Title: Fallout
Author: Beth
Series: Wild Ride
Disclaimer: I don’t own shit. Well, I own Kelly and Sarah and Carrie, but otherwise, I don’t own anything of importance.
Summary: The Drop In has unforeseen consequences.
Spoilers: Massive for “The Drop In”
Feedback: If you want to tell me what you thought -- feel free: bethandsam@earthlink.net
Rating: PG-13 (some people, Josh, have a problem with language)
Notes: Thanks to Nomi and Julian for the stalwart beta work on this puppy. It’s been a long time in production, but it’s done now. This is for Gail in commemoration of her birthday (2/25) – I hope you enjoy it, sweetie.

Fallout by Beth

Sam still couldn’t understand what had happened. The speech had been perfect – he’d worked so hard on it. But sitting there, listening to the President give it, he realized that someone had changed part of his speech, had added what amounted to an attack on the environmental lobby, and his perfect speech had gone up in smoke. After his conversation with CJ, he just sat in his office trying to decide what he should do. He wanted to talk to Josh; he didn’t want to talk to Toby. The wrong one kept coming into his office and trying to engage him in conversation. He knew that Toby was the one who had made the changes, and he just couldn’t bring himself to talk to Toby yet. He knew he could call Kelly – she would listen to him and she would be properly outraged. He just wanted to hear Josh’s take first – maybe it would make him feel better and he wouldn’t need to call Kelly at all.

****

Josh found Sam sitting in his office that evening, staring stone-faced at the wall. **Well, so much for him being over this today.** He tapped on the door, opened it a crack and asked tentatively, “Sam? Okay if I come in?”

“Yeah, sure,” Sam said as he tried to shake off some of his anger. “Just close the door – I don’t want Toby in here.”

“Oo-kay,” Josh said as he slipped in the room and shut the door behind him. “So, what’s bothering you now?”

“It was a disaster. How could Toby do that to me?”

“Do what?”

“Ruin my speech. He made me look like a fool.”

Josh shook his head, “He didn’t do it to *you* -- he added a drop-in to the President’s speech. It had to be done; you know that, right?” He moved around the desk to take Sam’s hand, but was surprised when Sam jerked away from him.

“No, I actually don’t know that. I do know that it didn’t have to be done without telling me.”

“Sam – you know what you’re like. I know what you’re like. If we’d told you ahead of time, you would have argued against it until you wore us down, and then – what?” As Josh was speaking he’d watch Sam start to stiffen; now his back was ramrod straight and he was moving away from Josh.

“Get out of here, Josh. Now.” Sam’s voice was cold and hard. Josh had never heard him this angry. When it was clear that Josh wasn’t going to move, Sam grabbed his coat and his briefcase and headed for the door.

“Sam! Wait. Where are you going?” Josh tried to grab for him, but Sam eluded his grasp.

“I’m going home,” Sam said softly as he opened the door and walked out of his office without a backward glance.

**** “Sam – slow down. I can’t understand a word you’re saying,” Sarah said in her best soothing voice. “Where are you right now?”

“Airport, but I can’t get a flight,” Sam said.

“Okay – let me get Kel – maybe she can think of something. What happened – no – wait -- don’t tell me. Let’s get you here first, and then you can tell us what’s going on, okay?” Sarah didn’t want him to freak again; he’d been hard enough to talk down the first time.

“Okay.” Sam had no idea what Sarah thought Kelly could do, but if anyone could get him to California tonight, it would be Kelly.

He heard muffled voices, so he knew that Sarah was giving Kelly a quick run-down on his state of mind before she handed over the phone. Sometimes it bothered him how protective she could be, but not tonight – he didn’t want to stress Kelly, but he needed help and people he could trust.

“Sam?” Kelly sounded tentative. When Sam got angry, caution was the key. It was like walking in a minefield without a map.

“Yeah.”

“Tell me what you want right now – I’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”

“I want to be there, but I can’t get a flight.”

“Give me a number where I can reach you and about twenty minutes, okay? Oh, and which airport are you in?” She already knew he wasn’t using his cell and she didn’t want to think too hard about what that meant right now.

“National.” He pulled his glasses out and read off the number from the pay phone. “Thanks, Kel.”

“Don’t thank me yet, I haven’t gotten this worked out.”

*****

Sam sat on top of the pay phone waiting for it to ring, and precisely twenty minutes after he had hung up, it did. “Hello?”

“Okay Sam – you don’t have a lot of time, so pay attention. There’s a commuter flight leaving for New York in twenty-five minutes – gate D6. I’ve gotten you a seat on it. When you get to New York, you need to head for the private plane departure area – Mac’s pilot should be waiting for you there. You’ll be here by morning – good enough?”

“Commuter plane to New York – private plane to California. Got it. Do I want to know how you did this?”

“No, you really, really don’t. See you in the morning.” Kelly tried to sound light as she hung up, but she was panicking. It wasn’t like Sam to do something so sudden – she knew something really bad had to have happened but she didn’t know what to do next.

“So I should be getting Sam’s room ready, yes?” Sarah asked with a hint of a laugh.

“Yeah. I don’t suppose you’ll let me watch the news to see if I can figure out what this is all about, will you?”

“No, but you could call Josh – I bet he knows,” Sarah said quietly, knowing the futility of her observation.

“I’m sure he does, Sar. But you know I can’t do that,” Kelly said, and then she noticed the gleam in Sarah’s eyes. “And you aren’t going to do it either. When Sam gets here, I’ll convince him to tell me.”

“And to call Josh?”

“And to call Josh. I promise.”

*****

Josh wasn’t sure how long he stood in Sam’s office after he left. He was sure that Sam would come back, so sure that he didn’t want to leave.

“Sa – Josh? What are you doing here? Where’s Sam?” Toby had started at a bellow but had ended more quietly.

“Uh, I was talking to him, but he left. I don’t really know where he went.” Josh knew he sounded kind of lost, but he really was. He’d never seen Sam that angry and certainly not at him.

“Well, get him back here. I need him working on –“

“I’m not his keeper, Toby. You want him back here; you try to get him back. But I’ll tell you, he didn’t seem inclined to do anything for you.” Or for me, Josh added silently.

“Fine. Tell me where he went, and I’ll get him back. We’ve got a lot of work to do to repair the mess he caused.”

“He said he was going home,” Josh said trying to keep the defeat out of his voice. And then the rest of Toby’s statement registered. “What do you mean the mess *he* caused? As I remember it, you’re the one who was pissed off. You’re the one who didn’t want the President to do the speech. And, you were the one who insisted that the drop in was the way to go. How in God’s name can you call this a mess that *Sam* caused?”

“As I remember it, you were the one who suggested it. And you didn’t think the speech was a good idea either.”

Josh raked his hands through his hair, “Okay, so I wasn’t wholly in favor of the thing, but I wouldn’t have blindsided Sam. He’s on our side, remember?”

“Sometimes I think he needs to be reminded of that.” Toby said quietly. “You said he went home, right?”

“Yeah. That’s what he said.” He and Sam had been spending most of their downtime at Josh’s place, but he had known, from the tone of Sam’s voice, that he wouldn’t be there when Josh went home that night.

“I’ll call him there. He should have told me he was leaving, Josh. This wasn’t very professional,” Toby stated matter-of-factly.

“I don’t think you get to give lectures on professionalism today, Toby.” Josh hadn’t agreed with any of the decisions when they were made – to do the speech; to do the drop-in -- but he had to admit that Sam would not have agreed to make the changes that Toby wanted. The drop-in was the only real way to do what needed to be done, but he hadn’t fully considered the personal costs of this decision.

Josh walked out of Sam’s office, still dazed. He indicated, in an off-hand sort of way, that he was leaving and headed home. He wasn’t there when Toby discovered that Sam wasn’t at his apartment, that he wasn’t answering his cell phone, and that his pages were going unanswered.

******

Toby pounced on Josh before he had even made it into his office the next morning, “Where are you hiding him?”

Josh hadn’t slept well the night before and he hadn’t had any coffee yet, so he was slower than usual. “Hiding whom?”

“Sam – where is he, Josh? I know you know – you’re his best friend. If anyone would know where he disappeared to, it would be you. So, again, where is he?”

Josh just stared at him, “He said he was going home. I assume that’s where he went.”

“He’s not answering his phone – landline or cellular. He’s not responding to my pages. He’s not even checking his e-mail.”

“Give him a chance to cool off. I’m sure he’ll come in later.” Josh knew it was the right thing to do – it didn’t quite register that it was completely unlike Sam to ignore the phone.

Sam let himself into Kelly’s house before dawn. He hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane, and he was hoping to get to his room before Sarah detected his presence. No such luck – she was standing at the top of the stairs, arms folded as he began the climb.

“Hey S,” he said, the exhaustion apparent in his voice.

“Samuel,” she said as she made a quick clinical assessment of his condition. “I’d say you need at least eight uninterrupted hours of sleep followed by a good meal. Luckily for you, your bed’s made up and I’ll promise you a fantastic dinner after you sleep.”

“And the catch?”

“Thinking like a lawyer – just like always. The catch is you give me a one sentence reassurance that someone, besides us, knows where you are right now.”

“The pilot has a clear idea.” Sam grinned despite his exhaustion.

“You realize, that given what Kelly did, you can only be traced as far as New York. While I don’t much care about the people you work with, I do care about Josh. It’s going to take him maybe another hour or two to figure out that you flew to New York and then vanished. He’s going to panic, and it isn’t fair to do that to him.”

“I don’t want to talk to him.” Sam knew he sounded petulant, but he didn’t care.

“Okay – let me call him or let Kel call him. Someone needs to tell him where you are. I’m not going to force you to, but if you don’t, one of us will have to do it. You’ve always let me know where she is when she goes off the deep end; someone has to do the same for Josh now.”

“Fine. Call him, but I’m serious, S; don’t try to force me to talk to him. I just can’t right now.” He looked at Sarah again and her breath caught at the depth of pain she saw in his eyes. “So, am I sleeping now or talking to Kel?”

“It’s up to you. You know we don’t make decisions for you – well, I should say I don’t make decisions for you,” she added at Sam’s incredulous look.

“Yeah – I know, S. She’s going to make herself sick worrying if I don’t go explain, isn’t she?”

“Yeah – probably. I’ll go let Josh know where you are; you go talk to Kel. Just give her the basics for now, and then get some sleep. I’ve got a shift at the hospital that I can’t get out of, but I’ll be back to make dinner, okay?”

“Okay. And, S?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“It’s what we do, Sam,” she said with a shrug as she walked down the hall to call Josh.

*******

Josh was still holding the receiver in his hand – staring at it – when Donna came hustling in.

“Josh – Toby and Leo want to see you – like yesterday. If you have any idea where Sam is, I think you’d better tell them. I’ve never seen either of them so angry.”

Josh nodded absently but continued to stare at the phone.

“Josh – who were you talking to?”

“Someone who knows where Sam is.” Sarah had been quite calm – even in the face of Josh shouting at her. He knew, rationally, that she had no control over Sam, but he couldn’t help thinking that she could have convinced Sam to stay in DC if she had wanted to.

“I thought he was at home. You said he was at home, Josh. Where is he?”

“I swear I thought he was – he said he was going home. I just didn’t know what he meant.”

“Josh – where is he? What’s going on with you two? Are you okay?”

“Donna – I don’t know what to tell you. He didn’t exactly tell me what he was doing, and I don’t know what that means. And I’m not telling you where he is. In fact, I’m not telling anyone.”

“So what – you’re going to lie to them?”

“Well, they lied to Sam. I’d say it’s fair. It wasn’t a call to alert the office as to his whereabouts – it was a private call from a friend to a friend. They don’t have the right –“

“It might be fair, but it’s also dumb. You know they’ll be really mad if you lie to them. Leo could even fire you.”

“Only if he finds out, Donnatella.”

“Okay, so what *do* you plan to tell them, Joshua?”

“I don’t know – I’ll think of something,” Josh sighed. “Leo’s pissed, huh?”

“Yeah, but Toby’s the scary one, and he’s furious.” Donna gave Josh a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “If you need to talk, you know where I am.”

Josh nodded as he pulled himself out of his chair and made his way to Leo’s office, where he was sure his day was just going to get shittier.

******

“Shhhh,” Kelly said soothingly as she smoothed her hand over his hair. “Sammy, it’s going to be okay. We’ll figure it out, but you’ve got to tell me what I’m figuring out.”

“Why do I do what I do?”

“Hmmm? You’re going to have to give me a little more than that.”

“I wrote this speech – a really good speech, Kel. God, it was such a good speech – one that even you would have liked. The President was excited about it – it was like the best thing I’ve ever done, and then it wasn’t.”

“And then it wasn’t what?”

“It wasn’t the best thing I’d ever done anymore. They applauded politely – no enthusiasm, no excitement, nothing.”

“Okay, so a speech went flat – it happens.”

“It wasn’t that it went flat -- *they* put a drop-in in the speech.”

“A drop-in? Not to sound totally naïve, but what’s a drop-in?”

“Okay, in this case, it was an addition to the speech that completely undid all of the good stuff I’d written. It would be like me coming along after you’ve completed a canvas and adding a tree or something.”

“Ah, I see. So what are you going to do about it?”

“I can’t *do* anything about it. My boss added it – I’d know his writing anywhere.”

“You said ‘they.’”

“Yeah – well, I don’t think Toby just decided to do it all on his own. I’m pretty sure he’d get Leo’s okay before he’d do something like that.”

“I’m confused – wouldn’t you have noticed this in a draft before the President gave the speech?”

“It was added after I had completed what I *thought* was the last draft. I didn’t know it was there until I was sitting in the hall listening to the speech. Then I had to act like I knew it was there the whole time. Damn Toby and his whole ‘friends have to be honest with each other’ crap.”

“You didn’t quit, did you?”

“I’m not doing anything good there, Kel. Everyone yells at me; they treat me like shit. I just don’t know why I’m doing it anymore.”

“Sam?”

“Don’t ‘Sam’ me, Kel.”

“I just want to know what you’re doing here. Did you quit? Are you going to? What about Josh – where does he fit into all of this?”

“He knew, Kel. And he didn’t tell me.”

“Ah, that’s why you’re here.”

“Yeah – I guess it is.”

“And what does this mean for you?”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re here – he’s in Washington. Is that the way you want it to be?”

“I don’t know – how can I trust him?”

“You are kidding, right? *You* are talking about trust? Is this the twilight zone or something?” She rested her hand on her pregnant belly and glared at him meaningfully. “Have I entered a world where this isn’t *your* baby? ‘Cause I’d really like to know. And if you could let me know who the father actually is, that would be helpful. ”

“Don’t start.”

“The hell I won’t. You have *no* right to talk about not being able to trust him. This was a work situation – it isn’t fair to hold him to a standard in your professional life that you aren’t even meeting in your personal life.”

“That’s different.”

“You’re right, it is. He has more right to expect you to be honest with him about personal issues than you do about professional stuff. You’ve explained this all to me – you aren’t quite equal in terms of your positions and there are times he knows things you don’t. You can’t take that personally, sweetheart. You know you can’t – you really do.”

“Well yeah, but –“

“No, Sam. It isn’t fair. Look, you promised Sarah you’d rest – I heard you. Why don’t you go take a nap and we can talk about this more later.”

“I can’t just stay here?”

“No, Samuel – go to your own room,” Kelly said with an innocent grin. If Sam had been more alert, he would have realized meant trouble.

Once she was reasonably certain that Sam was asleep, Kelly picked up the phone and made the call she’d started thinking about once she’d heard that Ziegler was involved in this. Under any other circumstances, she would have done this herself rather than involve another party – especially the one she had in mind. Sam would be displeased -- that was a good word for it -- when he found out what she had done and to whom she had gone in order to get it done.

If she was certain that Sam would go back to Washington, she would have left Ziegler alone – Sam had a hard time of it when she went out of her way to antagonize Toby. However, she was also tired of him beating up on Sam when things weren’t going the way he wanted them to. While Toby would never know why this happened, she would and it would make her happy, and this time it would be enough.

“Hi – may I speak to Ted Marcus please?”

“May I say who’s calling?”

“Kelly O’Neal.” She knew her name was enough to make Ted’s assistant jump instantly.

“I’ll put you right through, Miss O’Neal.”

“Kelly? This is unexpected,” Ted Marcus said, pleasure evident in his voice. “I thought you were taking some sort of weird sabbatical type thing in – Outer Mongolia or some such.”

“Well – that’s what you’re supposed to think.”

“So what’s the super-secret project – or am I not supposed to ask?”

“I didn’t call you about that, Teddy. I have a problem of uh – an unusual nature – that I think you might be able to help me with.”

“What do you need? I’ll do anything for you, you know that.”

“I need a cage rattled in the Bartlet administration, and –“

“Okay, Ziegler or Lyman?”

Kelly laughed, “It could have been McGarry.”

“No it couldn’t. You have soft spot for that old bastard. Why, I’ll never know.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Teddy. You know you like him too.”

“Oh, I do like him, but he’s fun to mess with, you know?”

“I suppose. So, will you do it?”

“You haven’t told me who yet.”

“I can’t get too specific; I have company. He’s jet-lagged at the moment, but he’s company nonetheless.”

“Guest house or main house?” Knowing Kelly as he did, Ted knew that very few people stayed in the main house, and given the nature of what she was suggesting only one person fit the bill.

“Main.”

“Sam’s there – okay, so you must want Ziegler’s head on a platter.”

“Am I that transparent?”

“When it comes to Sam? Yeah. Transparent is a good word for it. Immensely vindictive would be another couple of words for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that wasn’t justified.”

“I’m not dumb enough to get in the line of fire for that one more than once.”

“And what would you mean by that?” Not quite believing that Ted would even allude to that part of their past.

“No one who knows you is dumb enough to use Sam. Haven’t you ever noticed that we all avoid getting him involved in things – we deal with Lyman or Cregg or, god forbid, Ziegler. Never Sam. They all seem to assume it’s because he’s young; it’s really because no one wants to piss you off. Having been on the receiving end of that once, I don’t want to do it again.”

“I came to you because you are the best person to do this, not because of your history with Sam. If you insist on bringing that up, I’m going to hang up and it will be a cold day in hell before I talk to you again – about anything. Are we clear?”

“We’re clear. I just sometimes think how different a lot of things would have been if it had worked – you know?”

“I know – but it didn’t, and he got hurt, and it doesn’t get discussed between us – ever. Right?”

“Right – never. So, do I get to ask what Ziegler did or should I draw my own conclusions from the fact that Sam is back in California?”

“I just think it’s time Ziegler remembers that there are people out here who aren’t so fond of him, and I know you live for opportunities to make life uncomfortable for any of them.”

“I’ve gotta tell you, though, I’d rather go after Lyman.”

“I know, but Sarah and I like him. It’s the other one we aren’t so crazy about.” Kelly was thankful that Ted didn’t know *everything* about Josh and Sam and what had really driven Sam here or he would have been even more fired up to go after Josh.

“Well, let me know when you’re back in circulation – we’ve missed you down here. I’ll fire off a round in a few minutes, or do you have something specific that you want me to say?”

“You know I trust your judgment, but it would make me *very* happy to hear you work in something about friends needing to be honest with each other.”

“Consider it done. Say hi to Sam for me.”

“Uh – yeah. I’m sure I’ll do that.”

“We both got over it Kelly – trust me. He and I can actually have completely normal conversations and no one would ever know. I swear.”

“I want to believe you,” Kelly said doubtfully, but then she brightened and said more affectionately, “You have stuff to do – I’ll let you go.”

”Watch the news later, Kelly. I’ll get you a reaction, I promise.”

*****

“Awww, hell’s bells. Can’t anything go right this week?” Leo happened to glance up at CNN and noticed Ted Marcus speaking. He turned up the volume on the set to hear Marcus saying something about friends being honest and felt a headache the size of a state with a large number of electoral votes coming on. “Margaret – get me Josh and Toby – NOW!”

As Josh rounded the corner into Leo’s office, Leo noticed how tired his deputy looked – he’d been too busy yelling earlier to notice. “So you’re looking well. What happened to you?”

Josh glanced at the set, and carefully controlled his reaction. “I’m just tired, Leo. I didn’t sleep well last night. What’s Marcus going on about?”

“I thought you might have some idea.” Leo said grimly. While Josh seemingly struggled to come up with an explanation for Marcus’s latest assault on the administration, Leo noticed Toby stalking into the office. **Great, I’ve got bookends – exhaustion and fury. I could have resigned and someone else could be dealing with these children.** “Ah, Toby – so what do you know about the bug up Marcus’s ass?” Leo greeted the Communication Director.

“Are we taking him seriously again?” Toby asked.

Josh’s phone rang and he pulled it out to check the number. When he saw Kelly’s private line flash on it, he said, “I’ve got to take this – be right back.” He walked into Margaret’s office and answered her call. “What?”

“Make sure you’re the one he sends.” As was often the case with Kelly, this was not a suggestion but a command.

“Ah-kay. And I’m going to do that how?”

“Use the Lyman charm – it has to work for something sometime.”

“Thanks for your support. I’ll catch you later,” Josh said dryly as he disconnected the call and moved back into Leo’s office, where an argument was raging between Leo and Toby about how to handle Marcus.

“Leo – why don’t I head out there and try to talk some sense into Ted.” Josh suggested.

“And given how splendidly you’ve handled him before, I’d want to try that again because –“

“Because I think I understand what his problem is.”

“And when did you develop such miraculous insight into the psyche of Ted Marcus?”

“It’s a recent thing, but I know I can get him to calm down. Just let me go take care of it, Leo.”

Leo nodded, and Josh was about to get the hell out of there when Toby said, “What I need someone to tell me is where Sam has disappeared to.”

“Has he called in?” Leo asked.

Josh looked down at his shoes and then decided to lie for all he was worth. “Jesus, I forgot to tell you. He called me last night – he had a personal emergency and he’s going to be out of touch for a couple of days.”

“And you couldn’t have told me this earlier today when I asked?” Toby questioned.

“I said I forgot – what do you want from me?”

Toby cocked his head slightly toward Josh. “And you’re sending him to deal with Ted Marcus – this is filling me with confidence.”

“Yeah, but that’s why he has an assistant – keeping track of messages is too difficult for him, but he can manage a riled up contributor. And given the basic tenor of Marcus’s comments, Toby, I’d guess that you’re the one he’s pissed at. I’m *not* sending you out to deal with Ted when he’s pissed at you. Now, Josh – did Sam say when he might return?” Leo was being deceptively pleasant about Sam’s absence. Someone who didn’t know him well would think he was okay with it, but Josh knew he wasn’t.

“A few days,” Josh threw over his shoulder as he headed out of Leo’s office before either of them could ask more questions or force him to cover more for Sam.

*****

While he waited for his plane to take off, Josh made a quick call to Kelly.

“Okay, you got what you wanted. I’m on my way. I’m going to assume, much as I don’t want to, that you had something to do with Marcus’s sudden, um, vocalness.”

“You would be making a correct assumption. I’ll call him off once we get this mess sorted out here.”

“So, I need to know. What exactly are you expecting me to do when I get there?”

“Fix this,” she said simply. “You know how to find me, so we’ll see you whenever. Sar’s making dinner – if you think you’ll be here in time.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Sam was sitting in the kitchen watching Sarah make dinner when they heard the doorbell.

“Expecting someone?” Sam asked.

Sarah sighed. “I’m not – but I’d bet serious money that *she* is.” Sam looked confused, so she added, “Come on, Sam. You know her better than that. If you still don’t want to talk to him, you should probably head upstairs.”

“You think she asked Josh to come out here?”

“How long have you known her again, Sam? And you don’t think it was one of the first three things she did after you went to sleep?” Sarah asked with a sigh as she rinsed her hands off in the sink. As she started out of the room, she added, “Though knowing her, I’d say ‘ask’ is a bit too polite for what she probably did.”

Sam followed and started toward the staircase. As he put a foot on the first step, he turned his head toward Sarah and said, “So I’m going to go upstairs and yell at my best friend now – do you have a problem with that?”

“All I ask is that you don’t get her too worked up. Oh, and you might want to make it more of the figurative rather than the literal kind of yelling, or you might wind up with company – understand?”

“Yeah, I get it.” Sam said as he took the stairs two at a time while Sarah went to answer the front door.

“Hello, Joshua.” Sarah said coolly. She hadn’t had a chance to talk to Kelly since she arrived home, so she was still under the impression that Josh was solely responsibly for Sam’s presence here and the resulting stress on Kelly.

Josh grimaced, “Don’t give me that look, Sarah. She hauled my ass across the entire freaking country. Used Marcus to get me here, for chrissakes. I’ m clear that Sam’s pissed as hell at all of us. I’m clear that whatever it is has gotten her riled up enough to take it out on Toby – through Marcus. I just want to get this fixed and get Sam back to Washington before Leo fires him.”

Sarah shook her head, “You don’t get it, do you? The least of your worries right now is whether Sam gets fired. Your biggest worry – assuming you care about it – is whether or not he’s ever going to speak to you again.”

Josh stared at her for a minute and then said, “I don’t know what I did, Sarah. One minute we were talking; the next minute he was gone.”

Sarah wrapped him up in a hug. “I’ve been at work all day – I honestly don’t know what’s going on. All I can tell you, from hard-earned experience, is that she wouldn’t have brought you here if she didn’t believe that this could be worked out. Now, why don’t you come help me with dinner and let the two of them have their little fight, okay?”

Josh glanced up the stairs – he could hear them shouting at each other. After thinking for a second, he allowed himself to be pulled into the kitchen. He took the stool that Sam had abandoned and watched as Sarah went back to making dinner.

Sarah suddenly turned from the stove to look at Josh, and said, “Wait. You said she used Marcus to get you here. You mean Ted Marcus?”

Josh snorted, “Do you know another Marcus? Check that – you probably know several. How about do you know another Marcus that I would have to get on a plane for?”

Sarah’s eyes widened with alarm. “I – no, he’d be the only one.”

“Sarah? Is something wrong?”

“I’m just surprised she’d involve Ted in this, but I guess she knows what she’s doing.” Sarah said, the doubt apparent in her voice.

“You don’t sound too sure.”

Sarah half-sighed, half-laughed, and said, “It’s best never to feel too sure with Kelly – she’s always got something up her sleeve.”

“Well, okay then – so what can I do to help – keeping in mind that I’m only slightly less dangerous in the kitchen than Kelly,” Josh said with a laugh. He was put to work making salads while the sounds of arguing drifted down from upstairs.

******

“How *could* you?” Sam barely made it in the room before he started shouting at her.

“How could I? How couldn’t I? He needs to be here. You’re being an idiot, and as much as I’d like to I can’t knock enough sense into your head this time. I love you, Sam. I want you to be happy, and I know he makes you happy. Your pride is hurt – get over it.”

“This isn’t your concern.”

“You made it my concern when you called me and when you came out here.”

“I didn’t mean for you to interfere.”

“Then you’d better sit down ‘cause I did a little more than make one phone call.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing too significant.”

“What. Did. You. Do?”

“Let’s just say that a cage has been rattled.”

“Kelly? What did you do?”

“I just *encouraged* Ted to do what he’s been wanting to do for months – tear a strip off that smug son of a bitch.”

“Toby?” At her nod, he continued, “He’s my *boss*, Kel. How could you do that?”

“I exercise a great deal of self-control where he’s concerned most of the time. I don’t like him. I don’t like the way he treats you. I don’t like the way he talks about me, my friends or my work. And yet, I don’t say *anything*. I couldn’t let this go; you should have known that. He went too far this time, Sam. Only the five of us will ever know that what appears to be an unprovoked attack from Ted is actually retribution for the drop-in.”

“Five?”

“Yeah, you, me, Josh, Sarah, and Ted. Though, to be honest, Ted doesn’t actually know what Ziegler did – just that I’m pissed.”

And then he realized what she had said, and he exploded again. “TED! As in Ted Marcus – that Ted? You went to *Ted Marcus* about a problem *I’m* having? Have you *lost* your mind? You couldn’t have been thinking – it’s this damned pregnancy; you haven’t thought straight since it started.”

“Excuse me?”

“Of all the people you know, you had to go to him? For this?”

“That wouldn’t be the part of what you said that I’m objecting to, Samuel.” Her eyes were glinting dangerously – anyone other than Sam would have run.

“Okay – objecting – over here. Do you not see me?” Sam flailed his arms around as if to get her attention. “Do you get that at this moment I don’t give a damn which of your sensibilities I’ve offended this time?”

“It was a thing Sam. A short-lived thing – you went back to North Carolina, remember? You both got over it – I thought. He’s still my friend; he’d still be yours if you’d let him.”

“Well, yeah, but can’t you see that it’s awkward to have him ‘saving’ me? Come on, Kel. Can’t you *see* that?”

“I guess. I didn’t think about that part.”

“No, I don’t think you did,” Sam glared at her for a second and then, seeing that she was close to tears, relented. “But I know you, sweetheart. You were doing what you thought was best, and you’re right that Ted and I are still friendly. And you were dead on about which person to go to in order to get an immediate reaction from Leo.”

Kelly gave him a watery smile. “It did do that, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it did.” Sam moved closer to her and smoothed his hand over her hair. He said quietly, “I didn’t mean what I said about the baby.”

“I know you didn’t, Sam. It’s okay.”

Sam sat down on the edge of the bed. “I don’t want to talk to Josh, Kel. I’ m just not ready.”

Kelly rubbed a gentle hand over Sam’s back, “Sweetheart, you’re never ready. You’ve got to trust my instincts this time, not yours. You need to hear what he has to say, and you need to remember what you’ve done, too. People in glass houses, Sam.”

“I know, I know. I just –“

“I know – look, we usually eat in here – why don’t you guys join us and then after dinner, you can go somewhere else in the house and talk. It isn’t like there isn’t plenty of space around here,” she said with a gentle laugh.

“Okay.”

“Okay – you’re humoring the pregnant woman, or okay – and you’ll find a way to fix the mess you made?”

“I’ll talk to him, and we’ll fix it – somehow.”

Dinner was a tense affair. Between Sam trying not to look at Josh and Josh trying to find out what the deal was with Sam, no one really got to enjoy their food. Sarah was consistently admonishing both of them about not stressing Kelly out, while Kelly was trying to convince Josh that no permanent damage would be done by Ted Marcus’s recent outburst. When dinner was over, Sarah looked at the two men and semi-politely suggested that they find another place to have their conversation.

Sam had already decided that they would go out to the guesthouse for the conversation – less likelihood of disturbing Kelly that way. He gave Kelly a quick kiss on the cheek and headed out of the room; Josh had to move quickly to keep up with Sam. When they reached the guesthouse, Sam let them in and turned immediately on Josh once the door was closed.

“So, what are you doing here?”

“Kelly told me to get out here; Ted Marcus had lost his mind; you disappeared, all roads seemed to lead to California, so here I am. More importantly, what are you doing here?” Josh had managed all through dinner to keep his temper, but now it was touch and go whether he would continue that trend.

Sam had been so angry when he’d left Washington, he hadn’t thought he would care one way or another, but now confronted with Josh – a clearly furious Josh – he realized how much he did care. “I – don’t know.”

“Yes, you do Sam. You came here for a reason – tell me what it was.”

“She doesn’t lie to me.” Even as he said it, he thought about what Kelly had said about lying.

“I didn’t lie to you Sam.”

“You knew – you said ‘if *we* had told you’ – you knew what they were going to do to my speech, and you didn’t tell me. If that isn’t lying, I want to know what is.”

“In that context, we both lie all the time. You don’t always tell me everything that’s going on, and I don’t always tell you. It has nothing to do with how I feel about you, but there are times, with the jobs we hold, that we are going to have to be less than honest with each other in order to do our jobs properly.”

“Okay, but –“

“No, no buts. We don’t have to tell each other everything in order to be trustworthy. Hell, you don’t ever tell me anything Kelly tells you; I don’t tell you a lot of what Donna tells me. That doesn’t make either of us unreliable, does it?”

“No, but I was humiliated Josh. If you had warned me –“

“If I had warned you, Leo wouldn’t think I was doing my job. He’d want to know why. Remember what you wanted? What we agreed? That we wouldn’t be fodder for office conversation – that wouldn’t last if I disobeyed a direct order not to tell you something.”

Sam was suddenly feeling overwhelmed. He moved toward the couch and sat down on it, letting his head fall into his hands. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just so angry,” Sam choked out.

Josh jammed his hands into his pants pockets and rocked back onto his heels. “Look – if you want me to, I’ll call Leo right now and tell him everything. How I feel about you – the whole deal. ‘Cause if you think about it, all we’ ve been doing is lying for the last few of months.”

Sam’s head shot up, and he said vehemently, “It’s not lying when you’re trying to figure out a relationship. Why should they be in the middle of it before we even know what’s going to come of it?”

“Are you saying you’re still not sure?” Josh sat down on the coffee table in front of Sam – needing to be closer, but unsure of how close Sam would let him get.

“No, I’m not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying, Sam – ‘cause I’ve got to tell you, I’m confused as hell right now.”

“I’m sure about how I feel; I’m even reasonably sure about how you feel, but how that all works in the ‘real world’ – I don’t know. I’m not exactly the poster child for good romantic relationships, you know? And I’ve never done the ‘involved with someone I work with’ thing before, so maybe I didn’t know the rules are different.” Sam reached out to take Josh’s hand in his, “I’m sorry – I should have talked to you.”

“Yeah, you should have,” Josh sighed, “Look – we’re smart guys, we can figure this stuff out. I just – “ He stopped, thinking better of what he was going to say.

“You just what, Josh?”

“I just want you to know you can talk to me the way you talk to her.”

“I know that.”

“Okay, I guess I mean you can trust me the way you trust her.”

“I know that too.”

“No, you don’t.” Josh was still frustrated and more than a little angry, “You really don’t, Sam. Otherwise, we’d be in DC having a conversation something like this instead of in California. I wouldn’t have had to lie today about where you were to both of our bosses, and I wouldn’t be wondering right now whether you’re actually planning to come back or if you’ re going to hide here and let her fight your battles for you.”

“I fight my own battles,” Sam said. “She’s waging a war of her own – I’m just a convenient excuse. I don’t know what else I can say – she helps me sort things out. I needed to see her and she couldn’t come to me this time.”

“I just – I need to know that the next time we have a problem, you’ll come to me – not run to her.” Josh was studying the pattern in the carpet as he spoke, not wanting to see Sam’s reaction to his statement.

Sam pulled Josh onto the couch with him and into his arms. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –“

“But you did it anyway.” Josh couldn’t quite keep the sense of betrayal out of his voice.

“Yeah, I know, and I can’t say it won’t happen again. She’s always been my support system, and it’s a hard habit to break. But if we -- you and I -- are having a problem, I promise I’ll talk to you. At least to let you know what’s happening.”

“I can live with that.” It wasn’t much, but it was a start. “Look, I’m sorry about the speech – just sometimes I can’t tell you everything I know. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you or that I don’t trust you – it’s just the job.”

“Rationally, I know that. If it makes you feel better, she said the same thing – just a lot blunter.” Sam tried to wipe from his memory her point about the secret he was keeping.

“I guess it does make me feel a little better – at least she took my side.” Josh allowed with a small smile.

“She usually does, you know.” Sam studied him carefully. “She loves us both, but she knows I’m an idiot. You – she hasn’t completely decided yet.”

“I suppose that’s some comfort,” Josh grinned. “So, you usually stay out here?”

“No – I’ve, uh, got a room up in the house, but I figured we’d be more comfortable where they couldn’t hear us.” Sam had originally figured that Josh would yell -- lots, and all that noise wouldn’t be good for Kelly. He realized now though, that if they were going to finish making up the way he hoped – that, too, could be louder than would be comfortable in the main house.

While Sam’s thoughts were occupied with the possibilities of make-up sex, Josh was worrying about the “official” reason he was here, “Okay, so what do I have to do to get her to call off Ted Marcus?”

Damn. He’d forgotten about that. “Um, I can take care of it – hold on.” Sam went over to the phone and called up to the main house. “Kel – which number on the speed dial is Ted again? Three? Thanks. Yeah – probably staying down here tonight and leave in the morning. Love you too.” Sam barely had time to hang up the phone before Josh started in.

“Okay wait. If you can handle Marcus, why am I always the one having to go do it?” Josh knew the answer: because Toby and Leo didn’t realize what a vast political network Sam had access to. In other words, because everyone, Josh included sometimes, underestimated Sam.

“Because it sucks to be you, Josh,” Sam said with a grin. “I’ll be happy to let you handle it if you’d rather.”

“No no, it’s all you, but this I’ve got to see,” Josh leaned back on the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table as Sam hit the speed-dial.

“Hey Ted – it’s Sam. Yeah, I know. She’s protective – yeah, that’s a good way to put it. So, um – yeah, it would make my life a lot easier. Thanks. I do appreciate you putting yourself out there for me like that. It’s good talking to you too. No, I’m heading back in the morning – maybe next time. Yeah – I’ll tell her.” Sam was still grinning as he hung up the phone.

“Tell her what?”

“That next time he’d really rather take a crack at you – if it’s all the same to her.”

******

Josh had other questions that he asked much later that evening as they lay tangled in the sheets. “So who’re one and two?”

“Huh?” Sam’s voice was puzzled – he had no idea what Josh was talking about.

“On the speed dial – who are one and two?”

“Oh – you care about this because –“ **The speed dial? He’s officially lost his mind.**

“I’m curious.”

“Okay – you’re also weird. I’m one; Sarah’s two.”

“And Ted’s three, so I’m what -- four?”

“No, I think Donna’s four.”

“So, I’m five.”

“No, Jake’s five. Mac is probably six, I think you might be seven or eight.”

“Donna and Godzilla are both further up on the speed dial than I am? How does that happen?”

“You realize you sound like a big baby, right?” Sam was staring at Josh, wondering if he had really just complained about his position on the speed dial or if this was just some bizarre nightmare from which he would awake shortly.

“She met Donna *after* me – long after me, and Donna’s higher up on the speed dial?”

“Don’t ask me – I don’t know.” Sam decided to take matters – and Josh – into his own hands by kissing him into silence and, hopefully, forgetfulness. The last thing he wanted was for Josh to ask why Ted had asked whether he was going to be in California for any length of time. Talk about a thing he didn’t want to discuss with Josh now.

Josh was starting to settle back down, when he remembered one other thing. He propped himself back up on his elbow, stared at Sam, and asked, “You don’ t think she’d really let Ted Marcus pick on me, do you?”

“Oh for god’s sake, Josh. At the moment, I think *I’d* let Ted pick on you,” Sam growled playfully. Sam pulled his lover back to him – again – and this time didn’t let go until morning.

******

2003

Josh wondered if it had just been his general inattention to detail, or if he was just more sensitive to anything involving Sam now. There had been a state dinner that evening, and somehow Ted Marcus had found his way onto the guest list. Since Carrie had arrived on the scene, Sam had been let out of most of the evening activities of the White House. This evening, though, the First Lady herself had produced a babysitter and insisted on Sam’s presence. He had watched the discreet non-exchange between Sam and Ted with some unease. A raised eyebrow from one; a head nod from the other. However, it was a bit later when he realized, with some shock, that both Sam and Ted had disappeared from the dinner. Before he really had a chance to panic, Sam was back beside him. He looked a little shaken, but okay. A few minutes later, Ted too, reappeared.

After the dinner, they collected Carrie and headed out to Sam’s apartment. With surprisingly little effort, they got her back down to sleep. Josh put a hand on Sam’s shoulder and steered him out of the bedroom. He settled on the couch and pulled Sam into his arms. Once they were both comfortable, Josh decided to ask the question that was plaguing him. “Did you talk to Ted tonight?”

Sam was startled by the question – he hadn’t thought Josh had noticed the not so coincidental departures. “Uh, yeah – I did. Is that a problem?”

“I don’t know – is it?” Josh knew he sounded belligerent. There was some part of him that just couldn’t trust Ted with Sam – his Sam.

“He just wanted to tell me he was sorry, see how I was doing – that sort of thing.”

“Oh.” Josh couldn’t quite keep the irritation out of his voice.

“He didn’t blow me in the hallway, Josh.” Sam could not understand why Josh was convinced a) that every consenting adult in America wanted to sleep with him and b) that even if that were true, that Sam would do it.

“Okay, that was an image I did not need.”

“He’s an old friend of the family.”

“Huh?”

“He’s family – the way Jake is; the way Donna is. Carrie needs all of us – so she knows about Kelly and Sarah and even you and me. Every person who was part of Kelly’s life needs to stay part of Carrie’s, and our, lives. Ted ’s part of that – and all he really wanted to know was if I needed help doing the inventory or if I’d hired someone or what. And, to be honest, I really hadn’t thought about it yet because that makes it all seem so final.”

“Oh.” Now it sounded more like an apology for not having thought of that himself, or not realizing that there was a huge, extended family-like thing in California that he was only vaguely aware of.

“You know it’s a damned good thing I’m the word guy around here or we’d be in big trouble,” Sam said with a laugh.

Josh put a hand on Sam’s chest and pushed him backwards on the couch. He leaned in and whispered a detailed description of what he would have done to and with Sam had they been able to get out to the house this evening rather than have to stay in the District.

Sam’s eyes got wide as Josh continued his version of imagery, and Sam found that there was only one response that sufficed, “Oh.”

END

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