Author: Anne Marsh
Title: Repercussion Section, Sequel to 'Poker Night'
Rating: I'll give it an R, just because of some occasionally-frank discussions, and because later I may let the boys do something to earn the rating.
Pairing: Josh and Sam-a-licious
Summary: There are always repercussions.
Notes: I was looking over 'Poker Night' again whilst posting it, and I realized-- there's no way they can just get away with this. It's going to bite them on the collective butt. And so now, it has. Josh POV.
Repercussion Section by Anne Marsh
When I got to my office, CJ was sitting at my desk.
"Can I-- help you?" I finished weekly, noting the look in her eyes. The look that meant whomever was on the receiving end was about to become toast.
"Guess what I fielded questions on today?"
"I'll take that as a yes..." I sank into the chair facing my desk, my knees going out from under me. "What did you field questions on today? Because CJ, I swear I didn't say anything about secret plans to fight inflation."
She glared harder, and I shut up. Fast.
"I fielded questions on your sex life."
I really didn't know what to say to that. I didn't *have* a sex life-- not one that the public was aware of, anyway. I have no idea what kind of gossip could have captured the attention of the press corps, but apparently I was intimately involved in all of CJ's problems.
"Well?" She demanded.
"I'm not sure what's going on." I admitted. "Maybe if you told me what this alleged sex life is, or who asked what?"
"Robert says he has sources, Josh..." She whipped her glasses off and pinched her nosebridge. "He's the Post, by the way, their new guy, he's filling in for about three months. The Washington Post. Has sources."
"I'm sure they do. They're a very good paper."
That glare again, and I decided it was no time for levity.
"CJ, I'm still very lost here."
"Robert says he has sources... that say that you and Sam had sex." She sighed.
"What?" I jumped up, then fell back into the chair, my knees liquifying again.
"And the funny thing is, I believe him..." She let out a short, mirthless laugh, as though it was an indication of how this was 'a funny thing'. "I actually believe him."
"What sources?" I demanded, leaning forward.
"Anonymous sources. Aren't they always?"
I let out a sigh and leaned back again. "CJ, this is bad..."
"No kidding. Once he brought it up, people jumped on it. I didn't have a statement, of course, because I had never heard any such thing." She fixed me with another look.
Defending myself, at this point, would be pointless. I would only screw it up, and badly.
"Have you talked to Sam?" I asked instead.
"No. He's busy with Toby, and probably missed seeing this morning's briefing, like you did."
I hung my head. "CJ, this never should have happened."
"You're telling me. Is it true?"
"Is it true? Did you and Sam have sex?"
Okay, so I know opening my mouth at this point can only get me in trouble, but I had to do it. Because I was angry, and I'm kind of a moron like that.
"Yes, CJ. Sam and I have sex." I said snippily. "It's something people do, when they're lovers. And since Sam and I are in love, we tend to express said love physically from time to time. There is nothing abnormal about it."
"Well-- How did the Washington Post find out about it?" She asked despairingly.
"I don't know." I shook my head. "We-- we're so careful! We never do anything in public, never say anything that would give people the impression-- We've effectively crippled our relationship so as not to upset the administration!" I was shouting now. "We never go on dates, we can't hold hands or kiss each other good morning, even on the cheek, we have to be extra careful when we *do* touch to make it look like there's nothing there, I can't even *look* at him too long, the man I love! We're not allowed to smile at each other the way we'd like to, we never flirt, I can't fall asleep at his place, and every time I go there, I'd better be carrying a briefcase or watching a sporting event, because heaven forbid I should just want to be there!"
"I have to be careful saying 'hi', I can't drop by his office too often during the day. I can't give him anything too nice at his birthday party, how might *that* look? I'm not allowed to fix his hair when it gets all crazy at the end of the day and he's got a late meeting, I have to count how many times a week I bring lunch by when he's absorbed in his writing, because what would people say if we ate together all the time?"
"Josh, calm down..."
"I-- Ah, CJ, I don't know! I just don't know..." I dropped my head to my hands, too frustrated to even yell anymore. "I don't know how this could have happened. We were so careful!"
"Well what am I supposed to do? Do I tell the Post that their sources are wrong, just deny it? Do we write up a statement? I'm really at a loss here. I mean, you have been effectively yanked from the closet. Am I supposed to just shove you back in?"
"I can't-- Look, I don't know. I can't tell you what you should do about it until I talk to Sam... I have to know how he wants to deal with it. It's what you do, you know, in a relationship." I said the last part with an edge, even though it's not CJ I'm mad at.
She let out a deep sigh and picked up my phone, dialing. "Toby should be done with him about now. Hey, Toby?... You done with Sam?... I need him, if you don't mind... Sure, I guess you can send him to my office-- tell him I'll meet him there, he might get there before I-- Hang on, Toby-- Tell Sam not to speak to anyone on his way over, *anyone*. No exceptions."
My stomach rolled over, and I wondered if maybe it was a happy accident of fate that I had skipped breakfast to make it to my early morning meeting on the Hill. I keep feeling like I might throw up.
"No, nobody... Because, Toby, just because... Look, I need to see him, it is vital. Can you send him to my office?... Thank you." She hung up. "Well, Joshua, we had better get a move on. And that no-talking-to-anybody thing applies to you, too."
"Until we get this straightened out in the privacy of my office, you don't talk to anybody. Even Donna. Besides, she was out when I came in." This was true. She grabbed my elbow in one hand and a file folder in the other. "Pick something up and look busy."
I did as she said, and fended off about a dozen people trying to ask me if I'd seen the morning press briefing, and if it was true. Finally, we were in the relative safety of CJ's office. Sam was already there.
"CJ! Toby said it was-- Josh! What are you--?"
"You didn't see the morning press briefing." It was a statement, not a question, and Sam just looked at her, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Sam, sit down." I said softly, taking his arm and leading him over to CJ's couch.
"What is it? I mean, it's bad, isn't it? What happened?"
"Well, apparently you happened, Sam." CJ exhaled another deep breath and cast her eyes around the room, searching for a way to break the news. She seemed to be treating Sam a little nicer than she'd treated me, but that was probably a good idea, because if she started blaming Sam, I'd start shouting, and then we wouldn't get anywhere.
"I-- don't understand." He turned to me. I was still gripping his arm, and he looked down at my hand for a moment, then back up to my eyes, questioning. "Josh?"
"The Washington Post," I sighed, taking his hand in mine now. "Has sources."
"I'm sure they do. They're a very good paper." He nodded, still perplexed. Then he turned back to CJ. "What? I *know* I haven't slept with any prostitutes lately."
"Kinda wish you had, Sammy." She rubbed her nosebridge. "No, I don't mean that, only... well, it would certainly circumvent the problem, if you had slept with a woman of *any* social standing recently."
"I don't get it. You want me to-- what, exactly?"
"No... Sam, that's not-- I really, *really* didn't mean that, and I thoroughly apologize, but my job just got very hard this morning when I was told that you and Josh had... well, slept together, to put it more delicately than the Post had."
He blanched and fell back against the cushions. "Oh..."
"CJ, how could this happen?"
"Well, somebody told our reporter from the Washington Post that you and Josh had sex."
"But who could know?" He raked a hand over his hair, sending it into mild disarray. I figured what the hey and smoothed it for him. He slumped forward with a sigh.
"I can't answer that. I was hoping the two of you might be able to put your heads together and come up with something."
"We've been so *careful*!" He whined-- well, no, it's not a whine coming from Sam. If it was me, yes, I would have classified it as a whine. From Sam, it was more a... a plaintive cry.
"I've never even kissed you in an empty hallway, just in case there were cameras watchi--"
His head snapped up. I had been rubbing circles on his back as he rested against his knees, but suddenly he was up and pacing, so my hand just kind of dropped.
"Oh, this is bad, this is very bad..." Sam was muttering.
"No kidding." CJ said dryly. "I think I had this conversation with Josh."
"CJ, we had sex."
"I know. He already told me the two of you were lovers."
"No, I mean-- in the White House."
"You WHAT?" Now she was on her feet. She grabbed Sam by his collar. "Samuel Seaborn, how could you be so stupid?"
"Hey!" Now I was on *my* feet. I stepped between them. "It wasn't his fault, okay?"
She looked at me incredulously. "Don't tell me he accidentally had sex with you, too."
"No, but-- CJ, it was my fault, it was my idea, and I-- incited him to actions which he knew to be, um, stupid."
"When did this happen?"
Sam and I exchanged glances. "Um... remember that time, when poker night was cancelled?"
Her face went slack with astonishment. "I cannot believe this... don't tell me what I think you're about to tell me."
"Well, I said 'why don't we make it interesting', and he said 'okay, put your money on the table', and I said 'that's not interesting..."
She was muttering curses under her breath. When I stopped, she looked back up at me expectantly. "Well?"
"So we played strip poker."
"In an office of the White House."
She shook her head. "This is crazy."
Sam, who had been quiet since his initial admission, spoke up. "CJ, I'm very sorry, and I can promise you it will never happen agai--"
"You're right it will never happen again!" She railed. "It never should have happened to begin with! In the White House, guys? You know better!"
"I know, it's just-- And I know I can't defend it, but-- We've only been together since around Christmas, shortly after I came back to work from..." I trailed off for a moment. "Anyway, it was just-- people do stupid things when they're in a new relationship! And nobody's ever made me feel like doing stupid things the way Sam does, and--"
"Aw." Sam squeezed my hand briefly. "I'm sorry, you can go on, I just-- I thought that was sweet."
"It was just-- everything was so new, and we were just in that kind of mood, I guess, where we'd do something dumb like start a game of strip poker, but I swear the original intent was to stop before anything happened! And it's my fault that it did happen, because--"
"Yeah, yeah, because it was your idea." She sighed.
"Well, yes, and... I was the one, you know... Look, I'm not exactly comfortable discussing the intimate details of my love life with you right now..."
"Well the Washington Post is." She retorted.
"Okay, then I was the one sliding my foot into his lap and pulling him under the table." I said, managing to keep my voice steady, even if my face was burning. When I dared a quick look at Sam, I saw that he was blushing, too.
"Right. Look... the two of you wait here, try to come up with some ideas as to what you want to do about this. I have to go see if Leo's back yet. He needs to be in on this."
I winced. "Yeah. Yeah, good idea. We'll-- we'll talk it over."
"Right. Leo and I will come back *here*-- you two are not leaving this room until we have a gameplan. No talking to anyone outside these four walls, either."
"Yes, CJ." Sam nodded.
"Yes, CJ." I echoed.
With CJ gone, Sam collapsed back onto the sofa beside me, and I took his hands in mine.
"Well... what do you want to do about this?"
"I'm not really sure... I'm still in shock. What about you?"
"I can't-- Sam, I can't *deny* my feelings for you. I mean, now that this has happened, I just don't know if I can say it was a lie, because-- I don't know, I guess I just love you too much, or some such sappy thing. I can't go into a room full of people and have them asking about it, and say I don't. Because, I do. And-- it just wouldn't come out convincing, even if I did try. That's not a lie I can tell."
"It's okay... *I* won't make you." He soothed, stroking the side of my face with one hand, the other still sandwiched between mine. "We'll see what Leo has to say, I guess."
"I mean-- there are a lot of lies I'll tell, I'm not proud of it, but... There are a lot of things that I'm willing to do for this administration, and they're not all right, maybe, but... I won't do that."
He managed a small smile. "And I would do anything for love..."
I could even laugh at that-- weakly, but a laugh anyway. I leaned in and kissed him softly. "Yes, I would do anything for love."
"Oh, Josh..." He wrapped his arms around me suddenly, pulling me into a hug. For a long while, we just stayed there, Sam holding me gently but firmly to his chest, my head against his shoulder. "Josh, Josh, Josh..."
"Sam, Sam, Sam. What is it?"
"I-- nothing. Everything. I don't rightly know, but..."
"Are you scared?" I asked.
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared. I mean, this is big... this is the sort of thing that-- I don't know, it could be really bad."
"It'll get ugly." I nodded, burying my face in his neck now. He smelled of Sam here, more than his shoulder did, more than anything he just smelled right... a little aftershave, a little shampoo, and a little of the unique musk of Sam. It was still early in the day... later, the shampoo would be less and the musk more, but... it was early still.
"We'll handle it."
"Will we?" My voice cracked, and I held him tight.
"Josh... of course we will. I love you. I'm not going to lose you now just because some people won't like what we're doing."
"It's just-- How long have we been together?"
"About two months." He whispered, stroking my back.
"Not very long. And we know this-- it's gonna be messy, and there's gonna be a lot of tension, and... what if we don't? What if we can't make it?"
"Josh." He pulled back to look me in the eye now, his voice firm. "Do you love me?"
"Yes." I breathed.
"And do I love you?"
"I love you more than anything, Sam." The words barely made it out, but he heard them.
"And I love you more than life itself. And I *mean* that, Josh. I've thought about it, a lot. Thought about-- had to think about-- how empty my life would be if I didn't have you in it. I know what I'm saying, it's not just a cliche."
"Of course not." I forced a lopsided grin. "You wouldn't be caught dead using some tired old cliche. So... really?"
"Really." He nodded.
"I'll always love you." He reminded me, pulling me back into the hug. "We're gonna be okay, when this is over. Some actual issue will come up for the press to focus on."
"It always does." I rolled my eyes. "And Sam-- I'll always love you, too."
We stayed like that for a long time. Eventually, we pulled back again.
"CJ's been gone awhile."
"She probably had to wait for Leo to get back." He shrugged.
"I-- I don't know what he's going to say."
"He's going to say we still have jobs at the White House." Sam reasoned. "It's what he always says, when things like this happen."
"I know, but-- I don't know what he's going to *think*. What if-- what if he--"
"It'll be okay, Josh. Come on, we've come through so much already." The back of his hand rested against my chest, so that his fingers could curl around my hand when I brought it up to join his. "And, I know most of it was before we were-- but Leo's not just our boss, he's our friend. He'll stand by us. You know he will."
"I know he'll stand by us, Sam. I just don't know if-- if he'll be okay, really okay, with us being-- you know. I mean, he is of a different generation."
Sam laughed, actually laughed. "You don't think that different generation had some gay men of its own?"
"Well... I mean, of course, but-- they weren't-- I mean-- I'm just worried about how he'll take it. I'm just worried. That's all."
"I know." The back of his hand stroked over my breastbone a little, over where the scars were. "Hush... it's going to be okay, in the end. Everything's going to be okay."
I nodded and just held onto his hand, and we were like that when the door to CJ's office opened. We looked over in tandem as Leo slipped in, closing and locking the door behind him.
"Okay, boys... I think we should have a talk."
Sam and I disentangled our hands and sat facing Leo, in the chair he'd pulled up.
"I'm not going to yell at you-- for once-- because I get the feeling CJ's already done that?"
"I am going to say that it was very *stupid* to have sex in an office, and I don't care how empty it looked. You're in the West Wing, guys. Of the White House. There are security cameras."
"Yes, Sir. We-- weren't thinking."
"Suffering from a distinct lack of blood flow to the brain." Leo snorted. "I never thought I'd see the day... Well. What do you want to do about it?"
"I don't know." I shrugged. "I don't want to lie-- I can't. If someone *asks* me, how do I say I don't love Sam? I love him, with all my heart. It's not going to be a-- I mean--"
"Good." Leo nodded. "This'll all be over with quicker if we don't try to deny it. Denying things is like blood in the water, Joshua."
"Uh, yes, Sir."
"We'll tell them it's true and they can get over it. You're both Senior Staff-- You're both consenting and *normally*- responsible adults. You've known each other for years. Your relationship has never gotten in the way of business, so unless it ever does, the White House doesn't see as how it's anybody's particular business."
"Thank you, Sir." Sam exhaled, tautness leaving him.
"And for Pete's sake, don't yank your hands away from each other like you've been burned on *my* account. You weren't doing anything wrong when I walked into this office, so don't act like it! I-- I'm happy for you. I think your timing stinks, and you should really avoid the dumb stunts like sex in the workplace, but I'm happy for you."
"Thanks, Leo." I grinned. "That-- that really means a lot to me."
"Well, it might not look like it now, but you're lucky. This is something you guys can do today. The world is changing, and you're young, you can take advanage of that. A-- an older guy maybe couldn't."
"If he's alive, he can take advantage of the changing social climate." Sam argued. "The world *is* changing, but not just for the currently young. It's changing for--"
"It doesn't change for some people. Either they're set in their ways, or they're just of a generation, or there could be a hundred different reasons. But you two are lucky-- you don't have all of those problems. Oh, you've *got* problems, but-- You never have to be afraid to be yourselves anymore. You can stop lying."
"Leo..." My brow furrowed. "Call me crazy, but it sounds an awful lot like you're speaking from experience..."
He shrugged. "You're crazy."
"Are you-- gay? I mean, you can't be, because--"
He shrugged again. "No, not as such. I'd say I'm more--" He let out a sigh. "I don't know... bisexual sounds like a young person's sexual preference. I think I'm too old to be called bisexual."
My jaw dropped. Sam, on the other hand, was fully capable of responding calmly. "Well, Leo, bisexuality was a longstanding tradition in the ancient world. Most notably Greece, but also in Ja--"
"Sam, I know the concept is an old one. I just don't think I can use the word. It sounds... hedonistic. I don't know, let's just say I don't have a preference-- or I don't have a choice. I fall in love, I fall in love, end of story. Of course, we're not talking about me, are we? But just so you know, I understand what it's been like for you."
"So you're not upset?"
"Are you kidding? Josh, I may have fallen in love with a man before, but at least I've never had sex in the West Wing of the White House. Yeah, I'm what you could call a little upset."
Sam jerked to attention. "Leo-- Sir... Why did you just specify the West Wing? I'm thinking most people would have just said 'the White House', and you said 'the West Wing of the White House'."
"You're splitting hairs, Sam."
"I've told him to condition, Leo." I sighed, with faux put-upon-ness.
"Liar." Sam nudged me. "I condition, and your puns are not amusing as you think they are."
Just then, there was a knock on the door. Shave and a haircut, two bits. Leo peeked through the blinds, then opened the door. I was expecting CJ, but it was the President.
"Sir!" Sam and I both jumped to our feet.
"Sit down, sit down." He motioned us back to the couch and closed the door. We nevertheless waited until he had commandeered the armrest of Leo's chair before we actually sat.
"Would you like to sit here, Sir?" Leo asked, with forced politeness.
"No, no, I'm fine. So. I saw this morning's press briefing... Josh, Sam?"
"It's absolutely true, Sir." Sam nodded, taking my hand. "We-- Josh and I, we're--"
"Sam and I are in love." I finished. "If that's okay, Sir. I mean, no, we're in love! We're in love if it's not okay, but-- We would prefer it to be okay. That we're in love."
He smiled. "Well, so long as the two of you are in love, you have my total support. I assume this has never interfered with your jobs?"
"No, and it won't, Sir."
"Good. All right."
"Mr. President..." Leo said in a low voice. "Sir, there's a little more you shou--"
"Not now, Leo." He waved him off. "So. How does the Washington Post know about this, the two of you being so madly in love?"
"You're taking this very well, Mr. President." Sam said, shocked.
"I'm in a good mood today, Sam. Nothing can destroy my good mood, nothing short of nuclear war, and even then, we are going to have the cheeriest war you ever did see! Besides, young love gets me every time. I think it's sweet."
I supressed any reaction I might have had to the words 'young love', and 'sweet', being used to describe my situation. "Thank you, Sir."
"Thank you, Sir!" Sam echoed.
"So, back to the question at hand; how *does* the Post know about the two of you?"
Our rising moods plummetted. "Well, you see, Sir..." I began.
"Poker night was cancelled, but--" Sam faltered.
"We weren't busy, so--"
"Only you have to understand, we only--"
"They had sex in the White House." Leo sighed.
"So? So have I."
Leo rested his forehead in his hand, exasperated. "Sir, they had sex in an unused office of the West Wing. There were security cameras which saw a game of-- of strip poker, culminating in Josh pulling Sam under the table. The tape is currently in safe hands, I doubt copies were already made, but someone who saw the footage went to the press."
"I see. And...? Leo, is there something else?"
"Margaret's getting the security roster as we speak-- we'll know who was on the monitors, we can try to find out who leaked this information. That person will be fired for unprofessional conduct. The White House cannot afford to employ security personel who would go to the presses with--"
"I think under other circumstances, the American people would appreciate knowing that if someone did something wrong in the White House, security footage would be available. But, this wasn't wrong-- in a moral sense, anyway. Your timing stinks, though, guys. Taking it to the presses was unnecessary and unprofessional, damaging to this administration, and to the careers of two of my staff, and with no discernable benefit... I want to nail this guy. Nobody does this to my staff."
"We'll get him, Sir."
"Besides, I happen to have sex in the White House. I don't know where all of the cameras are. I think I'd feel a lot safer. I mean, they can't see my bed, can they? And what about the Lincoln Bedroom?"
"Leo-- you saw the tape?" I asked, stomach turning.
"Yeah. Don't worry, kids. The table hid everything-- well, it hid the, you know. We got a flash of Sam's butt, but that was all."
Sam was crimson. Kind of cute, but it's really not the time for contemplating the cuteness of Sam right now. "So, we should destroy everyone who saw the tape-- except for you, I mean. That plan sits well with me, when do we start?" I left out the part where I wasn't about to share Sam's butt with anyone.
"Oh, no. You're sitting out on this one, Josh. It's too personal to you."
"Personal? Footage heavily implying that I'm having sex with my lover? Leo, whoever would find that personal?"
"And don't get sarcastic with me, I'm on your side. I'll handle this. Don't worry."
"Leo, what are the angles for any security cameras that might be in my bathroom? I'm just asking-- I'd hate to think people are watching me in the bathroom."
"I'm surprised you don't know, Sir. I'm surprised there's anything you don't know. I'm surprised you didn't have this researched well before moving in."
"And so it goes." He sighed grandly, getting up. We all stood. "Sit back down, sit back down. I have a meeting to get to, but-- Leo, I trust you'll have this all under control?"
"Yes, Sir. I'll come to you if there's anything you need to know."
"Keep me updated." He nodded. "Right. Well, good luck, all of you."
"You're going to need it." Leo finished dryly, as the door swung shut behind Bartlet.
"Have you ever had sex in the *East* Wing of the White House?" Sam persisted.
"Do you really want to know?" Leo challenged.
"Well, um, no. Not really, except for the White House part. I mean--"
"And if I refuse to *dignify* your question with a response?"
"I-- sit here and brew more questions?"
"I'm supposed to be back at my office. The two of you are supposed to wait for CJ. Here." He stood and exited.
"He's stayed in the residence before." Sam nodded. "He must've stayed with Jenny, back when, and there's absolutely no need to go into it. No need whatsoever, really, *really* no need."
"Right." I agreed. "Because we don't need to be emotionally *scarred* for life."
He rested his head against my shoulder. "You're nice to have around, you know?"
"Remind me more often." As we were alone, I dropped a kiss to his lips. "You're not so bad yourself. Think I could keep you?"
He sighed and snuggled a little closer. His eyes were closed, and looking at him set off this protective instinct in me. I wanted to personally hunt down, and ruin the career of, anyone involved in this Washington Post thing. I wanted to hund down and destroy anyone who ever hurt Sam, who ever *thought* about hurting Sam. His arm tightened around my waist.
"Mm, sure, you can keep me." He replied, a little lately. "But I don't come with a refund."
"That's okay, I never want to return you." I smiled, kissing his forehead. It required a difficult neck-craning maneouvre, but it was worth it.
I only realized we hadn't re-locked the door when I heard the handle turn. Figuring it was probably just the return of CJ, I didn't look up, and Sam stayed fairly plastered to my side.
But I didn't hear CJ's voice, which seemed anomalous. All I heard was a little breathy 'eep'. My head snapped around.
Sam was instantly on the other side of the couch, and I was standing.
"Donna, what do you think you're--" I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the room, closing the door behind her. "What do you think you're doing here?"
"Well, I got back and you weren't there, and Ed said you got dragged to CJ's office, but first Leo was there, and then the President, so I had to wait."
"But you're not supposed to be here!" I hissed.
"It's true, that guy-- what he said in the morning briefing. Isn't it?"
I nodded. "Yeah. It's true."
"Oh-- okay. Um... wow. You and Sam, huh?"
I nodded again, at a loss for words.
"So... you don't like girls, then. I guess."
"Not as much as I like Sam." I shrugged.
"I'm a little surprised. I mean, I've been in a constant state of surprised since I saw the briefing, but-- It's true."
"Yes, Donna. It's true."
She looked me in the eye, beginning to get somewhat teary. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I didn't tell anyone."
"But you could've told me! I mean, I thought-- I thought you told me things, you know? I thought I *knew* you!"
"Donna, you *do* know me. Sam is a part of my life, but the fact that I love him doesn't totally define who I am! It doesn't make everything else a lie! I'm still the guy you know, there's just one secret that I've been keeping."
"Yeah, well, it's a pretty big secret." She sniffed.
"Hey, everyone's got a secret. You've got to have secrets."
"Well... yes, but-- Not big secrets, not like *that*."
"Look, Donna, I have always valued you as an assistant and as a friend, but if you keep using that tone-- if you *ever* use that tone again, when you call my *relationship* with Sam 'that', I-- I don't know, I'm gonna be mad at you. I don't want to be mad at you, Donna. I honestly care about you. I would really like it if you could accept-- well, us. As a couple. We're still the same people, you know? Nothing's changed."
She nodded. "I didn't mean it like that, Josh. I just meant I never had a secret that big. I didn't mean I thought it was wrong, I'm just-- I'm still really surprised, and I don't know what to think."
"That's okay." Sam said softly, stepping up to join us in a little circle. "Believe me, none of us knows just what to think right now. And-- and believe me, Donna, when I found out I was in love with Josh, I wasn't sure what to think about it, either."
She laughed weakly. "Yeah?"
I relaxed marginally-- Ah, Sam... that man always knows the right thing to say.
"Yeah. Freaked me out. But... well, I was in love with him. It wasn't something I could just turn off because I didn't know how to deal with it. So, I learned how to deal with it, and... and even with this guy from the Post on our backs, it was all incredibly worth it." He was smiling at me now.
"Josh, are you going to get in trouble?"
"I already am in trouble." I smirked ruefully.
"I mean-- you're still gonna have your job, right? I know they can't fire you for being gay, but there's a whole bunch of stuff and they can ask you to resign, and--"
"No. Leo and the President already told us, they're behind us a hundred percent, and we both still have our jobs. I mean, if our personal life hasn't interfered with work so far-- aside from the Post outing us, I mean, but that's hardly our fau-- I mean, if we can keep working the way we always have, there's not going to be a problem. It'll be okay, Donna."
She didn't look convinced, and I squeezed her arm gently.
"Donna, it's all right. You don't have to worry about me."
"Well, I kind of do."
"It's going to be okay."
"It is." Sam added. "Really."
"What are you going to tell the press? Are you going to lie to them?"
I shook my head. "Absolutely not. We're going to do this as gracefully as possible."
"Josh, you never do anything as gracefully as possible."
Sam chuckled softly. "She's got you there."
"Oh, yeah? I'll have you know I-- ahem. Anyway, denying it will only stir the waters."
"The waters which have the blood in them?" He quirked an eyebrow at me.
"Stirring the blood into the water." I shrugged. "No. I love Sam, and if it's in the press that we've-- Well, then the best thing to do is to tell them we happen to be in love, and to let it go and move on to the real news as quickly as possible."
"We're not going to make a point of it, but--" I microexpression of anger passed over his features. "The Post guy said we 'had sex'. Yes, I mean, we did, but-- Let's not let there be any confusion as to the fact that we did so while in a committed relationship. That's the only important point I want to make. Other than that, I don't think it should be a big deal to anyone but us."
"The Bible Belt is gonna love this." I muttered.
Sam put his arm around my shoulders. "Hey, forget them."
"Screw 'em." I said vehemently.
"Disregard them entirely." Sam was far more calm in his reiteration.
"Fie on them." I added, grinning.
"A curse on both their houses." Sam shot back.
Before I could try to top that, Donna, who had just been watching Sam and I volley words back and forth, added her own idea, in language I was not accustomed to hearing from her, as to just how we needed to treat whoever had a problem with us.
I hugged her, laughing now. "Thanks, Donna. I-- I mean it. Thanks, for everything. For, you know..."
"Understanding." Sam finished my thought correctly. "And for supporting us."
"You're welcome." She hugged us both and went to the door, which opened independent of her, revealing CJ and Toby.
"Donna." CJ greeted, expression wry. "I should've known you'd track him down. Things okay?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry about-- I don't know, maybe getting in the way of your thing, I guess, but I had to ask Josh if it was true, what that guy asked you this morning. I saw it on the, and--"
"Apparently, it's true." Toby sighed, finding a seat on the couch. "Sam, is there any particular reason why you didn't tell CJ and I about this before, say, before it became an *issue*?"
"We were in the closet."
Toby sighed again, covering his face. "Sam, Sam, Sam... you really should know better. You, of all people, should have known better than to try to keep a secret like *that* on your own. CJ told me about the situation and verified the-- the thing. What she didn't tell me, and what I'm asking you, is: How did the Washington Post know?"
Sam turned even redder than he had been with the President, and strode over to a far corner, where he stood facing the wall.
"I think I'd better answer." I sighed. "Sam and I-- we, um... What we think happened is, somebody from security whose job it is to watch the monitors, they went to the Post."
"Funny, Joshua, how that doesn't really answer my question. What did he go to the Post with?"
"He might've-- on the monitors? Seen Sam and I... engaged in-- activities."
"Oh, activities, that answers everything. Activities. What, like water polo? What the heck happened?"
"Oscar and Felix here had sex in the White House." CJ said, rather bluntly, I think.
Donna's jaw dropped, and Toby's gaze snapped over to Sam.
"It was an empty office! We weren't doing anything, and--"
"Well, obviously you were doing *something*." Donna interjected. I glared at her.
"Thank you, Donna, for that insightful comment. We hadn't been handed any work, but because of some other stuff that was going on, poker night got cancelled, and... Well, we started out just playing poker,"
"But that wasn't enough, so you decided to get in a game of 'poke him'?"
"Toby!" I felt like slamming something, but the door was close, and I wasn't holding a book or anything. "Could you not be so crass? Sam is really embarrassed that you even have to know, and I'm not exactly thrilled about it, either, and I have been through a *lot* in a very short period of time, so I don't have a lot of nerves left, and I am really not in any mood for any jokes about this right now!"
He raised his eyebrows. "Wow. I think I should be impressed. That was a lot of shouting without a lot of breathing."
"Yeah, well." I crossed my arms. "Look, I know you don't do the whole 'sensitive' thing, but I think taking into consideration how much Sam values your opinions, you could've not said what you just said. That was really uncalled for, you know?"
"I didn't mean it to be offensive, Josh." He sighed, slumping in his seat and crossing his arms. He was looking off to the side. "You oughta understand, you're the expert on not thinking before you say something. And trust me, I'm not thrilled that I have to know about this either. I'm not thrilled anyone has to know, but I'm not the guy who had sex-- where in the White House?"
"Empty office. The one we were playing poker in." I shrugged, moving over to stand by Sam. I placed a hand on his shoulder, and he clamped his down over it.
"Strip poker." CJ added.
"How come we never play strip poker, Claudia Jean?"
"Probably because we're not stupid, Tobus."
"So security cameras-- caught them? In the, ah, act?"
"No!" I came back to the conversation quickly. "We-- we did it under a table."
"See, they have *some* discretion." Toby snorted.
"But, there is footage of clothes being tossed off and me pulling Sam under said table, so it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination..."
"Did the Post get the tape?"
"Leo's got the tape, he says he doesn't think a copy was made, but when we find out whodunit, we can ask."
"But there's no actual sex on the tape?" Donna clarified. "I mean, if they did have it, or something, there's no actual sex. On the tape. Right?"
I was bothered by the fact that she seemed dejected by this, but decided I was just imagining things. Sam turned back to face the group, hanging his head.
"I, um... I know it wasn't a good idea, but-- I mean, if you really understood the exenuating circumstances..."
"Sam, if you can give me any extenuating circumstances that will make me understand why you did what you did, I will give you..." Toby dug through his pockets. "Five dollars."
"Josh and I have been together since around Christmas." He sighed. "Before that, I-- I nearly lost him. I had to spend hours, contemplating what it would be like to-- to not have him in my life anymore. I had to face the thought that I had never told him how I truly felt. And then... I couldn't stop worrying just because he was back from the brink of death, and I was still so afraid to tell him, even though it had almost been too late, and then-- then there was the-- incident, and I did tell him, and as it turned out, he felt the same, but it was by *no* means easy goings after that-- We had a lot of issues to work through, and because of his-- his condition, there was no-- getting physical... um... you know. Until mid-February, and even then, you have no idea how careful we had to be, Toby! There's this whole big list of things he had, that he wasn't allowed to do, and it wasn't just sex, and there was a lot of stress, and a lot of-- and I couldn't spend the night with him, even just to be sure he was all right, and we *both* had nightmares about it, about Rosslyn, and-- And then... I mean, finally we *can* be together, in a limited, physical sense of the term, and finally he's all right, and finally we're alone, and-- Toby, you have no idea, I-- I was just so overcome by the fact that he's *alive*, I--"
Sam was choked up-- he already had tears starting to roll. When he couldn't go on any longer, I put my arms around him, and he turned into me, head against my shoulder, trying hard to stifle sobs.
"Sam...?" Toby's voice was actually *gentle* as he approached. "Sam, here's your five dollars."
I accepted the bill, slipping it into Sam's pocket.
"You know, if I had a ten on me, you would've won it." He added hopefully, trying to lighten the mood. "Sam, those were-- well-put reasons."
Sam nodded, but couldn't quite speak any more, so I stroked his hair and rocked him.
"So all you've got's a five?" I said conversationally.
"Probably just as well." I nodded. "My reason wasn't nearly that good. I was just gonna say I'm a moron."
"What about that thing you said before?" Sam sniffled, one hand fisted in the back of my shirt.
"Oh, yeah, right. To CJ. I said that people do stupid things in a new relationship, and no one's ever made me stupid like Sam. Something like that. I think it sounded better the first time. Mostly, it's that I'm an idiot, though, and I was getting really sick of having to spend all day with Sam and never getting the chance to, you know, rip my pants off. Sorry, that was somewhat indelicate."
"This whole situation is somewhat indelicate." Sam replied, voice muffled against me.
"What?" Toby turned to look at her.
Donna and I also turned to look at her, Sam kept his head on my shoulder. CJ had one hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.
"You guys, I just realized something."
"I almost walked in on you, didn't I?"
I ducked my head, blushing. "Um, yeah..."
"You what?" Donna jumped on her-- figuratively, figuratively. Not that that's not something I would've liked to see; I could probably sell tickets.
"I walked into that office-- cards everywhere, and Sam, you definitely looked like you'd been up to something. I mean, it's not unusual to see Josh look like a mess at the end of the day, and sure, we've all seen Sam with his hair awry, and his top two buttons undone, but the shirt half-tucked, the collar askew, both ties and jackets on the *floor*, and-- what were you carrying?"
Sam mumbled into my chest.
"Come again?" CJ leaned forward.
"Our undershirts." He lifted his head just enough to answer her.
I laughed nervously at the curious scrutiny we received. "Yeah, we-- didn't bother putting them back on when we got dressed. Also, they were-- in a state." I felt my face heat.
"In a state?" Toby smirked.
Donna was crimson, but she also looked intrigued. CJ was amused, with only a very faint blush. Quite the spectrum. And then, of course, there was Sam and me.
"They have lights for it." Sam muttered.
"Special lights. That, um, pick up-- traces, of things. I've seen it on the news, they take 'em to hotels. Anyway, yeah, in a state." I completed his thought, and mine.
"What were you *doing* under that table?" Donna asked.
"Do you really want to know?" I echoed Leo's question from before.
"Oh, no!" She blushed even deeper, hands clapping over her mouth. "No, I mean-- vague idea's fine, just-- you know, a thing. That people say. I didn't mean you should *tell* me."
"Right. Good. 'Cause I'm not gonna."
"No, I don't want you to." She assured me, or attempted to.
"Are we done with the intimate details?"
"Yeah." CJ nodded.
"Yes." Toby said emphatically.
"Uh-huh." Donna attempted to shrink into herself. I would probably enjoy her embarrassment, if it wasn't, you know, mine too.
"If there's a God in heaven, we are." Sam sighed. I guided him over to the couch again, and we sat.
"So. What else is there?"
"Well, someone's going to have to buy me lunch." Toby shrugged. "Sam's effective rhetoric just lost me five dollars."
"Hey, it's your own fault. You know he's good."
"Yeah, but I didn't think he could make me *agree* with him! Not about having sex in the White House, anyway."
"So we're done." CJ nodded with a sigh. "Donna, go."
Donna nodded meekly and went. She won't listen to me, but she'll listen to CJ...
"Are we actually done?" Toby asked warily, raising an eyebrow.
"Heck, no. But there's really nothing we can do at the moment, so... unless you need to iron something out, I think this particular meeting is over."
"Yeah. Sam, can you work on the thing from before? I mean, I can put someone else on it, if you'd rather..."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, if I can get some time without any interruptions, I'll see what I can do with it."
"Good. If you're working, people should know better than to try to interrupt you, anyway."
"Great." This was CJ. She rubbed her hands together briskly. "I'll see what I can do to spin this--"
"Remember to use the words 'committed relationship'." I reminded her.
"Will do. And we'll meet up later when Leo's got the guys, and I'll let you two put your two cents in on a statement before I take it to the press."
"And Toby, I will buy you lunch."
Sam and I stepped out of CJ's office, and I decided to walk him to his. Once in the communications bullpen, however, everything stopped for a moment as we came into view, and people stared. Then, all of a sudden, Ainsley broke out of the circle of spectators.
"There you are! I've been looking for you everywhere since I heard that Post guy, Sam. It's not true, is it? I mean, not tha--"
She was interrupted by a veritable rush of questions, all of them the same, all of them aimed at Sam, and not me. At my side, Sam was pale and beginning to shake. He caught himself, and his shoulder rested somewhat heavily against mine.
"HEY!" I shouted. "BACK OFF! Do you have *any* idea what kind of day he's been having? We have had to meet with everyone-- *everyone*-- And they have all asked us the question. We had to meet with the President, and *he* asked us the question. And this has been extraordinarily difficult on both of us, and in case no one NOTICED, it's really hit Sam. He's pale, he's unsteady. Now as to how the stress is affecting me, I'm getting angry. I might fire people-- I can do it, too, and don't think I won't! So shut up and get back to work, and more importantly, let *us* get back to work, because we have had a *really* lousy day. Sam has a thing to write, I have *employee evaluations* to work on, and you doubtless have things to do. And if I hear anyone's been bothering him while he's writing--
Everyone went back to work.
"There." I sighed. We walked over to his office door. "I guess I'll see you later, when we find out who told the Post."
"Yeah." He nodded.
"Relax-- and don't try too hard with your thing, I don't want you getting any killer headaches, and you're halfway there already. Just-- just rest for a while, you've got plenty of time."
"Yeah." Another nod. "Employee evaluations?"
"Nah, that was a total lie." I winked. "But it helped, didn't it?"
"Oh, they were trembling in fear."
"I like to spread the-- joy is not the word."
A weak laugh. "No, really not. I'll see you later, then."
His door closed, and I headed-- stormed-- off to my office. After a minute, I noticed Ainsley Hayes was dogging me. I whirled around.
"WHAT? Are you going to ask? Is that it?"
"No." She seemed somewhat intimidated-- I didn't know her very well, she was new, and most of what I know comes from seeing her on Capitol Beat and watching that second amendment fight she and Sam had, but intimidated didn't seem like it was a big thing she did. "No, I-- I don't think I need to anymore. Um... I'm sorry. About stressin' him out. I guess I didn't think about it. And I didn't notice how bad he was looking. I just thought I'd apologize."
"Thanks." I nodded.
"You want me to stand guard outside his office just in case some bozo didn't listen to you?" She grinned.
"No, but thanks." I smiled back. "I figure I can look over the security tapes if I have to."
"Are you really writing employee evaluations?"
"No." I shook my head. "I'm not. I will, however, fire anyone I find making his life any harder than it has to be."
"Isn't that letting your relationship get in the way of your job?" She challenged.
"It's not." I repeated firmly, completely fired up for a debate-- heck, a debate on anything, I was just running on adrenaline and misplaced anger right now, anyway. "If you had the power to fire people, and one of those people was harrassing someone else, based on sexual preference, you would fire that person. There's no question there, that's the thing to do-- it's the right thing to do, it's the legally correct thing to do. If anyone in this White House sexually harrasses anyone else, and I catch it, it's my job to give the harrasser his or her comeuppance. It doesn't matter if it's Sam being harrassed because he's with me, or it-- I don't know, if some girl slaps Larry's butt at the water cooler every day. So. If someone makes Sam's life harder because of this, firing that person is de rigeur, it's just the same as if someone else was harrassed on a gender or gender-preferrence basis. The only difference is, if it's Sam, I'm going to enjoy firing the bastard harrassing him a whole lot more than if it's Ed."
"Earlier it was Larry."
"Oh, who the heck cares? It's not like it makes a difference, that was just an example."
"Right. Fine." She held her hands up. "Whatever you say."
I let out a short, self-deprecating laugh. "Man... he's not going to be happy with me, is he?"
"Ed or Larry?"
"Sam. He'll say 'I don't need you to play guard dog for me, Josh', or 'I can take care of myself, Josh', or 'You don't have to threaten to fire people just because I'm having a bad day, Josh', or 'That wasn't very professional, Josh', or--"
"Gah, will you shut up already? You have got to be kidding me! Look, I'll be honest, if my boyfriend, assuming I had one, jumped all over people on account of my having a bad day, I'd probably be a little upset, sure. But that's because I don't want anyone protecting me on account of I'm a little woman."
"You are. Little. And a woman."
"So the answer to 'will you shut up already' is no." She sighed. "But I was there, and I doubt he coulda taken care of himself in that situation. And I'll let you in on something, Josh, even if I was getting upset at my 'knight in shining armor', a part of me is gonna be gettin' seriously gushy at the thought of chivalry not bein' dead and all. You know, 'my hero', that kinda thing. And he looked pretty darn grateful from where I was standin'-- if he hadn't been about to fall over, anyways. I don't think he'll be mad at you."
"Thanks." I nodded.
"Anytime. I'm gonna go look over some legal precedents. What they pay me for."
"Yeah." I nodded.
"Call me if you need a precedent." She was halfway down the hall. I actually smiled at that.
Hard to believe, at this particular moment, that I used to hate that woman. Times like this, I even forget she's a republican.
We met in CJ's office again, an hour before the afternoon press briefing.
"All right..." She began, shuffling some papers on her desk. "I think this statement would be best coming from you. Sam, after I make the opening remarks, I'm going to bring you up to make the statement. How's that sound?"
Sam shook his head. "Oh, no. No, not me, CJ. Josh can do it."
She raised her eyebrows. "Oh, Josh most certainly can *not* do it. That man doesn't get near my podium, never again."
"CJ... C'mon, a guy makes one lousy mistake-- am I ever going to live this down?"
"Well, seeing as how we work for the *White House*, no. No you're not. Besides, Sam's a better speaker than you are, anyway."
"Not today, I'm not." He shook his head adamantly. "I-- I really can't do this, CJ. I'm just-- I'm really off my game today, I'll make a fool of myself!"
"They're not going to ask me about inflation, CJ!" I said, exasperated. "They're going to ask me about Sam, and I know all the answers to that one!"
"Can you say it without screwing up?"
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," I said, as though addressing the corps. "You may remember a quesion asked by the Post this morning, and I'm here to answer it for you. The question asked was 'Is it true that Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman and Deputy Director of Communications Samuel Seaborn had sex?'. The answer is an emphatic 'yes'. Sam and I are in a committed relationship, which has and will not interfere with the running of the White House. We are in love, but we are committed to our jobs as well as to each other, and we would never do anything to jeapordize the administration, or the country. That's our statement, and we won't be taking any more questions. It's our private life, and we would like it to remain as private as possible. Surely the press has more important issues to report on. Thank you."
"Josh, if you say 'an emphatic 'yes'', I will kill you. And how did you come up with all of that?"
"Sam wrote most of it-- He gave it to me during lunch today, I've been studying it. I, um, added a couple things here and there, where he said I should. I mean, if I'm gonna give the statement, I've got to feel comfortable with the wording, that's what he said about it."
CJ sighed. "Josh, I have an idea. You go up there, and you say only the parts that Sam wrote, and we should just make it through this."
"My contributions are important!"
"I'm fairly certain they're not. Who's the speechwriter?"
"Sam is, but-- it's *our* statement, CJ. It's our couple statement!"
"I liked some of the parts you put in," Sam offered, giving me a soft smile. "I believe you added the words 'we are in love'..."
"Yeah. I, um, I did. I'm totally keeping that."
"Josh, did you also add the 'surely the press' part? Don't, okay? When you say it, it sounds condescending."
"It is condescending!"
"Well, don't condescend with the press!" She waved her glasses in a big, vague sort of gesture. "Do you have any idea how bad that would be? How much worse that will make it? Instead of 'Deputy Chief of Staff, Joshua Lyman', they'll write 'Deputy Pompous Bastard, Joshua Lyman'. And I don't know what they'll call Sam-- your 'love puppet' or something..." She rolled her eyes.
"Which reputable paper is going to say that, CJ?" I teased. "And they'll call him my lover, or my partner, or they'll get one heck of an angry letter."
Sam shrugged. "You know they will, CJ. When he gets worked up..."
"Fine." She sighed, throwing her hands up in the air. "Fine. You know what, fine. You give your statement, and I'll fix it after you leave."
Sam reached over to squeeze my hand. "It'll work out." He whispered, tugging me a step closer.
"Yeah." I nodded weakly. "It'll work out."
"Josh..." He fixed me with a look that said everything.
"Yeah, Sam." I smiled, pulling him into a hug.
"Guys? Fellas? Okay, boys, resume the canoodling in your office, I have work to do right now." CJ shooed us out the door. "Sam's office. I'll call there when I need you."
"Yes, CJ." He nodded. We headed off, still holding hands, and no doubt still attracting stares.
Once inside, he sank into his chair, and I perched on the edge of his desk.
"Hey." He dragged a smile out of himself.
I stroked his cheek and just spent a long moment taking him in, all the little details that make him Sam. The light in his eyes, the twitch at the corner of his mouth that forcing smiles brought, the tired line that creased his forehead... that line, I kissed away.
"You're the one who said it would work out." I reminded him. "I'm counting on you, Sam... You gotta pull through for me."
He shook his head, taking my hand between his. "Josh, I-- you have been so incredibly together throughout all of this... I'm the one counting on you. I-- I haven't been taking any of it so well." He confessed.
"You think I'm taking it well?" I almost laughed. "Sam, I threatened to fire the whole communications staff-- and possibly a bunch of other people, too, I'm not entirely sure. I totally blew up at Toby, and before that, I blew up at CJ a couple times. I blew up at Ainsley Hayes a little after I left you at your office. I nearly got in a fistfight on the way to the mess!"
Now he almost laughed. "You nearly got into a fistfight?"
"I nearly got in a fistfight!"
"Well what happened?" Amusement was slowly winning the battle for Sam's facial expression-- I was glad. It would be worth an actual fistfight-- a dozen actual fistfights-- to make him laugh right about now.
"This guy got way out of line!" I spread my arms-- no, one arm, the one not attached to the hand he was holding-- in a broad gesture. "He was totally out of line! He called you a-- I'm not gonna say what he called you, but I swear, if there weren't a whole bunch of people there who expect me to be a professional--"
"They don't expect you to be *too* professional." He jabbed. "They do know you, after all."
"I would've taken him." I nodded, allowing a little verbal swagger.
"I can't believe he'd say something like that to you! I mean, babe, you've got a bit of a reputation..."
"He didn't exactly say it *to* me. He said it to Doug, and I heard him. So I said 'Oh, what was that?', and he's all 'nothing', and I'm all 'No, you said--', well, I repeated it, and then I'm all like 'why don't you just say it to my face', and he's all like 'seriously, it was nothing, I wasn't even talking about you', which, by the way, total *lie*, since our relationship was implicated in the offensive remark, and I'm all like 'You want a piece?'-- Well, no, I didn't say that... I said 'You better hope I never learn your name, boy, and if I ever hear something like that again, about *anybody*, you are going to find yourself without a job and facing every charge we can hit you with'. And then he made a personal remark about me which was less-than-flatteringly-worded, and if I hadn't been on my way to meet you, I probably wouldn't have left just yet, and they might be scraping him off the floors or something. That doesn't offend your masculinity, right? That I'd fight a guy for saying something about you?"
"Nah. I wasn't there to defend myself. Besides, he said something about you, too."
"I would've won."
"Oh, without a doubt." He leaned up to kiss me. "You're my hero, Josh."
"Good." I grinned. "I was hoping you'd say that. Instead of, you know, 'I don't need you to fight my battles for me, Josh', or 'Don't let this get in the way of work, Josh', or--"
He pulled me into a much deeper kiss, then pressed his cheek to mine to whisper in my ear. "Oh, my sweet Joshua..."
"I feel like I've been upgraded." I joked. Sam nipped at my earlobe.
"You're my hero, Josh... you've kept me going today, and-- I wouldn't have made it this far without you. Even just knowing you were in your office, dealing with all the same things I was dealing with..."
"And thinking about you, too..." I added.
"And thinking about me... That gave me the strength I needed. You did."
"Sam..." I kissed the hinge of his jaw, below the ear. "Sam, Sam, dear Sam... I didn't handle this any better than you did, babe. I was freaking out just as much. It's just-- we handled it differently. You internalized a lot of the stress, so that it just ate at you. I-- I took it out on people. And, um, inanimate objects sometimes. When there weren't any people around. And I spent just as much time sitting in my office letting the thought of you anchor me, and I spent just as much time thinking about the kind of strength you had and I didn't, that it takes not to rip people's heads off when things like this happen."
"I didn't think of it as a strength before..." He murmured.
"It is. And I, don't have it. But it takes a strong man not to fight sometimes, Sam... you bore up under a lot of pressure without taking it out on anyone else... I can't do that-- when I'm having a lousy day, my general strategy is to give someone else a lousy day... um... I'm slowly wandering from the point I wanted to make. Something about how you're *my* hero, and you never have to do anything for it, you just *are*."
"Thanks. I ranted at Toby a little, though, so I don't know if your theory holds up."
"You weren't ranting *at* Toby, Sam. You were ranting *to* Toby. And I got shaky and couldn't keep my feet under me, and I got freaked out and worried we might not make it. You set me straight. So to speak. I think maybe you are a lot stronger than me."
"Not a lot." He shook his head. "Call it even?"
"Even." I nodded. "I still think you had to be stronger. It was you they were shouting questions at in the bullpen... it was you sitting by a-- by a hospital bed, after Rosslyn. I didn't have to think about almost losing you like that. You-- you probably have to think about it more than you really need to-- you know what I mean? I know I-- I think about things, things that are over, like that..."
"Yeah." He breathed. "I-- I do. It's hard, not to remember what that felt like, but... you're here. I-- I hardly ever dream about it, anymore... since we--"
I nodded, brushing my fingertips over his lips. After the night he told me he loved me, after we kissed for the first time, spent long stretches in each other's arms on the sofa... after that night, the dreams came less and less, replaced by more pleasant dreams of Sam, even just day-to-day work Sam. Sometimes I would wake up remembering just a series of images, some of them Sam. But I was dreaming more about him, and less about the shooting.
"Me, too." I whispered.
"I may have been getting the questions in the bullpen... you'll be getting them from the press."
"I'll give the statement and get out. CJ can handle the rest.
"Josh... don't go on the defensive, okay? Not yet. Don't go on the defensive until after we're attacked.
"Just do what I'm telling you this time." He cupped my cheek in one hand. "Okay? Because I'm right?"
"You are right." I slumped. "I know, I know, it looks better for us if I don't. I'm just-- it's not easy."
"I know." He kissed my other cheek softly. "It's not. But you can do it. I believe in you."
"Why don't you have a couch? Come to think of it, why don't I have a couch?"
"I'm Deputy Chief of Staff. I certainly rate a couch."
"You rate a whole sectional with matching chair." He told me, kissing my cheek again.
"If you had a couch, we could be snuggled up right now." I looked at him. "You could be in my lap."
Sam looked at his chair, then up at me. "I don't think it would be a good idea..."
"Yeah." I allowed.
"We'll snuggle up later." He promised, squeezing my knee. "We're going to be out... you could come home with me."
I smiled. "Yeah. I could."
I gave the statement at the afternoon briefing, and was directed to wait in a chair against the wall behind the podium. Sam was in the chair next to mine.
I tried to tune out the room as reporters vied for CJ's attention, kept asking about us, despite being told that we were not a topic up for further debate. I felt Sam's hand come up to squeeze mine, and he didn't let go. All of my focus poured into Sam's fingers locked around mine, away from the flashbulbs, away from the shouts. Away from CJ calmly trying to reintroduce the idea of news, of bills, of policy shifts-- there were no policy shifts, but any port in a storm.
Finally, she dismissed the press corps, and came to collect us.
"Okay, snap out of it guys."
"I thought we were going to leave after the statement." I said, dazed.
"Well, that plan obviously changed. Come on, time to go. You had a lo-o-ong day."
We nodded and followed her to the door of the press room. The hall outside was empty for a brief stretch, but when we reached the main area of the communications bullpen, people spilled out of every adjoining office, with a cry of 'surprise!'.
Sam and I stared dumbly as Cathy wheeled a cake out of Sam's office. Bonnie and Ginger had a 'CONGRATULATIONS' banner stretched out between them. Donna was holding a pair of duffle bags-- one of them I knew was mine, the other was Sam's.
Finally, I found my voice. "What in the Sam Hill is going on here, people?"
"We're throwing you a coming out party." Margaret informed me. I jumped, having only just noticed her when she spoke from right behind my shoulder.
"Jeez, Margaret! Give a guy a heart attack..."
The President came out of Sam's office next, beaming at us. "It was my idea, by the way."
"Thank you, Sir!" We chorused.
Leo, who had followed him out, cleared his throat.
"It was Leo's idea, too." Bartlet admitted with a shrug. "But the surprise was my idea. Also, Leo, when it was your idea, there was no cake."
Leo grumbled something undistinguishable under his breath.
Donna came forward and handed us our bags.
"What--" Sam began.
"We were just told to pack things." Cathy said, from her spot cutting the cake. "I got the spare change of clothes from your office. Josh, I think Donna broke into your apartment."
"I found your key, actually."
"What-- how did you find my key?"
"Maybe you should hide it better." She said matter-of-factly.
"I hide my key fine, what were you doi--"
"I had to get into your apartment, because I had a presidential order to pack your things for tonight."
"What-- 'things' did you pack?"
"Clothes. A toothbrush. A couple of things from your nightstand." Donna brushed my concern aside.
"Why do we have bags?" Sam asked, still regarding his as though it might bite him. I had to admit it was a fair question.
"You're not going home." Bartlet shook his head.
"We-- we're not?"
"Oh, no. Your places will probably be crawling with reporters, you'd never get any privacy-- they have ways of finding things like addresses out."
"Well, they have your address, Sir." Leo said under his breath.
"You're in a mood today." The President fixed him with a stern look. Then he turned back to us. "It's because this part was my idea, and it's the *really* good part. Josh, Sam... the two of you will be spending the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. No reporters will be able to mob you on your way out."
"Cathy, do I have a toothbrush?" Sam asked frantically.
"There's a spare toothbrush in the bathroom." Bartlet assured him. "Well?"
"It's an incredible gesture, Sir!" I-- well, I gushed.
"I'm an incredible man." He nodded. "Oh, and I looked into the camera angle things for the Lincoln Bedroom, too. You should be safe."
"Thank you, Sir!" Sam also gushed.
"Well, have some cake, let your friends congratulate you on your relationship, and for pete's sakes, go to bed. You've had one heck of a day."
"Yes, Sir!" We chorused again.
Midway through cake-- Margaret had insisted on a photo of us feeding bites to each other-- we were approached with something other than a 'congratulations'. It was a 'thanks'.
"Thanks?" I blinked stupidly.
Ed-- or Larry... one of them-- nodded.
"What for?" Sam elaborated.
Larry-- or Ed-- blushed. "Making it okay."
"I don't know about you," I said, turning to beam at Sam. "But I'm feeling pretty good about us right now."
"We da men." He assented, slinging an arm around my waist.
Margaret was there with her camera again when I did lean down to capture Sam's lips in a kiss, but I didn't mind. She was a little weird, but she wasn't going to sell us out or anything.
"This is good cake." Toby said, approaching us.
"I'll take that as a 'congratulations'." Sam nodded.
"No, no you won't." He shook his head. Then he patted Sam's back and pulled him into a semi-hug. "This is 'congratulations'. I'm happy for you."
"Wow. Um, thanks."
"Yeah. Even if you are a little on the stupid side sometimes."
"Thanks, Toby." I added. "And we are not on the stupid side."
"You're welcome. And I know this is a foreign concept to you, Joshua, but don't screw this up. Okay?"
"Um, yeah, Toby. Sure."
"Because if there's another level of screw-ups, I don't want to see it. And yeah, Josh. Collectively, you are on the stupid side. I don't care how many degrees you have, either of you. I don't care that individually, you are among the most brilliant and accomplished men I know. Together, you screw up like nobody's business."
He turned and wandered off again. Sam was grinning.
"Really, coming from Toby, that was quite a compliment." He said.
"Scary, isn't it?"
Leo and the President had been talking over by the wall, but when they spotted an opening in the stream of well-wishers, they came over.
"Well?" Leo smiled, almost paternally. "Surprised?"
"Very." I said, in total honesty.
"We thought we should do something nice for you, what with the kind of day you'd been having." He nodded. "And who knows how long it'll be before you can get any official recognition."
"I'm just going to give you Abby's best," Bartlet added. "She's visiting Ellie for a couple days-- I couldn't get away, of course... Anyway, she missed the whole debacle, but I'm sure she'd be happy for you if she was here."
"Or she'd skin us alive." I reasoned.
"She might, Josh, she might. But not for being in love... that, she wouldn't do. Did you like the cake?"
"It was excellent cake, Sir." Sam said quickly. "Very good. Loved it."
"I made sure they used that specific recipe. Leo, did you get cake?"
"No, Sir, I didn't get ca--"
"Leo, go get some cake. Really, I think you'll like it..."
"Whatever you say, Mr. President..."
"If only," Bartlet rolled his eyes. "People always say that, but it's never what*ever* I say..."
"Look, Sir, I'm going and getting the cake right now." Leo said, looking good-naturedly put-upon. He shook his head, smiling.
"He'll like the cake." Bartlet said assuringly. "And not just because I'm President and everyone will like the cake if I tell them to. It's a very good cake. Do you know what, in particular, is special about this cake?"
"Ah, no, Sir, but I'm sure you'll tell us."
"Josh-- you like the cake, yes?"
"Yes." I responded automatically, the fear of God in my eyes.
"Now do you really? Be honest. You're not just saying that because I'm the leader of the free world?"
"No, Sir. It's a very good cake."
"Apparently, it's special." Sam added. I glared at him, having hoped that Bartlet might forget to tell us why. No doubt it was some kind of New Hampshire cake.
Leo returned, finishing his first or second bite. "Sir, you're not giong to tell them why this cake is special, are you?"
"And just why shouldn't I?"
"Well, because they don't *care*, maybe?"
"You boys care, don't you?"
We exchanged glances, struggling to come up with a win-win answer.
"Oh! Of course... I'm monopolizing your time, aren't I?"
We exchanged more glances, still struggling.
"Charlie!" He called. Charlie came. "Charlie, can you escort these two to their room? I need to talk to Leo about something."
"About cake." Leo sighed. "And I *sincerely* hope you haven't already heard the story behind this one..."
"Well, it might've been the recipe from his wedding cake... he had a lot of recipes earlier, and I heard about just about every one of those."
"This is not that cake." Bartlet shook his head. "That cake wasn't actually very good. Abbey wanted it, it was pretty, but this cake tastes a lot better. Only don't ever tell her I said that." He added the last part sternly.
"Yes, Sir." We all chorused.
Charlie led us to the Lincoln Bedroom. "Hey, I didn't get to say congratulations earlier." He smiled. "I think it's really cool you two have finally done this."
"You-- finally?-- What?" I croaked.
"You know. How you two have always been kinda... there was a vibe."
"We had a vibe?" Sam squeaked on the last word. It was a cute squeak, though...
"Oh, yeah. What, you never knew? Come on, the way you hold each other's eyes a good five seconds longer than any normal pair of straight buddies would. Five seconds on average, that's what I think Margaret was saying. And Sam, you laugh at all his jokes. Even the dumb ones."
"My jokes aren't dumb. Also, he doesn't always laugh." I defended.
"Yeah, sure." Charlie just shook his head. "And you don't always stand next to each other, but when you do, it's *right* together. A person couldn't even pass a folder between you guys."
"How long have we had this... vibe? It was like, the last couple of months, right?"
Charlie actually laughed. "Months? Try years, Josh. I haven't been here as long as most people, but I hear it's always been like that. I noticed it the day of my interview."
"What? Where did you *hear*--?"
"Margaret. Donna. Cathy. Bonnie. Ginger. Carol. Mrs. Landingham."
Sam's jaw dropped, and I placed a finger underneath his chin. He shut his mouth and looked at me.
"Were we really--?"
"All that time..." I sighed, shaking my head. "Wow... and we never realized... I mean, I never noticed!"
"I know..." Sam let out a deep breath. "All the lonely years we've wasted... fishing for salmon--"
"And losing at backgammon." I finished, grinning. "What joys unta--"
"Guys!" Our attention snapped back to Charlie. "We're here. So. Congratulations, it's been a long time coming, it sounds like. I'm happy for you, and have fun."
I felt my face heat-- the fact that Sam was blushing and grinning like a schoolboy was *not* helping-- and Charlie flashed us a grin as he swung the door open.
I gasped-- not only was the room itself beautiful, there were roses on both bedside tables, and in a stand beside the bed, an ice bucket with a bottle and two champagne flutes.
"That's not-- for us?" Sam echoed my exact thoughts.
"Yeah. I heard the President talking about it, and after he said you guys were gonna have the Lincoln Bedroom tonight, Leo said he wasn't gonna be outdone when it was his plan to begin with, and you'd have champagne in the room. And that's when it turned into some kind of freakish bidding war, so you've got full amenities..."
I grinned over at Sam, then turned back to Charlie.
"Thanks. Tell 'em both we said thanks. And-- full amenities?"
"Yeah. Bed and bath. There are robes, which I *think* you get to keep, that have the Presidential seal on them. There are chocolates somewhere-- you would think on the pillow, but I don't see 'em, so look around, because they're supposed to be here. And... well, I have no idea what all else, but go ahead and check the nightstand drawers. Have a good night, Josh, Sam."
"You too, Charlie." We said over each other.
Charlie disappeared down the hall, and Sam and I rushed into the room, locking the door behind us, exhilerated.
Sam was suddenly nervous again, and I put my arms around him gently, guiding him over to the bed where we sat. There was a tray on the other side of the ice bucket, and that's where we found the chocolates-- two truffles, and a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries.
"Wow. This sure beats what they're having, and I don't care how special that cake is." I picked up one of the strawberries, turning it in my fingers. "You want one?"
His face melted into an easy smile and he nodded, leaning forward. The strawberries were huge, and as he bit into that first one, a line of juice trickled down from the corner of his mouth. I pulled my hand back and leaned in to lick it up, feeling more than hearing the soft moan.
"Do you want to pour, or shall I?" I jerked my head towards the champagne and took the second bite of his strawberry.
Sam popped the cork from the bottle-- a rush of foam spilled onto the ice, and then he poured into the two glasses, handing one to me.
"A toast to us."
"To us." I echoed, flashing him a lopsided grin.
"Right." I nodded firmly.
"Josh-- there's a lot more I'd like to say... a lot more. But, this champagne is probably going to be a lot better if we don't let it go flat, and I'm going to have a lifetime with you, to say it all. So..." He fumbled.
"Cheers." I supplied.
"Cheers." We clinked, linked, and sipped from each other's flutes. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Sam." And I leaned forward to kiss him-- a sweet, simple kiss that tasted of champagne, of chocolate, of strawberry.
Well, okay, it didn't stay simple for long. My tongue swiped across his lower lip and he opened to me with a sigh. Now the taste of Sam was added to the above bouquet. We broke apart for another sip of champagne and a breath of air, and he picked up one of the strawberries, just barely tasting the chocolate coating, thinking better of it, and running the berry over my lips teasingly. He had *that* look in his eyes. The one that really gets me going. The one that got me going not quite a week ago over the top of a straight flush.
This time, I took the first bite and he took the second. Then he picked up one of the truffles-- a circle of dark chocolate dusted with cocoa powder-- and dipped it into his champagne before bringing it to my lips.
I could see little cocoa particles floating in amongst the bubbles as I licked champagne from the truffle he held. It was a two-bite truffle, and on the second bite, I got to take Sam's fingertips into my mouth, licking them clean, watching him as his breath hitched, blue eyes locked on me.
Ego-boost, I decided happily. Sam was right now, a big ego-boost. Just all-over in general, the way he looked at me like he could swallow me whole, the way he breathed a little harder with every move I made, and the little noises he let out when I kissed him. Nothing has ever made me feel so good about myself.
By all rights, Sam shouldn't need his ego boosted. You'd think a man like that would have all the ego in the world. For some reason, and it is a part of the beauty that is Sam, he's actually pretty modest, but it was ever my goal to change that. Tonight, I am going to scream that man's name out, and he is going to know just how great he is. If need be, I will make love to him all night long, just so he knows. That's how much a philanthropist I am. I philSamthropist, at least.
I did the same truffle dip-and-feed for him, submerging the entire thing in my glass-- I had to tilt it a little, because of the narrowness of the flutes-- before giving it to him, letting him suck champagne from my fingers. Man, that's a thing a guy could get too used to...
"Good, isn't it?" I murmured, moving in to kiss him again, to catch another one of those little noises in my mouth as I placed a hand at the small of his back.
I kissed my way along his jaw, then paused. We shared another strawberry, our mouths meeting around the fruit in a particularly sticky kiss, then finished off our now-cocoa-tainted champagne.
"Well," Sam cupped my face in one hand. "It looks like we're done with dessert..."
There were three strawberries left on the tray. I couldn't care less. The glasses were empty, and it was Sam-time. I undid his tie, removed his shirt, all the while kissing any patch of skin that presented itself to be kissed. I pulled another groan from him, and he grasped my shoulders for support. When I had stripped him to the waist, it occured to him to do the same, and within seconds, my shirt and tie were somewhere far away from me. He dug the hem of my t-shirt out from the waistband of my slacks, and my hands covered his, halting.
He looked up, concerned. "Josh?"
"Could we-- could we not? You know... Could we just-- I could get those pants off you, and..."
"You don't want to take your shirt off." He sighed. "Josh... I thought we'd been through this."
"I just-- I really don't like it."
"Josh..." His arms went around me and he nuzzled my hair, my head resting on his shoulder. "Josh, I know you've gotten a little self-conscious, but-- I've seen it before."
"Not while we were making love." I whispered.
"Just after." He countered.
"It's different. For one thing, after a mind-blowing orgasm, I'm not going to fully notice if you're taking my shirt off, and-- It just-- it'll ruin the mood."
"I think the fact that you're not naked is what's changing the mood." He pulled back enough to look me in the eye. "Josh, I love you. All of you. The scars-- they can't change that, you know I--"
"I just really don't like it. They're ugly. I'd rather--"
"Josh..." He hushed, stroking over my chest soothingly. "Please. I want to be able to touch you-- everywhere. I want to be able to run my hands over your back and feel *skin*, want to be able to kiss every inch of you..." He was speaking against my throat now, nibbling softly. If this was a court-approved tactic, he should just transfer back over to the private sector and become a trial lawyer-- he'd never lose. "I want to run my tongue over your nipples, which is something you just did for me, and I would very much like to try out on you..."
"I'm not sure..."
"I am." He found my eyes again, earnest. "Josh, please. You have to stop-- thinking of yourself as damaged. 'Cause that's not how I see you. I think you're the most-- the most wonderful man on earth. You're strong, and beautiful, and-- you're anything but damaged, Josh. Don't let it drag you down. A bullet couldn't stop you, Josh. Don't let something as superficial as a scar get in the way of this, tonight..."
I dragged my answer time out. He does employ effective rhetoric like no one else, but I didn't want to concede the point just yet, and I wasn't so convinced as he was that I was so strong, or so not-damaged.
"Josh..." His fingers stroked over my hair and the side of my face, gentle.
"Couldn't I just give you five dollars like Toby did?" I whined.
"No, you can take your shirt off." His other hand skimmed under the t-shirt and over my stomach.
"Tell you what, I'll give you five dollars and Toby can take his shirt off."
"I'd rather he didn't."
"I think that's the general concensus, but... I just don't know, Sam."
"But I do." He whispered, kissing me softly. Reassuringly. When the kiss broke, he slipped my shirt off over my head and I froze up for a moment, half-expecting him to-- I don't know. Worrying that it was the wrong idea.
Sam's fingertips traced over the scar, his eyes reverent on my chest, and he dropped a series of kisses to the raised tissue, eventually spreading the sweet assault to the surrounding skin, in an ever-widening circle.
My pants came off next, while I was still preoccupied with Sam's lips ghosting over one nipple. My hands fumbled with his belt as he continued to lick and nip at my chest. I overcame the difficulty of his distractions, and we were both naked.
Now Sam stopped sucking at the previously-untouched nipple and took me in his arms, laying us down so that our bodies touched from where his lips met mine, all the way down to our feet. Our legs tangled, and as he rolled to lie atop me, he supported some of the weight on his forearms, trapped beneath my body.
The kisses grew more heated, the friction between us becoming too much to bear. His chest rubbed against my chest, his groin rubbed against my grown, and his tongue caressed every inch of my mouth until we had to break for air. When we did, I fulfilled my promise to scream his name at the top of my lungs, one leg wrapped tight as possible around his waist.
Meanwhile, his voice rose on the last in a litany of 'Oh Josh'es, and he collapsed half-on top of me. When the fuzzy black lifted, his hand was tracing up and down along my ribcage, and he flashed a lazy smile at me.
"How do you feel? That wasn't too strenuous, was it?"
"No, Sam. It wasn't too strenuous. I'll tell you if it ever is, but it wasn't." I sighed. Man, he's picked up this mother hen routine just a little too well...
"Good. I don't think you will tell me, not if it means stopping, but-- at least I believe it wasn't this time."
"You think I'd lie to you?" I couldn't muster up the strength or inclination to get truly indignant.
"Not like that, Josh... I just mean, you might ignore your limits, and if you did, you wouldn't want me to know, because I'd worry and get upset--"
"And blame yourself when it's clearly, in this hypothetical situation, my fault." I sighed again. "Forget about it, Sam. I'm fine."
"You certainly are..." He leered, the roaming fingers moving from my side to my chest. He picked up one of the strawberries and traced it over my heated skin. It was cool, and as it moved lower, I saw it pick up traces of white. He licked it clea, eyes burning seductively into mine.
It was when he licked the spot of melted chocolate from my stomach that I groaned. Too soon, it was too soon, and I was on fire, and Sam wasn't playing fair...
He poured another glass of champagne that we both sipped from, as we ate the remaining strawberries. His kisses were light, playful and loving and no longer an open invitation to sex. More a 'maybe later' to sex. A 'maybe after we get our collective breath back'. He turned around and suddenly he was back with a moist towelette.
"Okay, magic man. How'd you do it?" I poked him.
He cleaned me off first, then himself. "Bedside table. Somebody was very thoughtful."
I sat up. "What else is in the bedside table?"
Sam blushed. "Well, I don't think we'll be needing it *tonight*... um, you can, you know, look later."
I kissed him, because he is adorable when he's blushing, and we crawled under the covers.
His arm draped over my side and we lay facing each other, we barely had to move our heads to kiss. His other hand was trapped between us, caressing my chest softly. Then he stopped, sitting up.
"Teeth! I forgot about teeth!"
So I bit him. Not hard, just a nip on the arm.
"Josh... come on, Donna said she packed your toothbrush, and I can use the spare."
"Can't we do it in the morning?" I pulled him back down.
"I'm brushing my teeth, Josh."
Sam climbed out of bed, so I climbed out of bed. It's no fun without him, anyway. We slipped into the robes, brushed our teeth side by side, and returned to bed.
"I feel so married." I told him, almost giggling. I mean, *if* I giggled. Which, I don't.
"Yeah?" He regarded me carefully.
"It's nice." I nodded.
"I thought so, too."
And with that, we curled around each other and fell asleep, with another promise on my part, this time to explore that drawer come the morning.
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