Title: Lucky 13
Author: Candle Beck
Spoilers: I swear, I'm gonna start writing stories that have *something* to do with the episodes, I really am. Just not yet.
Disclaimer: Characters herein depicted belong to Aaron Sorkin, Bradley Whitford, and Rob Lowe. No money is being made off this story.
Summary: So, this is the thirteenth West Wing story I've written. It's about omens and vibes and stuff, as befits the thirteenth of anything.
Lucky 13 by Candle Beck
October 13th was a Friday.
No, this was not a bad omen.
Josh was usually a fairly level-headed guy. Well, not really. Level-headed in the sense of easily panicked and prone to ranting rather loudly about various perceived injustices visited upon him by Congress, the Republicans, the American people, foreign countries (especially Canada), his landlord, Donna, and the guy at the coffee place who he could swear was spitting in his latte every morning.
Other than that, though, yeah, he was a very even-tempered fella. And certainly not one to believe in omens or Friday the 13ths (Fridays the 13th? Should ask the president about that one) or any sort of foolishness like that.
But then he woke up on Friday morning and there was this big honking spider hovering about three inches from his nose, and he began to doubt that the day was going to be an entirely normal one.
First, of course, before he had the mental ability to doubt anything, he screeched, "GAAAH!" at a pitch that he would really rather not wish other people to know that he was capable of reaching, and scrambled off the bed with all the customary grace of a six foot tall guy who had never really gotten the hang of his arms and legs. He'd learned to take `lanky' as a compliment by the time he was about seventeen, though he was pretty sure most of the time that it was code for `gawky'.
So anyway, he's off the bed, half a room between him and the spider, which dangled there over his pillow in all its creepy glory, and it occurred to him that maybe this Friday, taking place as it did on the thirteenth day of the month of October (the undisputedly scariest month of them all), might be a little more unsettling than would be hoped.
Josh got a magazine and a glass from the kitchen, and then went back into the bedroom, where he proceeded to sneak up on the spider (spiders being known the world over for their unparalleled ability to sense danger and, you know, strike, with the poison and the paralysis and all), his eyes narrowing as he closed in on his mark, feeling very Indiana Jones about the whole thing, or maybe very Crocodile Hunter. Or maybe he needed to stop watching so much television.
He maneuvered the magazine under the spider and gently lowered the glass, trapping the freaky arachnid in a transparent cell, which apparently confused the spiky-legged thing, if the spider's attempts to climb the side of the glass were any indication.
He walked to the front door, holding the magazine and glass out away from him like a diorama he was showing off, and had a moment of consternation when he realized that he would have to take his hand off the glass to open the door. He muttered to the spider, "You try and make a break for it, you gonna get to be very good friends with the sole of my shoe." The spider didn't seem to take him very seriously, possibly because Josh wasn't wearing shoes, possibly because Josh's intimidating James Cagney impression sucked.
The spider didn't make a break for it, though, and Josh was able to get it out to the front step and tap it off the magazine onto the grass. He watched as the spider skittered away, those eight legs whisking like they were battery-operated, and then froze, realizing suddenly that he was standing there in the full light of day in his boxers and nothing else.
He darted his eyes around, praying the street would be deserted, but no, there was Mrs. Smalley from next door, all seventy three years of grandmotherly goodness of her, her paper in her hand, blinking at him.
Josh groaned inwardly and reluctantly lifted his hand, a weak little falter of a wave. "Hi, Mrs. S," he managed with only sounding a little choked.
She cocked an eyebrow at him and said with a half- smile, "Morning, Joshua. Is it Casual Friday at the White House?"
Josh blushed, which was unfortunate, because he had a tendency to blush with his entire body, and could this really get just a little bit more embarrassing, please? Because seriously, there's potential for life-scarring mortification right now, why do this half-assed, let's go all out.
Mumbling something, Josh escaped back indoors and leaned against his door for a moment, blowing out a breath. "'Kay, so, maybe not the best of starts," he told his ceiling. His ceiling was disinclined to comment, but Josh had expected no less, antisocial thing that it was.
Josh didn't think he was too weirded out. A little weirded out, okay, sure. Natural. It was Friday the 13th! It was October! It was weird! But he wasn't, like, overcome with the weirdness.
At least, not until he slipped in the shower and caught himself on the non-fogging shaving mirror (Sharper Image catalogue, page 57), which promptly disengaged from where it was stuck with little suction cups to the tile wall and went crashing down, ricocheting off the lip of the sink and smashing to the ground. Non- fogging, true. Non-shattering, not so true. But Sharper Image had made no such claim, and for good reason.
Josh stuck his head out from the shower curtain, soap in his eyes, and squinted down at the broken glass on the floor. "Hmm," he said, and figured he'd be pushing fifty before the seven years of bad luck were up.
He shook his head resolutely. "Nope. Don't believe in that stuff. Dumb superstition. Nothing to worry about. Just gotta buy a new mirror." It occurred to him that he was talking to himself an awful lot this morning.
He still didn't consider himself overly weirded out, just a typical, garden-variety level of weirded out, but then he spilled the salt while digging in the cabinet for some sugar, and nearly dislocated his arm in his haste to throw it over his left shoulder, and conceded that he might be a little more weirded out than originally thought.
Not much else happened before he got into work. Except, well, it started raining when he stepped outside, like the clouds were just waiting for him to emerge before they burst open. So, he went back inside to get his umbrella and raincoat, and in the complicated process of getting the coat on while juggling backpack and umbrella, the latter sprung open gleefully, and yeah. Opening umbrellas indoors? Bad, bad idea. Josh had once seen a friend do that, casual and blasé, laughing off the superstition, and then not five minutes later, the kid had gotten hit by a cement mixer.
Well, not hit by it so much as walked into it while it was parked on the street. Still, split his lip pretty good, got yelled at by his mom for fighting, not bothering to explain what had really happened, because it was generally always a better idea to let people believe you got beat up by another human rather than that you were bested by a stationary object.
Josh quickly pulled the umbrella shut, ducking his eyes around guiltily as if he was going to get caught in the act. As if the forces of luck were really such that you could trick them into believing nothing remotely unlucky had happened.
But, yeah, other than that, a pretty uneventful trip to the office. In the rain. Which started the instant he stepped out his front door and shut off like a faucet the instant he walked into the White House. No lie. Like it was choreographed or something.
Nope, not gonna take this seriously, nothing to worry about.
But then there was some kind of maintenance work going on in the bullpen, a guy on a ladder half-disappeared into the ceiling vent, another guy lackadaisically handing him tools from below.
Let's clarify. This ladder? With the guy up in the vent? Not just in the bullpen, but actually at the *entry* to the bullpen. The entry that was a blind corner off the hallway. The hallway Josh was walking down, and the blind corner that he swung around rather, well, blindly.
Leading him to walk directly under the ladder.
"Oh," Josh said, stopping in his tracks and looking over his shoulder. The tool guy gave him a bored expression. Josh said with as little sarcasm as he could manage, "You're doing an excellent job."
Rubbing his forehead, Josh continued on to his office, and was just settling behind his desk when a little furry piece of tar came bulleting into the room, moving at something that looked very close to warp speed.
As the black blur began to attack his ankle with the gusto of a lion chowing down on some tasty gazelle in the Serengeti, Josh let out his second glass-splintering "GAAAH!" of the day, and began to frantically beat at the thing with a briefing book.
"Josh!" Donna came flying in, as she had a tendency to do, all whipping pale blonde hair and wide eyes and scolding voice. "Leave Franklin alone!"
Josh kicked out and the black thing, now a little more recognizable as a small kitten, or possibly a very small puma, darted out from under his desk to wind its way with disgustingly false innocence around Donna's ankles. Josh sputtered, "Leave *Franklin* alone? Franklin is some kind of feline vampire, and if he's gonna be looking for, you know, the Deputy Chief of Staff blue plate special, you better believe I'm not just gonna leave him to it!"
Donna rolled her eyes and bent down to scoop up the cat, making little hushing noises as if the *cat* were the victim here. She pinned Josh with a glare. "Franklin is one of the litter my roommate's cat just had, and I'm bringing him over to my friend's place who's going to adopt him this afternoon, so would you please try not to traumatize the poor thing for life in the few hours he's going to be here?"
Josh pulled up the cuff of his pants to inspect the damage. "Pretty sure I've got rabies now," he muttered darkly, wincing at the pin-prick red bites on his ankle.
Josh looked up, his eyes going wide. "Wait, Donna, you can't keep that thing here all day."
Donna ran her hand protectively down Franklin's back, eliciting a purr and a nuzzle from the apparently schizophrenic animal, who was now all sweetness and light, as opposed to blood- thirst and hell-fire. "Everyone else likes him. Just because *you're* scared of adorable little pets-"
Josh interrupted her, "First of all, I'm not scared of adorable little pets, I'm scared of crazy balls of fuzz with sharp teeth. Second of all, you can't keep a black cat in the office!"
Donna lifted her eyebrows. "Why not?" she said challengingly, knowing where Josh was going with this, knowing he didn't have a logical leg to stand on, and just dying for her opportunity to blow him out of the water.
Josh blew out an impatient breath, and though he knew he would sound like fifteen different kinds of moron, the words, `It's bad luck!' were halfway up his throat when he suddenly stumbled upon another reason, and replied triumphantly, "Sam's allergic!" He nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, that is what it is, Sam is really, very, entirely allergic to cats. And you know how I'm always looking after my staff," ignoring the snort from Donna at this assertion, "so I'm just trying to avoid having a watery-eyed, sneezing speechwriter covered in hives write the president's remarks for the AMA."
Josh grinned, proud of himself for coming up with an argument that had something to do with reason rather than dumb superstition.
Donna just looked at him smugly. "Sam loves Franklin. Toby nearly had to club him with a dictionary to get him to stop playing string games with him this morning."
Josh, his hopes of eradicating the wicked presence of pure cat evil from the office dissipating quickly, said weakly, "Oh."
Donna shot him a victorious smile and turned to leave.
"Hey," Josh said, stopping her. He raised his eyebrows, "Franklin?"
Donna said with a half-grin, "The president named him."
Donna left, and Josh said sourly to the empty room, "Yeah, because that little germ-ball could really enact a New Deal."
There wasn't too much more bad luck that morning. You know, regular stuff, sure. He had apparently lost every single important document in his possession, but he did that on days that weren't Friday the 13th too. He also misdialed trying to call the Secretary of Transportation, and ended up having a way-too-involved discussion with the pizza delivery place that had picked up, not realizing for about five minutes that the Domino's guy was not the Secretary's assistant. Because discussions about high-level government issues and ordering a pepperoni pizza were often basically the same conversation.
Anyway, by lunchtime, Josh was ready to set aside the unsettling start to the day, provided he could avoid Franklin and the genetically impossible shark teeth that resided in the kitten's mouth.
He headed over to Communications to see if Sam wanted to go to the mess with him, and tilted his shoulder against the doorframe. Sam was scribbling something on a legal pad, probably something of some importance, seeing as how Sam was a pretty important guy with a pretty important job, but Josh felt well-justified in breaking his friend's train of thought, considering the weirdness of the day.
"So, you're not allergic to cats anymore," he said.
Sam looked up, lifting his eyebrows, smoothly transitioning into the conversation, bright guy that he was. "Yeah, that new anti- histamine prescription is working great."
"Excellent," Josh said dryly.
Sam pulled off his glasses and leaned back in his chair. "I take it you met Franklin."
Josh came into the office, trying manfully not to limp on his gnawed ankle. "You could say that, yeah."
Sam tipped him a vaguely exasperated look. "You know, Josh, your fear of cats is really pretty strange."
Flopping down into the chair in front of Sam's desk, Josh scowled at the other man. "I do not fear cats. I fear . . . their teeth. And claws. Sharp things. It's like fearing chainsaws or something, perfectly normal."
Sam ticked an eyebrow. "You fear chainsaws?"
Josh considered setting Sam on fire for a second. He settled for a glare. "All right, well, maybe I was going to buy you lunch, but now, not so much."
Sam laughed. "You were going to buy me lunch?"
Josh shrugged. "I'da let you have some of my Coke."
"Such a philanthropist. I'm basically sitting here with Rockefeller."
Sam grinned at him, and Josh thought that no day could be all bad if he got to make Sam grin. He smiled back, saying, "So, lunch?"
Sam sighed, looking down at his work. "Got some stuff to do."
Josh nodded, deciding that was acceptable. He wasn't going to drag Sam away from his pretty important work for warm soda and soggy sandwiches. Hey, alliteration. No day involving alliteration could be all bad, either.
"Cool," he replied, tugging on his ear. "I'll leave you to it, then."
As Josh was heading out, Sam's voice stopped him. "Hey, drinks tonight?"
He turned back. "Are you asking if I think beverages will still exist at the end of the day?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "No, I'm asking if you want to get a drink tonight. Provided, of course, you don't get mauled by any sneaky jungle beasts weighing less than a half a pound."
It would really be a lot easier to take offense at Sam's teasing if Sam wasn't so good at it. A reluctant smile crooking the corner of his mouth, Josh answered, "Sure. I'll come find you, okay?"
Sam nodded and Josh left, feeling decidedly less cursed than he had before he'd gone to see his friend.
Oh, what else happened that day? What other Friday the 13th shenanigans could take place in the ten-odd hours that remained before they left behind the 13th and began the blessedly mundane 14th?
Well, the vending machine ate his sixty-five cents and didn't give him his M&Ms, but, okay, whatever. Happened all the time, right? Right. He stumbled over either his feet, the floor, or an invisible trip-wire in the mess, and got the joyous experience of watching his tray go flipping up like a tiddly-wink, everything he had been planning on eating crashing to the ground, except of course for his apple, which knocked him on his head like some kind of warped version of William Tell and then plunked into Bonnie's lap. To her credit, she took it in stride, handing the apple back to him blank- faced, but there were really far too many people in the room observing his smooth moves, and he tried to note down the ones who were less successfully hiding their laughter, so that he could fire them later.
All right, he wasn't going to fire anybody. But he'd just got hit in the head with an apple, some bitterness was to be expected.
Then, later, his Coke basically exploded into this huge carbonated geyser in his face, drenching his shirt, and though Donna had gotten a can from the *exact same* machine, like *five seconds* later, hers was fine, but that wasn't calamitous or anything, just obnoxious.
The whole day was getting pretty obnoxious. And that was just lunch.
It's always a bad thing when the president's Deputy Chief of Staff begins to pray for some kind of national or even international emergency to take place, if only to shift the wretched luck he was experiencing to some other part of the globe. But, no, the day's bad luck had settled right in with Josh, it wasn't intending on leaving anytime soon. The bad luck had made itself right at home, it had rearranged the furniture and put up posters and changed the name on the mailbox and everything. Stupid unwanted metaphoric roommates.
Josh barricaded himself in his office after lunch, thinking sardonically that he was `going to the mattresses,' which was pretty funny, a good joke, except he felt far too serious about it.
Donna `accidentally' let Franklin scamper into Josh's office a few times, always apologizing effusively, but Josh could tell she was doing it to hear the incoherent yells that ensued every time Josh saw the lousy little vermin. Wait, could cats be vermin? Maybe in spirit, if not in fact. Yeah, it was a vermin. Only way to describe it.
Sometime around four o'clock, Josh managed to bust open his pen, squirting ink all over his sleeve, thereby ruining his second shirt of the day, but he was at a loss, the second shirt having been the only one he had in the office, and at least you couldn't see the stain when he was wearing his suit jacket. Unless, of course, you shook his hand, and noticed the dark blue lake spreading over his wrist, peeking out under the cuff. Good thing he didn't often have to shake people's hands or anything. Hmmph.
It wasn't until his computer crashed at around eight o'clock that Josh finally gave up. He could have sat there cursing the worthless piece of junk, maybe pounded his forehead on the keyboard for awhile, a surefire way to technological repair, but there were four hours left in the day, and Sam was waiting for him to go get drinks, and he decided he should really just focus on getting to midnight alive.
He swung by Leo's office to make sure he could go, and was waved off impatiently by the older man, but not before Leo told him grumpily to get that shirt dry-cleaned if he was going to wear it to the office. It was a good thing Leo scared the hell out of him, because that was the only thing that stopped Josh from skewering his boss with sarcasm the likes of which strong men could not recover from.
Josh gathered Sam and the two of them set off. As they were walking across the Ellipse to where Sam had parked his car, the lawn's sprinkler system decided to take some pity on Josh after his hard day and not turn on as he was traversing the grass. Or, that's what would have happened, had not all the powers of the universe declared Josh their mortal enemy.
Josh stood there in the spray for a moment, just so very tired of it all, as Sam scampered out of the water's radius. Having gotten to the sidewalk, Sam took in his friend, standing there in his soaked clothes, his face lifted to the sky, glaring up into the night, his arms hanging limp and dripping at his sides, slowly sinking as the ground dampened under his shoes, and Sam started to laugh.
Like, full-out, arms-round-his-stomach, gasping-for-breath, *howling* with laughter. Josh came over and smacked him, as any good friend would.
"I'm . . . dude, I'm sorry, you just . . ." Sam began, hiccupping. "You were just so a guy in a nice suit standing in the middle of sprinklers. That's . . . that's always gonna be funny."
Sam giggled a little more, sounding an awful lot like a little girl, Josh thought uncharitably, and then Sam grinned at him, reaching out a hand to swipe through Josh's wet hair. "Quite the drowned public servant look you have going on right now," Sam said, and Josh leaned forward before shaking his head briskly, flicking water at his friend, who laughed and danced away.
"I don't suppose you've got towels or anything in your car?" Josh asked hopefully.
Sam smirked, "Yes, Josh, because in my spare time I moonlight as a lifeguard at the Y."
"Don't have to be a wise-ass about it," Josh grumbled, but he couldn't really be too serious about it, because on his worst (or best) day, Sam was about a quarter of the wise-ass Josh was while asleep, so he tilted Sam a smile to show no hard feelings, but Sam probably already knew that anyway.
Sam paused before getting into the car, looking at Josh over the sleek hood. "Hey, listen, I don't think you're going to be allowed into any bar with, you know, carpet. Or chairs. You want to go to my place?"
That seemed like a pretty good idea. Sam was a pretty lucky guy, in general. Josh had seen him win five hundred bucks on a lotto ticket and then spend the next week stuffing a twenty dollar bill into the Styrofoam cup of every panhandler he saw. Good karma, Sam was. Both in winning money and knowing what to do with found money. Sam might just be a little bit charmed. Or charming. Or both, hell, why not? Anyway, keeping proximity to Sam and his good vibes, maybe some of them would rub off on Josh.
Vibes was a pretty funny word.
Anyway, Josh agreed to lucky Sam's plan of luck, and they headed for Sam's place, Josh trying to dry out his coat by letting it flap out the window of the car, until Sam informed him mildly that he looked like a crazy person waving some sort of crazy person's flag.
Sam lent Josh some dry clothes, probably more out of concern for his furniture than Josh's impending case of pneumonia, and they kicked it, watching the baseball playoffs and wondering why Major League Baseball persisted in hiring practices that unilaterally excluded umpires with the ability to see.
Sometime while the Yankees were getting beat (yee-haw), Josh began to relax, feeling the endless aggravation of the day slip away. Might've had something to do with the three beers. Might've had something to do with Sam. Who can really say?
Sam went into the kitchen to get rid of some of the empty bottles (Sam recycled. A good citizen, Sam. Environmentally conscious and whatnot. Would definitely get into Heaven), and a minute later, Josh heard the sound of glass breaking and then Sam's pained cry.
Josh got across the room to the kitchen doorway in record time, though there was no actual clock or anything. He found Sam standing over the sink, sucking on the heel of his hand, his eyebrows pulled down. There was a porcupine cluster of brown bottle glass on the counter and a few drops of blood.
"Can't leave you alone for one minute," Josh sighed, crossing to inspect the damage after scanning carefully for glass on the floor, wary of his bare feet.
He took Sam's hand down from his mouth and inspected the small gash. "Ouch," he commented.
"Oh, are you feeling sympathy pains? I'm touched," Sam said caustically, but Josh decided to let it go, because Sam was bleeding, and bleeding guys are allowed to be snarky.
Josh ran a washcloth under cold water and wrapped it around Sam's hand. "I think you just gave yourself a new love line," he joked. "Now, just keep this above your heart." He lifted Sam's hand to demonstrate, and looked up to see if Sam was paying attention to all the things Josh had learned from the first aid unit in his high school health class.
But when he caught Sam's eyes, thoughts of applying pressure and elevating vanished like white rabbits, and Josh felt his mouth go dry.
Sam's eyes were bright and a smile itched at his mouth, and sure, Josh had always known that his friend was a good-looking guy, not like he could avoid being aware of that, he had always known that Sam had ridiculously smooth skin and soft shiny hair and eyes that were crazy beautiful, he'd always known this, but right now. Um. Wow.
Josh swallowed, and Sam said quietly, "Above my heart? Like . . . here?" as he placed his swaddled hand carefully on Josh's shoulder. Josh made some sound that might have been a word in Swahili, and nodded.
Because Sam was still looking at him, and because Sam's hand was on his shoulder, and because Sam was really very very close to him, Josh ducked his eyes away, his mind stuttering, and he caught sight of the clock on the microwave, glowing green numbers.
"Hey!" Josh exclaimed, forgetting (briefly, briefly) about Sam being beautiful and Sam being so close. "It's past midnight!"
Sam cocked an eyebrow. "Okay," he said slowly, not sure what this had to do with whatever was happening between them.
Josh grinned. "I think I'm about to start getting lucky."
Sam grinned back. "So do I," he said, and pulled Josh in, kissing him there in Sam's kitchen, six minutes into Saturday the 14th, which was shaping up to be just the most awesome of all days.
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