Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: January 2004
Email: email@example.com Feedback appreciated.
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: S1 and 2
Summary: A What If story about the beginning of Josh and Sam.
Unintended by Jackie Thomas
The banqueting hall of the Hudson Lodge hotel is oak beamed and fires burn at each end. A White Pine in one corner drips silver and sparkles of light. Sam watches the church candles at his table melt in trails, marking the passing of universes of time, pooling and reforming on centrepieces of holly and Christmas rose.
He is dimly aware of Senator Hoynes' speech drawing to a close. Hoynes' words have been soap bubbles floating over him, drifting on fluted glasses of champagne, dissolving in a sea of red wine and brandy.
A crackle of applause startles him and he belatedly joins in. A door is opened disturbing the air and causing all the candle flames to tremble.
The applause finally dies away and people begin to leave their tables. The seat next to him has been empty since desert but he cannot see Lisa among the milling groups of guests and he too excuses himself.
There is an extra pull of gravity on his limbs as he walks, a new sense that his legs are not quite his own. But they carry him anyway and instead of beginning a search for his wife he follows the rush of cold air that hits him as he leaves the hall.
The doors leading from the lounge to the hotel's landscaped garden are open. Groups of Hoynes' supporters are putting on coats and going outside where the first snow of the season has started to fall.
The terrace has been sociably lit in a circle around the French doors and from this vantage it is possible to describe each perfect, white blossom. Beyond, there is only a grey, textured darkness where the world seems to gradually come to an end.
A movement at the beginning of this darkness catches Sam's eye and he watches for a long time a couple kissing. A young man and woman. He has draped his coat around her shoulders but Sam can still see the gold of her gown and of her shoes. She is a small woman and she stands a little on tiptoe to kiss him. He has his hand through her short, blonde hair and they are both scattered with white. Sam is struck by the perfection of the picture.
Steadying himself against a wave of dizziness, he walks away from where most of the snow watchers are gathering. He finds a post to lean on, close enough to the edge of the shelter that he feels spots of melting wetness on his face. In the silence he thinks he can hear the flow of the distant Hudson, seeming to rise in volume, increasing to a roar, forging a cave-dark tributary, storming through his mind.
"Hey, are you all right?" Someone touches his arm, silencing the noise.
He turns and sees a man of about his own age, shivering in just his dress suit. His soft, brown curls more subject to the breeze than anything else outside that night.
"You were kind of swaying about there," he says, his hand still on Sam's arm. "You looked like you were about to tip over the rail." His accent is something like New York though not exactly.
"I'm fine," Sam says, uncertainly. He thinks he might recognise this man, someone from the campaign perhaps.
"Do you want to go inside now? I think you should…you know."
"I'm getting air," he explains. "Just for a few minutes. I'm…you don't have to…"
He stops talking as he meets an unexpectedly beautiful gaze. The most astonishing eyes he thinks he has ever seen.
Snow settles on one of the man's lashes and he blinks it away. "Are you with anyone?" he asks. "Can I get someone for you?"
"I'm here with my wife," he nods over the man's shoulder. "She's over there." He turns and they can both make out the woman in the gold dress still, unbelievably, engaged in the kiss. Sam remembers the guy now; he is one of Lisa's work colleagues.
The man from the campaign turns back to Sam. The grip on his arm is firmer.
"Man," he breathes. "That sucks."
Sam is uncomfortable with the drama of the moment. "It's not…it's all right. She's got good reasons. She's…" He stops talking under the man's incredulous stare.
Sam is swaying again, even he realises it now and the man unexpectedly puts an arm around his shoulders. Is it the first time in months anyone has touched him, except accidentally?
"Come on, let's go inside." He is not taking no for an answer this time. "It's too damn cold."
Back in the hall the atmosphere, thick with smoke from burning out candles and after dinner cigars, immediately overwhelms him. He thinks he really might pass out here and he stops to grip the back of a chair and tug hopelessly at his bowtie.
The man rests a hand on Sam's back. "Um, do you want to…I think you should sit down."
But he suddenly knows from the way the room is orbiting just above his head that he is going to throw up. He walks out of the hall in a focussed search for the men's room. He does find it in time and afterwards stands in the passageway outside with his back against the wall taking deep, unhappy breaths.
He tries again to loosen his tie, which he has apparently fastened into some version of a noose. Failing, he closes his eyes. He must decide what to do next. But he cannot think further than the way Lisa's lover…he had to be her lover…held her with such uncomplicated ease.
After a moment he becomes aware of someone beside him. He is unaccountably pleased to see the man from the campaign with the disorganised hair. He has a glass of water in his hand.
"Did it all come out all right?" He asks with amused sympathy.
"You're not funny."
"Have a sip of this." Sam takes a drink of the icy water. His stomach somersaults and he hands the glass back.
When he comes out of the bathroom for the second time the man from the campaign is waiting for him. "So maybe that wasn't the best idea."
Sam throws him an accusing glare and goes back to trying to undo his bowtie.
After this goes on for a while, the man bats Sam's hands away and with one swift action the tie is undone. Sam pops open his top couple of shirt buttons and breathes. "Thank you."
Sam thinks this man's eyes could hold whole universes.
It is a dizzying thought and he feels a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Where's your room? You ought to just lie down."
"I can't. I mean…my wife…she's got the key. I can't see her tonight."
The man from the campaign nods in understanding. "You can use my room. I've got to work for a few more hours anyway."
Sam looks at him, touched beyond words, "You don't have to do that."
"Its okay," he steers him toward the hotel's central staircase, red-carpeted all the way up to the bedrooms and trailed with ropes of tiny silver tinsel stars. "Just don't barf on the floor."
Sam lets himself be guided. He is grateful for the solid support of the hand at his elbow, distantly conscious of the casual intimacy of the touch.
"You're from the campaign?" He asks when it occurs to him he does not know whose room he is about to wander in to.
"Campaign director, as a matter of fact," the man says. "And even though your life might have just fallen apart at our fundraiser I hope we can still count on your vote."
Sam pulls words out of the fog. "I don't know. Hoynes is Lisa's thing, really. I have trouble identifying where he stands on some issues." Then stops. "You're mocking me?"
"Okay. But I have trouble with some issues."
"Yeah, me too."
"Oh." Sam stops for oxygen at the top of the stairs. He thinks this steep ascent would have been impossible without… "What's your name?"
Sam wakes in a darkened room, confused by the unfamiliar surroundings and by the presence of someone who has none of Lisa's recognisable sounds and perfumed scents. His eyes adjust to the darkness and he sees a man, quietly taking off his dinner jacket, slipping off his bowtie. Then he remembers. Josh Lyman.
He closes his eyes and listens. He should be uncomfortable in this stranger's hotel room, but he is not. Instead he is as comforted by Josh's presence as if it is a regular thing to be woken by him and he falls back into sleep.
When he wakes again he does not know whether it is minutes or hours later. He hears no movement so he looks for Josh. He is sitting in an armchair across from Sam, his fingers steepled at his lips. He seems to have been watching him.
"Josh," Sam says. "Do you want your bed?"
"Its all right, go back to sleep," comes the whispered response.
Sam sits up, he feels better than before, not really dizzy or sick anymore. He finds he is on top of the covers, still dressed apart from his shoes and his dinner jacket. "I'll go," he says. "And get another room. They're bound to have…"
Josh appears before him, half undressed in just his trousers and a T-shirt. "There aren't any more rooms. All the…because of the snow."
Sam looks up at him. He carries a post-party scent of alcohol and cigarette smoke. He is drunker than he was and has lost his teasing humour as if he has taken it off with his suit. He sits on the edge of the bed, close to Sam, and speaks with an air of urgency, barely disguised. "You can stay here tonight…you can just…its all right."
Without thought Sam touches Josh's face, his fingertips on the line of his cheekbone. And Josh, as if he has been waiting for this signal, uses both his hands to bring Sam in to kiss him.
When next he wakes his head is pressed firmly into the side of a man's neck. The deep breaths and warm, male scents remind him. Josh Lyman. Josh has his arms around him and when Sam shifts a little to an easier angle the embrace tightens.
"Where were you…don't go." Sam is not sure if Josh is even awake when he speaks because his eyes don't open and the words are breathed out in a sigh.
When Sam wakes again the quality of the darkness in the room has changed and this is the only means he has of telling it is morning. Josh's fingers are stroking slowly through his hair.
"I don't do this," Josh says, when Sam moves slightly to look at him. "I want you to know. I mean, I have done. But with my job…I honestly don't."
Sleepily, against the undulations of Josh's chest, "I don't care."
"I saw you when you came in yesterday evening. You were…I really, really don't do this."
"I'm going to have to get up soon," Josh says. "The Senator stayed last night because the roads were closed. I've got to see what's going on."
Sam doesn't believe he can be separated from this body all tangled with his own but he says, "I should find Lisa, she'll be worried." Oddly, this was true.
"I spoke to her last night," Josh says surprisingly. "Y'know, when she came up for air."
Sam raises his eyebrows. "Um, what did you…?"
"I said you were sick and you were crashing in my room."
"Oh right. Thanks."
Josh reaches to kiss him. "What will you do?"
"We'll break up today," he says, making the decision with the taste of Josh's lips on his.
"We should never have…this is my fault. I mean, look where I am. What else was she supposed to do?"
"How long have you been married?"
"Five years." That they have crumbled so completely after so much time and careful construction comes as simple relief.
Josh is silent. Sam hopes he won't try to get up. "Can't the Senator call himself a cab?"
An uneven movement of his chest signifies Josh's laugh.
Josh's fingers cease their exploration of Sam's hair and his arms encircle him again. Minutes pass and Josh's breathing slows as he falls asleep again.
They both start as Josh's cell phone on the night table rings. Josh leaves it for a few seconds, then groans and reaches over Sam to get to his phone. "I'm going to tell them I'm dead."
But he listens and makes affirmative noises and then says, "What time? I'll be there." He ends the call and reaches over again to switch on the bedside lamp. "I hate my job," he says lying back and folding his arms around Sam once more.
The lamp gives off a faint and shaded light and Sam lets his fingers wander across Josh's chest. He is more muscular than Sam would have guessed but his skin is pale. He diagnoses Northern European blood and a childhood growing in the sparse sunshine of one of the Northern states.
He finds a scar. It doesn't seem to be an old one and it forms a hairless path across the landscape of Josh's torso, below his heart. He follows its line with his finger. Josh shivers and covers his hand with his own.
"How did you get this?" Sam asks.
"I picked the wrong place to stop for cappuccino one night."
Another silent laugh. "Virginia. I walked in on a hold up."
Sam is appalled. "You could have died."
"It's okay. I didn't." There is a silence that covers the planet. "I knew there was a reason."
The cell phone rings again and this time Josh ignores it till it stops. "I've got this thing. A breakfast meeting. And then we're heading straight out of here."
Josh sighs and sits up. "I think I'd give anything to stay with you today." He seems surprised at his own words.
Sam lifts his hand to Josh, who takes it and kisses its palm. "You've got to work."
"Yeah. This sucks, I work all the time. Isn't it, like, Christmas day or something?"
"Feels like it," Sam says and Josh smiles.
"I'm going to take a shower. Don't go away," Josh says as he heads for the bathroom. "Don't disappear, okay."
Sam gets up and goes to the window, pulling back the curtain. A thin, cold daylight dilutes the darkness and the snow has stopped falling. In the distance the river merges into a colourless sky. Snow has settled, lying immaculate on the ground and precariously on skeletal branches of trees. Stepping up to take its cue too early for Christmas, still half a week away.
Getting dressed, he spends a bewildering few minutes trying to sort out which jacket, shirt and trousers are his and which are Josh's when the identical suits are now randomly and scandalously distributed around the room. It strikes him he might just be embarking on a life fraught with many similar problems.
He finishes dressing in the combination of clothes he concludes are his and sinks into the armchair. He should be longing for a shower and coffee but all he wants is for Josh to come out of the bathroom.
After a while Josh emerges. Shaved, with wet hair and a towel around his waist.
"You're still here," he says. He looks at Sam as if he is something wondrous and Sam doesn't think the problem of who owns which dinner jacket would, in the end, be that hard to overcome. "What are you thinking about?"
"Sewing name tags into my clothes."
"Ah–kay." Josh starts to dress and Sam watches. He likes Josh's body he decides. It speaks its own fluent story where Josh fails to disclose. Strengths and weaknesses all spelt out in arms and legs, bone and muscle. His hair receding from his forehead just enough to be noticeable, a second scar on the palm of his right hand. "Quit staring."
"And yet he doesn't stop," Josh digs a grey sweatshirt out of an overnight bag and pulls it on. "Sam, you look like a Vegas cabaret who never made it home."
"No, it's a good look for you."
Sam doesn't think Lisa will agree. "I may as well have a typed account of what I did last night stapled to my shirt."
"I'd be interested in reading that." Josh puts on khakis and sits on the bed to tie his running shoes. "I've really got to go."
What would happen now? Is it possible they are supposed to part now and pretend nothing happened? Forget this unintended thing? Or would Josh give him his phone number if he asked? Would he phone if he had it? Or throw it all away?
Josh finishes with his trainers and pushes a hand through still damp hair. "I don't suppose, there's any chance at all you live in Washington?"
"That's a tragedy."
"I nearly did once. But I took up an internship in a law firm in Manhattan instead."
"You're a lawyer?"
Sam nods. "Gage Whitney Pace."
Josh seems to be remembering something and Sam knows what it is.
"Hey, I knew I'd seen you…are you on TV over that oil tanker, the…?"
"The Indio." He makes a vague circle with his hand. "The whole world's suing."
Josh nods, carefully not judging and all this pure, new snow cannot wash clean the sullied shores of Rehoboth.
"Well," Josh says, lightly. "It's never too late to move to the District. That whole murder capital thing is all in the past."
"I know." Josh looks at his feet a moment. "Are you going to speak to your wife now?"
Sam looks at his watch, it is not yet seven. "I was giving her some time. I don't want to walk in on anything."
"That's a pretty accommodating attitude. That's really…I wish you were my husband."
Sam laughs. "What's Hoynes' policy on that type of thing?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"Did you work on the first campaign?" Sam asks. Hoynes had been the Democratic nominee and had lost decisively.
"Kind of, I left half way through."
"He's got a chance this time."
"He's a good man," Josh says.
Josh stands then. He gives his hand to Sam who stands too. "I wish I could be here. Afterwards. I mean, after you've spoken to your wife. Are you driving back to the city with her?"
Sam shrugs. "I'll figure something out. She might want to go back with that guy, anyway."
"You know, last night," Josh's voice is low now. "I wasn't just…I mean, do I ever get to see you again?"
A vision of the future presents itself to Sam, one which contains the possibility of a moment or two of happiness. "Josh, I think you should know something."
Josh withdraws a little. "I get it, you were drunk, it was a mistake."
"No, no. God, Josh. Last night was the one honest thing…" He had ever done. Was that true? "No, the thing is, what I normally do at turning points in my life is make a truly bad decision which I regret at every waking moment."
"We're alike in many ways."
"So, I've more or less decided to go back to California. That's where I'm from originally."
Josh nods slowly. "That's terrible."
"Probably. But I want to practise a different kind of law for a while."
"You can do that? Get your soul back, just like that?"
Sam laughs at this but he has often wondered. "And I've thought about running for office. Not right away but in a year or two and I'd want to do that back home."
Josh's eyes alight with interest. "For Congress?"
"I'll run your campaign." He is only half joking.
Sam grins. "You're hired."
"Obviously, providing there isn't anything in your private life that might effect your election chances."
"Who me? No, nothing of any significance."
"And you're…please tell me you're not republican?"
Josh's phone rings again and he throws Sam a despairing look as he reaches for it. He takes the call and concludes it quickly with a promise he is on his way.
He pulls his wallet out of his back pocket and after some searching he comes out with a card. "Those are all my numbers," he says. "Phone me on my cell phone. Swear you'll call me tonight." Sam takes the card and stares at it for what must have been a long time. "Sam?"
Sam looks up.
"You will call? Because, y'know…there's the wedding to plan."
Josh misinterprets his silence. "I was kidding about the wedding. I think its important to live together first."
Sam realises he has not spoken. His thoughts are candle wax endlessly melting and reforming into alien shapes but he has not spoken any of them.
"What if I hadn't gone outside last night?" He says finally. "What if you hadn't?"
Josh's nervous humour vanishes. "I would have found you anyway."
There is a knock at the door. A woman's voice calls, "Joshua. We're late, walk down with me."
Josh rolls his eyes and makes a silent 'got to go gesture'.
Their lips meet but the kiss is fleeting and interrupted by another knock. Josh rests his palm softly on Sam's cheek and while Sam stands out of the way Josh leaves.
He puts the card in his pocket, waits for a few minutes and goes to find Lisa.
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