Title : Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Author : Sue C
Spoilers : None worth mentioning
Pairing : Sam and Josh
Rating : PG
Disclaimer : I know they belong to Aaron Sorkin but hey, it's Christmas. I'll put them back unharmed when I'm done.
Summary : It's Christmas Eve and Sam's looking for snow.
Notes : This predates my Carpe Diem universe, so is stand alone from that series. Thanks to Nomi for her wise counsel on the many questions I had on the religious issues as they pertain to the Jewish faith. I hope I've written this in such a way that I've been observant of her guidance. As always, thanks to Kathi for her friendship and support.
Archive : It's fine by me, just let me know where.
Feedback : Please, even if you hate it, as long as it's constructive. You can find me at email@example.com
Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow by Sue C
The man sat at the desk. The only sound he was aware of was the ticking from the old-fashioned carriage clock that sat on the shelf on the wall facing him. The task at hand totally absorbed him, although it had taken him more than a little while to concentrate. He had entered the room over an hour ago, sat in the worn leather swivel-chair, and prepared himself for the ordeal of deciding what to save and what to discard from the paperwork that had formed part of his father's life. Because that's what a son does for his father. So he'd opened the drawers in the desk, and at first it was okay. His father had always been a hoarder, which meant he found bills, invoices, the stubs of used check books. But then came that moment when he'd reached into the deepest recesses of the bottom right-hand drawer, and his hand had closed around an album. Not a photograph album. More like a scrap book. There were school reports lying inside the pages. Results from Little League games. An article from Harvard's student magazine outlining why it was morally right to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa. The last item in the book was a cutting from a newspaper with a blurred picture showing an obscure state governor with some of the people who'd come on board to run what at the time was assumed to be a futile attempt to win the nomination to run for president. The man who sat at the desk was in the photograph, standing next to a strikingly handsome younger man.
It was the discovery of the scrapbook that made the man cry.
The night he'd heard his father was dead had started out as one of the best nights of his life. And it was, until that moment when he heard the news he least expected to hear. But he held it all together, went home, and dealt with his grief quietly, efficiently. He saw his father buried. He shed a few tears with his family. He supported his mother. Then he flew back to whatever state it was that came next and the subsequent months flew by in a whirl of activity because the work demanded his attention or he flung himself into it to deaden the pain. Whatever. It worked. Until he looked in that scrapbook. And that was the moment he really cried.
And as he cried he clamped his hand over his mouth to stifle the sobs that tore out of him. He pulled the scrap book off the desk and hugged it to his chest. He'd always known his father loved him, but it tore the very heart out of him to realise just how much. So he let it go, with an almost pleasurable feeling at the release of all that sadness and regret, until his breathing eased and his eyes became arid in the aftermath of his emotion.
And so he put the album aside, turning his attention to methodically sifting material into documents that needed to be kept for legal or financial reasons, that which would be kept because it was personal, and anything else that needed to be discarded. As he worked, he ran his hands through his hair, which always looked vaguely presentable after his morning shower, but then as the day wore on gave him an increasingly dishevelled appearance. And as he trawled through the documentation, he surprised himself when he realised he was occasionally smiling at the memories it evoked of his father.
The jarring noise of the door knocker intruded on the peace of the house. The man at the desk ignored it at first, but as it became more insistent he stood up, sighing at the interruption. Probably more carol singers. He opened the door of the study.
"Mom!" he yelled.
"I'm upstairs, sweetheart - can you get it?"
He walked down the hallway. The small pane of glass in the door allowed him to see the outline of someone's head. It looked like ... no, he thought, it can't be. That particular person was on the other side of the continent visiting his own family because not only was it Christmas but come the New Year he would be pitched into a maelstrom of activity that would almost certainly move family relations firmly down the pecking order. But despite his better judgement the man's heart was beating like a trip hammer as he opened the door.
A pair of blue eyes that had taken on the quality of ice chips in the cold air. A hesitant smile which widened dazzlingly when the owner registered the brown eyes that looked back at him.
"Sam ... oh, God, Sam." Josh stood in the doorway as if he was in shock.
"Hi." Sam stood there, his innate good manners preventing him from taking a step forward, uninvited, into the Lyman home. He let it go for a couple of seconds, then spoke again. "You know, I'm from California which means I've got an increased chance of sustaining frostbite in these weather conditions."
"God ... Sam ... sorry ... " Josh stepped back, allowing Sam to enter.
The two men faced each other in the hallway as if unsure of what their next move should be. A noise upstairs made Josh look up, causing him to reject the impulse to move over to Sam.
"It's my mom ... she's upstairs ... she'll probably come down in a minute to see who was at the door," he said by way of explanation.
"It's okay, Josh. I understand," replied Sam, smiling empathetically. And of course he did, because these two men spent the majority of their waking hours avoiding a touch or a look that may betray to other people what they were thinking or feeling.
"Let me take your coat," said Josh, suddenly remembering his manners. Sam removed the garment and handed it over. Josh stood there, still seemingly overcome by the sudden appearance of Sam. The feeling was compounded by the sight of him looking stunning clad entirely in black sweater and jeans.
"Are you alright, Josh?" Sam asked, a little worried that Josh was uncharacteristically lost for words.
"Yeah, I'm fine ... it's just ... I didn't expect to see you." He turned away to put Sam's coat in the closet.
"It's just, you look a little ... " Sam waved his hand vaguely in front of his own eyes.
"Oh." Josh paused. "I was clearing out some things from my dad's study - I should have done it months ago - and it was a little dusty. It made my eyes water."
"Yeah, right. Of course," Sam responded. But he knew, and Josh knew that he knew, what had really happened. Because Sam understood that beneath the brash, confident exterior of President-Elect Bartlet's soon-to-be Deputy Chief of Staff there beat a sensitive, emotional heart.
"God, you don't know how good it is to see you, Sam. I want to ... you know ... " He looked at Sam longingly who returned the same message with his eyes. "But here ... it's difficult." Again he glanced towards the stairs.
Sam was desperate to put Josh at ease. He hoped his arrival wouldn't make things uncomfortable for Josh, particularly since the nature of his and Josh's relationship had changed radically since Sam had last met Josh's mother.
"Josh, it's fine. It'll be nice to see your mother again. Besides," and he gave Josh that look that told him Sam was about to poke fun at him, "it's so great to see you at last because I haven't seen you for ... damn, it must be nearly forty-eight hours."
That did it. The not-very-funny quip caused both of them to burst out laughing, dissipating the tension that had been engendered by the inhibition Josh felt by the presence of his lover in his family home.
"Well, it just *seems* like a long time," said Josh. "Come on, let's go into the kitchen. It's warmer in there than out here."
He walked away from Sam, expecting him to follow. But Sam just stood there watching Josh going towards the kitchen, and thinking for the millionth time that the government should designate that cute ass a sight of outstanding natural beauty.
"Sam! Wake up, why don't you?" yelled Josh from the kitchen, clearly now fully recovered from the morning's events. Sam could hear him clattering around as he began making coffee.
The Lyman's house was eighteenth-century colonial, spacious without being palatial, tastefully decorated and furnished yet comfortably lived-in. It was as far away as it could be from the series of modern, state-of-the-art houses that Sam had grown up in, each one increasingly endowed with that Californian sheen that spoke of money and the presence of style over content. The kitchen that Sam entered was traditionally furnished, dominated by a large oak table. An Aga range suffused the room with a cosy warmth and the aroma of something good cooking within it. Sitting down at the table Sam now understood why Josh talked so fondly about his childhood, despite the tragedy that had touched it.
"Josh, who was at the door?"
Sam stood up as Josh's mother came into the room.
"Sam! This *is* a surprise!"
"It's good to see you, Mrs Lyman," said Sam, as he moved towards her, hand outstretched.
"And you," she said, clasping his hand, lifting her face towards Sam. He responded to the gesture, bending down to allow Josh's mother to kiss his cheek. "And I think it's about time you called me Jane."
"Thank you ... Jane," Sam replied.
"Is Josh looking after you?" she asked.
"Coffee's on its way," her son answered for Sam.
"There's that chocolate cake I made - would you like some, Sam?"
"Homemade cake - what do you think?" Sam smiled. "We've forgotten what real food tastes like, haven't we Josh?" he said, referring to the months of campaigning which didn't include a healthy diet.
"So what brings you to Connecticut?" asked Jane Lyman. "I thought you'd be spending time with your family."
Sam realised that Josh hadn't even asked that obvious question. Once the idea of Sam's presence had sunk in, it was as if he'd simply accepted his being there as a given, not requiring explanation.
"I wanted to see some New England snow," Sam said lightly, skirting around the question.
"Unfortunately we've disappointed you," Mrs Lyman said with a wry smile, referring to the cold weather which was nevertheless distinctly lacking in snow. "You won't mind missing out on your usual festivities with your family?"
Sam understood that Mrs Lyman was reminding him - as if he needed it - that he was now in a household which wouldn't be observing the usual seasonal traditions. He wanted to tell her that he would miss Christmas, Thanksgiving and his birthday combined if it meant spending time with Josh.
"Well, it never feels particularly traditional in my part of California," Sam replied. "Besides, my parents have decided to take a Caribbean cruise this year, and my brother will have more than enough to keep him occupied with his wife and kids. So I thought why not visit Connecticut and drop in on the Lymans?"
Josh placed a mug of coffee in front of Sam, giving him a quizzical look at this explanation. But he didn't say anything as he handed Sam a slice of cake.
"And we're really glad you decided to," said Josh's mother. "So ... you're staying here with us, of course."
Sam swallowed his first mouthful of cake before replying.
"Well, that's very kind, Jane, but I've checked into one of the hotels in the town. This is delicious cake."
Jane Lyman cast an exasperated look at her son.
"Joshua! Where are your manners? You haven't invited Sam to stay here with us?"
Josh shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. Truth to tell, Sam's accommodation arrangements hadn't even entered his mind as he assimilated the fact that he was here, now, in the flesh, and not on the west coast.
"I didn't get the chance! No sooner had we got in here than you came in and started giving him the third degree. But you will stay, Sam, won't you?" Josh asked anxiously. Now that Sam was sitting here, in his mother's home, he didn't want to let him out of his sight, even though he knew the opportunity for them to be lovers in the physical sense was probably less than zero.
"Yes. Thank you, Jane, I'd love to. As long as I'm not putting you to any trouble."
"You're Josh's best friend. You'll always be welcome here," Mrs Lyman reassured him. "Did you drive from Washington?"
"No, I took the train," Sam replied.
"All right. Then when we've finished our coffee Josh can drive us both into the town. I need to return some books to the library and pick up a few things at the store, so you can get your luggage from the hotel while I do that. How does that sound?"
And so it was settled. Thirty minutes later Sam found himself strolling around the small town where Josh had grown up. They made their way through the people making last minute purchases, taking time to look in the brightly-decorated shops. Lights like small gemstones festooned windows, images of snowmen and Father Christmas were everywhere, and as Sam and Josh walked along the sidewalk the sound of all manner of Christmas music poured out of various buildings. Sam stopped to buy Mrs Lyman some flowers and chocolates as they wandered around killing time until the time they'd specified to meet up at the car. The friendly little town and the seasonal atmosphere helped make Sam feel calmer and more contented than he had in months. He hadn't appreciated how much the frenetic campaigning and the fever-pitch of the election had taken out of him. And as he walked along the sidewalk with Josh he thought the only thing that would make this moment complete was if he could take Josh's hand the way he could see other couples doing.
"So then I found this scrapbook which I had *no idea* my dad had kept, full of stuff from when I was a kid right up to when we joined the campaign. I'll show it to you when we get back."
Josh's voice broke into Sam's reverie as he, Josh, began walking backwards, describing his find to Sam. He was waving his hands about enthusiastically, and almost knocked a man off the sidewalk as be backed into him.
"Josh!" Sam exclaimed. "You should watch where you're going."
Josh looked at Sam, smiling, his brown eyes sparkling.
"You'll make sure I do that, won't you, Sam? You'll make sure I never lose my way?" he asked.
Sam felt his breath catch in his chest. His heart felt like it had contracted then expanded, like a flower opening towards the sun. He locked Josh with his intense blue stare.
"I'll always do that, Josh," he replied softly.
It was as if the busy street around them had disappeared. Both men felt the force of that moment, and it was as if they'd been rocked back on their heels. It hadn't been long after Sam joined the campaign that they had finally acted upon their mutual attraction, the desire that had been their constant, unacknowledged companion for the last five years. But while they were enjoying a physical relationship the like of which neither had ever experienced, there had been no declarations of the depth of their feelings, no suggestion as to how far this would go. But that Christmas Eve in Connecticut Sam and Josh felt like they were entering uncharted territory.
Suddenly Josh pulled back his sleeve to consult his watch.
"We'd ... err ... we'd better make our way back to the car," he said with difficulty, the prosaic suggestion breaking the spell that had cast itself around them.
By the time they reached the car - Josh's mother already there waiting for them - they'd managed to bring their conversation and behaviour back to a level of normality that wouldn't mystify Mrs Lyman. Sam presented her with the flowers and chocolates before they piled back into the car for the drive home.
Back at the house Mrs Lyman began preparing dinner while Josh showed Sam up to the guestroom. After throwing his bag onto the bed and taking a quick look around the room, Sam's eye was immediately caught by the pile of books which someone had placed thoughtfully on the nightstand. There was a John Grisham, "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulkes and a couple of children's books.
"It's a pretty eclectic selection," Sam remarked, picking up one of the older books.
Josh appeared at his side.
"Mom likes to cater for a diversity of tastes," he smiled. "That one's special," he said, referring to the volume Sam held in his hand.
"'Little Women' - not one of yours, then?" joked Sam.
"It was Joanie's," answered Josh.
"Oh, Josh, I'm sorry ... I didn't mean ... " Sam could have bitten his tongue off at his throwaway comment.
"Don't be. Joanie would have laughed." Josh took the book and stroked the cover thoughtfully. "This was one of her favourite books. She'd act out some of the scenes with her friends."
"I'll bet she liked to be Jo," said Sam. He hadn't read the book, of course, but remembered seeing Katherine Hepburn play her in an old film version.
"How did you know that?" asked Josh, surprised.
"Joanie was a Lyman, wasn't she? Feisty, independent ... she couldn't have been anyone else," said Sam.
"She used to get me involved sometimes," Josh revealed.
"Yeah, wasn't there a boy-next-door type in it?" asked Sam.
Josh laid the book back on the nightstand, and laughed as if he were a little embarrassed.
"There was? Joanie didn't tell me that," Josh said.
"So what did you do in all of this?" persisted Sam. Josh was obviously reluctant to tell him, and Sam was finding this amusing.
"Beth ... they used to make me play Beth," Josh finally said.
Sam burst out laughing.
"Oh, my God, wasn't she the one ... "
"Yes, yes, the one who didn't do much except play the piano and contract consumption or some such disease. Satisfied?" Josh didn't know whether to be annoyed or just laugh at the way Sam had got him to confess this childhood secret.
"I think it's priceless. Joanie must have been something else."
"Hmm." Josh gave a small laugh. "She was. You won't tell anyone about the "Little Women" thing, will you? *Please* don't tell CJ."
Sam gave Josh a sideways look. "What do I get in return for not telling?"
"Oh, I'm sure I'll think of something," said Josh, his voice shaded with a meaning that made Sam feel suddenly aroused. As if intuiting Sam's reaction, Josh quickly changed the subject. "I'll show you where the bathroom is, and while you're unpacking I'll be down in my dad's study. Come down when you're done and I'll show you some of his things that you might be interested in."
"Great," said Sam taking his bag off the bed in preparation.
It didn't take long for Sam to settle himself in the guest room. He went downstairs and found the door at the back of the hallway which Josh had indicated to him earlier. The door was slightly ajar; Sam tapped it lightly before pushing it open.
Josh stood leaning on the desk reading some papers spread out on it. The desk was at right angles to the door, so Sam stood in the doorway admiring the profile of the other man. He remembered one night in the campaign headquarters not long before the election. It was the early hours of the morning, and unusually for that stage in the campaign they were the only ones in the office. Sam had found Josh at his desk scrutinising that day's polling data. One of the things that attracted Sam so strongly was Josh's fierce intelligence. He was standing there in his jeans and a tee-shirt reading the figures and scribbling notes furiously, and Sam found it a total turn-on. On that occasion Sam had gone over to stand behind Josh, wrapping his arms around his chest and kissing the back of his neck. Josh had straightened up so that he leaned back against Sam's chest, uttering a small moan as he felt Sam's hardness pressed against him. And that was the last time the polling data was looked at that night.
"Are you going to come in or just stand there daydreaming?" asked Josh with a grin.
As Sam gave himself a mental shake back into the present, he wondered what Josh would have thought if he could have read his mind. What Sam *didn't* know because *he* couldn't read *Josh's* mind was that Josh was thinking how much he ached to take Sam in his arms, hold that beautiful body and make love to the gorgeous creature that inhabited it.
As he stood in the middle of the room Sam turned around in a circle to take in his surroundings. Books lined the walls : thick legal tomes, novels, encyclopaedias. Where there was a space near the door there was a collection of framed political cartoons from early in the century to the present day. On the antique partners desk was a supply of yellow legal pads, some sharpened pencils and a fountain pen - but unlike most contemporary desks, no computer. A framed photograph of Mrs Lyman and their two children had pride of place.
"Wow," Sam said in a quiet voice. "This is some room."
He stood next to Josh at the desk. "Is this the scrapbook you talked about?"
"Yeah," said Josh, opening it.
They spent the next few minutes leafing through the book. At one point they both went to turn the same page, and their hands touched. Sam was sure he felt Josh's hand linger with an almost imperceptible increase in pressure as his hand met Sam's. Then the moment passed, a fleeting reminder of what the two men enjoyed in their most private times together. But in this house they resisted the temptation to act upon it, in deference to the woman who was, as yet, unaware of her son's sexuality.
Sam lifted his eyes from his perusal of the scrapbook to see Josh staring at him pensively.
"Why did you come here, Sam?" he asked. "I couldn't be more pleased, but all that about your parents. They weren't going on a cruise a couple of days ago - you were all set to travel to California."
"Actually, they *have* gone on a cruise. A group of their friends were going, one couple dropped out so my parents decided to take their place at the last minute. But when they rang me to tell me yesterday I'd already decided not to visit them this Christmas."
"So why?" Josh persisted.
Sam sighed and swallowed hard before he answered. "When you told me you were going to be sorting out some of your dad's things, I figured you might want some support or someone to talk to. I know how hard you find all of this, and even though your mother's great, sometimes it's good to talk to someone who's a little bit more removed from the situation. But I didn't tell you exactly why I was here because I didn't want you to think I felt sorry for you."
Josh blinked a couple of times before answering. "You're so good to me, Sam."
"It's my pleasure," Sam replied, almost formally. "And also ... I miss you." And Sam thought, but didn't say : even after just two days I miss your swaggering walk as you rush from meeting to meeting; I miss the way you can take another person's argument and deconstruct it in a few sentences; I miss that odd little gasp you give when you're about to come.
"Tell me about it," Josh responded. And Josh thought, but didn't say : even after just two days I miss how your glasses make you look like the sexiest intellectual on the planet; I miss your habit of taking out your notebook and writing feverishly when a sentence or phrase for a speech suddenly hits you; I miss you calling out "oh, babe" with that catch in your voice when I kiss inside your thigh.
But neither man voiced their thoughts. Instead ...
"Come on, show me some more of your father's things."
Josh and Sam spent the next couple of hours sorting through papers and documents. Josh showed Sam some articles that Noah Lyman had written for the American Bar Association's journal. They all concerned civil rights, and Sam was thrilled to see some photographs and a newspaper report of the time Josh's father had given his services free to a law centre in Missouri at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"He was a great man, Josh. I wished I'd been able to get to know him better," Sam remarked. He'd only met Mr Lyman once, right at the beginning of Sam's working for Bartlet, when he'd travelled through to New Hampshire to meet up with his son.
"Yes, he liked you Sam. But then again, who wouldn't?" Josh's face was bathed in the soft glow from the desk lamp and to Sam he was the most handsome man he'd ever seen. Both men knew that they would be all over one another if it hadn't been for the fact that the presence of Noah Lyman gave the impression that the owner of the room would walk in at any time; both men knew that they would be pleasuring each other if it wasn't for the reality that Jane Lyman actually *could* walk in at any time.
As if on cue, Josh's mother appeared.
"Why don't you two take a break? Come through to the living room and I'll get you a drink," she offered.
"You go through, Sam, and I'll finish up here," said Josh.
"Okay," Sam replied, and followed Mrs Lyman out of the room.
"I have beer, wine, scotch ... " she said.
"A beer will be great, thanks," answered Sam.
"Coming up," his hostess said making for the kitchen. Sam walked into the living room which was cosy and warm in the light of the lamps that had been lit. The first thing he noticed was a small table in the corner on which stood a small Christmas tree decorated with red bows, some twinkling lights and a small angel on the top. Sam was pleased and touched by the thoughtful gesture. He assumed Mrs Lyman had brought it back with her from her shopping trip that morning.
"Here you are, Sam. It's the brand Josh likes, so I hope you do, too," Josh's mother said, handing him his drink as he stood admiring the small tree.
"Thank you. And thank you for the tree - I appreciate it," said Sam.
"Just a little something to make you feel welcome, Sam. Josh is very fond of you, you know. You've been a good friend to him, and it meant so much to him that you gave up so much to enter the campaign," Mrs Lyman said, unaware of the true import of her words.
"It was the best move I ever made in my life," Sam replied. He began walking around the room, scrutinising the art work that hung on the walls. As well as having been a teacher, Sam knew that Jane Lyman was also a an artist of some local renown. He hadn't, however, realised how talented. Most of her work was of landscapes and New England architecture, but it was the painting that hung over the fireplace that made Sam stop in his tracks. It was a depiction of a scene at the beach. Two children stood on the shoreline - a boy and a girl - with the older girl showing the younger child a shell that she was holding. The way the boy's auburn hair curled on his head told Sam immediately who the children were.
"This is beautiful," said Sam admiringly.
Mrs Lyman stood next to Sam. A small woman, she barely reached his shoulder.
"I painted that after Joanie died. That day when we'd gone to the beach I'd intended sketching the shoreline. But there was this moment when the two of them looked so close to one another, so absorbed, that I quickly made a few sketches. The painting came a few months after the fire," she explained.
Sam studied the painting more closely.
"The way you caught Josh with his head on one side ... he still has that mannerism. You've really caught that enquiring mind of his. " Sam was enchanted by the scene in front of him.
"He really was a very sweet little boy." Mrs Lyman laughed softly.
"He's ... " Sam caught himself. He was about to say "He's a very sweet man", but he thought that would be too revealing, so what he actually said was, "He's lucky to have a mother who could capture this moment so wonderfully. Photographs are lovely, but a painting can show such ... depth."
"You're very perceptive, Sam," remarked Josh's mother. They lapsed into silence, both lost in their own thoughts.
"You must have been very strong to be able to create something as exquisite after such a tragedy," concluded Sam.
"It actually helped. It's like the way some people couldn't understand why we didn't sell up after the fire. The house was a mess, but salvageable. We decided that here was where Joanie had lived, had been happy, and it just felt ... *right* to stay."
"It's still a happy place, mom," said Josh coming up behind them, "and it'll be even happier if you can tell me what time is dinner?"
"Josh!" Sam exclaimed. But he knew that sometimes humour was Josh's way of dealing with a deeply felt emotion.
"I'll just go check on it," said his mother shaking her head and smiling.
As she left the room the sound of singing could be heard outside. Sam went to the window and pulled back the drapes. At the end of the street, just a few yards from the Lyman house, was a small landscaped area where a group of people had gathered. As he watched he made out the sound of "The First Noel".
"We can go outside to listen," said Josh, joining Sam at his vantage point.
"No, no," protested Sam, fearful of putting Josh and his mother in a difficult position. "I just wondered what the noise was, that's all."
But he needn't have worried, because Mrs Lyman came back into the room wearing her outdoor coat and hat.
"Come on, Sam. Noah and I always used to go outside. They don't just sing carols. Besides, they always collect for some good cause."
So a few minutes later Sam, Josh and Jane Lyman stood in the freezing cold enjoying the seasonal music. Song sheets were distributed, and naturally while the Lymans didn't join in with the carols, they *did* sing the non-religious songs such as "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman." Josh and Sam stood on either side of Mrs Lyman, and at one point they looked over her head, exchanging smiles that they both knew spoke volumes about how happy they felt at that moment.
At the end of their repertoire the group made a collection for UNICEF. Friends and neighbours greeted one another, and Sam found himself introduced to a number of people who had obviously known Josh for years. Josh noticed some of the women casting admiring glances towards Sam, who always managed to effortlessly dazzle any passing female. Josh wished he could shout out "Hands off! He's mine - he's my guy!" but he satisfied himself by proudly introducing his friend Sam Seaborn who had written those speeches that helped get the new President elected.
After a little while Mrs Lyman pronounced it too cold to tarry any longer, and besides, dinner would be ready. Sam and Josh walked on either side of Josh's mother, and she linked her arms through theirs as they made their way back to the house. Sam thought, a little guiltily, that he had never spent such a happy time at Christmas. Sure, he'd enjoyed it well enough when he was a child but that was when his parents had made something of an effort to give Sam and his brother as good a time as possible. But as he'd gotten older, the cracks beneath the surface of the Seaborn's marriage had become all too visible, and any family holiday had become something of an ordeal for Sam. As he entered the Lyman home, the warmth contrasting strongly with the cold night air, he had the impression of being enveloped by the love that seemed to be inherent in its four walls.
A couple of hours later the three of them were lounging in the living room, replete from a leisurely dinner, working their way through a second bottle of a rather good Cabernet Sauvignon. Sam and Josh regaled Mrs Lyman with tales of their exploits on the campaign trail, and discussed their hopes for the new administration and the role they would play in it. As usual Josh was itching to watch the latest news bulletin, so at ten o'clock he tuned into CNN. But it had been a slow news day, and the only thing that made them sit up and take notice was footage of the present incumbent in the White House leaving the building to return to his home state for the holiday.
"Next year that'll be President Bartlet," Sam observed.
"Well I should hope so - I could have sworn he won an election in November," replied Josh.
"You know what I mean ," Sam shot back. "Anyway, don't tell me you didn't think the same thing."
Josh looked over at Sam where he sat on the couch next to Mrs Lyman and smiled. "Yeah ... as ever, you're right."
And not for the first time that day Jane Lyman heard the note of affection in Josh's voice. She knew Sam was his best friend, but there were other, little things that made her wonder. They finished off each other's sentences, knowing what they other man was about to say. Outside after the carols, she had been standing talking to a friend and saw Josh say something to Sam. There was something about the smile that Sam gave him and the way Josh looked ... I may be imaging all of this, of course, she told herself. But Mrs Lyman knew that when the time was right, if there were anything to tell, her son would. And until that time came, she would keep her own counsel, because no matter why this tall, clever Californian made her son so happy, as long as Josh *was* happy, that was all that mattered.
It wasn't long after that when Josh's mother retired to her room, but not before once again telling Sam how happy she was that he'd decided to spend his holiday with her and Josh.
"It would have been a pretty boring time for him here alone with his old mother," she said laughingly.
"Mom, you know that's not true," protested Josh while enveloping her in a bear hug. He looked over at Sam, nevertheless thinking how good it was to have his two favourite people in the world there with him. Sam bent down to kiss Mrs Lyman.
"Sleep well, and thanks for making me so welcome," he said.
She waved a hand at him as she left the room, leaving the two men to finish the wine. They sat back down, Josh in the chair by the fire, Sam on the couch. Neither made any attempt to move physically closer, tacitly acknowledging Mrs Lyman's presence upstairs. Josh had told Sam she didn't sleep well since his father died, and Sam knew this was Josh's code to let him know they'd be advised to avoid any intimacy that risked being interrupted. Nothing had been said, but Sam knew Josh would want to tell her about his relationship when the time was right. Besides, Sam sighed to himself, they hadn't even spoken about how serious this was. He had to face the fact that once officially ensconced in the White House they may decide to end it rather than risk the new administration, not to mention their careers. In which case, Mrs Lyman may never know about it. Sam looked over at Josh, who sat back in his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. The firelight flickered across his face, and Sam wondered what he was thinking.
"Are you nervous at all, Sam?" Josh asked suddenly.
"Nervous about what?" asked Sam as he sat forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his wine glass cradled between his hands.
"The responsibility of being White House senior staff ... being advisers to the President ... the power that we'll have," explained Josh.
"I'm excited ... over-awed ... yes, I'm nervous too, I guess." Sam stopped and thought about it. "But if I wasn't nervous, I'd be worried about *that*. We should be scared - it's an enormous thing we're doing serving our country at the highest level. But I can't wait to get into the West Wing and get started."
Josh smiled. "It's what we've worked so hard for, but I'm glad we've got people like Leo and Toby."
"You?" asked Sam incredulously. "With your experience? Come on Josh - you'll take to the West Wing like it's your natural habitat. It's what you were born to do. Now me ... I'll probably still be saying "Governor Bartlet" when I go into the Oval. Or I'll trip up."
"You always know instinctively how to behave - you're the most poised person I've ever known," Josh contradicted Sam quietly, then lapsed into silence, not letting Sam know what other thoughts were chasing around his head. He drained his glass, then poured the remains of the bottle into Sam's glass.
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" Sam asked softly. Josh thought "I wish," but actually said, "I need to take make sure the house is all secured - mom likes to make sure no doors or windows are left unlocked. I'll just be a few minutes."
As he left the room and closed the door behind him, Josh leaned back against it, his eyes tightly shut. Sam had never looked more desirable and it was killing him. On the other side of the door Sam was thinking exactly the same thing about Josh.
When Josh came back into the room, Sam was looking decidedly drowsy due to the combined effects of his journey to Connecticut, a good dinner and the wine. But all thoughts of rousing himself to go upstairs to the comfortable guest room were dispelled by Josh's excited voice.
"Sam! Put your coat on!" He threw said article of clothing onto Sam's lap. "We're going outside!"
"What's going on?" asked Sam confusedly.
"Come on, Sam! Now!"
Josh was standing there grinning, his eyes shining in anticipation of whatever it was he wanted Sam to see. Sam couldn't resist Josh when he was like this, so he stood up and followed Josh from the room, pulling on his coat as he did so. Josh already wore his, and led Sam quickly through the kitchen and out into the backyard.
The world had turned white. The trees and bushes had been transformed into indeterminate shapes like cakes covered in frosting, save for the occasional twig which poked blackly through in sharp relief against the snow. A few stray flakes drifted down, but any clouds had been dissipated by the heavy snowfall, and the sky was clear. The moon looked like a silvery hole cut into a dark blue canopy.
"Josh - it's like magic!" said Sam.
"Isn't it great - see how deep it is!" said Josh, flinging his arms around. Sam thought he looked like Willy Wonka showing Charlie Bucket some new confection that he'd just invented. Josh bent down, scooped up some snow and made it into a snowball which he flung at Sam. Sam quickly retaliated, and they spent the next few minutes throwing and dodging snowballs. Finally they stopped, panting and laughing.
"I'm having such a good time, Josh," Sam said.
"I was dreading today," Josh said abruptly, all at once becoming serious.
Sam nodded. He could always interpret Josh's meaning, even with the fewest possible words spoken.
"But I needn't have." Josh stopped, tipped his head back, eyes trained on the sky and the infinite stars that were scattered across it. "Sam, I said goodbye to my dad today, because I hadn't ... you know ... not really. And it didn't hurt as badly as I thought it would."
He reached into his pocket and pulled something from it. At first Sam couldn't see what it was, but detected a dull gleam of silver. Then he realised that Josh held a small hip flask in his hand. He unscrewed the lid.
"This was my dad's," he explained. "He used to take it out with him when he went fishing. Did I tell you we have a cabin in the Finger Lakes where we used to go in the fall?"
Sam shook his head. Josh lifted the flask.
"So let's have a toast. Here's to you dad. You were the best."
Sam noticed that Josh didn't look sad, but his mouth curved slightly into that small, affectionate grin that he gave to those people closest to him. He looked sideways at Sam and proffered the flask. Sam took it and like Josh lifted it skywards.
"To Noah Lyman. A great man ... you left a great legacy." And he looked at Josh as he said it.
Sam drank the brandy the flask contained and handed it back to Josh who replaced the lid, then slipped it back into his pocket. He moved over to stand close to Sam, the tightly-packed, newly fallen snow creaking under his feet. Josh put his arm around Sam's shoulder, resting it there so he could touch Sam's cheek with his fingers.
"This is what I came here for," said Sam.
"Yeah, snow on demand - I told you we were powerful now," Josh agreed.
"No, I meant *this* is what I came here for."
And Sam swivelled around to face Josh. He placed his gloved hands on either side of Josh's face and kissed him : gently, lingeringly. The kiss was laced with brandy, touched with passion and shot through with emotion. He heard Josh give a small sound of pleasure and satisfaction, then touched his lips to Josh's eyelids, his cheeks, then back to his mouth. Josh sighed and put his arms around Sam. Sam sensed Josh needed their bodies to touch, so he broke the kiss and Josh responded by leaning in towards Sam and placing his cheek against Sam's.
"I could never have got through any of this with out you, Sam. Not just today, but since the day my dad died ... I would have fallen apart without you there."
"I'll always be there for you, Josh," Sam said softly, his voice no more than a breath in the chill air.
Josh lifted his head. Sam scrutinised his face : the expressive brown eyes, the delicately sculpted mouth, the dimples that always seemed a heartbeat away from deepening. God, he would like to kiss him all night.
"I want to give you a gift, Sam." Josh dropped his arms from where they held Sam, and took Sam's hands in his. "You know how ... you know how people return a gift to the shop if they don't like it?"
Sam nodded, a little confused.
"Well, if you return this gift I'll know you like it. If you just keep it without returning it, well, one day you might grow to like it, and maybe *then* you'll return it."
Now Sam was even more confused. He waited, wondering if Josh had something in his pocket that he was going to give him, or maybe the gift was in the house somewhere. He had the sensation that not only was *he* holding his breath, but that the whole world was waiting for what Josh was going to do next. If someone had told him the earth had stopped spinning on its axis he wouldn't have been surprised. Then Josh spoke.
"I love you, Sam. You're my past, my present and my future. I love you."
Then Sam understood. This was the gift that he could return if he felt the same way.
Sam had dreamt of this moment. He'd daydreamed about it in tedious meetings. He'd fallen asleep thinking about it. He'd lain with a sleeping Josh in his arms imagining what it would feel like to hear Josh say these words. He'd rehearsed his response. He'd turned the words over in his head discarding the cheesy, the corny, the downright cliched. He'd despairted of ever hearing these words. And so he'd travelled to Connecticut intending to take the initiative. But once again Josh Lyman had delivered the unexpected. Just like that day when he'd turned up in New York talking about some no-hoper New England governor. Only this time it was personal. And all of Sam's carefully prepared words had deserted him.
Sam detached his hand from Josh's, removing his glove and placing the back of his warm, curled up fingers against Josh's cold cheek. Josh's eyes were now closed, his lips slightly parted, as if unsure of how his declaration - his "gift" -would be received. In the face of Sam's continued silence Josh opened his eyes, tilting his head to one side. In that split second Sam could see the small boy in the painting. He moved his hand so that it touched the back of Josh's head and pulled him in close. Josh laid his head on Sam's shoulder, and felt Sam's fingers stroking his hair tenderly. It seemed to Josh that Sam had been rendered speechless. Be patient, he thought. Maybe he doesn't feel the same way, but you had to take a chance. And so Josh waited for what seemed like an eternity.
"Joshua," Sam said. "My sweet, sweet Joshua. I ... oh, God, I... "
Josh pulled back slightly, raising his head to look at Sam. He wanted to ask him what he wanted to say, put the words he wanted to hear into Sam's mouth. But of course he didn't. He had to hear Sam say it unprompted. He let his eyes roam all over Sam's face, searching for a clue. Maybe it was the result of Sam's devastatingly blue eyes, or a product of his long sightedness, but Josh had always had the impression that Sam could look right into the depth of his - Josh's - very soul. And sometimes it was as if Sam could look way, way beyond that, into a distance that was beyond normal vision. So as Josh looked at Sam, it was towards this intense blue stare that his own eyes were drawn. And yes, he felt as if Sam was touching him somewhere deep and vulnerable inside. And now he knew how Sam felt about him, because it went beyond words. And Josh allowed himself to smile, and as he did, Sam finally found his voice.
"I can't remember a time when I didn't love you, Josh. I love you so much it hurts." Sam's voice broke, and he realised his eyes were moist.
And so the gift was returned.
Sam clasped Josh tightly, and buried his face in the crook of his neck. The two men remained like that for a minute, then Josh's mouth found Sam's. They lost themselves in the beauty of that kiss : the intimacy, the feel and taste of the other person. And for all that they'd shared as lovers, now, at last, this was the real expression of the love they had both nurtured separately, secretly, for so long. They began to feel their bodies responding and the pace of their kissing became more urgent, more needy. Sam drew back, aware that if they weren't careful they would reach the point of no return. He smiled regretfully.
"We'll probably need to finish this when we get back to DC." He reached out and stroked Josh's hair where it curled behind his ear. "Although it's going to take all my self-restraint - you're the most gorgeous man I've ever known."
"I'm nothing without you, Sam," whispered Josh.
Somewhere in the distance, a clock struck twelve.
"Merry Christmas, Sam," Josh said, placing his hand under Sam's chin and kissing him softly, lovingly.
"Happy holiday, babe," Sam responded in return.
And as they stood there, kissing and caressing one another, oblivious to the freezing cold temperature, once again the snow began to fall. Josh watched as the flakes landed on Sam's long, silky eyelashes. Sam gazed at Josh, seeing them settle on his lover's auburn curls.
"I knew this was the right time and place," said Josh.
They turned towards the house. Sam held out his hand and Josh grasped it tightly.
"Aren't you glad I decided I wanted to see snow in New England?" asked Sam.
Josh pulled Sam towards him for another kiss.
"It's just become my favourite weather condition," he said. "But only if you're there to keep me warm."
"In that case ... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow," Sam sang softly, his lips against Josh's ear.
"Are you happy, Sam?" Josh asked as he opened the door into the house.
"Until tonight, I didn't know what happy really felt like," answered Sam.
The two lovers kissed again as they stood in the doorway. They each entwined an arm around the other's waist as they took one last look at the scene before them.
The snow fell softly, thickly.
And Josh thought how perfect it was that there was now even more love in this house.
And Sam thought that this was the best Christmas he'd ever known.
And they both thought it was ... magical.
THE ENDBack to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page