Author: Anne Marsh
Title: Sam's Keeper (which isn't perfect, but is better than the working title, so I'm gonna live with it)
Raitng: PG-13
Pairing: Pre-Josh/Sam
Summary: The question of Sam's keeper.
Notes: Josh POV. Prequel to 'Survival', already on Big Block of Cheese
Archive: That would be super, thanks. =^_^=
Feedback: See above =^_^= =^_^= (for daily do I fight the battle with my self esteem, being one minute convinced of my awesome might, and the next questioning my use of imagery, and lo does your feedback validate my sense of worth, and thus do I endeavour to thank everyone what gives it *waves*)

Sam's Keeper by Anne Marsh

"DONNA!"

A loud, attitude-laden sigh announced her presence in the doorway. "What?"

"Donna, where's Sam?"

"What on *earth* gives you the impression that I know these things?"

I blinked, a little taken aback. "Um... nothing, I guess. I hadn't expected you to, you know, ask me that."

"So why do you keep asking me? Am I Sam's keeper?"

"Well--" She isn't, but she's kind of my keeper, which is not nearly so enviable a task, but...

"Josh, I don't know where Sam is." She informed me. "Now is there anything else, or can I get back to *real* work?"

"Hey, what I'm doing's not real? I need to talk to Sam."

"Have you tried calling him?"

"Yes." I snorted, affronted. "I'm not stupid."

"His cell phone?"

"Of course I tried his cell phone, but he either left it in his coat pocket or turned it off so as not to interrupt something important!" I snapped. "Go! Work!"

She rolled her eyes at me and walked out. As soon as the door was closed, I grabbed my phone and hit the speed dial for Sam's cell. I got his message service.

"Gee, thanks for not making a liar of me." I snarled at the receiver. The door swung open again.

"Hey, Josh-- What are you doing? Are you calling Sam's cell phone? The one you said you called already?" Donna smiled at me in a decidedly mean fashion.

"I was just checking to see if he had it on him yet. Or, switched back on, or whatever. But he doesn't."

"Tried paging him?"

I threw Sam's pager at her. "It fell out of his pocket when he came in here to ask about some-- file. Thing."

She shrugged, placing it on my desk, and left again. I mocked her once the door was closed, saying 'tried paging him' in several unflattering voices. I felt no better nor worse as a person for having done so.

I stared at the phone for a while, jiggling one foot. It was a dumb thing to obsess over-- he'd said he'd call at two to confirm some work stuff, and it was only two-fifteen now, and there were dozens of things that could have kept him-- maybe he had something after his lunch break that went over, time-wise. Or something just came up. There was no real reason to *worry* about Sam, but-- well, I missed him.

Yeah. I missed Sam. We hadn't gotten the chance to really hang out much recently, barely got to see each other at work this past few days unless we passed in the halls with a whole buttload of stuff we had to do, so except for when he came to my office asking after the file thing, I hadn't really spoken to him all week. And after I said I didn't have what he was looking for but I'd keep an eye out, he had to go again.

Oh, and also, I'm in love with him. Yeah, just a little detail that means nothing to anyone else, but makes all the difference to me. Well, it might mean something to someone else, but nobody knows it but me. That's kind of how it has to stay.

I sighed, re-crossing my legs, the other foot jiggling impatiently as I glared at my phone and thought about Sam. I've been in love with him since-- since always. Every little thing about him. There's some black and white movie-- Sam would probably know which one-- where one of the characters says: Everything wrong with you, I like. That's how I feel about Sam.

Of course, most of the things about Sam are right, anyway. He's about the nicest guy you'll ever meet, and definitely the smartest, in just about every way that counts. He's driven, principled, stout of heart... and, you know, heart-breakingly gorgeous. His hair, his eyes... need I go on?

Just in case I do need go on-- let's start from the top. Hair. Dark, shiny, full, generally well-kempt, and even on those long days that turn into long nights that sometimes turn into long mornings, if his hair gets all mussed up, it's adorable. So not fair, by the way, because my entire life seems to consist of one bad hair day after the other. Heck, my hair can't always even decide what colour it wants to be, much less which direction it would like to go in.

His eyes are blue. Sam has got *the* *most* beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. Deep, expressive ocean-blue eyes, alight with passion when he's working on something important, when he's speaking about something he really cares about, like feeding starving children, or affordable health care in third world countries, world peace, correct comma placement... Alight with humour when someone really makes him laugh. With caring when someone needs a hand. And when he really, really smiles, there's just a little crinkle around each, and it's beautiful. Pair that with eyelashes so long they shouldn't even be *legal*, and... well, you get the picture. Even his *eyebrows* are nice.

I'm gonna go ahead and be unorthodox here, and include his nose. It's another fine feature of Sam's, and in general, the nose is much maligned by poets, in their odes and sonnets of love. If a lover, or poet, or a lover who thinks he's a poet-- and I *don't* think I'm a poet-- ever does devote a line to the nose, well, it's no more than a line, and it's never really descriptive or original-- Rostand excepted. Sam's nose slants just right, fits his face perfectly. If he's been wearing his glasses for a long time, there are little indents on either side of the nosebridge. On a lot of people, Sam's nose would be too short, and by that token, I suppose on other people it would be too long. On Sam, any other nose would be sacrilege. Sam's nose is perfect. Classical. Also, he's got a cute philtrum-- that's a word Sam taught me, by the way, philtrum. It's the little groove running between your nose and your upper lip, and some people don't have one that you can really see, and some people have those deep, skinny ones that make 'em look like a rabbit or something, and Sam's is just right, like everything else about the bastard.

His smile... his smile is just brilliant, that real, full smile, and straight white teeth, and his lips... his lips are really, really nice. If I think about them enough, I can't string sentences together properly, that's how nice they are. And when he smiles, everybody, I mean *everybody* just falls in love with him a little. Except maybe Leo and Toby sometimes, but they hardly count. Other than that? Women, men, old and young. Everybody. It's just that kind of smile. If I ever tried to smile like that, I'd look like an idiot. Not that I don't do disarming just fine. Hey, I can be pretty charming when I have to be. But the smile? It's nowhere *near* the 'everybody loves Sam Seaborn, oh he's so great' smile level.

His chin-- first, his jawline. It's perfect. Masculine, but not beefy or anything. Clean, sharp, attractive lines. The chin which plays centerpiece to this jawline is exceptional. Strong, with a slight cleft dimpling it. And his neck... for some reason, I find his neck strangely attractive. Is that weird?

Beyond that... well, as I've so often heard women say, he's fit, and he's got a cute butt. All this is true, and moreso than they know, because most of them have only seen him in his suit and tie, or maybe semi-casual, but they've never seen him with his shirt off, and I have. Go me. Sam is pretty toned. I mean... well, to put it one way, I'm wiping drool right now.

Also, they never mention his calves-- they've never *seen* his calves, but once more, I have. Go me again. They never mention his hands, and *everyone's* seen those. His hands are so-- so good, at everything they do, and they look perfect, like the rest of him. And I wish his hands would do things to me, but instead they just caress the keys of his laptop, or a number two pencil and a yellow legal pad. Straighten a tie, or run over his already-immaculate hair. But those are really good hands, and I bet, if I could hold them, they'd be so warm...

I was about to fall farther-- further? If I used the wrong one in front of him, he'd let me know-- into my little Sam-centric fantasy world, when I heard a commotion outside. Curious, and otherwise unoccupied with anything-- well, with anything constructive-- I cracked my door open.

"Who saw it happen?" Toby demanded. I wasn't sure who he was demanding it to, but he was definitely demanding. "Why are we only just hearing about it now?"

"Has anyone told Leo?" CJ was demanding right over Toby, and I opened my door a little further and saw some security guy who, for some reason, was unlucky enough to be the bearer of bad news.

Nobody had noticed my door opening, what with the hubbub. Donna looked like she was about to have a fit, too.

"Mr. McGarry's not in his office." Security Guy said.

"Well, has anyone told the President?" Toby asked.

"Is anyone supposed to know-- anything? About this." CJ, at the exact same time.

And, further adding to Security Guy's confusion, Donna simultaneously chimed in. "What are we supposed to tell Josh?"

"If Leo's not in his office, we have to tell Josh." Toby nodded. "That's the way--"

CJ shook her head, cutting him off. "We can't tell Josh. Leo will be able to keep some personal distance, and I don't know if Josh will."

"Josh is going to freak out." Donna agreed.

"Excuse me," I finally announced myself. "What is Josh going to freak out about? Is this a state of emergency or something?"

They all whirled around to look at me. Donna looked particularly like she was going to be ill, or maybe pass out. CJ looked apprehensive, even Toby looked... unsure. I don't know how else to describe it. Unsure. And the security guy was quailing in his little security boots.

"Somebody's got to tell him." Toby muttered under his breath, slanting a look at CJ and Donna and taking a step back.

Security Guy mumbled something about checking to see if Leo was back, and he disappeared like a flash. Or possibly, like The Flash.

"CJ, you're good at telling people things." Donna said nervously.

At the same time, CJ said "Donna, your'e good at handling Josh."

I was getting more worried by the second. It was starting to sound more and more like some kind of freak national security issue, but CJ had said I wouldn't be able to keep personal distance, which implies non-national state of emergency, and so here I was stewing inside my head waiting for *somebody* to tell me something.

Toby sighed, raking a hand over his face. "Josh... it's Sam."

---/-/---

Things were blurry and all moving at the wrong speed, until finally I found myself seated on Toby's couch. CJ was kneeling beside me, and Donna was handing me a bottle of water.

"Josh?" One of them prompted. I was so off in another world, I couldn't even tell who. I was fairly certain it wasn't Toby.

I swallowed some water, and my head spun a little more. "Sam... You said-- it was Sam? What was Sam? What happened?"

There was a pause.

"WHAT HAPPENED?" I yelled, half-rising before my head spun around way too fast and I fell, cursing, back to the sofa.

Toby walked over from his desk to sit beside me. "Several people witnessed Sam's-- Josh, there were eyewitnesses to Sam--"

"Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable!" I interjected. That was one of those things you pick up in law school, but the phrasing was Sam's, because everytime there was a trial on TV or something, he'd say it.

"Josh, several people saw someone kidnap him." CJ whispered, her hand on my knee. "Now, the kidnapper, or kidnappers, have yet to contact the White House, but according to Johansen, at least five people saw a man with dark hair pull Sam into a van downtown. Eyewitnesses say the van was either green or blue, and one woman swears up and down it was a Chevy. He-- he was on his way back from his lunch break... it happened on the street, with a small crowd--"

"Why didn't they do anything?" I demanded. "Why didn't anyone stop it?"

"Well, they weren't sure what was happening until it was too late. The guy was fast, and-- Sam wasn't putting up a fight-- he may have been drugged or otherwise rendered unconscious--"

"Why didn't anybody do anything?" This time it came out as a strangled, pleading whine.

"They didn't know, Josh. It was-- surprising. Nobody thought-- until the van sped away, nobody thought it could possibly be that."

"The plate number."

"We don't have it. Johansen said they were working on it."

I cursed again, and Donna flinched.

"What do they want? Why Sam? What would anyone want with Sam?"

"Well, he's a fairly important guy. He puts words into the mouth of the President of the United States. That's not reason enough?"

"Then-- why haven't they called us? Why wouldn't they call here to--"

"Maybe it's not... People are crazy, Josh..." Toby murmured. "People--"

This time, I ran through every swear word I knew, and I used the good ones twice. "Well, people are always crazy, Toby, but-- People can't be crazy with Sam, he--" I cursed, unable to find words with which to finish my sentence. "He's too important to lose!"

They all looked at each other, opened their mouths at different moments, decided not to say whatever they were thinking.

"He's important to me!" I continued, when no one stopped me. "He's my best friend! If it wasn't for Sam, I-- I don't know if I'd even be here, and I don't know if any of us would be *here*, Sam-- And he's my best friend!" I raged.

"We know." CJ nodded solemnly. "That's why we didn't want to have to tell you."

"I want the CIA and the FBI and the cops and EVERYBODY looking for him!" I shouted. "I want to find whoever did this, and whatever they did to Sam, those BASTARDS are gonna pay!"

I was on my feet, pacing Toby's office, making the others jump back to get out of my way, as Toby's office has limited floorspace for pacing.

"Josh--"

"Donna, don't. Don't-- try to placate me, because-- Because it's not going to work right now, they-- BASTARDS!-- Don't you understand? Those bastards took *Sam*, and-- I don't know what to do, they took Sam!" I was whining again, and crying, and I felt pathetic and probably looked it, but there was no way I could explain it to them, so instead I decided to get angry again, if only to keep from sobbing. "I want Sam!"

"Josh, they're doing everything they can!" Donna put a hand on my arm.

I shook her off. "Donna, get me the CIA-- No, the FBI. Get me the FBI. Donna, get me the Pentagon!"

"I can't get you the Pentagon."

"GET ME THE PENTAGON!" I roared. Outside, I'm sure several people jumped.

"Johansen said that the FBI has already been contacted." CJ said.

"Thank you. Now what does a guy have to do to get the freakin' Pentagon around here?"

Donna sighed and nodded. "I'll look into it."

I suspected her of lying to me, but I was grateful anyway, because I just needed to feel like I was getting something done. I don't know what the Pentagon would even do if I did get them, but it was *something*.

---/-/---

Johansen, when I cornered him in a hallway the next day, told me where Sam had been, right before he was taken. I spent the rest of the day frantically questioning the restaurant staff and pacing the street and alley, until a guy in a dark suit led me away, a firm grip on my arm and the strong suggestion that I go quietly before he cuffed me.

They took me back to the White House, and Leo had me brought to his office.

"Okay, Josh, what do you think you were doing?" He asked, regarding me from behind his desk.

"I wasn't. Thinking. About what I was doing. Sir-- Leo, it's Sam!"

He sighed, pressing a hand to his forehead. "Josh, I know this is difficult--"

"DIFFICULT? With all due respect, Sir, difficult is a pretty lame attempt to word what this is. Difficult! Leo, if it was your best friend, your oldest, dearest friend, and some whacko had kidnapped him--"

"It'd be a grand-scale national emergency." He finished dryly. "And I'd stay out of the way, and try to be where I was needed. Not where I'd just get in the way of the prefessional investigation. Josh, the FBI is in on this. You don't think the FBI can find Sam without your help?"

There was really no way I could argue with him there. I supposed that the best I could do would be to tell him the truth.

"Leo, I love him."

"I know." Sympathy beat out irritation in his eyes now. "It's okay, Josh, the FBI is in on it. Hey... hey, just about everyone in this building loves Sam... we all understand. It's hard on you."

"No! No, you don't..." I was again on the verge of a breakdown, and I really didn't want to have a breakdown in front of Leo, not now. "Leo, it's more-- it's more-- Leo, SIr, I-- I'm *in* love with Sam."

He stared at me for a long, uncomfortable, unreadable moment.

"Well, when did this happen?" He questioned, surprisingly nonchalant, all things considered.

"A long time ago." I shrugged. "I was keeping it pretty well under control. You know, what with his being straight, and my being-- and us working here, and it's not like I harbored any *hopes*, Leo, but-- It's just so hard not to, you know? I can't help that I love him. I don't expect him to love me, but I can't help that I love him. And now *this* happens!"

He leaned over his desk and patted my shoulder warmly. "It's the FBI, Josh. They'll get it done. They'll find him."

What if it's too late, I wanted to ask. And didn't want to ask. Was afraid to ask. I was afraid to ask my next question, too, but it was still safer than the last.

"You-- Is this-- okay?"

"Yeah. Trust me, it's okay."

I nodded, relieved. "Thank you."

He nodded sympathetically. "Don't mention it."

---/-/---

I was able to talk to a couple of the FBI agents when they had a moment to spare, but the details they could give me were far from satisfying. I wondered if I could get higher clearance or something, but I didn't think Leo would give it to me, all things considered.

That's when the idea struck me. I decided to beg the President. I never said it was a particularly bright idea, just that it was an idea, and that it struck me.

"Charlie, has he got a minute?"

"I don't think so, Josh." He shook his head. "I can ask, though."

"Would you please? This is a matter of-- it's important!"

He nodded and went to the Oval door, knocking softly. He was admitted, things were said inside, and then he reappeared.

"Go on in, Josh. He says he's got a minute."

"Thank you, Charlie!" I sighed, supremely grateful. Though to Charlie, God, or Bartlet, I wasn't sure who.

Inside the office, Bartlet motioned me to a chair, taking one himself.

"Josh. I take it this is about Sam."

I nodded. "Sir, I-- if you could-- I would-- I'd just really feel better if I knew where the FBI was with this, but you know, how they can't tell me things, so all I ever hear is if I catch one of 'em in the hallways, I might get a 'the investigation is moving along' or something, and--" I took a breath.

"Well, I can call someone in to brief us." He put a hand on my knee. "I know this is rough on you..."

"Thank you, Sir. I-- I appreciate this, a lot. I just-- I want to know, everything that's going on with this, I want to know-- I want to know if they think they'll find him soon."

"Of course." He walked to the door and opened it. "Hey, Charlie? I want a briefing on the situation with Sam as soon as possible. Could you get someone in here?"

A little of the weight dropped off my shoulders.

---/-/---

"And this man is the Deputy Chief of Staff, so you keep him informed!" Bartlet finished, dismissing the agent who had briefed us.

"Thank you, Sir."

He offered a smile, patting my knee again. "Hey, it's all right. Look... I know, if it was *my* best friend, I'd want to know every little thing they've got, and I'd be going crazy if I didn't get it. My line of thinking is, you'll be a lot easier to handle if you're kept in the loop."

"Thank you, Sir."

He got up, so I got up, and headed somewhat awkwardly to the door. They didn't have much... they were bringing in an old profiler to the case, not satisfied by what they had so far on the motives and psychological state of the perp. He wasn't there yet, but they expected him to arrive today.

When the profiler arrived, and I actually saw him for the first time, it knocked me back a step.

"Mr. Lyman? Hi, I'm working on the profile of the kidnapper, searching for any possible non-monetary motives he or they might have for abducting Mr. Seaborn. I was told to answer any questions you might have about the investigation?"

"I, um, uh-- Yeah. See, when they told me they were bringing in an *old* profiler to work on the case, I thought they meant, like, a *retired* profiler. And you're-- um, not retired."

"No." He laughed softly. "I'm not. I just got shuffled around. I'm good at criminal psychology, but I'm also a trained field agent. A, erm, rennaisance man, if you will."

He wasn't just young-- because he couldn't have been much younger than I am, if at all. Young wasn't the problem. The problem... He was good looking, with dark hair, and a pair of reading glasses perched at the end of his nose to go over files with. He didn't really look like Sam, not really at all, but the very general similarities were just present enough that my fevered little brain had to go and over-emphasize them.

"The FBI is doing everything we can to recover Mr. Seaborn." The woman standing next to him said, her voice business-like, but not entirely free of humanity. I shook hands with her.

"Yes, and I'm-- *we*-- we're very grateful. And you have my full cooperation, if there's any information I could possibly give. Sam wasn't just a co-worker, he's my-- my best friend. We knew each other before the campaign even started.

Her eyes particularly were sympathetic. The rest of her seemed professional and completely agent-like, but she was sympathetic. "I understand."

"My partner." The profiler added, somewhat lately. His eyes were green-- not blue, like Sam's. And he didn't have Sam's nose at all. He really, I mean, really, he didn't look like Sam. "Anyway, I have a copy of the current-- It's just a working profile, but here's what we have."

"We're currently running a list of suspects, trying to see if anyone matches up. So far, we haven't found any criminals in the immediate area, but we're checking surrounding cities, looking for anything within reason." She continued.

"Well, we haven't found any criminals in the immediate area who weren't duly elected." Her partner cracked, offering her a watery smile.

She rolled her eyes. "You should be getting to your meeting, before you get into trouble. Again." Then she turned to me. "He meant the Republicans. He's... very liberal."

"Yeah."

"Don't worry, he really is far more professional than he acts, Mr. Lyman. And-- I promise, he's very good at this."

"Thanks."

They were gone. And I was alone. And I didn't know anything about where Sam was.

---/-/---

I took a walk. I needed to get out of the building, away from work, away from the scene of the crime as well. I couldn't go home, couldn't go anywhere, so I just walked. I kept walking, taking turns as they presented themselves, lost in thought. In retrospect, I was probably very lucky not to have been mugged, or stabbed and left for dead, because when I finally paid attention to my surroundings, I was completely lost, and not in a particularly savoury neighbourhood.

I told myself not to panic, talked myself down from the oncoming anxiety attack, took deep, cleansing breaths-- and then the scream came.

---/-/---

It wasn't long, just a brief outcry of pain. It wasn't even loud and echoing-- I only heard it because it came through an open window maybe two stories up, in a building along the street I was walking down. It wasn't enough of a scream to alert people, not in a place like this. But it wouldn't have taken me even that much, to know that it was Sam.

I had to stop myself from charging in. That would have been extremely, incredibly *stupid*. Instead, I ducked back into an alley across the narrow street, pressed myself against a grimy brick wall in the shadows, pulled out my cell phone, and hit the speed dial for the White House, hoping Leo was in his office with the FBI handy.

"Josh Lyman for Leo McGarry." I said breathlessly, keeping my voice down. "It's an emer-- Tell him I ran into an old friend."

We don't say 'emergency', we never say 'emergency'... I don't know why, but we don't. We have a million little code phrases instead. The irony, of course, is that while it was definitely an emergency, I had just found an old friend. Anyway, there was a moment's pause, and then Leo was on the line.

"Josh? What's going on?"

"Leo, I wandered into a real bad neighbourhood, and I found where they're holding Sam."

"What?" He roared.

"Keep it down, will ya? I'm hiding in an alley here!"

"Josh, please tell me you're safe at home and just having a hallucinatory episode." Leo hissed.

"I heard him-- I heard Sam's voice!"

"Josh, you *thought* you heard--"

"I heard him, Leo. They're hurting him! The window was open, it's a second story apartment, in the slums. The streets named after I think some sort of tree, I'm pretty sure it intersected a-- Leo, is there a sixteenth street, running through a bad neighbourhood anywhere? I-- I'm really lost, but-- If I leave the line open, can the FBI trace me? Can they find out where I am?"

"I'll let them know where to search... Hang on the line, Josh, in case we need to talk to you. And if you see any signs, I'm going to have Margaret stay by the phone in case you've got anything to tell us, and she'll make sure the FBI and I get the message."

"Leo, I'm scared to death... Sam's in there! He's in there, he's in pain, I-- I don't know what to do!"

"Stay out of sight, you stay *right* where you are until you see some authorities in the area, either the cops or the FBI. You hear me?"

"Yeah... yeah, keep a look out for the cops and the FBI. Don't let those guys who took Sam see me... Yeah, okay, Leo. Go-- go get them, though, tell 'em where we think Sam is."

"Just hang on."

I was alone again.

Well, okay, technically Margaret was on stand-by, but... mostly, I was alone.

Three guys came out of the building Sam was in, one of them via the fire escape-- two guys with dirty blond hair, one with dark hair and a fake leather jacket. One of them disappeared, and a van came around the corner. The paint job was patchy-- dull green with spots of blue and a primer-gray driver-side door. Chevy. I glanced at the phone in my hand-- Leo had told me to stay put so that the guys wouldn't see me. The guys had just roared off down the street...

Granted, I didn't know if there were more of them upstairs, but I counted the windows until I found the open one where I'd heard the scream, and I ran inside anyway.

---/-/---

I knocked frantically on the door. There wasn't an answer, and there was a chain holding it shut, but it was hollow-core, and I was able to put my shoulder to it and break in. There was just one room, with a kitchenette in one corner and a bed in the other.

Sam was lying on the bed, handcuffed and blindfolded. I couldn't find my voice, and my legs nearly went out from under me as I rushed to him. Voice still lost, I reached towards him, and he flinched away, whimpering softly. It broke my heart-- I mean, last straw, and I couldn't stifle the sob. His hard, ragged breaths started to come more evenly.

"Josh...?"

"Sam!" I collapsed onto the bed next to him, burying my face against his shoulder. "Sam..."

Suddenly, he wasn't relaxed anymore-- fear just flooded back into him. "Josh, what are you doing here? Did they--"

"It's okay..." I smoothed his hair with one hand, the other working clumsily at the knot in his blindfold. Finally, I just pulled it down, abandoning my attempts to untie it. "Nobody brought me here. I got lost, walking, and-- I heard you scream, they had the window open, and..."

He laughed hoarsely. "Yeah, the-- the AC was busted. They were shouting about it earlier."

"Sam, you have no idea how worried I was!" I couldn't do anything about the cuffs, looped around a length of chain hooking him to the brass bedframe, so I just held him.

"I don't know when they'll get back."

"It's okay. When I heard you, I called Leo, he's got the FBI, the FBI's been looking for you, and the cops, and they'll come here, they're gonna sweep the whole area, they'll find us, I just didn't know-- I was lost, I couldn't find a sign, but-- The FBI's coming for you, buddy..."

When I finally lifted my head from his shoulder again, I spotted some mail on a table in the kitchenette, and moved across the room to grab at it. Then I grabbed my cell phone. "MARGARET!"

"Josh? What is it? Do you have a street name?" She asked, in her weird, breathy monotone.

"Better than that."

I gave the address to Margaret quickly, then went back to the bed, and to Sam.

"I can't decide if you're brilliant of stupid." He smiled at me, eyes shining. He was tearing up, and I was about to cry myself. "Saving me... You-- you shouldn't have been anywhere near here! Josh, a million things could have happened to you!"

"But instead I found you." I *was* crying now, back against his shoulder. "Sam, what did they do to you?"

"Josh, I--"

"They hurt you!" I went from weepy to furious. "Those BASTARDS! They hurt you, Sam, I--"

"They slapped me around a little, that's all."

"Sam, I heard you cry out from down on the street... What did they do?"

"I don't know. Hit me." He shook his head. "I didn't see."

"Where?"

He nodded. "Somewhere here-- Mostly they were just slapping me around, but then somebody hit me-- I don't know what he hit me with, somewhere between my side and my back.

I wiped at his tears with the cuff of my sleeve, untucked his shirt, unbuttoned it, pushed his undershirt out of the way, revealing a big, ugly bruise.

I ran into the tiny bathroom and threw up in the tub. I splashed some water on my face, cupped my hands and rinsed my mouth, and returned to Sam's side.

"I guess it looks pretty bad, huh?" He offered me a weak smile.

"Sam, I swear, those guys are gonna pay. I swear, if-- The FBI just better not let me alone in the room with those guys for even a minute, because I swear, I--"

"Hush..." He pressed his cheek to mine. "Josh, calm down. It's okay. You found me. The FBI has the address, and they'll come to get us, and they know who they're looking for, they're all over the streets... It's okay now, Josh. We won."

"Winning is nice." I shrugged. "Vengeance is better."

"No, Josh..." His cheek rubbed against my hair-- it occured to me that he was doing the same thing I did to calm him earlier, only he didn't have his hands free to stroke with. "No, it's not. Come on, let go. It's all right now, and they'll go to court, and they'll get what's coming to 'em."

"They won't." I grumbled. "They oughta hang."

"You don't believe in capital punishment!"

"No, but you're different. They hurt you, and you-- You're my best friend, Sam, and I love you!"

"Come here..." He leaned up into me. "The FBI will be here soon. I'll have to go to a hospital to confirm the fact that I really am fine, and those guys'll be arrested."

"Why? Why did they want you?"

"I don't know." He shrugged. "He-- he hit me with something, and then I woke up here, and-- they never told me why they wanted me. We'll find out when the FBI questions them."

"I never hated anyone as much as I hate those guys. How could they do something like this to you? You never deserved anything like-- You're the last person something bad should happen to!"

"Life doesn't make sense, Josh." He whispered. "It just happens."

I held onto him-- gentle, mindful of the bruise, like a brown and purple angry butterfly over his ribs and spreading to his back. He just relaxed into me, and spooned on the bed, we waited for the FBI.

---/-/---

By the time the authorities arrived, I had shifted us, my side leaned against the headboard, cushioned by a pillow, with Sam still spooned against me. Sitting up took weight off his abused wrists.

The cuffs were standard issue, and someone got them off. Sam turned towards me, and I gently massaged his wrists.

"You okay?"

He nodded, and there were questions, lots of questions.

"I never saw them..." Sam excused, and I could see the stress of all that had happened start to affect him again.

"Give him a minute!" I shouted, guiding his head to my shoulder. "After hall he's been through-- he was blindfolded! Give him a minute before you lay all this on him!"

"The fresher the image is in his mind--"

"The more reliable it is." I finished shortly. "Yeah, I've heard it. He was *blindfolded*. There is no image. Now, do you want to know what *I* saw?"

"Did you move anything in the apartment, Mr. Lyman?"

"I broke the door in, and I moved one letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse, to get the address. And I threw up in the tub, and touched the taps for the bathroom sink, and I've been sitting here on the bed, I took the blindfold off, I probably touched the cuffs and maybe the chain. That's it."

"And did you see the--"

"I saw the dark-haired guy, but from the back. His hair was-- maybe down past his chin, mid-neck somewhere, messy, greasy curls. Two blond guys-- I saw one in profile, he was driving the van. Long hair. Pale, dirty blond. Angular face-- unique. I'd recognize him, if I saw him again. He was the tallest, he climbed through the window and down the fire escape after the other guys came out the door, I guess to lock the chain. The other guy had darker dirty blond hair... short. And I saw his face head-on, but from farther away... I don't know if I'd be able to accurately pick him out of a line-up, but I'll try."

"All right. Mr. Seaborn?"

Sam looked up. His face was drawn. "Yeah?"

"If you'll just stay where you are for a moment more, the paramedics will be here soon. You'll be taken to GW and looked over."

"I just want to go home..." He shook his head.

"Sir, we need to be sure that your injuries aren't any worse than they seem on the outside. You could suffer from a concussion, fractured ribs-- Both of which could become more serious if ignored."

He looked over to me, anxious.

"You've gotta go, Sam." I nodded. "But I'll go with, okay?"

"Will you?" He flashed a watery smile.

"You kidding? They couldn't get me off you with a crowbar." I offered him a grin of my own, weaker than usual.

He gave a nod of assent and laid his head back down against my shoulder. It felt too right, too natural, to hold him like this. I stroked his back lightly.

The paramedics showed-- they wanted to put him on a stretcher, and he would have none of it.

"I can walk." Sam insisted. "I-- I need to walk, okay? I haven't been able to in too long, I need to walk..."

He was unsteady on his feet, and they brought the stretcher in, but Sam was vehement in his refusal of it. I had put a quick arm around him to keep him from dropping, and his came up around me.

"Josh can help me." He said firmly, glaring at the stretcher. He turned to me again, questioning. "Josh?"

"Yeah, of course." I nodded, my left hand reaching around to take hold of his free elbow, further propping him up. My right arm stayed around his waist. The building didn't have a working elevator, but Sam got down the stairs all right, holding onto me every step of the way.

Too right, it felt too right, and I could grow addicted to his body so close to mine...

They were loading him onto the ambulance, and his hand wouldn't come away from me, fingers digging into the fabric of my shirt, pulling. There was a slight edge of desperation in his eyes when he said 'Josh stays', and I shouldered some guy out of the way to climb in with him.

The paramedics were checking him out, and he held onto my hand, squeezed until my fingers were numb as they hooked him up to an IV, the words 'becoming dehydrated' floating through the close space, everything else lost.

---/-/---

When we got to the hospital, they put him on a gurney, and I was left behind when he had to go into X-ray.

I paced the waiting room. The door opened, and Leo, Toby, CJ, and Donna poured into the room.

"Josh!" Donna threw her arms around my neck, hit me, then hugged me again. "Sam-- how is he?"

"Okay, I guess." I sighed, running a hand over my face wearily. "He-- he walked out to the ambulance... he was, you know, up and talking and stuff, he kept saying he wasn't hurt too bad, but-- I just--"

"I talked to one of the agents." Leo said gravely, levelling a look at me. "They said you were in the building when they got there?"

"I-- I saw the guys leave, and-- I just had to get to Sam, and I found the address inside on the mail!" I whined, feeling exhausted and just wanting to be with Sam again, and really not wanting to get chewed out by Leo.

"It's okay." He nodded, patting my shoulder. "You should do what I tell you, but this time, it's okay."

"Sam's okay?" Toby asked, stepping forward. CJ was right behind him.

"Yeah, yeah, Sam's okay. I-- I rode with him in the ambulance... He said he wasn't hurt to bad, but--"

"But what?" CJ moved past Toby, touching my hair lightly. "Josh?"

"There was this one awful bruise... they hit him with something, hard, that's-- that's why I heard him, through the window, they hurt him... We don't know what they hit him with, he was blindfolded, and it probably looks worse than it really is, I just-- seeing it, and--" I sank into a chair, feeling too many things. Scared, angry, relieved, hurt, desperate, ashamed.

CJ was stroking my hair. Donna was holding my hand. Leo moved around behind me, patting my shoulder again.

"I threw up." I confessed. "In the bathtub."

"That bad?"

"No, just-- thinking about anyone doing something like that to Sam-- To Sam! Who could do that to him? Who could-- I just don't understand... I don't want to-- I just-- It made me sick, I guess... I threw up."

"That's okay." Leo said softly. "I'm sure a lot of people would've done the same in your situation."

Sometimes, when I'm too upset and I work myself up too much, I get physically ill. It's happened before, a couple of times when I was a kid, and once when I was in law school. It didn't happen when Dad died-- that was a different kind of too upset-- but it did happen when I found out he was sick.

"How does he look?" Toby took the chair next to mine.

"A little worse for wear. A lot of stress and fear got to him, he was a little-- you know, and tired... a couple cuts and bruises on his face, little ones, but nothing big, and the one-- But he couldn't have been so bad! He-- he smiled at me a couple times. He even laughed a little, when I said how I found him. He swears he's okay, and-- I mean, he really does seem pretty much himself. A couple days to recover at home, and it is the weekend, so-- I mean, it's Sam. He'll be fine... he'll be fine."

A doctor came in. "Is there a Josh here?"

I jumped up, knocking CJ back a step. She fell into Toby's lap. "That's me! Sam--?"

"He's been asking when you'd be able to come in. You can see him now."

---/-/---

"Josh..." He smiled up at me, a genuine Sam Seaborn smile, even if it was a little more tired than usual. "Hey."

"Hey there, Tiger. How ya feeling?"

"I just want to go home."

"Couple hours' observation. You know how it works-- I mean, I assume you do. From TV or something, if you've never been, you know." I shrugged, sitting down beside him. He took my hand again.

"I'm glad you found me when you did. I-- I'm glad you found me. If it wasn't for you, I'd be a real mess right now... Thanks."

"Sam, it-- it's nothing you wouldn't have done for me." I fumbled. "I just-- I don't know, I guess I needed to--"

"I needed you to." He squeezed. "Thank you, Josh, for-- for everything. More than you know."

I shook my head, blushing. "Sam..."

"You're my hero, you know that?" He grinned cheekily up at me for a moment, then closed his eyes with a sigh. "Just a couple hours, right?"

"Right."

"After that, I'm going home."

"Definitely."

"You'll take me home, right?"

"Of course I will." I stroked his hair back from his forehead.

"Will you stay?"

"Long's you want me." I nodded, lump rising in my throat.

"That could be a long time."

"Leo'll understand if I take a little extra time this weekend." I stroked his forehead-- this time, there was no hair to be pushed back, just warm, too-soft skin. "Sam, if it wasn't for you, *I'd* be a real mess right now. I was, for the last couple days."

"Long's you stay, okay?" His eyes drifted shut again. "Then it won't matter, you just need to stay."

"I'll stay." I whispered.

---/-/---

There was a hairline fracture on one rib, the one beneath the big livid bruise. It was, like, an inch long, though, and the doctor said there wasn't much to be done about the crack-- it wasn't going to break further if Sam took it easy, and the placement was such that it would just heal over on its own. Not a structurally integral part of the rib, I guess. So after a couple hours, they let me take Sam home.

He held onto my hand, preventing me from leaving his side after I'd gotten him into bed. "Josh," He said.

"Yeah, Sam?"

"Stay."

"I am staying."

"Stay close."

"Okay."

"Josh?" He turned big, blue eyes on me. "Earlier, when you said you-- loved me? You meant it, right?"

"I--" My mouth went dry. "Of course I meant it! Sam, you mean more to me than-- You're my best friend."

He smiled, giving my hand a squeeze. "Good. You're mine, too. And-- and Josh, I love you, too. That's-- that's a thing we don't really say to each other, I guess."

"I guess." I nodded.

"But maybe we should. There-- there are too many uncertainties in this world, and even the things we start to take for granted, they're not-- they're not always written in stone."

I stroked his hair. "No kidding."

"Josh, I want to tell you more often. I mean, I just-- I never want you to forget how much you mean to me, because it's a lot."

There was really nothing I could say. My throat was tight, and I just didn't have the words. So I sat on the edge of his bed for a while and he held my hand, and my other hand just stayed in his hair.

"And Josh-- You're not just my best friend, you-- You're my brother, and-- my role model, in a lot of ways, and it's overwhelming sometimes to realize that you look up to me in ways, too--"

"A lot of ways." I told him, my voice soft.

"My hero, today. But-- Josh, you were my hero before then, too. And if it wasn't for you, I'd never have followed my dreams, and I wouldn't be doing this, I wouldn't be here... I wouldn't be happy... You're a lot of things to me."

"Same here." I whispered. And then, I decided to go all in. "Best friend, brother, mutual role model-thing... alter ego, if you will-- my other self, the guy who's on my wavelength, who does crazy things with me and knows what I'm thinking when I need someone to just *know*, and... And Sam, there's something more."

"Okay."

"Sam, there are-- well, you know, a lot of ways, to love a person. And, I kind of feel all of them, for you. You know, friend and brother and all that stuff we said-- someone to protect, someone to rely on, who'll look after me, too. Um, that's not all of it, though. Where was-- Hang on, can I start over? Friend, brother-- only, um, Sam, not like a real brother, because that would be-- Because I-- I'm in love with you. I-- I'd be with you, if I could. In any-- in *every* way a person could be with a person. I-- I don't-- I didn't-- want to dump this on you, after all you'd been through, but I've been through a lot, too, not knowing if I'd ever see you again, not knowing if I'd--" I choked back a sob. "If I'd get you back alive. You said-- you said you never wanted me to forget how much I meant to you, that we should say things more often, and-- Well, I guess I realized, how I should tell you, everything you mean to me. I don't want you to forget either. I don't think."

Sam gasped softly, at some point during my impromptu and painful little speech. I started to move away, but he stopped me, holding tight to my wrist.

"Josh, you-- That's all-- This is the way you feel? About me?"

"Yeah." I whispered. "It is."

He reached up and stroked my face. "You're a lot braver than I am, Josh..."

"I'll just le-- What?"

"I wasn't sure I could tell you. About how I-- feel that way. About you. I was afraid to say any more than I'd said. I wanted to say all those things you-- to say 'aman cara', soul friend, the one person in this world who-- who knows what it's like to be me. I wanted to say-- to say 'lover', but I thought you'd never-- Oh, Josh..."

"You mean you--"

"Uh-huh." He nodded. "Me too."

"Sam... you want-- you want me to *stay*?"

"Yeah." He said breathlessly. His eyes were luminous, like they get sometimes, so I'd almost swear they gave off light. "I mean, not to-- of course, but... just to stay. With me. Will you?"

"I promised I would." I touched his cheek. "Oh, Sam..."

"You gonna kiss me?" He quirked a smile up at me. I felt myself quiver, and I leaned in to kiss him.

Our lips met, soft, hesitant but eager, any uncertainty slipping away with the simple rightness of his mouth against mine, warm. Dry, but soft. His lips are perfect, moist and supple, but not wet, and I decided they could never be sloppy. Firm, but yielding... His mouth opened to mine. I didn't dive in-- didn't dare yet, and he was tired, but the taste of him was heady, and I took just a little more of it in, my tongue brushing his lower lip.

"Wow." I breathed, finally and reluctantly pulling back. "That was..."

"Nice." He smiled.

"Very nice." I touched his cheek again, the simple act addictive. "I-- I love you."

"Love you, too." His eyes drifted shut, despite his best efforts. "Mm, Josh, you gonna get in bed with me? Just to keep me warm?"

"Yeah. Just let me get ready."

He smiled, giving my hand a light squeeze before releasing me. "Yeah, 'kay. You can wear my old sweatpants to sleep in... they're big on me, so I don't think they'll be too short. And I just bought a new toothbrush, but it hasn't been opened yet, so you can use it. It's in the drawer. I can always get another, and you should probably replace yours too, anyway."

"Mine's not too old." I shrugged. "How about I have two-- one here?" I suggested, hopeful. A little worried I might spook him coming on too strong.

"That's--" He yawned, prolonging my state of suspense. "Why you're the brains of this operation. G'night, Josh."

"Goodnight, Sam." I smiled, the boyish look on his face as he drifted into sleep tugging at my heart. After all he's been through, and he just goes to sleep, easy as that, with a smile on his face that could melt an iceberg. Because I'm here now? I really do love that man.

~FIN~

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