Title : Carpe Diem 4 : Turbulence
Author : Sue C
Spoilers : None
Pairing : Josh/Sam
Rating : N-17
Disclaimer : I know they belong to Aaron Sorkin/Warner Brothers, but I can't resist having a little creative fun with these boys. I'll give them back when I'm done.
Summary : This is another chapter in my Carpe Diem A/U, moving the story on from where Josh took up occupancy in his new apartment. The first three chapters in the series are archived at http://www.aeglos.org/westwing/ and http://www.geocities.com/godlessharlot/therealthing/
Notes : Since it's impossible for anyone outside the White House to have precise knowledge of Air Force One, I have based my description of its layout on what I have seen in The West Wing TV series, Sidney Blumenthal's book The Clinton Years and the website people/howstuffworks.com. Any mistakes you may spot are my own. For anyone with an interest in UK politics, the comments on Tony Blair are based on the political scene in 2001, and not on the Prime Minister's current circumstances.
Archive : Yes, just let me know where
Feedback : Please, even if you hate it, as long as it's constructive. I'm at susan.clements4@btopenworld.com
Thanks to : Nomi, for once again taking the time and trouble to trawl through my work and provide me with pertinent, accurate feedback and to my good friend Kathi for her advice and guidance on characterisation and plot development and, well, for just being there.

Carpe Diem 4 : Turbulence by Sue C

Part 1

April 2001

3:30 AM. The red digits on the clock radio glowed, an illuminated reminder of how long I'd been lying there, sleepless. The alarm wouldn't sound for another thirty minutes, set for an unseemly hour that would start our working day even earlier than usual : a reminder of the demands which the next two days would present.

I stared into the darkness, debating whether to move from the comfort of my lover's bed, or to lie there conscious that I could drop off and sleep through the alarm. Undecided, I rolled over towards Josh who, after a restless night, at last slept soundly. His tousled curls gave him the look of a naughty cherub; he'd thrown aside the comforter so that his left leg and upper body lay exposed. I leaned over to pull the covers back over him, all too aware that he was liable to be woken by even the slightest movement. I waited, bracing myself for the cry of outrage, for the love of my life was most definitely a night owl as opposed to a lark. And a pretty bad-tempered night owl if he was disturbed in the early hours of the morning. But still he slept on.

I slid my hand under the comforter and stroked Josh's thigh. The pre-dawn silence surrounded me as I touched his skin that presented itself as warm yet unresponsive. Something tweaked at me inside as I lovingly fondled the part of Josh's body that he no longer acknowledged had any part to play in our lovemaking. Despite my protestations that I still longed to touch him where motor and sensory function had ceased, he wouldn't allow it.

"It does nothing for me, so why bother?" he'd asked when we discussed it.

"It gives *me* pleasure - don't you want that?" I'd responded.

He'd given me a chilly look of indifference. "The subject's not up for discussion."

And that's the way it had stayed so far. At least, so long as Josh was fully conscious. But in those hours where the darkness and his sleeping permitted it, I let the light into those areas of my mind that for 99% of the time I refused to explore, giving way to my ... weakness? Desire? So that's why I lay there, unable - or unwilling - to stop myself from touching Josh between his legs. I pulled in my breath sharply as I cupped my hand over his genitals, and with a sensation akin to guilt I allowed myself to remember the feeling of Josh's hardness inside me, the heat of him flowering and overflowing to anoint me inside and out. Oh, make no mistake, these days our lovemaking was truly satisfying, with a unique quality dictated by Josh's altered physical state. But in the secret part of me that I never revealed to Josh I still thought of the time when I would take him inside me, the two of us moving together towards a shattering, shared climax. A small pang of regret stabbed me somewhere in the pit of my stomach. I began fruitlessly sliding my hand up and down Josh's shaft, holding him gently, feeling my own body respond, while Josh lay there completely unaware of my actions. This isn't right, I thought, reluctantly relinquishing my grasp, contenting myself with laying my hand on Josh's stomach, but just low enough that my hand lay against the soft wiriness of his pubic hair. I turned my head slightly to gaze at him, watching as Josh shifted slightly in his sleep, murmuring something unintelligible. Even as he slept, the workings of Josh's subconscious would often become apparent, and as the early morning light began to seep into the room, I detected what looked like a slight smile flit across his face. Seeing him looking so contented, so stress-free, I felt ashamed that I could even contemplate how, but for Josh being in the wrong place at the wrong time, things could have been different. How could I betray this dear, beautiful man by dwelling on the memories of things past, by remembering those other ways that Josh once was able to use to satisfy my own wants and needs?

The guilt of that moment spread through me in a cold, sickening rush. Even though Josh had no way of knowing what had been going through my head, I needed to deal with it. I placed a kiss on the strong, smooth curve of his shoulder, then leaned over him, moving my head closer so that my face brushed against his hair.

"I love you, Josh," I whispered. "Please forgive me."

And God knows I do love him. I love him in a way that is complete. Profound. Complex. A love born of total commitment to one another, of passion, of an all-consuming physical attraction. That much was mutual. If anything we were closer than we'd ever been. But our love existed on another, more complicated level. The level that went beyond caring for one another on a conventional, day to day basis. The level that produced a tension resulting from one fiercely independent partner having other, more particular needs than their mate. Which was one of the reasons why this was Josh's apartment, Josh's bed, and that I only shared this with him maybe two or three nights a week. Which, as it happened, was the reason I'd had to fight a battle with him to let me stay over so I could be here to carry his luggage to his car in readiness for the trip we were taking with the President. And, in case you're wondering, it was my thinking about the trip that originally kept me awake, until my thought processes got hijacked by my own dark, secret preoccupations. Which again brought me back to how much I love Josh.

I was in danger of disappearing up the circular nature of my own thoughts when Josh's body jerked as he woke up. He pulled himself upright, then sat rubbing his hands over his face. Throwing the comforter to one side he stretched his arms forward, clenching his hands around his ankles, his head bent.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck."

"Josh?" I sat up, touching the back of his head and once again planting a kiss on his shoulder. "What's wrong? Bad dream?"

He gave me a tired smile. "No, Sam, not a bad dream."

The smile disappeared, his attitude telling me not to pursue it any further. As if to save me from the awkwardness of the moment, the alarm suddenly shrieked. Josh jerked his head around at the intrusion.

"Shit, that made me jump," he said. He scrutinized the clock's display. "God, is it that time already? I feel like I've just gotten into bed."

"Tell you what, you take a little time to wake up properly, I'll use the bathroom first, then while you take your shower I can get dressed and start breakfast." I didn't give Josh any choice; I was already out of bed.

As expected, he groaned. "It's too early for breakfast. I'll just have some coffee, then I'll eat on the plane."

I stopped in the bathroom doorway and looked back towards the bed.

"Josh, you'll have some cereal and/or toast. If I let you leave this house without breakfast Donna and Abby will have *me* for breakfast."

"Yeah, like they'll know," he retorted.

"Oh, they'll know," I called back. "I don't know how they do it, but they'll know."

Josh was still muttering as I closed the bathroom door.

***

This was the day we would travel to Boston with the President. Today he would visit a couple of schools, with a formal reception and dinner being held this evening for local government officials and politicians. Tomorrow his itinerary included meetings, a speech and official lunch at the State House with a private visit with friends in the afternoon, before flying back to Washington, DC in the evening. CJ and Toby were also accompanying us on the trip, because senior staff always had various meetings of their own organized with state government and non-governmental organizations. All in all, a packed two days, but one Josh and I were looking forward to enormously, despite the fact that we wouldn't have a great deal of time to spend together, and we most definitely wouldn't be travelling as a "couple". Although we had outed ourselves to the White House, no formal announcements had been made and no questions had yet been asked about our relationship. To the outsider - even the ever-vigilant press corps - nothing had changed. Mindful of the views of a significant proportion of the electorate towards gay relationships, we kept our relationship low key. In any case, if we'd been two senior staff members in a heterosexual relationship, the same policy would have prevailed. Nevertheless, a couple of days in a nice city like Boston, even a strenuously busy two days, was a welcome prospect.

As I brewed the coffee and made myself toast I ran over a checklist in my mind. Briefing papers, copies of the President's speeches, laptop, glasses, pager, cell phone. I seemed to have everything covered, so I settled down to eat while casting an eye over a report on the rural economy of Massachusetts so that I could brief the President while we travelled to our destination. I'd just got to the section on cranberry production when I figured Josh would soon emerge from the bedroom.

"Do you want toast and cereal?" I shouted, standing at the kitchen door.

"No - just toast," Josh called back.

"Two slices?" I enquired.

"No. One," was the response.

Better than nothing, I thought.

I was sitting down finishing my coffee when Josh came into the room. He squeezed my shoulder briefly as he moved behind me. He still seemed a little subdued.

"Your toast's just popped," I said.

"Thanks." He wheeled himself over to where the toaster stood. "Oh, man, it's wheat toast. Haven't we got any white?"

"No, wheat toast is better for you than that stuff that's full of refined white flour." I looked up to meet Josh's disgruntled look as he sat opposite me. "It tastes good - *I* like it."

"Well, that's all right then," he said sardonically.

I held his gaze for a few seconds then resumed my reading. I'd long given up any attempt to coax Josh into a good humor at this sort of unearthly hour. I knew from experience that he'd be in a better humor once he'd drank his coffee and we were out of his apartment and on our way to the White House. For the next couple of minutes everything was quiet, until Josh began tapping a teaspoon on the tabletop. Tap, tap, tap. A sure sign that something was bugging him.

"I hope I can get onto the plane okay," he finally said.

"Well, Mike's got everything organized - he's talked you through it at least twenty times." I didn't bother lifting my eyes from the page I was reading. Mike, his other, newly recruited assistant, had arranged everything down to the last detail : getting Josh onto the plane, out of his wheelchair, into his seat. He'd left nothing to chance.

Silence. Tap, tap, tap.

"You know, sometimes a wheelchair can go missing when you fly."

"And that's going to happen - how?" I asked. Still I went on reading. I knew this was Josh's first time on Air Force One since the shooting, but he seemed to be over-reacting.

"A nurse in the rehab hospital told me about someone who travelled to England whose wheelchair ended up in Vienna."

The absurdity of this statement made me sit up and take notice.

"Were they flying on Air Force One?" I asked innocently.

"No, of *course* not," Josh said. "They flew on a commercial flight from Toronto to England via Amsterdam, and the wheelchair got lost for a week."

"So you're travelling on a non-commercial flight with the leader of the free world, from Washington, DC to Boston, and there's every chance you're wheelchair will somehow find its way to the capital of Austria. Josh, for someone so brilliant you can be incredibly stupid." I finished my coffee and closed the report.

"Okay, okay, I was just *sayin'.*"

I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"The thing tonight?"

Tap, tap, tap.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"What if nobody speaks to me?"

I closed the dishwasher and turned to look at Josh. He sat with his back to me so I couldn't see his face. Somehow I didn't feel inclined to joke about this question.

"Why would that happen?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't know - embarrassment, maybe. It's not like DC, where people are starting to get used to me now." He turned his head so that I could see his face in profile.

"You just be yourself, Josh - they'll know it's still you."

This time there was no tap, tap, tap.

"You think?" he asked.

"I *know*," I replied.

"Come on then. We've got a plane to catch."

***

Josh got himself and his wheelchair into the car while I brought the luggage out and stowed it in the trunk. I made a final sweep of the apartment, making sure no electrical appliances or lights had been left on, switched on the burglar alarm and locked up. It was nearly 5:00 AM. As I walked towards the car the early spring sky was starting to lighten, turning a pearly grey in the east. The silence that had prevailed while I lay awake had been replaced by a faint sound of the traffic starting to fill the nearby freeway. A dog barked in the distance. I liked this time of the day; there was a feeling of the unknown to it, like the next twenty-four hours were a blank page waiting to be written on.

I got into the passenger seat of Josh's car. He was leaning over with both arms resting on top of the steering wheel, staring out through the windshield. I shifted my position to see into his face, which had a faraway look on it, almost as if he was hung over. Not from alcohol, but from whatever it was that had preoccupied him since waking up. I hesitated before I spoke. It was only a couple of months ago that he had confided in me that there were times when he felt like he was back in the ER at the hospital. The feelings this evoked were so real to him that if I caught him in this distracted state, I had to be careful not to spook him. But time was getting on, and we had lots to do at work before heading for Andrews Air Force Base.

"Josh," I said as softly as I could, but not so soft that he wouldn't hear me break through the reverie that he'd sunk into.

He tore his eyes away from whatever they could see and turned to look at me.

"Hey," he said. "C'm here."

He stretched his arms out towards me. I moved over to allow him to hold me, somewhat awkwardly, in the confined space of the car.

"I'm sorry ... I'm sorry for being such an idiot." Josh spoke haltingly, his voice muffled as he turned his face against mine. "I'm sorry for pushing you away this morning. You know, I couldn't do any of this without you."

"Yes, you could ... you *can*," I said.

He lifted his head to look at me.

"No, I don't want to do it without you." He ran his finger down my cheek.

"Ssh," I said, as this time I was the one who made the moves. Josh's lips were dry and cool in the chill of the morning, but I soon felt the warmth generated by our kiss. Neither of us wanted to end it; we began to get lost in the moment, until the radio - which had been playing all this time - gave out a time check.

"I think this will have to wait until later," Josh said reluctantly.

"Much later," I conceded, but still unable to resist planting a final kiss on those tempting lips. Time and the White House wait for no man.

***

We entered the West Wing at a few minutes past 5:30 AM, but the level of activity suggested a much later hour. People deposited luggage in offices or beside desks in the open plan areas, prior to its being delivered to the waiting vehicles. Staffers walked around - or in some cases ran - gathering together essential papers, documents and reports needed on the trip. Itinerary items and times were being shouted out, since this particular document was often subject to last minute changes. Indeed, the President had been known to alter his movements mid-trip. The short duration of this visit, however, coupled with the tight schedule, made this less likely. Something the Secret Service would be relieved to hear.

Donna hovered on the periphery of Josh's bullpen, obviously waiting for him to appear. She stood there anxiously as we prepared to part company.

"Josh, Leo needs to see you before you go."

"When?" he asked, moving away from my side.

"Like five minutes ago?" she said with a hopeful smile on her face. "And Mike says you need to be ready to leave here at six-thirty at the latest so you can board Air Force One ahead of everyone else."

" 'kay. Just give me a second," Josh insisted.

As Donna walked on ahead while consulting her notebook, Josh took the opportunity to turn back so he faced me. He gazed briefly at my face, then he took a long, lingering look down the length of my body. Finally, his eyes swept back up to meet my own eyes as he gave me a mischievous smile and a wink. I felt a small thrill of pleasure, thankful that the moment we had shared in the car had allowed us to re-engage after Josh's earlier detachment.

"Josh!" Donna shouted.

He rushed away to catch up with her. "Okay, okay, I'm coming."

Part 2

"Sam, you want to hitch a ride with me?"

CJ stood in the doorway of my office, coat on, briefcase in hand. I turned the suggestion over in my mind. If I went to Andrews now, I would be there early and could make sure I got a seat next to Josh; surely our discretion didn't extend to our travelling arrangements. I looked over at Toby who had been running through a few last minute issues that needed to be discussed with the President on the flight.

"Are we done here?" I asked.

He stood up, looked at me and then wheeled around, giving CJ a measured look.

"What?" she said. "All I want is some company because I have to get there early to beat the press corps into submission before they get on the plane."

Toby sighed.

"Go, go - although why she needs you to hold her hand on a thirty-minute car ride is a mystery to me."

As he rushed past CJ said, "You look even handsomer when you're grumpy, do you know that, Toby?"

He waved a hand in her direction as he headed for his office.

"Don't forget - we're meeting with the President on the plane," he shouted.

I caught CJ's look and we both burst out laughing. The world was a *very* serious place to Toby.

"Come on, Sammy - you're dying to get there to make sure Josh is actually sitting on the plane," she said.

I looked up from the papers I was shuffling before placing them in my case.

"You did it again," I said.

"Did what?" CJ asked innocently.

"You read my mind." I put my jacket on, and folded my overcoat over my arm.

She rolled her eyes. "Sam, you're just so transparent. I heard you asking Mike how long it would take to get Josh boarded. I knew why you were asking. It's not rocket science. Now come *on*."

I followed her through the West Wing and down the stairs. CJ was taking long strides in her rush to get to the car.

"Why does everyone say that 'It's not rocket science'? It's always that. Why not 'It's not molecular biology' or 'It's not metaphysical poetry'?"

She stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

"Guess what, Sam? I don't know and I don't care. And if you're going to babble on like that you can find your own way to Andrews. Get in the car."

The sun was shining as our vehicle merged with the traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was one of those spring mornings where the trees wore that subtle shade of green that only appears as they begin to bud. The shade of green that is so ephemeral that you wished you were a Monet or a Renoir who could capture it forever. It made me feel optimistic and hopeful just looking at it.

Despite telling me not to babble, CJ began chattering, seemingly oblivious to the scene outside the car.

"I love Boston. The Freedom Trail, Paul Revere's House, the Boston Tea Party Ship. Oh, and Quincy Market, that's so quaint. Hey, Sam, have you been on a Duck Tour?" She finally stopped to draw breath.

"The last time I was there was in the middle of a political campaign, a little thing called Bartlet for America, so I was otherwise engaged. Before that it had been years since I'd been to Boston," I said.

"So you haven't been on a Duck Tour?"

"I don't even know what it is, so I'm pretty sure I haven't been on it," I replied.

"Oh, it's so cool! They've converted these amphibious landing craft from the 1940s, and so they're called the Ducks. You go on a tour of the city in it, then it converts into a boat, and you go splashing into the Charles River. And when you're driving through Boston ... " She flung her head back and laughed. "... all the passengers shout 'Quack, quack' and all the passers-by do it back!"

"You're not expecting us to do that while we're there, are you?" I asked uncertainly.

"You know, it might be fun - we could all go. You, me, Josh, Toby ... "

As I sat there I got the impression that CJ was acting a little ... well, hyper, for want of a better word. She's always animated, enthusiastic, but since she'd gotten in the car she had seemed a little too bright, a little too talkative.

"Err, CJ, I don't think we'll have time," I said.

She looked sideways at me, and touched her hair with an awkward gesture that implied she realized how she'd been behaving.

"Yes, I guess you're right," she said with a small smile.

We lapsed into silence, both looking out of our own respective sides of the car as the scene outside gradually changed from the government buildings to those on the outskirts of the city : businesses, shops, some residential areas. Those parts of DC that we rarely saw in our insulated lives inside the Beltway. CJ moved slightly, opened her mouth to speak, then stopped. After a few seconds she looked over at me.

"Sam?" Gone were the smiles and conversation of a few minutes ago. "Do you remember the last trip we all made together?"

By "us" I knew she meant herself, Josh, Toby and me. All at once her earlier forced cheerfulness became clear to me. I nodded, suddenly finding it hard to speak. She was referring to the fundraiser in California, which took place just a month before Rosslyn.

CJ swallowed hard, her eyes cast down, staring at her knees.

"It's funny, isn't it? For weeks now I've seen Josh every day and more and more there've been occasions when I haven't even *thought* about a time when he wasn't using a wheelchair. But last night I was trying to remember the last trip we all took together ... " She raised her hand, pressing her fingers to her lips. With a visible effort she regained her usual composure.

"That's why I asked you to ride with me, Sam. I knew you of all people would understand. But what did I do? I've been talking utter garbage because I didn't know how to broach the subject. And now I feel so ... oh, I don't know ... you and Josh - *especially* Josh - deal with this every day, and here I am worrying about myself because I've suddenly been reminded. You've got my permission to slap me." She laughed sharply, although the sound was devoid of any joy or humor. I reached over and squeezed her hand.

"Don't, CJ. You've got every right to have feelings about this. The whole thing has touched us all, and I think we sometimes forget that. Especially when it hits us out of the blue. And the weird thing is that I hadn't even thought about that last trip - not recently, at any rate. I did a while back because I found the photographs I'd taken. And Josh hasn't mentioned it, but ... " This time I stopped.

"But what?" CJ asked.

"But that doesn't mean he hasn't thought about it. He doesn't always let me in, even now."

"I'm sure you've both had so much to think about for this trip that maybe it hasn't crossed his mind," she said.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," I replied, although now the subject had been raised I wasn't too sure. "We live with it, and we move on. I'm just thankful Josh is still around to be able to take another trip."

Before I could pursue the topic any further the car had stopped at the entrance to Andrews where a uniformed officer asked us to present our credentials. He waved us through the raised barrier, and we were driven straight to the runway where Air Force One stood waiting.

"Feeling okay?" I asked CJ.

She nodded and smiled.

"Yes, *yes*," She emphasized the words. "I'm glad I was able to talk about it, Sam."

We stepped out onto the tarmac where a slight breeze whipped CJ's hair across her face.

"So," she said, "we move on. Wise words, my young friend."

"This'll be good, I know it. I'm going to find Josh."

CJ pointed towards one of the administrative buildings.

"I've got to brief the press corps on the itinerary, and Toby wants me to give them a heads up about what to expect in the State House speech tomorrow. I'll see you later."

I watched as she made her way inside, her confident demeanor belying the sadness she had revealed in the car. The door shut behind her and I could see the crowd of people inside react to her entrance in the room. The pressroom was her natural habitat, and whether that room was in the White House or a makeshift facility at an Air Force Base she would already have forgotten her personal problems.

As I wended my way across the runway, I knew that Josh must be safely on the plane. The staircase was already in position and this would only have been done after a vehicle with a hydraulic elevator had been used to enable Josh to board. The procedure followed was the same as a commercial airline: any passenger using a wheelchair would be boarded first. I'd been told this was done for purely practical reasons, to give Josh and his assistant freedom of access without any other passengers getting in the way. But I also knew that Josh wanted as few people as possible to see him in the undertaking, which would involve him moving from his wheelchair to a narrower aisle chair and then transferring into his seat. As I put my foot on the first step I couldn't help feeling slightly relieved that Josh would be settled on the plane by this time. Not for my sake, that is, but for his : he didn't even want me around to witness any special arrangements made for him. My relief was short-lived, however. About halfway up the staircase I saw his assistant Mike appear in the doorway.

Let me tell you a little about Mike. When Josh was well enough to return to work, Leo suggested he hire an additional assistant to help with any aspects of his work that his disability may have made more difficult. Things like fetching, carrying, and accompanying Josh anywhere there may be access difficulties, researching buildings and travel plans and organizing any special arrangements that needed to be put in place. But Josh also wanted someone who could do more than help with the purely practical aspects of the busy life of the Deputy Chief of Staff. An extra pair of hands in his staff office was also useful, so the job description also called for someone who could turn their hand to the duties of an administrative assistant in the White House. Enter Mike Brookes.

Thirty years old, Mike's resume showed an interesting career path. Having joined the military after college, he decided to train as a medic. After leaving the army, he'd worked in a number of hospitals, including Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. But after ten years in the medical profession he was itching to try something new, so that when his wife's job took her to Washington, DC he decided to use this as an opportunity to make a career change. And this is where the fickle finger of fate kicks in, if I can use a really bad mixed metaphor. As a senior nurse his job had entailed administrative as well as clinical duties, so that when he came to DC and bumped into one of his old officers who was now a senator, he was confident he could do the job Senator Blake offered him. So for three years he worked in the senator's Washington office, and that's where he was working when Josh began casting around for an additional assistant. When Josh short-listed him for the post, it was obvious he stood head and shoulders above the other candidates. Not because he had a medical background per se - Josh didn't need to be nursed - but because he had an insight into what his prospective boss would need from an assistant with a more specialized skill set than would usually be required, and also due to the obvious skills he had demonstrated in his work with the senator. Oh, and he possesses one other invaluable asset : he knows *exactly* how to handle Josh, striking that delicate balance between knowing when to offer help or support to Josh as a wheelchair user and when to pull back.

Unfortunately, as he met me on the stairs into the plane, I could see by the slight frown he wore that Mike wasn't having the best of days.

"Don't tell me, he's forgotten a crucial piece of paperwork and he wants you to go back to DC to pick it up," I said.

"I wish it were that simple," he replied, and began to explain Josh's predicament. Sliding across from his wheelchair into the aisle chair had been simple enough for Josh to do. The problem had arisen when he tried to get out of the aisle chair into the aircraft seat. The aisle chair was a lot lower in height compared to the seat on the plane and this, coupled with the seat's armrest, proved too difficult for Josh to move from one to the other using his arms to lift and slide himself across. His arms were strong, but the unfamiliar movement had put a strain on his still-recovering chest muscles.

"So now I need a member of the ground staff to help me lift him," Mike said.

Oh, God, I thought to myself, I can just imagine Josh's reaction.

"I'll do it," I told him.

"With all due respect, Sam, it's not your job or area of expertise. Besides, this is a military airbase - there's bound to be a member of the ground staff who's been trained to lift someone with limited mobility."

I didn't take offense at his apparent rejection of my offer of help. Mike quite rightly wanted someone to assist who would know the correct way to touch and move someone in Josh's situation. However, even though after a few weeks in his job Mike had been made aware of mine and Josh's relationship, he obviously hadn't thought through the practical ramifications of it. And why would he, anyway? So as tactfully as I could I set about persuading him that I *did* have some expertise that would be of use.

"Mike, I help Josh in lots of different ways. I can do this."

The poor guy looked a tad embarrassed when he realized what I was saying.

"Gee, Sam, I'm sorry ... I should have thought ... well, yeah, please, if you can help, that'll be great."

"Come on, let's do it," I said as we began walking back up the stairs, "before he gets any madder. He *is* mad, right?"

"At himself more than anything," he told me.

I followed Mike onto the plane. Air Force One is on three levels, and is actually more like an airborne version of the executive offices than an aircraft. The main entrance to the plane that we had just used took us straight onto the second level, which housed the President's suite, the main work areas and conference room, as well as the lounge area where Josh was to be seated. The lounge contained a fixed table, which gave limited access into the room, which was what had necessitated the use of the aisle chair rather than his wheelchair.

Josh was already sitting in the lounge, but didn't look at us as we approached, sitting with his arms folded, staring straight ahead, his lips set in an expression of suppressed anger.

"Okay, Josh, let's get you organized," said Mike as he walked over to Josh.

As I followed him I saw Josh catch sight of me. He tilted his head back slightly and raised his eyes heavenwards.

"No, I don't want ... " he started to say, but before he could finish Mike interjected.

"Sam, let me take your bags so I can stow them away for you." He took my hand luggage from me giving me a pointed look. As he left us alone I guessed he was giving us a minute to resolve any disagreement Josh and I had about my helping out.

"Sam, I'd rather someone else did this," Josh hissed.

I leaned over towards him, placing one hand on his shoulder and putting my mouth to his ear.

"You serve at the pleasure of the President, the President wants you on this plane, and this is how we're gonna do it. We can argue about it later."

Before Josh had time to answer, Mike was back.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

Josh glared at me before answering.

"Sure," he said.

Mike positioned himself behind the aisle chair.

"Josh, I'm going to wheel you back to the seat like I did earlier. "

He maneuvered the chair so that it was parallel to the seat Josh would occupy, all the time Josh refusing to make eye contact with me. As he stood behind Josh Mike began to give his instructions.

"Right, Josh, I'm going to slide my arms underneath yours, and I want you to hold my hands." Mike placed his hands in front of Josh's chest so that he could grasp them. "Sam, you place your hands behind Josh's knees and we'll lift him together. On my count ... one ... two ...three."

We managed to co-ordinate our actions so that we lifted Josh smoothly from the aisle chair and into his seat.

"Thanks, guys," Josh said.

"Right, what do you need before I take this away?" asked Mike, indicating the aisle chair.

"Just my backpack - I have some papers I want to read." Still Josh didn't look at me; instead, he began shifting around in his seat and putting on his seat belt.

Mike picked up the backpack from where it had been lying on the table and handed it to Josh, who unzipped it, rooted around in it and pulled out various files and papers, which he balanced precariously on his knee. Eventually he found what he wanted, stuffed some of the material back and handed the bag to his assistant. I resisted the temptation to remark on Josh's usual haphazard method of retrieving and repacking the contents of his backpack, and instead merely sat down in the adjacent seat.

"Well if that's everything, I'll leave you to it," said Mike. "I'll check in later and see if you need anything."

He left us alone and I watched as Josh began sorting his papers, then reached into his jacket pocket for a pen. He opened a bulky looking report, running his fingers along the crease in its spine to keep it open at the page he wanted. He leaned his left arm on the armrest, propping his head against his hand as he read. Since I was also sitting on his left I got the message : he was effectively shutting me out.

"Josh?"

No answer.

"Josh? Are you okay?"

Without raising his eyes from the page, he said, "I'm as okay as anybody would be whose boyfriend has had to lift him like child into a seat on an aircraft."

He moved his hand, rubbing his fingers along his temple, so that I couldn't read the expression on his face.

"Look at me, Josh," I said.

"Hey, guys," said CJ, who had suddenly appeared in the doorway.

Josh jerked his head up and around, looking at her unsmilingly. I managed a lukewarm half smile.

"Hi. Is Toby here yet?" Although I was conscious the question covered up the atmosphere between Josh and me, I also wanted to know how long we had the lounge to ourselves. This particular compartment on the plane was always reserved for the most senior members of staff travelling with the President, which today happened to be me, Josh, Toby and CJ. For all future flights Josh would always be seated here because of its proximity to the main entrance.

"Yes, he's in the communications room. I think he'll be there until we leave. Look, I'd better ... " CJ pointed towards the rear of the aircraft, where the press corps was seated. She'd obviously intuited something was going on between Josh and me.

"Catch you later," I said. Josh didn't say anything, but the interruption had forced his attention away from the papers in front of him. With obvious reluctance he turned to look at me. I almost wished he hadn't. His eyes were wide, with such pain in them, I didn't know how to respond.

"Mike shouldn't have asked you to do it," he said.

"He didn't - I offered. He was going to get a member of the ground staff to help. I wanted to do it."

"Sam ... " He stopped, his mouth opening and closing a couple of times, while he lifted a hand and gestured helplessly. "You ... me ... us. You're my lover, not my nurse."

I didn't answer him, *couldn't* answer him. I just stared, waiting for him to elaborate.

"It's not right," he went on. "It's not right for you to do things that a partner shouldn't have to do."

There are two ways to do this, I thought, the sympathetic way or the tough way. Josh and sympathy : a bad combination. Okay buddy, I said to myself, you asked for it.

"Supposing, just supposing, that last year I'd walked out of a building on my own, got shot in the chest, then discovered I'd never walk again. And then supposing I had to get on a plane, wasn't quite ready to do everything unaided and Josh Lyman, who just happened to be my lover, was in the vicinity. I wonder what Josh Lyman would do?"

Josh had the grace to squirm in his seat. Gotcha, I thought. Well, for precisely one second, that is. As usual, Josh came back out again fighting.

"Yes, but you're also a colleague, and you don't get paid to be a health care assistant," he retorted. Obviously confident he'd delivered a knock-out blow, he turned back to his work.

"We're part of a team, and team members do things to support their colleagues that aren't necessarily in their job description. Like standing in for the press secretary when she's had root canal work." I let that sink in. "Not very effectively, of course, but fortunately fabricating a secret plan to fight inflation didn't damage the President *too* much."

Josh didn't think much of my effort at humor. "Yes, Sam, very droll. But the fact remains that at least that was directly work related."

"Yes, like the time I had that migraine and you had to bail me out when I couldn't read my notes because I couldn't see properly."

"Come on, Sam, anyone would have done that," he replied.

"No they wouldn't, because no one else would have seen I was in trouble there. I didn't want to have to tell a couple of senators and their staff that I couldn't do my job. I dropped the ball, you picked it up and no one was any the wiser. *That's* helping a colleague when they need it."

Josh sighed heavily. "I hear what you're saying ... " he started to say.

"Don't use that phrase," I interrupted. "It usually means the exact opposite - it's what people say when they want to fob someone off."

He twisted around in his seat so that he faced me more squarely. "Okay, let me rephrase that. I *understand* what you're saying. I know you don't mind helping me. I'm okay with that when it's in our personal time together, but in a work area ... "

"So you'd rather Mike had got hold of some stranger who you didn't know, who didn't know you, when the alternative was two people who you're comfortable with were perfectly capable of managing things between them." I tipped my head to one side. "Well?"

"What I really should have done was go back to the White House. That would have saved everyone a lot of bother. "

"Josh! You know you can't do that - you're needed on this trip. There's the function tonight, then you've got to staff the President at his meetings tomorrow morning." I wasn't saying this to make him feel better. It was the truth.

"You or Toby could do that," he said, referring to the meetings.

"We can't," I almost shouted. "You're the person who *always* does it - you've got the knowledge, you've done all the preparation. The President won't tolerate anyone else doing it. So we did what we had to do and got you on the damn plane! "

I sensed I was slowly wearing down Josh's resistance.

"Sam, you've got to appreciate, I need to be able to do things without always asking for help. All I wanted to do was get into my seat, on my own, without being dependent. But when I tried, there was the height of the seat and my chest muscles hurt so much I had to give up."

"So what are you going to do about it?" I asked. The question was blunt, but I made no apologies for that.

"I don't know - figure out a way to get stronger, I guess. Get rid of the stiffness in my chest." Josh looked thoughtful.

"Can I make a suggestion?"

We had been so engrossed in our conversation that we hadn't noticed Mike come into the room carrying a pile of faxes.

"Yeah, come in. All contributions gratefully received," Josh said with a wry smile.

Mike sat down on the edge of the table.

"Do you work out?" he asked.

"Not since I left the rehab hospital," said Josh. "I know I should have kept it up, but ..." He shrugged.

"Well, maybe it's something you should consider. Get yourself a personal trainer, someone who can assess you, work out a program, then you can start to get yourself really fit. And if that doesn't work ... I mean if you still have problems here on the plane ... well, maybe we could look at the design of the seating. Get the seat adapted so the armrest can tilt up to allow you to slide across. You might prefer looking at that option first." Suddenly Mike fell silent, as if he thought he might have said too much. "But I don't want to talk out of turn. It's not for me to say what's best for you."

I liked his direct approach. I liked the way he came up with options that sounded workable, realistic. And I could tell by the way Josh was thinking about what Mike proposed that he liked it too.

"I *knew* I made the right choice when I recruited you," Josh exclaimed. "See, Sam, all it needed was for someone to cut through all the crap and help me work it through to a solution."

And I'd nearly got you to that stage, I thought. But all I said was, "Absolutely." What did it matter who got the credit? It was the look on Josh's face that mattered to me, and the fact that I no longer read hurt and anger in his eyes.

"So," Josh said, suddenly all business, "what have you got for me?"

"There're some faxes. Can you take a look at them and phone Leo as soon as we're airborne, which shouldn't be too long as the President and the First Lady have just come on board." Mike plonked the faxes on the table and brought the phone over to where Josh could reach it.

"Okay. Can you let my staff know I'll need to see them in thirty minutes. Sam, can you let me have the room then?"

"Yeah, I'm guessing Toby will want me for the rest of the flight. We can work in the conference area." Our previous discussion seemed to be at an end, but I felt that we'd achieved something.

CJ poked her head into the lounge.

"Wheels up in ten minutes," she informed us. "I'm going back to sit with the press corps."

"Danny's on board then?" asked Josh, assuming an innocent expression.

"I *knew* it was a mistake letting you back on this plane," she shouted over her shoulder as she left. "Hey, Toby - you've got a real comedian sitting in there with you."

Toby walked in, sat down and proceeded to start grumbling about the trip, the cup of coffee he'd just had and the speech the President would give the following day at the State House.

"The President has decided he wants to say something on the new literacy program he's pushing for, so now the speech not only needs polishing, but we need to add a new section and pare it down elsewhere. And why we have to go to that thing tonight - I swear to God these affairs stop us getting on with the real work."

"Yeah," said Josh looking up slyly from his reading, "but there'll be dancing. You know how much you love the dancing."

Toby gave a slight grin. "Josh, I don't think you appreciate how lucky you are not having to participate in *that* particular activity."

"Oho, I suspect that even *now* I'm a better dancer than you are, Toby. But I'll be quite happy to sit on the sidelines and watch you drag some poor unsuspecting female around the floor."

"Well that activity might be preferable to having to chat up Schwab and try to get him onside over the urban renewal grants." Toby was referring to the governor of Massachusetts. The state had a Republican governor but a Democratic majority in the state legislature. "He's being lobbied by the agricultural groups who feel the rural poor will lose out."

"Aah, yes," I said, "the rural poor of Massachusetts - didn't John Steinbeck write about them?"

"Yeah, "The Cranberries of Wrath"," Josh said as he turned his attention back to his faxes.

The three of us bantered like this for the next few minutes as the plane taxied along the runway, became airborne then banked steeply over the Virginia countryside. Once the seatbelt signs were turned off, one of the stewards came in to serve us coffee. Toby and I carried ours along to the conference room and spent the rest of the flight shuttling between there and Air Force One's Oval Office (which is actually rectangular in shape) to consult with the President about the final version of his speech. Apart from assisting Mike taking Josh in the aisle chair to the bathroom, I didn't see him again until we had to take our seats prior to landing in Boston, but I could see from the coffee cups, plates, papers and faxes scattered around the table that Josh had obviously commandeered this as his own personal work area. Mike was busy tidying up and packing the official stuff away while a steward cleared the rest of the debris.

"Busy morning?" I asked. Josh looked a lot more relaxed as he smiled up at me.

"Mmm, until the President decided to interrupt. I got the feeling he was checking on me to make sure I was okay. Which I wouldn't mind until he decided to give me a whistle stop tour of the growth of the economy in Boston."

"Josh, I'll get one of the crew to radio the airport to get someone to help me get you out of your seat," Mike said, lifting the case he'd packed.

Josh looked over at me. "Well, if it's okay with Sam I'd like him to help."

"No problem," I said. Don't make too big a deal of it, I told myself, hoping I didn't look as pleased as I felt.

"Cool," Mike responded. "I'll see you later then - don't forget, you'll need to stay on board until everyone else has disembarked," he reminded Josh.

"He's a good guy," I said as he left us alone.

"Yeah. I couldn't function without Donna, of course, but for all the other things ... " he left it unsaid, but I knew he was alluding to Mike's more specialized duties.

For the next couple of minutes we sat in a companionable silence. I stared out of the window while Josh began riffling through his personal organizer. I was lost in thought when I felt his hand lightly touch mine. When I turned from the window Josh's face wore a contemplative expression. Not sad or upset like earlier, but as if he had something important on his mind.

"Sam ... " he began.

Before he could go any further Toby and CJ came into the lounge. Josh snatched his hand away, and the small moment of intimacy was gone. I wondered what he'd been going to say. Well, if it was anything vital he'd let me know later.

"Hey, what are you two looking so serious about?" CJ asked in her usual direct fashion.

"Nothing," said Josh. Since I didn't have a clue I didn't bother replying. CJ got the message so didn't pursue the matter and resumed the conversation she'd obviously been having with Toby before they came in. Outside the blue sky was broken up by scrappy white clouds as we began to make our descent. The plane dropped steeply and I felt the bump as the wheels hit the tarmac. I smiled to myself as I remembered the time I'd remarked to Josh that landing a plane was actually a controlled crash, and how much it had wigged him out. The fact that at the time we'd been flying into JFK in a fog hadn't helped matters, of course. But today we'd had perfect flying conditions, and I could see that the balmy spring weather had accompanied us from DC.

As soon as the captain announced it was safe for the passengers to leave their seats, Toby and CJ jumped up as if they were on springs and hurried out of the lounge. I stood up and stood behind Josh's seat, folding my arms along the back of it. I leaned down and spoke to him quietly.

"I'll take your top half this time."

Josh tilted his head back to look up at me.

"That's the heaviest half!" he laughed.

"Yeah, but it means I'll get to hold hands with you."

Fifteen minutes later Josh was seated in his wheelchair at the entrance to the plane, waiting for the ground crew to roll away the staircase so the elevator vehicle could be put in position

"You don't need to wait with me, Sam. Go get your ride. Mike will be with me."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Go - I'll see you at the hotel."

"Okay." I leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.

"And Sam ... thanks."

"Any time." I began walking down the steps. At the bottom I turned. Josh smiled at me, that dazzling smile that lasered right through to my heart. To some people his solitary figure must have looked lonely sitting there. But to me he presented a picture of character and self-sufficiency. One of these days, when the time was right, I would tell him that being there to help him, care for him, wasn't a burden as he sometimes feared, but a privilege. But for the time being I just smiled back and waved, and made my way to the waiting car.

Which is precisely what I would have been saying if he'd continued looking at me the way he just did.

Part 3

"And these areas of high pressure mean that the eastern seaboard will continue enjoying this marvelous spring weather for the next three days at least."

The sound of the Weather Channel kept me company while I moved around my hotel room as I showered and changed for the evening ahead. Josh always laughed at my fondness for this particular channel, but for some reason I loved listening to the accounts and summaries of the climate changes in this huge nation of ours. Perhaps it had something to do with the descriptions the forecasters used : "High winds will sweep across the Great Lakes" or "Storms are battering the coast of the Carolinas as a series of warm and cold fronts collide over the Atlantic." To me they sounded almost poetic as they described something so elemental, so beyond human control. Tonight, however, they described warm, temperate weather, which chimed with my mood as I contemplated the evening ahead.

I paused in front of the mirror, straightened my bow tie fractionally, and tugged at each of my cuffs in turn. I pulled on my tuxedo, turned off the TV and made my way downstairs, where the lobby was packed with guests, the Secret Service and members of the press corps. The invited local politicians and state officials were filing into the reception room for pre-dinner drinks and perhaps the chance to meet the President for perhaps longer than the few minutes they would probably get after the dinner. I pushed through the milling crowd and flashed my ID to the Secret Service agent who was stationed outside the door of the reception room. He nodded curtly, making way for me to enter the room that was already buzzing with shouted greetings and conversation.

Apart from the White House contingent and those members of the press corps who were present, everyone there was from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Many of those invited would know each other. Some would simply enjoy the social cachet of spending their evening with the President and the First Lady; some wanted the opportunity to meet the President, perhaps for the first time; a significant number would have their own personal or political agenda they wanted to present to their country's leader. As a member of the senior staff it was my job to mingle, make small talk, and identify those people who had an axe to grind. And there were a few specific people I'd been chosen to meet with. In some cases I would be gathering information to find out what was happening at the grassroots; in others I would obtain them an audience with the President if I ascertained that he, or perhaps more correctly the administration, would attach some credence to what they had to say.

At these events the senior staff would circulate amongst the guests but no socializing went on between us as colleagues. I saw CJ laughing with a couple of people; Toby was standing a the back of the room nursing a Jack Daniels while deep in conversation with an intense-looking woman; there was no sign of Josh. I attached myself to a group of people, snatching a mineral water from a tray carried by a passing waiter. I always liked to pace myself when it came to alcohol consumption at these events. I didn't have Toby's hollow legs.

"Hi, I'm Sam Seaborn, Deputy Director of Communications." I shook hands as the cluster of people introduced themselves in turn. I recognized the names of a couple of state senators who were accompanied by their spouses; we began by making small talk about how familiar I was with Boston, but I knew it wouldn't be long before local politics entered into the conversation.

As I talked I looked casually over their heads, keeping my eye open for any sign of the President and the first Lady making an entrance. As I did so, I spotted Josh as he suddenly appeared in the doorway. My first thought was wow, no-one wears a tuxedo like Josh Lyman, then, as he sat there scanning the room, my second thought was to wonder why he was hesitating prior to coming in. It wasn't like Josh; he usually couldn't wait to get into the thick of the action. A few seconds later the knowledge finally hit me that because he was sitting down he was going to have to negotiate a roomful of people who were making eye contact at a level at least two feet above him, with a substantial number standing with their backs to him. Not for him the ease of access to one of the knots of people chatting and laughing in such close proximity to one another.

"So how *do* you get to be speechwriter to the President? Did you get headhunted?" I turned my attention back to the husband of one of the state senators.

"In a manner of speaking," I replied. I gave a quick explanation of how Josh got me on board as I inwardly debated making my apologies and leaving my present company to escort him into the room. I managed to glance over at him, and as I talked I saw him narrow his eyes briefly. His head lifted in that mannerism of his that appears whenever he's about to meet a challenge. Then he pushed himself into the room, maneuvring onto the edges of the throng. I watched as he stopped by a group of three people, and touched one of them on the elbow who then turned around, looked down and smiled in recognition. I realized I'd been holding my breath, exhaling with something like relief when I saw Josh shaking hands and laughing as he greeted the trio. I took my leave of the group I'd been talking with, and managed to work my way through the crowd so that I passed nearby Josh. I caught his eye, raised my glass and went on my way.

***

God, but it was a long evening. I think the socializing, small talk and the occasional spin around the dance floor was more exhausting than the interludes where I actually discussed state and national government, and participated in a certain amount of political brokering. A couple of hours after the dinner I managed to snatch a couple of minutes to myself. I positioned myself at the edge of the ballroom, sipping a glass of champagne as I scrutinized my surroundings. The President had stopped to sit at a table and was in full flow to the occupants, spreading his arms expansively as he expounded upon some theory or other. Across the room I saw a woman stop and speak to Josh. He gestured to a vacant chair at his table and as she sat next to him, he leaned forward, took her hand and kissed her cheek. As they talked, Josh touched his chest as if explaining about his injuries. His companion's face wore an expression of concern, and I saw her shake her head slowly. Their behavior indicated to me that I was watching two people who'd shared some sort of relationship. I wondered who she was, feeling as if I was intruding on something intimate. As I stood there I became aware of someone standing at my shoulder.

"Sam," said a female voice that I recognized instantly.

"Mrs. Bartlet!" I straightened up and pushed myself away from the pillar I'd been leaning against. "Are you having a good time?"

"Spending four hours mingling with the denizens of Massachusetts - what do you think?" Her voice was heavily ironic and her deep brown eyes danced mischievously.

"Well, 'denizens' - there's a word you don't hear every day, but I think it's perfect to describe the members of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," I replied. I could see the First Lady was in a mood that wouldn't object to a little mild bantering.

She considered me for a moment, then shifted her gaze to look towards the point in the room that I'd been contemplating when she'd joined me.

"He's fine, you know." Her voice wasn't humorous now; her tone was softer, more thoughtful.

I sighed. "Am I so obvious?"

"Only when you know Josh isn't looking," she replied. "This has been a big night for him, it's natural you worry. But I've watched him tonight, and it's like the last year hasn't happened. We've got our Josh back."

We stood in silence for a few seconds, then I said, "Well, the evening's not over - I'd better get back to work." I noticed that Josh was still deep in conversation. I frowned slightly.

"I wonder who that woman is?" I realized that I'd spoken the thought out loud.

"Well, maybe that's something you should ask Josh," said Mrs. Bartlet as she swept away. She looked back over her shoulder and grinned, back in full mischievous mode.

***

The dance floor had finally emptied, the members of the orchestra were starting to pack away their instruments. A few diehard guests were finishing the last of their drinks. I wandered over to Josh's table where he sat writing some notes on a paper napkin. I pulled out a chair and sat down.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey yourself," he responded. He smiled happily as he tucked his pen and the napkin in the inside pocket of his tuxedo. "How's it going?"

"Good. The President spoke to a couple of people who I thought deserved a hearing - there's that health official who wanted to talk about extra funding for primary care facilities, and one of the senators who's lobbying for his district to get enterprise zone funding. But the bits in between ... " I groaned. "I think I'll just get a tape made so I can play it back to the next person who asks what it's *really* like the first time you go into the Oval Office."

"Ooh, blasé Sam. Is this the same person who couldn't speak for five minutes the first time he went in there?" Josh teased me. "The same guy who kept asking me if I realized that was the very desk where Kennedy had sat?"

"Okay, okay, you win. Anyway, what about you?" I asked as casually as I could.

Josh didn't answer immediately. He picked up a couple of glasses from the table, held them by their stems, checking to make sure they were unused, then poured champagne into them from a three-quarter full bottle that stood in an ice bucket. He handed one to me.

"A toast," he said, touching his glass to mine. "To Sam for being right."

"What? Right about what?" I asked, puzzled.

Josh grinned. He looked a little merry - not drunk, but like someone whose happy mood was enhanced by the wine.

"For being right about the fact that people would still treat me like me," he answered.

"Oh, Josh." I stretched out my little finger and touched his left hand, which rested on the table. We both took a sip of wine.

"Most people had no problem," he went on. "There were a couple of times when I could sense some awkwardness. You know, people being a little *too* polite. But I was amazed by how some of them just came straight out and asked how I was and how I was coping."

"And you were comfortable with that?" I asked doubtfully.

"I'd far rather they asked outright than pussyfooted around. Anyway, once we'd gotten over that, it was business as usual. So you were right." He slid his hand under the table and surreptitiously touched my thigh, squeezing it slightly. I drew in my breath sharply, the contact making me clench my hand into a fist. Josh, noticing my reaction, withdrew his hand. He picked up his glass and swallowed some more champagne. Placing the glass on the table, he twirled it by the stem and gazed at it intently. Switching his attention to me, he spoke.

"Sam ... "

The next second a waiter turned up.

"Is it okay if I clean up here?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.


He began clearing away the empty glasses on the table. Rather than pursue the conversation within his hearing I looked around the room and saw there were hardly any of the invited guests left. I saw CJ making her goodbyes to a group of people a few feet away from us. I beckoned her over then turned back to Josh.

"What were you going to say?" I asked as the waiter walked away with his now full tray.

"Nothing ... it'll keep." He didn't seem too perturbed by the interruption, so I let it go.

Even at the end of a long hard evening of political schmoozing, CJ looked as chic as ever in her red Armani gown; she wore diamond studs in her ears and on the middle finger of her right hand a ruby and diamond ring glittered. But as she sat down I could see her checking there was no press around, let alone anyone from the style pages.

"Jesus, these shoes! One of these days Jimmy Choo will pay ... I swear I will make him pay."

"Have a glass of champagne, best anesthetic I know," said Josh. He waved a hand towards our friendly waiter. "Can I get a clean glass, please?" he asked.

"Yes sir." He hurried off. Josh leaned back, loosened his bow tie and unfastened the top two buttons of his shirt. There were times when he was totally unconscious as to how sexy he looked, and this was one of them.

"I spent ten minutes fastening that thing to your liking, and now you just tear it off," exclaimed CJ. I burst out laughing.

"So?" said Josh defensively at my reaction, "Donna's not here."

"Josh, you're hopeless," I said, but what I really meant was : "Josh, you're one in a million, and I love you for it."

"Can I run something past you, Josh?" asked CJ, accepting a glass of champagne that the waiter poured out for her. "Thank *you*." She smiled up at him appreciatively, turning around in her seat to watch him as walked away.

"Nice," she remarked. "Now, where was I?"

"Running something past me until you started ogling the hotel staff," Josh retorted.

"Right." She took a drink. "I was speaking to Carol early this evening, and she said she'd had a call from a production company planning a documentary."

Josh and I sat looking at her expectantly as she swallowed some more champagne.

"Well?" asked Josh. "can you help me out a little here and at least tell me what it's about and what it's got to do with me? I take it they want to film something in the West Wing?"

"Mmm, kind of," she said.

"Well what's it about? The President? The staff? What?" Josh was starting to get exasperated now. I wished CJ would cut to the chase.

"They want to feature you in it." She smiled hesitantly.

"Me? Well, flattered as I am, and while I think my job's the most important one in the administration, I don't think the viewing public would necessarily see it like that." He looked over at me and smiled in a puzzled sort of way.

"Nooo," CJ answered slowly. "It's not just about your job, it's about the fact that you're someone who's sustained a spinal injury and how it's affected your life. Which includes your job, of course," she finished in a rush.

"I see." Josh wasn't smiling now as he sat up straight and looked at CJ. "Have *you* spoken to them yet?"

"No. Like I said, I only found out when I called Carol tonight. They'd contacted me as Press Secretary because they were a little unsure of contacting you directly. They wanted to know what the protocol is. So I told Carol to tell them I'd discuss it with you and see how you felt about it." CJ was starting to look a little anxious. Like me she was finding it difficult to read Josh and his possible reaction.

"Well, my first thought is that I don't want to be a poster boy for wheelchair users." That wasn't so bad, I thought. As far as Josh reactions go, not bad at all.

"From that statement I take it you at least have a second thought?" enquired CJ.

"My second thought is that I am in no way representative of the general public, so I'm probably not the best person to be featured." *My* second thought was : He's not going to do it. Give up now CJ. I should, of course, have known better. Like everyone else on Bartlet's staff, CJ could never be accused of throwing in the towel at the first setback.

In her most persuasive tone CJ went on. "Josh, it would be ... " she searched around for the right word. " ... inspirational." Oooh, nooo, I could have told her : wrong word. Wait for the explosion.

CJ and I jumped as Josh struck the table with the flat of his hand.

"I am not, nor will I ever be, an inspiration to anybody. How can I, in all honesty, go on TV and parade myself as an example to a fifteen year old kid paralysed in a drive by shooting? How can I compare my experience to a mother of three children whose neck was broken in a car crash? Well? Answer me that?" Mindful of the handful of people left in the room, Josh was talking in quiet, measured tones, but he was breathing fast.

"Yes, Josh, I know there may be people watching who are in situations like that ... " said CJ.

"There is no *may be* about it. I've just described two people I got to know in the rehab hospital. People who don't have the advantages I have, the resources at my disposal, an employer able to do everything they can to keep me in the job I love. For God's sake, I even had the President drop in to visit a couple of times! I really don't know what I would have to offer a documentary like that."

"Sam, what do you think?" CJ turned towards me.

I shook my head emphatically. "No, CJ, I can't get involved in this. It wouldn't be fair on Josh. This is way too personal to him. It's got to be his decision."

She sighed. "You could at least speak to them, Josh, see what format the program will take."

Josh just looked at her impassively.

"So I take it that's a 'no'?" she asked.

"All right, it's a 'don't know'," he replied. "Get some more information and I'll think about it. Tell them I've got some ideas myself and that I'd want some measure of editorial control. But I'm not making any promises."

She grinned widely. "Great. I'll do it as soon as we get back to the White House."

Josh yawned. "Well don't get too excited. I haven't said 'yes' yet." He looked at his watch, then drained his glass. "And now I'm going to bed - the President's first meeting is at eight o'clock."

I stood up and moved aside. Josh pushed himself away from the table then bumped into a chair.

"Whoops, drunk in charge of a wheelchair!" he quipped. Moving more carefully, he led the way to the door.

"Josh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were talking about people you'd met ... it was ignorant and thoughtless of me." CJ looked so downcast I felt sorry for her.

"No, CJ, it's not your fault," Josh said quietly. "When I was in hospital there were a lot of things happened, people I'd met, that I've kept separate from my life back here in the ... well, the real world if you like. But then the two worlds meet, and it lets me know they're both my real world."

"Sometimes, Josh, I feel like I'm getting to know you all over again," CJ remarked.

"Sometimes I feel I'm getting to know *me* all over again." Josh laughed softly, and the small moment of tension was dissipated.

"Sleep well. I've got to go and check to see if there are any faxes for me. I'll see you tomorrow." CJ kissed Josh and me in turn.

"Goodnight, CJ," we said in unison, then made our way into the lobby.

"See me to my room?" asked Josh in a low voice as we approached the elevators.

"Sure." There was a group of three people waiting with us, so we stood in silence until the bell sounded that signalled the elevator's arrival. I placed my hand on the edge of the door to keep it open while Josh pushed himself in, positioning himself against a back corner, followed by the others. I jumped in last and pressed the relevant buttons. The other occupants faced me, with their backs to Josh. Fully aware of this, Josh caught my eye and gave me a slow burning smile. I stared back at him, trying to maintain a neutral expression. It wasn't helped by the fact that I was transfixed by the small area of chest that was exposed where Josh had unbuttoned his shirt. I longed to touch it, longed to slide my hand inside his shirt to feel the warmth of Josh against my hand. Maybe in a few minutes, I thought ...

To my relief, we reached our floor. I exited first while the others made room for Josh to follow. He started off down the corridor that was quiet in that insulated way that hotel corridors are. I fell into step beside him; since we were alone I placed my hand on his back, between his shoulder blades. No conversation passed between us, no small talk as we arrived at Josh's room. As soon as we were inside I pushed the door shut and, standing behind Josh, I bent down to kiss him. He tilted his head back and his mouth opened to welcome me inside. I ran my hand down his throat, over the slight protuberance of his Adam's apple, then slid it inside his shirt : a realization of the longed-for action I'd imagined in the elevator. A slight noise issued from Josh's throat as I transferred my kisses from his mouth to his neck.

"Mmm ... Sam ... I've missed you," he said huskily. He pulled himself away, moved across the room to transfer himself from his wheelchair onto the bed. Meanwhile I threw off my tux and discarded my bowtie.

"I know we aren't spending the night together, but let's make ourselves a little more comfortable." He bent down to take his shoes off, and as he did so he began to sway a little.

"Woah, let me do that!" I said. "How much champagne have you had?" I moved his wheelchair to one side, bending down in front of Josh to remove his shoes.

"Just a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, but I think those two glasses I had with you and CJ have gotten me a little tipsy." I remembered he'd drank them in quick succession. This, coupled with his limited alcohol consumption over the past few months, had probably contributed to his being slightly drunk. Nothing that a good night's sleep wouldn't cure.

"Josh," I said as I unfastened his shoe laces, "who was that woman you were talking to?"

"Which woman? There were *lots* of women there," he said, throwing his arms in the air.

"Short blonde hair, attractive, maybe a little older than you. She was wearing a lilac dress." I pulled his right shoe off, then turned my attention to the other one. "You talked to her for a long time."

"Mary Thompson, you mean?" he asked.

I got his other shoe off and looked up. "*Professor* Mary Thompson? The Professor Thompson who was your advisor at Harvard?"

"Yes." Josh brushed my hair back off my forehead. "Sam, you look so handsome ... I wanted to tell you that all evening."

Pleased as I was with Josh's compliment, I ignored it. "Does Abby know her?"

"Well apparently the President's asked her to head up that new commission to look at immigration law. That's why she was at the dinner. And yes, of course the First Lady knows her - Mary was sitting at their table tonight. Didn't you see her?" Josh took off his tuxedo and began removing his cufflinks. I noticed they were the Ralph Lauren pair I'd bought him last Christmas.

"No, I was nowhere near the President's table all night. I just want to know who she was. Forget I even asked."

But naturally Josh wasn't about to. "Wait a minute ... " he placed one half of the pair of cufflinks on the nightstand. "Were you *jealous*? And did you ask Abby who Mary was? And would I be right in guessing that Abby pleaded ignorance?" By this time Josh was looking *way* too pleased with himself.

"It's just you were looking so cozy together, and I didn't know who she was, and I mentioned it to Abby ... " I sat back on my heels and watched as Josh fiddled with his other cufflink. "Here," I said.

I took Josh's arm and worked the cufflink out. I set it to one side, then slid the shirt cuff up Josh's arm and with my thumb stroked the inside of his wrist. I loved the very bones of this man, but all I said was: "I was watching you tonight, Josh." I bent my head and kissed the place where I had just touched him.

"You're a class act," I said.

Josh remained silent, but began unfastening his shirt. As he moved, one sleeve fell away from his shoulder. For some reason I find the sight of a half-clothed Josh just as erotic as a naked Josh. I knelt in front of him, putting my arms around him to pull him towards me. I kissed his shoulder and trembled inside from the sheer depth of emotion it evoked.

"Oh, God, get up here on the bed with me," pleaded Josh. His voice was breathy; the sound fell on my ears like a sigh.

I let go of my hold on him. Josh pushed himself back so that eventually he was sitting lengthways on the bed; I crawled onto it, kneeling in front of him to straddle his legs. I kissed him again, this time on the lips. Still sitting up, he supported himself on his hands to stretch up to meet my mouth. We explored each other's mouths, biting and sucking until I broke the kiss to look at him. Josh's shirt was unbuttoned, exposing his chest and the scar that bisected it. Apart from the odd occasion when he would allow me to lay my hand on the scar tissue, Josh didn't like to be touched there. Maybe it was because it was out of bounds that it tantalized me beyond belief. For months I'd wanted to kiss that scar, as if to soothe it with a loving gesture. That night I decided to take a chance.

I leaned forward and traced the length of the scar tissue with the back of my fingers. Josh gasped, flinching slightly.

"Don't, Sam, please," he said, but at least he didn't move my hand away from where I'd rested it at the lower end of the red line made by the surgeon's scalpel.

"Why, babe?" I asked. "I know it doesn't hurt - you told me." I moved my hand up and down a few inches so my fingers lightly stroked the scar.

"It's ugly, and it's not right that someone as stunning as you should make contact with something like that," Josh almost whispered. The look on his face reminded me of an animal that had been hurt, who wanted help, but who nevertheless would bolt at one false move. So when I spoke I kept my voice as low as his, while I maintained that same steady stroking.


"It's not ugly, Josh. It's a part of you, so by definition it can't be ugly. It's a reminder. Not of how horrible that time was after you were shot, but a reminder of the surgeons' skill, your courage, and every time I see it, it reminds me that you survived. To me, it's beautiful." Still kneeling with one leg on either side of his, I encircled him with one arm, then, as gently as I could, I placed a kiss where Josh's scar began just below his collarbone.

"Let me?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Just tell me if you want me to stop." I continued kissing him, one, two, three times, gradually working my way down. Josh whimpered softly. I paused.

"No, don't stop," he said. "Please."

And so I continued. Feeling Josh relax, I supported him as he lay down. His arms were stretched out across the pillows as he lay there, letting me use tiny, gentle kisses to show how much I loved him, loved everything about him, even this part of his body that he found so unattractive. I had closed my eyes but could follow the length of the scar by touch alone. Despite the neat stapling job performed by the medical staff, the raised texture told me where to go. The only time I hesitated was when my lips made contact with the slight puckering of Josh's skin where the hole made by the bullet had healed.

"Sam ... oh, God ... it's good ... it's so good," he cried.

Reassured, I kissed him there again. Josh groaned, and reached down to tangle his fingers in my hair. The most I'd expected was that he would tolerate this activity and perhaps derive some comfort from it. It came as a sweet surprise that Josh seemed to be turned on by it. And don't get the idea that *I* was getting nothing from the enterprise - I'm not that altruistic. Josh's very vocal appreciation was giving me goose bumps. The sound of Josh murmuring, the physical contact with him, the whole experience ... it filled me with ... well, I can only call it joy. I planted one final kiss, then lifted my head to look at Josh.

"Again," he moaned.

This time I moved up Josh's body until I was back where I'd started. I leaned up and away from him, moving from my kneeling position to lie by him. He rolled over on his side, and we wrapped our arms around one another, holding each other tightly. Josh buried his head against my neck.

"Oh, Josh, my Josh," I said.

Then it was my turn. Josh turned his head and sucked on my earlobe, his teeth lightly grazing the flesh. He kissed me along my jaw line, tenderly, softly. His mouth met mine, his lips slightly parted, his kisses lingering, delicate. I felt my insides clench with that strange, pleasurable sensation, as they always did when Josh loved me in this leisurely, caring way. He was the most passionate man I'd ever known - both in and out of the bedroom - but I knew that at moments like this, Josh wasn't just demonstrating a physical need or desire, but something a whole lot deeper.

"Mmm-hmmm." God, Josh was such a terrific kisser.

"Nice?" he asked, pulling away from me a little. He placed his hand against my face. "God, you're so gorgeous."

I took his hand and kissed his palm.

"I wish I'd let you do that months ago ... kiss me there," he said, moving his head in a downward direction to indicate his scar. "I had no idea it would feel so ... intense."

I smiled. "Guess what ... neither did I."

"You're brave, Sam ... you take so many risks just to please me," he said. "I know I'm not the easiest person to be with."

"I like a challenge," I replied as casually as I could. The evening had gone so well, both personally and professionally, that I wanted to retain the warm sense of calm that prevailed.

"Sam ... "

What did I say about a 'warm sense of calm'? Yes, that was precisely what we had as Josh spoke. That is, until the phone rang. Josh turned over onto his back, rubbing his hands over his face in frustration.

"No, no, *no*!" he burst out, his voice getting louder and louder. He stretched out his arm to snatch up the phone. "Josh Ly ... Toby. What's up?"

Josh sat up. I did the same so that I could keep myself occupied as he talked.

"Yeah ... he's here. No, we're just ... " He stopped, covering up the phone with his hand as I kissed the nape of his neck. He laughed quietly, then went on talking. "Yes, I'm still here ... no, it's Sam he's ... he's showing me a ... a card trick."

I looked at Josh and mouthed "What?" Josh shrugged and handed me the phone.

"He wants to speak to you," he said, struggling to stop himself laughing.

"Yeah, Toby. What do you need?" Somehow Josh had got the cord on the phone tangled up so I had to lean across him to use it as it wouldn't stretch over to my side of the bed. The upshot of *that* was Josh groping my ass as I talked.

"I'm not even going to ask what 'showing you a card trick' is a euphemism for," Toby muttered irately down the phone.

I crawled over Josh and managed to stand up.

"It's just Josh - he thinks he's a comedian."

Josh leaned over and slapped me on the butt.

"Whatever. Sam, I need you to come to my room now. The President wants to add something to the speech."

I groaned. "What? Now? It's twelve thirty."

"So the sooner you get here, the sooner we'll be done. And don't mention it to Josh - just tell him I want to polish a section that's already been written."

"Okay," I sighed. I wondered what it was that needed to be included in the speech, which was comprehensive enough as it stood. And why not tell Josh? "I'll be right over."

I put the phone down and disentangled the cord. I *hated* it when they got like that, but Josh always seemed to manage it somehow. Realizing our fun was over, Josh was once again sitting on the edge of the bed. I sat down next to him.

"I have to go," I said regretfully.

"It's just as well - I need to get some sleep." Josh smiled ruefully. "Who am I trying to kid - I don't feel like I could sleep a wink."

I cupped my hand against his face and gave him a deep, deep kiss. He took hold of my other hand, his grip tightening as we sought each other out with our mouths and tongues. Finally, unwillingly, we stopped.

"God, I *love* you," Josh said, the pitch of his voice dropping slightly on the last word.

I closed my eyes. We resumed the kissing, and I was just starting to think that maybe Toby would forget all about wanting to see me when I felt Josh pull away. I opened my eyes, moving forward to make with those sweet lips again, and saw Josh move back even further.

"You've gotta go, Sam," he said, grinning.

"I don't want to."

"You have to."

"I want to stay," I said, although I knew it was hopeless. Toby was probably dialling Josh's room as we spoke.

"You *can't*," Josh laughed.

I was a desperate man, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had to go. Nevertheless, I gave it one last try.

"I want us to get naked, climb into bed, and wrap ourselves around each other." I began whispering in Josh's ear. "I want you to make me hard, and I want you to do things that'll make me come over and over again. And I want to touch you in all those places that make you cry and moan, so that you lose yourself to me. And then I want us to fall asleep in each other's arms, wake up, and do it all over again."

"Sam," he whispered hoarsely.

"Yeah, babe," I said, nuzzling his neck.

"My heart's beating so fast."

It wasn't like Josh to use such a cliche, but nonetheless I felt pleased at his reaction. "I know - it's great isn't it?"

The next thing I knew Josh had yanked my head up by grabbing my hair. "No it's not great, because I'm expecting Toby to get the Secret Service to break down the door and drag you out by the scruff of your neck!" And this time he wasn't whispering.

"Ow! Josh, that hurt!" I protested.

"Not as much as Toby's gonna hurt you," he said. "You do realize why we're on this trip?"

All of a sudden he sounded like ... well, the Deputy Chief of Staff for the White House, I suppose.

"I know, I know," I said, standing up. When I got to the door he called me back.

"Haven't you forgotten something?" Josh raised his eyebrows questioningly.

I looked at him sitting on the bed, then out of the corner of my eye I saw his wheelchair that I had pushed to the other side of the room.

Totally out of his reach.

"Ah," I said. I went over and positioned it next to the bed. Josh moved himself quickly into the wheelchair, then followed me to the door.

"Hey." I turned around at the sound of his voice and leaned down towards him. Josh put his hand on the back of my neck and pulled me into a long, satisfying kiss. I straightened up and he took my hand. When he spoke his voice again had that sexy hoarseness.

"And just for the record - yes, I'd *love* to do all that stuff." This time Josh Lyman : the Deputy Chief of Staff had been replaced by Josh Lyman : Sam Seaborn's lover. Reluctantly I slipped my hand out of Josh's grasp.

"'Night, babe - see you tomorrow," I said, stepping out of the room. The click of the door closing behind me sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet corridor as I walked away towards Toby's room.

Part 4

" ... and so I would like all of us - state *and* federal government - to work together. We're not in competition. We *all* want to build an America to make us even more proud."

Those of us accompanying the President stood at the back of the room as he concluded his speech. The afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows of the Great Hall of the State House, bathing the assembled politicians in its warmth. The sun shines on the righteous, I thought wryly as I watched the Massachusetts' state government's reaction to the President. This last section of his discourse gave a clear message to those neo-conservatives whose raison d'etre was to reduce the power of the federal government. I saw some people nod their heads; a small number gave no reaction whatsoever, sitting stony faced. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other as he came to the end of the speech.

"I'd like to end by talking about service : the service that individuals give as public servants, both national and state. I see many examples of men and women all over this country, in the public, private and voluntary sectors, those who who give their all to serve the community, sometimes under the hardest of circumstances. I pay tribute to them. And in doing that, I want to mention my staff here today. Some of them - and they know who they are - are the same group of people who were with me when a brutal act of violence was perpetrated that terrible day at Rosslyn. One of them almost gave his life in his role as a public servant. It means more than I can say to have them once again with me today. And *that's* service."

I moved my head slightly to look past CJ and Toby who stood between me and Josh. He was staring straight ahead at the President as he wrapped up the speech. His face was expressionless; the only sign he gave was to place the first two fingers of his right hand against his lips. I'd known what to expect - hell, Toby and I had polished this passage, but the President had composed the main body of it. That was the piece of work we had finished last night after I'd left Josh. Knowing full well that Josh would have tried to stop him from making any of these references if he'd been told about them beforehand, the President himself had ordered Toby and me to keep quiet about it. Hence Toby's phone call the night before. I myself had argued that Josh may be uncomfortable with the attention. But the President was adamant. He wanted to recognize the loyalty of *all* his staff, homing in specifically on those who'd been at Rosslyn. And most importantly he'd wanted recognition for Josh in particular. I had to admit that listening to those words and seeing the reaction of the audience, the President had been right.

As the President finished speaking, the assembled company rose to their feet. Some of those present who recognized Josh turned around to acknowledge him. He gave a small smile and dipped his head slightly, and to my relief seemed to be at ease with what had been said. Then the moment was over, the President left the podium and we made our way out of the Great Hall and to the reception set up in the Hall of Flags. I hesitated, planning to wait for Josh so I could accompany him to the area in the grounds where the President had insisted on working the rope line. I suddenly felt anxious, not wanting to leave Josh to exit the building alone. Memories of the last time that had happened filled my head, the images jostling with one another for the attention of my mind's eye. But when I turned to walk over to Josh, he was deep in conversation with the governor and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the state House and Senate. Mike stood nearby. He caught my eye, smiled and nodded at me in a way that I guessed was intended as reassurance. Boy, it was amazing the way that guy had assimilated the history and nuances of this administration, I thought, when Toby gripped my arm.

"Stop daydreaming and come outside," he said in his customary quiet mumble that was nevertheless so effective.

We walked out onto the west plaza of the State House grounds. The President was working his way down the rope line, shaking hands, occasionally pausing to exchange a few words with the excited crowd. He paid particular attention to the kids. Toby and I hung back a little, and I cast an eye around my surroundings. The sun bounced off the burnished gold of the dome that crowned the State House, so brightly it almost made me squint. The spring flowers and bushes framed the neatly manicured lawns. Toby motioned for us to move to the edge of the path so that we were away from the noise made by the crowd.

"First thing tomorrow you're going to have to put some briefings together for CJ. She'll be getting a lot of calls about this speech, particularly the federal/state government thing." Toby turned his back on the scene in front of us and began consulting a small notebook he produced from his pocket. "I also had a call earlier from that victim's support group who has its headquarters here in Boston. I want you to set up a meeting when you get back. You can chair it, but if you need to get Josh and someone from the counsel's office to sit in, that's okay."

I groaned. "Not that group who want to get rid of double jeopardy? They're so far out in left field ... "

"Sam, you do realize this is up for debate in Britain?" Toby asked. He saw my look of exasperation and raised a hand. "All right, before you get on your high horse I'm not suggesting that we're going to follow their lead on this, but I *do* know that this group has been over in London to do some research. So find out where they're coming from, and prepare yourself."

"Okay, I'm on it," I sighed. I looked over Toby's shoulder but couldn't see any sign of Josh. My eyes swivelled towards where we had exited from the State House but there was no Josh emerging from the building. Where *was* he? I thought. An unpleasant coppery taste filled my mouth.

"Come on," said Toby, turning back towards the public area. "We'd better join the party." He began walking in the President's direction. *He* was otherwise engaged shaking hands with an older woman who leaned over to kiss him, while Mrs. Bartlet, further back along the line, looked on with wry amusement. I glanced behind me, willing Josh to appear. Despite the cool breeze that was blowing, I felt myself breaking out into a slight sweat. Chiding myself for being so stressed out, I followed Toby, trying to look more like a senior member of the Whiter House staff. Whatever *that* entailed. My ears picked out the sound of slightly higher pitched shouting near the State House. I looked back to see a figure come out of the building. He stopped to put on a pair of sunglasses. The shouting grew louder.

"Josh! Josh - over here!"

"Looking good, Josh!"

I could have gone over there and kissed them. All of them. The New England chapter of Josh's harem had turned out to see the object of their desire. Or should I say *our* desire. Just like they always did.

Josh moved past, stopped, waved, and flashed them an insouciant grin. Then he carried on. The path had a slight downward gradient to it, and he pulled up sharply as he positioned himself next to where I stood.

"Hi," he said. "Did you see the girls?"

"Women, Josh. Don't let CJ hear you call them girls," I corrected him, hoping my tone hid the slight tremor in my voice. I was so relieved to see him sitting there as large as life.

"Are you okay?" he asked, " 'cos you look a little strung out." His expression was unreadable, and I couldn't see his eyes, shaded as they were by his sunglasses.

"I'm just glad to see you, that's all."

"You worry too much," he replied carelessly. He shouted over to CJ, lifted his arm to point at his watch, then jerked his head towards the press corps. Time was getting tight, and the President wanted to take a few informal questions from the media. Unlike some Presidents before him, he was never afraid to field questions in an unstaged environment. Josh moved away to talk to one of the Secret Service agents. I wandered a little further afield to look at the statues that graced the grounds. To tell the truth, I felt a little hurt by Josh's attitude. Sometimes he didn't realize how inconsiderate he could be when he made light of my anxieties. I knew he didn't love me any the less. God, I wished I was as certain of a lot of other things in the world. But sometimes a throwaway comment like the one he'd just made would catch me in a place that was still raw. And today it had been unexpectedly painful.

"Sam, we're going now." Mike was standing by my side. "Sam." He leaned forward slightly to look me in the face.

"Yeah, right."

We walked back in the direction of the waiting cars.

"So," I said, making conversation in case he thought I'd been acting a little weird, "your first presidential trip. How's it gone?"

"Good." He nodded in affirmation. "I'd done a couple of trips with the senator, but nothing like this. Today was ... impressive. I liked the speech. Especially the end."

"Yes, I was a little concerned about how Josh would react." I glanced at Mike, wondering if Josh had said anything. Then again, he may choose to be discreet.

"I think he was pleased. Oh," he said, as if it were an afterthought, "he wants you to take the car back with him to the hotel. I'm sharing a car with Charlie and a couple of the agents."

"Okay." I was a little surprised.

"He says he needs to see you - something he wants to discuss before you get back to the hotel."

"It's probably something to do with the governor, or the senate leadership. What's he been saying to them?" I asked half-jokingly.

"He was talking to them about funding for education, but I don't think he upset them too much. He asked me to take a few notes but I only just managed to keep up with the discussion."

We were nearing the motorcade now. The President was still talking to the press corps, but I could see Josh preparing to get into his car.

"That's typical Josh - pushes you in at the deep end," I said.

"No, don't get me wrong - I wasn't criticizing," Mike replied quickly. "I'm learning so much. He's great to work for ... "

"But it's a challenge?" I finished for him.

"You could say that," he answered. We were both laughing as we sauntered over to Josh.

"Share the joke?" he smiled. "Listen, Mike, take the rest of the afternoon off. With the President and First Lady visiting friends there aren't any official activities. And it's not often you get the chance to explore on these trips."

"Thanks, I appreciate it. I've never been to Boston before and I'd like to find a gift to take back to Marian." He moved behind Josh's wheelchair while Josh transferred himself into the car.

"Ask CJ for some ideas of what to see - I'm sure she was a tour guide in a former life," I suggested, recalling our conversation on the way to Andrews. I ducked my head and climbed into the car next to Josh.

"See you later, Mike," he called as his assistant took the wheelchair away to stow in the trunk. That done, Mike poked his head through the open window of the car.

"Eight o'clock we leave for the airport," he reminded Josh.

"Enjoy your afternoon," Josh said. As soon as Mike had gone he moved a little closer. I felt him run his hand gently down the side of my thigh. He was obviously taking advantage of the fact that our driver was standing outside talking to one of the outriders. We wouldn't move off until the President did.

"I thought you wanted to talk business," I said quietly.

"What makes you think that?" Josh asked, narrowing his eyes. He looked relaxed and happy ... sensual, almost. He continued rubbing my leg, but by now his hand had moved so that his fingers curved over to touch the inside of my thigh.

"Well, Mike implied as much," I said. I was starting to feel aroused, and by the look on Josh's face he knew it.

"I might have given *him* that impression, but I would have thought you'd know better." Josh was smiling, the dimples on either side of his mouth deepening. The effect was devastating. "I thought it would be sexy to ride in the Presidential motorcade with my lover."

Josh's hand had stopped at my groin. I shifted around a little, aware that my pants were becoming uncomfortably tight. It was all I could do to stop myself from groaning. I glanced through the window. The driver was still engrossed in conversation.

"Josh ... " My breathing was becoming more and more shallow.

"What are you doing this afternoon?" he asked, also sounding a little breathy.

"I've got ... I've got some stuff I could do ... but nothing that won't wait."

I covered Josh's hand with my own. I needed to touch him, but also stop him from going any further. I wanted him to, I really did - the danger of being disturbed was arousing in itself - but a small, sensible voice kept telling me to be careful.

"Do you want to get together this afternoon? We could go for a walk, or coffee ... " he paused. " .... Or something."

That pause covered a multitude of delicious sins. I felt Josh's hand slip from my grasp as he caressed the front of my pants with the tip of his index finger. I felt myself getting harder; a sensation like an electric shock shot up my spine.

It took all my self-restraint not to scream out loud.

At that moment a siren sounded then died, as the police outriders began readying themselves for the President's departure. The noise, combined with the sexual tension of the moment, made me start.

"Woah, you're a little jumpy, Sam," Josh murmured. "Aren't you going to give me an answer?"

"Josh, for God's sake move your hand, I'm dying here. *Then* I'll answer you."

His eyes locked with mine. He bit his lower lip as he reluctantly took his hand away. Our driver began walking towards the car; the President was evidently settled in his limo.

"Well?" Josh persisted.

I leaned my head back against the seat as I contemplated this man who captivated me, tormented me, made me breathless all at the same time.

"Your room ... one hour," I replied.

Josh raised an eyebrow, giving me a slight, self-satisfied grin before moving seamlessly into a summary of his conversation with the governor as our driver climbed into the front seat. We pulled smoothly away from the sidewalk, two guys sitting in the back of a car, following the most powerful man in the world. I made a mental note to tell Josh that yeah, sitting next to your lover in the Presidential motorcade is *damn* sexy.

***

"I'm just talking to Leo."

Josh held the door open, pushing himself back to let me step into his room. It was obvious he'd been busy since we'd arrived back at the hotel. A file and papers lay open on the desk, but Josh hadn't found time to pack since some of his clothes were placed on an armchair with his open overnight bag lying on the floor ready to receive them. I was already changed into casual clothes ready for the flight home, but Josh was still wearing the business suit he'd worn all day, although he'd discarded his jacket. I shut the door behind me and started to pack some of his things, but Josh shook his head and gestured for me to sit on the edge of the bed near to where he was using the phone on the nightstand. I picked up a copy of the Boston Globe and made myself comfortable, sitting close to Josh as he chatted with Leo.

"Yeah ... yeah ... I've got that. No, the governor was fine ... Well, I gave him an assurance ..."

I was near enough to Josh to hear Leo's voice at the other end of the line, although his words were indistinct.

"No, no, I *didn't* come down too hard on him ... he's a pussycat ... Uh huh ... The speech?"

I looked up from the film review I was reading. Josh's wheelchair was positioned at right angles to me as I sat on the edge of the bed; he'd twisted the top half of his body around to face me. He propped his left arm on the backrest of his chair and as he talked he rubbed his thumb against the tips of his fingers, a familiar mannerism when he was concentrating hard on what his next response should be.

"It was good ... that guy Seaborn should go far." He grinned at me, but then his smile faded at what I guessed was Leo's next question. "The personal stuff? You knew he was going to say that? Yeah, it was ... it was ... " Josh nipped the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, screwing up his eyes as he did so. He took a deep, shuddering breath. "It was great ... look, Leo ... can I call you back? Yeah, speak to you later."

Josh placed the phone back on its cradle, then covered his eyes with his hand.

"Damn! I swore I wouldn't do this!" he said.

"Josh?" I asked, throwing the newspaper to one side. One minute he'd sounded at the top of his game, as he had all day, then the next ...

He leaned towards me so that his forehead rested on my shoulder. Managing to get one arm around his upper body with the other hooked under his legs, I was able to slide him from his wheelchair so that he was sitting in my lap. He nuzzled his face against my neck as I held him close. I didn't say or do anything more as I knew that at moments like this all Josh wanted was my arms around him so that he felt safe. He would tell me in his own good time if he needed anything more. We maintained this position for a few moments, then Josh sniffed and lifted his head to face me. He wiped his hands under his eyes where the slight sheen on his face was the evidence of the few tears he had shed. He smiled at me ruefully.

"Josh? You'll have to give me a clue - I can't tell if you're happy or sad," I said anxiously.

"Happy ... yeah, definitely happy," he said, although a stray tear escaped to trickled down his cheek. I put my lips to it, then opened my mouth and licked it away with my tongue.

"I'll always be here to wipe away your tears," I said, "but you'll tell me what caused them, hm?"

He grasped my hand, squeezing it hard as he struggled to find the words.

"Oh, I don't know ... I think .... I think it was lots of things that have happened on this trip, like travelling on Air Force One again. When I was in the hospital, when I found out how bad it was, I used to lie in bed thinking I'd never do any of it, that my career was finished. Then last night ... all those people ... for the first time in months I really, *really* felt like I was back ... but ... "

He smiled at me, hesitantly, shyly almost. I stared at him, transfixed, when his usually pale skin flushed lightly from his neck up to the roots of his hair.

"Josh - are you blushing?" I asked disbelievingly. After all, this was the man of whom some women's group leader had remarked, 'The ego has landed.'

"I don't know why you're acting so surprised - it must have been you or Toby who wrote it," he said cryptically.

"What?" And then the penny dropped. "Oh, *that*. The President's' speech - the last part?" I asked.

"Yeees," he breathed in an exasperated way.

"Well, I'm sorry to disabuse you of the facts but no, we didn't write it. We polished it a little, but the main body of it was all his. The part referring directly to you was entirely the President's." I was starting to worry that we'd miscalculated. "You didn't like it?"

"No, no. I was so touched. I was ... overwhelmed. And after what you just said ... I didn't know the President cared that much to be so public about it." He ran his hand through his hair, tilting his head up to look at the ceiling. "I didn't mention it at the State House ... I didn't dare ... not in front of all those people."

I laughed, a little harshly. I couldn't help myself.

"You did a good job hiding your feelings," I remarked. My tone was a little sharper than I'd intended. Josh's brushing me aside when he joined me outside the State House still rankled.

"What's *that* supposed to mean?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"Sam, you're doing that thing again," Josh said.

"What thing?"

"You're obviously mad at me about something but you won't tell me. It's like a game where I'm supposed to guess what's eating you. Well I'm not playing." Josh let go of my hand and shifted himself in my lap so that he could move back to sit in his wheelchair. I wrapped an arm around his waist to stop him.

"I was standing outside the State House. I couldn't see you. Toby was talking and talking and I was trying to concentrate on what he was saying and I *still* couldn't see you and Toby made me walk towards where the President was working the rope line and I kept looking over my shoulder and you weren't there and I was thinking 'Jesus, he's on his own, he's going to come out of that building alone' and then I heard those girls ... women ... shouting and there you were ... " The words were spewing out of me in an untidy, semi-inarticulate rush. Josh was staring at me with his mouth open. "And then when you came over to me you said something about me worrying too much ... "

"Oh my God," he managed to say at last. "Oh my God, I am such an insensitive son of a bitch ... "

"Yes, you are," I agreed. "But you're *my* insensitive son of a bitch."

"Hmm." He leaned into me, placing a hand on the back of my neck, his cheek pressed against mine.

"But," I continued, "there aren't many insensitive sons of bitches who would worry that appearing in a TV documentary would send out the wrong message to the people that matter; there aren't many insensitive sons of bitches who would be moved to tears by their President's words. I just think you want to hide how sensitive you really are."

Josh clung to me for a few seconds, but the next thing I knew he straightened up to look me in the eye.

"Sam, I chose to come out of that building on my own. I planned it that way. It was like I had this ghost to lay to rest. I didn't tell you because I knew you would find some excuse to walk out of there with me. I didn't want to make a big deal of it, and that's why I told you not to worry, because if I'd said how I really felt ... " He ran his hand down over his face, gripping it so that he pulled the skin taut over his cheekbones.

"Say it *now*," I insisted.

"Oooh." He let out a long breath. "Scared ... relieved ... thinking, 'No-one's shot me this time'. It's no excuse, but that's why I snapped at you. Forgive me?"

I looked into those deep brown eyes, those eyes that held such a depth of feeling I imagined I could drown in them.

"No, because there's nothing to forgive. I think if anyone's insensitive it's me. I should have realized what it took to come out of that building. You're so strong, Josh, I sometimes miss things ... " I ran out of words. "Oh, God, come here."

We hugged each other so tightly it was hard to breathe. Then something else took over from the emotion as Josh pressed himself closer to me. His lower body trapped me sweetly so that I stirred against him. He covered my face in kisses, feather light at first, then becoming progressively more passionate.

"I want you Sam, not tomorrow, not tonight, but now," he said, alluding to the fact that we'd opted to avoid any full-on action on this trip.

"Then take me, Josh, take me," I gasped.

We tumbled backwards onto the bed, scrambling into the middle of it, hands all over the place, mouth searching for mouth. For the first time I noticed the bed covers had been turned down : Josh obviously had a plan, and I didn't think it included an afternoon nap. I turned my attention to Josh's clothes, pulling his tie off at the same time as he groped under my sweater before pulling it over my head. It was a race to see which of us could get the other naked first. Shoes and socks were thrown on the floor, belts were unfastened by fingers grown clumsy in the heat of the moment, buttons and zippers were strenuously wrenched at.

At last we lay there, Josh in a total state of undress, me still wearing my boxers. Josh leaned over me, and wrapped his hand around the swelling that pressed against the material.

"Sam, you are *sooo* fucking gorgeous," he said, his voiced rasping with desire.

"Shut up and do me right now," I said, executing a bump and grind against his hand.

"You asked for it." The forcefulness of his tone excited me even more.

His teeth clashed harshly against mine has he kissed me. I felt my head pressed back against the pillows as he bore down on me, eating me up, his tongue sweeping around the inside of my mouth. His hand slid over my throbbing cock, his fingers curling around the waistband of my shorts. With one quick, expert move he pulled them off; he slid down my body to slip them over my feet. Then he was back, lying beside me, reclaiming me again, only this time it was skin on skin as I felt myself growing in his hand.

"Oh God, I need this ... I so need to touch you," he said. There was such want in his voice that I felt a sensation as if my heart had actually lurched inside my chest.

"I know, baby, I know ... I need it too," I groaned.

My hands were clasping Josh's shoulders hard, my fingers gripping him. It must have been painful, but he didn't seem to notice. He positioned himself above me, kissing my neck, my chest, eventually making contact with my nipple, sucking and teasing it until it became erect. He licked it with a circular motion, then made me cry out loud by touching his tongue to the tip of it. My nerve endings were screaming out at the sensation.

"Baby, baby, baby." I heard my voice getting louder and louder. Sad, but I couldn't think of anything more creative to express my pleasure, I was in such an overwrought state. I was almost jumping off the bed, my hips jerking involuntarily. I moaned some more as Josh's hand moved to cup my balls, squeezing them gently, then ...

"Josh, Christ, Josh!" as his fingers located the area of flesh between my cock and my anus. Damn, it was so sensitive, and Josh knew *just* the right way to stroke it so that he nearly drove me out of my mind, eventually making contact with the crack in my ass. He took me to the edge then ... oh, shit, he suddenly stopped.

"Josh, please ... do it again," I pleaded, on the point of weeping with despair.

"Sam, I want to do this just right ... I want you to love this," he said, pressing a kiss on my lips to quiet me. He grabbed a pillow; guessing what he was going to do with it, I raised my hips to allow him to slide it under me. He positioned it under my left hip so that my body was tilted over to where he lay on my right, then he stretched over me to grab a tube that was lying on the nightstand. I laughed weakly.

"You know me .... always prepared," he remarked.

"Fucking Boy Scout," I shot back. Then there were no words. I felt Josh's hair brush against my skin as he kissed the inside of my thigh. I opened my legs wider to let Josh slide one lubricated finger inside me.

"Aaaaah." The sound that emerged from me was half moan, half sigh, I was filled with such satisfaction, such desire, as Josh entered me. God, that was what I needed, what I *really* needed : some sort of penetration, *any* sort of penetration from my beloved Josh.

"What do you want, Sam ... tell me what you want," Josh ordered in a low tone.

"Love me, love me, love me." I was almost sobbing with this yearning that possessed me. He pushed his finger in a little deeper. "Oh, yes, it's amazing ... oh, baby, *you're* amazing."

I did my best to verbalize some of what I was feeling. Josh's upper body had become ultra-sensitive to touch, but he made up for the loss of sensation below the waist by using all of his senses, his emotions, his mind to heighten his experience. At this point I was receiving all the physical gratification, so the more vocal I was, the more he was turned on.

And the result was that this wasn't the slow, gentle affection of the previous night. I relaxed sufficiently to welcome more of Josh inside me, but soon he began to take me harder and harder with his hand, so that I was moving with him, matching his rhythm as the friction he applied to my cock grew correspondingly more frantic. He was kissing me, sucking me , biting me on my body as he made love to me with his hands. All the tension, the happiness, the ups, the downs of the last two days found its release in the wave of sensation that passed between us. I pushed myself up into one hand, down on the other, up, down, up, down, until I didn't know where I lay in relation to Josh, the bed or planet Earth. Then all I knew was the hot rush between my legs; me pulling Josh's hand out of me so I could press his body against mine; my erection crushed against him as it spent itself; my arms around him, rocking him, gripping him ... and then, oblivion.

Part 5

"Do you think anyone's missed us?" Josh murmured as he lay against me.

I buried my face against the top of his head, revelling in the feeling of his soft curls against my mouth and chin.

"CJ wanted us to go on the Boston Duck Tour and visit the Tea Party Ship," I said, my voice muffled in his hair.

Josh lifted his head to look at me.

"God, Sam, if I'd known *that* ... "

"I know - what a missed opportunity."

We sniggered and snuggled together for a while, lying quietly in the afterglow of our lovemaking. We were tangled together like two halves of a puzzle. Somehow I'd gotten my legs wrapped around Josh. His left arm was around me so that I'd trapped it between me and the pillow, the fingers of his right and my left hand were somehow entangled together somewhere in the chest region. I stared at Josh as if to imprint the image of his face on my retinas. In a work situation Josh was sure of himself, sometimes - no, oftentimes - a little arrogant. Similarly when he was coming on to me, like earlier in the car. But when we'd made love Josh was ... how to describe it? Softer around the edges was the phrase that came to mind.

"It's at times like this that the English language is so inadequate," I finally remarked.

Josh worked himself level with my face and kissed the tip of my nose.

"But you're always saying how rich it is ... the language of Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde ... who's that other one who was a spy and got killed in a brawl? The one you really like?" he asked. Despite the fact he couldn't remember the name of one of my favorite playwrights I was impressed by his recall of the others.

"Christopher Marlowe," I supplied.

"Yeah ... him."

"Nah ... still not good enough for what I want to say," I answered.

Josh gave me that sweet smile that only I was privy to.

" 'I love you' usually works for me," he said.

"What makes you think that's what I wanted to say? Maybe I want to describe how comfortable this bed is. Or how much I like that painting near the door," I said, referring to a particularly mediocre depiction of a rural scene from New England.

"Well, call me over-confident ... " Josh lifted my hand to his mouth.

"As if I would," I retorted. My right arm was under Josh's head, allowing my fingers to play with his hair, which curled deliciously at the nape of his neck. "But yes ... I love you, Josh."

"Hey - you stole my line," he shot back.

"And it just goes on getting better and better," I said. "God, the things you did to me today ... "

Josh stared at me steadily for a few moments, almost as if he was searching my face for some extra meaning to add to the words I spoke.

"I need to sit up," was all he finally said.

"Are you hurting someplace?" I asked.

"No, my arm's gone to sleep," he replied. "Just lift up and let me get it out from under you."

I did as he asked, then lay back as Josh propped himself on his elbows to slowly get himself into a sitting position.

"Ow, ow, ow!" he exclaimed.

"What now?" I asked, my tone sharper than necessary. Damn, I *still* got anxious at the least little sign that Josh may be in pain.

"Pins and needles. I *hate* them," he complained. "Shit."

"Hell, you made less fuss when you got shot," I joked.

"Yeah, but then they gave me enough pain killers to fell an elephant," was his riposte.

He flexed his fingers to make a fist, repeating the action several times as he sat staring intently out of the window. I wondered what had caught his attention, but all I could see was the top of the John Hancock Tower, standing there like a glass box. A glass box that reflected the blue Boston sky. A small helicopter flew past, bug-like, disappearing behind the tower to emerge a few seconds later before it sped out of our sight. Josh turned his head back towards me, but he didn't look me in the face. Rather, he was staring somewhere in the region of my lower chest.

"Is this enough for you, Sam?" he asked.

"What? Is what enough?" I stretched out my arm to touch Josh on his shoulder blade, running my thumb across it, my fingers motionless against his skin.

"This ... this ... half a sex life," was the response.

*That* was unexpected. It came at me unexpectedly, blindsiding me as I lay there thinking that things were as near perfect as they could get.

"What did I just tell you, Josh?" I finally managed to say.

"You're a young man, Sam. You're drop-dead gorgeous, and physically fit with a sex drive to match - *that* much I know." He half-laughed as he said it, but his face gave a different message. "There've got to be times when you wish for more ... wish for what we used to have, what we used to do."

My heart thumped at the shock of hearing his words. All I could think was, oh, God, he knows. He's been awake those times when I've touched him, when I thought he slept. Those times when I've remembered, when the guilt has eaten me up.

"Josh, look at me, let's talk about this." I heard my voice, surprisingly calm, surprisingly measured. I sat up, kneeling next to him on the bed. "Here, let me just ... "

I parted his legs so that I could sit down in between them with my own legs entwined around his waist. I wanted to make contact with Josh, get as much of our bodies touching as I possibly could so that we were physically as well as emotionally close.

"Comfortable?" I asked.

Josh nodded. I placed my index finger under his chin, tilting his face up so that I could look him in the eye. Then I propped my arms on his shoulders, stretching my arms out behind him and clasping my hands together. I didn't stop to think about the wisdom of what I said next; I was going for broke.

"Okay, if I'm honest ... yes, I *do* sometimes think about the past." I stopped, trying to gauge Josh's reaction. He hadn't flinched, so I took a deep breath and carried on. "I think about your legs around me, gripping me. I think about you getting inside me. I think about you *coming* inside me. Those memories are there. They're burnt into my mind. I love those memories."

I unclasped my hands. I was reckless in my honesty. If we were going to stand any chance, I had to do this.

"And you know, sometimes I look at you when you're sleeping and I do this."

My hand was on Josh's cock. I held it gently as I watched him. I dreaded him recoiling from me, screaming at me for my insensitivity. But he didn't. So I moved myself even closer to him, opened my hand and grasped my own penis so that I held it together with Josh's.

"But this is the first time I've gone as far as this," I whispered.

"Nothing else is going to happen," Josh said.

"Doesn't matter. You've made it happen for me this afternoon, over and over. I thought that was enough for me ... but now this ... you've let me do this ... Josh, we haven't even started. There'll be so much more."

"But Sam I know what you like ... liked. And if there's ever a time you need to look elsewhere, do it. If we stay together, and sometimes you want to be fucked properly, go and get it. Just don't tell me about it. What I don't know won't hurt me. I'd rather have you with me happy and satisfied, even if you have to look for some things elsewhere, than with me unhappy and frustrated."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing, that Josh was actually suggesting I take another man inside me to give me the physical gratification that Josh no longer could. It delighted and frightened me in equal measure that he loved me so much. I felt something like bile rise up into my mouth. I guessed Josh's intentions were good, but I hated that he ascribed to me feelings and their consequent actions that I couldn't recognize as belonging to me.

"I couldn't do that Josh. It would be like committing adultery." That was the nearest I could get to what he was suggesting I do.

"Better a happy sinner than an unhappy martyr," he said.

"Josh, listen to me ... *listen* to me." I put my hands on either side of his face and stared right into his eyes. "I mean really, *really* listen. When we didn't know whether you would live or die, I had to face the possibility of life without you. I honestly didn't know whether *I'd* survive. I even had a plan worked out that if I really couldn't face it, I'd take my boat out and end it there and then."

Josh tried to turn his face away. "Sam, don't. I don't want to hear this. Please."

"Yes, you *are* going to hear it. " I held him fast. It was the nearest I would ever come to using physical force on Josh. "But then I wasn't sure if I'd have the courage to do that ... "

"You would never have killed yourself, Sam. Too many people rely on you. You're too committed, too dedicated. You love your country too much. I won't let you say these things. You've got to promise me, if anything ever happens to me you won't ... " Josh's breathing was rapid, his voice rising with agitation. I dropped my hands from where they held his face, clasping his hands to me instead.

"If I'd lost you, and I'd decided I'd carry on for the sake of my work and my friends, there is no way on this earth I would have started again with someone else. There'd be no-one to compare with you."

"So you'd have been celibate, is that what you're saying?" he asked incredulously. "No, Sam, no. That's just plain wrong. Someone like you, with so much to give another person. You couldn't deprive the world of that. It would be so wrong," he repeated.

Our debate went on, to and fro, to and fro. Two people who thought they had all the answers. Josh paused. My turn.

"But don't you see? What I'm *saying* is that you survived and we're together, and because there's no-one to compare with you, I would never go looking for sex elsewhere. It would be soulless, loveless. Yes, they would be able to do the mechanics of it that you can't, but that's what it would be ... mechanical. It's the difference between ... between ... " I searched for a suitable analogy. "The difference between someone producing a painting-by-numbers of the Mona Lisa and someone else spending time and love creating something totally original and true to them. It might not be the same as a perfect facsimile of the Mona Lisa, but it's got energy and colour and genuine artistry. If that makes sense," I finished uncertainly.

I waited for what seemed like hours for Josh to reply, but it must only have been a few seconds.

"It makes perfect sense," he said. "But I think what we should do is take out some of those memories from time to time. They're mine too, you know. There's nothing wrong with us talking about those times. When she was hanging on the wall I'll bet Leonardo used to think about how good it felt when he was creating the Mona Lisa." His face suddenly broke into a grin.

"Hey, that's not bad," I said, acknowledging the way he picked up my meaning.

"I can be creative too, you know," he protested.

" 'Course you can, babe," I agreed. "But I meant what I said. It *does* get better and better. Today you heard me; you *felt* me. Let that be your answer."

As I spoke I absent-mindedly put my arm around Josh and ran my fingers down his spine. I didn't do it to deliberately evoke a response, but oh, did I get one. Josh suddenly took a deep breath, sucking in the air between clenched teeth. His back arched slightly as he threw his head back, a slight smile playing across his lips. I myself experienced a surge of desire as I looked at his exposed throat. I touched my lips to the area of soft skin in the hollow just above his breast bone. I sucked it gently, emitting a moan at the sensation. I didn't stop caressing Josh's spine as he threw his head forward to rest on my shoulder.

Josh's state of arousal was understated compared to my very audible reactions earlier that afternoon. But I guessed it was just as profoundly felt. He rubbed his head against me in a sensual, almost feline-like way. The only sounds he made were the occasional "Mmmm" of pleasure. As I kept up the steady rhythm of touch, my fingertips making contact with the pronounced nub of the bones of his spinal column, I laid my other hand against the back of his neck. I gazed at the smooth broadness of his shoulders, the golden-brown freckles that lightly powdered his skin. I listened to the music of his response, my fingers tightening where they rested against his neck as I caught the sob that rose in my throat. Pleasuring Josh invariably made me emotional.

We moved against one another dreamily, gracefully.

Then Josh took a deep breath, held it for a heart-stopping few moments, at last letting it go with a soft "Aaah." Apart from that, he didn't move, didn't speak, his head against my shoulder, his body motionless against mine. We stayed like that for I don't know how long. I would have thought Josh had fallen asleep, but for the fact that his hands were on my hips, gently stroking me. I assumed he'd enjoyed the experience, but I wanted to know for sure.

"Josh? Josh? Speak to me."

The next moment Josh jerked his head up, grabbed my face with his hands.

"Mwoahhh!" came the sound as he kissed me full on the lips. Seeing my startled reaction, he threw back his head and laughed heartily.

"Sam Seaborn, you *rock*!" he exclaimed.

Looking at his face, eyes shining, that devastating grin, the colour in his cheeks from our exertions, I took my cue from the sheer maleness of Josh.

"And can I just say, Josh Lyman, you're a fine looking man!"

"And that was *definitely* better than painting-by-numbers!" he hit back.

"You think?" I asked.

"Absolutely," he said, as I leaned in for a gentle kiss. His lips were soft and yielding as I lingered there. Could I *be* any more content, I wondered to myself.

Josh's hand reached up to brush the hair away from my forehead, his other hand flat against my chest as he pushed me away from him.

"Sam ... " he said, then stopped. He looked around, as if listening, then turned back to me.

"Are you expecting someone? Because I was kind of enjoying it being just the two of us ... " I joked.

"No... no. It's just that since yesterday I've been trying to ask you something, and every time I work up the courage we get interrupted."

"Well there's no-one here now," I pointed out, somewhat unnecessarily.

"Okay." Josh bit his lower lip, then pressed a clenched hand against his mouth.

"Sam ... will you come live with me?" he asked. He closed his eyes momentarily as if he expected a rebuff.

I sat there, speechless. I'd known Josh for eight years. For the first five years I'd loved him from afar, and the most I'd allowed myself to fantasize was that he would once, just once, take me to his bed. Almost three years ago my fantasy became fact, then transformed itself into another fantasy where Josh and I could at least let our closest friends know about us. Six months ago, *that* fantasy became fact too, but that didn't stop me dreaming one last dream to make our relationship complete : that one day we would share a home together. So I sat there, not because I needed to think about it, but because I wanted to crystallize how the moment felt. I wanted to preserve it, so that I could take it out in years to come and look at it, like a collector would marvel at the priceless piece of glass or porcelain that he treasured.

Then I became conscious of the fact that Josh was still talking.

" ... but if you don't want to, Sam, that's okay. I mean, I've kept you waiting for months so I couldn't blame you if you turned around and said no ... "

"Yes, Josh, I will," I said.

" ... and I know we've been so happy these last few months, and if you want to continue the way we have been, well, that's okay ... "

"Josh, I would love to come live with you," I said.

" ... and maybe we can talk about it in a few months' time ... it'll give you a chance to think about it ... look, let's just forget I mentioned it, you don't have to say anything ... "

"Joshua!" I shouted, clapping a hand over his mouth. "Will you shut the fuck up?"

Silence. At last. A pair of startled brown eyes staring at me.

"Yes." I took my hand away from Josh's mouth.

"What?" he said uncomprehendingly.

I waved a hand in front of his eyes. He blinked.

"Yes, I would *love* to live with you. Now. Forever."

"You would?" he asked, still sounding as if he were in shock.

"On one condition," I answered.

"Sam ... anything ... just say the word," he replied in a faint voice.

"We need more bookshelves."

Before he could reply I pushed him onto his back. I covered his body with mine, smothering his face in kisses. At last he gave an indication that he'd actually taken in what I'd been saying.

"Oh my God, now I *know* you mean it if you're willing to move in your precious book collection."

I stopped the kissing, leaning on my hands and raising my body to look down at him.

"Oh my God," he repeated.

"I hope you were a little more articulate staffing the President this morning," I remarked.

"Yes, but he didn't just agree to live with me," he said.

"Abby would never stand for it." I rolled over, propping myself up on my elbow as I gazed at Josh. I took hold of his hand and kissed it. "I can't believe you asked me. I'd almost given up hope."

"You didn't think to ask me yourself?" he asked.

"No," I said, the word drawn out on a laugh that was borne of both irony and surprise. "Remember how you chewed me out when all I wanted to do was spend your first night with you in your new apartment? There was *no way* I was going to expose myself to that sort of rejection again."

"Am I that intimidating?" he demanded.

"Josh, you value your independence so much, it had to be you that made the first move. And we've got other people to consider in all of this," I said. "They'll have a view on it."

Josh looked at me thoughtfully before responding.

"Sam, don't be mad but I've already floated the idea to Leo. He's happy that we take the same tack as we did when we came out - no big announcements, but if anyone asks the question, we'll be totally honest."

"You were that sure what my answer would be?"

He shrugged, giving me what I thought he intended as a disarming smile. Little did he know that it just came across as ... oh, God help me, it was captivating. So he ended up in my arms, which effectively ended our discussion for the next few minutes.

"See, we can do this every night before we go to sleep, and every morning when we wake up," Josh observed.

"We'll never get to the White House," I said.

"So we make sure we're very disciplined," he replied in a stern voice.

"Mmm ... discipline ... that sounds good," I answered.

"Shut up and get me some water - I'm thirsty," Josh ordered.

"So - this is going to be the shape of things to come," I said as I got out of bed and padded towards the mini-bar. I rummaged around until I found what I wanted, then went into the bathroom for a couple of glasses. I poured out the water, put the glasses on the nightstand, then got back into bed. In the space of less than five minutes Josh had turned onto his good side and fallen fast asleep. The sheet was pulled up to his waist, his upper body left exposed. He looked boyish and vulnerable.

"Joshua," I said softly, pulling the sheet over him. I stretched out next to him, looping my arm over him to make contact with his hand, which lay across his scar. I slid my own hand underneath his so that it lay against the tissue that told such a turbulent story, then touched my lips to his shoulder. Josh didn't wake up, but made a snuffling sound, his body moving back to meld with my own as I felt myself slipping into a warm, contented doze.

A couple of hours later I was aware of swimming back into a half conscious state. Josh and I were now lying face to face as we drifted towards one another, sleep-sodden, heavy-lidded, drunk with love and desire. We made love drowsily, languorously, rising up through a sea of sensation to eventual wakefulness. Outside, the John Hancock Tower still stood there like a glass box, but now the box reflected the dying rays of the sun, the only indication of how time and the outside world had moved on while Josh and I inhabited our own internal universe within this bedroom. A universe that we soon reluctantly exchanged for the reality of a hotel lobby, an airplane that functioned as a suite of offices and a journey back to a building that embodied more than just bricks and mortar.

But when we were back in *our* apartment and *our* bedroom, we knew we could enjoy recreating that universe all over again.

Part 6

9:30 PM, and Air Force One cruised effortlessly through the sky on its way back to Washington DC. Josh and I sat alone in the lounge area. I didn't know where CJ and Toby were, although I guessed CJ would be at the back of the plane terrorizing journalists, while Toby was probably up in the Communications Room. I doubted either of them were with the President, as I knew Mrs. Bartlet had insisted he take a nap on the journey back to DC. Since there were no imminent crises that we were aware of, he would sleep for an hour at most, wake up, ask for a briefing and *then* decide there was a crisis to deal with. Failing that, he'd probably opt to rob some of us blind by insisting on a few hands of poker.

In the meantime, I was enjoying the peace and quiet of this area of the plane. On the flight back home, activity wasn't usually as frenetic as on the outward journey, so it looked like we might be lucky and be left relatively undisturbed. Josh was reading a report on polling data; I was writing some notes in preparation for CJ's early morning press briefing. It was hard to maintain our concentration. Sometimes I'd look up to catch Josh gazing at me; at other times I'd be staring at Josh and he'd suddenly turn his attention from his work to meet my eyes. At last we both put our papers down, turned our heads towards one another and just sighed.

"This is *so* hard," said Josh.

"Please, don't use words like that," I pleaded. "Christ ... "

I stood up, throwing my pen and legal pad down on the table. I cast an eye towards the area outside the lounge. It was totally deserted. The seating in this area of the aircraft was more arranged more spaciously, so I was able to drop to my knees next to Josh. I grasped his left hand, entwining my fingers in his, then leaned towards him.

"Sam ... don't ... it's too public," he protested.

"I don't care. I love you, Josh, I love you, I love you. I don't care who knows."

I felt liberated. Filled with wild abandon. I kissed Josh without any thought as to the consequences. And to my relief he reciprocated, then leaned his head back against the seat.

"I *really* think you should go and sit down now," he said. "Someone might come in."

As if on cue, CJ appeared. I was still kneeling next to Josh; we still held hands. I suddenly remembered where we were. The White House Press Secretary had caught us making out on Air Force One with the President and First Lady only a few yards away in their suite. I opened my mouth to speak, but before any sound emerged CJ disappeared.

"Can you make sure no-one disturbs Sam and Josh - they're asleep," I heard her say. "Toby, you wanna play cards? Mike's in, and so's Charlie. Let's go to the conference room. I feel *so* lucky tonight."

Her voice drifted away.

"We owe her one," said Josh.

"I know."

Josh pulled me towards him, and we kissed some more.

"I guess we should stop," he finally said.

So we did.

"It's not like we can't continue it at home," he went on.

What he didn't know was that earlier, as we traveled to the airport, I'd made a decision.

"No, we won't continue it at home. Not tonight, at any rate," I said.

He burst out laughing. "Yeah, that's why you've been getting yourself all worked up for the past hour."

"No, Josh, I mean it," I insisted.

He screwed up his eyes, rubbing one of them with his index finger.

"So what you're saying is that you're going to go home, with all this pent up sexual tension, then lie in your lonely bed and ... "

"Yes," I said emphatically before he could finish the sentence. Despite the fact we were undisturbed, we'd almost forgotten what a public place we were in.

"Josh, close your mouth, you're doing a really good impression of Gail."

"I don't understand," he said feebly.

"Look ... " I began in the patient tones of a parent dealing with a difficult child.

"Sam, don't treat me like I'm a complete idiot," he said through gritted teeth.

I tried again.

"I'm dying to move in. But I want it be special, I don't want us to just sort of drift into our life together. I want to give us a little space, then move in properly."

Josh's face suddenly relaxed into a look of understanding. He nodded his head.

"Okay, so when? 'Cos I don't know about you, but now we've decided to take the plunge I can't wait."

I still knelt next to his seat. He leaned over to rest his elbows on the armrest so that he his face was close to mine. He raised his eyebrows and grinned. I decided to take him down a peg or two.

"I'm not normally one to stir things up, but I seem to remember a certain someone who wouldn't let his lover stay the first night with him in his new apartment."

"Don't know who you mean," he whispered, brushing my cheek with his lips. I looked over his shoulder and checked again that we weren't being observed.

"Saturday, I'll move in on Saturday."

He slumped back in his seat and groaned.

"What did I say? What's wrong with Saturday?" I asked.

"Donna's got me in meetings *all day*," he protested.

"All the better. I can get organized without you distracting me. Then we'll have the whole evening free so I can have my wicked way with you," I said, smirking.

Josh put his hand on my cheek.

"Saturday it is, then," he said. He looked me right in the eye in that direct way he has. "Sam, are you scared?"

"Honestly?" I asked.

"Yes ... honestly."

"Yes, a little." And I was. It was such a big step. We'd been a couple for almost three years now, but actually setting up home together, living in each other's pockets ... yes, it was scary. "You?"

"I'm happy, excited and terrified. It feels like ... "

Suddenly the plane lurched as we hit an air pocket. Josh put his hand on his stomach.

"Whoooh, it feels a lot like *that*!" he said. But he was smiling.

Then we felt a surge as the aircraft soared above the turbulence, and all was smooth and steady again. I put my hand on Josh's. I knew that although he'd clocked hundreds of hours of flying over the years, he *never* got used to turbulence.

"Feel that?" I asked. "Steady as a rock. What does that tell you?"

A kiss from Josh in answer to my question. A hug, a muffled "I'm so lucky to have you as my guy" from Josh. My eyes closed, lips pressed against his forehead. A wordless moment as we drank in the sight of each other. The plane lurched again, the seatbelt sign lit up. I stood up, flexing my legs to ease the stiffness from kneeling for the past ten minutes. I sat down and after I'd buckled up I stretched my arm out and squeezed Josh's hand briefly. Josh resumed his reading while I stared out of the window into the darkness. For the rest of the flight the plane dropped and rose at the mercy of the elements. But each time it kept its steady course until we landed safely in the capital.

It seemed like a good omen.

***

I spent all of Saturday shuttling between my old apartment and my new home. I deliberately waited until I knew Josh had left for work before I arrived with the first of my belongings. Call me old-fashioned or masochistic or whatever you like to explain it, but I didn't want to see Josh until I felt like I'd moved in properly. My aim was to have my stuff sorted, a meal prepared and to be waiting with the champagne on ice when Josh returned. He had meetings with the chair and a couple of members of the Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee in the morning, a session with a polling analyst in the afternoon. He wouldn't be back till late once he'd briefed Leo and the President. And that didn't include any of the minutiae of the activities of the West Wing, or some sudden political squall that might blow in from nowhere.

By the early evening I'd installed what I would call the "essential me" in the apartment. Over the next few weeks I intended to put my own place on the market, when I would decide what I would keep in the way of furniture which would then occupy some of the space that Josh hadn't utilized. But I had the important things with me. My books, of course, which I was able to arrange immediately since Josh had somehow managed to get someone to put up extra shelves since Tuesday when we made our decision. There was also my CD collection, paintings and Ansell Adams prints, photograph albums and sports equipment. Some fine crystal glasses for use when I opened a particularly special bottle of wine. And did I mention clothes, which spilled over from the closet in Josh's - no, *our* bedroom - into one in the guest room. There were other items, of course, which I would pick up eventually, but the contents of my apartment that I had moved constituted what I meant when I told Josh I wanted to move in "properly". I flopped down on the sofa with a sigh and looked around me with satisfaction. All I had to do now was prepare dinner for my man.

It was eight thirty when I heard the key in the door. I stood leaning on the frame of the kitchen doorway and watched Josh come into the entrance hall, where he flung his backpack in the corner.

"Good day at the office, dear?" I asked.

He pushed himself over to me and we exchanged a long awaited kiss.

"*Long* day at the office, dear," he corrected me. "It's been sooo hard to concentrate, imagining you here, in those tight jeans ... "

He slid his arm around my waist, placing his hand on my butt.

" ... clambering around, " he continued, "shifting boxes, bending down to unpack them ... "

"Enough!" I said, raising my voice. "Go shower and change - it'll cool you down."

He wrinkled his nose in protest before shooting off in the direction of the bathroom.

I was back in the kitchen when Josh came in thirty minutes later. He sat at the table as I opened the champagne and handed him a glass.

"To us," I said, raising my own glass.

"To us." Josh echoed my words.

And that was it. I'd wanted to mark the moment, but I knew that Josh would balk at an over-demonstrative display of how much it meant to both of us. The look he gave me over the rim of his glass was enough.

I continued making dinner while Josh sat, his chin resting on his hand, watching me. A little while later I leaned over Josh to replenish his glass. He'd picked up a magazine he'd brought into the kitchen with him, and was now engrossed in an article. I lifted one side of it to look at the cover. It was a copy of The Economist, and on the front of it was a picture of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair with his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. The tag line read "Leader in Waiting?" Josh was reading the accompanying article.

"*That's* not gonna happen any time soon," I remarked.

"Hmmm?" asked Josh. Once he started reading an earthquake couldn't rouse him.

"Blair being replaced by Brown - Blair's invincible at the moment."

"Never say never, Sam - we need to keep an eye on who we might need to work with in the future." He carried on reading.

"Josh, do you *never* stop?" I asked. I took the magazine and threw it onto a work surface out of his reach.

"What?" he demanded.

"Work. Politics." I knew the question was largely rhetorical, for both of us. Of course we lived, slept and ate politics. But, I suddenly thought, did it have to be that way? *Should* it be that way? I moved around the kitchen opening cupboards and the fridge, gathering up the ingredients for the salad dressing as I continued talking.

"Now we're free to spend our spare time together, I think we should do other stuff. Visit art galleries, museums, get out into the country, go to the movies, the theatre."

"Okay," Josh answered, surprisingly not taking the opportunity to make one of his usual sarcastic comments about modern art. "Just so long as we can go to see the occasional baseball game."

"Why not?" I said. We lapsed into silence for a few minutes. I dressed the Caesar salad, checked how long the risotto had been cooking, then turned to Josh.

Josh is an incredibly attractive man with a smile that could stop traffic. But there's one part of him that makes me feel like warm molasses is coursing through my veins and causes me to catch my breath. It's the sight of his hair curling at the nape of his neck, especially when his curls are recently dampened by the shower. I bent down and kissed him there, breathing in the smell of shampoo and cologne. Something quivered inside me. He lifted his hand and placed it against my face.

"You're quiet, Josh," I remarked.

"I'm just thinking how wonderful all of this is," he said.

"Yeah ... me too," I agreed. I kissed him again. "Come on, let's eat."

I'm no expert in the kitchen, but I can prepare a passably good meal. But that night the food tasted fresher, more flavoursome, as if our senses were heightened by the occasion. We'd finished the champagne, so I chose a Chianti Classico to accompany our risotto Primavera, and as we ate and the wine made us more and more mellow, we chatted about our respective activities through the day. Despite my earlier remarks about our politics-obsessed lives, Josh described his meetings in such a way that I couldn't resist being drawn in. He made me laugh until I ached as he impersonated Senator Bennett, then made me laugh all over again when he repeated some of the one liners he, Josh, had delivered to Leo and the President as part of his briefing earlier in the evening.

"Josh, you'll go too far one of these days," I gasped.

"My audiences love me," he said as I cleared the table. "Here, let me help."

"No, I want to spoil you tonight," I insisted.

"Come and sit down," he demanded.

"I'll just stack the dishwasher."

"No, Sam, that can wait. We can do it tomorrow. Please, sit down." He stretched out his arm, palm upwards. I grasped it, and allowed him to pull me back towards him. I sat down in my chair opposite, and topped off our glasses. We drank a little more wine, chatting about what we would do the next day as we both had the day off, then Josh took hold of my hands.

"Thanks, Sam, for such a beautiful evening," he said.

"It's not over yet. Do you want dessert?" I asked. If the truth were known, I was hoping he'd refuse, because he was looking at me, head tilted to one side, smiling his sexiest smile. I felt like his eyes were actually touching me and arousing me in the most sensitive places imaginable.

"Yes, please," he answered.

"Oh ... right," I said, taken aback by the response. I started to stand up.

"Sit down. Not *that* sort of dessert." Josh moved around the table to position himself right next to me. He put his arms around me, cradled the back of my head in his hand, then without ceremony he was kissing me open mouthed, his tongue hungrily exploring as he made small, needy sounds. It wasn't gentle, there'd been no soft, preparatory kisses, I was simply being subjected to the onslaught of Josh's passion. I grabbed his head, breaking the kiss to press my lips to Josh's face again and again. We were both panting and muttering incoherently.

"Bed?" I managed to say.

"I thought you'd never ask," Josh replied.

I pushed back my chair but almost before I could walk around the table Josh was over by the door. He moved quickly towards the bedroom as I caught up with him. I bent down and nuzzled his neck as he maneuvered into the room, muttering "Oh, my God, oh my God" as I sucked and nipped him. He finally managed to get to the bed, and I swear he just about leaped from his wheelchair. He gave it an almighty push across the room. Without saying a word we undressed as quickly as we could. This was one time we weren't doing the slow, sensuous, taking each other's clothes off thing. I flung off my last item of clothing, and stood there, looking down at Josh.

"Let's fuck," I said.

He stretched forward and ran his index finger down my stomach, then moved it in small circles so that he wrapped a few strands of my pubic hair around it. His thumb lightly grazed my penis. I shut my eyes and felt my whole body start to shake. I opened my eyes and saw Josh was now holding his arms out towards me. His eyes were shining, and tip of his tongue was just visible as he ran it over his lips.

I grasped his hands. He yanked me towards him, and as he fell backwards to lie on the bed, I followed. I pinned him down, held his hands above his head and kissed him hard. Josh wriggled beneath me, lifting his head to pay me back with hot, frantic kisses. I moved my hands, placed them under his arms and got him further onto the bed. I ran my hands down his torso, knowing this would make him moan. I sucked on his lower lip again and again so that when we pulled apart I could see it was swollen with the force I'd applied. Josh laughed, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. I could see a thread-like streak of blood where I'd broken the skin.

"So that's how you want to play it," he said hoarsely. He pushed me away from him - God, his arms were strong - and this time I was the one who was on my back.

"Stay still," he ordered.

He rolled on top of me, and proceeded to lick, nibble and kiss his way down the length of my body. I didn't move as I capitulated to the sensations that seeped through me. But when Josh began stroking my inner thighs and I felt the warmth of his mouth surrounding my cock, I became an active participant. Without any more words, no endearments, no asking what felt good or what either of us wanted more of, we had sex, plain and simple. I can't dress it up by saying we made love. It was rough, at times bordering on the painful, always pleasurable, but there was none of the finesse, none of the delicacy, none of the tenderness that I call making love. It was all about physical wants, the desperate need to feel as close to one another as we could get. We rolled around that bed from top to bottom, we bit, we scratched, we went wild. It was scary and it was fabulous all at the same time. We yelled and screamed the final culmination of all the suppressed desire of the last few days until we lay exhausted, silent, gasping. I could hear my blood singing in my ears, and my nerve endings felt raw, exposed, like my skin had been eroded by the onslaught on my body.

It felt like we'd lain there for hours, and I wouldn't have moved but for the fact that I started to feel cold. We hadn't even bothered to get under the comforter before we'd embarked on the turbulent bout of sex we'd just enjoyed. Josh's face was pressed against my chest, so I nudged him slightly to attract his attention.

"Babe?" No reply. "Babe - speak to me," I said.

Josh moved his head from side to side, then moved over onto his back.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," was all I could hear.

I turned my head and felt a sudden shock when I saw him.

"Jesus, look at you," I said.

His lips were still swollen and there were red marks along his collarbone where my teeth had bitten him. There was a bruise on his arm, evidently the effect of my gripping him tightly. I covered my eyes with my hand.

"Shit."

Josh propped himself up on one elbow, crossing his other arm over to place his hand on my chest.

"Sam, you're shivering. Get into bed."

I didn't argue with him, and once we lay under the comforter he took charge.

"Here, let me hold you." I moved into the safe haven of Josh's arms as he wrapped them around me. I still shivered slightly, so he rubbed my back. It soothed me as well as warmed me.

"You know, you don't need to worry, Sam. I'm fine. It was the best. You didn't hurt me," Josh said reassuringly.

I finally got up the courage to meet his eyes.

"Really? 'Cos I'm starting to think I must have been out of my mind." I was terrified that I'd gotten so out of control that I'd harmed Josh, or turned the sex into something ... well, weird. I couldn't remember either of us ever being so close to causing pain.

I felt Josh's hand stroke my shoulder. I winced slightly.

"See?" he said. "I was a little crazy myself. I scratched you."

"I ... I enjoyed it so much, Josh. It's not the first time we've been a little rough, but I can't remember a time when I've seen the ... the *evidence* of it so much. I didn't intend to hurt you ... that's not what I enjoyed ... "

"It was sex, Sam : raw, unadulterated, no-holds-barred sex. I can do that. It won't hurt me. And after the last few months I think we needed some sort of release. We've been living under all sorts of pressures ... my injuries, getting back to work, coming out. Not to mention the trip this week. We were stressed, Sam. I don't think either of us realized how much. I'll bet if you're honest you feel as satisfied and as relaxed as I do now." He raised an eyebrow questioningly. "Yes?"

"When did you get to be so wise?" I asked.

He laughed softly, kissed the top of my head and stroked my hair.

"We're like the plane, aren't we? Steady as a rock," he answered.

We lay there for a while longer, warm and content.

"I want dessert," Josh said suddenly. "As in the last course of our dinner, I mean."

He sat up, pushing back the comforter.

"Stay there," I said. "I'll go get it. We'll eat here."

"That's *exactly* what I hoped you'd say." He lay back against the pillows, yawning and stretching like a cat as I left the bedroom.

I returned carrying a tray with dessert, glasses and the remainder of the bottle of Chianti we had drunk earlier. I deposited the tray on the nightstand, then got into bed.

"Move down a little," I told him, so that I could sit behind him with my legs either side of his waist. I poured the wine then handed Josh his dessert, nibbling his earlobe as I did so.

"Dark chocolate mousse accompanied by red wine - a classic combination," I murmured.

"Yeah?" He ate a spoonful, followed by a gulp of wine. "Correction - dark chocolate mousse accompanied by red wine with Sam Seaborn's body pressed against mine - a classic combination."

So we ate the dessert, feeding each other the occasional spoonful, and drank the wine.

Then we slid down the bed, touching, clinging, whispering, and we made love. We didn't just have sex. We made slow, sweet, beautiful love.

It felt perfect. As I fell asleep I told myself this was as good as it gets.

I really believed it.

THE END

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