TITLE: "At Home"
AUTHOR: Jesse Morgan
PAIRING: Sam/Josh
E-MAIL: JesseMorgan@acelink.net
RATING: NC-17
SITE: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/At_Home_Sam-Josh-FF
SERIES: "At Home"
DISCLAIMER: Sam, Josh and Toby belong to Aaron Sorkin. Guido belongs to me. Part of the dialogue was written by Aaron Sorkin. A couple of paragraphs were reluctantly written by my Beta extraordinaire, Erika G. Many thanks to Carmen for researching some details in previous chapters at 3:30 in the morning so this chapter would be accurate.

[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts. Chapters 1-26, chapters 27-44, chapters 45-50, chapters 51-60]

At Home by Jesse Morgan

Chapter 61

Josh held onto the phone even after his Mother's voice was silenced. He wasn't quite ready to let go, but he had something really important to do, and time was of the essence.

Still, the warmth of the telephone cradled in the palm of his hand made him homesick in the pit of his stomach and caused a lump to form in his throat.

Finally, he severed the connection and got the impersonal "waaaaaaa" of the dial tone in his ear, so he hung up and put the phone back on the table.

Josh tumbled off the bed, walked to the bathroom, and stopped at the door. Sam was in the same position as when Josh took the candle in. Josh thought he might be asleep.

"Sam?" he said softly.

Sam didn't answer or move.

"Sam?" Josh said a little louder.

Sam turned his head and opened one eye. "You stayed," he said.

"I said I would."

"And I believed you, but you really did."

Josh leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms over his chest. He had on white boxers and a white t-shirt.

"Angel, you've gotta push the re-set button on your brain. Those words should never have come out of your mouth."

Sam opened his other eye. "What should never have come out of my mouth?"

"Don't play dumb with me," Josh smiled at him.

"No, honest. I really AM dumb. Sometimes I just play sm . . ."

"Sam", Josh laughed. "Don't finish that sentence."

" . . . art." Sam returned the smile.

"I'll just ignore you. Sam, you need to return to your mindset where you trust me implicitly. The unconditional love between us should never come into question. There's no reason for you to be surprised that I stayed."

"I said I believed you would," Sam replied.

"Then you added, `but you really did'. You've never done that before, baby. You never felt you had to. Why do you today? Did you really doubt I would stay?" Josh asked.

Sam looked down at the water. He submerged his fist to just below the water's surface, squeezed it just right, and a stream of water shot across the room. He did it again, then again.

"No," he finally answered. "I knew you would stay. I never for a second thought you'd leave."

Josh could actually feel his heart relax. He didn't know what he would have said if Sam had answered any other way. When he gave it a second thought, he realized he wouldn't have been able to speak.

"I'm so very, very glad to hear you say that. You just made my life a hell of a lot easier."

He walked over to the bathtub and leaned over so he was near Sam, but not too close. He didn't know what Sam's comfort level with intimacy was yet and didn't want to upset or confuse him.

"Of course, you always make my life a hell of a lot easier," he said.

Sam stretched to reach Josh and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you, Osh."

Josh's heart swelled a little more. "I love you too, Sam. You gonna get out of there or soak a while longer?"

"Did you order the pizza yet?" He sank back down into the tub.

"Not yet."

"I think I'll stay in here about ten more minutes then, and we can order when I get out. Ok with you?"

"Perfect. Tell me what you wanna put on and I'll get it out for you," said Josh.

"Are we going back out later?"

"Damn straight! We've gotta check out your new car!"

Sam laughed. "Shoulda been a Jag."

"Well, it's not, so just get over it. You can put on whatever you want now and change before we leave, you know."

Josh pushed Sam's wet hair off his forehead and reminded himself to insist he get a haircut before they went back to work on Monday.

"Then I want your big, blue pajamas."

"The ones CJ gave me when I was sh . . . in the hospital?"

Sam nodded.

"Yeah, ok. I'll have them on the bed waiting for you when you get out in . . . what, ten minutes?"

"About."

"You soak and don't worry about the time. I'll watch the clock for you and come back in exactly ten minutes and get you, ok?"

"Sure, that's really sweet. Although I do have this inner alarm clock and if I will myself to be alerted in ten minutes, I'll know within seconds of that time," Sam replied.

Josh sighed, closed his eyes, and shook his head. He knew it was true. Sam didn't know the meaning of the word `late'.

"Just sit there and get pruney until I come get you, ok?"

"Yeah, ok."

"Want me to turn out the light so you can enjoy the candle?" Josh asked.

"No!" Sam answered too quickly. Then in a calmer voice, "No. Thank you. I'm fine like it is."

"Ok, I'm right out here, within hollerin' distance, so holler if you need me, or just want me. Or if you just wanna holler."

Josh wanted to kiss Sam, but decided not to. Even though Sam had made the first move and kissed Josh on the cheek, Josh knew Sam wasn't all the way back yet and it was still too soon to be the aggressor.

He headed toward the door. "I'll be back in ten minutes," he said. "Enjoy."

With that, Josh watched Sam slide under the water then he left the bathroom. He opened the dresser drawer, pulled out the cotton pajamas CJ had given him, and tossed them on the bed. He crossed the room and picked his cell phone up off the bedside table. Then without any guilt, he left the bedroom, crossed the hall, and went into the junk room. He pulled the door halfway shut behind him and pushed speed dial.

On the floor, in front of the open closet, was the overturned box and inside it, the purple fabric, just as Sam left it when he ran out of the room several hours earlier. Josh stared at it while the phone rang on the other end.

"Toby Ziegler."

Josh jerked out of his near-trance.

"Toby?"

"Yeah, just like I answered the phone. What's up?" He finished his beer and opened another.

"I don't have much time, so listen fast," Josh spoke quickly and quietly. "Sam has a gun in the house. I've got ten minutes alone and I think I should do something with it, but I don't know what. I need your help, Toby. What should I do with the gun?"

"A gun? What kind of gun? Where the hell did Sam get a gun? What's he . . ."

"Toby! I've got nine minutes! Shut up and tell me what to do!"

"Hide it."

"Yeah, ok, good answer. Where?"

Silence.

"Toby! Where do I hide it?"

"Relax! Having a coronary isn't gonna help. Just . . . just calm down and let me think a minute. Where's someplace in your townhouse Sam doesn't go very often?" Toby asked.

"Uh . . . he's everywhere. He keeps this place spotless from top to bottom, Toby, you know that. He covers every inch."

"This isn't such an easy task then, is it?" Toby replied.

"If it was, I wouldn't have called you! Toby, I have seven-and-a- half minutes. Talk to me!"

"Where are you?"

"In the junk room upstairs; Sam's in the bathtub."

"Where's the gun?" Toby asked.

"Toby! Could you BE any more irritating? The gun is in the junk room too!"

"Is the gun in your hand?"

Josh hesitated before he answered. He hadn't expected that question. No one had ever said those words to him before.

"Uh, what difference does that make? I'm here, the gun's here, I've gotta get it hidden in six minutes and I don't even know where."

"Is it in your hand?"

"No. Ok? It's in a box on the floor covered by purple velvet. I saw it earlier. When it comes time to hide it, I'll pick it up. Now come on, Toby, help me think of a place, please?"

"The wine pantry."

"The wine pantry?"

"Sam's not going in there these days, right?"

"Right."

"And if I recall, it's stone, slabs of river stone, and there's lot of nooks and crannies. And it's dark, right? Is there a hole big enough for the gun to fit into?"

"There's gotta be. That's the perfect place, Toby."

"Did you doubt me?"

"Yeah, but I called you anyway."

"Asshole."

"Gotta go."

Josh snapped the phone shut, went to his knees, and set the phone on the floor. Then he looked at the box before him.

I don't wanna do this, he thought. I really, really don't wanna do this. But I don't have a choice. I have no idea why Sam got it in the first place, but he's seen the last of it. I'll hide it now and as soon as I can I'll call . . . who? What does a person do with an unwanted gun? I can't just throw it away. I'm certainly not in the gun-selling market and I'm definitely not gonna call Marc.

I need to put this gun in the hands of someone who can dispose of it in a safe and legal way. But who? Ok, the obvious people that jump out at me who know about guns are Ron Butterfield, Simon Donovan, and John Hoynes.

Josh reached out to pick up the weapon. Just as he touched the soft fabric and felt the steel beneath it, he pulled his hand back. A bead of sweat rolled from his forehead into his eye and he used the back of his hand to wipe it away.

Just do it! he thought. It's only fabric. Purple-fucking-fabric. Uncover the gun, pick it up, and hide it in the wine pantry. You're using up good time here being a wuss. Pick. Up. The gun.

But he didn't.

"Somebody! I need a . . . I need a doctor! I need help!"

Josh could hear Toby's voice like it happened yesterday. He closed his eyes and reached for the gun. His phone rang and again, Josh recoiled and nearly lost his balance. He swallowed hard and looked over his shoulder. The phone rang a second time and he grabbed it.

"What?" he demanded in a curt shout. He looked over his shoulder again, certain Sam had heard him.

"Did you do it?"

"Did I . . . Toby?"

"Did you hide the gun?" Toby asked in a loud whisper.

Josh pulled the weapon out of the velvet and ran downstairs. "I'm headed there now. Jesus, Toby, you scared the shit outta me. Don't . . . do that."

"Do what? What'd I do?"

"Just . . . nothing. Stay on the phone, ok?"

"Do you have the gun?"

Josh opened the heavy wood door to the wine pantry and hit the floor without touching any of the four steps.

"Talk to me, Josh. Do you have the gun?"

Josh looked around quickly. He squeezed his eyes shut and bit on his bottom lip. He tried to remember a space he'd seen between a stone and a wood beam, a niche just the right size for the handgun. A shiver ran through him because it felt so natural in his hand . . . the weight that dangled at his side, the length of the barrel that touched against his leg, the way the handle fit so neatly in his palm and how easily his finger wrapped around the trigger.

"Josh!"

His eyes flew open.

"Do you see a place?"

He did. Josh darted to the back of the wine pantry and to his left, just as he'd remembered, was a long, narrow separation between the river rock and the redwood. Josh remembered when Sam had the pantry built, he'd insisted on redwood for the racks. He said the high level of tannin would protect the wood from mildew and rot. How does he know this stuff? What is tannin anyway? A hell of a thing to remember now, Josh thought.

"Josh? Have you hidden the gun?"

He shoved it into the space. It was a tight fit and he had to wiggle it back and forth to push it out of sight, but the weapon finally came to rest and Josh let go.

"Talk to me, goddammit!" Toby yelled into the phone.

Josh wiped the sweat from his hand across his chest and it left a dark streak on his white undershirt.

"I did it," he said quietly.

"You hid the gun? In the wine pantry?"

Josh nodded against the phone. How Sam-like for him to do that.

"Josh, tell me you hid the gun in the wine pantry."

Toby was frustrated and frightened. He wasn't quite sure why he was scared, but he'd cut his hand as he tightened it harder and harder around his car keys.

"I hid the gun in the wine pantry," Josh told him.

"With how much time to spare?" asked Toby.

"Oh, shit!"

Josh skipped the stairs and shut the wine pantry door behind him. He sprinted through the kitchen and across the living room and took the steps two at a time, then swung into the bedroom and stopped by the chest of drawers.

Sam looked up. He wore the too-big blue pajamas and had just fastened the top button when he raised his head and smiled at Josh.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," Josh replied.

Josh clenched his jaw. He waited for the inevitable. He knew Sam would ask where he'd been.

"Josh, can I ask you something?"

"Always."

"Will you hold me? Just . . . in your arms . . . I need you, Josh."

Then Josh's arms were around Sam's neck and Sam let himself be held. His own arms dangled freely as he nestled into Josh and closed his eyes, safe, he knew, with the one man who truly loved him and who, he knew, would never leave him.

"Sam, if I could do anything in the world with the rest of this day, do you have any idea what it would be?" asked Josh.

Sam thought a minute, then, "No, tell me."

"I'd marry you again," Josh smiled against him. "I'd say, `Sam Seaborn, today's the day' and make you Samuel Seaborn Lyman all over again."

Sam pulled his head away, just a little, and looked into Josh's eyes. He saw that fleck of gold, even without the reflection of candlelight off moss green sheets. Josh's eyes were the color of rich milk chocolate, with a golden spark that pierced Sam's gaze and went straight to Sam's soul.

"I'd say `yes' all over again."

Josh cocked his head, the way Sam had come to adore, and smiled that crooked smile. "I know you would," he said.

"And how can you be so sure?"

Josh kissed the side of Sam's head, his hair still wet. "Because on our wedding day you said it was forever, and I believed you."

Toby clicked the `End' button on his phone and wished he'd done it sooner. The connection had stayed open and he'd heard the intimate exchange through the phone in Josh's hand. He knew he probably should have hung up when he realized the gun was safely ensconced in the wine pantry, but Josh had sounded so frantic . . . something wasn't right. Then he listened to the words of love between Sam and Josh and was embarrassed to find himself in their bedroom when they should be alone.

He set the phone down and went to the bathroom to wash the blood off his hand and get a Band-Aid for the cut.

"Did you order the pizza?" Sam asked. He savored the feel of Josh's arms around him.

"No, I said I'd wait till you got out of the tub."

"I just thought . . . " He nodded toward Josh's hand. " . . . you've got the phone."

"I called my Mom while you soaked," he replied. "I hadn't talked with her in a while and I just wanted to see how she is."

"And how is she?"

"Good. Asked about you right off the bat. Sends her love, wants to know if you're eating enough. If I'm eating enough. If we're working too hard, getting enough sleep. You know, the usual."

Sam smiled. "I love your Mother. I wish she'd come back and visit us again."

"I was gonna talk with you about that. Maybe Christmas?" Josh said. He kissed Sam's forehead. His skin was still warm from the hot bath.

"Sure, anytime. Christmas would be perfect. Order pizza. I'm starving."

Josh still held Sam's neck in the crook of his elbow. He gently pulled his head as he used that hand to dial the phone in his other hand. Sam laughed as his face was squashed against Josh's chest.

"Whaddya want on your half?" he asked as the phone started to ring.

"Bell pepper, `shrooms, and extra cheese."

"Not those green things."

"Wouldn't hurt you to eat those green things," Sam replied. "Don't get all that fatty processed meat on your half, Josh. It's not good for you."

"I like it."

"You notice I never get it and I'm healthier than you."

"You don't get it because of that preservative that gives you migraines," Josh replied.

"Doesn't that tell you something?"

"That I'll be well preserved? I still like it."

"It gives you heartburn," Sam protested. "You always tell me not to let you order it again."

"I like it." Josh pulled Sam's face deeper into his chest.

"You say, `even if I protest, don't let me get it'."

"But I like . . . "

"No."

"Guido's!"

"Guido! Josh Lyman."

"Hey, Josh! Dove voi stati, uomo? Where you been, man? You haven't ordered a pie for almost two weeks!" said the man on the other end of the phone.

"Working late, eating at the office."

"That's no excuse. You know I'll deliver to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

Josh laughed. "I know, I wanna order now though, at home."

"What'll you have?"

"Extra large, half . . ." He put his hand over the mouthpiece. "What'd you say you want?"

"Bell peppers, mushrooms, and extra cheese," Sam mumbled. "I can't breathe, Josh."

Josh released his grip a little and Sam was able to move his face away from Josh's chest.

"Half with bell peppers, mushrooms, and extra cheese, and the other half with just extra cheese," Josh said into the phone.

"Got it. What else?"

"Uh . . ." Josh turned away from Sam and lowered his voice. "A large with pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and . . ."

"Josh!"

"That's all."

Guido laughed. "Rotto, eh? Busted. Anything else?"

Josh moved the phone away. "Anything else, Sam?"

"Salad."

"One salad."

Sam held up two fingers.

"Two salads."

"Be there in one hour," said Guido.

"An hour? We're dying here. Thirty minutes."

"One hour."

"Forty-five."

One hour."

"Fifty."

"One hour."

"Fifty-five."

"One hour."

"Deal."

"Kiss Sam for me."

"You wish."

Josh snapped the phone shut and tossed it onto the chair in the corner, then turned his attention back to Sam.

"I think the plan was to snuggle on the bed until the pizza got here, right?" He put his forehead against Sam's.

Sam nodded, but he didn't move toward the bed. Instead he clasped his hand to his wrist behind Josh's back and laid his head on Josh's shoulder.

"In a minute," he said softly. "Let's just stand here one more minute."

Josh tilted his head a little so it rested lightly on Sam's. His hair was dry now, and soft, and it smelled good. He kissed him chastely behind his ear. Sam's comment of earlier that afternoon flashed through Josh's head ~~ "Jack used to nibble on my ear lobe and say `that's how bunnies eat carrots'"~~ and he pulled his lips away.

No way was he gonna let Jack get away with this and damage his marriage to Sam. He needed to step up and get this over and done with. He needed to bring Sam back ~~ to LOVE Sam back. He didn't know if this was the right way, or the smart way to do it, but he knew he had to take the risk.

"Come on, darlin'," he said.

Josh pulled free, took Sam's hand, and led him to the bed where they both crawled to the middle and were instantly in each other's arms. Their movements were swift and slight ~~ one leg slipped between two, Josh's arm went behind Sam's head, Sam's arm fell across Josh's chest, feet rubbed feet, hands rubbed hands and hair and arms and shoulders and were careful not to be sensual or sexual or arouse the other, intentional or otherwise.

Sometimes Sam and Josh played like puppies ~~ they nipped and licked and sniffed and tickled and giggled. Sometimes they cuddled like puppies ~~ they wound around and gently stroked and lingered and lazed and quietly spoke.

This day they cuddled and quietly spoke.

"You doin' ok?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I suppose. Yeah, I am."

"You warm enough?"

Sam nodded and smiled. "When I get you to Southern California, you'll understand why I get cold so easily. It's really warm there, Josh. You won't wanna leave."

Josh smiled. "So you're ok?"

"I'm warm enough."

"Those pajamas are too big for you," Josh said playfully. He turned up the collar.

"They're too big for you, too." Sam held up his arm to show how the sleeve came almost to his fingertips.

"Yeah. CJ thinks I play fullback for the Skins during my time off from the White House."

"She meant well, Josh. None of us were thinking straight at the time. She . . . she did her best."

"I love those pajamas," Josh replied. "They remind me of my Dad. He wore pajamas like that."

"I love them because you slept in them last week and didn't wash them," Sam commented.

"How do you know that?"

"They smell like you."

Josh nuzzled against Sam's face. He'd shaved in the bathtub and his face was soft and smooth. His kissed Sam's cheek.

"You've had a rough day, haven't you baby?" he asked.

"Not so much," Sam replied.

"Sam . . . "

"I've had better days."

Josh smoothed out the collar of the pajama top. He left his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"So," said Josh.

"So," said Sam.

"You wanna talk about what happened today?"

If it was possible, Sam moved even closer to Josh. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do."

"I really don't want . . ."

"Samuel, you DO have to talk about what happened today," Josh repeated. "Since you laid yourself open with all this, I can't walk around on eggshells. I'm sorry if that sounds hard, sugar, but I've gotta tell you how it is."

"You TOLD me to open myself up! You WANTED to hear about Jack!"

"Calm down. I wanted you to tell me so you could get all that shit out of your head. I know what can happen when we keep it all inside. You watched me have a meltdown about Joanie because I'd kept all that shit closed up inside me and I lost it. We're not gonna let that happen with you. We're gonna deal with it now. RIGHT now."

"Why are you doing this to me?" asked Sam. His voice was hushed and it tugged at Josh's heart.

"I'm not doing anything TO you. I'm going through it WITH you. We're in this together."

Josh was frustrated. Sam didn't mean to be uncooperative; his survivor instinct told him not to reveal any more secrets.

Josh disentangled himself from Sam and propped up on his elbow next to him. With his free hand he fingered one of the buttons on the pajama top.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"You're wearing my pajamas," Josh said. He ran his hand over Sam's chest to feel the fabric.

"We've established that."

"If you love me enough to wear my pajamas, can you trust me enough to lay yourself open one more time?"

"What are you gonna do?" Sam asked, his voice full of suspicion.

Josh continued to rub Sam's chest,

"You wanna get past what Jack did to you, right? Then you need to stay in the present and be as open and honest with yourself as you've ever been in your life. Can you do that?"

Sam hesitated, then quietly. "I don't know."

"That's bullshit."

"I don't know! How much more open and honest do I have to get? I told you stuff . . . I told you stuff, Josh, that nobody on the planet knows except Jack and me. I said words that have never been spoken either aloud or silently. That's not open and honest enough for you?"

"Lower your voice and don't get upset," said Josh. "You didn't hear what I said."

"What'd you say?"

"I said you need to be open and honest with `yourself'. Yes, you told me things you probably thought you could never even whisper in the middle of nowhere, and Sammy, I'm so friggin' proud of you for that I could bust. But now I'm gonna ask you to do something that may be even more difficult. Now, do you wanna get past what Jack did to you?"

"Yeah. I want it to be over."

"Then let's end it here. Right now."

Sam nodded. "I can do that." Than after a pause. "How do I do that?"

"I tell you some truths and you believe me. And it goes from there. Simple as that."

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

"I love you, Sam, and you need to hear this again. When we got married, I made a commitment to you that would last our lifetimes. That means everything that touches you, touches me. Everything you feel, I'm gonna feel because we became one man when we gave our lives over to each other. My love for you is unending and all-embracing."

Josh unbuttoned the top two buttons on the pajama top Sam wore.

"I made a vow that I would take care of you. That I would love you and nurture you and minister to your needs. You know all this, Sam, but I like it when I get to tell you again."

Sam smiled. "I like it too."

Josh unfastened two more buttons.

"May I kiss you, Sam?" Josh asked. "Kiss you like I'm your husband?"

Sam hooked his elbow around Josh's neck and pulled him down. He raised his head and met Josh with a kiss full of passion. He ached for Josh ~~ he ached to become the `one man' with him that Josh spoke of when they gave their lives over to each other. He wanted Josh to make love to him.

"Will you make love to me, Josh?" he asked.

Josh slipped the last button through the hole and pulled Sam's pajama top open. For a second the image of an adolescent Sam flickered in front of him, but he blinked it away and began to rub Sam's bare chest.

Then he kissed Sam like he was his husband ~~ long and slow and deep and familiar. Going places sure to please, doing things sure to excite. Sucking, licking, tugging, nipping, delving deep and going deeper, an urgency in them both to get closer, so close they were inside each other, so close they became one.

Josh got on his knees and took Sam's pajama top off. Then he pulled his own undershirt over his head and tossed them both onto the floor.

"Sam, look at me," he said.

Sam did.

"You're a grown man. I'm you're husband. I want you to focus on my face while I make love to you. Do you trust me?"

"Of course I do."

"Then while we make love, I want you to let go of what's happened to you before and know that's never going to happen again. No one will ever touch you or hurt you again in a bad way. I'm the only man you'll let inside you and you're the only man I'll let inside me for the rest of our lives, and that's because our love is stronger than any power that exists. Do you understand?"

Sam nodded. He put his hand behind Josh's neck and pulled him down and into a kiss. He was hungry for Josh, and he kissed him with a need he hadn't shown for a while.

Josh's heart beat against his chest. He knew he had started on a precarious journey and held more than Sam's fragile emotions in his hands. Sam's psychological tonicity was also at stake. He said a quick prayer for wisdom.

"Ok, then."

Josh took his underwear and Sam's pajama bottoms off. He started at Sam's lips and kissed and licked his way around his neck, behind his ears, and down his chest to his nipples. He swirled his tongue around the brown nubs and pinched and pulled them between his teeth while his hands massaged Sam's shoulders. Sam groaned when Josh sucked on first one nipple then the other. He pulled them into his mouth and bit down a little, just enough to cause Sam to flinch and smile through his pain, and when Josh started to move away, Sam put his hand on the back of Josh's head and guided it back to his tender nipple.

Josh moved down Sam's chest to his navel. There, Josh's tongue darted in and out and swirled in the small indention. Sam sucked in air and a shiver ran down his spine. He arched his back and pushed Josh's head into him.

Josh's tongue followed the hairline from Sam's navel to the base of his hard, erect penis, then he slowly licked his way to its soft, warm head. Josh sucked the tip into his mouth just for an instant, then slowly ran his tongue around it. With his teeth, he tugged on the little piece of skin on the underside of Sam's dick until Sam moaned, then he propped up on his knees again. He let his fingers cascade lightly down Sam's body until they reached Sam's inner thighs.

"You doin' ok, Sam?" he asked softly.

"Uh huh."

"Look at me," Josh instructed.

Sam did.

"You with me?"

"Yeah."

"Prove it."

Sam slid his left hand between his own legs and hooked his ring finger around Josh's ring finger. He squeezed them and said, "More than all the stars in all the constellations, Oshie."

Josh swallowed hard. That was exactly what he wanted to hear. Sam was right where he should be and WHO he should be.

This gave Josh a renewed sense of spirit. He was no longer as worried about the risk he'd taken by gently insisting Sam have sex with him. He knew if he didn't do it now, it might take weeks, months, for Sam's confidence to return, and Josh wasn't going to let Jack get away with that. And he wanted to keep it light and easy. Josh opened the drawer of the bedside table and got the tube of lubricant.

"Sam, I've got a little game we can play to `keep you in the now', so to speak."

"A game? Sounds kinda kinky," Sam said with a slight smile.

"Not that kind of game, silly boy. It's more of a contest, really. What color eyes does Jack have?"

"Jack's eyes? They're green. Why?"

"Perfect. Here's the deal. We'll have a staring contest. Keep your beautiful baby blues focused on my brown eyes. As long as the eyes you see stay brown, we're ok. I'll trust you to tell me the second they turn green, because the contest is over and we have to stop."

"Why?" Sam asked.

"Because if you see green eyes instead of brown, that means you see Jack instead of me, and I don't wanna do anything that would ever hurt you ~~ ever ~~ and that would be wrong if you think it's Jack in this bed. Ok?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, ok."

"I love you, Sam."

"I love you too, Osh. So, what's the winner of this contest get?"

"Winner gets to drive your car for the first twenty-five miles. How's that sound?"

"That sounds totally unfair. It's my car and I should get to drive it first."

"Well then, you'd better win. From the second I enter you, you need to make sure your eyes are open and focused right here on mine." Josh used his forefinger and middle finger and pointed at his own eyes. "If you close `em or look away, you lose. Got it?"

"Got it."

"Ready?"

"I'm ready," Sam replied.

"Set?"

"Let's go already!"

Josh angled Sam's hips upward and entered him with a gentle thrust. "Look at me," he said.

Sam locked eyes with Josh and he focused on that gold fleck. Jack was a million miles away.

They clasped hands as Josh rocked in and out of Sam. It had never been so simple and it had never felt so good. Sam arched his neck and his eyelids started to shut.

"Focus!" Josh reminded him with a whisper. "Focus on my eyes, baby."

Sam returned to Josh and never left him again.

Josh went as long as he could then made his final push. Sam caught him, wrapped his legs around Josh's hips, and held him inside.

"Oh God, Josh!" he cried out. "Josh!"

Then as Josh pulled out and rolled onto the bed next to him . . . "I love you, Josh," Sam breathed.

"I guess there's no doubt that you're aware of who you're with," Josh laughed.

"No doubt whatsoever," said Sam. "And guess what else?"

"What?"

"I won! I won! I get to drive my car first!" Sam laughed.

"Yeah, yeah, I was gonna let you anyway," replied Josh.

"I'm starving for real now. Surely it's been an hour."

"It's been OVER an hour. Let's go downstairs and I'll call Guido again."

Josh and Sam got off the bed and put on their boxers and t-shirt, and blue pajamas, respectively. Then they headed downstairs. They both stopped when they reached the bottom.

"What the hell . . .?" Josh started.

Toby sat on their couch, the two pizza boxes on the coffee table in front of him, a slice of pizza in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other. His mouth was full as he gnawed on a piece of crust. He raised the bottle in acknowledgement of their presence.

"That's our lunch you're eating!" Josh finally got out.

Toby washed down the crust with a swallow of beer. "Too late for lunch," he said.

"Then it's our . . ."

"Too early for supper."

"How'd you get in here anyway, and why are you eating our pizza?" Josh questioned.

"I should ask YOU how I got in here! I could have been just anybody off the street who came right in here and robbed you blind or worse, what if you had classified information around here somewhere? Do your realize what could happen if . . ."

"Oh, like somebody's gonna just walk in and pick up some classified folder and know what it is," Josh argued.

"Toby, you know we don't bring classified material home from the White House," Sam added.

Toby took another bite of pizza. "I'm just saying . . ."

Sam wandered over and picked up the pizza boxes. He slid the previous day's "Wall Street Journal" underneath them and set the boxes back down. Then he chose a slice for himself and began to eat.

"There was some guy cursing in Italian at your door, it was unlocked, so I paid him, let myself in, and am enjoying what I bought. Get me another beer, Josh."

Josh opened his mouth but didn't speak, then started toward the kitchen.

"Bring me a Dr. Pepper," Sam added. "And some napkins. Lots of napkins. And salad dressing."

After Josh had disappeared into the kitchen, Sam called after him, "And plates! Bring some plates!"

He sat in the chair near Toby and took another bite of pizza. "I'm starving," Sam said. "Thanks for getting this. We didn't even hear anybody at the door. We were . . ."

"I don't wanna know," Toby waved him off. "Just shut up and eat. And I just brought it in . . . I didn't `get it'. One of you is paying me back."

Josh returned with a beer for Toby and Dr. Pepper for himself and Sam. He also carried pizza plates, salad bowls, napkins, a jar of salad dressing, a spoon, and three forks. He set everything on the table, handed Toby and Sam a plate and bowl, then put two slices of pizza on his own plate and sat down on the couch.

"Have some salad, Toby," Sam offered. "They're big and we ordered two. I'm really starv . . ."

"Yeah, you're starving."

The three didn't have much to say while they ate; mostly idle remarks about nothing in particular. It wasn't long before every scrap was gone.

"I'm gonna clean this mess up. Everybody finished?" Sam stood and started to gather the empty pizza boxes, discarded napkins, and beer and soft drink bottles.

"Is there anything left?" asked Toby. He started to flip open the box top but Sam snatched it away.

"Not even the smell is left. Haven't you eaten today? Josh, get those dishes please."

Josh stood and stacked the bowls on the plates then clanked the forks inside them. He liked take-charge Sam.

"Want another beer?" he asked over his shoulder as he followed Sam into the kitchen.

"Sure." Toby took off his shoes and started to put his socked feet on the coffee table.

"On the newspaper!" Sam called from the other room. "Put `em on the newspaper!"

"Freak," Toby muttered as he slid the "Wall Street Journal" over with the heel of his foot.

Josh put the dishes in the sink then put his hands on Sam's arms.

"I need to put these cardboard boxes in the recycling bin," said am. "May I have my arms back?"

"In a minute. I've gotta ask you something important and I need your full attention," Josh replied.

"Ok, you've got it. What's so important?"

"Do you think we should tell Toby?"

"Tell Toby what?" Sam folded the pizza boxes in half then halved them again and stuffed them in the recycling bin.

"That we came out to Leo," Josh replied.

"Let's be forever clear on this, Osh. WE didn't come out to Leo. YOU outted us, Ok? I want that little fact kept straight in your mind."

Sam rinsed the bowls, plates, and forks and put them in the dishwasher.

"Whatever," Josh said casually in an effort to dismiss Sam. "I think we'd better tell him before he finds out from Leo and gets pissed because we didn't tell him first."

"What's this WE stuff, Kemosabe?" Sam laughed. "You seem to have a knack for spreading the word. YOU do the honors."

"But he's YOUR boss. You're closer to him. And besides, he likes you better."

Sam turned and faced Josh.

"Now that's just not true. Toby likes you as much as he can like anybody," Sam said in defense of his mentor. "He's just not very . . . demonstrative."

"Do you think he'll take it well or do you think he'll go ballistic?" Josh asked.

"Fifty-fifty."

Josh put his hands on the counter on either side of Sam "Know what?" he said with a grin as he took a step closer to Sam.

"What?" He wished Josh had taken two steps closer.

"You look sexy in those big blue jammies."

Sam stretched his arms across Josh's shoulders. "Wanna get in here with me? There's plenty of room."

"Where's my beer?" Toby yelled from the living room.

Josh gave Sam a sweet kiss and moved on to the refrigerator. "Papa Bear roars," he said. "I'll take you up on that offer later, sugar. Thanks for the in-vite."

He got a beer for Toby and the two of them went back into the living room. Toby was slouched on the couch, feet propped on the "Wall Street Journal" spread out on the coffee table, a Cuban Sancho Panza in his mouth, ready to be lit. He waved another one in front of Sam as he sat next to him on the couch. Josh handed Toby his beer and dropped into a recliner.

"Got a match?" Toby asked.

"I'll get a lighter," Sam answered and bounded upstairs to get one. He rarely bought cigars for himself, so whenever Toby offered him one of his top quality imports, Sam jumped at the chance.

"Why in God's name does Sam have a gun?" Toby asked in a loud whisper once Sam was out of sight.

"I don't know," Josh replied. "He was upset and went to the junk room across from our bedroom and got it out of the closet. Scared the shit outta me."

"How long has it been there?"

"Toby, I don't know! That's the first time . . ."

"Got it!" Sam jumped from the fourth step and landed on the floor like a gymnast, feet together, arms raised and outstretched. He held the lighter above him like a small trophy.

"Then get your ass over here and light these stogies," Toby said.

Sam flicked the lighter and a blue and yellow flame shot up in front of Toby. He held the fire under his cigar until the tip was red and smoke curled out of Toby's lips. Then he lit his own.

"Sit down, kiddo." Toby patted the cushion. "Here on the couch, beside me."

Sam glanced at Josh, then sat down. He took a long draw off his cigar then leaned back next to Toby.

"Sam, why do you have a gun?" Toby asked with no prelude.

Sam slowly slid the cigar from between his lips. He gave a quick look at Toby then turned his eyes to Josh. What else had Josh told Toby?

There were a lot of unasked and unanswered questions in the air.

Josh shrugged his shoulders and moved his lips to say, "I'm sorry" ~~ gestures so slight only Sam noticed. Neither of them saw that coming.

"I . . ." He couldn't deny it. Josh had seen the gun and if he wanted, could easily get it out of the junk room in a minute's time. What am I going to say? " . . . got it for protection," he said.

"Protection," Toby repeated.

"Yes."

Toby blew three smoke rings into the room. "Why don't I believe you?"

"I ask myself that too. I've got a really good poker face," Sam responded, a little too glib for Toby.

"I'm not fucking around, Sam. I wanna know now, why you've got a gun. I know how you feel about the Second Amendment and . . ."

"Well, maybe you just THINK you know," Sam interrupted. "I'm not as black-and-white on every issue the Democratic Party holds sacred, Toby. There are some grey areas where I just might swing in a different . . ."

Josh looked at Sam and rolled his eyes.

"Don't look at me like that," he said. "It's not that bad. It's not like I'm a Republican or I shot somebody. Really, it's not that bad."

"Not that bad?" Josh responded. "Angel, you've had a deadly weapon in our home, our CLOSET, for god knows how long! Do you have a license for that? Have you carried . . . Sam, have you CARRIED that gun anywhere?" He looked at Toby then back at Sam. "Have you?"

He didn't wait for an answer and turned back to Toby. "That pistol holds ten rounds, Toby, plus one. You know what that means? Ten bullets in the clip plus one in the chamber, ready to be fired with a pull of the trigger just like that. JUST LIKE THAT so you don't even have to think about it or wait that split second to think about it. This gun has a smooth combat trigger pull and bam! that plus one bullet in the chamber is gone."

He turned back to Sam. "Gone, Sam! Maybe into the chest of somebody who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? How is that not bad?"

Sam started to stand, but Toby pulled him back down on the couch. "Jesus, Josh, none of those things happened!"

"Yet. None of those things had happened to me either until that night in Rosslyn when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or had you forgotten?"

"Josh . . ."

"Don't."

"If you weren't gonna shoot somebody," Toby asked, "why'd you have a gun in the first place? And more importantly, why'd you pull it out this morning?"

The room went silent. Sam set his cigar in an ashtray and let it die out. It didn't taste so good to him any more. Suddenly he felt very small in the big pajamas. With Toby next to him on the couch and Josh in the recliner, he sensed he'd been set up in this position on purpose to be questioned.

"Why do you have the gun, Sam?" Josh asked gently. He got up and sat on the other end of the couch so Sam was between him and Toby. He put his hand on Sam's back.

"I'm embarrassed to tell you," Sam finally admitted.

"It's ok. We need to know." Josh rubbed small circles on Sam's back.

"When I was screwing around with drugs, which I'm not anymore, be clear on that, Marc convinced me I needed a gun, so I bought one."

"From him, I suppose?" Toby asked with sarcasm.

"Yeah."

"That's a shocker." Toby tapped ashes off his cigar.

"Toby," said Josh, "leave him alone. Go on, Sam."

"Well, that's about it. I bought one."

"From Marc?" Josh asked, not sure he'd heard correctly the first time.

"Yeah."

"What was his reason that convinced you to buy a gun, Sam? That's just not like you to be so gullible. Especially without telling me."

"I don't think gullible is the appropriate word as much as impaired. Do you really think I was gonna come home and say, `Hey, look what I bought while I was stoned today, and the serial number's been filed off'?"

"It's a STOLEN gun?" Toby exclaimed.

"I don't know!"

"Dammit, Sam!" Toby stood in frustration. "Sometimes I just wanna grab you by the shoulders and shake you till your teeth rattle. Dammit!"

Josh felt the same way, but didn't want both of them to gang up on Sam, so he kept his composure and somehow remained calm.

"What possible reason did he give you that you couldn't pass up?" Toby repeated Josh's question.

Josh continued to rub Sam's back. "Toby, why don't you sit back down and try to lower the tension level a few decibels. Your hovering like that isn't gonna help matters."

Toby snorted, ground out the butt of his cigar, and sat back down on the couch.

"He told me . . . this really is embarrassing . . . he told me with all the drugs I was buying and all the cash I would have on me from time to time, I should have a weapon in case . . . you know . . . "

"No, we don't know," said Toby, fully aware of what Sam needed to say, but determined to make him say it.

Josh felt Sam take a deep breath. He was glad Toby had to be the bad guy here.

"In case I was followed and got jumped or something," Sam concluded.

Nobody said anything. Then Toby spoke, surprisingly calm.

"Sam, there are so many replies I have to that statement, I wouldn't even know where to begin. They're coming so quickly it boggles the mind, so I'm not even gonna respond to it. Any comeback wouldn't do it justice."

"If it's any consolation ~~ to anybody~~ not long after I bought it, I regretted it," Sam said ruefully. "I never carried it. It's been up there in the closet all this time. That's where it is now."

"Not much consolation, Sam," replied Josh. "Why didn't you tell me? We could have gotten rid of it."

Sam shook his head. "I felt stupid."

"Not as stupid as you would have felt when the police arrested you at the White House for buying stolen property," Toby remarked. "And a stolen GUN at that."

"How much did you pay for that thing?" asked Josh.

Sam shrugged. "I don't remember."

"You remember how much you paid for a pair of socks two months ago. I KNOW you didn't forget this. How much?"

"Four hundred dollars."

Toby was on his feet again. "Holy shit! Sam, you never cease to amaze me. One minute I'm so proud of you I wish you were my own brother and the next minute you pull a stunt like this and God, I don't even wanna know you. I wonder how you cross the street by yourself. How the fuck could you be so stupid . . ."

"Toby!" Josh interrupted.

Toby looked at the couple. Sam has his head bowed and he stared at the floor. Josh had his hand on Sam's shoulder to comfort him. He caught Toby's eye and glared at him.

"Yelling won't help anything," said Josh. "And calling him stupid will only make him feel worse."

"Don't mistake this as an indication that I worry about you," Toby replied, "but I just . . ." His words trailed off when he realized Sam and Josh knew that wasn't true. He DID worry about Sam. He wouldn't spend his Saturday trying to figure out why Sam had a gun if he wasn't concerned. He wouldn't get angry and raise his voice if he didn't care.

"He's right," said Sam as he lifted his head. "I was stupid.

"No, you weren't stupid," Josh reassured him. "You just did a stupid thing."

A knock on the door jarred them all.

"I can't go in these pajamas," said Sam.

"I'm in my underwear," added Josh.

They both looked at Toby.

"What? So now I'm answering your door for you? Somewhere in this . . . whatever we have, this private little universe of ours, something went terribly wrong. I'll answer your door this one time and this one time only. Mark it down."

Toby was gone and back in a minute. Sam's new car had been delivered by the dealership and needed a signature . . . Sam?

"Thirty seconds."

Sam raced upstairs and was down half-a-minute later in a pair of jeans and tennis shoes. He pulled a white t-shirt over his head as he jogged across the living room.

"Be right back!"

And he was out the door to check out his new Sebring.

"That went well," Josh said sarcastically.

"We found out what we needed to know," Toby answered.

"We found out Sam was screwed by Marc Hayes while he was wasted, which just adds another bullet point, so to speak, to my ever growing list of reasons to hate that son of a bitch."

Toby and Josh made eye contact and neither looked away. Both had picked up on Josh's subconscious, but unfortunate, choice of words: `Sam was screwed by Marc Hayes while he was wasted'. Josh didn't want to think it, tried NOT to think it, but he had to know if Sam had ever talked with Toby about things Marc did to him. Things he couldn't tell Josh. He had to ask.

"Toby, has Sam ever said anything to you . . . you know, about him and Marc? I know sometimes he confides in . . ."

"No!" Toby said emphatically. "Don't let your mind mess around with your emotions and sensibility, Josh. Sam was tested at the hospital and he's clean. There was just . . ."

Toby's voice lost its passion and he struggled to find the right words. He knew what he WANTED to say . . . "There was just your sperm inside Sam." but there was no way Toby could bring himself to say those words, no matter how comfortable he had become around the guys.

"There was just . . . whatever . . . you."

Josh nodded with appreciation. This was a topic he never thought he'd discuss with Toby

"Just forget about it," Toby went on. "Nothing happened."

"Yeah, ok," Josh conceded. But he couldn't forget that string of words he had put together by chance: `Sam was screwed by Marc Hayes while he was wasted'." Toby's comment flashed through his mind: `There was just . . . whatever . . .you'.

And then he heard Dr. Adams' voice on the phone: `I have the other test results you asked about from the DNA sample. They match, Josh. You might wanna think about contacting the Mother'. And he had to call Jeanne and tell her . . .

"Josh!"

"Huh? What?" He was startled by Sam's voice.

"I said, do you wanna see my new car?" Sam repeated.

"In a little while, baby. We'll take a drive later. We need to finish this gun business. I'm gonna get dressed. Why don't you get everybody something to drink?"

Josh went upstairs and Sam and Toby went into the kitchen. Sam started to put ice in three tall glasses.

"I don't know what other `gun business' there could be," he said as he closed the freezer and open the refrigerator. "I've told you guys everything." He brought out a pitcher and poured iced tea over the cubes. They crackled as cold hit cold.

"Sugar? Sweet-n-Low? Lemon? Mint? Straight up?" Sam asked.

"Toss me a couple of sugar packets," Toby said.

"Our sugar comes in a sugar bowl. Our Sweet-n-Low comes in packets."

Sam handed Toby the sugar bowl and a spoon while he talked. He sweetened his and Josh's tea and added a sprig of fresh mint and they went back into the living room just as Josh came down the stairs. He wore jeans and a deep purple Nirvana t-shirt.

"Have you guys been to all these concerts or do you just collect their t-shirts?" Toby asked. He took his place on the couch and motioned for Sam to sit beside him.

"Seen `em all," Josh replied. "You don't see me as a Nirvana kind of guy?"

"It's just that between you two, your musical tastes aren't just eclectic ~~ it's weird. There's Sam's passion for Gilbert and Sullivan and Meat Loaf and Dwight Yoakam and your penchant for the Rolling Stones and Ave Maria and Barry Manilow. I just never know with you guys."

Josh ignored Toby and stood in front of Sam. He had one leg in between his and the other on the outside. He squeezed Sam's leg between his and took Sam's face in his hands. He turned Sam's face up to look at him. Then he leaned down and kissed Sam sweetly on the mouth.

"Angel, straight answer. Why'd you pull that gun out this morning before you went to the park? What were you gonna do with it?" Josh asked. His voice was gentle but firm.

"I . . . I don . . . don. . . don't know." That he stuttered wasn't lost on Josh or Toby. Or Sam.

Josh took his hand. "Angel?"

Sam closed his eyes. When he opened them, a teardrop clung to his eyelash.

"Don't make me tell you," he said quietly. He turned to look at Toby, then back at Josh.

Sam looked so distressed, Toby put his hand on Sam's back and began to rub little circles. He remembered how Rosemary did this for Josh when he had his meltdown and Josh had taught him to do it for Sam. Toby wondered who would do it for him as he took on more and more of Sam's and Josh's life problems.

"Sam, were you gonna use that gun this morning?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded, so slight one would barely notice if they didn't know to look.

"On who?"

Sam turned his face so it was in Josh's hand. His tears flowed. His voice could barely be heard, but it was clear as a bell to Toby and Josh, and they both froze when they heard what Sam said.

"Me."

"At Home ~~ Chapter 62

Josh's eyes blurred and made Sam's face look distorted against his palm. There was a whoosh in his ears and he felt a flush start at his neck and rise to the top of his head. His arms and legs were shaky as Jell-o and his feet heavy as cement. He had no perception of time. He forgot to breathe. Then when too much time had passed, Josh gasped for air and was jolted back to reality.

He pulled his hand away from Sam's cheek. He backed his legs from between Sam's and bumped into the coffee table. Josh sidestepped in front of Toby and stumbled across the living room, opened the front door, left the townhouse, and slammed the door behind him. He went outside, down the steps, and started to walk. It was dusk.

"Where'd Josh go?" asked Sam.

"You tell me," Toby replied.

Sam shook his head. "I don't . . . I don't know."

"Where does he usually go when you say you're gonna kill yourself?"

"I didn't! I'm not! Josh knows better!" Sam turned and looked at the door.

"He KNOWS better? When Josh asked `Sam, were you gonna use that gun this morning'? and you nodded and he said `On who'? and you answered `Me', what was Josh supposed to think? That you were dickin' around with him?"

"I didn't mean it," Sam said quietly.

"Well, Josh thinks you did. And that pretty much amounts to the same kind of hell in Josh's mind if you ask me." Toby stood up and looked down at Sam. "And I'm not so sure I believe you."

"Toby . . ."

Sam started to stand. Toby used the tips of his fingers against Sam's chest and pushed him just hard enough that it took him off balance and Sam sat back down on the couch hard.

"Shut up," Toby said.

"But . . ."

"Shut up."

"Can I . . ."

Toby put his finger up to silence Sam. "I don't wanna see your face. I don't wanna hear your voice." He turned away.

Sam didn't make a sound. He didn't plan for this to happen. All he did was answer a question that was dragged out of him. How did the sweetness of ninety minutes ago turn to shit?

Toby walked toward the bay window and stopped when he got to the table in the bay window. He looked down at the chessboard, crossed his arms, and stared at it. He clenched his jaw and took short breaths through his nose.

"Your move."

"What?" He half-turned to hear Sam.

"It's your move," Sam repeated. "It's been your move for a while."

Toby put his hand on the black stallion and moved it two spaces over and one up. "Knight to Queen Four."

"Knight to Queen Four?"

"Yeah."

"Ok."

Toby crossed his arms again and watched the traffic. He couldn't look at Sam and didn't know if it was from anger or fear. He knew he couldn't stare out the window forever either. He told himself he'd count ten Yellow Cabs and then he'd turn around.

Sixteen passed and he still counted. Cars had turned their headlights on and he hadn't moved. Nor had Sam, nor had he spoken. Toby finally turned, slowly, and faced his Deputy who hadn't moved from the couch.

"What in God's name were you thinking?" he asked.

Sam chewed the inside of his jaw. "I wasn't," he replied.

"Did you mean what you said? Did you have any intention of using that gun on yourself, Sam?"

Sam hesitated just a moment too long before he shook his head.

"What happened this morning?" Toby asked. "What caused . . . what happened?"

"Josh told me something unexpected that caught me off-guard and that kinda morphed into, uh . . . it's not real clear how . . . uh, but he's been after me to tell him about my family before we go to California, and next thing you know I just went for the gun, I don't know why, then I left and Josh followed me and we went to the park and I told him about my brother."

"About Jack?"

Sam nodded.

"What ABOUT Jack?" Toby pressed. He knew less than Josh had, just that there was a strained relationship.

"Just about when, uh, when we were kids. Stuff we used to do." Sam picked up a throw pillow and nonchalantly punched it a little too hard.

"That made you pull out a gun?"

"No, I . . . I pulled out the gun first."

"Why?"

"What?" Sam didn't like the direction this conversation was headed.

"I said, the thought of your brother made you pull out the gun?" Toby repeated.

"I never said that."

"You just did, Sam. You said Josh had been after you to tell him about your family and the next thing you know, you pulled out the gun."

Sam thought back to . . . was it only this morning? How could so much have happened since just this morning? "Josh called me a name," he said softly.

Toby sat on the coffee table across from him.

"He called me a pet name my brother used to call me and it just set something off in my head, I guess. It made me think about Jack. I really don't like talking about this, Toby."

"Then don't."

"It made me think about Jack." Sam didn't miss a beat. "I dissociated. All right? I dissociated and thought Jack was around and got all defensive and scared and now, in retrospect, it was stupid . . . "

"It wasn't stupid," Toby interrupted.

"It wasn't stupid, but it happened," continued Sam, "and I thought Josh was Jack and I went to the closet and got the gun."

Toby bounced his fist gently on Sam's knee. "You wrap it up all nice and neat with a ribbon, Sam, but I know it had to be ugly. You left out about ninety-nine percent of the story and I wish you'd tell me but I won't ask you. Tell me only if you want to."

Sam flashed a weak, unconvincing smile. He was aware of Toby's touch and appreciated the connection, but wanted like hell for it to be Josh.

"It's not that I don't wanna tell you," he said. "It's that I don't want you to know."

"And why's that?"

Sam shook his head.

"Tell me Sam," Toby persisted. "Why don't you want me to know what Jack did to you?"

Sam put his hand on the back of his neck and massaged it. "I'm embarrassed," he said.

"You're embarrassed because of something JACK did?"

Sam hung his head over and stretched it first to the left then to the right. His bones crackled.

"Sam? Did you hear me?" Toby asked.

Sam nodded.

Toby reached out to tame Sam's shaggy hair but pulled his hand back. Even by lamplight, his hair shone.

"I'm not gonna tell you again to get this hair cut," he said. "How long have I been after you about this?"

"I don't know."

"I'm not kidding around, Sam. Don't come to the White House Monday if you haven't got a haircut or I'll do it myself. Do you hear me?"

Sam nodded.

"I cut a dog's hair once and he was so embarrassed he ran in front of a truck. I'm not fucking around. You work for me and I want you to look sharp. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"You don't have to do the `yes, sir' thing with me. Save it for your Father."

Sam looked up. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe sometimes I like to do the `yes, sir' thing with you?"

It hadn't. Not many people said `yes, sir' to Toby. He never said `yes, sir' to his Father.

"No, it never occurred to me. Why do you sometimes like to say that to me?"

Sam's eyes met Toby's. "Out of respect."

"You don't say `yes, sir' to your Father out of respect?" asked Toby.

Sam bowed his head again. His voice was low. "I say `yes, sir' to my Father out of fear."

That big brotherly feeling welled up in Toby and his hand was in Sam's hair before he realized it. He stroked Sam's head and resisted the urge to pull him in to an uncharacteristic embrace.

"Sam, you don't have to be embarrassed about something your brother did," Toby said. "Whatever it was, it wasn't bad enough to blow your brains out." Toby remembered how silky Sam's hair was and tried not to imagine gray matter mingled in with his locks. He pulled his hand away at the thought.

"You don't know what he did."

"No, I don't, and it doesn't matter. Look at who you ARE, Sam, not what was done to you. Can't you understand that?"

"I never said no."

"How old were you?"

"A kid. Little. Then . . . then old enough to know . . . " Sam ran his hand under his nose. "Old enough to know better. Old enough to say no."

"It's ok that you didn't and it doesn't have to fuck up the rest of your life. Every day that it does, you allow Jack to do it to you again," Toby reasoned. "Only now you can say no and the hauntings will stop."

Sam gave a cynical laugh. "Yeah, just by saying no? To whom? To some memory in my head? I don't think so."

"To Jack."

Sam jerked his head up. It had never occurred to him that he could actually talk with Jack in a few days about something that happened eighteen years ago . . . twenty-eight years ago. Would Jack admit to it? How would such a conversation go? What would I say? What would JACK say? What if I say no and Jack won't accept that?

"Say no to Jack?"

"Why not?"

"You . . . you . . . you don't know Jack," said Sam.

"Does he walk on water? Not that that would make an impression on me . . ." Toby chucked Sam under the chin. "A joke! I tried for a laugh and got nothing!"

Sam managed a smile. "'You don't know Jack' was a joke, too and you didn't get THAT," he said.

"I got it. I chose to ignore it. Sam, if you wanna tell me what Jack did, I'll listen for as long as you wanna talk. If you don't, that's ok too. I think I know. When you go to California next week, I want you to tell him `no, never again' like you've wanted to do since you were a kid. If not for yourself, for Josh. Will you do it?"

"If I can."

"Don't give me that `if I can' crap. You can do anything you want and you know it. I've never seen you fail at anything, Sam, and I've seen you at your best and I've seen you at your worst. Do it in private or take Josh with you. Just don't hit him."

"I'd never . . . I wouldn't." Sam was emphatic. Then, "Why?"

"Because you'll kill him."

"You know what? I need to use the bathroom."

"What?"

"I just drank about sixty-four ounces of Dr. Pepper that I need to eliminate," Sam explained.

"Ok, go on."

"I wasn't asking you if I could use the bathroom, Toby, I was telling you."

Sam got up from the couch and went into the guest room and closed the door behind him. He went into the bathroom and closed and locked that door and stood at the commode and unzipped his fly. He wondered where Josh was.

Maybe he's outside on the stoop, Sam thought. He likes to sit out there and think about things when he gets upset. Maybe he wanted to smoke a cigarette and he's finished by now and he'll be in the living room when I go back in there. I feel sure he'll be back. What if he's not? Where'd he go? Why'd he even leave in the first place? Surely he knew I wasn't serious when I said . . . when I said what I did. Why'd I say that? I wasn't gonna use that gun on myself. Why'd I say that? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Sam finished and zipped up his pants then washed his hands and dried them on the onyx-black towel. He opened the door and when he walked out, almost collided with Toby.

"Toby!"

"You done?" Toby asked.

"Well yeah, I'm done. I wouldn't come out of the bathroom if I wasn't done. What are you doing in here?"

"Just . . . nothing."

Toby cocked his head toward the door and Sam walked past him and into the living room. His hopes were dashed when he realized Josh hadn't come back. Just as Sam got near the couch, he stumbled and grabbed the back of it to steady himself.

"Sam?" Toby took hold of Sam's arm. "What is it?"

Sam ground the palm of his hand into his temple.

"A sharp pain. It's nothing."

"Migraine?"

"Maybe. It'll go away," Sam replied.

"Don't you use ice or heat or something for that?" asked Toby.

"Ummm . . . sometimes ice at the base of my skull helps. Where's Josh?"

"Sit down and I'll get some ice."

"Where's Josh, Toby? Will you just go look outside?"

"Yeah. Sit on the couch and I'll check," Toby answered.

Sam went straight from leaning on the couch to laying on it, skipping sit altogether. He shoved the throw pillows to the floor so he'd be flat and closed his eyes. He massaged his forehead with his index finger and thumb. Sam tried to will away his headache but it only worsened as the minutes passed.

"He's not out there."

Sam flinched. Toby's voice was both welcomed and painful. He knew Toby would get him ice for his headache, but any sound at all cut through him and vibrated inside his skull like a jackhammer. He tried not to show how much pain he felt.

"Josh wasn't on the stoop?" he asked.

"No sign of him. He probably just took a walk around the block to gather his thoughts. Where's your ice pack?"

"Upstairs, linen closet, bottom drawer, left side, under the heating pad."

"Could you be a little more specific?" Toby asked as he walked toward the steps.

"It's light grey," Sam responded.

"Freak."

Toby found the ice pack exactly where Sam said it would be, returned to the kitchen, and filled it with ice cubes. He wrapped a tea towel around it so the cold wouldn't be directly against Sam's skin. He went back to the living room where Sam lay still and silent on the couch, and stood over him.

"Where do you want this?" he asked.

No answer.

"Sam? I have the ice."

No answer.

"Base of the skull . . . " Toby remembered. "Can you raise your head, Sam?"

No answer.

Toby shifted the ice pack to his other hand.

"Sam, lift your head up so I can put this . . . oh, hell."

Toby put his hand behind Sam's head and gently raised it. He slid the towel-wrapped ice pack under Sam's neck so it was situated at the base of his skull, then he carefully lowered his head back down on the couch cushion.

"Do you want a pillow?" he asked.

"No, thanks" Sam barely spoke.

"A blanket? Something to drink?" Toby untied Sam's tennis shoes and pulled them off. He wrapped his hand around one socked foot and gave it a gentle squeeze then set Sam's shoes on the floor at the end of the couch.

"Will you just turn out the light?"

"Yeah, sure." He turned out the two lights that were on in the living room. "Anything else?"

"Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Just don't leave me."

Toby didn't expect that. "Yeah, I'm . . . I'm gonna sit here until Josh comes home," he replied.

"You don't wanna just sit in the dark." Sam's voice was strained.

"I'll sit over there at the dining room table and turn on that small lamp and work a crossword puzzle. You still have that puzzle book?"

"Desk. Second drawer on the . . . you know where it is."

"Sam, this headache came on fast. Are you gonna be ok?" Toby asked.

He'd watched Sam suffer through migraines on the campaign trail and at the White House and knew they could knock him off his feet. Sometimes he was able to ward one off with medication if he caught it early enough, but usually the many different prescriptions didn't work and he had to ride it out. Sam had slept on the couch in Toby's office when he was too sick to drive home or insisted he was well enough to work when clearly he wasn't. To see Sam go down this quickly and without Josh around to know what to do unnerved Toby, and he again found himself in the position of Sam's caretaker.

"Yeah, I'll be ok. I just need to rest a few minutes. You're gonna stay, right?"

"Right. I'm here if you need me. Just . . . you know."

"I know."

Toby shuffled through the desk drawer and pulled out the book of New York Times crossword puzzles. He picked up a pen, partly because he preferred to work his puzzles in ink but mostly because it annoyed Sam, turned on the small antique stained glass lamp near the dining room table, and settled into a comfortable chair to watch over Sam and wait for Josh.

But Toby's mind wasn't on the puzzle. His thoughts darted back and forth between Sam and Josh. Where the hell IS Josh, he wondered. His car was parked out front so he'd gone somewhere on foot or hailed a taxi. Catching a cab when he had a car wasn't like Josh, so he'd probably walked. But where? And when is he gonna be back? Damn him! Would he have walked out on Sam if I hadn't been here?

And Sam! I can't make him tell me what Jack did to cause him so much pain, but I still wanna know what it was that drove him to this. Sam is the last person I'd expect to have a gun in the house, especially after what happened at Rosslyn. Didn't he give ANY thought to how it might affect Josh if he saw it? We've GOT to get that thing out of this townhouse. It just doesn't belong here for so many reasons.

Toby looked over at Sam on the couch. He hadn't moved. His arms were straight at his side and Toby wondered if he was asleep.

I'm sure Sam would never turn a gun on himself. Then again, I would have bet a year's salary Sam would never have brought such a weapon into his home in the first place.

"Toby?"

He set the crossword puzzle book and pen on the table and walked over to the couch at the sound of Sam's voice.

"You need something?" he asked.

"It's getting worse. Will you get my medicine?" Sam asked.

"Sure I will. Tell me where."

"Our bathroom upstairs. Medicine cabinet, there's a blue zippered pouch. Bring it please. And from the linen closet, would you get me a sheet?"

"Do you want a blanket?"

"Just a sheet."

Toby went upstairs to get what Sam had asked for. He slowed when he walked into their bedroom. He'd only been inside it once before, and that was when Josh had given him a tour of their home when they first came out to him. It felt strange for him to be alone in this most intimate room, but it wasn't a bad feeling. In an odd way it felt familiar and comfortable to know Sam and Josh shared this room as a married couple, a reaction that surely would have been different six months ago.

The bed was unmade and rumpled; the comforter mostly on the floor, sheets untucked and askew, pillows piled the way pillows aren't usually piled on a bed. A pair of blue pajamas was tossed casually onto the corner chair. He tried not to think about what had gone on there and went into the bathroom.

He easily found the blue zippered pouch and went back downstairs. Sam stood slouched by the couch.

"Ok, what do you want out of here?" Toby asked. "What are you doing?"

"I'm gonna be sick."

"Come on."

Toby took Sam by the arm, put his other hand behind his back, then pulled and pushed him toward the bathroom. The last thing he wanted to do was clean vomit out of the carpet. He shoved the bathroom door open with his foot and just as they got inside Sam went down on his knees and grabbed the sides of the toilet bowl. His head lurched forward and he vomited, over and over until he heaved in jerky spasms and there was nothing left to expel. Toby kept his hand on Sam's back and flushed the commode for him after each violent surge. He probably didn't realize it, but he rubbed small circles on Sam's back in an attempt to bring him some kind of comfort.

When Sam was spent, he sat on the floor and hung his head in exhaustion. Toby grabbed a towel, wet one end of it under the faucet, and kneeled beside him.

"Look up here, " he said.

Sam slowly raised his head. Toby used the wet end of the towel and dabbed at the vomit on Sam's face that had splattered back up on him after it hit the water in the toilet bowl. He also wiped at a few spots on Sam's shirt. When he was finished he tossed the towel into the sink. Sam was pale and Toby hoped he wouldn't pass out.

"Can you get up?" Toby asked.

In response, Sam leaned over and rested against Toby. His head and shoulder were dead weight and after a moment, he started to fall over. Toby encircled his arms around Sam and caught him.

"Let's get you back on the couch," he said. "You're gonna be flat on the floor before you know it."

"Can I just sit here a minute? Please? Just let me lean against you . . . "

Toby let him. But he knew if Sam stayed there too long it would be harder for him to get up and move.

"Come on, Sam. Try and get up now," he said.

Sam struggled to his feet and stood with his hands flat on the counter-top around the sink.

"I need to lay down again," he said. "And I need an Imitrex."

"Yeah, ok," Toby replied. "The bag's on the coffee table."

"Help me in there?" Sam was wobbly and his voice quivered when he spoke.

Toby grew more and more worried about him. "Hold onto me, kiddo."

Toby supported Sam and walked him back to the couch. He held onto Sam's arm until he was lying down, then he covered him with the sheet and went into the kitchen. There, he got a fresh bag of ice for the back of Sam's neck and a hot, wet cloth for his forehead. He poured some Coke into a glass then returned to the living room and set the glass onto a coaster. He opened the zippered pouch and brought out several bottles of pills.

"Which one, Sam? There's a few here."

"Im . . . trex. Fifty mill . . . grams. Gimme two." Sam's voice was slurred.

Toby read the directions on the bottle. "It says take one now and another one in two hours."

"I always . . . start with . . . two."

"Not on my watch you don't." Toby shook one tablet into his hand. "Open your mouth."

Sam did and Toby dropped it in. "Raise your head a little and drink this Coke." Sam lifted his head just barely off the couch and opened his mouth. Toby held the glass to his lips and tipped it enough that Sam got a sip and swallowed the pill, then laid his head back down. Toby put the damp cloth on Sam's forehead, pulled the sheet up around his neck and tucked him in.

"Try to get some sleep now, ok?" he said when Sam had been ministered to.

"Toby . . . where's Josh? When . . . gonna come . . . home?"

Toby scratched at his beard. "I don't know, Angel. I really don't know."

********

Josh threw back another shot and set the glass down hard on the bar. It clinked against an empty beer bottle, which tipped over and hit the one next to it, then both fell against the bottle of Jack Daniels before they toppled to the bar's surface. One rolled toward the edge and Josh reached to grab it.

His reaction time was compromised and his hand caught air instead; the bottle went over the edge.

It landed in the large, black hand of Crawdad. He scooped it up and set it in the bin under the bar, then started to clear the counter of the rest of the debris in front of Josh . . . empty beer bottles, used shot glasses, wadded up napkins, and peanut shells.

:How you doin', Mr. Lyman?" he asked good-naturedly.

"You too," Josh responded.

"You `bout done with this?" Crawdad wrapped his fingers around the neck of the Jack Daniels bottle.

"S'empty?"

Crawdad swished the remaining liquor around. "Almost. Just a swig left."

Josh took the bottle from him. "Not done then."

"You sure, Mr. Lyman? T'ween Jack and Coors, seems like maybe you `bout quenched that thirst of yours by now."

Josh laughed.

"Maybe, but I'll tell ya what, Crawdad," Josh slurred. "I think I . . .I think I oughta sit down for a few . . . uh . . . a few . . ." Josh released a small belch. " . . . s'cuse me. . . minutes."

"Mr. Lyman, you been sittin' down for the last hour and some more. Can't you feel that bar stool gettin' hard under your ass?"

Josh laughed again. "My ass is numb. I don't feel nothin'!"

Crawdad chuckled and shook his head. "I hear that."

"Hit me again, my friend," Josh said slowly. He measured each word and they were still slurred.

Crawdad wiped away fresh stray peanut hulls as Josh dropped them on the bar.

"How `bout if I call somebody to come pick you up and take you home, young man? I could call your friend."

"I don't have any friends," Josh said morosely.

"Aww shee-ut. You got more friends than I got peanuts. Lemme call Mr. Seaborn. He come and get ya."

"Mr. Seaborn, Mr. Seaborn, Mr. Seaborn. Now THERE'S a friend. You wanna know how good a friend Mr. Seaborn is to me, Crawdad?" Josh grinned when he talked about Sam. "Me and Sam are so close, we . . ."

"Why don't I get you a cup of coffee?" Crawdad interrupted. He pulled the Jack Daniels bottle from Josh's hand with no problem. "You want it black? You gettin' it black."

"Don't want coffee. I want Mr. Seaborn."

Crawdad reached across the bar and turned Josh sideways on the stool so he faced him straight ahead and not the other bar patrons.

"How `bout ya give me that phone number and I call him to come get ya, ok?" he asked.

Josh reached for a peanut and tipped the bowl over. Peanuts spilled onto the bar where Crawdad had just cleaned. Josh laughed.

"Call who about what?" he questioned.

"Lemme call Mr. Seaborn to come get ya. And how `bout ya keep your voice down to a roar, ok?"

"I like to say it out loud. I want Mr. Seaborn!"

"Mr. Lyman, listen to me. Ya don't wanna be sayin' that out loud, sir. Please give me a phone number. I don't wanna have to get my boy to take you in the back."

Josh cocked his head to the side and tried to look cynical, but the liquor and the beer had caught up with him and he just looked goofy.

"What boy, where back?" he managed to get out.

"My son. Over there." Crawdad motioned to the man behind the cash register. He stood no less than six foot two and weighed two twenty, all muscle. He was no boy.

"The back room is our office and my boy'll lock ya in there before you say something you wish you hadn't in the mornin'. Now would ya please hush up and give me a phone number, sir?"

Josh closed his eyes, swayed to the left and nearly fell off the bar stool, but caught himself when he jerked awake.

"Six . . . eight . . . seven . . . "

Toby grabbed the phone before the end of the first ring. "Hello?"

"Who's this?"

"Who do you want?" Toby asked

"I can't say."

"This is the Lyman residence," said Toby.

"Ok, this is Crawdad, a friend of Mr. Lyman. I'm tryin' to find Mr. Seaborn."

"Crawdad! Toby Ziegler. You know me. I come in with the guys. The beard. I have the beard."

"I know ya, Mr. Ziegler. You play a mean game of pool," Crawdad replied.

"That's me. Is Josh with you?"

"Well, yes sir, Mr. Ziegler, let me tell ya, I've got Mr. Lyman down here and he drunk as a skunk and startin' to get mouthy. It's time somebody come and get him. I thought maybe Mr. Seaborn since they be good friends and all."

"Yeah, ok. Look, Crawdad, Mr. Seaborn can't come but I'll be right there, ok? Can you keep him quiet for ten minutes?"

"I do my best, sir. But you know how he gets."

"That I do. I'm on my way."

After they hung up, Toby walked over to the couch. "Sam? You asleep?"

"Hmmmm?"

"I'm going to get Josh. I thought you'd wanna know."

Sam lifted the warm cloth off his forehead and opened his eyes. "You found Josh?"

"Crawdad did. He's had a few beers down the street and I'm gonna go pick him up. You stay put and I'll be right back," said Toby.

"I wanna go too." Sam started to sit up, then fell back down onto the couch.

"I don't think so. Just be still and I'll be right back. Do you need anything before I go?"

"No. Just go. Get Josh."

"Let me get this hot again." Toby picked up the cloth and went into the kitchen. He ran it under water so hot steam rose and filled his nostrils. Then he squeezed out the excess water and went back into the living room.

"This might be a little hot," Toby said as he folded it lengthwise.

"I like it hot."

Toby gently laid the cloth on Sam's forehead and over his eyes. Sam flinched and pushed his head into the couch cushion then relaxed when he became accustomed to the temperature.

"Go get Josh," he repeated.

"Be right back." Toby touched Sam's cheek with the back of his hand, turned out the small lamp, and left to collect Sam's drunken husband and bring him home.

It was a short drive to Crawdad's, just 14 blocks. Toby wondered what compelled Josh to walk the distance when he got upset. He'd been around Josh before when he'd had too much to drink and he was almost always a happy drunk. He hoped that was the case tonight. Regardless, he wouldn't leave the bar without him.

He parked the car and still had to walk a block-and-a-half. It was Saturday night and Crawdad's was hopping. Toby could hear the music down the street and saw people spill out onto the sidewalk. He wondered just how mouthy Josh had been, what he'd said, and who had heard him.

He snaked his way through the crowd and over to the end of the bar where Josh was draped partially on the stool and partially on the bar itself. He'd passed his limit and was either asleep or passed out. Crawdad had chosen not to move him.

"Hey man," Toby said when he saw Crawdad. "That's it, huh?" He gestured toward Josh.

Crawdad laughed heartily. "That be it. He be aaallll yours."

"Now I know why I don't get down here that often my friend. It's the consolation prizes."

Crawdad laughed again. "That boy need to be put to bed and pronto or he gonna fall flat on the floor and get hurt. My insurance ain't that good. Take `em."

"Yeah, ok." Toby looked at Josh. How in the hell am I gonna `take him?' he wondered. I've gotta walk him a block-and-a-half because I sure can't leave him alone on the street corner while I get the car.

"Has he settled up, Crawdad?" he asked.

"No, sir, but I ain't worried. He always pay."

"I'll cover him. How much?" Toby pulled his own wallet out of his back pocket.

Crawdad went to the cash register and told his son to add up Josh's tab. When it was done, he brought the bill and handed it to Toby.

"I'll need that as a receipt so when Mr. Saturday Night wakes up I can get my money back," Toby said. He handed several bills to Crawdad and included a fifty dollar tip.

"You ready to go, cowboy?" he asked Josh.

"Locked and loaded!" Josh laughed.

"You can say that again." Then as an afterthought. "But don't." He was too late.

"Locked and loaded!" Josh said again, and smiled because he thought he was so clever.

Toby got Josh off the barstool and to the door. "Thanks for calling, Crawdad! I appreciate it."

Crawdad waved and chuckled as he served a beer to another customer.

Toby and Josh pushed past a group of partiers who wanted to come in. Josh got caught up in the swell of bodies for a minute and Toby lost him.

"Shit!" he mumbled, and went back to find him. When he did, he got a firm grip on his arm and hustled him outside.

He breathed in fresh air once they left the bar and away from the smoke that drifted out of Crawdad's. The band was still loud and people overflowed onto the sidewalk. Toby tightened his grip on Josh and started to walk toward his car.

Josh was actually kind of loose and floppy and very cooperative. Toby had no trouble as he eased him into the car and buckled his seat belt. He closed the car door, went around to the driver's side, and got in.

They rode in silence as Toby drove past the townhouse. Josh didn't even notice they didn't stop at home.

"Are you gonna be able to walk inside by yourself?" Toby asked. "I don't want you to hang all over me."

"Are we home?"

"No, but when we GET home, can you stand up and walk?" Toby repeated.

"Suuuuure," Josh slurred. "Allbymyself. Youknowthosepizzasweate?"

"Are you sick?"

"Maybe"

"Open the door!"

Toby pulled over to the side and Josh managed to get the door open just in time to lean out and vomit against the curb. Toby rolled down his window and looked out while Josh threw up.

"There's some, uh, napkins in the glove compartment," Toby said when Josh was finished. "Wipe your face."

Josh pulled out some napkins and cleaned his face and the front of his shirt.

This is un-fucking-believable, Toby thought. I have to half-carry both Sam and Josh around tonight and they both have to throw up right in front of me. This is NOT the way I'd planned to spend my Saturday night. How do I get myself into these things? Why didn't I just stay home tonight? This reminds me of Hell Week in college.

"You ready to go?" Toby asked.

Josh nodded, laid his head back against the seat, and closed his eyes.

"You ok?"

Josh nodded.

Toby drove a few blocks to the nearest McDonald's. There were two cars in front of him as he pulled into the drive-thru lane.

Toby glanced at him. "I can't believe you," he said. "Sam is literally worried sick about you and you go out and get drunk."

"He's sick?"

"Yes. He's got a migraine. You're a real asshole, Josh, you know that? Something happens that scares you and you go out and get drunk."

Toby moved the car forward to the speaker. "Two large coffees, black!" he hollered into the abyss, and drove to the next window.

"I'm not drunk," Josh muttered.

"What?" Toby paid the teenage girl and took the two coffees.

Josh sat up straight, opened his eyes, and took one of the cups from Toby. "I drank some, but I'm not drunk." Josh repeated.

"You're faking?"

Josh blew on his coffee. "Not so much faking as hiding."

"Hiding from Sam?" Toby drank his coffee as the steam rose from the cup.

"Not so much hiding from Sam as hiding from what he said."

Toby took a left out of McDonald's and headed toward the townhouse.

"Sam had no intention of using that gun on himself, Josh."

"Toby, I said I'm not drunk, but I meant I'm not REAL drunk. I'm still kinda drunk and I don't understand why Sam would say such a thing."

"If you'd hung around long enough, you'd have heard Sam's explanation yourself."

Josh shook his head and drained his cup. "You shoulda got more."

"More what?" Toby was lucky to hit all green lights.

"You shoulda got more coffee. I need to sober up some more before I go in and face Sam."

"You said you weren't drunk."

"I'm kinda drunk."

Toby pulled into a parking spot in front of the townhouse, turned off the ignition, and pulled out the keys. "Are you gonna fall apart in there, Josh? I was serious when I said Sam is worried sick about you, God knows why. Try to think about him. He's had a rough day."

"He told you about today?" Josh was surprised. He knew how hard it had been for Sam to tell HIM what had happened, and they were married. For him to just tell Toby caught Josh off-guard. He turned in his seat and faced Toby.

"I can't believe Sam told you Jack sexually abused him for ten years," he said.

Toby dropped the keys and they rattled to the floor. He tightened his fist around the steering wheel.

"He didn't tell you, did he?" Josh wished he could take back the last thirty seconds.

"Not in so many words."

"Oh, shit."

"I knew something like that, but not . . . THAT! Are you telling me . . . Josh, are telling me that Sam's brother . . . for ten years? Our Sam?"

Josh nodded and picked up Toby's keys. "Our Sam."

"I'll kill the son-of-a-bitch myself," Toby said between clenched teeth. "When are you two going to California?"

"Toby, you're not going with us to California."

"Why not?"

"Because you'll try to kill Jack Seaborn and screw it up and either get yourself killed or in prison, and I really don't wanna be involved in either."

The two men were silent again. Toby finished his coffee and crushed the cup in his hand. He rubbed his forehead.

"How old was he?" Toby asked.

"When?"

"How old was he when Jack . . . whatever Jack did?"

Josh hesitated. "Toby, I really don't think it's my place to tell you this."

"You already did. Do you wanna make Sam go through it again? `Cause I'm gonna find out."

"About four until he was fourteen."

"I'll kill the son-of-a-bitch."

"Stand in line."

"Josh, explain this to me. Why in the hell does Sam wanna see his family after this . . . this crime his brother committed and since he and his Dad don't have much of a relationship. Is he that close to the rest of them?

"They're not close. Then there's his Mom. I don't know their situation though."

"How can Sam be so open and giving of himself in the West Wing but we . . . well, I . . . don't know anything about him? About the REAL him? I never would have guessed he'd been . . . I'll kill the son-of- a-bitch."

"You can't let him know you know, Toby."

"But I DO know, and I can't undo that. Besides, he knows I know something."

"I broke a confidence."

"That's your problem. I didn't break anything. I can't work with Sam and dance around what happened and you can't expect me to."

"Well not tonight, ok?"

Toby opened the car door. "Tonight all that boy's gonna get is some . . . I'm gonna take care of Sam tonight." He got out of the car and slammed the door behind him.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 63

Josh sat in the car and watched Toby go up the steps. At the top Toby turned around and came back to Josh's side of the car and opened the door.

"I can't figure you out tonight, Josh. Are you drunk or are you sober? Can you walk across the sidewalk and up the stairs or do you need some help?"

Josh swung his feet onto the pavement. "Let me get my bearings." He stood up and steadied himself against the car door before he took a step. "Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Why are you so pissed with me?" he asked.

"Who said I'm pissed with you?"

"Well, you've called me an asshole and a drunk and son-of-a-bitch."

"You ARE drunk and I called Jack a son-of-a-bitch . . . not you."

"Yeah, but the asshole thing."

"Don't worry about it. Come on, see if you can walk."

Josh hesitantly let go of the car and staggered a little. Toby caught him by the elbow.

"Whoa! Steady there, slugger," he said. "Here, put your arm around my neck."

Toby didn't know if Josh drifted in and out of his drunken state because of his sensitive system, or if it was convenient when he had to face the uncomfortable reality. For a while he sounded somewhat coherent, but now he seemed fuzzy again.

Toby helped an unsteady Josh inside.

"Why's it dark in here?" Josh asked when Toby closed the door behind them. "Is everybody in bed?"

"I told you Sam has a migraine. He's on the couch so keep your voice down. I'm gonna make some more coffee. Come over here and sit down."

Toby led Josh to a recliner near the couch and made sure he was all the way seated before he let go of him. He turned on the antique lamp in the bay window then walked back over and looked at Sam. His eyes were closed and his forearm was across his forehead. Toby couldn't tell if he was asleep or not. He lightly touched the cloth on his face; it was cold. He gently lifted Sam's arm and pulled the cloth out. His arm was heavy.

Toby gently lowered Sam's arm back across his forehead and took the cloth with him into the kitchen. He knew his way around well enough so that he was able to have the coffee ready in a matter of minutes. He lusted after their Krups coffee maker every time he made coffee in their home and swore he was going to replace his old Mr. Coffee the next day.

Toby got two ceramic mugs out of the cabinet; one said `World's Greatest Lover' and the other was an official White House mug. He poured coffee in both, black, and returned to the living room. Neither Josh nor Sam had moved. Toby set the `World's Greatest Lover' mug on a coaster on the end table near Josh, and his own mug on a magazine on the same table as he lowered himself into an easy chair. They sat in the soft glow of the lamplight from the dining room table and the kitchen, sipped their coffee, and watched Sam sleep.

"When did he get sick?" Josh asked.

"Soon after you left. He came out of the bathroom and it hit him like a bolt of lightning. He went a while with just ice then needed a hot cloth over his eyes and finally asked for meds," replied Toby.

"Did he throw up? He throws up when he's really sick."

"Yeah."

"And you took care of him?"

"Yeah."

Josh looked over at Toby; he held his mug in both hands and sipped it. Toby looked comfortable in their home, like he belonged there and had been a part of their life forever. He was glad Toby was here tonight.

"Thank you," he said.

"What?"

"Thank you for being here . . . and for, you know . . . taking care of Sam when I was out being an asshole."

"Don't worry about it. I didn't do it for you. I did it for Sam."

"I'm just saying . . ."

"Josh?" Sam stirred on the couch.

Josh stood up too quickly and his head spun. He sat back down and leaned across the arm of the chair and put his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"I'm right here, Sammy. Right here beside you."

Sam half-propped on his elbow. He was pale and his hair was damp and stuck to his forehead.

"Where'd you go, Josh? You just left me."

Josh swallowed hard. Dammit, that's exactly what I did. I'm not gonna make any excuses. I just walked out.

"I'm sorry, Sam. I shouldn't have done that. I'm so very sorry."

"Where'd you go?" Sam's voice was weak.

"Crawdad's. I walked down there and had a few beers."

"Is Toby still here?"

"Yeah, he's sitting right here," Josh replied.

"Will you come sit here on the couch, Josh? I wanna see you."

Josh glanced at Toby. It was only a couple of steps, but he didn't want Sam to know how much he'd had to drink. He held onto the arm of the chair and dropped onto the couch next to Sam. The feel of Sam's body made him wish he'd sat with him when he first came home. They each reached for the other's hand at the same time. Josh brought Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it.

"I'm sorry you've got a headache, baby. Can I fix it?" Josh asked.

Sam barely shook his head, and cringed when he did. "Why'd you go drink? Why'd you leave?"

He's not gonna let it go, Josh thought. He wants an answer.

"Because you scared me. When you said you had that gun for yourself . . . God, Sam, I just couldn't listen to what you might say next." He squeezed Sam's hand.

"I wouldn't have." Sam's voice began to fade. "I would never use a gun on myself, Josh, or anybody. I swear."

"I love you, Angel."

"Josh, I need a shot."

"Your headache's gotten really bad," said Josh, his voice still somewhat slurred. He barely touched the side of Sam's face, saw him flinch, and pulled away.

"Josh, you wanna move over while I do this?" Toby said.

"I'll do it." Josh started to reach for Sam's medication on the table next to him. "I always do it."

Toby put his hand on Josh's arm to stop him. "You're drunk, Josh. You're in no condition . . ."

"I'm not drunk."

"You're residually drunk. You've still got too much alcohol in you to handle a hypodermic needle, much less inject it into someone. Go get us some more coffee." Then to Sam in a gentler voice, "Sam, do you want some Coke?"

Toby had learned from experience that the only thing Sam would drink when he had a full-blown migraine was a regular Coke, tepid, no ice, and if it had just started to go flat, that was ok too. Migraines affected everyone differently and some people couldn't tolerate caffeine during a severe headache. But Sam needed it.

He nodded his head just enough for Toby to see that he wanted some Coke. Toby looked up at Josh. "Coffee for us and Coke for Sam. Please?"

"Toby, you don't have to do this," Josh stated. "You don't even have to stay. I can handle things."

Toby glowered at Josh. "While you were out getting drunk, Sam asked me to stay with him. He said `Don't leave me'. Did you hear me, Josh? Sam said, `Don't leave me'. People don't make a habit of asking me to hang around unless it's absolutely necessary, Josh. I'm not on the A-list. So thanks for excusing me, but nothing could make me leave this boy's side tonight. Now would you get some coffee and a Coke for Sam?"

Josh wandered into the kitchen. This isn't right, he thought. I'm supposed to take care of Sam when he's sick, not Toby. I get his ice pack and cover him with a sheet and take his shoes off and turn out the lights then cover him with a quilt when he gets the chills and give him his injection. I'm not sent out of the room to get drinks.

But Toby HAD sent him out the room and was doing what Josh always did. He found it disconcerting and wished he hadn't gone to Crawdad's to drink.

Toby sat on the coffee table near Sam. "Is it any better at all?" he asked.

"Worse. Where's Josh?"

"He went to get your Coke and some coffee for him and me," Toby replied.

"Ok."

"I need to take this sheet off," Toby said as he pulled the sheet away and put it on the back of the couch. "You take this in the thigh, right?"

"Uh huh."

"Do you wanna . . ." Toby looked at Sam's fly and the zipper on his jeans. He had to get Sam's pants down to get to his thigh.

Sam didn't respond. He put his arm across his forehead again. His face was pale, his left eye drooped, and the corner of his lip had begun to sag. Toby couldn't even imagine the pain Sam suffered.

The hell with propriety. Toby unfastened the fly and pulled the zipper down. He grasped the top of Sam's jeans and started to pull them down. "Lift up a little, Sam," he said. "I need to get to your leg."

"On the inside," Josh said. He stood behind Toby. "It goes into his muscle so it doesn't really matter where. Wipe it with alcohol first."

Toby was grateful Sam had on underwear. He opened an alcohol swab and rubbed it on the inside of Sam's thigh.

Josh told Toby what to do next. He found it so hard not to do it himself, but each time he swayed just a little he knew he didn't need to have a needle in his hand.

At Josh's instructions, Toby took the StatDose Pen out of the plastic case and could tell from the way the plunger was turned in the cartridge that it had been pre-loaded and the syringe was ready to be fired. Josh told him to press the StatDose Pen against Sam's thigh and when he did, the safety catch released.

Toby firmly pushed the blue button on the end of the pen and the needle snapped into Sam's thigh. Sam didn't flinch.

"Hold it there for ten seconds to make sure all the medicine empties into Sam's leg," Josh explained. "Then pull it out and reverse what you just did and discard the used needed back into the cartridge. Get a fresh alcohol swab and wipe his leg again."

Josh watched every move. This was the first time Toby had injected Sam and he'd done it perfectly. Josh watched as Toby pulled Sam's jeans back up, left them unfastened and open, and covered him again with the sheet. Exactly what HE would have done.

"Thanks for doing that," he said. "I don't believe I could have tonight."

Toby turned and took the coffee mug Josh held out to him. "Yeah, well . . . . "He gets one of those rapid release Imitrex tablets now," Josh continued. "It's a hundred milligrams and just explodes as soon at it hits Sam's stomach and starts to work. And he'll need a Compazine. All this stuff can make him puke."

"There's nothing left in his stomach. He'll just have dry heaves," Toby remarked.

"Yeah, and the acid would burn his esophagus like a motherfucker. That's why I wanna make sure he gets the Compazine."

"Does this Imitrex help?" Toby reached for the medicine bottles and began to look for the ones he needed.

"We never know," Josh replied. "Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. "Lemme do this, Toby. I've been drinking coffee . . . I've sobered up some."

Toby set the bottles down and moved away from Sam. "No problem. Anything for Sam." He took a big drink of coffee. "How long will a headache like this last?"

"Could be gone by morning, could go on for five days. Looks like you guys caught it pretty quick." Josh took Toby's place on the coffee table.

"Yeah."

Sam started to raise his head but cried out in pain. Josh had his hands on him immediately. He gently lifted Sam's head and supported it while he slipped the two pills in Sam's mouth. Then he held the glass up for him as Sam swallowed the Coke. A trickle of liquid seeped out and ran down Sam's chin. Josh was there with a kiss and licked the Coke from his face. He tilted Sam's head back a little to help the pills go down easier, then cradled Sam's head against his own chest.

"Josh, make it stop," he barely got out.

"I would if I could, my little Bubele. You know that. What's your pain level?"

"Nine-and-three-quarters."

"Jesus. Do you want me to hold you until you go to sleep?"

"No." Sam tried to whisper but it came out as a muted moan instead. "Just stay with me, ok?"

"You know I will," Josh answered.

"You won't leave me again?"

"I'm gonna stay right here with you till this headache is gone. I'm gonna take care of you."

"It . . . the whole side of my face . . . down to my jaw . . . pierces my jaw . . . and my eye . . . I can't see . . . stay close . . . is Toby here? I want Toby here, too."

"I'm here, Sam. I'm not going anywhere. Just try to sleep. Josh and I won't go anywhere . . . I promise." Toby's words were soft and warm and in the tsunami that crashed through Sam's head, that familiar voice inexplicably brought him solace.

"Ok." Sam's lips moved but the word didn't come out. He closed his eyes and fell into that black hole of excruciating pain that only migraine sufferers experience and can never fully explain to anybody else unless they've had a full-blown one themselves.

Josh and Toby moved to the dining room table to leave Sam alone and hope he slept. He had closed his eyes again and lay still. Josh wished there was something he could do for Sam, but he knew the best thing for him at this point was to just let him lay quietly in the dark and hope the medication worked. Sam would call out for Josh if he needed anything.

He and Toby spoke in hushed tones and occasionally glanced over at Sam. They talked about work, they talked about golf, they talked about Josh's Mother, they talked the Mets, they talked about the President, they talked about the weather, and they talked about Crawdad and Josh swore this was the first he'd heard about his son. A couple of hours passed, then Josh had to talk about Sam.

"My poor baby. He needs me so badly and there's nothing I can do for him."

"Don't be so hard on yourself." Toby rolled his coffee mug between his hands. "He knows you're here, Josh. That's enough. Don't get into a thing over it."

"I'm not in a thing. I'm empathetic. You want some more coffee?" Josh offered.

Toby handed his mug over. "Sure. Hot, black, and to the brim."

Josh went into the kitchen, rinsed out the mugs, and set them on the counter. He put his hands on the edge and squatted down to stretch the stiffness out of his legs. He bounced on them while they were bent, and it felt good to move around a little. Today has been shit, he thought. Long and shitty. I can't believe how much has happened today.

"You know what?"

He turned, startled, to find Toby in the kitchen with him. Josh stood and bent at the waist and stretched.

"What?" He had hoped for a few minutes alone to collect his thoughts.

"We need to get that gun out of here. Tonight," said Toby.

"Yeah, I know. Do you have any suggestions, `cause I sure as hell don't." Josh straightened, stretched, and started a fresh pot of coffee.

"I thought maybe Simon. He dealt with that Hayes character before and he'd know what to do with it."

"I thought of him too, but I'm not crazy about telling him the circumstances of why we have a gun and why we need to get rid of it," Josh said, his voice tired and a bit sad.

"You might not have to explain as much as you think. Simon's cool."

"He's cool, but he'll have to know the background on this gun."

"Well, it can't stay in your wine pantry and it's sure as hell not going home with me."

"Couldn't it for a while? Just until I get a hold of Simon?" Josh asked.

"I won't allow Murder, Inc. into my home, Josh. I lived with it before, but never again. Not for you, not for Sam." Toby's voice was barely above a whisper, but he was emphatic.

"How about Suicide, Inc.? Does that make a difference? Would you do THAT for Sam?"

"Dammit, Josh! If you weren't already a politician I'd strongly recommend you become one. You're the most manipulative . . ."

"Josh?"

Toby and Josh both turned, startled to see Sam at the kitchen door. He was wet with sweat and his t-shirt clung to his damp body. His unfastened jeans were low-slung on his hips and he stood with his feet planted apart to keep his balance.

"It hurts to lay down," he explained. Just to speak the words was an effort for Sam. "I need to go outside."

Josh went to him. "You're not going outside. Are you hot?"

Sam nodded. "I think so. Maybe. I don't know."

"He's irrational," Josh muttered to Toby. Then to Sam, "How about if we go upstairs?"

"It hurts!" And the tears came. "Lemme go outside!"

Josh felt a tug in his heart. He always felt helpless when Sam had a migraine and especially, when it got to this point. He knew he did all he could and all Sam asked of him but still, it never seemed like enough. He couldn't take away the hurt in Sam's red, watery eyes that never fully opened and seemed painful just to close. He couldn't stop the throbbing or the piercing or the pulsating or the binding or the scorching fire that came and seemed to never go away.

Sometimes Josh cried along with Sam; mostly he just watched as the pain took on a life of its own and swallowed Sam whole, changing him from a man of strength into a man possessed, then wait with him until the storm had passed and his Sam came back to life.

Josh wet a cloth with cool water. He spoke in a calm, even voice to soothe Sam and not get him any more agitated than he already was.

"Just lean against the counter here and let me wash your face. That'll help a little then we'll go upstairs."

"No! I wanna get outta here! My head's gonna blow up if I don't get outta here!" Sam slammed his fist against the cupboard.

"Sam, calm down sweetheart. You're not gonna blow up. I'll open a window so you can get some fresh air, but we're not going outside." He started to put the cloth against Sam's face.

Sam pushed Josh's arm away, crumpled to the floor, and sat cross- legged in a heap. He held his head in his hands and began to rock back and forth.

"It hurts . . . it hurts . . . it hurts . . . " he mumbled in a barely audible chant.

Josh was afraid Sam was about to become manic as he sometimes did during an episode. If the pain got unbearable, Sam lost all rationale, would get out of control, and have to be hospitalized. Josh wanted to avoid that if at all possible.

Toby took a seat and watched. Things were out of his league now. He had no idea how to deal with Sam at this point and was grateful Josh had sobered up and could take care of him.

"Sammy-Angel, this will make you feel better. Just relax."

Josh gently ran the cool, damp cloth over Sam's face and neck. Sam hung his head forward so Josh could get to the back of his neck, then rolled his head to both sides and to the back so Josh could tend to him.

"Now lay your head over to the side here."

Sam complied and leaned against the kitchen counter. He leaned against the cabinet with his face against the wood. His face was drawn and tears streamed down his cheeks.

"Does it feel any better?" Josh asked.

To answer, Sam pushed himself over and slammed his head against the kitchen floor. It hit with a sickening thud that caused Toby to flinch and started to get up. Josh motioned for Toby to stay in his seat. Sam hit his head on the floor again. And again.

And yet again.

Toby couldn't watch the sight before him. "Are you just gonna let him do that?" he asked Josh with disbelief.

Josh nodded. He winced each time Sam's head pounded against the tile.

"My God, Josh, are you out of your mind? Stop him or I will!"

Josh put his hand out so Toby would stay seated.

"Let him do it for a couple of minutes. It's a weird phenomenon but this helps him beat the pain out of his head. Or so his psyche tells him."

Thud.

Sam cracked his head against the hard surface of the floor.

"This is insane!" Toby said as he stood up. "I'm outta here!"

"You told him you'd stay."

Thud.

Toby looked at Sam then turned away. "Stop him."

"I know what I'm doing," Josh replied.

Toby spun back around. "Stop him, dammit!"

Josh went to his knees next to Sam. He pulled him up by the shoulders and into his embrace. "No!" Sam fought. "No!"

"Stop it, Sam! You've gotta go back to bed."

"It hurts! Make it stop!"

A bubble of blood oozed from Sam's nose and into his mouth. Josh wiped it away with the back of his hand. Sam tried to pull out of Josh's grasp to fling himself on the floor again, but Josh tightened his grip on him.

"Stop it!" Josh admonished. "Enough!"

Sam was soaked with sweat and his eyes were glassy and unfocused. He kicked his legs out and nearly pushed a chair over. His sudden strength and outburst startled Toby, but Josh kept a tight grip on him and managed to restrain Sam's arms behind his back. Sam struggled to get free and grew more frustrated by the second.

"Lemme go!" he cried. "I wanna go home!"

Josh pushed himself so his back was against the oven door, his legs outstretched, Sam between his legs, his back against Josh's chest. Josh had let go of Sam's hands and now had his arms wrapped around Sam's body to keep him from beating his head against the floor.

Sam sobbed from the crushing pain in his skull and his body shook as he wept. "It hurts, Josh!" He continued to kick his legs, but his struggles had weakened and it was more a pathetic gesture than a real attempt to get away.

Josh remained calm and continued to speak to Sam, first in reprimands then in tones to soothe him as he tried to placate him into submission. More blood trickled out his nose and it spread out in a circle on Sam's t-shirt.

"Relax, baby," he murmured. "Lay back against me and close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths. Come on, I'll do it with you."

Josh slid one hand up Sam's shirt and rested it on his bare stomach. "Slow, deep breaths from the abdomen, "he said softly. "Deep, cleansing breaths to push your headache outta there. Slowly."

Sam leaned back, nestled his head into Josh's neck, and went limp. His tears subsided into sniffles and occasional jerks to catch his breath

Josh pressed his lips against Sam's ear as he spoke. "That's it . . . easy . . . easy . . ."

Sam's labored breathing gradually slowed.

"Let's go upstairs, honey," Josh said. "I'm gonna put you to bed for the night so you can get some restful sleep. Will you do that for me?"

Sam nodded against Josh and turned into him. He draped his arms over Josh's shoulders and slid further down into his lap. Josh pulled his hand from under Sam's shirt.

Toby wanted to look away, felt he SHOULD look away, but the dynamic between these two men continued to fascinate him. He had never known a couple more in love, more devoted to each other than Sam and Josh, and he couldn't help but wonder if he would ever find that kind of happiness in his own life. Sometimes he felt like a voyeur when he watched these two during their intimate moments, but they weren't self-conscious and it came so natural for them, so he had long since given up pretending their passion didn't exist.

"We're going upstairs now, Sam," Josh said. "I don't want you to go to sleep here on the floor." Then to Toby, "You wanna help me get him on his feet?"

Toby pulled Sam up and held him steady while Josh stood. Sam listed over and leaned on Toby while Josh got up. As soon as Josh was up, he put Sam's arm around his neck and pulled him against him.

"Toby, grab some Coke and come on upstairs, will you?" Josh said over his shoulder as he started to walk with Sam. "He'll sleep better in our bed."

Toby got a fresh glass and the Coke that sat on the counter.

"And bring his meds bag!" Josh called softly as he helped Sam up the stairs.

Toby turned out the kitchen light, gathered what was needed from the coffee table, turned out the antique lamp, and followed Sam and Josh upstairs. In the bedroom, he found Sam on the side of the bed. Josh had just pulled Sam's jeans off and dropped them on the floor.

Like before, Toby just stood off to the side and watched, Coke in one hand, empty glass and blue zippered bag in the other.

"Raise your arms, sugar," Josh said quietly.

Sam did. Josh pulled Sam's t-shirt over his head and dropped it near the jeans so all he wore was a pair of white briefs

"Ok, crawl up here and get in bed," said Josh. "Do you want a pillow?"

Sam nodded.

"Are you still hot?"

Sam nodded.

"I'll be right back."

Josh went into the bathroom and came back with a fresh cool, damp washcloth. He didn't even glance at Toby, but proceeded to care for Sam as if the two of them were alone in their bedroom. He got on the bed and crawled to the middle near Sam. Very gently, he pushed Sam's hair off his forehead then wiped his face and neck with the wet cloth. Twice he leaned down and kissed him ~~ once on the forehead and once very lightly on the lips. Sam didn't kiss back.

Then Josh held Sam's arm out and ran the cloth from his shoulder to the tips of his fingers. He moistened the palm of his hand, then let the cloth glide up the inside of his arm. He did the same on the other side, very slowly and deliberately so Sam could appreciate the care and love that went into each stroke.

Josh returned to the bathroom to re-wet the cloth, and on his way back, he took the blue bag from Toby and asked him to pour some Coke into the glass. Back on the bed, he let the cloth skate over Sam's chest and stomach, over his belly button, and to the top of the waistband on his Calvin Klein. He slipped his hand inside and let the damp cloth lick Sam's penis before he pulled it out and ran down one leg to his foot, washed the other foot, and glided back up the other leg.

"Think you can go to sleep now?" he whispered.

"I need another shot."

Josh looked at his watch. He could have a second injection after two hours, and then no more. Plenty of time had passed. He opened the bag and quickly and deftly gave Sam his second injection of Imitrex on the opposite thigh from where Toby had given him the shot earlier. When he finished he leaned down and kissed the inside of Sam's leg where the needle had punctured his skin.

Josh motioned for the glass of Coke from Toby and held Sam's head as he swallowed another rapid release Imitrex and a Compazine. Then he settled Sam onto the pillow, pulled the sheet up to his neck, and leaned close to his face.

"Baby, it's late and you need to sleep. Toby's gonna stay over because he's concerned about you. Do you want me in bed with you or do you wanna sleep alone?"

Sam's head barely moved, but Josh could make out a nod ~~ Sam wanted to sleep alone.

"Ok, you know this is gonna go away, right?"

No response.

"Well, it is. It always goes away,"

Sam mouthed the word "ok".

"We'll be over here in the chairs. If you need anything, you say my name and I'll be in bed with you in half a second, understand?"

Sam made no movement at all.

"Ok," Josh answered for him. "I love you, Sam.

He kissed Sam on one cheek, then the other, and rolled off the bed. "You want some sweats to sleep in?" he asked Toby.

"Uh, yeah, if you've got a clean pair."

"Do we have a clean pair? Would you expect anything less of Sam? You wanna take a shower or something? And there's a new toothbrush and razor . . . anything you need we've got in the bathroom."

"Yeah, I'll take a quick shower." Toby started for the bathroom.

Josh continued, under his breath. "And when you come out, I've got something to tell you."

Toby turned. "What's that?"

"Uh, it can wait."

"What is it?"

"Just something about Leo. It can wait until after your shower. I want you to be comfortable. It can wait."

Toby glared at Josh and went on into the bathroom. He didn't like the way Josh was too giddy all of a sudden. Something was up and he had a feeling it wasn't good. But a hot shower beckoned him so he shut the door behind him and tried to forget Josh had news.

Josh took a quick shower in the guest room and brushed and flossed the liquor, vomit, and coffee out of his mouth and breath. He hurried back upstairs and pulled out a pair of clean sweat pants and a sweatshirt for himself and the same for Toby. He made up both recliners with sheets, comforters, and pillows and dimmed the corner floor lamp so the room was barely lit. He didn't light candles because he knew any fragrance could worsen Sam's headache.

About that time Toby opened the bathroom door a crack and stuck his arm out.

"Give me something to put on," he said.

Josh smiled and draped a pair of sweats and a pair of socks over Toby's arm. Under different circumstances he might have pushed the door open and gone inside. After a moment's thought, Josh realized he'd never do that. Not for real.

Toby came out of the bathroom and looked at the two chairs Josh had turned into makeshift beds.

"So which one . . .?"

"You're the guest at our slumber party," Josh said with a smirk. "Your choice."

"You know I could leave right now," Toby replied.

"You promised Sam . . ."

"Am I gonna hear that all night? You smart off once more and I'll throw Sam over my shoulder and take him to MY place." Toby dropped into the chair in the corner and pulled a sheet and light blanket over him. "Now what's this about Leo?"

"Sam's asleep," said Josh.

"Good. I hope he stays asleep. My . . . Father . . . had migraines, but they didn't have the medication back then. He'd just disappear into the bedroom for days."

Josh got into the other chair, covered himself, and flipped the light switch on the wall above him. The blinds were closed and there was no moon glow. Josh decided to speak while it was still dark, before his and Toby's eyes adjusted to the other.

"I told Leo about Sam and me," he said in a rush.

Silence.

"I told Leo about Sam and me," he repeated.

Silence.

"I told Leo about Sam and . . ."

"I heard you the first time," Toby interrupted.

"You didn't say . . ."

"What the hell were you thinking?"

"I'm pretty sure he already had an idea. Charlie did."

"CHARLIE knows? Did CJ make an announcement to the fucking press corps while I was at lunch? Josh!"

"It's ok! It's ok! Leo's cool with it," Josh tried to calm Toby. "Don't wake Sam."

"What exactly does `cool with it' mean in your vernacular? If it means he didn't fire your ass, then yes, I guess he's cool with it. If it means he didn't drag you in to see the President, then yes, I guess he's cool with it. If he didn't have a stroke and have to be rushed to George Washington University Hospital then yes, I guess he's cool with it. I, on the other hand, am not so cool with it."

"Why?"

"What did I say to you the night you two . . . did whatever it is . . ."

"Came out."

"Did that, to me?" Toby asked in a huff.

"Verbatim?"

"Josh, this isn't funny."

"It's kinda funny."

"I'm going home."

"You pro . . ."

"If you say I promised I'm gonna come over there and beat the holy crap out of you. Josh, what the hell were you thinking?"

"He knew, Toby! He's known for a long time. I could just never tell him. Then yesterday Charlie said he thought it would be a good idea for me to tell Leo."

Toby leaned his forehead on his hand. "This just gets worse and worse. Look, it's late, early, I don't know what time it is. I don't even wanna think about this or I'LL get a migraine. Can we try and sleep a couple of hours and talk about it tomorrow?"

"Yeah, that was gonna be my suggestion, too. Just . . . it's not that bad, Toby. Try not to worry."

Toby turned over on his side and pulled the covers up around him. "Try not to worry," he mumbled. "The whole White House has gone to hell in a hand basket and he says don't worry. Somebody has to worry. If not me . . . who?"

Sometime later Toby awoke abruptly; acutely aware he wasn't in his own bed. He wasn't uncomfortable; he just knew he was in a strange place. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the room. The sun had started to rise and the earliest morning's light crept through the blinds. The chair next to Toby's was empty, the covers gone. He propped up on one elbow, squinted, and saw what he was looking for.

Wrapped in the covers, Josh stood next to the bed and leaned against the headboard. His arm hung down and he held Sam's hand that lay on the pillow. He watched Sam sleep.

Toby didn't know how long Josh had stood there, but he doubted he had slept at all; he remembered Sam had once told him Josh sat up three days with him when Sam had his worst migraine ever. Toby almost spoke but thought his voice would be an intrusion.

Instead he watched them from across the room and his heart hungered for someone to love as deeply as Sam and Josh loved each other. He wanted to call Julianna when he got home and hear her voice, her laughter, and spend the day with her. He wanted to feel her body as Josh and Sam shared theirs and he wanted to know the intimacy with her that they knew with each other.

But as he'd promised Sam so many hours ago, and Josh wouldn't let him forget, he wouldn't leave Sam until his headache was gone. He might not know Jack, but he knew Sam, and he made a commitment to the young man he'd come to love a s a brother that he would never abandon or betray him, and Toby would keep that commitment as surely as Josh would keep his own vow of devotion to Sam.

Toby snuggled back under the covers and sighed deeply. It was going to be a good day.

End of Chapter Sixty-Three

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 64

Toby woke up sometime Sunday mid-morning. He opened one eye first and jumped when he saw a face close to his. While they slept, both he and Josh had shifted so their heads were on their respective chair arms closest to the others' chair and now their heads lay dangerously close to each other.

Toby sat up straight and looked at Josh . . . eyes closed, mouth open slightly, finally able to sleep. His brown hair was unkempt and curled around his ears and the nape of his neck and Toby wondered how long it had been since Josh had run a comb through it. At least he rested easy, and Toby knew Sam's headache was gone. Josh would still be awake if it wasn't.

Toby raised his head and looked across the room. Sam was up and out of bed and sat at his desk, his back to Toby. His head was bent over and he didn't move. Toby tossed back the covers and quietly walked across the bedroom in socked feet. At the desk he stopped and put his hand on Sam's shoulder.

"What are you doing, Sam?" Toby asked in a low voice. It was finally Josh's turn to sleep and he didn't want to wake him.

Sam turned and smiled up at Toby. It was just a flash, but Toby realized in that instant how much he'd missed Sam's smile while he was sick, and what an absence it would be in his life if he was never to see Sam smile again. He instinctively smiled back.

"I've just finished the President's opening and closing remarks for tomorrow night," Sam replied.

"You finished that days ago," responded Toby.

"I wasn't satisfied. I didn't nail it."

"Sam, your remarks are just fine."

Sam tossed his pen onto the desk and turned his chair around so he faced Toby. "Exactly. They're JUST fine. That's not good enough. The words are missing something . . . the President's voice. I want this to matter, to be worthy. I want the Bishops to feel like the President touched each one of them"

"And did you find the President's voice?" Toby asked.

"I did."

"Do the remarks matter?"

"They do."

"Are they worthy?"

"They are."

"Then touch me with your words", Toby replied. "But let's go downstairs." He cocked his thumb toward Josh. "He needs to sleep. He's had a rough . . . what the hell time is it anyway? He's been awake all night."

Sam picked up his legal pad and pen and followed Toby downstairs. He'd put on a pair of jeans but hadn't bothered with a shirt.

"Why was he awake all night?" Sam asked as they made their way down the stairs.

"You don't know?"

"I had a headache, but was it an all-nighter? And why are you sleeping in my sweats in my bedroom, Toby?" They headed for the kitchen.

"Knock it off. You asked me to stay. This wasn't a slumber party, you know."

"Coffee?"

Toby held up his hand. "No, thank you. I've had enough coffee to float a boat. Juice maybe? Or you know what? Some cereal. I haven't eaten since that pizza yesterday."

"Toby!" Sam exclaimed when they reached the living room. "What went on here? This place is a mess, Josh was up all night, you didn't eat . . . I know I was sick, but . . ." They walked into the kitchen. "There's coffee mugs all over the living room and in here, shoes scattered in the dining room, wadded up washcloths everywhere . . . what's that on the floor? Blood? Is that blood on the kitchen floor?"

Sam began to clean up the trappings from the night before; he gathered and rinsed coffee mugs and spoons and put them in the dishwasher and filled the coffee pot with soapy water to soak. He collected damp washcloths to dry, then put in the dirty clothes hamper. He leaned over and looked at the few small spots of blood on the floor.

"That IS blood! Why is there blood on the floor?"

"Calm down. It's from a nosebleed. A little nosebleed. You had a raging migraine and were incoherent or asleep most of the time. And medicated. Josh and I drank coffee, a lot of coffee and those washcloths were for your head. We . . . we didn't do a very good job of cleaning up behind ourselves."

"Ourselves? Dealing with me when I have a migraine isn't your responsibility. You should have gone home."

Toby scratched his beard. "Yeah, I should have."

Sam finished cleaning up and washed his hands. He turned around and smiled at Toby. "Seriously, when I got sick you should have just gone home. When I get a killer migraine, I just lie down and go to sleep. I take a pill, lie down, and go right to sleep. Not a problem. I don't need a babysitter."

Toby smiled a little. "If you say so. How about that cereal."

"You know what? I'm gonna fix you some hot homemade oatmeal. Doesn't that sound good?" Sam reached up in the cabinet for that familiar round box.

"Actually, it sounds wonderful. I haven't had homemade oatmeal since . . . since I don't know when. And don't be chintzy. I'm hungry. But first, Sam, I wanna hear the remarks you wrote."

"Yes. Yes, indeed. Here's your OJ." Sam set a glass of orange juice on the table and picked up his legal pad.

"Sit down, Toby. Pretend like you're a Bishop."

"Say again."

"He's speaking before at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, so pretend like you're a Catholic Bishop."

"Yeah, not a problem. And these are the revised opening and closing remarks where you want to capture the voice of the President and be worthy and to matter? You want these words to make each Bishop feel like the President has just touched him. Right?

"Right."

"Ok, opening remarks." Sam cleared his throat. "When you want to lay yourself open before the divine, like a snare that is hollowed out to its depth, like a canopy that projects a shadow from the divine heat and light into your soul, then go into your inner place physically, or to that story or symbol that reminds you of the sacred. Close the door of your awareness to the public person you think yourself to be. Pray to the parent of creation, with your inner sense, the outer senses turned within. Veiling yourself, the mystery may be unveiled through you. By opening yourself to the flow of the sacred, somewhere, resounding in some inner form, the swell of the divine ocean can move through you. The breathing life of all reveals itself in the way you live your life."

Sam looked at Toby and waited. Toby took a long drink of juice and set his glass down. Sam scratched the top of his left foot with the toes of his right foot and waited some more. Then Toby spoke.

"You nailed it."

Sam relaxed and smiled. "The President's voice?"

"You found it."

"Thank you. It kinda came to me in the night and when I woke up this morning, I knew I had to get it down on paper." He pulled out two Deft Blue Willow cereal bowls and two spoons, got two napkins and set the table. He moved Toby's juice glass onto a placemat.

Toby smiled. "Sam, I think your opening remarks are perfect. They'll knock the collective Bishops' socks off. Promise me you'll write my eulogy."

Sam grinned. "Well yeah, but not for fifty years or so. You wanna hear his closing remarks?"

"Sure. When's that oatmeal gonna be ready?"

"Soon. Right after I read this." Sam flipped the page and moved his finger down to the middle. "Ok, here it is: The time of warfare is past. No more will brother hate brother or violence have its way. No more will they drown out God's silence and shut their hearts to His song. Pray for peace in the cities and harmony among the races. May peace come to live on our streets and justice within our walls. With all my heart I will pray that peace comes to live among us. For the sake of all Earth's people, I will do my utmost for peace."

Sam looked up in anticipation.

"That's nice. The President will be pleased and there will be socks all over the place."

"Yeah. Holy socks. Get it? They're Bishops so it could be holey sock(s) or holy socks?"

Toby glared at Sam.

"I was just trying to bring the funny."

"Try bringing the oatmeal."

Sam set two large bowls of steaming oatmeal on the table, one in front of Toby and the other on his own placement. In the center of the table he put a glass bottle of milk, a bowl of brown sugar, honey, and a small bowl of granola. He also set out a bowl of cut up fruit he had chilled in the refrigerator, and a basket covered with a red plaid cloth. When Toby pulled the cloth back, he found warm blueberry muffins, already buttered.

"How'd you do all this?" he asked. "I was right here and didn't even see you do anything but put spoons on the table."

Sam gave Toby a coy smile that a few months ago would have got him decked. "You'd be surprised at what I can do, Toby."

"Don't ever do that again," Toby said with a full mouth. "Or it'll be the last time you smile."

After breakfast Toby changed into his own clothes while Sam cleaned the kitchen. When he came downstairs, Sam leaned against the back of the couch and watched him; Sam could tell Toby wasn't ready to go.

"Sam, I don't know any details, but Josh told me just before we went to bed last night that he told Leo about you guys. Is that right?"

Sam nodded. "That's about all I know, too. Right after he said that, I kinda . . . uh . . . the gun thing happened."

"Well, we're gonna need to talk about this fairly soon, all three of us, so we can figure out how to deal with it at the office. I wish Josh hadn't done that. And Charlie. Charlie knows?"

"I don't know any more than you do. I'm sorry."

"Yeah, ok. I'll catch up with Josh about it tomorrow. So, uh, what are you gonna do today?"

"Take Josh on a drive in my new car. Did you see my car? And get my hair cut!"

"Atta boy. And yes, your car's a beauty. Is your headache gone?"

"Yes."

"Totally gone?"

"Yes."

"When you get a major bad one like you did last night, Josh takes really good care of you, doesn't he?" Toby continued. "With ice bags and medication and when you get shots and that sort of thing?"

"Every time. He's always here. I don't know what I'd do without him."

Toby nodded. "Josh is a good man." They both stood quietly for a minute. Then Toby spoke again. "Ok, I'm outta here. Those remarks are exceptional, Sam. Good job."

Toby started toward the door and Sam followed him.

"Thank you," said Sam. "Just another step closer to my goal of being as good as you."

Toby started to mutter something but didn't, and stepped outside.

"And Toby?"

He stopped and turned. "Yeah?"

"Thank you for taking care of me last night, too. I was kinda loopy but I know what you did."

Toby looked at the ground. "I didn't do anything."

"Yes. You did. And I know you stayed because I asked you to. That was . . . well, I appreciate it."

Toby grunted.

"Why'd you come in the first place? We just came downstairs and you were eating our lunch."

"I was . . . I might have been . . . worried about you." Toby put his hand on the doorknob and twisted it back and forth. He wasn't comfortable with the turn the conversation had taken.

Sam gave a slight smile. "You were worried about me?"

"I've gotta go, Sam."

"You were worried about me."

"I'm leaving now. Keep that headache at bay."

"I will. Thanks again for everything."

"Yeah. Get that hair cut or don't come in tomorrow."

Sam grinned. "Yeah, ok."

********

Josh was snuggled in the chair, nearly buried beneath the covers. Only the top of his head and part of one hand were visible. Sam stood next to the chair and looked at him. He didn't want to wake Josh, but he wanted to be close to him. He wanted to touch him. He wanted to make love to him. But he knew he should let him sleep.

He bent down and put his arms under Josh's back and legs and with no effort, lifted him from the chair and carried him, along with the covers, to the bed. He gently placed him as close to the middle as he could, then he climbed on the bed and stretched out next to him. He put one arm behind Josh's neck and bounced his elbow until Josh's head flopped over and faced Sam.

"My baby," Sam whispered. "My darlin' baby."

Sam loved to watch Josh while he slept. All his high-strung energy and alpha male bravado melted away and his fine-tuned political machinery shut down when he closed his eyes and allowed, honestly allowed himself the real luxury of an uninterrupted sleep.

But Sam selfishly wanted to wake him up. His fore and middle fingers became little legs and he gently walked them across Josh's forehead, through his tousled hair, and stopped for a moment to get tangled in his locks. His fingers walked down Josh's cheek and around to his ear. He massaged the velvety soft lobe between his fingers and dared a gentle tug, but Josh didn't move. He tucked Josh's hair behind his ear and his finger-legs moved on. They skied down Josh's nose and lightly landed on his lips.

Still asleep, Josh's lips parted a little and Sam slipped his fingers inside. Josh pulled them further in, closed his lips around them, and began to suck. Sam smiled. He had him. He used his thumb ran it over Josh's bottom lip, which incited him to suck deeper until the whole of Sam's two fingers were inside Josh's mouth.

After a couple of minutes Sam pulled his fingers out of Josh's mouth and took his hand and wrapped it around Josh's throat. Josh arched his head and further exposed his neck to Sam. Sam gently massaged his throat then leaned forward and kissed Josh on his Adam's apple. He pulled a little piece of skin between his teeth and sucked it between his lips. A slight moan from Josh made Sam smile and the tip of his tongue snaked out and licked the length of Josh's neck to his lips. He gave him a sweet kiss, then ran his tongue down and around to the nape of his neck.

Sam loved the back of Josh's neck. It was warm and smelled like Josh and he pulled at brown ringlets of hair with his teeth. He kissed Josh's neck and sucked, hard enough to leave a mark, but he knew it wouldn't show so he left another.

Josh shifted on the bed and moaned again. Sam's hand moved up to Josh's face. He stroked his cheek, his forehead, and very gently, his eyelids. He brought his lips back to Josh's earlobe and took it into his mouth while his fingers found Josh's lips again and once more, Josh suckled Sam's fingers.

Then silently, Josh's hand became alive and found Sam's free hand. They intertwined fingers and Josh released a long groan of pleasure. Sam pulled away from Josh's neck and kissed the side of Josh's head, and let his lips linger there for a minute and he took in his smell and his taste and the closeness of his husband.

"Are you awake?" he asked. His lips moved against Josh's temple.

"Uh huh," Josh mumbled.

Sam took his fingers out of Josh's mouth. "I love you, Joshua."

"I love you too, Samuel." Josh smiled up at Sam.

"Do you know how cute you are when you smile like that and I can see your dimples?"

"Don't look at my dimples."

"Why not?" Sam traced his finger along Josh's cheek and kissed the indentation.

"Because it makes me blush," Josh replied.

"Do you know how cute you are when you blush?" asked Sam.

"Shut up and kiss me."

Sam rose up on his arms and braced himself over Josh, his knee between Josh's legs. He put one arm under Josh and pulled him up until their lips met. His muscles rippled as he engulfed Josh with the kiss Josh had asked for. They kissed with a passion both had held deep inside and only now could release. They brought together all the emotion from the day before that they couldn't share and allowed it to explode with a vengeance. Josh wrapped one arm around Sam and clung to him as they became lost in each other.

There WAS no one else. There WAS nothing else. They were in their own universe and the rest of the world didn't exist. Neither could see, neither could hear, neither could feel, neither could breathe. They lost consciousness of their own being and truly became one with the other in that kiss.

Josh ran his hand down Sam's bare back to the waistband of his jeans. He slid his hand inside and realized he didn't have on any underwear. His hand found its way to the front and he easily unbuttoned the fly. The top of Sam's jeans burst open and the zipper partially came down from the strain of his hardened dick. Sam thrust forward against Josh's hand and Josh caught his penis, free now from its constraint.

Josh used his free hand and Sam used his other hand and together they pulled down Josh's sweatpants. Josh's penis sprung upright.

"Take your jeans off," Josh said. "I wanna suck you."

"I wanna suck YOU," Sam responded, as he leaned back and took his pants the rest of the way off. Then he pulled Josh's t-shirt over his head and threw all their clothes off the bed.

Sam turned around and lowered himself so his penis slid into Josh's eager mouth and he swallowed Josh's penis until it filled his own throat. They wrapped their arms and legs around each other until they were one unit, then Sam jounced up and down and they both got what they wanted.

At some point they rolled over so Josh was on top and Sam on the bottom, but they never lost contact with their treasures.

Josh and Sam knew each other's bodies well; so well they knew when the other was about to climax, and to come at the same time was one of life's greatest pleasures for them. They moved together as they closed in on their final seconds before they climaxed, then in one grand gesture, they each exploded in the other's mouth as white cum filled their mouths and they tried to swallow as much of each other as they could. It spilled over their lips and ran down their faces and dripped onto whomever was on the bottom and they both laughed out loud and rolled over so the other was on top and lost track of who was where as they clung to each other and got tangled in the sheets and pushed pillows to the floor and someone's foot hit the alarm clock and they nearly fell off the bed, still in each other's arms.

Finally they settled down and lay next to each other, their heads at the foot of the bed, their feet against the headboard. Josh let his hand flop over onto Sam's stomach.

"Now that's what I'm talkin' about," he said.

Sam laughed and sighed deeply.

"Is your headache gone?" Josh asked.

"It is."

"All the way gone?"

"Yep," replied Sam.

"I'm glad. You were one sick puppy last night."

Sam put both his hands on Josh's. "You took care of me. I love you for that."

"Toby took care of you, too. Did you know that?"

Sam turned on his side, propped on his elbow, and his voice took on a more serious tone. "Yeah, I know, and about that, Josh, do you think we take advantage of Toby?"

"Take advantage of him? How do you figure we take advantage of him?" He reached for Sam's free hand and put it on his own chest.

"It seems like whenever we have a problem, Toby's always around to help us. He gets stuck with the dirty work," Sam explained.

"Aw, he likes hangin' with us," Josh laughed. "We bring excitement into his life."

"I'm serious, Josh. Toby's not much of a family man, and it feels like we may force him into some familial situations."

"Ok, I'll be serious. You know Toby better than I do, Sam, and you know damn well he wouldn't be in our home doing what he does if he didn't want to. He wouldn't sit up all night at the hospital, he wouldn't clean up your vomit, and he wouldn't pull your pants down to give you a shot. The man stood up for you when we got married! You two have slept on our couch with your head in his lap. Don't tell me he doesn't get something from being around us."

Sam mindlessly ran his finger the length of Josh's scar. Then again.

"So you think he's ok with . . . everything."

"I do. I think Toby, whether he'll ever admit it or not, has taken you in as his surrogate little brother and me, I don't know, maybe the crazy cousin the family doesn't talk about," Josh laughed. "Toby's a gentle man but he doesn't want anybody to know it. I believe he's just begun to show that side of himself around us. You should have seen him with you last night, baby. Well, from my perspective, I mean. It was a Toby I hadn't seen before. His concern was beyond a passing interest. He was very sweet and tender with you."

Sam kissed Josh. "Those are two words not usually associated with Toby . . . sweet and tender. I wish I'd been more lucid to enjoy it." Sam hesitated then said, "Do you think Leo will be as understanding?"

Josh inhaled deeply. He knew this was coming. He'd waited for it. He just didn't know when Sam would broach the subject. He wasn't even sure Sam had heard him yesterday morning when he broke the news that he'd come out to Leo. But Sam HAD heard him, and now he wanted to talk.

"I think," he said, "Leo's known about us a lot longer than we realize. And I think he's been understanding all along and we didn't have a clue. Finally, I think if the shit was gonna hit the fan with Leo, it would already have hit. I'm not worried about Leo."

"You really think he knew?" Sam asked.

Josh nodded. "I do. He's danced around it for a while trying to get me to tell him, but I never would and it was about to drive him crazy."

"Why wouldn't you tell him? If you thought he already knew . . .?"

"I wanted to be wrong." Josh brought Sam's hand to his cheek and savored the sensation of his smooth skin. He kept it there. "And if I wasn't wrong, I wanted to make him ask me."

Sam stretched behind him and pulled the sheet over himself and Josh. "What were you scared of? What did you think would happen if Leo found out?"

"I wasn't SCARED of anything," Josh replied with a touch of resentment in his voice. "It's just . . . he's known me since before I had a name. He's from a different generation, Sam. He's my boss."

"Toby's my boss and we told him."

"That's different."

Sam gently pulled his hand from Josh's face. "How's it different? You don't think I was scared to tell Toby?"

"You didn't act like it. Can I have your hand back?"

Sam cupped Josh's cheek with his palm and caressed his face. "I was terrified, Osh. I thought he'd hate me. I thought Toby would go through the roof. I worried that I might even lose my job."

"Then why the hell did we tell him?"

"I don't think we should be casual with the truth. The deceit felt worse than the fear," Sam replied.

Both men lay in silence, each in their own thoughts. Sam continued to stroke Josh's face and head; he ran his long, slender fingers through Josh's brown hair.

"Are you ok that I told him?" Josh finally asked.

Sam nodded. "I would kinda liked to have been there, but what's done is done. And Charlie had it figured out, too?"

"Yep. I don't think much gets past Charlie."

"It's gonna be strange going to work tomorrow. I'm used to Toby, but now with Leo and Charlie, I'll feel like everybody knows and is staring at us, watching every move we make," said Sam.

"I hadn't thought of it that way until you just mentioned it," Josh replied. "Thanks for loading me up with that image."

Sam rolled over onto Josh and cradled Josh's face with both hands. He kissed him and smiled.

"Everybody doesn't know and nobody's gonna tell so just relax. Just go in and treat tomorrow like business as usual. It'll be fine, ok?"

"Yeah, ok."

"Now, how about if we take a hot shower and go take a long drive in my new car. I haven't even seen it yet."

"She's a beauty," Josh smiled. "And the first place I'm gonna drive you is to get a haircut."

"YOU'RE gonna drive ME? I seem to remember a little bet from yesterday." Sam straddled Josh and held him down on the bed.

"Oh, you remember that, huh?" Josh lightly ran his fingertips down Sam's back and felt him shiver with delight as he arched his back just a little.

"Yeah, I think it went something like this." Sam held Josh's head straight and stared into his eyes. "Focus," he said. "Focus on my eyes while I make love to you. And if you close them, that's ok . . . as long as you still see me."

********

"DONNA!"

"Your Secret Service code name should be pachyderm, do you know that?"

"How do you get to my office door so fast?" Josh asked.

"You didn't answer my question."

"I try to avoid answering any of your questions, especially ones involving large, thick-skinned, hoofed mammals."

"I'm gonna start calling you Pachyderm. Code name Pachyderm. Pachyderm has left the building," Donna taunted.

"If our enemies really knew who worked in this White House, we'd all be dead. Has Leo been looking for me?"

"Not that I know of," replied Donna. "Are you expecting him to?"

Josh picked up a stack of papers and shuffled them on his desk until the piled was neat, then he did it again.

"No! I don't expect him at all. I just thought maybe . . . has Charlie been around?"

"Charlie hardly ever comes through here. I haven't seen him either. What have you done, Josh?"

"Nothing!" Josh's voice was high and had a bit of a squeak to it. "I just thought, you know, it's Monday."

"Whoopde-damn-doo. The Chief of Staff doesn't usually come and welcome you to the White House on Monday mornings," Donna responded. "What have you done, Josh?"

"Nothing! Has Sam been look . . ."

"You've been in the office twenty-two minutes, Joshua Lyman! Not a single soul has sought you out! Not even me! Shall I go find them for you?"

"No! Just . . . go to work. That's what you get paid for. Go. Go."

"Yeah, I put up with you every day and that's why they pay me the big bucks. I love my job." Donna looked at Josh and shook her head then walked out of his office. She was barely out the door when she heard . . .

"DONNA!"

"Yes, Mr. Pachyderm?"

"Call me that again and you'll have ten minutes to update your resume."

"What do you want?"

"Close my office door."

Donna did as she was told and started to sit in one of the visitors' chairs.

"With you on the other side!" Josh bellowed.

Donna took a deep breath and rolled her eyes. "When did you say you're going to California? May I help you pack?"

"End of this week. Now go out the door and close it behind you. And do some work."

When Josh was alone in his office he picked up his phone and dialed Sam's number. Sam answered on the second ring.

"Sam Seaborn."

Josh kept his voice low. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Have you-know-who or you-know-who said anything?"

"I haven't even SEEN either you-know-who," Sam replied. "What's the matter with you, Josh?"

"Just wanna have the scoop about the inner sanctum. Know what's gonna happen before it happens. You'll advise, over?"

Sam laughed and lowered his voice, as he didn't have the luxury of a closed office. "Josh, we're not on a recon mission with the Green Berets. You can talk like a regular person. Why don't you come on over to my office and calm down."

"You know, I'm gonna do that. Donna's acting really strange anyway. You want coffee?"

"Yes. Bring coffee. Decaf for you," said Sam. "I mean it, and you know I'll be able to tell."

Josh walked out into the bullpen. Donna was busy at her desk and didn't look up as he passed her. "Senior Staff will meet at eight- fifteen this morning," she said.

Josh stopped. "Why so late? Why eight-fifteen? Why not seven- thirty like every other morning in the history of this administration?"

Donna looked up and gave Josh a coy smile. "Seems Leo has something he needs to do before the meeting so the President wants to wait for him."

Josh swallowed hard. "I'll be in Sam's office."

He went by way of the mess and got two large decafs ~~ if he had to drink his coffee that way, so did Sam. He came back up and made his way through the busy communications bullpen.

"Good morning Kathi, Ginger, Bonnie."

They all acknowledged him without looking up from their work and he tried to read if there was anything `knowing' in their voices. He decided there wasn't, went into Sam's office, and closed the door. He loved the site of Sam behind his desk. He loved to watch him work. He could spend a whole day just sitting in a chair in Sam's office watching him do his job and be enthralled by it all.

"I'm so glad to see you," he sighed as he set both coffees on Sam's desk. "And you're wearing suspenders today. You know what that does to me. You ok?"

"I'm fine." Sam popped the plastic lid off one of the large Styrofoam cups. "You don't need to do this to yourself, you know."

Josh backed up against the wall and stood still. He resorted to this relaxation technique from time to time but still wasn't convinced it did anything other than wrinkle the back of his shirt.

"They delayed Senior Staff," he said.

"Yeah, I know."

"You know why?" Josh leaned out, scratched his back against the file cabinet, then returned to the wall.

"Why we're starting late?"

"Yeah, it's Leo. He's got something SECRET to do before the meeting and nobody knows what it is. I think it involves us."

Sam laughed. "Josh, you're crazy. He's having breakfast with Jordan Kendall this morning and that's why he'll be late. It has absolutely nothing to do with us. Will you relax and stop worrying?"

"I can't help it, it's in my blood."

Sam sat back in his chair. "You want a hug?"

"Should we? Could we? Can we? What if somebody . . ."

Before he finished Sam had come from behind his desk and pulled Josh into an embrace. "I promise to keep it innocuous enough that we could do this in the Oval Office in front of the President and he wouldn't raise an eyebrow."

"Well, don't let our dicks touch," Josh replied. "'Cause you know what'll happen and that's guaranteed to raise a LOT of eyebrows."

"No dick touching."

Sam held Josh tightly, but in a platonic way, a hug that gave the appearance of innocence, of one friend comforting another. Still, his lips were close to Josh's ear and nobody could hear his words.

"We've talked about this many times, Osh," said Sam, his voice low and soothing. "We knew we'd come out one day and agreed we wouldn't freak when that day came."

"Yeah, but . . ."

"Shhh. Your Mother was the first really important person you told about us. You were scared to death and she didn't blink an eye. Remember that?"

Josh nodded. Sam felt Josh's clean-shaven cheek against his own and wished they could let their dicks touch. They had made love in the shower this morning, but Sam could never get enough of his husband.

"And then Toby? He's been fine with it, despite his sarcasm and phony disdain. You can't deny Toby's handling it ok," Sam continued

"He is. But he's not Leo."

"A few friends know and guess what? They're still our friends." Sam let his hand slide up Josh's back and finger the hair on Josh's neck. It took all his restraint not to kiss him. I honestly don't believe things are gonna change between you and Leo, or me and Leo. Or with Charlie for that matter. So will you please give it a rest before you pass out again?"

"Yeah, ok."

"So get a hold of yourself before Senior Staff meets and just act natural. If you promise to do that I'll tell you a secret," Sam teased. He knew Josh was a sucker for secrets and gossip and would promise him anything to hear the latest.

"I promise. Tell me," said Josh.

Sam took a chance and kissed Josh's ear. He ran his tongue around the grooves then pulled Josh's earlobe into his mouth and nibbled and sucked on it. He felt Josh quiver in his arms and knew he shouldn't take the risk, but also knew he couldn't stop himself.

But he did, to a slight whimper of resistance from Josh.

"What I was gonna tell you," he whispered to Josh, "is that I love you more than there are stars in the sky. And there are billions of stars, Josh. And like the stars, my love for you will never burn out. I adore you."

Sam felt Josh move a little closer to him and as much as Sam wanted to stay in that position for the rest of the morning, he backed away and separated them. But their eyes locked and continued what their bodies couldn't; it was as close as they could come to making love without touching each other. Then after a few minutes, they disengaged their hypnotic gaze and each took their seats.

Almost immediately there was a knock on the door and Toby came in.

"I thought I'd find you here," he said to Josh.

"Why? What have you heard?"

"I heard that you were in Sam's office," Toby replied. "Donna told me. I need to see you a minute."

"Yeah." Then to Sam, "Thanks for that . . . um . . .for that, Sam. I think it'll be helpful with the . . . you know, with the . . . thing."

Sam smiled. "No problem. Glad to be of service."

Josh followed Toby into his office.

"Get the door," Toby said.

Josh closed the door and sat on the couch. "What's up?" he asked.

Toby leaned against his desk and put his hands on the desktop next to him. "I wanna get that gun out of your townhouse today. I don't like the idea of Sam going home tonight and that thing still being there."

"What made you think of that?"

"What made me . . . ? What made me . . . ? That's ALL I've thought about since your frantic phone call pleading with me to help you hide the damn thing! Josh, I've barely slept thinking about what could happen! I even came by your place yesterday afternoon to get it myself, but you guys weren't home. Where were you?"

Josh cocked his head and grinned at Toby. "We took Sam's car for a spin, Sam got a haircut, we got a bite to eat . . . just regular stuff."

"No fall-out from the gun encounter?"

"Doesn't seem to be. We didn't talk about it. I just want it to go away."

"'It' being the problem or `it' being the gun?" Toby asked.

"Both."

"Well, neither are just gonna go away and you know it. The problem, that's between you and Sam, or Sam and his family, or however that's gonna work itself out. The other thing, I'm right there with you. Shit, I'm almost obsessed with that, and it's gotta happen today, Josh." Toby went around and sat behind his desk. He opened his top drawer, pulled out a cigar and stuck it in his mouth, but didn't light it.

"I've got meetings all day. There's no way I can get outta here. I just don't see how . . ."

"Josh!" What's wrong with you? You DO realize we're not talking about a slingshot stuck in Sam's back pocket, don't you? There's a Smith & Wesson 9mm in your wine pantry and my Deputy just spoke, although he later rescinded it, about using said 9mm on himself. Now what's up your ass, or more importantly, what's NOT between your ears? Why are you avoiding the ugly reality of what just happened and what needs to be done to rectify it?"

Josh closed his eyes and wished he could stand with his back against Toby's wall. "I'm scared," he admitted. "I just want it to go away."

"We just had this conversation, Josh, and it's not gonna go away unless we make it go away. Have you decided who you want to get rid of it?"

Josh's throat was dry and he wished he had some water. He really hadn't planned on this conversation this morning.

"Probably Simon," he replied. "We asked Simon for help with Marc after he drugged Sam and dumped him in the park. Did you ever find out just exactly what Simon did to Marc?"

Toby took the cigar out of his mouth and pursed his lips like he was blowing smoke rings.

"Well, did you?" Josh repeated.

"No," Toby said curtly.

Josh didn't believe Toby, but he didn't ask again.

"So I guess one of us needs to call him," Josh continued.

"Listen, I'll keep Sam here at the office a little late. I'll call Simon and see what time he can meet you at your place. Take him into the wine pantry, let him take the thing with him, and it'll be all over. I'll give you guys about an hour then cut Sam loose. Can you do that?"

"What if Simon's not free?"

"You're gonna go back to Sam's office or your own office or wherever you wanna go and I'm gonna call Simon right now and talk with him," Toby explained.

Josh loosened his tie. "What are you gonna say? I don't even know what you told him last time."

"Don't worry about it. Go on back to Sam and let me call Simon before the staff meeting."

Josh got up and walked to the door. He stopped but didn't turn to face Toby. "I've gotta tell you, Toby, this whole gun thing . . . it's got me chilled to the bone. To think Sam actually bought a gun from Marc, it's been in our closet I don't know HOW long, then he pulled it out the other day and now we have to pull in Simon to get rid of it. I blame Jack Seaborn for all of this."

"It's gonna be ok. We're . . . YOU'RE dong all the right things. You're taking care of Sam and it's gonna be ok," Toby assured him.

"Like you said, this isn't a slingshot stuck in Sam's back pocket."

"Just stay cool and it's gonna be ok."

Josh nodded and left Toby's office. He wanted to go back and see Sam, but his emotions were too raw and he didn't want Sam to see him upset. He returned to his own office and stood with his back against the wall.

After Josh left, Toby looked in his Rolodex and found "Donovan, Simon" and the card was full of phone numbers where he could be reached, including CJ's apartment. He decided to try his cell phone first and dialed the numbers.

"Simon Donovan."

"Simon, Toby Ziegler." Toby turned his chair so his back was to the door.

"Toby! Good morning!" Simon said in his ever-chipper voice.

"Yeah. Hey, Simon, remember a few weeks ago Sam had a run-in with that piece of shit who dumped him in the park?"

"Of course I do. Damn near killed him."

Toby turned his head and looked out his window. Bonnie stood at Ginger's desk as they conferred over a document. An intern walked past. Someone he didn't recognize moved on. No one noticed that he was on the phone, nor cared what he was about to tell Simon. Still, he lowered his voice.

"Simon, Josh and I need to ask you to help us out again, please. We need you to make a Smith & Wesson 9mm disappear tonight . . ."

********

It was Josh's idea for him and Sam to walk to the Oval Office separately. Sam said that was ridiculous, that they usually walked to the Senior Staff meetings together and why should this morning be any different? Josh said this morning was too different, that he felt conspicuous and he'd probably screw up and say or do something inappropriate for the White House and he just felt more comfortable if they arrived at the meeting a few minutes apart. Sam gave in and headed down the hall.

Charlie was engrossed at his computer when Sam got to the outer office.

"Good morning, Charlie," he said with a smile.

"Hey, Sam. You're a little early."

"Yeah, well . . . I'm gonna go on in. I've got some notes to go over."

"Help yourself. There's fresh coffee and nobody else is in there yet so you'll have the room all to yourself," Charlie replied.

"Thanks." Sam went into the Oval Office and took a seat on one of the striped couches. He pulled out a legal pad and began to make notes next to comments he had already written, including the remarks for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops he was to speak before tonight.

"Sam, Sam, the Sunshine Man! Oh, you're killing me with those suspenders! What's a girl to do?"

Sam looked up and smiled as CJ entered the room. "I dressed for you this morning," he said.

"You dressed for all the women in this White House," she replied. "Are you meeting with Karen Cahill today by any chance?"

"No, I'm not. You look nice today too, CJ."

She sat in one of the chairs near the couch. "I dress to impress. I wanna be noticed by men in the workplace, who cares if I can actually perform my job."

Sam laughed. "Do I notice a trace of sarcasm?"

"Is there coffee in here?" Toby blustered into the office. He poured himself a cup, black, and sat on the couch opposite Sam. "Where's Josh?"

Sam shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows?" said CJ.

About that time Leo and the President entered the room from Leo's office. They both laughed at something Leo had just said.

Sam glanced at his watch and wondered where Josh was. It was time for the meeting to start and everyone else was present. He wished he'd insisted they come together.

Josh jogged down the hall and slowed when he got to Charlie's desk. He'd hoped Charlie would be on the phone. He wasn't.

"Hey, Josh! It's good to see you up and around."

"Um, why's that?"

"Well, on Friday you passed out in Leo's office and didn't feel well and I'm just glad to see you upright and mobile. You feel ok today?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah. Fine. Great. Has the meeting started?"

"They're waiting for you. I'd get in there if I was you."

Josh pushed open the door and went inside. Everyone was seated and looked his way when he walked in; it felt like every eye bore a judgmental hole through him. The only seat available was on the couch next to Sam. He tried not to act self-conscious as he sat next to his husband.

"Glad you could join us," Leo muttered.

"I had a . . . thing," Josh responded. "I apologize, Mr. President."

"It's ok. Toby, what do you have to report?"

Josh was certain everyone was staring at him and Sam, watching for a slip-up, a touch, a look between them. He slowly raised his eyes to see who was watching. He was surprised to see everyone was focused on Toby. Nobody paid any attention to him. Even Sam ignored him.

"CJ?"

Attention shifted to the Press Secretary. Josh began to relax. The conversation went back to Toby and Josh even joined in the discussion. No one made any disparaging remarks about him and Sam.

Then it was Sam's turn. Josh got caught up in the back-and-forth about Sam's comments and didn't even try to hide his smile of pride when the President praised Sam for the remarks he wrote for that evening's speech.

By the time Josh's turn came around, he was cool, calm, and collected and gave his report with confidence, ease, and the self-assurance that was the hallmark of his political career. As he spoke, a voice in the back of his head asked him what he'd been worried about all morning. Everything was fine. No problem.

"Good meeting, guys, "Jed Bartlet said after everyone had reported and all the discussions had been discussed. "Anything else?"

"Who's working on the education . . ."

"We are." Sam and Josh interrupted Leo when they answered in unison.

"When will I see the draft on my desk?" Leo asked.

"You'll have Part One . . ." Sam started.

"Wednesday morning," Josh finished. "And Part Two . . ."

"First thing Friday," Sam completed the sentence.

"Well," said Jed, "it's good to see you're working closely on this. Keep up the good work."

"Yes sir, Mr. President," again, they answered in unison.

CJ burst out laughing. "You two slay me sometimes! Mutt and Jeff. Frick and Frack. Stanley and Ollie. I'm surprised you're not wearing suspenders today too, Josh. The Bobbsey Twins. The Hardy Boys."

"This meeting is over, Claudia Jean," the President said. "Would you please take your chortling somewhere else? I have a country to run in here."

The meeting broke up and Josh decided it was ok if he and Sam walked back to their offices together. Toby went to finish a conversation with CJ and Leo stayed with the President. As they walked down the hall Josh couldn't help but ask Sam, "So, do you wanna be Frick or Frack?"

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 65

Josh paced on the sidewalk in front of the townhouse. He didn't know what Simon drove and hadn't thought to ask. He imagined him driving a black Hummer or something equally imposing, so he was surprised when he rode up on a bright red motorcycle. He watched as Simon backed into a parking space, hiked the bike up on its kickstand, and took his helmet off. Simon tousled his hair, looked at Josh, and grinned.

"A night made for motorcycles," he said. "Wanna take a ride?"

"No way. You'll never catch me on one of those death machines," Josh replied.

Simon laughed. "Death machines. Where's your wild side, Josh?"

"Safely ensconced within the confines of four thousand pounds of steel."

"Come on, just around the block."

"Nope."

"Come on."

"No. Let's go inside."

Simon followed Josh inside the townhouse and started to set his helmet on the table just inside the door.

"Wait!" Josh put his hand out to stop him. "Put that on a newspaper, if you don't mind. Don't wanna scratch. . ." His voice trailed off.

They walked into the living room.

"Have a seat," said Josh.

"No, thank you. We both know I'm not here on a social call, Josh. How about I just do what I came here for and be on my way."

Josh was taken aback by Simon's get-down-to-business attitude. Again, he didn't know how this sort of exchange worked, but he thought there would be some sort of discussion or at least a brief conversation first. Maybe that's what the exchange of pleasantries about the motorcycle was all about.

Josh wondered if Simon noticed the photographs of him and Sam scattered around the room. He'd thought about what he would say if Simon asked him about them, and still didn't know how he would answer, so he hoped Simon wouldn't ask.

"Well, there's something I wanna ask you about first, unless you're in a hurry," Josh replied.

"No, I was just gonna take a ride on a nice warm evening. What's on your mind?" Simon sat on the couch and Josh sat in a chair across from him.

"Remember a while back Toby called you and said Sam was in some trouble?" Josh asked.

"I remember it well."

"What did Toby tell you?"

"Didn't Toby tell you?" Simon put his arm across the back of the couch.

"I never asked him."

"Maybe you SHOULD ask him. I don't feel comfortable repeating what Toby said without him being here," Simon replied.

"I think under the circumstances and with the players involved, Toby would think it's appropriate."

"Do you really wanna dredge this up, Josh? Can't we just do what I came here for and call it a day?"

Josh was silent. Simon crossed his legs in the other direction. He clearly didn't want to talk about it, but it was just as obvious Josh wasn't going to give up.

"Ok. It was early Sunday morning and Toby was sitting in his car in front of a bar called Dutchman's. He asked if I could meet with him and I said I was free then. He said he'd come pick me up and we'd talk in his car. It all sounded very covert and I didn't have any idea what was going on."

Josh swallowed hard. He remembered that Sunday morning. Sam was in GW Hospital after being assaulted by Marc and Toby had just taken Josh home to get some rest. He didn't know until later that Toby hadn't gone home, but had sat in front of the bar for a half hour then called Simon.

"And what did he say?"

"He didn't go into a lot of detail. He said Sam had gotten mixed up with some punk drug dealer and over a period of a few weeks he gained Sam's confidence then he drugged and assaulted him and dumped him in George Washington Community Park and Sam was half-dead. He'd caused a whole lotta hurt for Sam, cost him some money, a shitload of personal pain, and Toby wanted the guy taken out. So he asked me to do it."

"You killed him?"

"No, I didn't KILL him," Simon responded. "But Dutchman's suddenly went out of business and is now boarded up and is soon to be bulldozed to build a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Recreation Center. Marc graciously donated a good deal of money toward the building of that center. His list of known clients was contacted and told he's no longer in the drug dealing business and HIS pusher was told he's no longer a buyer and that HE'S being watched and will immediately be brought in if he sells so much as a pack of gum to Hayes. His three- hundred thousand dollar Lamborghini was driven to George Washington Community Park and abandoned and what was left of it, I think a few nuts and bolts, is in the impound lot along with Sam's car that suffered the same fate. His tax returns are being audited for the past five years and he had to register as a sex offender with the victim's name withheld. He lost his gym membership and the bank decided to pull the mortgage on his home so he had to find another place to live within thirty days and I hear he had a hard time and when he did, the interest rate was through the roof. He had to go to court-ordered rehab and there's an indefinite restraining order against him to stay away from both Sam and you. And the best part . . . we told his Mother. There's more, but is that enough?"

Josh was stunned. He thought Simon just beat the guy up in a dark alley. He never imagined he totally fucked up his life. "Yeah," he said. "That's . . . that's . . . unbelievable."

Josh ran his hand through his hair. "What about this gun thing? What did Toby tell you about this?"

"Can't I just get it and go, Josh?" asked Simon.

"I need to know what you know."

Simon let out a deep breath and scratched his forehead. He re- crossed his legs.

"He said Sam had bought a 9mm from Marc and had stashed it . . . had stashed it in you guys' spare room. A couple of days ago Sam was going through a rough morning and brought the gun out. You confronted him and took the gun away and managed to hide it. Now you and Toby want the gun out of the house but don't know what to do with it so you want me to get rid of it. Accurate?"

Josh nodded his head. Simon made it sound so methodical and simple.

"So let's go get this thing," Simon continued as he stood up.

"Does CJ know?" asked Josh.

"Does CJ know . . . about the gun? Hell no."

"Does CJ know about Sam and me?"

Simon sat back down. "No, she doesn't. She has no idea."

Josh could feel his heart start to race. Somebody else knew. Now it was Toby, Leo, Charlie, and Simon. And he'd have to tell Sam he'd just confirmed their relationship with Simon.

"How do you feel about it, Simon?" he asked. "About us?" Josh didn't know Simon very well. He'd had a few beers with him and the guys after work, played poker with him three or four times, shot the shit with him, Toby and Sam in CJ's office, but he'd never talked with him one-on-one for any length of time. Suddenly it felt very important to know how Simon felt about him and Sam.

"I'll be honest with you. It's not something I think much of," said Simon.

"Well, I wouldn't expect you to think about it if you're not involved in the lifestyle."

"No, Josh. It's not that I don't think about it. I don't think about it in a good light. I don't think about it in a positive way."

Josh's face showed no emotion and he didn't say anything.

"I think homosexuality is wrong," Simon declared. He couldn't be any clearer than that.

Josh was blinded for a minute. So far everyone had accepted their relationship and been supportive. Now here Simon had just told him it was wrong. Now he wished he'd let Simon go directly to the wine pantry without any conversation.

"Do you hate homosexuals?" he asked, then immediately regretted it.

"No, I just hate what they do," Simon answered.

"You know," Josh suddenly felt defensive of his and Sam's relationship, "when you say `they', you're also talking about Sam and me. So you hate what WE do, right?"

Simon didn't hesitate. "Yeah. But I don't hate you, Josh, and I don't hate Sam. I think the world of you both."

"You just hate us together," Josh stated.

"I don't hate you at all! I'm very fond of you both. I just said that I disagree with the lifestyle."

"Can we just not talk about this anymore?"

"YOU brought it up! I came over here for a specific reason and you wanted to talk. Then you don't even offer me a beer or anything," Simon answered.

"We've got beer. Wanna beer?"

"I'm driving. Are you stalling on this gun thing, Josh?"

"No, I'm elaborating on this gay thing, Simon," Josh said with a hint of sarcasm. "I'm sorry. Let's get this gun thing over with."

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you wanna tell me about why this gun is hidden in your house?" Simon asked. "If you wanna talk about it or anything . . ."

"No. Thanks, but it's ok. It's just a . . . just a family thing. If you'll just get rid of it for us, I'd be grateful. We both would."

Simon stood up. "I don't think anybody could be more grateful than Toby. I've never seen that man more anxious to get something taken care of. How'd he get involved in this anyway? Never mind, don't tell me, I don't wanna know."

"Come on, I'll show you where it is."

Josh led Simon through the kitchen to the wine pantry. He opened the door and they went down the stairs. He took Simon to the back and to the space between the stones where he'd wedged the gun. He reached back and felt the cool handle. He wiggled it a little to loosen it then pulled it from its hiding place. Josh handed it directly over to Simon.

"A nine-ten," he said. "A sweet piece. What's Sam doing with this?"

Josh took a deep breath. He started to speak but the words wouldn't come so he just shook his head.

"This weapon's stolen," Simon continued. "Just so you know, Sam's got a hot, unregistered, unlicensed gun here."

"How do you know it's stolen?"

Simon put the gun in front of Josh. "See right here where the serial number's supposed to be and isn't? It's been filed off. If Sam had tried to register this and get it licensed, that's the first thing that would have shown up. Sam would have been in deep shit. Is there a holster?"

Josh felt the small room closing in on him. A stolen gun? How much worse could this get?

"There's a shoebox. You can have the shoebox," he said in a fog. "And some purple velvet." Then he snapped out of it. "Are you gonna go after this guy, Simon?"

Simon lowered the gun and moved it behind him, out of Josh's sight. He grinned. "Am I gonna go after him? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Half the fun of knowing you guys is gettin' to keep going after this Marc asshole. Let's get outta here."

Josh walked Simon to his motorcycle and watched while he swung his long leg over, knocked the kickstand back, and started the engine. Just he put his helmet on Josh made a slicing motion across his throat and Simon turned the engine off.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Uh, later, even if I ask you, no matter what I say, would you not tell me what you do with this gun? If you throw it in the river or whatever you do?" asked Josh.

"Why's that?"

"I just wanna pretend like it never happened. If I know, I'll have nightmares about it. And sometimes . . . sometimes I already have nightmares about . . . well you were there. You were on duty at Rosslyn."

"I'll tell you something I'll bet you don't know," Simon replied.

"What?"

"I was the first one to get to you after Toby."

"I don't remember that. I don't remember seeing you," said Josh. His voice had softened and could barely be heard over the night traffic.

"I talked to you. Toby and I both talked to you until you were in the ambulance," Simon continued.

"No, all I heard was Sam's voice. He was right there the instant I got shot and rode in the ambulance with me to the hospital and was with me all the way to the door of the operating room. He held my hand and talked to me."

Simon just looked at Josh to see if he was serious. After a couple of minutes, he realized Josh was dead serious.

"Josh," he said, "Sam didn't see you on the ground. He didn't ride in the ambulance. A police officer brought him a few minutes later and that was the first time he talked to you and it was just a few words."

"No, he was there the whole time."

"He wasn't, Josh. I'm sorry."

"But I heard him!"

"When people suffer a trauma they sometimes see or hear something familiar to comfort them. That's probably what happened with you. Sam's voice is comforting to you so in your mind you heard him and thought it was real."

"But it wasn't? Sam wasn't there?" Josh sounded crestfallen.

"No, Josh, I'm sorry. He wasn't. It was just Toby and me. I'm sorry."

Josh shoved his hands in his pockets, did a half turn, then rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Yeah, well . . ."

"You ok?" Simon asked.

"Sure! It's no big deal. Uh, you'd better get going with that . . . you know. I need to call Toby so he can let Sam leave the White House. He kept him late so he wouldn't come home and find you here."

Simon put his helmet on. "Don't worry about this. Consider it gone."

"Thanks, Simon. I don't know what I would have done with it otherwise."

Simon gave a quick, two-fingered salute, gunned the engine, and rode off into the night. Josh watched until he could no longer see the taillights of Simon's motorcycle.

********

He patted himself down for a pack of cigarettes and found none. Josh didn't carry them on him as a rule, but wished he had one then. He thought how he'd reached for a cigarette much too often lately and how he had to stop. He hadn't smoked regularly for years, not since he and Scott lived together, and Scott hated it.

"You can't be an athlete if you smoke, dummy!" Scott yelled at him, over and over.

"But I don't WANNA be an athlete, asshole! I'm taking pre-law, not baseball!" Then under his breath, "And without a jock scholarship, you wouldn't even BE in college at all."

Scott smacked the Viceroy out of Josh's mouth and it landed on the hardwood floor of their apartment. Josh snatched it up and dropped it in the puddle in the bottom of a beer bottle.

"Scott! If you burn these floors we'll have to pay for them. Would you be more careful? Talk about smoking! You might wanna lay off the alcohol a little bit if you wanna be an athlete, bat boy."

Scott pounced on Josh and had him on the ground before Josh knew what hit him. He punched Josh twice in the stomach then got up and left him curled on the floor, one arm across his midsection and the other over his head, never sure where the next blow might come from.

Scott picked up the package of cigarettes on top of the stereo and scattered them over Josh.

"Smoke `em, shit for brains. Just don't come and kiss me when you're finished. I'm outta here."

Josh sat up but stayed on the floor. "Why are you leaving, Scott? Where you going?"

"I gotta go see somebody about something," Scott responded as he pulled on his letterman's jacket.

"See who about what?"

"Nobody about nothin'."

"Come on, Scott, tell me," Josh insisted.

"I'm buying a gun."

"What the fuck? What are you buying a gun for? Scott? What's going on?" Josh's stomach hurt but for a whole new reason.

Scott stood over Josh and smoothed his hair back. "Don't worry about it, darlin'. It's nothin' for you to worry about."

"Nothing to worry about! You're bringing a gun into this apartment and you say don't worry? Scotty, please . . ."

"Don't wait up."

Scott leaned over and kissed the top of Josh's head, pulled out the keys to his Harley, and walked out the door. Josh clutched cigarettes in both his hands and crumbled them, tobacco falling to the floor around him. Then he found one unbroken. He pulled a lighter from his jeans pocket. His hand shook as he held the flame to the tip of the Viceroy. He heard the rumble of Scott's bike and listened until it was out of earshot, then Josh finished the cigarette and smoked another.

********

"Toby Ziegler."

"It's gone."

"Simon came?"

Josh nodded, a habit he'd picked up from Sam. Then, "Yeah, Simon came, got it, took it, and it's gone."

Toby leaned back in his chair and let out an audible sigh of relief. He used two fingers of his free hand and broke a pencil in half across his knuckle. "You ok?"

Josh nodded again. Dammit! "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just glad it's outta here. You gonna cut Sam loose pretty soon?"

"He can go any time now. I just needed to be sure it was gone."

"It's gone," Josh confirmed.

"Did he say . . . "

"No. I have no idea what he's gonna do with it."

"Did he ask many questions?"

"Not nearly as many as you're asking now. He knows about Sam and me."

Toby released another sigh.

"Well, what did you expect, Toby? You insisted he come into our home! Was I supposed to redecorate so all signs of Sam were gone? You TOLD him Sam brought the gun here . . . home . . . what was Simon SUPPOSED to think? Shit, you sound like I'm to blame for all this and all I did was wake up," Josh barked.

"Hey, hey, hey, relax. I don't blame you for anything. I'm proud that you've been able to handle all this and stay sane. I don't know if I could, Josh. Do you have any idea how far you've come?"

Josh leaned against the wall with his back flat against it. So far he'd avoided the drawer with the cigarettes and was determined to keep it that way. No, he had no idea how far he'd come. Since that instant when the morning sun first glanced off the barrel of the weapon until this moment, he'd given no thought to himself, but had considered only Sam. No, he didn't know how he'd been able to handle all this and stay sane. WAS he sane? Then why did he feel like he would implode if he didn't see Sam very, very soon?

"Will you just send him home?"

"Sure. He'll be on his way in five minutes. Can you wait that long?" Toby asked with a smile in his voice.

"Only if I have to. Hey, has he shown any signs of a headache?"

"No, he's fine. And he's had dinner, so he's all yours to . . . watch TV with."

Josh laughed. "In your dreams. Thanks for everything, Toby. These past few days . . . I wouldn't have known . . . you've been . . ."

"Do you wanna talk or do you want me to get Sam in his new car and on his way home?"

Click.

********

Josh stood at the bay window with his arms crossed. Where was Sam? He should have been home ten minutes ago. Why wasn't he? Toby said he'd be gone in five minutes and even with traffic, he should already be home. Where the hell was he?

He wandered over to the stereo and flipped through the CDs but didn't see anything that he particularly wanted to hear. Still, the apartment was too quiet. He pulled out an old album, Chuck Mangione, "Children of Sanchez". He loved the flugelhorn and nobody played it like Mangione. He kept the volume down low, although it deserved to be played loud. He dimmed the lights in the living room and lit candles. Then he returned to the bay window.

"Josh?"

He whirled around. Sam was home.

"Where the hell have you been?"

The smile melted from Sam's face. "At work."

Dial it down, Josh. You're not supposed to know Toby kept him late on purpose. "Yeah, well, I know but . . . what's in the bag?"

The smile returned. "Blizzards! I went to Dairy Queen!"

They met in the middle of the room and Josh wrapped his arms around Sam. "I missed you," he cooed. "Damn Toby."

"It wasn't so bad. There was a thing we had to finish, and tonight was as good as any other night. He bought my dinner. Do you want crushed Oreos or M&Ms?" Sam pulled the two large paper cups from the DQ bag.

"I know you like the M&Ms best, so I'll take Oreos. Or we could dump them both in the blender and . . . "

"Absolutely not."

"I missed you, Sam."

Sam looked at Josh and smiled. His eyes twinkled and he stuck his tongue out and lapped at a blob of ice cream on the red plastic spoon. "I missed you too, Josh. But it's only been a few hours. Still, it's nice to be missed. You've got Chuck Mangione on."

"Yeah".

They sat on the floor with their backs against the couch. Sam had laid his suit jacket neatly over the arm of the chair and taken off his shoes, loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top of his shirt then untucked it from his trousers. He brought his knees up.

Josh wore jeans and a Nirvana t-shirt. He stretched his legs out before him. Their shoulders touched. They talked little, mostly about the day's work, and fed each other spoonsful of ice cream and shared tender kisses then things were quiet. Sam said he was glad he'd stayed late because he knew Toby really needed him. Josh debated over whether or not he should tell Sam that Simon had been in their home and left with a piece of Sam's property.

"Wanna watch the news?" Sam asked. He gathered their empty ice cream cups and scrunched napkins.

"No, I wanna watch you."

Sam tilted his head and smiled. "Ok, then."

"Put that stuff down and come lay down here on the floor," Josh said. He pulled an afghan from the recliner and a quilt folded next to the club chair. He got a pillow off the couch, sat cross-legged, and put the pillow on his lap. He reached up his hand and gently pulled Sam to the floor where he lay with his head on the pillow.

Josh untied Sam's tie and tossed it onto the couch. Then he unbuttoned his pinstripe shirt very slowly. He ran his hands under Sam's suspenders and left them there.

"You wear these suspenders just for me, don't you?" he asked.

Sam smiled. "You and Cathy. And Ginger and Bonnie. And Margaret and Donna. But mostly you."

Josh unfastened the suspenders, took them off Sam, and threw them onto the couch with his tie. He pulled his shirt open and ran his hands down Sam's stark white undershirt.

"Are you comfortable?" he asked.

"Uh huh."

Josh brought his hands up to Sam's face and began to massage his forehead. "Does that feel good?"

"Uh huh."

"Are you falling asleep on me?"

"Uh uh. Just enjoying your hands on me. I love the feel of your hands against my skin."

Josh used his thumbs and very gently rubbed Sam's closed eyelids. He could feel the muscles in Sam's face relax as he massaged him. He leaned over and kissed him. Sam let himself be kissed.

"I'm gonna take your shirt off now," Josh said, and he did. "And let's just take your pants off while we're at it."

Sam was stripped to his boxers, undershirt, and socks. Josh still wore his jeans and t-shirt. That's the way Josh wanted it. Their being together like this was not perchance.

Without a word, Josh lifted the pillow and Sam's head and rested them on the floor. He stretched out with his back against the couch and pulled Sam into him, Sam's back against Josh's front. He slung one jeaned leg over both of Sam's naked ones and put his arm around Sam's chest and held him snugly against him. Josh circled Sam with his other arm so he had him totally in his grasp. Sam wasn't going anywhere.

Sam was comfortable, relaxed, and oblivious. He didn't have a clue Josh had just put him in a position where he was at a physical disadvantage and had lulled him into a state of emotional solace. Josh didn't know how Sam would react to what Josh was about to tell him, and he needed to have the upper hand, to be completely in control of the situation.

This was one of those rare times Josh knew he had to pull rank . . . not on the fact that a Deputy Chief of Staff had seniority over a Deputy Communications Director, but on the fact that no relationship is truly fifty-fifty. And his and Sam's relationship was no different.

It was rarely brought to the forefront and Josh couldn't remember the last time it had been done, but there was most definitely an unspoken acceptance between him and Sam that Josh held the dominant role in their marriage. The line was drawn so thinly that even the closest observer would never be able to tell there even WAS a line, but it was there, and both Josh and Sam knew it and when there was a need, they respected it and abided by it's silent demand. If it came down to it, if there was a decision to be made and there was no compromise in sight, Josh's word was the determining factor.

It was a role that just came naturally in their relationship. It didn't evolve ~~ it was there from the beginning. Maybe it was the eight-year age difference, maybe it was Josh's experience when the two first met years ago, took their separate paths, then came together again during the Bartlet campaign. It was never questioned that Josh had the upper hand, and it was never challenged. It was just a fact. The two men didn't scrapple in the dirt, nor did they discuss it like gentlemen. There was no argument, no conversation, no pissing contest, no rock, paper, scissors. It was just a fact.

And both Josh and Sam were comfortable with their roles in their marriage. Josh wanted to protect Sam from the world, and he made it his life's work to keep him from harm's way as best he could. Josh believed it was his purpose to raise Sam up, to present him as the next best American, the President of the United States after John Hoynes' eight years. Josh planned their lives around his reality that once this Inauguration put Sam in office, Chief of Staff Lyman would serve at the pleasure of President Seaborn; but Josh also knew, like Leo and Jed Bartlet, he and Sam would run the country as a single unit.

"You feel ok?" he asked Sam with a kiss on the cheek.

"This is nice. I like it when you hold me like this."

"Sam, sweetheart, we need to talk about something."

Josh felt Sam tense in his arms

"Relax sugar, it's nothing bad. It's a good thing. Just lay back in my arms and listen to me, ok?"

Sam nodded his head. "Do I have a choice? You've got a vice grip on me."

"Honey, I got rid of your gun tonight," Josh said, then his voice suddenly became firm. "It's gone, it's destroyed, and I don't want you to EVER bring a weapon in our home again. Do you understand me?"

Sam tensed again and his breath quickened. Josh tightened his hold.

"Let it go, Sam. You're not gonna win this one. It's a done deal, so just listen to what I have to say. Relax."

He felt Sam go limp in his arms.

"What you did was extremely stupid, dangerous, and thoughtless. Did you give any consideration to the ramifications of bringing a weapon like that in here? Did have any regard for me for even one second?"

"I . . . I didn't think you'd ever see it. I didn't think you'd . . ."

"You didn't think," Josh interrupted. "That's exactly right. Sam, if you had to write some kind of paper about this, do you have any idea how ludicrous that would sound?"

"Yeah, I've thought about it."

"And what did you come up with?"

"It was a really stupid thing to do. Stupid, dangerous, and thoughtless." Sam laughed a little. "Three words that kinda mean the same thing. I know this won't help my case any, but you know I was under the influence when I bought that gun."

"The gun is stolen," Josh replied.

"How do you know all this? What did you do with it?"

Josh had debated whether he was going to tell Sam the whole story or not, whether he wanted to involve Simon or not. But he knew that wasn't fair to Sam, and he didn't want to keep secrets from him. That was just as bad, in theory, as what Sam had done.

"Simon Donovan got rid of the gun for us. I don't know what he did with it," Josh replied.

Sam struggled against Josh but was instantly restrained. "You took the gun to the White House? Are you crazy? They have metal detectors . . . you can't even get IN the White House with a gun!"

"He came here and got it."

Sam was silent for an instant, then, "Simon came to our home? He came here? Josh are you . . . let me up . . . are you telling me . . . what were you thinking? Let me up!"

"Relax, darlin'. I just wanna talk with you, not argue with you. And what's done can't be undone so I want you to just be still and listen to me. So relax."

He felt Sam's muscles loosen beside him.

"Toby and I thought this was the best thing to do."

"TOBY and you?" Sam exclaimed.

Josh tightened his grasp around Sam's wrist. "Sam, I'm not gonna tell you again to be quiet and listen to me. No more interruptions. Do you understand?"

Sam was silent.

"Sam? Do you understand?" Josh repeated.

He nodded. "I understand."

"Toby and I both thought about this and talked about it. We both wanted the gun out of here before you came home tonight. Toby called Simon and arranged for him to meet me after work this evening. We met and he took the gun. That's why you worked late with Toby tonight, so you wouldn't walk in while Simon was here."

"You lied to me."

"I protected you. WE protected you."

"You lied to me," Sam repeated.

"Semantics."

"So now does Simon know about us too?"

Josh hesitated. "Nobody came right out and said anything but I think . . . yeah, Simon knows. I didn't tell him, though, Sam, it just sorta . . . well, look around. This is your home. He obviously figured it out the minute he walked in."

"You know that means CJ will know by bedtime," Sam pointed out.

"No, no. No, no, no, I really don't believe that. Simon's not gonna say anything."

Sam snuggled back into Josh. "Pillow talk, Josh. Think of all the things you and I tell each other when we're cuddled under the covers. We talk about our colleagues and speculate on everything about their professional and personal lives. What makes you think Simon won't tease CJ with `I know something you don't know' and she'll get it out of him in nothing flat?"

"Because I don't believe he'll do that. Simon's a man of his word and he's not gonna tell CJ."

"If the situation were reversed," Sam continued, "would YOU tell CJ?"

Josh thought a minute. "Yeah, I'd tell, but I'm not upstanding like Simon."

Sam laughed and his body shook against Josh's. Josh loosened his grip and ran his hand the length of Sam's forearm. Josh had always thought Sam's forearms were the sexiest part of his body. They were strong and taut, his skin tight over his muscles. When the guys were wrapped around each other watching TV or reading or just being close, Josh often cupped his palm around Sam's forearm just to feel the security they offered.

"Is Simon ok with it?"

"What?" Josh was lost in his thoughts of Sam's arms.

"Us. Is Simon ok with us being a couple?" Sam repeated.

Shit. Josh knew how fond Sam was of Simon, how he looked up to and admired him. To tell him that Simon found their lifestyle distasteful would be a blow to Sam. Toby and Charlie had positive attitudes and were supportive, and the jury was still out on Leo, but Simon hadn't minced words when he voiced his opinion about their relationship. Josh knew Sam would be hurt ~~ more than hurt ~~ and he wished he could protect him but also realized that wasn't possible.

"No, he's not ok with it. He's ok with us ~~ individually ~~ but he's not ok with us together," he finally responded.

"He said that?"

"Yeah."

Sam was silent. Josh kissed the back of his head. His hand found Sam's and their fingers laced together.

"Does he hate us?" Sam asked.

"No. He's fine with us, Sam. He just doesn't agree with same-sex relationships.

Sam grew quiet again. Josh wondered what thoughts were passing through his mind. What impact would this have on Sam, especially now, right before their trip to California? Sam had said several times how much Simon looked like Jack, and now to get Simon's disapproval, would Sam still be able to come out to his brother and the rest of his family?

"You know what?" Sam finally asked.

"What?"

"I cherish our same-sex relationship." Sam guided Josh's hand to the waistband of his boxer shorts and slid them inside. Both hands wrapped around Sam's penis, which jerked and began to grow hard at the touch of familiar fingers.

Sam moved Josh's hand up and down his shaft and Josh let his hand be maneuvered. It was warm inside Sam's shorts and Josh felt his own dick growing hard as he pressed himself against Sam.

"Josh, I want some of that."

"You got it, baby."

Josh unzipped his jeans and pulled his briefs down enough so his penis popped out. He put his thumbs in the waistband of Sam's shorts and pulled them below his knees. Then he slid his penis between San's legs from behind. The head was met with the palm of Sam's hand. Sam gently used the tips of his fingers and gently stroked the shaft that brought him so much pleasure. Josh started to move in and out between his legs and Sam fell in sync with him. Their hips rocked together slowly at first, then faster. Josh heard a moan come from Sam

Then Josh heard the phone ring.

"Ah, shit," Josh mumbled. "Let the machine pick up."

"Dammit! I was supposed to call Toby when I got home," replied Sam. "I forgot all about it." He started to pull away from Josh on the second ring.

"Let the machine answer." Josh's hand fell out of Sam's boxers and he fell face first to the floor, defeated.

Sam smiled at Josh's dramatics. "Don't whine. I'll just be a minute." He picked up the phone and cheerfully said, "I apologize Toby, but I stopped for ice cream. I'm home safe and sound."

"Ice cream. How sweet. I'm not Toby."

Sam instinctively looked down at Josh and the smile left his face. "Who is this?" he asked.

"I'm returning Josh's call," the unidentified man said.

"Who is this?" Sam repeated.

"You don't recognize my voice, Sam? I told you I'd be back. This is Scott Major. Josh called and wanted me to call him back right away. Guess he misses me. How's that make you feel, Sammy?" He laughed that hearty laugh Sam had come to detest.

"Go to hell."

Josh raised his head. Sam's arm was outstretched as he handed Josh the phone.

"No," Sam said, in anticipation of Josh's question, "I didn't just tell Toby to go to hell. It's not Toby."

Josh cocked his head to the side. He had no idea who was on the other end of the phone.

"It's Scott Major," Sam continued. "He's returning your call."

Sam tossed the phone toward Josh but didn't really aim for his hand. Then he went into the kitchen.

Josh grabbed the phone before it hit the floor, but waited until Sam was out of the room before he spoke into it. The call caught him off- guard and even though he'd initially called Scott, for him to return the call now was untimely and unwelcome.

But essential.

Josh looked toward the kitchen then cleared his throat. "Scott?" he said into the phone.

"Tonto! Que paso, mi amigo?"

"Scott, I, uh, called you . . ."

"Yeah?"

Scott was always so self-assured and full of himself ~~ he was one of the few people who could intimidate Josh, and he seemed to take pleasure in that trick.

"There's something you need to know. Important. Really important. That's why I called."

"Ok," Scott replied. "You've got my attention. What is it?"

Sam walked out of the kitchen with a beer in his hand. He turned it up and took a drink just as he passed Josh.

"Hold on," Josh said to Scott at the same moment he reached out and took the beer bottle from Sam. He set the phone on the table, grabbed Sam's arm with his other hand, and walked him out of hearing distance.

"What the hell is this?" he demanded.

"A Corona Extra," Sam replied.

"I can see that. You don't need a beer, Sam."

"I don't NEED a beer. I WANT a beer. May I have it back while it's still cold please?"

"Is this because Scott called? You want a beer because Scott called? It's not what you think, babe. As soon as I hang up with him I'll tell you all about it. It's nothing like you think."

"What do I think, Josh?" Sam looked directly into Josh's eyes.

"Um, I don't know, exactly, but you're wrong. This is business. Old business."

Sam tried to smile but it came out as a smirk. "Yeah, right."

Josh put his arm on Sam's shoulders and spoke softly. "Angel, let me talk to Scott for just a few minutes and tell him something he needs to know. Then I'll tell you everything. I swear. You trust me, right?"

Sam nodded without hesitation. "I trust you."

"Ok, then. Will you just go upstairs and wait. It won't take long."

Sam nodded again.

"Will you leave the beer down here?"

Another nod.

"I love you," Josh smiled. "Do you love me?"

Sam smiled back and kissed Josh on the cheek. "Don't be long, ok?"

"I'll talk fast."

Sam put the palm of his hand against Josh's chest and felt his heart beating fast. As much as he wanted to stay and listen to Josh's side of the conversation, he knew he had to give him his privacy. And he believed Josh when he said he'd tell him why Scott had called. He scrunched Josh's Nirvana t-shirt in his fist and headed upstairs without his Corona.

Josh exhaled a sigh of relief and returned to the phone. "Scott, you still there?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure. Trouble in paradise?"

"What?"

"I thought I heard you placating your boy. Is he jealous?"

Josh ignored the comment and the question about Sam. He took two long swigs of Sam's beer. "I had DNA testing done not too long ago, Scott. There's a ninety-nine point nine percent probability . . . it's a match. No doubt about it."

It was quiet on the other end of the phone. Josh had finally silenced Scott.

"No shit," Scott finally uttered, his voice a bit shaky. "Have you talked with . . ."

"I called Jeanne," Josh interrupted.

"How'd she take it?"

Josh hesitated. "Ok," he lied and took another drink.

"Bullshit. I know Jeanne. What'd she say?" Scott demanded to know.

Josh ran his hand through his hair then drained the bottle of beer. He'd made the choice to have the DNA test. He made the choice to call Jeanne and tell her the results. He made the choice to call Scott to tell him what he'd done. Now he had no choice but to follow through on what he'd started then more importantly, go upstairs and tell Sam the whole story.

And so Josh spent the next hour on the phone with Scott until there was nothing more to say between the two men. When they hung up, Josh felt a sick emptiness in his stomach because he believed he'd never see Scott Major ever again. And while he knew that was for the best, he also knew Scott had once been a very important part of his life and he'd loved the man, he loved the boy, and even though that love went bad, Scott was his first love and that would never go away.

Josh almost went for another Corona but didn't, and went upstairs.

Sam had showered and was curled up in the corner chair reading. He wore a pair of teal cotton pajamas Josh had given him. He'd lit candles and their fragrance welcomed Josh as soon as he entered the bedroom.

He walked over and put a hand on each chair arm and leaned into Sam. "Hey you," he said.

Sam ignored him.

"Hey you," Josh said again.

Sam continued to read.

"Hey you," Josh repeated.

Sam put his book down and looked at Josh, their faces just inches apart. "Hey you what, babe?" he asked with a slight smile.

"May I have your attention?" Josh replied.

"You have my attention twenty-four hours a day."

"I wanna tell you why I called Scott. You wanna listen?"

"I suppose."

"Are you being coy or are you gonna make me work for this?" Josh asked with a wrinkle of his nose.

Sam pulled his bottom lip into his mouth. "I'm mostly being coy," he said, "but it could be a touch of the other thing too. Maybe I want you to think `Sam's being so cute' . . ."

"Sam's being so cute . . ."

Josh leaned in and sweetly kissed Sam. Sam closed his eyes and let himself be kissed. Josh knew Sam was stalling the inevitable but didn't know if it was to protect himself or to protect Josh from hearing what Josh had to say. Either way, he couldn't put it off any longer.

He pulled out of the kiss and Sam's eyes fluttered open.

"Sam, I need to tell you why I called Scott. Let's go downstairs," Josh said.

"Why downstairs?"

"Because I don't want Scott Major in our bedroom."

He took Sam's hand and pulled him out of the chair. With hands clasped they walked downstairs, into the living room, and sat next to each other on the couch. With Sam in his pajamas and Josh still in his jeans and t-shirt, the aura of Josh having a slight dominant edge over Sam still hung unspoken in the air. They both turned their bodies sideways on the couch and faced each other.

"Twenty years ago I was a student at Harvard," Josh began, "and I was living with Scott in a small apartment. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the two schools were about fifteen minutes apart so we got a little place kinda in the middle so it was convenient for us both. You already know we were a couple, right?"

The playfulness went out of Sam's voice. "Yeah. You told me."

"That was a long time ago, Sam."

"I know. I'm just listening."

"There was a girl who rented an apartment in the same building we did. Her name was Jeanne and she was a good friend to Scott and me. She was a really cool gal and we both kinda had a crush on her. She went to UM-B and would ride in with Scott when it wasn't baseball season and he didn't have practice. She was real bright and she and I would get into these political debates all the time."

"Did she play you two against each other?" Sam asked.

"No, nothing like that. She was friends with us both and she knew we were together. What we didn't know at the time, though, was that she was more than friends with each of us and I guess neither Scott or I trusted each other enough to tell the other, but she was, uh, well, she was the first woman I had sex with, Sam. Scott had been with other women before, but I'd only been with Scott. I told you about when we were kids and in high school and it was just a natural transition into college. I was just never interested in women but I was intrigued by Jeanne and she made it seem so enticing and easy. I was curious. I wanted to see what the big deal was." He reached for Sam's hand. "It wasn't that big of a deal."

Josh didn't know if it was his imagination or if Sam's hand really did feel cool to his touch.

"It was December and Scott's parents wanted him to come visit for Christmas and I was going home for Hanukkah. Jeanne's parents had gone on a cruise over the holidays so she decided to just stay home, put in extra hours where she worked, and get our mail. Scott's and my winter breaks overlapped so I left a week before he did and came BACK a week before he did. So we were each at the apartment a week alone, without the other, before or after break. You following this?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. I've got several degrees, Josh. You haven't lost me yet. Keep talking."

"Ok. Are you cold?"

"No, why?"

"I don't know," Josh replied. "Your hand just feels . . . nothing."

"Go on, Josh."

"Well, later, after Jeanne moved away and Scott and I compared notes, we found out she and Scott had sex all that week when I'd gone home for Hanukkah and she and I'd had sex all that week when I got back, while Scott was at HIS parents."

"Slutty little thing, huh?" Sam off-handedly commented.

Josh bristled and pulled his hand away. "Don't EVER say that again. Jeanne wasn't a slut."

"She slept with each half of a couple, KNOWING they were a couple, and that doesn't project very high morals if you ask me."

Well, I didn't ask you, Josh thought, but didn't say out loud. "She's not a slut."

"You just slipped from past tense to present tense, Josh. Was that unintentional or just a segue to the next part of your story?"

"Give me a chance here, ok? This isn't easy for me either."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did." Sam took Josh's hand and held it in both of his.

His hands seemed much warmer to Josh this time.

"Jeanne got pregnant that December and she swore she didn't have sex with anybody but Scott and me."

Josh paused and let the words sink in, for both Sam and himself. It had been a long time since he'd said those words aloud, and the last time it had been to his lover, except it hadn't been his husband.

"Jeanne got pregnant," he repeated.

Sam's hands tightened around Josh's. "Josh, are you telling me you're the father of a child?"

"Hear me out. Please. Hear me out. Scott and I didn't even know she was pregnant at the time. We didn't know about anything until two years later when she tracked down Scott. By spring break she decided to move back to Virginia to be closer to her family. Scott and I helped her pack up her stuff and said our good-byes and we each thought we had a life-long secret with her. What fools we were! It was SHE who had the secret."

"By spring break she knew she was pregnant," Sam said quietly.

"By spring break she knew she was pregnant," Josh confirmed.

"Not too long after she left is when Scott and I began to compare notes and we realized we'd both had sex with her and to be honest, we thought it was pretty funny. Of course, I didn't tell him she'd seduced ME . . . I let him think I'd been the aggressor so he was kinda proud of me for that. And I have no doubt he came on to her. You know how Scott is."

"Yeah, I know how Scott is," Sam said without hiding his disgust.

"So we didn't think much more about her," Josh continued. "I had kind of a warm spot for her in my heart because she was my first woman, but other than that . . ."

His words trailed off as he either forgot about Jeanne or remembered her. Sam wasn't sure which. Then he blinked back to the present.

"Two years later Scott and I had gone our separate ways and he'd just signed on with the Tucson Sidewinders minors and that's how Jeanne tracked him down. She knew he was gonna be a professional baseball player and she was a pro ball groupie and she called him. She told him she'd become pregnant two years before and the baby was either his or mine. She thought it was his. Of course, knowing Scott, he freaked."

"Do you have a child, Josh?" Sam asked again.

"Hear me out," repeated Josh. "So Scott tracked me down and told me what was going on."

"Did YOU freak?"

"I semi-freaked. She wanted us both to come to Virginia and give DNA samples to see who the father was. I went, Scott never showed. But when I got there, it was all . . . it wasn't right, Sam, what she did. She wasn't a slut, but she did a . . . a really hurtful thing. A mean thing.

"What'd she do?"

"I got to her place and the baby wasn't home. There was no baby stuff and no baby. She said she'd take me to it and I said, `Well, is it a boy or a girl? What's the baby's name? Where is it? What's going on?' and she wouldn't say. She just gave me directions where to drive. It was goddamn fucking December again and the roads were icy and it was below zero and we're out riding around and I'm thinking `We're gonna bring a baby home in this'?"

"Did she tell you if it was a boy or a girl or what its name was?" Sam asked.

"She said `You'll see when we get there' real clandestine-like."

"So did you ever get there?"

Josh nodded.

"And . . . where was the baby?"

"Temple House of Israel Cemetery."

"What the fuck?"

"The boy had died when he was three months old. She was bathing him and . . . and she stepped away for . . . something . . . stupid . . . and he slid down in the bathwater and . . . he drowned."

"Oh God, Josh! I can't believe all this! Was he your baby? Did your baby die?"

"Hear me out. Because Jeanne was so certain he was Scott's and told him so, Scott didn't want anything to do with it and that's why he stayed away. Then after the baby died, Jeanne didn't want me to have the DNA tests done. She said it didn't matter anymore, she knew the boy was Scotty's, it looked like him, she WANTED it to be his, and for me to just forget about it, forget about the baby, her, him, everything. Right, like I'm just gonna forget I might be the father of a dead son. So I didn't have the tests done. She'd had DNA testing done on the baby though, which I didn't know at the time. If I had, I would have gone to court to have paternity proven."

"So you get to the cemetery and what happened?"

"The minute we drive in I knew. I just . . . felt it in my heart. She told me where to park and we tromped through about six inches of fresh snow and there was his little grave, just right there."

"Babies' graves scare me," said Sam.

Josh put his other hand on Sam's and stroked it. "Why? Why do they scare you?"

"Because it's not natural. A baby's life has just begun and it's not the way of things for them to be taken from this Earth so soon after coming to it. The littlest stars are babies, did you know that? The ones you can barely see. That's because they were never given a chance to let their lights shine. And if you'll notice, those sweet little twinkling stars are also near bigger, brighter stars to watch out for them. I believe that."

"So you think that baby boy is a twinkling star?" Josh asked.

Sam looked into Josh's eyes earnestly. "Oh, I know it."

"And you think bigger stars are taking care of him?"

"Until his parents die and become stars to watch after him, yes, yes I do," Sam replied. "Maybe a Grandfather or somebody really special."

The men sat in silence for a minute and held hands. Neither knew quite what to say next, what to do next. Then Sam spoke.

"Did you ever find out his name?" he asked.

Josh nodded. "Joshua Scott. She named him after us both. I guess she was covering all bases, just in case."

"So what happened?"

"I tried to get Jeanne to tell me about the baby's short life, give me a picture of him maybe, but she wouldn't. She was insistent that he was Scott's child and now that he was dead she wanted to forget he ever existed and would I just leave, so I left Virginia with nothing of him to hold on to. And that was that. Then when you got assaulted by Marc and were in the hospital and I had to have some tests done, you know, the . . . "

"I know what tests."

"I decided to have the DNA tests run."

"You did?"

"I did. With Dr. Adams' help and a court order, I was able to get them compared with the baby's."

Josh felt Sam's hands tighten around his.

"What were the results?"

Josh smiled, his eyes moist with tears. "For three months, Sam, I was a Daddy. Can you believe that? I had a baby. A little baby boy. Do you hate me?"

"Hate you?" Sam put his hand behind Josh's neck and pulled him forward so Josh's head rested on Sam's shoulder. "Josh, I love you so very, very much. Why in God's name would you think I'd hate you?"

"Because I've kept this from you all these years. Something this big, this important, and you're only hearing about it now. You should hate me."

"I shouldn't, I couldn't, and I don't. We're not even going to get into THAT conversation. So you found out you're the father and you called Scott? Is that right?"

Josh nodded. "He needed to know. I called Jeanne too, and told her, soon after I found out the results. It was right after you got out of the hospital," Josh explained.

"Oh honey, you've had so much to deal with. Me being sick, this paternity thing, dealing with that bastard Scott, calling Jeanne, just handling ME is enough. Do you know how spectacular you are?"

Josh nodded his head. "Yeah."

Sam smiled.

"All this time I've thought he was Scott's child. So did Scott. And Jeanne. We ALL did. And to be honest with you, Sam, and this is going to sound terrible, I haven't given it . . . him . . . all that much thought since shortly after Jeanne took me to his grave. I met you, there was England, straight into politics, you, Senator Hoynes, Governor Bartlet, you again," Josh smiled, "you STILL . . . Presidential campaign, the White House, our wedding . . . my life just took off and I didn't look back."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Anything," Josh replied.

"When you went to Virginia and found out the baby was dead, how did Scott take the news? He thought the baby was his so it must have been rough."

"I didn't tell him."

"You didn't tell him? Josh!" Sam pulled Josh's head off his shoulder and cradled it between his hands. "How could you not tell a man someone he thought was his son for twenty years was dead?"

"He didn't care enough to go and find out on his own, so it sure wasn't my responsibility to tell him. Fuck him."

"Wow!" Sam exclaimed. "You never cease to amaze me. You have GOT to be the coolest guy I know. I swear. If I wasn't already in love with you, I'd fall in love with you right now. Can I ask you something else?"

"Of course."

"When you just called him, to tell him you're the fath . . . about the test results . . . did you tell him then?"

A sad look crossed Josh's face and he cast his eyes downward. "Yeah, I told him he didn't have to hide from Jeanne anymore, that the child was mine and my son was dead. I told him he was cleared of all real or perceived obligations."

"What'd he say?" Sam asked.

"He said he knew it wasn't his."

"That was it? No `I'm sorry' or anything civil?"

"That WAS civil for Scott." Josh put his hand against Sam's cheek. "Sam, I won't ever be seeing Scott again, just so you know, and I'm so, so very sorry for all the shit you went through with him. I never should have invited him into our home. But when I saw him in my office, you know how you just forget all the bad and remember the good stuff about a person?"

Sam had a fleeting thought of his brother, Jack, and didn't respond.

"Well, that happened to me. I just remembered all the great times Scott and I had since we were little kids and I just . . . I just got caught up in it and I shouldn't have," Josh said. "He could have damaged our relationship."

"No he couldn't," Sam replied. "Nothing can damage our relationship. We're unbreakable for eternity. You know that."

Josh didn't reply.

"You know that, right Josh?"

Josh nodded. "I know that, but when I think of what I could have done by bringing Scott into our home . . ."

"He's gone. He's not coming back. Let it go."

"I love you so much, Sam. I thought this was gonna be one of the hardest things I've ever had to tell you and here you are comforting me. I just don't know what I ever did in my life to be given you."

"I love you too, Josh. I adore you."

"How about we go to bed? I'm worn out and you look sleepy too."

"First . . . will you do something for me?" Sam asked.

"Anything. Anything for you, sweetheart."

"Will you get me something to drink then when we get snuggled into bed, will you sing to me? You haven't done that for a while."

Josh smiled. "That's easy. What do you want to drink?"

"A beer?"

"Sure. Anything for you, sweetheart," he repeated.

Josh rolled off the bed. "Can I take a five-minute shower first? I wanna be clean in case I get lucky." Without waiting for an answer, he dashed into the bathroom, took a quick, hot, shower, and dashed back out. He pulled on a pair of light blue silk boxers and headed for the bedroom. "Back in a flash!"

Josh WAS back in a flash with two tall, frothy glasses of ice cold milk. He handed one to Sam, then balanced his as he climbed to the center of the bed where Sam was under the covers. The candles he'd lit still burned brightly and cast long shadows on the walls; the room was cozy and Josh wished it would rain.

"This isn't a beer," Sam observed.

"Try it. You might be surprised," Josh countered.

"What happened to `anything for you, sweetheart'?"

"Just drink it. I feel kinda . . . I wanted to bring you milk tonight."

"I'm not complaining."

Sam took a drink and purposely left a milk moustache. When Josh got in bed with him and saw it, he laughed and kissed it off Sam's upper lip.

"See, beer doesn't leave moustaches," he reasoned, "so you wouldn't have gotten kissed."

"Case closed, counselor. Will you sing to me now?" Sam asked.

"Let snuggle down in here and get comfortable." Josh's voice took on a different tone. Dominant didn't fit anymore because the circumstances had changed, and maybe not as strong as paternal, but Josh had definitely reassumed, if he'd ever dropped it, the role of Sam's protector. All the talk of babies and fatherhood had sparked something inside him and he felt a need to be very close to Sam tonight, to take care of him, to cuddle him in a non-sexual way, and love him as he would a child.

"Finish your milk first," he said. "Then I'll sing you to sleep."

When their glasses were empty Josh leaned across Sam and set them both on the bedside table. Then he put his arm behind Sam's head and scrunched him into his side and held him close.

"Anything special you wanna hear?" he asked.

"Whatever you sing is good. Look how those shadows are sailing back and forth on the wall after you moved and made the flames dance. It looks neat, doesn't it?"

"Yeah, it does. Now just close your eyes, relax, and drift off to sleep. Wanna hold my hand?"

Sam nodded and held his hand up for Josh to take, then Josh started to sing quietly in his sweet tenor voice.

"Close your eyes . . . have no fear . . . the monster's gone . . . he's on the run and your daddy's here. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy . . . beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy."

Sam squeezed Josh's hand.

"Before you go to sleep . . . say a little prayer . . . every day in every way . . it's getting better and better. Out on the ocean sailing away . . . I can hardly wait . . . to see you come of age . . . but I guess we'll both just have to be patient . . . `cause it's a long way to go . . . a hard row to hoe . . . yes it's a long way to go . . . but in the meantime . . . before you cross the street . . . take my hand . . . life is what happens to you . . . while you're busy making other plans. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy . . . darling, darling, darling, darling Sam."

Josh heard Sam's deep breathing and knew he was asleep. His chest rose and fell against Josh and he was out for the night. Josh carefully pulled his arm out from behind Sam and slowly rolled off the bed. He pulled the covers up around Sam's chin, tucked him in, kissed him lightly on the lips and smelled his sweet milk breath. Then he walked around the room and blew out each of the candles until the room was dark.

He went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him and didn't bother to turn on the light. He reached for a towel he knew hung on the towel rack and went into the shower stall and closed that door behind him. He slid to the tile floor, huddled in the corner, and buried his head in the wadded-up towel. He stuffed it into his mouth to muffle the sound and not wake Sam or the neighbors.

Then he screamed. He screamed the primal scream of a man who had lost his son to death. He screamed of the horror of never having seen or touched or kissed his only child, or never having experienced the feeling of that tiny finger wrapped around his own. He screamed the hatred of what Jeanne had done to him. He screamed the hurt of not even having been given a picture to keep. He screamed the pain of knowing he would never be called "Daddy".

Then he dropped the towel to the floor and began to mutter quietly: "Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba b'alma d'vera chireutei v'yamlich malchutei b'chayeichon uv'yomeichon uv'chayei d'chol beit Yisrael, Ba'agala uvizeman kariv, V'imeru, Amein."

The prayer for the dead.

Josh wept for something he'd lost that he never knew he had. He wept until there were no more tears.

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 66

Friday afternoon

Sam was busy at his computer and didn't notice Toby standing at his door. Toby leaned patiently against the doorframe, a handful of pistachios in one palm, tiny bits of shell falling to the floor as he popped another into his mouth. Finally Toby could stand it no longer.

"What are you doing?" he asked in his soft-spoken voice.

Sam slammed the screen of his laptop shut and looked up at Toby with the guilty face of a Cheshire Cat.

"Nothing," he answered in a chipper tone. "I'm not doing nothing . . . anything."

"May I see it?"

"See what?" Sam put his hand protectively on top of his closed computer.

"What you weren't doing," Toby replied.

He walked behind Sam's desk and hovered there. Sam slid his free hand on top of the other. Toby reached over and pecked on the laptop.

"Come on, open up."

Sam reluctantly gave in and raised the screen. Toby leaned over to read what Sam had typed.

"Asparagus? Baby carrots? Radicchio? What the hell?" He straightened up.

"It's the menu for Saturday night. You know, when you and Julianna come over?"

"Yeah, I know when Julianna and I come over. But why did you feel you had to hide this from me?"

Sam shrugged. "Surprise?"

Toby patted Sam on the shoulder then walked to the front of the desk and dropped into one of the chairs.

"Well, the surprise is on us both, Sam, I'm sorry to say."

"Why so glum, little friend?" Sam asked with a grin.

"Don't ever call me `little friend' again, and I'm serious."

The grin left Sam's face. "Why? What's up?"

"Julianna's flying to New York for the weekend. Business. We can't come to your place Saturday."

"Awww, man! We were so looking forward to meeting her. And you coming too, of course, that goes without saying, but we really wanted to get to know Julianna." Sam wore his feelings on his sleeve and Toby was touched by his disappointment.

"When you get back from California. As soon as you get back, we'll get together," Toby assured him. "Is Josh gonna eat that asparagus? Josh doesn't seem like an asparagus kind of guy."

Sam laughed. "He eats asparagus because I convinced him they're little phallic symbols, so he starts at the tip and kinda nibbles his way . . ."

"Stop talking."

"I was just gonna . . ."

"Stop talking now."

"Sometimes he names them. Tom, Dick, Harry . . . "

"You're fired."

Sam grinned. "Drives you nuts, doesn't it?"

"I'm leaving. I don't need this," Toby said as he stood. "Uh, you wanna get back to work instead of playing with your grocery list?"

"Sure. I'll have something for you in an hour."

Toby hesitated at the door. "Sam, come outside and walk with me for a few minutes."

Sam looked at Toby quizzically but didn't question him. He reached for his jacket but Toby waved it off and the two left the building. Once outside Toby reached into his breast pocket and brought out two Cuban cigars. He handed one to Sam and kept one for himself. He bit the tip off his, spat it into a gum wrapper and put it in his pocket, then lit the cigar and handed the lighter to Sam. Sam followed suit, using a Kleenex instead of a gum wrapper, and they both inhaled the pungent aroma of the tobacco leaves.

"Sam, why are you going to California?" Toby finally asked.

"I told you. My family gets together about every five years and it's that time."

"It's not just that. Josh wouldn't be going if it was just that. What's up?"

Sam inhaled deeply. "I . . . we . . . it's time for him to meet my family. For them to meet him."

"As your lover? Your partner? Your husband?"

How odd it sounded for Toby to use those words so casually, Sam thought. He occasionally said `lover' but Sam didn't think he'd ever referred to him and Josh as the other's `husband' before, and to do it without hesitation and so easily. It pleased Sam.

"Well yeah, as my husband."

Toby stopped walking. Sam took another step then turned. "What?"

"Are you sure, absolutely sure, this is something you want to do? Especially now?"

"Absolutely sure."

"How do you know?"

"Because it's time. Josh isn't going anywhere, we're gonna be together forever, other people know. I don't want my family to read about it `The Post'. I'd rather tell them myself and let them meet Josh and not get some preconceived notion if they find out some other way."

"But NOW, Sam. This close to the election? You know your Father is one of Robert Ritchie's biggest financial backers. And I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say your relationship with your Dad isn't ideal." Toby took a long drag on his cigar. "Have you thought about what he could do to us if you piss him off?"

"I'm not stupid, Toby. I've played out scenario after scenario. I guess I know from just about every angle I can think of what my Dad could do."

"And you're still willing to go ahead and tell him now?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah."

Toby started to walk again and Sam fell in place beside him.

"Then why? Your Father could destroy the Bartlet Presidency. A covert gay "marriage", as it is, between two of his senior staff members and he doesn't even know about it? Why are you doing this, Sam?"

He didn't hesitate. "Because I love Josh Lyman more than I love Joshia Bartlet."

Toby rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Dammit! Sometimes I just wanna shake this guy and say "Don't be so fucking nice! You can't love everybody!" But it's Sam, and he CAN love everybody, and does. Nothing I can say or do can change this; I can only try and bolster Sam.

"Yeah, ok. Then will you do me a favor while you're there?" he asked.

"Anything."

"When you're there, when you're dealing with your Dad, will you be `Hard-ass Sam' instead of . . . you know?"

"I'm always a hard-ass," he said with a fair amount of indignation. "And what's `you know'?"

"I'm not gonna say it."

"Say it."

"What Josh calls you sometimes that's the total opposite of `Hard-ass Sam'."

"I swear, Toby, I don't know what you're talking about."

Toby looked around to make sure no one was within earshot, then he spoke in a low voice. `Sweetie-pie Sam'."

Sam burst into laughter. "Isn't that adorable? He likes to call me that when . . . "

"Sheket l"rakah sha! Shut up, for the love of . . .!" Then in a calmer tone, "Just, just hold your own against your Dad, Sam, please. Don't let him get to you, don't let him rattle you, stand up for yourself, and most importantly, do what you have to do, both for yourself and Josh. Don't turn this into a train wreck."

"Be a hard-ass?"

"Be a hard-ass," Toby replied. "Now let's get back to work."

The two mindfully put out their cigars, headed back inside the White House, and to their respective offices. Sam saved his menu for the dinner party in a folder called "Dinner Party", shut down his computer, and returned to his opposition paper for the education budget using pen and paper. Leo needed it before he left for the day. Toby was pleased with it, but Sam wasn't. He was stuck on two sentences that he wanted to nail before he gave the final version to Leo and they just weren't coming to him. He usually found writing in longhand gave him time to think about what he wanted to say and the words came easier. Or at least the words eventually came.

Finally Sam threw his pen on the desk and stood up. He wanted to see Josh. They'd only met in passing today and he wanted to spend a little time with him. He grabbed a handful of M&Ms and headed out of his office and toward Josh's. When he got there, he leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened. He just watched. He liked to watch Josh work. He put his whole self into it when he was engrossed in a project. He leaned over his desk, his left forefinger skimmed through a thick document, his right hand wrote furiously on a legal pad. He didn't even know Sam was there.

"Buy a guy a cup of coffee?" Sam flirted with a coy smile in his voice.

Josh's head shot up and he grinned at the sight of his husband. "Anything for you. Just name it."

"A cup of coffee is fine. And maybe one of those banana nut muffins?"

"Didn't you like my scrambled eggs this morning? You had seconds."

"I loved your scrambled eggs. Why do you think I HAD seconds? It's been a long time since breakfast and I want a muffin. I'll share it with you." Sam walked into the office and put his palms flat in the middle of Josh's desk and leaned dangerously close to his face.

"I'll share anything with you," he purred. "You don't even have to ask ~~ see something you want, just reach out and snatch it up. Grab on and don't let go, baby."

"You know I can't walk to the Mess now," Josh replied with a smirk. "Because of you I've got an erection the size of that flagpole on top of the Capitol."

"Boy, you sure know how to flatter yourself, Pinocchio!" Sam laughed as he stood straight. " What does the President say? You've got an ego the size of Montana, so I guess it's not surprising you think you'd have . . ."

He suddenly turned to the door. He and Josh were so at ease amusing each other he let his guard down for a few minutes and spoke to Josh as he did at home. His face flushed pink at the thought of how easy it would have been to get caught by Donna or . . . pretty much anyone who needed to see the Deputy Chief of Staff.

"We've gotta stop doing this." He turned back to Josh.

"Doing what? Talking?" Josh asked.

"Talking so familiar and about certain things, like you fixing my breakfast and your . . . your erection. Josh, anybody could have heard us just now."

Sam walked over and closed the door then sat in the chair next to Josh's desk.

"But they didn't hear us. Nobody came to the door," said Josh. "Relax."

"But they COULD have! We let our guards down!"

"Sam, you're making too much out of this," Josh said. "We just exchanged a couple of sentences then stopped. It's not like I threw you to the ground and ripped your clothes off." He hesitated. "Not to say I don't WANT to do that . . ."

"Josh! Listen to me just a minute." He instinctively reached out and stilled Josh's hand as it waved a ballpoint pen around while he talked. Sam held Josh's hand to keep it from punctuating Josh's words. "What if we'd broken into this conversation during a Senior Staff meeting in front of the President and Leo, CJ and Toby. Toby would just tell us to shut up, but President Bartlet and CJ don't even know and do you really want Leo to hear what you just said about the Capitol? You know he's such a Patriot that if he'd heard you desecrate that building he'd have your ass in a sling."

"Yeah, you're right. Again. And I just deflated so I can walk now and we can go get that cup of coffee," Josh said and started to stand.

"No. Sit back down, please. I didn't really come by here for coffee," Sam began. "That was just a ruse to get my foot in the door."

"Like you need a reason?" Josh laughed. "What's up?"

Sam spoke very softly. "I haven't seen you since we kissed good-bye this morning. Other people have had your attention all day. I feel . . . cheated. You've been with Leo and Donna and the President and Amy and in meetings with people you barely know and I've been neglected. I just want some alone time with you."

Josh tilted his head and smiled at Sam. "You sure do love me, don't you?" he asked.

Sam's worries from a few minutes ago took a back burner. He smiled back at Josh, "Yes, I sure do love you."

"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do." Josh leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. He crossed his hands behind his head and winked at Sam. "I'm gonna have you lock that door and let you make love to me. Right, here, right now, in this office. Lights on, lights out, your choice."

"Believe me, I'm tempted as hell, but what did I just tell you, Osh? We've gotta be careful."

"First you'll unbutton my shirt and pull it open. You'll pull my undershirt up and put both hands on my chest."

"Don't do this," Sam said, not very convincingly.

"And you'll run your hands up and down my chest as you kiss me . . . hard and long and wet and deep."

"Josh."

"And I'll hold your head in my hands and won't let you go."

Sam took a step toward Josh so he stood right over him. He looked down at Josh, so cool, so confident, so sexy sprawled out on his chair and desk, just daring Sam to call his bluff and kiss him. He slung one leg over both of Josh's and prayed the door wouldn't open.

"Ok, I'll open your shirt." He stalled.

Josh stalled. "Ok."

Both were determined not to give in. Sam reached out and fingered one of the buttons on Josh's shirt. Josh's eyes tried to see what was happening without Josh moving his head. He didn't think Sam would really do it.

Sam really did it. He slipped one of the buttons through the hole and Josh's shirt fell open a little. Josh felt that tightness in his chest. He knew Donna was going to walk into his office any second and he did NOT want his assistant to know about his and Sam's relationship. But he couldn't give in, not when Sam had come this far.

"Then kiss me," he muttered. No way would Sam do that.

Sam did it. Not long and hard and deep and wet, but sweet and tender. Josh slid down in his chair. Sam stepped closer so his knee pushed against Josh's crotch. Josh sat up straight in his chair.

"Ok, enough," he said. "Stop it."

"YOU stop it," Sam countered.

"You started it."

Sam unslung his leg and stepped back, away from Josh, a grin on his face. "I didn't start it."

"Bullshit. You came in here looking like you do . . ."

"And you told me to touch you in a sexual way."

"And when do you listen to me?" Josh stood up. "God, you make me hot."

"Slut."

"Whore."

"Bitch."

"Come here."

Sam started to then stopped. "No, Josh! We're right back where we began. Look, I've gotta finish this thing for Leo then I'm outta here. How long are you gonna be?"

"Two hours maybe?"

Sam ducked his head just a little and gave Josh a bashful smile. "Can you wait two hours?" he asked.

"I'll do my best, pretty boy. Now scram." Josh wadded up a piece of paper and threw it at Sam. Sam closed the door just before the paper hit it, and backed away laughing.

"What's so funny?"

"Huh?" He turned and found himself face-to-face with Donna.

"What's so funny?" she repeated. "What's up with you guys?"

"Um, nothing. Josh was just . . . um, I've got a thing to write. Gotta go."

Donna opened the door to Josh's office just as he lobbed another wad of paper where Sam had just stood. Donna took it in the face.

********

Sam and Josh made love on the couch in the living room with most of their clothes on. They grunted and groaned and ground their bodies into each other and there was nothing pretty about it. It was pure, raw sex, man's desire for man, man conquering man, man loving man. When they were spent they rolled to the floor and lay next to each other, holding hands, happy.

"You've wanted me all day," Sam said matter-of-factly.

"I have."

"Are you satisfied?"

"For a while. I'll want more of you again later," Josh replied.

Sam sat up and crossed his legs. "I'm all yours, but you know what? We've gotta get packed tonight. We're outta here first thing in the morning."

Josh slid his head into Sam's lap. "You'll pack our stuff, won't you?"

"Don't whine. I'll pack MY stuff, you'll pack your stuff."

"I'm not whining," Josh whined. "You just do it better."

Sam put his finger to Josh's lips to hush him. "I'll tell you what. Let's take a shower and while I fix us something to eat, you get our luggage out and we'll pack our stuff together, ok?"

Josh nodded. "I'll watch."

"On second thought, I think that's probably best. I don't want us to get there and you have fourteen pair of underwear and one shirt. I'll pack, you watch, but first let's take a shower."

They made out in the shower, steam rising around them, water beating against first one's back then the other's as they clutched and turned and laughed at the sheer pleasure of being together.

Josh put on sweat pants and a sleeveless sweatshirt and Sam put on shorts and a t-shirt. Then Sam went downstairs to make stir-fry and Josh went into the spare room to get their luggage.

It was eerily quiet. Josh hadn't been in there since he'd found Sam with the gun. Toby had gone in later to straighten up and get rid of the shoebox and close the door. Josh hadn't even thought about going back in. There was nothing in there important enough to make him want to open that door. But it didn't seem rational to go out tonight and buy new luggage. He had to go in there sometime. Now was . . . ok.

Why's it so damn quiet in here? he thought. It's spooky. He looked around at their stuff. We need to get in here and clean this room out. Sam never has time to ski anymore, I don't remember when either of us played a round of golf. We have hundreds of books between us I know we'll never let go of. Sam's tennis trophies. Boxes of my Dad's personal papers I still need to go through.

He stepped further inside the room. Ok, I think I know where mine is, that fold-over thing. And Sam's is just like it so maybe it's his I'm thinking about because it's more likely his would be out in plain sight than mine.

Josh found the luggage easily and carried it toward the door. Just as he got there, he stopped in front of the closet.

Why the hell am I doing this? he thought. Just keep going. There's nothing in the closet for you to see. There's nothing in there that SHOULDN'T be in there. Just take the luggage and go.

But he didn't. He set the luggage down and opened the closet door. Am I nuts? Am I just asking for trouble? There's nothing in here so why can't I let well enough alone and leave the room?

Because he couldn't. Josh was compelled to look in the closet and make sure the gun was gone. He KNEW it was gone because he'd turned it over to Simon Donovan himself and watched him carry it out. He KNEW it was gone because Sam wouldn't deceive him. He KNEW it was gone, but he just had to look. He just had to make sure Sam was safe. He just had to look.

Josh's eyes quickly scanned the closet for the shoebox. It wasn't on the shelf. It was a big box, a box for boots, and Josh would have seen it immediately.

He looked to the floor where things were in more disarray ~~ a discarded FAX machine, a box of photographs, more books, random clothes, a couple of jackets that had fallen off their hangers.

Josh sure-handed as he felt the items on the floor. No shoebox. More reassuring, no gun. He released an audible sigh of relief. He knew in his heart it wouldn't be there but still, it made him feel so much better to actually search the closet and see for himself. Now he felt a bit foolish. Not overprotective by any means. Just foolish.

He picked up a brown corduroy jacket that had fallen, put it back on a hanger, and hooked it over the pole. A tan all-weather coat. Sam's Letterman's jacket.

Josh stopped short of hooking the hanger on the closet pole. He felt its weight over two fingers and let it dangle there as he thought, "There's no way in hell. No way on God's green Earth Sam would . . . He just wouldn't. Not Sam. Not to me. There's no way he'd do that to me. Not a chance. Never happen."

Three fingers slipped into the pocket of the Letterman's jacket. Josh felt the hair on his neck stand up straight and his fingers turned cold. Velvet. He tried to swallow but his throat was dry and his tongue stuck to his mouth. He pulled the bag out. It was purple. And it had something in it.

For a moment, Josh was blinded by his anger. Everything blurred to white in front of him and there was a ringing in his ears that sounded like he was under water. He lost control of his senses for that moment, of his mind. He lost himself in his rage.

When he could see and hear again and knew the fire had passed, Josh left the room and walked downstairs. He stood in the middle of the living room and stopped.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, babe?" Sam called from the kitchen.

"Come out here, please!"

Sam turned the heat down on the stove and went into the living room. He smiled when he saw Josh. "Hi, sweetheart. Get our luggage out?"

Josh slammed the velvet bag to the floor and glared at Sam. "Are you out of your fucking mind? What the hell is WRONG with you, Sam?"

Sam's smile dissolved into a look of hurt and confusion. He stopped and clutched the tea towel he carried with him. He had no idea what Josh was angry about. He'd been fine just twenty minutes ago.

"What'd I do?" he asked innocently.

Josh nodded his head toward the purple bag on the floor. Sam looked down and saw it for the first time. He looked back up at Josh and blinked a couple of times.

"You're done with that shit! Over! Forever, Sam!" He took two steps closer and shook his finger in Sam's face. "Never again!" Sam didn't move.

"Did you look in the bag?" Sam asked quietly.

"I can't believe you'd bring that . . . after all you've been . . . WE'VE been . . . that you'd bring that poison into our home . . . OUR home, Sam! How disrespectful . . ."

"Josh!" Sam repeated, louder.

"What, goddammit?"

"Did you look in the bag?"

"No, I didn't look in the bag! I don't ever wanna see that stuff again! What are you THINKING?" Josh pulled his hands back and put them on his hips. You're NOT thinking!

"Look in the bag."

"No!"

"Josh, please, look in the bag, " Sam said again. His voice was steady and he remained calm. "All I ask is that you look in the bag."

Josh hesitated. Then he leaned over and swiped up the purple velvet bag. He pulled it open and poured the contents out onto his palm. There was a swatch of soft, white satin loosely folded into a pocket.

"Open it," Sam encouraged. "Please, just open it up."

Josh unfolded the satin. There, in his hand, lay his and Sam's wedding bands. He looked up and his eyes met Sam's.

"You know I gave these to Toby to send off to his friend to have engraved," Sam explained. "I just didn't tell you when they'd be back. Toby gave them to me today and I hid them while you were getting in the shower. I can't believe you found them."

"I . . . I . . . I can't believe what I thought about you, Sam. I should have known better."

"Give me your ring," Sam interrupted.

Josh picked up the slightly larger ring and handed it to Sam. He let the satin and velvet fall to the floor and squeezed his hand around Sam's ring.

Sam took Josh's left hand in his.

"With this ring," he said, "I thee wed."

Then Sam pointed to the inscription inside Josh's ring and Josh read aloud: "T'was ever thus."

Josh took Sam's left hand in his and held up Sam's ring. It was warm from being in his tight grip.

"With this ring," he said, "I thee wed."

As he slipped it on Sam's finger, both Sam said, "T'was ever thus." then they kissed, and it felt like the day they married, in sweats and shorts, only this time it was Josh who was surprised by the turn of events.

They made love again this day, sweetly and gently and slowly and quietly in their candlelit bedroom just before they fell asleep in each other's arms. They went to the familiar places of their bodies that welcomed their hands and tongues and anything else that found its way. They talked in hushed whispers and quiet giggles. They nibbled and licked and purred. They said, "I love you", "I love you, too" and only then allowed themselves to separate by going to sleep.

Neither of them had thoughts about the next morning: they were leaving for the Seaborn Reunion in California.

********

"Ok. I will. I won't. I will. We will. I love you too, Mom. I'll try to call you tonight but don't worry if I don't. I love you. Bye Mom."

Josh hung up and sat in silence a couple of minutes. Then, "You ok?" he asked.

No response.

Josh sat in silence another minute.

"You ok, Sam?"

No response.

Josh turned and found Sam curled on the bed behind him, his back toward Josh. Josh couldn't help but notice how Sam's biceps strained against the sleeve on his undershirt, even in a relaxed position. He put his hand on Sam's arm.

"Sam? What's the matter Angel?"

"Nothing."

"Don't tell me nothing. You don't scrunch up like this over nothing. What's up?"

"I don't wanna go," Sam said quietly.

Josh rubbed Sam's arm.

"Why? You've been ok with it up until now. What changed your mind all of a sudden?"

Sam shrugged. "I just don't wanna go."

He sounded young, like a child being forced to do something he didn't want to do. Something scary.

"I just don't wanna go," he repeated.

"Ok. Don't go."

Sam rolled over and faced Josh.

"Seriously? We can just stay home? We don't have to go to California?"

"Do you not wanna go at all, Sammy, or do you not want US to go?" Josh put his hand over Sam's heart. "You know Mom's worried about us coming out to your family, right?"

Sam gave a slight nod.

"So, I can stay here and you can go alone and that way, the whole US thing can disappear and your family won't freak and you won't have to deal with it. Problem solved," Josh said.

Sam looked confused. "I don't know what that means."

"It means, if you've changed your mind and don't want your family to know about me, or about us, it's ok. If you're not ready for them to meet me, I'm cool with that. They don't EVER have to know. What's important is YOU, not your family. I was only going to California to be at your side whatever you choose to say and do. If you'd feel more comfortable going by yourself, that's ok. Really Sam, it's ok."

Sam rolled over and faced Josh. He wrapped his arms around Josh's leg. "No, no, no, no, no, Josh. I couldn't go without you. I'm just not sure I wanna go at all."

Josh realized Sam needed to be held and nurtured and reassured that everything was going to be ok, that he would be with him and he couldn't be hurt again by his Father or Jack. Sam had allowed his haunting memories to slip into his psyche and it had shut him down this morning. Josh hadn't even heard him come out of the shower while he talked to his Mother.

Rosemary was concerned. She didn't know the Seaborn family, but she agreed with Toby that the timing wasn't good. She wasn't so much worried about political impact as she was the effect it would have on the mental and physical welfare of her son and Sam. She didn't want either of them to have to endure any backlash if the news became public, and she knew the more people who knew of their relationship, the greater the chance of a leak.

When Josh had called her when he came out of the shower and Sam went in, she tried again to convince him not to go. She didn't want to deny Sam the opportunity to see his family, and Josh didn't explain it wouldn't be any loss, but she asked Josh more than once to stay home. She said she would fly to Washington and visit him while Sam was gone. Josh had politely thanked her and said that was out of the question: he wanted to be with his husband but they'd still plan to see her at either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Then for Sam to come out of the shower and hear Josh trying to convince his Mother this was the right thing to do . . . he didn't sound very positive about it himself. The reality that he would be with his family in a few hours must have hit him hard, the suddenness of it all, and he might be having last-minute jitters, if not second thoughts, or worse.

But this morning they had a plane to catch and Josh had to bring Sam back to the present and get him into a stable mindset so he could get through the next few days. Josh hated to do it, but knew he had no other alternative.

This sucks, he thought.

Josh pulled away from Sam and balanced on his knees over him in a position of superiority.

"Knock it off, Sam," he said, harsher than he intended. "We don't have time for this."

Sam looked up at him. His eyes registered surprise at being rebuked when Sam needed, wanted, and hoped for Josh's tender consolation.

"If you wanna stay here curled up like a three-year-old down for your nap, then shove your thumb in your mouth and go back to sleep. And if that's your choice, if you're too scared to face your family, I need to know now so I can go in to work and get myself fired by Leo then take off for Tahiti and spend my golden years in a total vegetative state, because I'm tired of this bullshit. I'm tired of Daniel and Jack Seaborn mind-fucking you."

"Josh?"

"But if you're gonna be the man I know you are, the man I love and depend on to keep me the man I am, then get your ass out of bed right now, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, and let's go to California and kick some Seaborn butt."

Josh put his finger an inch from Sam's face.

"And Sam," Josh continued, "if you choose to stay here, if you decide you're too intimidated by big, bad Jack to face him and the rest of those losers who have you cowering in your bed this morning whining, `I don't wanna go', if you're so afraid to face your family and tell them about us, to SHOW them us, then I don't EVER, and I mean EVER, wanna hear you whine about how mistreated you were. Do you hear me? Do you understand me? Because I'm dead serious, Sam, I really am."

Sam sat up in bed and kissed Josh's forehead.

"I love you so much, Josh. I wouldn't be anything without . . . you complete me."

Josh shook his head. "We complete each other Sam. That's what makes us. . .'us'. You know?"

Sam smiled and nodded. "I know."

"Candy-ass Sam or Hard-ass Sam?"

"Hard-ass", definitely," Sam said as he rolled off the bed.

"Cool. Then after being tough serves its purpose, I'll take a little bit of that sweet candy-ass to snack on."

"All you can eat, baby." Sam put on a white oxford cloth shirt, buttoned it up and tucked it into his jeans.

"Don't start Angel, or I'll have to take a piece of you now and I think I just heard our plane take off, "Josh said as he tied his shoe. "I can't believe how late we are. Where's my other shoe? Have you seen my other shoe?"

"Right behind you. And would you relax? We've got plenty of time." He zipped up his jeans and fastened them.

"Shouldn't we have called the cab about fifteen minutes ago?"

"Yeah, if we wanted to sit in the airport an extra hour." Sam put his shoes on.

"An extra hour, what are you talking about, an extra hour?"

Sam ran his fingers through his hair. He was ready. "Did you even LOOK at our tickets, Josh?"

"Uh, no. You just told me when to be ready so I'm ready."

Sam smiled. "You're NOT ready and I told you an hour early so you'd BE ready, but you aren't, even," he said. "That's why I do these things. Put your shirt on."

The phone rang.

"Your Mom again?" Sam suggested. "Maybe she has one final plea to save us from the Seaborns."

Josh laughed. "She loves us. What can I say?"

Sam looked at the caller I.D. "Nope. Not Mama Bear. It's Papa Bear." He picked up the phone. "Good morning, Toby."

"Hi, Sam."

"Josh, it's Toby!"

"I heard." Josh pulled his rugby shirt over his head.

"Is there a problem, Toby? What's wrong?" Sam asked with sudden concern.

"Does there have to be a problem for me to call you?"

"Well no, but if you need me to come in for something, I can be there in . . ."

Josh came up behind Sam and put his arms around him. He kissed the back of his neck and nibbled on his ear lobe. Sam leaned back into his arms and laid his head against Josh's shoulder.

"Sam, you're not coming in! You're going to California!" Toby said with a laugh. "I just wanna tell you and Josh to have a good trip and, and uh, I hope everything goes ok."

"Thanks Toby, I hope it does too."

There was a pause in the conversation, then Toby spoke again.

"Sam, I just wanted to tell you to have a safe trip and don't take any crap off anybody. Your family. Don't take any crap off your family."

"I won't."

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"You know, if your Father and brother and whomever else out there has a problem with this, if they can't accept you because of, um, for who you are . . ." Toby trailed off into silence.

"Toby? What did you say?"

Josh pulled Sam closer into him. Their bodies fit together so well, it could have been one man standing there.

Toby cleared his throat. "I said, if your family can't accept you and care about you the way you are, remember that you have people here, at home, that accept and care about you. Uh, me. For whatever that's worth."

Sam leaned his head to the side and exposed his neck to Josh.

"That's worth a lot, Toby," he said. "More than you'll ever know. Thank you."

"Yeah. Is Josh around?" Toby asked.

"He's right here."

"Let me talk to him a minute."

"Sure." Sam handed the phone to Josh.

"Toby? What's up?"

"You take care of him."

"What?" Josh asked.

"Sam. I don't know much about all his family shit, but I know it's not good. You watch out for him," Toby answered.

"I always do. Why do you think you have to tell me that?"

"Well, I just wanna make sure."

"I appreciate that Toby, but I can handle it," Josh replied.

"See that you do. Let me talk to Sam again."

Josh rolled his eyes. "Your protector wants to talk to you again," he said. "I think he's gonna get an ulcer over this."

"Toby? Are you getting an ulcer?" Sam asked.

"No I'm not getting an ulcer. I just don't wanna lose my Deputy. Now Sam, if you get out there and need to talk with somebody, you can call me any time, day or night. You know that, right?"

Sam was touched by Toby's uncharacteristic kindness. "Uh, yeah? But Josh will be with me. I'll be ok Toby, really," Sam assured him.

"Ok, but just so you know, I'm here if you need me."

"Thanks, Toby. I'll call if I need you. That's good to know."

"Yeah, ok. Well, good-bye. Be safe. And call me!"

Sam hung up the phone, turned, and was in Josh's embrace. They kissed deeply. Josh's hand moved to unfasten Sam's jeans. Sam's hand clamped onto Josh's wrist. They continued to kiss. Josh tried to move his hand to Sam's erection. Sam held Josh's hand back. They continued to kiss. Josh tried again. Sam held him back. Josh started to laugh, then Sam started to laugh. They continued to kiss. Then they broke apart and just held each other.

"I love you, Josh. I couldn't go on this trip without you. I couldn't do anything without you. I couldn't live without you. I wouldn't want to," said Sam. "Thank you."

"Sam, my Angel, my Angel."

********

Delta flight 355 from Dallas/Forth Worth set her wheels down at eleven twenty-nine a.m. at LAX and Sam pulled the shade to cover the oval window next to his seat.

"Hey!" Josh protested. "Don't you wanna see?"

"I've seen it," Sam replied.

"Well, I wanna look out. I might miss something."

Josh reached across Sam and raised the shade as the plane taxied toward the terminal.

"You never miss a thing, Josh."

Sam turned away from the window and looked down and toward the floor of the first class aisle.

Josh patted Sam's leg. "Hey."

Sam looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. Josh winked and Sam's lips upturned a little.

"You know," Josh said quietly.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I know."

As they neared the baggage claim area they passed driver after driver with cardboard signs above their heads to get the attention of whomever they were sent to pick up. Suddenly a woman stepped out in front of them with a sign printed with bold black letters: SEABORN.

"Whoa! Hellooooo there!" Josh came to a sudden halt before he ran over the model-perfect young lady who couldn't have been more than twenty years old.

"Mr. Seaborn?" she asked as she looked directly into Sam's eyes. "Sam Seaborn?" She totally ignored Josh.

"Yes? I'm Sam Seaborn."

"I'm Tiffany. I have your car waiting."

Sam smiled and looked at Josh, who grinned and shifted the heavy carry-on bag to his other shoulder.

"I'm sorry . . . Tiffany? You want a different Seaborn. I've rented a car from Avis. I didn't order a driver."

"Is your Father Daniel Seaborn?" she questioned.

"Yes."

"He sent me here just for you." She smiled and tossed her hair back. "Your car's right out front."

"What kind of car?" Josh asked.

Without taking her eyes off Sam, the girl answered, "A Ferrari 355- GTS."

"You're shittin' me!"

"Josh!" Then to Tiffany, "Excuse his language," Sam apologized. "And thank you, but you can return the car to my Father. We have reservations with Avis."

"Sam! A Ferrari! A Ferrari, Sam! Avis! Ferrari! Avis! Ferrari!"

Tiffany dangled the keys in front of Sam's face. On one side of the leather fob was the insignia of the Ferrari and on the other side were the initials `SNS'.

"My instructions were to make sure these keys were in your possession or I wouldn't get paid. And Mr. Seaborn, I really, really need that money, so please take the keys," she pouted.

"How much is he gonna pay you?" Sam asked. "I'll match it and add a little something for your trouble and you can return the car to wherever it came from."

"Cash?" she asked.

"Cash," Sam replied as he reached for his wallet. "How much?"

"Five thousand dollars."

Sam stopped before his hand got to his pocket.

"Excuse me?"

"Your Daddy said he'd pay me five thousand dollars ~~ in cash ~~ to put these keys in your hand. If you wanna give me the five thou, plus a little something extra for my trouble, that's fine with me, but can we do it soon? My boyfriend's out front and we're on our way to the beach."

She jangled the keys again.

Josh looked at Sam. "Don't be stupid. Now's not the time to let your pride be the hero. Five Gs to NOT drive a Ferrari three-fifty whatever. Think, Sam!"

"Three fifty-five GTS," Tiffany said, still without even a glance in Josh's direction. "Convertible."

Sam sighed and took the keys. "Where is it?"

That's my boy, Josh thought and grinned.

"Follow me. Got your bags?"

"Not yet. Can't you just tell us where it is or do you have to show us?" Sam asked.

She sidled up to Sam and looped her arm through his and snuggled against him. "Oh, I COULD tell you, but I'd rather show you."

"I'll bet you would," Josh mumbled.

Tiffany looked at Josh for the first time and shoved the cardboard sign that said SEABORN into his stomach.

"Sam, I'll get our luggage if you wanna stay here with Tiff," Josh said. "Be right back."

Josh wandered toward the Delta conveyor belt and left Sam with the blonde attached to his side.

"So tell me, Mr. Seaborn," Tiffany growled in a sultry voice, "why in the world would you rather drive a nasty ole Avis rental than a one hundred and forty thousand dollar Ferrari your Daddy just dropped in your lap?"

"BECAUSE my Daddy just dropped a one hundred and forty thousand dollar Ferrari in my lap and is that REALLY how much it costs?" Sam replied.

"Uh huh. Plus the five thousand spending money he paid me to drive it here."

Sam eyed her suspiciously and smiled.

"I thought you said you really, really need that cash and now you call it spending money? Just how do you know my Father and how do you know the price of that car?"

"Because my Daddy plays golf with your Daddy and my Daddy owns the Ferrari dealership where your Daddy bought your new car and my Daddy gave me one just like it, only a different color. Yours matches your eyes." She licked her lips. "Mine matches my lipstick. You like?"

"Yeah, ok."

"Got it, Sam. You and Tiff ready to jet?" Josh came up behind them dragging an over-stuffed travel bag on wheels.

Tiffany laughed. "What'd he say?" Then to Josh. "What'd you say?"

"I said let's go," Josh replied. "What's so funny?"

"Did you just say `ready to jet'?" she asked.

"Yeah," Josh said with indignance. "What about it?"

"Nothing. It's cute. I mean, nobody's said that since I was like, a little kid. But it's cute when you say it."

Josh turned to Sam. "I wanna go home."

Tiffany and Sam walked arm-in-arm through the crowd and out the double doors. Sam carried their laptop and Tiffany laughed at everything he said. Josh followed with their luggage in tow and their carry-on slung over his shoulder. It was heavy and awkward and he shifted it from side to side as he did his best to keep up.

Outside, the sun and the warmth hit them and Sam turned to Josh and grinned. They both put on their sunglasses and forgot why they were in Southern California. Sam just knew he had an adoring, giggly blonde on his arm, his lover next to him, and in just a few minutes, he'd be behind the wheel of a sports car that he was going to open up on the one-o-one and look out at his beloved Pacific Ocean that he hadn't seen in a long time.

"There she is," Tiffany said.

Parked at the curb was a marine blue Ferrari 355-GTS two-seater convertible with baby blue leather interior. In front of it was a Harley with a young man reclined on the seat.

Josh let out a whistle. "You don't get THAT from Avis," he said

Sam saw the buff young man too and turned to glare at Josh over his double- entendre. Josh ignored him and continued to stare.

"This is where I say good-bye, Mr. Seaborn. That's my ride." She pointed to the guy on the motorcycle. "That's Toby. You wanna meet Toby?"

"Toby? Your boyfriend's name is Toby?" Josh laughed. "Can I take a picture of you two?"

"Josh, don't be a jerk," said Sam.

"Oh come on, Toby'll get a kick out of it."

"No. Tiffany, thanks for the keys, the car, it was nice to meet you, have a nice day, good-bye," Sam said in one quick breath.

"Oh, we'll probably run into each other again at the party," she said as she slung her leg over the motorcycle seat. Toby had sat up but didn't say anything.

"What party?"

"You didn't know? Your Daddy's gonna have a party and he invited my Daddy, and me and Toby will probably come."

"Me and Toby?" Josh repeated. "Uh, Tiffany, are you in school?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Where do you attend?"

"Pepperdine University. It's in Malibu."

"Yeah, I've heard of it. May I ask what your major is?" Josh continued.

"Sure. Poly Sci. I'm gonna be the first lady president." She smiled and tossed her hair back. "Bye-bye Mr. Seaborn and . . . you. Catch ya later!"

And Tiffany and Toby rode off on their Harley.

Sam and Josh looked at each other and laughed at the same time.

"That's scary," Josh said. Then he turned his attention to the Ferrari. "Look at this baby. Have you ever?"

Sam was already mesmerized. He loved to drive fast cars and couldn't wait to get out on the road in this one. They put their luggage in the trunk.

"Can I drive?" Josh asked.

"Are you nuts?" Sam yelped. "Get in and buckle up. We're gonna have some fun."

They slid into the soft seats of the Ferrari and Sam gently put his hands on the steering wheel.

"This leather feels like butter," Josh said. "I've never felt leather this soft."

"Yeah." Sam put the key in the ignition and turned it. The engine turned over and purred so quietly and gently neither he nor Josh was sure the car had actually started. Then Sam pressed his foot on the accelerator and the engine roared and they both felt the Ferrari move beneath them, as anxious as they were to show off her power.

Sam buckled his seat belt and eased into the lane of traffic that crawled around the terminal. It took all his willpower to hold the speedometer needle steady at fifteen miles per hour, but the barrage of posted warning signs and flashing yellow lights kept him in check. He finally maneuvered away from LAX and toward the freeway.

He came off the ramp at sixty and hit one hundred and ten in seconds. It felt like the car floated over the blacktop as Sam pushed the Ferrari even further to her limit. Sam tuned the radio to a rock station, pumped up the volume, and settled back in the seat. When he found his cruising speed, he let his hand relax on the gearshift knob.

Josh put his hand on Sam's. Sam turned to Josh and grinned.

"Having fun?" he yelled over the wind that blew past them.

Josh squeezed Sam's hand in response. He knew Sam enjoyed the feel of a fast car around him and sometimes it worried him because he drove with such speed and often, aggression. He didn't drive that way out of anger ~~ it was more of a sport to him.

They went a hundred miles north of Los Angeles before Sam got off the freeway and onto the Pacific Coast Highway. He had to drop his speed and lower the volume of the radio, but the view was magnificent.

The Pacific Ocean spread out before them and the rocky cliffs were spectacular. Sam pointed out seals warming themselves in the sun on the rocks stuck out in the water, and the whitecaps rolled in one after another.

Eventually Sam pulled into the gravel parking lot of a small diner alongside the road and stopped off to the side in the shade. When he turned off the engine, the silence took them both by surprise.

"That," Josh finally said, "was one hell of a ride."

"I love this car."

"How'd she handle?"

"I love this car almost as much as I love you," Sam stated as he rubbed the dashboard.

"Cows aren't this soft. How'd they get the leather so soft? Are cows this soft? They aren't, are they?" Josh wondered.

"I wanna drive this car home, Josh. I wanna keep it."

"Sam, look at me."

"I love this car."

Josh put his hands on Sam's head and turned it toward him. "Does that `SNS' on the key fob mean this car belongs to you?" Josh asked.

Sam raised one eyebrow and smiled. "I think so. Why? Is that a problem?"

"Are you seriously gonna keep it?"

"Well sure, why not? What are you getting at, Josh?"

Josh shrugged. "No reason. Just be careful." He pulled Sam in for a kiss, separated, then went back for a second one.

"That was nice," Sam said quietly. The crash of the waves nearly drowned out his words.

"So, what's the plan?" asked Josh.

"My parents expect us at their house for dinner at seven, but I guess we should get over there sometime this afternoon so they can meet you and you guys can get to know each other. I don't know anything about any party that Tiffany girl was talking about but I hope she was wrong. The last thing I want is to be paraded around in front of . . . for US to be paraded around . . . oh God, Josh, where have I been these past couple of hours?"

Sam put his hands and forehead on the steering wheel. Josh put his hand on Sam's back.

"We're here, aren't we?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, we're here."

"And in a few hours we're gonna be with my family."

"Yep."

"And I'm going on like a blithering idiot over this car and making plans to drop by in the afternoon so we can hang out before dinner and shit, Josh! I. Am. So. Stupid!"

"You're not stupid, Angel. We both got caught up in all this. How could we not? Look at me."

Sam kept his face buried in the steering wheel.

"Look at me, Sam. Right now," Josh repeated.

Sam slowly raised his head and looked at Josh. He didn't smile. "What?"

"We had fun for a couple of hours and forgot why we're here, and that's ok. You're not stupid because you were able to put them out of your mind for a while and have a good time. I'm proud of you for that."

"This car is a trick, Josh," replied Sam. "My Father is going to want me to trade this car for you."

"You're kidding."

"I'm not kidding. I'm dead serious. He's a mean son-of-a-bitch."

They sat in silence a couple of minutes, then Josh asked quietly. "Are you gonna do it?"

"Do what?"

"Trade me for this car?"

Sam burst into laughter. "Josh, I wouldn't trade you for the world. There's nothing that's ever been created or ever WILL be created that I could love more than you."

"Then will you take me into that diner and buy me a cheeseburger?"

"Will you make love to me as soon as we get to the hotel?" Sam asked in return.

"I'll make love to you right now," replied Josh. "I don't have a problem with that at all."

"Let's go get a cheeseburger and maybe I'll let you drive around the parking lot once."

"Oh gee. You're too kind. Let's eat fast."

"At Home" ~~Chapter 67

Thick steam hung in the air and filled their mouths and nostrils. Streams of hot water shot from the jets and swirled around their bodies and overflowed from the Jacuzzi.

Josh was on his knees as the water beat against him. His hands held tight to Sam's hips as he slowly and steadily rocked himself deeper and deeper inside of Sam.

Their wet, soapy bodies moved in a syncopated dance as Sam lowered his head and torso and opened himself further for Josh to fill completely. They moved as one while they joined together. Josh's steady, circular gyration bore deeper into Sam as Sam thrust himself up and toward Josh to accept him wholly.

Then, when the gentle ballet could no longer be restrained, both burst into the manic rush of give and take with an urgency so strong, Josh wrapped his arms around Sam and pulled him up off the porcelain as he dove further and pushed harder into Sam.

Sam cried out in his passion; Josh was silent in his.

"Harder Joshua! Fuck me harder! Make it hurt! More of you . . . all of you . . . inside me . . . fuck me, Josh! Love me harder! Love me more!"

Josh released himself inside Sam and filled him with a love so deep it could never be expressed in any other way. There were no words. Sam took all Josh had to give and wanted for more, even after Josh was spent and slowed to a gentler pace, then started to pull out.

"No!" Sam shouted above the rumblings of the Jacuzzi. "Stay with me, Josh! Stay inside me!"

Josh moved his hands from Sam's hips to his back and with his fingernails, gently scratched little circles into Sam's skin. Sam shivered at Josh's touch and exhaled moans of pleasure. After a couple of minutes Josh slipped out of Sam and leaned forward onto him. He laid his face against the side of Sam's head.

"Hi, baby," he growled.

"Do it again, Josh," Sam pled. "Gimme more."

"Turn over, sugar," Josh instructed. "I want some of you inside me now."

Sam rolled over and backed up until he was settled into the smooth contour of the large tub. He pulled his knees up and spread his legs.

Steam swirled around them as Josh lowered his face between Sam's thighs. Hot water bounced off Josh's back and sprayed against Sam's chest and face. Sam laid his head back and closed his eyes. He put his hands on Josh's head and pulled it down onto him as he pushed himself up to meet Josh, as Josh took Sam's hard, pulsating penis into his mouth. Sam groaned with pleasure and held tightly to Josh's head.

After Sam came in Josh's mouth, he lay still as Josh ran his soapy hands up Sam's chest to his neck. He wrapped his hands around Sam's neck and gently massaged as Sam purred his pleasure. Then Josh licked his way from Sam's crotch, up his abdomen to his chest. He flicked at Sam's nipple with his tongue, then gently pulled at it with his teeth and sucked on it at the same time.

Sam's head flopped to one side. "Don't ever stop that," he moaned.

Josh's tongue licked its way to Sam's other nipple and he did the same thing. Sam moaned again. Josh used his teeth and pulled a bit until Sam flinched, but he knew Sam liked it that way and when he saw the grin spread across Sam's face, he did it again.

Josh licked a trail up to Sam's neck and he kissed him, first on one side then the other. Then he sucked Sam's skin into his mouth.

"Oh, no," Sam groaned.

"Oh, yeah." Josh murmured, as he continued to make love to Sam's neck.

"Oh, no," Sam repeated as he reluctantly pushed Josh's head away. "You've gotta stop that. For real."

"Oh God Sam, I love you. Let me have you." He went to the other side of Sam's neck and began to nibble on his earlobe. Again he took Sam's skin between his lips and sucked on him.

"Josh, I love you too babe, but I can NOT show up at my parents' house today with a hickey on my neck."

"Screw your parents."

"Just screw ME again and I'll be happy," Sam laughed. "Seriously Osh, you've gotta stop."

"Don't wanna." Josh's mouth found Sam's and he kissed him deeply

"Gotta," Sam mumbled.

Their soapy bodies slid down into the deep tub until Sam lay flat on his back with Josh on top of him, but neither noticed the water had begun to collect beneath them. Then Sam laughed while Josh continued to kiss him with a passionate fervor that just a few minutes ago Sam had savored, but now found a bit amusing. Moreso as the water rose around them.

Josh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Josh?"

"Hmmmmm?"

"Josh?"

"What is it, baby?" Josh pulled away from Sam's lips just long enough to respond then returned to the kiss.

"Josh, I'm gonna drown," Sam said with a gurgle.

"Uh huh."

"Josh, I'm serious." As he spoke, water spilled over onto Sam's face and into both his and Josh's mouths.

Josh jumped up and grabbed Sam's head and brought him to the surface of the water. Sam gurgled and squirted a stream of water in Josh's face then laughed.

For a second Josh was stunned and didn't move, then he too laughed when he realized Sam wasn't really going to drown, yet the water WAS getting deeper by the second.

"As much as I'd love to swim with my favorite dolphin all day," Josh said, "I don't want you to get pruney AND we have someplace to be." Josh climbed out of the tub and extended his hand to help Sam.

"I'd rather prune up and stay here. Do we hafta go?"

"Don't EVEN start to whine," Josh said as he pulled a neatly folded royal blue towel sheet from the shelf. He wrapped the towel around Sam and pulled him close so it encircled them both.

"My sweet, sexy, slippery Sam Seaborn seems set on sabotaging our sensational sally to the sea," Josh said in sing-song.

"I appreciate your lovely little leap into the literary life of a linguist, Lyman my love, but lay off the alliteration lest I lambaste you," laughed Sam.

"Huh?"

"Never mind. Let's just stay here," Sam replied. "This hotel is much too nice to leave."

"Hold still. We've gotta get dried and dressed and outta here. Bend over so I can shag your hair."

"Don't say that, Josh," said Sam as he bent over toward him. "You don't even know what it means."

"It means I have to towel dry your hair."

Josh grabbed a small white towel from the rack and let the blue one fall to the floor so they stood naked in the steamy bathroom. Josh covered Sam's head with the towel and began to vigorously rub the excess water from his hair.

"Not so hard, Josh! You're gonna pull all my hair out!"

Josh stood Sam upright and pulled the towel away. Sam's hair spiked in every direction. Josh put his hands on either side of Sam's face, gently shook him back and forth, then squeezed his cheeks together so Sam's lips pooched.

"Sam, take your fifteen seconds in front of the mirror to look perfect then give me my hour so I can at least look presentable. What am I supposed to wear?"

"It's across the chair," Sam replied.

"Great. What are you gonna wear?"

"It's across the other chair."

"Fine. See you in fifteen seconds," Josh said. He tossed the white towel on the floor, put a fresh white towel on his own head and reached for the bathroom doorknob, then stopped and turned back to Sam.

"Angel?"

"Yeah?"

"That, just now, was amazing. I can't remember when I've loved you so much," Josh said.

Sam looked at Josh. "I can," he said.

Josh cocked his head. "When?"

"Last night. Just before we fell asleep."

"But we just held each other last night. We just snuggled."

Sam smiled, just a little. "I know. And I can't remember when I've loved you so much."

A knock on the door interrupted their moment. The bellman brought expensive champagne, sweet juicy strawberries, and warm melted chocolate. They toasted each other, their marriage, and forever. They fed each other strawberries dipped in chocolate, sipped champagne, and they laughed. They helped each other dress then Josh went to the lobby to buy a postcard to send his Mother, and Toby called to ask about the weather.

"Eighty degrees, Toby, and the sky is blue, blue, blue without a cloud in sight," Sam bubbled.

"It's rained all day here," Toby groused.

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, I can hear it in your voice. So, what have you guys done since you got there?"

"Toby, you won't believe this! My Dad had a Ferrari convertible parked at the curb of the airport terminal for us, straight off the showroom floor. It's the color of the Pacific Ocean and we just melted into the leather seats. We took a drive up the coast and I had that baby up to one thirty-five. It felt like we were only going one-ten though, and Josh would have freaked if he'd known, but Toby, I think I get to keep the car. I'm not sure, but my initials are on the key chain. What do you think?"

Toby laughed. "I think you need to switch to decaf and that you're having way too much fun."

"I've gotta have fun while I can. We're about to head out to my parents' house in just a few minutes," Sam replied.

"You sound ok with that. Just keep a positive attitude, Sam."

"I am. I'm ready."

"I believe you are," said Toby. "Remember what I told you?"

"Don't take any crap from my family?"

"Don't take any crap from your family."

"There's no way Josh would let that happen," Sam laughed.

"Good for Josh. Now Sam, things might get rough and if they do, you listen to Josh and do what he tells you to do. You don't have to go through this alone, and you know you can always call me."

Sam smiled. He was touched by Toby's concern. Sam felt like he SHOULD call or Toby would be disappointed.

"Toby, how about if I call you later tonight and let you know how it goes. Would that be ok?" Sam asked.

"Uh, yeah, I guess that's ok," Toby replied. "I should be home."

Sam shook his head. Like where would Toby go? With Julianna out of town Toby was back to staying home on Saturday nights. He wondered if Toby would ever be straight forward and admit that he actually "liked" Sam and even more difficult, to admit he liked Josh.

"Ok, Tobe. I appreciate you sacrificing your evening for me."

"So what else have you guys been up to since you've been in L.A.?"

"You really wanna know?"

"Sure. Let me live vicariously through you two," Toby innocently replied.

"Well, after our drive up the coast we checked in at our hotel, a real nice place, spectacular view of the ocean."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. We got champagne and fresh strawberries from room service and had passionate sex in the Jacuzzi for a full two hours. It was great. This Jacuzzi is so big, Toby, that we could. . ."

"I don't wanna hear it!" Toby interrupted. "And you know that's not what I meant. Now that's gonna stay with me all day. Dammit, Sam!"

Sam laughed. "If you wanna have an image that'll stick in your mind, I'll be happy to give you something more specific," he offered.

"No, no, no thank you. I've heard more than enough. Let me talk to Josh."

"He's in the lobby. Do you want him to call you?"

"No, not unless he needs to talk with me," Toby answered. "I'll hang up now Sam. You remember what I said, right?"

"Don't take any crap from my family?"

"Don't take any crap from your family. What else?"

"Be a hard-ass?"

"Be a hard-ass."

"Ok Toby, I've got it. Thanks. Thanks a lot for calling."

"No problem."

"So I'll talk to you later," Sam replied.

"Yeah, ok."

Sam could tell by Toby's hesitancy that he didn't want to end their conversation. Sam liked that. He'd grown close to Toby over these past months and he knew Toby cared deeply for both him and Josh. That Toby was so concerned about their meeting with the Seaborns touched Sam.

He decided not to end the phone call just yet. Even though he had Josh with him for support, it was good to hear Toby's soft voice. It comforted him in a quiet way he didn't realize he missed until now. Sam walked out onto the balcony and looked at the ocean. He wished he was sailing ~~ out further and further until he was totally out of sight.

"Toby, you know what?"

"What's that, Sam?"

"After tonight, I may never see my parents or my sisters or my brother ever again. I thought about that the whole time I was on the plane."

"Would they really be that close-minded and unaccepting of you Sam, of you and Josh, that they wouldn't consider you part of the family anymore? That's terribly drastic," Toby responded.

"Yes, they really would. I've kinda dealt with this on a smaller scale already. . Before it just wasn't so . . . grandiose. So permanent. With someone else. Not Josh."

There was a stunned silence on Toby's end of the line.

"Toby?" Sam asked

"Yeah, I'm here."

"Where'd you go? What happened to you?"

"Uh, nothing. I just didn't know there was anybody before Josh," said Toby.

"Oh, it wasn't anything like with Josh. It was just a major mistake in my life when I was very young. Well no, I can't say it was a mistake. It wasn't a mistake at all really. He was . . . Toby, can we talk about this when I get home? Josh told me to keep a positive attitude and if I talk about this now I'll go to hell in a handbasket real quick."

Toby laughed. "God forbid you go to hell in a handbasket. Ok, save it until you get home and tell me about it then. I know it's important and I promise to listen."

"I know you will. And uh, I haven't told Josh about it."

"Ok, I understand."

"Josh just came in, Toby, so I think we're gonna take off. Thanks for calling. It's good to hear from you so . . soon."

"Hey Toby!" yelled Josh.

"Tell Josh hi," Toby responded. "And you two take it easy and good luck."

"Ok, thanks."

"And call me when you get back tonight," Toby insisted.

"Are you sure? It'll probably be late."

"Call me."

"Ok, ok, I'll call. Good-bye, Toby."

"Bye Sam."

"Toby's really worried about what this is gonna do to you," Josh said as he joined Sam on the balcony.

"What's he think it's gonna do to me?" Sam asked.

"Look at that. Nothing but sand and water. Did you put in a special request for this view?" Josh changed the subject.

"Well, I knew it was out there," Sam smiled.

He put his arm around Josh's waist and Josh put his arm around Sam's shoulder. They pulled close together.

"So why's Toby so worried?" Sam continued. "Did you say something to him to cause him concern?"

"No, I didn't have to," Josh answered. "He's just worried on his own. Sam, you DO realize Toby cares a great deal for you, right?"

"Well, he's my boss, so I think he's required by some policies and procedures manual to keep up with such things."

"Bullshit. Why can't you let people love you, Sam?"

"I let YOU love me."

"Yes, but you can't deny you don't sometimes worry that I'm going to leave you, to abandon you. Am I right?"

"No, you're not right. I never worry that you're going to abandon me."

Josh didn't respond.

"Maybe at one point I did, but not now."

Josh remained silent.

"That all changed the day we got married," Sam went on. "That's when I knew it was real and forever."

Silence.

"Honest, Josh!"

"I believe you, Angel. I just like to hear you say it. It's a good thing to know you feel secure with me. Let me kiss you."

Sam turned around and Josh backed him up against the railing of the balcony. He leaned in for a kiss then pulled back.

"What?" Sam asked.

"Do you have any idea how absolutely gorgeous you look with that ocean behind you? As amazing as the Pacific is, you out-glorify it and you don't even have to do anything."

"Just kiss me."

Josh pulled Sam to him and they shared a warm, loving kiss. When their lips separated, they continued to stand close, their foreheads together, their arms wrapped around each other.

"I guess we should go," Sam said, almost in a whisper. "This is what we came for."

"I love you," Josh said softly.

"I love you," Sam responded.

"More than anything, anybody, forever and always."

"You took the words right out of my mouth."

"Whatever happens, whatever is said or done, the only thing that matters is you and me, got it?" said Josh.

"Got it."

"And if you wanna leave at any time, just say the word and we're outta there."

"I know."

"But Sam?"

"Yeah."

"Let's try real hard to stick this out and not back down from your family. Let's be the strong ones here."

Sam nodded. "Ok."

Josh brushed Sam's hair off his forehead and smiled. He put his hand on Sam's cheek.

"Sammy, you know what? We can make this real simple."

"How?"

"Let's just do it."

A grin spread across Sam's face.

"Yeah. Let's just do it. You wanna drive?"

********

Josh drove south from their hotel in Santa Monica then Sam took over when they neared the wealthy community of Pacific Palisades. Josh reluctantly surrendered the drivers' seat with the promise he could drive part of the way back when they left later that night.

When Sam was behind the wheel again, he revved the engine several times, then slowly weaved his way through the winding roads of the secluded homes of the rich and some famous, most barely visible from the road and then, usually just by a glimpse of their red shingle roofs which were indigenous to the houses in Pacific Palisades.

He pulled over against the curb, stopped in the shade, and silenced the engine.

"Are we here?" asked Josh.

"Almost. Their driveway is about thirty yards up on the right."

"Where? All I see is red stuff and yellow stuff and orange and green and purple and pink and . . ."

"Those are called flowers, Josh," Sam explained. "And shrubbery. Flora, fauna, landscaping."

"Oh, yeah. And there's a driveway hidden in there?"

"Yep. And a mailbox and a motion detector alarm system."

"Is the house hidden behind a gazillion flowers too?"

"Yes and no. Once we get to the end of the driveway it opens to a clearing and the house sits on the plateau of a cliff and all you can see for as far as your vision will take you is the ocean. It's totally private, totally secluded."

"Totally cool!"

"That it is," Sam agreed. "And then there are the obligatory must- haves."

"And a must-have would be?"

"A pool, tennis courts, a greenhouse. That kind of stuff," Sam explained

"Sounds like some good stuff."

"Yeah. My parents are into stuff. The girls have a playhouse you won't believe. A small family could live in that thing. And there's the tree fort."

"YOUR tree fort?" asked Josh.

"Um, Jack's and mine, I guess. The tree fort is a weird place for me, Josh. I don't even know if its still there. It shouldn't be. I hope it's gone."

They sat quietly for a little while. A warm breeze carried the aroma of sweet flowers and salty seawater. Josh laid his head back against the soft seat and closed his eyes. He could have gone to sleep to the gentle rustle of palm fronds that swayed above him. He didn't open his eyes or move his head when he felt Sam's hand slip into his. He just closed his hand around Sam's and held it and didn't say a word.

Just as he was about to doze off, Josh opened his eyes, sat up straight and shook himself awake.

"So, you about ready to go, Sam?" he finally asked.

"Yeah."

Sam made no move to start the car.

"What's the matter, babe?"

"I just need five minutes. That's all," Sam responded.

"Yeah, ok."

The first five minutes passed.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"It's been five minutes."

"I know."

"You ready?"

"No."

"You ok?"

"No."

"You wanna talk about it?"

"No."

"You want five more minutes?"

"Yeah."

"Ok."

The second five minutes passed.

"Sam, you're scared to go in there, aren't you?'

"Yeah."

"Remember what we talked about this morning? Hard-ass or candy-ass?"

"Yeah."

"And you're gonna be. . .?"

"Hard-ass?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?" Josh persisted.

"Telling you. Hard-ass."

"And what else have I told you?"

"Stand together as a united front and show my family that we're in a serious, loving relationship."

"And what did Toby say?"

"Don't take any crap off my family."

"And what have I told you over and over Sammy?"

"That you'll love me into eternity."

"How long are we gonna sit here Sam?"

"Another five minutes."

"Ok."

Five minutes passed.

"Sam?"

"What?"

It's been five minutes. Are you ready now?"

"Another five minutes."

"Sam, you've said 'another five minutes' for almost an hour. Make a decision right now. Are we going down your parents' driveway or back to the hotel?"

Sam gripped the steering wheel.

"We're going in."

********

Sam eased the Ferrari down the long driveway and parked next to a moss green Jaguar XKE. He didn't know who it belonged to. There were also two silver Mercedes, a black Range Rover, a turquoise and white '57 Chevy and a 1967 Candy Apple Red Mustang convertible. Sam felt a lump in his throat when he saw Jack's Mustang.

"So this is home-sweet-home, eh?" Josh asked as he turned in circles to take it all in.

"This was my address," Sam corrected him. "Let's not confuse the two."

"I'll keep my mouth shut."

"That's probably best, but Josh, stay by my side, ok?"

"You know I will."

"I'm serious, Joshua. Please don't leave me alone in there."

"I'm serious, Samuel. I won't leave you alone in there."

Sam rang the doorbell then stepped back. He looked at Josh and gave him a faint smile. Josh winked at him.

The door opened and a housekeeper that Sam didn't recognize greeted them.

"I'm . . ." he started.

"Sam," she said with a smile. "I'm Frances. Please come in."

"Thank you, Frances. This is Josh Lyman."

"Hello, Josh Lyman," she said. "So nice to meet you both."

Sam and Josh stepped into the foyer.

"Is the whole family here, Frances?" Sam asked.

"No sir. Just your Mother and Father. The house is quiet."

Sam was both surprised and relieved. He'd expected to walk into a house full of people and be immediately bombarded with questions. He was glad it hadn't happened that way.

"Where are they?"

"Your Father's in his library and your Mother's in her bedroom. She tried to stay up but needed to lie down for a few minutes."

"Does she have a headache?" Sam asked.

Frances nodded. "Yes sir, she does."

"Does she get them a lot?"

The housekeeper nodded again, a look of concern on her face.

"Still really bad?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Seaborn. They're really bad."

"Um, Frances, does my Father know we're here?" asked Sam.

"No sir. I just happened to be near the front door when I heard the bell. He doesn't even know it rang."

"Could I go up and see my Mother before you tell him?" Sam glanced at Josh, who stood right next to him.

"Mr. Seaborn, this is your house. You don't ask me what you can and can't do. I take my orders from you," she responded.

"Frances, this is my parents' house, not mine. And I don't give orders. Please call me Sam, not Mr. Seaborn."

"Thank you, I will. Do you want me to take you to your Mother's room or do you know where to find her?"

"Same room?"

"Same room."

"We'll find her. Thank you, Frances. And please, don't tell my Father I'm here yet, ok? I want a little time alone with my Mom first."

"Not a word."

"Thank you. Come on, Josh."

Sam and Josh took the stairs to the second floor, then went up another six steps to a third level, a single room, that extended out from the house. It was his Mother's private sanctuary.

Sam knocked lightly on the door. There was no response. He knocked a little louder and still got no response. He turned the knob and pushed the door open just a little at first, then all the way.

The room was dark. The lights were off, the shades were down, and the curtains drawn. Sam could make out his Mother's outline on the bed.

"Mom?" he said in a quiet tone. "Are you awake? Mom, it's Sam." He moved further into the room. "Mother?"

"Sam? Is that Sam?"

"Yes, Mother."

Sam went to the side of her bed and sat on the edge. His Mother lay flat with the bedspread pulled up to her chin and a cold, gelled mask over her face. She took it off and raised her head when Sam sat down.

"Jack?"

"No Mom, it's Sam. I just got here today from Washington. It's Sam."

"Oh yes, Sam. I knew you were coming."

Sam started to lean down toward his Mother then stopped and straightened up again. She made no move to reach for Sam.

"Where have you been, son?" she asked. "You hardly ever come home anymore."

"My job keeps me really busy. It's hard to get away. I'd like to see you more often Mother, really."

She lay back down on the pillow. She was pale and her face was drawn from the pain of the migraine.

"Is that Shawn with you, Sam?" she asked.

Sam whipped around then looked back at his Mother.

"Do you mean Shawn Patrick?" Sam asked in surprise.

"Yes, of course Shawn Patrick. Come here, Shawn."

Sam put his hand out to stop Josh. Josh saw it and didn't move.

"Mother, you know about Shawn, right?"

"Who's that with you, Sam?" she asked.

Sam stood and motioned for Josh to come to the bedside. When he did, Sam put his arm around Josh's shoulder.

"Mother, this is Josh Lyman."

"Have I met Josh before?"

"No Mom, you haven't. I brought him here to meet the family," Sam explained.

"Oh honey, let me get out of this bed and get dressed before I meet your friends. I don't want anybody seeing me like this."

"What about your migraine? Don't get up if you're still sick, Mother. You can meet Josh later."

"But I want to visit with you and Shawn."

"Mother, we'll go downstairs and you wait until your headache is completely gone. We'll be here a few days so we'll have plenty of time together."

"Let me just get myself put together. Would you ask Frances to come in here please? Is your Father home?"

"I believe so," Sam answered.

"And Jack? Is Jack here?"

"I don't think so, Mom. I don't think Jack's here."

"Oh, well, if you'll just ask Frances."

"I will. I'll be downstairs."

Sam started out of his Mother's room. Josh fell in step right next to him and closed the door behind them. Just outside her room Sam backed up against the wall to steady himself. His face was ashen. His eyes stared blankly ahead.

"Sam?" Josh put his hands on Sam's shoulders. "Sam?" he repeated.

"That's not my Mother," Sam muttered. "That's not my Mother."

Josh had never seen a photograph of Mrs. Seaborn. The housekeeper had said Sam's Mother was up here and Sam had called her `Mother', and now he denied her. Who was this woman?

"Who is she, Sam?"

Sam shook his head.

"Who is she, Sam?" Josh asked again.

"Some . . . some woman I don't know. I mean, she's my Mother physically. Physically that's my Mother, but something's happened to her mind, Josh. My Mom doesn't talk like . . . did you hear her? She thought I was Jack. She thought you were Shawn."

"Shawn was your cousin, right?"

"Yeah."

"The firefighter who died on nine eleven."

"Yeah."

"I remember that, Sam. And your Mom thought I was `that' Shawn?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe she took some meds for her headache and she's just confused or something."

"It's not any damn medication, Josh. She's lost her mind."

"Oh come on. Surely you don't believe that, Sam. It can't be that serious, can it? To say she's lost her mind?"

Sam slammed both his fists back against the wall behind him.

"I'm not mistaken and don't patronize me!" he hissed between clenched teeth. "That bastard downstairs did this to her and I'm gonna kill him. I swear Josh, I'm gonna kill him."

Josh moved his hands from Sam's shoulders to his upper arms.

"Get a grip, Sam. This is `exactly' what you don't want your Father to see. Is there someplace we can go before we see your Dad?"

"Uh, yeah, yeah. My room. We can go to my room."

Sam didn't move. Josh shook him.

"Sam! I don't know where your room is."

"Second floor. But I've gotta tell Frances . . ."

"I'm here, Mr. Seaborn. What can I do for you?"

The housekeeper reached the top of the steps just as Sam spoke her name. She carried a stack of clean bed linens.

"My Mom," Sam started, "she needs you. She asked me to get you."

"Yes sir, I'll see to her right away."

Frances went into his Mother's room and closed the door behind her. Sam just watched. He felt like a stranger in his own home.

Josh tugged Sam by his arm. "Let's go," he said. "Take me to your room."

Sam led Josh down the few steps to the second level, then they walked the length of the hallway to a closed door. Sam pushed it open and Josh followed him in and closed the door behind them.

Sam's room. Josh hadn't even considered that he'd see the bedroom Sam had occupied as a child, a teenager, had grown up in. He was so focused on dealing with the Seaborn family that it never occurred to him he'd actually be in Sam's history.

Josh looked around. It was a big room, a corner room, full of windows with a view unparalleled by any he'd seen yet. It was obviously the room of teenager, but so Sam, with everything in place just right, and Josh felt certain it stayed this way even when Sam occupied it.

There was a double bed with a Navy blue and white bedspread. A chest of drawers and dresser with a mirror. Two bookshelves jammed full of books and like their own home, stacks of books were piled on the floor nearby. There were bedside tables on either side of the bed and a cedar chest at the foot.

Near the windows were a small couch, an easy chair and a floor lamp. In the corner where the windows came together sat an antique rocking chair with a very old quilt over the back. A well-worn teddy bear sat slumped in the rocking chair.

On the walls were astronomical charts of constellations, planets, stars, the moon, the sun, asteroids, comets . . .Sam's fascination with the Heavens and beyond was evident even then.

There were trophies Sam had won: tennis, sailing, golf, crew, track and baseball; ribbons earned for the Debate Team and the Drama Club; certificates as Editor of the school newspaper and yearbook staffs, the French Club, the Spanish Club and Recording Secretary of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

A telescope was pointed toward the sea. A picture of Charles Dickens hung on the wall. Sam had painted a water color of his dog, Buck, and it was thumb-tacked over his bed. A Princeton pennant hung on the wall along with a "Don't tread on me" flag. A framed picture of a young Sam and Jack was on the bedside table and seashells lined the window ledge.

"Hey, what's going on, Angel?" Josh asked. "We've been here less than fifteen minutes and already you're freaking out. What's the matter with your Mom?"

"Josh, my Mom isn't like that. She knew I was coming. She would have dressed and, and, dammit, Josh! She would have recognized me! She wouldn't call me Jack or you Shawn. She doesn't know me, Josh! My own Mother doesn't know who I am!"

"Hey, hey, calm down, sugar. That doesn't mean she's lost her mind. Just wait and see how things are after she gets up and around. She'll be ok. She said she has a migraine. You know how you get when you've got a migraine."

"No, how do I get?"

"Zoned out. Other-worldly. Goofy."

"Yeah, maybe," Sam finally conceded.

Josh rubbed Sam's leg.

"Sure. She'll be fine, you'll see. We just caught her off-guard, that's all."

"Yeah, ok."

Josh stood up and looked around. "So this is Sammy's bedroom, eh? Look at all those trophies and ribbons. Is there anything you couldn't do?"

"There's not so much. Just kid stuff. Jack did everything."

"Hey, all these star charts, let's take `em home. They're cool. Can we?"

"Really? Or are you making fun of me?"

"I'm not making fun of you. I'm serious. They'd look good in our bedroom."

"Maybe."

"What kind of action did this bed see?" Josh asked.

Sam stood up from the bed.

"Let's not talk about that Josh, ok?"

"Come on, tell me."

"I said no!"

"Ok, ok. Damn. Are you gonna be all over the place like this the whole time we're here?"

"I thought you came to support me Josh, and already you're being critical just because . . ."

"Sam."

Josh took Sam in his arms and pulled him close. He put his hand behind Sam's head and stroked his hair.

"Pull yourself together, baby. You know I'm right beside you and you know I'm not being critical. I love you and I'm being supportive. Anything for you. Just try and calm down and know everything's gonna be ok, ok?"

Sam nodded against Josh's shoulder.

"There's nothing we can't get through together. Even your family. ESPECIALLY your family! Do you believe me?"

Sam nodded again.

"Do you really?"

Sam nodded.

"Do you love me?"

Sam laughed a little and nodded.

"Do you really?" Josh persisted.

Sam pulled back and smiled at Josh.

"Yes, I really love you. And I believe you and I apologize for doubting you and thank you for being here."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else," Josh said.

"Nowhere?" asked Sam.

"Nope. By your side, that's where I belong and that's where I'm gonna stay forever. Whether you like it or not."

Sam put his hand on Josh's chest. "Oh, I like it. Kiss me?"

Josh pulled Sam back into his arms and kissed him tenderly. As he held him, Josh felt the tension release from Sam's body.

"Better?" Josh asked.

"Better." Sam responded. "I guess it's time to go see my Father now."

"Are you sure? We can hang out up here a while longer if you want."

"I'm sure. This is what we came for."

Josh held up his left hand and wiggled his ring finger. "On or off?" he asked.

"Most definitely on. No question about it," Sam replied. He hooked his ring finger with Josh's. "And I'll apologize in advance for anything my Father says to you. I doubt he'll welcome this . . . you . . . us . . . this. . . with open arms. Hell, he won't even welcome ME with open arms."

"Sam, don't EVER apologize for anybody else. Especially him."

Josh followed Sam out of his bedroom and down the stairs to the first floor. They walked through a couple of hallways and past several rooms before they stopped in front of a set of double doors.

"This," Sam said as if he was a tour guide, "is the Daniel Seaborn Library, home of Daniel Seaborn's books. I'm told His Majesty is in residence at this time so consider yourself fortunate to be permitted this audience with him. Do you have any last words?"

Josh snickered. "Do I genuflect or something when I see him?"

"Probably wouldn't hurt."

Sam used his fist and pounded on the door.

"He'll make us wait," he said to Josh. "Power issue. Just watch."

There was no response.

Sam pounded on the door again.

"Hold on! I'm on the phone!" came from inside.

Sam gave Josh an `I told you so' look.

The two stood patiently and waited. Josh looked at Sam and saw he had his head bowed and stared at the floor. His brow was furrowed and he looked deep in thought. Josh leaned over and gently bumped into Sam and knocked him off-balance. Sam caught himself and looked at Josh, startled. Josh smiled and winked at him.

"You know," Josh said in a soft voice.

Sam smiled back.

"You know, too."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 68

"Come on in!"

The smile left Sam's face as he jerked his head toward the double doors. He wiped his hand on his pants and turned the doorknob.

Daniel Seaborn's library was very light and airy. It was done in colors of seafoam green and peach with accents of teal. There were plants sunning in the windows and a tropical fish aquarium covered nearly one whole wall. Another wall was made up of sliding glass doors that opened onto a patio. The furniture was simple and stylish in a relaxed atmosphere that just said comfortable Southern California chic.

Sam's Father sat at his desk with the telephone still to his ear. He didn't look up when Sam and Josh entered. He made small talk another couple of minutes then ended the conversation with "Tee time, seven a.m. See you then."

Sam and Josh stood facing Daniel, with the desk separating them from Sam's Father. Josh had his hands clasped behind his back. He had his gaze set firmly on the man, determined there was no way the elder Seaborn would intimidate him.

When he finished his phone call, Daniel pushed his chair back and stood. He was a handsome man, but bore little resemblance to Sam. He was just over six feet tall, and where Sam was lean and muscular, Daniel had a more stocky muscular build. He had a full head of hair, just now starting to gray. He was tanned from days of golf and tennis in the California sun, and he'd held onto his youthful looks. His eyes were brown, his fingernails manicured, his voice insincere, and Josh immediately disliked him.

"Hello, Sam."

"Hello, Dad."

"Have you been here long?"

"About a half hour."

"I didn't know you were here."

"We were upstairs."

"Upstairs? You should have stopped in here first."

"We went upstairs first."

"I heard you the first time."

"Dad, I want you to meet someone. This is Josh Lyman. Josh, my Father, Daniel Seaborn."

Sam put his hand lightly on Josh's back. Josh took a step forward and extended his right arm, but still kept his left ring finger discretely concealed.

Daniel hesitated for a couple of seconds before he shook Josh's hand.

"Good to finally meet you, sir," Josh said in a confident voice. His grip was strong and self-assured.

So was Daniel Seaborn's.

Josh knew immediately the man despised him and so he was prepared to do battle in order to defend and protect Sam's heart and soul.

"Yes," Daniel responded with indifference, and turned back to his son. "So, what did you think of Tiffany?"

Sam glanced at Josh then back at this Father.

"Sir?"

"Tiffany. The little sweetheart I sent to the airport."

"Oh, the Ferrari! She's amazing! We took a drive up the coast this afternoon." He looked at Josh and grinned. "She handles great, doesn't she Josh?"

Daniel didn't smile.

"Tiffany was the little sweetheart who handed you the keys," he said, "not the goddamn car."

"Oh yeah, she was nice. She mentioned a party or something. You're not gonna have a bunch of strangers over here tonight, are you?"

"Yeah? Gonna? Is that how you speak in the White House? Is that what you write for the President to say? `Hi, I'm President Bartlet and oh yeah, I'm gonna have my State of the Union Address tonight'," Sam's Father chided him.

Sam's grin faded and his eyes lowered.

"Would a party bother you?" his Father continued. "Too good to meet my friends?"

"No, nothing like that. It's just that it's our first night here," Sam replied, "and I hoped we could just spend it with you and Mother. And I'd like to talk with you about Mom."

"Let's go outside. It's much too nice to be indoors. Would you like something to drink, Sam?" Daniel asked. He hadn't acknowledged Josh's presence since the initial introduction and continued to ignore him.

Sam turned to Josh and raised his eyebrows in question.

"Sure," Josh responded.

"Two iced teas. Sweet `n Low, please," Sam replied.

"And a lemon wedge in mine, if it's not too much trouble," Josh said.

Sam tried to suppress a smile, but it spread across his face anyway.

Daniel didn't see the humor and summoned Frances.

"A pitcher of iced tea, Sweet `n Low, and some lemon wedges, please Frances," he instructed. "We'll take it out back. And bring some of those crab puffs while you're at it."

When Daniel turned to go outside Sam wiggled his eyebrows and mouthed `crab puffs' to Josh, who put his finger to his lips so Sam would stop and wouldn't make him laugh.

Josh hated how Sam's Father had berated Sam on his casual speech. He and Sam both ~~ and Toby and their other friends ~~ talked less formally among themselves, but were always respectful when it was required of them to be so, and they all knew when that time and place was. To correct his son's language was a deliberate crack to shake Sam's self-confidence.

Josh also noticed Mr. Seaborn had so far managed to avoid both things Sam had asked to talk about: his Mother and the party. Josh hoped Sam wouldn't let either matter drop. Daniel had a habit of answering questions with another question. Josh hated that too. Already there was a lot Josh hated about Daniel Seaborn.

They followed the elder Seaborn to the patio off the library. Thick purple and lavender striped cushions covered the white wicker furniture. Flowers and plants were thick and lush and the grass was a brilliant emerald and shorn as precise as the ninth hole at Pebble Beach.

Off to the side was a screened-in aviary, a paradise for the four Amazon parrots that resided there. Their feathers shone in brilliant colors of red, blue, green and yellow as they perched in the shade and slept the afternoon away.

Daniel waved toward the lawn furniture. "Sit down, boy. Make yourself comfortable."

"Josh, have a seat," Sam said. "Anywhere's good."

Sam waited until Josh sat in one of the large, comfortable chairs then he sat in the chair next to his. Daniel sat on the glider and looked from Sam to Josh then back to Sam.

"Why didn't Lisa come with you, Sam?" he asked.

Frances came out with a tray and set it on the table near the men. She started to pour the tea into the tall glasses of ice.

"Just leave it, Frances. We can do that."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Seaborn. Will there be anything else?" she asked.

"Where's my wife?"

"She's in her room, Mr. Seaborn. I'm helping her bathe and get dressed."

"Is her headache any better?" asked Sam.

"I believe so, Mr. Seaborn," the housekeeper replied. "She says she wants to come down."

"Thank you."

Sam stood as Frances left and poured three glasses of tea.

"Do you want anything in yours, Dad?" he asked.

"No."

Sam handed his Father a glass of iced tea.

"Crab puff?"

"Sure. Give me a couple. Those things are damn good."

Sam put two crab puffs on a napkin and handed them to his Father.

Daniel watched as his son picked up two packets of Sweet n' Low, shook them four times, then ripped them open at the corner. He poured half of one packet in one glass and the other half of the packet in the other glass, then just a dash from the other packet into each glass. He squeezed three drops of lemon into one glass and stuck the wedge on the rim. He used the extra long spoon and stirred the tea in both glasses. He dropped a sprig of fresh mint in one. He then handed the glass with the lemon wedge to Josh and kept the glass with the mint for himself. He put two crab puffs on a napkin and handed it to Josh, then did the same for himself and sat down.

"Thanks, babe," Josh said as he took the snack from Sam. He spoke softly; a breeze rustled the palm trees and wind chimes, and Sam stood between Josh and his Father, so Daniel may or may not have heard. Josh hoped he did ~~ Sam wasn't so sure.

If he did, he ignored the fact that a man had just called his son `babe'.

"Dad, where's Miss Glory?" Sam asked after he sat down and took a sip of tea. He'd talked to his former nanny on the phone the last time he called home and was anxious to see her.

"She died."

"She died?" Sam's head jerked up at the news.

"Yeah, about three, four weeks ago. You didn't know?" Daniel responded.

"How . . . how would I know that unless one of you called to tell me? What happened? Why didn't somebody call me?" Sam was visibly shaken.

"If you'd ever call home, you'd find out such things."

"I DID call home and she was fine! Please tell me what happened." Sam's voice was strained.

Josh sensed this was a typical give-and-take between Father and Son. Daniel held onto an important piece of information he knew Sam wanted, usually of a personal or emotional nature, and withheld it from Sam until he had to almost beg for any morsel Daniel would throw at Sam

Already, Josh wanted to physically hurt the man.

"She was old, Sam. Old people die," Daniel said after a bite of crab puff and a gulp of tea.

"How'd she die?"

"I believe it was a heart attack. I was on the golf course when the medical personnel came. I'm almost sure your Mother said it was her heart."

"You don't know? Dad! Miss Glory worked for you for over forty years and she died in your home! And you don't know what happened?" Sam set his crab puffs back on the table, untouched.

"Don't raise your voice, boy. You're right . . . this IS my home and if you'd ever give some thought to coming here to see your family more often, you'd know about things like this. Hell, your brother and sisters can find time to visit their parents ~~ and each other ~~ and they all knew about Miss Glory, but Sam's a bit too self- important to bother with us anymore. Am I correct?"

Josh was angered by the way Daniel turned the situation around and blamed Sam because he wasn't aware of information he had no way of knowing about. He wanted to speak out on Sam's behalf, but controlled himself and squeezed the pulp out of his lemon wedge instead.

"I don't think I'm self-important," Sam said quietly, "and Jack and the girls all live here in California so it's easier to come home."

"Make all the excuses you want. There's NO excuse for the way you neglect this family. And you say you want to talk about your Mother . . ."

Daniel's voice trailed off, as he purposely left the mention of Sam's Mother open-ended.

"Did she leave any family?" asked Sam.

"What? What are you talking about? Pour me another glass of tea, would you?"

Sam stood and re-filled his Father's glass. While he was up he re- filled Josh's and his own with the same ritual as before.

"Miss Glory. Did she leave any family? I'd like to at least go pay my respects to them."

"Sam, I have no idea. I couldn't be bothered with her private life. Ask one of your sisters."

"How come it's a bad thing for me to be three thousand miles away and not know anything about Miss Glory, yet she died in YOUR house and you don't know shit?" Sam stood over his Father with two glasses in his hand.

Without a moment's hesitation Daniel backhanded the two glasses out of Sam's hand. They flew to the stone patio and shattered, and tea spread out in a dark circle. Josh's lemon wedge clung to a shard of glass.

Sam stepped back when his Father lashed out; Josh was unfazed. There was an awkward silence then Josh spoke.

"How about that iced tea, Sam?"

Sam turned when he heard Josh's voice.

"What?"

"I'd like another glass of iced tea, please." Josh made eye contact with Sam. He wanted to convey to him the things he couldn't say . . . stay calm, hold your temper, I'm here, I support you, I love you, don't take any crap off your family. Act like it never happened.

Sam must have heard Josh's thoughts because he very calmly said, "Sure, Josh, I'll get some more glasses from the kitchen."

Instead of going through the library, Sam followed a stone sidewalk and entered the house through the dining room.

Daniel looked at Josh.

"What the hell are you doing here?" It was more a demand for information than a question.

"Sam invited me as his guest," Josh replied.

"You know what I mean."

"No, sir, I don't think I do."

"Who are you?" Daniel continued.

"Josh Lyman."

"Cut the crap, Josh Lyman. What's your relationship with my son? How do you know him?"

Josh wasn't sure how to answer. Daniel Seaborn knew he was the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and worked with Sam. Did he just say they were co-workers and extend the conversation as long as he could until Sam came back? Tell him he and Sam are just friends and let Daniel go through the process of elimination? Or should he go ahead and tell the man what he dreaded to hear but probably already knew? No, this was Sam's call so he'd wait and follow his lead. The bastard doesn't answer Sam's questions, so I won't answer his.

"What did Sam tell you?" Josh responded. He got a kick out of answering Daniel's question with a question.

"He didn't tell me anything."

"There ya go."

Daniel looked perplexed. "There ya go? What the hell does that mean?"

Josh cocked his head to the side and smirked. He bit into a crab puff and didn't say anything.

Sam came back with two glasses in one hand and a whiskbroom and dustpan in the other.

"Did I miss anything?" he asked as he prepared more iced tea for himself and Josh.

While he did, Josh took the whiskbroom and started sweep the broken glass into the dustpan.

"Nah. Your Dad wants to know why I'm here instead of Lisa."

"I said nothing of the kind!" Daniel scoffed.

Sam and Josh both sat down with their fresh glasses of tea. Neither of them responded to Daniel's comment. Sam took a long drink and reached for a crab puff.

"Dad, what's wrong with Mother?" he asked.

"She's got a headache."

"Yes, sir, I know that, but even with her migraine she didn't seem like herself."

"In what way?" Daniel asked.

"Uh, she, um, she thought I was, she ca . . . ca . . . called me Jack and um . . ."

"Sam! Speak as if you're educated or don't speak at all! I won't listen to `uhs', `ums' or your stuttering. When you're ready to talk with me about your Mother using proper sentence structure, I'll listen. I'd have thought you'd have gotten over that childish stuttering by now."

Sam lowered his head and looked at the ground. Josh stared at Sam. It took every ounce of will power he had not to jerk Sam to his feet and shake him to his senses. He wanted to yell, "Don't take any shit off this bastard, Sam! You're better than him and you don't deserve this! Don't look at the ground! Raise your head and look at your Father! Talk back to him, dammit! Don't let him treat you like this, Sam! Face him like a man! Be a hard-ass! Be a hard-ass!"

Sam raised his head and looked at his Father.

"Don't speak to me that way," Sam said. "I won't have it."

Daniel sneered at his son. "So, you finally grew a pair." He took a drink during the silence.

Then Sam asked again. "What's wrong with Mother?"

"Sam, your Mother hasn't been well for a long time. You know she's had psychological problems in the past."

"In the past, yes, and I know she's received help and had things under control. I thought she still DID have things under control."

"Well, she obviously doesn't, does she?"

Sam didn't answer.

"A few years ago your Mother had another, what do they call them these days? It's not politically correct to say `nervous breakdown' anymore, too much stigma attached, but I'll be damned if I can think of what I'm supposed to say. The country went to hell when we had to become politically correct if you ask me. Call `em as you see `em, I always say. The hell with stepping on toes. Anyway, she had another one of her nervous breakdowns and she just didn't bounce back from it this time."

"People don't just "bounce back" from psychological trauma," Josh muttered.

"A few years ago? A few years ago when?" Sam asked in disbelief. "Why didn't somebody tell me?"

"You were too busy."

"Too busy to hear about my own Mother? I'm never THAT busy!" Sam's voice was strained.

"Too busy getting that little prick Bartlet in the White House. Pour me another glass of tea."

"I'll do it Sam," Josh said. He put his hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed it. He poured tea into Daniel's glass then fixed more for Sam and himself, following the same ritual Sam had used.

"Dad, I've talked with you and Mom and . . . and I've talked with Jack and none of you said anything about Mother being sick. Why didn't . . .?"

"Relax, Sam," Josh said quietly. "It's ok."

"Yes, Sam, relax," his Father chimed in. "There's no reason for you to get so worked up about all this. You've chosen to distance yourself from this family so it's your responsibility to keep up with what's going on among its members. Don't expect us to track you down every time somebody sneezes."

Sam jumped to his feet.

"Mother having a nervous breakdown is hardly a sneeze! And tracking me down has been a problem? Dad, I work in the White House! How difficult is that to find? Dammit, don't turn this around and make it my fault!"

Josh let himself smile.

"Daniel?"

All three men turned to see Audrey Seaborn walk onto the patio. Sam blinked several times when he saw her. He wasn't sure he would have recognized her if he'd met her on the street. She was a tall woman and had always carried herself with a grace and posture that made her look elegant, even when she was at her most casual. She'd always been proud, self-assured, and could handle any business or social situation with ease and confidence. This afternoon she looked drawn, shrunken into herself, almost timid to come onto the patio, and unsure whether she should even speak.

She'd had beautiful thick chestnut colored hair with natural highlights of butterscotch that she'd kept shoulder-length for as long as Sam could remember. Sometimes she pulled it back with tortoise shell combs, sometime she wore it up when she and Daniel went to formal affairs, but she liked it best when it hung loose and blew in the wind off the ocean.

When Sam was a child Audrey would ride her bike with the neighborhood children following along and Sam would watch her hair streaming out behind her as they sped down the hills, her legs stretched out to the sides.

Now her hair was cut as short as his Father's; the blonde highlights were no longer visible and the natural waves were gone. Sam could tell it had just been washed and neatly combed and was still a little damp.

His Mother was never a woman to wear a lot of make-up, but she knew how to use just a little to make herself beautiful. Now she had on just a trace of pale pink lipstick and that was all.

Sam hadn't noticed the drastic change when he first visited his Mother. The room had been dark and she was buried under covers so he could barely see her. Now he was shocked at what he saw.

She wore a pair of green-and-white seersucker slacks and matching top and white sandals. The diamond tennis bracelet on her wrist was much too big. Josh had never seen a diamond ring as big as the one on her left hand.

"Mother!"

Sam walked quickly to his Mother's side and Josh stood out of respect. Daniel remained seated and didn't even acknowledge her presence.

"Sam?"

"Yes, Mom, it's Sam. Come sit next to me." Sam looped his arm through his Mother's and led her to a lawn chair next to his. "Can I get you some iced tea? Orange juice? Anything?" he asked.

"I have to drink decaffeinated tea because of my headaches. Frances is bringing some out for me. Thank you," she answered as she sat down.

"Does that seem to help? Avoiding caffeine?"

"The doctor seems to think so," Daniel said. "If the doctor says it, she believes it . . . the tea tastes the same."

"Do you still have your migraines too, Sam?" Audrey asked.

Sam shrugged. "Not so much. Just . . . just now and then. Hardly ever, and they're not so bad." He quickly changed the subject. "Mother, I want you to meet someone."

Sam put his hand on Josh's back.

"Mother, this is Josh Lyman. Josh, my Mother, Audrey Seaborn."

Josh smiled and extended his hand to Audrey and she took it. He held it and clasped it with his other hand as well, and she didn't let go as he spoke.

"Mrs. Seaborn, it's such a pleasure to finally meet you. Sam speaks so highly of you."

She turned to Sam for an instant then back to Josh. She looked pleased. "Does he?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am, he does," Josh replied.

Sam looked straight ahead. On the airplane he'd had to remind Josh of his Mother's name because he'd mentioned it so seldom that Josh couldn't even remember it. He felt ashamed of himself but was grateful Josh had just lied for him.

Frances brought out two pitchers of iced tea and set them on the table. She poured one for Mrs. Seaborn and handed it to her. As she did, Daniel got up and walked into the library.

"Frances, your crab puffs are amazing," Sam said as soon as his Father was gone. "You have no idea how much I love crab puffs."

"Oh yes I do," she laughed. "Miss Glory left a whole file of recipes and she called these "Sammy's Super Special Crab Puffs" so I had an idea they were your favorite."

"Yes, ma'am, they are, and you certainly do her recipe justice."

"Thank you, Sam."

"Do you know anything about how Miss Glory . . ." Sam went silent went the sliding door from the library opened.

Daniel returned to the glider on the patio. He pulled out a Meerschaum pipe and a leather pouch. He filled the bowl with tobacco and tamped it down. He set the pouch and tamper on the wicker table and struck a wooden match. He held it to the tobacco and inhaled deeply until the sweet aroma of pipe smoke drifted through the air.

"Can I get anything else?" Frances asked.

"No, Frances, that's all," Daniel said, without asking anyone else.

"I have a question," Sam spoke up.

"Yes, sir?" Frances said.

"Is there gonna be a party here tonight?"

"Not that I'm aware of, Mr. Seaborn." Frances turned to Daniel.

"No, Frances," he said. "Just dinner as planned. You're excused."

"Yes, sir. Thank you." Frances went back inside the house.

"When are Jack and the girls coming over?" Sam asked.

"Jack plans to stop by tonight, hopefully for dinner. Everybody's coming tomorrow ~~ Jack, the girls, the grandkids, the dogs."

"Jack's gonna come tonight?" Sam repeated.

"That's what I said."

"Sam," Audrey broke in, "is Lisa at the hotel?"

"Yes, Sam," Daniel added snidely, "is Lisa at the hotel? When do you plan to pick her up? We're having dinner at seven, you know."

Sam and Josh both glared at Daniel. He just smiled.

"Answer your Mother, Sam," the elder Seaborn chided.

Josh could feel Sam's anxiety and he wanted so badly to take part of it upon himself. But he couldn't risk it until Sam had made his move. As tempting as it was, Josh was determined not to jump the gun and reveal their relationship.

"Mom, Lisa's not at the hotel. She didn't come with me. I told Dad on the phone she wouldn't be coming and he should have told you. I'm sorry he didn't."

Audrey sipped her tea.

"I thought . . . I was under the impression you and Lisa were going to announce your engagement to be married on Valentine's Day. That's what your Father told me," Audrey said.

"Well, my Father told you wrong. Lisa and I haven't been together for over two years now," Sam explained.

"Oh Sam! You should have let me know! We planned on a Valentine's Day wedding! What happened between you and Lisa?" Audrey was close to tears.

Sam looked at Josh, and Josh gave a slight nod that only Sam could see. Sam turned back to his Mother. He glanced past her to his Father. Daniel's eyes were on Sam and he listened intently as he smoked his pipe.

"Lisa and I," Sam began, "came to the mutual conclusion we weren't in love with each other and to get married would be a mistake. Our separation was amicable and she's a fine woman. She's just not suited to be my wife and I'm not suited to be her husband."

He turned to Josh. "Well put?"

Josh nodded. "Well put."

Sam returned to his parents.

"So do you have another girlfriend, Sam?" Audrey persisted. "I want to see you get married and give me some grandchildren. Are you seeing someone?"

"Mom, I don't have a girlfriend."

"Aren't you dating at all? That concerns me. A young, good-looking boy like you should have all sorts of girls knocking down your door."

Audrey turned to her husband. "Daniel, wouldn't you expect Sammy to have any girl he wants?"

"I would expect that of any son of mine, yes, but sons don't always live up to their Father's expectations. Some men's sons disappoint their Fathers, disgrace their family, and bring shame to their Father's name. Yes, Audrey, I would expect that, but some sons choose to break their Father's heart instead."

Audrey had no idea what Daniel just said. Her thought processes worked on much simpler terms these days.

"Sammy, I just want you to have someone in your life to love, who will love you back," she said.

Sam's mouth was dry. He finished his tea, crunched on a piece of ice, then cleared his throat. He glanced at Josh and flashed him a nervous smile.

"Mom, Dad, I have someone in my life that I love and who loves me back. We've been in a serious relationship for about two years now and we intend to stay together for the rest of our lives."

Audrey smiled. "Sam, I'm so pleased. Who is she? What's her name?"

Sam turned to Josh, straightened his back, and lifted his chin. This is what he'd come for. He was a little surprised it had happened this quickly in their visit, but then, he really hadn't thought it through. Whenever he'd started to play out the scenario, he stopped when he imagined the plane setting down in California. Josh got and up and stood beside Sam.

"His name is Josh. This Josh. Josh and I are . . ." Sam took Josh's left hand and raised it as he held his own left hand up so their wedding bands were in full view of his parents. ". . . married."

Audrey Seaborn looked at Sam then Josh then at their ringed fingers. She repeated the process then turned to her husband.

"Daniel, did Sam just say he and the man he's holding hands with are married?" she asked.

"That's what he said."

"Can he do that?"

"Hell, no."

"But he just said . . ."

"Go inside the house, Audrey," Daniel ordered.

"I'd like to hear more about Sam being married to Josh," she replied.

Daniel stood. "Josh . . . is it? Please escort Mrs. Seaborn inside the house. I'd like to speak with Sam alone."

"No, Dad, Josh stays here. I want him to stay with me," Sam protested.

"Audrey, go inside with Frances. I'd like to talk with the boys a few minutes," Daniel repeated.

"Please let me stay," she pleased. "Sam is my son too and I'd like to . . ."

"Audrey," Daniel interrupted.

Without another word Audrey Seaborn stood and walked into the house. Sam wanted to speak up for her and he would at a different time, but now he needed to speak up for himself.

When she was gone Daniel faced Sam and Josh.

"What the hell is wrong with you two? Are you both out of your goddamn fucking minds? Unless this is funny to you, Sam, and you expect me to laugh at your sick idea of a joke, you're crazier than your Mother. Because this is SICK."

"I never expected you to laugh, Dad."

Sam didn't realize he still had hold of Josh's hand until he felt that familiar, comforting squeeze. He remembered what Rosemary had said: "You and Josh stand as a united front." He heard Toby's words in his head: "Don't take any crap off your family." He was going to make this as difficult for his Father as possible.

"No," said Sam.

"No, what?"

"No, we're not out of our goddamn fucking minds," Sam replied.

"Sit down."

Sam and Josh took their seats but Daniel continued to stand, looming over them.

"First of all Sam, I want to say how ashamed I am of you. We both know I suspected you of being a queer when you were younger, but I hoped you'd grow out of it. Obviously you didn't."

Sam started to bow his head then jerked it up when he heard Toby's words. He looked at Josh. Josh wasn't even looking at Daniel; he had his eyes on the parrots.

"Thank God for Jack," Daniel continued, "so I have at least one son who became a man. Thank God Jack stayed close to his family and grew to be everything a Father could want because Sam, you're a huge disappointment to me. If someone had told me thirty some years ago I'd breed a homosexual, I'd have shot them."

Josh's head snapped around.

"Have you ever shot anyone, Mr. Seaborn?" Josh asked.

He looked at Josh. "What? What kind of question is that?"

"A serious question. Have you ever shot anyone?" Josh repeated. "Have you ever BEEN shot?"

"I'm not going to answer your questions. And don't you think you've done enough to destroy this family?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," Josh said, "but I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I believe you're serious," Daniel replied. "You DON'T know what you've done."

"Oh, I know what I've done. I fell in love with your son." Josh grinned.

"I don't like you, Josh Lyman."

"I don't like you either, Mr. Seaborn."

"And don't deny you haven't destroyed this family."

"Sir, you destroyed your own family long before I came into the picture."

"Sam's told you lies."

"Sam hasn't told me anything. I wasn't even sure of your name until we were on the airplane flying out here. You're not a hot topic around our house."

"Mr. Lyman, does your immediate supervisor at your place of employment know you're a fag?"

Josh bristled.

"Leo McGarry knows my sexual preference."

"I don't believe you. I don't think Mr. McGarry would tolerate having a faggot Deputy working for him in the White House." Daniel sat down and re-filled the bowl of his pipe.

Josh ran his hand through his hair and looked at Sam. Sam looked grim. As quick as the blink of an eye, Josh scrunched his nose at Sam. Sam smiled.

In that small movement, Josh told Sam everything was ok, he wasn't intimidated by Daniel Seaborn, the two of them were going to get out of this just fine, and not to worry. Josh saw Sam's face relax a little. Josh wanted to take Sam in his arms and hold him, but he didn't think Daniel was quite ready for that.

"If you feel the need to talk with Leo about Sam and I being married, he gets in around six-fifteen Monday morning. That would please you, wouldn't it, Mr. Seaborn? To call Leo and think you're telling him something he doesn't already know?" Josh asked.

Daniel sneered. "Let's just say my sense of humor is unique. Sam, what about Toby Ziegler? Does he know you're a girl?"

"Toby knows about Josh and me, yes. In fact, he . . ." Sam stopped abruptly.

"He what?" Daniel asked.

"Nothing."

"Don't say `nothing' to me, boy. Answer my question."

Sam hesitated. "When we got married, Toby stood up with me. He, uh, he symbolically . . . gave me . . . gave me to Josh."

Daniel laughed. "You're shittin' me. A fag wedding and Ziegler gave away my son, the bride? If this wasn't so incredibly full of crap, it might be laughable."

Josh took a step forward. "I've had enough of . . ."

"Josh!" Sam grabbed Josh's arm. "Please don't!"

"I can't listen to this man any longer, Sam."

"Josh, please."

Josh looked at Sam's eyes. They pled with Josh not to start anything. They begged Josh to control his emotions and temper.

"This is bullshit," Josh spat. He turned and walked across the yard toward the greenhouse.

"Short fuse, huh?" Daniel said after Josh left. "What was it I said that broke him?"

"Broke him? Broke Josh? What are you talking about?" Sam asked.

"Well, I must have hit a raw nerve that he couldn't handle for him to get all flustered and have to stomp off in a snit."

"Dad, you are so wrong about Josh. You don't know how wrong. Josh can NOT be broken. By anything or anyone."

"Then what's his problem?"

"You, Dad, you're his problem."

"Sam, you've been disrespectful to me ever since you got here and I won't allow it in this house. Now I don't know if you're showing off for your friend or what, but I want it to stop and I want it to stop now. You walk in here and dump this marriage crap on your Mother and me like it's no big deal but let me tell you, if you think you're seriously going to play this game, you can get that out of your head right this minute. It's not going to happen, not in my lifetime. You may be some big shot in Washington, but in my house you're still my son and I'm still your Father and you'll continue to show me the respect I deserve. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

Frances came to the edge of the patio. "Mr. Seaborn, Mr. Kaufman's on the phone."

Daniel stood. "I've got to take this call, but this conversation about your `pretend marriage fiasco' is far from over."

As soon as his Father went inside Sam started across the yard toward Josh, who stood on the cliff overlooking the Pacific. His hands were in his pockets and the wind blew through his hair.

Sam walked up behind Josh and wrapped his arms around him. He rested his chin on Josh's shoulder.

"This view takes my breath away," he murmured into Josh's ear.

Josh leaned back against Sam.

"You love the ocean, don't you?" he said.

Sam sucked Josh's earlobe into his mouth and nibbled on it for a few seconds.

"I wasn't looking at the ocean," he said. "I didn't even know there was an ocean out there. I was looking at you."

Josh turned around and the two fell into the other's arms. Sam buried his face in Josh's neck.

"Josh, I shouldn't have brought you here. I never should have subjected you to this. I'm sorry."

"Hey, are you serious? I wouldn't have missed this for the world! Your old man is a piece of work!"

"But the things he's saying to you, he shouldn't be, and I can only apologize."

"Sam, he's not getting to me because of ME. But I wanna take him out for the way he talks to YOU. Has he always treated you like this?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. Josh put his hand on the back of Sam's head and pulled him close.

"Never again," he said softly.

The guys pulled out of their embrace and Josh looked over the estate.

"So where's your tree fort?" he asked.

"If it's still there, it's in that grove over that way." Sam pointed to a lush grove of trees beyond the pool.

"Show me?"

"Uh, not now. Later maybe?" Sam was obviously uncomfortable at the mention of the tree fort.

"Yeah, sure babe, whatever. So what's the plan? Do you really wanna eat dinner with this man or do you wanna leave? I personally don't see how you can sit at the same table with him, but I'm beside you with whatever you decide."

"Well, Josh, here's what I'm thinking. My Dad reacted pretty much the way I expected so he's not gonna let up. He's gonna ride me . . . us . . . the whole time so I already know that's gonna happen."

"So you wanna take off?"

"If it was just him, I'd say yes. But Josh, I wanna see my Mother. I mean, that's not my Mother, but I want to see what's left of her. Maybe if she and I can spend a little time alone there might be some . . . some something inside her that . . . God I don't even know what I'm saying."

"I know what you're saying. There was a time not so long ago when there wasn't much left inside of me but you found "some something" and saved my life. Remember that?"

Sam smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I believe I'll put my time in here, Josh, because I'm pretty sure I won't ever come home again." Sam put his hands in his pockets and stared out at the ocean..

"Yes you will, Sam. Your home is back in Washington with me. We'll go home together."

"At Home" ~ Chapter 69

Josh put his arm around Sam's shoulder, Sam put his arm around Josh's waist, and they stood on the cliff and looked out at the Pacific. A few boats dotted the horizon and the sun glistened off the surface of the sea. A warm breeze ruffled their shirts and tousled their hair. There were no words that needed to pass between them. The way their bodies naturally leaned into the other's said it all. Josh nuzzled Sam's neck then nibbled on his earlobe. Sam turned and they kissed, sweet and tender. Neither even considered that someone might see them.

"You doing ok?" Josh asked.

"I am," Sam responded. "It went better than I expected."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. I'm glad it's out of the way already so I don't have it looming over my head, just waiting for the axe to fall."

"I'm proud of you. I don't know how you held it together."

Sam shrugged. "Just used to it, I guess."

"I don't know how anybody could get used to that. If your Dad wasn't such a blowhard caricature of himself, I'd have decked him."

Sam turned his body so they faced each other, took Josh's hand, and kissed his palm. It tasted like lemon.

"No, you wouldn't. You'd have watched the parrots exactly like you did and let me handle it, just like you promised. Thank you for that."

"Are you gonna tell Jack tonight?" Josh asked. He ran his fingers through Sam's hair.

"To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea what's gonna happen when I see Jack. My Dad may have already told him, I don't know. Jack might not even show up. Sometimes he says he's gonna do something, then he doesn't."

"I'm always just a whisper away from you, Sam, and we can leave this house at any time."

"I know."

"Wanna sneak off somewhere and fuck?"

Sam laughed. "There's a ledge over the cliff and later I'm gonna take you down there and we can do it on the ledge."

"Like hell!"

"Seriously! I've already fantasized about it. You and me, under the stars."

Josh looked past Sam and saw Daniel come out of the house onto the patio. He motioned them in.

"I think your Dad wants us," he said. "Or wants you. I think he'd just as soon I go over the cliff."

"We can hang glide while we're here too." Sam suggested.

"If you think I'm flying off this cliff . . . if you think I'm gonna let YOU fly off this cliff . . ."

Sam laughed. "You are such a wuss! Come on, let's go see what he wants."

They both started to reach for the other's hand while they walked across the long yard, but each instinctively pulled back. At times Josh walked backwards and in circles and stretched his neck to take it all in.

"This place is like a football field," he said with awe. "A fancy, schmancy football field. If we had some chalk and a football, I'll bet I could throw . . ."

"No! We're not marking up my Dad's yard."

By the time they got to the house Daniel was on the phone in his library. Again, Sam and Josh stood in front of his desk and waited until he was finished. Josh made sure his wedding band was in plain view this time.

"Ok," Daniel laughed, "that's fine, Jack, we'll see you then. Good- bye, son. Drive safely." He hung up.

Sam's eyes shot to his Father's face. He was talking with Jack. What about Jack?

"He'll be here in about an hour," Daniel said as he began to sort through his mail. "He'll make it for dinner after all. We eat at seven and I don't want you two traipsing off down the beach."

"He'll be here in an hour?" Sam looked at his watch. "Ok. Good. That's good. An hour."

Neither he nor Josh moved.

Daniel didn't look up. "You're excused."

"Yes, sir."

They left the library and Josh followed Sam upstairs.

"Your Dad called you in to tell you not to be late for dinner?" Josh asked.

"That's the way things work around here. I've had him open my bedroom door, turn on my light, wake me up, and tell me it's bedtime. He has control issues."

"No shit. Hey, how about a bathroom? I think I drank a gallon of tea."

Sam pointed him in the right direction, went into his own bedroom, flopped on his bed, and kicked his shoes off. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling.

He didn't know if he was excited or apprehensive that Jack was coming to the house so soon. He hadn't seen him since before he began working in the White House and their phone calls after that had been few and far between.

He was admittedly nervous, both about seeing him physically and talking with him face-to-face without the impersonal intrusion of a telephone to make it all so cold and measured.

His heart raced and his stomach churned at the reality of being with his brother. He knew Jack had probably already guessed at his relationship with Josh, still, in Sam's mind it was going to be a hundred times more difficult telling his brother than his Father he was married to a man.

He had long ago given up caring what his Father thought about him, and responded as if he did out of respect to his Mother. The final nail in the coffin for any hope for a Father/Son relationship was the day Sam found out about his Dad's twenty-eight year affair with another woman. That he continues to see her ended all hope of any reconciliation or genuine love, honor, or respect from Sam. And he didn't intend to leave from this visit without letting his Father know that.

So Sam carried both great anticipation and trepidation at the prospect of seeing Jack within the hour. He skimmed past the big picture and concentrated more on the little things. He obsessed on the details.

Will he hug me? Or will he just shake my hand? Will he do both? Or neither? Maybe he'll just look at me and not touch me at all. What do I want him to do? Oh God, I want him to hug me . . . I think. What will he smell like? Boucheron? He used to wear that. Does he still? I want to smell him.

Will he say he missed me? Will I say I missed him? HAVE I missed him? I have. HAVE I? Will we laugh like before? Will things be comfortable or awkward? Is there an in-between?

Where will Josh be during all this? Do I immediately introduce Josh? I don't want to neglect Josh for Jack, but I don't want to neglect Jack for Josh. Can I touch them both at the same time? What if they hate each other immediately?

What happens after those first ten seconds are over?

"Whatcha thinking about?" Josh interrupted his thoughts and flopped on the bed next to him.

Sam hadn't even heard him come into the room. "What? Nothing. Just Jack."

"What about him?"

"How it's gonna be when he gets here, when I see him for the first time, when he sees me," Sam replied.

"You are SO textbook," Josh replied. "Just relax and take it as it comes."

"I'm not textbook anything, and thanks for the vote of confidence." There was a touch of defensiveness in Sam's voice. "Jack's my brother. Seeing him now and introducing him to you is a big deal for me."

"I totally get it, honey, but just don't get fooled again into believing the Earth spins on that big ole stick rammed up Jack Seaborn's butt." Josh grinned at Sam. "If Jack's big ole stick is anything like your Dad's big ole stick, we're gonna need to re-write environmental bill to save the country's big ole sticks from extinction."

A smile crept over Sam's face. He knew he'd gone way past the point of idle curiosity about Jack and was obsessing. Whatever happened, happened. Nothing would change what he and Josh had come here for.

"Sam, when we were coming up the stairs you said, `That's the way things work around here'. What's that mean?"

"If you haven't already figured it out, my Dad dominates this family and whatever he says, goes. Especially in this house. I don't question my Father. It's just not done."

Josh couldn't hide his smirk. "What happens if you DO question him? What if it IS done?" he asked.

Sam put the palm of his hand to his forehead. "It's not done, Josh."

"But what if . . ."

"It's not done!" Sam slammed his fist against the headboard.

Josh grabbed Sam's hand and covered it with his. "Shh," he whispered close to Sam's ear. "It's not done. We won't talk about it again. Relax, sugar." He brushed his lips across Sam's cheek.

"It's just that there's always been repercussions when I've tried," Sam continued. "Whatever I said was never right, never good enough, and he always slapped me down so I just gave up. It's just not worth . . . I'm just not worth . . ."

"Sam! Knock it off. That kind of thinking isn't going to get you through the night. Stop it now or let's just leave."

"We're not leaving."

"Then you'll stop that kind of talk?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded.

The phone rang and both men reached for their belt.

"It's me," said Sam, as he opened his phone. "Sam Seaborn."

"Sam? Toby."

"Hi, Toby. Josh, it's Toby."

"Josh there with you?" Toby asked.

"Yeah, he's right here on the bed next to me."

"You two can't give it a rest for five minutes, can you?"

"We're just talking. So, what's up? Is there a problem?" Sam asked.

"No, no. Not a problem, really. I was just reading over this proposal you wrote for the child asthma bill," replied Toby.

"What's wrong with it? You looked over it before I left and said it was fine."

"It IS fine," Toby continued. "I was just reading it over. It's perfect. The President said you nailed it."

"Then why are you calling me about it?" Sam's voice went up a little at the end.

"Calm down, Sam. I just wanna tell you what a good job you did. I wouldn't change a single comma."

Sam looked at Josh and finally breathed. "Toby said I nailed the child asthma proposal," he said.

"Atta boy," Josh mumbled. He slid his hand under Sam's shirt and began rubbing his stomach.

"So what is it?" Sam continued into the phone.

"Nothing . . . in particular. Just checking to see what you guys are doing . . . if everything's going ok."

"Aawww, Toby, that's sweet. You're concerned."

"It's not sweet and I'm not concerned. I just wanted to tell you your paper was passable."

Sam smiled. "We're doing good. We told my Dad."

"Already? How'd he take it?"

"He had a shit fit and called me names and threatened to call Leo. Your name came up. He said he's ashamed of me. Things I expected to hear. He hates Josh and won't even make eye contact with me."

Toby's voice softened and Sam could tell he had leaned into the phone.

"You ok?" he asked.

"I'm ok."

"You really ok?"

"I'm really ok."

"You'd tell me if you weren't?"

"I'd tell you," Sam replied.

"Is Josh holding his temper?"

"Like a Sunday School teacher."

"Tell him to keep it up. That's not an easy thing for Josh," Toby laughed.

"I'll tell him." Sam put his hand on Josh's through his shirt.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Call me when you get back to your room tonight," Toby said.

"Are you sure? It might be late," Sam replied.

"It's ok. And one more thing."

"What's that?"

"Hard-ass."

********************

Sam was too agitated to stay inside so he and Josh by-passed Daniel's library and went back out to the grounds of the estate. Since they had their privacy, they held hands as they walked past the aviary, the greenhouse, the pool, the tennis courts, and the gardens until they reached the cliff again and could go no further.

"You like it here, don't you?" Josh asked.

"I do, but I like the ledge better. It's one of my favorite places."

"You're serious about there being a ledge down there?"

Waves crashed against the rocks just as Josh asked the question.

"Absolutely. You have to climb down to get to it; it's not too far. We can go now if you wanna take off your shoes and socks."

Josh backed up. "I'm not scaling the side of a cliff."

Sam laughed. "I've done it since I was a little kid. There's nothing to it."

"Yeah, but you were like a little monkey when you were a kid. That doesn't come natural for me," Josh retaliated.

"I guarantee you'll go down there before we leave this place, if I have to carry you on my shoulders."

"Why in God's name would you climb down there in the first place?" Josh asked.

"It was my own private little hide-away," Sam replied. "I'd go down there to play by myself, or write. Sometimes I'd sneak out of the house late at night and look at the stars. It's my safe place."

Sam sat on the grass, stretched his legs out, and leaned back on his arms. Josh lay next to him and put his head in Sam's lap. He snuggled in until he was comfortable.

"I could go to sleep right here," said Josh. "Feel that sunshine and listen to that surf. This grass feels like a putting green. My compliments to the gardener."

"Landscaper."

"What?"

"Nothing. I just turn into my Father's Son when I come back here."

Sam ran his fingers through Josh's hair then gently rubbed his forehead. Josh closed his eyes and a slight smile crossed his face.

"Take a short nap," said Sam. "Just feel the sun on your face and soak it in."

"I love you, Angel," Josh whispered.

"I love you, Osh. You have no idea how glad I am you're here with me."

"I wouldn't be anywhere else."

Sam watched the boats and the gulls and the whitecaps and let his mind wander. Funnily, he thought about Toby and how much of himself he was putting into this trip to California and revelation to the family. The sincerity in Toby's voice touched Sam, and he felt Toby's presence even in his absence. He was glad Toby had asked him to call when they got back to the hotel. If nothing else, it just meant someone was waiting to hear from him.

He looked down at Josh and smiled. His arms were stretched out to the side and he slept peacefully. His mouth was open and that soft, gentle snore that brought Sam so much comfort at night relaxed him even now. He let Josh sleep and returned his gaze to the Pacific.

An unwelcome picture came to him. What if it were Lisa and I sitting in the grass, Lisa sleeping with her head in my lap? What if we WERE here to announce our engagement for a Valentine's Day wedding? What if Josh was back at the White House and I was still in love with him, but I was going through with this horrible marriage because it was expected of me? I can't imagine living the rest of my life without Josh.

This announcement will probably mean I'll never see my family again. I know that and can accept it. Can I? I don't need to see Dad again, I really don't. I'm sad about Mother, but so much distance has grown between us over the years, I don't even know her anymore. I haven't been a good son to my Mother. The girls will take care of her.

Robin and Megan. I don't even know my sisters. They've had their own lives since I was born. They were involved in all the "correct things" and never home. Ballet, riding lessons, art, drama, music lessons, cotillion, boys ~~ only the best boys. Daddy's girls from the day they were born and they did whatever he wanted to please him, and please him they did. I was just somebody to push aside when they came and went.

Then there was Jack. Will Jack REALLY disown me when he finds out Josh and I are married? Will I REALLY never see him again? Am I actually capable of spending the rest of my life without my brother in it?

I don't know.

Josh shifted in Sam's lap and Sam looked down at him. He'd turned on his side and closed his mouth. His face was pressed up against Sam's stomach as he slept. Sam twirled a lock of Josh's hair between his fingers.

It's not like I have to choose between Josh and Jack. That's not an option. I've chosen Josh. If that means losing Jack . . . if that means losing Jack . . . tears welled up in Sam's eyes. I can't lose my brother. He HAS to accept Josh. He HAS to understand. God, please let him understand and accept Josh. Please don't have him turn me out of his life. I can't live without Jack.

Sam rubbed Josh's ear and ran his hand down the back of his neck and massaged his muscles.

"That feels terrific," Josh murmured.

"I didn't know you were awake.

"Just now. Feels like I've been asleep for hours."

"Yeah, that happens out here," Sam replied.

"You know, despite your Dad, this atmosphere is so like you," Josh said. "I can easily see you growing up here, playing tennis on those courts, lounging in that pool. You've already got a tan and we've only been here a few hours."

"I know every inch of this place. And, like you say, despite my Dad, I love it here."

"Any chance of you getting it in the will?"

"Huh? What?" Sam was surprised at the question.

"Think you might get the estate in the will?" Josh repeated.

Sam laughed. "I doubt I'll even know my parents are dead unless I just happen to call home and a stranger tells me. So the answer is NO. I won't get the estate in the will."

"Sam, are you stressing about seeing Jack?"

"Why would you ask that? I haven't said anything about him."

"No, but you're about to break my neck while you're massaging it. I appreciate the gesture, but could you ease up to the pressure of a vice grip?"

"Oh baby, I'm sorry . . . I didn't realize . . ." Sam released Josh's neck and hugged his head with both arms.

"So, ARE you stressing about seeing Jack?" Josh repeated.

"Not so much stressing as trying to figure out which Jack he'll be," Sam replied. "I never know what his frame of mind is going to be like, and that concerns me a little."

"Well, you can't figure that out before he gets here so don't even try. Just remember who you are, who WE are, and what we've got. If you keep that first and foremost you can do anything. Don't ever lose sight that you're my husband and that will never change."

"That's what got me through earlier, with my Dad. But see, it'll be different with Jack. Dad just reacted to the superficiality of it all ~~ Jack will go straight to my heart, rip apart my emotions. Pull at me. Attack you. My Dad doesn't love me and Jack does. It's hard for me to say no to Jack."

Josh remembered the phone calls between Sam and Jack; Sam in the park soaking wet, reliving what Jack had done to him; Sam telling bits and pieces of other stories of a painful, abusive childhood at the hands of Jack Seaborn. Josh wondered if he could maintain control of himself and not go at Jack's throat the instant he saw him.

"Sam!"

Both men turned to see someone walking across the yard toward them. They stood up and brushed stray blades of grass from their clothes.

"It's Jack," Sam said with no emotion.

As he got closer, Josh could see him better. "Holy shit!" he muttered. "He looks just like Simon Donovan!"

Jack was taller than Sam and it was clear he took care of his body. He had brown hair and Sam's blue eyes. When he smiled, Josh saw Sam's smile. Josh was caught off guard and unnerved by this man; he admittedly had a physical crush (as did Sam) on Simon and now to see this man who so resembled Simon with both his features and Sam's blended together made him uneasy. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't.

"There's my baby brother," Jack beamed.

He wrapped his arms around Sam and lifted him off his feet in a bear hug. When he set him down he gave him a big kiss on his cheek and with one arm still around him, pulled him close to his side.

"You look great, kiddo," Jack said. "You're fit, hell, you're in GREAT shape, you look like you're twenty years old ~~ you're beautiful." He squooched Sam's cheeks together. "Absolutely adorable. You could have stepped off a magazine cover."

"I've got grass in my hair," Sam blushed. "And I'm wrinkled. You look good, too. It's been a long time."

"Too long. I couldn't wait to get my hands on you."

"Jack, I want you to meet . . ."

"Josh Lyman." Jack smiled. He reached for Josh's hand and shook it as if he was greeting an old friend. "We finally meet. Welcome to our home."

Sam struggled loose from Jack's grasp and stood next to Josh.

"Josh, this is my brother, Jack Seaborn. Jack, this is Josh Lyman, my . . ."

"Lover," Jack finished for him.

Sam and Josh were both stunned into silence. Neither expected a welcome like this from Jack. Neither thought they'd see his smile, feel the warmth of his hand, hear the word "lover" roll off his tongue so easily without a hint of bitterness, ridicule, or cynicism. Before Josh remembered whose presence he was in, he saw the charismatic Jack that Sam adored.

"Yes," Sam said. "Have you talked with Dad?"

"No. I haven't even been in the house. I walked around to the back, saw you guys out here, and just came across the yard."

"I've heard a lot about you," Josh said when he pulled his hand back. "Sam hasn't told us very much about you," Jack replied. "I'm anxious to learn everything there is to know. I want to find out what it is about you that captured my baby brother's heart."

Sam's eyes moved back and forth between the two. After the last phone call with his brother, this is NOT what he expected. He was sure Josh didn't either. He tried to push the idea out of his thoughts, but all he could wonder was, what is Jack up to?

"Yeah, well, there's not much to tell, really. I'm just a simple, uncomplicated guy without much to say," Josh replied, keeping his smirk intact. "You'll have to ask Sam those questions."

Jack put his arm around Sam's shoulder and pulled him away from Josh and to his side again. He had a strong grip on Sam's arm as he tucked him into the crook of his own shoulder. Sam felt a wave of time pass over him taking him back to when he was eight and Jack was sixteen and would protect him from the world seen through the eyes of a little boy. He liked being there. He liked the feeling. Even though he had nothing to be afraid of, he liked feeling safe against his brother.

"Sam and I will have plenty of time for talking," Jack said with a wink toward Sam. "And we've got a lot to talk about." Jack ran his hand through Sam's hair and kissed him on the forehead. "Why'd you ask me if I've talked with Dad?"

Sam hesitated and started to hang his head, then raised it. Josh gave a slight smile.

"Because . . . because you called Josh my lover," Sam replied.

"YES!" Josh shouted to himself. He didn't falter on the word "lover". He just said it!

"Dad has something to do with Josh being your lover?"

Here it comes, Josh thought. He instantly picked up the difference in Jack's tone. The sharp edge. The biting sarcasm. The tricky wording so it made it almost impossible for Sam to answer the question with any semblance of logic.

Sam looked up at Jack, the relaxed expression on his face gone. "No, of course not! Th . . . th . . . that's not what I meant."

"Then why was that the first question out of your mouth when I identified Josh as your lover?" Jack persisted. "Does Dad know Josh is your lover?"

Sam pulled away from Jack and moved back toward Josh. "Yes, he does. That's why I thought you'd talked with him. That's how I thought you knew about Josh's and my relationship."

Jack laughed. "Crazy boy." He put his palm against Sam's cheek. "Now tell me what's REALLY going on, sweetheart? Are you man enough to tell me about you and your `lover'?"

Sam reached for Josh's hand and found it waiting. He took it in his and held both hands up in clear view.

"Josh and I are married," he said, clearly. "We've been married since last spring."

A smile of mild disbelief spread across Jack's face. "Holy fuck!" he said slowly. "It crossed my mind but I said, `No, no brother of mine would become somebody's bitch.' But damned if you didn't! Holy fuck!"

"He's not my bitch, Seaborn," Josh said. "I'm not gonna waste my time explaining this to you, but don't ever call him that again."

Jack feigned shock. "Don't tell me YOU'RE the lady of the house? Sam is so pretty and delicate, I assumed he'd be your bride."

"Knock it off, Jack," said Sam. "You asked and I told you the truth. There's no reason for you to be obnoxious about it."

"I'm not being obnoxious, Bunny. I'm just trying to get the whole story." His tone became insincerely softer. "I care about you and want to know what's going on in your life. I'm just watching out for your best interests."

"Bullshit," Josh muttered, and Jack ignored him.

"Have you told Dad?" Jack asked. "About being, um, `married', I mean."

"I told him this afternoon," Sam replied.

"And he's not in the coronary unit?"

"Jack, I asked you please . . . "

"I'm sorry, but I just can't help it, Sodapop. This is just all so new to me, I can't help asking questions." Jack turned to Josh and punched him in the arm in a disguised show of male bravado. "Welcome to the family, bro."

Josh ignored him.

"So is your name Sam Lyman now?" Jack continued in a mock serious tone.

Sam didn't want to go into all the particulars ~~ it was private ~~ but they'd come this far. "We don't make it public, but my name is Samuel Lyman Seaborn and Josh is now Joshua Seaborn Lyman," Sam replied.

Jack looked from one to the other. Sam squeezed Josh's hand. He immediately wished he hadn't told Jack.

"That's cute," Jack finally said. "I notice you're wearing rings. May I see them?"

Sam held out his left hand that wasn't attached to Josh. Jack took it in his and pulled it closer so he could inspect it.

"Lovely," he commented. "Was it fun picking them out together?"

Sam jerked his hand back. "I asked you to stop," he growled. "We're going inside."

"Sam, don't, don't, don't, don't." His voice sounded warm and sincere again. He put his hands on Sam's shoulders and gently stopped him. "Please don't be angry. I promise not to be so insensitive." He turned to Josh. "You too, Josh. I apologize for being rude. I just don't know what to say and I'm going about this all wrong. Forgive me?"

He gently shook Sam's shoulders until Sam looked up at him. When he did, Jack flashed him that smile that Sam couldn't resist. Sam nodded his head.

"Just don't be so thoughtless, ok? I know I'm still gonna have to deal with Dad about this, and I could use you on my side."

"You've got it. Count on me to be in your corner ~~ yours too, Josh. There's nothing wrong with what you guys have done. It's just going to take some getting used to. So, what did Dad say when he found out you and your friend are pretending to be married?" Jack asked, still with a smile on his face.

"Dammit, we're not pretending. This is for real!" Sam brushed Jack's hands off his shoulders. "I knew you'd ridicule us. This is why I haven't told you before now, Jack. I wanted you to know about Josh, I wanted to tell you, but I knew you'd react this way."

"Ok, ok, I'm sorry. But be reasonable. You live in Washington, D.C. and same-sex marriages aren't recognized. It's not legal. You guys are living in a fantasy. It's make-believe. You're NOT married."

Sam clenched his jaw and made a fist with his both hands. "Josh and I are married. It may not be recognized in the District of Columbia, but it's as real and binding to us as anything CAN be."

Jack held his hands up and laughed. "Relax! For fun we'll say it's real then. Just don't wet your pants."

Josh cocked his head to the side, adjusted his sunglasses, put his hands on his hips, and smiled at Jack. "Hey Seaborn, can you answer a simple question for me?"

Jack turned his attention to Josh. "I'm fairly well-educated. If it's simple . . . maybe."

"What pleasure do you get in humiliating Sam?"

The smile left Jack's face. "First of all, Joshua, I don't humiliate Sam. And second, the relationship between Sam and me is BETWEEN Sam and me and there's no room for anybody else, not even you. Especially not you. Don't question what we do, don't question what we say. It's between Sam and me. Right, Sam?"

Both Jack and Josh turned to Sam.

Sam looked like he'd rather be any place on the planet than where he was at that moment, and Josh immediately regretted asking the question. They couldn't even make eye contact.

Sam had nightmares this moment would come, that he would be caught between Josh and Jack and have to choose between them. While this wasn't as dramatic as he had played it over and over in his head, it was just as heart-breaking and he was just as lost as to what to say or do.

Of course his relationship with his brother was sacred; it always had been and always would be. But Josh was his husband and there was nothing he wouldn't share with him.

Then Josh spoke up. "I'm not trying to come between Sam's and your relationship," he said. "I'd never do that to Sam. I just wanna know why you feel like you have to belittle him for no reason and treat him like dog shit."

"Why don't you let Sam defend himself if he feels like I'm treating him like dog shit. Sam, am I treating you like dog shit?"

"Guys, just drop it," said Sam. "We don't need to have this conversation. Josh, please?"

They finally made eye contact and Sam's look begged Josh not to push the matter. He saw in Josh's eyes that he was more than ready to go a full twelve rounds with Jack, but he also knew he would stop for Sam's sake if he could read how much discomfort this was causing him.

Josh could. "Ok. I'll drop it," he said. But he knew he would drop it only for the moment. He ached for time alone with Jack Seaborn, and it couldn't come soon enough.

A ship's bell clanged and all three men looked toward the house. Daniel Seaborn stood on the patio motioning them in.

"What the hell is that?" Josh asked.

"That's how we got called home when we were kids," Sam explained. "Miss Glory or Mom or Dad would clang that bell and we could hear it all over the estate. We knew we'd better get home whenever we heard it."

Jack looked at his watch. "Seven o'clock straight up. Let's go eat, Sodapop."

Jack draped his arm around Sam and the two started across the yard. Sam turned and looked helplessly at Josh. His emotions were all over the place. Despite everything, he still craved the feel of walking alongside his brother. Likewise, he wanted to feel the comfort of Josh. Jack really didn't give him a choice; he kept a grip on Sam and talked about things of no importance just to keep Sam's attention. Josh followed a few paces behind and desperately wished they were back at the hotel.

********

The large dining room, like Daniel's library, was light and airy and faced the back of the estate to a gorgeous view. It was decorated in Navy, Cadet blue, and crisp white. The table was set formally with Waterford crystal, Angelica china, and Reed & Barton 18th Century silver.

Audrey was already seated at one end of the table. She had changed into a dress and put on make-up for dinner. Her eyes looked much clearer and there was color in her face. She still seemed a bit unsteady at times, but Frances attended to her often and she managed well.

Sam and Josh were to sit on the side of the table facing outdoors, Jack sat across from them, and Daniel took his place at the table's head. An opened bottle of wine sat near him.

"Sam," his Father said, "in honor of your visit, I went all out and selected this special vintage just for you. I know you inherited my taste for a good grape, so I'd like you to taste this and see if it's worthy to drink with our meal."

Daniel picked up Sam's wine glass and poured a little into it. Sam cradled the glass in his palm and rolled the wine in a circular motion then held it his nose and inhaled its fragrance. His nostrils quivered at the prospect of tasting it. He put the crystal to his lips and sipped the wine as his Father spoke.

"This is a Petrus Pomerol Merlot," he said, "from the Chateau Petrus. I thought you'd like it because it was one of the favorite wines at the White House during the Kennedy years and I know how fond you were of that administration. How is it?"

Sam had tasted nothing like it.

"Exquisite," he said. "Extremely fruity. There's a suggestion of berries and hints of vanilla and mocha. Very rich. I believe I detect a scent of . . . oak?"

Daniel smiled. "That's my boy. You learned well. Now, let's see if you REALLY paid attention. How much did this bottle cost?"

Daniel re-filled Sam's wine glass, then filled Jack's, Josh's, and his own. He left his wife's empty.

Sam knew it was extremely expensive and was embarrassed to play his Father's game of showing off in front of Josh, but he was excited at the chance to guess and test his skill.

"I . . . I really wouldn't know," he said.

"Of course you do. You know your wine," Daniel countered.

"I'm out of practice. I know it's a lot."

"Impress your friend, Sam. How much did that bottle of wine cost?"

"Eight hundred . . ."

"Be serious," his Father interrupted.

"Thirteen hundred?"

Daniel smiled and raised his glass toward Sam. "Close enough. Fourteen hundred sixty dollars. And worth every penny. Drink up, everyone. There's more of the same opened and breathing. Here's to my son, Samuel, coming home to his family. Now that he's home, he'll never leave us again."

Jack smiled and raised his glass to the toast. Audrey raised her glass of ice water. Josh set his wine glass down and looked at Sam. Sam looked at Josh and blinked.

Frances served grilled salmon, rice pilaf, steamed summer vegetables, Caesar salad, and yeast rolls. The food was prepared simply and tasted elegant. Sam and Josh had expected to be questioned mercilessly during the meal, but to their relief, the conversation was friendly and non-accusatory. There was no mention of the marriage or politics.

They talked about the family and Josh learned more about Sam's personal life than Sam had ever told him. He found out that Jack, who at 40 was the same age as Josh, had never married. As soon as he graduated law school he had joined his Father and Uncle Charles at Seaborn Law Offices in Beverly Hills and quickly made partner. He had a beach house in Malibu but spent an equal amount of time at his parents' home. Josh wondered why, but didn't ask.

Sam's twin sisters, Megan and Robin, now 36, took a year off after they graduated law school and, with Daddy's blessing and credit cards, traveled around the world in style. When they returned, they both dabbled at the family law firm, but mostly enjoyed the social life of Southern California and indulged themselves as they'd been raised to do.

Megan soon fell in love with David, also an attorney, and their wedding was THE social event among their parents' friends and colleagues, as well as their own. Sam couldn't attend. He was hospitalized on the East coast with a cellulitis infection in his ankle from a biking accident. He sent regrets, a special gift he thought long and hard about, and cried because he wasn't there. His Father told him he shouldn't have gone bike riding the week of his sister's wedding.

Megan kept her maiden name and both she and David joined the Seaborn Law Offices. They had two children in three years ~~ Courtney and Gregory ~~ and hired a nanny to raise them so they could put in over sixteen hour days in order to afford a magnificent estate on the water in Manhattan Beach, a yacht, and anything else they wanted. Problem was, they rarely had time to enjoy their luxuries because they worked days, nights, and weekends. They rarely saw their children. They didn't seem too bothered by this loss.

Soon after Megan's wedding, Robin announced she was marrying Brad, her boyfriend of four months. Daniel exploded when Robin said he was an in-between-jobs actor, had absolutely no interest in law, and they wanted to get married on the estate, standing on the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with just a few close friends. Barefoot. To guitar music. He eventually gave in when he realized she was going to do it with or without his permission, but his and Audrey's friends weren't invited.

Sam couldn't attend. He was hospitalized on the East because of an emergency appendectomy. Again, he sent regrets and a special gift that he thought long and hard about, and cried because he wasn't there.

Daniel insisted Robin join the family law firm but she said she planned to stay at home and raise her children and her husband would support the family; they'd already discussed it and that's how it was going to be. Daniel called in a favor and arranged for his son-in- law to get a high-paying job with a major movie studio, which was as close as he ever got to acting. She took his name and over the next ten years she gave birth to Melissa, twin boys Kyle and Kevin, and darling Bella, two years old. They had a nice home in the Hollywood Hills and a good family life.

Megan's and David's nanny frequently took Courtney and Gregory to Daniel's and Audrey's estate, and Robin just as often took her children so the cousins could grow up together. They all thought it was important they know each other and be close. They knew their Uncle Jack well and loved playing and roughhousing with him in the yard and on the beach. He had nicknames for them all and was very affectionate with them ~~ they couldn't get enough of him and hated when they were pulled from his arms.

Josh glanced at Sam when he heard this but Sam avoided his look. He knew what Josh was thinking, and as much as he didn't want to admit it, the same thought had just begun to cross his mind. He had no idea the kids spent so much time at his parents' home with Jack, and now a whole new moral dilemma inched its way into his conscience.

Sam watched his Mother as she talked about her family. She seemed happy and was much more animated than she had been earlier. Sam was encouraged to see her almost sparkling as she told story after story about the grandchildren and laughed and bragged about things they'd said and done. Even Daniel couldn't find enough good to say about them. It reminded Sam of how his Father used to brag about Jack and Megan and Robin . . .

After the second bottle of Merlot had been emptied and the dishes had been cleared from the table, the Seaborns and Josh went outside to eat their dessert on the patio. Someone had lit torches that gave off a warm glow. Lightning bugs danced in the evening sky and performed a twinkling ballet that mesmerized.

Frances served Raspberry Trifle and a premium blend coffee from Colombia that Daniel had imported once a week. Its mellow aroma filled the night air.

"Frances, dinner was magnificent," said Sam. "I don't know when I've had a better meal."

"That's an understatement, Frances," Josh added. "Thank you so much."

"We're used to it," Jack chimed in. "We eat like this all the time. Tonight was nothing special. Don't get me wrong ~~ it was great, but nothing out of the ordinary."

"I thought it was EXTRAordinary." Josh just had to get the last word in on the subject before Frances disappeared into the kitchen.

After dessert and more coffee, Daniel pulled out four Sancho Panza Sanchos Cuban cigars and offered one each to Jack and Sam. He hesitated at Josh.

"You don't smoke, do you?" he asked.

"I'd love one of those, Mr. Seaborn," Josh replied. "Thank you." He reached out and took the cigar just for spite. He hated cigars. A cigarette now and then, but never a cigar. He figured he'd toy with it just to irritate Daniel then give it to Sam later.

"Audrey, aren't you getting tired?" Daniel turned to his wife and made a statement more than asked a question.

"Yes, I'm just about worn out," she said as she stood. "I believe I'll go on up to bed. I'll need my energy for all those youngsters tomorrow."

Sam and Josh both stood when she did. Daniel and Jack remained seated and lit their cigars.

"I'll walk you upstairs, Mother," Sam said.

"No need to, honey, Frances will see to me."

"I'd like to, if it's ok."

Audrey reached out her hand. "That would be nice. Good-night, Daniel, Jack. Good-night . . . Josh?"

"Yes, ma'am, it's Josh."

"So nice to have you with us. Good-night, Josh."

Sam turned to Josh and said quietly, "Be right back." then took his Mother's hand and walked with her inside the house.

As soon as they were out of sight Daniel took a long draw on his cigar and blew the smoke in Josh's direction.

"What do you want from my son, Lyman?" he asked, his tone no longer that of a proud grandfather.

Josh had drunk enough wine that he wanted to say "His love, his body, and twenty-four-hour-a-day sex" but he had come to California so well- prepared for this confrontation that he simply replied, "I don't know what you mean."

"You're a major player as a political operative. Why would you risk it all to, and I use this word with great disdain, "marry" my son and take a chance with your career? You could ruin yourself in nothing flat."

"The same thing could happen to Sam," Josh replied.

"Then he's just as stupid as you are," responded Jack.

"So why are you doing it?" Daniel repeated.

"Because we love each other."

Daniel turned and spat into the yard. "You disgust me. You're both going to hell, you know."

Josh cocked his head and smirked. "So sayeth the Lord or so sayeth Daniel Seaborn?"

"Don't get smart with me, you little shit. Have you even read the Holy Bible?"

"Sure, I've read the Holy Bible," Josh replied. He knew what was coming next.

"Then you should know that Leviticus 20:13 says, `If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman . . ."

" . . . both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death'," Josh completed. "And it also says in Romans 1:26-27, `For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural use for that which is against nature. And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural use of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error'."

Daniel was silenced.

"And," Josh continued, "in I Corinthians 6:9 it says `The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals . . . yes, I said homosexuals . . . nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the realm of God. And in I Timothy 1:9-10 it says, `Law is not . . ."

"Ok, ok," Daniel interrupted, "you know your Bible."

"Everything I quoted is from YOUR Bible."

"What the hell?"

"My Bible is the Torah. The Books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Everything I quoted is from your New Testament. The only thing from the Torah is Leviticus."

"Goddammit, you're a Jew," Jack laughed. "This just keeps getting better and better."

Josh laughed along with him. "You find that funny?"

"In a `how-can-this-get-any-worse' sort of way, yeah," Jack replied.

"Would it get any worse if I told you I talked Sam into converting to Judaism?"

Daniel stood and threw his cigar onto the patio.

"I didn't!" Josh assured him. "I was just kidding. He's still one of Jesus' lambs. Do you two have a problem with me being Jewish?"

Daniel spat into the yard again. "I have a problem with you being alive." He put his finger, which shook in anger, in Josh's face and was so close Josh could smell the cigar smoke and wine on his breath. "Don't you EVER use sacrilege in this house again! I won't allow it! You're only being tolerated now because . . ."

"Dad!" Jack interrupted.

Daniel dropped his hand and backed away from Josh.

"What? What'd I say?" Josh asked. "I didn't mean any disrespect."

"Lyman, when Sam comes back down, I think it's time you two head back to your hotel. It's been a long day and we've got a full day planned for tomorrow. I have work to do in my library, so if you'll excuse me . . . good-night Jack, I'll see you tomorrow, son." His voice was a forced calm and he spoke through clenched teeth. He wouldn't even look at Josh.

"Yeah, I'm taking off too," said Jack.

"Do you want to stay here?" Daniel put his hand on Jack's shoulder.

"No, I'll go home. I'll call you after while."

Daniel walked into his library without another word and closed the door behind him.

Jack stood and loomed over Josh who still sat casually in his lawn chair. He smiled. "You don't seriously think we're going to let this happen, do you?"

"Let what happen?"

"You and Sam." Josh laughed. "Wake up, Slick, it's already happened."

The smile left Jack's face. He extinguished the torches, disappeared down the sidewalk, and left Josh sitting alone in the dark. Jack entered the house through the kitchen and started toward the steps. He met Sam just as he reached the bottom.

"Hey, kiddo," he said. "I was looking for you. I wanted to say good- bye before I headed out."

"You're leaving?" Sam seemed genuinely disappointed.

"Yeah, I've go to go over a deposition tonight and I plan on spending all day with you and the kids tomorrow. I want to be fresh for that."

"Well, if you're sure . . ."

"Come outside and show me that Ferrari 355-GTS Dad had waiting for you at the airport before I leave."

The two went out the front door and walked around to the parking area where the small fleet of cars was lined up. They went over every inch of the Ferrari then Sam leaned against the hood and propped his hands beside him.

Jack put his hand behind Sam's neck and pulled his head close so their foreheads touched. "You have no idea how good it is to see you, Sodapop," he said softly. "I miss you and love you so much."

"Then why do we live like we do?" Sam asked.

"How do we live?"

"You rarely call me, you won't let me call YOU, years go by and we don't see each other, you talk to me like crap one minute and the next minute you say you love me." Sam pulled back. "I never know what to expect from you, Jack. To be honest, sometimes you . . ."

"Sometimes I what?"

"Nothing."

"Don't say `nothing'. Sometimes I what?"

"Sometimes you scare me."

Before Sam knew what happened to him, Jack had jerked his arms up, pushed him back on the hood of the car, and pinned him down by his wrists. Sam's head hit with a dull thud and a "whoosh" escaped as the air was knocked out of him.

Jack leaned so close to Sam's face their lips almost touched. "Are you scared now?" he asked ominously.

"Get off me," Sam muttered.

"You can't possibly think I'm going to hurt you."

Sam pushed against his brother but he didn't have the leverage to free himself. He didn't know what to think. This was the last thing he expected to happen tonight.

"I don't think you're gonna hurt me . . . I just want you to let me up."

"Why do I scare you, Sam?"

"Because you do fucking crazy things like this!" Sam yelled as he struggled to stand.

Jack slid his lips to Sam's ear. "Then I say `I love you'. And you find that scary?"

With a final surge of energy, Sam pulled his leg up and pushed Jack's knee out from under him. Jack lost his grip on Sam and went down on the blacktop. Sam stepped off to the side, his adrenalin pumping, his hands balled into fists. He had no idea what Jack would do next, maybe even fight him. He wasn't ashamed to admit to himself that he was scared.

Jack stood up and wiped his hands off, then brushed off his clothes. He ran his hand through his hair, looked at Sam and smiled. "Next time I put you down, you won't get up until I say so," he sneered.

"Why'd you even do that?" Sam asked with disbelief. "Jack, we're grown men. What are you thinking?"

Jack stepped toward Sam, who moved back.

"I'm just playing with you, baby brother. We used to goof around like this all the time, don't you remember? You liked it when we were kids."

Sam relaxed his fists and his heartbeat stopped racing. "We're not kids anymore, and I don't understand it."

"Just relax and don't worry about something that's not there. You know I'd never do anything to hurt my boy. Give me a good-night hug?" Jack opened his arms and smiled at Sam.

Sam hesitated then realized Jack was right. His brother was just being playful and affectionate in the only way he knew how to be with Sam. Sam was over-reacting, making something out of nothing. They just hadn't been together in a long time and it seemed uncomfortable at first. He'd get used to it over the next few days. He was sure he would.

He took the few steps toward Jack and let himself be wrapped in his embrace. It felt good. Of course he'd been wrong about Jack acting crazy. That was just his way. He closed his eyes and let himself be taken back those many years when being in Jack's arms was a common occurrence, a regular place to be, a safe haven. He didn't want Jack to let him go.

But he did. And with a pat on Sam's cheek, Jack climbed in his Jaguar XJ8 and pulled out of the driveway and out of Sam's sight.

Sam walked around to the back of the house and found Josh sitting alone on the dark patio.

"Sonofabitch!" he spat, when he found out he'd been left alone all this time. "Let's go."

********

The drive back to the hotel was quiet.

"Wanna talk about the visit?" Josh asked.

"Not tonight," Sam answered in a sullen tone. The tires of the Ferrari squealed as he pulled away from a stop sign.

Josh tried small talk, but Sam gave clipped answers of "yes", "no", or "I don't care" so Josh gave up, leaned back in his seat, and looked at the sky as Sam drove.

In their room, Sam leaned into Josh's arms and let himself be supported by his husband's embrace. He rested his head on Josh's shoulder and buried his face in his neck. Josh drew him tightly to his body and put his hand behind Sam's head.

"I just wanna stand here a minute," Sam said quietly. "Just to be in your arms and not have to look over my shoulder."

Josh stroked the back of Sam's head and gently swayed them both. He would have stood there all night if Sam had wanted him to.

"It's just you and me, Angel," he said. "Nobody's gonna hurt you or say anything bad. You're with the person who loves you most in the world and I'll stand here with you a minute or forever."

"Forever," Sam mouthed against Josh's neck.

Josh nodded. "Forever works for me. I've got nothing else to do." He felt Sam smile. "Maybe in a week or so we can move this to horizontal though, you think?"

Sam laughed and pulled away, but held both of Josh's hands in his. "Why don't you go take a shower while I call Toby." He smiled sheepishly. "If I don't, he'll call here and wake us up. I'll take a shower when you're finished, then all I wanna do is get between those sheets with you. Ok?"

"Anything you say. You want anything from room service?"

Sam shook his head. "No. I just want you."

Josh headed for the bathroom and left Sam alone. Sam took off his shoes, socks, trousers, and shirt, got his cell phone, and flopped onto the bed on his back in his boxers and undershirt. He speed dialed Toby's number, bent his knees, and clutched a pillow to his chest.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, Toby, it's me."

"You ok?"

"I'm sorry it's so late. I shouldn't be calling, but you said to call no matter what time. I know I should have waited until tomorrow and if you want I'll . . ."

"Sam!"

"Yeah?"

"Shut up?"

"Yeah."

"I asked if you were ok," Toby repeated.

No response.

"Sam?"

No response.

"Sam? You there?"

"Yeah."

"You sure?"

"No."

"Where's Josh?"

"Shower," Sam answered.

"Are you ok?"

Sam hesitated, then with a catch in his voice, "Not so much."

"Wanna tell me?"

"My Mom's not well. Her mind . . ." Sam couldn't finish the sentence.

"This is something you weren't expecting?" Toby asked.

Sam nodded his head.

"Sam?"

"No. I didn't expect her to be . . . when I got there she didn't even know me." Sam felt tears sting his eyes, just what he didn't want to happen while he was on the phone with Toby. "Let me call you back tomorrow."

"No! Sam, don't hang up!"

"What?"

"Things are pretty bad, huh?"

"Pretty bad," Sam agreed.

"Let me ask you, are you being a hard-ass? Taking it like the man I know and admire?"

Sam smiled a little. "As a matter of fact, I am. I think you might be proud of me, Toby. I hope you would be, anyway."

"I AM proud of you, Sam," Toby replied. "I can't even imagine going through what you are. I'm damn proud of you. Just keep doing what you're doing."

"I will. It's gonna get worse. I told my brother and Toby, he's acting so strange. When Josh wasn't around he threw me up against the car and I didn't know what he was gonna do. He's playing head games with me."

"Did he hurt you?"

"No. It caught me off guard, but I managed to get him off me. He's so unpredictable . . . that's what drives me nuts.

"You're ten times smarter than your brother," Toby said. "Fuck him."

"He makes it hard," Sam said, barely above a whisper.

"What? I didn't hear that."

"I said, my brother makes it hard to . . . hurt him. To be mean to him."

"Why's that, Sam? From what little I know about your brother, I'd think you'd welcome the opportunity," Toby replied.

The tears came. "See, you just don't understand! Josh doesn't understand! I love my brother! I don't wish him any harm!" Sam sat up on the bed and curled himself over the pillow.

"Sam! Calm down, Sam. I'm not telling you to do your brother any harm. I'm just saying don't take any shit off him."

"I just wanna come home," Sam sobbed. "I can't do this anymore. Come and get me, Toby. I wanna come home."

Josh walked out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He was stunned to see Sam curled in a ball on the bed crying into the phone, begging Toby to come get him. He rushed to the bed and put his arm around Sam and pulled him close.

"Sam, honey, what's the matter? What happened?"

He took the phone from Sam. "Toby? What'd you do to him?"

"I didn't do anything! We were talking about his brother and all of sudden he said he wants to come home then asked me to come get him. What's going on out there?"

"It didn't go so well. Let me hang up and take care of Sam," said Josh.

"Well don't just hang up! We were in the middle of a conversation. I don't want him to think I just hung up on him. Give the phone back to Sam," Toby insisted.

Josh handed the phone back to Sam and cradled him in his arms, Sam's head in Josh's lap.

"Sam? Talk to me," Toby said. "Tell me why you want to come home."

"Because I can't stand the sight of my Fa . . . Father. He hates me. He's hated me since before I was born. He's done something to my Mother."

"What did he do to your Mother?"

Josh rubbed Sam's back as he talked. There was nothing else he could do to comfort him except hold him.

Sam wiped his nose on Josh's towel as the tears subsided and he could talk more clearly. "I don't know. She's emotionally . . . unwell."

"Is she getting help? Can you do something for her?"

Sam shook his head. He shrugged his shoulders. He clutched Josh's hand. "I don't know," he whispered.

"Listen to me, Sam, we'll find out. We'll make sure your Mother's taken care of. I promise you," Toby said almost as quietly. "Do you believe me?"

"How can you . . . "

"Do you believe me?"

"Can you promise?"

"I can promise."

Toby gave Sam a moment to let that sink in. He had to let it sink into his own mind too, because he didn't have a clue how he was going to go about taking care of Sam's Mother. It's what Sam needed to hear at the moment and he said it before he thought it through. He wished he hadn't.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"I can't make that promise," Toby said.

"I know, but it was nice of you to say so."

Toby ran his hand over his head. Leave it to Sam to protect Toby when he was in so much pain.

"Do you still wanna come home, Sam?" Toby asked. "Do you still want me to come get you? Because I'll come get you if that's what you want."

"You would?"

"I swear to God."

Sam looked up to see Josh looking down at him.

"No," he said. "I've got Josh. Everything will be fine. I'm sorry I was a big wuss, Toby. I wanted to call you and be . . . better than this."

"You're the best big wuss I know," Toby joked. "Are you settled down now?"

"Yeah."

"Are you going to bed? Sounds like you've gone through a lot today."

"I need to take a shower first," Sam replied.

"Then go take your shower and let me talk with Josh. And tomorrow? Hard-ass, ok?"

"Hard-ass."

"And when you get back to the hotel tomorrow, I want you to call me again. Before you get back to the hotel if you need to."

Sam smiled. "I will. Thanks, Toby. Good-night."

"Get a good night's sleep, kiddo. I'll talk with you soon."

Sam handed the phone to Josh. "He wants to talk with you. I'm gonna take a quick shower."

Josh took the phone from Sam but held onto his hand. "You doing ok now, baby?"

Sam nodded and kissed Josh's hand as he rolled off the bed. "Yeah. Just a moment of mild hysteria that Toby's voice of reason calmed. Better here than at my parents' house. I'll be back in ten minutes. You'll be here?"

Josh rolled his eyes. "Where would I go? Of course I'll be here." He watched Sam go into the bathroom then put the phone up to his ear. "Toby?"

"Was it a mistake for you guys to go out there?" Toby asked.

"I'm not sure yet. These people are total assholes. You wouldn't believe the way they treat Sam. I swear, Toby, it's taking every bit of patience I've got not to strangle both of them."

"You experience that urge every day in the White House, Josh. For you, not killing somebody is no big deal."

"This is personal."

"Do you think Sam's Father is capable of doing any political damage?" Toby asked.

"We didn't talk much about politics, mostly just touched upon whether you and Leo knew about Sam and me. Ritchie's name didn't come up. I have no doubt it will. And yes, he's VERY capable. He's a hard man to read."

"What about the brother?"

"He's fucking nuts," Josh replied.

"Well, you guys watch your backs and take care of each other. Be careful what you say and try not to provoke them too much. We'd all like to keep our jobs a while longer."

"Yeah, ok. Thanks for . . . you know."

"Yeah, yeah. Rest well."

Josh started to hang up when he heard Toby's voice yell out his name. "Josh!"

"Toby?"

"One more thing."

"What? What is it?"

"Keep a close eye on Sam. I'm worried about him."

********

Josh had just finished brushing his teeth when Sam got out of the shower. Dripping wet, hair spiky, he stood in front of the mirror and went through his dental hygiene ritual while Josh watched.

When he was finished, Josh took a hand towel, put it on Sam's wet head, and roughly towel-dried his hair. Spritzes of water scattered and left droplets on both Josh and the mirror. When it was as dry as it was going to get, he took a comb and ran it through Sam's hair a few times.

"I could use a good cheeseburger," he said. "Doesn't a cheeseburger sound good right now?"

"Actually it does, but no, we're not."

"Aw, come on," Josh whined.

"No! If you eat this late you'll never sleep," Sam replied. "And don't whine. But I'll tell you what. In a couple of days we'll drive up the coast to Carmel to this little joint I know of that has the best cheeseburgers and milkshakes in the world. Will that work?"

"Can I drive?"

"No."

"I'll go anyway."

Sam wiped toothpaste off of his mouth and turned out the bathroom light.

"Leave the drapes open so we can see the moon," he said. "And there's billions of stars out there."

"You're not gonna tell me about them all, are you?" Josh asked. "Please say no."

Sam laughed. "I can probably be distracted"

They both crawled naked to the middle of the king-sized bed and were immediately in each other's arms and in a kiss they'd each wanted to share all day. Their lips were hungry for the other's and searched with an intensity neither realized was there until now, when they could release the passion they both felt. Josh rolled on top of Sam and pulled Sam's lower lip into his mouth and sucked on it as his hands caressed Sam's head. Sam's tongue pushed its way inside Josh's mouth then slid in and out in a steady motion as he tongue-fucked him.

Sam wrapped his arms and legs around Josh's body as they kissed. Erection rubbed against erection as they flowed together, their bodies never separating. Josh pulled out of the kiss and ran his tongue down Sam's neck to his chest. He licked and nibbled at him, his fingernails lightly trailing until Sam shivered and begged him to stop.

"Make love to me, Josh," Sam whispered. "I want you inside me."

Josh broke through Sam's arms and legs that were wrapped around him and spread Sam's legs apart. He balanced on his knees between them and propped a couple of pillows under Sam's hips.

"I want you inside me," Sam said again.

"On my way," Josh replied. "Just lay back and relax."

Josh lubricated Sam and his own penis, leaned forward, and positioned himself at the opening to Sam's anus. He held his dick in one hand, and propped his other hand next to Sam's head. Slowly, he entered Sam and with one move, thrust himself until he was totally consumed by Sam.

For a moment it took Sam's breath away and he gasped when he felt himself filled with Josh. But the look on his face was pure pleasure and satisfaction.

"I'm inside you now," Josh said with a little laugh.

Sam smiled, "Oh, don't I know it. And now I feel like a whole person. Fuck me, Josh."

Josh pulled out of Sam then back in, slowly at first, then faster as the momentum between them melded into one fluid motion. Sam raised his hips and thrust his pelvis toward Josh as Josh rocked back and forth, in and out, making love to his husband.

Then their bodies knew it was time, just from the familiarity that shook them both just before the explosion of passion that was bound to come next. At that moment they both came in an orgasmic wave of shudders and spasms. Sam pressed against Josh and Josh pushed into Sam as the two men groaned in simultaneous pleasure.

Finally they slowed to an easy rocking motion, both drained, neither ready for it to really end. Then they stopped and after a moment's hesitation, Josh pulled out of Sam and rolled off of him.

"Better than a cheeseburger," he grinned.

"I adore you, Josh."

Josh went into the bathroom and brought back a warm, wet washcloth and very gently cleaned Sam's face, penis, between his legs, and his abdomen.

"Does that feel good?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "Let me clean you."

Josh handed him a second washcloth and Sam did the same for Josh, being very tender and loving as he washed him.

Then Josh pulled the covers back and they lay in the middle of the bed. Josh put his arm around Sam, who put his head on Josh's shoulder and his arm across Josh's chest. They intertwined their legs and Sam looked out at the full sky.

They were quiet for a few minutes then Josh asked, "Are you asleep, Angel?"

"Almost," came the groggy reply. "I was just thinking about tomorrow. It's gonna be . . . bizarre . . . to say the least."

"Piece a cake. Remember what I told you? I'll only be a whisper away."

"I'll remember," Sam said softly. "Look at all those stars out there . . . and check out that moon."

Then in Josh's sweet tenor, he sang, "Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day."

Sam snuggled closer into Josh.

"Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker, wherever you're going, I'm going your way."

The two kissed.

"Two drifters, off to see the world, there's such a lot of world to see, we're after the same rainbow's end, waiting round the bend, my Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me."

"Good-night, Josh."

"Good-night, Sam."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 70

Sam sat on the hotel balcony and sipped his espresso. He was slouched in a round, deep-cushioned chair and his feet were crossed at the ankles, propped on a small table. He wore a pair of navy blue shorts and his wedding band, and had gone through half-a-bottle of Mylanta.

He fiddled with the phone and told himself he wasn't going to call Toby again so soon. He'd already dialed twice and hung up before it had a chance to ring.

Josh was sleeping soundly, and Sam had come out onto the balcony so he wouldn't wake him. He'd brought the phone and thought he might call Toby. With the time difference, he knew Toby would be up and he'd said Sam could call at any time. Sam knew he meant it, but did he really want to give the impression of being so needy? I'm not being needy, he told himself. I just want a little word of encouragement, a little moral support, and Josh is asleep and can't give it. He started to dial again. And besides, he reasoned, Toby said I could.

"Toby Ziegler."

"Good morning."

"Sam? It's early. Is something wrong?"

"No, I just couldn't sleep and didn't wanna wake Josh," Sam replied. "I'm sitting out on the balcony watching the dolphins."

"Dolphins like on The Discovery Channel? You're like, watching them in real life?"

Sam laughed. "I can almost reach out and touch them."

"Well, that must be . . . odd." "No, it's incredible."

"If you say so," Toby conceded.

"And I'm drinking some really good espresso," Sam added.

"I'm drinking crap."

There was a pause in the conversation.

"When are you guys going to your parents' house?" Toby asked.

"About eleven. They go to church so we'll go after that."

"And the whole family's gonna be there?"

"Yep. My sisters, their husbands and kids. Jack. I think maybe my Uncle Charles and his family. I'm not sure."

"How many kids?" Toby could tell from Sam's voice that he just wanted to make small talk..

"Six. The oldest is nine, the youngest is two. Three boys, three girls."

"Are you gonna tell the rest of your family? Your sisters?"

"Should I?"

Toby laughed. "Sam, that's strictly your call. You've told the others, and that's what you went out there for. Why wouldn't you?"

Sam shrugged. "It doesn't seem as critical that they know. And there are some other things I need to deal with. I just don't know if I want all my time and energy taken up trying to convince everybody else about something that's not gonna change."

"I'm glad to hear you say that, Sam," Toby remarked. "You know, you don't have to convince anybody of anything. All that matters is what happens between you and Josh."

"Believe it or not, at one time YOU were our biggest worry," Sam laughed. "And now I think you're our biggest supporter."

"Well, I'm not a lobbyist for gay pride, but I'm coping. Do you wanna tell me what these other things are that you have to deal with?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know what they are or you don't know if you wanna tell me?" Toby asked.

"Forget that for a minute, Toby. If I tell you something and I'm being totally honest, will you promise not to get angry with me?" Sam's voice had such an ominous edge to it a chill ran down Toby's spine.

"I won't get angry with you, Sam."

"Are you sure you won't get . . ."

"Sam! Nothing you could tell me would make me angry. What is it?" Toby was worried about what Sam had to say.

"I want so badly, Toby, so badly, more than you can know . . ." he hesitated ". . . to smoke some weed. Just to take the edge off, to make it easier to face Jack and my Dad, to get through today. These next few days."

Toby had been twirling a pencil between his fingers as they talked. He broke it in half at what he heard. He picked up one of the pink rubber balls on his desk and squeezed it until it nearly burst.

"Toby?" Sam said tentatively.

Toby tempered himself before he spoke. "Do you have any with you?"

"No. No, of course not."

"Are you gonna get some?"

"No. It's just something that sounds good to me right now, something I'd like to have, but there's no way I'm gonna act on it."

"Sam, it would make things a hundred times worse if you were stoned. Please, for the love of God, get that thought out of your mind right now. You could barely function when you were using. Please promise me you won't even consider this," said Toby.

"I'm not, I promise. I just wanted you to know what I'm thinking. You told me to let you know if that feeling ever came back, and that's why I told you. I'm not gonna do anything."

Toby heaved a sigh of relief and propped his forehead on his hand. It's true ~~ he wanted Sam to tell him if he was ever tempted or had the urge to use again. Sam was just doing what Toby had asked him to do.

"Does Josh know?"

"Hell, no! You want him to have a full-blown nutty?"

Toby laughed. "You're right, don't tell him. And I'm glad you told me. That was a good thing you did."

Sam stood and looked inside the hotel room. Josh hadn't moved.

"I know you're busy, Toby, I just wanted to touch base with you before we took off today," he said.

"I'm not that busy. So if you're not ready to hang up . . ."

"I wanna go be with Josh now. I miss him," Sam replied. "It was good to hear your voice, Toby. You're being more than a friend through all this."

"Yeah, ok. Hold your own today, kiddo, and you've got my number."

"I've got your number."

"And Sam, this is important. If that urge to use comes back to you, even just a little, I want you to call me again. Do you understand?" asked Toby. His voice was emphatic.

"I understand. I will."

"Because if you get into that stuff again, I swear I'll kill you until you're dead then I'll kill you again."

Sam grinned. "I promise."

"Ok, now go antagonize Josh. Call me tonight."

"Good-bye, Toby. Thank you."

Sam went inside the room and looked down at Josh, who was curled on his side with his back toward Sam. The blanket nearly covered his head. Sam pulled his shorts off and tossed them onto a chair in the corner. He lifted one end of the bedspread, slipped between the sheets, and curled himself around Josh, who snuggled back until they fit like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Sam nuzzled Josh's neck and kissed behind his ear. He pulled a lock of Josh's hair between his teeth until Josh swatted at the back of his head. Then he did it again. Sam very lightly ran his tongue across Josh's shoulder, and Josh's whole body quivered. Then Sam very slowly slid his tongue in Josh's ear and ran it around the curves, finally pulling Josh's earlobe into his mouth and sucking on it.

Sam let his hand roam over Josh's chest, tugging gently at little wisps of hair. His fingers tightened around a nipple and massaged it until it perked up and hardened. Josh backed up into Sam's erection, raised his thigh, and closed it when he felt Sam's penis slip between his legs.

"Good morning, Angel," Josh said softly.

"Good morning, Sugar," Sam replied. "Did I wake you?"

"Not at all. It's easy to sleep while there's a nine-inch dick poking at my ass."

"Why, thank you!" Sam laughed. "I appreciate the compliment. If you were facing this way, my nine inch-dick would be stuck down your throat."

"That can be arranged," replied Josh. "I can never get enough of ANY part of you inside ANY part of me."

"Roll over here, baby."

Sam pulled away and Josh rolled over onto his back. Sam straddled him so his penis was positioned right in front of Josh's face. He smiled down at him.

"You look beautiful this morning, Joshua," he said. "I love you so much."

"Come inside me, Angel."

Sam raised up on his knees and with one hand, he guided his shaft into Josh's eager mouth. His other hand was on the side of Josh's face, caressing it as he filled Josh. Josh put his hands around Sam's neck and held on as Sam dick-fucked him, slowly at first, then faster, his hips rocking back and forth as he pumped himself in and out of Josh. There were times Josh thought he might gag on the size of Sam's swollen penis, but as he always did, he took it all and sucked hard on it as he tried to find more of his lover to take into himself.

When Sam came he shot his cum down Josh's throat and Josh swallowed what he could; still, it bubbled over his lips and onto his face and ran down onto his neck. He scooped some up on his fingers and put them in Sam's mouth. Sam immediately began sucking and licking Josh's fingers clean of his own salty cum.

"Climb on me," Josh said in a breathy voice.

Sam reached between his legs and felt Josh's dick, hard and erect and waiting to fuck Sam. Sam raised up then lowered himself onto Josh, so he still straddled him, only now he sat upright and was filled with Josh.

The two clasped hands and rocked together, Josh's pelvis rising to meet Sam, Sam falling to join Josh. Then Sam pulled Josh up and wrapped his arms around him for the final crescendo and Josh burst in ecstasy inside Sam. They continued the ride until neither could go any longer then they fell sideways on the bed, laughing and panting and pawing each other amid "I love yous". Finally, they just lay on the bed and held hands and looked at each other.

"If I wasn't already gay," said Josh, "you'd turn me that way."

"If you weren't already gay," Sam replied, "I'd do you anyway."

Josh ran his hands through Sam's hair and kissed him. "You can get arrested doing things like that, you know."

"You can also fall in love doing things like that."

"We DID fall in love, didn't we?" Josh asked with a smile.

"Big time."

Josh kissed Sam again like he didn't ever want to let him go. When Sam started to pull away, Josh pulled him back in and kissed him again.

********

Sam and Josh showered, dressed casually, then Sam packed a small suitcase for them ~~ dress clothes for dinner, swim trunks, sun screen, shorts and T-shirts, a razor and other toiletries for showering. Sam knew everything would be provided, but he felt more comfortable if they took their own things.

They left the hotel and ate breakfast at a small restaurant in Hermosa Beach. They watched the surfers out to catch the morning waves and joggers, skaters, and cyclists weaving in and out of pedestrians on the bike trail. Families were already arriving to spread out their blankets and chairs to stake out their territory for a day on the beach.

"I wish that was us," Sam said between bites of a Southwestern omelet.

"What's that?"

"Getting ready to spend the day on the beach instead of going to my parents' house. Just you and me on the beach all day with no people around."

"You know," Josh said, "I'm not that much of a beach person. WHAT are you eating?"

"A Southwestern omelet. Wanna try a bite?" Sam held out a forkful toward Josh.

"It looks gross."

"It's not gross. It's got more flavor than those plain scrambled eggs you're eating, that are cooked almost brown, and that steak that would break in half in you dropped it on the floor."

"Sam, you know my sensitive system . . . I can't eat that crap you shovel in," Josh said in defense of himself.

"It's not crap. It's just eggs and ham and some green onions and bell peppers and cheddar cheese, and I think cream and flour and tortillas and garlic and they bake it and put sour cream and salsa on top. That's good stuff!"

"I'd die first," Josh moaned. "I need more toast."

Sam laughed and got a re-fill on his coffee.

They had a little time to kill after breakfast so Sam gave Josh a tour of the neighborhood where he'd grown up ~~ his elementary school, his high school, some of the places he'd where hung out as a kid, where a few of his friends had lived. He drove past Michael's house, slowed, and wondered if Josh noticed. Sam glanced back after they'd gone beyond it.

"Who's house was that?" Josh asked.

"Just a friend when I was a kid."

Josh turned in his seat and looked back, as though someone HE would recognize might appear in the yard.

"Who?"

"A kid named Michael."

"A good friend?" Josh persisted.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, a good friend, probably my best friend when I was a kid. I was just curious if his house looked the same."

"Does it?"

"Does what?" Sam's mind was in another place.

"Does Michael's house look the same as it used to?"

"Oh, yeah, pretty much. I don't remember a lot about it, really."

"Don't, or don't want to?" Josh asked.

Sam shot him a glance. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You tell me, " Josh shrugged. "You make a point of driving by his house, slowing to a crawl, breaking your neck to check it out, your mind's in a fog, then you say you don't remember anything when he was supposedly your best friend."

"Can we talk about it later? Let's just deal with the family today, ok?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get into your business. Show me the infamous country club."

They pulled into the Seaborn driveway a little before eleven. Sam instantly noticed Jack's Jaguar wasn't there. He noticed a new pearl Cadillac CTS-V, probably Megan's, and a deep green Range Rover, probably Robin's, parked with the rest of the cars. He pulled in beside the vintage Mustang and turned off the ignition.

Josh put his hand on Sam's, still on the gearshift knob. "You feel up to this?" he asked.

"No, yesterday was plenty for me, but it's what I came for and I'm not backing out now. Question is, do YOU feel up to this?"

"Sure. Nobody in there can hurt me. I just don't want them to get to you."

"Well," Sam said as he opened the door, "let's go get this three-ring circus started."

Before he could step out of the car, Josh pulled Sam back in and gave him a quick kiss. "Only a whisper away," he said softly into Sam's ear.

Again, Sam knocked formally on the front door and waited for Frances to answer.

"Mr. Seaborn! Mr. Lyman! I'm so glad to see you again!" she said as she stepped aside to let them enter.

Sam grinned at her. "That's Sam and Josh, remember? Not Mister."

"Yes, sir. Come on in this house. I've got a big platter of fresh fruit cut up and hot buttered croissants if you're hungry. Coffee's on and baked brie with wheat crackers . . . just a little snack after church. You boys come in the kitchen and fix yourselves a plate."

"Oh no, ma'am, we just ate breakfast not long ago," said Sam, "thank you. Where is everybody?"

"Outside where they always are. Some of them are by the pool with the little ones, I believe."

"Is Jack here yet?" "I haven't seen him. He runs in and out of here so much, I never know if he's coming or going. I don't know why he just doesn't live here."

"So he's here a lot?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I shouldn't speak about personal family matters."

"It's ok, Frances. I'm family," Sam reminded her. "Would you mind telling me where my Mother is?"

Frances smiled a little, a bit embarrassed. "Of course. She's out back with the children. She loves to be with those children."

"Thank you. Come on, Josh, let's take this bag upstairs."

>From Sam's room they looked out the window and saw people who were strangers to Josh and near-strangers to Sam. His Father and David sat on the patio with drinks. His Mother and Megan sat at one of the umbrella tables next to the pool. Robin and Brad were in the pool with all six children, who climbed out and dove back in from the edge, or bounced on the diving board then jumped. They would call out "Look at me!" before each cannonball splash or "Watch this!" before swimming all the way to the bottom of the deep end to retrieve a quarter. They turned flips, they floated, they shot water pistols, they threw balls, and they didn't stop. Robin and Brad appeared to have just as much fun as the kids.

Two German Shepherds raced around the pool, barked, wagged their tails, jumped into the water, and swam right along with the children. Two Cairn Terriers ran from the patio to the pool to check out the action, then back to the patio to get their ears rubbed, have a drink of cold water, and lie in the shade to sleep.

Sam slung his arm around Josh's shoulder. "Looks like a modern-day Norman Rockwell, painting doesn't it?" he asked.

"It holds a certain amount of charm. And who knows? We might wanna have a family someday."

Sam whirled his head around. He and Josh had never talked about this.

"A family? You mean with kids? You and me with kids?" His voice went up an octave.

"No! Hell, no. I didn't say that. I just said, I don't know, maybe . . . we've just never talked about it. Maybe someday we might wanna talk about it."

"Josh! This is a hell of a time to bring this up! What are you thinking?"

"Nothing!" Josh tried his best to take his words back. "I wasn't thinking anything. My mind wasn't even turned on." He put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Just pretend like I didn't say that because I sure didn't mean to. Ok? Can you forget?"

Sam nodded. "Sorry I over-reacted. You just caught me by surprise."

They watched a couple of minutes longer. "You know," Sam commented, "half of those kids I've never even met. Robin's little girl is only two and she was pregnant with her twin boys the last time we did this. The other kids were really young. They won't even remember me."

"They might," Josh replied. "You about ready to go down? We can't stay in your room all day, although I wouldn't mind. I'm sure they wouldn't miss me, but your absence might be conspicuous."

"I suppose we should." He twirled Josh under his arm so Josh's back was against Sam's front, and wrapped his arms around him. He spoke close to his ear. "You won't drive off in that Ferrari and leave me, will you?"

"Never. We can even hold hands all day to make sure if you want."

"I want, but that's not practical. I've got to keep reminding myself, this is what I came here for," Sam said with resignation.

"Then let's go do this together."

When they went outside the bright light made them squint, even behind their sunglasses. They wandered over to where Daniel and David sat on the purple and lavender-striped lawn chairs. Sam greeted his Father, shook hands with his brother-in-law, and introduced Josh to David as his friend.

David was friendly toward Sam and made small talk; but it was obvious they didn't have a lot in common. As things often did in a situation like this, the conversation turned to sports. David was barely cordial toward Josh; a quick handshake and nod of the head to acknowledge his presence then he turned his attention back to Sam.

Daniel ignored Josh completely and spoke to Sam as if he were alone. Josh was determined to make himself noticed. He walked over to the two dogs lying on their sides in the grass nearby. He kneeled down and petted them both, one with each hand.

"Whose dogs, Mr. Seaborn?" he asked.

And he was ignored.

"Mr. Seaborn," he repeated, "I asked who these dogs belong to."

Finally, Daniel could ignore him no longer. Perturbed, he turned in his chair to face Josh.

"They belong to Robin's kids," he said. "Let them sleep." He turned back around.

Josh continued to stroke their silky fur.

"What are their names?" he asked.

Sam put his hand to his mouth to conceal a smile.

No answer.

"Mr. Seaborn," Josh said a little louder. "I asked what the dogs' names are."

"Goddammit, Lyman! You don't give a shit what those dogs' names are! You're just trying to provoke me!"

"No sir," Josh said as innocently as he could, but still with his smirk. "I'm just trying to find someone to have an intelligent conversation with around here."

Daniel Seaborn glared at him for a moment. "They call them Snickers and Sandy. Why don't you go check out the view by the cliff? There's a place where it juts outs and you can see to Catalina Island and beyond."

"Dad!"

"No, thanks, I'm good here," Josh replied.

"Josh, don't go near the piece that juts out!" Sam put his hand on Josh's arm. "It's crumbling and is gonna fall into the Pacific one of these days. There's even a fence around it so the kids can't get close. Let's go over by the pool and see Mother. You can meet the girls and the kids."

He let his palm slide down Josh's arm to his hand for a brief couple of seconds. Maybe not long enough for anybody to notice, but long enough to give Josh's hand a squeeze and receive one in return. Already he was anxious to be back in the sanctuary of their home where they didn't have to hide their affection.

It was a short walk to the pool on a stone pathway, across a small footbridge over a Koi pond. Josh wanted to stop and look at the fish.

"Are you sure we had salmon for dinner last night?" Josh laughed. He took the initiative and brushed something that wasn't there off Sam's nose. He let his hand linger on Sam's face for a moment. He wanted Daniel Seaborn to see him do it and was certain that he had.

"Yeah, but you know what? When I was little I had this plastic toy fishing pole and actually tried to catch the Koi in that pond. I'd even Scotch tape bait on the plastic hook and sit here for the longest time hoping to catch a fish."

"Did you?"

Sam smiled. "No, but I drowned a lot of worms."

Poolside, Sam hugged his Mother from behind and kissed her cheek, then moved around and stood in front of her to block the sun from her eyes. She looked better than he'd seen her since he arrived. Her hair wasn't flat anymore, but looked stylish. She had color from the sun on her arms and face and a little make-up that kept her from looking so lifeless. She wore a pink and green sundress and was barefoot. Sam thought she radiated a joy he had prayed for since the first minute he'd arrived.

"Good morning, Mother," he smiled, "you look radiant."

"Sam! When did you get here? And you brought your man-friend with you again . . . welcome back, Josh."

"Thank you, Mrs. Seaborn. My pleasure." Josh put his hand on her shoulder for just a moment.

Sam looked at his sister who stayed seated. "Megan. . . "he said, suddenly at a loss for words, ". . . hi."

Megan laughed. "You came, literally, all the way across the continent just to say `hi'?"

Josh saw by Sam's posture that he stiffened at her remark. Josh already knew he didn't like Megan. He would give anything to be able to say `hi' to his own sister, but he'd never have that chance again. And here this woman laughed when she heard that sweet, simple word come from her brother's mouth. She didn't even stand up to hug him or be hugged. He shouldn't have been surprised ~~ Sam had told him they weren't an affectionate family.

"Well," Sam replied, "I hope we'll have more to say than just `hi', but at the moment . . . it's been so long since I've seen you . . . I'm not sure where to start."

"You could start by introducing me to that strange man standing beside you," she suggested.

"Oh, yeah! Josh, my sister, Megan; Megan, this is Josh Lyman. Josh is my . . ."

"Look at me!"

A child shrieked as he dove into the clear water and drowned out Sam's words.

Everyone automatically turned to see Gregory dive from the board and into the water with barely a ripple then swim the length of the pool and back before surfacing.

"He's quite a swimmer," Sam commented. "Does he take lessons?"

"At the country club, the same place we learned. Jack works with him a lot, and Courtney, too. He taught them both to surf, anything that's wet. David doesn't like the water much unless we're sailing. Or we have the yacht out, but that's really not like being on the water, is it? Nice to meet you, John."

"It's Josh," Sam corrected her. "Not John."

"Sam, would you and your man-friend like a Mimosa?" Audrey asked.

"Mom, don't call Josh my man-friend. Just call him Josh, ok?"

Josh leaned in and whispered to Sam. "Are Mimosas those girly drinks?"

Sam shot him a look and Josh understood this wasn't the time to try and ease the tension with humor.

About that time Robin realized Sam and Josh had arrived and swam to the side of the pool and climbed out.

"Sam!"

She wrapped her arms around him for a quick hug, hardly long enough to get a few sprinkles of water on him, then stood back for a better look.

"You look like a fuddy-duddy politician. Why don't you put on your swim trunks and get in the pool?" she asked.

Sam would liked to have changed into shorts and a t-shirt, but somehow it seemed more appropriate for him and Josh to have on slacks and sports shirts when he told the rest of the family about his and Josh's relationship. He took this seriously, so seriously, and he felt any lesser style of dress would minimize its importance.

"In a little while." Sam put his hand on Josh's back. "Josh, my other sister, Robin; Robin, Josh Lyman."

Robin and Josh shook hands. "We're glad to have you." She looked over at her Mother and Megan, hoping for an answer as to who Josh was and why he was here with Sam. All she got was a shrug from her sister. Audrey wouldn't take her eyes off the kids.

"Brad's out there in the middle of the kids somewhere. It's time for them to take a break." Robin motioned toward the pool, put on a cover-up, and sat at the table. "Brad, come on out and see Sam!"

A few minutes later, all six children lay quietly on soft chaise lounges, each covered with a beach towel, to rest. Ranger and Apache, their two German Shepherds, stretched out on the grass in the shade, each with one eye closed and one eye on their sleeping charges. Brad dried himself off, put on a t-shirt, and shook hands with Sam, then with Josh.

"Good to see you again, Sam," he said. "It's been a long time."

Sam, Josh, and Brad joined Audrey, Megan, and Robin in chairs scattered near the table. Some wanted sun, some wanted shade, some wanted half-and-half. This way each one could sit where they wanted and still be close enough to talk.

Sam chose the sun. Josh chose the shade. They still chose to sit next to each other.

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "You had just one little toddler bouncing around here the last time we did this and now, wow, four."

"I'm glad your first REAL look at them is while they're sleeping peacefully," replied Brad, "because when they wake up, I can't make any promises."

"Don't listen to him, Sam, our kids are angels." Robin and Brad both laughed at her comment.

Sam was just about to introduce Josh and Brad when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked toward the house, and saw Jack had arrived and joined Daniel and David on the patio. The three stood and talked for a few minutes, then walked to the pool, Snickers and Sandy trotting alongside.

Daniel and David pulled up chairs and made themselves comfortable. Jack walked up behind Sam, wrapped his arm around his throat, and put him in a headlock. With his fist he quickly and roughly scraped his knuckles across Sam's head.

"Hey, Bunny, you came back," he laughed.

"Stop it, Jack!" Robin admonished. "Leave him alone. You've been here 30 seconds and you're already on his case."

Sam struggled a moment before he could free himself from his brother's grasp. "Did you think I wouldn't?" He ran his fingers through his mussed hair and hoped the heat he felt on his face was from the sun.

Jack sat in a chair on the other side of Sam.

More small talk was exchanged, nothing significant, all superficial. Each family member knew something needed to be said and it was only a matter of time before the words were spoken. Everyone just waited for Sam to say what he was going to say, and wondered when he was going to say it.

Before long, Jack confronted Sam directly. "Well Sam, have you told your sisters the big news yet?" he asked.

No, not like this, Sam thought.

"What big news?" they both asked.

"Yeah, what is it, Sam?" David added.

"Go ahead and tell them," Jack smiled. "Let everybody in on it."

Sam wasn't ready. He wanted to tell his sisters with just Josh. He didn't want to have to open himself up in front of his parents and brother again. And he didn't want his brothers-in-law there either. This was NOT the way it was supposed to happen! He glanced at Josh and they made eye contact. Josh picked up on what he wanted to do.

"Yeah, I DO have something I wanna say," replied Sam. "Megan, Robin, would you two take a little walk with Josh and me?"

Before anyone could protest, he and Josh were up and had pulled the chairs out for Sam's sisters and Sam told the others they'd be back in a while. Very quick, very neat, very smooth.

Sam, Josh, Megan, and Robin continued down the stone pathway that had brought them to the pool. It was quiet, shady in spots, sunny in others, and the air was filled with the sweet aroma of the flowering shrubbery. The path came out near the cliffs where there was a gazebo, benches, and a reflecting pool. An ancient sundial was cemented into the rock.

"This place just doesn't stop, does it?" Josh admired. "Why didn't I see this yesterday?"

"Other side of the greenhouse," Sam explained.

"Damn!"

Sam didn't waste any time. He was ready to get this done, regardless of the outcome. "Robin, Megan, would you two sit down? We have something to tell you."

"WE have something to tell you?" Megan echoed.

The women exchanged glances and sat on one of the benches in the gazebo.

Josh sat next, across from Robin and Megan. He wanted to give Sam the option to sit next to him or put some space between them. He just wanted whatever was easiest and most comfortable for Sam. He knew what he hoped Sam would do ~~ sit beside him to show their unity, their commitment, to show by example they were serious.

Sam sat on the bench close to Josh, took his hand, and held it in his lap.

"I don't know what you know," he began, "or if you even know anything at all." He saw blank stares. "About what I'm going to tell you, I mean!" he tried to correct himself. "I'm not doing very well here, am I?" he laughed.

"Are you sure you work as the President's speechwriter?" Robin joked. "What are you so nervous about? It's just us."

"That's why I'm nervous," Sam responded. "Because it's you. If you were strangers maybe . ."

"Do you wanna tell us you're gay?" Robin asked casually.

Sam was startled into silence. He honestly had no idea either of them suspected. He hadn't been around his sisters very much while he was growing up OR as an adult. How did they know? Had Jack told them? Was he that obvious?

"Yes," he said quietly, "I am. But that's not what I came here to tell you. That's not important." He looked at Josh, gave him a quick smile, and squeezed his hand. "I brought Josh out here with me to tell you he and I are in a relationship . . . we love each other . . . we're a couple . . . we're married."

The only sound was the wind rustling through the trees and the rush of the waves on the beach below.

After a very long minute had passed, Robin walked over to Josh, who pulled his hand from Sam's grasp, and stood. Robin hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, and said, "Welcome to the family, Josh. I'm so happy Sam has someone to love who loves him back."

Sam mouthed "thank you" to Robin as she hugged Josh, then looked at Megan for her reaction.

"I think you're an idiot," she said.

"Why am I an idiot?"

"Be serious," she scoffed. "Please don't tell me I have to spell out all the reasons for you. Does Jack know about this?"

Sam nodded.

"Then I think you're an idiot for all the same reasons he does."

"That's not an answer. That's just name-calling and being too lazy to come up with reasons on your own."

"I'm still happy for you, Sam," Robin said. "Are you really married? Are those wedding bands?"

Josh smiled at Robin and tried to remember the names of her kids; it might be good to have an ally later and knowing her children's names wouldn't hurt.

"It's career suicide," Megan continued. "Your reputation will go from being a respected Senior Staff member in a not-so-respected Democratic administration to a queer freelance writer for The Advocate. You'll be socially ruined, you'll lose your standing among the better circles, you'll . . ."

"Megan."

"What?"

"I'm not worried about my reputation, and President Bartlet's administration is VERY well-respected. If you believe it's not, I'd like you to give me the numbers to prove it, and don't say `Because Jack says it isn't.' I don't have a social life to ruin and I don't even know where the better circles are to stand in," said Sam.

"Then what's this all about? Why are you telling us?"

Sam stood up. "Why am I telling you? Why am I telling you?"

Megan nodded.

"Because you're my family! I love you guys and I love Josh and I wanted you to meet each other," Sam cried out in frustration. "Is there some reason for that to be a bad thing? I just want you to know the man I'll be spending the rest of my life with and you call me an idiot for that. Dammit, Megan!"

"Sam, she didn't mean it," said Robin.

"She DID mean it! Dad, Jack, Megan . . . only Mother and you have been civil to Josh. When David and Brad find out we're married . . ."

"Stop saying `married', Sam," Megan laughed. "That just sounds so ridiculous." She suddenly became serious. "And you know damn well you can't get legally married in D.C. Who are you kidding?"

"We had a ceremony."

"You had a ceremony," Megan stated. The cynicism in her voice cut through Sam. "So that makes it all right. That makes it all well and good ~~ morally, ethically, spiritually . . ."

"I wish you had invited me," Robin interrupted. "I would have come."

"Josh's Mother came," Sam muttered.

"Well, I wouldn't have," Megan interjected. "I'm not going to have my name associated with this fiasco. I think what you've done . . . what you're doing . . . is totally selfish and you have absolutely no regard for how this will reflect on your family. I think your convictions are misguided and your actions will prove to be self- defeating. I think . . ."

"Excuse me, Megan?" Sam broke in.

Annoyed at the interruption, Megan stared at him for a moment before she responded. "What is it?"

"I didn't come here to ask what you think about Josh and me. I came to tell you it's a done deal and allow you the pleasure of meeting my husband. You, my dear, have a new brother-in-law."

Sam turned to Josh, took him in his arms, and kissed him. They pulled away just a little bit, smiled at each other, and kissed again. To Sam and Josh, they were alone in the gazebo.

"You did good," Josh said, his voice so soft only Sam could hear.

Sam nodded his head, so slight only Josh could see.

With their arms around each other, Sam and Josh turned their attention back to Robin and Megan.

"You can tell Brad and David or you can choose not to, it doesn't matter to me either way," said Sam.

"Does Mother know?" asked Robin.

"I told her and Dad and Jack yesterday."

"And their reactions were . . .?"

"Mom seems ok with it. Dad and Jack aren't pleased," Sam replied.

"My guess would be that's the understatement of this millennium for the Seaborn clan," added Megan. "When you say `Mother seems ok with it', what exactly do you mean?"

To be honest, Sam didn't know if his Mother was ok with it or not. She was friendly with Josh and welcomed him back into her home today. But he had to wonder if she really had any perception of what Sam had tried to explain to her in the privacy of her bedroom the night before. He'd purposely walked her upstairs so he could be alone with her for a few minutes and see if she comprehended what Sam had just told his parents. He still didn't know.

"I mean, she didn't express any misgivings. She likes Josh."

"Sam, Mother wouldn't know if you . . . never mind," Megan started.

"No, what? What were you gonna say? Mother wouldn't know what?"

"Not here, not now. Let's go back up by the pool."

"Megan, please tell me what happened to Mother," Sam insisted. "She's not well. Tell me."

"Not here, not now," Megan repeated.

Sam turned to his other sister. "Robin?"

She shook her head and said, "We'll talk later tonight."

Sam and Josh followed them up the path to the pool and the rest of Sam's family. As they approached, six children and four dogs ran to greet them. All the kids had light brown hair, the Seaborn blue eyes, and resembled each other so much, they could have been born of the same parents.

Robin called out to the children, Megan's as well as her own "Come here, kids. I want you to say hi to your Uncle Sam and meet somebody."

The children gathered around in their bathing suits.

"Sam," Robin said, "you remember Gregory."

Sam shook hands with the little boy. Gregory resembled Jack so much Sam couldn't stop staring at his face. His skin was dark from the sun, his blue eyes twinkled, and when he flashed Sam that grin, Sam felt a sharp stab in his left temple. He put his hand to his forehead and swayed to the side.

"Sam?" Josh caught his arm and steadied him.

"I'm ok. It's just the sun."

"You all right, Sam?" asked Jack.

"Sammy?" Robin said at the same time.

"Yeah, really, guys, I'm fine." He was grateful Josh's hand was still on his elbow. He wasn't quite as steady as he thought.

"Gregory," Robin continued, "this is Uncle Sam's friend, Josh."

Josh shook hands with Sam's nephew. He couldn't believe this was really happening. Not so long ago he knew next to nothing about Sam's family and now, here he was sitting around the Seaborns' pool, sipping Mimosas, surrounded by small children and dogs. He thought back to how terrified he'd been when he and Sam had come out to Toby. And look at me now, he thought.

Sam was reacquainted with Courtney and Melissa, who were as attractive and well-mannered as Gregory. Then he met the three youngest children for the first time. Bella was too bashful and crawled into her Grandmother's lap and hid her face. Then he met one of the identical twins, Kyle, and shook his hand and watched as Robin introduced Kyle to Uncle Sam's "friend". Sam wanted them to call him Uncle Josh but decided not to push the issue.

Then there was Kevin, Kyle's twin.

He'd stood quietly off to the side while the other children greeted Sam and Josh. He was the last one.

"Come on over, sweetie," his Mother said. "This is your Uncle Sam."

He didn't move.

Sam kneeled down. "Hey Kevin, I'd like to meet you if it's ok."

Without hesitation, Kevin walked over and directly into Sam's arms. He wrapped himself around Sam and put his mouth close to Sam's ear.

"You're him, aren't you?" he asked quietly.

"What? I'm him? Who?"

"You're him," Kevin repeated. "The fire-man. You're the fire-man." He spoke very deliberately and made `fire' and `man' two words.

Sam looked over Kevin's head at Robin.

"Let's not bother Uncle Sam," said Robin. She put her hands around Kevin and had to pry him off Sam.

"What was that all about?" Sam asked.

Again, Robin shook her head and said, "Tonight."

********

After the news had been broken, there was no more discussion of the marriage while all the family members were together ~~ at least not in the presence of Sam and Josh. At times they would walk up on two or three of them talking in low voices and the topic of conversation would suddenly and obviously change, but nothing was said directly to them.

And so the day went. Sam and Josh swam, and played tennis and basketball with the family. They rarely hit the tennis ball in Josh's direction and made him run for it if they did. He was tripped up more than once on the basketball court and a couple of times took a shot to the back of the head. They sat at umbrella tables by the pool and played Parcheesi, Backgammon, and Gin Rummy, and when the youngest children joined in, Chutes `n Ladders and Candyland. They ate, they drank, and they lounged in the sun.

By late afternoon Sam sat on the patio and talked with his Father, Jack, and David and smoked fine cigars. Josh sat in the shade and watched the parrots and dozed off. Megan went inside with her laptop to take care of a little business for Seaborn Law Offices and wasn't seen for hours. Two-year-old Bella climbed onto Josh's lap and fell asleep in his arms; Sam smiled at the sight. Audrey went into the kitchen to see if she could be of any help to Frances. Robin tended to the children, including Megan's, continued to drink Mimosas, and played Solitaire. Brad wandered around to see what everyone else was doing and finally stretched out on a chaise lounge and went to sleep. Ranger, Apache, Snickers, and Sandy meandered from person to person, from loving hand to loving hand, from shady spot to shady spot, and finally settled in the cool grass.

To a stranger they gave the appearance of a relatively normal family . . . with the exception that everyone but Robin and occasionally Brad virtually ignored Josh unless it was necessary, and no one mentioned the fact Sam had just announced his marriage to another man. They gave Josh short, curt answers if he tried to talk with them, but no one initiated conversation, so he mostly kept to himself and knew he was serving Sam in the best way he could ~~ just by being there whenever Sam needed him.

Josh gave Sam his time and space to do what he needed to do with his family and watched from the sidelines. Sam spent time with everyone and was as friendly and gracious with them all as they would all want him to be. Josh knew there were questions Sam wanted answered, but wasn't quite sure how to find them. Robin had said "tonight", so all Sam could do was wait until she was ready to talk.

Sam had been half-listening to his Father, Jack, and David talk with lawyer-like pride about screwing somebody out of something ~~ he didn't know who or what and didn't care ~~ when he became overwhelmed with so much family interaction. He felt he had to constantly be on- guard, like Josh was on display, and he wanted to be alone with Josh for a while.

He saw Josh playing a game of Parcheesi with Melissa and stared at him just for a minute, long enough for Josh to sense he was being watched. When Josh looked up, Sam nodded his head toward the house, and Josh knew he wanted to meet him upstairs. Josh played a couple of more turns with Melissa then excused himself and said he had to go inside for a while. Courtney rushed to take his place at the game board.

Josh made his way through the house, grateful he didn't run into anybody, and went upstairs to Sam's bedroom. The door was ajar so he went inside and closed it behind him. Sam was sitting on the bed.

As soon as Sam saw Josh, he stood and walked toward him and they were in each other's arms.

"I've missed you so much," he said against Josh's chest.

"I've been right here all day, baby," Josh replied.

"You were in sight, but I couldn't be with you like I wanted. I couldn't touch you, or hold your hand, or kiss you . . . I've been miserable all day."

"You've seemed to be having fun," said Josh.

"But I'm not. I hate being here. It's worse than I thought it was gonna be. They're talking about us, they're ignoring you, they're not taking our marriage seriously at all."

"Did you expect them to, Sam? Be honest."

No answer.

"Sam?"

No answer.

"Sam? You ok?"

Josh heard sniffling. "Are you crying?" he asked.

Sam shook his head.

"You're crying, aren't you?"

"No. It's just that sniffly thing before you cry." He laughed a little. "I'm ok, but I think I got snot on your shirt."

Josh held Sam at arm's length. "Know what?"

"What?"

"This is your shirt."

"Lay with me, Josh."

Sam locked the bedroom door, pulled his t-shirt off over his head, and took off his shoes. Josh did the same. They met in the center of the bed and embraced, their legs entwined, their lips on the other's, but they didn't kiss. Neither moved, neither spoke. They just lay in the familiar comfort of loving arms and breathed in the closeness of the only one that really mattered. Today it wasn't a sexual thing ~~ it was an affair of the heart.

An hour later Sam awoke, still in Josh's arms. He brushed Josh's lips with a tender kiss but didn't wake him. Sam wanted to let him sleep, so he gently pulled himself free and covered Josh with a light quilt folded at the foot of the bed. He put his shirt and shoes back on, ran his fingers through his hair, and left the room, closing the door behind him.

He still wasn't ready to be with his family again, so he avoided them by going out the front door and across the back yard toward the cliffs instead of by way of the patio and pool where everyone was gathered.

The evening sun had begun to drop and the sky was awash with oranges, reds, yellows and pink garnishing an azure blue sea. An original van Gogh painted just for him this night. Sam wished Josh could see it, but he was at the edge of the cliff now and knew it would soon be gone.

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his shorts and just looked. He'd almost forgotten that he saw this every day when he was growing up and took it for granted. Now it was a gift.

How far away Sam felt from his life in Washington. How foreign the halls of the White House seemed. And the people he worked with twelve hours a day . . . they seemed like strangers to him. Who am I, he thought, to think I can make a difference? I'm just one man.

"Lord, the sea is so big and my boat is so small," he said quietly.

Sam didn't hear the footsteps come up behind him, but he felt a small arm wrap around his leg. He looked down and saw four-year-old Kevin standing next to him. He hadn't realized Kevin had followed him across the yard.

He kneeled down so he was eye level with the boy. "Whatcha doing out here?" he asked.

"Just looking," Kevin replied.

"Looking at what?"

"The sky."

"Me too," said Sam.

"I'm waiting for the stars," Kevin added.

"Me too."

A few minutes passed. Sam sat down and Kevin sat beside him.

"You're him, aren't you?" Kevin asked.

"Who? Who do you think I am?" replied Sam.

"The fire-man."

"Kevin, tell me who the fireman is."

"In the pictures. Where the airplanes were and the buildings fell down."

Then Sam knew. "That was Uncle Shawn, honey," Sam explained. "He was your other uncle. We just look alike."

Kevin moved over and sat in Sam's lap and lay his head back against Sam's chest. "Do you ever go out in the ocean?" he asked.

"Sometimes, but I haven't in a long time. Do you ever go out in the ocean?"

Kevin nodded. "I can't go by myself, though."

"Does your Mom go with you?" Sam asked.

"My Mom does and sometimes my Dad does."

"That sounds like fun."

"And some . . . some . . . sometimes Uncle Jack does," Kevin added.

Sam's blood ran cold. He put his arms around Kevin and pulled him close.

"Do you like to go in the ocean with Uncle Jack?" Sam didn't know if he was prepared to hear the answer.

Kevin didn't answer. Sam used his thumb and rubbed it along Kevin's jaw line. After a couple of minutes he felt Kevin go limp in his arms.

"You're being unsocial, Sam."

Sam jumped and turned to see Jack standing behind him. He looked so tall from where Sam sat, or was it just his imagination? Did his heart skip a beat? Or was that his imagination too? Why did he feel like he'd just been caught doing something wrong and was about to get in trouble?

"I . . . uh . . . just came out here to . . . uh . . . see the sky," he said.

"You can't see the sky from the patio?"

Toby's words flashed through Sam's thoughts. "Yeah, but it's nice out here. Is that a problem?"

"I guess not. But you came all this way and you're neglecting me," Jack replied.

"I've been with you all day, Jack, and I've only been . . ."

"Forget it. Why do you have Kevin with you?"

"He just followed me out," Sam answered.

"What did he say?"

"Nothing. Is there something you were afraid he would say?"

Jack smirked at Sam. "Don't get smart with me, boy. You got off easy today, you and your bitch. We've still got some talking to do."

Sam didn't waver. "Start talking."

"Come on, Kevin," Jack said. "You need to go back to the house."

Kevin tightened his grip on Sam's arm. "Can I stay here?"

"No. Come on, little monkey. Your Mom doesn't know where you are. Let's go."

Kevin slowly stood and looked into Sam's eyes. "'Member you asked me a question about the ocean?" he asked.

Sam nodded.

"The answer is no."

END OF CHAPTER SEVENTY

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