cylinders."

"Just thinking, Sam," Josh grinned. "Always thinking. That's what keeps me one step ahead of everybody else." He cocked his head to the side. "You could learn from me, young man."

"I do every day. Does your eye hurt?"

"Like a motherfucker," Josh replied, still grinning. "How about you?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, but it's good to know you can defend us in a home invasion." Sam lightly touched his eye and winced.

"It would hurt less if you'd stop poking at it," Josh whispered.

"See, I've already learned something today. I've got a seven o'clock conference call," Sam said, "I've gotta get to my office. I'll see you later." Then he silently mouthed the words, `I love you' and was gone.

`I love you too, Angel,' Josh thought as he watched him go. `I love you too'.

********

"Margaret!"

"At your service." The woman materialized at Leo's door.

"Is Josh in the building?" he asked.

"I wouldn't know, sir."

"Well, would you find out and get him in here please?"

"Will do."

Margaret left and returned a moment later. She walked into Leo's office and set a covered tray in the middle of his desk while he went through the morning's files.

"What in high heavens is that?" he asked.

"Breakfast," she answered as she lifted the silver dome off the plate. "Two fried eggs, four strips of fried bacon, fried potatoes with onions and peppers, two biscuits with butter and strawberry jam and coffee, black. There's more if you want seconds."

Leo stared at the feast before him then at Margaret as though she'd lost her mind.

"Have you lost your mind?" he asked.

"I don't believe I have. Why do you ask?" she responded.

"Where's my sour-as-hell grapefruit with no sugar?"

"There isn't one."

"I can see that! Why not? Where is it? Where's my grapefruit?" Leo demanded to know.

Margaret crossed her arms. "Every morning I listen to you take out the previous twenty-four hours' worth of wrath upon me and that helpless grapefruit. You're convinced you're mistreated and on the verge of starvation because you can't have your fried eggs, fried bacon, fried potatoes, biscuits, butter, jam, yada, yada, yada and frankly, I'm sick of it. So here it is. Every cholesterol-filled, artery-clogging thing you could ask for. See if I care! Do I care? I think not. Go ahead and deep-fry yourself into oblivion for all I care. Do I care? Really, I don' t. Care, that is. Now I'll go get Josh and you'll never have to look at a grapefruit again."

Margaret turned and left the office before Leo knew what hit him. He looked down at the massive amount of food in front of him. Suddenly, the grapefruit sounded pretty good. He shoved the tray away and wondered how he could sneak a grapefruit in so Margaret wouldn't see it.

This is ridiculous, he thought. I'm the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States and I have to sneak a goddamned grapefruit into my own office. Hells bells. This beats everything. This just beats everything.

********

"Don-naaaaa!"

"What happened to your eye?"

Josh took a big gulp of his coffee. It had begun. Where was CJ? She was supposed to make sure this, exactly this, didn't happen.

"Didn't CJ talk with you?" Josh asked.

"She did, but I didn't think it would look this bad. Does it hurt?" Donna asked.

"Not so much anymore. It looks worse than it really is."

Donna moved further into the office and stretched her neck for a better look. She moved first to the left, then to the right for closer examination of Josh's black eye.

"Will you stop it?" Josh barked. "You look like an ostrich."

"I just wanna see. Did you put ice on it?" Donna asked. "Ice stops the swelling, you know."

"I iced it," Josh sighed.

"It's swollen."

"I iced it!"

"Does Sam look this bad?"

"About the same. Look Donna, I didn't call you in here to discuss the accident. I need you to get the files together for my meeting with . . . will you stop that?"

"It's just freaky weird," Donna said.

"What's freaky weird?"

"The accident. I mean, what are the odds of you both getting a black eye from a fender bender? That just seems bizarre to me."

"There's nothing bizarre about that Donna. Sam and I came in for a few hours over the weekend, went out for some lunch, somebody bumped us from the back, we both lurched forward and we both got hit under the eye. Makes perfect sense to me."

It was a weak story and he knew it. He had pulled into a parking space in the White House lot this morning when CJ called to tell him what she'd come up with.

"That's the best you can do?" Josh yelled into the phone.

"Yes, that's the best I can do when you call me at four forty-five in the a.m. and want some plausible story on the spot so I can brief all the assistants within an hour!" CJ yelled back. "Can you think of something better?"

Josh couldn't.

"Because if you can," CJ continued, "then let's hear it now buddy boy, because you've got me stumped on this one. Two grown men wrestling for gods sake, and you want me to spin that into something people are gonna buy? Josh, my advice is for you and Sam to go to an empty parking lot and actually run your cars into each other so this story will have some ring of truth to it."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well I'm here now so it's too late to do that. We should have just stuck with the truth."

"What? That you and Sam were wrestling?" CJ asked. "I wanna hear more about that Josh. Would you stop by my office as soon as you get inside the building? And bring Sam with you. I'd like to see a little bit of that action."

"Josh! Josh!" Donna said as she waved her hands in front of his face. "Earth to Josh!"

"Huh? What?"

Josh left his memory of this morning's conversation with CJ and returned to the present. Donna stood in front of him and called his name. Her arms flailed back and forth.

"I said, are you ok? Did you get a concussion when you hit your head?"

"What?" Josh was confused.

And Donna was exasperated.

"I said, when you hit your head in the accident, did you get a concussion? You zoned out there for a minute."

"No, I'm fine. Did you say Leo wants to see me?"

"No."

"Are you sure? I thought you said Leo . . ."

"No Josh, I didn't mention Leo."

"Yeah, ok. Well, I need to see HIM." Josh stood and started out of his office.

"So you're going to see Leo?" Donna asked.

"Yeah. If Margaret calls, tell her I'm on my way."

Donna looked at Josh from the corners of her eyes. "Okay . . ."

Josh started through the bullpen then stopped and turned. "Donna, I'll be in Leo's office in anybody needs me."

********

Sam knocked on the doorjamb as he sauntered into Toby's office with a wide grin on his face. Toby was writing on his legal pad and didn't look up.

"Close it," Toby muttered.

"What? The door?"

Toby grunted in response. Sam took that as an affirmative and shut the door behind him. Undaunted by Toby's mood, Sam dropped onto the couch, stretched his legs out in front of him, and clasped his hands behind his head. Toby continued what he was doing. Sam cleared his throat.

Toby stopped writing and looked at Sam. "What the hell happened to your face? Dammit Sam, look at yourself!" Toby's tone wasn't one of anger, but of concern.

Sam grinned. "I looked, I saw, I think it shows the Democrats aren't gonna take any shit off anybody during this campaign. We could make posters showing a Republican KO'ed.

"Knock it off Sam. Tell me what happened to your face. My Deputy has a fucking black eye and I wanna know how you got it. And when?"

Sam's cavalier attitude quickly changed.

"Last night we had that thunderstorm pass over. The thunder and lightning. There was a lot of thunder, Toby. It shook the walls and . . ."

"I remember the thunder," Toby interrupted.

"Yeah, ok, I thought you probably would. Anyway, I don't do well with thunderstorms and I was tossing and turning in bed, well, more like thrashing about, and I accidentally socked Josh in the face, the eye specifically. Naturally, he awoke from what was an apparently deep sleep because . . ."

"Get to the point."

"He hit me back."

Toby closed his eyes. "Does Josh look as bad as you do?"

"Pretty much."

Toby sighed. "Lovely."

"CJ has something else," Sam offered tentatively.

"I haven't heard anything else."

"She does. Josh told her to fix it so she came up with a reasonable explanation. We're just gonna play it down, no big deal. If anyone asks, Josh and I came in for a few hours over the weekend, went out for some lunch, somebody bumped us from the back, we both lurched forward and we both got hit under the eye."

Toby opened his eyes and looked at Sam but didn't say anything. Sam continued.

"You're the one person other than Josh and me who knows what really happened and you're not gonna. . ."

"That goes without saying. You know better than that Sam." Toby's voice and attitude both had softened. "Just do us all a favor ~~ until you guys heal up, do everything in your power not to be seen together, ok?"

Sam raised his right hand as if he was about to take an oath. "I swear, Toby, I'll avoid Josh like the proverbial plague. I'll honor a self-imposed restraining order. If I see him in the hall I'll turn and run in the opposite direction. Josh Lyman and I will NOT be within a mile of each other, in the office, for the duration of the black eyes."

There was a knock on the door, it opened a crack and Josh stuck his head inside. "Hi Angel," he said in a soft voice. "I'm on my way to see Leo, but I just wanted to say I love you."

********

"Hi Leo."

Leo looked up, startled out of his musings about grapefruit.

"Josh?"

"Good morning. Margaret said you wanted to see me."

"Yeah, but that was like five seconds ago. How'd she do that?"

"I was at her desk just about to come in and see you when she came back out for your breakfast. She gave me a grapefruit to eat while I waited. Dumped a couple of packets of sugar on it and it was sweet as ambrosia."

Josh sat in a chair across from Leo. "Look at that spread! Does she feed you like this every morning?" he asked.

Leo mumbled something inaudible and glared at Josh. "We're not here to discuss my gastric fortuity. Not one more word about food. Understand?"

Josh nodded. "Sure. Are you gonna eat both of those biscuits?"

Leo sighed and shoved the tray closer to Josh. "Knock yourself out."

"While you nosh and your mouth is full, I'll ask, how's your car?" Leo questioned.

A blank expression registered on Josh's face for an instant. He reached for the fork and started in on the eggs.

"Did you get an estimate on the damage yet?" Leo continued.

"Um, no. The car people are supposed to call me today and let me know something."

Leo shook his head. "Damn women drivers. Never should have given them the right to vote or drive automobiles." Leo chuckled.

Josh returned a nervous laugh. What the hell is Leo talking about?

"Especially those older broads." Leo chuckled again. He pantomimed his hands on a steering wheel in front of his face. "Hell, they can't even see over the steering wheel. No wonder she ran into you guys."

Josh smiled sheepishly as he wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin.

"How's your eye, son?" Leo asked. He didn't laugh now and his voice held concern. "Did you go to the emergency room?"

Instinctively Josh touched his finger to his eye and flinched a little. "No, I didn't think it was that bad."

"You could have a concussion."

Josh shifted nervously in his chair. What is Leo doing? CJ said this would be quick and easy, no big deal and not to worry. So far it's been everything BUT.

"I was never unconscious Leo. I don't have a concussion."

Leo stood and walked around to the front of his desk and sat in the chair next to Josh. "What about Sam?" he asked.

Josh was uncomfortable. He knew he'd have to weigh every word he said. What did Leo know? What the hell did Leo know? It was driving Josh crazy.

"What ABOUT Sam?" Josh replied.

"Well, how's he feeling? Besides the matching black eyes, is he hurt?"

"No! No, he's fine. Just a bruised and swollen eye, the same as me. Um, thanks for asking Leo. I appreciate your concern. We just wanna keep it low key though."

"Why?"

Dammit Leo! You just wanna play with me now! What do you want from me?

"You know . . . rumors get started over the dumbest things. No reason we should give people grist for the rumor mill," Josh laughed uncomfortably.

"What kind of rumors would people start?" Leo persisted. "Weren't you and Sam just in a minor automobile accident? Hit by an elderly woman who didn't see you? What rumors could that generate to make you or Sam uneasy?"

Josh gave a heavy sigh. Count on Leo to mess with his head. "Why'd you summon me here, Leo?" he asked. "Margaret said you wanted to see me."

"Why'd you come here, Josh? You said you were waiting outside my door."

Josh hesitated. "Can I get some water please?"

"Sure."

Leo left his office and asked Margaret to bring an ice bucket with several bottles of water, and to also bring him his grapefruit. When he returned, he moved his chair a little closer to Josh.

"Why'd you come to see me this morning, son?" Leo repeated.

"I'd like to request some vacation time. I need to go out of the state," Josh said.

"Is it for a good reason?"

"Yes sir, a very good reason," Josh replied.

"When?" Leo asked.

Josh pulled a printed itinerary out of his pocked and handed it to Leo. It had the dates, times, and flight numbers. He crossed then uncrossed his legs, then crossed them again, ankle to knee. He was nervous. He didn't want Leo to see he was nervous. He put his hand on his shoe to so it wouldn't shake.

"Josh, I'm gonna have to ask why you're going to see if it justifies time off. We're really busy right now," Leo said. "I need you around here."

"I understand that and I'm sorry the timing sucks, but I have no control over that. This isn't a pleasure trip and I'll take my laptop with me and work while I'm gone."

"That didn't answer my question. I asked why you need to go to southern California in two weeks."

Josh didn't want to tell Leo he was going to Pacific Palisades with Sam for the Seaborn Family Reunion and `meet the family' as Sam's spouse. It just wasn't something he and Sam were ready to share with any members of the White House staff, other than Toby. If they ever WERE going to be ready.

Unless Leo already knows. Beads of sweat began to form on Josh's forehead.

At home saying `I'm Sam's spouse' sounds so natural, Josh thought, but the idea of saying it out loud to Leo is a totally foreign concept. I have absolutely no shame about it. In fact, the exact opposite is true. My pride in being Sam's spouse is overwhelming. Still, we haven't gone public with it so it feels and sounds awkward to even think about it in the presence of those outside our small universe.

"Josh?"

"Hmmm?"

"Did you drift off there?"

Josh looked at Leo. Leo had a grin on his face.

"You seem to drift off every now and then. You sure you didn't get a concussion?" Leo tried hard to lighten the mood in the office.

"I'm here. Didn't drift off. Just thinking," Josh said. "So Leo, if I tell you this information, do you have to take it to the President?"

There was a knock on the door and Margaret came in with a tray.

"Just set it on the credenza Margaret, thank you," Leo said. "Hold my calls."

They both watched while Margaret set the tray down. Leo walked over and picked up the bowl with his grapefruit, the jagged spoon, and a bottle of water. He set the grapefruit on his desk and handed the water to Josh.

"There is no IF you tell me," Leo said, his tone serious. "But you don't want the President to know where you're going or why?"

This conversation is SO what I do not want, Josh thought. Sam could handle this so much better.

"Not especially, sir."

"What's going on, Josh?" Leo asked quietly.

"Sam's family is having a reunion that happens once about every hundred years, and Sam is expected to be there. It's, it's, uh, back in California."

"Hooray for Sam. When do I get to hear about you?"

Josh stood and paced the room. He stopped when he got to the framed cocktail napkin where Leo had written "Bartlet for America". He pecked on the glass with his finger.

"You and the President are close, aren't you?" Josh asked.

"You know we are."

"Extremely close."

"So?"

"I mean personally, as friends. Not just a close working relationship, but you're real, real, real close outside the office as well, right?"

"Get to the point, Josh," Leo said in his gravely voice. "And sit back down. You're all squirrelly and that makes me nervous."

Josh returned to his chair. "Leo, Sam and I are very close friends here at the office and away from the office, too. We're best friends. We spend a lot of time together." He stopped and chugged half a bottle of water.

"Sam wants me to go to California with him. To the reunion. I told him I would."

The non-expression on Leo's face didn't change. Josh finished the bottle of water but his mouth was still dry.

"Sam wants you to go to his family reunion with him in California in two weeks, correct?" Leo repeated.

"Correct."

Leo put his hand on Josh's shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. "Josh, is there anything, anything at all you want to talk about with me? "

Josh clasped his hands together between his knees and looked down at the floor. Yes Leo, I DO want to talk with you about something, he thought. I want to tell you that I, your Deputy Chief of Staff, am in love with and married to Sam, the Deputy Communications Director of the Bartlet White House. We had a wedding ceremony and we wear matching wedding bands. We live together, sleep together, hug, kiss and have sex together. We make love almost every day and almost every night. At least once.

We're tired of keeping it a secret and lying to our friends and family and colleagues. At social functions we have to work to avoid each other so no one will get suspicious. We can't invite our friends and co-workers over for weekend parties or drinks because they don't know we're a couple. We have to be aware of every word we say to each other in public. We have to drive out of our way to go to the movies, grocery shopping, for a walk in the park, or anything else we want to do together because should the wrong person see us we'd be headline news the next day.

We want to hold hands outside our home but we can't. We want to say `I love you' whenever we want to but we can't. The risk is too great to too many people. Hell Leo, YOUR job might even hinge on the fact Sam and I are in love.

And Leo, if you believe the way my Dad did about Sam and me being `fuckin' fags', that would be the end of us . . . you and me. And I care too much about our relationship to take that chance. I couldn't live knowing you hate what I am. You may love me Leo, but you'd hate what I am, and I'm not ready to let go of you. Or for you to let go of me.

"No, nothing. Thanks."

"Dammit, Joshua McGarry Lyman! You are THE most stubborn . . . toughest nut to crack I've ever . . . except for your old man! Remember that hole I once told you about? It's ugly, Josh, and it's hard, and nobody wants to do it, but you've gotta talk to someone. If you keep all your secrets stuffed inside you, you're gonna wind up right back in that hole. And you know Sam, he's gonna crawl down into that hole to help you back up. But Sam's never been down in that hole before so he won't know how to get out, and now you're both stuck down there. Then what are you gonna do? Is that what you want?"

No! No! No! That's not what I want, Leo! Why can't you hear what I'm thinking, dammit? That's the LAST thing I want! I don't care so much for myself, but its SAM I want to protect here! He's going to be the President someday! I have to PROTECT SAM AT ALL COSTS! Can't you see that? Can't you understand that? Can't you hear me? Why can't you fucking hear me??

"I can't hear you if you don't talk to me son," Leo continued quietly. "I can't read your mind."

Josh opened his mouth to speak. His heart pounded so hard he put his hand to his chest. He gasped to catch his breath. He gasped again. He couldn't breathe.

Josh stood up and turned his head to look at Leo. When he did, everything moved in slow motion and left streaks like comets' tails in front of him. His eyes finally registered on Leo's face. Leo's mouth moved and Josh heard words, but they didn't match up with Leo's lips. He thought he heard his name being called, but the voice was deep and distorted, drawn out, and sounded far away. He wanted to answer, but he couldn't speak, he could only look at Leo's face and watch his mouth move and listen to that unfamiliar voice. It started to get dark and Leo's face got smaller and smaller. Josh 's ears rang so loud he could barely hear his name being called. The voice sounded further and further away until Josh couldn't hear it anymore. He fought to keep his eyes open. Leo was gone. He felt himself fall and saw the lights in the ceiling. Then there was nothing but black. No more anything. Josh closed his eyes.

********

Sam turned back to Toby with a sheepish grin.

"I didn't know Josh was gonna stick his head in here and say `I love you'," he said. "I know this looks bad . . ."

Toby raised his hand to stop Sam.

"Just don't follow him down the hall to reciprocate, ok? Now, how'd your conference call go?"

"It didn't. Muir had something come up and Klimpel wouldn't talk unless Muir was on the phone too. We re-scheduled."

"Think they're stalling?"

"Yep."

"Ok, try to get that done Monday or Tuesday." Toby returned to the work he was doing when Sam first came in. He rested his forehead against his hand and began to write on his legal pad.

Sam leaned back on the couch and looked up at the ceiling. About ten minutes passed before Toby realized Sam was still in his office.

"Can I help you, Sam?" he asked. "I've got work to do and so do you, so unless you have a specific reason for being in here, I suggest we both get on with our respective jobs."

"I've got a couple of things." Sam dug in his pocket and brought out a swatch of white satin. He set it on Toby's desk, turned to make sure nobody was behind him, and opened it. Inside were his and Josh's wedding bands.

"You said you knew a place you could send them to have them inscribed," said Sam. "Will you still do it?"

Toby covered the rings with the satin. "Don't be flashing those around here, Sam. On your fingers or off, it's obvious what they are."

"Will you still do it?"

"Of course I will. I told you I would and I will. Write down EXACTLY what you want them to say," Toby replied. "I don't wanna be responsible if they get screwed up."

Sam pulled a piece of paper out of his pocked with the sentiment printed out so there could be no mistake with the handwriting. Toby folded it up without reading it.

"You don't wanna read it?" Sam asked.

"Nope." Toby put the satin with the rings in them in the inside breast pocket of his jacket, then tucked the folded piece of paper in with them.

"Aren't you curious?" Sam persisted.

"It's none of my business, Sam. Something that intimate should be kept between you and . . . the other person."

Sam smiled. "That's sweet."

"Don't start."

"Well it IS sweet, Toby. Sometimes you do things . . ."

"Is there anything else you need," Toby interrupted.

Sam sat back down on the couch. He wondered for a second how things were going with Josh and Leo. "I need to ask you something."

"What is it?" Toby picked up his rubber ball and squeezed it first in his right hand then in his left. "What's on your mind?"

"Would it be ok if I take some time of in a couple of weeks? I'm flying to California to see my family and it's something I really can't get out of. Not very easily, anyway."

Toby held the ball in his left hand and raised his eyebrows.

"That surprises me. I didn't think you were close to your family. Is everything ok?"

"Oh yeah! Every so often the Seaborns all gather to look at each other and that time has come again," Sam explained. "I'm expected, maybe even obligated, I don't know, to be there."

"To LOOK at each other?" Toby threw his ball against the wall.

Thump.

"Pretty much. We're not an . . . affectionate people by nature," Sam replied.

Toby looked at Sam and Sam looked at the floor.

"I think YOU'RE an affectionate people, Sam," Toby said softly.

"Not so much by nature. It's a learned thing for me."

"Looks pretty natural between you and Josh."

"Toby . . ."

"Sam . . ."

Sam looked up and locked eyes with Toby.

"What?" Sam asked.

"Do you WANNA go?"

Sam blinked his eyes several times quickly. It never occurred to him he had a choice. He'd never considered that he could say `no'. His Father would call, tell him when to be there and he would be there. He'd never questioned whether he actually WANTED to go.

"Sure I wanna go. It's my family. Who wouldn't want to see their family?" Sam sat on the edge of the couch.

"So, who's gonna be there Sam? Your family. Tell me who you'll see," Toby persisted.

Sam didn't know why Toby continued to ask these questions. Can't he just say `yes' or `no', you can have the time off or you can't, so I can get back to work and not have to get into it any more than that? If Josh were here he'd have this over and done with in a minute. Josh is so much better at this type of thing than I am.

"Uh, my parents, Daniel and Audrey. We'll all get together at their house. And two sisters, twin sisters actually, Robin and Megan. They'll all be there."

Toby threw the ball again. Sam flinched when it hit the wall.

Thump.

"Your sisters, are they married?"

"Yeah. They're both married. Both of them."

"Kids?"

Thump.

"What?"

"Kids. Do your sisters have kids?" Toby repeated.

"Yes."

Thump.

"How many?"

"How many what?" Sam asked. He was distracted every time Toby threw the ball. He didn't want to have to think of his family in such detail.

"How many kids do your sisters have?"

Thump.

"Between them they have eight," Sam replied. "Four each."

"Lotta kids."

Thump.

"Yeah. They each have a set of twins and two others. My sisters are twins. I told you that already, didn't I? Twin sisters. And my Mother is a twin. Was a twin. She's still a twin I guess, I don't know . . . are you still a twin if your twin dies? I don't know. She was born a twin. Runs in my family I guess."

Thump.

"Don't you have a brother?" he asked.

Sam nodded and swallowed hard. "Yes."

"What's his name?"

"Ja . . . Jack."

"He's your older brother, right?" Toby continued.

Sam only nodded.

"Your older brother? Jack's your older brother?"

"Yes, Jack's my older brother."

"Are you two close?" Toby persisted.

"We were close gr . . . growing up. Now, n . . . n . . . not so much."

The office was silent for a couple of minutes. Then, "You know what I'd like right now?" Toby posed.

"Is that rhetorical or am I really supposed to guess?" Sam asked, grateful for a break in Toby's interrogation about his family.

"A nice Cuban Sancho Panza Sanchos."

Sam's eyes lit up. "Sweet. I'd sell my kidney for one of those right about now."

Toby gave Sam a sly smile and pulled open his jacket. Two cigars peeked out of the inner pocket. Sam looked first at the cigars then at Toby. Toby winked and Sam's smile broadened.

"Keep your kidney," Toby said. "My treat."

"We can't smoke those in here Toby!" Sam whispered. He sat up straight and looked over his shoulder. "This is the White House!"

"This is the White House!" Toby mocked with a laugh. "Whadda they gonna do? Deport us to Cuba?"

Sam laughed. "Toby, we CAN'T smoke those in here. Isn't that a federal offense?"

"I don't know, is it?"

"Well . . . I know we're not supposed to, but . . . I don't know . . . can we?"

Toby set his ball on the desk and pulled the two Cuban cigars out of his pocket. He moved them back and forth in front of Sam. Sam's eyes followed them.

"Toby, don't tease me," he said with a smile.

Toby moved the cigars up and down and around in a circle. Sam's eyes never left them. Toby grinned as he played with Sam like a kitten with a feather.

"Toby . . . " Sam let his name trail off. Toby put one of the cigars in his mouth and offered the other one to Sam.

"This is a sacred building," Sam said, still with a grin on his face. "You know we can't do this."

Toby bit off the end of his cigar, pulled out his trashcan and spit the tip into it. Sam instinctively licked his lips.

"What if the President walks in? He DOES come this direction every now and then, you know," Sam protested. "Or Leo? Leo would have a shit-fit."

"Josh has Leo tied up," Toby answered. He leaned a bit to the side, reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a lighter.

"We don't know that. They could be finished," Sam argued.

"Could be. Ya scared?" Toby flicked his lighter and a flame ignited. He held the other cigar out to Sam and wiggled it.

"I'm not scared. I'm just . . . it's the law and . . ." Sam grabbed for the cigar but Toby pulled it away. The smile disappeared from Sam's face as a look of surprise and hurt took its place. "What the hell . . .?"

Toby let out a full and hearty laugh. "Sam, Sam, Sam my boy, you're so much fun! No wonder Josh keeps you around!"

He held the cigar out to Sam again. Again, Sam reached for it. And again, Toby pulled it away.

"Fuck you!" Sam blurted with a smirk.

Toby laughed again and stood up over Sam. "Open your mouth Angel."

Sam opened his mouth and Toby stuck the expensive cigar in. "Close your mouth."

Sam did as he was told.

Toby affectionately put his hand on the side of Sam's face and gently ran his thumb over Sam's bruised eye. Sam flinched.

"I'm sorry," Toby said softly, "I didn't mean to hurt you." Toby moved his thumb from Sam's bruise and rubbed it along the side of his cheek. Sam leaned into Toby's hand and closed his eyes, just for an instant. "If it's ok," Toby said, "I'd like to get over to see you guys more often. I know I've been spending a lot of time with Julianna and I, uh, I kinda miss just coming over and hanging out with you and, you know, and if it's ok, when you get back from California. . ."

"You're still coming to dinner tomorrow, aren't you?" Sam asked hopefully.

"About that . . . would it be too much trouble if we make it Sunday instead. "I didn't realize, but Julianna had something already schedule for tomorrow night and . . ."

"Of course not. Sunday's fine. Really. Josh and I have to go buy me a new car tomorrow anyway, and I'd rather meet her when these black eyes have healed up a little. Sunday's better."

"Would you rather wait until NEXT weekend then?" Toby asked. "Because of your . . ."

Toby lightly ran his thumb over Sam's bruise again, barely touching it, not even enough to make him flinch. Somewhere inside him he hoped maybe if he touched where it hurt, he could make it go away.

"Next weekend's good, Toby," Sam responded just as softly. "You know we both want you to come any time you can." He reached up and put his hand on Toby's for a second, then they separated and Toby moved on.

Both men were aware of how warm the other's hand was, but neither said how nice that moment of warmth felt. Sam wanted to tell Toby he was moved by the touch. Toby wanted to tell Sam why he was compelled to put his hand on Sam. But neither man spoke of it.

"I'm gonna lock this door and we're gonna light these up," Toby said instead. "I know we can't smoke the whole thing, but we can at least get a quick taste. And I wanna hear more about this family of yours."

Toby locked the door and sat on the couch. He snapped his lighter and the flame appeared again. He held it to the cigar Sam had between his lips. Like Toby, Sam had bit off the tip and spit it in the trashcan.

Unlike Toby, Sam had put the entire cigar in his mouth and moistened it with his tongue then slowly drew it out between his lips. He held it steady while Toby put the flame beneath it. Sam inhaled deeply and the cigar caught fire and began to burn. Toby lit his own cigar and the two men simultaneously released audible sighed of contentment and leaned back onto Toby's couch.

*********

"Josh! Can you hear me son? Josh! Holy shit!"

********

"Josh is fine, Spanky, he just fainted." CJ put her hands against Sam's chest to keep him outside Leo's office.

"JUST fainted? Nobody JUST faints. There had to be a reason. Who's in there?" Sam asked. He clenched his jaw and beat his fist against his mouth out of frustration.

"Leo, Donna, and Senator Morris. He's in good hands. Relax, will ya?"

"Senator Carl Morris? Why's HE in there?" Sam took a step closer to Leo's door.

"He's a physician, that's why," CJ explained. "He had just come out of a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and Margaret found him in the hall. He was here in less than a minute. Take it easy, Sam."

"I don't wanna take it easy. I wanna go in. Can I go in?"

"No. Leo and Donna are in there and you'd just be in the way."

Sam put his hands on CJ's, still on his chest. "Please? Would you pull Donna out and let me go in? I really wanna see Josh."

CJ looked into Sam's eyes. She instinctively reached out and touched his swollen and bruised eye but he didn't feel it. "You really do, don't you?" she asked.

Sam nodded emphatically. "Yes, I really do! Josh is my best friend and I'd like to see what's going on. Pull Donna. For me?"

"Sure. Come on."

Sam followed CJ as she opened the door to Leo's office and waved to get Donna's attention. When Donna saw her, CJ motioned her out.

"So what's going on in there?" CJ asked when Donna came out. "How's Josh?"

"I don't know. I just got here myself. Senator Morris is taking his pulse and asked me to send someone out to his car for his medical bag."

Before Donna could finish her sentence, Sam was in Leo's office with the door closed. What he saw scared him. Josh lay prone on the floor and he didn't move. His jacket was off and tossed to the side. His tie had been loosened and his shirt was unbuttoned and pulled free from his pants. Even his undershirt had been untucked. His belt was unfastened and lay open. His shoes sat nearby and his socked feet were propped up on three thick law books.

Senator Morris kneeled beside Josh and held his wrist. He looked at his watch as he checked Josh's pulse. Leo stood with his hands on his knees, bent over Josh, brows furrowed, lips pursed, a look of real concern on his face. Josh's body appeared lifeless. He lay still and was drained of all color that left him a ghoulish, pasty gray. His head fell to one side and his eyes were closed.

"Leo?" Sam said softly.

Leo turned and stood up straight.

"Sam."

"What . . . what . . . what happened? How's Josh?"

"Aw hell. We were talking and all of a sudden he just went out on me. One minute he's upright and the next minute he's flat on the floor. Went down like a tree. Damndest thing."

Sam went to his knees next to Josh. "They said it was a heart attack. Somebody said he . . . did he have a heart attack?"

"No, he didn't have a heart attack. He had an anxiety attack and he passed out," Senator Morris said. "His heart's just fine."

"Is he gonna be ok?" Sam asked.

"Do you work closely with him?"

"Yes, I do. He's my best friend, too," Sam replied. "I know him well. Is he gonna be ok?"

"He's going to be ok. He's been out for a little while and his pulse is slow, but that's common," Senator Morris continued. "He's moved his head and tried to open his eyes so that means he's about to come around. It's a good sign."

Josh's head wobbled to the other side then back. He mumbled something unintelligible.

"Josh?" Sam immediately leaned toward him.

Senator Morris reached his arm out to stop Sam. "Not so close. Give him plenty of air so he can breathe. Go ahead and talk to him though. Call his name," he said.

"Josh, it's Sam. Josh! Can you hear me, Josh?" Sam took Josh's hand in both of his. He was startled by how cold and clammy his skin felt. He rubbed Josh's hand to warm it.

"Sam?"

"Josh! Wake up, Josh!" Sam put his hand against Josh's face. It, too, was cold and Sam wanted to pull Josh close and warm him in his arms. But he couldn't and it hurt because Sam knew Josh needed him and wasn't able to understand why Sam wasn't closer.

An image, a memory, a feeling passed through Sam and it chilled him to the bone. He re-lived for a second being on the ground in the park, confused, scared, and helpless to take care of himself. Cold and clammy. Wanting more than anything for Josh to be there and take him in his arms and hold and comfort him and tell him everything would be all right. Hearing Josh's voice and knowing Josh would come to him.

But I can't do that for Josh now, Sam thought. I can't take him in my arms to warm him and Josh can't understand why. He knows I'm here, but he doesn't know why I can't embrace him.

Josh's eyes slowly blinked open and he squinted as he tried to focus.

"Josh!" Sam repeated. "Talk to me, Oshie!"

Josh mumbled something, closed his eyes, and his head flopped to the other side.

"What happened? Did he faint again?" Sam asked with alarm.

"Calm down," Senator Morris responded. He took Josh's wrist between his fingers and looked at his watch. "He didn't pass out again. For Josh this feels like awakening from a deep, deep sleep and he needs to get his bearings. It'll take a few minutes. Just talk to him and try to bring him to the present. He'll recognize your voice?"

Sam glared at him before he realized it, and then softened. "Yes, he'll recognize my voice."

Sam squeezed Josh's hand but got no response. Despite what Senator Morris had told him, Sam leaned close to Josh's face.

"Josh, it's Sam. Wake up for me. I'm right here. It's Sam." He brushed Josh's hair back then let his hand rest on Josh's forehead to try and warm him.

Josh turned his head at the sound of Sam's voice. He slowly opened his eyes, blinked, and his eyes seemed to focus on Sam. Then there was a spark of recognition and Josh squeezed Sam's hand in return.

"Sammy? What . . .?"

"You passed out, babe. But you're ok and I'm right here with you," Sam assured him.

"Stay with me?"

"Always."

"Excuse me," Senator Morris said, "I need to get in here."

Sam took his hand off Josh's forehead and pulled back, but he didn't let go of Josh's hand and he didn't move from his side. Instead, he took his own shoes off and sat cross-legged on the floor next to him, prepared to settle in for the duration.

Senator Morris looked into one of Josh's eyes with a penlight he pulled from his pocket. Then he very gently opened the lids of Josh's blackened eye. He had just put his hands on either side of Josh's head and carefully felt his neck, when there was a knock at the door.

Leo answered it and returned with a black leather bag. He set it down next to the Senator.

"The courier brought this from your car," Leo said.

The Senator was all business as he listened to Josh's heartbeat, checked his blood pressure, took his temperature, and gave him a brief medical exam. Josh kept his eyes on Sam the entire time. Sam continued to hold Josh's hand in both of his. Gradually Josh's hand began to warm, but Sam couldn't get the idea out of his head that he wanted to bring Josh's entire body close to his own, to wrap himself around Josh and hold him until the chill was gone, until Josh felt safe again, until it was Sam's hands and only Sam's hands that touched Josh and not the hands of a stranger.

As he ached for the intimacy, Sam brought one of Josh's hands to his lips and kissed it. He held it there without consideration of who might see this act of compassion. It never occurred to him to be discreet. He just knew Josh needed him whether Josh knew it or not, and at that moment, Josh was all that mattered.

Leo watched the scene unfold before him. He was struck by Sam's tenderness with Josh and his gentle demeanor when he spoke to him. The familiarity between the two wasn't lost on Leo, but what intrigued him most was that he wasn't at all surprised.

"Leo, would you get some water, please?" Senator Morris put his things back into his medical bag. "Josh, I'm going to give you a drink of water and let you lay here a few more minutes with your feet elevated, then we're going to have you sit up, ok?"

Josh nodded.

Leo handed down a bottle of water. The Senator reached for it but Sam grabbed it first.

"I'll give it to him," he said as he twisted off the cap.

Senator Morris glanced at Leo and Leo returned the look.

"It's ok if I raise his head?" Sam asked.

"Just take it slow." The Senator rose and stood next to Leo.

Sam put his hand behind Josh's head and slowly raised it. Josh rolled on his side and propped himself up on his elbow. Sam put the water bottle to Josh's lips as he tilted his head back. Josh's hand joined his on the water bottle and together they angled it back so Josh was able to drink.

"Just a sip," Sam cautioned. "You can have more in a second." He kept his hand on the back of Josh's head.

Sam waited while Josh swallowed the water then asked, "Still thirsty? Want another drink?"

Josh nodded and they repeated the scene. "I couldn't breathe," Josh said in a quiet voice. "And my heart pounded so hard I thought it was gonna explode."

"They said you had a heart attack. I was so scared."

"When I first woke up . . . when I first woke up Sammy, all I could think of was you and that's all I . . . that's all I wanted, was you," Josh replied.

They spoke like there was no one else in the room but each other.

"More?"

"Yes, please."

Sam held the bottle to Josh's lips while he took another drink. A ribbon of water trickled down Josh's chin and Sam caught it with his finger. He gently brushed at Josh's bruised eye.

"This feel any better?" he asked with a half-smile.

Josh returned the smile. "Not much. How about yours?"

"It's ok."

"Josh, do you feel like you can sit up now?" Senator Morris asked. "Want to give it a try?"

"Yeah, ok."

With the Senator on one side and Sam on the other, Josh slowly sat up. Sam wanted to reach out and put both his arms around Josh for support, but didn't.

"How's that feel?" the Senator asked. "Steady? Wobbly? Neither? Both?"

Josh laughed. "Yes. No. Maybe. I don't know."

"Well, his conversation skills are back to normal," Leo said. "I think he'll live."

"I don't even know what happened. What happened?" Josh asked again.

"You had an . . ."

"You passed out . . ."

Senator Morris and Sam both started to speak at the same time then stopped.

"Uh, you go ahead," Sam offered. "I didn't mean to interrupt."

"No problem, Sam," the Senator replied. "Josh, you had an anxiety attack and hyperventilated. You passed out for a few minutes then came around on your own. Your pulse is now back to normal, your blood pressure is fine, your heart sounds good, your lungs are clear, you don't have a fever, your pupils dilate just fine, and I don't feel any bumps on your head and your neck isn't damaged. You may feel light-headed for a little while longer and you might have a headache later, or you might not. Has this happened before?"

"No, never."

The Senator stood. "What did you do to this poor guy, Leo? Stress the man till he passed out?"

Leo laughed uncomfortably. "We all get nervous when there's a Republican this close to the Oval Office, Carl, no offense."

Senator Morris laughed. "None taken. I worry a bit myself each time I walk past one of those armed guards."

"Well, you took good care of my Deputy here, so you're welcome in the Wing anytime, Senator. I'll see that no weapons are drawn."

"I appreciate that Leo." He looked down at Josh. "How'd you get that black eye?"

"Uh . . . my black eye?" Josh reached up and touched his bruise.

"Yeah, I noticed you and Sam have matching shiners. How'd that happen?" Senator Morris continued.

Josh looked at Sam.

"We were in a little fender bender over the weekend," Sam explained, "and we both hit the dashboard. No big deal."

"Could be a big deal. Could be why Josh blacked out this morning. Were either of you unconscious?"

Sam shook his head. "No sir. It was a minor thing, really. This elderly woman tapped us from behind and we both lurched forward. That's all. Really. Nothing more to it than that. Really. Really, that's the truth."

The Senator laughed. "I believe you Sam. You're not on trial here. I just want to explore all possibilities of why Josh might have had this episode."

Sam tried to smile. "Sure, I understand. I'm just a little . . . you know . . ."

Senator Morris nodded. "Yeah, I know."

He looked at Leo again, then back at Josh. "I think I'll take off now, Josh, if you feel like you're steady enough for me to leave."

Josh nodded. "Yes, sir, I'm good. Thank you for . . . whatever you did."

"No problem. You guys take it easy. Josh, another episode? See your doctor, ok?"

"I will."

Senator Morris picked up his medical bag and Leo walked him to the door. Sam turned his attention back to Josh.

Leo put his hand on the Senator's arm and stopped him before he reached for the doorknob. "Carl . . ."

They both looked at Sam and Josh. The two spoke quietly to each other and Sam ran his finger slowly back and forth across Josh's forehead.

"Carl," Leo said, "those two, they've been friends for a whole lot of years. They go way back. As a personal favor to me . . ."

"Patient/doctor confidentiality, Leo. I never discuss the details of any of my patients. What took place in this room stays in this room. Period."

"That's the way it works?" Leo asked.

"That's the way it works."

Leo took the Senator's hand and shook it. "Thank you, Carl. You're a good man."

"Somebody keep an eye on him the rest of the day. Call me if you have any questions."

Leo followed Senator Morris out of his office. They were met by a small gathering anxious for information.

"How's Josh?" Donna asked.

"Is he gonna be ok?" Charlie questioned.

"Did he really have a heart attack?" Cathy cried.

"What exactly happened to him?" CJ wanted to know.

Leo held up his hands, palms out. "Hold on, hold on, hold on. Good- bye, Bill. Get out while you can. I'll handle crowd control."

"Tell us Leo," Margaret insisted. "What about Josh?"

Leo explained what had happened and what the doctor said, much to everyone's relief, although Cathy continued to cry from the scare. Margaret had her arm around Cathy to comfort her.

"You wouldn't hold back on us, would you, Leo?" Charlie asked. "Because if there's more to this, I need to know."

"I swear, Charlie, I've told you everything. Shows over folks. Everybody get back to work."

Donna and Cathy headed back to their areas and Margaret reached for the phone. CJ lingered and came up behind Leo as he read his messages. She tapped him on the shoulder and he jumped.

"What?" he blurted out as he turned. "Don't sneak up on a person like that!"

"Is all that true?" she asked.

"Is all what true?"

"About Josh?"

"I hope you didn't just accuse me of being a liar, Claudia Jean," Leo replied. "Is that what you did? Did you just accuse me of being a liar?"

"I'd never do such a thing, but I have a question," CJ continued.

"I don't wanna hear it."

"You're gonna."

"Like I have a choice?" Leo sighed.

"What's Sam doing in there so long?"

"He's making sure Josh is ok. He's gonna hang out in my office a little while."

"Ok," CJ replied with a smirk.

"Why did you say `ok' like that?" Leo asked.

"Like WHAT?

"Like . . . ok," he tried to mimic CJ.

"You're losing it, Leo. I just said `ok', nothing more, nothing less. Is there something YOU wanna tell me?"

"Hells bells!"

********

Leo returned to his office and closed the door behind him. Sam and Josh sat on the couch, oblivious to his presence. Josh sat all the way back with both feet on the floor. Sam sat sideways, one foot on the floor, his other leg on the couch against Josh.

Sam's arm was draped over the back of the couch behind Josh and his hand hung down so it rested on Josh's shoulder. Josh's shirt was still open and Sam had his fingers beneath the fabric so they touched Josh's undershirt. He gently massaged Josh's shoulder. Sam's other hand lay on Josh's thigh with Josh's own hand covering it. They spoke softly to each other as Leo approached them.

"Fellas," Leo said, "how's it going?"

Neither Sam nor Josh acknowledged him.

"Fellas? Am I interrupting something here?"

The room went quiet and both men looked at Leo.

"What'd you say?" Sam asked.

"I wondered if I'd interrupted something personal. I felt like I just walked into the middle of . . ." Leo stopped abruptly.

Josh wrapped his hand around Sam's, still on Josh's leg.

"In the middle of what?" Sam questioned.

Leo looked past Sam at Josh. The color that had returned to Josh's face had once again drained and he had paled to an ashen gray. His eyes pleaded with Leo not to answer Sam's question.

Leo cleared his throat. "In the middle of putting Josh back together and back to work. None of us have time for this nonsense. Josh, are you able to do your job today?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. I'm fine. I'm good," Josh replied, as he pulled his hand from Sam's. "I'll get out of here and back to work right away."

"No. Wait. That's not what you wanted to say, was it, Leo?" Sam persisted.

Leo didn't answer. Sam looked at him then turned and looked at Josh. When they made eye contact, Josh looked away. Sam looked back at Leo. Leo cleared his throat again then he, too, looked away.

Sam pulled his arm from behind Josh and stood up. "What do you two know that I don't?" Sam's voice was suddenly agitated. He looked back and forth between Josh and Leo. He took two steps backward.

Josh and Leo exchanged glances that didn't go unnoticed by Sam. Again, Sam looked from face to face, and then stopped on Josh. Josh still wouldn't make eye contact with him.

"Josh? What is this?"

Josh didn't answer. Sam turned to the other man.

"Leo?"

"Aw, shit," Leo muttered and turned his back to Sam.

"Josh, look at me," Sam insisted. "Look at me now, please."

Josh's eyes met Sam's.

"Would you tell me what the hell's going on here? That's not a request, Josh. Tell me what's going . . . don't look away from me Josh . . . tell me what' s going on."

Josh closed his eyes and laid his head back on the couch. "Sam, it's nothing."

"Bullshit. It's not nothing. You're keeping something from me and Leo's in on it." Sam turned to Leo, who still had his back to him, then faced Josh again. "Josh, don't do this."

"Sam, can we talk about it later?"

"No! You and Leo are deliberately keeping something from me and I wanna know what it is!" Sam's initial concern had now turned to frightened anger.

Josh stood up and stared into Sam's eyes. "Leo, would you give Sam and me five minutes alone in here?"

Leo whirled around. "You two DO remember we have a country to run, don't you? Now you wanna throw me out of my own office?"

"Five minutes Leo! Five fucking minutes!" Josh shouted louder than he intended.

"All right, ok! Five minutes then we're gonna get this over and done with! Do you understand? Do you BOTH understand?" Leo shouted back.

Josh and Sam hadn't taken their eyes off each other.

"Josh! Did you hear what I said, son?"

Josh whipped his head toward Leo. "I'm not your son! Don't call me that ever again! Five fucking minutes!"

Without another word, Leo left his office.

Sam and Josh faced off in silence; Josh with his shirt untucked, unbuttoned and open, his belt askew, tie off, hair mussed, both in their sock feet, both with black eyes.

A full minute passed.

Finally, Sam spoke. "Well?"

"I think I need to tell you something," Josh replied.

"No shit!"

"Do you love me Sam?"

"Don't insult me. What have you done?"

"Don't insult ME! I haven't done anything."

"I apologize, Josh. What's happened that you need to tell me?" Sam clarified.

Josh took a deep breath. "For a while now . . . for a while, I think, I'm pretty sure, Leo has suspected about us."

"What do you mean, 'about us'? What about us?" Sam asked.

"That we're more than just best friends," Josh said quietly. "I think he knows we're a couple."

Sam put his fist to his forehead and tapped himself a couple of times, then gradually hit himself harder and harder . . . Josh went to him.

"Stop it," he said as he pulled Sam's arm away.

"And you've thought this how long?" Sam asked. "That Leo knows . . . MAYBE knows we're a couple?"

"A while. A few months maybe." He held onto Sam's arm.

"A few months? Josh! How do you know this? Why does he . . . how . . . why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I didn't wanna worry you," Josh answered. "That's why I didn't say anything. I hoped it would go away, that Leo would just drop it and there would be no reason to say anything. But Leo DIDN'T drop it and he's kept on and kept on and that's why this shit happened to me this morning, I guess, I don't know."

"Why does he think we're a couple?" Sam asked. "What did we say or do that gave him that idea? Are we that obvious? Did someone else say something? I don't understand how he knows. Talk to me Josh. Where did we screw up?"

"Calm down, Sam."

"Don't tell me to calm down! You've had months to process all this. I've had two minutes. I can't BELIEVE you didn't tell me." Sam pulled his arm from Josh's grasp.

"I didn't. Want to. Worry you! Can't you get that through your thick skull? Listen to me, Sam. I tried to do the right thing to save you from exactly this! I've done all I could to keep this away from you, away from US, but I couldn't do it, obviously. I'm sorry I failed you! I'm sorry you found out! I'm sorry I fucked up! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! What do you want me to do at this point? What do you want from me?"

"I want you . . ." Sam stopped. He looked at Josh before him and suddenly saw everything clearly.

"I want you," Sam said softly. "That's all. I just want you."

Josh opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

"Come here." Sam opened his arms and Josh walked into them. Sam pulled him close and was finally able to warm Josh with his body. He used his socked feet to rub Josh's socked feet.

"I love you Josh, with all my heart and soul. If you wanna go public with this, I'll stand proudly beside you and hold your hand in mine and let our wedding bands flash the world. If you wanna keep our universe our own, I'll swear to God and all His Angels that I don't know you. It's your call, babe."

"Sweet, sweet Sam. It's a little more complicated than that," Josh replied. "THINK, Sam! Think about the Oval Office! You're gonna be President one of these days!"

"Screw the Oval Office. Screw the Presidency. I want you."

"Sam, be reasonable."

Two loud thuds on the door interrupted their conversation. Neither moved.

"That's Leo," Josh said against Sam's neck.

"Yeah." Sam pulled Josh closer to him.

"Do you want him to find us like this?"

"You mean embraced in the arms of the man I love and who loves me?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, that's pretty much what I mean," Josh replied.

Leo pounded on the door again. He turned the knob and pushed it open a little but didn't come inside.

"Frankly my dear," Sam said in his dead-on Southern drawl, "I don't give a damn."

Sam put his finger under Josh's chin and tipped it upward. He brushed his lips against Josh's.

"You hold onto that dream of utopia for both of us, Angel, and I'll muddle around here in the sludge called real life," Josh said as he smoothed Sam's hair back.

"Josh, all I've ever done is try to be whatever or whomever somebody else decided I should be, whether it felt right or not. Whether it WAS right or not. No more. No more, Josh. It's that simple."

"THINK, Sam. It's NOT that simple. If we come out to Leo . . . you don't know . . . my Dad . . . Sam, there's more I've gotta tell you but we're in Leo's office, our five minutes have come and gone, and I still need to tell you about my Dad."

"What ABOUT your Dad?"

Josh stepped back from Sam's arms. "I didn't wanna talk about this here, like this, but . . . Leo said my Dad called homosexuals 'fuckin' fags'. That's what he thought of us, Sam. That's what Leo will think of us. What Jed Bartlet will think of us. Fuckin' fags."

Josh's hands trembled as he spoke and his breath started to become labored again.

Sam smiled slightly and took Josh's hands in his. He spoke softly and gently. "Shhh, Josh, sweetheart. Calm down. Relax. I'm here with you. There's no reason for you to get upset." He brought Josh's hands to his lips and kissed them, then held them against his face. "Slow. Down. Breath slowly and deeply. Look at me. Look at my eyes, Josh. Breathe slowly and deeply."

Sam's voice was soft and soothing and Josh's muscles gradually relaxed. He took slow, deep breaths like Sam instructed until he was calm again. Sam lowered their hands but held onto Josh.

"Look at my eyes, Josh, and listen to me," Sam continued in his soft, steady voice. "I adore you more than life. I don't care if I'm never President of the United States. You're more important to me than that. I don't care what Leo thinks of us. I don't care what Jed Bartlet thinks of us."

"But my Dad . . ."

"Your Dad didn't know us, Josh," Sam interrupted. "He knew YOU. But he never had the opportunity to see US together. Your Mother accepts us . . . doesn't she?"

"You know she does. Dammit Sam, Mom loves you more than she loves me," Josh said with a small laugh.

"And she's cool with us together? Married?"

"Totally cool. You know that. What are you getting at Sam?"

"Who matters to you, Josh? Really, really matters. Deep. To the heart deep."

"You. You first. Mother, of course."

"Who else?" Sam put his hands on Josh's shoulders.

"Well, you know I think the world of Leo and Toby and the President and CJ and Donna and . . ."

"Ok, of just those people, who could you live without ever seeing again?"

"Ever? You mean like walk out of this office and they wouldn't exist anymore?"

"Exactly."

Josh hesitated.

"I'd miss Toby an awful lot. Do I have to pick him? The rest, I suppose I could do without, except maybe CJ. I love CJ to death, but if you ever tell her . . ."

"Would you die for CJ?" Sam asked.

The question caught Josh off-guard.

"Die for CJ? What the hell does that mean?"

"Stay with me, Josh. Look at my eyes. Would you die for CJ?" Sam took a tighter grip on Josh's shoulders.

Josh looked into Sam's eyes. All he saw was a reflection of himself.

"No. I wouldn't."

"Look at my eyes. Would you die for Toby?"

Again, Josh saw only Josh in Sam's eyes.

"No."

"Look at my eyes. Would you die for me? Would you give up your life and die for me, Josh?"

Josh looked into Sam's eyes and this time he didn't see himself. He saw only Sam. He didn't hesitate to answer.

"Yes. I'd give up my life for you in the blink of an eye."

Sam blinked his eyes once.

Josh saw the future. He saw Sam and himself with their arms around each other as they looked up at the stars in the night sky. Then he realized those stars were Sam's eyes as they twinkled. A smile crept across Josh's face.

"Tell or don't tell," Sam said in a hushed whisper. "We're together . . . whatever . . . it doesn't matter. You and me. I adore you, Josh, and if I could tell the whole world, nothing would make me prouder. So I'll stand by your side however you wanna do it. I mean, with what Leo said about your Dad and all, it's your call."

"But . . ." Josh began.

Sam put his finger to Josh's lips. "Shhhh. No more discussion. It's not worth what it's doing to you. This time it was an anxiety attack, next time it could be a heart attack and I'm not willing to risk your life on my image. I'm not gonna lose you, darlin'. Not to anybody for any reason. There's nothing that important. Nothing so serious to make you this upset."

Josh started to speak but Sam pressed his finger to Josh's lips again. "Look at me. Look at my face."

Josh did.

"You're holding back because of me. You think it'll blow my chances of becoming the President. That means nothing to me in comparison to what YOU mean to me. Sure, it'd be nice to be in the Oval Office, but the only TRUE place for me is in your arms. That's where I really belong. That's the only place that truly makes me happy."

Leo pushed the door the rest of the way open and came inside. Sam and Josh still faced each other, Sam's finger on Josh's lips. Neither moved when Leo entered. They continued to look into each other's eyes.

"Gentlemen?" Leo cleared his throat.

No response.

"Your call." Sam smiled.

Josh smiled and turned to Leo. "So, can I have that time off?" he asked casually.

"Pencil it in. You can go contingent on what's happening that week. And you know how that goes," Leo replied.

"Thank you, sir." Josh tucked in his undershirt and started to button his dress shirt.

Sam followed his lead and picked up his shoes, sat on a chair near Leo's desk and started to put them on.

"How do you feel?" Leo asked as Josh fastened his belt. "Light- headed or anything?"

"Nope. I feel fine now, thanks."

"Good, good." Leo felt awkward in his own office and he knew he came across as stilted. "Sam, you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm great!"

"Good, good." Leo didn't know what else to say.

"Dammit!"

Sam and Leo both turned to Josh. He let out a loud sigh of frustration and pulled his tie from around his neck.

"Sam?" he whined.

Sam casually walked over to Josh and took his tie from him. "If you'd just slow down . . ." he said as he began to slip and tuck the tie into shape. He tightened the knot, smoothed it, then helped Josh into his jacket and adjusted his collar. "Put your shoes on."

Josh sat on the chair Sam vacated and put his shoes on while Sam pulled his own comb from his pocket. He started to reach toward Josh's head when Leo cleared his throat again in a loud and obvious way. Sam stopped, looked at Leo, and handed the comb to Josh.

"Leo, I have something to say," Josh said in a clear and confident voice. He combed his hair, handed Sam's comb back to him and stood up.

"Yeah, ok," Leo replied. "You guys wanna take a seat?"

"No, no thanks. This won't take long."

Sam stood next to Josh and faced Leo. He wanted to reach out for Josh's hand but resisted.

"Leo," Josh began, "I want to apologize for raising my voice to you earlier and especially for being rude when I told you not to call me 'son'. That was uncalled for on my part and I was totally out line. I was disrespectful to you and it won't happen again. I sincerely ask you to forgive me."

That's not what Leo expected to hear, but he tried to hide the surprise on his face.

"Um, yeah, sure, Josh. I forgive you. I don't even remember the incident to be honest with you. But if you say so."

Josh extended his arm and Leo accepted Josh's hand and shook it.

"Ok then," Josh said.

"Is there anything else you wanna talk about? Either of you?" Leo offered.

Sam and Josh looked at each other. Sam shrugged. Josh raised his hand. Leo rolled his eyes.

"Well? This isn't first grade! What is it?"

"There's something else," said Josh.

Leo rapped his knuckles on his desk impatiently. Sam did his best not to snicker.

"Josh, so help me. . . ." Leo growled.

Josh smiled. "Thanks for giving me the time off. You're a peach."

********

Sam and Josh left Leo's and were grateful to see the crowd had dispersed. Only Charlie remained and he half-sat against Margaret's desk.

"Josh, hold up!" he called out as the men exited Leo's office.

Josh stopped and turned but Sam continued on down the hall and out of sight.

"How do you feel, Josh?" Charlie asked.

"I'm fine, Charlie. Couldn't be better. I appreciate your concern, but you really didn't have to wait around here all this time just to check on me," Josh answered.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I did," replied Charlie. "The President told me I was to stand by this door until they either wheeled you out or you walked out on your own, then I was to report back to him and only THEN could I get back to my own job. I'm glad to see you walked out because otherwise, I would have had to go to the hospital and hang around there and, no offense, but I've got an awful lot of work to do."

Josh cocked his head to the side and smirked. "Again, thanks for your concern. Do I need to sign a waiver?"

"Josh."

He turned to find Leo at his office door. "Charlie just did what the President asked him to do. No need to get snippy," Leo said.

"You're right, Leo. You're one hundred percent right. You're EXACTLY right. Bulls-eye. Middle of the target, you scored a 'Robin Hood'. You have no idea how right you are. Without a doubt, without a shadow of a doubt whatsoever, you are correct. You. Know. The truth."

Then to Charlie, "I'm sorry, Charlie. I didn't mean to snap at you. I didn't mean to be snippy. Honestly, I DO appreciate that you waited, even if you were ordered to, and please tell the President I appreciate his concern as well, and I mean that with all sincerity. I feel just great. Thank you."

"Ok Josh, glad to hear it," Charlie replied. "Just drop by any time to sign that waiver to release you from the Senator's medical care."

Josh's mouth fell open and Charlie laughed.

"Kidding! I'm kidding!" Charlie shook his head. "Later, Margaret." He walked in the opposite direction Sam had gone,

Josh turned back to Leo one last time. "You just love it when you're right, don't you?" he asked.

"Do you wanna haul your ass back in here?" It was more of a threat than a question.

Josh shook his head. "No sir."

"Then get outta my sight."

When Josh approached the bullpen he heard Donna's voice before he even got there.

"Josh! Are you ok? Everybody's so worried. Tell me what happened!"

Josh ignored Donna and went into his office and slammed the door behind him. He kicked his file cabinet, did a three-sixty and kicked it again. And again. And again. And again.

There was a knock at the door.

"Josh?" Donna asked tentatively.

He kicked a different file cabinet.

"Josh? Can I come in?"

"Go away Donna!" he yelled through the door as he kicked the second file cabinet.

"Josh?"

"I mean it, Donna!" He again kicked the file cabinet. Then another time, and another.

Josh went to the place against the wall where he stood to meditate and try to calm himself down. He put his back against the wall and let his arms dangle at his side. He closed his eyes and took a couple of deep breaths. Then he stood still and silent and tried to go wherever the hell it is he was supposed to try and go to in his mind so his problems would evaporate.

Ten seconds later Josh slid down the wall and crumpled into a heap on the floor. He buried his face into his leg and folded his arms over his head.

Then he sobbed.

Chapter 57

Josh didn't hear the knock on the door. Nor did he hear it the second time. He didn't know the door opened and he was no longer alone. He was vaguely aware someone sat cross-legged on the floor next to him but he didn't look up to see who it was. He just cried.

"So, do you want me to just sit here and not say anything for a while?"

Josh nodded and wiped his nose on his wrinkled shirtsleeve.

They sat for a couple of minutes and nobody spoke. Josh's sobs subsided and seemed to stop, then he had another burst of tears.

"Should I call somebody?" Charlie asked. "Do you want me to get Sam?"

Josh shook his head as the crying tapered off. Finally he looked up and ran his nose across one sleeve and his teary eyes on the other.

"Some Kleenex maybe?" Charlie offered.

"No, I'm good."

Josh sunk the rest of the way to the floor and sat cross-legged too. He ran both hands through his hair and sniffled again. Little spikes of hair stood straight up, some stuck out to the side.

"No offense," said Charlie, "but you don't come across as all that good to me. Do I need to find Senator Morris?"

Charlie started to stand. Josh reached for his arm and stopped him.

"No, Charlie, no . . . thank you. I don't need the doctor. I'm not sick."

"And you're not gonna pass out again?"

"I'm not gonna pass out again."

"Well, something's got you worked up. Wanna talk about it?"

Josh rested his face in his palm and looked at Charlie sideways. He thought back to the first day Charlie had come to the White House looking for a job as a courier. He'd been sent to Josh because he had `something more'. Josh had seen something more too. So much more that he interviewed Charlie and recommended him as the President's body man and Jed Bartlet had hired him that same day. Charlie's come so far, Josh thought.

He's grown and matured and become a respected staff member. And a friend. Charlie's my friend, but we don't even know each other. Not really. And that's not right because he's such a good man.

"Yeah," Josh said quietly. "I think I do."

"You know you can tell me anything," Charlie replied. "Working where I do, sometimes I hear things . . ."

"I hand-picked you, Charlie. You don't have to convince me of your credentials."

"I just want you to know I'm trust-worthy."

"I don't need a boy scout. I just need a friend."

"I can do that," Charlie said with a nod. "I was never the boy scout type anyway."

Josh gave a weak smile and leaned back against the wall again. He stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles.

"Charlie, have you ever felt . . . stifled by the very thing that . . . that defines you . . . but not stifled in a bad way because that's who you are, you see, but . . . but . . . restricted or held back from freely expressing this . . . uh . . . this very thing that defines you because the ramifications . . . the ramifications, Charlie . . . could . . . well, like when you throw a pebble in the water and the ripples just spread out and you don't know how far they'll go or who all will be touched by them, you're reluctant to actually step up to the plate and toss that pebble because you feel this responsibility that goes so deep . . . so much deeper than your own sense of self . . . that you get overwhelmed because your head says, `Do this Josh, it's the right thing' while your heart says, `What? Are you nuts?' and your gut says, `Hell, he's bound to know anyway ~~ he's not stupid', but you know what Charlie? you just can't get your mouth to form those crucial words . . . two fuckin' words that will change . . . change forty years of a man's belief in you and those two words . . . and they're LITTLE words even! but those two words could . . . and probably will . . . wipe away those forty years, but I don't know how much longer I can be in his presence and NOT say something, but whenever I start to, I just . . . just . . . then there's . . . I'm scared to death, Charlie, that Marc's around every corner just waiting to strike like a . . . like a fuckin' cobra, then that whole thing with Jeanne and Scott and I do NOT wanna go into that, but you know how there's some things you just HAVE to do, and there's no way out? well, there ya go . . . this is one of those things, but not now, afterwards maybe, because it's not just MY plate that's full, and then you know how all this shit just piles up and piles up until you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and while you're trying to balance it and still keep the country on the good side of whoever's keeping score with the Karma Police, the fist of reality coldcocks you and you get a black eye to remind you you're human and can't handle it all and you find yourself on Leo's office floor with a Republican Senator, of all things, a Republican! shining a flashlight in your eyes, you know what I mean, Charlie?"

Charlie thought a minute.

"Josh, I have absolutely no idea what you mean. I said you could tell me anything, and I'm sure what you told me is very important to you, but I don't have a clue where to begin to try to be a good friend and offer you any advice I might have. I'm sorry."

Josh laughed. "I shouldn't have dumped on you like that."

"No, no, it's ok. I just wish I knew the exact right thing to say to make you feel better," Charlie replied.

"I don't think there IS an exact right thing to say, but thanks anyway." Josh let his head fall forward, then back so it hit the wall, over and over again.

"Maybe that's not such a good thing to do," said Charlie.

Josh stopped and just leaned against the wall.

Charlie continued. "And maybe you should tell Leo about you and Sam."

The words bounced around inside Josh's head and repeated louder and louder until his skull pounded with Charlie's voice.

Then the questions flooded Josh's thoughts. How does Charlie know? When did he find out? Did he see us together? What did he see? What did he hear? Has he told anyone? Has he told the President? Does he REALLY know or did he just guess to see if he'd get a reaction? Josh stayed cool and didn't react at all. On the outside.

On the inside, Josh had just become a huge knot.

"Tell Leo WHAT about me and Sam?" he asked, his voice calmer than he expected. He suddenly wished he hadn't asked the question because he was afraid to hear the answer.

"We can just forget I said that if you want to," Charlie replied.

Josh considered it, but Charlie HAD said it, and there was no way he could forget it. "No, go ahead. Finish what you started."

"Is anything I say gonna be cool?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah. Sure. Of course. Anything's cool. I'm cool." Josh felt the heat rise in his face and hoped his ears hadn't turned red. He rubbed the back of his neck.

"I think you should tell Leo that you and Sam are . . . together," Charlie said in a quiet voice, "but that's just me."

The same questions swirled around Josh's head, now just a blur with the words all mixed together. But he remained calm.

"Why would you say that, Charlie? What makes you think Sam and I are together? And what's `together' supposed to mean anyway?"

Charlie clasped his hands, unclasped them, and clasped them again. "Together. Like a . . . couple. Together like that."

"A couple? You think Sam and I are a couple?" Josh's voice became higher as he spoke. "Again I've gotta ask, why would you say that? What makes you think Sam . . . Sam and I are a . . . a couple?"

"Because I watch and listen and I see and hear things other people might not notice because they're too busy keeping our nation on track. But I'm not so important that I can't take those extra few seconds to study people. You might not know this about me, Josh, but I'm a people watcher. You'd be amazed what I've learned from watching people."

"And you've learned exactly what from watching . . ."

"You and Sam?" Charlie interrupted.

"Yeah."

"Like I said before, I'm pretty sure you're a couple."

They sat in silence, neither quite sure what to say next, one full of questions, one full of answers.

Charlie spoke first.

"Josh, the first Christmas I was here Mrs. Landingham gave me a really nice gift. It was the night of the staff Christmas party and she pulled me aside and gave me this beautiful package. It was wrapped in silver and had red ribbons and a red bow. Coolest present I'd ever seen."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"There's a point to this story, right?" Josh asked.

"There's a point. The gift was a Leica Minilux Zoom thirty-five mm camera. Top of the line. I love photography but I'd never had a camera like that before and couldn't wait to try it. So I took a picture of Mrs. Landingham and I took a picture of Carol and Ginger and Donna in their party gowns, then I went outside."

Josh wasn't sure where Charlie was going with his story, and he wasn't sure he wanted to find out.

"Yeah?" he said, because it seemed like the right thing to say.

"Yeah. It was snowing and I wanted to take some pictures in the Rose Garden. Josh, I saw you and Sam."

It still didn't register with Josh.

"You saw me and Sam what?"

"Kiss," Charlie said softly. "I snapped your picture, I don't know why. I fool around in the darkroom when I get a chance, that's how I relax, and your photograph came out so good I wanted you guys to have it. So I put it in a sealed enveloped and left it on Sam's desk. I'd written `Merry Christmas' and `Shalom' on a piece of paper and attached it to the picture and . . ."

"And you signed it `From a friend' . . ."

Josh remembered it well. He and Sam both wore white ties and tails and had met in the Garden for a quick tryst. They never saw the flash go off.

"That was you? You took that picture?" Josh asked. Now there was an edge to his voice.

"I didn't mean anything by it. It's not like I followed you out there. Sam was already in the Garden when you came out and that's when . . . "

"Yeah, yeah. But what possessed you to take our picture, Charlie? What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking it looked like a nice shot. You know, the snow, the trees."

Josh pulled his knees up.

"So Charlie, what did you think when you saw . . . what you saw?"

He still couldn't bring himself to confirm what Charlie had said. If he spoke the words out loud, he believed the whole West Wing would hear him.

"I thought you and Sam were in love with each other. But I kinda already knew," said Charlie. He pulled his knees up too.

"How? We work hard not to be obvious."

"I told you, Josh, I'm a people watcher. You and Sam aren't obvious, you're cool. I just picked up on the little things."

Josh felt his heart beat against his chest and wondered if Charlie could hear it. If Charlie had seen them, who else might have? If Charlie had figured it out . . . if Charlie picked up on the `little things' . Names jumped out at him. People he and Sam spent the most time with. CJ.

CJ rarely misses a trick. Had she missed this? How many times has she seen Sam and me during a moment when we slipped up and were vulnerable. How many times has she seen our hands touch and linger a second or two longer than necessary? How many times has she seen us smile at each other in a way that goes beyond colleagues and even friendship? How many times has she seen me wink at Sam? How many times has she seen Sam mouth the words, "I love you" in my direction?

Donna. She moves through these halls with stealth capability . . . silently and quickly. She appears out of nowhere. I look up and she'll just be standing there. Or I'll turn around and there's Donna. Who KNOWS what the hell she's seen or heard Sam and me do or say. I can't count the times she's walked in on us in my office. Granted, she's never found us doing anything questionable. What's questionable? Where's that line? Everything Sam and I do seems perfectly natural to me, so how can I think back and remember what we've done where and when, exactly, and who might have seen what at any given time.

Shit!

It seems like Toby's always telling us to knock it off, whatever `it' is, but Toby's got a big ole stick up his ass and thinks all eyes are trained on us even behind closed doors. Sure, we're more lax around Toby, but Toby knows.

Ed and Larry? We work close with them, but have we bypassed their radar? Hell, I still don't know which one is Ed and which one is Larry so how am I supposed to know what they're thinking? Do I care? Yeah, I do.

Danny. Danny's everywhere. He's more cat-like than Donna. He scares me sometimes, the way he just shows up unannounced and says, "Hi guys!" in that annoying way he has. And it's his job to dig up stuff on people. God only knows what Danny has tucked away in that vast vault of information he carries in his head ~~ and I dread to think where else.

If Danny knows, wouldn't he have exposed us by now if he was going to? That's quite a headline. "Two Senior Advisors to President Bartlet Caught in Homosexual Dalliance". Dalliance? We're more than a damn dalliance. We're married. Oy, that comes across even worse. Danny's a friend. He wouldn't screw us. Would he?

Does President Bartlet suspect? No way. He's way too busy and has too much on his mind to notice the little nuances and innuendos that now seem like big nuances and more than innuendos between Sam and me. If he suspected, he would have said something to us a long time ago. Or to Leo.

Leo. Dammit! He knows. He's got to know. I practically yelled it at him just a half hour ago. But did he understand what I meant when I spat out those words?

"You're right, Leo, You're one hundred percent right," I'd said. "You're EXACTLY right. Bulls-eye. Middle of the target. You have no idea how right you are. Without a doubt, without a shadow of a doubt whatsoever, you are correct. You. Know. The. Truth." Then I just had to add a sarcastic, "You just love it when you're right, don't you?"

Surely Leo got the message. Nothing cryptic about that.

Then there's been the talks we've had, the questions he's asked. There's no way he fell for my story about a friend from college wanting advice. He saw through that transparent story and knew I was talking about myself. "Fuckin' fags" resonated in Josh's head. That's what Leo thinks of Sam and me. It has to be. There's no way I can face Leo again. I'll have to turn in my resignation. I can't maintain an effective working relationship with Leo if he considers me . . . and then the way Sam and I treated each other just now in Leo's office. Too intimate? Maybe. Probably. I can't remember.

Josh felt his chest tighten and his breathing became labored. He pressed his back and head against the wall and tried to remember what the doctor had told him to do to relax. Then he put his fist to his chest and opened his mouth to catch his breath.

"Josh? You ok?"

"What?" He'd become so lost in his thoughts, he forgot Charlie was next to him.

"You don't look so good."

"I'm fine."

"You're not gonna pass out again, are you? Because if you are, I'm gonna go get somebody right now," Charlie replied and started to stand.

Josh put his hand on Charlie's arm to stop him.

"No, don't go. Please . . . just sit here. Give me a minute. I just need . . . a minute."

"Sixty seconds, Josh, and I'm gonna get somebody if you don't stop looking like that."

Josh remembered the relaxation techniques he'd been taught. He steadied his breathing and took his hand away from his chest. He looked at Charlie and raised his eyebrows with a `See? I'm fine.' attitude and Charlie relaxed too.

"So, Josh, I'm right about you and Sam?"

No response.

"I don't think you'd react so strongly to all this if it wasn't so," Charlie continued.

No response.

"And I think you should tell Leo."

Josh ran both hands through his hair.

"Yes," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Yes, what?" Charlie asked.

"Yes, you're right about Sam and me. I don't know exactly what it was that gave us away, maybe the Rose Garden, but yes, we're a couple."

Josh didn't recognize his own voice. He knew he'd just spoken the words, but he didn't believe he'd said them out loud. And he didn't know if the sensation he felt was regret or relief.

"For what it's worth," said Charlie, "I think that's really cool. You and Sam belong together."

"We do?" Josh didn't know what kind of reaction he expected from Charlie, so this was a welcome surprise.

"Yeah. Even before I knew for sure, in the Rose Garden at Christmas, I kinda knew, and I hoped my intuition was right."

Josh looked at Charlie, cocked his head to the side, and smiled.

"That's a nice thing to say, Charlie."

"I'm a nice guy." Charlie smiled back.

Josh hesitated before he asked his next question. "Have you . . . have you told the President what you . . . ?"

"Hell, no!"

"I'm just asking."

"I'm insulted you'd even ask, Josh. I thought you knew me better than that."

"I had to ask," said Josh. "This is a big deal to me . . . and Sam. I need to know who knows. Do you think the President knows?"

"I can't answer that with one hundred percent certainty, but if I were to guess, I'd say `no'. At any given time he's got a thousand things running through his head and I honestly don't think your sexual orientation is one of them."

"So he doesn't talk about me when I'm not around?" Josh asked, a touch of hurt in his voice.

"Not about your dating habits. I've heard your name being yelled a few times when . . ."

"Never mind."

They were both silent again. Josh pressed his back and head against the wall, opened his mouth, and began to take deep breaths. He closed his eyes and pushed his palms against the floor.

"You ok?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah. Just relaxing."

"Ok. You'll tell me if that changes, right?"

"Right."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"You and Sam being a couple. What's that mean exactly?"

Josh figured he'd come this far, Charlie knew this much, there was really no point in holding back now. He trusted Charlie, probably more than he trusted any other person in the White House besides Sam, although he'd never really thought about it before. If their secret was safe with anyone, it was Charlie.

"Sam and I . . ."

But do I want to be cautious or just throw it all out there?

" . . . are very close," he answered. "Let's just leave it at that. We're close."

Charlie nodded.

But Josh didn't just leave it at that.

"And we live together," he continued. "We share an apartment and split expenses, kinda like roommates, you know?"

"Uh huh."

"Except, uh, we don't really share an apartment and split expenses. That sounds like something roommates do, and we're definitely not roommates. We live in a townhouse together and the expenses are paid from a joint account. We sleep in the same bedroom, in the same bed, just like any other married couple who love each other. That's what it means."

"You're married?" Charlie whispered with surprise. "How can you be married?"

Josh loosened his tie and stretched his neck. "Hey, I feel real uncomfortable about this all of a sudden. Well, MORE uncomfortable if that's possible. I'd rather talk about this somewhere ~~ anywhere ~~ that ISN'T the White House and I'd like Sam to be part of the conversation."

"I just can't believe you and Sam are MARRIED!"

"Charlie!"

"Sorry." Charlie lowered his voice. "When I said I thought you were a couple, I just thought maybe you were attracted to each other and might have gone out to dinner a few times, maybe stayed over at the other's place every now and then. I had no idea . . . I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything," Josh replied.

He wished he could take back the words he'd just spoken, but that wasn't gonna happen. He wanted Sam; the physical closeness of Sam whose very presence calmed him, and every fiber of Josh's being needed to be calmed. He felt like he might cry again and he didn't want that to happen in front of Charlie. He was already embarrassed that Charlie found him hunched on the floor sobbing once this morning, he didn't want it to happen again.

"Charlie, did you come by here for a reason? I'm kinda busy. I've got a lot of work to do," Josh finally said.

"No offense man, but I don't think you can stand up, much less work."

Josh opened his mouth but wasn't sure any words would come out if he tried to speak.

"You want me to leave?" Charlie asked.

Josh nodded.

"You gonna be ok?"

Josh turned his head away.

"You want me to get somebody?"

Josh nodded.

"Sam?"

Josh nodded again.

Charlie put his hand on Josh's shoulder as he stood. "I'll find him. And Josh, you know I won't say a word to anybody, even if President Bartlet asks me outright. That's just the way I was brought up. You don't have to worry about me."

"I know," Josh managed to get out. "Just get Sam."

Charlie found Sam's office empty so he went to Cathy's desk. He waited quietly until she finished her phone call.

"Hi Charlie!" she said. "We don't see you much in the bullpen."

"I'll make it a point to come here more often. Where's Sam?"

"Having lunch at Versons Grill with Mark Gottfried, MY personal favorite ~~ Versons, not Mark ~~ but does Sam ever take me there? Nooooo. Then he's taping a point/counterpoint for "Capitol Beat" to be aired Sunday," Cathy explained.

"I thought those were live."

"They usually are, but this one isn't."

"He's gonna need a ton of make-up to hide that black eye."

"I'll bet it still shows. Anything I can do for you?"

"No, but thanks," Charlie replied. "May I use the phone in Sam's office?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"Thanks, Cathy."

Charlie went into Sam's office and closed the door behind him. He stood next to the desk and dialed Sam's cell phone.

"Sam Seaborn."

"Sam, it's Charlie."

"Hey Charlie, is everything ok? Did something happen to Josh?" It was rare for Charlie to call Sam unless there was a problem.

"Nothing happened to Josh," Charlie replied. "Except . . ."

"Except what?" Sam interrupted.

"Well, I went to his office a while ago, not long after he passed out in Leo's office, and I, uh, I found him sitting on the floor and he was crying. He was pretty upset."

Sam excused himself from the table and stepped outside the restaurant so he could speak freely.

"Upset how? Talk to me, Charlie."

"He should probably tell you the details, but I think he's getting stressed out and might lose it again. It seemed like he had a little shortness of breath. I asked him if he wanted me to get you and he said yes."

"Dammit!"

"I'm sorry?"

"Not you, Charlie. I'll call Josh. Would you go back to his office and make sure he and I are talking on the phone? If we're not, tell him I'm gonna call and could you stay with him until I DO call? I'm gonna try right now."

"Sure, I can do that. Uh, Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Is there anything else I should do?"

"No. Calling me was the right thing. Thanks, Charlie."

When they hung up Charlie went back to Josh's office. He knocked once on the door then went inside. Josh still sat on the floor, his head between his drawn-up knees. He was silent.

"Josh?"

No response.

"Sam isn't in the building, but I called him. He said he's gonna call you and I'm supposed to wait here until he does, so I'll just sit here beside you if . . ."

Josh raised his head and Charlie saw the cell phone pressed against his ear. His face was wet from streaks of tears. He waved Charlie away.

"Lock the door behind you," he muttered.

Charlie backed out of the office, closed and locked the door behind him.

The instant Sam and Charlie disconnected, Sam had called Josh. It rang three times before Josh answered it with a throaty, "Yeah?"

"Josh? It's me. What's wrong, baby."

"I need you, Sam"

Sam grimaced. I've wanted to debate this man for a long time, and it's schedule to begin in ten minutes. Josh just said he needs me. I can hear it in his voice ~~ he really does need me. What am I gonna do?

"Osh, tell me what's going on. Are you having another anxiety attack?"

"No. I just want you here. I want your arms around me. I want you to hold me."

Sam could barely hear him. He looked at his watch.

"Josh, listen to me carefully. I have to be on the air in about eight minutes, but I'll come to you if you want me to. You're more important than the debate. It's your call. If you can hold on a couple of hours, I'll come straight to you then, but if you need me now, I'll come."

Josh blinked back his tears and cleared his throat. He worked hard to make his voice sound as calm and normal as he could.

"Do "Capitol Beat", Angel. I know how much this means to you. I'll be fine. I just thought if you weren't doing anything . . ." He attempted a laugh.

"I'll come, Josh. I'll come right now," Sam replied.

"I know you will, and I love you for that. But I feel better just talking to you. Stop by when it's over and tell me about it?"

"You've got it."

"Ok then," Josh said.

"Ok. Hey, Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you sure?" Sam asked one more time.

"I'm sure. Tonight, at home, we've got some stuff to talk about," said Josh. "Some important stuff."

"Yeah, I know. Sweetheart, I've gotta get back in there. You sure it's ok if I don't come?"

"It's ok. I'll see you when you're finished."

"Yes, you will."

"Knock `em dead."

Sam smiled into the phone. "I love you, sugar."

"I love you too, Sam. Now go make me proud."

When they hung up, Josh wiped away fresh tears and took a deep breath. I can do this, he thought. I HAVE to do this. Sam said it would be just a couple of hours. I can handle a couple of hours.

He looked at his watch and laid his forehead on his arms crossed on his knees.

"Toby Ziegler."

"Toby, it's Sam."

"Why aren't you on TV? You're supposed to be taping a point/counterpoint right now. Where are you?"

"Relax. I'm here, I'm where I'm supposed to be. We're just finishing up lunch and it's right next to the studio," Sam assured Toby. "I need to ask you to do something."

"Sam . . ."

"I think Josh may be having a rough time. Could you drop in and check on him? I can't get away, otherwise I'd do it."

"Sam . . ."

"He asked for me, Toby. He had Charlie track me down. There's no way I can let this interview go at this point. Please. Just check in with him, and if you think I should be there, call me and the hell with "Capitol Beat". Please?"

Toby turned his chair around and lowered his voice. "Sam, I'm not in my office. I'm in the Roosevelt Room with the Senate Majority Leader and his posse."

"Oh God, Toby, I forgot. I'm sorry. I know you can't leave," said Sam. He ran his hand through his hair. "It's ok, I'll take care of it."

"You sure?"

Sam nodded.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. It's ok."

"I would if I could, but we're at a crucial point here, and I can't just get up and walk out," Toby said. "Maybe in a while I can stick my head in for a minute, but right now . . ."

"No. It's ok. Bye, Toby"

Sam started to dial Josh's number again.

"Mr. Seaborn! They're ready for you!"

Sam stopped and turned. One of the assistants had come out of the studio.

"Everything's set up and they're waiting for you," he repeated. "May I tell them how long you'll be?"

"Two minutes," Sam answered. "Give me two minutes."

"Yes sir."

Sam changed his mind and dialed Charlie's number as he watched the assistant blend in with the crowd on the street. He couldn't get to Josh and it was clear Toby couldn't either. Sam didn't want him to be alone. If Josh was distressed enough that he would allow Charlie to make a phone call on his behalf, then he shouldn't be alone. He'd ask Charlie to sit with him until after the taping.

How did Charlie get involved with this anyway? What was Charlie doing in Josh's office? And Josh let Charlie see him crying? That's not like Josh. No way. And stranger still, Josh let Charlie call ME and ask him to come be with Josh? This doesn't sound right. If this debate wasn't so important to me, I'd be back at the White House in a flash.

"Charlie Young."

"Charlie, Sam."

"What can I do for you?" Charlie sounded formal, all business.

"You can't talk, right?" said Sam.

"Right."

"You're with the President?"

"Right."

"No way you can go back and check on Josh? I can't get away."

"Sorry," Charlie replied. "Can't happen. Not now. Later, but not now. Gotta go."

Click.

Sam knew he had run out of time, but he had to speak with Josh one more time before he gave his interview. He dialed Josh's number. He got a busy signal. Damn! He knew how important it was for Josh to hear his voice again, even if just for a few seconds; he knew how calmed HE was by the sound of Josh's voice when HE was distressed. He tried again. Still busy. That rapid beep, beep, beep both concerned and comforted Sam. Maybe he had called Dr. Neilson. That was a good thing. Then, maybe . . .

"Mr. Seaborn! We can't wait any longer!"

"On my way!"

Sam pushed re-dial as he walked into the studio and heard the busy signal yet again. He snapped the phone shut and flashed the Sam Seaborn smile as he greeted Mark. Josh is fine, he told himself. He's safe in his office and I'll see him in a couple of hours if Toby doesn't get to him first. He's ensconced in the West Wing of the White House and he's fine.

But Josh wasn't fine. After he talked with Sam on the phone he slumped to the side and lay on the floor, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs, his back against the wall. He didn't hang up the phone, but let it fall to the floor next to him. He buried his face in his crossed arms and sobbed.

********

"Ok, thanks guys. I didn't think it could be done, but you won me over to your side of the argument."

President Bartlet turned to Leo as the men and women filed out of the Oval Office and muttered under his breath, "That was like shooting fish in a barrel. They bought it and thought it was their own idea. Damn Republicans. Charlie! What's next?"

"Afternoon tea and photo shoot with the Ambassador to Malaysia and his wife. Their daughter is here too," Charlie replied

"Oh, I like them. Something fun for a change. You wanna come along, Charlie? You'll like these people."

"I've got a lot of work, Mr. President."

"Come on, Charlie. The girl's about your age. I feel like playing matchmaker today. Join me," the President insisted.

"I'm dating your daughter, sir. I'm already matched. But I'll come along and let my work pile up. May I have a word with Leo first? It'll just take a minute."

"Sure, sure. I need to stop in the little President's room for a brief interlude anyway. Don't be too long." The President walked out of the Oval Office and left Leo and Charlie alone.

"What is it, Charlie?" Leo asked.

"Sir, I may be out of line here, but I talked with Josh in his office after he passed out, and he's not doing so good."

"Not doing so good how?"

"He was, uh, this may be none of my business, but he was, uh, crying and seemed pretty upset. I'm almost sure it had to do with what happened in your office," Charlie explained. "Maybe some of the stuff you two talked about. Or didn't talk about."

Leo gave Charlie a long look.

"Just how do you know what Josh and I talked about ~~ or didn't talk about ~~ in my office? Nobody was in there but Josh and me."

"Josh told me a little. Mostly about what you didn't talk about. Josh is in nine kinds of pain right now, Leo. Pardon me for being presumptuous, but I think maybe you should go talk with Josh. He's in his office. If you'll excuse me, the President expects me."

Charlie walked out of the Oval Office and left a stunned Leo by himself. Leo leaned against the President's desk while he collected his thoughts. Things were suddenly moving fast. Maybe too fast. He and Josh had danced the dance and neither was willing to make the first move to end it. Now it appeared the dance might stop and Leo didn't know if he was ready. It had been such a peculiar and preposterous tango that Leo wasn't quite sure if he COULD say the words he needed to say . . . or ask the question he needed to ask.

But he knew what he had to do. It hurt him every day to watch Josh bear the burden of an unspoken secret, a secret he feared he would be condemned for. It was time for Leo to relieve Josh of that unnecessary weight he carried because Josh obviously wasn't going to let go of it on his own.

Leo walked out of the Oval Office into his own.

"Margaret!"

She appeared at his door. "Do you want your grapefruit now?"

"Do I . . .? No, I don't want my grapefruit now! I wanted my grapefruit at six-thirty this morning instead of all that greasy crap you dumped on my desk. A nice piece of fresh citrus fruit would have been nice, but that would have been too much to expect. And no, I haven't had lunch yet, thank you for asking.

"You might not be so grouchy if you ate healthy meals on a regular schedule," said Margaret. "There's no need to be snippy with me just because you can't manage your diet."

"Margaret, one of these days . . ."

"Did you call my name for a reason or just to complain about your lunch?" Margaret asked.

"I didn't start it! YOU started it!" Leo shouted in self- defense. "I called you to let you know I'll be in Josh's office for a while. You can call me there if you really need me but don't bother me for frivolous things."

"I'm not a frivolous person, Leo. You should know that about me by now. In fact, people in my circle consider me frugal, which is far from frivolous. I'd think you'd know that by now. I won't bother you unless the country is under enemy fire."

"Hell's bells."

Leo walked the distance to the bullpen and was relieved Donna wasn't at her desk. He loved Donna like a daughter, but he didn't want to talk with her right now. He just wanted to get inside Josh's office with the least amount of fanfare as possible.

The blinds to Josh's office were closed. He knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again and tried to turn the doorknob. Again, no answer and the door was locked. He knocked louder.

"Josh! I need to speak with you! Let me in, please!"

No response. Leo became worried. Security would have a key to Josh's office, but he didn't want to arouse suspicion by calling them to come unlock the door. But neither was he going to ignore it. Donna might have a spare key, but he didn't want to embarrass Josh and have her see him in whatever condition he might be in. He knew any one of the guards could have the door open in seconds, but again, he didn't want to cause a scene. He went to a phone on a desk that wasn't being used and called security. He said he wanted the key brought upstairs and he would discretely meet the courier in the hall outside the bullpen. And he wanted it done NOW.

Minutes later Leo unlocked the door to Josh's office. His eyes went straight to Josh curled on the floor, his head tucked inside the circle of his arms, his legs drawn up to his chest. He was silent; he didn't move.

Leo shut and locked the door behind him, then was on one knee at Josh's side. He put his hand on Josh's shoulder.

"Joshua, are you all right? What's the matter, son? Talk to me. It's ok, I'm here. Let me see your face, son."

Josh slowly unfurled his arms and looked at Leo. He reached his hand up, covering Leo's hand on his own shoulder.

"Hey, Leo," he said softly.

Leo sat on the floor next to Josh. It was a quick move and neither knew who initiated it, but in one motion, Leo lifted Josh's head and put it on his lap just as Josh shifted so his head rested there. Leo immediately put his hand on Josh's forehead and brushed his hair back off his face.

"Do you need anything?" he asked.

Josh shook his head.

"Are you sick?"

Again, Josh shook his head.

"Heartsick?"

Josh nodded.

"It's been one hell of a morning, hasn't it?"

Again, Josh nodded.

Leo took a deep breath.

"Joshua, I want you to listen carefully to what I'm about to say. This isn't easy for me, so just shut up and listen." He paused to get his bearings. "I think if I was gonna start drinking again, this might be the time, just to build up my courage to say to you what I'm about to say."

"Don't even joke about that, Leo," replied Josh. "I don't need to take care of an old drunk the rest of my life."

Leo gently smacked Josh's head. "Enough with the smart talk."

Leo's lap felt comfortable to Josh, natural, familiar, like he had lain there many times before. He had, in fact, when he was a child and Leo had been in his home visiting his parents, or the Lymans had been with the McGarrys. And not so long ago, after all those years, he found himself with his head in Leo's lap again at the hospital after Sam's overdose and now, today, yet again. But he wasn't quite sure why. He just knew if he couldn't have Sam, he was glad he could have Leo.

"Josh, listen carefully, because you probably won't hear these words come out of my mouth again," Leo started again. "Not any time soon, anyway"

Josh listened.

"You may know this, you may not. You may know it and not want to accept it, but I care as deeply for you as I could anybody. I love you as if you were my own son." Leo paused and cleared his throat. "I love you as much as I love Mallory. I've just never been able to tell you that."

Josh listened.

"When Noah . . . when your Father died, I hoped we could become closer. I didn't want to try and replace him, that's just idiotic, but I hoped you'd come to me if you needed anything . . . if you had a problem you wanted to work out, if you needed some advice, or just wanted to talk with somebody."

Josh listened.

"But you did just the opposite. You pushed me out of your life, out of your personal life. We have a great working relationship, Josh, but when I try to get you to open up to me, you CLOSE up instead. It's like you have some secret you don't want me to know about, that you don't trust me with, and I'd like us to get that block out from between us."

Josh listened.

"I know it worries your Mother that you won't let me into your life. It worries Jenny. Jenny adores you, Josh. She always has. I'm gonna set my pride aside here for a little while and just come right out and ask you . . . Josh, will you let me be a part of your life, son? I miss that boy who used to call me Uncle Leo. I'd like to know what's going on in your life."

Josh spoke against Leo's leg. "There's not really much going on," he said "Nothing special."

Leo let out a heavy breath of resignation. "You're gonna make me ask, aren't you?"

"What?"

"You know what. You've always been as stubborn as your old man, and this isn't the first time I've told you that. You'd go insane and let them wheel you out in a strait jacket before you'd willingly admit it, wouldn't you?"

"I swear to God, Leo, I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't swear to God when you lie, son."

"You're really gonna make me ask, aren't you?" Leo repeated.

Josh wanted to tell Leo, he wanted so badly to tell Leo, but he wanted Sam there too, It didn't seem right without Sam, even though Sam had told him to do whatever he wanted, that he would stand by him and his decision whatever choice he made. Still, this felt like an "us" thing to Josh.

At least sit up, he told himself. Don't out yourself while you're curled up on the floor with your head in Leo's lap. Be a man about it. Straighten up, pull yourself together, and do what you have to do.

Josh pulled himself to a sitting position. He straightened his tie and smoothed his hair.

I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am who I am and I'm proud of that. I've always been proud of the boy and now, of the man I've become.

Josh stood. "Let's sit in chairs, Leo," he said. "This floor gets a little hard after while." He offered his hand to Leo and Leo took it to pull himself up. They each settled into a chair with an audible sigh.

And God knows I have no qualms about my relationship with Sam. He's my shining star. The source of my pride. He's made being who I am, what I am, so simple, so beautiful, so honorable. I wouldn't have it any other way.

A slight smile crept across Josh's face. His heart saw Sam smile back at him and felt his warmth. Sam always made it easy.

"Leo, Sam and I are in love with each other. We live together as a married couple and I just never got around to telling you. So I'm telling you now."

His voice didn't waver and his hands didn't shake, but he thought he might throw up.

Leo's face held no expression. His fingers tapped the arms of the chair. He uncrossed one leg and crossed the other. Then he spoke.

"Well, it's about damn time."

Josh was truly stunned. He had no idea Leo already knew. There were moments when he thought Leo might suspect, but he quickly dismissed those as his own paranoia. He was so certain Leo didn't have a clue that he was speechless when he learned otherwise.

"Did you hear what I said?" Leo asked gently.

Josh nodded.

"Why did you wait so long to tell me?"

Josh looked down, still at a loss for words. He could only shake his head.

"What did you think would happen if I found out? Did you think you'd lose your job? Josh, I told you as long as I've got a job in this White House, you've got a job in this White House. Did you think I was gonna tell somebody? The President? I've been in AA nearly nine years. I know how to keep a secret. Did you think I was gonna love you any less? I've got photographs of you in diapers ~~ not recent photographs ~~ and your head full of curls. There's nothing you could ever say or do to make me stop loving you, son."

Josh kept his head down but raised his eyes to meet Leo's. Leo smiled at him, that big genuine smile.

"Does anybody in the White House know about you and Sam?" he asked.

"Toby. Toby knows and I just told Charlie a little while ago. Or Charlie told me. He'd figured it out."

"I would have guessed Toby, and not much gets past Charlie. Josh, why haven't you said anything to me about this before now?"

"I wanted to Leo, I really did, and I was going to, but when you told me how my Dad felt about . . . you said he called homosexuals fuckin' fags who deserve to have the shit beat out of them at every opportunity. You said he had zero tolerance for homosexuals and would forbid them in his home and forbid me to befriend them. When I heard that, there was no way I could let you think of me that way. I respect you too much for you to hate me."

"What the hell . . .?"

"When I asked you how my Dad felt about homosexuals, that's what you said. You didn't hesitate. You and my Dad were best friends so I just assumed you felt the same way."

"Well that's a stupid thing to assume."

"It's no secret you're a homophobe, Leo. I've heard the cracks, the jokes behind closed doors, the late night remarks of disgust."

"Josh . . ."

"And when I asked you outright if you held the same beliefs as my Father, you never answered."

"Josh . . ."

"You never answered, Leo! What am I supposed to believe? How can we work together if you're gonna be so unpredictable? We can't function and run this country in a contradictory atmosphere where you think I'm the dregs of humanity."

"Josh . . ."

"What?"

"Shut up and listen to me. I can love you and abhor what you do. I can love Sam and abhor what he does. You will be part of my life forever, no matter what you do. I just want you to trust me enough to TELL me what you do when it upsets you so much it causes you to pass out in my office. Can't you understand that?"

Josh rubbed his ring finger and wished he had his wedding band on. "It's a difficult concept to grasp, but I think I know what you mean," he said.

"There's nothing difficult about it. Two words."

Josh rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "Two words? It's all wrapped up nicely with just two words?"

Leo nodded. "Unconditional love."

********

Josh and Sam didn't see each other until nearly seven p.m. Josh was pulled into meetings all afternoon with barely a break in between. When Sam returned from "Capitol Beat" he went directly to Josh's office and was disappointed to find he wasn't there. He went to his own office and had barely sat at his desk when he became swamped with back-to-back appointments on his own schedule. He tried to get away to see Charlie, but wasn't even able to call him.

Finally, it seemed that a few minutes before seven things quieted for them both and Sam made his way to Josh's office.

"Is Josh free, Donna?" he asked as he made his way through the bullpen.

"He's not only free," she said," I'll PAY you to take him."

"Funny girl. I'll re-phrase that: is Josh available?"

"Surprisingly, yes, but catch him fast because I can't make any promises. He's been a blur today."

Sam went into Josh's office and closed the door behind him. Josh sat scrunched down in his chair, his hands in his lap, his feet on his desk, crossed at the ankles. His eyes were closed and his head fell forward so it rested on his chest. His tie was loosened, the top couple of buttons unfastened, and his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows. A soft snore emanated from his direction.

Sam stood behind the chair and wrapped his arms loosely around Josh. He leaned over and put his lips close to Josh's ear.

"Osh? I'm here baby." He kissed Josh behind his ear and gently nibbled on his lobe.

Without opening his eyes, Josh put both his hands on Sam's forearms and squeezed. He was consumed by a sense of calm.

"I've missed you," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry I couldn't come. You now I would have."

Josh kissed Sam's hand. "I know and it's ok. Can we go home now?"

"Just as soon as you get out of that chair, we're on our way."

Josh leaned his head back and looked up at Sam. "I'm wiped out. Will you carry me?"

Sam grinned and kissed Josh's forehead. "Do you really want me to scoop you up in my arms and carry you through the bullpen, down the hall, and out the door?"

"Yeah, like that scene in `An Officer and a Gentleman'. You be Richard Gere and I'll be Debra Winger. Everybody will clap and cheer as we go by. It'll be a moment nobody will forget."

"You got that right! It'll be more than a moment," Sam laughed. "Get up and come home with me, handsome man."

"Kiss me again and I'll follow you anywhere," Josh growled.

"You're upside down."

"Do it."

Sam kissed Josh's forehead, then his nose, then his mouth. "I adore you," he whispered against Josh's lips. "When we get home I'll carry you." He tugged Josh's lower lip into his mouth and sucked on it just for a second, then straightened and walked around to the front of the desk. He knew Donna was just outside the door and one of the days they were going to push their luck just a little too far and get caught. He tossed Josh's suit jacket to him. It hit him in the face and slid down into his lap.

"Let's go," he said. "It's Friday and we have nothing to do tonight but be alone."

Josh rolled his sleeves down as he stood up and his jacket fell to the floor. "Beam me home, Scotty." He quickly looked at Sam. "Sorry. Bad choice of words."

"Give me a little credit, please," Sam laughed. "I'm not intimidated by the name `Scott' and am certainly not egotistical enough to believe `Beam me up, Sammy' will ever replace `Beam me up, Scotty'. Now give me your wrists."

Josh stuck his arms out. Sam tugged Josh's shirtsleeves down until the fabric was smooth, then he fastened the buttons on his cuffs. "I like dressing you," he said with a smile. "You're like my own little Ken doll."

"Ken doll? G.I. Joe maybe, but Ken? You KNOW he doesn't have a wanker, don't you?"

Sam picked Josh's jacket up off the floor and held it open for him. "Does G.I. Joe?"

"I don't know! I don't cruise toy stores to see if the action figures are anatomically correct!"

"Ken is NOT an action figure," Josh replied as he slung his backpack over one shoulder. "He's a gigolo."

Josh flicked out the light and closed the door behind them. Donna heard Josh's voice as the two men walked down the hall and away from the bullpen.

"So if G.I. Joe is an action figure and Ken's a gigolo and neither of them are anatomically correct. What about Batman and Robin?"

********

"Hand over the keys," Sam said as they walked to the car. "As k.d. lang says in her song, `baby you can sleep while I drive'."

Then as if they were a thousand miles from civilization, Josh slipped his arm under Sam's jacket and around his waist and Sam put his arm around Josh's shoulder and they moved closer.

Sam stopped at the deli two blocks from home and picked up grilled pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwiches, cole slaw, and German potato salad for supper and found a parking spot across the street from their townhouse. Inside Josh began to undress as soon as he walked in the door. Sam stepped over Josh's pants and set the food on a stack of magazines on the coffee table. He tossed his own jacket onto the couch, kicked off his shoes, then went into the kitchen while Josh turned on CNN. He came back moments later with two placemats, a roll of paper towels, a Blatts for Josh and a Diet Coke for himself. He covered the table with paper towels before he put the placemats down, then set out their food and opened their drinks. He tore off several towels for them each and sat down.

"Josh?"

Josh's eyes were fixated on the TV.

"Joshhuuuaaahh," he repeated in a singsong voice.

"Huh?" Josh, in just boxers, watched the screen.

"Soup's on."

"Huh?"

"Josh! Turn around! Your food's on the table and I want you to eat!"

Startled, Josh turned. "Huh?"

Sam laughed. "Where are you tonight, sweetheart?"

Josh cocked his head and smiled that smile. "Where do you want me?"

"Right here." Sam patted the couch beside him. "Then I want you upstairs in the shower with me. Then I want you inside out, upside down, over and under . . ."

"Shut up and eat. Fast."

Sam cleaned up after they finished their meal. He separated the recyclables from the trash then brushed random crumbs into his hand and into the kitchen sink and washed them down the drain. When the kitchen was again spotless and he was satisfied that the carpet around the coffee table was up to par, he started at the front door and collected Josh's clothes. Finally, Sam picked up the remote, turned off the TV, and stood in front of Josh.

"Ready?" he asked.

Josh looked up at him. "For what?"

Sam dropped Josh's clothes on the floor, and in one motion, hoisted Josh over his shoulder and carried him upstairs. They were both laughing when Sam flipped him off onto the bed and fell next to him.

"You carried me!' Josh exclaimed.

"You asked me to."

"Do you do everything I ask you to do?"

Sam propped up on his elbow and rested his head on his palm. "Yes," he said in a serious tone. "I do."

Josh's laughter stopped and he put his hand on Sam's cheek. "Yes, you do," he said. "Will you kiss me?"

Sam kissed him.

"Will you do something else?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded his head.

"Remember you said you had written a poem for me? A bedroom poem?"

Sam nodded again.

"Will you read it to me now?"

"I don't have to read it," Sam replied. "I know it by heart."

Josh stroked Sam's cheek and tucked his hair behind his ear. "You never got that haircut."

Sam spoke:

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose,
topaz, or arrow of carnations that propagate fire;
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom, and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride.
I love you in this way because I don't know any
other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you.

So intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand.
So intimate that when I fall asleep,
it is your eyes
that close.

Chapter 58

They made love in the shower. Warm, soapy hands caressed abdomens, thighs, biceps, calves, necks . . . fingers dug into backs, hips, and shoulders and clutched at scalp hair and pubic hair as they wound around and devoured each other until they both cried out in unrestrained, complete, pure satisfaction.

Then they fell on cadet blue towels spread on the bathroom floor and laughed like schoolboys who had just touched and been touched for the first time by someone who had been verboten for reasons they didn't understand, and didn't care. They held hands and connected ankles and caught their breath then just lay quietly as water droplets evaporated off their skin.

When they were dry and warm and neither had spoken for a while, Sam rolled on top of Josh and straddled him. He propped himself up by his hands and looked into the eyes of the man he loved.

"You," he said, "are the man I love."

Josh cocked his head and smiled.

"THE man?"

"THE man."

Sam dipped his head and tenderly kissed Josh. He tasted like soap. He smiled against Josh's lips and felt him smile back. Josh reached up and put his hands on Sam's shoulders . . . strong, muscular, taut as they held Sam over him. He slid his hands behind Sam's neck and laced his fingers. Their smile-on-smile became another kiss, and another. The boys were in love.

And Josh's erection grew.

The tender, sweet kiss quickly became impassioned. Sam's tongue shot into Josh's eager mouth and Josh caught it between his lips and sucked it even deeper into his own throat. So deep he couldn't breathe, but it didn't matter ~~ he was so gripped by this moment of Sam, he could have fallen unconscious and still been aroused. Sam rose up onto his knees over Josh. Josh loosened his hands around Sam's neck and one quickly found Sam's erection. He massaged it in long, urgent strokes while his other hand did the same to himself.

As Sam pulled away from the kiss, Josh raised his head off the towel for an instant to follow him. Sam straightened so he was upright and on his knees, one on either side of Josh.

"You ready, sugar?" Sam asked in a sultry voice.

Before he could answer, Sam pinned Josh's hands above his head to the bathroom floor. Then he lifted his hips and Sam lowered himself onto Josh's penis. He let his head fall back and inhaled a gasp of exhilaration as Josh filled him. Sam's hands clinched Josh's against the cool floor as he rode him, an urgency in them both as Sam slid up and down the wet pole inside him.

Josh arched his back and pushed his pelvis to meet Sam. He was about to come, his hard penis straight and hard against Sam's leg. He wanted to wait for Sam so they could climax together, mix their seed, and let the most precious part of themselves soak into the other so there was no separation of man from man.

"Hop off, baby," Josh said in a breathy voice. "I'm gonna . . ."

Sam hiked his hips and Josh's penis slipped out. He freed one of his hands from Josh's, wrapped it around Josh's dick, and pumped it. Josh did the same with Sam's.

"Here it comes," Sam muttered. "The money shot."

With that, Sam's sperm spurt against Josh's chest and abdomen. As it did, Josh released himself and just as he'd hoped, he and Sam were joined together as they shared their ultimate gift with the other.

Spent, Sam rolled off Josh and lay next to him on the blue towel. Chests rose and fell quickly at first, then slowed to a calm, steady rhythm before either spoke. Josh brought Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it.

"Do we have dessert?" he asked.

"Don't we always?" Sam laughed.

"Pretty much. So what's down there?"

"Popsicles, ambrosia, brownies . . ."

"With nuts?" Josh nipped at Sam's middle finger.

"With nuts," Sam replied.

"What kind of nuts?"

"You wouldn't know the difference." Sam ran his thumb over Josh's bottom lip.

"Yes, I would."

"Josh, I always put different kinds of nuts in the brownies and you never know the difference."

"I do too," he responded. "I know when you change them around."

"Ok, what kind did I use last time?" Sam asked. "You said they were your favorite."

Sam slipped his ring finger into Josh's mouth. Josh ran his tongue around it and gently suckled at it a moment before he responded.

"Peanuts?"

"No. I never put peanuts in brownies."

"Why?"

"That's just wrong," Sam replied matter-of-factly.

"Cashews?

"No."

"Tell me."

"Macadamias. You said they were your favorites, but I used walnuts time before that and you said THEY were your favorites. And I used walnuts this time, but if I hadn't told you, you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference."

"Then why'd you tell me?" Josh asked.

Sam sighed. "Do you want a Popsicle?"

"No, I want banana pudding."

Sam pulled his fingers from Josh and stretched over him until he could reach a damp washcloth that draped the side of the tub. He propped himself on one hand and with the other, washed the cum off Josh's chest and abdomen before it dried.

"We don't have banana pudding," he said, washing Josh even after he was clean.

"I know," said Josh. "I'm stalling."

"Stalling about what?"

Josh caught Sam's wrist and stopped him. "Sam, we've gotta talk."

Sam smiled. "You got serious on me all of a sudden. What's up?"

"Not here. Not on the bathroom floor," Josh said. "Let's go in the bedroom."

"Yeah, ok. I'll follow you to the bedroom anytime."

They guys got up off the floor and Sam put the towels and washcloth in the dirty clothes hamper. Josh took Sam's hand and led him into the bedroom.

"We have to put something on," said Josh. "Clothes or pajamas or something."

Sam circled his arms around Josh from behind. "Why? I like what you've got on now." He felt flirty, playful. He didn't like the serious tone in Josh's voice.

"Because you'll distract me." He unclasped Sam's arms and pulled out of his grasp. "I'm already distracted. Poking me in the backside with your semi-erect sexual organ isn't helping any. Just stand still and try not to look like . . . like . . . you."

Sam grinned. "My semi-erect sexual organ? Poking you in the backside? You're such a romantic."

"Just stand there and stick your arms up in the air."

Sam stuck his arms up. Josh pulled a grey t-shirt with `Duke' printed across the front over Sam's arms, head and chest. He tossed him a pair of grey sweat pants.

"Put these on," he said.

Sam did as he watched Josh get dressed. Josh chose his faded jeans full of holes and a black "Blink-182" t-shirt. They both crawled to the middle of the bed and sat cross-legged, knee-to-knee, and faced each other. Sam ran his fingers through Josh's hair and smoothed it, then ran his fingers through his own hair. He shook his head and sprayed water on Josh and his hair was shaggy again. He ran his fingers through it a second time and fiddled with it just long enough to amuse Josh and not quite long enough so as to annoy him. Sam knew where that fine line was. Finally, he clasped his hands and let them dangle between his legs and flashed his smile at Josh.

"Ok, babe. Let's talk."

"Think band-aid," said Josh. "Do you want it slow and painful or quick so it's over before you know it?"

The smile on Sam's face left and he furrowed his brow. "You're scaring me, Josh. Just tell me."

Josh put his hands on both of Sam's. "I told Leo."

Sam slightly shook his head and the furrow deepened. It didn't register. "You told Leo what?"

"That I love you, Sam."

Sam's face relaxed and he smiled. "Well, I love you too, Josh."

Josh cradled Sam's face in his hands. "Baby, did you hear what I said?"

"You said you love me" Sam replied. "And I love you too." He turned his head sideways and kissed the palm of Josh's hand.

"I said," Josh repeated slowly and with emphasis, "I told LEO that I love you."

Sam's smile faded about halfway while he digested this simple, single statement.

"I outted us. I told Leo you and I are in love and we live as a married couple."

Silence.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Say something."

"You told Leo we're in love?"

Josh nodded.

"And we're married?"

"Uh huh."

Sam's voice was calm, steady, and very deliberate. "When did you do this?"

"Today. He came to my office and I told him then. That's when I . . . told . . . him. When he came . . . to my . . . office. Today."

Sam let his head fall back and he looked up at the ceiling. Josh watched him. It was just a minute, but to Josh, it seemed like an hour.

"Okaaaaay," Sam said as he slowly returned his gaze to meet Josh's. "Please tell me, what possessed you to enlighten Leo about this little detail of your life? MY life? OUR lives? How did this happen?"

"You said I could."

"I said you could? Josh! Did you seriously tell Leo about us or are you shittin' me?"

"I shit you not. I seriously told Leo."

"I don't believe you," Sam replied with a nervous laugh. "Come on, tell me you're kidding and I'll go get us some brownies. Do you want milk or coffee?"

Sam started to crawl to the edge of the bed. Josh caught him by the arm.

"Sammy. Believe me. I told Leo. Today I told Leo you and I are in love with each other and that we live together and that we're married. I'm not shittin' you. I really . . . really, really, really did."

"Tell me everything."

"You know this morning in Leo's office, my anxiety attack. For a long time I've wanted to tell Leo about us, Sam. You and I talked about it and you said whatever I wanted to do you'd stand by me, remember? You said it was my call, as recently as this morning you said that. Right?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I DID say that, but I didn't think you were gonna do it today . . . and without me! And in the White House! I just imagined when and if we chose to reveal our relationship to anybody we'd do it like we did with Toby. Have that person over and tell them while we were `together'. I didn't think you'd just take it upon yourself to make that decision on a whim and just `oh, by the way, Leo, Sam and I are . . ."

"It wasn't like that," Josh interrupted.

"What was it like?"

"You weren't there."

"No shit! That's the whole point ~~ I wasn't there! Coming out is an `us' thing and I wasn't there." Sam tried not to raise his voice, but it was difficult not to. The reality had set in.

"Exactly," Josh countered. "You weren't there! I called you, Sam. I said I needed you."

Sam recalled the conversation. Josh HAD said he needed him. Sam made the decision to tape "Capitol Beat" as planned instead.

"Don't make me feel guilty for this, Josh," he said softly. "That debate was important. I told you I'd come and you insisted I go ahead and tape the show. Please don't pull this on me now."

"I'm not. I'm just saying . . . you weren't there. You don't know how it happened," Josh replied.

"That's what I'm trying to find out, sweetheart. Just tell me."

"I want to! It wasn't supposed to be like this. I was just gonna come right out and tell you then you started talking and I got all confused."

Sam smiled. "I can't help it. It's in my blood. It's my life. It's my job. It's what I get paid to do. It's what I was born to do."

"Are you mad at me, Angel?"

"I don't know yet. Tell me what happened then I'll decide."

"When we left Leo's office you had to leave the building. I went back to my office and Sam, I don't know why, but I just lost it. I've wanted to tell Leo for a long time, at least about me, but I was so afraid I'd lose his respect. I thought I knew how Leo felt about homosexuals but he pretty much sealed the deal when I asked him what my Dad thought. After that, I just didn't think I could bear knowing Leo felt that way about me. Even worse, him thinking that way about you. But something deep, deep inside me makes me feel like I'm deceiving Leo whenever I'm around him. There's this dishonesty thing between us that seems like it's glaring and shouting and everybody can see and hear it and it's started to interfere with my working relationship with Leo."

"You never told me any of this darlin'," Sam said. He stroked Josh's cheek with the back of his hand.

"You've got enough on your mind. You don't need my shit too."

"Hey, your shit is my shit. You know that."

"I know, but . . ."

Sam leaned forward and sweetly kissed Josh. "Promise me, from now on, don't ever keep your shit from me. I thought you knew better," he said.

Josh nodded. "I promise."

"Ok, you went back to your office and lost it. What's that mean?" Sam asked.

"I, uh, kinda cried a little. I tried to relax with my back against the wall, but it didn't work. So I just sat on the floor and started to cry. Then Charlie offered to find you and the next thing you know he said I should tell Leo about us."

"Charlie? When did Charlie get involved in this?"

"When he came in. He was just coming to see how I was feeling after I'd passed out and when he saw how upset I was, he sat down next to me on the floor and was just sorta there. He was a comfort to me, Sam. And just out of the blue he said he thought I should tell Leo about you and me. About you and me being a couple."

"Charlie knows too?"

Josh nodded. "I didn't tell him. Not at first. He already suspected. He said he's a people watcher and he'd figured it out. That picture of us in the Rose Garden during the Christmas Party last year; you know the one we like so much and we never knew where it came from? Charlie took it. He saw us kiss and put the picture on your desk. He's known for a while, Sam. He's cool with it."

"Well, I'm glad to know Charlie approves of our lifestyle. Is there anybody else I need to know about? Did CJ or Donna or the President stop by?"

"Sam . . ."

"I need something to do drink. Do you want anything?"

Sam rolled off the bed.

"Bring me whatever you get for yourself."

Josh was grateful for the break. He had no idea how Sam would accept the news. He still didn't know because Sam was all across the board. One minute he was incredulous, the next, sympathetic, and the next, borderline irritated. He blamed himself for being scattered instead of more forthright.

Sam came back minutes later with two Heinekens. He crawled back onto the bed, propped pillows against the headboard, and leaned against them. Josh did the same, and their shoulders pressed against the others. Sam handed one of the green bottles to Josh.

"Sam, beer?"

"You like beer," Sam replied, as he took a big swallow of his.

"Not me. You just went to an AA meeting. You're not supposed to have any alcohol."

"It's just one beer. I'm not gonna have any more. Let's not make an issue out of this right now, ok?"

Josh knew he should make an issue out of it, but it seemed liked there were more important things to talk about at the moment. One beer wouldn't hurt, and Josh didn't feel comfortable drinking and telling Sam he couldn't.

"Yeah, ok. But just one," he said.

"How much does Charlie know?" Sam asked.

"Everything. But no details."

"Everything means . . ."

"We're a couple. We live together." Josh hesitated. "We're married."

"No details? Josh! And Leo?"

"The same. But he'd figured it out, too. Neither of them was surprised. It's not like I made some great revelation to either of them. I just confirmed what they both already knew."

"Are we screwed?"

Josh chugged his beer and wished he had another. "No. They're not gonna tell."

"Yeah, ok," Sam muttered.

"They're not!"

"Tell me, did Leo agree with your Dad? Does he think we're fuckin' fags?" asked Sam. He finished his beer and set both his and Josh's empty bottles on the bedside table.

Josh slouched down a little against the pillows. Instinctively, he laid his head against Sam's shoulder and put his hand on Sam's thigh.

Sam knew the answer. He put his arm around Josh.

"Did he say so?" he asked softly.

Josh shook his head. "No. He didn't say the words. He said he . . ." Josh's voice cracked. Sam tugged him closer and Josh rested his arm across Sam's stomach. "Leo said he could still love me yet hate what, no, he said he could still love me yet abhor, he said abhor, what I do. He said the same about you. He said I'll be part of his life forever, no matter what I do."

"That doesn't sound so bad. And you've been worrying about this for nothing." Sam kissed Josh on top of his head.

"But I didn't know it was for nothing. Sam, I could never tell my Dad for the same reason. I considered my relationship with my Father to be close, but he never . . ." Josh's voice cracked again and he couldn't finish the sentence. Sam finished it for him.

"He never knew you're gay?"

"He never let on that he knew I was gay," Josh said. "I didn't tell him. My Mother did. But he never treated me any differently and I didn't even realize he knew until Mom told me a few months ago. I figured he died never knowing about me and he knew all along. Sam, how could he have just gone along and pretended like things were the same all those years? Why didn't he talk to me?"

Sam rubbed Josh's shoulder. He didn't know what to say. In two short weeks he'd be introducing Josh as his husband to his own Father and he couldn't even begin to imagine how that would go. Any words of advice or comfort for Josh at this point would just ring hollow.

"Josh?"

"Hmmm?"

"Why didn't you talk to him? Why didn't you tell your Dad?" Sam asked. He spoke quietly and in a non-accusatory tone. He knew Josh was already upset.

Josh clutched a fistful of Sam's t-shirt and released it. Then he did it again. And again.

"I was afraid," Josh finally said, "if he knew I LOVED a man, he'd think I was LESS of a man. I couldn't live with him believing that about me."

"But we both know that's not true, baby."

"Apparently he thought it was true."

"And you base that on . . .?" Sam asked.

"What Leo said."

"Osh, is there ANY chance Leo could be wrong? Maybe your Dad felt that way at one time, maybe when he was younger, but time changes people and maybe when your Mom told him about you, he felt differently. Maybe by then he was more accepting. Maybe he didn't care anymore, and that's why you never noticed the change. Did you ever think of that?"

Josh was quiet. Sam put his hand over Josh's, still clenching and unclenching Sam's shirt.

"Josh? Did you ever think maybe it didn't matter to your Father that you were gay? Did you ever stop you consider he WASN'T upset?"

Josh shook his head.

"And by the same token, did you ever think maybe it doesn't matter to Leo that you're gay? Or that I'm gay? Or that we're gay together? You've been so worried about them getting upset . . . maybe there never was anything to get upset about. Ever cross your mind?"

Josh shook his head.

"Don't you think if I thought this would harm you or your reputation, I would have protested vehemently about our coming out to Leo?"

Josh nodded his head.

"And didn't I say it was ok with me if you did?"

Josh nodded his head.

"Then why are you so upset, sugar? I'm cool with this. Granted, you caught me by surprise and I would like to have been there when you did it, but it's ok. It's kind of a relief, in fact. Ease up on yourself."

"My mouth is dry. I need another beer," Josh said. "You want one?"

"I'll go. You stay here. Wanna brownie?"

"Yeah! Bring me two. No, three!" Josh's voice reflected his brighter attitude. He'd always carried his emotions just below the surface of his skin and they changed from moment to moment.

Sam kissed Josh and started to pull away. Josh put his hand behind Sam's head and brought him in. His lips hungrily sought out Sam's and he returned his kiss deeply and with passion as his tongue found Sam's and he sucked on it. When they pulled away, Sam rolled off the bed, went downstairs, and into the kitchen.

While he was gone, Sam's phone rang. Josh took it from Sam's jacket pocked and flipped it open.

"Hello?" he said.

"You're not Sam."

"No, I'm not."

"Who are YOU?" the caller asked.

"I'm the guy who answered the phone. Who are YOU?"

"I'm the guy who called. I wanna talk to Sam. Get him."

Josh bristled. Whoever this man was, he didn't like him. "Yeah. Hold on."

A minute later Sam came back upstairs and into the bedroom. He had two more Heinekens, a plate of brownies, and a handful of napkins.

"Munchies!" he said with a grin.

`You got a phone call," Josh said. "Some guy."

"Yeah? Do you know who?" Sam set the brownies and napkins on the bedside table, swallowed a big gulp of beer, and reached for the phone.

"Nope. He wouldn't say." Josh took his beer and headed for the recliner across the room.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Sodapop! How's my baby brother?"

Sam's fist tightened around the receiver. He turned and his eyes sought out Josh. Josh felt it and looked over his shoulder. Their eyes locked and Josh started back toward Sam, but Sam motioned for him not to come. Josh went to him anyway and stood just in front of him. Sam put his hand on Josh's chest and let it come to rest over Josh's heart, from where he drew his strength.

"Jack! I didn't expect . . . you!

Sam's brother laughed. "Yeah, it's me! Are you in bed?"

"No, I'm up. I was just . . ."

"Who's the asshole?" Jack interrupted.

"Excuse me?"

"The guy who answered the phone. He's an asshole."

"He's not an asshole and I'd appreciate it if you'd never call him that again. He's . . ."

"He's . . .he's . . ." Jack mimicked. "He's who?"

Sam looked at Josh's face and gently touched the bruise under his eye. He didn't want to say it. It hurt him to say it. He knew it would hurt Josh too.

"He's a co-worker," said Sam. "A colleague."

"Really? You have a co-worker over at your place this late? Surely you're not working. You having a party or something?"

"Um, no, well, s . . .s . . . sorta."

Jack laughed again. "You've never been able to lie to me, Bunny. Come on, tell me the truth."

Sam swallowed hard. How long had it been since he'd talked with his brother? He couldn't remember. But every time, Jack did this to him. Intimidated him. Mocked him. Reduced him to a child. An insecure child. And calling him Bunny didn't help matters. Jack had given him that term of affection when Sam was still in his crib.

"It is. It's the truth," he said, his voice a pitch higher than normal.

"What's his name?" Jack pressed.

Silence.

"Sam? I asked you a question. What's your friend's . . . uh, co- worker's . . . or was it colleague? What's his name?"

"Josh," said Sam.

"Josh. Josh. Sam and Josh. That's cute. Who else is at your s . . . s . . . sorta party?"

Sam hated this. Josh sensed it, took Sam's hand, and gave him a wink.

"It's pretty much over. Just a few people from work," Sam lied.

"Who?" Jack continued. "Tell me who was there."

"Do . . . Donna. And Cathy. And Toby and Ginger. Th . . . that's about it."

Sam couldn't look Josh in the eye. He dropped his head and stared at the floor. He was hiding his relationship with Josh. He was denying his marriage. He was ashamed of himself.

Josh put his hand under Sam's chin and lifted his head. He kissed him on the cheek and mouthed the words, "I love you."

"So it's just you and Josh now?" Jack asked.

"What?"

"Do . . . Donna, Cathy, Toby, and Ginger. They've left? You said it was pretty much over. So it's just you and Josh now?"

"Yeah."

"And I repeat, are you in bed?"

"What?"

"Nothing. Sodapop, I'm gonna ask you a question and you're gonna answer it and you're NOT gonna lie. Understand?"

Sam nodded.

"Understand?" Jack repeated.

Sam nodded.

"Don't nod your head. Open your mouth and talk. Understand?"

"I understand."

"You won't lie?"

"I won't lie," Sam lied.

"Is Josh your `special friend'?"

Sam sat on the floor, his back against the wall, his legs stretched out in front of him. He knew this moment would come. He just thought it would be two weeks later. And in his visualization of this conversation, he never got past this point. In his imagination the questions ended and he never had to answer. He never allowed the scenario to play out. There was no good ending.

Josh sat next to him.

`Is Josh your special friend?' rang in Sam's ears. He knew he was going to tell his family about him and Josh when they were in California. But Jack's question came out of left field and Sam, the scribe, the poet, the man who penned sonnets, the muse who scripted the words the President spoke, had nothing to say.

"Sam?"

Jack's voice took on a different tone. Up until now he had laughed and spoke in a light-hearted way, although his words intentionally hurt Sam and mocked him when he stuttered. Jack knew he had talked Sam into a corner and enjoyed every minute of it. His cruel streak shone.

Now his temperament was caustic and antagonistic. He didn't want to fool around anymore and he didn't want any bullshit from Sam.

"Speak to me now, Sam," he said.

"I'm here."

"Who's Josh?"

"Josh is a close friend of mine. We really do work together, but he's also my best friend."

"Dammit, Sam! I'm not in the mood to drag the truth out of you tonight. Be a . . . man . . . for lack of a better word."

Sam took a deep breath. He reached out for Josh's hand and Josh took it. They laced their fingers in and around the other's and Sam squeezed tightly.

"Jack," he started. "Josh is coming to the reunion with me."

Silence.

"Did you hear me, Jack? I said Josh is coming with me to California. To the reunion."

Silence.

"You wanted me to tell you. I just told you."

Silence.

"Jack?"

A touch of panic swept over Sam. "Jack? Don't go silent on me, Jack! Jack?"

Silence.

Sam sat up straight. "Jack? Don't do this to me! Please . . . let me hear your voice! Jack?"

What the hell kind of cruel game is this asshole playing with Sam? Josh thought. I've heard of mind fucks, but this borders on sadistic. What possible pleasure could Jack get out of torturing his brother like this? Sam is like a little kid here, desperate for his brother's approval and the man treats him like shit! I hate this guy.

"Relax Bunny, I'm here. Don't wet your pants."

Sam loosened his grip on Josh.

"Did you say Josh is coming to California with you?" Jack asked.

"Yes."

"Dad said you were bringing Lisa. He said you and she are going to announce your engagement. They're planning a big party for you two. Are they both coming?"

Sam chugged the rest of his beer. "I explained to Dad that Lisa and I broke our engagement a few years ago. He invited her without my knowledge and I've since un-invited her."

"Well that's a real gentlemanly thing to do. You were brought up better than that. No wonder she doesn't wanna marry you."

"I broke it off with HER," said Sam.

"That was stupid."

Sam tightened his jaw.

"Why'd you break up?"

"It . . . it . . . just didn't work out," Sam explained.

"Yeah, Dad said it was something like that," replied Jack.

"So you already know about Lisa?"

"Yeah, I was just seeing if you would tell me the same story you told Dad."

"It's the truth, so why would I tell you a different story?"

"Why are you bringing Josh?" Jack ignored Sam's question.

"What?" Sam had been caught off-guard again. It unnerved him the way Jack jumped from topic to topic.

"You're not bringing your fiancée . . ."

"Ex-fiancée," Sam corrected.

"Whatever."

"You're not bringing the girl of your dreams, but you're bringing Josh. Does this mean he's the MAN of your dreams?"

It would be so easy to just say `yes', Sam thought, to just blurt it out and get it over with. But this wasn't the way he wanted to do it, not over the phone and not because he was bullied into it. He wanted to stand next to Josh in front of his Father and proudly introduce Josh as his husband. He DIDN'T want to be sitting on the floor drinking beer admitting he was in love with Josh and have it come out sounding sordid. Still, it broke his heart to deny Josh over and over, something he swore he'd never do.

"Jack, like I said before, Josh is my best friend."

"You know the family isn't going to be pleased."

"I think they'll like Josh," said Sam. "He's a really cool guy. I know Mother and the girls will like him."

"What about your Father?" Jack asked. "Is he gonna think Josh is a really cool guy too? I don't think MY Father would think that."

"We have the same Father, Jack."

Jack laughed. "Not when you bring this jerk home instead of your fiancée. Let me ask you, Bunny, why are you bringing Josh to meet your family?"

Sam curled his arm around Josh's thigh. "I told you. He's my best friend. It'll be nice to show him where I grew up."

"This just doesn't sound right to me. Why are you lying, Sam?" Jack asked.

No response.

"Sam, you're lying. You know you've never been able to lie to me and get away with it. I know every thought in that empty head of yours. Now you tell ME before I tell YOU."

No response.

It was quiet on the other end of the phone. Sam closed his eyes. He knew Jack was in his head.

Then, "You're a fuckin' queer!" Jack accused. "I thought, I hoped, I PRAYED, Sam, I PRAYED that once you got out of high school and started college you'd get over that boyfriend shit. What happened to you?"

Sam's mind went blank. He couldn't believe Jack had said those words. He went numb. He saw black. He switched to autopilot.

"What do you mean, `what happened'?" he asked softly. "Nothing happened."

Josh immediately heard a difference in Sam's voice as it took on an innocence. He was scared. He had regressed. He was the frightened little brother of the nightmare Sam had always referred to as `the true terror of my adolescence'.

"I can't believe you!" Jack tore into him. "I just can't believe you, Sam. You've hooked up with some homo and he's brainwashed you or whatever it is his kind do. Come on, you're smarter than that. Is it the money? Does this prick know you have money? What did he do to my boy to turn you into a full-fledged fag?"

Sam pulled his knees up and Josh felt him slump against his shoulder. He held him in a tight grip and wondered what Jack had said to cause Sam to go weak. He felt a slight tremble and realized Sam had lost his bearings. He knew if he took the phone and said something to Jack . . . his first choice . . . Jack would hang up and things would probably be worse for Sam. What was this monster doing? Josh was certain of one thing: he hated Jack Seaborn.

"No, Jack. It's not . . . not like . . . what you said."

"Then what IS it like if it's not like what I said?"

"Jack, please don't."

"Please don't," Jack mocked. "Let me ask you, how much older than you is this Josh character?"

"I never said he was . . ."

"How much older?"

"Eight years," Sam said with resignation. Jack knew him too well, even when time and distance kept them apart.

Jack laughed. "The same number of years between you and me. Trying to replace your big brother, Sodapop?"

"No! I would never do that! Jack, you know that's not even a . . . not even within the REALM of possibility. I could never replace you. Never WOULD replace you."

"So, what's going on between you and this Josh guy?"

No response.

"Sam?"

"He's . . ."

"And don't lie to me." Jack interrupted.

"We're friends. Best friends. We're close," replied Sam.

"How close?"

It's wasn't supposed to happen this way, Sam thought. Josh and I were going to stand in front of my family ~~ together ~~ and calmly and proudly tell them we're in love. A couple. That we live together. Have lived together for a while.

Are married.

`Just like we were supposed to tell Leo' flashed through Sam's mind. Josh didn't pull that off so well either.

"Why do you keep drifting away?" Jack asked. "These questions shouldn't be that difficult."

"Uh, I . . . what'd you ask me?"

"Just exactly how close are you and what's-his-name?"

"His name's Josh. And we're very close," replied Sam.

"My God, Sam, what are you gonna tell your Father?"

"I've got nothing to hide," Sam's voice little more than a whisper.

"You'd better hide your face in shame, boy, when you stand before your Father and tell him what you're doing, what you are."

"I'm not . . . not . . . I'm not doing anything wrong."

"Oh, I think maybe you are, Bunny. You've stuttered all through this conversation and you know you do that when you lie," Jack said.

"I don't lie!" He lowered his voice. "And I don't stutter."

"You just lied, little one," Jack laughed. "You've been stuttering since you answered the phone. I think you're confused. Are you getting all mixed up, Trey?"

"No! Yes! No! And don't call me Trey!"

Sam started to cry. It was the frustrated cry of a child who had been driven to the brink and had no protector. Tears spilled down his face as he sobbed openly. His head toppled forward against his knee. The phone dangled loosely in his hand.

It came so suddenly Josh was taken by surprise. He knew Sam was distressed, but he never expected him to break down and weep uncontrollably. Josh knocked his beer over as he quickly came to his knees and took Sam by the shoulders.

"Sam! Look at me!" Josh said in a loud whisper.

Sam wept.

Josh grabbed Sam by his shoulders and tried to snap him out it. "Sam! Get a grip! Don't let that bastard hear you crying!"

Sam was unfazed. He hadn't heard a word Josh said. Instead he dropped the phone and collapsed into Josh's arms. Josh sat and held Sam close. Sam clung to him, his head against Josh's chest. Josh put his lips to Sam's ear.

"Shh, baby, it's ok. I've got you and I'm not gonna let you go." He began to rock Sam as he tried to calm him. "I'm with you, Angel, I'm right here. Just hang on to me."

As Sam's cries subsided, Josh loosened his grip and allowed one hand to rub Sam's back to comfort him. All the while he rocked and spoke words to console and reassure him. Then Sam took in that long, shaky, fitful breath that ended his sobs except for an occasional gurgle in his throat. He slowly pulled away from Josh and wiped his eyes with the edge of his t-shirt.

As he did, Josh picked up the telephone. Jack was still on the line.

"What did you say to him?" Josh demanded.

"Is this Sam's special friend?" Jack asked sarcastically.

"You goddamn motherfucker, I'm gonna . . ."

"Josh, no!" Sam interrupted. He reached for the phone.

"You wanna TALK to this guy?" Josh asked with disbelief. "Sam, you don't have to take his bullshit."

"I want to."

"You wanna take his bullshit?"

"No. I wanna talk to my brother. Please . . . give me the phone," Sam almost pleaded.

Josh hesitated. Sam looked pathetic. Desperate. Scared as a . . . he hated to say it, but Sam looked frightened as a bunny.

"I can't listen to this anymore," Josh spat. "You're on your own." He handed the phone over and went to get another beer.

********

Josh popped the top off two beers and went to the desk in the living room. He opened the middle drawer on the left and reached in the very back. His hand felt them immediately. He pulled out a pack of Benson & Hedges with a disposable Bic lighter tucked inside the cellophane wrapper. He shut the drawer and left the townhouse with his beer and cigarettes. Still barefoot, in his ripped jeans and t- shirt, he sat outside on the stoop against the railing, put a cigarette between his lips and lit it.

Josh rarely smoked since his days at Harvard . . . since he was in a relationship with Scott. He didn't smoke a lot then, mostly when they argued and he was upset. He found it calmed him when he got away from the situation, drank a few beers and smoked a couple of cigarettes.

He swished the cold liquid around in his dry mouth before he swallowed it, then took a long draw and inhaled the smoke deeply. They both tasted good. Josh thought back to the last cigarette he'd had. It was the night he and Sam were married. He'd bummed them off Crawdad and stood outside his bar in the early hours of the morning and smoked them while he drank . . . what volatile situation had he run from that night?

He looked down at his bare feet. The cuts had healed, the physical scars from that night, gone. The emotions he felt would stay with him forever. Josh put his finger in one of the rips in the leg of his jeans. It was tattered and threadbare. He pulled at one of the strings and it came out easily. He held it up in front of him and watched it sway in the night breeze. The last of his cigarette hung loosely between his lips. Josh rolled his thumb across the lighter and a flame shot up. It flickered yellowed, orange, blue . . . He held it under the thread from his jeans and didn't blink as the strand burned away to nothing. He thought he might have heard the siren from a fire truck in the distance, but he wasn't sure, and he didn't look up to see if he could find smoke.

Josh held the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and pulled the last of it into his lungs, drained his second beer, dropped the butt into the bottle, and heard it sizzle in the few drops left in the bottom. He crushed the untouched cigarette and shoved it into the neck of the Heineken bottle then stood up.

There was a lot of traffic this night. Josh watched the cars for a few minutes, then looked down the sidewalk in the direction of Crawdad's. Fourteen blocks. He knew exactly how far the walk was. He had walked it many times; he had run the distance once.

He picked up the two beer bottles, turned, took the steps two at a time, and opened the door to the townhouse. When he did, he nearly tripped over Sam.

Sam lay on the floor just inside. He was naked; his knees drawn up to his chest, hands together in a prayer-like position, tucked under his head, eyes closed.

Josh went to his knees next to Sam. He tentatively put his hand on Sam's shoulder so he wouldn't startle him. He didn't know what had happened upstairs, what Jack had said to him, why he had taken off his clothes and laid on the floor. He only knew something was very, very wrong.

"Sam?"

Sam slowly opened his eyes and looked at Josh. "You left me." His voice was hoarse.

Josh's eyes widened. "Left you? You thought I left you? Sam, why would you think such a thing?"

"Because you left me. You walked out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and out the door. You left me, Jack."

It was then Josh realized Sam had dissociated and believed Josh was his brother. What the fuck has he done to MySam? he thought. Before we go to California I've got to know what Sam had to endure throughout his childhood. I know he doesn't like to talk about it, but he's GOT to tell me. Now, though, Josh knew he had to gently bring Sam back to the present.

First he went to the couch and got an afghan. He loved Sam's body, but this nakedness was caused by Jack's hurtful words . . . words that intentionally crushed Sam and dragged him back to a nightmarish time in his life. Josh was embarrassed for Sam by this nakedness.

Josh leaned over Sam and held the afghan open. "Sam, stand up Angel. I'm gonna put this around you now. Come on."

Sam did as he was told. He stood still while Josh wrapped the afghan around him and pulled it closed in the front. Sam's arms hung at his side so Josh held the cover shut for him.

"You left me, Jack," Sam repeated.

"I'm Josh. Jack isn't here."

Sam looked at him blankly.

"Focus, Sam. Focus on my eyes. Say my name. Josh."

"You left me."

"I sat on the stoop for a few minutes. I wanted some fresh air. I came back in. I came back to be with you." Josh spoke in short, staccato sentences to make it easy for Sam to grasp. He didn't want to make it complicated ~~ he just wanted to bring to the present and have his Angel back again.

"I would never leave you, Sam," he continued. "Josh would never leave you."

"I looked up and you were gone," Sam replied.

Josh regretted it. I knew Sam was distressed while he was on the phone with Jack. I knew things were rough, but dammit, I couldn't stand to see him, to hear him, to watch him take that crap from his brother. I DID leave him, and I shouldn't have. I'm Sam's support system and he's mine. I was wrong. It just hurt ME so much I had to get out of there. How selfish can one sonofabitch be? I swore I would never leave Sam, and when he needed me, I left him.

He tightened his grip on the afghan with one hand and put his other hand behind Sam's neck. "I'm sorry, baby. I shouldn't have left you alone. Can you forgive me?"

Sam searched Josh's face, then stepped into his embrace. "Hold me."

********

Josh kept his arm around Sam and Sam rested his head on Josh's shoulder as they walked up the stairs to their bedroom. Josh found Sam's t-shirt in the living room and his sweat pants on the steps. In the bedroom he helped Sam get dressed then told him to sit on the side of the bed. Sam was quiet and compliant. Josh still wasn't sure if Sam had fully come around to where he was and whom he was with, but Josh knew better than to rush things. More emotional turmoil would only drive Sam deeper into himself and further away from Josh.

He cradled Sam's face in his hands. "Sit right here and I'll be back in one minute," he said. "I'm gonna get you some water from the bathroom. Is that ok?"

Sam nodded.

"You can watch me go and come back if you want," Josh continued. "I won't be out of your sight."

He kissed Sam on top of the head and started toward the bathroom. Sam caught his hand and held it tightly. Josh didn't pull away. Wouldn't pull away. He wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. He waited patiently until Sam was satisfied Josh would stay as long as Sam wanted him to. Once Sam was reassured of that, he felt safe enough to let Josh go. He slowly released the grip on his hand.

"Ok, you watch me go get your water and come back," said Josh. "Then we're gonna get in bed together and go to sleep."

Josh walked backwards into the bathroom so he could keep eye contact with Sam. The few seconds he was out of sight as he stood at the sink, he called into Sam and told him step-by-step what he was doing. On his way back across the bedroom, he stopped at the chest of drawers. He set the paper cup on top, opened the bottom drawer, and brought out a pair of plaid flannel pants and a pill bottle.

Hydroxyine Pamoate. An anti-anxiety medication. It would calm Sam and help him sleep. Dr. Neilson had prescribed it for Josh and he had a few left. They weren't addictive and he truly believed Sam needed them. The effects were short-lived but effective. He shook two small green pills into the palm of his hand, put the brown plastic bottle back where he'd found it, and shoved the drawer shut with his foot.

He took off his ripped jeans and tossed them on the chair in the corner, and pulled on the flannel pants. Then he picked up the Dixie cup and sat on the bed next to Sam.

"Angel," he started, "I wouldn't normally do this, and we're not gonna tell Toby, but I want you to take these two pills."

Without questioning why or what they were, Sam opened his mouth. Josh dropped the pills in and held the paper cup to Sam's lips. He held Sam's head as he tilted it back and Sam swallowed the medicine.

"Who just gave you those pills, baby?" Josh asked. He couldn't help but wonder if Sam had been through this ritual before with Jack; if he'd been so trusting when he was young that he would just do whatever Jack told him to do no matter what the consequences. Josh prayed to God Sam knew it was him who had given him the medicine.

"You did," said Sam.

"Say my name, sweetheart."

"J . . ."

"Say my name," Josh repeated.

"I wanna go to bed. Can we just go to bed?"

"Yeah, ok. Don't you wanna go brush your teeth?"

"Do I have to?" asked Sam.

"No, you don't HAVE to, but you never go to bed without brushing your teeth."

"Can I tonight?"

"Go to bed without brushing your teeth?"

Sam nodded.

"Sure. Crawl on up here and get under the covers." Josh held the comforter and sheets up and Sam crawled to the center and took his place in the middle of the bed.

Josh turned out the light and rolled into bed next to him. He was gonna have to take this as it came. He had no idea who Sam thought he was sleeping with ~~ his husband or his brother. He cautiously put his arm around Sam and was pleased when Sam put his head on Josh's chest and slung his arm across his stomach. Josh lightly rubbed Sam's arm.

They lay in silence a few minutes, the out of the darkness Sam said in a small voice, "Sing to me."

"Sing to you? What would like me to sing?" Josh asked.

"Anything. Something nice."

Josh sang softly in his clear tenor, "There's a saying old, says that love is blind, still we're often told, `seek and ye shall find', so I'm going to seek a certain boy I've had in mind looking everywhere, haven't found him yet . . ."

Sam snuggled a little closer and nestled his head against Josh's neck. Josh continued to sing, "There's a somebody I'm longing to see, I hope that he, turns out to be . . . someone who'll watch . . . over . . . me."

It was quiet again. Josh let a minute or two pass before he spoke.

"Was that nice?" he asked.

He felt Sam's soft hair against his face as Sam nodded.

"Are you getting sleepy, darlin'?"

Sam's hair barely moved and Josh wondered if he was asleep.

"Good-night, sweet sweet Sam," he whispered.

And very quietly he heard, "Good-night, Osh."

WARNING: This chapter deals with the sensitive subject of child sexual abuse. Please don't read it if you think you might be adversely affected or triggered by such subject matter. Thank you.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 59

Josh didn't know how much longer he could take it. Sam's head was still on his shoulder, his arm flung across his chest, and sometime during the night Sam had slung his leg over Josh's. The combination of pure exhaustion, beer, and two sedatives made Sam dead weight and other than pinning Josh's legs down, he hadn't moved all night. Nor had Josh, who now had no feeling in the right side of his body and he had to pee. He didn't know how much longer he could take it.

He didn't want to wake Sam ~~ he slept so soundly and who knew how he would feel when he woke up ~~ but neither did Josh want to wet the bed. And Sam. And himself.

Josh used his left hand and gently shook Sam's shoulder. "Sam? Are you awake?"

Nothing.

A little louder. "Sam? Sam? Sam!"

Sam stirred. Josh took the opportunity to shake him harder, in a gentle sort of way.

"You're awake!" Josh said, louder than he intended. "Good morning!"

"Huh?" Sam was groggy, hadn't opened his eyes, and still didn't move.

"Sam, love," Josh lifted Sam's arm and felt the pressure leave his chest. "It's time for us to get up. We need to go pick up your new car today. Sam?"

Nothing.

"Sam!"

Sam jerked his head up and hit Josh's chin. Josh's head went back and he left it there, unsure of what Sam's next move might be.

"Huh?" he mumbled again.

"We're gonna get your new car today, remember?"

"Uh huh."

Josh wondered if Sam would have any residual effects from last night's phone call with his brother. He hoped against hope Sam would splash water on his face, come out of the bathroom, and say, "Man, I had the funkiest dream last night." But Sam didn't splash water on his face; he cleansed with *product*. And Sam didn't say funky; he said `bizarre and amazing'.

"So we've gotta get up now. You wanna just roll your leg off me?"

Nothing.

"Sam, just hoist your leg up and off my legs, baby. The circulation's been cut off since about three o'clock this morning and I don't think I can walk."

Nothing.

"Sam! In the name of all that is pure and holy, would you PLEASE . . ."

Sam laughed and pulled his leg off Josh. "Want me to massage those amazing thighs of yours and get the circulation back?" he asked with a grin.

"More than you can possibly imagine, but if I don't take a leak in the next ten seconds, you're gonna be changing the sheets."

Josh rolled off the far side of the bed and sprinted to the bathroom. Sam heard a drawn out "aahhh" as Josh relieved himself, crawled off the bed, and followed him.

"You ok in here?" he asked when he went into the bathroom.

"All done. Just shakin' it."

"Josh! That's gross."

Josh moved to the sink, splashed water on his face, and started to brush his teeth. Sam stood at the commode.

"So, we're gonna pick up my car then go to the `Scooby-Doo' marathon, right?" he asked. "You know how I feel about animated movies, but I know how much you wanna go, so if you still wanna go, I'll go. For you."

Josh mumbled through the toothpaste bubbling out of his mouth.

"What? What?" Sam taunted him. "Can't understand you. What?"

Josh rinsed and spat then washed off the toothpaste that had run down his arm. He opened the drawer on the left, dropped his toothbrush inside, and followed Sam back into the bedroom.

"Nobody loves a smart ass," he said.

Sam turned and kissed Josh on the cheek. "You do," he said sweetly.

"I do."

"So, what about `Scooby'?" Sam asked again. "What are we gonna dooby- doo?"

Josh wanted to say `Sure! That's the plan. Why would things be any different than they were last week?'

Because yesterday happened. Because Leo and Charlie know about Sam and me. There's no turning back from that reality. Because I started to tell Sam about it and we were interrupted by something unspeakable. Because Jack called and ripped my husband's heart out. Because `Scooby-Doo' doesn't seem like that big of a deal anymore.

"Sammy, darlin', we're not going to the movies today. We're gonna have a really serious talk."

Sam ignored the obvious. "But all you've talked about is this marathon. I'm willing to go see an animated movie for YOU. We HAVE to go."

"We don't have to go. And how many times do I have to tell you, it's not animated. Do you just not listen to me or what?"

Sam continued to ignore him. "We do, Josh. We DO have to go. If we don't, somewhere down the road you'll blame me. This will end up being my fault if we don't go. We've GOT to go see `Scooby-Doo'."

"Sam, listen to how irrational that sounds. What we've got to do is talk about what Jack did to you on the phone last night."

"He didn't do anything to me," Sam mumbled.

Josh reached for Sam's arm. How quickly giddy Sam became guarded Sam. How Josh hated what he had to do.

"He crushed you. He humiliated you and reduced you to a sad reflection of yourself."

"No, he didn't."

"Yes, Sam, yes he did. And I wanna know what happened in your family before we go to California."

"Nothing. Nothing happened."

Josh put his hands on Sam's upper arms and shook him. "Sam! Get a grip. This is me you're talking to. You don't have to give your formulaic response this time. You're NOT going to."

Sam tried to pull away but Josh tightened his grip. "I really don't wanna talk about my family."

"I know you don't want to, but you're going to," Josh said frankly. "You can't hide from this secret anymore, baby, not when it does to you what it did last night. I won't let those people take you away from me again."

"Sounds like a case of much ado . . ."

"Stop."

Josh put two fingers against Sam's lips. He couldn't listen to this denial anymore, to Sam's programmed defense of his family. Whatever had happened to Sam, it was instilled in him never to be spoken of, and he was doing his damndest to protect the Seaborn secret.

"Listen to me," said Josh. "If you don't tell me what happened, I'm not going to the reunion with you."

If Josh could have known the hurt that statement would create in Sam's eyes, he never would have said it. Sam looked like he had taken a physical blow. His black eye didn't help the image of a beaten puppy.

"You said you'd go," Sam spoke quietly against Josh's fingers. "You said you'd stand by me when I told my family about us."

"And I intend to. I'll stand beside you every minute and support you in every way. I'm your husband and this is an `us' thing. I don't want you to do this alone, Angel." Josh moved his hand so it was behind Sam's neck. He gently massaged his muscles as he talked. "But I'm not going into that hornet's nest blindly. I've never pushed you to tell me about when you were a kid, but you've gotta tell me now. I need to know what I'm up against before I open my life to these people. And more importantly, before I let you open up YOUR life to them."

Sam swallowed hard. He knew he couldn't put off any longer the things he never wanted Josh to know. He knew it would come to this some day ~~ he just hadn't planned on it being today.

"Yeah, ok," he said "Anything. Everything. What . . . what do you wanna know?"

Josh pulled Sam close so their foreheads touched. His hand moved from Sam's neck and stroked his hair.

"This isn't an inquisition. You're not on the witness stand. I just want us to go downstairs, have some breakfast, and talk. Just you and me."

"It's not easy stuff to talk about."

"I know, but you trust me, don't you?"

Sam pulled his head away and looked into Josh's eyes. He saw his eternity there and smiled, just a little.

"You know I do," he said. "I trust you with my life."

"Then TELL me about your life. We're married Sam. I wanna know everything about you. Every moment of every day you've been alive. I wanna know every word you've spoken, taste every glass of wine you've ever drank, feel every sensation you've ever known."

Sam laughed. "That's asking a lot, my friend. I don't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday. But I love this romantic side of you."

"You've always been so closed-mouthed about your past. It's time, dear sweet Sam, to let me have more of your life than just the short time we've been together. I want all of you."

"You'll fix breakfast then?"

"I will. You do your morning ritual in front of the mirror and I'll surprise you with something good, ok?"

Sam nodded and smiled. "Ok. And make a lot because I'm hungry."

Josh gently kissed Sam on the bruise under his eye. "You've got it. I love you, Sam."

They started in opposite directions, Sam toward the bathroom and Josh toward the bedroom door.

"Josh?"

He turned. Sam had already pulled off his t-shirt and stood just in his sweat pants.

"Yeah?"

"About last night . . . was I . . . was I real . . . ?"

Josh shook his head. "No. You did just fine."

"But later. What about later?" Sam persisted.

Josh cocked his head to the side and smiled. "You slept like a baby."

********

Josh scrambled eggs and broiled small filet mignons and made toast and black coffee; he even changed the coffee filter without being reminded. Just as he found the whisk and began to beat the eggs, his phone rang. He tucked it between his shoulder and ear and continued to work in the kitchen.

"Josh Lyman."

"Josh? Leo."

Josh stopped what he was doing and yellow egg yolk dripped into the bowl nestled in the crook of his elbow. He didn't know whom he expected to call this Saturday morning, but it wasn't Leo.

"Leo! I, uh . . . I'm fixing eggs."

"Well, I'm proud of you, Josh. Anything this administration can fix is a check mark on the side of goodwill."

"Um, ok."

"How are you this morning, son?" Leo asked.

"I'm . . . uh, what?"

"You passed out in my office yesterday, Josh. How are you feeling today? Did you have any problems last night?"

"Oh, that. No. No, I'm fine. Was that yesterday?" Josh slid the steaks into the broiler.

"Yeah. Have you lost track of time?"

"No, nothing like that. It just, so much has, no, I'm fine."

"Josh, it probably wouldn't hurt if you made an appointment with your regular doctor and just got checked out. I can't have you this stressed out, not with the election so close."

"I'm not stressed out, Leo. Really, I'm not. It was my, uh, blood sugar . . . thing. I hadn't eaten or something. I was all right the rest of the day and I'm all right now and it won't happen again. I won't pass out again. No need to worry about me," Josh said in a rush.

"I didn't say I was worried about you. I'm worried about the election. And you DID eat. I watched you wolf down my breakfast AND you ate my grapefruit Margaret hid from me. I need my first string up and running, not sprawled on the carpet in my office in your sock feet, understand?"

"Yes. Yes, I understand. It won't happen again."

"Josh, I'm not admonishing you. I'm just saying, take care of yourself. I need you one hundred percent. Will you do that? Take care of yourself?"

"I will, Leo. And you've got me one hundred percent. Yesterday was just a fluke. It's all under control now."

"Josh."

"Yeah?"

"Stop trying so hard to convince me."

"Ok."

"So, you're fixing eggs?" Leo asked, his voice a little too animated.

"Yeah."

"For you . . . and . . .?"

"Sam."

"Yeah, ok."

Josh poured the eggs into the skillet and began to shove them around with the spatula. Bread waited in the toaster to be pressed down and the aroma of coffee filled the kitchen. With his other hand he turned the steaks over in the broiler.

"So then, you'd better go fix the eggs," Leo said. "I just wanted to check on you. See how you felt this morning."

"I'm fine, Leo. One hundred percent."

"Good. Well then . . ."

"Leo, do you wanna talk with Sam?" Josh asked.

"No! I . . . uh, why would I wanna talk with Sam?"

Josh smiled and wondered if Leo could hear it in his voice. "Just to say good morning. Did you sleep well? Enjoy your eggs?"

"Ok, now you're just being a smart ass. Does Sam know *I* know?"

"Yes, he does."

"And . . . ?"

"And what, Leo? This isn't breaking news for Sam and me. We've known about each other for a long time. We've kinda gotten use to the fact we're in . . ."

"Don't! Just don't . . . say . . . just don't," Leo interrupted.

Josh sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and bit down so he wouldn't laugh out loud. It was rare for him to be the one to flummox Leo rather than have Leo get the better of him. He wanted to enjoy it while he could.

"Don't say what, Leo?" Josh kept on. "That Sam and I are in love? You've been trying to extract this out of me for a long time, and now you don't wanna hear it? Well, you're gonna hear it, Leo. I love Sam Seaborn!"

"You know what?" Leo seethed. "You're mean-spirited. Dammit! Go fix your eggs!"

Leo slammed the phone in Josh's ear, which made Josh grin even more. It was a big day for him ~~ he had silenced Leo McGarry. He called Sam down for breakfast as he walked out of the kitchen.

"Sam! Steak and eggs! Get `em while they're hot!"

Then he saw Sam was already in the living room. He sat on the big club chair, one leg stretched onto the ottoman in front of him, his other draped over the chair's arm. His bare foot dangled casually near the floor. He wore black jeans and a snug, long-sleeved, solid black t-shirt; he was unshaven and uncombed. Sam was a combination of `Here I am' cool; `I don't give a fuck' casual; `Bad boy tough'; and `Don't mess with me' rough.

Josh was blown away.

"Get you while YOU'RE hot," he growled and stood in front of Sam, his legs slightly apart. He, too, had on black jeans and the Rolling Stones t-shirt that nearly got him kicked out of the MCI Arena a few years ago when he protested paying eighty-five dollars for a t-shirt with a tongue on it. He got into a shouting match with the sixteen- year-old girl behind the vendor's counter and security was called. He bought the shirt anyway. Josh also had a day's stubble on his face.

"Can I just make love to you right now?" he said.

"Is sex all you think about?" Sam smiled.

"When I see . . ." he nodded his head toward Sam " . . . THAT in front of me, yes, yes it is. All I see and think about is sex. Sex, sex, sex. Five feet, eleven and one quarter inches, one hundred and seventy-eight pounds of sex. That's all I think about. Can we make love now?"

"You said you fixed eggs."

Josh released an audible sigh and his chin fell to his chest. "I fixed eggs. Come eat breakfast, darlin'."

Sam started to stand.

"But can I at least kiss you?" Josh asked, his voice crestfallen.

Sam fell back into the soft chair cushion. "You may kiss me," he flirted.

Before the words were out of Sam's mouth, Josh had his palms on the arms of the chair and his lips to Sam's. It wasn't the passionate kiss one would have thought after Josh's bravado of `sex is all I think about' speech. It was a romantic kiss of deep love between two men who cherished each other.

Josh pulled away. "May I kiss you again?" Now it was he who played the flirt.

Sam crooked his forefinger and beckoned Josh closer. Josh didn't move. Sam slowly closed his eyes, then even more slowly, opened them half-way. The unshaven man in black with the smoky, smoldering stare was too much for Josh. This time the kiss was full of passion.

********

Josh brought their breakfast to the living room and set it on the ottoman. Sam made him put a tablecloth, tri-folded, on the furniture before he allowed him to actually set any food down. Then Josh pulled a chair up and sat across from Sam while they ate.

"Who called?" Sam asked between bites of steak.

"What?"

"You were on the phone when I came downstairs. I could hear you talking but I couldn't tell who it was."

"Leo. He wanted to see if I felt ok after what happened in his office yesterday." Josh sawed at his burnt filet.

"Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Do you feel ok? You DID faint, you know," said Sam.

"I didn't faint, I passed out. Faint makes it sound like something a girl would do."

"You ARE a girl," Sam teased.

"I'm not a girl."

"Josh! I just `girled you' on this very chair while your steak went up in flames!"

"Ok, ok! I may have been the more submissive of the two in this particular instance, but that's no reason to call me a girl."

Sam laughed. "You mensch."

As the food dwindled, so did the conversation. Both knew they were about to enter a whole new territory in their relationship. Not so much that one was going to open up to the other, but Sam was going to reveal the horrors that haunted him in the darkest places of his soul. He was about to tell Josh about stuff and situations he hadn't told anyone else in the world. Ever. And never would again. Sam would betray promises kept to his brother that he'd held inviolable for nearly thirty years. Only he and Jack knew these secrets, and Sam was certain Jack never spoke of them to anyone else. Still, in these final moments, he was unsure if he'd be able to find the words to tell Josh.

Dishes cleared and teeth brushed ~~ Josh knew it had to be done and wasn't a stall tactic ~~ they returned to the living room. Sam dropped into his chair and slouched; he sat with his legs on either side of the ottoman, his feel flat on the floor. Josh slumped into the chair across from him and propped his bare feet on the ottoman between them, knees bent. They looked at each other.

"So," said Josh.

"So," said Sam.

Silence.

"You know, baby, you have to tell me sometime."

"I know."

"It's for your own good. OUR own good," Josh continued.

"I know."

"Before we go see your family. That's just two weeks away and I want all this behind you now . . . not wait until the night before we fly out there."

"I know."

Silence.

"I need you to tell me about Jack," said Josh. "YOU need to tell me about Jack."

Silence.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

"I know."

Sam looked away and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Josh thought how much Sam reminded him of Toby just then . . . the squinted eyes, the furrowed brow, the quiet but heavy sigh of resignation mirrored Toby in every way.

"Have I told you anything about him?" Sam asked.

"Not much, not really. Just that he's the oldest of four kids and you and he aren't close anymore. You've never explained the `anymore' part. Whenever I've mentioned it you've always said, `not now' so I stopped asking."

Sam gave him a half-smile, a sad smile.

"And this I know. He gave you a dog and you named him Buck," Josh grinned. He didn't want this to be difficult for Sam, although he knew it would be.

Sam grinned back. "Yeah, Buck. He was the best."

"Whatever became of him?" Josh asked.

The smile disappeared from Sam's face. "Buck?" Sam shrugged and tried to look indifferent. "You know. Dogs . . . they die." He wasn't indifferent at all.

Silence.

"So," Josh said.

"So," Sam said.

Silence.

Then, "Tell me about Jack, Sam. Tell me now."

"Jack. Jack Seaborn. My big brother, Jack. Everybody's All- American. The golden boy, the son every Mother dreamed of, the Father's heir who could do no wrong." Sam pulled his legs up and stretched them their full length on the ottoman between Josh's bent legs. Josh moved his legs closer together so his feet were against Sam.

"You sure you're not describing yourself?" he asked.

"Trust me. Growing up with Jack as my older brother, I wasn't even close to the legacy that began the day he was born."

"Oh come on, Sam, what can a newborn baby do to make such an impression? I mean, all Dads are proud the day their son is born, but come on."

"Jack started out special. He was born on my Dad's birthday. He weighed seven pounds, seven ounces. My Dad was at Santa Anita that day and put a huge chunk of money on a horse named, get this, Lucky Jack, in the seventh race."

"You're kidding," drawled Josh, already caught up in the story.

"Nope. I know it sounds like a hokey movie script, but it's the truth. Lucky Jack was a long shot and won in a photo finish that paid eighty-to-one, if you can believe that. My Father walked away from the track that day with over a million dollars, thanks to Lucky Jack in the seventh. And a million dollars forty years ago was a whole hell of a lot more than a million dollars is today."

"Shit."

"Yeah."

"He wasn't with your Mom at the hospital while she was having the baby?" Josh asked.

Sam shook his head. "It was Dad's birthday. He wanted to go to the track with his friends."

"Reeaallly . . ." Josh sat with his mouth open while he comprehended such a thing. He licked his lips. "So when he finds out he has a son, he names him Jack, right? After the horse?"

"Well, yeah, pretty much," he laughed. "My Mother had another name picked out, but whatever my Father said was law, so Jack it was. I suppose that's a good thing ~~ he could have been named Lucky."

Josh snickered. "What did your Mom want to name him?"

Sam put his feet on Josh's shins. "Samuel."

Neither man said anything. Neither knew what to say. Then Josh broke the silence.

"It's starting to rain again."

"Uh huh."

"Good for the crops."

"Yep." Sam moved his foot to the inside of Josh's leg and ran it the length of his ankle to his knee and back down. When they made eye contact, Josh winked.

"So, does Jack have a middle name?" he asked.

"Nope. Just Jack. My Father said a child born with a predisposition toward giftedness and brilliance didn't need a third name to propel him ahead in life. So he was just named Jack."

"And your sisters?'

"Just Robin and just Megan."

Josh didn't dare speak as Sam continued.

"I guess we don't need to dwell on why my middle name is Norman. Norman! The Seaborns have been traced back to the Mayflower and there's not a single `Norman' in the whole lot of `em. Not one! Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother . . . all Members in Good Standing with the Daughters of the American Revolution along with Aunts, Great Aunts . . . not a single Norma even."

"Relax, sugar. I think Norman . . ." Josh struggled for the right word. " . . . sucks. I'm sorry, but it does. It really does."

Sam smiled. "I know. It's ok. Hey, do you want a Yoohoo?"

"Yeah," Josh said, "get us both one." Sam unfurled himself from Josh's legs and the chair, went to the kitchen, and came back with two longneck bottles in one hand. Josh knew they were in the middle of a serious discussion, but he couldn't help keep his eyes off Sam's body. Black jeans, the snug black t- shirt, the unshaven stubble on his face, those perfect bare feet . . . even his black eye gave Sam the raw look that Josh found himself attracted to more than he should be right now.

And Sam didn't just walk. He took long strides that made him seem to glide across the room. There were a few seconds of silence while both men drank, then Sam spoke again.

"I thought my brother hung the moon. I thought he made each star twinkle, and in the morning I thought the sun came up just because Jack wanted it to," Sam began.

Sam had his head in the clouds, beyond the clouds, even as a child, Josh thought. "Why did you think that?" he asked.

"Because Jack told me so."

"He told you so? And that's why you believed him?" Josh cocked his head to the side and started to make a snide remark, then stopped when he remembered the Sam they were talking about was a little boy and would believe anything his older brother told him. So if Jack said `I hung the moon, I make the stars twinkle, I make the sun come up in the morning, just because I want it to', of course Sam knew it to be true.

"Yes, it was. I listened to and believed every word Jack said. I followed him everywhere. I wanted to be like him, I TRIED to be like him in fact, and failed miserably. I guess it went beyond big brother worship. I was obsessed with Jack. He was my world," Sam explained.

"Thank God you failed," Josh mumbled.

"What?"

"I just asked, what were you to him?"

"For a time . . . when I was young . . . I was his everything as well. It was perfect." Sam flashed a smile that faded quickly. "For a time when we're ALL young it seems like everything is perfect, doesn't it? Then something dreadful happens and we're not young anymore. It can strike at any age. Even when we're children we can stop being young and innocent." Sam closed his eyes.

Josh drained his bottle, set it on the floor, and waited. Yes, everything had been perfect when he was young. Then something dreadful happened and Joanie died in a fire and things were never the same. He hated the loss of his childhood, the loss of his innocence, the loss of Joanie.

He and Sam entwined their legs with the others' on the ottoman and he waited some more. This had been a long time coming and he could be patient a while longer. When Sam opened his eyes he continued.

"I lived every little boy's dream ~~ to have THE PERFECT big brother," he said. "He was enough older so that he could take me to the cool places without our parents, you know, like the beach? We were always at the beach." Sam's voice took on a child-like enthusiasm and he told his story like it happened yesterday.

Josh knew Sam was unaware that he hopped back and forth over a thirty- year time span as he spoke. Josh didn't stop him. This is what he'd wanted from Sam, and he let him go with it. He would stay with Sam every second on his journey and keep him safe. That was his covenant to Sam and he intended to uphold it with every fiber of his being.

"He took me with him to the beach and I thought I was something else, being with him and the big guys," Sam went on. "It wasn't far from our house. We could just go down this trail at the edge of our property, out by the cliffs. It was all beautiful lawn out to the cliffs, then all you could see was the Pacific Ocean straight ahead, but on both sides it was foliage of every sort. And we'd made a trail that wound down to the beach. We'd go past our tree fort, that was about half-way, then the trail came out right onto the whitest beach surrounded by these huge rocks. I mean, these were boulders, so it was like our own private beach. Then we could go past the rocks, and it was nothing but beach for as far as we could see. It was a child's paradise, Josh. Me and Jack, we lived on that beach."

Josh nodded. He didn't like the beach so much. He had a feeling he was about to like it even less.

"After we were there a while he'd say, `Let's swim to China, Sodapop' and I'd literally leap up toward him and he'd catch me in mid-soar." Sam smiled and gave a little laugh at the thought. "Mid-soar. That sounds funny now, but that's how it was. I'd actually be airborne and he'd catch me. I always knew he would. He always catches me, no matter what, Jack is always there to catch me."

"Caught you."

"What?"

"He caught you."

"That's what I said."

Josh let it go. Already Sam had started to drift in and out of past and present tense and to try and correct him at every turn would only muddy the water. He just let it go.

"Yeah, ok," he said instead. "So he caught you."

"Yeah, and I'd wrap my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck like a monkey. Sometimes he calls me a little monkey." Sam laughed softly and pulled his bottom lip into his mouth. His eyes twinkled while he watched the scene unfold before him.

"Jack had lots of nicknames for me and `little monkey' was one of them because I climbed all over him. He was tall. Well, he still IS tall, but he was tall then too, when he was a kid, and I'd just climb him like a tree. He'd be standing there talking to his friends and I'd just climb around on him and he'd keep on talking like nothing was going on. But he makes sure I'm ok, that I have a good grip and everything. He's always aware of every move I make. He watches me all the time."

Sam leaned his head back and finished off his Yoohoo. He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve.

"I'd be wrapped around him and he'd wade out in the surf. The waves came crashing down on us and he'd hold my head against chest so the water wouldn't slam down on me." Sam raised his hand and brought it down in a hard blow to simulate the wave. "Then he'd take me way out. Way, way out where it was really deep and in retrospect, it was probably TOO deep because he was just a kid himself then. I'm talking about when he was like eleven and I was three. I mean, Jack already had a ga-zillion trophies and ribbons from swimming competitions and was certified in SCUBA diving and had four different surfboards for different types of waves and he practically lived in the water so I was safe, but thinking about it now . . ." Sam's voice became serious, "if I was a parent and the thought of my three-year- old . . . well I just wouldn't want him being out in the ocean as far as Jack took me. No life jacket, no surfboard to hold into, nothing with buoyancy at all. It frightens me to think about it."

Sam looked at Josh and smiled broadly for just an instant then the smile went away as quickly as it had come. "That wasn't a good thing," Sam continued. "Jack shouldn't have done that to him. Sam didn't need to be out there all tangled up . . . he was just a little boy and anything could have happened out there. Maybe Sam trusted Jack too much but when a little boy is three years old, you can't expect him . . ."

"Sam?"

"Huh?"

"You're talking about yourself in third person."

Sam smiled tentatively and shook his head a little. "What?"

"You said, `Sam didn't need to be out there and `Maybe Sam trusted Jack'. You're talking about yourself in third person, honey. Don't . . . do that, ok?"

It took a moment for Sam to realize he'd wandered away. He tried to laugh it off. "See what good sex, good food, and a Yoohoo will do to a person's mind?"

But Josh didn't laugh. He thought of what he'd heard and tried to imagine what could possibly have gone wrong in this inexplicable relationship to cause the massive damage it did, what tore these two brothers so far apart they don't speak for years at a time. Then when they do, one seems to take pleasure while he emotionally torments the other, and the other not only seems to expect it, but is willing to take it. Josh tried to imagine what he'd do if he had five minutes with Joanie.

Josh worried about Sam's thought process. He knew it was part of drudging up the memories; still, it unnerved him to hear Sam drift in and out of time and presence.

"Just a slip of the tongue," Sam went on. "Where was I?"

"Jack would say, `Let's swim to China, Sodapop' and you'd cling to him like a little monkey and he'd start out through the surf and it would be crashing around you but Jack would protect you, then he'd take you way out in the ocean where it was real deep."

Sam laughed. "You've been paying attention!"

"When it's important," Josh replied, "I always pay attention."

"Yeah, well, I don't know how important any of this is. Or was. Its just history. There's no sentimental value attached to any of this information, Josh, no emotional connections. I'm just giving you a historical account of what happened. And only because you've asked to know before the reunion. I have no interest in re-hashing it. Be clear on that."

Josh nodded. He didn't believe it for an instant, but he wasn't going to say that. "So talk," he said. "For historical purposes."

"When can I go get my Jaguar?"

"You're not getting the Jaguar and you know it."

"Yeah, but I forgot why."

Josh laughed. "You know why. It's British."

"Are we at war with the British again?" Sam asked.

"I haven't checked the morning paper, but I don't think so."

"Then tell me again why. I really wanted that Jag."

"It's British. We buy only American-made cars," Josh explained.

"Oh, yeah. So that's why I'm getting a . . . Chrysler Sebring."

"Don't say it like that. It's a nice car. Top of the line, limited edition, Satin Onxy Pearl with Taupe interior."

"That's green, right?" asked Sam.

"Yeah, a fancy name for green. You picked it out. You liked it. It's got all the amenities of the Jaguar."

Sam gave Josh a `give-me-a-break' look

"Ok, not ALL the amenities of the Jaguar, but look how much money you're saving."

"When can we go get it?" Sam asked again.

"They're going to deliver it."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"But what happened to that resplendent, time-honored feeling of driving a new car off the lot?" Sam protested. "Of realizing the value of your brand new automobile just depreciated to used car status as soon as the back wheels hit the pavement of the public roadway?"

"The delivery guy can tell you about it. We need to do this."

"I wanted to take a drive."

"Exactly why we're having it delivered. If we picked it up and you got behind that wheel, we'd never get you out of it. Get back in the ocean with Jack," ordered Josh.

"Yeah, yeah. So we'd get out there in the water and that's when Jack and I . . . " Sam's voice slowed. " . . . that's when Jack and I would have our private talks. He called it `brother-to-brother' time. There was nobody else around and we were, uh, right there as close as two bodies could be, face-to-face, and those are the times Jack taught me, um, things I needed to, uh, needed to know."

Sam shifted in his chair. Josh stayed quiet and let him talk.

"Of course, this didn't happen just when I was three years old. We continued our `brother-to-brother' time until I was . . ."

"Until you were . . .? How old, Sam?"

"I can't remember."

"Sure you can. Think about it a minute."

Sam picked at a piece of lint that wasn't on the arm of the chair. Josh knew Sam didn't have to think about it. Josh knew Sam would never forget the last time Jack took him out into the ocean for their last `brother-to-brother' talk.

"How old were you, Sam?" Josh asked again.

"Maybe, I don't know, maybe fourteen, yeah, I was fourteen. Then it stopped. It just abruptly stopped. And as I grew I didn't have to cling to him like a little monkey either. By the time I was four I was winning my own swimming competitions and soon after I was surfing and sailing. Like Jack, I pretty much lived in the water. Still, every day we'd go way out in the ocean and have our private talks."

Josh wanted to ask why it abruptly stopped when Sam turned fourteen, but it wasn't the right time. He made a mental note to ask about it later, but figured he probably wouldn't have to. He knew it was crucial to what had happened between Sam and Jack.

"So even as you grew up you'd still have your `brother-to-brother' time?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. Once we got out real deep, Jack would pull me close and I'd wrap my arms and legs around him so we could talk face-to-face. Jack liked the intimacy. He, uh, he insisted on the intimacy."

"What about you?"

"What ABOUT me?" asked Sam.

"How did you feel about the intimacy? The closeness. Wrapping your arms and legs around Jack to have your `brother-to-brother' talks?

"Josh! What are you implying?"

"I'm just saying . . ."

"Well don't say it, because . . ."

"Because what, Sam?"

"It wasn't like that. Jack would watch out for me and protect me and I never felt so safe as when I was with him. It was like . . . it was like he would be doing things, you know, with his friends, but he always had his eye on me playing in the sand or if I'd wander into the surf and get just a few feet out by myself, all of a sudden Jack would be there and scoop me up in his arms and hug me to him and kiss me all over and say, `Don't scare me like that, Bunny. I don't want you to go to China without me'. He was just taking care of me."

"He called you Bunny?" Josh could help but smirk.

"When I was little, yeah. You got a problem with that?" There was more than a trace of defensiveness in Sam's voice.

"No, I think it's cute."

"Jack has nicknames for everybody. He still does. He called our Mother `Mumsy' and he always used this exaggerated Cockney accent when he said it. `Mumsy! Mumsy!' She loved it." Sam imitated his brother and laughed at himself. "He calls Robin `Feather' and Megan, he calls her `Shamrock'."

"What did he call your Father?" asked Josh.

"Father."

"Ah, did Jack have a nickname?"

"He didn't need one. He was just Jack. And that was enough. Anybody, anywhere, any time, could just say the name `Jack' and it was known they were talking about Jack Seaborn. Like I said before, he was everybody's everything."

"So you grew up really close to your brother."

"Yeah. Really close. When I was young."

Sam and Josh looked at each other and locked eyes. They both wished they were in each other's arms. They both also knew Sam had to tell this story.

"You ok?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. "Yeah. Are you ok?"

Josh smiled. "Yeah. Tell me about your parents."

"My Dad . . ."

"Daniel," Josh interrupted.

"Daniel," Sam confirmed. "My Dad worked a lot so he and I were pretty much . . . and still are . . . strangers."

"He's a lawyer?

"He carries on the name of `Seaborn and Sons, Attorneys at Law'. I should be partner there now. That was the plan."

"His or yours?"

"Am I there? No. I believe you plucked me from the grasp of Gage- Whitney, not Seaborn and Sons."

"You never worked for your Father, did you," Josh stated, more than asked.

"Not so much. He wanted me to intern for him the summer of my freshman year at Princeton . . ."

"We met that fall, just as you were entering Princeton."

"Yes, we did."

"Right before I left for England on my Fulbright Scholarship."

"Yeah."

"Sam, I came home that summer and we . . . you didn't go back to California. You didn't tell me your Dad wanted you to work for him," said Josh.

"No."

Josh held Sam's leg between his feet and ran them up and down between his ankle and his knee.

"Why didn't you go back?" he asked.

Sam put his forefinger to his lips then pointed it at Josh. "Because you came home that summer."

Josh looked at Sam and saw him when he was eighteen; young and fresh faced, an ever-present grin, blue eyes sparkling, his hair neat and trim, barely shaving then. No rough stubble, no black eye, no need for a haircut because he worked in the West Wing of the White House.

"My Dad," Sam continued, "is a hard man to get close to. He's always believed things should be done a certain way and any deviance from that is wrong. And he doesn't hesitate to let it be known that something is wrong."

"So he came down on you kids?"

"Jack never did anything wrong. I told you that. And never, ever the girls."

"Oh, come on, Sam. Nobody, not even Jack, is perfect."

Sam didn't respond.

"Sam."

No answer.

"Sam, be reasonable."

"My Dad let me know when I was wrong."

"Sam, Jack isn't perfect."

"You said you wanted to hear about my parents. Do you want to hear about my parents or do you want to argue about my perception of my brother?"

Josh began to understand why and he and Sam had never had this conversation before. Sam lived in a fantasy world when it came to his brother, a fantasy world that wasn't a good place for him but he wouldn't let himself admit it. Josh was afraid this world was darker than even Sam realized, a place only he and Jack knew about, and if he talked about it out loud, it wouldn't be a fantasy anymore but would become real. And Sam didn't want that to be part of his life.

"I'm sorry. Did your Mother work?"

Sam smiled at the mention of his Mother. His eyes crinkled when he spoke of her. "Mother was a teacher and loved her career. I've never known anyone who cherished education like she did. But it kept her out of the house a great deal, and she was extremely busy. When she wasn't involved with school, she was doing the social things expected of a high-powered attorney's wife. She entertained a lot in our house and she had to go out and be seen on the arm of my Father a lot. When she WAS home it seemed like the girls needed all her attention and I kinda got lost in the shuffle."

"And the girls are how much older than you?"

"Four years. Jack is eight years older than me, and the twins are four years older. Than me, that is."

Josh smiled at Sam. "And I got the cream of the crop," he said. "Lucky me."

"I never thanked you for fixing breakfast," Sam replied. "So lucky me."

Josh didn't want to hear any more of Sam's story. He knew it was going to get ugly. Real ugly. But it was he who had asked, and had insisted on today, and he still wanted to know everything that was to know about Sam's life ~~ the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly.

But right now he wanted to hold him in his arms and love on him. He knew if he did, though, the story wouldn't get told.

"You're welcome for breakfast," he said instead. "Lucky us. You ready to go on?"

Sam nodded. "Well, because my parents were so preoccupied with their careers and gone so much, Jack pretty much took over and basically raised me. Hell, he DID raise me. He and I developed a bond closer than most brothers. He bathed me, dressed me, took me everywhere, helped me with my homework . . . Jack did it all. He was with me ten times more than my real Dad." Sam closed his eyes and let his head rest against the back of the chair.

"Sometimes I used to wish Jack was married to my Mom and my Dad wasn't even around at all. There's probably something really warped in that reasoning, don't you think?"

Sam opened his eyes and looked at Josh. "Wonder what Stanley would say about that? It's a rhetorical question ~~ you don't have to answer."

"Good, because I don't have a clue how to respond to that one. Did you think about that a lot?"

"About what?"

"Wishing Jack was your Dad?"

"I don't know. Some, I guess. Why?"

Josh shrugged. "Just from that phone call last night, I can't imagine why anybody would want THAT for a Father."

"He took care of me."

"He treats you like shit now."

"But he . . ."

"Sam! Listen to me! Listen to yourself! Listen to JACK! You've gotta stand up to him when we go to California. You know it and I know it."

"Ok! Ok! I will! Just don't, don't yell at me about it right now."

Josh backed off. "Do you two look alike? You and Jack?" he asked.

"No, not so much. Not at all, really, except that we both have really good posture and are obsessed with oral hygiene."

"Well, posture and good teeth ARE important," Josh smirked.

Sam ignored him and became intense. "You know who he looks like? You know who Jack looks so much like it's scary?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Simon! Simon Donovan. The first time I saw Simon, I swear to God, Josh, I thought it was Jack. And whenever I'm around Simon, I get this weird feeling in my stomach."

"Hey, hey, hey," Josh exclaimed. "Don't be getting any `feelings' around Simon. I have absolutely no doubt I could take him in a battle of wits with both my brains tied behind my back, but if he chose fisticuffs, I'd be a dead man, Sam, and you'd be Simon's bitch."

Sam broke out in laughter and that sounded good to them both. "I've got a win-win situation here. Simon is HOT and I can look all I want. But you're HOTTER and you're the one I get to come home with."

"Damn straight he's hot. That's why I don't want you having any `feelings' around him, understand lad?"

Sam snickered. "Lad? Lad is a dog's name."

"Where? When? Who?" Josh was lost.

"The movie. `Lad, A Dog'."

"That was the name of a movie? `Lad, A Dog'?" asked Josh.

"Yes! You never saw that? Kinda like `Ole Yeller'."

Josh held up his hand, palm facing Sam. "Ok, ok. Stop right there. Don't get me started on `Ole Yeller' or the song `Ole Shep'. Stop right now or I'll leave the building."

Sam opened his mouth to speak, then decided against it. Things were going to get rough enough. He didn't want Josh to sit there and cry over fictitious dead dogs. They'd been down that road before and he didn't want Josh sobbing because of sad dog songs.

"Sorry. So, can we go back to talking about Simon being hot?" he teased.

"No! We can go back to talking about Jack being your quote, unquote, perfect brother."

Sam put his heel on top of Josh's knee. "I love you, Josh, my quote, unquote, perfect husband."

"I love you too, baby." Josh looked at Sam and their eyes locked. "Wanna get on the couch together instead of these chairs?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "I need to be close to you."

Josh stood and reached his hand out to Sam.

Sam took a couple of seconds before he moved. He looked up at Josh, arm outstretched, hand open, as he waited for Sam to take it. Just then it struck Sam how steady Josh's hand was; strong, firm, and unwavering, Sam knew Josh's hand wouldn't move until Sam took hold of it. He knew Josh would stand there all night if that's what it took. He reached up and put his hand in Josh's.

Josh clasped it and held on like he'd never let go, then pulled Sam up from the chair. As soon as he stood, Sam was in Josh's embrace. They stood quietly and held each other; both took comfort in the closeness of the man they loved. Rain hit the windowpane. After a few minutes, Josh broke the silence.

"You need to use the bathroom or anything before we pick this up again?" Josh asked.

"You know what? I do. And I wanna brush my teeth after drinking that Yoohoo. And don't roll your eyes!" he admonished just as Josh rolled his eyes. "You can't go wrong with good oral hygiene, Josh. Our teeth are our friends. You be good to them and . . ."

" . . . they'll be good to you," they finished in unison.

********

Sam and Josh sat in the middle of the bed and faced each other. Josh took both of Sam's hands in his. He wanted to get this over with.

"So, Jack was a cool guy, huh?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"Just tell me, Sam. Don't make me have to pull this out of you."

Sam took a deep breath and squeezed Josh's hands. "Yeah, he was a cool guy. They didn't come any better. He took such care of me, Josh. I know you think he was bad to me, but he wasn't. Every night Jack would tuck me into bed. Every single night. It started from my earliest memories and continued even when he got older and was dating and out on his own more. No matter what time he got home, he'd come into my room and sit on the side of my bed and make sure I was ok before he went to his own room. And he'd always say, `Sweet dreams, Bunny'. I can hear him say that right now, as clear as if he was right here, right in this room."

"That sounds nice, Sam. Knowing your big brother was going to come in and tell you good-night and make sure you were covered up and had a drink of water and stuff like that."

"It WAS nice. Sometimes I'd wake up and he'd talk to me a little, his voice real low, until I went back to sleep. He might tell me a story or just tell me what he did on his date or if he was out with his friends. Sometimes he'd say, `Come here, little monkey' and I'd wrap around him like out in the water and he'd sit in my rocking chair and I'd lay on his chest with my arms and legs around him and he'd rock us and we'd have our brother-to-brother time. I liked that a lot. Then sometimes he'd . . . he'd lay down on the bed beside me until I fell . . . fell asleep."

"So, you liked that? Him tucking you in every night?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. "He takes real good care of me. Every night Jack tucks me in my bed. No matter what time he gets home, he comes into my room and sits on the side of my bed and makes sure I'm ok before he goes to his own room. And he always says, `Sweet dreams, Bunny'."

"Sam. You just said that."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"Josh . . ."

"It made you feel safe? It made you feel safe when you were a little boy?" Josh wanted to bring Sam back to the present.

"Yeah. It did when the lights were out and it was dark. I was terrified of the dark. I don't know why, but I was. I always tried to stick it out because I knew Jack would come home eventually. I'd try to listen for his car in the driveway or him coming in the door or up the stairs. I was so scared of that pitch-blackness, Josh, I would cry."

"If you were so scared of the dark, why didn't your parents buy a nightlight for you?"

Sam looked down at the bedspread and started to pull his hands from Josh's grasp. Josh was quicker than Sam and caught them.

"I, uh, I asked Jack if I . . . if I could have one . . . a nightlight . . . and he said, uh, no, that n . . .n . . .nightlights were for . . . sissies. I was pretty young when I asked for it. I shouldn't have."

"You were a little boy. It was ok to have a nightlight. Did you ask your Mom?"

"Not at first. I didn't want Jack to think I was a sissy." Sam looked away, embarrassed. "Then I got more and more scared so I finally did and she got me one."

"How old were you then, Sam?"

"About six. Maybe six."

"So Jack was fourteen, but he couldn't have been driving," Josh reasoned.

"No, his friends did. He had older friends who drove and he'd hang out with them. But I know he drove their cars sometimes even before he had his license."

"Ok, I understand now. So your Mom got you a nightlight. Then everything was ok?"

Sam still wouldn't make eye contact with Josh. His voice had become softer and softer and now he spoke barely above a whisper. At times Josh had to strain to hear him.

"My Mom put it in the thing for me, the wall thing, the outlet, and when she turned out the big light, the nightlight made it bright enough so it wasn't so scary. I could see things. It wasn't all black anymore."

"Did you like that better?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. "Yeah."

"Was Jack ok with it?"

Sam shook his head, almost in slow motion. "No. Jack . . . Jack came home that night . . . it was real late. I was already asleep and didn't hear him. I remem . . .remem . . ."

"Remember," Josh offered.

"Yeah. Jack grabbed my arm and . . . and he pulled me out of bed and dragged me over to the n . . . n . . . nightlight. It was real scary, Josh, because Jack had never hurt me before and now he was. At first I thought it was a bad dream. He pulled me over there and, uh, he, uh, he pushed my face down by the, uh, by the nightlight and he, uh, my head hit the wall and he said, `What IS that?' and at first I didn't say anything because I was too, you know, I was afraid, so he said it again. He said, `What IS that, you little sh . . . shit?' and I was crying and I said it was a night . . . a nightlight and he yanked me up by my arm and it hurt real bad and he pulled me so hard I came up off the, uh, off the floor. Then he jerked it out of the wall and dropped it on the floor and he, uh, put his foot on it and crushed it and it broke and I could hear it crunch but I couldn't see it because it was d . . dark again. Then Jack, he grabbed my head and it h . . hurt and whispered in my ear, and it wasn't like he ever sounded before. Always before he whispered good things, good secret things, but that night he said, `You're a little sissy girl, afraid of the dark. Sissies and faggots are scared of the dark. I'm ashamed of you.' Then he said the worst thing he could ever say. He said, `I don't know if I'm gonna let you be my little bro . . . bro . . ."

"Brother."

"Yeah, brother. `I don't know if I'm gonna let you be my little brother anymore.' Then he let go of me."

Josh was about to go ballistic. He couldn't make fists because Sam clung to his hands. He couldn't yell because that would startle Sam. He had to stay calm so Sam would keep talking. Inside, though, Josh wept for the child.

"What did you do, Angel?" he asked gently.

"I . . . I . . . I wet my pajamas."

Josh grimaced. He didn't want to hear what came next.

"I told Jack I peed on myself," Sam continued. "He turned on the light and carried me into the bathroom. He took my pajamas off and washed me and the whole time he told me it was ok, not to worry about it, accidents happen, and he wouldn't tell anybody. He said it was our s . . . s . . . secret, just like our brother-to-brother talks. Those were secret too. Then he dried me off, tickled me a little bit, helped me get into fresh pjs, and threw me over his shoulder and carried me back to bed. Then he cleaned up the little bit of pee that got on the floor and the crushed nightlight. And after that . . ."

Sam grew quiet again.

"After that what?"

"After that he took his clothes off and got in bed with me, said `Sweet dreams, Bunny' and slept the rest of the night with me cuddled in his arms."

"Look at me, Sam," Josh said.

He didn't.

"Sam, look at me," Josh repeated.

He didn't.

Josh pulled his hand from Sam's grasp and put it under Sam's chin. He raised it until Sam's face was even with his own. "Look at me," he said again.

Sam looked into Josh's eyes.

"How can you remember this incident in such vivid detail?" Josh asked. "You can recall it like it happened yesterday. Why is THIS so engrained in your mind?"

"I suppose because it's the first time Jack purposely hurt my physically. My arm continued to hurt so a couple of days later my Mother took me to our pediatrician and my shoulder was dislocated. Whey they asked me how it happened, I told them I fell off my bike."

"Shit, baby, I'm sorry." He stroked the side of Sam's face.

"I need something to drink," Sam said. "You wanna go or you want me to?"

"I'll go," said Josh. "You just take it easy."

As soon as Josh left the bedroom, Sam fell back on the bed and put his hand on his penis through his jeans. He knew the worst was still to come and he didn't want to talk about it, didn't want Josh to know what had been done to him. He caressed himself as he tried to think of a way to avoid the rest of the story, but he knew that was impossible. He had promised Josh he would tell him everything about Jack, and he wouldn't go back on his word.

Sam felt himself start to get hard from his own hand. He stopped. Did I get turned on because I touched myself? he thought, or were my thoughts on Josh? Was it because we talked about Simon? Or no, please God, don't let it be Jack.

At that moment Sam had the strongest urge to be fucked by Simon Donovan. He'd looked at Simon before, let his eyes linger, and he knew Josh had too. They'd just joked about it downstairs. But he'd never let his imagination go beyond noticing how handsome he is . . . how much he resembles his brother. Right now he couldn't get the image of Simon out of his head . . . and that image fucked him. It fucked him and fucked him and it wouldn't stop and he didn't try to stop it.

"Head's up, babe!"

Sam jerked out of his thoughts and looked up just in time to catch the bottle of water Josh had tossed to him. He hoped for a beer, but knew that wasn't likely. He wished he had a joint, but there was nothing in the house and there was no way he was going to get any more pot. It would be nice right about now, but no, he was done with that. Sam twisted the cap off the bottle and took a drink of water.

"I want you to hold me, Josh," he said.

Josh didn't notice the beads of sweat on Sam's forehead or the bulge in his jeans. He got on the bed and punched and fluffed each pillow before he propped it against the headboard until there was a heap of over-stuffed pillows.

Josh fell back on them and held his arm out for Sam. "Come on, Angel."

Sam rolled to the center of the bed and into place next to Josh. He put his arm across Josh's chest and shifted until he had filled the nooks and empty spaces between them and was satisfied they were as close as they could be. Josh put his arm around Sam and pulled him in just a scootch closer and fingered the hair curled around Sam's ear. Then he put his palm on Sam's face and ran his thumb up and down his cheek.

"Did Jack do this to help you get to sleep?" Josh asked.

"Hmmm?"

"The way I'm rubbing my thumb up and down your cheek. Does this make you sleepy, Bunny?"

Sam knocked Josh's hand away and was off the bed before Josh realized what had happened. Sam stood in the middle of the bedroom and glared at Josh with a hatred Josh had never seen before. His blue eyes had turned black. His jaw was clenched and his breath labored. His arms hung at his sides, his hands balled into fists and ready to fight. He took a stance of offense or defense, whichever he thought he might need.

"Don't touch me," he hissed.

Josh balanced on his knees on the bed. "Sam? Sammy? It's Josh."

"Don't touch me," Sam repeated.

"Samuel Lyman Seaborn. This is Joshua Seaborn Lyman. We're married. I love you. I'm not gonna hurt you."

Josh was scared. What was I thinking? Stupid! Stupid! He moved toward the edge of the bed.

"Don't touch me!" Sam yelled.

"I'm not! I'm not gonna touch you! Please, calm down. This is Josh, it's Josh, baby."

"What about Jack?" Sam asked, his eyes wide.

"What ABOUT Jack?" Josh got off the bed and stood next to it.

"Is he here?"

"No, darlin'. Jack isn't here. Just you and me. Nobody's here to hurt you." He took a step closer to Sam.

"Is Jack downstairs? Sam looked at the door then back at Josh.

"No. Just you and me. I swear."

Sweat ran down Sam's face now and his eyes had a wild look in them. He wasn't convinced. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," Josh said. "Sam, please sit down on the bed with me and let's talk about this. You're scaring me."

"You're scared? YOU'RE scared? You don't know what scared, is, Josh. Not unless you were raped when you were six years old. Raped by the one person in the whole world you thought would protect you from everything bad. Brother-to-brother time bullshit! Sure, we talked. But my perfect big brother Jack, crown prince of Pacific Palisades, also used that time to stick his finger up my ass! And touch me in places . . . places he shouldn't have touched me. And make me do the same things to him and worse."

"Sam, I didn't know . . ."

"Nobody knows! Not a goddamn fucking person on the planet knows but Jack and me! He did it when I was six, when I was seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . and with each year it got more involved, more complicated, more intimate, more lurid, more ugly, more repulsive, and the more I hated him, the more I loved him, the more I couldn't wait to be alone with him, the more I wanted him to drown in the ocean, the more I wanted him to touch me, the more I wanted to drown MYSELF in the ocean, the more I wanted him to go to jail! And all this time, Josh, he and his friends were on `faggot patrol'. They'd actually go out and harass the gay kids and beat `em up just because they were gay, then Jack would come home and in the total darkness of my bedroom, he'd put his dick in my mouth and make me give him a blowjob. Get out of my way, Josh. Go over by the bathroom."

"Why? What are you gonna do, Sam?"

"Go. Over. By the bathroom, Josh. Now." Sam was emphatic. Sam was angrier than Josh had ever seen him.

Josh did as he was told.

Sam left the bedroom and went across the hall to the spare bedroom. He opened the closet and reached for a box on the top shelf. Josh followed him but kept his distance. Sam set the box on the floor and knelt down beside it. He took the top off and tossed it aside. Inside was purple velvet. Sam pulled the fabric open and inside laid a revolver.

"Sam! What the hell?"

Sam whirled around. "I didn't . . . you weren't supposed to see . . ."

"Well, I DID see. What in the hell are you doing with a gun? Where'd you get that?"

Sam flipped the velvet over the weapon. "I, uh, I just got it for protection," he explained. The fire had gone out of his eyes. He was on the defense now.

"Protection my ass! Sam, we've talked about this and agreed, no guns in the house. Where'd you get that and what the fuck are you doing with it now? What's going on? Talk to me!"

Josh grabbed Sam by the collar of his t-shirt and pulled him to a standing position. "Tell me where you got that and tell me now, Sam! Where? And don't say you walked into K-Mart and bought it, because I know better. Who got that gun for you?"

Sam pressed his lips together. He wouldn't look at Josh. He twisted and turned his head and looked everywhere BUT at Josh. Finally Josh grabbed Sam by the hair on the back of his head and jerked him up so he faced Josh.

"Where'd you get that gun?" he demanded.

Sam looked into Josh's eyes. Josh looked into Sam's eyes. Neither blinked. Neither looked away. Finally Sam closed his eyes with the child's belief that if he couldn't see Josh, Josh couldn't see him.

"Marc. I bought it from Marc, ok?" he said softly.

Josh let go of Sam's hair.

"Give it to me," Josh said.

"What?"

"You heard me. Give me the gun."

"You hate guns, Josh. You don't want this," Sam argued.

"I want that gun, Sam. If you won't give it to me, I'll call Marc myself and buy my own."

"Josh," Sam said, "now you're just talking crazy. Why do you want a gun?"

Josh stood quietly for a moment. He ran his hand through Sam's hair and kissed him on the forehead. "First I'm gonna kill Marc," he said softly, "then I'm gonna use it to kill Jack." "At Home" ~~ Chapter 60

Sam's feet barely touched the steps as he ran down them and through the living room. He grabbed Josh's keys off the table and opened the door.

"I'll be back!" he called out and was just as quickly gone. "Whoa! Sam! Sammy, wait up!" Josh was right behind him. He picked up a pair of tennis shoes at the bottom of the stairs, grabbed two jackets off the coat tree, and ran to catch up with Sam. He reached him just as he slammed the car door. Josh bent down and knocked on the passenger side window.

"Sam! Let me in!" he yelled through the glass.

Sam ignored him.

"Come on, Sam! Please? Let me go with you!"

Rain fell harder by the second. Sam turned to Josh. Drops of water had begun to bounce off Josh's face. More rain ran down his cheeks and one stubborn raindrop dangled at the tip of his nose. Sam couldn't help but smile just a little.

Josh banged on the car window with an open palm. He was scared. He didn't know Sam's frame of mind, except that it wasn't good. He didn't know what he was thinking. After their tangle over the gun, Sam had run out of the spare bedroom, down the stairs, and now here he was in the car in a rush to find the right key to start the engine.

"Please Sam, let me in!"

Sam raised his eyebrows and gave a slight shrug that gestured toward the passenger side door. Josh grabbed the handle, pulled the door open, and jumped in the car.

"You son-of-a-bitch!" Josh yelled. "It wasn't even locked! You made me stand out there in the pouring down rain and the door was unlocked the whole time? One of these days, Sam . . ."

"Yeah, but not today."

Sam glanced over his left shoulder, saw an opportunity if he moved fast, stepped on the accelerator, and raced into traffic and into the left lane, inches ahead of a Hummer and a limo.

"Dammit, Sam, you couldn't even see that limo! Slow it down to about ninety, will you?"

"You wanted to come. Do you wanna drive, too?" Sam didn't sound angry, just matter-of-fact.

Josh looked around. "Uh, no."

"Ok then," Sam said.

"Ok," Josh replied.

"Fine."

"Fine."

Sam glanced at Josh and regretted being harsh with him. He reached for Josh's hand and brought it to his lap. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I saw the limo. Do you think I'd risk getting into a wreck and getting your car all messed up?" He squeezed Josh's hand. "Put your seatbelt on."

"Awww, Sam, what a nice thing to say . . ." Josh started.

"Cause then you'd wanna drive MY new car and there's no way in hell THAT'S gonna happen."

"Just GOTTA push it, don't you?"

They both laughed and it felt good. They needed a break. Josh was glad to be out of the townhouse, even if he had no idea where they were headed.

"Where we headed?" he asked. Josh bent over and put his tennis shoes on. He looked over and noticed Sam was still barefoot.

"Nowhere." Sam's voice suddenly went sullen. The laughter was gone. He had returned to the same Sam who had rushed out of the townhouse not long before.

Dammit, Josh thought. Leave it to me to screw things up. Just shut up and ride. He reached for Sam's hand, but Sam put it on the steering wheel before Josh could make contact. Josh knew he timed it that way.

A minute later Sam shoved a CD in and turned the volume up. Brian Setzer's "Jump, Jive and Wail" permeated the car.

Josh took that as his cue to cease and desist all conversation from this point forth. He also wondered when Sam planned to turn on the windshield wipers. He couldn't see a thing through the drizzled glass and only hoped Sam could. Under different circumstances he would have reached over and flipped them on himself, but not today. Sam's emotions were all over the place and he didn't want to alter Sam's thoughts one way or the other. The day had been volatile enough already.

If things were negative, so be it. Sam had a shitload of things to work through and just as Sam had weathered the storm while Josh fought his way out of hell, so would Josh let Sam run the gamut with his own personal Idaho and not try to sandbag his difficult memories and feelings with weak attempts to `cheer him up'.

"That," Dr. Neilson had said, "is the last thing a person in his frame of mind wants or needs. Besides, you can't do it."

Sam had to go THROUGH the crap if he wanted to come out the other side and put it behind him once and for all. It's not something a person can just go AROUND.

It's really a shitty thing to have to do, Josh thought. I know that oh-too-well. And Sam was with me the whole way, just like I'll be with him. Although Josh could BE with Sam through it all, he couldn't DO it for him, as much as he wanted, and would if he could.

"Wanna flip those wipers on there?" Josh finally asked.

Sam used one finger and turned them on. Immediately the windshield was clear and Josh could see what was around him. He sighed with relief when he realized they weren't on the sidewalk or headed the wrong way down a one-way street as his imagination had led him to believe.

Sam drove fast ~~ too fast for Josh's liking, but he didn't say anything. Traffic was heavy for a rainy Saturday and Sam crossed lanes and darted in front of cars as if they weren't there. Josh knew Sam was careful . . . it just didn't feel like it from Josh's perspective as a passenger.

Sam turned off Wilson Boulevard into Adams Park. Gratefully, Sam slowed down to almost a crawl as he followed the road through the park, halfway around the lake, and stopped near the gazebo. When he turned off the ignition the music came to an abrupt halt. The only sound was the metallic tap dance of the rain on the car. Sam gripped the steering wheel with both hands and leaned forward until his forehead rested on it.

Josh sat back in his seat and waited to see what would happen next.

Five minutes passed without a word. Then Sam turned his head toward Josh at a sideways angle, still on the steering wheel, and just looked at him for a few seconds with absolutely no emotion on his face. His voice barely above a whisper Sam said, "I cherish you."

Then in one slick move, he unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door, bolted from the car, slammed the door behind him, and sprinted to the gazebo. When he got there, he was soaked. Under the roof of the dry, wooden latticework structure, Sam shook his head and a spray of rainwater splayed out in an arc around him. He spread his fingers and ran both hands through his hair. He couldn't remember when it had been this long. Then he shook his head again and his hair lay perfectly.

Josh watched from the car. He didn't know if he should follow or not, didn't know if Sam expected him to or wanted him to ~~ or just hoped he'd stay in the car and leave him alone. Then it dawned on Josh it wasn't so important what Sam wanted as much as what Sam needed. Josh grabbed the two jackets and dashed from the car to the gazebo.

Both men were drenched. Josh looked at Sam. His black jeans seemed tighter and the permanent bulge in front more pronounced. His black t-shirt was even snugger across his chest and biceps when it was wet. Josh noticed the stubble on Sam's face was heavier, his eye more swollen and bruised than before, and his bare feet splattered with mud when he ran across the grassy loam to the gazebo. Sam shivered in the cold afternoon air and his teeth chattered.

"You look pathetic," Josh said. "You look like a ragamuffin vagabond who rode the rails and just hopped off a boxcar."

Sam cocked his head, furrowed his brow, then eased into a smile. "Who are we? Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?"

"More like Huckleberry Hound. He's blue and you're blue from the cold and you're gonna get pneumonia. Sam, you're drenched."

"So are you," Sam pointed out.

Josh crossed the gazebo, took hold of Sam's t-shirt and started to pull it over his head. "We'll take this off and . . ."

Sam pulled away. "No!" he shouted louder than he meant to. He saw the look of surprise register on Josh's face. His voice softened. "I mean, no. Thank you. I . . . I don't need . . ."

"Don't need what? I was just gonna take off your wet shirt and wrap this . . . somewhat dry jacket around you," Josh explained.

"That," Sam said as he backed up a step or two. "I don't need that."

Josh let his arm drop to his side. "Don't need what, Angel?"

Sam turned away for a minute them faced Josh again. "I, uh, I don't . . . I don't need you to dr . . . dress me . . . anymore."

Josh tried to make eye contact with Sam but Sam stared at the wood floor. Josh tossed one of the jackets on the dry bench in the center of the gazebo and pulled the other one on himself. He zipped it up and nodded his head toward the jacket on the bench.

"It's there if you want it," he said.

"I see it."

Silence.

"Sam, do you see ME?"

Finally, Sam raised his eyes. "Of course I see you. What's that supposed to mean?"

"Who do you see?"

Sam batted at something in the air that wasn't there.

"This is stupid," he complained.

His voice took on the slightest change in tone; a little higher, a bit younger; more anger. No one would have noticed except Josh.

"Sam, who do you see?" Josh repeated.

"You! I see you, ok? Satisfied? Happy?"

Josh sneered and gave a purposeful sarcastic laugh. "Talk about stupid. You know, you sound like a bratty little kid when you talk like that. Like a, a, I don't know, a pre-pubescent know-it-all who needs an attitude adjustment. Or a smack upside the head."

Josh cringed at his own words. He knew his accusations took Sam further into his past, and the suggestion of physical violence against Sam was so repulsive Josh couldn't believe he'd said it. But Sam needed to get this out. He needed to purge himself of whatever it was Jack had stuffed inside him.

Sam didn't respond so Josh continued. "Why are you so angry with me? What have I done to piss you off?"

"I'm not angry with you."

"They why did you give me a smart-ass answer? Why didn't you just say my name when I asked who you saw?"

"It's a dumb question," Sam replied. "Why don't you just leave me alone?"

"Is that what you want? Me to leave you alone?"

"Yeah." The change in tone became even more obvious.

"You sure about that?" Josh prodded.

"I said yes! I'm sure! Just leave me alone!" Sam yelled again, then just stood there and just started at Josh.

Josh stared back. Now it wasn't just his voice. Sam's whole body was different. Instead of the muscular, well-toned, perfectly sculpted, self-assured, mature thirty-two year old Sam, Josh saw a tall, lanky, just-starting-to-fill-out, self-conscious, immature fourteen-year-old adolescent.

"You've got it, kiddo," Josh said. "I'll leave the bunny alone. I won't say a word. You just remember this day all by yourself. You're on your own . . . Sodapop."

Sam didn't break the stare when he heard Josh's words. He didn't blink. He didn't react. He didn't turn away. He just stood there and shivered, his teeth chattered, and he wrapped his arms around himself.

Josh wanted so badly to go to Sam and take him in his arms and warm his body with his own and assure him he DIDN'T have to remember this day by himself, that he would be with him every second of the way. But things seemed to play out differently and all he could do was follow his instinct. "You shouldn't have done that." Sam's voice was soft and Josh had to strain to hear him. "You shouldn't have done that to me, Jack."

Josh stood still. He felt his heart beat against his chest. He was on high alert to whatever Sam might do next. He was in that dissociated state of mind Josh now knew too well and was aware Sam was totally unpredictable at this point.

Jack's phone call planted the seed, Sam became overwhelmed by it, and Josh triggered it just now when he called Sam by the pet names Jack had used when Sam was a child ~~ Bunny when he was very young, and Sodapop as he grew older. Josh wanted to talk, to ask questions, but he'd said he was going to leave Sam alone, so he did, and prayed Sam would let it out on his own.

"You know what sucks? You know what really pisses me off?" Sam pointed his finger accusingly at Josh. "You never told me why. Why, after fourteen years, did you suddenly decide to hate me?"

Sam started to pace the gazebo like a caged animal. Back and forth from one end to the other. Then he began to walk the inside perimeter. `Round and `round he encircled the gazebo and at each thick post he slammed his hand against the beam. His pace was quick and determined.

"Especially," he yelled, "when YOU'RE the one who did the damage then threw me away because I was no good anymore! A disgrace, you called me! An embarrassment to the family! Like the FAMILY knew? What would the FAMILY do if they knew, Jack? Huh? You called me tra . . . tra . . . trash! YOU did it to me, Jack, and you know it!"

Sam slammed the heel of his palm against the wooden beam and the gazebo shook. Josh glanced at his hand to look for blood but didn't see any. He was grateful Sam hadn't used his fist because he was sure he would have broken his fingers.

"And the wor . . . worst thing, Jack, the worst thing . . . why did you a . . . a . . . " Sam had to stop to get his bearings and straighten out the words before he could speak further. Then the words came out slowly. "Why did you abandon me, Jack, just when I needed you most? Why did you abandon me?"

Sam stared at Josh, a look of rage mixed with boyish need on his face. An image flashed through Josh's mind of a stray puppy that had been thrown out of a car in the rain to fend for itself.

"WHY?" Sam screamed. "Don't go silent on me, Jack! Don't go silent on me now! You owe me this! You owe me an explanation!"

"Tell me what you remember," Josh said in a non-threatening voice.

He wanted Sam to tell his story, but he needed to be careful, too. In his rush out of the townhouse, he didn't have time to pick up a cell phone and he knew he was in deep emotional water with Sam. He wished Toby knew what was going on. He wished Toby knew where they were right now. He wished Toby would pull up in his car right about now and park behind Josh's. He didn't have to do anything ~~ Josh just wanted the comfort of his presence.

"Tell me, Sam."

"I turned fourteen in March, Jack. You came home for a couple of weeks that summer and I couldn't have been happier because MY BIG BROTHER was back." Sam sneered and nearly spat out the words. He couldn't stand still. He rocked from foot to foot as he talked.

"I thought I was hot shit just being in your shadow. Remember when you got home? I had your Mustang all washed and waxed and spit polished for you. I'd used my own toothbrush on those chrome wheels and they sparkled and when you saw it in the driveway, when you saw it Jack, you picked me up and threw me over your shoulder and ran around the yard whooping and hollering and yelling `Sam's my man! My boy can do no wrong!' Remember that?"

Josh nodded. "Yeah."

"And we fell down on the grass and wrestled and laughed and you told me the only thing more important than that car was me, and the day I turned sixteen you were gonna give her to me."

"Yeah," Josh muttered.

"You took me everywhere with you those couple of weeks. To see your friends, to the beach every day, up the coast, down to Mexico."

Sam sat on the bench and let his arms hang down between his legs. "Sit by me," he said, his voice barely audible over the rain that beat on the wood roof of the gazebo.

Josh sat on the bench near Sam, but not so close that they touched. He still wasn't sure what role he held as Sam tried to purge this memory from his life.

"In Tijuana, that's where Jack gave me my first joint and my first taste of hard liquor," Sam said. "He and his friends met up with some guys down there and we all sat out in their back yard and smoked weed and some of them did other stuff . . . I don't know what all they did. . . but Jack just let me smoke pot and drink some stuff that was so bad I thought I was gonna die."

Sam laughed and looked at Josh with a big grin. "I'll tell ya, Osh, I should have known then I wasn't in the best of company. We're in this nasty little yard with a big fence around it with razor wire on top and these mean old dogs on chains. I was scared to death so I stuck to Jack like glue and couldn't wait to get out of there. Motorcycles coming and going, guys with tattoos and Josh, girls with tattoos and back then, you know, back then girls just didn't have tattoos, not like today where everybody and their Mother has one."

Sam laughed and put his hand on Josh's leg. "And there I was in my nice little cotton Izod golf shirt with three buttons and this neatly ironed collar."

Josh smiled. He tried to envision a preppie Sam at age fourteen amid a gang of Mexican bikers. He just couldn't picture it.

"And they were drinking this godawful Tequila and I drank some . . . you know, because Jack was . . . and I got so sick. I'll tell you, Josh, my first time out with the `guys' and I was trying so hard to be cool and instead I was puking my guts out while this dog watches me like I'm an idiot and I was crying like a girl and everybody just laughed at me. And Jack, Jack laughed and said, `Let the kid pop his cherry with the worm.' and I didn't know WHAT the hell that meant, but I soon found out and God . . . it was bad . . . it was SO bad."

"So did you?" Josh asked.

"Did I what?"

"With the worm? In the bottom of the bottle?"

"Hell, yeah! After all that and with everybody watching me? You think I'm NOT gonna eat the worm? It was wild. I sat on the ground in front of Jack, between his legs, and lay my head back in his lap, and I had this nasty shriveled up thing between my fingers and they counted me down ~~ three . . . two . . . one . . . and bam! I just let go of that sucker. Jack pulled my head back a little and I think he did that so the worm would go straight down my throat and I wouldn't have to chew it or taste it or anything, because it was gone."

"And all those big, tough guys were carryin' on and whistling and cheering and the girls . . . well, this one girl, a Mexican girl with long, black hair, came over and she, uh . . ." Sam laughed again for a second, then his laughter faded away.

"She what?" Josh asked.

"Well, she said . . . it's nothing."

"No, what'd she say?"

"It's dumb. You'll laugh."

"Sam, tell me what the girl said. I won't laugh."

"Well, she said, `Now that homeboy's popped his cherry with the worm, how about we do some real cherry poppin' around here?' and she stood over me and she had on this bright skirt, you know, a Mexican-type skirt, full and loose . . . we were in Mexico . . ."

"Yeah, I remember," said Josh.

"Yeah, well, she stood over me with one leg on either side of me and she was . . . her . . . uh, was right in my face. It was gross. She was dirty and didn't smell good. I was so hoping Jack would say no."

"Did he?"

"Yes, bless his heart. In fact, he put his foot right in the middle of that girl's stomach and pushed her away from me. Not so hard that she fell down, but enough that she backed away without any choice in the matter. Then Jack put his hands on my shoulders and said, get this, he said, `That ship sailed a long time ago, fellas. We could take lessons'."

Sam grinned and pounded his fist on Josh's leg.

"Can you believe he said that, Osh? Of course it was a total lie. I'd never even kissed a girl, much less had sex with one. But leave it to Jack to make me look good."

Sam left his hand on Josh's leg and grew quiet. His fingers moved back and forth lightly on the wet denim and Josh wished he could feel it.

He tried to comprehend Sam's perception of how a twenty year old man who took his fourteen year old brother to Tijuana, gave him pot and alcohol, and subjected him to ridicule in the company of thugs could possibly make Sam look good. Without knowing why, Josh glanced toward his car and felt a twinge when he saw it was still the only one parked on the roadside.

"Those two weeks flew by," Sam continued. "He had only a couple of days left and Jack and all his friends planned this big party on the beach. I told you about the beach, right?"

Josh put his hand on Sam's, still on Josh's leg. "Uh huh, you told me about the beach."

"They'd partied there forever, since I was a little kid . . . I think I told you how we used to . . ."

"You told me Sam," Josh interrupted.

"OK. But this was gonna be the BIG one, because after that year, none of them would be coming home so much. At least not at the same time. And not as students. They'd be, you know, grown up, responsible adults and their beach parties would be different. They wanted this one last blast."

Sam stood and walked to the edge of the gazebo. Josh didn't want to let go of his hand, but it happened too quickly and Sam was out of reach before Josh realized it.

"Raining harder," he said.

"Yeah."

Sam turned around and leaned against the ledge and crossed his arms. "Jack did the ultimate `big brother' thing," he continued. "He said I could go with him to the beach party. Now you've gotta understand, Josh, these were girls and, well women, I guess, women and men in college and graduate school and I was this fourteen-year-old kid right in the middle of them. But since I'd ALWAYS been in the middle of them, it was no big deal to them if I was around. Like it was a normal thing for me to be there. But it was a big deal to ME."

Sam shivered as the rain dripped off the roof of the gazebo and hit his back.

"Uh huh." Josh didn't know what else to say. He wished Sam would put the jacket on.

"So there was this big bon fire and guys had pulled up their cars in a circle and everybody had the same music on and it was blaring and people were all over the place ~~ couples, singles, groups. It was one of those bittersweet things that you know at the time is going to stay with you forever. I didn't really understand it because I'd never experienced anything like that, but even I could feel it, you know? I could feel there was something special about that night. Something was gonna happen that would change the lives of people forever."

Sam laughed again, but it wasn't the laugh of a man who was amused.

"I just didn't know that night was gonna change ME forever."

"Yeah." Josh picked up Sam's jacket. "Of course, Jack was the most popular person there. Jack was the most popular person anywhere, any time, so he was all over the place, being pulled from person to person, group to group. Somebody was always putting a joint or a beer in his hand ~~ whatever he wanted, whatever he needed ~~ anything for Jack. And he'd just laugh and smile and kiss the ladies and take a hit then pass the joint on to me, have a swallow of beer and pass the bottle on to me, `cause there'd be another one in his hand in a second."

"Sammy, it's really cold out here and you're getting wetter. Would you put this jacket on for . . . "

"There was just a sliver of a moon. A waxing moon, and the tide was out so the beach was wide and long and there was a lifeguard station about three-quarters of a mile down the beach. When we were little we'd play around that lifeguard station. It was white with a big red cross painted on the side and a ramp up to it."

Sam smiled and got excited as he told the story. "There was this one time and we were down there and we weren't supposed to be because it had stormed, but we were, you see? So already we're pumped because . . . well . . . so there was that ramp and we were playing `King of the Mountain', like you and me do in bed only this was on hard sand."

"I thought sand is soft."

"Sand IS soft."

"Then why'd you say it was hard sand?"

"Because when sand gets wet it gets hard."

"You just said the tide was out and the beach was wide, so how could the sand be wet around the lifeguard station? Aren't they set back from the water's edge?"

"The tide was out and the beach was wide the night of the party!" Sam's smile was gone and his temper flared. "When me and Michael played `King of the Mountain' it was after a storm and there were these big, huge, gigantic waves and they washed over the ramp. So the sand was wet and hard."

"Michael and I," Josh corrected.

"What?"

"You said me and Michael. It should be Michael and I."

Sam blinked his confusion.

"And you said `big, huge, gigantic waves'. Three words that mean the same thing. Redundancy isn't your predilection, Sam."

Sam's eyes searched for something that made sense. He could find nothing.

"You didn't say it was wet sand, so I just thought it would be soft," Josh said gently. He was afraid he'd pushed Sam too far.

"It was wet, hard sand, ok?"

"Ok. So, what happened?"

Sam grew sullen.

"Nothing. Not really. It doesn't matter."

"SOMETHING happened."

Silence.

"What happened, Sam?"

Silence.

"Wanna tell me who Michael is?"

Silence.

"Sam? Talk to me."

Sam walked to the edge of the gazebo and down the four steps, back into the rain, and started across the park. He didn't walk with a deliberate destination ~~ he ambled, as though he wasn't sure where he was headed, and occasionally, he stopped and looked around.

Josh watched from the gazebo for a few minutes to see if Sam would return. As he got further away, Josh headed out into the rain and walked toward Sam. When Sam didn't stop, Josh began to jog and called out to him.

"Sam! Wait for me, Sam! Wait up!"

But the rain was too hard and Sam couldn't hear him. Or if he did, he ignored Josh's pleas.

As Josh reached Sam he slowed his pace and careful not to startle him, walked a few steps beyond. Then he turned and walked backwards so he faced Sam as they continued across the park.

"Where ya goin'?" Josh had to squint to keep the rain out of his eyes.

"To the lifeguard station," Sam replied. "It's just up there." He pointed past Josh.

Josh turned. All he saw was the lake. "I don't see it."

"Raining too hard to see. It's there."

"Why are we going to the lifeguard station, Sam? Sam? Talk to me, Sam."

But Sam didn't talk. He walked until he got to the edge of the lake then he stopped. Josh stopped a few paces behind him and prayed he didn't go into the water.

Sam looked around. "It was right here. I know it was," he said.

"Maybe they tore it down," Josh suggested.

"Yeah, maybe they tore it down."

They stood in silence then their eyes finally met. Josh couldn't tell if there was a connection or not. Sam's eyes looked blank.

"Angel, tell me what happened at the lifeguard station," Josh implored. "Please, darlin'. I need to know."

Sam didn't hesitate. He spoke in a matter-of-fact monotone.

"It got late. I was tired and sleepy and cold, but there was no way I was gonna leave the party. I was gonna stay until Jack left, no matter how late it got. But I wanted to get away from all the people, go off and lay down somewhere. I'd drank some beer and smoked some weed and was kinda . . . uh . . . a little beer, a little pot, you know? But I was a kid. It didn't take much. Everybody was pretty much drunk and doing drugs. Jack too. I don't know what he used, but he got messed up like everybody else. It wasn't so bad. Everybody was . . . "

Sam wiped rain from his face, but it was a futile gesture.

"I just had on shorts and a t-shirt and I'd been in and out of the water and I was cold, so I found Jack. Well, I didn't have to FIND Jack. I always knew where Jack was, but I WENT to Jack. He was with his friends and before I even got to him he had his arm out and pulled me close and said, `Here's my bunny.' and he kissed me on the forehead and hugged me up against him. He kept talking to his friends but he put his hand on my face and rubbed his thumb up and down my cheek and I laid my head against him and he stroked me with his thumb and I was mesmerized."

Sam put his own thumb to his face and ran it slowly along his jaw line. He was totally entranced. Sam was again fourteen years old and on the beach that night.

Josh didn't move or say a word. Rain bounced off the lake behind Sam. It reminded Josh of popcorn popping and he looked away.

"Jack? I'm cold."

Josh's eyes flashed to Sam.

"Jack took another drag on the joint just passed to him and passed it to me, then he took his Princeton sweatshirt off. I took a hit off the joint and just stood there, kinda in a daze.

Then somebody called out `Hey, Bogie!' but I didn't know they were talking to me. Jack thumped me on the arm and said, `He's talking to you.' Jack laughed and some of the others laughed. Then the guy said, `You're Bogarting that joint, kid. That stuff doesn't grow wild, ya know?' This time everybody laughed except Jack. He took the joint from between my lips, took another hit, and passed it on to somebody else.

He pulled me away from the crowd a little so the others couldn't see or hear us and he put his sweatshirt over my head and pulled it down around me. It had a hood and he brought that up over my head but let the drawstrings hang loose.

"Are they laughing at me? Why are they laughing at me?"

"Fuck `em," Jack said. "Don't worry about it."

"No, tell me. What'd I do wrong to make them laugh at me?"

Jack gathered and bunched the sweatshirt, which was way too big for me, around my hips so it didn't hang to my knees. I put one of the drawstrings in my mouth and started to chew on it. Jack jerked it out of my mouth and that little plastic thing on the end cut my lip.

"That's not a pacifier," he said. "Don't put that back in your mouth and don't suck your thumb. Now take a hit off this joint and pass it on. Never hold onto a lit joint. When you're buying this stuff for yourself you'll understand. Now, are you warm enough?"

I nodded.

Jack used his middle finger and wiped the bubble of blood off my lip. "Now run and get me another beer and get one for yourself, Trey."

I opened the cooler and got a beer for Jack but I didn't want any more. My stomach felt queasy from what I'd already drunk. I took one for myself anyway so Jack wouldn't be disappointed. And I wished he wouldn't call me Trey, but I didn't say anything.

When I got back to Jack and handed him his beer I was gonna tell him I wanted to go lay down for a while, but he was in the middle of a story that didn't sound like it was gonna end any time soon. I gave him the beer and he didn't even look at me.

"Jack?"

He didn't hear me either.

"Jack?"

I shook his arm. He almost dropped his beer, but I got his attention. He whipped his head around and glared at me.

"What?" This wasn't the same voice telling the story to his friends. This voice was angry, impatient, irritated at being interrupted. This voice was harsh and mean.

Jack's friends grew quiet. They were surprised by the sudden change as much as I was. I didn't know what to say or do, so I just stood there.

"What do you want?" he repeated. "You interrupted me for something, so what is it?"

I was humiliated and devastated. But I knew I had to say something. All eyes were on me. I wanted to talk to just Jack, alone, but that was impossible now.

"I, uh, I'm . . . I was gonna . . . can I . . . never mind. I'm sor . . . sor . . . sorry I inter . . . interrupted you."

Jack softened a little. "It's ok. Just don't do it again. Come here."

Jack wrapped his arm around me again and pulled the hood of the sweatshirt open a little. He kissed me . . . I could taste the beer when he put his lips on mine just for those couple of seconds . . . then he put his mouth close to my ear.

"Brother-to-brother time," he whispered. "Tomorrow for sure, just you and me. It'll be my last day and I want to spend every minute with you, just brother-to-brother time. How's that sound?"

I nodded. It was Jack's regular voice again. And he acted like the regular Jack I worshiped. I knew then, for sure, it was I who had screwed up before. I had done something wrong to make Jack yell at me like that. But I never knew what it was. I just wanted to talk to him.

"I'd like that a lot, Jack. Just you and me, all day. Promise?"

"Have I ever lied to you, Sodapop?"

I shook my head.

"Ok, then. Now go have some fun." Jack kissed my ear and nibbled on the lobe. I was used to that. He'd say, `That's how bunnies eat carrots'."

Sam covered his face with both hands and his whole body shook. Josh watched him cry but he couldn't hear him because of the rain. He wanted to comfort him, but knew this was a crucial moment, and as much as it pained him not to go to Sam, he knew he couldn't. Not yet.

So all Josh could do was stand there and watch as Sam wept. When Josh could stand it no longer, he closed his eyes, but he couldn't get that phrase out of his mind: `that's how bunnies eat carrots'.

Minutes passed and Sam uncovered his face and stood straight. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse.

"So I kinda went away from the crowd. There's some cliffs and rocks, you know, they make like a little cove? So I went over by the rocks and lay on the sand, the soft, dry sand, and curled up and I was gonna rest a few minutes. It was already real early in the morning, but it was still pitch black there on the beach. You know . . . you know how when there's just that little sliver of a moon and there's no moonlight? It was kinda spooky, me being back there behind the rocks by myself. So I lay down and pulled my knees up and tucked them into Jack's sweatshirt to get warm. I listened to the sounds of the party and I heard Jack's laughter above everybody and that made me feel better because I knew I was safe and everything was ok and I wasn't scared anymore."

Sam laughed a little and smiled. "Can you believe that? Above all that loud music and all those rowdy people, I could still hear Jack's voice crystal clear. Can you believe it?" Sam shook his head as if he couldn't believe it himself.

Then the laughter stopped and the smile went away as quickly as it had come.

"The words haven't been invented to describe how I felt in that little cove ~~ warm, curled up in Jack's sweatshirt, his voice above all others. The smell of the sea and Jack's aftershave and beer and marijuana . . . all mixed together. There needs to be a word to describe that, but there isn't. And it tasted just like it smelled. The bitter taste of alcohol, the dry taste of smoke, the salty taste of the sea, the sweet taste of Jack as he kissed me to reassure me I was his . . . his . . . that I was his.

I pulled the collar of Jack's sweatshirt into my mouth and sucked on it ~~ then I just . . . went . . . to . . . sleep . . ."

Sam turned his back to Josh and looked out at the lake. He had to maneuver to push his hands into his back pockets because his pants were so wet and tight it was like they were part of his skin. When he moved from where he stood, he left footprints in the mud from his bare feet.

"This friend of a friend of Jack's . . ."

Josh took a few steps forward so he could hear Sam. When Sam spoke out toward the lake, Josh could only hear the rain.

" . . . I didn't even know his name. He came to the beach party, but nobody knew him. He was drunk. Maybe stoned too, who knows? Then this guy, he came into the cove and he stood over me and he said, `Hey kid, wanna walk down to that lifeguard station?' and I said, `No, I wanna sleep.' and he said, `Oh, come on, your brother said you'd show it to me.' so I figured Jack wanted me to show this guy the lifeguard station so I said, `Ok.' and I got up off the sand and brushed myself off.

We started down the beach and the sounds of the party got quieter the further we went and it got darker, too, I guess because we were getting away from the bon fire. He staggered a lot and I wished Jack hadn't told me to do this. I wanted to go back."

"I wanna go back," I told him.

"Nah, come on. We're almost there," the guy said. "You don't wanna make your brother mad, do you?"

"No, I guess not."

"When we got to the lifeguard station I stopped and said, `There it is. That's it.' and he asked me, `What's inside?' and I told him, `We're not supposed to go inside.' and he said, `Bullshit.' and started up the ramp.

"There was a lock on the door but it had always been broken, so he went inside and told me to come up there and show him where things were because it was dark and I knew my way around and he didn't. I told him I didn't want to and he said if I didn't, he'd tell Jack. So I walked up the ramp and went inside the lifeguard station with him. If I thought it was dark outside, it wasn't anything compared to inside that little building. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face."

"You in here, kid?" the guy asked.

"Yeah."

"Where?"

"Here. I'm right here."

"So this guy fooled around inside there for a few minutes and I heard him knocking stuff down and I knew he was making a mess so I just stood still and waited until he said we could leave. I moved back to the far corner because I knew he'd already been back there.

I was still sleepy and kinda dizzy. I might have been drunk, I'm not sure. And I might have been stoned. I'm not sure about that either. I'd never felt like that before. I just wanted to sleep. So I closed my eyes while I stood there and just waited for him to finish vandalizing the lifeguard station so I could go back to my cove and hope Jack would be ready to go home soon."

Sam didn't speak for a full five minutes. Josh stood with him in his silence. Then Sam was ready to talk again.

"It happened so fast, Josh. It was already happening before I even KNEW it was happening. The guy was right up next to me, practically on me, and he grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth, real hard, and it hurt and I didn't like it and he put his tongue in my, uh, mouth, and I hated that and I started to gag and tried to pull away from him but he wouldn't let me. He was bigger than me and stronger than me and he pushed me up against the wall and, uh, kept ki . . . ki . . . kissing me and I tried to yell but I couldn't and he stopped for a minute and put his hand over my mouth and said, `If you make a sound I'll stick you with this knife and you'll bleed to death before anybody finds you.' so I didn't make any noise.

He told me to do whatever he said. I tried to run for the door but I was in the back corner and when I tried to get away he grabbed me and shoved me against the wall again and hit me across the face with the back of his hand and I got a bloody nose. I could taste the blood running into my mouth and down onto Jack's sweatshirt and that's what I was worried about ~~ the blood getting on Jack's sweatshirt.

Then . . . then . . . then he reached out in the dark and grabbed my shorts and pulled them down. I tried to fight him, honest I did. I tried to stop him but he jerked at my shorts so hard it pulled me off my feet and I fell down and he threw them somewhere and I couldn't see where and I tried to crawl for the door but he felt me brush by his leg and he pushed me down with his foot. That's when I threw up. That's when he laughed.

"Let me feel your little thing," he said. And he put his hand on me and ran it up my leg to my . . . I hated it, but he put his hand on my penis. He laughed and said, "Why, that's not such a little thing after all! Here I thought you were gonna be a sweet LITTLE piece of ass. I'll bet ALL the boys like you, don't they?"

"Then he started rubbing me . . . it . . . my penis. He held me down with his knee. He was bigger than me, Josh. There wasn't anything I could do."

"Yeah," the guy continued, "you sweet meat. I know the college men just line up for a piece of you. Line up behind Jack, that is. I've heard about that brother of yours. He's turned you into a little faggot whore. His own private boy toy. Jack Seaborn has the perfect set-up with this fresh little tight ass right under his own roof."

"He laughed and then he, uh, he . . . he . . . he put my penis in his mouth and, uh, he started to, uh, suck . . . he started to, uh, suck on it. I swear to God I tried to fight him, to make him stop, but I couldn't. And he made this noise, this awful noise while he did it, this `wet' noise, and I threw up again and I was choking on my own vomit and he didn't even care and it was still so dark, so black, there was no light to adjust to, so I couldn't even see who he was. I just knew some man was doing something terrible to me and I wanted to die."

Josh was horrified at what he heard. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. He could only stand beside Sam and catch him if he fell.

"And when I thought it couldn't get any worse . . . it got worse," Sam continued. "I felt this heavy weight on my chest. The man sat on me, straddled me, and he didn't have any pants on, and there was his penis, right in my . . . right in my face. I smelled it first. It smelled foul. And he said bad things. He said, `Does Jack butt fuck you yet, or is he waiting for your sixteenth birthday? My friend said when you turn sixteen you're getting Jack's Mustang and your first butt fuck. Well guess what, I don't have a Mustang to give you, but I sure can give you an early birthday present. I'll just flip you over like a queer rag doll and rip your tight little ass apart. Right here, right now, and nobody will be able to hear your scream. Not even your beloved protector, brother Jack."

Then he put his penis to my face and said, `Open your mouth and suck my dick, you little bitch'. I pressed my lips together and thrashed my head back and forth but that made him mad and he clamped his hands on either side of my head really hard. I tried to scream out and that made him madder so he did it again and again and again. I guess because he was drunk and high maybe, but he kept hitting me on the sides of my head until I opened my mouth and that's when . . ."

Sam started to cry.

" . . . that's when he ja . . . ja . . . jammed his penis into my mouth and he told me to suck . . . suck on it and I did and it was . . . and he was . . . in and out and there was this loud ringing in my ear and I was about to pass out because it hurt so bad so I just stopped struggling and kicking and did what he told me to do and I thought he would never stop, like it would never stop, so I just closed my eyes and . . ."

Sam pulled one hand out of his back pocket and covered his eyes as he sobbed. It was as though the rain no longer beat down on him, or the cold no longer caused him to shiver.

"It was all like a dream after that. A nightmare. It was all in a surreal, slow motion haze. I'm still not sure it really happened. But it had to because . . . well, because it did."

Sam stopped crying and wrapped his arms around himself. He still wouldn't look at Josh. He just stared at the lake.

"Then somehow, from somewhere, Jack was there. He just appeared. There was all this noise, yelling and stuff being broken, and Jack pulled this guy off me and he started to hit him. I couldn't see and it hurt my ears to hear it. Jack beat him and he beat him and he beat him and he slammed his head against the floor and the guy screamed and tried to fight back like I had been but he couldn't, like I couldn't, and then the screaming stopped but I could still hear Jack's fist pounding on this guy and he hit him and he hit him but the guy wasn't making any sound and I just laid there because I thought I was so scared. Then it got quiet and all I could hear was Jack breathing real heavy and he coughed a couple of times and he spit then he spit again then it got totally silent.

I just lay there, too scared to move. I thought maybe the guy was dead, that Jack had killed him. It seemed like an hour. I was only half-conscious. I could feel something wet coming out of my ear. I didn't know then, but it was blood."

"Sam?"

"Hmmm . . ." It was little more than a whimper.

"Where are you?" Jack asked.

"Back corner."

Then Jack was beside him, his hands on Sam's face.

"There's blood," Jack said.

"My nose is bleeding."

"It's not just your nose."

Sam took Jack's hand in the dark and placed it on his ear. Jack followed the sticky trail of blood from Sam's ear down his neck. His other hand gently touched Sam's nose.

"Is your nose broken or just bloodied?"

"Just bloodied."

"What else?" Without waiting for an answer, Jack continued to feel Sam's face and chest. "You vomited."

"Yeah. A couple of times."

Jack moved his hands further down Sam's body.

"You don't have any pants on." He ran his hands the full length of Sam's legs until he felt his tennis shoes, then he slid his hands back up. He felt Sam's almost fully erect penis.

"He told me you said to bring him here and show him the lifeguard station," Sam said.

"I don't even know the motherfucker. And you know better than that, Sam. I wouldn't send you down a deserted beach in the middle of the night with a stranger. Why's your dick hard?"

"Jack . . . I need you, Jack."

"Why. Is. Your. Dick. Hard? I'm not going to ask you again." Jack stroked Sam's penis as he questioned him.

"He knocked me down and took my pants off and kissed me and I tried to fight him off and make a run for the door but he was stronger than me and I couldn't get away."

"I'm not going to ask you again, Sam."

"Jack, please, will you hold me? I need you, Jack." Sam started to cry.

"Sam . . ."

"He kissed me and he fondled me and he called me a queer. Then he got on top of me and forced me to . . ."

"To what?"

"He for . . . forced his penis into my m . . . mouth and made me do it to him and he said I was a sweet piece of meat and he bet all the college guys line up ~~ behind you ~~ to get some of me. He called me a fag, Jack. He said I'm a queer and it's because you made me one. He said lots of bad things about you."

"What do YOU think about that?" Jack asked.

"Jack, I don't feel so good. Can we go home?"

"In a few minutes. Do you even know what a fag is?" He continued to rub Sam.

"Of course I do. I'm not stupid." Sam closed his eyes. He felt like he was going to pass out.

"Tell me."

"It's a, you know, a homosexual. A guy who likes other guys."

"Do you think you're a homosexual, Sam?"

Sam didn't answer.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam?"

"What?"

"I asked you a question and I want an answer."

Silence.

"Now."

"Jack, please, my ear hurts really bad. Please take me home," Sam begged.

"We'll go home in a minute. Answer my questions and I'll take you home or to the hospital or wherever you need to go. Do you think you're a homosexual?"

Silence.

Jack grabbed Sam's arm and jerked him to a sitting position. Sam let out a cry of pain.

"Let's go at this another way," Jack said. "Have you ever had sex with a girl?"

"No."

"Have you ever kissed a girl?"

"No."

"Have you ever kissed a boy?"

"Like who? I kiss you and you kiss me," Sam offered.

"We're brothers. That's different. Like a classmate or a friend. Somebody you hang out with."

Silence.

"Sam?"

Silence.

"Sam, answer me immediately or so help me God, I'll beat the living shit out of you, and you know I'll do it. I've done it before and I'll do it again."

"Maybe a couple of times. Yeah, some." Sam never thought he'd ever be telling Jack this. It was something he never planned to tell anybody, especially his brother.

"You've been making out with guys while I've been away at college?" Jack asked. "I can't believe you, Sam. What the fuck is the matter with you?" He smacked Sam in the head and nearly knocked him down from his sitting position.

"It's no big deal. He's just a good friend and we just wanted to try it and . . ."

"What else have you tried with this `good friend'? Have you had sex with him? And who is he anyway?"

"Nobody. Jack, please don't make me talk about this. It's nothing, really."

Jack slapped Sam on the other side of his head, the side where blood seeped from his ear. Sam fell over in pain and cried.

"Don't be a pussy, Sam," Jack snarled.

Sam continued to cry.

"Sit up."

Sam didn't.

"I said sit up! You ARE a little sissy fag! I barely touched you and you're bawling like a baby! Sit up and talk to me!"

Sam pushed himself up. His head spun and his ear throbbed. He began to throw up again, but just had dry heaves.

When he was finished Jack confronted him again. "Who is this boyfriend of yours?" he demanded.

Sam figured if he just answered the questions, he could go home. "I hang out with a guy named Michael. We were talking about sex once and wondered what it would be like to kiss another guy so we did."

"Just once?"

"Please don't hit me Jack, but no, we've done it more than just that once."

"Do you like it?"

Jack's voice was steady, but Sam could hear the anger come through. He knew better than to lie to his brother.

"Yeah. I like it."

"What else do you and Michael do?" Jack asked sarcastically.

Sam closed his eyes and listed to the side. He again felt like he was going to pass out. "We . . . sometimes we . . . give each other hand jobs. But just a couple of times. Just to see what it's like."

"And what's it like?"

"You really wanna know? Sam asked.

"That's why I asked you, shit-for-brains," Jack responded.

"It's like when I give YOU a hand job, but not as good because we don't cuddle afterwards and he doesn't tell me he loves me."

Jack was silent for a long time.

"Jack?" Sam finally said. "Jack?"

"What?"

"Are you mad at me?"

"Sam, what you just said, and you know what I'm talking about. If you EVER repeat those words to anybody . . . you know what'll happen, don't you?" Jack finally said.

"No, what?"

"I'll go to prison."

"No! No, you won't! I don't believe you!"

"Sam, listen to me and listen carefully. You and I had a special relationship. A brother-to-brother relationship that was stronger than anything in the world. But you fucked it up when you broke our bond with some jerk-off named Michael."

"No! I'll never even talk to him again! I swear I won't see . . ."

"Shut up! What we had between us is over forever now and if you tell anybody, and I mean anybody EVER, they'll send me to prison for a long, long time. Do you hear me, Sam? Do you understand?" Jack continued.

Sam began to cry again. "Why? Why would they do that? I love you, Jack. I do those things for you because I want to. Don't tell me we have to stop! Please Jack, don't!"

"We have to stop."

"No! Say we don't!"

Jack didn't say anything.

"Jack, please!"

Nothing.

"Jack, please don't go silent on me!"

Sam fell forward toward Jack to be held, comforted, nurtured. To be told everything would be all right, that this was all a misunderstanding. For Jack to say they would still have their brother-to-brother time and things would go back to the way they were. But Jack deflected him and Sam fell to the floor on his face.

"Please say something, Jack. Say we don't have to stop," Sam cried.

"We have to stop," Jack repeated. "Now find your pants and let's go home. And stop crying. You sound like a fucking baby. You're pathetic."

Sam felt around the floor, sniffling back the tears, until he found his shorts. He pulled them on and felt his way out of the lifeguard station. Jack was waiting at the foot of the ramp lighting a joint.

"What about the guy inside?" Sam asked.

"What about him?"

"Are we just gonna leave him there?"

"Yep. Let's go."

"Jack?"

"What?"

"Do you hate me now?" Sam asked.

"No, I don't hate you."

"Do you still love me?"

Jack didn't answer.

"Jack?" There was an urgency in Sam's voice. "Do you still love me?"

"Let's just say this, kiddo. I love you because we're of the same blood. But I'm ashamed of you. You're a disgrace. Being a queer makes you trash. You're my brother, but I hate homosexuals. I hate fags. I hate gays. So I love Sam Seaborn, but I hate what Sam Seaborn is."

Sam turned to Josh, his back to the lake.

"After that night, Jack never touched me again. He virtually shut me out of his life. He abandoned me and treated me like I didn't exist. He made it clear he would call me, but I was never to call him. I've seen him just a handful of times since then, at the Seaborn Five Year Family Reunions. That's why it's so important to me that I go. He didn't come to my high school or college graduations. I went to Princeton because HE went to Princeton. I wasn't invited to his wedding. I never know when I'll hear from him. That's why I wanted to stay on the phone with him last night. I still grieve for my brother to this very day, Josh."

Sam began to slowly walk back across the park toward the gazebo. Josh walked beside him.

"Did you get the Mustang when you turned sixteen?" Josh finally asked.

Sam shook his head. "No. I never even got to ride in it again. He wouldn't even let me wash it."

"What happened to the other guy? The guy who tried to . . . you know . . . in the lifeguard station."

"He came to eventually and he was hurt pretty bad, but he never pressed charges. I guess he figured we had more on him than he had on Jack. Never heard from him again. Never even knew his name," Sam explained.

"What about you?"

"What ABOUT me?"

"How bad were you hurt?"

"That's how I became partially deaf in my right ear. That asshole kept hitting me so hard he ruptured my eardrum and it got infected and I lost most of my hearing. The bloody nose was no big deal. And I had two fractured ribs from that guy sitting on me and a sprained wrist from him slamming me against the wall." Sam laughed. "And Jack's sweatshirt was ruined from all the blood. He was really pissed about that."

When they got back to the gazebo they stood close to each other, face to face, out of the rain finally.

"Will you help me out of this shirt and into that jacket?" Sam asked.

Josh couldn't speak, so he nodded. He took hold of Sam's t-shirt and pulled it over his head. It was soaked. He wrung it out and water spilled from it onto the dry wood floor. Sam shook from the cold. Josh picked up the dry denim jacket with a red plaid flannel lining and held it open. Sam slipped in to it and Josh closed it around him. Josh started at the bottom and fastened each snap and when he got to the top, turned the collar up around Sam's neck.

"You stay here," Josh said. "I'm gonna go warm up the car. Keys, please."

Sam dug in his pocked and handed the keys to Josh. Josh ran back out into the rain, got into the car, started it, and turned the heat on high. Then he ran back to the gazebo and Sam. He cupped his hands and blew into them. Then he took Sam's hands and blew into them to warm them with his breath.

"You doin' ok?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, for the moment. But things are gonna change at home."

"How so?"

"When we get home, I'm gonna need you. Big time."

Josh smiled and pulled Sam in to him. He wrapped his arms around Sam and put one hand behind his wet head and rested it on his shoulder. It's what he'd wanted to do since they left home.

"Sam, you've got me. Big time. Now, when he we home, forever. T'was ever thus."

********

Josh let the water run until the bathroom was steamy, then he and Sam stood in the shower together until they were warmed to their bones and their skin began to turn red. Then Sam said he wanted to sit in a tub of hot water and soak a while longer.

"Want me to stay in here with you?" Josh asked as he wrapped a towel around his waist.

"No, it's ok. I just need to think about things a little. I've talked a lot, so I need to be quiet a while."

"Yeah, ok. How about if I . . ."

"Will you . . ."

" . . . stay in the bedroom?" they both said at the same time. Each smiled knowingly because they spoke the same words and finished the others' sentences more and more and White House staff had started to notice and comment on it.

"I will," said Josh. "And when you're ready, we'll snuggle and order a pizza and snuggle while we eat the pizza and snuggle when we're finished and when the rains stops we'll go outside and snuggle in your new car."

"It's here?"

Josh winked at Sam. "We'll go outside and see. Right now you soak and be quiet and think. I'll be right in the other room if you want me, ok?"

Sam nodded. "Ok."

"Want me to leave the bathroom door open?"

Sam nodded again.

In the back of Josh's mind he heard himself ask, `Do you want me to turn the nightlight on?' and he hated the sound of that silent voice.

"Yeah, ok."

Josh went into the bedroom and tossed the damp towel onto the bed. He rooter through his underwear drawer and pulled on a pair of white boxers and a white cotton undershirt. It felt cool against his hot skin. He picked up a thick, celery-green candle off the bedside table, lit it, and carried it into the bathroom. Sam sat slouched in the tub with his head against the back, his eyes closed. He didn't hear Josh come in.

Josh stood still and looked at Sam. How in God's name, he thought, could anyone have damaged this . . . boy? And how did the boy become such an extraordinary man? I love him so much.

He quietly set the candle on the sink counter and backed out into the bedroom. He lit more candles and turned down the covers. The sheets were a pale teal, 400-thread count, soft and soothing. Then he picked up the phone and dialed as he flopped down on the bed. "Mom? No, I'm ok. Yes, ma'am, Sam's fine too. Mom, I just wanted to call and tell you how much I love you . . ."

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