Author: Anne Marsh
Title: Acclimation, Sequel to 'Love of a Lifetime', reuniverse.
Pairing: Sam/Josh
Rating: PG-13 to NC-17
Summary: Josh has only done three California things... the beginning of his acclimation to his new home with Sam.
Notes: Sam POV. It's the same weekend we began in 'Love of a Lifetime'. And, because Toby has yet to acclimate, he'll be around more in this one.
Archive: Yes
Feedback: Please.

Acclimation by Anne Marsh

Toby came over Sunday afternoon, ostensibly to watch some game or other with Josh and I-- I didn't pay attention to the game, because either I would be caught up talking with Toby, or I would be caught up watching Josh watch the game.

"You fools, you blind fools!" He hollered, throwing chips at the screen. He shot a sheepish look at me, and picked them up, offering a repentant smile.

I smiled back and shook my head in a long-suffering manner.

Toby snorted, shaking his head. "I can't *believe* I never noticed... I can't *believe* I could've been so blind as to make that bet with CJ-- Was I *headless*?"

"We *were* a lot more discreet then." I defended.

"It's not that. You radiate a sense of-- a sense of couplehood." He said. "It's inescapable. If I didn't see it before, I deserved to lose that ten bucks."

"I can't believe Leo and the President made the same bet." Josh laughed.

"Before we were lovers." I added.

"Who won?" Toby looked mildly interested. Commercials were on.

"Well, it was pretty well tied up until Bartlet brought up the fact that he was a President, and had a Nobel prize and stuff and Leo didn't, so that pushed him over the edge, I guess."

"You know what?" Toby said after a moment. "I don't feel like I belong here."

"Toby, it's not like we're gonna start making out in front of you or anythi--"

"No, no, I mean-- California. I'm a New Yorker. Why did I ever come here?"

"I don't know. Apparently 'cause CJ asked you to. Are you guys--"

"What? No. Sam, no. We're not-- we've never-- it's not like that, with us."

"I'm just saying. You followed her across the country." I shrugged.

"And when *I* did that, it was for Sam, the guy I'm getting married to." Josh nodded. "Also, Sam previously followed me across a smaller section of the country, and granted, we weren't dating then, but-- well, you know how we turned out. You sure there's not a little something-something?"

"I'm sure. I just-- The point I was trying to make is, I don't feel particularly Californian."

"Yeah, I understand." Josh nodded. "Like, we ate at Lucy's yesterday, that mexican place in Hollywood that CJ likes. That's the... third. That's the third Californian thing I've ever done."

"What are the other two?" I asked.

"Well, I went to a rally in Sacramento. It's the state capitol, so that's a Californian thing, and that was the second."

"What was the first Californian thing you did? Disneyland?" Toby asked distractedly, reaching for the chips.

"Better."

"Mm-hm." He mumbled, eyes back on the screen.

"Sam." Josh winked at me. It took a moment to sink in. When it did, Toby coughed loudly and I excused myself.

"Hey... I'm hungry, I don't know about you guys. I'm going to run over to In & Out, okay? Should I pick stuff up for you guys? It's Californian, if that's a draw."

"Burger, fries." Toby nodded. "I'll pay you when you get back."

"Sure. Josh?"

"Burger-- Sam, tell them to--"

"Well-done. Anything else?"

"I want it plain and dry. And fries, and a chocolate shake."

"Fries and a chocolate shake." I repeated. "Okay, be back in about-- fifteen minutes, unless there's an unforeseen hold-up somewhere."

Josh blew me a kiss and returned his attention to the screen. Toby just waved me off and leaned forward, immersed in whatever play had captured Josh.

---/-/---

When I got back, Josh and Toby had the air of two people conspiring.

"I'd definitely do it." Toby nodded.

"Oh, he'll have to." Josh said.

"It's a long-shot, but-- it's the principle of the thing! It has to be done!" Toby was getting-- well, getting like he does. Worked up.

"And if anyone could, it'd be-- Sam!" Josh turned around and bounded over to help me with the food. "Hey, Love."

"Hey, yourself. What are you guys talking about?"

"Nothin', just politics." He shrugged. "I'll tell you about it later, but the commercials are, like, over again, and we're down by two."

So we ate, Josh and Toby watching the game, and me watching Josh. Not that I have no interest in sports, but I have a greater interest in Josh, and I know he'll still tune into that sports show he watches, and anything interesting will get rehashed there.

Josh's hamburger was plain and dry, and he dipped each bite in ketchup. I had a cheeseburger, with lettuce, onion, and ketchup, spread on, not dipped. Toby's burger was as is, thousand island dripping onto the wax paper. I had a vanilla milkshake and an orange soda, and I took sips from both at the same time, like drinking a creamsicle.

Sometimes I would take a sip of Josh's milkshake, and he would try my creamsicle idea and make some small noise of assent. At those times, Toby would just smile and shake his head, still in a state of disbelief that Josh and I had remained secret for so long.

With our light supper done, I settled against Josh's side, and he slung an arm around me, kissing me lightly.

Toby tsk-ed and shook his head.

"What?" Josh turned to him, nettled.

"You can't kiss him now, he's been eating treyf!" Toby complained.

"Let me get this straight; I can have sex with this guy, and you're cool with it. I give him a peck on the lips post-cheeseburger, and you flip out?"

"I'm just saying..."

"So I probably shouldn't even tell you about the lasagna."

"Joshua Lyman, you do not *mess* with the Lord!"

"Toby, I don't think the Lord minds if I eat lasagna."

"Not vegitarian lasagna."

"It wasn't. Come on, you obviously think He's reversed His ruling on gay sex."

Toby sighed. "Okay, Religion 101, Josh-- The Lord's beef was *not* with homosexuality, it was with the struggling Isrealites not procreating, as He had bade them do. The world is currently pretty darn overpopulated, so I think the Lord is just fine with whatever you want to do and then never tell me about. And second of all, it was the Christians who made same-sex relations a sin-- Sodomy in the Old Testament was any-- *any*-- non-procreative sexual activity, between anyone or anything, and the Sodomites were destroyed for being cruel, inhospitable pricks!"

"And I still can't eat meat and cheese because...?"

"I don't know. You just can't!"

"I'm gonna kiss Sam any darn time I want." He mock-pouted, then grinned, before turning back to the game. "Hey, we're back up!"

"Not in front of Toby." I whispered, and Josh snickered.

"You know what, I don't even want to know." Toby groaned, turning the TV up.

---/-/---

We saw Toby off, and returned to the living room, where Josh was, in fact, tuning into the sports show, despite having just watched every minute of the game.

I just curled up against his side again and watched the plays I had missed, and Josh's just-as-intense reactions to them.

"Idiots." He finally snorted.

One of the sportscasters made a remark in that general vein-- actually, he used the word 'idiots', and Josh seemed vindicated.

"Wanna head upstairs?" I murmured, running a hand over his chest.

"Wanna just do it here?" Josh offered, pinning me to the deep, cushy sofa and kissing me breathless.

"Okay." I gasped, and he took his attention away from me just long enough to turn off the TV.

We kissed again, ardor mounting, his hands running under my shirt, and mine grasping his buttocks, grinding his hips into mine forcefully.

The phone rang. I gave a resigned shrug and pushed him towards it.

"What?" Josh whined into the receiver. "Yeah, I'm 'busy'. Bastard."

He hung up.

"Well?"

"Toby. He thinks it's funny, too."

"Why would Toby call?" I asked fuzzily. "He was just here."

"He called because he didn't think we'd keep our pants on more than fifteen minutes after he left the house, the bastard." Josh growled, impatiently tugging at my fly.

"If it happened to someone else, I'd laugh. As it is, only my great respect for-- and lingering fear of-- Toby will save him from strangulation next time we see him. However, the man had a point, Josh-- why aren't your pants off?"

He made an inarticulate noise, shucked his pants, and went down on me, taking me all the way in almost immediately. Amazing I never thought to give thanks for peristaltic movement before... I'm definitely and awarely thankful of it now, as he swallows around me, milking an incredibly orgasm from my body.

After the stars stopped bursting behind my eyes, and my breath evened out, I flipped us over and returned the favour, Josh's erection so deep in my throat that my nose pressed into the thatch of his pubic hair, just nudging the soft skin beneath, my forehead sweat-damp and pressed to his belly. His hands ran through my hair and he released himself in me with a small cry.

We spent a long moment as a tangle of sweaty limbs, happy to own such a large couch. My head rested on his stomach, and every he took breath raised, then lowered me.

"You know how long I've been waiting to do that?" He panted, stroking the nape of my neck.

"How long?"

"Dinner, when I caught you with a drop of milkshake on your chin."

"Mine, I'm guessing."

"Oh, yeah. Thick, white... and you, you had no idea how you looked... and I wanted to have sex with you." He sighed.

"Now we *should* go up to bed." I patted his thigh and sat. "Local office tomorrow, gotta leave in the morning."

"It's early still."

"Yeah. Let's spend that time in bed," I pulled him to his feet. "I feel like being lazy, and kinda cuddly."

"Okay." He held my hand and followed me up, pausing at the bathroom door. "You can read to me."

"Okay." I smiled.

---/-/---

Josh snuggled down beside me, wearing his own pajamas-- last night, he had changed into *mine*, leaving me his too-big ones.

"What are you reading?"

"Rex Stout's 'The Silent Speaker'. It's a Nero Wolfe mystery. I can start over at the beginning if you want."

"No, you can go ahead and read it from where you're at."

"It's a *mystery*, Josh. You can't just come in halfway through, it's-- here, how about this?" I grabbed the other book from my nightstand.

"The Five-Minute Iliad... what's it?"

I snickered a little at his sentence construction. "Greg Nagan used to write for Prarie Home Companion, he's a humourist. Five-Minute Iliad is a collection of classic literature, retold in approximately five minutes. There's the Iliad, Paradise Lost-- well, look, there's a lot."

"Christmas Carol." Josh smiled. "Hey, that's Dickens. He's your guy."

"My favourite writer." I corrected, kissing him. "You're my guy. Can I read it to you, then? It's really hilarious."

"You can read me anything, Sam. I like your reading voice." He settled against me, my pillows propping me against the headboard in a sitting position, and Josh lying with his head against my stomach.

---/-/---

After keeping him up reading five-minute classics and making him laugh, I found an actual classic and read him to sleep. Once Josh was snoring peacefully beside me, I rearranged us and drifted off myself.

---/-/---

Monday morning, my man made me breakfast.

Granted, it was toast and canned peaches, but the fact that he woke up before I did to prepare it for me, brought that and coffee up to bed on a tray, and woke me with a series of kisses, made it seem like a lot more.

The kisses he woke me with started feather-light, so soft I thought I was dreaming them, until his lips came firmer against my skin, and his tongue slipped into my mouth. He'd already brushed his teeth.

"Hey..." I grinned at him.

"Good morning." He helped me sit up, propping pillows behind me, then placed the tray on my lap. "It's all how you like it."

"Wow. Thanks, Josh."

"Don't mention it." He kissed my cheek. "I just want to start your day off right."

"You're an angel." I cupped his face tenderly in my hand. Josh only snorted.

"You and I both know that's not true."

"True right now." I kissed his chin, smiling against his jawline.

"Okay. I'm an angel. I guess angels are actually pretty fearsome creatures, anyway. All bright light and wrath of God. Flaming swords. I could deal with that."

"You've certainly had your moments of brilliant wrathfulness." I nodded. "But you can be awfully sweet sometimes... and I think you're gorgeous... I don't know about flaming swords, though."

"Only if I make some sort of really bad sexual pun."

"Don't go there." I shook my head. "We're having a moment, don't bring dirty puns into the mix."

"Okay." He stretched out beside me and watched me eat.

"Have you--"

"I'm good, thanks." He touched my arm. "Go on, eat."

I did, and we spent a stretch of time in companionable silence, Josh beaming at me as I sipped my coffee. When I finished, he took my tray back downstairs and gave me a gentle shove in the direction of the shower. As I began lathering my hair, he slipped in with me, taking over shampoo duties.

It was one of those mornings where lovemaking was in tender touches and caring gestures, so while his hands roamed my body with an intimate familiarity, and while I returned each stroke and caress, release was neither focus nor goal. It came, between kisses, because arousal was unavoidable, and becoming a little too difficult to ignore, but we continued our wet, soapy lovemaking post-orgasm, wrapped in each other's arms, cheek to cheek and chest to chest.

Josh towelled me off, big hands resting on my shoulders, warm through the layer of terrycloth, lips dancing over the side of my neck. When I was dry-- close to, at least-- I took his towel and did the same, sinking to my knees to dry his legs, then wrapping the towel around his shoulders and rubbing his back. I kissed the nape of his neck, his wet curls cooling my face. I went to the closet, and Josh to the dresser, and he grabbed underthings while I found a suit.

"What about you?"

"Phoning it in today." He shook his head. "Couple faxes. And turning that law library you've got in the basement into a second office."

I grinned. "Yeah? You're clever."

"Clever, nothing." He snorted. "You've got every law book you've ever owned down there, and some that I think used to be mine..."

"They did."

"Wow. When did you-- how'd you get them?"

"You were thinking about getting rid of them, remember? Because you weren't using them anymore, and you didn't have a lot of space, so, I took them. Just in case. And, because they were yours, and... you know, sometimes I'd hold one and imagine you back in law school, studying away... So, a second office?"

"Yup. You've got your main home office down the hall, and you've got a library downstairs, where you keep all your not-law books and a couple comfy chairs. But all the law books are down in the basement, so I figure I can set up something down there."

I nodded. Downstairs-- down-downstairs, was the basement-- part laundry room, part wine cellar, and part 'law library'. And it would be a really good home office for Josh, with all the law stuff close-at-hand.

"For now, I'll be using that old card table, and whatever spare chair I can find. Eventually, something more ergonomically sound, and maybe an actual desk from, like, Ikea or something. But my laptop'll be fine, and your basement's actually pretty nice. I can't believe you've got a seperate little *room* down there that's a wine cellar!"

Neat, huh? It's pretty empty... most of the wine I keep in the kitchen pantry. The only stuff downstairs is-- actually, it's just another bottle of that Silver Fox pinot noir, the six-year old one. And we've still got half a bottle of that in the kitchen."

"Good to know." He leaned his chin on my shoulder, handing me a pair of boxer-briefs and a t-shirt. "What makes the one in the cellar special? I mean, special enough to be in the cellar, when the rest of the wine is in the kitchen?"

"Well..." I blushed a little. "I'm saving it. For-- for about fifty years. So that when we have our Golden Anniversary, we can take out that bottle of wine, and it will be as old as our relationship. And... it'll be special."

"You're such a romantic." He said, but his voice was soft and not at all teasing. "Okay... I guess that means I'd better not get too old in fifty years, 'cause you're gonna need someone to drink that with."

And he kissed my cheek.

---/-/---

Josh-- barefoot, in jeans and a summer-weight sweater, was at the door with my coat as I headed out.

"Have a good day, babe." He kissed me softly, then grabbed me and kissed me again, with more passion, before letting me leave the house.

"You too..." I let out a small laugh, rubbing the back of my neck. "You've been particularly attentive this morning, is there something I don't know?"

"Yup." He took my hand, kissing my knuckles while his eyes stayed locked on mine. "Probably is. And hey, don't I always tell you to have a good day? Don't I always kiss you goodbye?"

"You don't always bring me breakfast in bed, wash my hair, towel me dry, and... not that I'm complaining, of course. You've just got me worried I forgot something important. It's still almost two weeks until Valentine's Day... I *know* it's not our anniversary."

Josh quickly covered his enigmatic smile with a look of practiced innocence. "I can't just feel like being sweet to my hubby-to-be?"

"Not unless you want something." I teased.

"Oh, I intend to get what I want." Josh promised me, that look coming into his eyes, the determined, strong look that always made me go a little weak in the knees, even when it wasn't directed towards me. That confident politico look he wore to the Hill, way back when. Every time Josh had a meeting on the Hill, I'd start to want him so bad... badly. And after we finally got our act together, if he'd had one of those meetings, and I'd seen him with The Look, I'd find an excuse for us to meet up after work at one of our apartments.

"I know your game, Josh Lyman..." I leaned over to kiss him again, my lips grazing his.

"Then you know I don't lose..." He whispered.

"Josh, baby, if I don't get to work..."

"Go." He laughed. "Go on. I'll see you tonight."

"I'll be looking forward to it." One last, quick kiss, and then I had to jog to my car and pray for light traffic. There was some heavy prep for Tuesday's all day affair, and the later I got in, the later I might have to stay... and the later I stay, the later I get home to my Josh and some heavy-duty ravishing.

---/-/---

I couldn't keep my mind off him that day-- his wake-up kisses, coffee in bed, our full-morning lovemaking session, The Look, just what he was up to... It soon became apparent that work was going to be slow and laborous today.

I called home at noon, and Josh answered on the third ring.

"Y'ello, Josh Lyman."

"Hey, how's it hanging?"

"Wouldn't you like to know. Hey, I made some real headway on this office down here... we're gonna need to get some more shelves for all the books that were in boxes, but the most important ones are all up now. I already used the place to make one of my calls." He sounded excited. I love it when Josh is excited, the way his eyes dance, and he can't quite keep still... I could picture him perfectly, hair awry, wiping his hands of sweat on the backside of his jeans and bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Great. I can't wait to see it."

"Yeah?"

"Well... I can wait, but only long enough to see *you* first."

"You wanna know?"

"Huh?" He had completely thrown me off.

"Today?"

"What about today-- Oh, thanks, just set it down-- Sorry, that was Eleanor, she just came in with my lunch... today is going a little slower than I had first anticipated."

"When will you get out of the office?"

"I'll be home in time for dinner, I promise."

"Okay, I'll order in. I've got CJ's number, she can tell me who I should call for a good delivery."

"I could--"

"Remember, you promised to be home in time."

"I will be. Whatever you've got in store for me, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Good, because I'm going all out for you tonight-- I won't have you tomorrow."

Tomorrow... I sighed heavily. On Tuesday night, I would have to spend the night in a hotel in Sacramento... with a full day, I wouldn't be able to drive home that night.

I've stayed in Sacramento hotels before, of course-- it's a part of the job sometimes, and it's not like it's a hardship, but-- I've managed to make it home each night since Josh has been here. So, it'll be our first night apart since he showed up. After four *years* of not getting to sleep with him.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll be home before dinner, and then I'm all yours for the night."

"Good. I love you, Sam... a lot. 'kay?"

I laughed. "Yeah... yeah, better than 'kay, Josh... I love you. Now I'd better eat quick so I can finish this work, so I can come home to you... I'll give you a call to let you know when I'm on my way."

"Sure. I should let you go... I'm expecting some word back on a thing, anyway. Hey-- who loves you, baby?"

I snorted with laughter this time. "Cute."

"Come on..."

"Josh does. Almost as much as he loves doing bad Telly Savelas impressions."

"Hey, I love you way more than my Kojak impression, which is not that bad."

"I love you, too. See you tonight."

"Tonight."

"Josh..."

"Sam?"

"On three."

---/-/---

When two o'clock rolled around, Eleanor knocked on my door and slipped in, grinning broadly.

"I brought you a fax!" She sang, laying it on my desk.

The fax read: 'We at The Weekly Globe wish to retract statements made about one State Senator Sam Seaborn-- it has come to our editors' notification that a recent article on Mr. Seaborn included several false statements. We are looking into the sources who provided this misinformation, and wish to apologize for any damage they may have done to Mr. Seaborn and the office he holds.'

Beneath that was a brief note asking if this was an acceptable measure. Beneath *that* was a victory chant in Josh's tell-tale handwriting. I laughed.

"Thanks, Eleanor. And-- apparently I have you to thank for bringing the article and its false statements to Josh's attention?"

"Hey, you said he was your personal attorney." She smiled. "I thought he'd want to have a few words with the Weekly Globe about, oh... suing for damages, slander, misrepresentation."

"I heard some of the words he had with them." I nodded. "He told *me* they were guilty of dangling participles."

"They were." Eleanor shook her head. "I read the article. If you'd call it an article."

"An article that can't keep track of it's articles?"

"There were misplaced modifiers." She said savagely.

"Eleanor," I patted her shoulder. "I'm glad you're a grammar nerd."

"We have to stick together, Sir."

---/-/---

I gave Josh a call that evening to let him know I was on my way, and headed for home. When I got there, he wasn't in sight, but I heard something upstairs. Ah, upstairs... it's a good place for Josh. Josh-who-has-been-making-me-think-of-him-all-day.

I hung up my coat and dashed up the stairs, leaving my briefcase outside the door to my office. Josh intercepted me in the hallway outside our bedroom, kissing me. Mm, that man can kiss... I sagged a little in his arms and just let him... just let him *go*. Let him roll with it, run wild, do whatever, just so long as he kept kissing me. He pulled back with a throaty little chuckle.

"I really got you, didn't I?" He smiled. "What did I do, to make you come home so... mm, like this, huh? Because I should really know, you know, for next time, how to really get you."

"You really got me." I sighed, resting my head on his shoulder. "You always have me. But you gave me The Look, Josh. When I was going out the door, you gave me The Look. The one that means I'm going to be so thoroughly *yours* tonight..." I pulled him against me even tighter, hands fisted in his sweater.

"Ah. My determined face. I knew I was sexy, but I didn't know me determined was *that* sexy."

"Are you kidding? You remember how I'd practically drag you up to my place when you got back from the Hill those nights? I get so worked up over you, Josh..." I kissed him, his neck and throat, with hasty, widespread kisses.

"I'll remember that. And, Sam-- I *do* remember those nights... I remember you... you were like-- like something out of this world, Sam. That first time I was back to my old, butt-kicking self up on the Hill after-- my recovery... I don't think I had ever seen you so-- wanton."

I may have blushed there, just a little. Because I may have gone a tad bit... wild, our first night. Well, not our *first* night, but our first night doing *that*. After seeing him back in action again, after being witness to The Look I had missed, I had dragged him home and begged him to *take* me, to really-- We hadn't had penetrative sex before. He was nervous about it, and to be honest, I was, too, but I knew I wanted it. I knew I wanted *him*. I think there's this something in Josh that touches off something primal in me. And this morning, he *really* touched it off.

"Hey, c'mon... you should get it while it's hot."

"Oh, it's always hot..."

"Dinner." He laughed, giving my butt a light swat. "Come on, Sam... I set it up special..."

I was lost. The wheedling did it-- Josh is a hard man to turn down under ordinary circumstances. When he does that-- the big eyes thing, and the hopeful little smile? I'm supposed to say no? That'd make me feel like such a heel! I started to turn for the stairs, but Josh tugged me forward.

"This way. Close your eyes."

I let him lead me by the hand, into our room. He turned me towards the wall-- no, not the wall. The sliding glass door. See, our bedroom has a little stargazing balcony-- part of the reason I bought the house, even though it's so much bigger than what I needed. We hadn't gone out on it yet, in a together sense. I've used it, but Josh and I haven't really done any gazing, apart from at each other.

"Don't open 'em yet." He whispered, and he moved about a foot to the right, to the stereo system. I recognized the CD as soon as it started-- it had come in the World Music boxed set, along with the Middle Eastern music I'd played in Josh's makeshift Casbah. Only this one wasn't the Middle East, it was Italy. "Okay. Open."

Outside on the balcony, he had spread out a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, a couple of cushions placed beside two perfect table settings. The half-bottle of wine sat between them, breathing. Two white taper candles were unlit, and a single red rose in a bud vase... and strung along the balcony's railing was a fake ivy garland and a string of fairy lights.

"Josh, it's--" I gasped, took it all in again. "It's beautiful..."

"Happy All-About-Sam night." He kissed the back of my neck, then led me out.

"Is *that* why I got breakfast in bed!" I laughed. "You are wonderful, you know that?"

"Yup. I already had *my* holiday, of course I know. Now it's your turn to know how wonderful you are."

My hand was in his, and he sat me at my place, serving me out of a take-out container from whatever Italian place CJ had reccomended to him. My dinner was a seafood linguini, and Josh had a pretty standard spaghetti and meatballs. I wondered briefly if the lack of parmesan was out of deference to Toby and his treyf rant from last night. Then again, it's quite possible that Josh just doesn't care for parmesan all that much. I don't know *everything* about him, after all.

No, but I look forward to finding out, if it takes the rest of my life.

"Well, I can see you're smiling." He grinned. "So that's a good sign. You still like that seafood linguini stuff, right? I remember you ordered it, that one time when we went out..."

"Yeah, I-- I love it. Thanks, Josh, this is... perfect."

"So now you know why I asked. About where you'd want to go."

"So now I know." I nodded. "This is just spectacular... Babe, it's-- I'm overwhelmed."

"You deserve to be overwhelmed like this." He took my hand again. "Each and every night of your life..."

"You do that for me." I whispered, my throat a little tight. "You really do."

We ate dinner as we watched the sunset. When it was a little darker, Josh lit the candles and switched on the fairy lights.

"You get those out of the Christmas box?"

"Yup. Found it in the basement when I was unpacking the Seaborn Law Library. Moved it up to the spare room-- you know, the one that doesn't have a bed in it. The storage room. Sam, what on earth were you doing with such a big house?"

"Waiting for someone to share it with."

"Sam, you are such a-- I'm supposed to be doing the romance thing for *you*, and you go and say-- I love you, you know that?"

"Yeah." I swallowed. "I know that."

"So about the house, though?"

"It had a library, Josh. A room with built in bookshelves all the way around! And it had this stargazing balcony, and a space for an office, and room for all my books. A wine cellar-- okay, so I don't, um, utilize much of that space, but... A laundry chute! Our house has a laundry chute. And what about our breakfast nook?"

"It's a great house, I just-- it's so huge. I hate to think about you spending all those nights here alone..." He leaned in close, breath caressing my cheek.

"Well, those nights are over. We've got new nights now, our nights." I kissed him softly and we both sat back.

He smiled at me. Just-- smiled, and watched me, his eyes gentle and warm. "Little more wine, babe?"

"Sure, if there's enough."

"Just enough." He poured the last few swallows into my glass. "Go ahead, I'm good."

"I-- I love what you've done for me, Josh. I really do. It's-- the gesture is eloquent, the thought and caring that went into it. This tablecloth on our balcony speaks more fully and richly of love than Keats or Shelley ever did."

"Speaking of eloquent." He teased, taking my hand yet again and pressing a kiss to the back. "I love you so much, Sam... never, ever forget that, how much I love you."

"I never could."

"I'm not always so good at saying it, I know my words fall a little short of-- well, Keats and Shelley. But if I can show it, then... then I guess that makes up for it, if I can make you overwhelmed with a tablecloth."

"You can." I touched his jaw, trailing my fingers towards his chin.

"Come to bed, Sam." He blew out the candles. "I'll clean this up later... now, you've still got one night in Venice."

---/-/---

As I set my empty wineglass down on the dresser, I wondered what my one night in Venice would entail, exactly. I had some hopes...

Josh followed me in, gently took my tie off, and led me to the bed. He climbed in first, then patted the mattress. I hopped in, still just following his lead. Usually, I had the side by the wall, but tonight he'd gotten in first and moved only slightly towards the centre.

He moved me to sit between his legs, leaning against his chest. He sat against the pillows and the headboard, and we reclined like that for a while, just listening to the music, my gaze drifting to the sliding glass doors, and the sparkling string of lights, brighter than the few stars that broke through the Southern California sky.

"Do you know where we are?" Josh whispered.

"Mm, bed." I sighed, feeling myself relax further.

"Venice." He corrected gently. "And this is not a bed, it's a *gondola*."

"Oh, pardon me." I grinned. "A gondola."

"Yes. And we're floating gently on the canal... The rope tying us down is long, giving us room to drift. There's no one else around-- we're alone."

"No one else around, huh? In a big city like Venice?"

"That's right. There's a carnival going on, in another part of the city. Everyone's there. You can see the fireworks over the tops of the buildings."

"But we didn't go."

"No, we didn't go." He was rhythmically stroking my arm now, voice melodic and low in my ear. "We wanted to be alone, somewhere peaceful, where we could see the stars. Close your eyes and imagine it, Sam... there's no cars, so you don't have all that smog, you can *see* the stars. And the fireworks, over off somewhere. You can hear them, but they're so far, they aren't loud. You can hear the music from the carnival, too, soft... you can hear the water lapping at the sides of our gondola."

"Mm... I can hear it." I turned to rest my cheek against his chest. His heartbeat stood in for the waters of Venice. "It's beautiful."

"All those old-fashioned buildings, dimly lit by streetlamps. The sky is dark except for the stars-- the streetlights aren't like LA streetlights, they're all-- victorian-y. They're not flourescent, they're just... nice. And the moon is full, in Venice."

"Is it?"

"It is if I say it is." He gave me a squeeze. "And it's All-About-Sam night, and I say it is, because if the moon is full... then I can see you in the moonlight."

"In the moonlight... how's that working out for ya?"

"You're beautiful. The soft blue light on your skin, and the way the shadows fall. How bright your eyes are, in the moonlight..."

"And you say you're not eloquent."

"I've been practicing this all day." He admitted.

"Tell me, about the shadows." I sighed, settling. Wanting to burrow closer.

"The shadows, in the moonlight, are very flattering. They make you look ethereal-- more ethereal, I mean... make your lips full, tempting... and we're floating, in our private gondola, with no one else around... so, I kiss you." He leaned forward and caught my lips, explored my mouth with his tongue.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Just you and me, in the night, with the moon and the stars, and the music. And the sound of the water against our boat. And there are fireworks, in the distance. And you taste sweet, spicy, heady... a little like the wine, and a little like-- like a promise."

"Like a promise?"

"Yeah."

"What's the promise, Josh?"

"Another kiss." And he claimed it. When the kiss ended, he began unbuttoning my shirt, slowly, very slowly. "Imagine it, so clearly it's like you're there."

"Are you undressing me in Venice?"

"Yes." His hands slid through the open vee he'd created, warm through my undershirt. "Because I can. Because no one is around. And because you've always wanted to make love in a gondola."

"Since when?" I laughed.

"Since me."

"Yeah." I nodded. "That sounds about right."

Josh had me naked before too long, and I rolled over. He held me in place atop him.

"Remember; we're in a gondola. You don't have a whole lot of room, we've got to keep very, very close..."

"Very, very close... and how close is that?"

"It's a singularly narrow gondola." He replied, twinkle in his eye. I managed to divest him of clothing without losing my place lying against him, and he suddenly paused. "Sam, did you just toss my pants into the canal?"

"You already threw all my clothes overboard." I shrugged.

"Ah, well. No one else is around, so it's all right. They wouldn't dare, not on All-About-Sam night."

"Venetians fear your wrath, Josh." I kissed him.

"Mmm... everybody fears my wrath... except you..."

"I'm not subject to your wrath. I'm subject to something else you've got there..." I slipped a hand between us, and Josh grabbed my hips, pulling me down, bucking up against me.

The electric pulse that ran through me at the contact between us was as intense as it had ever been, only grew stronger as the friction continued. Josh was kissing me with abandon, verging on the edge of rough, but never quite crossing that line. Some other time, maybe. Some time when we're not in Venice, when it's not All-About-Sam night, and he gives me The Look... tonight, I don't think he will. I think he'll bring me to a stunning orgasm, like he does. I think he'll have me basking in the afterglow surrounded by his arms. I think he'll-- oh, I hope he'll do *that* again...

"Josh!" That was about as much as I could articulate.

He understood, repeated the flick of his tongue behind my ear and the brush of one thumb over a nipple, as he rolled his hips up against mine.

"Josh..." I whined, my forehead falling to his shoulder. "Josh..."

He was shifting my hips away from his now, and at first I was well and truly flummoxed, until I opened my eyes, and from my vantage point I could see him spreading the thick, viscous lubricant generously over his arousal.

"Yes..." I whispered, my upper body burrowing closer to his as I raised my hips, allowing him access. He stretched and lubed me, touch gentle and too slow, but I'm not exactly accustomed to the intrusion anymore, however welcome, and I understand the necessity of it. It calls for at least as much restraint on his part, I'm sure, if not more.

It isn't that I don't like to top-- we tried it both ways, back in DC. Both were good. But, it's like I said, The Look... he just makes me want this, I-- I answer, to this powerful side of him, it's something almost feral. Almost feral, and yet Josh is so gentle with me... the man who gives me that I-get-what-I-want look of determination, of raw power, and drive, and... And he's so gentle, because as much sex as we've had since he arrived, this is the first time in four years that I've been penetrated, and Josh is always so careful with me...

So how many times does that make it, that he's overwhelmed me tonight? I let out a sob as he scissored two fingers inside me, moving at a crawl, and he instinctively *knew* it was a good sob, as he pressed a kiss to my hair. Finally, he guided me down, his hands gripping my hips, controlling my rate of descent as I lowered onto him. His cockhead breached my opening, and the crown pushed past, and then he was in, slowly taking us even further.

The blood pounded in my head, and for a moment, I thought I did hear water, only it was too rough to be a Venetian canal, and I recognized my own fevered pulse as everything built up inside me, moved me closer to the edge.

Josh paused, his hands halting me, and we were frozen in time for a prolonged moment as we kissed. Then he pulled back, framed my face with one broad palm, and looked into my eyes.

"Sam," He breathed, my name soft on his lips.

I managed a nod.

"I can see them... the fireworks, over Venice." He said, and then I was being pulled back down, or Josh was surging upwards, I don't know which, only that he filled me, and at that moment, I saw them, too.

I was a deadweight on his chest, and even when I had the presence of mind to worry about crushing him, my limbs refused to cooperate. I felt him gingerly remove himself from me, and then he rolled me onto my back, in the place he'd occupied, and he slipped out of bed.

"Josh..."

"Let me go get a cloth to clean you up." He stroked my cheek again, smiled gently.

"You can't. 's a gondola."

"Well, then I'll swim for it. You tossed my pants overboard, anyway." He bent over, kissed my forehead, and moved away, returning with a warm washcloth.

First, he very gently wiped between my buttocks, cleaning up a smear of lube or a dribble of his semen. He wiped my own genitals with a fond familiarity before clearing away the sticky mess that coated his. He licked a spot on my chest, where I had come, then went over both our bodies with the last clean space on the cloth.

He disappeared long enough to drop it down the laundry chute, 'swam' back for the dinner things. I was beginning to doze off, light opera playing softly, but while he was down in the kitchen, I dragged myself out of gondola and brushed my teeth. Josh came in as I was finishing up, did the same, and followed me back to bed.

"And how was All-About-Sam night?" He asked, switching off the stereo and nudging me over towards my side of the bed so that he could climb in.

"Wonderful." I yawned, tracing up and down his torso. It was something I just always did, after making love. I think I missed this little intimacy as much as I missed the sex itself.

"Good. You go on and sleep now, Sam... I'll be here beside you."

I didn't need reassurance, but I still liked hearing it. I snuggled up to him.

"I'll always be beside you." Josh whispered, and it was the last thing I heard as I fell asleep.

---/-/---

The first thing I did when I woke up that morning, at a quarter to five, was groan. I didn't even open my eyes, just groaned. Sacramento... all day, all night, Sacramento.

Josh was lying on his stomach, head turned to the side and one arm flung over my waist. He echoed the groan softly and turned towards his pillow.

"Come on, baby." I shoved his arm, but he was tenacious-- it came back up around me. "Come on, baby!" This time I rolled him half-onto his side. "I've got to go to work."

"Nah." He shifted closer to me.

"Yeah, babe, I really do. Am I going to have to climb over you?"

"Mm."

I started to do just that when his arms shot up around me, pulling me down on top of him. He then rolled us so that I was on my back, a grinning Josh atop me.

For a moment, I was just poleaxed.

"I wasn't asleep." Josh laughed. "Gotcha."

"Uh, yeah." I blinked.

He kissed me, then let me up, even gave me a hand out of bed. "I could make it up to you in the shower, if that's how you're feeling..." He enticed.

"No time. Josh, I'm sorry, I-- you know what today is going to be like..."

His grin faded and he wrapped his arms around my waist, resting his forehead against my shoulder. "Yeah. Okay, shower. I'll behave."

"Josh."

"I'm behaving."

"You're still following me."

"Yeah, I've got to."

"You've got to?"

He grinned, brilliant. "I've got to, Sam. See, here's the thing, being a mere consultant-- a highly valued, highly paid consultant, but a consultant nonetheless-- I do not have the heaviest of workloads. I can often do my job from home. However, this morning, I have to leave the house when you do."

"Since when?" I mumbled, turning the taps on.

"Since I decided to get to know my adopted State." He was practically bouncing and glowing now. "Sam, I am spending today sightseeing. I may pick up some history, I may pick up some saltwater taffy. But I will be spending *tonight* in a hotel room, in Sacramento, with my fiance."

"Josh--"

"I called your hotel yesteray and adjusted your reservation to two. While you're busy doing-- whatever it is you're doing, I'll be wandering Old Town Sacramento. I'll check out the Capitol at some point. And then, when you're done, we'll have dinner and head back to *our* room."

The water was warm, and I dragged him in. "You *are* brilliant. You are wonderful, you are-- Josh."

We kissed, showered quickly because we really had no time to spare. I got dressed-- black suit, white oxford, power tie. No hard decisions there. It took Josh considerably less time to pull on khakis and a t-shirt, and he was filling up my travel coffee mug when I reached the kitchen. I grabbed a couple of cereal bars from the pantry, Josh snagged his jacket, and we were out the door.

---/-/---

"See you tonight." I said, kissing him hastily as I slipped out of the car in front of the Capitol building.

"I've got my cell-- call me when I should come by." He waved me off.

I headed in to my day-o'-meetings with a lighter heart. I couldn't wait to take Josh to dinner, to hear about his day of familiarization with his adopted State, to watch him gesture with a slice of pizza as he spoke, or send a piece of pasta flying off the end of his fork-- I already knew where I was taking him to eat. And then we'd head over to our hotel room-- Josh, brilliant, wonderful man that he is, repacked for the *two* of us yesterday while I was at work. Tomorrow morning, I'd check over some last details, have my final meeting, and then we'd drive home.

Lunch we'd had to eat on the road-- the drive to Sacramento is a pretty long one. We took Josh's car, so I wasn't obsessing as much over whether or not he threw the trash away ASAP. Dinner was going to be at an all-you-can-eat pizza/pasta bar. Not the healthiest choice, but it's a warm, wonderful little restaurant, and Josh'll love it. The rest of the week, we can eat healthy, but it's Josh's day to familiarize, so I am taking him to the nicest little restaurant the area has to offer.

Eleanor was already in the building-- the woman must get up at four! "Here's the files you need."

"Thanks."

"Looking sharp."

"Thanks."

"And grinning like a doofus. You know, a sharp, successful doofus."

"Josh is sightseeing today." I explained. "I thought I'd be spending the night away from him, but he adjusted my reservation for two-- he's... buying saltwater taffy... Anyway, he's here tonight."

"You're cute, Sir." She nodded. "Have a good meeting."

"Thanks!"

And I was going to. Josh was sightseeing, I was on top of the world.

---/-/---

Josh strolled up to me that afternoon, grinning. He had a styrofoam cup in one hand and a sack in the other. I got up from the bench I was sitting on, but he shook his head.

"It's nice here!" He called. "Let's sit for a while before we go eat."

So we sat, next to war memorial statues and shady trees, and Josh set his bag between us and offered me a drink. I shook my head, he throttled the last sip out of his Coke, and threw the cup away, sat back down beside me.

"That had better not be all saltwater taffy."

"Nah." He shook his head, grin still in place. "I got some things. I got a souvenir for my mom, when she comes over for the wedding, and something for Donna, and something for Leo. I think that's a protocol thing, getting stuff for your people. Anyway, I also got you a present."

"Yeah? I thought All-About-Sam night was yesterday."

"I know, but it's just a little present, and I thought of you, so I got it."

"You're sweet." I leaned my head against his shoulder. Wow... being out was so... freeing.

"Yeah. Also, I don't really like saltwater taffy that much. But apparently Sacramento produces a lot of it."

"Yeah."

"I got some other candy, though, because apparently, The Candy Barrel, it's an institution."

"I don't think The Candy Barrel is an institution." I shook my head.

"It's a candy institution, Sam."

"Now Bellevue, *that's* an institution..."

"Whatever. It is, so."

"Okay. What's my present?"

He pulled a smaller bag out of the big one and handed it to me. Inside was a magnet-backed little stuffed man in Victorian garb. I read the tag and laughed. "It's Charles Dickens!"

"In magnet form. He'll not only churn out some of the greatest examples of English literature, he'll stick to your fridge. He can hold up your grocery list, *and* move you with the heroic sacrifice of Sydney Carton."

I kissed him. "You're wonderful!"

"Yeah. I just-- I had to get 'im for you. And these--" He fished out a little bag of Jordan almonds. "They're one of those, you know, traditional little wedding things. You can eat 'em now, I mean, but-- you know. Part two, of the gift. Wedding nuts."

I laughed again, then kissed him again. "Why don't we have them after dinner? I want to take you to this great little restaurant..."

"Sure. Car's this way-- restaurant in Old Town?"

"Yeah. We can use the parking garage down there-- unless you plan on feeding a whole lot of coins to the meter."

"And walk? I've been walking all afternoon. We'll go back to the parking garage."

"The restaurant's not far from the garage." I assured him.

"What kind of restaurant?"

"Pizza and pasta, in all-you-can-eat bar form."

"Sam?"

"Yes, Josh?"

"You're wonderful, too."

We held hands the rest of the walk to the car.

---/-/---

Josh proceeded to regale me with tales of his adventures. First, he hit the Candy Barrel, which did not surprise me at all. Then, he knew nothing about buying presents for women, and the saleslady somewhere had to help him. Then once he had gifts for his mother and Donna, it took him forever to find something for Leo. Then he left Old Town and went to the mall, found the bookstore, and all was well with the world. There were various things in between-- an African art place where he saw wooden giraffe statues, but decided against buying one for Leo, or passing the sign outside Johnny Rocket's in the mall that said 'malteds' and nearly bursting into laughter because of... some story, which he also regaled me with.

He told me about all the things he saw through store windows that he decided I should own-- shirts he thought would look good on me, a giant kite that looked like a dragon-- I forget his logic behind this one, but the kite did sound pretty cool-- the entire stock of the Museum Company store...

Between those tales of shop-related derring-do, he asked questions about my day, about legislations and budgets and thirty-to-forty percent of that jazz.

Then, shoving aside his empty plate and looking thoughtful, he nodded. "Sam, we should register at that museum place."

"Museum Company?"

"Yeah. I don't know if they have a registry, but you should totally get in on that. Like, they've got-- stuff, Sam, stuff you like."

"Tomorrow before we drive home, you can show me the stuff I like." I smiled, taking his hand. "What did you get at the bookstore?"

"Oh, no. No, no. That, my dear Sam, is a surprise."

"Is it?" I leaned forward, intrigued. Josh moved a plate of tomato sauce out from beneath the end of my tie. "Josh, I already had my day... what's a surprise?"

"Valentine's Day." He knocked on my forehead gently. "And you'll *wait* for it, and you'll like it."

"I'd like it now."

"Sam..."

"No, I'm pretty sure I'd like it now."

"You got a present already."

"Yeah, I know, but now you know how I feel when *you* play difficult." I leaned back, crossing my arms.

"I do not!" He said, affronted.

"Josh, you do it all the time. You *admit* to it. I could *quote* you."

"Okay, okay, sometimes I play difficult." He waved the accusation and admission off. "Anyway, now you have to buy me a present before Valentine's Day..."

"I have one in mind." I said smugly. It was true, in a very vague sort of sense. I had an idea as to where to *take* him... I suppose 'present' could be incorporated...

"Hey, I'm done when you are." He nudged my foot under the table. "Wanna head back to our room? I'll show you the things I got for Mom and Donna, and we can eat those almonds and snuggle."

"You've won me over." I grinned, getting up and paying the check.

---/-/---

In our hotel room, we sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, leaning back against it, nearly shoulder to shoulder. Josh presented a large musical snowglobe first, a miniature Capitol inside, sitting in a field of tiny golden poppies and surrounded by swirling 'snow' and glitter.

"For Mom. She collects things like this. It plays 'California, Here I Come'. I figured she'd like it. She's got one from when she visited me in DC, after-- she's got one from DC, they can... I don't know, keep each other company. Whatever snowglobes do."

"Does the DC one play music?"

"National Anthem. Got the White House in it." He shrugged. "I always thought it should have little scenes of chaos in all the windows, to make it more realistic."

"Like a tiny you talking about a secret plan to fight inflation?"

"Or just make part of it on fire." He shot me a grin, and I kissed him.

"It was smoke. And you were a part of that one, too."

"Yeah. Guess so. The little snowglobe White House always looked so... sedate. Majestic."

"The real one is majestic." I pointed out.

"Yeah, but it's... it's got chaos. The little one only has chaos when you shake it really hard."

I laughed. Josh pulled out a tiny box from a jewelers. "This is for Donna, for being a member of the wedding party."

It was a broche of a tiny woman on skis, decorated in rhinestones.

"Cute. I should find something for CJ..."

"They had a rhinestone flamingo."

I snorted. "She'd kill me."

"Maybe they had a goldfish. Anyway, this is for Leo." He pulled out one big coffee table book, best photos of Time, or Life, or both. After that, he pulled out a tiny box which claimed to have everything one needed to run for President.

"Campaign-in-a-Box?"

"I think he'll get a kick out of it."

"I think that's what we started out with when we won the election."

He laughed, kissed me, leaned against my shoulder for a long, comfortable silence. After a few moments, he found the Jordan almonds, placed one between my lips.

We fed each other almonds, the only light in the room flickering over us from the hotel TV, playing 'Bringing Up Baby' with the sound muted. My thoughts faded away, until only those of Josh remained. I wondered if we would feed each other almonds at the reception... I wondered if we would have Jordan almonds at our reception-- they didn't seem ballroom-y to me. Not that I'm an expert or anything.

We dressed for bed, brushed our teeth-- the hotel bathroom didn't have side-by-side sinks, so we had to squeeze around the one, which wasn't half-bad. Josh took the side of the bed that would've been his at home, and I took the side that would've been mine.

"I like this movie." I murmured, as we watched the end. Josh took my hand beneath the blankets.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Sometimes I think, it could be a-- well, no, nothing."

"Come on. Tell me." He said, not pressuring, just inviting.

"Nothing, it's only-- well, I could definitely see me knocking over a dinosaur." I laughed. Josh did, too, kissed my cheek.

"Yeah, well... if you ever do, I'll be there to catch you, okay?"

"Promise?" I yawned, turned off the TV, settled down against him.

"Promise."

"I like movies where dinosaurs get knocked over." I remarked, and he laughed again.

"How many are there?"

"Well, there's 'On the Town', isn't there?" I defended. "With Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra, and Ann Miller and Betty Grable, and that other guy, and the blonde girl. The sailors go to a museum and knock over a dinosaur in that one. And it's a rollicking good time for all."

"Rollicking good time, eh? Okay, I'm sold." Josh wrapped his arms around me.

"You wanna know the other thing?"

"Sure."

"When I was in college..." I blushed. "Okay, so I had this theory, about how-- it's a gay movie. Or it could be. See, so Katharine Hepburn, of course she's really a woman, but she's also a metaphor. For a man."

"Because Cary Grant is gay?"

"No! No, because-- because it would make a great gay movie." I shrugged. "It was-- I was watching it at, like, two in the morning when I developed this theory."

"Because Katharine Hepburn is mannish?"

"Not in this movie-- in, like, some of the Spencer Tracy ones. Okay, now I gotta come up with more bad gay-movie theories."

"No, go on... I don't think it's a bad theory. He does go 'gay all of a sudden'."

"You're teasing."

"I'm not. And anytime you want to reclaim classic movies, you go right ahead. I'll watch 'em with you. You can tell me which parts are gay."

"I think it was mostly because-- it *was* two in the morning. And *I* was gay, and there *weren't* any gay movies-- or there were, but I was closeted, and I couldn't find them or see them. And I thought, well maybe *this* could be a gay movie, just for me, and then I wouldn't have to-- I don't know..."

"I understand."

"Yeah?"

"I thought 'Anchors Aweigh' was a gay movie." He offered. I kissed him.

"I love you, Josh."

"Love you, Sam. Get some sleep."

"Mm-hm." I snuggled up to him, still safe in his arms. One hand stroked over my hair, gently, and he pressed one last kiss to the top of my head as I fell asleep. I love that man...

---/-/---

Morning came, and I kissed Josh soundly. He sighed and curled around me, morning erection half-hard against my hip.

"Wake up." I whispered, stroking his hair, letting it hold to my fingers in soft ringlets. "Josh... Joshua Lyman..."

He kissed my collarbone and squeezed me, before slowly lifting his head. "Hey."

"Hey. I have a morning meeting and a couple things to finish up, and then we can hit the road."

"I was taking you to the mall first. The Museum Company store."

"Right. And there *is* a bookstore in town that I want to check out... I've never been there."

"A bookstore that *you've* never been to? Did they put it up yesterday?" Josh teased.

"No, I-- I couldn't go in before, because... I was in the closet. It's a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender bookstore and coffeehouse. Open Book, Ltd."

"Oh."

"I just wanted to have a look around..."

"Cool."

"We can eat lunch anywhere you want." I tempted.

"They have a place I walked by, called International Fries or something, it's all french fries--"

"Josh..."

"No, seriously, like they put different things on them, and each style is named after a different country or region."

"Why don't we get some to share as a snack before we start driving home." I offered. French fries, no matter how dressed up, did not sound like a lunch to me.

Josh nodded, accepting the compromise. "Continental breakfast?"

"Once I get ready. I'm going to shower, shave, get dressed, and then I'll head down--"

"Tell you what." Josh kissed me, thoroughly, and pulled me out of bed. "Why don't we shower... and then I'll run down and bring us up a tray while you get ready, and I can shave after breakfast. And then I'll pack everything up while you're in your morning meeting... I'll hang around here watching TV until checkout time, and then I'll head over to the Capitol and check out the tourist-y area while I wait. You can meet up with me, and we'll go."

"That's why you're the brains of this operation." I sighed, letting his arms slip around my waist, his body pressed close behind mine as we went to the shower.

I turned on the taps, feeling Josh's swelling erection nudge between my buttocks, gently asserting itself. We indulged in a little quick shower sex, kissing passionately, and Josh traced our names in the steam on the glass wall.

He dried off quickly and got dressed after, jeans and a polo-neck sweater, while I shaved, towel around my waist.

"If you didn't have a sharpened blade next to your face, I'd yank that sucker off." He commented, eyeing aforementioned towel brazenly for a moment, before heading down to collect our breakfast.

I dressed-- he'd packed me a dark grey suit, light blue dress shirt, and two ties, with a note reading 'just in case the first one I picked didn't look right after all'. I chose the striped one, dressed, made sure my hair was in place. There was a knock, and through the peephole, I could see Josh tapping his elbow against the door. I let him in, his tray laden with fruit, pastries, and a couple tiny boxes of cereal and a little carton of milk. Our room had it's own coffeemaker that brewed just enough for two.

Josh set the food out on the table by the window-- for him; a bagel with cream cheese, a little individually-packaged bear claw, a slice of canteloupe, and a tiny box of Cocoa Krispies. For me; a blueberry muffin, a little individually-packaged cheese danish, a banana, and a tiny box of Honey Nut Cheerios. I poured the coffee and joined him.

"Well, at least you got canteloupe." I sighed, looking over his selections.

"Bagel's healthy." He defended. "And I got you enough healthy stuff, didn't I? Banana. Heart-smart cereal. And don't even try to say you don't, in your heart of hearts, love the Svenhards." He pointed to the danish.

"I do. I love my cheese danish, I love my blueberry muffin. Cocoa Krispies, Josh? When did you become a ten-year-old? I know it was after you got out of the shower and put some pants on, that's for sure."

"I'm eating the canteloupe first."

I reached across the table to ruffle his hair. "Love you."

"Love you, too." He grabbed my retreating hand, pressing a kiss to the palm, his eyes twinkling. Sting of the health lecture successfully lessened.

There was some milk left over after being added to both cereal and coffee, about a swallow's worth, and Josh drank it out of the carton, despite the face I'd started to make. After breakfast, we both brushed our teeth, I put on the tie I'd chosen, and I kissed Josh deeply by the door, wanting a little something extra to think about when the morning's meeting hit its seventh inning stretch.

"Go get 'em, Tiger." He grinned, letting me go reluctantly.

"Don't forget anything when you pack." I warned.

"I won't." He promised, and I kissed him once more.

"Three?" My thumb traced a soft line over his cheek.

"Three." He whispered, and after those beats passed, we closed the door.

---/-/---

Corny as it sounds, I counted the minutes until I was through. After all, we do have four years of seperation to make up for, four years of telephones and e-mails where we used to see each other every day. Four years of photographs and packages in the mail. Four years...

Josh was in the rotunda, looking at architecture. He let out a low whistle as I jogged up to him.

"You sure do have a knack for finding pretty buildings to work in." He slung an arm around my waist.

"Yeah, well." I shrugged. Anything in me seemed too big or too far to convey.

Josh looked into my eyes, cocked his head to one side. Smiled. "Hey."

"Hey yourself."

"Come on. Let's go eat. Mall? Johnny Rocket's? We can share a malted with two straws, it'll be like a gay Norman Rockwell painting."

I laughed at the dubious temptation. "And we can go to the Museum Company store after. And then Open Book... and then we'll get those fries you wanted and we can hit the road."

"And then we'll get home." He continued. "And we can order pizza and watch TV while we eat, sitting so close we touch. And then you can take me to bed. Sounds like a plan."

"Sounds like a plan." I echoed, momentarily forgetting my 'eat healthy the rest of the week' plan, and the fact that we'd had pizza last night.

Outside, there was a family of tourists. The mother was pointing out the Capitol and talking about California history, in the tone schoolteachers use, and the youngest child, a boy in maybe third or fourth grade, was making a show of being interested while his eyes strayed to a squirrel on the lawn. There were two daughters-- one of them had the camera, the other looked over and spotted Josh and I. She nudged her sister, grabbed the camera.

It would be nice to think that the conversation began something like 'Susie, look, it's a real State Senator! And he's got the former White House Chief of Staff with him!', but I'm fairly certain it went more like 'Susie, look, it's a real gay man, and he's got another one with him!'. Not that I minded that-- it was a fact of life, now that I was out of the closet. I just would've liked to think that it was politics that caught her attention, that's all.

Of course, the sister's name probably isn't Susie at all.

I turned to whisper to Josh. "Those girls are taking a picture of us."

He smiled winningly at them, which made me laugh.

"You *were* in the paper. You made the *cover* of Newsweek." He whispered back.

"They're teenage girls, I think they're looking and giggling because you have your arm around me."

"They're looking because you're hot." He raised his eyebrows at me.

"They're teenage girls." I repeated.

"And you're hot." He said, very slowly and clearly. "Something that appeals to teenage girls, in case you hadn't noticed. I'm not so bad myself, of course. I have groupies." He preened.

"Maybe they're a part of your fan club." I shook my head, grinning. "It's because you had your arm around me."

"And you're hot. And I'm hot. They were scoping us."

"Whatever. Scoping." I snorted. "They're teenage girls."

Josh squeezed my waist and, flashing another look to the tourists, kissed my cheek, angling us towards them and taking his sweet time about it.

"If I see this in 'The Enquirer'--" I joked.

"The Enquirer can kiss my legal degree." He said grandly. "If 'The Enquirer' messes with you, they are going to find themselves in a lot of trouble. Screwed with their pants on. I mean it, I--"

"Have two degrees from Harvard. Was a Fulbright scholar. Went to Yale." I sighed good-naturedly. "There's the car."

"I know there's the car, I parked the car." He opened the passenger's side door and stood back. "Get in, I can drive."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You've got to take us home, so... I figure I can drive us from here to the mall, and then to your bookstore, if you can give me directions."

"You're a peach." I kissed his cheek before sliding in. Over his shoulder, the two girls squealed or something, attracting their mother's attention, and were summarily dragged into the Capitol to look at the displays on the different counties or something. I think they got another picture of us.

"You in?"

"Yeah."

He closed the door before walking around. I contemplated locking him out, just for a quick moment, but I didn't. This time.

---/-/---

Josh and I had burgers and fries, and *did* share a malted with two straws. A waitress with a black bobbed haircut 'aww'-ed over that image as she collected our empty baskets. 'Julie', according to her nametag. She had taken our orders with a southern accent, and had asked if I was really *the* Sam Seaborn who once worked at the White House and was gay in Newsweek. Josh said I wasn't just gay in Newsweek, but at home, too, and she had said 'Oh! This must be your boyfriend!', and something about how cute we were.

I decided to tip her extra when I overheard her telling one of the dishwashers to shut his mouth. From the dishwasher, I had only caught the word 'queer', but I could fill in the blanks pretty well. She was already getting a pretty good percentage just on service, anyway.

---/-/---

The Museum Company store did indeed have stuff I liked. Reproduction sculptures and art prints, pens and ties with daVinci sketches decorating them, or Frank Lloyd Wright, or art deco, or cubism. Umbrellas with art on the inside, and Dress- Me-Up David magnet sets. Books on art and art history, and history-history, big, beautiful coffee-table books.

Josh seemed to enjoy watching me look through everything. Every so often, he'd say 'that reminded me of you' when I paused at something that caught my eye. He'd done a fairly accurate job of predicting what I'd go to, too. I ran my fingers over the marble of a tabletop statue. Greco-Roman wrestlers, locked in combat. The bodies were exceptionally well done-- you could see muscles straining beneath skin, taut, tense, almost as though it were real. But the faces... the faces didn't match. They wore looks of serene contemplation, as though they were studying a field on a bright spring morning, instead of grappling in an arena somewhere. They were almost smiling.

"This is *so* mis-labeled." Josh snorted, coming up behind me.

"Hm?"

"Seriously, I bet when they found the sculpture that this is a reproduction of, they just assumed they were right, being pretty ethnocentric and unusually prudish. But when the guy sculpted it, he wasn't trying for a flawless interpretation of Greco-Roman wrestling, he was trying for a flawless interpretation of Greek Love. They put it in art, I've seen it on vases. Vases... how do you pronounce it? Like vay-ses, or like vah-ses?"

"I pronounce it 'urns'."

"So what's a Grecian urn?"

"Hm?" I turned back to him.

"Buck and a quarter an hour."

"He's not making very much."

"No, but that's the way my dad always told it. I guess a buck and a quarter went farther when he heard the joke from his dad." Josh shrugged.

"It sounds better, anyway." I said. "It has a rhythm."

"Yeah." He smiled. "I thought so."

"Someday we could get this sculpture."

"We should tell people it's what we want for our wedding present, a statue of two greek guys gettin' it on."

"Yeah." I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, that's exactly what I'm going to tell the former President of the United States he should buy as our wedding gift. A statue of two guys 'gettin' it on'."

"Seriously." He nodded. "We could name them. Steve and Terry."

"Which one's Steve?"

"Steve's on top."

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Can't you tell? Terry's a total sub."

"Steve doesn't seem that butch."

"He's butch compared to Terry."

"You win." I told Josh. "You win. Bookstore?"

"Let's get it on. In a book way, not in a statue way, I mean."

I laughed. "Come on. I still have some shelf space, we should think about filling that up."

---/-/---

At Open Book, I sent Josh to buy a coffee while I checked out. Success! He has a gift, in addition to the little day trip I have planned for his St. Valentine's Day. Our first in California... It's just a little book, but if his present to me is big, I can always buy him something else while we're there...

We swung by the fry place and Josh got something smothered in cheese and green onions.

I let him eat more than half.

---/-/---

The next day, we got the shipment of Josh's things from DC, and invited Toby and CJ over to help out.

"So now I'm physical labor." Toby grumbled, smiling-- well, for Toby it was smiling. You kind of have to know him to tell sometimes.

"Yeah, that's ri-- Oh, no." Josh threw his head back despairingly. "I told them *no* furniture!"

Out of the truck came his bedframe, a mattress, a club chair, a bookshelf unit, and a side table.

"No no no no no no no." Josh continued, shaking his head.

"Spare room, Josh." I patted his shoulder. "We'll just shove some boxes to the side... hey, I mean, we're going to have company later on. If anyone needs to stay at our place, it'd be nice to have a place for them."

He shrugged.

"Okay, I'll carry *this*." Toby picked up the end-table-- a flat surface on four legs, and not overly-substantial. "You guys can move that bed."

"Move that bed, tote that barge." CJ grabbed the slats to hold the mattress up, and Josh and I followed with the mattress itself.

---/-/---

We made up the junk room with the things that had been moved despite Josh's furniture ban, moving boxes either into the closet or out to the garage.

Josh's old bed, chair, side table, bookshelves, and a lamp cozied up the room a bit, and we put some of his older books on the shelves, and some family pictures. At some point, we'd come to a silent understanding that his mother would have this room when she stayed with us.

I liked it-- by the time we were halfway done, the room was very Josh. He had tacked an old Mets penant to one wall, and found some things from his childhood-- a baseball glove and a model plane, that we could place on the shelves between books.

"It's nice." I declared.

Josh nodded. "Mom'll like it... that's a picture of me when I was twelve, by the lamp. Oh! Here's one of me an--" He paused for a moment, but recovered swiftly. "Joanie. Joanie and me. I'm, like, two in the picture. We should put this one over here by the plane."

CJ was sitting, cross-legged on the bed, the near-empty box of Josh memorabilia beside her. Toby had the club chair and was leaning back in feigned exhaustion.

"This is the last of that box-- spy novel?"

"Library." I placed it into an emptied box that we were filling with the books we'd keep downstairs, and placed the next unopened box on the bed.

"Wow..." Josh laughed. "That's been in storage for-- years! I can't remember the last time those things were unpacked, I never even had them out when I lived in Washington."

CJ pulled out a floppy stuffed bear. "What's this fella's name?"

Josh blushed, pulling the bear into a hug. "I don't remember."

It was a pretty obvious lie. A raggedy bunny rabbit followed, then a little stripey stuffed kitten. Josh gathered both into his arms as well.

"Any of those guys have names?"

"CJ, I haven't seen these guys since, like, forever, okay?" He sighed, lining the animals up at the head of the bed. "The rabbit's probably something dumb like 'Floppy', all right?"

"Floppy." CJ played with the rabbit's feet. "Cute."

After the stuffed kitten came some more books-- classics like 'Treasure Island', a couple of Hardy Boys adventures, and 'The House at Pooh Corner' and 'When We Were Six'. Those all went onto the bookshelf here. The last thing to come out was a quilt. CJ folded it and placed it on the foot of the bed.

We had one more box, aside from those marked 'clothes'. It had a union jack scrawled on it with blue and red permanent marker.

"Ah, from your Fulbright Scholar period?" I teased.

"Let's find out." He shrugged. "This one's also been in storage for forever."

We found a couple sweaters that didn't look like they'd fit him anymore, a six-foot-long striped scarf, and...

"Children's books?" CJ quirked an eyebrow. "For a Fulbright Scholar?"

"Those aren't just *children's* books." He sniffed. "That's Rupert the bear."

I smiled softly. During the four years we were apart, I had gotten a no-special-occasion package from Josh. In it was a stuffed bear, a note pinned to his red sweater. 'Sam- found this little guy in the apartment-- I picked him up in England as a souvenir for somebody, but never wound up giving him, and he's kind of lived in the backs of my closets since. Anyway, his name is Rupert, and he said to me, he said 'Josh, I think I'd be much happier with Sam', and I said 'You know what, Rupert, so would I', and he said 'Yeah, but you can mail *me*', so I did. Anyway, if I can't be there to cuddle up to you, I guess you can hang on to him or something. He probably deserves a better life than I've been giving him-- maybe the California air will agree with him. Love you- Josh'.

I picked the Rupert books up and placed them on the shelf with pride.

CJ pulled a couple of records out of the bottom of the box-- English groups, some that had made it and more that hadn't. He actually had a record called 'Hunting Tigers Out in India'... I stacked them on the shelf and decided we'd have to find a way to display them.

After that, CJ went down to the kitchen to use the phone, her plan being to order dinner. She'd said she'd buy, as a housewarming gift. Toby had followed her down, and Josh and I were putting away the last of his clothes.

"What were their names?" I asked.

"You swear you won't laugh? I mean, and you promise you won't tell a soul, because I am so not kidding here, Sam, I--"

"I promise, I swear, I do so affirm."

"The cat's name is Tiger." He looked at his feet.

"I like 'Tiger'. What about the bear?"

"Okay, Sam, here is where you seriously have to swear you won't laugh."

"Josh, it doesn't matter what your bear's name is, I'm not going to make fun of you."

"I know you won't make fun of me, I'm saying don't laugh."

I looked at him, questioning.

"'Cause it's weird." He sighed. "I mean-- you'll understand, okay? It's weird."

"Theophrastus Bombastus Von Hohenheim?"

"No, Sam. Not that kind of weird." He said, giving me a strange look.

"See, 'cause if it was, I wouldn't laugh, but I might engage you in a discussion about Swiss doctor Von Hohenheim, his research, and his experiments utilizing corpses and ele--"

"My bear's name is 'Norman'." Josh said.

"Should I be affronted that you think my middle name is weird?" I asked.

"Not *that* kind of weird, either. I mean, weird that the bear I've had since I was three has your middle name, even though it's hardly a name that would spring to the mind of your average three-year old."

"I think it's a neat story. It's like... foreshadowing."

"Foreshadowing?"

"Yeah. Like fate, kismet, an omen."

"Wow. I always thought he was a bear with a kinda weird name-- weird for a bear!" He said quickly. "You know, and he's... not particularly portentious. But hey, who am I to argue with fate?"

"Exactly." I kissed him. "C'mon, let's head downstairs."

---/-/---

~FIN~

A/N 1: I have always adored Rupert the bear. When I was three years old, I was Rupert for Hallowe'en, and no one knew what I was supposed to be.

A/N 2: My father used to play the song 'Hunting Tigers Out in India'-- unfortunately, I don't have the name of the artist handy-- it's included in a book I have, but the book is currently on loan to a friend.

A/N 3: Theophrastus Bombastus Von Hohenheim (and I don't promise that the spelling is correct) is a real live dead Swiss scientist whose research on reanimation in part inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I just love his name.

Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page