Author: Anne Marsh
Rating: R (disturbing, violent bad guys, angst, peril-- Peril. That's a good one, isn't it? What does that even mean, on movie ratings? Peril. Well, I should hope so, otherwise how boring would that be? Anyway, sadly, it's because I'm being mean to my characters, not because I'm letting them have sex. Oh, and they're not *my* characters. Okay)
Pairing: Sam/Josh est., and on the het front, eh, whatever you read into it *shrug*.
Summary: A fight for survival. Yeah, it's a lame summary, but there's not much I can say. Just... read the notes and the fic.
Notes: Not mine, disclaimer-wise. Okay, this fic was inspired by one of the WWOMB challenges/plotbunnies, so I'll also be posting it there a little later. You guys get it first. I'd say 'lucky you', but that's a bit arrogant, and I'm, you know, insecure, so... um, let me know if it's worth anything, I guess. This time it's Sam's POV. I'm branching out. Not really sure I do Sam as well as Josh, though... hope it works for you all.
Archive: Yes. Also, someday it'll be at WWOMB, but, like I said, you guys get it first.
Feedback: I live off it!
Survival by Anne Marsh
How had this happened? One minute, the motorcade was zipping merrily on its way, and the next thing I know...
We were lucky, really. The President's car had made it out and away, as evidenced by the fact that A) he wasn't with us, and B) the news on the radio I can hear buzzing in the background hasn't mentioned his sudden disappearance. But everything behind that...
At some point, we had been forced off the road by some-- Survivalists, or something. Now we were all lying on the rough wooden floor of some barracks or-- or warehouse, or some kind of big building, off in the middle of the woods. I didn't know how many people might have died. There were secret service guys, and a police escort. I remember gunfire. Here in the-- the camp, it was Josh, Toby, CJ, and I. Anyone else, I just didn't know about.
Josh moaned, inching closer to me, his face contorted with pain, and with one eye on our guard, I moved over to pick him up off the floor.
"What happened? Josh, are you hurt?" I whispered. Of course, I felt stupid for asking. Obviously he was hurt somewhere.
"It's nothing." He shook his head, wincing. I saw the blood soaking through his sleeve.
"Trust me." He fixed me with a look. "This, is nothing."
"Bleeding a lot for nothing." I grunted, removing his tie to use as a makeshift tourniquet. Mine I used to wrap around the wound as a sort of bandage. He hissed. "This'll have to do for now... I'll try and talk to who-- whoever's in charge here, and see if we can get you a doctor."
"It's just a graze. The bullet's not in me, I can tell it didn't hit bone. And yeah, I know what it feels like to have a bullet in me, so I think I can tell you this isn't it, it's just a graze, Sam, please don't worry."
"I can't help it." I breathed, running a hand over his forehead. He was cold, but sweating. "You might be going into shock... I wish I knew more about this..."
A few feet away, Toby and CJ were whispering at each other, checking for injuries. Satisfied that no signifigant damage had been done, they both seemed to relax marginally. Toby moved over to us on his knees, then stopped short, seeing Josh lying bloodstained, half in my lap. He blanched.
"It's okay." Josh shook his head, forcing a smile for Toby's benefit. "Grazed my arm. Sam's just a baby about this stuff, that's all. Promise."
That caught CJ's attention, and then the four of us were in a cluster. The guard-- the one who'd had the radio on-- came over, using his rifle to nudge Toby's shoulder, keeping him back from Josh and me.
"You four better not be planning any trouble." He warned us, gaze cold and malicious.
"He's hurt." I said, almost imploring. "Is there-- do you have anyone who could-- a doctor? Or, could you get a doctor, from the nearest town? I thought-- I thought he might be going into shock, and--"
"No. No doctor's comin' into the camp, not for you. If he can't shake it off, then he's better off dead, isn't he?"
Only a couple of very firm grips, one on my arm and one on my knee, reminded me of the situation and its gravity, and I almost attacked him for saying that.
"You four sit here and play nice. Or else." He warned, strolling back over to his post.
I cradled Josh, resting my forehead against his. Next to us, Toby was mumbling to himself, mostly about the badness of our situation. I wasn't paying attention, so I didn't make out the words, but the rising desperation was clear.
Then I heard a sharp sound as CJ smacked him. "Snap out of it! I hate to break it to you, but your losing it is not going to help us right now. Now... let's just try to get through this alive, okay?"
I lifted my head, and we all nodded. CJ let out a breath.
"Look, I know it's bad, guys..."
"CJ, they-- You know what might happen to you in a place like this?" Toby hissed, eyes darting to the guard.
"I know what might happen to any one of us in a situation like this." She sighed. "Toby, please... don't worry about me because I'm the woman, okay?"
"I think in this situation, that that's a very good reason to worry about you!" He rejoined, keeping his voice pitched low. "CJ, look at where we are, and think about this. They might-- they could-- Do you know what goes on in Survivalist camps? Sometimes, they buy or kidnap women to bear their little aryan babies!"
"I'm a little past my prime aryan baby-bearing age." She said dryly.
"Well, you're still a very attractive woman." He growled, not making any eye contact with her. "So I'm worried, okay, because I don't want these guys-- I don't want them--"
Her smile went from sardonic to-- maybe even soft. "That just might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. Which is kind of scary, but under the circumstances, I'll go with it."
"Aryan babies..." Josh muttered, shaking his head. "Hey... maybe they're not, you know, Nazis, right? Right, Sam?"
I felt sick and curled around him again so that my forehead touched his. "It's okay... it's okay, okay? They wouldn't be able to tell, and--"
I looked up at the sound. CJ was white, I mean astoundingly white. "You don't think they're-- Nazi-Nazis, do you? I mean, they aren't really--"
I followed her train of thought and felt whatever colour left drain from my face. I swore softly.
"You guys, on my account?" Toby said, but beneath the black humour, his voice trembled.
"You do look Jewish." CJ whispered apologetically.
"I *am* Jewish." He sighed.
"Well, you look it."
"Look." I interrupted. "Not all Survivalists are Nazis. And even if they are, you could-- you could just tell them you're a-- a Polish atheist or something."
"A Polish atheist?" He stared at me. "Please tell me you didn't just say that. I'm not telling them I'm a Polish atheist."
"I don't care what anyone tells them so long as we get out of this alive." CJ hissed. "Now can we-- can we drop this part of the conversation? Please? It's really not constructive."
We all nodded again. Then there was a minor commotion over at the doorway. Our guard saluted and let some big guy in. Some really big guy. Their leader, I presumed. He strode over to us and stood there towering in combat boots and yards of camouflage.
"So. You're the ones from the White House?"
I nodded. "Yes. That's us."
He spat off to the side. "Bleedin' heart liberals, with your gun laws and your big government. Well, maybe we didn't get your boss, but let's get a look at what we did get. What's your name, son?"
"And what do you do?"
"I-- I'm a speechwriter."
He snorted and kicked lightly at Josh's leg. "You, boy?"
"Joshua Lyman." He winced. "Deputy Chief of Staff."
I wished he'd lied, but realized it was probably pointless-- after Rosslyn, he'd been in enough news that any neo-Nazi Survivalist whacko worth his salt would recognize him.
"Ooh, fancy stuff. You?" He barked, fixing Toby with a stare.
"Toby Zeigler. I-- I also am a speechwriter." He over-simplified.
"Kinda name's Ziegler?" The man sneered. Then he turned to CJ. "What about you, sweetheart? Somebody's secretary?"
"CJ Cregg, I'm--"
"Yeah, yeah, I recognize you now. I seen you on the TV. You're in charge of the press meetings." He nodded. "Pretty big job for a woman."
"In my experience, it's a pretty big job for anyone, Sir." She replied evenly.
I saw Toby flinch.
"You watch it, lady." He moved back over to me. "They gonna pay money to get any of you back?"
"The White House is not in the habit of negotiating with terrorists..." I answered weakly.
"Terrorists?" He laughed, looking over to his underling. "D'you hear that? I think this prettyboy just called us terrorists! Like we was Arabs or something."
Josh gripped my arm a little tighter. Before I could say anything to reassure him-- though what, I wasn't sure-- the commando-guy leaned in and pulled him up by his uninjured arm. I leapt to my feet after him, but found the guard's rifle pointed at my chest.
"You said you were Deputy Chief of Staff? I bet that's pretty important. Listen and listen good, boy, you're comin' with me..."
"Wait!" I surged forward, but the barrel of the rifle kept me from taking a full step.
"Wait?" The man spat.
"He's injured, and-- and the United States Government-- Look, if you want to ransom somebody, ransom me. I-- I have family. You can get someone to contact them, and they'll do whatever they can to get you the money."
I was now officially talking and talking fast, and completely unsure of just what it was I was saying.
"Oh, whatever they can." He sneered.
"They're well off." It may have been a slight... well, exaggeration. I mean, sure we were pretty well-off, generally WASP-y, I guess. Not really rich, not like the top percent or anything. Top ten percent, maybe... Admittedly, not thinking straight at the moment. "Trust me, Deputy Chief of Staff isn't anything to get excited over. He's-- well, he's just the *Deputy* Chief of Staff, it's not like he's Chief of Staff. He, like, assists the Chief of Staff, and I can tell you now you'll get more money ransoming me, if that's what you're after. Take me instead."
He let out a bark of mean laughter. "You trying to save him? What is he, your boyfriend?"
My jaw clenched, at the mocking tones, at the words which were truer than he knew, knowing if I said yes, Josh wasn't going to see another day, and that was all that mattered now.
"We're friends. We have been for years." I said evenly. "And you won't get anywhere with him, anyway."
"Oh, his family didn't have money like yours." He sneered some more.
"No." I focused even harder on keeping my voice even. "There'd be no one to get money from. The President won't pay it."
Josh just looked at me, shook his head once.
"And if it's not about a ransom?"
I quailed, and tried hard not to show it.
"Then if you take me instead, and let him go-- let him get to a doctor... I won't be any trouble, I'll do whatever you say, anything... Just let him go to a doctor, forget about him."
"If we just drive him out into the woods and shoot him? You wouldn't even know the difference."
"If I so much as suspect you've had him killed, then so help me God, I swear I'll kill you with my bare hands, and none of your skinhead thugs and their rifles are going to be able to stop me, to pry my fingers from your throat, until you are stone dead." I replied, my voice low and even despite the outrageousness of the claim.
He laughed, and released Josh roughly, so that he fell. "I like that. All right, here's the deal: I'll give you the chance to win your freedom-- all of you. If you win, we'll drop you off by the main road, blindfolded, and you should make it back to civilization without knowing where you came from. If you lose, we keep your friends for as long as they're useful, and you, boy... you become my personal slave. I will beat you whenever I want, and if I get sick of you, I'll feed you to the dogs. Alive."
"Win at what?" Josh croaked, raising himself up from the floor on his good arm.
"He has to fight me. Hand to hand, mano a mano. The way God intended."
I was fairly certain that God had never intended any such thing, but I kept my mouth shut. It was Josh who spoke up.
"No. Sam, don't."
"I-- have to." It was all I could really say. Everything else I had to try to convey with a look.
He turned back to Mr. Commando. "What if he refuses the chance-- if he doesn't fight you? We just-- hang around until we're not-- useful?"
"Mostly." Commando shrugged, a nasty gleam in his eye. "But instead of prettyboy over there, you get to be my whipping boy."
"I'll do it." I stepped forward. This time, the guard let me.
"Good. You got until tomorrow at dusk. Make your peace with your little pals, prettyboy. Tomorrow night, you're going down. Dusk."
He left, and the guard went to stand at the door. There were mats laid out on the floor nearby, I guessed for us. I helped Josh to his. The mats were thin and hard, the pillows flat and lumpy. The blankets were itchy, but they seemed clean enough.
"Sam, don't do it." He appealed again. "Please, he-- Look at the guy! He'll kill you..."
We weren't being watched, so I hazarded a quick kiss to his forehead. "I have to."
CJ and Toby pulled the other mats closer, so that we were all laid out in a strip, instead of seperately, barracks-style. I laid down beside Josh, close enough to whisper, to touch. We were able to hold hands beneath the blankets. CJ was to his other side, and Toby was past her. I felt kind of like we were triceratops, in formation to protect the injured and weak. Except that CJ was neither injured nor weak. She was female, though, so she'd be in the middle of a triceratops formation anyway. Come to think of it, buffalo do the same thing. But I didn't share any of that. It wasn't important.
Josh lay on his uninjured side, so that he faced me. He hissed in pain when the blanket rubbed against his arm, and I did my best to rearrange things so that he wouldn't have to suffer through any avoidable discomfort. I kissed my fingertips discreetly, pressed them to his lips so no one would see.
"Josh... please just hang in there, and it'll-- I can't let him do this to you. I've got to fight him, I *have* to."
"Then win." He whispered, tears choking the words. "Because I don't know how I'm going to hang in there if you don't. Sam..."
"Shh... I know. Just-- I'm going to do everything I can."
"Don't fight mad." Toby whispered, just loud enough to be heard. "It'll throw off your judgement, it's what he wants. You have to try and keep calm, no matter what he says."
"And you know he's going to try to get you." CJ added. "Just like politics. He'll use any weapon he has. He'll use Josh. You can't get angry. Just remember, the more he tries to goad you, the more desperate he's getting, so don't let him make you mad."
"Yeah. Yeah, thanks. I'll remember that." My stomach churned, and I wondered for what felt like the millionth time what I'd gotten myself into.
"Remember something else." Josh breathed, kissing his fingertips, bringing them to my lips. "Okay?"
"Yeah." And now I was starting to tear up. "Yeah, Josh. How could I forget?"
I woke up, I didn't know when. The windows were high up, barred and shuttered, so I couldn't tell by the light. There were no clocks visible. We had a different guard, but he seemed pretty uninterested in us, so long as we didn't move.
Josh was still asleep, but even so his hand was squeezing onto mine. Little worry lines knotted his brow, and my free hand moved up to try and soothe them away, and I made what I hoped were reassuring sounds, even though I kind of failed to turn them into actual words of reassurance. Not in English, at least.
Toby and CJ were both stirring-- I guessed that they were both awake, but content to stay under the radar. Yeah, I was starting to hear occasional snatches of whispered conversation between them. Josh moaned softly in his sleep, and I lifted the blanket very carefully away from his arm.
He let out a little whimper as his eyes fluttered open, sought out mine.
"It's okay, Josh." I told him. "I mean, maybe not-- Well, it's not good, but... it's okay. Josh, I swear I'm gonna do everything to--"
"But, Sam..." He bent his head forward, pressed to mine. "I still-- I really don't want you to do this..." His voice was raised a little, a whine of desperation colouring his words.
The guard came over, kicking my leg lightly. "You awake there?" He sounded bored.
"Yeah. Yeah, can-- Can we have some water?"
He nodded, went to the door, and said a few things to another guard, kid of maybe nineteen. In a couple minutes, he shoved a cheap plastic canteen at me.
First I made sure Josh was all right, and got him to drink a few swallows. I passed it over to CJ and Toby, then drank a little myself. Then I uncovered Josh and got him turned onto his uninjured side again. I beckoned CJ closer, and she sat at his back to help support him.
"I need to take a look, okay?" I asked him, my hand on his face. He nodded, but he was pale and shaky, and I could see he was apprehensive.
First the ties had to come off, then I had to rip out the seam holding his sleeve on. He took in a sharp breath, and I winced.
"Hold on... it's a little rough, I know, but-- Just hold on, Josh."
He nodded again, and I was able to get the sleeve off. It was tacky with nearly-dried blood, and I tossed it as far away as I could without devoting too much attention to anything non-Josh. His tie-- the tourniquet-- was pretty clean. I poured some of the remaining water onto it and gently daubed at the blood. Josh hissed again, and clenched just about anything that would clench, and CJ was reaching around his head to let him squeeze her hand.
"I'm sorry... I know it's gonna-- I know it hurts some. But it's important."
"I know..." His voice sounded strangled. "How's it look?"
"I'm sure it's not as bad as it seems when I look at it." I whispered gently, stroking his hair with the back of my hand. "The blood stopped."
I had checked the bleeding earlier, in the middle of the night, felt while he was sleeping and loosened my tie, to make sure he wasn't losing any more blood. When I saw he wasn't, I loosened the tourniquet, hoping that it might bring some small relief to his arm, and when that didn't affect the amount of blood, I figured it was safe and didn't tighten it again.
"I told you... it was just a graze..."
"Deep graze." I muttered, pouring some water out onto my hands, wiping away the re-wetted blood, onto my once-clean and formerly-white shirt. I could still see it, smell it on my hands, but not as much. I re-wrapped the arm with his tie, hoping that the cool damp would soothe the burn of the wound, hoping it wouldn't infect. Hoping a lot of things. At least it covered it, at least now I didn't see it, burning gore and pain into my retinas. I've got to stop thinking about it so much, to stop remembering it so vividly, and it only reminds me of other times... of Rosslyn, and after...
I stripped out of my now-bloody shirt. I still had a t-shirt on under it, anyway. Toby took the shirt and my ruined tie wordlessly, and tossed them off towards a corner. Josh's body was starting to relax a little, after its latest ordeal, and I held his hand now, stroking the back of it, gentling him.
"You don't have to fight him, Sam." He whispered, one final stab.
"Yes, I do. If I don't, you'll die."
"He didn't say he'd kill me." Josh tried to shrug, realizing a moment too late how it hurt.
"If I don't, you'll die." I repeated. The man was a monster, a psychopath, a violent, unstable menace, and if I didn't do what he said, he would kill Josh; not immediately, not with a bullet. Slowly, cruelly. I couldn't let that happen.
When CJ had to go to the bathroom, they had a downtrodden and mousy-looking woman escort her, accompanied by the threats of the guards should their prisoner escape. I didn't doubt for a minute that CJ could get away from her escort, but I knew she wouldn't, because of the consequences towards this woman, this poor girl who obviously didn't want to be there, didn't want to be the mail-order-child-bride of some backwoods Survivalist.
They told us that if we had to go, there was a bucket in the corner by the sink, and Elsie-- that was the wife/slave's name-- would empty it later.
When Josh needed to, I supported him. Everything else, he could do fine on his own, but he was still a little weak from blood loss, and too shaky on his feet for me to trust him.
Elsie came in later with a tray. At least they were going to feed us.
"Here." She said. Her voice was a cracked whisper, and it sounded like she would cry. I didn't blame her. Even quieter-- I hadn't thought she could be quieter-- she said "I hope you win."
The tray held some bread, two small, open tins of vienna sausages, and another canteen. Out of the pocket of her apron, she pulled a packet of jerky and a sleeve of soda crackers.
"For later." She whispered, and we hid them under the blankets.
I passed one of the sausage tins to CJ and Toby, along with one of the plastic forks she'd provided-- only two of those as well. I helped Josh to sit up by leaning him against me, practically in my lap, and fed him from the other tin, despite his weak 'I can do it myself' protests.
"Wait-- you're eating, too." His head flopped back against my shoulder.
"You need it." I whispered, letting my lips brush his forehead, not in a kiss, just a touch. I raised my head again, let my gaze linger meaningfully on his arm.
"You need it." He countered. His eyes burned, equally full of meaning, back into mine. The fight. As if I could have forgotten.
With a sigh, I conceded the victory to him and ate the other not-quite-half of the sausages. We split the bread and water pretty evenly between the four of us.
For a few hours, we rested. I did everything I could to keep Josh from hurting too much, from worrying too much, and he held fast to my hands and tried to keep himself in check.
Later I got up, woke CJ and Toby, who had dozed off on each other's shoulders, and uncovered the jerky and crackers.
"You guys take the jerky." Toby shook his head, nibbling on one of the crackers. "Sam, you need all the nutrition you can get to fight this guy, and Josh lost a lot of blood, just a graze or no, so protein'd be good for him. CJ, you?"
She took a couple of crackers. "I'll be fine."
"You sure?" I asked her.
She managed a smile. "Spanky, I'll eat right when you get us out of this."
"Glad I have your vote of confidence." I sighed, passing one of the pieces of jerky to Josh.
He chewed weakly at it, then resorted to sucking on the leathery strip of beef.
"I'm fine." He protested.
"You're not fine." I swallowed, hard. "You can hardly eat... Josh, we need to get you to--"
"I can eat fine." He said quickly, grabbing a cracker. "Why don't you take most of the jerky? You're eating for four, after all."
I didn't fall for the teasing smile he cracked. It lacked its familiar feel.
"Josh... you're really not doing well..."
"I'm..." He trailed off, eyes drooping shut. They opened again, and he fixed me with a steady look. "Sam, I'm just-- I'm tired. Dealing with the pain has my body all worn out. It's nothing more serious than a little bitty case of exhaustion."
"And blood loss! Josh, you--"
"Please, Sam... don't sweat it right now. The jerky's a little tough, and my jaw's a little tired and kinda sore. You know, that's probably just 'cause I talk a lot, 's all. I'll have crackers for now. It'll be okay, all right?"
I shook my head. "You need more than that. Josh, I'm really starting to worry about--"
"Oh, for..." He let out a sigh, rolling his eyes. "What are you gonna do, chew it for me?"
When he suggested it, in jest though it may have been, I couldn't see why not, and I worked at the half-softened piece he'd already been chewing on.
"This... majorly weird." He informed me.
"Birds do it. Wolves do it."
"Let's do it, let's vomit up beef jerky? Somehow I don't think Cole Porter would've gone as far with that for a lyric."
"Hey, at least there's no vomiting involved." I retorted, glad that he was at least mock-y and mouthy and Josh again. That was definitely an improvement, albeit a slight one, over his condition from just a little while ago. "And a fact you perhaps did not know about Cole Porter--"
"It's a little weird." Toby interrupted, agreeing with him. "I mean, it's a little gross."
"Aw, I think it's sweet." CJ offered up another tired, thin smile. "Weird, yes. Gross, mayhaps. But sweet, in a-- unique way."
"Thanks." My shoulders slumped a little, and she gave my back a reassuring pat. "I-- I don't know how I'm gonna do this, but-- I really don't have a choice. I've gotta beat this guy."
This time, it was Josh who gave me the reassuring pat, his hand resting over mine. "Sam... I don't want you getting hurt, but-- I want you to know, I've got all the faith in the world in you, Sam... This guy, he's not gonna beat you, he can't, 'cause-- 'cause you don't get beaten, not when it counts. Not like this, Sam..."
Toby's hand joined his, and mine. "And even if you do go down, we know you'll get back up, until you do it. I mean, with these stakes... You do what you have to, you always do. It'll-- it'll be okay." I wasn't sure how much he believed himself, but he was trying.
CJ's topped off the now-four-way hand-clasp. "And if you go down, and you can't get back up right away, then I'll finish him off for you."
"Thanks." I whispered. I felt choked up-- it was like a total movie moment. Only, in movies, the outcome was so certain; good triumphed over evil, and boy got girl and rode off into the sunset. This, this wasn't so certain, and besides, good triumphing over evil issue aside, boy was already perfectly happy with boy.
I got up again while it was still pretty light outside, stretched some, and used the big empty space to prepare as well as I could physically. My life has always been lived more under 'The pen is mightier than the sword', but I wasn't entirely clueless. I knew a little about different techniques-- mostly from books. At least I'm not entirely un-athletic. I keep pretty darn fit, you know, for a writer. That's got to count for something.
It's got to count for something that I can't lose this fight. Whatever happens, I can't lose this fight.
After a good workout, I returned to the mats. I'd managed to time it out so that I'd have enough time to rest between the warm up and the fight. The canteen had been refilled, and Josh passed it to me quietly.
"Thanks." I gasped, water trickling down the side of my neck. "Needed that."
"Sam..." He was tentative, his hand inching towards mine, then backing off. "Sam, you know he's not going to fight fair. I don't want to see any of this Marquess of Queensbury stuff from you-- you've got to play on his level. I-- I *know* you hate the stooping, and I *know* you hate to think that you'd ever have to compromise your principles, but-- Sam, people aren't always good. These people aren't. And if you try to do this the fair way, he's gonna slaughter you."
"I know." I bowed my head. "You-- you're right. And don't worry so much, I-- I'm not going to turn my back on him or anything. I'm expecting him to play dirty."
"I-- I'll do what I have to do." I nodded. For you, I thought, but I didn't say it. I think he knew.
"It won't change who you are, Sam." He whispered. "You're a good man-- the best I know, and I'd say that even if I didn't love you so much. And I'll still love you, Sam. I'll love you even more. I always do, every minute, y'know? You'll be a good man when it's over. I know that, okay? This-- these are totally extenuating circumstances, man! This isn't going to change anything!"
When he said it, I knew he believed it, about how it wouldn't change anything about me. When he said it, I also knew it wasn't true.
Night was starting to fall, in that soft brushed-with-navy way it had. I could see the sky darken through the open door, saw the guard stomp out a cigarette butt in the dirt and glance in at us. They were both outside, the inside guard on a smoke break. No stars yet.
I turned to Josh, took his face in my hands, and kissed his forehead warmly. I kissed CJ on the cheek. Toby pre-emptively shook my hand.
"Don't get mushy on me, Seaborn." He forced a sardonic smile. "Because if you did, and then you won and we didn't die, how awkward would that be on Monday?"
I even laughed a little. "Yeah."
He hugged me. Which, yes, was a little surprising. "I'm still hoping you win and we don't die."
Josh struggled upwards, and I turned to offer support, but he had his feet under him. "Sam... Sam, you don't *have* to do this, I mean--"
"You know I do." I stroked his hair, feeling my eyes dampen.
"Yeah, I just-- I felt like I ought to try telling you again. You know." He shrugged, moving just the good side. I leaned in and kissed both cheeks, then gave him a hand as he sat.
"It's going to-- It'll work out somehow, Josh." I told him. He nodded and tried to smile for me, I could tell he really was trying. It didn't exactly come out as a smile.
"I worry, you know?"
"I know." I gave his hand one last squeeze, then let go. A shadow slanted along the floor, announcing the arrival of my foe.
"Should I step outside?"
He shook his head. "There's plenty of room in here."
I shot a look back to Josh and the others-- I had to do this, but did I have to do it in front of my friends? In front of Josh? I had precious few illusions here-- I *knew* I was going to get hurt. Badly, in all probability. Josh shouldn't have to see that.
I could see the fear in his eyes, and I had to look down for a moment before it overwhelmed me. Toby just nodded. I think it was supposed to be some sort of encouragement, but I was understandably less-than-encouraged by just about every aspect of my situation.
We started circling each other by some unspoken agreement. He lunged, I dodged. He caught me by the ankle.
No, things were not looking up for me. He pulled me in and slammed me down on the floor, his hand on my throat. He was grinning at me. Then, suddenly and very surprisingly, he let go. He let completely go, and when I got up, he was across the little circle we'd been making.
"That was strike number one." He laughed. It was the most unpleasant laugh I'd ever heard. "You get two more, and then..." He made a cutting gesture across his throat. This time, I lunged at him.
It was a mistake. His fist connected with my stomach, knocking me to the ground and nulling the grip I'd almost had on his thick neck. The next thing I felt washis boot connecting forcefully with my side.
I turned, reflexively, to look at Josh, my eyes wide. The back of a meaty hand smacked across my face, and the Commando had my throat again.
"You wanna call it strike two? Or do you think you can turn this around?"
So I punched him. Normally, I guess it would be a bad idea to punch a guy whose hand was wrapped-- even lightly-- around your throat, but he hadn't expected me to really do anything. Heck, *I* hadn't expected me to really do anything. While he was reeling from the surprise, I ducked, rolled, and got back onto my feet. Except that by the time I was on my feet, so was he, and he wasn't surprised so much as enraged. Infuriated. Really, really longing to hand me my tuchus on a platter.
So he punched me, only he punched me a lot harder than I punched him, and twice-- a shot to the body and one to the face. I turned quickly enough to keep him from breaking my nose, but I was definitely going to have a black eye. The pain exploded across my face, like fire, when he did it.
Now he was between me and the others, and past him I could see Josh biting his lip, his hand white knuckeled and bruising on CJ's. She was gripping him right back, and her other hand was clamped down on Toby's. Josh looked like he was going to hyperventilate, or maybe he was having a panic attack right now- - it was really a startling moment of lucidity that I saw them in, all things considered-- and Commando guy lunged again, and I dodged again, and deja vu, he had me by the ankle. Again.
He was dragging me-- no, not dragging me. Hoisting me upside down. I had absolutely no idea what to do in this situation, so I went with instinct. I kicked up at his face with my free leg. There was a sound, sickening, between a 'crack' and a 'crunch', and he dropped me, crumpling to the ground, and my arms out in front of me let me control my fall.
I scrambled to my feet, scared to death, remembering the last time and how fast he'd gotten up, and how he'd paid me back. This time, when I turned around, he hadn't gotten up.
I looked over at him, torn between wanting to move in for a closer check, and wanting to stay as far from him as possible. I realized, in a surreal and strangely lucid moment, that I'd never learned his name.
His nose was a bloody mess, and his eyes were focused up at the ceiling. Scratch that-- un-focused up at the ceiling. I moved in, my hand going to his throat, not just asserting dominance, as he had.
I fell back, scooted in a half-crab-walk back to the others, felt some words I couldn't be sure of escape me unbidden.
"Sam..." Josh threw his arms-- both of them-- around my shoulders, pressed his face to the side of my neck. I could feel his tears. I could feel mine.
"I-- He--" I shook my head. Nothing was clear. I felt cold, and suddenly the whole room was spinning and everything was too much like blood here. "What ha-- Josh, I-- I never would've-- But I wasn't--"
Toby snapped to his feet, crossed the few steps to our captor, and bent over him. Then he stood, his face slack with awe. "He's dead."
"Dead?" CJ was on her feet now, too. "Toby, you checked him wrong! He can't be dead, all Sam did was--"
I rocked forward a little, curling in on myself. "When I kicked him-- I must've hit his nose at an upwards angle, and-- I didn't mean to! But it drove-- the bone, and the cartilage, and it went back and up, and the braincase-- But I never meant to kill him!"
"Sam, don't get hysterical on us now. It was an exceptionally clear case of self-defense!" CJ grabbed my shoulder, giving me a shake.
"That's not the point." I replied hollowly. "CJ, I killed a man... I killed a man! What have I done?"
"It was an accident." She said soothingly. I felt her hand smooth over my hair, and Josh was still wrapped around me. "It's not your fault."
"I didn't mean to!"
"Hey!" Toby yelled-- not towards me, towards the door. "Whose job is it to cart bodies out of this place?"
The two guards came in, and stopped, aghast, at the tableau. I got shakily to my feet, dimly aware of the fact that I still had a part to play.
"Keys." I demanded flatly. "To any vehicle that'll carry five people."
"Five people. Bring Elsie here. She's coming with us. Any objections?"
They forgot that they had guns. They actually completely forgot that they were armed and we were not. In ten minutes, we had a three-row van, shared by Elsie, all of her worldly belongings, and a small child.
Toby drove, CJ next to him in the front. Elsie and the kid were in the middle. In the very back row, the seats of which were right down on the floor of the van, Josh and I held onto each other until we reached the hospital.
"Sam." Josh whispered, sliding into the bed beside me.
We were in a hotel room, right after the hospital released us. We wouldn't be getting back to DC until tomorrow at the soonest, and they'd kept us late anyway, making sure we weren't going to collapse and die or anything. Elsie and her kid were being placed in a battered women's shelter. No issue at all was being made over the man I'd killed. I had been the only one to even mention it.
"Sam?" He was slightly more insistant, levering himself up to look down at me.
"Toby got in touch with the White House while we were in the hospital. Leo's arranging everything right now, and tomorrow morning, we'll know just how we're getting home. Everything's gonna be okay."
I shook my head. "Josh, I killed a man."
"Stop saying it like that." He took my hand, laced his fingers with mine, kissed the back. "Sam, he died accidentally,"
"I'm sure most people die accidentally." I replied, humour bitter as I stared off into the corner. "Only a handful try to, after all."
"Okay, Mr. Grammar." He grunted, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me up to lie against his chest. "Sam. It was an accident, and it was self-defense. And, he was a psychopath with several outstanding violations of the law. It's not a thing."
"Maybe it should be a thing! You're missing the point, Josh... everyone's missing the point. His death-- it's on my hands. Do you get it now? His blood is on my hands!"
He kissed me gently, my temples, forehead, eyelids, lips, and chin. "Sam... my poor, sweet, far-too-good-for-the-rest-of-us Sam... Please, don't beat yourself up over this. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Killing a man's not wrong now?" I said, with rising hysteria, despite his attempts to calm me. "Even if he was-- a psycopath, and a criminal, that makes it okay?"
"Sam, you didn't do anything wrong." He emphasized each word, turning me to lock his eyes onto mine. "It was an accident, plain and simple. You couldn't help it. You weren't trying to kill him, but he had you, you kicked out-- That's what anyone would do in that situation! Things were just placed so-- Maybe it was God, Sam. Maybe it was just his time to go. Everyone's got a time! Past his time, if you ask me, but I'm biased..."
"Josh, we were all biased, but-- I just-- *I* *killed* him!"
"Sam, I know-- I understand and acce-- try to accept-- that nothing I can say is going to fix this tonight. But Sam, you can't make yourself sick over it. And-- Sam, I still love you. No matter what happens, every moment of my life, I will love you more than the last. Nothing can change that, okay?" His fingers stroked through my hair, nervous and never-still, even as he tried to settle me. "And, I know, it's schmaltzy, but-- Sam, you are the world to me. I want you to know that."
"I know, I--"
"Well, remember it then. I love you. And you're my hero-- not because you killed a man, before you go freakin' out on me again, but because-- because after everything he did, to you, to the people you care about-- his death was still the last thing you wanted. So, you see, Sam... this happened, and no, you can't change that. But *it* can't change *you*. And *that's* why you're my hero. 'Cause you're a wonderful guy. And for some reason, you love me anyway."
His eyes were earnest and shining, and I broke down and laid my head over his chest and sobbed for a long time while he petted and shushed me.
"I-- I never said-- his death was the *last* thing I wanted." I clarified, still sobbing. "I just-- I just-- I just didn't want-- want to cause it..."
"Hush... it's okay, Love. We're here. You're here, and I'm here. The doctors said it was just a graze, 'member? And all I needed was a thing, and a few stitches, and *you*-- you were lucky, nothing got broken-- I thought for sure that he'd broken one of your ribs-- one at *least, but-- Everything's all right, now. We don't even have to stay in the hospital any longer. It's all right."
I let out a watery laugh. "Good triumphs over evil, and boy gets boy."
"Hey, boy has boy for as long as he wants him." Josh smiled, kissing my forehead again. "Boy's had boy for as long as they've known each other. He could have had him, anyway. Boy happens to think boy is a very attractive-- um, man."
"I'm so lost." I confessed.
"That's okay." He kissed me. "I love you."
"And I love you." I told him softly. I stayed in his arms as we fell asleep, stayed there until morning, and in the end, he was right. Everything turned out okay.
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