Author: Candle Beck
Archive: Drop me a line, if you would.
Disclaimer: Characters herein depicted belong to Aaron Sorkin, Bradley Whitford, and Rob Lowe. No money is being made off this story.
Summary: In search of spring, and something to believe in.
Faith by Candle Beck
They're in a parking lot in Santa Fe, standing in the empty space between two sleek, shiny cars. The sky is glassy obsidian black and looks as hard as stone, looks like it was fused in some fierce elemental heat.
Josh is smoking, quickly, little drags and impatient bursts of gray smoke that scatter in the air and drift away. He doesn't smoke much and doesn't like to get caught at it, but he lit up when Sam came to find him, not caring, his fingers curved, the dancing spot of orange following the movement of his hand.
"How's it going in there?" he asks, gesturing vaguely to the white clapboard building where the governor's speaking.
Sam shrugs, looking back. It's all creaking wood in there, rafters and peeling paint, the flat sunburned eyes of the town hall meeting watching Bartlet emotionlessly, the good words of his speech having no effect on them.
"It's going," Sam answers. He thinks that things must get older faster in the desert, they must age disproportionately. They've been here two days and he feels like he's already been taken in by the immense endless power of the land, like it's got some hold over him.
Josh nods, too fast, almost pacing, but not quite. He pulls hard on the cigarette, the orange flaring, his eyes fixed down. "I'm sorry I took off, I just . . . I needed . . ." he trails off, but Sam nods, like he understands, even though he doesn't.
"Can I get a drag?" Sam asks, holding out his hand, the artificial yellow from the parking lot lights falling on his arm, cutting out the long shadow on the fractured asphalt.
Josh slants him a look. "You don't smoke," he reminds.
"Neither do you."
Josh considers that, shrugs, handing the cigarette over. Sam raises the cigarette to his lips, finding that the memory of how it feels between his fingers has not faded, that he remembers with no effort how to breathe in and take it deep in his lungs, smooth, and let it out through his nose.
Josh rubs his arms through his coat, saying with a half- grin, "Didn't think it'd be so cold in the desert." His words come out as fog, thinner than the cigarette smoke.
There's frost on the scrubbed patches of grass that struggle to hold in the stony dirt, and the stars are like ice chips. "It's February," Sam says by way of explanation, but he knows what Josh means. The cold in New Mexico is unlike any other cold, it sinks bone-deep, this dry, unbearable freeze. The winter sky is so vast, it has to be about to fall on them.
"Los Angeles next," Josh says, taking the cigarette back, his eyes looking hollow. "Not cold there, right?"
Sam nods. "Not cold there."
They stand there, the dull light gleaming off the cars, watching the flood of traffic on the road, the way each vehicle seems to explode out of the night, headlights blaring, moving so fast.
"A different kind of desert," Josh states, staring off somewhere over Sam's shoulder.
Down the road a bit is another parking lot, another wooden building waiting to be destroyed by the otherworldly strength of the sky, a church, with a cross set high over the big double doors, lit up, neon white, blazing in the night, like a star that you can follow to find your way home.
There's a muffled burr of applause from within the town hall, and Sam looks over at the building, the splintered windows pulsing, saying, "I think he's finishing up."
He starts to head back, but stops when he sees that Josh isn't following. Sam tilts his eyebrows and Josh waves at him dismissively, the cigarette a small pale extension of his hand. "I'm gonna, you know, I'm gonna stay out here for a little while. I'll catch up with you guys after the meet-and-greet."
Sam watches him for another moment, the slow pull of his hands through the air, the shrouded movement in his eyes, then nods and turns away, walking back.
* * *
It's not cold in Los Angeles. It's weatherless. Sam isn't able to shake the uncertain mood, because it doesn't feel like February, it doesn't feel like anything, it's hard to ground himself. He grew up in southern California, and has no excuse to feel so far from home here.
In the hotel bar, Josh is sitting alone, his hands curled around a glass of something that gleams amber. Sam comes up and orders a beer, smiling without thought at the bartender, a pretty young woman.
He sits down on the stool and takes Josh's cue, not saying anything. His beer is sharp and cold, tracing a chilled path down his throat. Josh is staring at his drink, or at his hands, Sam can't tell. He's not sure if Josh realizes he's sat down.
The bar is dotted with late-night drinkers, talking quietly or not at all, making the place feel like a library or a cemetery. The television set is off, peering darkly down at them, an elongated reflection of those at the bar stretching on the glass.
"Did you talk to CJ about the thing?" Josh asks, his long fingers resting on the cut-crystal glass, tilting it back and forth, watching the liquid move.
Sam takes a moment to place himself, decode which thing Josh is talking about. "Yeah. We're going to put together a response tomorrow, first thing."
Josh nods. "Good." He drains his glass and calls over the bartender with barely a flick of his head, a slight tip of his chin. The bartender comes and leans to take the glass from in front of Josh, a thin winking gold chain swinging from around her neck, the flash of a crucifix.
She fills Josh's glass with three fingers of whiskey and smiles at them, looking for a moment all of fifteen years old. She's got Irish-green eyes, and a tattoo of a crescent moon on the inside of her wrist. Josh knocks her a brief grin, his charm automatic, but his gaze is far away.
Sam drinks his beer and watches the bent hooks of light playing across the rows of bottles behind the bar, and he remembers suddenly that this hotel is the one he and his friends came to after prom when he was eighteen years old.
He tries to remember which room he had taken Beth Sullivan, both of them excited and nervous, blushing, grinning, his starched tuxedo collar and her rustling blue dress. He thinks maybe it's the room Josh is staying in.
Josh kills his whiskey and puts his hand to his chest, slipping under his jacket. Sam thinks he's going to pull out a pack of cigarettes, but Josh's hand comes out empty and he stands, saying, "I'm going to head up. I'll see you in the morning."
Sam says, "Okay," and doesn't watch him go, wrapping his hands around the bottle, his palms slippery with condensation, watching the light move.
* * *
They're working their way down the rope line, smiling, shaking hands. It's Portland, Oregon, and the sunlight is gray and watery, like a dream, making it hard to see things. The governor is saying little things to everyone he can, making them laugh, the firm grasp of his hands, one overlaid with the other, imprinting the memory of the handshake into each voter.
The faces have blurred, an unsteady smear of white and brown and black and blonde, the occasional fiery burst of a redhead in the crowd jarring. Sam and Josh are bringing up the rear, touching hands, whisking. It's supposed to rain later, and Sam is watching the threatening sky distrustfully when he feels something smooth and bumpy pressed into his palm.
He looks down, seeing the worn face of an old woman, her birdlike hands caught up in his. He opens his hand and sees a rosary, polished dark blue beads rolling across his lifeline. He looks up at the woman, who says, her eyes pleading and wise, "It's for the governor. It will keep him safe from harm."
Sam wants to stay, have this better explained, perhaps refuse the strange gift, which is not the kind of thing that a candidate downplaying his Catholicism can accept. But Josh's hand is on his arm, tugging, and he allows himself to be pulled along, the current forward taking him with it, and he slips the rosary into his coat pocket, hearing the low clack of the wooden beads.
Josh sidles a look at him as they head for the bus. "What did she give you?" he asks, his eyes curious, the pale light of day creeping through his hair.
Sam shrugs, his hand in his pocket, his fingers tangling in the looped strand. "A . . . nothing. A rosary. Nothing."
"Oh," Josh answers, his forehead creasing.
Sam searches out the governor at the front of the line, shorter than most of those around him, yet somehow taking up more space than anyone else, everyone's attention following him. Sam rolls the perfect beads between his fingertips and thinks that Bartlet probably already has a rosary of his own.
They get on the bus and drive north.
* * *
In Josh's hotel room in Seattle, the rain is slashing at the windows, fierce and hard. The sky broke open on them and poured out all its frustration and misery, and now they are soaked with it.
"How are we going to handle Davis?" Sam asks, sitting on the bed, a legal pad on his knee, held still by the pressure of his hand, which hovers a pen an inch away from the paper. Josh paces, kicking at his overnight bag, which he hasn't opened, because they won't be here overnight, and if they are, he won't sleep. "We're going to handle him . . . we're going to say that Bartlet has nothing but respect for the man that the people of Washington have elected to the esteemed office of senator. That said, Jerome Davis is a wretched human being and an embarrassment to the United States Congress."
Sam rolls his eyes, tapping the pen. "Not those exact words, I hope."
Josh runs his hands through his hair, pausing briefly, his hands braced on the dresser. "Not those exact words, no."
Josh's body is strung tight with tension and sleeplessness. Sam can see the twitch of muscles in his back, the wiry tremble in his arms. He doesn't ask if Josh is doing all right, because it's pretty obvious that Josh isn't.
The bedside lamp throws a circle of light out across the room, a meager curve that is overwhelmed by the damp shudders of the window, the rain pounding.
Sam scratches down a few lines about Davis, his eyes tired and feeling swollen. When he looks up again, Josh has gone to stand by the window, one hand stretched out, gripping the frame, peering downwards.
"There's something going on down there," he says tonelessly.
Sam rises and joins him, Josh moving his arm so that they can stand side by side. Down on the street, there is a twisting mess of people, a misshapen crush of dark humped umbrellas, peppered with signs and banners, wilting as the rain falls, the ink smearing. Standing in the storm, the crowd pulses, expanding and contracting, like the steady breath of a living thing.
"What's it for?" Sam asks.
Josh shrugs, turns away. He goes over to the bed and picks up the remote control, flicking through the channels. Sam watches the demonstration, his hand up on the window glass, and behind him, the television tells him clearly, "Believe in Christ, and you will be forgiven."
The crowd down in the street begins to move, a fat snaking march towards city hall, the rain falling hard, the roads drenched black.
Sam turns to face Josh. "It must be pretty important, if they're down there in this weather."
Josh lies back on the bed, presses his hands to his face. "Is it still February?" he asks, his voice distant.
Sam comes over to sit next to him. He puts his hand on Josh's shoulder. "It's March, Josh." Josh takes his hands away and grasps Sam's wrist, hanging onto him.
They're still, Sam half-twisted around, Josh's knees over the edge of the bed.
* * *
In Nebraska, everything is flat, covered in the dirty remains of snow. Omaha rises out of the plains like an alien city, breaking the ceaseless line of the horizon, sharding upwards, skyscrapers and buildings with walls of glass.
Surrounded by fallow fields, a landscape waiting desperately for spring, spreading out around them, Sam and Josh go to a coffee shop around the corner from the Nebraska civil government building, where Bartlet is meeting with representatives of the state Democratic Party.
The place is crawling with young Midwestern politicians, even white teeth and backs as straight as cornstalks, well-dressed and eager, their hands callused with the farm work they had grown up with, hair like rough straw, eyes like the battered blue sky.
Sam drinks coffee and Josh drinks water, because Josh hasn't been sleeping well and has decided to cut down on caffeine. He gave up smoking somewhere in Idaho, throwing a half-empty pack over a bridge in a flight of dramatics. Sam had laughed, watching it spiral down, loose cigarettes escaping and getting caught on the wind, trailing behind like white flower petals.
Josh drums his hands on the table and says, "I think we're . . . I think we're doing okay. Yeah? We're doing all right." His smile is hesitant, like he's waiting for it to be disproved.
Sam sips his coffee, scalding on his tongue, and tilts a smile back at Josh. "Yeah, we're doing all right."
Josh nods, confirming this, reassuring himself. He looks out the window at the street, the ash-colored snow punched into the curbs, the icy white weighing down tree branches.
The frozen blue sky is crystal clear, the sunlight sharp and supernova bright. A silver van drives by, the words "What Would Jesus Do?" painted in three foot tall red letters on the side, looking like they were stenciled in blood.
Josh has rolled up his sleeves, and Sam can see the fine bones of his wrist, the smooth moving line of his forearm, the dents in his elbow, the soft raised paths of his veins, cradled in the hollow of his arm.
* * *
There's no such thing as night in Chicago. Same as New York City, D.C., Boston, L.A., the city stays up, a glimmering sheen of light, never getting dark enough to see the stars. Light pollution, it's called, and there's an unbroken sweep of it across the Midwest, up and down the Eastern Seaboard. You could live there for years and never see the solemn steady glow of the Northern Star.
Josh is sitting on a bench outside the auditorium, staring off down West Addison, the red neon of Wrigley Field blinking at the curve of the road.
Sam sits beside him. "You're going to have to stop doing this, you know," he says quietly.
Josh sighs, looks down at his hands, gripped together between his knees, the pose of a penitent man. "I know," he replies.
Sam pulls his coat tighter around him as a harsh wind slams by, and says, "I mean it, Josh. Walking out in the middle of a speech, wandering off . . . It can't keep happening."
Josh pulls his head up and glares at him, his eyes eerily bright in the dim light. "I just told you that I know, Sam. Christ."
Sam lifts his hand and places it gently on Josh's back, spreading out his fingers between the wings of Josh's shoulder blades, feeling the shudder of the other man's body. "Josh, tell me what's happening," he says softly.
Josh shakes his head, his eyes shut tight. "Nothing. I'm okay. I just . . . I'm okay."
Sam holds his hand to Josh's back, waiting for him to stop shaking. Somewhere way far off, a choir is singing, the sound of it arching through the night, high and heaven-bound, as clear as silver bells. Josh doesn't stop shaking, and he raises his hands to cover his face, saying again, "I'm okay. I'm okay," whispering it like a chant, a prayer, and Sam doesn't think that Josh is talking to him anymore.
Sam looks up and can't see the stars. The wind is a vicious thing; it is trying to drag him away.
* * *
On the bus from Sandusky to Cleveland, Josh comes over to sit next to Sam. The low murmur of the staffers around them is a comfortable hum, like the thrum of the wheels, the highway disappearing beneath them.
Josh sits there for a moment not saying anything, staring at the back of the seat in front of him. Sam looks at him over the tops of his glasses, then sighs, turning back to his notes. His handwriting has gotten worse since he joined the campaign, a brambly scrawl, his letters hooked and leaning, like they're about to fall off the line.
Josh clears his throat, and Sam looks up at him. Josh's eyes are still fixed on the seat in front of him, but he says low, "Look, I didn't mean for it to be like this when I came and got you. I know . . . I know I'm ruining it for you, and that's the last thing I want to do."
Sam blinks, and is about to respond, when Toby's voice from a few seats behind suddenly fractures the hushed buzz, saying stridently, "Sam! Mark 15:34!"
Without thinking, Sam replies, lifting his head up, his voice tumbling over the beautiful foreign words, "`And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"'" Toby mutters some incoherent rumble of acknowledgement, the recited verse having done its job, whatever it was.
Sam turns back to Josh, saying quietly, like a secret, "You're not ruining anything for me. I just . . . I want to help." Josh makes a little half-hearted laugh, and breathes out almost inaudibly, "Yeah." Then he angles a look over at Sam and says with the rusted Ohio sunlight washing his face, "Go back to work. I'm just going to sit here for a little while."
Sam looks at him questioningly, but Josh is staring off again, and Sam goes back to his notes, trying to figure out what it was he meant when he wrote, `Did you find what you were looking for?' in the middle of his summary of the Ohio governor's stance on industrial subsidies.
* * *
Josh is asleep in Sam's bed when Sam gets back from the fundraiser.
Sam sits down carefully next to him and sighs, watching the rise and fall of Josh's back, his head turned to the side on the pillow, his brow lined and anxious, his hands clenched in fists.
Sam reaches out and puts a hand on Josh's back, feeling the bumps of his spine, the warmth radiating through the thin materials of his shirt and undershirt. Josh has fallen asleep in his shoes, his belt, fully dressed.
Starting awake, Josh half-jerks up, a gasp escaping him, his eyes darting, panicked. Then he sees Sam and settles, lifting an arm to rub a hand across his eyes. "Where are we?" he asks, his voice thick and blurry.
"Philadelphia," Sam replies, not moving his hand from Josh's body, trailing it down to the dip at the small of his back.
Josh's eyes sharpen, like splinters of light, his mind focusing, and he sits up, almost dislodging Sam's hand, but Sam maintains contact, slipping his hand around to Josh's side, curling his fingers. Sam watches his own hand with intense concentration, resting there on Josh's side, a place where he has rested his hand a hundred times before.
Josh's voice, serious and stern, brings Sam's attention back, but when their eyes meet, Josh's expression softens, and he says simply, "How was the thing?"
Sam shrugs, still dressed in his formal wear, though he has unknotted his bowtie and left it to hang down, the suffocating top buttons of his shirt undone. "It was good. Boring. But good. How was your thing with the council members?"
They are both very clearly ignoring the fact that Sam has not yet taken his hand off Josh's body. Josh answers, his eyes ducking down, lashes flickering, "Good. I was pretty beat when I got back, just sort of crashed out."
Sam nods, moving his eyes over Josh's tousled hair and wrinkled clothes. Josh's tie is slung over the bedpost, still in its intricate knot. There are reports and itineraries on the bedside table, and Sam remembers that they have to be up at five in the morning to get to New York City for a breakfast meeting with the mayor. He takes his hand off Josh's side and moves to sit on the other bed, the one that Josh had slept in the night before, lying back on his elbows before stretching all the way out.
Josh is watching him as Sam settles in, his eyes unreadable. There's a line on Josh's face, a sleep crease from the pillow.
There's something uncomfortably hard under the blankets of Sam's bed, sharp square corners stabbing into his back, and he digs around for a moment before he pulls it out. It's a Gideon Bible, a golden cross raised on the pebbled black cover.
Sam places the heavy book down on the floor and looks over at Josh. Josh swallows and slowly unbuttons his shirt, stripping it off, leaving him in his T-shirt. Josh pulls off his shoes and socks, then stands, unbuckling his belt. Sam is frozen, staring up at him, wondering what is going to happen.
Josh rids himself of his pants and stands there for a moment in his boxers and T-shirt, looking down at Sam. The shadow of Josh's body falls across Sam's, and Sam is holding his breath.
* * *
On the sidewalk in New York City, a man hands Sam a card as he is walking past.
Sam stops, looks down. The card is pressed cardboard, bigger than a playing card, with a picture of a man in monk's robes, holding a small child. There is a halo around the monk's head, a watercolor fuzz of yellow. Sam looks up at the man who has given it to him. He is unassuming, his hair sandy blonde and dusted with dignified gray, the line of his part as straight as a ruler, his eyes mild and brown, his face simple and open, and he says easily, "St. Anthony. The patron saint of the lost."
Sam blinks, and says, "Thank you," instinctively. The man nods and Sam walks on, sliding swiftly through the crowds, the old unthinking dance of moving through the city returning to him.
As he walks, Sam flips the card over, reading the prayer written on the other side. `Help us to find patience in our own lives, and to trust God to lead us where we need to go.' Sam puts the card in his pocket, and turns his mind ahead to the three meetings he has that day, and the speech he has not written.
Ahead of him on the sidewalk, Sam sees Josh standing on the corner, searching for him, motionless in the wash of people around him. As Josh catches sight of him, he waves, drawing Sam to him, as Josh has done before in this city.
* * *
Sam leaves the dinner and goes out to stand on the steps, breathing deep, the air tight and cold. He puts his hands on the sloped granite that flanks the steps, feeling the roughness under his fingers.
The door to the banquet hall opens, a brief flush of warm sound and light pouring out, then it shuts again, the night dark and quiet, and Josh comes to stand by him.
"I thought this was my thing," Josh says. "Leaving in the middle of things. You're stealing my act."
Sam half-smiles, turns to face Josh. "Yeah, well, you always look like you're having such fun, I decided to give it a try."
Josh smirks, then looks out over the shadowed streets, the trees twining black arms, the evenly placed streetlights shining, the low buildings etched together in climbing patterns. "I don't . . . where are we, Sam?" Josh asks, his voice unsure.
Sam thinks, but he has no idea. "I don't know," he replies honestly, staring at the street too.
Josh nods, his forehead knotting, and asks, "Is it still March?"
Sam thinks about that too, but it's something else he has no idea about. "I don't know."
Sam looks up, thinking he can figure out where and when they are by the stars, but the sky is blank, the color of ink and refusing to give any answers.
"So we could be anywhere. And this could be anytime," Josh says slowly.
Sam turns to face him. Josh's eyes are considering, his cheekbones and the line of his jaw starkly defined.
Sam reaches out his hand and gently runs it down Josh's face, stumbling his fingers across Josh's features.
Josh blinks as Sam cups his hand around the back of Josh's head. Sam's fingers drift through the curls at the back of Josh's neck, smoothing them down.
"It's here, Josh," Sam whispers. "It's now."
Josh raises his hand and flattens it on Sam's chest, not pushing him away, just resting his hand there, and Sam doesn't pull him close, though he's pretty sure he could, he's pretty sure Josh would let him.
Josh wonders, his voice rustling soft, "If we don't know where we are, how are we going to get back?" His eyes are big, staring at Sam, but he doesn't look scared. His hand on Sam's chest is warm, the outline of it searing on his bare skin through his clothes.
The street is silent, and Sam has no answer. The world is shivering, waiting for spring.
Josh is waiting for Sam, and high above, a clean white dove wings through the night, like a splash of paint on the sky, something unbreakable, something blessed.
Sam watches the dove fly away, smaller and smaller until it's nothing but a prick of white on black, and Sam says, "I don't think we need to get back this time, Josh. I think this is where we're supposed to be."
Sam looks at Josh, the in-between night hazy in his eyes, and Josh smiles. Sam breathes in, and he is lost, and he thanks God.
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