Title: A Kiwi Experience
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: A trip to New Zealand for the Pacific Forum leads to a new adventure for Sam and Josh.
Notes: It was time to share my country with Sam and Josh!
A Kiwi Experience by Jen
CJ glanced down at her page,
"And on arrival at the Pacific Forum, all leaders will be presented with a choice of two shirts to wear at the formal welcome, one an azure blue long-sleeved polo shirt with a koru pattern emblazoned across the chest. Before you ask, the koru is a native fern frond. The other is a cerulean blue business shirt with a hand painted tie. The painting utilises the brilliant blues and greens of the local paua shell – that's abalone to us."
And it's all baloney to me, she thought.
"Finally," CJ fixed the Press corps with a steely glare, "Airforce One departs at 0100 hours. Be seated by 0030 hours, that's half an hour after midnight, folks. That's all."
CJ closed her folder and stepped down from the podium. She slipped off her glasses, handing her notes to Carol, and moved swiftly towards the Bullpen. It was nearly 10 p.m. but every light in the West Wing seemed to be on. Except the one in Toby's office.
CJ glided into Sam's office, where Toby sat typing, looking incongruously out of place at Sam's desk. He glanced up at her and nodded briefly.
"How is he?" CJ's eyes flicked towards the window at the side.
"He's dozing on and off."
"Will he be all right to take off?"
Toby shrugged, "What choice do we have?"
CJ nodded in agreement. She parked one hip on the corner of Sam's desk and caught Toby's eye.
"That was good work today."
"It was Sam's."
"Did you know he-"
"I knew something wasn't quite right earlier. He was… quieter than usual."
"He didn't say –"
"Not a word. It was only when Josh got back, he took one look at him, went straight for Sam's jacket, pulled out his pills…"
CJ frowned the stood up, stretching slightly.
"I'll just have a quick look at him. You ready to go?"
Toby nodded, but frowned in the direction of his office,
"How're we going to move that?"
"Josh thinks he'll be okay, and he's had more experience than the rest of us."
"Yeah." Toby blew out an exasperated sigh.
CJ opened the door as carefully as possible and slipped inside. The lights from Sam's office and the Bullpen filtered through the blinds. She let her eyes adjust to the gloom, and could see Sam lying on Toby's couch, curled up on his side. Crouching beside him, she stared at him closely.
Sam recognised CJ's scent – White Linen. Trying to ignore the awful thumping in his head and the heaviness of his eyelids, Sam blinked at her groggily. CJ placed a cool hand along the side of his face.
"Hey, Sunshine," she whispered softly. "How're you doing?"
Sam blinked again, too tired to try to talk. CJ gently soothed a hand across his forehead.
"Will you be able to fly, Sam? Doesn't that make it worse?" She detected the slightest shrug. "Well, you have a couple of hours. Try to have a sleep."
His eyes slipped closed again. CJ sat back on her heels, staring at him with concern. His face seemed taut with pain, paleness evident even in the dim light.
* * *
The alarm had sounded particularly piercing that morning. Sam groaned and rolled over, burying his head under the pillow. There were a few moments of silence, then Josh had leaned across and lifted a corner of the pillow.
"Anyone home in there?"
Sam had groaned again and lifted a hand to cover his eyes.
"What's the matter?"
"How can it be morning already?"
"Well, the earth turns – ow! Don't kick. When did you get in?"
"Aw, shit! But, hey, we're off to New Zealand tonight." Josh sat up with excitement. "It's gonna be so cool!"
"It's a Pacific Forum, Josh."
"Yeah, but you and me get to go to Wellington, too. I can't wait. You packed?"
"Josh, I got in at 2.30!"
"OK, OK don't snap!" Josh caressed the hair off Sam's forehead gently, soothing him. "Look, you get ten more minutes sleep while I take a shower, then I'll help you pack." Josh kissed the tip of Sam's nose and headed for the bathroom. Sam rolled over and pulled the pillow tightly over his head to shut out the noise, before realising the noise was coming from inside his own head. I just need more sleep, he rationalised.
Josh came out of the bathroom with his toiletries ready to pack. He glanced across at Sam as he pulled on a shirt. Sam was curled up on his side, frowning slightly in his sleep. Josh frowned himself. He knew that look. He finished dressing and began to pack Sam's bag.
"Sam, buddy, c'mon, you really have to wake up now." Josh sat on the edge of the bed and shook Sam by the shoulder. Half roused, Sam pressed a hand against his forehead, blinking scratchily at Josh.
"C'mon, I gave you half an hour, we really gotta get going."
Sam's eyes grew wide, "Half an hour? You're kidding. I have to pack!"
"Well, I've done most of it. Not exactly as well as you do, but you just need to check it."
Sam struggled up into a sitting position, spying his open bag partially packed on the bed beside him. He leaned forward and took Josh's hand in his own, staring at their two hands entwined, his eyelashes flickering up and down rapidly. Josh returned the pressure of Sam's clasp. He could see Sam was momentarily moved. He reached into his jacket pocket with his free hand and drew out a pharmacy container.
"And I think you'll need a couple of these – every four hours."
Sam's face fell, "How did you know?"
"Sam, how long have I known you?" He let go of Sam's hand and drew him into a firm hug. "Get going. You have ten minutes."
"I'm gone." Sam took the pills and headed for the bathroom.
* * *
Bonnie had worked it out by 8 a.m.
"You're very quiet this morning."
"You all right?"
"Mmm, yes, I'm fine."
"You want a coffee?"
"A big, fat, squishy creamy doughnut?" She was rewarded with an instantly pale face.
"No, thank you."
And hedged a bet, "Did you take your pills already?"
"Uh-huh." His head had popped up, caught out, and he coloured slightly, "I – ah – I – "
"You're fighting another migraine?"
Sam had nodded weakly.
"That's two in two weeks. Why don't you go home, get some sleep before take-off?"
"C'mon, Bonnie, we have heaps to do."
She had nodded in commiseration and given him a soft smile, "I'll get you a coffee and some water."
* * *
Josh had stuck his head in the door at lunchtime.
"How's your head doing?"
"Okay so far."
"Still sore, right? Take some more pills?"
"I'm holding off. I just can't face the Mess."
"That's why I'm here."
Josh came into the office holding aloft a box of crackers and a paper bag. "I know you'll be able to eat these."
Sam stared at him gratefully, "Josh, you're a life-saver. What's in the bag?"
Josh waggled the bag triumphantly, "MY lunch. I'm scared I won't see a bagel in New Zealand, so I thought I'd fill up now." He drew out a bagel and sat down, munching happily. Sam took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair, drinking in the sight of a contented Josh. He sighed, wishing his head would clear.
"Yeah, all right." Sam reluctantly swallowed a couple of tablets with water and broke open the crackers. They munched in companionable silence for a while.
"Why don't you think you'll be able to get a bagel in New Zealand?"
"It's so far away. It's like the end of the earth. I don't think the Jews ever even got there."
"It's a civilised member of the Western World. There's bound to be bagels. And Jews."
"Yeah, well, we'll see. I mean, we can't even hold the forum in the capital city. Why the hell was that again?"
"The runway's too short for the big planes. It's only 1936 metres."
"Metres? And how the hell did you know that?"
Sam waved him off, "The city is really hilly, surrounding a natural harbour. The airport lies on a neck of land that popped up in an earthquake."
"And you know all this because…"
Sam shrugged, then closed his eyes as a spasm of pain scraped through his head. Josh knew only too well the tell-tale crinkling around Sam's eyes. He finished his bagel in silence. Sam opened his eyes cautiously,
"No. I'm outa here. Try and stay quiet, buddy."
"Doing my best." Sam flung him a weak smile. "What d'ya have on this afternoon?"
"I'm over at Treasury. Have to be back for the Japanese thing at five-thirty." He stood up. "Sam, keep up with the pills. It's the only way to beat this migraine."
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks for lunch."
"A box of crackers?"
Josh was still smiling as he reached his own office.
* * *
Mid-afternoon, and Sam had managed to keep the migraine hovering offshore. His head thumped and droned furiously but it was a bearable pain. He was keeping quiet, avoiding any extraneous noise or movement. And Bonnie had held off most of his calls, aware after CJ's account of the previous week's disastrous migraine how much Sam might be suffering.
Three forty-five p.m. and the telephone rang on Sam's desk.
"Sam, it's Mike Andersen from The Post."
"Hey, Mike, what can I do for you?"
"It's my turn. Something I just heard. I was at the Japanese Embassy and I overheard a conversation I wasn't probably supposed to hear. Thought I'd give you a heads up."
"The visitors coming to see the President today. They're planning to hit him with a huge tirade on the whaling issue, all guns blazing."
Sam stood up in shock, his eyes wide, but that sent a bolt of pain along one side of his head. He sat down quickly.
"I'm sure they didn't know I spoke Japanese. Sam, they're really after him on this one."
"But we haven't – damn! Hey, Mike, thanks for the heads-up. I'd better get on to this."
"S'okay. We're even now. See you 'round."
Sam gently replaced the telephone. He felt a nervous chill creep right through his body from back to front, and shuddered. He rose shakily and looked into Toby's office. It was empty. Sam glanced at his watch and headed for the door.
"Ginger- " an awful croak. Sam cleared his throat and tried again, "Ginger- " He could feel the pain in his head mounting steadily with his rising panic. He leaned his hands on Ginger's desk, aware she was staring at him, and hung his head, trying to find a way to breathe out the tightening grip of tension that heralded a full-on migraine.
Ginger stood up and came around to stand beside him. He felt a tentative hand on his back, a slight pressure,
"Sam, come and sit down." He shook his head a fraction, reluctant to move at all, but an insistent tug on his arm helped him to move over to a chair by her desk. Squeezing his eyes shut tight, Sam ran a hand through his hair.
"Ginger, - ah – do you – ah where…"
"Do you want Toby?"
"He'll be back in about an hour. Sam, maybe you need to lie down." Sam felt the painful attack trickle slowly out of his system. After a whole minute of immobility, he carefully opened his eyes, squinting against the bright light of the Bullpen. Ginger smiled at him, her eyes full of concern,
"Bonnie said you were under the weather."
Sam looked at her, "I'm sorry. I'm fine now. I -uh -I need…" There was a pause. Sam seemed to have finished. Ginger patted his knee,
"What d'you need?"
"Um." His eyes closed, then flew open, "Shit, Ginger, I need whaling info. Quick! Now! I mean, right away!"
"Can you be a little more specific?"
He frowned and Ginger smiled at the obvious but uncharacteristic fumbling going on inside Sam's head.
"Japan – Japanese whaling justification, restrictions, international whaling commission, threats of sanctions – and I need it in the next twenty minutes." Ginger goggled at him.
"And page Toby please. Say, um, say Jap whale crisis now." He stood up all business-like, then sat down quickly. "Ow. I might just sit here for a minute." Sam closed his eyes.
Ginger stared at his pale face for a moment, wondering how he found the inner strength to keep working no matter how he felt. She knew he was strong and physically fit, but she could see he was obviously in pain. She recalled Josh grimly comparing one of Sam's headaches to having your hair cut with a jackhammer and a chainsaw. Ginger shook her head wonderingly, then paged Toby and began putting Sam's request together.
A few minutes later, the phone rang on Sam's desk. Sam had opened his eyes but wasn't moving yet. Ginger intercepted the call,
"Sam Seaborn's phone."
"Ginger! Where's Sam?"
Her eyes flicked to the garden ornament at her side, "He's, ah, right here, Toby."
She prodded Sam with one finger. He jerked and looked at her. "Toby," She mouthed.
Sam blinked and took the phone.
"What's gong on?"
"The Japanese delegation. They're planning to raise the whaling issue, loud and clear."
"How the hell did you find out?"
"I got a call. Someone overheard it."
"Can you get it ready?"
"I'm onto it."
"This could be awkward."
"I know." There was a silence, both men taking a moment to ponder the ramifications of a social disaster this evening becoming a political disaster by tomorrow morning and an economic disaster down the track.
"Sam, this could be a disaster. Talk to Leo…I'll be back in – under the hour." It was 4 p.m. The delegation was due in at 5.30. Sam handed the phone back to Ginger.
"I need to see Leo."
* * *
Leo paced behind his desk, "This could be a disaster. If they push this and we blow it…"
Sam leaned back on Leo's couch and rubbed his forehead in irritation,
"I know. I really know, Leo."
"We could be looking at sanctions, retaliatory actions…Sam, this is a big stinking heap-"
"Yes." Sam closed his eyes. "I'm onto it. Ginger's getting the stuff I need." His subdued voice caught Leo's attention. He stopped pacing.
"You all right?"
"Huh? Yes." Sam's eyes flew open and he struggled to his feet. "I'm onto it."
"You look kinda- "
"I'm fine. I'll go get something together."
"Get back here soon as you have it."
* * *
It was 4.40 p.m. Sam looked over the last statement made by the White House, accusing Japan of violating international whaling laws as its whale hunt expanded, with its warning that the Japanese actions are threatening whales. He needed to argue against the constant – that Japan only hunts whales for scientific purposes, that their commercial whaling had officially ended in 1986.
But it remained that whale meat was still a prized delicacy in Japan. He began to write an impassioned plea for the whales – that scientific experiments need not involve killing whales at all, that no-one is judging the Japanese for their food preferences, that there is no cultural slur but a keen and desperate effort by fifteen countries who have officially protested against the expansion of Japanese whaling.
Sam focused on not only the Minke whales but the new victims of Japan, the Bryde and sperm whales of the North Pacific. He laid down a plea to reconsider, to respect species conservation, to unite nations in their shared protection of the life of this planet…the passion ebbed and flowed around that one cold, hard fact – whaling must stop.
At 5.05 Toby swept in, coat flapping, his dark eyes burning with frustration,
"Traffic! Dammit! Sam, how'd it go?"
Leo appeared behind him. Sam handed a draft to Toby, then leaned his elbows on the desk, head in hands. Toby and Leo read the comments through together, brief smiles of appreciation flickering across their faces.
"We need to show this to the President."
Josh strolled in, "What's going on?" He looked past Toby and Leo, took stock of Sam who had not moved. He pushed past the two older men and reached for Sam's jacket on the coat hook, removing his migraine pills from the pocket.
"Got any water?"
Sam waved a vague hand at the bottle beside his desk, as Josh shook out two tablets. Leo frowned,
"What the hell's going on, Josh?"
"Look at him, Leo."
They focused on Sam, deathly pale.
"He's been staving off a migraine all day. What've YOU guys been DOING?" Josh was getting worked up.
"I JUST walked in the DOOR!" Toby, always ready to battle.
"Guys!" Leo held up a hand. "We need to get this to the President. Sam, you wanna come or you need to lie down?"
"I ..ah…" Sam blinked painfully at Leo, "D'you mind if I just lie down for a minute?" He took the pills from Josh and swallowed them.
"That's okay, kid." Leo's voice was soft. "This is good work. Really good."
Josh frowned again, his hand resting on Sam's head, "What's happened?"
"Put Sam in Toby's office, we'll tell you on the way to the Oval."
Josh moved his hand to Sam's arm, "C'mon, buddy." His voice was very gentle. "Let's move next door." Sam was compliant, rising carefully and trailing after Josh, while Leo and Toby hovered in the Bullpen.
* * *
At midnight, Josh knelt by the couch and for the second time that day reluctantly raised Sam.
"Hey, dude." Sam had blinked back at him. "How're you doing?"
"Not too bad. What time is it?"
"We take off in an hour."
"It's midnight?" Sam scooted up into the corner of the couch. "But what, I –" he frowned deeply and scrubbed his hands across his face. "The Japanese delegation?"
"Went like a dream."
"Did they raise it?"
"They sure did, after five minutes. They came on strong, all guns blazing, and the President just launched into your tirade and never stopped. They were totally stumped, Sam, it was brilliant. They had no rebuttal – the whole thing fizzled out as if they'd been discussing fabric softeners."
Sam leaned back, relieved.
"If I hadn't had that call-"
Josh stood up, his knees cracking loudly. He sat on the coffee table and peered carefully at Sam in the light from the Bullpen. "So."
Sam struggled up, swinging his legs to the floor. He sat forward as Josh did and they gently embraced, Sam leaning in tiredly, sighing with contentment as he drew strength from Josh.
"Yeah, but it's better to feel wiped out than have another migraine."
"You’ve beaten this one?"
Sam yawned widely. Josh tightened his arms around Sam for a moment, "Well?"
"My head's still pounding but it's not too bad. It's, I'm just so –" There was a pause, "so zonked!"
Josh grinned at the top of Sam's dark hair. "Zonked is a good word. You'd better straighten yourself up. We're leaving soon." He hauled Sam up off the couch, grinning anew at Sam's bedraggled hair and sleepy eyes. "You look so…" he flicked Sam's hair out of his eyes, "It wouldn't be appropriate to say cute, would it?"
"No, it would not!" Sam eyed Josh warily. "And definitely not in this office. I think that word may actually be banned in here."
"Well, I can still think it." Josh patted Sam's cheek, smiling as Sam blushed slightly. "There, at least you don't look so pale now. Let's go!"
* * *
Two hours into the flight, CJ dropped into a seat beside Toby with a huge sigh.
"The Press are briefed. They are briefed up to here." CJ saluted. "They are so briefed, they could star in an underwear commercial!"
Toby snorted, finally lifting his eyes from a report. "Why did you do it now? Won't they forget it all by the time we're on the other side of the planet?"
"We're not going that far. And better now, while they're still awake, than at the end when they're completely …aah…"
"Zonked!" put in Josh.
Toby's eyes swivelled across to him in amazement. "Zonked? What the hell is that?"
"It's Sam's word for …for how he is right now." Josh waved a hand at Sam's sprawled, sleeping form in the seat beside him. "You know, with the migraine pills."
CJ smiled tenderly, "It's a very good word. How is he anyway?"
"Zonked, apparently," muttered Toby.
"Probably beat the migraine."
"Thank goodness for that." Last week's migraine had really been CJ's problem, when she and Sam had attended a Saturday lecture on public speaking and security. Sam had been irritatingly uncommunicative…
"Sam, we have to discuss that point with the person next to us. You are the person next to me. For God's sake, I need more than a monosyllabic response this time or I'm finding a new person." Her humorous chiding had unexpectedly hit him hard. He turned huge, wounded blue eyes towards her and took her hand,
"CJ." His voice was soft but insistent. "I have a terrible headache, a migraine. I can barely look at you, I can't concentrate, I haven't heard a word of the entire lecture, and I'm trying desperately not to throw up in your lap. If someone came along right now offering frontal lobotomies, I'd pull out my Gold card and have one right here in the aisle. I'm dreading the end of the lecture because I'm not sure I'll be able to walk in a straight line. I couldn't even draw a straight line right now." Even as he spoke, the colour had drained from his face completely and he lay back in the seat closing his eyes. He was still holding her hand. CJ had stared at him, stunned, throughout his quiet outburst,
"Sam, I had no idea. Why didn't –"
"Ceej." Sam ran a frustrated hand over his face, "I took the pills. I was hoping it'd just go away."
"But it didn't." Sam looked completely miserable as he gave the tiniest shake of his head, and CJ realised that she needed to save Sam then and there.
* * *
Josh had arrived back at the apartment mid-afternoon to find CJ reclining on the couch sipping tea and reading a National Geographic. He froze in the doorway, then leaned out dramatically to look at the number on the door.
"This is my place, isn't it?"
"Oh, good grief, Josh. Give it a rest. I put him in the bedroom." She waved the magazine over her shoulder.
Josh's face changed instantly, "What happened?"
"A bad one?"
CJ rolled her eyes, "Were you even listening? I. Put. Him. In. The. Bedroom. Does that sound like an encouraging scenario, Joshua?"
Josh hung his head contritely, toeing the carpet, "No, Claudia Jean."
Snorting, CJ rose and led Josh to the bedroom door. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Josh could see Sam curled up under the duvet. He slipped across and sat down on the edge of the bed, placing a cool hand on top of Sam's head. A hand snaked out from under the covers and clutched his tightly.
"Hey!" Josh whispered. "Need anything?" The hand squeezed his for a long moment. Josh glanced at CJ hovering in the doorway. "D'you know when he last took any pills?"
"A couple of hours ago, but he may have lost those again if you know what I mean."
CJ and Josh shared a pizza, watched a football game, took turns to check on Sam.
"When will it be over?"
"We're in the third quarter."
"The migraine, dummy!"
"Ow! It'll have cleared out by morning, but I'll be stuck with a wasted shell of Sam Seaborn for the rest of the day."
"Totally lethargic. A wreck."
"I can't imagine Sam like that. He's so – upbeat."
"Yeah, well, drop in tomorrow. I'll be lucky if he makes a lateral move from the bed to the couch."
"It affects him that much?"
"It does. And he hates it. But it's one thing he can't beat. Or hide. Sam hates being sick, and hates admitting it to anyone. He's very focused on good health – "
"Tell me about it. I've had a few of his lectures."
"Yeah, well, he gets really disappointed when he gets a migraine, like he's let himself down. And he used to fight them, ignore them, anything, but a migraine – it's just – you can't really do much about it. I mean, he has pills and stuff…"
"I thought you'd, like, grow out of it."
"Apparently they can be worse in your thirties."
"Yeah." Josh sighed, glancing towards the bedroom. CJ realised Josh must care a lot about Sam, to have learnt about his headaches. Josh continued, half to himself, "It's really the only time I get to be the one in charge around here."
CJ narrowed her eyes, "How DO you two balance all that stuff?"
"The power thing, who's in charge of what?"
"Ceej!" Josh moaned. "Can we just watch the game?"
* * *
Four hours into the flight, everyone was asleep when Sam woke up. He opened his eyes cautiously, pleased to find no migraine pain. He was stiff though. He unbuckled his seat-belt, careful not to disturb Josh, and stood up slowly, immediately grimacing at the stiffness of his neck and shoulders. He stretched very gently and began to walk off the cricks in his muscles and joints. Most people in the plane seemed to be asleep. Sam still felt rather dopey from the pills he had taken.
"Sam!" A voice along the passageway stopped him. He turned a full circle, disoriented.
"Sam, in here." It was the President. "Come on in, sit down." He turned back into his cabin. Sam followed him somewhat hesitantly.
"Sit down, Sam." Who perched on the edge of an easy chair. "I thought I was the only one awake, apart from the pilot."
Sam rubbed at his eyes, "I just woke up. I was - ah – I have been asleep."
Jed smiled somewhat indulgently, "Yes, Sam, if you just woke up, I would expect you have been asleep." Sam looked suitably embarrassed. Jed eyed him more intently. "That was a great save, the whale thing today. Who tipped you off?"
"A reporter at The Post. I'd done him a favour, some legal stuff with that story about the pirates in international waters. He felt he owed me."
"But how did he know?"
"He speaks fluent Japanese, grew up in Tokyo. The Embassy staff know him well, but the delegation obviously had no idea, discussed the whole issue while he sat at Reception."
"Your words, Sam, they were moving. Leo said you were pretty unwell – another migraine?"
Sam stared at his shoes, his cheeks burning, "I was - I took enough medication to stave off the actual migraine. It kind of knocks me out though. I'm sorry about that."
"Don't be." Jed waved a dismissive hand. He stared closely at his rumpled speechwriter, still bleary-eyed and obviously still sleepy. "Are you looking forward to New Zealand?"
"Yes, sir, I am. We've – I've never been there before. It's a fascinating country." Sam relaxed a little into the chair.
Jed's eyes lit up, "It certainly is! Less than four million people in the entire country, and over one million of them live in just one spot, Auckland. And yet that is not the capital…"
Josh woke up after a lengthy nap. CJ was still asleep and Toby was reading a report, sipping coffee. Josh glanced at the empty seat next to him and sat up quickly.
Toby's lips twitched with amusement.
"He's asleep…in the President's cabin."
"He woke up, went for a stroll; the President pinned him down, so to speak, and lectured him at considerable length-"
"It was not a lecture, Toby," Jed Bartlet dropped casually into Sam's seat. "I was merely expounding on the natural beauty of New Zealand's National Parks, and I swear he was interested, but after a very short while…"
Toby and Josh snorted simultaneously, then looked at one another in surprise.
"A very short while," continued Jed firmly, "he just leaned back in the chair and within minutes was dead to the world. Josh, you might like to rescue him. I think he'd be embarrassed if I woke him now."
"Yes, sir." Josh stood, stretching and yawning.
"Is he well, Josh? He looked a little vague and dishevelled."
"He'll be fine, Mr President. His migraine meds, they make him really sleepy. He'll be fine by the time we arrive."
"Good, good. I'll make myself scarce for a minute then." Bartlet headed for the rear of the plane, and Josh ambled up towards the President's cabin. For the third time in twenty-four hours he faced waking Sam.
And asleep Sam was, comfortably reclining in a presidential armchair. Josh stopped and stared for a moment, savouring the look of his lover – long, dark lashes feathering his cheeks, dark spikes of hair straggling down over his eyebrows. Josh felt a familiar wave of lusty headiness sweep through him and he grinned involuntarily. He leaned towards Sam and ran his index finger along a small strip of warm, exposed collarbone.
Sam's eyes flew open and he froze in shock as he took in his surroundings. Josh could hear the fearful surprise in his indrawn breath. He cupped his hand along Sam's cheek and turned Sam's face towards himself. He flashed a gentle smile, warmed by the relief evident in the blue depths.
"How – " Sam pressed the heels of his hands into his eye-sockets, "Oh God, please don't tell me I fell asleep while the President was talking."
"Ah, okay. C'mon, Sam, let's go back. You want something to eat?"
"I'm not taking any more pills."
"How's your head?"
"I swear someone's been at my brains with a potato masher. Josh, please don't leave me alone for a minute."
"You left me!"
"I was just stretching – my neck was stiff. I've never slept so much and I'm still fuzzy."
"C'mon back with me. It's just the pills." Sam rose, a little unsteadily. Josh felt a warmth tugging inside, knowing Sam needed him right then. He wrapped an arm tightly around Sam's waist, drawing him close for a moment, absorbing Sam's familiar scent and sleepy warmth.
Sam looked around nervously, "Where's the President?"
"Out back of the plane somewhere, don't worry about it."
"But I –"
"It's fine. C'mon."
* * *
Twenty-four hours into the Pacific Forum, Sam and Josh were on their way back to the airport in a taxi. Josh was practically bouncing on the seat. Sam tried to ignore him, staring pointedly out the window but Josh's enthusiasm was infectious. Trying to appear stern, Sam still felt a small smile tweaking the corners of his mouth. He tried to suck in his lips, frowning slightly, but the glee emanating from Josh was irresistible.
Josh knew exactly what he was doing to Sam. He let his hand spider crawl across the seat of the car towards Sam's hand, resting along his thigh. Two inches from his target Sam suddenly flicked out his hand and swatted the spider a crushing blow. Josh's eyes flew wide in surprise and he let out a raucous bark of laughter. Sam resumed his staring out the window as the taxi driver eyed Josh suspiciously in the rear view mirror.
The airport was positively provincial in comparison to L.A. and they enjoyed a quiet coffee waiting for their plane, savouring the anonymity.
The flight south was breathtaking. Sam and Josh leaned forward, heads together, noses pressed against the window as they gazed down at the snow-sparkling crowns of volcanic mountains, pressed together in the very centre of the island, Sam straining to catch the names as the crackly voice of the pilot listed them, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu. They continued to stare, fascinated, at the ever-changing landscape, flat tussocky plains, steep rocky gorges with narrow streams that widened to meander through rolling green farmland, and then, as the plane finally circled the southern shore, a windswept, rocky coastline, jagged and unforgiving rocks which heralded their arrival in the capital city.
Josh's eyes grew round as he spied the runway in the distance. He leaned back and clutched Sam's arm tightly.
"My God, it's tiny, miniscule. Sam, there's no way we'll be able to stop in time. They must have made a mistake."
"Josh – "
"There's sea at both ends. Both ends. There's no way…"
"It's fine. Bigger planes than this land here every day. 747s even."
"Really?" Josh turned back to the window. "It just, it looks so short. And the sea. It's everywhere."
"Yeah, d'you see those rocks? I'd really like to visit that coastline."
"If this plane doesn't land soon, we're gonna be visiting that coastline all right, we'll be PART of it!"
Sam smiled indulgently, quietly taking Josh's hand in his and holding it firmly until they landed.
* * *
They were met at the airport and whisked off round the bays towards the Parliamentary Buildings. A light rain had started, and the sky was growing dark behind them.
"Storm coming from the South," stated the driver. "Supposed to be a cracker."
"A cracker?" Josh frowned questioningly.
"Southerlies are the really brutal ones, cold winds, big seas. Ferries'll probably be cancelled." Sam was staring out the window, drinking in the closeness of the sea, the new view around every bend, rocks and caves and beaches only minutes from the centre of the city.
"Yep, even the airport gets hit in a big storm – they're having some surface water problems at the moment."
"Is this like a hurricane?"
"Nah, different sort of weather down here. Wait and see. How long are you here for?"
"We fly back tonight."
"Not much of a visit."
"No." Josh answered but he heard Sam sigh. Have to come back here, he resolved.
By 10 a.m. they were deep in meetings, Sam with the Pacific Commission for the Environment, Josh with the Parliamentary Whip's Office. They came together at lunchtime in Bellamy's, where the politicians were keen to hear Josh's tales of working with Congress. Rain and wind lashed against the windows and the skies grew heavy with a solid layer of purple and grey, a weighty storm cloud pressing down on the city, taking the hills into hiding, hovering with menace over the high rise buildings.
Sam kept an eye on the storm, hopeful of a break in the weather.
At four, they were to head up to the American Embassy for drinks. When Sam came out of the lift, he found Josh standing glumly in the foyer, staring at the rain. A wild wind whistled and screeched between the Beehive and the older Parliament Building next door. The trees lining the front entrance dipped and swayed in confused circles.
Sam waved a hand around the circular foyer, "Some place, huh!"
"I still can't believe we've been meeting in a beehive all day. I feel like a character out of Sesame Street!"
"Yeah, but. What a weird design. A round building full of parliamentary offices."
"Weirder than a five-sided building full of defence forces?"
"I get the point," Josh huffed and shivered. "A storm though. It was fine up in Auckland."
"It was fine here when we flew in. I think the weather changes pretty fast."
"Here's our ride."
* * *
Two hours later they begged off invitations to dinner in favour of borrowing an Embassy car and doing a little exploring. Sam's international licence came in useful yet again but he was nervous about driving on the left hand side of the road, especially with Josh practically destroying the street map trying to open it.
A stormy twilight gave the city a mysterious air, and filled the two men with an unexpected rush of adventure. At the first red light, Josh leaned across and planted a sudden kiss right behind Sam's ear.
"Hey!" Sam blushed brilliantly. Josh grinned at him.
"It's okay HERE! Didn't you hear, any reporter who knows politics is in Auckland today. We're anonymous!" He sat back but laid a hand on Sam's thigh, squeezing gently.
"Hey!" Sam twitched, easing the car forward. "Get on with the directions, will you?"
After several wrong turns and a couple of dodgy hill starts, they found their way to the top of Mount Victoria. The wind was fierce, the rain slapping against the windscreen at a forty-five degree angle. They sat in the empty car-park. There was no-one in sight. Sam peered around earnestly.
"I think to see the view we have to climb up to the top of that knoll."
"We'd be soaked before we moved ten steps, you idiot!"
Sam pouted. That just made Josh want Sam, pulling him across and holding him until he responded, relaxing into Josh's embrace. And there, at the top of Mt Victoria, in the pouring rain and howling wind, overlooking the entire city, Josh and Sam enjoyed a very private moment.
* * *
As they drove back into the city, Sam negotiating the steep curves and turns, Josh phoned the airport to check their flights. He frowned deeply.
"The airport's closed."
"Surface water. All flights off until tomorrow."
"So we – " A smile crept across Sam's face as the enormity of this news crept up on him, "We have to stay here for the night."
Josh grinned back at him, "We do!"
They shared a room overlooking the harbour. When Josh emerged from the shower, he found Sam out on the tiny balcony, face into the wind, rain sheeting by. Josh rapped on the glass door and Sam turned in surprise.
"Get in here."
Sam came in with a gust of wind, radiant and glowing. His dark hair was plastered in streaks across his forehead, his white t-shirt clinging damply to the muscles of his chest, cheeks afire with wind and excitement. He leaned against the door, rib cage heaving, his blue eyes dancing with excitement.
"God, Josh, it's glorious out there." He took a deep, ragged breath in then whistled it out, lips pursed, before breaking into an excited smile." "The wind is incredible, it's so powerful, biting – no wonder there's no smog in this city. Wow, what a buzz!"
Josh was enjoying seeing Sam so vibrant after the last awful couple of weeks, but he frowned sternly, "Sam, you're soaked! You have to wear those clothes again tomorrow remember."
"Yes, Mom!" Sam was grinning playfully. Josh grinned back, relenting. After all, there was a storm. No-one could bother them tonight. Josh grabbed a towel from the bathroom and drew his now-shivering, zingy, zany partner into a warm embrace. This storm could be the best thing that could've happened.
* * *
The irritating beep of a cell-phone drew Josh out from under the covers. He grabbed his jacket and fished the phone from his pocket.
"Josh Lyman." He yawned widely.
"It's Leo. Where are you now?"
"What time is it?"
"Oh." He yawned again.
"Josh? You with me?"
"Yeah, sorry, uh, what can I do for you?"
Leo practically hissed with annoyance. "Where are you right now?"
"I'm in the bedroom."
"Jeez, Josh, wake up will ya?"
Josh rubbed his eyes, easing the phone away from his ear for a moment. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and felt Sam slither across and snake a warm arm around his waist.
Josh tried to focus on Leo.
"Sorry, I'm in the hotel, in Wellington. We haven't even looked out the window yet."
There was a long pause. He could hear Leo talking to someone else.
"Call me when you know what time your flight is." Leo clicked off.
Josh leaned down into Sam's warmth. Josh loved Morning Sam, a languid, decadent Sam with sleepy eyes and wild hair. Morning Sam was sensual and hungry and intimate, and his. Sam wriggled around until he could see Josh's face.
"We need to phone the airport."
"I like it here."
"I'll see if we can get a late flight."
"Mmmm." Sam reached up and hooked his hands behind Josh's neck. "Sounds good."
* * *
Three hours later, they had negotiated a further loan of the embassy car, booked a flight for 7 p.m., talked at length to Leo and Toby and had an hilarious time choosing a second set of clothes for each other. They had enjoyed the shops in the central city, Sam obsessing over the main street being called Lambton Quay several blocks from the actual sea, until he found a paving stone labelled Foreshore 1869. The narrowness of the streets, the interesting mix of the old and new buildings, the trolley buses with their long arms tenaciously grasping overhead wires and the sheer joy of a free day in a town where no-one knew them – all this filled them with a sense of excitement.
They eventually drove back up to the top of Mount Victoria and solemnly surveyed the entire city encircled beneath them, seaside suburbs oozing out towards the ocean in the south, railway lines like garden creepers heading north, the city a dense, compact centre caught between huge hills west and east. The harbour sparkled in bright sunlight, everything glistening with the heavy wetness of yesterday's rain.
"Josh?" Sam was staring to the south.
"Yeah?" Josh was relacing his new sneaker. "I swear they even lace shoes upside down here." He paused, looking up at Sam, who had not answered, who was gazing fixedly into the distance. Josh knew that pose. He sighed, and tugged at the hem of Sam's sweater. "Sit down a minute. What's on your mind?"
Sam eyed the mossy stone wall with distaste. He resisted Josh's tugs and gestured south. "I want to go to the coastline, the rocky shore we saw as the plane was descending."
"Sam, that's where the storm came from. It'll be…messy or something."
Sam gave him a distinctly, 'that was a stupid comment' glance and turned back to the view, leaving Josh a good view of the back of his head.
"All right," he sighed a put-upon sigh, "Let's go to the beach then. Pick up a coffee on the way?"
* * *
Josh navigated a route to the southernmost coastline. They parked at the entrance to an abandoned quarry and began to pick their way along the stony beach. The hills rose steeply, almost vertically up towards the sky, grasses and succulents clinging tenaciously to the rocky terrain. Every now and then a river of rocks would appear to have tumbled down out of the hills, making their escape to the freedom of the ocean.
There was just a narrow strip of land between sea and hill, a forbidding, grey battleground where thunderous waves pounded and mortared the ancient rock into fine gravel.
Sam was ecstatic. He would stop every ten paces to suck in the cold sea air, absorbing every sight – the pancake-like rocky outcrop, beaten and carved by the waters of Cook Strait, the sudden burst of red rocks, a welcome splash of colour in the greyness, the shiny green of the coprosma, stunted but powerful bushes dotted along the tide line, leaves able to repel the salt and wind.
Josh! Sam marvelled over tiny purple daisies sprinkled across the base of the hill. Josh! Sam inspected a weather-worn jawbone of a goat, thoughtfully fingering the solid, grinding molars still trapped in the whitened bone.
"What happened to the calm AFTER the storm!" muttered Josh as they rounded the next point. They clambered over sea-worn rocks, battered by fresh gusts of wind from a new direction. The waves were more powerful here, their deep green turning blue just before thundering into white, crashing shortly on the steep stony beach.
Sam leapt nimbly across the rocks, investigating every rock pool, holding aloft first a paua shell, then a tiny black crab and finally a small brown starfish. His hair was windswept, his cheeks bright red from the wind and the sheer enthralment of the outing, his blue eyes reflecting the untamed power of the tumultuous waters.
Moved by a sudden fire deep within, Josh skittered across the stones and grabbed Sam in a fierce embrace, holding his ribcage so tightly Sam was gasping after only a moment,
"Jo- Josh – breathe – hafta – hafta – breathe." Josh laughed out loud, releasing Sam then swinging him around and running him up the beach to the base of the hill. There he dragged Sam down and cupped his face in his hands. Sam's wide eyes were dancing with electricity, his red cheeks ice cold from the wind. Josh leaned in and kissed him. Sam was breathless and salty and delicious and there, completely alone on a wild beach at the bottom of the world, Josh devoured Sam.
* * *
A slight hitch on the return journey. The tide had come in, forced higher than usual by the stormy depression, and the rocks at the end of the beach were appearing and vanishing in the turbulent surf. Sam shaded his eyes and scanned the almost vertical hillside.
"There's no way we can climb that. It's all loose rocks and stuff."
"We'll have to go through those waves then. Could we wait until the tide goes back out?"
"It'll be hours, and who knows, it may not even be all the way in yet. This whole beach could vanish under a stormy high tide."
"C'mon, Josh, tides are one of my things."
"We'll get soaked."
"You want to wait for high tide?"
They stared at the rocks, designing mental images of their leaps between waves.
"Sam, you go first. I'll jump wherever you jump."
"You can't chicken out on me."
"Be right behind you."
Sam took a deep breath and leapt forward as soon as a wave had thinned out between the rocks. He sailed nimbly across the first three, before the next wave halted his journey temporarily. Foam thundering around his ankles, Sam leapt for the next line of rocks and crossed them, turning to wave triumphantly at Josh.
As Josh made to start out, he heard a cry and looked up in time to see Sam stumble, his sneaker lace snagged on a sharp finger of rock. Sam lifted his foot at last, but lost his balance, disappearing over the wall of rocks into the next cove.
Josh was immobilised. He stood stock still, waiting for Sam to reappear behind the rocks. No Sam. Rousing himself, he counted out two waves and then leapt, suddenly afraid of the powerful waves swirling and foaming around his ankles, the sea spray almost a menace as he peered ahead looking for Sam. Another wave and he was able to rush forward, finally topping the last place he had seen him.
He peered over. Sam was sitting up on the dry shore, safe now from the waves, looking very subdued. Josh made his final leap to safety and stumbled up the stony beach towards him, panting with the wind and the effort and the concern.
"Are you all right?"
Sam was wet and he gingerly cradled his arm against his chest. He looked pale and tense, but smiled up at Josh, "You made it."
"What happened to you?"
"My damn shoelace caught and I toppled over. I, ah, I might have sprained my wrist." He shivered suddenly. "Shall we head back?"
"Shit, you'll freeze. Show me your arm, you klutz."
"C'mon, just have a look."
'No! Let's just get back." Sam struggled to his feet, clutching his right arm in his left hand. The earlier exhilaration gone, the two men plodded back along the coastline towards the car. Sam's shivering increased and Josh finally stripped off his own sweater, wrapping it around Sam's shoulders.
As they trudged around the final crescent shaped cove, Sam's steps began to falter slightly. He was still shivering and all the colour from earlier in the day had drained from his face. He was finding the sheer effort of lifting his feet in the loose stones too much for his shocked body. Josh, concerned at Sam's silence, steered him to the water's edge, where the moisture from the creeping sea firmed the ground underfoot. Ten minutes later they reached the car.
Sam thrust a hip towards Josh, "K-k-keys in p-pocket." He leaned against the hood. Josh slipped a hand into Sam's pocket and awkwardly retrieved the car keys. He placed a hand behind Sam's neck, looking searchingly at his partner, seeing the whiteness around his tense mouth, the tell-tale crinkles fanning out from the corners of his eyes, distress so clear in the blueness. Releasing Sam, he opened the door and gently pushed Sam down, sitting sideways.
"Now, show me your arm."
"C'mon." Sam sighed and let go of his arm, resting it in his lap. Josh began to ease back his damp sleeve, noticing Sam tense his shoulders.
"I'll be careful, okay?"
A nod. Sam looked away, staring through the front windscreen towards the sea. Josh grimaced as he revealed Sam's normally slender wrist – it was thick and swollen and slightly misshapen.
"What?" Sam kept his eyes firmly fixed on the rollicking waves.
"Can you move your fingers?"
A pause. "Not really."
Josh hissed loudly and stood up, stretching. "This has been a great day but now we need to go to the ER. Any idea where that might be from here?" Josh stared around wildly as if he might spot an emergency room right there on the coast.
Sam finally looked down at his own arm, staring silently at the painful limb in his lap. He frowned in concentration, realising he really couldn't move his fingers at all. He squinted upwards, the afternoon sun catching Josh's wild hair in a golden halo, and cleared his throat.
"It's not just a sprain, is it."
"I wouldn't expect so, no."
"Josh, I can't have broken it. I really can't. It's my right arm. I –" he broke off and resumed his stare out to sea, "…not today," he tailed off miserably. Josh ruffled a hand across Sam's hair,
"Don't worry about that. I'm gonna look at that map."
They were surprised to find the hospital quite close, and even more surprised to find the ER waiting room empty. They stared around them. Sam leaned in close to Josh and whispered,
"D'you think it's closed?"
A woman appeared at Reception and caught their attention.
"I think my friend here may have broken his arm."
She looked speculatively at Sam's pale face, "Have you been here before?"
"We're ah tourists."
"Why don't you take a seat, fill in this form, and I'll get someone to take a look at you."
* * *
The Registrar gazed at the x-rays. "You have a broken bone here, but you have also dislocated a couple of small bones in your wrist. We might just pop them back in first…"
Sam and Josh stared at each other in horror behind her back. Josh was the first to recover his voice,
"Pop them back in?"
"Yes," she turned brightly, "It's painful but quick, then we can put your arm in plaster."
"Oh God!" Sam pressed his good hand over his eyes.
"Are you feeling dizzy?"
"No. I just can't believe I'm sitting in the ER again." He uncovered his eyes and smiled thinly.
"You've been here before then?"
Josh leaned forward and patted Sam on the shoulder, leaving his hand there,
"Sam's our resident klutz back home. He has a cubicle with his name on it."
"Have you had many fractures?"
"No! Please don't listen to him. He's paid to mislead people on a daily basis."
Josh snorted but his hand still rested securely on Sam's shoulder. The doctor eyed Josh,
"I need a second pair of hands for this – I could use you or call an orderly…"
"But I don't-"
"You just need to hold Mr Seaborn still."
"Sam then. I'll manipulate his arm if you can hold him steady. It will be a little painful for him – "
Josh and Sam stared at one another for a moment. "I'll do it."
She set the bed to a sitting position, and leaned Sam back into the pillow, then showed Josh how to sit beside him and lean into his shoulders.
Sam quirked an eyebrow at Josh, who was pressed close against him,
"I'm leaning a little towards the orderly."
Josh huffed and squeezed Sam's shoulders tightly, "You wanna rephrase that?"
"Yow! I'm ready, I'm ready! You ready?"
"Yeah, I'm ready."
The doctor began to pull and manipulate Sam's wrist. Josh felt the body beneath him go rigid and he stared firmly into Sam's eyes, willing him to be strong. Blue eyes and brown locked together for a powerful moment that sealed their relationship more dramatically than any physical touch.
"How are you coping?" The doctor glanced up briefly.
"Okay!" It was a gasp.
"Sorry about this – we're getting there."
A nurse popped her head in the doorway, "Need any help?"
"Can you pass us a container? Sam may need it shortly. Right, here we go again."
She began to work again. This time Sam was unable to remain stoic, "Oh God!" and he squeezed his eyes shut, turning his head away. Josh felt desperate, pinning Sam to the bed with both hands,
"You're doing fine, buddy." He could feel Sam writhe and twitch, and turned to the doctor, panting, "Is there much of this to do? Couldn't he have some pain relief?"
"Not much to go." She was breathing heavily herself. "These things work better without pain killers, unfortunately." She turned Sam's swollen wrist slightly. He let out a muffled squawk, which gave Josh a moment of levity,
"You swallow a chicken or something?"
Sam managed a strangled snort of humour before writhing again. There was a noticeable pop and the doctor stood up, smiling, "I think we've done it!"
Sam lurched under Josh's hands and the quick-thinking nurse, who had been hovering nearby, grabbed the container and held it in front of him. Clutching it with his good hand, Sam retched for a long moment, then flopped back onto the pillows, pale and sweating.
"Lucky we haven't had lunch yet." Josh suddenly realised he was starving. The nurse handed Sam a towel, and the doctor stretched wearily.
"One more x-ray to check it's all in place, then plaster. How do you feel, Sam?"
Josh looked at him, pale, damp, dishevelled, and marvelled at the Seaborn charm as Sam flashed the doctor a beautiful smile.
* * *
Leo pocketed his cellphone and joined the others.
"You're not going to believe this."
Toby raised his eyebrows, "If that was Josh, I'll believe anything."
CJ smacked his arm, "What's happened? Not more storm problems?"
Leo sat down and sipped his coffee, "No, it's clear down there now. The two of them did some touring around the city, and finally went for a walk along the coastline, and Sam-"
"Dear God!" Toby covered his eyes dramatically.
"And Sam tripped over some rocks and broke his arm. Well, dislocated some bones in his wrist and broke a bone in his arm."
CJ's mouth had dropped open. "Poor Sam. Did they have to go to the hospital?"
Leo turned a scathing look upon her, "Josh can do many unusual things, but he can't set broken bones. Of course they went to the hospital. He's all fixed up now, in plaster, they'll be on the plane at seven."
Toby sat there silently, shaking his head slowly from side to side. CJ nudged him. He sighed loudly,
"I said at least TEN times, don't let those two out of our SIGHT. Don't let them go to Wellington together. Don't ANYTHING when it comes to those two. But no! Let them go, you said. They'll make an impression. Now I have a fractured deputy. Which arm was it?"
Leo squirmed slightly, "His right."
"Dammit!" Toby stood up and paced around the table for a minute, head down, then he stopped and looked carefully at Leo, "He is all right though?"
"Yeah. Josh said it was a bit rough – " Toby's cell rang. It was Sam. He smiled and moved away from the table.
CJ looked at Leo, "He was worried. Did you see that – he was really worried. He CARED! I'm going to remember that moment for a long time!"
* * *
Josh rejoined Sam in the airport lounge, wielding two parcels and a huge grin. Sam was slightly hunched in the chair, clearly uncomfortable, his sweater sleeve rolled neatly above a thick, pristine plaster cast, an irritable frown on his face. Josh paused – Grumpy Sam was something to be handled very carefully. He sat down slowly, and took on a nonchalant air. Sam eyed him warily,
"What's in the bags?"
"Something for me, something for you, but it can wait."
"Oh, c'mon, you're bursting to show me." Sam's eyes crinkled and Josh realised he was on safe ground.
"I bought you a present." It was a sleeveless polar fleece, a dark green with an embroidered bird on one of the pockets. Sam raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"It's a takahe."
Sam smiled warmly, "Thanks, Josh. That's a cool gift."
"I figured you're going to have a sleeve problem for a while."
"Yeah." Sam looked down at his cast miserably. They were silent for a minute. Then Sam looked up, "What's in the other bag?"
Josh grinned at him with delight,
"You won't believe it. Bagels!"
Honestly, I think that'll do for now!
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