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

[A note from the archivist: Due to its length this story has been archived in parts. Chapters 1-26, chapters 27-44, chapters 45-50, chapters 51-60, chapters 61-70 ]

At Home by Jesse Morgan

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 71

Jack took Kevin from Sam, gave him a playful swat on his bottom, and watched as he ran across the yard toward the house. When Jack was sure the child was safely among the adults, he sat on the grass next to Sam.

"So, where's your . . . I really don't know what to call him," said Jack.

"His name is Josh. He's upstairs sleeping."

"Sam, Dad and I have some career plans for you that will make your head swim, but there's no place in those plans for, uh, him. Why don't you just start getting used to the idea that you'll be a lot better off in the long run without being burdened with such a liability? We're family."

"Josh is NOT a liability NOR a burden, and I'd appreciate your never saying that again," Sam replied. "HE's my family. He's my chosen family and that's not gonna change. Why can't you just accept him, Jack? Don't you want me to be happy?"

Jack put his arm around Sam's shoulder and pulled him close. He kissed Sam on the side of his head.

"All I've ever wanted, Sodapop," he said, "is for you to be happy. You know I was more of a parent to you than Mom or Dad ever were. Don't you remember, I practically raised you until I left for college."

"Yeah, I remember." Sam took a deep breath and prepared to step off the proverbial ledge into unknown territory. He'd never wanted this moment to come, yet here it was.

"And I know what you did," he continued.

His voice was clearer and calmer than Sam expected it would be. And once the words came out, there was nothing he could do to take them back. Not that he wanted to, but if he did, it was too late now. How far he'd come since that morning in the bedroom.

Jack's posture against Sam didn't change. He didn't flinch, his breathing didn't catch, his muscles didn't tense. He just sat there with his arm around Sam as if nothing had been said at all.

Maybe he didn't hear me, thought Sam. He would have had SOME reaction. Is he just going to ignore me? Do I say it again or just let it go? You can't let it go, Sam. Not now, not after you've already said it.

"I know what you did," he repeated.

"What did I do?" Jack replied. His voice was as steady and calm as Sam's had been.

"When I was a kid. Things you did to me. It was wrong."

They both continued to look straight ahead.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jack finally said after a long silence.

Sam felt his stomach tighten. He'd known deep down Jack would deny everything, yet he'd held out hope his brother would just admit it, apologize, and life would go on. No such chance. Sam thought of Josh asleep in his bed, felt his presence, and pulled strength from him to plunge in and do what he had to do.

"You know what I'm talking about, so please don't make me get graphic."

Jack turned his head toward Sam. Their faces were so close they nearly touched. Jack's eyes met Sam's and pierced straight through him. Sam felt a cold shudder.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jack repeated. "You must be thinking of someone else."

"Jack, I know it, YOU know it, and you can deny it all you want, but that will never change the fact that it happened."

Jack tucked a lock of hair behind Sam's ear then ran his hand to the back of Sam's neck and gently massaged it. Sam wanted to pull away, but he was mesmerized by Jack's eyes and couldn't move.

"It wasn't like that, Sam, and you know it. I was just doing what any big brother would do for his little brother. You loved being around me, didn't you?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"And you were always climbing all over me, right?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"And didn't I mean everything to you?"

"Yeah, but . . ."

"Sam, if something wrong was going on, why would you keep coming back for more?" He squeezed Sam's neck gently, then a little harder.

"I was a kid. I didn't know any better. You consumed me and I was too scared to tell anybody. I had nobody to tell who would believe me. You were my confidante but you were also my predator. What was I to do?"

Jack's hand ran down Sam's arm to his hand. He took it in his and held it, letting his fingers toy with Sam's.

"We both know, bunny, that nothing ever happened between us that you didn't want to happen. You liked it because it made you feel special."

Sam's mind was reeling. Could this be true? Was Jack right? Did I fabricate the stories and embellish them over the years and it really hadn't happened like I remembered? And if something DID happen, was it because I wanted it to? His hand in Jack's felt detached from the rest of his body.

"So for your sake, you should put it all behind you and stop dwelling on it," Jack continued. "You're just going to mess up your mind if you keep blaming yourself for something that never happened. You'll let these imaginary lies come between us and you don't want that to happen, do you?"

Sam was silent while he sorted out the doubletalk in his head. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Did I say I was blaming myself?

"You don't want that to happen, do you, Sam? Sam?"

Sam pulled his hand away from Jack's. "No, Jack. I didn't make this up and I'm not taking the blame for something you did to me." His voice was firm, strong, self-assured.

"Hey, don't get all bent out of shape. I swear it wasn't like that."

"It WAS like that, and don't try and make me think otherwise. What you did to me isn't something a person makes up, not for ANY reason. Not as an adult, not as a child."

"Believe what you want to believe," said Jack. He put his fingertip to Sam's lips and whispered in his ear, "but we both know the truth, don't we?"

Sam knocked Jack's hand away and held on to his wrist. "Touching me and calling me by my childhood names doesn't work anymore," he said. "Things have changed. You can never hurt me again."

He stood up so he looked down on his brother. "Jack, I know what you've been doing to Kevin, and you've done it for the last time."

"I don't know what you're talking . . ."

"Shut up. You know damn well what I'm talking about. You're a pedophile, Jack, and I'm telling Robin and Brad what you did to me, and I'm telling them what you're doing to their son. I'm gonna tell Dad, Megan, David and Uncle Charles, and I might report you to the police and the California State Bar Association. After I think about it a while and talk it over with Josh, Toby Ziegler, and the Attorney General of the United States, I might come up with somebody else who would be interested in hearing about this. You're never gonna be alone with or touch a child again."

Jack blanched. "Be reasonable, Sam. Nobody's going to believe a crazy story you tell that happened eighteen years ago, and certainly nobody will believe what a four-year-old little boy says. IF he even says anything, which I don't think he will. You never said a word about this until just now, so what makes you think Kevin will?"

Sam smiled. "He's already talked."

Jack stood up. "Wait a minute. If you pull some crap like this it could destroy my career and ruin me. Why would you do this?"

"You're not gonna put Kevin through what you put me through. Or any other kids I don't know about."

"Ok, ok, listen. Knock off the hero stuff and I'll, uh, stay away from Kevin," Jack offered. "Would that make you happy?" The color still hadn't come back to his face.

"No. It's gonna happen, Jack. It HAS to happen."

"I still don't think you'll do it. You have no proof."

Sam put his finger to Jack's lips and whispered, "We both know the truth, don't we, Jack?"

Sam turned from his brother and nearly ran into Josh. Josh caught Sam by his arms and held on to him.

"I told you I'd be with you through this," he said.

Sam couldn't remember when he was more grateful to see Josh's face or feel his hands on his body. He wanted to just collapse against him but knew he needed to give the appearance of being strong in front of his brother, even though he wasn't so sure if his strength was real or imagined.

"Let's get out of here," he said. "It's been a long day."

Sam and Josh started across the yard.

"That it has," Josh agreed. "Are we just leaving or are you gonna tell anybody?"

"We're just leaving." He tossed the keys to Josh. "You drive."

"What about our bag?"

"We'll get it later. Let's just go."

Josh revved the engine and crept along the back streets until he got to the freeway, then he opened her up and was at a hundred within seconds. He glanced over at Sam who seemed oblivious to the speed.

"Do you wanna go straight to the hotel?" he asked. He hoped Sam would let him drive the car a little while, but he would to do whatever Sam wanted.

"Why don't you drive up the coast a little and maybe I'll calm down some. I'm too keyed up to go to bed or sleep. I'm so damn mad, Josh. You wouldn't believe it."

"What?"

"I don't wanna talk about it yet," Sam replied.

"Ooookay."

"Just drive."

"Can I turn the radio on?" asked Josh.

"No, please, if you don't mind, I'd just like to listen to the wind."

They rode in silence. Sam lolled his head back against the seat and looked at the sky. He started counting the stars but stopped at two hundred twenty-seven. Then he just looked. After a half hour he spoke.

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"There's a full moon out tonight."

"I see it. Nice."

"Get off the freeway here," Sam instructed.

Josh did, which put them on the Pacific Coast Highway.

"Watch your speed and go about five more miles. On the left there'll be a sign that says "Sand Dollar Beach". Pull off there and go down the road, it's a dirt road so slow down to Mach One, please." He grinned at Josh and put his hand on his thigh and squeezed it.

A few minutes later Sam pointed to a grove of palm trees. "There it is!" he exclaimed.

Josh drove right on by.

"You passed it!" Sam said. "I said `there it is'!"

"There was nothing but trees and overgrown weeds!" Josh replied in self-defense.

"Turn around, Josh, there's a road and it'll take us down to the beach. Switch places and I'll drive."

"No, I'll find it. Just be more precise."

Josh turned around at a closed service station and drove slowly, straining to see the entrance. Still, all he saw were palm trees and foliage.

"There!"

Josh slammed on the brakes. "Where?"

"There!"

All he saw was a makeshift wooden sign with "Sand Dollar Beach" scrawled in white paint. It was barely visible in the glow of the car's headlights. The road was little more than a trail wide enough for one car.

"We're taking this Ferrari down there?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Sure. Why not? Stop the car and let me out a minute."

Sam hopped out of the car, unfastened a chain across the road, waved Josh through, fastened the chain behind the car, and got back in.

"What was that all about?" Josh asked.

"The beach is closed. We're sneaking in," Sam answered.

"Are you crazy? Where does this road come out? IF we come out?"

"At the beach, man, at the beach!" Sam laughed.

"The longer we're in Southern California, the more you worry me. You're beginning to sound and act like a . . . "

"Like a what?"

"I'm not gonna say it," Josh replied.

"Why not?"

"You'll laugh."

"Say it. I won't laugh," Sam promised.

"You'll laugh."

"I won't."

"Surfer dude," Josh finally admitted.

"Surfer dude! I can't believe you said that!" Sam howled. "Surfer dude! Josh, don't let ANYBODY ever hear you say that out loud. Surfer dude!"

About that time Josh drove the Ferrari onto the hard sand the deserted beach. It was brightened by the light of the full moon, and they could see the whitecaps as they hit the shore. Sam directed him to drive a short way up the beach then turn off the ignition. The sound of the surf broke the silence. Its steady cadence was lyrical and they both leaned in for a kiss.

"That was nice," said Sam. "I've been wanting to kiss you all day."

"Things have been pretty rough, huh?"

Sam shook his head. "Did you hear what I said to Jack?"

Josh took Sam's hand and held it on his lap. "Yeah. I walked up behind you when he sat down next to you. I heard it all and I've gotta say, Sam, I don't know when I've been prouder. You stood up to that asshole and didn't quaver once. You didn't hesitate, back down, or let him intimidate you. You said what you wanted to say and he knows you're serious. And you know what else?"

`"What?"

"You didn't stutter."

Sam was quiet for a minute. "I didn't, did I?"

"No. You stayed in the present, Sam. You didn't fall back into the little boy Sam personality that Jack usually drags you into," Josh continued. "You were in the here and now the whole time."

"I had to be for Kevin. I had to be his voice. When it was happening to me, I didn't have a voice, and I couldn't just stand by . . ."

"Maybe your voice just spoke up for both of you," Josh suggested. "Ya think?"

Sam smiled at him. "It felt almost obscenely good to say those things to Jack, I'll give you that much. And Josh?"

"Hmmm?"

"I didn't know you were behind me. I thought you were upstairs sleeping, but I felt your presence the whole time. Like I KNEW you were there, but I didn't really believe you were. Is that cool or what?"

Josh brought Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it. "Yeah, sweetheart, that's cool."

"You told me you were gonna be right beside me the whole time I was with my family, and you have been, Josh. I couldn't have done any of this without you. There's no way I can . . .no way I can . . ." Sam's voice caught in his throat as he was overcome with emotion.

"You don't have to, sugar. I wouldn't have been anywhere else but by your side."

" . . . thank you," Sam completed his sentence.

They kissed again, and Josh ran his hand up Sam's t-shirt. His skin was warm from the sun being on him all day, and Josh knew tomorrow he'd have a tan.

"You smell good," Josh said softly. "What is it?"

"Something sexy, just for you."

"What is it?" Josh repeated.

"Coppertone. Come on, let's get out," said Sam. "I wanna feel the water."

"I'd rather make out under the stars," Josh replied.

"Speaking of the stars, look up there at that constellation." Sam pointed to the sky and pulled Josh's head over so he could follow Sam's direction. "See that cluster of stars?" he asked.

"Well, yeah . . . maybe."

"That's Delphinus . . . Remember Delphinus? ! I told you a story about that constellation once and you made fun of me.

"The dolphin, right?" asked Josh.

"So you WERE paying attention. I'm proud of you. This is the last time we'll be able to see her until next summer, so enjoy."

They took their shoes and socks off and set them on the hood of the car, then hand-in-hand, slowly walked down the beach. As the warm water rushed over their feet, the sand beneath them washed away.

"You know," Sam started, "the Chumash tribe of California called the dolphin constellation A'Lul'Quoy, which means "to go in peace and to protect". Isn't that a nice sentiment?"

"I guess."

"I mean, it's comforting to look up in the sky and think for . . . for who knows how many millions of years people looked at this same constellation and thought "go in peace and protect". The story goes that when the Chumash tribe migrated to the mainland, the grandmother built them a rainbow bridge to cross on. She warned them not to look down while they were crossing or they would fall into the sea and die. Some did, but because of her great love for children, she turned them into dolphins before they hit the water. Isn't that captivating, Josh?"

"Huh? Oh, well, captivating isn't quite the word I'd use. That's the end of the story, right?" "Let's wade out a little ways," Sam suggested, ignoring Josh's disinterest.

"Hold my hand," said Josh.

"You scared?"

"No. I just like holding your hand," Josh grinned.

The two waded out calf-deep, knee-deep, then thigh-deep into the water. It splashed up on their shorts and t-shirts and they laughed at the freedom of being away from Sam's family, away from the White House, and alone with each other. They danced and kissed and tasted salt water on their lips. They swayed together and tried to stay on their feet while they played like dolphins in the surf.

"This is great," said Josh. "No wonder you loved living at the beach. I'd like to just take off swimming right now."

"Not a good idea in the dark, but we always have tomorrow. It's our last day."

"Yeah, but it's so nice right now. Let's take our clothes off and just get out where it's deep."

"Josh. No. But we can do something else nice," Sam replied.

"What's that?"

Sam took Josh in his arms and kissed him. They turned in circles as they kissed and Sam ran his hand through Josh's hair. They pressed their bodies together and felt the want each had for the other, felt the love that grew in them as they kissed deeper and with more passion.

A phone rang. Both looked down.

"It's me," groaned Sam. "I don't believe this." He took the phone from the waistband of his shorts. "Sam Seaborn."

"Where the hell are you?"

"Dad?"

"Damn right. Why did you just disappear tonight without so much as a `kiss my ass' to anybody in your family? We waited and waited for you to come back out to the patio and finally sent people looking for you until we noticed your car was gone. How dare you just leave like that!" Daniel Seaborn was none too happy with his youngest son.

Sam started to wade back toward dry land and Josh followed him.

"I apologize, Dad. It had been a long day, I was tired and feeling uncomfortable. "There were a lot of people and I just needed to get away. I know I should have told someone I was leaving ~~ that was rude of me and I apologize," Sam tried to explain.

"You're damn right it was rude! Not even a `good-bye' to your Mother. And you wonder why I ride you like do, boy. You have no social skills, no regard for your family, no consideration for other people. Everything is Sam, Sam, Sam. Or now I suppose it's Josh, Josh, Josh. Was leaving his idea?" Daniel continued.

"No, sir. It was mine. He had nothing to do with it."

"Tomorrow you'll apologize to your sisters and your Mother. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir. I'd planned on calling them anyway. And I'd like to take Mother to brunch."

They reached the beach and sat in the sand. Josh wrapped his arm around Sam's thigh and Sam rested his elbow on Josh's knee.

"Son, I've scheduled a seven a.m. tee time at the club tomorrow. Come to the house and you can ride over with me," said Daniel. "Eighteen holes then lunch. I want you to meet some of the guys."

"Who else is playing?" Sam asked.

"You and me, Jack and your Uncle Charles."

"What about Josh?"

"What ABOUT Josh?" replied Daniel.

"I'm not gonna . . . "

"Going to. For the love of God, Sam, don't talk like you don't know any better in front of my friends tomorrow," Daniel interrupted.

"I don't wanna play golf unless Josh plays too," Sam finished his sentence.

Daniel laughed. "Well, that's just not going to happen, son. We already have four and he sure as hell can't tag along. If we didn't have a golf cart maybe he could caddy." Daniel laughed again at his own joke.

Sam was silent.

"Sam, you haven't seen your Uncle Charles and he wants to talk with you, Jack, and me about this business deal we have for you."

"I'm not interested."

"You haven't even heard it."

"Does it involve Governor Ritchie?" Sam asked.

"Yes it does, and with him in the White House you'll be in higher places than you ever dreamed."

"I work fifty feet from the Oval Office now! I'm not interested."

"Just hear us out, Sam."

"I'm not interested."

"You're so goddamn stubborn and foolish! Play golf with us tomorrow, Sam. You need us and we need you and it's a win/win situation all around."

Sam could hear anger rising in his Father's voice. He just wanted to get off the phone.

"I'm not gonna play golf unless Josh plays too," he said.

"Sonofabitch! Send your boyfriend to Disneyland for the day and listen to me! He couldn't play golf with us even if I said he could!"

Sam looked at Josh and was ready to go home, back to Washington.

"Don't tell me in this day and age . . . don't tell me, Dad, that this is a restricted club."

"We're particular about our members," Daniel replied.

"Tell Mother Robin will come by and pick her up in the morning, please," Sam said quietly, "and to be dressed to go out."

"Good. Then you can talk with Jack, Charles and me after our game."

"No, Dad. I'll be gone by then. Long gone."

Sam clicked his phone shut and sat there with his head hung. "I wanna go home, Josh. Take me home."

"What'd he say?" Josh put his arm around Sam.

"He's still pushing me to talk with him and Jack . . . and now my Uncle Charles . . . about some business deal, and he ragged on me about leaving the house without saying good-bye. He wants me to play golf with them in the morning," Sam replied in a monotone.

"Are you going?"

"Of course I'm not going! He wants you to go to Disneyland while I'm on the links. Can you believe that?"

Sam wrapped his arm around Josh's and buried his face into Josh's bicep. After a minute of silence Sam spoke against Josh's arm.

"Know why he wants you to go to Disneyland?" he asked.

"No," Josh replied. "Why?"

"Because he thinks you're fuckin' Goofy."

"You little shit!"

Josh rolled over onto a laughing Sam and tried to hold him down in the sand. Sam had anticipated his move and flipped Josh over his head, then scrambled to straddle him. They both laughed as they wrestled in the sand. Josh finally got to his feet and tried to get away, but Sam caught him by his ankle and pulled him back down into a heap of tangled body parts and laughter.

"Make love to me, Josh," Sam said in a rush. He was out of breath from wrestling and his adrenalin was up at the risk of having sex outside. Even though no one was around and most likely wouldn't show up, he knew the beaches were patrolled on a regular schedule every night. If he and Josh were caught, it could mean disaster for them both personally and professionally.

"Are you sure?"

Sam nodded. "I've never been more sure. Over there ~~ by the tree line."

Josh grabbed Sam's hand and they struggled to get up off the sand without falling in their desire to get to the trees. The light of the moon still made it bright, but palm fronds cast shadows and the crash of the waves on the beach as the tide came in gave their private little cove a sense of capriciousness and further piqued their excitement and aroused them.

"Here ok?" Josh asked.

"Yeah. We're out of sight. You know, we've gotta do this kinda quick and primitive. Teenagers come down here all the time and they don't always drive. We're not that far from the car."

"Yeah, yeah."

Josh pulled his t-shirt off over his head and spread it on the sand. "Use that for your knees," he said.

"Osh, how sweet." Sam pulled his shorts down around his ankles and got on his knees on Josh's t-shirt. He leaned forward so his bare ass was exposed to Josh. With one hand he began to masturbate himself.

Josh pulled his own shorts down and moved right behind Sam. They didn't have any lubricant and he didn't want to enter Sam dry, so he did what they'd done in the past in spur-of-the-moment situations like this: the collected as much saliva as he could in his mouth, parted Sam's butt cheeks, and let the spit dribble right where he would enter Sam. He caught a little on his finger and rubbed it on his own penis so he could go in smooth.

Josh balanced, lowered himself, and eased his penis inside Sam. He rocked slowly to inch his fullness into his husband so he could enjoy the anticipation of what was to come.

But he misread Sam's eagerness.

"Fuck me, Josh! Ram that mother into me right now!" Sam cried out. "I want it all!"

Without pause, Josh shoved himself forward and into Sam, filling him with his whole penis in one stroke. A gasp from Sam told Josh he'd gotten what he wanted.

"Now fuck me hard!" Sam repeated.

Josh held onto Sam's waist and slammed their two bodies together hard, like Sam wanted. They both groaned with pleasure and with what Sam had described as the primitive nature of the act. It was, quite simply, man on man, man taking man, man in man.

When they were finished they didn't take the time to lay next to each other on the sand and cuddle or giggle about what they'd just done. They put their clothes back on, shared a quick kiss, and headed for the car.

"Can I still drive?" Josh asked when they got near.

"No. It's my turn. You feel like that cheeseburger now?"

"Yeah! As long as they cook it . . . "

"Extra well done," Sam said in unison with Josh. "Don't worry, they will."

As Sam drove slowly up the little road to get to the Pacific Coast Highway, Josh began to laugh.

"What's so funny?" asked Sam.

"When we talk to Toby tonight I know what I'll say when he asks what I've been doing?"

"And what's that, I'm afraid to ask?"

Josh looked at Sam, cocked his head, and grinned. "Fuckin' Goofy."

********

Josh rolled over so his bare back was against the warm skin of Sam's bare back. The hotel bed was unfamiliar, but Sam's body felt like home. He snuggled in and had pulled the cover up to his chin when the phone rang. He picked it up quickly so it wouldn't wake Sam.

"Hello," he said in a raspy voice.

"Where WERE you all night?"

" . . . the hell?"

"I didn't call your cells because I didn't wanna interrupt anything, and the hotel desk clerk and I are on a first name basis, I called so much!"

"Toby?"

"Yes, Toby."

Josh tried not to laugh. "What are you so pissed about?" he asked.

"Sam was supposed to . . . or you . . . you guys are supposed to call me every night when you get back to the hotel and you didn't do it last night and what am I to think? I'm thinking all sorts of things here!"

"Toby, calm down. You sound like my Mother."

"I sound like your Mother?" Toby replied. "You should be so lucky I'm NOT your Mother. Your Mother you would have called."

"We're fine, we're ok, I'm sorry we didn't call. Will you just relax?"

"Yeah, yeah. So how'd it go yesterday?"

"Toby, do you know it's five-thirty in the morning here? Sam and I are asleep. Could we possibly call you back and talk about this a little later?" Josh yawned and let his hand rest on the curve of Sam's hip. "We pretty much just got to bed not too long ago."

"Where've you been?"

"We drove up the coast and ate cheeseburgers on the beach."

Silence.

"Toby?"

No response.

"Toby?"

"Yeah, I'm here." Toby had calmed down and his voice was back to a normal tone. "That sounds pretty nice, actually. Except for the sand. And the salt water. And the wind and the seaweed and seagulls. And the broken shells and . . . "

"Ok, ok. Can I go back to sleep now?" Josh asked. He used his fingernails to lightly make gentle little scratches on Sam's hip.

"Sure. Let me talk to Sam."

"He's asleep. We're BOTH asleep."

"Let me talk to Sam."

"I'll take it," Sam muttered.

His arm reached across Josh and he waved his hand for the receiver. Josh rolled onto his back and Sam lay with his head on Josh's chest while he talked.

"Hey, Toby."

"You worried me last night," said Toby.

"Why were you worried?"

"You didn't call."

"I'm sorry, but it was so late, I didn't wanna bother you."

"It wouldn't have been a bother, Sam. I was waiting for you to call. We, you know, had an arrangement," Toby explained.

"I . . . should have called."

"I thought maybe something happened . . . something was said . . . and you were upset."

"Things got kinda unpleasant, but Josh hung with me the whole time and I did ok."

"Uh, Sam, you know, uh, for what it's worth, I'm hanging with you here. You know that, right?"

Sam smiled into the phone. "I know you are, and I love you for it."

The words came out so easily and naturally for Sam, he didn't give a second thought to what he'd said. He probably wouldn't have even realized he'd said them at all except Toby's voice suddenly become a little husky and hard for Sam to hear.

"Um, yeah, you too," Toby said.

"What?"

"I said `you too'," Toby repeated.

"Me too, what? I can't understand you, Toby."

"When you said `I love you for it', well me too, about you."

Then Sam understood. Toby had just told Sam he loved him. He knew it was in the sense of brotherly love, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Sam was taken aback. He couldn't fathom how difficult it must have been for Toby to utter those words, to take the risk, to admit out loud he loved another man, even in the most pure and fraternal sense of the word. He didn't know how to respond. He figured it would probably be better to downplay it than make a big deal out of it.

"I'm glad," he said.

"Yeah, ok," Toby replied. "Josh said you guys were sleeping."

"It's five-thirty."

"Why don't you go back to bed?"

"I'm IN bed."

"To sleep then. Go back to sleep. I just wanted to make sure you two were ok since you didn't call last night."

"We'll be home tomorrow," Sam reminded him.

"Yeah, it'll be good to have you back. You gonna see your family today?"

"Some of them."

"Well, you know my number. Now go back to sleep," Toby ordered.

"Yes, sir. Thanks for calling, Toby. Thanks for everything. You're a good friend." Sam started to hang up then thought of something else he wanted to say. "Toby!"

"What?"

"Bishop to Queen's Knight Three," he said.

"Are you sure? That's a risky move for such a novice," Toby chided him.

"Just make the move and try to save your Queen. Good-bye Toby."

"Sleep well, Sam."

Sam reached just far enough to hang up the phone then fell back onto Josh. He brought his knees up and curled against him.

"I wanna sleep a while longer," Sam said.

Josh nodded. "Snuggle up against me and close your eyes."

Sam turned and cuddled up next to Josh, his head on his shoulder, his arm stretched out across his chest. He put his legs over Josh's. "Sing to your baby," he said in a whisper.

"You're my baby?" Josh whispered back.

Sam nodded and Josh felt his soft hair on his face. Josh put his hand on Sam's head and ran his fingers through his hair.

"You are, indeed, my baby," he said.

"Sing to me, Josh." Sam was so groggy he could barely get the words out.

"Close your eyes, my boychik, gey shlafan, go to sleep." Josh put his fingers on Sam's face, gently closed his eyelids, and sang. "I don't wanna walk without you baby . . . walk without my arms about you baby . . ."

He could tell by Sam's breathing that he was asleep. He pulled up the covers and kissed Sam on top of his head. Josh wondered what the day held for him with his Mother. He knew Sam wanted answers about why she was so withdrawn, so unlike the woman he'd seen the last time the family had come together. Josh worried the answers would upset Sam and he hoped he could find the strength to hold them both up. But for now, he was just going to hold Sam in his arms and let him sleep. Soon, he too was sleeping.

At eleven o'clock Sam pulled the Ferrari into the parking lot of Gladstone's Restaurant and handed the keys over to the valet. He and Josh both combed their hair and adjusted the collars on their shirts before they went inside. They were getting used to riding in a convertible and Sam was beginning to wish he'd bought one when he got his new car not long ago.

"How do I look?" Josh grinned behind his sunglasses.

"Like a million bucks," Sam replied. "If you weren't already taken, you'd be going home with me tonight."

"You're awful sure of yourself, aren't you?"

"Not so much ~~ you just look easy."

Josh held the door as they entered the restaurant. Sam took off his sunglasses and walked up to the maitre d'.

"Seaborn. Table for four."

"Yes, sir. The ladies are already seated. Please follow me."

Josh and Sam followed the young man to a spacious table against the window, which covered the entire wall and went from floor to ceiling and overlooked the ocean. Fresh flowers were on the white tablecloth where Mrs. Seaborn and Robin were sipping pink drinks from champagne glasses and laughing.

"Mother, Robin." Sam kissed them both and was kissed on the cheek in return.

Josh acknowledged them with, "Mrs. Seaborn, Robin, how nice to see you again." Then they both took their seats at the table.

Sam was pleased to see how alert and "normal" his Mother looked. She appeared like a different person than the first day he'd seen her.

"You look well, Mom," he said. "How do you feel?"

"Good. Having you home has done so much for me, son." She reached over and took Sam's hand in hers. "How much longer can you stay?"

"I'm sorry, but we're leaving early in the morning. This is our last day."

"Oh, please stay longer, son, you just got here."

Sam just smiled and wished this day was over.

The four had a wonderful brunch and talked about any subject that came to mind. . . Robin's children, what the First Lady was really like, Josh's family. Sam was anxious to get to the matters at hand, but he allowed his Mother to enjoy a leisurely time out of the house and didn't rush the conversation.

Josh was as gracious as Sam had ever seen him, and Sam couldn't have been more proud. This was how he wanted it to be with his entire family ~~ them accepting Josh and treating him as Sam's husband. Or if that was too much to expect on a first visit, Sam wished they had at least been civil to him. This was nice. He put his hand on Josh's arm.

"Let me see your rings," said Robin. Robin snapped up Sam's hand to examine his wedding band. "You can wear these in the White House?"

"Not yet. Actually, we're just now starting to come out to a few senior staffers."

"Really? Who knows?"

"Well, my boss, Toby. And Josh's boss, Leo. And Charlie, he's the President's body man," Sam explained.

"Does the President know?" Robin seemed intrigued with her brother's situation.

Sam laughed. "He's about the only person who DOESN'T know."

Josh nudged Sam. "You know what? We've gotta think about telling CJ as soon as we get back. She's the only senior staffer who doesn't know and she'll blow a gasket when she DOES find out."

Sam turned his attention to Josh. "That is SO bizarre because I was thinking about that too! `Cause you know what else? Simon knows. She's gonna be REALLY pissed when she finds out Simon knew before her."

"I totally forgot about Simon."

The guys were engrossed in their own conversation, oblivious to the others at the table.

"Yeah, well don't be so quick to forget about Simon. Unintentional pillow talk can land us in CJ's office catching the wrath of the thing from high atop whatever it is Toby says," replied Sam "Guys?"

"How are we gonna explain her being the last to know?"

"You tell me. Taking her out in the hall doesn't stop her from yelling."

"And she's always said she's our first call when there's something that might be newsworthy. Especially controversial newsworthy. Oh Sam, I don't feel good about this."

"Guys?" Robin repeated. "As fascinating as this is, you might not wanna share it with the general public."

They both turned to see Sam's Mother and Robin with smiles on their faces.

"You don't even know what you're smiling at," Sam laughed while he paid the bill. "We're accustomed to being in public and even having conversations. Are you ladies ready to go?"

"Just watching you two fidget over it is fun to watch," replied Robin. "And yes, we're ready to go."

Before they could stand to leave, a woman came from behind and covered Josh's eyes with her hands. The man with her said, "Guess who?"

He felt the hands on his face and shook his head. "Say it again. I didn't recognize your voice."

This time the woman spoke, "Guess who?"

"Joey! Joey Lucas!" Josh took her hands in his, stood up and turned around. He hugged the woman and shook hands with the man beside her while Sam followed suit.

"It's great seeing you guys!" he said. "Let me introduce you. This is Sam's Mother, Audrey Seaborn, and his sister, Robin, and I'm sorry, I don't even know your last name, Robin."

"Doesn't matter," she said.

"This is Joey Lucas and Kenny . . . Kenny, I don't know your last name either."

"Doesn't matter," he said.

"Aren't you on the wrong side of the continent?" Joey signed and Kenny repeated aloud. "You should have let us know you were coming."

"Well," Sam explained, "our time was limited. In fact, we were just about to leave."

"We're meeting someone too," said Joey. "So nice to meet you Mrs. Seaborn . . . Robin. I hope we meet again." She turned to Josh. "Can I see you in private for just a moment?" Kenny signed and repeated her words.

Without waiting for an answer, she clamped her hand on Josh's forearm and pulled him along with her to a spot where there were no people. There, she turned to him.

"Are you and Sam here on a romantic get-away?" she asked.

"Wha . . . I . . . no . . . Sam . . . " Josh was flustered and couldn't get a complete word out.

Joey smiled. "I knew it! Kenny, you owe me a hundred dollars."

"I . . . never . . .why . . ."

"Joshua, when a person loses one of their senses, their other senses are sharply honed. My sense of romance is razor sharp and I nailed you and Sam from day one. How serious is it?"

"It's not like that!" Josh said in his defense.

"You and Sam are together."

"Nooo! It's not like that," Josh continued to protest.

Joey smack Josh on the arm.

"I see you. I see Sam. I see you together. I'm not an idiot. How serious are you two?" she asked.

"It's not like that! I swear . . . it's . . . we're married."

"You're married? Am I the last to know? Can I talk with Donna about it?"

"No! No, Joey, you're one of the first to know!" Josh found his voice. "Please, we've only told a couple of people and Donna is NOT one of them. How did you figure this out?"

"Easy. The way you look at Sam and the way Sam looks at you. You two are so obviously in love with each other I'm surprised big red hearts aren't thumping out of your chests like in the cartoons," Joey replied.

"Well, just keep it to yourself, and you too, Kenny. Ok?"

Joey gave Josh an evil smile. "We can negotiate the next time I need something from you," she said. "Bye, Josh. Enjoy the rest of your trip. Tell Sam good-bye for me."

Josh returned to the table and rolled his eyes at Sam with an "I'll tell you later" look.

"Is everybody ready to go?" asked Sam.

Josh held the chair for Robin and Sam pulled out the chair for his Mother and held her elbow as she stood.

"Thank you, Shawn," she said. "You're so sweet."

Sam and Josh glanced at each other. Sam looked at Robin but she wouldn't make eye contact with him and her avoidance was obvious.

The sun was bright when they left the restaurant and both Josh and Sam slipped on their sunglasses. Neither could remember when they'd worn them so much, but they enjoyed the warmth of the sun on their faces. They stood at the curb next to palm trees and large planters overflowing with fragrant flowers while the valet went for their cars.

"So Robin, where are we going from here?" Sam asked. "You said you'd have someplace private to talk,"

"I do indeed," she replied. "We're gonna go sit on Megan's yacht."

"Are you serious?" Sam laughed.

"Sure. I take my girlfriends there all the time and she doesn't have a clue. Megan and David NEVER go to the marina except on weekends. The Harbor Master thinks she and I are the same person, so he never says anything. Sometimes I go down there and use Dad's yacht."

"Do you take them out?" he asked incredulously.

"Oh, no. I'd never do that. But I enjoy all the pleasantries of having a yacht on the water," Robin replied. "It'll be fun. And totally private. And Mom's with us so that makes it legitimate."

Sam laughed again. "Lead the way!"

As soon as they were in the car heading toward Marina del Rey, Sam turned the radio off.

"Josh, did my Mother call me Shawn again?" he asked.

Josh wasn't sure how to answer. It had sounded like Shawn to him, but he didn't want to exacerbate a problem with his Mother if it wasn't going to repeat itself.

"I'm not sure," he said. "She could have said Sam."

"But she didn't. It was Shawn. When I held her chair. I heard her." He spoke in a clipped staccato, just the facts.

"If it was, it was just that once," Josh tried to assure him.

"But once is one time too many!"

"She seemed fine during the rest of the . . ."

"Don't," Sam stopped him. "Just . . . don't say anything else about it. Please. It hurts my head to think about it."

"Are you getting a migraine?"

"No, it just makes my head throb," Sam replied. "But I'm gonna find out the answer today. Now."

Josh put his hand on the back on Sam's neck and massaged it. "Angel, my Angel. Are you sure you wanna know the answers?"

Sam nodded.

"You know you don't have to handle this alone. You know that, don't you?"

Sam nodded.

"Ok."

Sam parked next to Robin at Marina del Ray and when they got out of the car, she handed him the bag he'd taken to their parents' house the day before. It held their extra clothes he'd left in his bedroom overnight when they left suddenly.

"You might want this," she said. "Change into something more comfortable." She winked at Josh and smiled. "Such a waste you're taken."

Josh grinned. "I like this one. Can we keep her if she follows us home?"

"No!" Sam said emphatically. "You wouldn't clean up after her."

Robin smacked Sam on the arm with her own bag. "You little shit. All those guys you used to drag home and you finally got a good one. Come on, follow me. Mother, hold on to the rope."

Sam turned to Josh. He wasn't grinning anymore.

"She was kidding, Josh!" exclaimed Sam. "I never dragged any guys home!"

"Ok."

"Josh." Sam lowered his voice. He saw Josh had taken Robin's comment seriously and it bothered him. "It wasn't like that. You know it wasn't like that."

"I said ok."

"There weren't any guys."

"I said ok."

"You sure you're fine with this?"

"I'm fine with this," said Josh. "Your Mom and Robin are getting away. Let's go."

Josh and Sam started walking to catch up with them.

"There was that Michael guy."

Sam stopped and turned. "What?"

"Nothing."

"You said something. What'd you say?"

"I just said there was that Michael guy. His name's come up, we drove by his house. No big deal," Josh replied. "Keep walking."

"You're making it a big deal. Do you wanna hear about Michael?" Sam asked. "If you wanna hear about Michael, I'll tell you about Michael. Right now."

Josh softened. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did. Just throw me in the water or something and let's get back to the reason we came here. Forgive me?"

Sam let the tension go as well. "Always. Let's just not do that again."

Sam and Josh climbed aboard the yacht appropriately named "The Legal Eagle". Megan and David lived, ate, slept, and worshipped being attorneys so any other name just wouldn't do. Their Father called his yacht simply "Sea-Born" and Jack had a speedboat named "The Beach House" for reasons he wouldn't reveal.

Robin took them on a tour of the boat, they changed into shorts and t- shirts, and everyone sat on the back upper deck of "The Legal Eagle" as if they owned it.

"Anybody want a beer?" Robin asked.

"Do you drink like this all the time, Robin?" Sam couldn't help asking the question. "You had a drink in your hand all day yesterday and even this morning you haven't stopped."

"Not all the time. Just when I'm awake," she laughed. "Don't worry about me, Sam. I'm just celebrating you coming home."

"I'm glad you feel that way, but I'd rather you didn't drink so much."

"Drop it, Sam." Robin's voice held no laughter.

"Ok," he said, "I've got some stuff to tell you and you've got some stuff to tell me. You go first."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 72

Sam stood at the window with his hands stuffed in his pockets and watched the planes take off and land in the black of night. He could see his reflection in the glass.

"We're checked in and I've got our stuff," Josh said as he walked up to him.

He held the boarding passes out and tapped Sam on the arm. Sam ignored him so Josh stuffed them in the side pocket of his backpack.

"I'll hang on to these then," he said. "You just . . . watch the planes."

"What?" Sam turned to him. "I'm sorry, babe. Did you say something?"

"No, just that I have our boarding passes and we're all set to go. Don't worry about it."

"Oh. Ok. Good."

Then a minute later, "Is it time to go, Josh?"

"No, not yet, honey. We've got about twenty minutes. You wanna sit down?"

"I'll stand. We'll be sitting a long time once we're in the air," Sam replied. "I'll just watch the planes."

Another minute passed and he turned to Josh and held out two slips of paper. "These messages were at the front desk at the hotel. I got them while I was paying the bill."

Josh opened the first one; it was from Jack Seaborn. It read: "Sodapop, Come by the house and pick up the keys to the Mustang. You know I always meant to give it to you. Don't leave without saying good-bye. Your loving brother, Jack."

Josh looked at Sam, but he just stared at the floor. He opened the other piece of paper; it was from Daniel Seaborn. It read: "One last chance to get in on the deal of your life. I can make you or break you. Don't be a fool and pass it up. Join us and you keep the Ferrari. You'll hear from me either way. DS".

"They're trying to buy you with cars?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Appears that way."

"So, how much do a '67 Candy Apple Red Mustang and a Ferrari whatever it is mean to you?"

"In this situation, they're worthless," Sam replied. "There's no amount of money . . . there's nothing . . . my family's nothing . . ."

"Do you want these messages back?" Josh held them out to Sam.

Sam shook his head. "Throw them away or burn them or flush them ~~ I don't care. I'm gonna watch the planes till it's time to go. I just thought you should see those."

Sam's voice was flat and held no inflection. He didn't smile and his eyes were lifeless. Josh wished he could do more to make him feel better, but in the public eye at LAX, they had to play it straight. Josh wasn't surprised Sam felt so despondent. They had stayed on the yacht for hours and Robin had revealed family secrets Sam wasn't prepared to hear.

He learned his Mother had known about his Father's mistress since it first began twenty-eight years ago, but to protect her marriage, the children, and the family business she kept up appearances. The result was the first of several nervous breakdowns. This led to repeated hospitalizations and a dependency on prescription drugs. Now Sam knew where he inherited his gene with a propensity for addiction. Daniel had become so brazen he'd brought the woman into the Seaborn home on many occasions.

Audrey Seaborn became emotionally incapacitated when the affair began and because Sam was only four, she was unable to care for him herself. That's when Jack stepped in as the older brother and for all intents and purposes raised the young child as if he was his own. The girls raised themselves with the help of their nanny. Daniel always said their youngest boy was the cause of Audrey's emotional problems ~~ one child too many, she didn't know how to deal with a pre-schooler smarter than she was. As a result, Sam received the wrath of his Father for making his Mother sick. His sisters didn't have time for him, so Sam was left in the hands of his brother with no supervision and no one to turn to to say "help me".

His Father spent a great deal of time at the track and gambled with millions of dollars, not hundreds or even thousands. He spent late nights with friends in his political circle and had an uncanny knack for predicting election results before election day. Even more extraordinary, his candidate always won and Daniel Seaborn was inevitably front and center at all the VIP victory parties.

He learned Robin did, indeed, drink too much but she didn't see it as a problem, thank you very much, and she'd do something about it when it DID become a problem. Yes, she'd had several DUIs and yes, the children had been in the car, but she was represented by one of the best law firms in L.A., Seaborn Law Offices, and she'd never been in court or lost her license. Yes, she'd been in a couple of wrecks, but they were minor and no one was hurt and "we're not here to talk about me, Sam".

Megan never visited their Mother, even when she was hospitalized. She berated her for not standing up to their Father or divorcing him when she first found out about his mistress. She didn't hold back when telling their Mother all her problems were her own fault, brought about by her own inadequacies, and she had no patience or sympathy for her. Megan was a biological parent and nothing more to her own children and her marriage had become one of convenience and in-name-only. She left for the office before Gregory and Melissa left for school and didn't get home until they were in bed at night. All school functions were attended by their nanny and Robin's family.

A fact was reinforced that Sam already knew ~~ that Jack was his Father's Golden Child and could do no wrong. He had a thriving clientele and more money and women than he knew what to do with. He also had a police record for speeding, assault and battery, carrying a concealed weapon, sexual harassment . . . Then Robin's words blurred together and he didn't hear anything else she said.

"Sam? Sam? Hey, Sam!"

"Huh? What?" Sam shook his head and came out of his thoughts.

"They're boarding," said Josh. "Get your bag, sugar, we're going home."

"Do you have our boarding passes?" Sam looked around and started to open his carry-on bag.

"I've got our boarding passes. I've got everything but you. Come on."

Sam settled into the window seat and Josh flopped down beside him. They purposely picked a flight that left at one-forty five am. So it wouldn't be crowded and they could sleep as they flew across the country. They were the only ones in First Class. Sam looked out the small window as the taxied across the tarmac.

Tears stung his eyes. He hadn't said good-bye to his Father or Jack, nor had he spoken to Megan again. He would have liked to have spent more time with the children, but they didn't return to the house after he and Josh left his Mother and Robin at the yacht. He didn't mind so much not seeing his Father, but it broke his heart not to see Jack again. Even after all that had happened, he still loved his brother and always would.

"You can't fix everybody," Josh had told him in the hotel, "no matter how much you want to. Jack's created his life and it's up to Jack to save himself . . . if he wants to."

"But it feels wrong to just leave without talking to him again. Maybe I could . . ."

"You can't. He's got to take responsibility for himself. You've told Robin what she needs to know and she'll do the right thing. I promise you that. Robin will take care of her son. You've got to let go of Jack."

And now as they were about to leave the California soil and there were no second chances for Sam to meet with his family, he knew Josh was right and he had to let go of his brother. Still, it broke his heart.

Sam pulled his cell phone out and started to dial.

"Who are you calling?" asked Josh. "We're about to take off."

"I'll just be a minute."

"Who are you calling, Sam?" Josh repeated.

"I've gotta tell Jack good-bye. I can't leave California without talking to him one more time."

Josh grabbed Sam's phone out of his hand.

"Are you serious? Do you really wanna do that to yourself?"

"I feel like I'm sneaking out on him in the middle of the night so I won't have to face him in the light of day. It doesn't feel right."

"Dammit Sam, what did we just talk about?"

Sam opened his mouth tot speak but nothing came out.

"After everything, do you really wanna talk to Jack? Think about it a minute."

"I guess the right answer's `no'," he muttered. He wanted to say `yes', but even he knew that was the wrong answer. Sam turned and looked back out the window.

Josh tapped on the glass with Sam's phone. "It's up to you," he said. "But you're too smart to make the wrong choice."

"Sir, I'm sorry. You're going to have to put your cell phone away," said the Flight Attendant. "We're just about to take off."

Sam took the phone from Josh, closed it, put it away, and turned his attention back to what was happening outside the small airplane window.

"See? You didn't have to make the decision after all," said Josh.

The plane turned and got into position and Sam watched the lights and other planes on other runways. His breath fogged up the window.

"You doing ok?" Josh asked. He put his hand on Sam's leg.

Sam blinked his tears back and turned to Josh. "I am. I've got a lot to process, but I'm good. You've been my rock, Josh. I couldn't have done any of this without you."

"I wouldn't have it any other way. You're precious to me, Sam."

They took a chance and shared a kiss as the jet engines revved, the Delta 767 picked up speed, lifted her wheels, and became airborne. Minutes after she was in the air Sam and Josh were in the semi-dark cabin alone. They'd removed the armrest between them, covered themselves with blankets, and both leaned toward the middle, using the other as a pillow. Under the blankets they held hands, their fingers laced together. It was the most comfortable they'd been since they left D.C. days ago.

"So, overall how do you think it went?" Josh asked quietly.

"About as I expected, really. Maybe a few more surprises."

"Really?"

"Ok, it was worse that I expected. But truthfully, they accepted you and treated you better than I thought they would," Sam replied. "Before we came I didn't know if they'd let you back in the house after we initially told them."

"I don't trust your Father. I don't think he's finished screwing with us," said Josh.

"Now that we're gone from there, can we just not talk about my family? We did it and it's over and I don't wanna think about them anymore. I just wanna think about you."

Josh stole another kiss in the dark. "You got it."

Sam worked his hand under Josh's sweater and clutched his undershirt. Josh put his hand on top of Sam's hand over the sweater. When he did, Sam burrowed his head against Josh's neck.

"You smell like California," Sam whispered.

"What's California smell like?"

"Oranges and saltwater and the sun."

"Is that a good thing?" Josh smiled.

"It turns me on."

"That's a good thing."

"That's a VERY good thing," Sam agreed. "I'm glad it's dark in here."

"I wish we had a private room," Josh replied. "Of course, we could always go into the . . ."

"I am not! I am not lowering myself to that level!" Sam said adamantly.

"Oh, come on. Let's have an adventure," Josh prodded.

"You don't think they'll notice we're both gone? You think they'll figure one of us went to the corner store for beer? I am not!"

"A simple `no' would have worked. Might as well go to sleep if you're gonna be that way."

"I'm being any way, Josh, it's just not practical and it's gross," Sam replied.

"How's it gross?"

"You don't know who's been in there before us doing who-knows-what. I'm not taking any chances."

Josh laughed. "Go to sleep, my practical boy, and if you wake up and I'm gone, it means I found somebody not so fastidious and I'll be in the . . ."

"Go to hell."

"I love you, Sam."

"I love you too, Josh."

Within minutes both Sam and Josh fell asleep in the dark cabin to the steady hum of the jet engines. It was pure luck that kept them from curling up in the large seats, arms and legs wrapped around each other, giving no thought whatsoever to whomever might pass by.

Sometime later Josh's hand unconsciously slid over to Sam's lap and rested on his crotch. He very gently began to stroke him and Sam responded in his sleep. Sam shifted as he became aroused and his hand very naturally reached for Josh. Still, they slept on, undetected.

"My. Lyman? It's time." The Flight Attendant shook Josh's shoulder.

As requested, she woke Josh ten minutes before they were to land in Atlanta to change planes. They wanted time to become alert and get their things together.

"Thanks," Josh said. "I appreciate it."

He pulled the blankets off Sam and himself and shook Sam awake. "Come on, baby, we're about to land."

"We're home?" Sam asked sleepily.

"Not quite . . . Atlanta," Josh yawned. "We just change planes here. Look alive."

They filed off the plane and stood in front of the TV screens to find their next gate. As Josh scanned the list, Sam let his head fall over onto Josh's shoulder.

"Not us, not us, nope, nope, not us, nope . . ."

"Hi guys!"

Josh whirled around and Sam lost his balance and nearly fell. Josh's heart sank.

"Danny!" he said. "What are you doing here . . . in the Atlanta airport in the wee hours of the morning? What could you POSSIBLY be doing here?"

"Hi Danny," Sam muttered.

Sam and Josh each subtly slipped their wedding bands off and put them in their pockets.

Danny grinned. "The question is, what are YOU guys doing in the Atlanta airport in the wee hours of the morning? Shouldn't you be in the White House keeping the world safe for citizens like me? Where have you been? Where are you going?"

"We're on our way back to the White House to keep the world safe for citizens like you," Josh replied. "Why are you here?"

"I was best man at my brother's wedding over the weekend and now I'm heading home. What about you guys?" Danny wasn't going to give up.

"I just said, we're on our way back to Washington."

"Yeah, but where have you two been? Off the record."

"We had business in California," Sam replied. "It's finished, and that's the end of the story."

Danny smiled slyly. "Why don't I believe you?"

"Because you're a reporter and you always think there's a story behind even the most innocent, ordinary thing you stumble upon," Sam continued.

"Gate D6," Josh broke in. "Twenty minutes. You hungry, Sam?"

"Yes I am, as a matter of fact. They didn't feed us on the plane. Let's go get something."

"I'm hungry too," said Danny.

Sam and Josh kept walking.

"I could use a bite to eat!"

Without turning, Josh waved his arm his arm, motioning for Danny to join them. They ate hot dogs, French fries, brownies, and Cokes and made Danny buy.

"I'm at Gate D6 too," Danny said. "Pretty cool, huh? Where are your seats? Maybe we'll be near each other and can talk on the way home."

"First Class," Josh replied.

"Guess not. Sure you guys don't wanna give me a scoop? I'll be gentle."

"Gentle about what, Danny?" Sam asked, irritated now. "What are you insinuating?"

"I'm not making any assumptions or accusations, far be it from me, but I just thought . . . just wondered if there's anything you want to tell me, to get off your chest. Maybe what your business was about in California?"

Josh and Sam looked at him blankly.

Danny grinned. "You know!"

"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," said Josh.

"It's a mystery to me," added Sam.

"And they're calling our flight," Josh said, piling his trash on Danny's tray and picking up his bag. "It's been a real treat, Danny. See you in the big house."

They walked toward Gate D6 with Danny close behind. They took their seats, declined the offer of blankets, sat upright, and in no way touched each other. The chances of Danny coming into First Class were small, but ANY chance was too much.

"Do you think he knows?" Sam asked quietly.

"He sure acts like it, but he could just be fishing. Maybe he thinks he knows something be doesn't know what."

"I don't think he knows."

"Well, don't worry about it. We've got bigger fish to fry," Josh replied.

"What fish are those?"

"CJ."

"Shit."

"Sam, we've got to tell her as soon as we get back. Too many people know already and she's out of the loop. We've got to tell her."

Sam nodded. "Do you think she'll kill us?"

"Yep. Then she'll kill us again until we're dead," Josh replied. "Why don't you go back to sleep? You can hardly keep your eyes open."

"What about you? Aren't you tired?

"I'm ok. But you know what we SHOULD do before we take off?" Josh said.

"What?"

"Call Toby, just to piss him off. He complains if you don't call, now here it is before the sun rises and you call him. He'd be mad as a hornet. Do it," Josh said.

"Uh, I think I'll just go to sleep. But don't let me fall over on you, and watch out for my hands," said Sam. "You know what my hands do to you while I'm sleeping. And make sure I don't start . . ."

"Ok, ok," laughed Josh. "I'll monitor you."

Sam laid his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. His arm lay against Josh's on the armrest, and he hooked their little fingers and was pleased Josh didn't pull away.

"Sam?" Josh said softly.

"Hmmmmm?"

"On the other plane when you started to call Jack, would you have done it if the Flight Attendant hadn't told you to put the phone away?"

No answer.

"Sam? Would you have called Jack?" Josh repeated.

No answer.

"Sam?"

*************************

"Today's the day, right?" Josh asked, as he tied his shoes.

"That's right, today's the day. Is my tie straight?"

Josh glanced up. "Yeah. First thing this morning or at the end of the day?"

"First thing. I don't think you can last all day. Remember how nervous you were when we told Toby?"

Josh stood up and shook his pants legs. "I wasn't nervous."

"Are you serious?" Sam laughed. "You were a mess!"

"It'll be easier with CJ."

"How do you figure that?"

"Because people already know. Toby was the first. Now that we've already been through it, it won't be as bad," reasoned Josh.

"If you say so. Come and get me when you're ready. See you in a little while."

Sam kissed Josh good-bye and left for the White House. He knew Josh would follow along in about ten minutes. Hopefully, these days of arriving and leaving separately would soon be over.

"DONNA!"

"You don't have to yell," she said as she stepped just inside Josh's office.

"I yelled because you didn't answer me."

"How many times did you call me?"

"One."

"Did I come the one time you called?" Donna asked.

"I can't remember."

"I think you got too much California sun. What do you want, Josh?"

"I'm gonna be in CJ's office for a while this morning if you need me," he replied. "Try not to need me."

"No problem."

"Now go away."

Josh dialed Sam.

"Sam Seaborn."

"You ready?" Josh asked quietly.

"To go see CJ?"

"Yeah."

"Sure, are you?" replied Sam.

"As ready as I'll ever be."

"Josh, you don't have to whisper. Nobody knows what we're talking about."

"Ok," Josh whispered. "I'll come by and get you."

"I'll be waiting," Sam smiled. "Don't let anybody see you."

"Now you're just making fun."

"Wouldn't do it!"

Josh left his office and headed toward Sam's. He knocked on his open door and motioned for him to come with him. Sam got up and fell in step with Josh. Neither said a word as they walked down the hall. Just as they got to CJ's office Josh stopped Sam.

"Do we know what we're gonna say?" he asked.

"Well . . . you know," Sam replied.

"But how are we gonna start? We haven't planned this out. I have a bad feeling about this."

Sam put his hand on Josh's back and slightly pushed him inside. "Let's just do it."

CJ sat at her desk and stared at her computer. Her chin rested on her hand, her elbow propped on her desk. She had a pencil side-ways in her mouth.

"CJ? Got a minute?" Sam asked.

"Hi fellas! Come on in!" CJ called out. "Have a seat."

Josh closed the door behind them and they sat next to each other on her couch, so close their bodies pressed together.

CJ smiled and looked from one to the other. "What's up?" she asked.

"Would you come sit in one of these chairs?" Josh asked.

"Sure. How come?" CJ asked as she walked around her desk and took a seat right in front of them.

"So we'll be closer," he explained.

"Ooookaaay. What's on your mind? Or minds. There ARE two of you. You don't share one mind, do you? You could spread out a little there, you know."

Josh and Sam looked at each other. They were both thinking they should have at least planned who was going to speak first. This didn't give a good first impression of their alternative lifestyle.

"CJ," Sam started. "You know how you've always stressed that it's vital for you to be in the loop on everything that goes on around here? Short of what the President deems important to keep inside, of course."

"Without a doubt. This White House can't run unless I know every little thing that happens in this building. Nothing gets by me. I must be in-the-know ALWAYS." She leaned forward. "Do you have something to tell me?" She smiled.

Josh nodded his head.

Then there was silence.

"Well, what is it?" she asked.

""CJ," Sam began, "for a while now, Josh and I have . . ."

"Josh and you have what?"

"Don't rush me. Josh and I have been involved in . . ."

"In what?"

"CJ! Shut up and let me tell you!" said Sam. "For a while now, Josh and I have been involved in a relationship and we think it's time to tell you."

CJ's smile turned into a grin. "A relationship?"

Sam and Josh nodded.

"What kind of relationship?"

Josh put his arm around Sam and Sam put his hand on Josh's thigh.

"A romantic relationship?" she asked.

They nodded again.

"With each other?"

"Yes," Sam replied. "With each other. We're a couple and we believe it's time you need to know that."

"Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me?" She started laughing. "You're KIDDING me!"

"We're serious," said Josh. "We're not kidding you."

"You're KIDDING me!" She continued to laugh.

Sam and Josh looked at each other, embraced, and shared a passionate kiss.

CJ was out of her chair. "You're NOT kidding me! You really ARE a couple! Holy shit! I had no idea! You guys really pulled one over on us! NOBODY would have guessed this! So are you dating or did this just happen or what? THIS. IS. SO. COOL! I. LOVE. THIS!"

"Sit down," said Sam.

CJ sat down, still with a grin on her face.

"We live together."

The grin started to fade from CJ's face. This was more serious than she thought.

"There's more," said Josh.

"How much more?" CJ asked. The smile was completely gone now.

"We're married."

"You're kidding me. Please say you're kidding me." CJ didn't think it was so funny now.

Sam and Josh reached in their pockets, pulled out their wedding bands, and put them on their ring fingers.

"Those aren't . . ."

"Yes, they are," confirmed Sam.

"They're not!" CJ glared at their hands.

"Yes, CJ, they are," Sam repeated. "They're wedding bands."

"Well, first let me say, you guys were right to come to me first. I've always told you I'm your first call and this is definitely one of those times, so you did good. Next, this can't get out to the press, but we've got to let the rest of the senior staff know. I'm not sure yet how we'll present it to them, or more importantly, how they'll accept it, but this is something we just can't hide from Leo and Toby. We'll hold up on the President for now, but your immediate supervisors definitely need to know."

"CJ," said Sam.

"Yeah?"

"You're not quite the first to know. You're almost the first but not exactly."

She squinted her eyes. "I wasn't your first call?"

Sam shook his head.

""Who knew before me?"

"Would you please sit back down before we tell you?"

CJ sat down and glared at Sam. "Who?"

"Well, you know how important I think honesty is to keep a good working relationship ~~ a VIAB LE working relationship ~~ and for that reason my conscience . . ."

"Cut the crap, Sam," CJ interrupted. "Who did you tell?"

"We told Toby."

"You told Toby! You went to Toby before you came to me?"

"He's my boss, CJ. I couldn't work with him in good faith and not have him know. Josh and I thought it was best that Toby know. He's been totally supportive," Sam replied.

"So you three have had this little secret that you've kept from me, the Press Secretary, for the friggin' White House. What if it got out? Do you realize what would happen? Do you understand what my job would be like to try and clean up the mess you three knew about and didn't both to share with me? I can understand you two being that dense but Toby, of all people, should have known better."

"CJ," Josh said in a hesitant voice.

"What?" she snapped.

"Leo knows too."

"Don't try the `my conscience got the best of me' story, Josh, because you don't have a conscience."

"Remember that day I passed out in Leo's office? I'd been feeling the stress of keeping our relationship from him and that's why I got sick, so I decided I should tell him."

CJ glared at them both. She crossed her arms over her chest and her nostrils flared.

"So I did," Josh continued.

Silence.

"You ok, CJ?" asked Josh.

"I'm re-thinking my stand on the death penalty," she replied. "Is there anybody else you wanna tell me about?"

Josh glanced at Sam, who nodded slightly.

"It's not that we WANT to tell you, but we think we probably should," Josh said. "Charlie kind of figured it out on his own and we confirmed it, so that's one."

"Who else?" CJ sighed heavily.

"Um, Joey Lucas and Kenny might know."

"When in the hell did you tell Joey Lucas and Kenny?"

"We didn't. Joey sort of figured it out, like Charlie. But we didn't confirm it so she's not a done deal."

"I think she's a done deal, Josh," said Sam.

"Ya think?"

Sam nodded.

"Guys!"

"My Mother knows and she's cool with it," Josh offered.

"And we told my family. They're not so cool with it . . . for the most part," Sam pointed out.

"Should I start writing down names here so I can keep track?" CJ asked.

"No," said Sam, "we're almost finished."

"Go on."

Neither wanted to tell her. But because it was Sam who got him involved in the first place, he figured it was up to him to confess.

"Simon," he muttered.

CJ leaned forward until she was close to Sam's face.

"Repeat that please," she said.

"Simon knows about us," Sam repeated.

"Simon Donovan?"

Sam nodded.

"MY Simon Donovan?"

Josh nodded.

"How the hell does SIMON know and I don't?"

"He came over to our townhouse once to do an favor for me and he saw both my stuff and Sam's stuff and it was obvious," Josh explained.

CJ looked down at Sam and Josh. "Let me get this straight. Instead of coming to the first person you should have come to with this VERY important piece of information, you instead told Toby, Leo, Charlie, Joey Lucas, Kenny, Josh's Mother, Sam's family, and Simon Donovan. Is that right?"

"That's a maybe on Joey and Kenny," Josh pointed out.

"Shut up!"

"And a few insignificant others," Sam added.

"Insignificant others?

"The doctor who patched me up after my racquetball accident, the pizza guy, an Indian Chief, a guy who runs the corner bar in our neighborhood, somebody I used to play racquetball with . . . maybe . . . an old college friend of Josh's . . ."

CJ held her head in her hands. "And you're married?"

They nodded.

"And living in the same residence?"

They nodded again.

"Why couldn't you have come to me with something simple, like World War III? Go away, both of you, while I try to figure this out."

Sam and Josh stood and started to leave CJ's office.

"Wait!" she demanded. "Before you open that door . . . don't EVER wear those rings in this building and NEVER kiss like that, or any other way, where anybody can see you, understand? And don't tell ANYBODY else about this. Got it?"

The both nodded.

"And one more thing. Congratulations. It couldn't have happened to two better guys. Just next time . . . THINK!"

*************************

In the days that followed, Josh and Sam fell back into their work routine with ease. Those who knew didn't say anything to them about their relationship and treated it as if it didn't exist. Even after their conversation with CJ, she didn't mention it. Sam and Josh were certain she had statements prepared for when and if the news broke, but she hadn't asked them any more questions. Maybe she was waiting until she was calmer before she brought the subject up again.

Sam and Josh felt confident that life was running smoothly. They held no intentional secrets from the senior staff, except the President, which they justified by assuring themselves he didn't need anymore stress. They believed if he should know, Leo would have told them and he didn't so THEY didn't. The campaign was moving along as planned and no one was really very concerned that Bartlet wouldn't win a second term. Sam hadn't heard from his family, which held moments of disappointment for him until Josh brought him back to reality. They were both healthy, emotionally strong, more in love than ever, and the word `denial' never entered their minds. Life was good.

Then came that Friday afternoon.

"Sam?"

"Hi, Cathy, what's up?"

"Leo wants to see you in his office at eight o'clock this evening," she said. She leaned up against his doorframe.

"Did he say what it's about?"

"Nope. Margaret said just make sure Sam's in Leo's office at eight o'clock this evening."

"Thanks, Cathy, I'll be there."

Down the hall a similar exchange took place.

"Josh?"

"Donnatella. What could you possibly want?"

"You have an eight o'clock with Leo today," Donna said, her head just inside Josh's office.

"It's not on my schedule."

"Margaret just called and I just put it on your schedule, so it's there now. Do you want to write it in your book or shall I come do it for you?"

"I can do it," Josh replied.

"I'd better do it. You'll forget."

"I can write an appointment in my own book. What's the meeting about?" Josh asked.

"She didn't say. Don't forget to write it down."

"Yeah, yeah. Go sharpen pencils or something."

Josh went back to work.

At seven forty-five there was a loud thump on the glass window that separated Sam's office from Toby's. Before Sam could get out of his office, there was another thump as Toby's pink rubber ball slammed up against the window to summon Sam. He went into Toby's office.

Toby came from behind his desk and sat in one of the visitor's chairs. He stretched his legs and crossed them at the ankles. He put his hands behind his head. "Have a seat," he said.

Sam dropped onto the couch and picked up the pillow. He tossed it into the air and caught it.

"You need me?" asked Sam. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up almost to his elbows.

"How's that education opposition paper coming?" Toby responded.

"It's coming along good. I'm pleased with it."

"How much more work do you have to do on it?"

"About two hours. I'll finish it before I leave tonight."

"It can wait until Monday," said Toby. "Don't you have an eight o'clock with Leo?"

"I do."

"You probably won't want to work on the paper after your meeting, so just hold up on it until Monday."

"Do you know what this meeting is about, Toby?"

"Don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried," Sam replied. "I'd just like to know."

"Leo will tell you."

"It sounds somewhat clandestine to me."

"I thought maybe after the meeting, you and Josh would like to go to Crawdad's for a beer. I'm buying," said Toby. "How about it?"

"I'll have to check with Josh, but it sounds good to me. Can I let you know after the meeting?"

"Sure, kiddo," Toby replied. "I'll be in my office when the meeting's over. You can find me here."

"This sounds ominous, Toby." Sam stood and threw the pillow back onto the couch. "Am I in trouble or something?"

"No, no, not at all. Don't worry about it, Sam. Things will work out. Get going. I don't want you to be late."

Sam left Toby's office and went into the bullpen. "Going to Leo's, Cathy," he said.

"Ok, have a good weekend, Sam."

He was more than curious what this meeting was about as he walked the halls. He might not be so intrigued if Toby hadn't gotten into the mix. He wished he had time to call Josh and get his take on it.

"Hi, Sam. Go on in," Margaret said. "Do you want something to drink?"

"Apple juice, thank you, Margaret."

Sam went into Leo's office and was surprised to find Josh sitting in one of the chairs in front of Leo's desk, but there was no Leo.

"Josh!" he said. "What are you doing here?"

"Margaret called Donna and said I have an eight o'clock meeting with Leo. What about you?"

"Margaret called Cathy and told her the same thing. Do you have any idea what this is about?"

Margaret came in with Sam's drink.

Josh shook his head. "Not a clue. Leo hasn't come in yet. What'd you get to drink?"

"Apple juice," Sam replied.

"Trade with me."

"Why? What'd you get?"

"I asked for ginger ale then when I got it I decided I didn't want it. I'll trade you my ginger ale for your apple juice. Please?"

Sam sighed and handed over his bottle of juice and took Josh's ginger ale.

"You've drunk half of this!" Sam exclaimed.

"Yeah, that's when I realized I really didn't want it," replied Josh.

The door opened and Leo burst in with an armful of files. He set them on the corner of his desk, checked his phone messages, then pulled up a chair across from Sam and Josh. He didn't sit behind his desk and that immediately set of alarms in both Josh and Sam's heads. This wasn't going to be a run-of-the mill meeting.

"Thanks for being on time, guys," Leo started. "Too many people in this world are late and it drives me batty. All they have to do is look at their damn wristwatches! Is that too much to ask?"

"Uh, no sir," Josh said.

Then Leo was all business.

"Ok, let's get to it, boys. I asked both of you here together because I have two things to say and they're both going to be upsetting but they need to be said. You're grown men, you can handle it. One we have control over, the other we don't. We're reacting to the one we can't control to lessen the need for damage control on the one we CAN control. Understand?"

Josh and looked at each other, confused. They had absolutely no idea what Leo was talking about.

The door opened and Margaret brought in a tall glass of iced tea and handed it to Leo. When she was gone, Leo continued.

"Sam, is your Father's name Daniel Seaborn?"

"Yes, sir."

"He contacted me shortly after you returned from California and I've gotta tell you, he knows his way around the law. He managed to avoid extortion but he's made it very clear that he and his ridiculously rich Republican cronies have all but written checks so big they'd choke a horse if we don't comply with his `requests', as he calls them."

He took a sip of his iced tea and cleared his throat.

"They're not `requests', they're not `demands' ~~ hell, they're threats, plain and simple, but he wisely chose the word `requests'. He's also got a band of volunteers standing ready to go to work for Rob Ritchie all across the country, and I'm not talking about twenty- year-old college students working for extra credit in some poly sci class, but professional political operatives who know how to win a campaign. Daniel Seaborn wants Ritchie in the Oval Office and he's prepared to win this election for him and by all appearances, he can and WILL do it."

Sam went pale. Josh's face turned red with anger.

"That's the first thing, right?" asked Josh. "The one we have no control over?"

"Yeah."

"Don't waste your time on the second thing, Leo, because it's not gonna happen."

Sam looked at Josh. Had he missed something? What was the second thing? What wasn't gonna happen? What was Leo talking about? What was Josh talking about?

"It's gonna happen, Josh," Leo replied.

"Hold on, hold on," said Sam. "What are you two talking about? What's gonna happen? What's NOT gonna happen?"

Josh looked at Sam. It was hard to believe that a man of his brilliance and intellect could be so naïve about some of the simplicities of real life. Sam still found it hard to believe anybody would purposely hurt him. Especially to the extent his own Father was about to crush him.

Josh didn't want to be the one to tell him, but he didn't want Sam to hear the words come from Leo. Either way it was going to be bad.

He took Sam's hands in his. "Your Dad is making threats against President Bartlet's campaign and he's using us," Josh said. "He'll make sure Ritchie wins by taking us public, big time public, unless we, what Leo, separate? It'll be a major smear campaign having two same-sex senior staffers married, which he'll turn into a farce and have a field day with, and make a huge issue out of because the President doesn't even know what's going on in his own White House. There's no way CJ can spin this. Am I close, Leo?"

"Separate?" That was the only word Sam heard.

"He doesn't want you to live together anymore," explained Leo. "Different residences, no more talk of marriage, no more talk of a relationship, get rid of the rings, no more hyphenated names. Pretty much no more Sam and Josh, no more Josh and Sam. Period."

Sam was on his feet. "He can't make us abide by that! It's ludicrous and it's illegal and it's not gonna happen!"

"Sam . . ." Leo started.

"I'm not leaving Josh!"

"Your Father will sabotage President Bartlet's campaign."

"I don't care!"

"You don't mean that, son. Get a hold of yourself and think this through," Leo replied. No one saw Leo push the intercom button and tell Margaret to call for Toby and CJ.

Sam turned to Josh. "How come you're not saying anything? You're not gonna let this happen, are you?"

"Of course I don't WANT it to happen, but it would just be for a while, wouldn't it, Leo? Just until after the election? That's only a few weeks," Josh said.

"Well, obviously the election is our immediate concern, but he could use it against the administration and damage us at any time during the next four-year term."

"Josh . . .?" Sam looked at his husband with disbelief.

"We've gotta talk about this, babe. Maybe until just after the election."

Sam pulled his hands away and stared at Josh. "I can't believe you said that." He spoke softly.

"Things will still be the same," Josh continued, "except I'll stay in the empty apartment for a little while."

"Josh, did you know what Leo was gonna say?" Sam asked.

"No, babe, I had no idea. It was news to me too."

"You sound like you want it to happen."

"Please sit back down so we can talk about this reasonably," said Josh. "You're pacing like a caged animal and you know that makes me nervous. Just sit down."

"Josh, did you know about this?" Sam asked.

"Sam, nobody wants this to happen." Both men turned to find Toby had come into the office. They didn't know how long he'd been standing there. "If there was any way to avoid it, you know we would. There just don't seem to be any alternatives."

"If you say `just through the election', then how do I know you won't say `just through the next four years'?" Sam asked. "Do you realize what you're asking of Josh and me? Do you?"

"Do you realize what you're asking of the President and this administration?" Leo barked. "This isn't a goddamn game, son! Suck it up! I haven't said anything about what you boys are doing! I've kept my mouth shut and tried not to look your way, but now your . . . thing . . . is hitting too close to home and it's affecting all of us. Did it ever occur to you that maybe you're being selfish? That the future of this country just might depend on you two playing house?"

Sam was blinded by Leo's words. He felt Josh's hand on his arm and he heard Josh's voice, but he didn't know what Josh said. He felt himself being led to a chair and a gentle push on his shoulder until he sat down. He knew Josh's hands stayed on him and he was grateful.

"Leo, you've got to understand," Toby said, "this isn't a game Sam and Josh are playing. It's their life. I tried to tell you to take this seriously."

"You've discussed us?" Josh asked. "This reeks of conspiracy."

"I just need to say here and now that I need to know everything I don't already know," CJ spoke up from just inside the door. "Which basically is nothing. I know nothing. But I can't protect the President or this administration if I have surprises coming at me from every direction."

"What the hell?" Josh turned at CJ's voice.

"Who all is in on this?" Sam asked. "Have you held secret meetings to tear apart our lives and decide what you're going to tell us to do?"

"When Leo got the threats, we had to," replied Toby. "And they weren't secret meetings."

"Were Josh and I invited?"

"No, but . . ."

"Then they were secret!" Sam's voice rose in both anger and anxiety. "Josh, did you know about this?"

"We needed to figure out the best way to approach you guys and tell you what Sam's Dad had done. We couldn't just ignore him."

"And this is the best you could come up with?" Josh demanded.

"It just happened! They don't teach seminars on this stuff. Is he ok?" Toby motioned toward Sam.

Josh stroked the back of Sam's head. "No, he's not. And I'm not feeling all that great either." He glared at Leo. "But I'm learning some things I hadn't expected to hear tonight."

"Why didn't you just come to us in the first place?" Sam asked again.

"Everybody, go to your corners!" CJ yelled. "This confusion isn't getting us anywhere!"

" . . . all hell breaks loose," Leo mumbled and sat behind his desk.

CJ walked to the middle of the room with her arms outstretched. "Sam, I need to know why your Father would do this. What happened in California?"

"I was trying to help, Leo," Josh continued, his voice strained to keep it steady. "What you said was making sense, and then you had to tell us how you REALLY feel. You refer to our marriage as a `thing', a `game', and say we're `playing house'. That's low. What'd you say, CJ?"

"I need to know what happened in California that would cause Daniel Seaborn to make these threats about the Bartlet Administration. I need to know everything," she replied.

Suddenly it became very quiet in Leo's office and all eyes were on Sam. He just stood in the middle of the room and blinked.

"No," Josh said. "What happened in California is off-limits."

"I can't fight an enemy I don't know," CJ reasoned. "You guys should have known when you went into this relationship you'd be subjected to having your lives exposed."

"She's right about that," added Toby. "You can't say you didn't know."

"Wouldn't have had this problem in my day." Leo slammed his fist on his desk.

Sam bolted from the room and Josh ran after him. He followed him into the restroom and heard him in a stall vomiting. He stood just outside the door until he was finished. Finally, it was quiet.

"Sam? You ok, sweetheart?" Josh asked.

"No."

"Are you sick?"

"Yeah."

"Will you come out?"

"In a minute."

"Are you gonna throw up some more?"

"Josh, just give me a minute, please?"

"I'm not going anywhere."

Josh leaned against the stall and waited for Sam. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Sam came out. His tie was loosened and the top couple of buttons of his shirt were undone. Josh took his arm and led him over to the sink.

"Let me wipe your face," he said. "You're flushed."

Josh dabbed at Sam's face with a damp paper towel then held it to his forehead. Sam leaned his head back a little and closed his eyes.

"Sam, what Leo's saying there, it's not a done deal."

"It sounds like it's . . . we've been . . . a matter of intense discussion and our fate decided FOR us . . . all without any input FROM us." Sam made a fist and back-handed the mirror. "Dammit!" The mirror rattled.

Josh grabbed his arm. "Hey, hey! Calm down before you hurt yourself. If you'd hit that straight on you'd have broken your hand."

"In Leo's office you sounded like you were ok with this," said Sam. "What was that all about?"

Josh buttoned Sam's shirt and re-tied his tie. "I was caught off- guard and I was just speaking from a political point of view. I didn't have a chance to think about it. Trust me. I'm definitely NOT ok with it." Josh pulled out his comb and ran it through Sam's hair. "There's no way I want one of us to move out. I'm gonna fight this too."

"You promise?"

Josh looped his ring finger with Sam's ring finger. "On our marriage."

The restroom door opened and Toby walked in. "Everything ok in here?" he asked.

"Considering the circumstances," Josh replied.

"We need you back in Leo's office."

"Is it mandatory?"

"Non-negotiable. Let's go."

No one moved.

"Listen guys, when Leo approached me with this, I tried to tell him you two would never go for it," said Toby. "I was in your corner and I still am. But the more information Leo gave me about your Dad's plans made me realize we really don't have a choice here. If he's serious. Is there ANY chance your Father is calling our bluff for some reason?"

"I don't think so, Toby. Our visit didn't end on good terms and he hates what Josh and I are," Sam replied.

"Apparently so does Leo," Josh added. "He let his true colors show tonight."

"Let's just go back in Leo's office and end this thing," said Toby. "We're not getting anything accomplished in here. I just want you guys to be clear ~~ I haven't betrayed you. Do you believe me?"

Josh nodded. "Yeah, I don't think you're trying to screw us."

"Sam?" It was important to Toby for Sam to know he hadn't turned on him. "Sam, do you believe me?"

"I believe you."

"Let's go and get this over with. Whatever happens, it has to be soon."

Sam lost his moment of calm and slammed his fist against the mirror again. A jagged crack opened from top to bottom.

"Sam!" the other men called out in unison. Josh and Toby both grabbed Sam's arm at the same time and jerked it back. Sam's fingers were crimson and little tributaries of blood ran down his hand to his wrist to his forearm and dripped onto the floor.

"Toby, get a wet paper towel, will you?"

Toby was shaken as he did what Josh asked. Josh held Sam's arm down in the sink and rinsed the blood off. He didn't use the towel Toby held out, but instead soaped his own hand and washed Sam until there was no sign of blood.

"How bad is it?" Toby asked.

Josh brought Sam's hand up for inspection. "Minor cuts. Bend your fingers."

Sam did. "Nothing's broken. I told you not to do that! Toby, give me a dry towel."

Toby did and Josh wrapped it around Sam's hand.

"I swear, I don't know how you two get through the day," Toby said. "Let's get back in there and end this. If there's some way I can work it so you don't have to be apart but from all appearances you ARE separated, will you cooperate?"

The door opened. "Guys? Leo said to come back to his office NOW," CJ said.

All three men looked at her.

"Sam! What happened to your hand?" She walked into the bathroom. "Are you bleeding?"

"CJ, tell Leo we're on our way," said Toby. "Two minutes, tell him two minutes."

"You ARE bleeding. You hit that mirror! We're gonna work this out, Spanky. Don't go smashing mirrors and hurting yourself. We'll work this out."

"CJ! Two minutes!"

"How would you do that, Toby?" Josh asked, putting pressure on the towel around Sam's hand as CJ left the restroom.

"Leave that to me. Just tell me if you'll agree to it. We don't have a lot of time for debate on this."

"Sam?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded. "You figure it out, Josh. I trust you, I trust Toby. Whatever you say, but I'm not gonna . . . Toby, don't take Josh away from me."

Josh looked at Toby, straight in the eye. "Ok, but you know Sam and I aren't gonna leave each other, right? And we've still gotta deal with California because there's things we absolutely can't touch."

Toby nodded. "I know."

The three men returned to Leo's office. He still sat behind his desk as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. CJ stood and rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. There was silence while Leo finished writing, then he threw his pen on his desk and pushed his chair back.

"Well?" he asked.

"Josh and Sam talked it over," Toby said.

"And?"

Toby looked at Josh. His hands were fisted so tightly they were white. He looked at Sam, who was biting his bottom lip.

"We talked it over, like Toby said," Josh replied. He glanced at CJ, then back to Leo. "And I'm moving out."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 73

Josh started taking his clothes off as soon as he shut the door behind him. He left them in a trail as he walked across the townhouse ~~ shoes, belt, trousers, jacket, tie, dress shirt ~~ until he stood in front of the TV in his boxers, undershirt, and socks. He picked up the remote, clicked on CNN, and intently watched the screen flicker in the dark living room.

Sam followed behind, picking up Josh's clothes and neatly draping them over his arm. He turned on two table lamps in the living room and walked up behind Josh. He kissed him on the neck and behind the ear. Josh tilted his head to the side to better expose himself to Sam.

"Want something to eat?" he asked.

Josh reached back and put his hand behind Sam's head. He rested his own head on Sam's shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.

"Sure, I want something to eat. What do we have?"

"Chicken salad, omelets, hot dogs, I can heat up last night's meat loaf . . ."

"Chicken salad," Josh said. "On toast."

"Of course on toast."

"And will you cut it into four little triangles?"

"Just the way you like it."

Josh turned around and took Sam in his arms. "Do you know how much I love you?"

"How much?" Sam asked.

"You know that next amount after infinity?" replied Josh.

"It's impossible to count past infinity. It's limitless," Sam explained.

"Well, that's how much."

They kissed again. Sam dropped Josh's clothes and ran his hands up and down the back of Josh's undershirt. He loved the feel of Josh's skin. He could always make him shiver with arousal at the slightest scrape of his fingernails, and now was no exception.

He tucked his thumbs into the waistband of Josh's boxers and ran them slowly around the rim. Josh moved closer and smoothly thrust himself forward. Sam felt Josh start to grow hard against him and noticed a rise in his own trousers. He pulled away.

"I'm gonna go upstairs and change then fix our supper," he said. He struggled away from Josh and started to collect the clothes on the floor.

Josh had his hands on Sam, pawing and petting and pulling at his tie. "No, don't go now. We'll eat later."

"I'm going now," Sam insisted. "I don't want a quickie on the living room floor. When we're in each other's arms again, I want it to be for the rest of the night."

Josh cocked his head a little to the left and gave a crooked smile. "Me too," he whispered. "But you shouldn't be such a prick tease when you know how vulnerable I am."

Sam laughed. "Josh, all I've got to do is wink at you and you're ready to go. You have more testosterone than any man I've ever known. Don't give me any sad stories about you being deprived."

Sam went upstairs ad put his and Josh's clothes away, then came back down wearing a pair of grey sweatpants with `Princeton' down the side of one leg. Josh still stood in front of the TV.

"One sandwich or two?" he asked He patted Josh's bottom as he walked past.

"Two. And pickles. Do we have any chips?"

"We have chips," Sam called back from the kitchen. "What do you want to drink?"

"Dr. Pepper!"

Sam set to work fixing their supper. He wondered which one would be the first to mention Leo's meeting. Or maybe neither of them would and hoped it would just go away. He knew better than that.

After Josh announced he would move out, Leo had said, "Ok, then. Do it this weekend. Not a word of this outside my office. Now everybody get out of here."

And it was over. Cold, cut, and dried. No, "How ya doing, Josh?" or "You ok, Sam?"

Even though Toby and CJ were accepting of the gay marriage, because Leo wasn't and the mere mention of the topic made him uncomfortable, even angry, further discussion of it in his office was verboten.

Not even Sam and Josh had spoken a word about it. CJ was out of sight in a flash and Toby mumbled something about the invitation still being good for Crawdad's, but Josh said they'd pass, thanks. So they each drove home in silence, caught up in their own thoughts about what had just happened to turn their world upside down. Not a word was spoken until Sam asked Josh if he wanted something to eat.

Sam arranged the chicken salad sandwich triangles on the plates and put chips in the center. He put a pickle spear between each triangle. He grabbed Josh's Dr. Pepper, a 7-Up for himself, the plates, a handful of napkins, and headed to the living room.

"Magazines, magazines," he said to Josh.

Josh didn't move.

"Josh!"

"Huh? What?" Josh turned around.

"Spread magazines on the coffee table so I can put this stuff down," said Sam. "Do it now."

Josh did and they sat next to each other, leg to leg, arm to arm, to eat.

"This is soooo good," Josh said through a mouthful of chicken salad.

"It's your Mom's recipe. She gave it to me the last time she was here."

"It's better. You put more celery in it. I like it crunchy."

"Is that why you love me?" Sam asked. "Because of the crunch?"

"Uh huh, that's the only reason." Josh leaned over and kissed Sam on the cheek.

After dinner Sam was in the kitchen putting their paper plates and aluminum cans in the recycling bin and wiping the counter when the phone rang. It rang three times before Josh looked at the caller I.D., saw that it was Toby, and answered it.

"Hey Toby."

"Is this a bad time?" Toby asked.

"No, it's ok. We just ate and we'll probably go to bed pretty soon. But right now is good."

"How's everything, Josh?"

"By everything you mean . . .?"

"Sam," Toby replied. "Mostly."

"He seems ok, but truth be told, we haven't talked about it since we left Leo's office."

"At all?"

"Not a word," said Josh. "Leo told us not to and we're cooperating for the sake of the Bartlet Administration. Wouldn't want anything to imperil the Bartlet Administration."

"Your sarcasm is noted. I told you I'm gonna take care of this and I am."

"Well you'd damn well better do it fast, Toby, because tomorrow morning I'm packing my suitcase and moving into an empty apartment that doesn't even have a fucking light bulb in the place. If you said you're gonna take care of it just to appease Sam, I'll personally beat the living crap out of you because he took you at your word."

"I said I'd take care of it. Can I talk to Sam?"

"Hang on."

Josh walked into the kitchen with the phone. "It's Toby," he said.

Sam took the phone from Josh. "Toby? Is everything ok?"

"Yeah, sure," Toby said in his soft-spoken voice. "I needed to tell you, Pawn to Rook Four. It came to me last night, and I . . . uh . . . thought I'd better tell you."

"Ok, I'll make the move on my board. You're about to lose this game, you know," Sam replied.

"Don't get too cocky, hot shot. You haven't beaten me yet." There was a pause. Then, "Uh, Sam, I was thinking about you and . . . how are you doing? I know things got kind of rough in there."

"I'm not sure. You said you'll fix it, so I'm not gonna worry about it. I'll trust you to make things ok like you promised," said Sam. "That's all I can do, isn't it?"

Josh wrapped his arms around Sam from behind and rested his chin on Sam's shoulder. He closed his eyes so he could commit to memory this moment of domesticity to call upon when he was alone in the empty apartment.

"Will you fix it before tomorrow?" Sam asked.

"I don't think I can do it that quickly, kiddo. That's something else I want to tell you and Josh. He needs to go ahead and move into that apartment tomorrow while I do what I have to do."

"Toby!"

Josh took the phone from Sam. "What did you just say to him?" he demanded.

"I said you need to go ahead and move into the apartment tomorrow while I get my end of the job done. I'll work as quickly as I can."

"You call me tomorrow, Toby," Josh said. "Call me early and call me with good news."

"Yeah. I'm still at the office and I'm not done here. Let me have Sam again for another minute then I've gotta go."

Josh handed the phone back to Sam then hugged him tightly while Sam finished his conversation.

"Toby?"

"Sam, I told Josh I'm still at the office and I'm working on things tonight. Don't have a meltdown tomorrow when Josh leaves, ok? It's only gonna be for a short time and it's temporary. It's not like Josh is LEAVING you . . . you understand that, right?"

Sam nodded.

"Sam, you understand, right? I want you to be perfectly clear on this."

"Yes. Yes, it's clear."

"You're still married, he still loves you as much as he ever did, and this is just an inconvenience. That's all it is."

"I know."

"Do you want me to come over when he leaves?" offered Toby. "No. Thanks, but no. I thought I'd go with him at first and help get some groceries in. Take some dishes and a few things to get settled."

"You can't do that."

"Why not?"

"This has to look like a clean separation," Toby explained. "You need to give the appearance you're not a couple anymore. When Josh walks out your door, he's on his own. You MUST understand what we're doing here."

Sam reached up and touched Josh's hand on his shoulder. "I know, but . . ."

"Sam, Josh isn't abandoning you. You need to know that and don't just SAY the words. You've got to really know it, uh, for real because . . . uh . . . he's NOT . . . leaving you, and I know how important it is for you to believe that in your . . . in your heart. Josh is coming back."

"I really know it, Toby. He doesn't wanna go and I know he'll be back as soon as he can."

"Ok, I've got work to do. Get a good night's sleep, Sam, and don't worry. You trust me, right?"

"Yes."

"I'll talk to you soon. Is there anything you want from me tonight?"

"I've got Josh. That's all I need."

"Ok, good-night, Sam."

"Good-night, Toby. Thanks for calling."

Josh took the phone from Sam, but kept him in his embrace.

"Toby's gonna take care of it," Josh said. "He wouldn't keep saying it if he didn't have some kind of plan up his sleeve. Let's just leave it in his hands and not worry about it. Can you do that?"

"We don't have much of a choice, do we?"

Josh kissed Sam's neck. "No, we don't. Are you about finished in here?"

"All done."

"Ready to go upstairs?" Josh asked.

"Let me make Toby's chess move, then I'll be ready."

Sam stopped by the chessboard and moved Toby's piece. It was a sloppy move and Sam thought he used it just as an excuse to call him. He put the piece back in it's original place and planned to tell Toby he wouldn't accept it.

Josh turned out the lights in the kitchen and living room and the two men went upstairs hand-in-hand.

In the bathroom, Sam lit aromatic candles while Josh filled their deep tub with hot water, bubble bath, and eucalyptus oil. It had started to rain and they could hear the raindrops pelt against the bathroom window.

Josh slid in first and lay back against the porcelain tub. Sam climbed in, sat in front of him, and leaned back against Josh's chest, his head on Josh's shoulder. Josh brought his arms around so his hands rested on Sam's stomach.

Steam rose from the hot water and hung in the dimly lit room. The fragrance from the candles filled their nostrils and bubbles floated up to their necks. The sound of the rain relaxed them even more.

Josh slowly started to massage Sam's chest. The oil made his skin smooth and Josh's hands glided over his body with ease. He worked his way down to his stomach and abdomen. Just when he elicited the first of several little moans out of Sam, Josh moved his hands to Sam's arms and began to massage his forearms, biceps, and shoulders.

Slowly, Sam slipped down into the water and more than once Josh had to pull him up before the water bubbled into his mouth.

"Does this feel good?" he said quietly into Sam's ear.

"Uh huh."

"What part do you like best?"

"Lying between your legs with your arms around me," Sam replied.

Josh smiled and reached for the shampoo.

"What do you like best?" asked Sam.

"Having you between my legs and putting my arms around you," he answered. "And the feel of your smooth skin when I run my hands over your body. And knowing in a little while I'm going to kiss every inch of that body and make love to you."

"Mmmmmmm."

"Dunk your head," Josh said.

Sam slid under the water and came up spurting bubbles. Josh squirted a glob of shampoo on Sam's head, and slowly worked it into his hair, taking his time to massage it onto his scalp and rub the tension out of his neck and forehead. Sam closed his eyes and let himself be pampered.

"Dunk again," Josh said when he was finished.

Sam did.

"I'll have to hold you under the faucet," said Josh. "There's a LOT of shampoo in there, and the oil. It's gonna take a lot of rinsing."

Josh reached for the fresh white washcloth draped over the side of the tub, dipped it in the water, and lathered it with soap. Gently and lovingly he washed Sam's face, neck, and ears. He rinsed and re- soaped and ran the washcloth down each of Sam's arms, taking care to wash each of his fingers separately and slowly.

"Lean forward," he said. Sam did and Josh washed his back using long, slow strokes. "Now lay back against me." Sam did and Josh washed his chest and abdomen. Despite the hot water, he felt Sam shiver in his embrace.

"Now I want you to lay against the back of the tub," said Josh, "and I'm going to sit sideways and you put your legs over my lap."

They easily made this shift; this was one of their favorite positions when they played in the bathtub. Josh re-lathered the washcloth and washed Sam's feet and worked his way up his calves and shins to his thighs. He spread Sam's legs and washed between them. He went deep between Sam's legs and washed him clean. Then very gently and very lovingly, he washed Sam's penis and genitalia.

Sam instantly became aroused and his penis stood straight and hard. Josh smiled at what he'd done.

"Suck me off, Josh," Sam murmured. "It won't take long ~~ I'll come in about thirty seconds."

"Down boy. I'm saving you for later."

"Oh, come on. Just slide your lips over it and take it all. You know you want to."

Josh laughed. "Sweet Sam. You've got the virility of an eighteen- year-old. In due time, my boy. In due time. Now let's switch places and you wash me."

Sam picked up a clean washcloth and patiently and lovingly washed Josh from stem to stern, front and back, just as Josh had cleaned him.

When he finished, he started at Josh's foot and very slowly kissed him the length of his body ~~ he nibbled around his ankle, kissed and sucked his calf, then licked behind his knee and used his tongue to tickle that special spot that drove Josh wild. His tongue darted in and out of Josh's belly button then made its way up Josh's stomach to his chest. His lips closed around Josh's nipple and he tugged slightly until little moans of pleasure escaped from Josh's throat. Sam bit on the nub and Josh jerked. Sam bit again and held Josh still. Josh's little moans turned into loud groans and he put his hands on Sam's head and ran his fingers through his hair. Sam suckled on Josh's nipple as Josh writhed beneath him. Sam could feel Josh's cock, hard against him, and it brought him delight and satisfaction to know he enticed his lover to this point of sexual aphrodisia and now had control over his every move.

Sam reached for Josh's dick as he put his lips on Josh's. He hand- fucked him while his tongue filled Josh's mouth in a kiss so alive with adoration and passion it took Josh's breath away. With eyes closed and heart racing, Sam, too, was lost in the moment.

Sam spread Josh's legs and draped then over either side of the tub. He used his foot to release the water and pulled Josh down so he was more exposed to Sam. No words were exchanged; just murmurs and gentle whispers of affection between two men who didn't need to speak to express their love or lust for the other.

Sam poured warm bath oil in his hands and while he stroked his own penis with one hand, he made Josh ready for penetration with the other.

"Come on, Sam," Josh said quietly. "I need you inside me. Now."

"I'm coming, honey. I'm getting all slicked up."

"I don't care. Just come."

Sam lifted Josh's hips and guided his pulsating dick inside Josh, who pushed forward toward Sam, anxious to be filled with his husband. Josh took it all in a single thrust and when he felt the wholeness of Sam, a look of contentment crossed his face.

"Now fuck me," he said. "Fuck me hard, Sam."

"I love you, Josh," Sam replied. "I love you so much."

Sam slammed against Josh over and over; they both were insatiable, neither wanted this time to end, neither wanted to physically separate, neither wanted to let go of something they knew would be their last time until . . . neither wanted to think about it.

But they did let go eventually, when all the water was drained from the tub and the steam had dissipated and the bathroom had turned cold. Sam and Josh took a quick, hot shower together to rinse the oil out of their hair, then they got big, fluffy, soft white towels from the shelf and dried each other until every drop of water was gone.

They stood in the middle of the bathroom, towels shrouding them like a tent, naked bodies pressed together, putting off bed because bed meant sleep and sleep meant tomorrow and tomorrow meant Josh had to leave. It was easier to stand in the bathroom and pretend like it was the right thing to do.

Josh finally spoke. "We need to go to bed. It's late."

Sam nodded.

"Are you sleepy?"

"A little," Sam replied. "Are you?"

"Not so much, but you know, its late."

Sam nodded again.

Josh hung up their damp towels, blew out the bathroom candles, and turned out the light behind them as they went into the bedroom.

Sam and Josh lay in the middle of the bed and held each other. Their arms and legs were entwined and their faces were only inches apart. The rain continued to fall.

"What time do you have to leave tomorrow?" Sam asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"I thought around ten. That'll give me time to get a few things together. I'm not taking much."

"No, you won't need much. Toby said it wouldn't be for long." Sam snuggled a little closer to Josh.

"I'll have to buy a bed or a futon or something."

"Take sheets and towels from here."

"And toilet paper," added Josh.

"And a lamp. A chair. Josh, I don't want you to go." Sam's voice cracked.

Josh kissed Sam's forehead.

"It'll be ok. Toby's gonna fix it."

"You don't have hangers for your clothes," said Sam. "Or a coffee maker."

"Sam, stop. You're just making it worse. Why don't you leave in the morning and come back after I'm gone?" Josh suggested. "Go to the movies or the library or something. This is just gonna be too hard on you, babe."

"It won't be any easier if I'm out driving around."

"Yeah," Josh said with resignation.

They lay in the quietness and listened to the rain. Candles flickered and made dancing shadows on the wall. They ran their hands over each other's bodies; not in a sexual way, not in a sensual way, but in a loving way, just to say `I cherish you'. It seemed as if they couldn't get enough of each other to keep while they were apart, or that they'd forget how the other's body felt. They wanted to touch as much and for as long as they could before they were torn apart.

"Does it feel like you're being abandoned by me, Angel?" Josh asked.

"It did at first. But I've thought it through and I know you'd never do that. This has nothing to do with us. It's a political power play, that's all.

"I don't know what I'd do if you felt abandoned. I don't think I could bear it."

"Just don't forget me, ok?" Sam said with a nervous little laugh.

Josh pulled Sam's head into the crook of his elbow. "Unforgettable," he sang in his sweet tenor, "that's what you are, unforgettable, though near or far, like a song of love that clings to me, how the thought of you does things to me, never before has someone been more, unforgettable in every way, and forever more, that's how you'll stay, that's why darling, it's incredible, that someone so unforgettable, thinks that I'm unforgettable, too."

Sam kissed Josh. "That was nice," he said.

"When you get lonely for me, just remember that song," Josh said. "And remember me singing it to you, and it'll be like I'm here."

"But you won't be."

"No, I won't be."

They lay silent again and Sam stroked Josh's face. "Go to sleep, Sam," Josh said. "It's late. You're wiped out."

"I'll go to sleep after you do. I wanna watch you as long as I can."

"Sam, if we weren't already married, I'd ask you to marry me again tonight."

"And I'd say `yes' again tonight," Sam replied.

They shared a tender kiss and went to sleep with their lips on the other's, looking into each other's eyes.

*************************

Toby waited until nine o'clock the next morning before he picked up the phone. He hadn't slept well and was up hours ago, but he knew better than to call too early. He was anxious to get things in motion. He got comfortable on his couch, dialed, and hoped he didn't wake anybody up.

The voice on the other end of the phone was definitely awake, bright, and sounded friendly.

"Good morning, Zoey. Please don't say you're not coming or I'll have your Father send the Marines after you and you know how he hates to do that."

"Good morning, Mrs. Bartlet. This isn't Zoey, not exactly."

"Toby? Is that you?" Abbey questioned.

"Yes, ma'am, it's me."

"Toby! Have you ever called the residence before?"

"I don't believe so, ma'am. Is this an inconvenience?" Toby asked.

"No, not at all. I take it you want to speak with the President. Or did you just want to chit-chat with me a while?"

"As delightful as that sounds, Mrs. Bartlet, may I speak with the President if he's not busy?"

"Oh, he's just eating his cereal and watching Saturday morning cartoons." She held the phone out. "Jethro, Toby's on the phone for you."

Jed set aside the International Herald Tribune he was reading and picked up the phone on the small table next to him.

"Toby! What possible reason could you have for getting me out of bed on a Saturday morning?" he bellowed.

"No dice, Mr. President, Mrs. Bartlet already told me you were up and I know you rarely sleep past six a.m. even if she hadn't told me," Toby replied.

"Ok, the jig is up and I've been found out. Toby, did you know Zoey is coming to spend the weekend with her parents? Her Father is her favorite parent and that would be me."

"I didn't until Mrs. Bartlet mistook me for your daughter, sir."

"Yeah, well, that's an image that's gonna haunt me for a while. Let's move on. What can I do for you, Toby?" Jed asked.

"Mr. President," Toby started, "has Leo talked with you about Sam and Josh within the last twelve hours?"

"What have they done?"

"They haven't done anything. And if Leo had spoken with you, you'd know exactly what I'm talking about. Mr. President, I really, really hate to inconvenience you on a Saturday, especially with Zoey coming, but it's . . . it's important I meet with you today. Is that possible?"

"How important, Toby?" Jed asked.

"The utmost."

"Ok. When and where?"

"Anywhere you say. Are you free at four o'clock?"

"Four o'clock, my office."

"I appreciate this, sir, and I wouldn't do it if there was any other way but . . ."

"It's fine, Toby. Four o'clock."

"Thank you, Mr. President."

After the call ended Toby picked up a legal pad on his desk. Next to "POTUS" he wrote the date, time, and place of their meeting. Then he dialed another number.

"Yeah?"

Damn, Toby thought. They're still in bed asleep.

"Simon?" he asked.

"Yeah, who's this?"

"Toby Ziegler, from the White House. I apologize if I woke you."

"No problem. I've only been asleep an hour-and-a-half anyway. I'm guessing you want CJ," Simon replied.

"Uh . . ."

Simon rolled over and snuggled up behind CJ.

"Hey," he said softly. He kissed her ear and spoke a little louder. "CJ." He shook her shoulder and spoke louder still. "CJ! It's Toby!"

CJ threw back the covers and sat straight up in bed. "Toby! What? What are you doing here? I'm naked! What do you want?"

Simon laughed. "He's not HERE, sweetheart. He's on the phone."

CJ exhaled a sigh of relief and fell back down on the bed. "You scared the bejeezus out of me! I was sound asleep and thought Toby was . . . give me the phone." CJ took the phone from Simon and laid back down, her head on Simon's chest.

"Toby, somebody better be dead!" she said gruffly into the phone.

"The way you sweet-talk men, it's no wonder Simon hangs around," Toby replied. "Get up, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and be wide awake so when I call you back in ten minutes, you'll be able to fully comprehend what I'm going to say. Can you do that?"

"What's up?"

"I'll tell you in ten minutes."

Toby disconnected and looked at his watch. He was tempted to call to see how Sam and Josh were doing, but he didn't want to intrude on them this morning. He'd be calling Sam soon enough anyway. He went into the kitchen and poured himself another cup of coffee, then looked at his watch again. It had only been eight minutes. He wandered over to his chessboard and moved the piece he'd told Sam about yesterday. Shitty move. I should have thought it through. He picked up his watering can, filled it in the kitchen sink, and, with that in one hand and his coffee mug in the other, watered all the plants in his apartment. With what was left in the can, he poured over the Batman and Robin action figures stuck in the dirt of the fichus tree in the corner by the window. He picked up Robin and held him at face level.

"How did you get yourself into this mess, my little friend?" he asked. "I can't watch out for you every minute of every damn day. If you didn't have Josh, I'd have to chain you to my desk while we worked and when we got home I'd chain you to . . ."

Toby caught himself before he finished his sentence and stuck the toy back in the dirt that had now turned to mud. He looked at his watch. Close enough to ten minutes for him. He sat back down on his couch and re-dialed CJ.

"What's up?" she asked.

"Are you awake?"

"I'm awake."

"Wide awake?" Toby pushed.

"Wide awake."

"Are you able to fully comprehend what I'm about to ask you?"

"Talk to me, Toby! I don't have all day!" CJ demanded.

"I need you awake, CJ!"

"Is this something for real, Toby? It can't wait until Monday?"

"I promised Sam and Josh I'd try to fix this for them," Toby explained. "No, I promised them I WOULD fix this for them. I don't agree with what happened in Leo's office last night. It wasn't supposed to go down like that and get out of control."

"Tell me about it," she replied.

"You and I weren't even supposed to be there. So I'm gonna do all I can to protect Sam and Josh and still keep the President and the Administration safe. But I need your help. Do I have it?"

"Yes, of course, anything for the guys. What do you need?"

"Danny Concannon's phone number for a start," Toby said, "or where I can find him this morning."

"What do you want with Danny?"

"I need his help to fix this thing."

Toby! I'm the Press Secretary! You don't just go to some reporter you pluck out of the blue for help! " CJ was both angered and hurt.

"Danny's hardly `some reporter' I plucked out of the blue'. You, yourself, said Danny's the best you've seen. He's headed up the White House Press Corps forever and you've known him for years. Don't you trust him?"

"Yes I trust him, but why can't you confide in me? I'm closer to Sam and Josh than Danny will ever be."

"You're TOO close," Toby said.

"TOO close?"

"Too close to the guys. There'll be stuff revealed Sam would NOT want you to know, or Leo for that matter. He's not that tight with Danny. He rarely sees him so it wouldn't be as hard to tell him. Can you understand that?"

"Yes. No. I have no idea what you're doing, Toby. But if you do, that's great. Hold on, I'll get his number."

A minute later CJ came back to the phone. "It's 202 -832-4096. Are you gonna have Danny do something that involves the Seaborns' threat?" she asked.

"Maybe."

"You can't do that. That'd be revealing confidential information at too high a level. We're talking near-extortion of the President here Toby. Do you realize what Danny could do with that information?"

"He won't do anything with it," Toby replied.

"You don't know that! You're handing him front page headlines, buddy boy."

"Relax, CJ. Danny's not gonna put anything on the front page."

"How can you be so sure?" CJ asked. "I know Danny better than you do and he'd jump at knowing this stuff."

"Well, we're just gonna have to take our chances and hope Danny is a man of integrity and does the right thing instead of getting the scoop this time."

"I hope you're right," CJ replied.

"You and me both," Toby agreed. "CJ, has Danny ever said anything to you about Josh and Sam? Has he ever expressed any suspicions about which team they're playing for," Toby asked.

"Why do men feel the need to give everything a sports connotation? Every last one of you. Go ahead, Toby. But I just had to get that off my chest."

"Has he?" Toby repeated.

"No. He's never said anything to even SUGGEST he knew there was anything going on between them," "And knowing Danny, if he did he'd be in my office so quick, it would have made my head swim. No, not Danny, he doesn't know a thing. Now will you tell me why you want Danny?"

"Let me talk to him first, then I'll tell you."

"I don't have any choice in this matter, do I?" CJ asked.

"Nope."

"Why?"

"For the same reason I write a victory speech AND a concession speech. For the same reason I don't celebrate one minute ahead of election results being called as official. Why risk the wrath of . . ."

"I know, I know. The thing from high atop the whatever. Ok, but you're not doing anything illegal, are you?"

"CJ, look who we're dealing with here," Toby replied. "And no, I'm not."

"Ok, I just worry because I'm the face the world sees on their TV screens trying explain our way out of our screw-ups. Be careful."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Toby disconnected, picked up his legal pad, and marked off where he'd written "CJ". He went to the kitchen and re-filled his mug with fresh coffee then instead of sitting on the couch, he sat at his desk. He bounced his pencil on the tablet and looked at the phone number he'd written next to Danny's name.

Toby had such mixed feelings about this, but something kept poking him in the gut saying "Just do it" and he couldn't ignore the fact that making the call was probably the right move. He'd never know unless he did it, and then, right or wrong, it would be a done deal.

Am I betraying Sam ~~ Sam and Josh ~~ or am I helping them? he thought. My intentions are good, no doubt about that. But are my actions deplorable? Maybe not deplorable, certainly not noble, somewhere in-between . . . just trying to help a guy out.

He dialed very slowly and hung up before it rang. He took a sip of coffee and found himself doodling on the paper. He drew a stick horse walking among some trees and, in block letters, "I'M SORRY SAM." He dialed again and let it ring this time.

"Danny."

"Danny? Toby Ziegler, White House."

"Hey, Toby. What's up?"

"Uh, nothing really."

"Ok," Danny replied.

Silence.

"Is that all you called for, Toby?"

"Yeah, uh, no. Could you and I meet for a while this afternoon? I, uh, have something I need to talk with you about. Ask you. Talk with you about then ask you. Could you do that?" Toby asked.

"Name it."

"Two o'clock, my office."

"See ya then," Danny said.

Toby hung up. That was too easy. But he didn't have time to think about that now. He wrote "Two o'clock, my office, today next to Danny's name on his tablet.

Next on his list, and the one thing he dreaded most, was Sam. "I do NOT want to do this," he said out loud. "God, if there's any other way, reveal it to me now. Please."

Toby paused, hoping for a revelation, but there was none. He looked at his watch. Surely Josh is gone by now, and Sam had said it wasn't necessary for me to come over. Still, this is something I have no intention of doing over the phone. I think maybe . . . maybe I want to be with Sam anyway. Maybe I don't WANT to be, but SHOULD be. As his supervisor I feel a responsibility toward him.

Toby drained his coffee mug, rinsed it out, and set it in the kitchen sink. He picked up his legal pad, found his keys on his desk, and headed out. He decided if Josh's car were still there, he wouldn't stop. He wanted them to have their privacy when Josh left; didn't want to make a painful situation more awkward. If he had to, he'd circle the block or park up the street and go talk to Sam after Josh was gone.

When Toby arrived at the townhouse he didn't see Josh's car anywhere. He looked up and down the street, on both sides, and still couldn't find it. He was convinced Josh had left. He pulled into a parking space across the street and turned off the ignition. The rain had let up, but was still coming down steadily. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and stared at Sam and Josh's window. He couldn't even begin to imagine what Sam had gone through when Josh walked out that door, much less envision what he was experiencing now.

"You're wasting time, Ziegler," he said to the raindrops on the windshield. "You've set the wheels in motion, so get your ass in gear."

He opened the car door and dashed through the rain, totally oblivious to what the next couple of hours with Sam would bring.

*************************

Josh's suitcase was open on the bed, but he really didn't know what to pack. Was this separation going to last two days? Just until after the election? The next four years? He wandered around the bedroom putting clothes in the suitcase and Sam followed him, taking things out.

"You don't need four pair of sweat pants," he said. "One's enough. Toby said this is gonna be over real quick. Which color do you want?"

"Blue."

Sam took out three pair and left the Navy blue.

"Do you really want all these sweaters?"

"I like sweaters."

"Be optimistic, Josh. Let's believe Toby's gonna get us out of this." Sam took all but two sweaters out of the suitcase. "Unless you WANT to get away for a while . . ."

"That's nuts," Josh replied. "I just don't know how to pack. Will you do it for me?"

"Sure. Get a couple of towels and whatever you need from the bath . . ." Sam's voice cracked.

"What'd you say? Need from what?"

Sam turned away and shook his head. Tears came to his eyes for the first time and he knew if he spoke, he would cry. Josh went into the bathroom to collect his personal things and left Sam alone to pack.

Sam cried silently as he quickly filled the suitcase with the basics. He had faith in Toby. He HAD to have faith in Toby or he wouldn't be able to get through this. One of his biggest fears ~~ Josh leaving him ~~ was coming true, although it was under different circumstances that he imagined. That eased the pain substantially, but he still couldn't believe this was happening. He and Josh had never been apart since they had become a couple.

He took the suitcase downstairs and set it by the few boxes they'd packed earlier that morning. Except for a final few things, Josh was ready to go. Sam went into the kitchen. He splashed water on his face so Josh wouldn't see he'd been crying, then made some sandwiches for Josh to take with him. Dissatisfied with just that, he filled an entire grocery bag with food for him to take.

What will he have for supper? Sam thought. I don't want him to eat alone. Josh likes to talk about the day's events with me while we eat. Who will hang up his clothes? He'll just leave them all over the floor. He won't recycle. He won't floss. And tonight . . . I don't want the middle of the bed if Josh isn't in the middle too.

Sam wiped at his eyes with the backs of his hands. He didn't want to cry again. He didn't want Josh to worry about HIM. Sam was operating on autopilot as it was; he was just vaguely aware of his surroundings and actions as he moved through the townhouse.

"Sam?"

Sam jerked his head up at the sound of his name.

"Sam?"

"In here! Be right out!" he called back.

He collected what he'd packed for Josh and went into the living room. He was surprised to see Josh standing by the front door. He expected him to be sitting on the couch or watching TV. Not by the door ready to leave.

"Are you . . . are you leaving NOW?" he asked.

"It's after ten. I thought I'd better go on since I need to do some shopping," Josh replied.

"Are you gonna get a bed?"

"I think just a futon. Don't you think a futon will be ok?"

Sam nodded. "A futon . . . should be ok."

"I'll go to Wal-Mart, I guess. I need a lamp. Well, we made a list. You know what I need."

"I could help you pick out those things," Sam suggested.

"No, Sam."

"But you don't know how to buy a good garlic press."

"I won't press any garlic until I come back home," Josh replied.

"You promise?"

Josh nodded. "I promise."

"Don't forget an alarm clock."

"I won't."

"You'll need an alarm clock," Sam repeated.

"I'll get one."

There was a long pause.

"Did you pack my blue pajamas?" Josh asked. "The ones that are too big on me?"

"No."

"No? Why not? I love to snuggle in those pjs when I don't feel good or I take a nap."

I'm gonna sleep in them while you're gone because they smell like you and it'll keep you closer."

There was another silent pause.

"I have some groceries here for you," Sam said. "Stuff you might want later." Sam held the bag out and Josh took it. They were careful to make sure their hands didn't touch.

"Thanks. That was really nice of you."

"I wanted to do it."

Their words had become stilted and awkward. Both men were making superficial small talk to try and stall what they knew was coming.

And then there was nothing else to say except the inevitable, so nobody said anything. Sam looked at the floor and Josh scanned his boxes and suitcase. They avoided each other and it was obvious. Finally, they couldn't put it off any longer.

"Sam," Josh said, his voice soft and sad, "I have to go."

"Yeah, I know." Sam raised his eyes and found himself looking into Josh's. "I'll help you put this stuff in the car."

"No, you stay in here. I'd rather do it myself."

"I can help," Sam insisted.

"I'd rather do it myself, Sam. Please. You stay in here."

"Yeah, ok."

Sam memorized Josh as he came in and out of the townhouse to collect his things. Faded blue jeans, oatmeal-colored cashmere sweater, tennis shoes, listless brown eyes, brown hair now damp and unruly, curly around his ears and the nape of his neck from the rain that had no mercy and continued to fall. Ring finger, bare.

Josh came back in stomping his feet and clapping his hands together, as if he'd been out in the snow. Nervous gestures because he didn't know what else to do.

Sam shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. He scratched one bare foot with the other. He had on Josh's `Green Day' t-shirt.

"I guess that's everything," Josh said.

"Did you get everything?" Sam repeated.

"Yeah."

"I'm gonna take off then."

"When can I call you?" Sam asked. "I don't think you can, Sam."

"Can you call me?"

Josh shook his head.

"And we can't meet anywhere? Like for a cup of coffee?"

"I'll see you Monday at work, Angel. That's the best we can do. And we're gonna have to be all business."

"Ok."

Josh opened the door. "Are you gonna kiss me good-bye?" he asked.

Sam was in Josh's arms, but he didn't kiss him. Josh tried, but Sam turned away.

"What's up with that?" Josh asked. "A hug but no kiss?"

"When we got married and said our vows, I made a silent vow to myself," Sam explained. "I said no matter what happened in our lifetime together, I would never kiss you good-bye."

"You kiss me good-bye every morning when we go our separate ways for work," Josh reasoned. "And you kiss me good-bye when you go play racquetball. And when I go rent videos and stop at Taco Bell."

"That's different."

"How's that different?"

"Because," said Sam, "I know you're coming back."

"Sam . . ."

"You're not leaving me, are you Josh? There isn't something you're not telling me, is there?"

"God no, Sam. I'm gonna be back in our bed, with you, as fast as is humanly possible. I'm not leaving you. I'm not breaking up with you. I'm not abandoning you. I love you. Trust me, trust Toby, trust yourself and what you know about US. Now, are we good?"

Sam nodded. "I love you, Josh. I'll see you Monday."

Sam and Josh hugged tightly. Then Josh pulled away. He kissed Sam on the forehead and closed the door between them. As he pulled out into traffic he told himself he wasn't going to look up at their window, but he couldn't stop himself. There, with his palm flat against the windowpane, stood Sam. Josh couldn't tell if he saw raindrops on the glass or teardrops on Sam's face.

*************************

Toby knocked on the townhouse door. No answer. He knocked louder. No answer. He looked at his watch. Josh couldn't have been gone THAT long, and Toby knew Sam wasn't going with him to the apartment.

Where was Sam?

He knocked again, but knew it was futile.

Toby pulled out his cell phone and called the townhouse. There was no answer. He tried Sam's cell phone, and again, no answer, which surprised Toby since Sam almost always answered on the first ring. He left a voice message for Sam to call him. Then he tore a sheet out of his legal pad and wrote: "Sam, call me ASAP. Important. Toby." and left it at the door.

He pounded on the door one more time but didn't wait for anybody to open it. He walked away, turned and looked one last time, then got in his car and just sat there. He didn't know where to go or what to do.

Where was Sam?

He was the final piece of the puzzle Toby was putting together, the most critical piece of the puzzle at this stage, and he was nowhere to be found. Toby began to rethink the order in which he'd made his phone calls this morning. Without Sam, his meeting with Danny was practically useless, and without Danny's input, his meeting with the President was essentially a waste of time.

Would Josh know where Sam went? If not, Josh would worry. Did he go to the office to catch up on work? He probably wouldn't be able to concentrate. To get something to eat? No, Sam lost his appetite when he got upset.

Toby conceded that he could guess all day and he still wouldn't come up with the right answer so he might as well just get comfortable and wait until Sam came home or it came time for his meeting with Danny, whichever came first. While he waited he made notes of what he could remember from earlier talks with Sam and comments Josh had made.

He pulled a cigar out of his shirt pocket, lit it, and opened his car window. The cool air pulled his smoke rings outside and they melted in the raindrops as he alternately jotted down notes and looked at Sam's door.

*************************

Sam took his shoes and socks off and put them in the locker. He unzipped his jeans, took them off, folded them neatly, and laid them on top of his shoes. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up. When his head popped through, he was startled to see another man standing directly in front of him, a gym bag over his shoulder.

The man smiled. "Cobra. I've missed you."

Chapter 74

Josh didn't feel like unpacking his car in the rain. It had come down all night and all day and he was already wet from pushing the several cartloads of supplies he needed from Wal-Mart and a couple of other stores to the car. He was cold and wet and tired and miserable.

What he wanted to do was go back to the townhouse, take a hot shower with Sam, snuggle on the couch to watch a movie, and eat popcorn.

But there were things he HAD to have in the apartment. The futon to sleep on, the lamps and light bulbs, the small refrigerator, the groceries Sam had packed, the alarm clock, his bathroom things, his clothes . . .

"Shit!" he said. "I need it all." So he was resigned to unpacking the entire car before he could settle in.

He couldn't get the key to work in the lock of the small one-bedroom apartment, which was barely more than an efficiency. He jiggled it, worked it up and down, twisted and turned, and finally kicked the door in frustration.

"Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!"

"Put your foot through that door and you've bought it."

Josh turned to see a man leaning against the wall, watching him, arms crossed, a smile on his face.

"Yeah, well, if the fuckin' manager had given me a fuckin' key that worked I wouldn't HAVE to kick the fuckin' door down," Josh replied. He kicked it again.

The man walked over to him.

"I'm the fuckin' manager and when it rains the fuckin' lock sticks," the man said. "Let me do it."

Josh looked at him and said nothing. He handed the key over, the man slid it into the lock, turned it, and the door opened immediately.

"Thanks," Josh said sheepishly. "You weren't the one who gave, uh, me the key when I signed the lease."

"You didn't sign the lease."

"Yeah, well."

"Does the tenant know you're moving in here?" the man asked.

"Yeah, he's, uh, my cousin and I shouldn't be here very long," Josh replied.

"I never see him around."

"No, he doesn't stay home much. He's weird." Josh didn't open the door; he didn't want the manager to see the apartment was empty.

The man watched him. "I'll need your name," he said.

"What? Why?" A wave of nausea swept through Josh.

"To put on the lease, like a sublet. And a phone number in case we need to reach you," the man replied.

"Why would you need to reach me?"

"In case there's a burglary, a fire, whatever, we'd want to call you."

Josh looked around then said in a low voice. "Are there lots of burglaries and fires in this neighborhood? Is it safe around here?"

The man laughed. "Yes, it's extremely safe here. Don't worry about it. I'm here in the building most of the time. Look, I'm in the first apartment on your left when you walk in the main door. I can see you're busy moving in so just stop by when you have a couple of minutes and I'll get the information from you then, ok?"

"Yeah, I'll do that. First apartment on the left. Thanks."

"My name's Brian." The man extended his arm.

"Josh."

The two men shook hands and Brian left. Josh hadn't counted on this. He'd hoped for an in-and-out, under the radar stay and total anonymity. How could he be so wrong so fast?

Two hours later Josh was settled into his new home and wanted so badly to call Sam he could hardly contain himself. He decided to nest in the corner by the window.

He put down a large area rug on the hardwood floor to define his living area. He put the futon on the rug near the wall and made it up with the moss green sheets he'd brought from home at Sam's insistence; the ones Sam said reflected the candlelight in Josh's brown eyes and made the tiny gold flecks dance. They were way too big so he folded them over several times, then spread a comforter over it. He'd brought one pillow, put the pillowcase on, and hugged it tightly to him. He inhaled. It smelled fresh and clean, like the fabric softener Sam always used.

He wanted to be hugging Sam instead of the pillow. He didn't want to be in this dank, musty smelling apartment that hadn't been opened since he couldn't remember when. He wondered what Sam had done when their townhouse door closed between them, how he'd held up. He knew Sam had put up a stoic front for him, but inside he was probably about to crumble. He wanted to call him, but knew that was off- limits too. He'd call Toby after while and see if he'd talked with Sam. Josh tossed the pillow onto the futon and continued to put his new home together.

He put a small table next to the futon and set a lamp and an alarm clock on it, just as Sam had reminded him. He bought a small aroma candle to light when he lay in bed before he went to sleep, when he knew his thoughts would turn to Sam and hoped Sam would think of him. And finally, a framed photograph of his husband, smiling, the twinkle in his eyes caught by the camera's lens, the shine of his hair captured by the sun's rays. Josh kissed the picture before he set it on the table.

At the end of the rug sat a card table and two folding chairs. On the table were another lamp, Josh's backpack, phone, beeper, a couple of books, and some files he thought he might work on tonight. Propped in the center of the table facing the futon was another photograph, this one of him and Sam together. It was taken at a New Year's Eve party at CJ's last year. They had both gotten drunk and fallen asleep amid the coats piled on her bed. They were snuggled together and CJ thought it was so cute, she snapped the picture and gave it to them. She was certain they'd both be mortified and destroy it and she quickly forgot about it. Instead, they loved it, had it enlarged and framed, and it was among their favorites photos.

Now the photographs and the moss green sheets were all of he had of Sam until Monday, and then they both had to be extremely careful about what they said or did, both in and out of the White House.

He screwed a light bulb into the bathroom fixture and put away his few toiletries. He forgot a shower curtain. He unwrapped a bar of soap and noticed the shower wasn't very clean. Sam would have stopped everything right then and cleaned it. Josh decided to do it later. He opened the package of toilet paper and set a roll on the counter; he'd put it on the holder later. Shampoo, deodorant, and other personal items he just set wherever there was an empty space, no rhyme or reason to his method; he didn't bring much. He didn't plan to stay long.

Josh went into the kitchen and screwed a bulb in the overhead fixture. He shivered. The reality of the situation started to actually sink in when he looked around at the small, stark room and saw how different it was from Sam's warm, welcoming kitchen at home. He had a flash of sitting at the kitchen table eating blue pancakes that Sam had made to spell out his name, and he smiled. He unpacked the groceries and kitchen items Sam had sent along.

There was a Tupperware bowl with the rest of the chicken salad and a yellow Post-It note on the top that read: "I put in extra celery so it would crunch more. Love, Your Sam."

There were a couple of plates, glasses, and some silverware. He sent paper towels, aluminum foil, and a placemat. He put in Josh's Fruit Loops and a baggie of Raisin Bran with a note that said "Try it . . . please?" and the Baby Gherkin Pickles and the Cheetos, peanut butter and six cans of soup, the good kind. Josh smiled. He sent SpaghettiO's and a jar of chutney, M&Ms and half-a-loaf of Jewish rye bread. And fruit. He sent lots of fruit

Then he found an envelope.

Josh pried his tennis shoes and socks off, peeled out of wet jeans and shirt, sat on his futon, and opened the envelope. In Sam's elegant script he had written a poem:

If I could have just one wish, I would wish to wake up everyday to the sound of your breath on my neck, the warmth of your lips on my cheek, the touch of your fingers on my skin, and the feel of your heart beating with mine . . . knowing that I could never find that feeling with anyone other than you.

Always,

Sam

Josh wiped at his nose and read the poem again. "What am I doing here?" he thought. I don't belong in this dump. I belong at home with my husband. The hell with the Bartlet Campaign. Toby talks a good talk but what if that's all it is? Talk. I never should have told Leo. If anything happens to Sam and me because of this, it will be my fault for telling Leo. All my fault. I'll never forgive myself. Oh God, I never should have let this happen.

Josh buried his face in his hands and wept.

*************************

"Did you miss me?" Marc asked.

Sam was stunned to see Marc Hayes standing before him.

"Cat got your tongue?"

"I just . . . didn't expect to see you," Sam replied. "I thought you'd left Washington."

"I came back."

There was an awkward silence. Then Marc slowly studied Sam from top to bottom and back up again and stopped at his eyes.

"You're looking good," he said, "and you look happy to see me."

Sam reached into his gym bag and pulled out some clothes. He put on his gym shorts and a t-shirt. Then he sat on the bench and put on his racquetball shoes.

Marc smiled as he watched.

"I've got a game," Sam said as he put his gym bag in the locker. "I need to go." He picked up his racquet and a can of balls and started to walk away.

Marc stepped in from of Sam and stopped him. "No, you don't. I checked the list and you're looking for a partner. You've got the COURT, but you don't have anybody to play with."

"I'm just gonna beat the ball around, work off some energy. I didn't mean I had a real game," Sam explained, then wished he hadn't.

"I'll play with you, Sam," Marc replied. "I don't have a partner either."

Sam gave a nervous laugh. "I don't think that would be such a good idea."

"Why? You need a partner, I need a partner, we play well together. What's the problem?"

"The problem? Marc!" Sam lowered his voice. "Marc, have you lost your mind? You nearly killed me! No, murdered. You nearly murdered me. You assaulted me and nearly murdered me, and you stole my car. Now you expect me to play racquetball with you like nothing happened? You're crazy!" He started to walk away again.

And again, Marc stepped in front of him, so close, Sam ran into him. So close, he got a good look at the face that first captivated him, took him home, and messed with his mind so deeply that Sam nearly died. He tried to look away, but Marc's face held him spellbound.

"Shhh, don't get excited," Marc said softly. "I'm not going to hurt you." He pushed Sam's hair off his forehead. "Don't be afraid of me. You're not afraid of me, are you, Cobra?"

Sam was riveted by the nearness of Marc as the emotions of those times with him flooded back. Despite the unspeakable acts Marc had committed against Sam, Sam's coherent memories of Marc were good ones and of fun times together. His anger toward Marc had never been as strong as Josh's or Toby's. Sam had never brought it up, probably because trauma victims rarely did. He simply showed no interest in talking about what had happened to him that night at Marc's and later at the park. Maybe he knew and chose to keep it to himself, or maybe he didn't know.

Josh had never asked him because he didn't know how to. Or maybe Josh didn't want to. Whatever the reasons, Sam's last expressed memory of Marc was of being high in his house and that's all he would say.

"No, I'm not afraid of you," said Sam, "but I don't think it's a good idea for us to play racquetball ~~ or do anything else ~~ together. Please let me pass."

Marc didn't move. "One game."

"No."

"Let's just hit the ball around a while."

"No."

"A smoothie at the juice bar?"

"Get out of my way, Marc."

"What if we just sit in my car and smoke a joint together?"

Sam turned and walked around the lockers the long way. Marc met him when he came around the other side.

"You're a sly one, Cobra," he teased.

"There's a restraining order against you," Sam said, "and if you don't leave immediately I'll call the police."

"I don't think you will," Marc replied. "You like me. We have too much fun together."

"Try me."

Marc hesitated. "Ok, I'll leave if that's what you want. But you'll regret it. Tonight when you're in bed, just before you go to sleep, I promise you'll think of me."

Then Marc was gone.

Sam went onto the racquetball court to work off some adrenalin and nervous energy. After he had burst all three balls from the power of his swing, he gathered his things and headed home without even taking time for a shower.

*************************

"Where the hell have you been?"

Sam jumped when the man fell in step with him.

"Toby, you scared the shit out of me," Sam said. "Don't go sneaking up on a person like that!"

"I've been waiting here for . . . I don't know how long, but TOO long. Where've you been?" Toby repeated.

"Are you waiting for me?"

"Yes!"

"I'm sorry. Come on in." Sam unlocked the door to the townhouse and let Toby go in before him. "I went to play racquetball," he explained. "I haven't even showered yet so can you give me ten minutes?"

"Go ahead. I'm gonna fix something to eat. You hungry?" Toby asked.

"Very. Thanks."

Toby walked into the kitchen and Sam went upstairs. He stripped his clothes off, threw them on the floor, and went into the bathroom. Immediately, he felt Josh's absence.

Josh's toothbrush was gone. That was the first thing he noticed. Sam ran his finger around the porcelain toothbrush holder. It was cold. He pulled his finger away and held it to his nose. It smelled faintly of Aquafresh. He took his own toothbrush and put it in the empty hole where Josh's should have been. It wasn't much, but it brought him a little closer to Josh, and at this point, anything helped.

He took a hot shower, longer than he'd planned, dried himself, and put on jeans and Josh's "Jane's Addiction" sweatshirt. Barefoot, he trotted downstairs and into the kitchen. He smiled at what he saw.

Toby had set the table just as Sam would have ~~ placemats, napkins, silverware, salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table. Toby stood at the stove, wooden spoon in hand, and stirred something steaming in a pot.

"Toby?" Sam said with a smile. "I'm impressed."

"Don't be. A guy's gotta eat."

"Yeah, but you used placemats instead of the sports section and, aawww, you folded the napkins. This. Is. So. Sweet."

"Don't say sweet," Toby muttered. "Sit down."

Sam did as he was told. Toby filled two deep stoneware bowls with steaming minestrone, carefully carried them to the table, and set one on each placemat. He went back to the counter and returned with two plates and on each, a grilled pastrami and Swiss on rye. Likewise, he set one in front of Sam and the other next to his own soup bowl. He popped open a bottle of cold Labatts for each of them.

"Toby, I'm blown away!" said Sam. "I just can't imagine you doing this."

"What, eat? I do it every day. Don't make a big deal out of it, Sam. Just eat. We've gotta talk."

Sam dipped his spoon into the soup, brought it to his lips, and blew on it. He tasted, added pepper, and ate three spoonsful before asking, "Talk about what?"

"After lunch," Toby replied. "How was racquetball?"

"Good." He took a bite of his sandwich.

"Just wanted to get out of the house after Josh left?"

"Uh huh." He took a drink of his beer.

"Probably a good thing to do," Toby said. "I'm sorry I haven't had time to play with you much lately."

"We'll get back into it. Things are kind of up in the air right now. We need to get Josh back here first."

"Josh get away ok?"

"Yeah. It rained. He got wet. I wanted to help but he wouldn't let me," Sam replied. His voice showed no emotion; it was just matter of fact.

"Are you ok?"

"I'm ok."

"Is Josh ok?"

"He seemed to be. Is there any more minestrone?"

"No, that's it."

When they finished their meal Sam started to clear away the dishes and clean up the kitchen while Toby sat back in his chair and watched. Sam went through the motions, but Toby could tell Sam's mind wasn't on his chores. And Toby knew he was only here to make the day more difficult for him. He hoped like hell the end justified the means.

He looked at his watch. His meeting with Danny was at two o'clock. He had absolutely no idea how this was going to go with Sam. He could only ask his questions and hope for the best.

"You about done, Sam?" he asked.

"Just now finished. You wanna talk in here or the living room or where?"

"Living room is good. Come on in and sit down."

The two went into the living room. Toby sat in his favorite chair and Sam sat on the couch. He glanced at the framed photograph of him and Josh on the end table and wondered if Josh had eaten. He hoped he'd had something hot since he knew Josh had gotten wet in the rain. He sat sideways so he could see both the photograph and Toby.

"Are you here to fix things, Toby?" he asked. "Are you gonna bring Josh back?"

Sam's question shouldn't have caught Toby off-guard, but it did. Sam's voice was soft and hopeful and he sounded so innocent and trusting, like he actually believed Toby WAS the hero action figure who had swooped in to save the day. Toby had no one but himself to blame for Sam's unshakable confidence in him. Ever since he and Josh had calmed Sam in the White House bathroom, Toby had said over and over, "I'll take care of it", "I'll fix things", "I'll handle it" and Sam never doubted him. Especially when he wanted so desperately to believe.

"I am," Toby said, stepping further out on the limb, "but the first step in my plan depends totally on you."

"I'll do anything. I hate this separation already and Josh has only been gone a few hours. What's your plan? What do I do?"

"How much do you trust me, Sam?" Toby asked.

"Unwavering. You're right after Josh," Sam replied without hesitation.

"I know what happened to you when you were a kid . . . what your brother did . . . and how rough your Dad was on you. You may not remember, but you told me some of it and Josh tried to fill in the blanks. But Josh said even he didn't know everything that went on."

Sam lowered his eyes and picked up a throw pillow and hugged it to him. Toby had seen Sam use the throw pillow in his office to comfort himself before and was already concerned if Sam would be able to follow through with this.

"Look up at me, Sam," Toby said.

Sam did.

"I know you learned some harsh things about your Dad in California, stuff you didn't know before. Probably about Jack, too. Am I right?"

Sam nodded.

"You're not gonna like this, Sam, but I need you to tell everything you know about your family. Every last detail."

"Tell who?" Sam's hands squeezed the pillow.

Toby cleared his throat. "Well, there's a couple of ways we can do this. And I want you to stay calm when I tell you."

"Stay calm about what?" Sam's voice rose as he began to lose his composure.

"At two o'clock this afternoon, I have a meeting with Danny Concannon. You can either tell me everything and I'll tell Danny, or you can go with me and tell Danny directly," Toby explained. "That's preferable."

"Are you serious? Are you fuckin' serious? Toby, it took me all my life to get up the nerve to tell ANYBODY and then it was Josh and that was the worst thing I've ever had to do. And that was JOSH! Now you expect me to just sit down and spill it all to Danny? I simply can't do that!"

"Calm down, Sam. You don't have to repeat the DETAILS of what Jack did to you. I'm not asking for that. But you DO need to say that it happened."

"I can't TELL Danny that!"

"Can you tell me?" Toby asked gently.

"No! I can't even tell Josh all of it," Sam replied. "I thought . . . when I told him, I thought it was all over, that I'd never have to talk about it again."

"Nobody knew your Father was gonna do this, Sam."

"Why Danny? Why do you want me to tell Danny?" Sam was getting more agitated the more they talked.

"I think Danny's the best investigative reporter in the country and CJ agrees so . . ."

"CJ knows what happened to me?" Sam's voice had more than a trace of alarm in it.

"Settle down, Sam. CJ has no idea. She just knows I'm trying to fix this and I called her just to get Danny's phone number on a Saturday. She doesn't know what I'm doing, and she has no idea about your past," Toby assured him. "I want Danny to investigate your family, based on what you tell him, and he'll dig up every illegal thing they've ever done, even if it was throwing a gum wrapper out the car window."

Sam was silent while he digested this. He knew the findings would be numerous and serious. Did he really want to do this to his Father, and more importantly, to Jack? He didn't know what other crimes his family had committed that Robin either didn't know about or hadn't told him. And even she wasn't innocent. There was his Mother to consider, and the children. In spite of everything, this was his family he was about to turn against.

"What's Danny gonna do with this information?" he asked.

"Again, stay calm," Toby said. "At four o'clock today I'm meeting with the President, and possibly you . . . well, and you. Probably Josh, maybe Danny. This meeting's kind of open at the moment. We're gonna tell the President everything that's going on."

"What's going on as in Josh and . . ."

"Yeah."

"Oh, God. Does Josh know this?" Sam asked.

"Josh knows. I called and told him while I was waiting for you to come home. It's just you, Josh, and me who know. And it could so totally backfire, Sam, I've gotta be upfront with you about that," Toby said.

"Oh, God," Sam repeated.

"We're gonna tell him about you and Josh, uh, being together and about your Father's threats and what Danny is doing. And we're gonna . . . Sam, listen to me, stop looking down . . . we're gonna let him handle this like it SHOULD be handled and put an end to it."

It suddenly occurred to Sam. "You're going over Leo's head."

"Yeah," Toby admitted, "I'm going over Leo's head. I don't like the way Leo's dealing with this and I can't just stand by and watch him tear you guys apart."

"Toby, that's . . . that's so admirable, but is it wise? Leo seemed so adamant . . . so firm in his convictions about all this."

"Don't worry about Leo. And don't worry about me. Now do you understand what I've said?" asked Toby.

Sam swallowed hard. "I've got to reveal embarrassing, and that's putting it mildly, illegal, and humiliating details concerning my family and myself to Danny and the President. Then the President is going to use that information to counter my Father's threats against the Bartlet Administration. Right?"

"Right."

"And you think just because of that Leo's gonna let Josh come home?"

"I don't see why not," Toby replied.

Sam looked him square in the eyes. "Because instead of one homophobe working against us, we'll potentially have two. You've heard the President make jokes and comments when he knew there were just "us guys" around. He might not be as benevolent, OR as liberal, as you're giving him credit for. He could be less sympathetic than Leo and fire Josh and me on the spot."

"You've gotta give the President a chance. He's our deal breaker. If we don't do this, Sam, we're shit outta luck. And the President will find out anyway. Wouldn't you rather walk in there and tell him like a man than have him hear about it through the back door or from whispers in the hallway?"

"Can Josh be with me? I want Josh there if we're going to tell President Bartlet. It's not right for me to just do this without him knowing."

"Of course Josh can be there," Toby replied. "It's only right and you know I wouldn't have it any other way. But not when we're with Danny."

"Why not when we're with Danny?"

"You'll get too emotional and I need you to focus on your family."

They sat in silence. Sam kneaded the pillow and looked toward the window.

"Are you ok?" Toby asked.

No answer.

Toby put his hand on Sam's knee and shook it. "Anybody in there?"

"Huh? Yeah, I'm here. I just noticed, the rain stopped."

"You ok?" Toby repeated.

"Toby, talk to me for a minute and don't give me any bullshit, ok?"

"Ok."

"What if we follow through with your plan and the President still says Josh and I have to live apart or we can't work at the White House?" Sam asked. "Could that happen?"

Toby scratched his beard. He took the pillow away from Sam and tossed it onto the other chair.

"Yeah, that could happen. Anything could happen."

"What do you think the chances are it'll happen?"

"Fifty-fifty." There was a long pause. "Maybe not fifty-fifty, but I can't read the President on something like this. Maybe eighty- twenty."

"Which way?"

"Hell if I know."

"Toby!"

"I don't know, Sam! This is new territory for all of us! If you have a better idea, speak up now. This is the best I could come up with and we're getting close to the time we're supposed to meet Danny. Are you gonna be able to do this?"

"I don't have a lot of choice, do I?"

Toby shook his head. "No, you don't."

"If the President won't let us live together, I'll resign and Josh can stay and we could still live together that way," said Sam.

"Stop trying to figure out what might or might not happen. You'll just get all worked up and I need you clear-headed when you talk with Danny," Toby said.

"We're still in that part of the conversation where I can say anything and you won't give me any bullshit, remember?" asked Sam.

"I remember."

Tears welled in Sam's eyes. "Toby, I can't live without Josh. I don't wanna sound maudlin or pathetic, but Josh is . . . he's my . . . we're married. If we're not together, I just don't have any reason . . ."

"Don't finish that sentence, Sam, "you don't have to convince me. But I don't wanna hear you talk like that, even if you DO feel like shit."

"You didn't see him leave this morning. He didn't even know what to pack. And when it was time for him to go, it was awkward. We're never awkward with each other. We didn't even kiss good-bye."

"This is making me somewhat uncomfortable," Toby said. "I'd rather not hear the details if you, uh, don't mind. It's really personal and I'm not a good one for you to tell this stuff to." Toby instantly regretted his words.

Sam stood up. "Ok, forget it! It's just that . . . I don't have anybody else to talk with about this `stuff'. I usually discuss personal things with Josh, but since I'm banned from seeing him . . ." Sam's voice cracked and the tears came. He put his hand over his brow to shield his eyes and turned away from Toby.

Toby stood and watched. Sam held his face in his hands to muffle his cries, but his shoulders shook as his body was wracked with sobs. Toby wanted to comfort him, but wasn't sure how. That's not true, Toby thought, I know how; it's just a matter of doing it. He looked at his watch. We have to leave in a few minutes to meet Danny, but I can't just ignore Sam or put him in the car while he's crying. Dammit, why can't Josh be here to handle this? "Sam?" he said quietly.

No response.

"Sam? I'm not very good at this . . . but . . . I'll listen if you want to, you know . . . talk . . . in the car."

Sam shook his head. "No, it's ok."

Toby walked up behind Sam and tentatively put his arm around his shoulder. He felt Sam lean into him and after a second, the full weight of Sam's body fell against him. Toby tightened his grip on Sam and brought his other arm around as Sam turned toward him. Before Toby realized it, he had Sam in a full hug.

Sam had a tight grip on Toby like he'd never let him go. He felt Sam's warm breath on his neck and Sam's heart beating as fast as a rabbit's against his chest. Toby didn't even have to think ~~ he remembered what Josh did to comfort Sam and he'd done it himself a couple of times. He put his hand on Sam's back and rubbed little circles. They rippled out into bigger circles until they covered his whole back, then worked back in until he barely had to move his hand. Toby patted Sam's back as he would a child's.

"It's all right, boychik," he said quietly. "It's all right."

Toby felt Sam's body relax in his arms. He began to relax a little too. "Why am I going to all this trouble, taking this time and effort, and the chance of losing my own job by going behind Leo's back ~~ why would I be doing all this if I didn't believe in Sam and Josh and what they stand for?" he thought. I'd be a real sonofabitch if I couldn't stand here and show compassion toward a man I care about; yeah, care about, and offer him solace at a time when he's distressed more than I can possibly imagine. Fuck what I've been told and taught all my life. Sam needs his fears quieted, the touch of a warm hand, and the sound of a soothing voice to ease his despair. I can do that for him.

He left one hand on Sam's back and with the other hand, he stroked Sam's head. He'd seen Josh do this and it almost always helped. Sam laid his head on Toby's shoulder.

It came more naturally to Toby than he expected. He thought he would feel self-conscious being so physically intimate with another man, but he wasn't. To him, it was just Sam, and his feelings extended to the "person" in his arms, not to a "man" in his arms.

Sam cried against Toby's neck and Toby suspected this was the first time Sam had let his emotions out since Josh had left. Toby stood straight and strong and did what he'd been doing, offering himself as a safe place for Sam to come to, holding him tight to assure Sam he wasn't going to leave, and just letting Sam know he wasn't alone and Toby would support him throughout this whole ordeal. He had to be the closest thing to Josh he could be, and he knew he was a poor substitute.

"Sam?" he said gently. "For what it's worth, I'm gonna be with you the whole time and Josh will be with you a good part of the time. We're mishpocha, we're family. I want this to go as smoothly as possible for you, ok?"

Sam nodded.

"Just try to relax and keep in mind it's all gonna work out for you two."

"How can you be so sure?" Sam asked, his tears finally subsiding.

"Because I am," Toby lied. "You'll just have to take my word for it on this one. Will you do that for me?"

Sam nodded again. "I guess we need to go, huh?"

"After you get out of that `Jane's Addiction' t-shirt and into suitable clothes to meet with the President of the United States," Toby responded. "You gonna be ok?"

"I'll be ok. I'm just not looking forward to this very much, and I hope like hell it works."

Toby pulled Sam to him for a squeeze before he released him. "You and me both, kiddo."

*************************

Danny was waiting in the lobby when Toby and Sam arrived a few minutes after two. Toby motioned for him to follow them into his office. Toby closed the door, pulled the blinds, and they all took seats.

"Hi guys," Danny said.

"Ok everybody," Toby started, "we're here for a very specific reason. Danny, I'm gonna ask you to do something inconceivable for a Senior White House correspondent."

"What's that?"

"We've got a situation here and it's a live one. It could be potentially damaging to the Bartlet Campaign and Administration and I'm asking you to keep everything from here until you're told differently, off the record. Every word of it."

"Why should I?" Danny asked.

"Because I'm asking you to," Toby explained. "Sam is asking you to and if Josh were here, he'd be asking you to. Shortly, I have every reason to believe the President will ask you to. If you use this information for your own gain you'll have a hell of a story, but you'll ruin the lives of two people whose lives I don't think you'd want to destroy. And you could seriously . . . seriously, Danny . . . irretrievably hurt the Bartlet Administration and have a grievous effect on the election. We're taking a big risk by calling you in on this, but we believe you're the best at what you do and we're asking you, as a friend and a gentleman, to put your career aside for this one matter."

"What do I get?"

"What do you want?"

"If this is eventually gonna turn into something, I want an exclusive."

"You've got it."

"With the senior-most person involved."

Toby knew that would be the President. Could he promise that?

"You've got it."

"And twenty-four hours advance on any new information after what you give me today," Danny continued.

"Not just today; until our goal is accomplished."

"How do I know when that is?"

"I'll tell you." Toby hesitated. "You'll just have to trust me as a friend and a gentleman, like we're gonna trust you."

"I'm in."

Sam watched the verbal back-and-forth and never felt more helpless. More than that, he couldn't believe what he was about to reveal to Danny, and without Josh.

Toby looked at Sam on the couch. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged, his non-verbal way of asking, "Do you want to tell him or do you want me to?"

"Go ahead," Sam said. "This is your meeting."

Toby sat back in his chair. He didn't want to do this. He never thought he WOULD do this. He hoped Leo didn't come into the office today.

"Danny," he started, "Sam and Josh . . . uh . . . are a . . . they're a . . . they've been . . . seeing each other and . . . they're a . . . couple . . . and they're . . . uh . . . they're uh . . . married."

"Ok," Danny replied.

"They've just started to uh . . . come out and . . . "

Somehow Toby made it through what he considered the hard part. After that he very matter-of-factly and concisely told Danny about Jack, Daniel, and Charles Seaborn's connections to the Ritchie Campaign and the GOP. He laid out for him the threats they'd made against the Bartlet Administration using Sam and Josh as the terms of disparagement in their scam. He glanced at Sam several times to make sure he was paying attention and would correct Toby if he said anything wrong.

Sam sat quietly on the couch and listened intently to every word Toby said. Somehow it sounded worse when he told Danny, and still, Sam knew there was so much left unsaid. That was his job ~~ to fill in the blanks with the nitty-gritty details, the ugly parts that only a son could reveal about his Father.

Toby told Danny he wanted him to investigate the Seaborns' illegal activities and report back with his findings, time was of the essence, he was not to speak with ANYONE about this except the people he met with today, and did he have any questions?

"Do I have anything concrete to go on? Do you KNOW he's involved in illegal activities?" Danny asked.

"Yes," Sam said quietly, "he is. My Father and Jack both. And my Uncle Charles. He's involved in this too. I can tell you more about what I found out in California, and I'm sure there's a lot I don't know."

"That's what we've got you for," Toby added.

"Who knows we're doing this?" Danny asked. "I need to know who the players are."

"Sam, Josh, you, and me," Toby replied. "Until four o'clock."

"What happens at four o'clock?"

"We tell the President."

"When do Sam and I talk?" asked Danny.

Toby looked at Sam. He wished they were still standing in Sam's townhouse and he was hugging him. At least then Toby felt like he was doing something. Suddenly it seemed like it was all out of his hands and in Danny's.

"Now," Toby answered. "Are you up to it now, Sam?"

Sam nodded. "Now's good."

"Do you want it to be just you and Danny or do you want me to stay?"

"I want you to stay." Sam's voice was scratchy. "Can I get some water?"

Toby stood. "Yeah, let's take a little break. Sam, let's go get something to drink. Danny, back here in ten minutes."

Toby and Sam started toward the Mess. Toby patted Sam on the back, and left his hand there as they walked.

"Holding up ok?" he asked.

"For now, but it hasn't really started yet. Did you notice how Danny didn't even flinch when you told him about Josh and me?"

"Danny's like that. You never know what's going on in his head."

"Do you think he already knew?"

Toby pushed the door open to the Mess. "Nah. How could he?"

When they returned from their break, Toby sat on the couch with Sam so he wouldn't feel so isolated. He didn't know what else he could do to make this easier, but he hoped any little gesture might make a difference. But if there was any chance of Sam and Josh getting back to their normal home life, it had to be done.

Toby sat silent while Sam told Danny, in as much detail as he could, everything he could remember from his growing-up years about his Father's unusual lifestyle. He told Danny everything Robin had told him not so long ago. It was especially difficult for Sam to talk about his Father's mistress, and he was embarrassed when he told how his Father had brought her into the family home.

Danny made no judgment calls; he just wrote down what he was told.

"Anything else?" Danny asked after Sam had talked for over an hour- and-a-half.

Sam picked up the throw pillow on the couch. He had talked about Jack, but he hadn't mentioned his pedophilia with Kevin or the relationship he'd had with Sam as a child. Toby knew this information was crucial, but could Sam get through it?

"Sam, you done?" Danny repeated.

"No," Sam said. "There's something else about my brother, Jack."

Sam looked at Toby. He wanted so badly to have Josh next to him, but realized when he pulled from Toby, a strength he didn't think he'd have when this time came. Toby put his hand on Sam's forearm.

"It's ok, Sam. Shameful secrets can become shameless for the victim when they aren't secrets anymore. This is just the beginning of your healing from what Jack did, and Josh and I are gonna make sure that happens. I give you my word."

Sam gave Toby a slight smile of appreciation. Then he did what he never thought he'd ever be able to do: Sam told Danny that Jack was a pedophile and he'd been sexually abused by his brother when he was a child.

And he was thankful Danny showed absolutely no emotion.

*************************

Just before four o'clock Sam, Toby, and Danny walked the hallowed halls of the West Wing to the Oval Office. Their footsteps echoed in the silence, and Sam didn't remember it being that far away. When they reached the outer office Josh was pacing back-and-forth. He and Sam instantly locked eyes and Josh gripped Sam's arms.

"Are you ok?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "I'm ok. Danny's been great."

Josh looked at Danny, who thus far hadn't spoken unless spoken to. He obviously took his role in this endeavor soberly.

"Thank you, Danny," said Josh.

Danny gave a nod of his head in acknowledgement.

"Now what?" Josh asked. "What's next? Are we going in there?"

Josh was hyper and Toby did NOT want him bouncing off the walls in the Oval Office. He tapped him on the shoulder.

"Walk with me."

Toby and Josh walked down the hall a little ways then stopped when they were out of earshot from Sam and Danny.

"Listen, you've gotta dial it down ~~ way down ~~ before we go talk to the President. We need to at least APPEAR like we've got our shit together and not come off like the Three Stooges plus one. Understand?"

"I'm fine. I'm good. I'll be ok in there," Josh replied. "Is he really ok? How'd he do with Danny?"

"Josh! Josh, listen to me. You're talking non-stop, asking questions without waiting for answers, bouncing from foot to foot. If you don't relax, you're not going in. Stand against the wall or whatever it is you do."

Josh put his hands on his abdomen, closed his eyes, and slowly took in a deep breath. He slowly exhaled and did it again. He repeated the process several times then opened his eyes.

"Ok," he said. "Much better."

"Really? You're relaxed now and calm enough to go in the Oval Office and do this?" Toby asked.

"Really."

"Because if you go batshit loonball in there, I'm pulling you out. Got it?"

"Got it. I'm cool," Josh assured him.

"Have you two figured out who's gonna tell the President?"

"Tell the President . . .?"

"About you and Sam!" Toby said in a loud whisper. "Josh, don't freak on me now! Get your shit together and do it now!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Josh replied. "Don't worry about Sam and me . . . it'll come to us as it comes to us. Just relax."

"Guys," Sam called down the hall.

"Dial it down," Toby said again as they began to walk.

"I'm down!" Josh replied.

Josh and Danny waited where they'd left them.

"The President came out and said when everybody's together, to come on in," said Sam, "so are we all together?"

"Danny, you wait out here," Toby replied. "We'll bring you in when your turn comes up."

"Sure." Danny sat down and began working on the notes he'd just taken.

Toby knocked twice on the President's door, then he, Sam and Josh went inside, and Josh closed the door behind them.

"Gentlemen, what brings us all together on this drizzly Saturday afternoon?" the President asked. "Everybody find a seat and make yourselves comfortable."

Sam and Josh sat on one couch; the President and Toby sat on chairs facing each other.

"There's coffee if anybody wants it," he continued. "Serve yourself."

No one took him up on the offer.

"Did I see Danny Concannon in the outer office?" Jed went on. "Will he be joining us?"

"After while, Mr. President," Toby said. "Right now it's just us."

"Ok, let's get to it then. What's up?"

"Sir," Toby began, "what we've come to tell you is actually in three parts. I realize that makes absolutely no sense NOW, but when this is all over and done, you'll understand perfectly."

Jed didn't look convinced. "I will, huh?"

"Yes sir, you will. And if all goes as planned, everything will be fine."

"Things aren't fine now?"

"With all due respect, sir, would you just sit there and listen?" Toby asked.

"Now I'm intrigued. I'll just sit here and listen. Will there be an opportunity for questions at the end?"

"Oh, I think that's pretty much a no-brainer, sir. The first part of this, uh, presentation for lack of a better word, comes from Sam and Josh. I'm going to just sit here and let them, uh, do whatever it is they want to do. Guys?"

Toby was nervous for them. Nobody could imagine how the President would take the news. It could go smoothly ~~ it could be a disaster. And Toby was responsible. Come on guys, one of you say something.

"Mr. President," Josh began, "this may come as somewhat of a surprise to you, and I have no idea how well-received it will be, but, Sam and I . . . " He looked at Sam and Sam gave a slight nod. "Sam and I are . . . " He laughed nervously. "This is NOT easy."

"What is it, Josh?" the President asked.

Josh laughed again, more nervous than before. "Seriously, the words are stuck . . ."

"What IS it, Josh?"

"Sam and I are in love with each other."

No one said anything, no one moved.

The President motioned with his hand. "This Sam here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sam, what have you got to say about this?" he asked.

"Oh, I completely concur with Josh," Sam replied. "We're in love with each other."

The room grew quiet again.

Then the President uncrossed and crossed his legs in the other direction.

"Enlighten me," he asked. "Are you guys just really good buddies? Like Butch and Sundance?"

"That and more, sir," Josh explained. "Sam and I are romantically involved as a couple. We . . ." He reached over and took Sam's hand. ". . . share a home. We live together. We're . . . sexually active . . . with each other."

Almost simultaneously, Sam and Josh said, "We're married."

Without giving thought to where they were or who they were with, Sam and Josh smiled at each other. They weren't obvious smiles many would even notice, but something more intimate only the two of them shared; Sam's slightly upturned lips barely parted, his blue eyes twinkled . . . Josh's head tilted to the side, his mouth worked hard not to break into a grin. Josh brought Sam's hand to his lips and kissed it.

"Eyes front!" Bartlet exclaimed.

Josh and Sam quickly let their hands drop and turned their attention back to the President.

"Married? You say you're MARRIED?"

"We understand the District of Columbia doesn't legally recognize same-sex marriages," Josh began, "but we're committed to each other for life, just as any man and woman would be in a traditional marriage, and we had a ceremony to celebrate our union. We may not be married by the laws of this country, but we're married by the laws of this universe."

"And you share a home and live as any legally-married couple ~~ a man and a woman ~~ would live?" Jed asked.

"Yes, sir," answered Sam.

"Why don't I know this? It sounds like something I should know about."

"Sam and I chose not to tell anyone until recently. My Mother knows, Sam's family just found out, a handful of trusted friends outside the political circle know, and over the past few months we've started to come out to a chosen few . . . here in the White House."

The President slowly turned and looked at Toby. "I suppose you're in on this," he said.

"I am . . . yes, sir . . . they told, uh, me," he replied.

Then his gaze returned to Sam and Josh.

"Would you mind sharing with me who else, besides Toby, those `chosen few' here in the White House are?" he asked. "I'm curious where I rate on the list."

"Toby was first," said Sam. He was the only one for a long time. Then all of a sudden things sort of started to happen fast."

"Simon Donovan," Josh added. "Leo and Charlie."

"Charlie knows?" Jed asked.

"Yes, sir," Josh replied. "He'd figured it out."

"Go ahead."

"Joey Lucas and Kenny," Josh continued. "She was already suspicious too."

"We JUST told CJ," Sam joined in.

"And now you, sir," said Josh.

"Is there anybody else?" asked Bartlet.

"John Hoynes," Sam volunteered.

Josh's head whipped around. "Hoynes knows about us?"

"Yes. No. He knows about me."

"What possessed you to tell John Hoynes?"

"Can we discuss this at home, Josh?"

"When did this happen?" Josh ignored Sam's plea.

"On the campaign trail, when he was Senator."

"I was on the campaign trail with Hoynes, not you!"

"Josh!" Toby interrupted. "Take it home."

Josh nervously ran his thumb across his fingers of the fist he'd made.

"Leo knows about this?" Jed asked.

"Yes, sir," Sam answered.

"Ok. Toby, is this why you called me in to the office on a Saturday?"

"Yes, sir, it is and remember I told you this, uh, presentation came in three parts?"

"I do."

"Unless you have anymore questions about part one, it's time to move on to part two," Toby replied.

"Oh, I have many, many questions about part one, trust me, but for the sake of expediency, let's move on so we can look at the whole board. We can come back to this, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll keep the notes in my head."

"Yes, sir. The next part gets a little more complicated, Mr. President," Toby said.

"More complicated than two of my high-profile, male Senior Advisors being secretly and illegally married?"

"Yes, sir. Substantially more complicated."

Jed sighed. "Let's hear it."

Toby filled the President in on what had happened. He gave a brief history of Sam's background, with Sam's permission, and some of the illegal activities of his family. He told him how Daniel Seaborn was trying to manipulate the Bartlet Campaign with serious threats of exposing the "gay West Wing" that was thriving under the President's nose and the President didn't even know it. Daniel Seaborn had culled enough embarrassing information to do serious damage when this marriage was exposed. He also had the means to bankroll and staff this campaign.

Toby told the President about Seaborn's threats to use his wealth to "buy" votes for Robert Ritchie, virtually as many as were needed for him to win the election.

Toby glanced over at Sam and Josh. Sam sat with no emotion, his hands on his legs, his feet flat on the floor. His eyes were fixated on something beyond Toby and he kept his stare focused on whatever it might have been. Josh fidgeted, crossing and uncrossing his legs, running his hand through his hair, silently drumming his fingers on the arm of the couch. For Sam and Josh, it seemed like Toby would never stop talking. This time in the Oval Office was painful for them both.

Toby continued and told the President about Leo's meeting with Sam and Josh, his ordering them to move to separate residences, and to have no contact outside the work environment and then, at work, it was to be all business between them. He told how the meeting fell apart and Leo had called Toby and CJ to come in. He said Josh had agreed to leave their townhouse.

"Did you move out of your home, son?" the President asked.

"Yes, sir," Josh said. "This morning."

"Where'd you go?"

"We've kept a small, empty apartment across town in Sam's name. I went there."

"Sam stayed in your main residence?"

"Yes, sir."

"Toby, how long does Leo intend for this separation to last?" Jed asked.

"He wasn't specific, but we got the impression he means all the way through your next term, if necessary."

"How do you boys feel about this separation?"

Neither spoke.

"Josh?"

Josh cleared his throat and glanced at Sam with sad eyes. "You know that I serve at the pleasure of the President. I have for every minute of every day since I pledged my allegiance to you. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you, sir. I left my home, I left my husband, I left my way of life. I've only been gone a few hours and I hate it. I'll commit until you win the election, but I can't stay separated from Sam any longer than that. Leo gave up his marriage for his career. I just can't do that . . . it's not worth that much to me. I won't give up Sam. If it means turning in my resignation, I'll help you find my replacement."

The President digested what Josh said then nodded his head.

"Sam?"

"What Josh said."

"So, what are going to do about this, Toby?" He looked at him, certain the answer had to be in part three.

"Well, sir, that brings us to part three," Toby replied.

"Talk to me."

Toby explained, with a fair amount of trepidation, how he'd brought Danny into the mix and how he was going to investigate the Seaborns and ideally, beat them at their own game.

"How do you feel about this, Sam?" Jed asked. "Danny digging up all the skeletons in your family's closet?"

"I don't see how we have any other choice, sir. There's some things I'd like to keep private, but I don't know if that's going to be possible."

"Of course it is," the President replied. "Tell me, why isn't Leo in this meeting? And CJ? I saw Danny outside."

"Leo doesn't . . . uh . . . I didn't exactly . . . Leo doesn't know we're here," Toby said.

"He knows about your three-part plan though."

Toby cleared his throat. "No, sir. When Leo's meeting ended last night, it wasn't on a very positive note and in the interest of . . . in the interest of protecting Sam and Josh and their . . . marriage, I created this plan on my own." "You by-passed Leo's authority?"

"Yes, sir."

"Ballsy."

"There's a fine line between ballsy and stupid," Toby muttered quietly to himself.

"Fellas," the President said, "I've said this in the Sit Room more times than I've cared to, but it applies here too. I don't negotiate with terrorists and I don't negotiate with blackmailers holding hostages. That's what we're dealing with here, simple blackmailers, and they're holding two of my boys hostage. I won't have it. I won't allow it. I'm going to put an end to this bullshit right away so we can get back to running the country." The President kept his voice steady and calm as he talked, but his staff could see the anger in his eyes

"Yes, sir," they all replied.

The President picked up the phone and dialed the White House operator.

"This is President Bartlet," he said. "I want you to get Lionel Tribbey on the phone and put him through to my office. If I'm not in my office, put him through to the residence. Keep trying until you get him. Thank you."

He hung up and turned his attention back to the men before him.

"I want Danny to . . . do we trust Danny?"

"We do," Toby said. "We have to give him a few other things but he's been good to us."

"Ok Toby, I want Danny to go ahead with the investigation and I want it on my desk yesterday. Be VERY CLEAR on this. What Danny uncovers is for MY EYES ONLY. Not Sam's, Josh's, CJ's, Leo's, nor yours. I'll clear things over with Leo for what you did, Toby, this one time, but don't make a habit of it, understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"And Sam, Josh, I'm sorry, but I want you to stay separated for the time being."

"For how long?" Sam asked.

"I don't know, son. I'll get on this and I promise you . . . I promise you, I'll resolve it as quickly and painlessly as I can. Do you believe me?"

"Yes, sir, I do,"

"Josh?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm going to cut you boys loose. Toby, I want to talk with you and Danny. Sam, Josh, next week we're going to sit down, the three of us, and have a long talk, understand?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Toby, take a fifteen-minute break and bring Danny back with you."

"Yes, sir."

Toby followed Sam and Josh out of the Oval Office.

"You and I are meeting with the President in fifteen minutes," he told Danny. "Just be patient."

"Ok."

"Sam, Josh, wait up," Toby called after them.

He caught up with them in the hall. "You two ok?" he asked.

"I have no idea," Sam replied. "I'm numb."

"How about you, Josh?"

"Things sound more promising than they did with Leo."

"Step around the corner here," Toby said.

"What the hell?"

"Step around this corner!"

They stepped out of the main hallway and out of sight. Toby pressed something in Josh's hand. It was a key.

"What's this?" Josh asked.

"That's an extra key to my apartment," Toby replied. "Leave your car at the apartment ~~ the empty apartment ~~ and take a cab to my place so you get there at nine o'clock tonight. Sam, you do the same thing at the townhouse. Don't show up at the same time, don't be seen together, and leave separately."

"Toby!" said Sam. "What are you doing?"

"Against my better judgment, I'm giving you my place for the night. I want you out by noon tomorrow."

"Are you serious?" Josh asked. "Where will you stay?"

Toby smiled. "With Julianna."

"So that's getting kinda serious?"

"Serious enough."

"We've gotta meet this girl," Sam remarked.

"I, uh, changed the sheets. They're clean. If you can't find something, hell, you don't need it if you can't find it. Josh, leave now. Sam, hang around a bit then you leave."

The guys couldn't thank Toby enough for the use of his apartment. Neither of them wanted to think ahead to tomorrow when they'd have to say good-bye again. All they saw was tonight.

Josh left.

Sam leaned against the wall and Toby crossed his arms and stood beside him.

"I think it's gonna get fixed, Sam," Toby said.

"I can't thank you enough for everything you do for me, Toby. There ARE no words . . ."

"Forget it."

"I can't forget it. Since you first came to our apartment, you've been supportive in every way. I know it hasn't always been easy for you."

"I've gotta get back in the Oval," Toby said. "Give it just a few more minutes then take off. And, uh, have a good time . . . you know."

Toby put his hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed, then headed back down the hall. He hoped Lionel Tribbey didn't have any plans today.

*************************

Josh let himself into Toby's apartment at nine o'clock on the dot. Toby had left the porch and inside lights and it was warm and inviting. Josh thought the apartment looked neater, more together, than the last time he was there. He attributed it to Julianna's presence in Toby's life now and smiled at the thought of Toby being domesticated.

He tossed his plastic Wal-Mart bag on the chair. As he moved from apartment to apartment, he found he could do with less and less and packed only the barest essentials for his overnight stay.

He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He didn't know why. He wasn't hungry or thirsty and he didn't pay any attention to what he saw. The fact was, Josh was nervous about seeing Sam again.

"This is nutty-bananas," he said out loud as he closed the refrigerator door. "We've only been apart a few hours. We see less of each other during an average day at the White House. So why, why, WHY do I feel like I'm on a first date?"

Josh paced the living room until a knock on the door jolted him out of his thoughts. At the sound, all his anxiety vanished and he darted toward the door. He swung it open, saw Sam on the porch, grabbed his arm, pulled him into the apartment, and closed the door behind them.

The two fell into each other's arms and let out all the emotions they'd gone through during the day. They cried and they laughed. Their hands were all over the other's face ~~ they brushed back locks of hair, wiped away tears, lightly rubbed a thumb over the other's lips.

Josh held Sam's face in his palms and looked into his eyes. "It feels like forever since I've seen you, touched you . . ." He gently kissed Sam's lips. " . . . kissed you." "Vous êtes mon monde, Josh. Ne me laissez pas jamais encore. Je t'aime," Sam said quietly. "I'm not sure what you just said," Josh replied, "but je t'aime you too." He pulled Sam to him and they kissed with a passion full of fire and electricity. "Let's go to bed, Angel. I want to make love to you all night long. I don't want to take my hands off you. I want to devour you, Sam." "And I, you." Sam and Josh turned out the lights in Toby's apartment. They both left a trail of clothes as they undressed on the way to the bedroom. There was a rustling sound as they tore the bedspread and sheets back. Then a voice from the dark asked, "Where's your stuff?" "In a Wal-Mart bag in the living room. Why?" "We can't do this until we brush our teeth. Go get it." "Saaaaaaaaaam."

*************************

In the wee hours of the morning Josh and Sam lay in the middle of Toby's bed, arms and legs tangled, Sam's head on Josh's chest, Josh's arm slung over Sam. They smelled of sex. A soft snore escaped from Josh's slightly open mouth as he slept soundly.

Sam was awake. He knew tomorrow at noon he'd go one direction and Josh would go the other and he wanted to cherish every moment they had together, so he fought off sleep. He was tired and his eyes were heavy. His eyelashes kept drifting shut and he'd jerk to keep them open.

Then just as he was about to give up and let himself fall asleep next to Josh, words intruded his sweet thoughts. Marc's words: "Tonight when you're in bed, just before you go to sleep, I promise you'll think of me."

"At Home" ~~ Chapter 75

Josh rolled over in Toby's bed and flung his arm to the side. He lay there a minute before he realized something was missing. Sam. Sam wasn't there. He opened his eyes to make sure Sam hadn't just moved to the edge of the bed. His heart sank when he saw that he was right. Sam wasn't there.

He's just in the bathroom, Josh thought. He'll be back in a minute.

Minutes passed and Sam didn't come back.

"Sam!" Josh called out. "Hey, Sam!"

There was no response. Josh got out of bed and wandered down the hall. He checked in the bathroom hoping Sam was in the shower and hadn't heard him. The bathroom was empty. He reached the living room and Sam wasn't there either. He saw a stack of clothes folded neatly on the coffee table. When he got to them, he saw that all the clothes were his and there was no sign of Sam's clothes. There was a note on his sock.

He unfolded the paper and read it:

My Beloved Josh,

I'm sorry to leave while you were asleep, but I couldn't bear saying good-bye again. Those precious moments of our last embrace then having to let go ~~ I don't believe I could have done it.

I watched you while you slept this morning. Your beautiful face, lips slightly upturned in a smile, so sweet as you dreamed of secret places. I hope I was with you.

I cherish how we made love all night . . . sweet, tender, never-let- me-go love. I adore how we wrapped ourselves around each other and snuggled in the middle of Toby's bed.

I'll take last night with me ~~ a much more pleasant memory than clinging to you at the door, begging you not to leave.

I pray for the day you can come home to me.

All my love,

Your Sam

Josh could barely read the letter through the tears in his eyes. A teardrop fell onto the paper, then another, and another. He folded the note and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He sniffled and regained his composure, willing himself not to cry. He knew if he did, he might not stop.

Josh went into the bathroom to take a leak. There was another note Scotch-taped to the mirror. It read:

Josh,

Strip the bed, fold the sheets and pillowcases (neatly) and leave them on the bed. I know you just said "Why?" Because it's the polite thing to do when you're a guest in someone's home. Just do it. And leave Toby's spare key on the kitchen counter by the coffee maker.

Love,

Sammy

Josh smiled. Sam would never be far away. The smile left just as quickly as it had come. He hoped that was true.

Josh stripped the bed, called for a cab, dressed, and went outside to wait on the curb. It suddenly occurred to him, he didn't know where to go. He couldn't go home, he didn't want to go back to the sparse apartment, there was really no need to go to the office . . . Josh felt lost without Sam. When they were together time flew by and now, the minutes crept slowly away, second by second.

He decided on the apartment. He needed a shower and fresh clothes, and there was always work he could catch up on. He asked the cab driver to stop at a newsstand so he could buy The Sunday Washington Post, then he asked him to go through the drive-thru at Taco Bell. He told the driver he'd buy his lunch and promised a big tip in return, so the driver did. He went into the apartment building, stuck the key in the door, and turned. It wouldn't open.

"Shit!"

He tried again. And again. And again.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!"

"You're not doing it right."

Josh looked up to see the same man he'd seen yesterday. "I saw you before, didn't I?" Josh asked.

"Yep."

"You're the manager."

"Uh Huh."

"Bruce?"

"Brian."

"Brian. I knew that. Brian, my door won't open again," Josh said. "I know it's just a little thing with the key, but I can't figure it out."

"Pay attention this time."

Brian took the key from Josh, slid it in the lock, pulled up on the doorknob slightly, turned the key, and the door opened.

"Okaaaay, I see the trick," Josh said. "Pull up on the knob."

"I shouldn't have told you."

"Why's that?" Josh asked as he started to squeeze inside without opening the door more than a crack.

"Because then you'd have to come and get me every time you wanted to get inside your apartment. You'd be at my mercy." Brian smiled at Josh.

Josh cocked his head and looked at the man strangely. "Wouldn't it be easier to just show me how the key works so I wouldn't have to inconvenience you?"

"Not an inconvenience."

"Yeah, well, thanks," said Josh.

"Uh, don't forget to come by my office and fill out that paperwork today. It's not much, but I have to have it if you're gonna live here," Brian replied. "Could you come down in the next couple of hours?"

"Sure. I need to do some . . . things . . . then I'll be down. First apartment on the left, right?"

"Right."

Brian showed no indication of leaving.

Josh held up his Taco Bell bag. "I'm gonna eat now. Nice talking to you." He closed the door and locked it.

He walked over to his living area, dropped the newspaper on his futon, and set his food on the table. He washed his hands, set out the placemat Sam had sent along, then sat at the card table and ate his lunch from Taco Bell in silence.

He didn't have a TV and had forgotten to bring a radio. He could always listen to music downloaded on his computer, but right now he just wanted to eat. And wonder what Sam had for lunch.

Josh showered and put on sweat pants, a sweatshirt, and socks. It was cold in the apartment and even with the heat on, he had a chill that he couldn't shake. He knew how easily Sam got cold and worried about him.

He picked up his phone, shoved The Washington Post on the floor, laid on the futon, and dialed. He pulled some of the excess sheet over him and drew his legs up.

"Hello?"

"Mom?"

"Joshua? Hi, sweetie! How are you?" Rosemary sounded so happy to hear from her son.

"I'm ok. I'm fine. I'm good. Everything's . . ." he answered.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing."

"Something's wrong," Rosemary insisted.

"No, Mom, it isn't."

"Is Samuel all right?"

"Sam's . . . fine."

"Let me speak with him."

"With Sam?"

"Yes, with Sam."

"Sam's not here."

"Where is he?"

"Mom!"

"I'm sorry, honey. You just don't sound like yourself. I'm so glad you called. Tell me what's going on with you and Sam. What have you boys been up to?"

"California was nice," Josh replied.

"Did you like Sam's family?"

"Not so much."

"Why not?"

Silence.

"Joshua?"

"Mom?" The word squeaked out. "Something's happened."

*************************

When Sam got home from Toby's he went directly to the small cedar box on the bookshelf, took out his wedding band, and put it on his finger. He saw that Josh's was gone and he managed a slight bittersweet smile because Josh had thought to take it, although he could only wear it in the apartment.

The townhouse was too quiet. Even when they were both home but not necessarily talking, there was still Josh-noise . . . the crinkle of a newspaper when he turned the page, the refrigerator door opening and slamming shut, his laugh at something he remembered from earlier in the day. Now Sam stood in the middle of silence and wished Josh was there to talk all the way through "American Idol" while Sam was trying to watch it.

He went upstairs and into the bedroom. He picked up Josh's clothes scattered on the floor and held them to his face. He smelled Josh ~~ a little cologne on his collar, a trace of deodorant in the armpit of his sleeve ~~ Josh's body scent that was Josh's and nobody else's. He tossed them onto the chair in the corner and went into the bathroom.

Sam stood under the hot water for a long time. He was lost. He didn't know what to do with himself. His life just flowed smoothly when Josh was with him so he didn't have to think about "what's next?" or what he was supposed to do. Everything just came naturally and easily. It wasn't like this when they'd been separated a night or two because of business. That was no big deal. Sure, they'd missed each other, but they knew they'd be back together on a specific day and time. This not knowing made the solitude unbearable.

After his shower Sam dressed in jeans, a Hunter Green cashmere sweater, and black boots. He grabbed his keys and left the townhouse. He drove the few miles to Nick's Grill, parked, and went inside. It was dimly-lit with large booths and low-hanging stained- glass lamps. There was a bar in the middle with bar stools all around. He took a booth about halfway back by the window.

A few minutes later a waitress came by his table.

"Would you care for anything to drink?" she asked.

"Iced tea, please."

He opened the menu to see what he wanted to eat. Nothing sounded good, but he knew he had to have something. He propped his elbows on the table and drummed his fingers while he waited.

When the waitress brought his tea she asked if he was ready to order. He decided on a club sandwich and potato salad.

He sat back against the leather booth and closed his eyes.

A few minutes later he thought he heard his name but wasn't sure. Then he heard it again and was sure.

"Sam? Sam!"

He opened his eyes and smiled.

"Ainsley! I know that voice!" Sam stood as she approached the booth. They shared a brief hug.

"Are you coming or going?" Sam asked.

"Waiting," she replied. "I had plans with a girlfriend to meet here and she just cancelled, after I'd waited nearly forty-five minutes no less, but I'm hungry enough to eat a horse so I decided to stay and eat then I saw you so I called out your name and you looked up and here we are!"

"Here we are!" Sam repeated with a laugh. "Would you like to join me?"

"I would love to, Sam. Thank you!"

Ainsley slid into the booth opposite Sam. She shrugged off her light- weight coat, propped her elbows on the table, and set her chin on the backs of her hands. Sam motioned for the waitress.

"What did you order, Sam? I've never been here. Have you been here and if so, what's good?"

"I have, and the club sandwich is outstanding. Great potato salad too," Sam replied.

"What about dessert?" she asked.

Sam laughed. "You haven't even had your meal yet and you're already asking about dessert? You eat more than any woman I've ever known."

"High metabolism. It runs in the family. I have it, my Father has it, my Father's Father has it. It's just one of those things. Deviated septums run on my Mother's side. I have one, my Mother has one, my Mother's Mother has one. It's just . . ."

" . . . one of those things." They finished together.

"It is. So if I ever sound nasally, you'll know it's my deviated septum and not just me being a nasally-sounding woman, which is so unattractive. There's a difference, and no, I'm not being a snob."

"I'd never think that."

When the waitress came to their table, she took Ainsley's order and asked if she'd like a drink.

"I would," she said. "A Pink Squirrel, please, and would you put two cherries in that?" she asked the waitress.

"I want to get drunk, Sam," she said when they were alone again. "I've had a bad day and a worse week and I want to drink until I'm drunk and this Pink Squirrel is going to do the trick."

Sam smiled. "Are you gonna dance while you drink that?"

"Sam, I have never been so humiliated in my life. I still can't believe the President of THESE United States came to my office and saw me in a bathrobe, drinking a Pink Squirrel, and dancing the Bossa Nova. I didn't have any underwear on under that bathrobe!"

"Well, thank you for that previously-unknown bit of trivia. You said you wanted to meet him."

"Not while I was acting like a ninny!"

"You were a cute ninny. Don't worry about it," Sam replied.

"I WILL worry about it. That's not something a person easily forgets. What are you doing here all by yourself, Sam? I would have expected you, of all people, to spend your weekends cavorting with the ladies."

"I'm not known for my cavorting," he said. The waitress brought their food, Ainsley's Pink Squirrel, and another iced tea for Sam. "Why would you think that? That I cavort?"

"Look at yourself. You can't tell me you haven't walked past a mirror in the last, oh, say twenty years. You're the Prince Charming of the White House, Sam, and the ladies would love to know who your Cinderella is."

Sam blushed. "I don't believe that."

"Believe it. I needed some help organizing my files so Human Resources sent over two young ladies and that's all they talked about ~~ Sam Seaborn, Sam Seaborn, Sam Seaborn. That's when I learned about the distaff side of the White House's fascination with Sam Seaborn and his mystery woman."

Sam's heart skipped a beat. He didn't want anybody but Josh to be fascinated with any facet of his life. He didn't want to be talked about. He didn't want people thinking he had a mystery woman.

"Sam!"

"What?"

"I asked you a question," Ainsley said. She sucked seductively on a cherry then popped it off the stem with her lips and slowly chewed on it.

"I'm sorry. My mind was . . . what was your question?"

"I said, why don't you tell me who the mystery woman is?"

"There's no mystery woman, Ainsley."

"More than one?"

"No."

"Our secret."

"Ainsley . . ."

"Am I embarrassing you, Sam?"

"I'm a little uncomfortable, yes," Sam replied.

"That's sweet, but I don't believe it. You're just being coy. This club sandwich is scrumptious! Coy looks good on you, Sam, like that cashmere sweater. You should wear it more often."

"Wear what? Coy or the sweater?"

"That sweater. And being coy. They both become you. Would you order another Pink Squirrel for me, please?"

"In the middle of the day?" Sam teased as he motioned for the waitress.

"I'm a grown-up. Don't forget . . . two cherries."

The waitress cleared their table.

"Some more iced tea and another Pink Squirrel for the lady, please," said Sam. "With two cherries." "And your dessert menu," added Ainsley.

The two sat in silence while the waitress brought their drinks and the menu. Ainsley studied it then handed it to Sam.

"I know what I want. What are you getting, Sam?"

"Oh, nothing for me. I'm full."

"You have to get dessert!" Ainsley exclaimed.

"No, seriously."

"How about if we split something? Half-and-half?" Sam shook his head. "Two-thirds for me and one-third for you?" Sam shook his head again. "Three-quarters mine, one-quarter yours? Would you do that?"

"Ok, you choose," Sam gave in. "Anything's fine with me."

She looked up at the waitress. "Raspberry swirl cheesecake with the raspberry topping and white chocolate shavings," she read from the menu. "And, oh look, it's made with rum!"

"And two cups of coffee," Sam told the waitress.

Ainsley propped her elbows on the table again, her chin on her hands, and leaned forward. "So tell me, Sam, who are you seeing? For real. My lips are sealed." She ran her fingers over her lips and made a motion over her shoulder as if she was throwing away the key.

Sam silently drummed his knife and spoon on the table while Ainsley continued to press him about his love affairs. "Nobody. Really. My social life is boring, non-existent. Work, home, work, home. I'm a regular dullard."

Ainsley reached across the table and took Sam's left hand in hers. The spoon dropped. She smiled and looked into his eyes.

"I've never noticed you wearing jewelry before. Well, I've noticed your wristwatch, but that's not normally considered jewelry, do you think?"

Instinct told Sam to look at his finger, but he maintained eye contact with Ainsley.

"Some people consider watches to be jewelry," he said calmly.

"I don't believe I've ever seen your ring before, have I?" she pressed.

"Probably not. I don't wear it often."

"Why not?"

"It belongs to my family. It's . . . special and I don't want anything to happen to it."

"That's sweet, Sam. It wouldn't have anything to do with your mystery woman, would it?"

"For the last time, there IS no mystery woman," Sam replied firmly.

"Well, I would never be so impolite as to suggest you're fibbing, but I find that hard to believe, and that twinkle in your eye is a dead give-away. You're either keeping somebody or you're a kept man, Sam Seaborn. I think you're a Prince Charming too, and a lot of women are missing out on a good thing."

Sam blushed again and pulled his hand away. "Well, thank you Ainsley."

When their dessert came Ainsley slid it to the middle of the table. "Let's share," she said.

Her eyes were already a little glazed over from her drinks, and this look became even more pronounced as she ate the rum-laden cheesecake.

"Taste it, Sam," she said. "It's out of this world!"

"No, really," he replied. "Too sweet for me, but knock yourself out."

Sam watched as Ainsley ate every bite of her dessert then sat back, full and satisfied ~~ he hoped.

"Did you get enough to eat?" he asked.

"I think so," she smiled. "I went to the grocery yesterday so I've got plenty in the fridge and cupboards."

"I was kidding," Sam laughed. "You didn't touch your coffee."

"I don't want any. I like this little buzz I've got going."

"How'd you get here?" Sam asked. "Did you drive?"

"I drove in my little Republican compact car that gets about fifty miles to the gallon, I'll have you know."

"Fifty miles to the gallon!"

"And next year I'm getting a hybrid."

"A hybrid!"

"Are you mocking me, Sam?"

"Mocking you?"

"Or are you flirting with me?"

Sam stopped short. WAS he flirting with Ainsley? Was Ainsley flirting with HIM? No, it was the rum and the Pink Squirrels talking. Sam laughed out loud.

"What's so funny?" Ainsley asked.

He shook his head. "I was just thinking of pink squirrels talking and it sounded . . . never mind."

"I think I'll get another one," she said.

"How about if I drive you home? Maybe you've had enough for a Sunday afternoon. You didn't touch your coffee."

"I said, I sat down with the intention of getting drunk and I don't intend to get UN-drunk by guzzling coffee, thankyouverymuch. Give a girl a break during her time of a stress-filled workweek."

"YOU had a stress-filled workweek?" Sam asked.

"Yes I did. The two sons-of-b's hired to replace Brookline and Joyce are, if you can believe it, more arrogant than Steve and Mark could ever HOPE to be. They've rankled me to my last nerve this week, and that last nerve is about to blow."

"Did you say sons-of-b's?" Sam laughed.

"I did. Do you find that funny?"

"Well, yeah, I do . . . kind of."

"Will I be safe if I ride in your car with you, Prince Charming?" Ainsley asked.

"Totally," Sam replied.

"Will I be safe in my apartment if I invite you up?"

Sam drained his iced tea glass. "I promise."

*************************

Toby sat on his couch, feet on his coffee table, and lit his second cigar. He only lit two cigars in a row when he was troubled. And Toby was troubled. He couldn't help but wonder if he'd done the wrong thing for Sam and Josh when his intentions were to do what was best for them.

Telling his plan to Sam had gone smoothly enough, but that had just been him and Sam. Toby knew Sam trusted him enough that Sam could be himself and wouldn't feel the need to hide his emotions if things got too difficult.

And the meeting with Danny went well too, thanks in great part to Danny's downplayed reaction to everything he was told. Toby had worried Danny would be in reporter mode and ask question after question, and that's the last thing he wanted Sam to go through. But Danny played it cool and just sat back and listened.

Toby was most concerned when he, Sam, and Josh met with the President and told him not just about the plan, but about Sam and Josh's relationship. He knew the guys were nervous, and he felt trepidation about it because he had initiated the whole thing. If it blew up, it would blow up in his face first and worst.

Surprisingly, the President not only took it well, but assured them he would take action right away.

When Sam and Josh left the White House Saturday evening, Toby had a positive feeling about how the day had gone. He was glad he'd given his apartment key to Josh so he and Sam could be together one more night before their separation. He had no idea how long they'd be apart and he wanted to do this one small thing for them.

But Toby was deeply troubled. He couldn't get his mind off Leo and how he would react to being left out of the loop on something as important as the whole Bartlet Campaign and Administration being threatened. Especially when it was his subordinates who deliberately made sure the meetings were secret so he wouldn't be included. Toby knew any reprimands relating to Leo's exclusion would be directed at him, and all he could do was brace himself for the fall-out. Leo wasn't accustomed to being passed over.

He worried about the confidentiality of the facts Danny was going to dig up and how they would reflect on Sam. More importantly though, he worried about the information Sam himself gave Danny. Toby didn't know if he'd have the balls to tell another man, or a woman for that matter, some of the stuff Sam told Danny and was surprised Sam had revealed as much as he did.

But Toby knew there wasn't anything Sam wouldn't do for this President; he would fall on the sword for Jed Bartlet at all costs, and this wound cut deeper than any other Toby could imagine. He could only hope Sam came out of this relatively undamaged. He knew there would be repercussions ~~ for Sam and Josh both ~~ but Toby hoped the effects would be minimal and he knew he was going to do all he could to make sure they didn't have to bear the full brunt of Daniel Seaborn's actions.

Impulsive. Drastic. Was I either of those? Toby thought. Should I have waited and gone to the President first instead of Leo? Did I act too fast and irrationally?

Toby took a long drag on the last of his cigar and laid his head back on the couch. He watched the smoke rings dissipate toward the ceiling fan. He thought. And he thought some more. About Sam. About Josh. About Sam and Josh. About Leo . . . not so much.

And he came up with the answers. No, I didn't act impulsively. No, what I did wasn't drastic. No, I shouldn't have gone to Leo first. No, I didn't act too fast or irrationally.

He ground out his cigar in the ashtray, stood up, and stretched, satisfied with the knowledge that what he'd done was exactly right.

Now his main concerns were for Sam and Josh, individually and as a couple. Would they weather the storm? Would there even BE a storm? Shit. He hated not knowing. He hated putting something as important as this into motion then it all being taken out of his hands. One minute he was the master planner and the next, he had no control at all.

Toby was back where he started. Self-doubt about his own emotional involvement. When did I get so attached to those two? he wondered. Under normal circumstances I would have played the best hand dealt for the Administration and not given a second thought to Sam and Josh as a couple. Hell, under normal circumstances Sam and Josh wouldn't even BE a couple. Now here I am spending the better part of a Sunday afternoon trying to convince myself that what I've done was in THEIR best interests as much as the President's. More than that, I'm worried about them. More than that, I'm wondering how they're doing separated from each other under such trying conditions. Even more disturbing, I'm concerned about WHAT each is doing by himself and whether I should call and check up on them. Now that's disturbing. Have I invested too much of myself in these guys? Is that a bad thing?

No, that's ridiculous. Sam and Josh are grown men. Old enough to take care of themselves independent of each other and most assuredly independent of me. Josh, definitely, would be insulted if anyone suggested otherwise. Sam . . .

Toby walked over to his chessboard and looked down at it. Two moves and he'd have Sam in checkmate. Not now. Not while Sam was distracted and didn't have a fair chance to think it through. It's just a game and neither was in a rush to win.

Toby took a closer look at his chessboard. His last move, Pawn to Rook Four, had been moved back to its original place. It was a bad move and Sam knew it and must have moved it back overnight. Toby picked up the chess piece and rolled it in his hand.

It was like Sam to do that.

The phone rang and Toby nearly dropped the chess piece. He set it on the board and answered his phone.

"Hello?"

"Toby? It's Leo."

"Hi Leo, is there a problem?"

"No, no, nothing like that," Leo replied. "I just wanted to get your take on something if you're not busy."

Dammit. "Sure, I'm not doing much."

"Friday. My meeting with Josh and Sam didn't go so well, do you think?"

"I think they were caught off-guard and are obviously at opposite ends of the spectrum from you where this matter is concerned," Toby said. "Things got a little out of control, since you asked."

"Yeah, I figured as much. I feel kinda bad about that."

"Have you changed your mind about them separating?" Toby asked.

"I just wanted to get your opinion on whether you think they fully understood what I was telling them," Leo said. "That separation means total separation and . . ."

"They understood, Leo," said Toby.

"Have you talked with them? Since the meeting, I mean."

"Yeah."

"And they followed my orders?" Leo asked.

"Josh moved out Saturday," Toby replied. "They're living apart and aren't having any contact."

"Good. Fine. It may be rough on them for a few days, but they'll come around."

"They'll come around?" Toby couldn't believe what he heard.

"Of course," said Leo. "It won't take long for them to realize this is how it's supposed to be and they'll get back into the normal swing of things. I'm not worried about them."

"Leo, I'm sorry to cut this short, but I really need to go," Toby said. "Can we pick this up later?"

"Sure, sure. I just wanted to make sure everything was on the right track. I'll see you tomorrow."

Toby was furious. Leo was more out of touch than Toby first thought. He felt better now that he had sidestepped Leo and gone directly to the President with his plan. That meeting went very well, but he still didn't have a clear understanding of how Jed Bartlet felt about Sam and Josh being a couple. It appeared to have been all business to him..

Toby went to the kitchen and opened a Heineken. His throat was dry after talking with Leo. He swallowed nearly half-a-bottle and returned to his living room.

CJ. He needed to call CJ and bring her into the loop. She knew so little about this and could possibly have so much dumped on her at any minute. She deserved to know. She HAD to know. It's not just common courtesy. It's how we do things, Toby thought as he picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"CJ? Toby."

"I wondered when you were gonna get around to calling me! What the hell is going on?"

"What makes you think something's going on?" Toby asked.

"Because I'm not stupid and I know things," she replied. "And you called me for Danny's number on a Saturday."

"What do you know?"

"I don't KNOW what I know, but I know, and you'd better damn well fill me in, Toby. If something breaks I'm the one with my face on every TV in the country . . . in the world . . . and I don't wanna look like an idiot!"

"CJ, this is why I'm calling you," Toby said. "I need to bring you up to speed on everything before tomorrow. We can't do this over the phone though. We need privacy."

"My apartment?" CJ suggested.

"Will Simon be there?"

"Simon's working. I'm here alone."

"Ok, can I come over now?" Toby asked.

"Yes, and drive fast. I wanna know everything NOW," CJ replied. "Just don't get in a wreck. Drive fast but safe, ok?"

Toby smiled. "Ok. Oh, if Leo calls you, don't talk to him."

"Why?"

"Because I said so."

Toby got in his car and headed toward CJ's apartment to once again, and hopefully for the last time, repeat his plan ~~ the story of Sam and his devious family, Danny's agreement to investigate them, and the involvement of the President without Leo's knowledge. She needed to know about Sam and Josh's revelation to the President, about Lionel Tribbey being brought into the mix, what they would and wouldn't be privy to. She needed to know about the threats in more detail and pretty much, know everything Toby knew.

He sighed when he stopped at a red light. He hadn't realized how tired he was. How drained. How much this ordeal had taken out of him. He just wanted it all to be over.

When he got to CJ's he crossed his arms on the steering wheel and rested his forehead on them before he went in.

The fatigue was setting in.

*************************

Josh figured he'd better go to the manager's office and do whatever paperwork needed to be taken care of before the manager came back to his apartment. He didn't want anybody coming inside to see his meager furnishings and getting suspicious.

He sat on the edge of his futon and pulled on his tennis shoes. He ran his fingers through his hair and reached for the apartment key on the card table. It was next to the picture of him and Sam. He stopped and looked at it. He wondered what Sam was doing. What he was wearing. If Sam was thinking about him. He touched Sam's face in the photograph, picked up the key, and headed to the manager's office.

The door said "Come In" so he did. Dammit, he couldn't remember the manager's name. He knew it started with a "B", but beyond that, he was lost. He was sitting behind a desk, talking on the phone. He acknowledged Josh by holding up one finger and mouthing, "Just a minute". Josh stood and patiently waited.

Finally the man hung up the phone. "Sorry," he said. "Possible new tenant. What `cha need?"

"Uh, you said I needed to fill out some papers, or sign something," Josh replied.

"Oh yeah, Seaborn's cousin, right?"

"Yeah."

The man opened a folder on his desk. He pulled out some forms and Josh immediately recognized Sam's handwriting and signatures. He got a blank form and set it in front of Josh.

"You're just gonna be here for a while, right?" he said.

"Yeah."

"Then I'll just need your name, your relationship to the tenant, and a phone number where we can reach you. Then sign at the bottom and date it." He held out a pen.

Josh took it and wrote "Joshua Lucas", "Cousin", and a fake phone number. Then he signed and dated it. He handed the pen back. The manager read it over, then signed it as a witness. Josh read upside down. Brian! That's his name. Brian.

"Any idea how long you'll be staying?" Brian asked.

"Not long."

"Ok, just yell if you need anything. I'm here most of the time."

"Yeah, you told me. Am I done here?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, thanks for coming by."

Josh went back to his apartment, stood just inside the door, and looked around. It was bleak. Nightfall made it worse. He went into the kitchen and dug through one of the unemptied grocery bags until he found a pack of cigarettes and lighter, opened a Sam Adams that was barely cool, kicked the small refrigerator, and sat on his futon. He took a drink of beer, inhaled the cigarette, then looked around for someplace to flick the ashes.

"Dammit," he said aloud, holding his hand underneath the end of the cigarette.

He went back into the kitchen and reached for a coffee mug to use as an ashtray. He stopped short. It was the one Sam had given him that said, "World's Greatest Lover" in red letters. The one Sam gave him after Josh broke the one that said "World's Greatest Dad" that he had given his Father when he was a little boy. Sam had packed that coffee mug for Josh to use while they were separated.

He flicked the ashes in the sink and stared at the mug. That was such a Sam-thing to do, he thought. Would I be so considerate to think to pack such a thing? Would it ever occur to me to be so thoughtful? Probably not.

Josh set the mug back on the counter. He wanted to call Toby and see if Danny had finished his investigation, if the President had dealt with Daniel Seaborn, if he could go home. He knew that was absurd, but at this point he was willing to grab onto anything.

He went back into his living space and sat on the straight-backed chair at the card table. He dialed Toby's number and got a busy signal. "Shit!" He gulped his beer and took another drag off his cigarette.

He set up his laptop and opened a document he'd been working on at the office. He tried Toby again; another busy signal.

"Why the hell does he get on the phone when he knows I wanna talk to him?" he grumbled. He drained his bottle.

He started to work on the document. Something that had eluded him on Friday had suddenly come to him and he wanted to get it written before it escaped him again. The cigarette dangled from his lips while he typed. Ashes fell on his shirt and when he'd smoked it to the filter, he dropped the butt into the beer bottle. The embers hissed as the remaining drops of beer doused what was left of the fire.

Two beers and two cigarettes later Josh stood up and stretched. The hard back of the steel chair made him stiff and uncomfortable. He turned and twisted and bent over to touch the floor. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths and decided to call Toby again. He looked at the clock and saw that it was past midnight.

He hadn't realized how long he'd worked. He didn't eat supper and just now felt a hunger pang. Sam always told him not to go to bed on a full stomach, but he was hungry. Maybe just a little something.

He saved his work and shut down his laptop. He was pleased with what he'd accomplished and thankful the evening had passed quickly. In the kitchen he fixed a pimento cheese sandwich and opened a barely cool 7-Up and walked around the apartment while he ate it, still stretching his back and neck, trying to work out the kinks from sitting so long.

He went into the small bathroom and turned on the light. The room was still poorly lit.

"What the hell watt bulbs are those?" he said out loud, just to hear a voice. "Ten?"

He took a leak, washed his face and hands, squirted toothpaste on his toothbrush, and brushed his teeth. He watched himself in the mirror, and that's when he saw Sam. Sam standing next to him, prodding him to brush evenly, up and down, and not to rush it. And floss.

"Your teeth are your friends, Josh," he could hear Sam say. "You be good to them and they'll be good to you."

God, what he'd give to hear Sam say that now.

Josh rinsed and spat longer than he needed to. He pretended like he didn't know why, but he knew why; it was so he wouldn't have to go to bed alone. He couldn't bear the thought of sleeping without Sam.

He finally stopped because there was nothing left to spit. His mouth was dry. He wiped his chin with the back of his hand, cupped his hand, filled it with water and took a drink, turned out the light, and went back to his living space.

It looked worse than he remembered.

Josh opened the suitcase to find what Sam had packed for him to sleep in. He didn't want to wear what he'd had on all afternoon. He shuffled through the clothes and knew it as soon as he saw it. A long-sleeved grey cotton t-shirt and across the front in black, "Princeton"; black boxers and on the elastic waistband in grey, "Princeton".

He pulled off his sweats and dropped them on the floor where he stood, then slipped on Sam's Princeton shirt and boxers. He went across the room, pulled the window shades, turned off the lamp on the card table, then sat on the futon. He set the alarm for five o'clock a.m., got under the covers, took one last look at Sam's photograph, and turned out the light. Then he lay back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.

The room was darker than he expected. He wished he'd thought to bring the cigarette lighter for the candle, but he didn't want to get back out of bed for it. A minute later he threw the covers back, stumbled to the card table, felt for the lighter, lit it to find his way back to the futon, and lit the candle wick. The room was suddenly splashed with a soft light. Josh set it next to Sam's photograph so he could see it clearly.

Again, he lay on his back, this time with his head turned so he could look at Sam. It felt good being in Sam's clothes. Nowhere close to Sam being there, but as close as he was gonna get tonight.

Josh ran his hand down his chest and felt the smooth cotton shirt. It was cool under the warmth of the covers. He pulled the shirt up and felt his bare chest and stomach ~~ warm, firm from working out at the gym with Sam. He rubbed his abdomen. There was a flutter like butterfly wings as he caressed himself so he didn't stop. He gazed at Sam's photograph as his touch became more sensual.

Josh slipped his fingers inside the waistband of Sam's boxers. He ran them back and forth as he slowly let them dip deeper inside. He shivered when he first touched the nest of tangled brown hair. He hesitated, then combed his fingers through his pubic hair until they were stopped by his erect penis, purple-red, hard and pulsating, veins quivering, ready to detonate at any moment.

He wrapped his palm around his dick and closed his eyes, imagining it was Sam's hand. Very slowly, he caressed himself as Sam had done so many times. His hand pumped up and down his own shaft, kneading and squeezing, slowly then faster, just the way he liked it. Finally, Josh made long, hard strokes as he came into his other hand. He arched his back and moaned with pleasure as he stared at Sam's face through squinted eyes, wishing, imagining, pretending it was Sam's hand instead of his own. And after he was spent, he gently calmed his penis lightly with the tips of his fingernails, soothing himself as Sam would do.

When it was over, when the moment had passed and Josh was alone with himself again, he wiped his dick and hand clean with some of the excess sheet that fell to the floor. Josh pulled his boxers up and his shirt down and arranged the covers again.

He looked one more time at the photograph, aglow in the candlelight.

"Good-night, my Angel. I love you."

He kissed his wedding band and blew out the candle. He rolled over on his side with his back to the picture, but he didn't sleep.

*************************

Ainsley talked and giggled non-stop on the ride to her apartment. Sam enjoyed listening to her without having to respond. It took his mind off his own empty townhouse and the lonely night he anticipated without Josh. Ainsley seemed like a good, harmless distraction for a while.

He parked and went around to the passenger side to help her out of the car. He put his arm around her and she leaned on him for support as he gave him vague directions to her apartment. At the door he held her steady while she dug through her purse for her keys. Without discussion, he took them from her and unlocked the door.

As soon as they stepped inside, she clamped onto Sam's arm with one hand and with the other, took off first one shoe then the other. She held one up in front of Sam's face, so close that he had to lean back to avoid being hit by it.

"Do you like these shoes, Sam?" she asked.

"Very much."

"Do you find heels this high on a woman sexy?"

"Um, of course. They emphasize the shape and contour of your calf, which is always provocative." He took the shoe from her before it hit him. "And it accentuates the curve of the lady's ankle, which I believe is one of the sexiest positions of power on a woman's body." He brushed her hair back from her face. "They're nice shoes."

Ainsley had closed her eyes while Sam spoke and touched her hair. Now she swayed a little, unsteady on her feet. Sam reached out and caught her.

"Why don't we sit down?" he suggested. "You seem a bit tipsy."

"Just a bit," she admitted. "Why don't we sit down?"

"Good idea."

Sam led Ainsley over to the couch and was going to guide her as she sat, but instead, she just flopped down and laid her head back.

"Sam, Sam, Sam. I. Am. Drunk. As. A. Skunk. My Father would not be proud. Why is the ceiling spinning?"

"Ceilings do that when ladies drink Pink Squirrels and eat rum-soaked cheesecake, Ainsley. If you're about finished with your bender, how about I fix some coffee? Do you feel like coming back to Earth now?" Sam asked.

Ainsley nodded. "I think so. I'm not meant to be a drinker. While you do that, I'm going to slip into something more comfortable. Will that make you uncomfortable?"

"Of course not. Why would it?"

"You know. I'm just a blonde Republican sex kitten and you're Prince Charming and I just thought the chemistry . . . "

"You thought wrong," Sam assured her. "Go change clothes and I'll fix some strong, black coffee to bring you back to your senses. Can you walk a straight line?"

"I'll hold onto the wall. It's not moving too badly," she responded. "Back in a flash."

Sam moved around Ainsley's kitchen with ease and soon had the coffee brewing. He found china cups and saucers, not mugs, and set them out with napkins. No sugar, no cream. She was going to drink it strong and black. He went back into the living room, trying to imagine what "slip into something more comfortable" translated into for Ainsley.

It didn't take long to find out. A few minutes later she came back down the hall, still balancing herself by holding onto the wall. Sam smiled at what he saw. Ainsley was dressed in baggy pink flannel pajamas with green turtles and frogs on them. They buttoned up the front and the pants stayed up with a drawstring. Not quite what Sam expected.

"Sit here," he said, "and I'll take care of you."

"Oh, Sam, that's so sweet. There's not enough sweetness in the world today. Did you know that?" She took Sam's outstretched hand and let him guide her to her seat in the middle of the couch. She sat cross- legged and Sam covered her with a lightweight quilt. He tucked it around her neck.

"Now you just sit there and relax and I'll bring you some hot coffee," he said.

She looked up and caught him looking at her. She smiled at him. "Thank you, Sam. You're a doll."

Sam went into the kitchen and returned with a pot of coffee, two cups and saucers, and a hot pad. He sat the pot on the hot pad and the cups and saucers on the table. He filled them both, sat on the couch next to Ainsley, and picked up one of the cups and saucers and held it in front of her.

"Ok, this is hot," he said, "so blow and sip. Careful now."

Sam practically force-fed her the first cup, then after that she was grateful to drink a couple more on her own, and she sobered up quickly. Not that she was that drunk to begin with, but Ainsley's constitution for alcohol wasn't the strongest Sam had ever seen.

She stopped chattering, held her coffee cup in both hands, tucked her legs up under the quilt, and leaned against Sam, her head on his shoulder. Instinctively, Sam put his arm around her.

"I needed that," she said softly.

"The coffee?"

"All of it. Having lunch with you, getting drunk, sipping this wickedly strong coffee, cuddling up with you here on the couch," she replied. "This is a good thing."

Sam knew he'd already let things go too far, but Ainsley was so ingratiating, she just melted her way into Sam's predicament.

"There's a ballgame on," she said. "Do you want to watch it?"

"Thanks, but no. I really need to go."

"Oh, Sam, stay just a little while longer. We never get to just talk like regular people. Humor me, won't you?"

Sam laughed. "Ok, for a little while, then I need to go."

"Good. What do you want to talk about?" she asked.

"It was YOUR idea to talk like regular people! I thought you had something in mind."

"No, not especially. I'm known in my social circles for being an excellent conversationalist, but this evening I'm just too worn out to initiate discussion of ANY relevance at all. You go first."

"Well, how about this. Do you know a guy named Marc Hayes?" asked Sam.

Ainsley lifted her head off Sam's shoulder and looked at him with an odd expression on her face.

"Why ever would you ask me that?"

"In this conversation you're not allowed to answer a question WITH a question. You answer with an answer," Sam explained. "I'll repeat it. Do you know a guy named Marc Hayes?"

Ainsley laid her head back on Sam's shoulder.

"I do."

"How long have you known him?"

"All my life."

"Do you and he have the same last name by coincidence or because you're related to each other?"

Ainsley hesitated. "Do you know Marc?"

"You broke the rule," Sam replied. "You can't answer a question with a question."

"Because we're related to each other."

Sam cringed. Somehow he knew that she was going to say that.

"Related how?"

Ainsley raised her arm and waved her hand like a schoolgirl in class trying to get the teacher's attention.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked.

"I'd like to ask a question please," she replied.

Sam laughed. "Go ahead, ask."

"We may be talking about a different Marc Hayes. How are you spelling Marc?"

"M-a-r-c. Marc with a `c'.

"He's my cousin," Ainsley said softly, and Sam would have sworn sadly as well. "Now may I ask a few questions?"

"Sure."

"How do you know Marc?" Ainsley asked.

"I met him at the racquetball courts."

"Are you friends with him?"

"I've been to his house a couple of times, but we haven't seen each other in a long time," Sam explained. "We mostly played racquetball together. Did he ever mention to you that he knew me?"

Sam felt Ainsley stiffen next to him. "No. I haven't spoken with Marc in a long time. I had no idea. Should I have known?"

"Not at all. I was just curious."

"You asked for a reason, Sam."

"Seriously. It's just that I hadn't seen Marc for a while then I ran into him the other day at the gym and was surprised to see him. And now that we're having a conversation like regular people, I just thought I'd ask since, you know, you both have the same last name. Just making conversation." Sam hoped he hadn't babbled.

"I don't believe you," Ainsley said, "but I'll take it for now because I'm finally relaxed and I don't want Marc to take that away. I will say one thing though, if you don't ask me to elaborate."

"I won't ask you to elaborate."

"Find yourself another racquetball partner."

A few minutes later Ainsley was asleep. She had slowly slid down until her head was in Sam's lap and she was curled into a ball under the quilt. Sam put his hand on her shoulder and let her sleep. He turned on the game and watched it by himself. He hadn't planned to spend the evening in Ainsley's apartment with her sleeping in his lap, but it was a distraction from being in the townhouse alone. He liked Ainsley and she was a warm body, so he saw no harm in staying for a while.

The game ended and the news came on. Then there was nothing worth watching. He turned the sound down, but stared at the flickering images on the screen. What's Josh doing? he wondered. Did he have a good supper? Has he gone to bed? Did he find the boxers and Princeton t-shirt I packed for him to sleep in? Did he remember to set the alarm? Did he find the poem? Does he miss me? I need to go home ~~ it's nearly midnight. Or I could just spend the night with Ainsley. I'll bet I could have her if I wanted. I know I could. It's been so long since I've been with a woman. It would be so . . . strange. But it might be erotic in a bizarre sort of way.

He gently started to lift Ainsley's head off his lap so he could stand up. Not this boy, he thought. There's only one person in this world for me, and I wanna go home and dream about him.

He put a pillow under Ainsley's head and tucked the quilt around her. He clicked off the TV, took the coffee cups and coffee pot into the kitchen and rinsed them out, and turned out the lights. He looked down at Ainsley one more time.

"Good-night, darlin'," he whispered. "Sweet dreams."

He locked the door and closed it behind him, then headed home to the empty townhouse.

There, he took a quick shower and went through his dental hygiene regimen. He pulled on a pair of Josh's plaid flannel pants and started for the bed. He stopped at the edge. There's no way I can sleep in that bed alone, he thought. Even if I can have the middle all to myself, I don't WANT the middle all to myself. Too much room. It's ok when Josh is on business trips, but this is different. Way different.

Sam grabbed a pillow and the top sheet and bedspread off the bed and went downstairs. He stretched out on the couch and covered himself with the bedclothes. He rolled to his left side then to his right, flat on his back then on his stomach, trying to get comfortable. He finally decided to lie on his side facing the back of the couch. After a few minutes he went back upstairs and rummaged through Josh's drawer until he found a Modest Mouse t-shirt. He pulled it on and felt better. Then he grabbed the alarm clock and went back downstairs.

Sam didn't know how long he lay awake before he finally fell asleep. When the alarm went off the next morning, it felt like he hadn't slept at all.

*************************

The phone rang in Leo's hotel room. He turned down the volume on the eleven o'clock news and answered it.

"Hello?"

"Leo. Are you busy?"

"No, Mr. President. I was just watching the news. What can I do for you, sir?"

"I'd like you to come in early tomorrow morning so we can talk privately before the Senior Staff meets."

"I'll do that, sir. Is there anything I should prepare tonight to bring with me?" Leo asked.

"Nah, we're just gonna talk, you and me. Don't worry about it," Jed replied casually.

"All right, I won't."

"How's five-thirty sound?"

"I'll be there."

"Thanks, Leo. Sorry for the late call, but some stuff just came up. You know how it is."

"Yes, sir, I certainly do."

"See you in the morning, Leo. Good-night."

"Good-night, Mr. President."

At Home ~~ Chapter 76

Toby arrived at the White House an hour early Monday morning. He wanted to be in his office before Sam got there in case he needed to talk. He wasn't all that surprised to see Sam's light already on when he came in. Toby stood at Sam's door a minute or two before Sam looked up.

"Oh, good morning, Toby," he said. "I didn't see you."

"You're here awfully early. Are you so overrun with work that you need to put in the extra hours?" Toby asked.

"No, I just woke up early and decided to come on in. I, uh, had nowhere else to go, nothing else to do."

Toby walked on into Sam's office and closed the door. "How did yesterday and last night go?" he asked. "Did you manage ok?"

Sam nodded. "It was unpleasant, mostly unpleasant. Lonely. I missed Josh. But I lived through it."

"I had no doubt you would. And I had no doubt you'd be lonely. Maybe there'll be some progress today."

"Toby," said Sam, "I don't mind telling you I'm really nervous about this whole thing."

Toby sat in the chair next to Sam's desk. "About what your Father might do? Or your past being found out or what? You and Josh being publicly outed?"

"Yes. Everything. All of it. My life has been private, extremely private, all my life, and now . . ."

"Don't worry about it, kiddo. I'm confident things will work out and you and Josh will be just fine," Toby replied.

"Are you just trying to assuage me or do you really mean that?"

Toby nodded. "I really do mean that," he lied. "Don't worry about it."

"I'll try not to, but it feels like my life is balanced on a very thin high wire and just the slightest breeze will blow it off and I'll be totally exposed to the world. It's all so precarious and I have no control over anything. I mean, is Danny really in charge of my future right now?"

Toby laughed. "It's not as bad as you're making it sound, Sam. Danny will report only to the President. Did you miss that part?"

"No, but . . . Danny?"

"You know Danny's a seasoned pro, the best in the business, and I wouldn't have gone to him if I didn't trust him. He's not gonna screw us. I wouldn't allow it. And you know better than to doubt him."

Sam exhaled a deep sigh. "I'll try not to, but I'm a tad consumed by all this."

"Well, relax and re-focus, because I can't have your head doing Danny's job when you've got plenty of your OWN work to do," said Toby. "I need you here, understand?"

"I'm here, and I'll do my job," Sam replied.

"I want to tell you something, but I don't want you to worry about it. Yesterday I met with CJ and told her about the plan. She needed to know, Sam. I didn't reveal any details about you, but you understand why she has to be in on this, right?"

"I understand."

"Ok, I'm telling you this because I don't want you to think I'm keeping anything from you."

"I know you wouldn't do that, Toby. I believe you . . . you should know that by now."

"Yeah, well . . . things might be uncomfortable in the meeting this morning, so just be prepared for anything."

"I will, Dad," smiled Sam. "Anything else?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact. And enough with the smart mouth. When you see Josh today, try and control yourself."

"Toby!"

"Not like that. Just keep it business as usual. A normal day. Don't spend anymore time with him than you ordinarily would and just . . . keep it a normal day, ok?"

"Of course. Neither of us would do anything to jeopardize the plan. Give us a little credit," Sam replied.

"Ok, just a little." Toby stood to leave. "Get back to work. I'll be around all day if you need anything. And don't worry. I wouldn't have done this if I seriously thought you'd get hurt as a result."

Sam barely nodded his head. He was moved by Toby putting his own career in jeopardy by his actions over the weekend, and now his words silenced Sam.

Toby stood next to Sam's desk for another minute as if there might be something else he wanted to say. If there was, he decided against it, and went into his own office.

Sam glanced at his watch and wondered if Josh had come in yet. It was still earlier than his usual time, and he tended to lag if Sam didn't prod him along. He rubbed his ring finger with his thumb. He loved wearing his wedding band and felt a piece of him was missing when he couldn't. A few days ago Josh had said almost those exact same words. Sam looked up, hoping but not expecting to see Josh leaning against the doorframe, his head cocked to the side, that grin on his face . . . he wasn't surprised not to see him, and went back to work.

*************************

"DONNA!"

"How did you get in here without me seeing you?" Donna stepped into Josh's office.

"You weren't at your desk, where you're supposed to be at all times," Josh replied.

"Where was I?"

"The idea of guessing where you might be in the early morning hours frightens me. What are these?" Josh pointed to his chair.

"One's a blue folder and one's a yellow folder," Donna replied.

"Why are they in my chair? The operative word being MY."

"I knew if I just put them on your desk you'd probably shove them aside and they'd be overlooked and these are important and you absolutely must see them because they're for new meetings that you know nothing about," she explained.

"So you thought if I sat on them I'd be able to see them better?"

Donna smiled. "You be the judge."

Josh picked up the folders and read the notes paper-clipped to each of them. The yellow one advised him of a meeting with Howard Stackhouse at eleven o'clock on the Hill and the blue one said he had a one o'clock lunch at Bristol's with Karen Cahill.

"Karen Cahill! I don't wanna have lunch with Karen Cahill!!"

"Don't whine, Josh. You have to go and you know it," Donna said. "You knew this was coming one of these days."

Josh sat down and scowled. "She scares me," me mumbled.

"All women scare you."

"Do not."

"Do too

"Do not."

"Do too. All women scare you, Josh. That's why you don't have a girlfriend. You wouldn't know what to do with a girlfriend if you had one."

"It's not because I'm SCARED," Josh replied.

"If you say so. I'm going back to my desk. Don't forget Senior Staff this morning."

"Yeah, yeah. And close the door!"

Josh leaned back in his chair. We're gonna have to tell Donna eventually, he thought. Even if this runs smooth as silk, Donna's gonna hear about it. She knows everything. She knows I'm scared of Karen Cahill. And I'd rather she hear it from me than read it on the stall in the bathroom.

He looked at his watch. Wonder if Sam's here yet? Of course he is. Sam's always here before me. I've gotta see him. Or at least hear his voice. I can't wait until Senior Staff.

Josh dialed Sam's extension and propped his elbow on his desk. He fiddled with his pencil and doodled on a legal pad while he waited.

"Sam Seaborn."

Electricity coursed through Josh's body when he heard Sam's voice. He hadn't realized just how much these few hours had torn him away from Sam. He never could have imagined what the actuality of their separation would do to him. The suddenness of it all was a blow he hadn't recovered from.

"Sam," he said softly.

"Josh!" Sam replied equally as quiet. "I hoped you would call. I wanted to, but Toby said business as usual and I didn't have any legitimate reason to call you so I . . ."

"Sam. Stop talking."

"It's just so good to hear your voice," Sam whispered. "Do you have any idea how much I've missed you? I couldn't even sleep in our bed last night. I had to sleep on the couch. It was too big. There was too much room. I didn't want to be in the middle if you couldn't be in the middle with me so I. . ."

"Sam. Stop talking."

"Yeah, I didn't do that last time you told me to, did I?" Sam laughed.

"Are you doing ok?" Josh asked.

"Under the circumstances, but I'm ready for it to be over. How about you?"

"Same. I'm in the apartment from hell, but otherwise . . . "

"I'm sorry," said Sam. "Can I help you fix it up or something?"

"You know we can't do that. We're not even supposed to be talking right NOW. But I just had to hear your voice, Sam. I miss you so much."

"You have no idea, Josh. I didn't know I could miss anybody the way I miss you. I don't know if I can take it until you come home. Do you think we'll find out something today?" Sam asked.

"I'm hoping we'll find out something at Senior Staff. I'm kind of worried about seeing Leo. The President was gonna talk to him about what he did, you know?" said Josh. "Leo may be royally pissed,"

"Can I come to your office, Josh? I need to see you. I'll be discreet."

"Sam?"

Sam raised his head in surprise and looked up to see Toby standing directly in front of his desk. Toby reached out and took the phone from Sam.

"Josh," he said, "this isn't Sam anymore."

"Toby?" Josh's voice cracked.

"Yeah."

"What happened to Sam?"

"Nothing. Yet. I'm gonna say good-bye on his behalf now. Good-bye."

Toby hung up the phone before Josh had a chance to respond. He made eye contact with Sam, but didn't smile. Neither did Sam. A minute passed. Then two. Finally, Toby spoke.

"Are you an idiot? Are you a goddamn fucking idiot?"

"Apparently," Sam answered, "but I'm not exactly sure why."

"Not sure why? Not sure why? What did I tell you this morning? What was the major theme of our little talk just . . . just an hour ago? What did I tell you?" Toby's voice got louder as he grew angrier.

"To keep it business as usual. Make it a normal day. Don't see Josh anymore than I have to," Sam replied. "Is that what you're talking about?"

"You're damn right that's what I'm talking about! And right off the bat I walk in here and it sounds like a one-nine-hundred-hot-sex number. `I didn't know I could miss anybody the way I miss you. I don't know if I can take it until you come home. Can I come to your office, Josh? I need to see you.' Does that sound like business as fucking usual? I don't think so!"

Sam lowered his head. "I'm sorry, Toby. We didn't think . . ."

"You're damn right you didn't think! Are you two purposely trying to sabotage our plan before we even give it a chance?"

"Of course not. We made a mistake. It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't. I've put my ass on the line for you guys and I don't know if you even realize how serious . . ." Toby ran his hand over his head and down his face. He rested his hand on his chin and scratched his beard.

"Sam." Toby's anger had subsided and his voice had softened. He pulled a chair up next to Sam's desk. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry for jumping on you. You didn't deserve that."

He reached over and put his hand on Sam's for just a second.

"I'm a little jumpy about having all the bases covered . . . the phone being tapped, Danny, I don't know . . . maybe I've become obsessed with this." He flashed a quick smile. "But I'll try to loosen the reins a little. Call Josh back and tell him to come to your office. Do whatever you need to do to get it out of your systems before Senior Staff ~~ I can't have you both squirming in your chairs in the Oval Office and not being able to take your eyes off each other. Do it in your office and get it over with so I can run interference if anybody comes to see you. Call him now."

"Um, Toby?"

"What?"

"When you say `Do it and get it over with', just how much liberty are you allowing Josh and me to . . ."

"Not THAT much! Not even close! This isn't a conjugal visit, Sam. Don't do anything you haven't done in front of me. Damn. Show a little restraint. Now call Josh and get this over with. And lock your door."

"Thanks, Toby." Sam picked up the phone and started to dial.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," Toby mumbled as he opened the door and walked out of Sam's office.

"Josh Lyman's office."

"Donna?"

"Sam?"

"Yeah, are you in Josh's office?"

"I sure am."

"Where's Josh?"

"Standing in the bullpen talking to somebody I've never seen before," Donna replied.

"Go tell him to come to my office right now at Toby's request, please. Highest priority."

"Can I tell him what it's about?" Donna asked.

"No."

"Can I come too?"

Sam laughed. "No Donna, just Josh."

"Ok, I'll send him your way."

Donna left Josh's office and went into the bullpen. She went to Josh and waited a few seconds to see if he was going to stop talking long enough for her to get a word in. He seemed more hyper than usual this morning and didn't even notice she was there.

"Josh," she interrupted.

He kept talking.

"Josh! Sam called!" He went silent and turned to her. She lowered her voice. "Sam called and said to come to his office immediately at Toby's request. It's high priority. He wouldn't say what it's about but you'd better head that way."

"Yeah." Josh turned back to the man he'd been talking with. "I'll get back with you later. I've gotta take this meeting." Then to Donna, "No interruptions! No exceptions!"

With a wave of his hand Josh sped off down the hall. Sam's door was open and he hurried in. He had no idea what was going on and couldn't imagine what meeting Toby would have called for them this morning and he didn't care. Josh just wanted to be with Sam.

Sam stood in the middle of his office and Toby was nowhere in sight. Josh grinned when he saw Sam. It hadn't been that long since they'd been together at Toby's apartment, but it felt like it had been forever.

Sam returned the grin. "Close the door," he said. "And lock it. Pull the blinds on those windows and I'll get these."

"What is this?" Josh asked. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were having me create our own little private love nest."

"That's exactly what it is," Sam replied.

"What are you talking about?" Josh still hadn't gone near Sam. He took seriously the warning of no physical signs of affection, even though he knew they were in complete privacy.

"Toby tore into me when he caught us talking on the phone earlier, so he decided the best thing to do was give us a little time to `get it out of our systems' so we wouldn't act like idiots in front of the Senior Staff," Sam explained.

"Are you serious? We can . . ."

Sam nodded.

Josh pulled his jacket off and dropped it on the floor. Then he and Sam were in each other's arms. The instant their lips met, all their loneliness and tension disappeared. Their reality was here and now and they were together and that's all that mattered.

Josh put his hands on either side of Sam's head and pulled them out of the kiss. They both talked at the same time. "I love you.", "I miss you.", "Come home.", "I wanna come home.", "You feel so good.", "I couldn't sleep alone.", "Kiss me.", "Kiss me.", "Kiss me.".

Sam unbuckled Josh's belt as Josh held them in an embrace and they kissed. He unbuttoned his trousers and unzipped his fly.

"Are you sure we can do this?" Josh asked.

"Toby said for us to get it out of our systems," Sam assured him. "He said we can do anything we've done in front of him."

"That's only been cuddling and G-rated making out."

"That's all we'll do now," Sam replied.

"What about these blinds between your offices?" asked Josh.

"Close them! Shit, I'm so used to them just staying open all the time. Never mind, I'll do it."

Sam rushed over and shut the blinds separating his office from Toby's. He glanced in but Toby was busy writing at his desk and didn't even notice.

Back in Josh's arms, Sam grabbed the waistband of Josh's trousers and pulled them down to his ankles. He reached for his own belt.

"I'll do it," Josh said. "Let me do it."

Sam ran his fingers through Josh's hair while Josh unbuckled Sam's belt and followed suit. Then he went one step further and pulled Sam's underwear down too, then his own.

"Josh," Sam said in a loud whisper, his arms wrapped around Josh's neck, "we're standing in the White House with our pants down. The impropriety is overwhelming."

"Let's not waste a good opportunity," Josh whispered back.

They stood close and took the other's penis in their hands. Each was already hard and erect, pulsating in the palm wrapped around it, each man aware of the heightened excitement created by the taboo placed on what they were doing and the danger that they might be caught.

Sam and Josh mirrored each other's movements as their hands stroked the other, gently massaging their balls, then running their hands from the base of the penis to the tip, where they slightly flicked that little place on the underside that caused them both to shiver and cling to the other and breathe heavily and whisper words in the other's ear that were meant for no one else to ever hear.

Josh lowered his head and Sam's fell back so his neck was exposed. Josh kissed Sam's ear, sucked on his ear lobe, then kissed his way down to Sam's neck. Josh kissed every inch of Sam's neck in his passion and because both of them were about to cum, he started to suck on Sam's neck.

Sam reached out and felt around until he found the box of Kleenex on his desk. He pulled out a huge wad, handed some to Josh, and kept some for himself. Ejaculating in such close proximity to . . . everybody . . . was one thing, but they certainly couldn't do it all over themselves.

Then with frantic bucks and grinds against each other, impassioned kisses mixed with words of endearment, and Kleenex to hide the evidence, Josh and Sam erupted with orgasms that rocked them both to the bone. Josh locked his lips on Sam's neck to keep from crying out in his euphoria and Sam used every ounce of willpower he could muster to keep his moans and groans from becoming primordial screams. They weren't accustomed to keeping their verbal exhilaration contained, and struggling to do so only added to the impetuosity of this forbidden act.

When the guys were spent they leaned into a hug, trying to catch their breath, laughing at how ridiculous they must appear with their pants puddled at their ankles and their nearly flaccid penises hanging between their legs.

BAM!

Josh ducked at the thwack against the window. "What the hell . . .?"

Sam laughed. "Its just Toby throwing his ball against the glass. You've seen him do it a thousand times."

"Yeah, but never with my ass hanging out! Shit!"

BAM!

Josh flinched.

"Is he trying to tell us something?" Josh asked.

"My guess is he wants us to wind this up pretty soon," replied Sam. He set his used, wadded Kleenex on the edge of his desk, pulled up his pants, tucked his shirt in, zipped up and fastened his trousers, and re-tucked. Josh did the same thing.

"Do I look ok?" Sam asked. "Can you tell anything's been askew?"

Josh re-tucked Sam's shirt, smoothed out some wrinkles, and straightened his tie. He pulled out his comb and worked on Sam's hair until it was as perfect as it had been when he'd arrived at the White House that morning. A disheveled Sam with mussed hair would attract immediate attention among the assistants.

"You're gorgeous," Josh said. "Do I look askew?"

"You," Sam smiled, "are exquisite."

Sam opened Josh's pants and adjusted Josh's underwear.

"I didn't know we could do that," Josh said.

"I'm making up the rules as we go along," laughed Sam. He tucked Josh's shirt in, zipped and fastened his pants, then buckled his belt. He, too, made sure all the wrinkles were smoothed out and Josh's tie was straight.

"Give me that comb," he said. And Sam finished off Josh by trying to calm his unruly hair. He stuck the comb back in his pocket.

BAM!

Toby's hand slid between the blinds and the window with a big piece of paper with something written on it in Magic Marker. It was clear he wanted it seen.

"10 minutes," it said, "and I'm opening the door."

"What are we gonna do with these Kleenex?" Sam asked.

"Just throw them away," suggested Josh.

"No! I don't want the cleaning crew to find them."

"Sam, the odds of the cleaning crew finding those wadded-up Kleenex, opening them, and figuring out what that is on them is highly unlikely. Be reasonable."

"I don't know . . ."

"Ok, I'll do it." Josh picked up the Kleenex, walked around the side of Sam's desk, and threw them away.

When he came back to Sam he noticed his eyes glistened with tears. "Sam? What's with the tears, baby? We just had a wonderful time together."

"Yeah, but it's almost over, then tonight we'll be separated again."

"Dance with me, Sam," Josh said softly. "We've got seven minutes left."

They stood close and started to move to the silence. Then Josh started to sing quietly. "Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it's breaking, when there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by." He kissed Sam on the forehead then sang again. "If you smile through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you'll see the sun come shining through, for you."

"That's nice," said Sam. "Specially written for Charlie Chaplin, right?"

"Right."

"Sing some more."

BAM!

"Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness, although a tear may be ever so near."

BAM! They danced on as Josh sang.

"That's the time you must keep on trying, smile, what's the use of crying? You'll find that life is still worthwhile, if you'll just smile."

BAM!

They stopped dancing, shared a tender kiss, said their "I love yous", and knew it was over.

Sam opened the blinds between his office and Toby's while Josh opened the blinds to the windows. Then Sam unlocked and opened his door.

"Senior Staff in five minutes," said Cathy without looking up from her desk. "Mrs. Landingham said the President wants everybody on time, no excuses. I'd suggest you use to the bathroom now, even if you don't have to go."

"I'll walk on ahead," Josh muttered. He stuck his head in Toby's office and mouthed the words, "Thank you."

Toby slightly nodded his head in acknowledgement.

Sam went into Toby's office and sat on the arm of the couch. "Five minutes," he said. "Cathy said no excuses for being late and I don't think that's her decision."

"We'd better take off then," Toby replied. He stood up and collected a folder and a few papers from his desk. "Let's go."

"Toby?"

"What is it, Sam?"

"What you just did for Josh and me . . . neither of us will ever forget it. Your compassion and understanding is a gift of kindness that can't be measured. Thank you."

"Yeah. Let's go."

Toby and Sam walked silently toward the Oval Office.

*************************

The President was seated in one of the striped chairs, CJ was on one couch, and Josh was on the couch across from her. They all had coffee; Toby and Sam went to the credenza and helped themselves to coffee then Toby sat on the couch next to CJ and Sam sat next to Josh. They exchanged a quick glance and said "Hi" and left it at that. But the electricity between them crackled. "We'll begin as soon as Leo gets here," Jed said. "He was on the phone a minute ago."

They sat in an awkward silence, then Toby spoke up.

"Did you see that movie this weekend, CJ?"

"What movie?"

"I don't know the name. The one where all the women castrate all the men then have a big party to celebrate it then they take over the world and realize they made a big mistake but it's too late and they're all having PMS at the same time so they kill each other and that's the end of humankind. You said you wanted to see it because you could relate."

"Go to hell."

"I think Abbey saw it," the President deadpanned.

"And there's no doubt in my mind Amy wrote the screenplay," Josh added.

The door opened and Leo entered from his office. "Sorry everybody," he said. "One of those things I couldn't get away from."

He stopped for coffee then sat in the striped chair closest to the President. "Have we started?" He wouldn't make eye contact with anyone.

"No," said Jed, "we were talking about castrating all the men and letting the women run the world."

"Lord, kill me now," mumbled Leo. "I couldn't handle the one I married and have lost control over the one I fathered."

"Let's get going," said the President. "Someone's going to join us in a few minutes and we'll change subjects for a while. After that we'll get back to our regular meeting. Toby, why don't you start?"

The Senior Staff meeting went on as usual for about fifteen minutes, then there was a knock on the door and it opened.

"Excuse me, Mr. President," said Charlie, "he's here."

"Thank you, Charlie, have him come on in."

Lionel Tribbey made his entrance into the Oval Office, a riding crop in one hand, slapping his other palm with a great deal of finesse as he looked around to decide where he wanted to sit.

"Just pull up a chair anywhere," Jed said. "Make yourself comfortable."

He took a chair opposite President Bartlet's.

"Guys," the President said, "we're gonna put our staff meeting on hold for a few minutes and change the topic. I've asked Lionel to join us this morning to go over a few things related to . . . " He turned to Toby. "Does this have a code name or anything?"

"Uh, we haven't had one so far, sir. We can call it something if you think we need to," Toby replied.

"How about Project Freedom?" the President suggested. Leo looked at him. "Project Freedom?"

"Yeah," Jed replied. "You got a problem with that?"

"Would it make a difference?" he mumbled.

"What was that?"

"Project Freedom sounds just fine, sir."

"Good. Ok, Lionel, talk to us," said Jed. "You've got the floor."

"The floor and a captive audience. I'm in Heaven," Lionel gushed. Then on a more serious note, "I met with President Bartlet yesterday and he gave me a rundown on the predicament two of us in the room seem have gotten us into, albeit far from me from naming names."

He glared directly at Sam and Josh and snapped his riding crop on the palm of his hand. Both jumped slightly at the sharp crack of the whip. Jed subtly covered his mouth to conceal a smile.

"But that's neither here nor there," he continued, his eyes still on Sam and Josh. "My job is to make sure we, everybody in this room, and Danny, don't screw this up. And that, my friends, will be a full- time job. I'm going to tell you what to do. It's not a request. It's not a suggestion. All due respect, Mr. President, I understand my station, but please realize if I'm going to do my job and protect you, you MUST, you MUST, you MUST do exactly what I say."

"It's ok, Lionel," Jed replied. "Just tell us what to do."

"It's actually quite simple. In fact, there's just one thing to remember." Lionel looked dramatically at the people around him. "All you need to do is keep your collective mouths shut. Don't say a word to ANYBODY about this . . . what's it called again?"

"Project Freedom," the President replied.

"Yeah. That. What you people say to each other must NOT go beyond your offices or it will be all over the White House within minutes. That will sabotage our whole plan, I guarantee, and make my job all that much more difficult, and you know how that ticks me off." Lionel turned his attention toward Sam. "And no one wants me ticked off, right Sam?"

"Uh, no."

"And don't just talk about it for the sake of gossip. Talk about it only if you have something to say," Lionel added.

"Ok, Sam, if you hear from your family . . . your Father, your Brother, anybody . . . I need you to contact me right away and tell me exactly what they said. I'm tapping your home and office phones and can read the data from there, but I want to hear it from you first. You'll come to me if you hear from them?" "Absolutely."

"Don't contact them unless I tell you to, ok?"

"Ok."

"I should be hearing from Danny at any time. When I do, I'll report directly to the President. He'll decide what to tell you people. CJ, be prepared to speak to the press at a moment's notice. You'll be kept advised with information as needed by somebody ~~ that's up to you people to figure out the logistics of how that's going to work. Likewise, Toby, you'll know enough that you can keep remarks written and updated as this proceeds. Again, how you get your information and what you get isn't my call. Keep in mind, this is only if something blows up. We promised Sam everything we uncovered about his family would be seen by the President only and we're going to stick with that promise unless it's absolutely necessary to do otherwise. Anyone else having access will be a last resort, on an 'as needed only' basis, and as minimal as we can make it. Best case scenario, Danny will find enough shit, President Bartlet can turn the tables, and we'll be home free and all this will have been for fun and games and a great waste of my time and you, sir," he said, pointing his finger at the President, "know how valuable that is."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Lionel," Jed replied as he got up to re-fill his coffee cup. "Does the name Oliver Babish mean anything to you? Nobody's a sure thing around here."

"Babish? Babish? Never heard of him." Lionel and the President shared a laugh that nobody else shared.

"What about us?" Josh asked.

"What ABOUT you?" Lionel replied. "This is all your fault, you know."

Josh ignored Lionel's comment. "You told CJ her role and Toby his role, but what about Sam and me? What are WE supposed to do? Besides be quiet, of course."

Lionel's face suddenly became oddly serious. "When I was twenty-four years old, my twenty-year old brother and I went to our parents' home, as we always did for Sunday dinner. After dinner my brother told us he was gay. None of us would have guessed it. I took him out behind our garage and like any good brother would, I beat the holy crap out of him. He took off down the street and I swore if I ever saw him again I'd kill him, and I meant it."

He paused for a minute then laughed. "Cheer up, Sam, I'm not going to kill you!"

"I'm relieved to hear that, Lionel."

"A month later the family was getting ready to sit down and eat Sunday dinner and in comes my brother," Lionel continued. "A whole month later. And he's got a fella with him and he not only brings this fella into my Mother's house, with my Grandmother present, but he has his arm draped around . . ." Lionel scrunched up his face and raised his voice an octave, " . . . Gary, and he introduced him as his `boyfriend'. And you know what I did?"

"Beat the holy crap out of him again?" CJ sat with her hands propped on her knees, her chin on her hands, rapt with attention at the story.

Lionel glared at CJ then turned his attention back to Sam and Josh.

"I did no such thing. I ate dinner. But I garnered a newfound respect for my brother from that day forth and I welcomed him and . . . `Gary'. . . into the family. I figured if he had the balls to show up for Sunday dinner in front of me with that fag, then he was all man."

"Lionel, that's a nice story and I appreciate you sharing it with my staff, but we really do need to get back to our meeting. Would it be rude of me to ask what your point is?" the President asked.

"That I have no ill will against Sam and Josh for what they are."

"And what are we again, Lionel?" Josh asked.

"Queers."

"Just checking."

"And legally, Mr. President, we can't force them out of their home. Not one of them, not both of them. Not for a month, not for an hour." He faced Sam and Josh. "Let me be crystal clear about this ~~ you are NOT recognized as being legally married in this District of Columbia, but no one can stop you from saying that you are to your friends and colleagues in these chairs." He made a dramatic sweep with his arm around the room.

"You know the possible consequences of continuing to live together during this precarious time. Of talking on the phone in that way you do . . ." He waved his hand with a flourish. " . . . of being seen together outside these White House walls not in the company of your colleagues. You can be ASKED to live apart until this is resolved . . . and now that I'm involved, it WILL be resolved . . . but you can't be TOLD to live apart and you can't be threatened if you DON'T live apart. Nor can your jobs be put in jeopardy. The President asked me to speak as your legal counsel today about your living arrangements. Seems you might be experiencing a little "angst" ~~ isn't that the `it' word right now? And I'm here to alleviate that angst and assure you the choice is yours and . . . " His eyes scanned Leo from top to bottom but didn't stop. " . . no one else's. Any questions?"

"How long do we have to be apart?" Josh asked.

"Depends on what Danny brings back and what our President does with it. Depends on what Sam's family does with what the President presents to them. Domino effect. Sooner rather than later we would all hope, but without knowing Sam's family except Sam, who knows? Anybody else?"

"Lionel, Leo, and I have talked about some specifics of what we'll do with the facts Danny brings us," the President said. "Sam's given us some idea of what to expect. We'll move as fast as we can."

"How about after this is resolved, Lionel?" Toby asked. "Should the guys still keep it quiet around here?"

"It's in the best interest of the Administration iif they do. The fewer who know, the better," Lionel replied. "Don't look so depressed, guys. With term limitations we'll be outta here in no time!"

He was met with silence.

"Ok, I'll cut that from my repertoire. So, what's it gonna be boys?" Lionel asked. "We all need to know."

"What?" asked Josh.

"Are you going to live together or apart? You can't be forced, but once you make a decision, we'd like you to stick with it."

"Do we have to answer right now?" Sam asked. "Can't we talk about it a few minutes?"

"Sam," Josh said quietly. He put his hand on Sam's leg. "We've gotta do it. We can't take the chance."

Sam looked over at Toby. He gave Sam a slight nod. Sam turned back to Josh.

"We do, don't we?" he asked.

"Yeah, we do, babe. But once it's over, we'll never have to do it again," Josh replied. "I promise." Josh leaned over and kissed Sam on the cheek.

"We'll continue to live apart, Mr. President," said Sam. "But just until this is resolved. Not throughout your campaign or your second term. Is that satisfactory?"

"That's fine, son," the President said. "I appreciate the concessions both you and Josh are making. Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you two?"

"We're ok," replied Josh. "Just keep Sam's name out of the papers."

"I've dealt with men much more ruthless than Daniel Seaborn, Josh. You just do your job and I'll do mine and don't worry about it. Lionel, anything else?" Jed asked.

"No, sir. I'll call you when I've talked with Danny." Lionel looked at Sam and Josh again and opened his mouth to speak. Then he just shook his head and left the Oval Office.

The room was again awkward in its silence. Josh took his hand off Sam's leg.

"Ok people," the President started, "we're gonna wind this Josh and Sam thing up so we can get back to our meeting. There's tension in here so thick I could use it to bulletproof my limo. I want it gone. Now. Friday evening Leo, without my knowledge, told Sam and Josh they had to separate. Toby and CJ were brought in, and apparently the meeting got out of control, and I still wasn't told. All day Saturday Toby held meetings, without Leo's knowledge, with Josh and Sam and CJ and Danny Concannon and eventually me, and I called Lionel into the miix."

He paused and looked at each person.

"Some things probably should have been done differently but they weren't and we can't go back and change them now, but let it be known, from this day forth, this group is going to work TOGETHER on this project whatchamacallit and there will be NO more clandestine meetings under any circumstances. Trust me when I say I understand the seriousness of this situation and I can't have my Senior Staff playing games. We're all above this sort of thing and it will NOT happen again. I won't have it. And there will be no further discussion of this past weekend's secret meetings. It's over."

The President's voice had risen in anger and he took a moment to compose himself. When he spoke again his voice was softer. "We've got to remember we're dealing with a different kind of politics here. This is all about Sam and Josh. Their lives. Their life together. This is something fragile. I don't want their . . . what they have . . . damaged in any way. Now, unless there's a need to discuss this further, what's next?"

*************************

Everyone went a different direction when the meeting ended, except Leo, who stayed in the Oval Office. Despite everything they'd been through, despite everything that had been said, Josh flashed Sam a quick wink as they went their separate ways down the hall. Sam smiled, turned, and watched Josh swagger down the hall. Josh went into his office, was about to sit down, realized he'd forgotten to pick up his messages, and did a one-eighty.

"DONNA!!"

"WHAT?"

"Don't do that!" Josh yelled.

"Don't do what?" Donna yelled back.

"Sneak up behind me like that!"

"I didn't sneak! I just walked in behind you, but you were so engrossed in your disgusting fantasies you didn't see me." Donna crossed her arms over her chest and stared at Josh.

Josh stared back. Donna wasn't kidding around. She was serious.

"Engrossed in my what?" he asked.

"Your disgusting fantasies," she repeated.

"What the hell . . .? Sit down."

Donna kept her arms crossed and sat in one of the visitors' chairs. Josh sat behind his desk.

"Now what's got you all riled up?" Josh asked. Donna pressed her lips together.

"Come on. What are you so pissed about?"

Silence.

"Donna . . .?"

"Do you trust me, Mr. Lyman?" Donna asked in a formal voice.

"Well, yeah, I've let you stay, haven't I?" he replied with a smile. "And what's with the `Mr. Lyman' bit?"

"Are you just gonna give smart ass answers? Because if you are, I can always leave."

The smile left Josh's face. "No, of course I trust you. Why would you ask that?"

"Do you trust me with personal things in your life or just work- related things?"

"Well, both, to a degree, but I'm that way with everybody. With a job like mine I have to be careful . . ."

"Screw your job. Why didn't you tell me you're gay?"

Josh froze. There was a rush in his ears and he couldn't feel his body. When he spoke, his voice sounded like it came from a barrel.

"Close the door," he uttered.

Donna closed the door and sat back down.

"Why did you say that?" he asked.

Donna shoved Josh's legal pad on the desk in front of him. It was the one he'd doodled and scribbled on while he talked with Sam on the phone earlier. He'd forgotten and left it on his desk. The top page was covered with drawings of hearts that said "Josh loves Sam", "Sam loves Josh" and other terms of endearment, a good-quality sketch that was obviously Sam's face, rougher sketches of two men in various stages of fornication, signatures that said "Samuel Seaborn Lyman" and "Joshua Lyman Seaborn", and more.

Josh cast his eyes down at the paper without moving his head. He'd ALWAYS run his sketches through the shredder, but he slipped up this time, big time, and left it on his desk. And Donna had seen it. Denial wasn't an option.

He raised his eyes from the paper and met Donna's. What do I say? he thought. Should Sam be here? No, not for this one. This needs to be just between Donna and me. I sense some anger. I don't think it's going to go very well.

"What was your question again?" he asked.

"Why didn't you tell me you're gay?" she repeated. "After all this time, after all we've been through together, as closely as we work every day, as much as you know about me . . . you know my whole life. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I've told you things NOBODY else knows. I thought we had a good relationship. MORE than just a relationship. I thought you trusted me." She uncrossed her arms, picked up the piece of paper and held it in front of Josh's face. "How dare you deceive me," she hissed. "This is repugnant." She let the paper flutter down to the desk.

"I never deceived you," Josh said calmly.

"The hell you didn't!"

"I never lied to you." Josh was determined not to lose his temper. "You lied to me every day, Josh! Both of you! You and Sam both are liars and I hate you and I hate Sam for doing this to me! You owe me an apology and an explanation!" Josh had thawed from his initial reaction to Donna's words. He was ready to take her on.

"Donna, keep your voice down and listen to me. I refuse to sit here and have you throw unfounded accusations at Sam or me. My sexual orientation is private and I'm not obligated to share it with you or anybody else. The same goes for Sam. You got your nose out of joint because I didn't confide something very personal about myself to you and you're angry about it. Well, that's too bad. I'm sorry if your feelings are hurt, but I will NOT apologize for living my life without sharing every detail with you and I DEFINITELY don't owe you any explanation."

Donna was close to tears. She tossed her hair back.

"Is Sam your boyfriend?" she asked. "I can't believe I just said that. It's so . . . wrong. But is he?"

"Not exactly," Josh replied. "He's my husband."

"I don't believe you."

"Believe it."

"Did you go to Massachusetts? Did you and Sam go to Massachusetts and get . . . married?" Donna asked. "These words aren't coming out of my mouth. This is a nightmare."

"No, we didn't go to Massachusetts. We had a ceremony here."

"Then you're not married. Same-sex marriages aren't legally recognized in . . ."

"Donna! Don't you think I know that? What's the matter with you anyway?" Josh asked. He'd never seen Donna react this strongly to anything before.

"I'm just . . ." Donna's voice caught and she fought not to cry. "I'm just . . . I've never been more shocked to learn something about somebody I thought I was close to in my whole life. You and I work in close physical proximity and interact at least ten hours a day at least five days a week."

"You're my Assistant," Josh replied. "We're supposed to do that. It's your job."

"I always thought there was a . . . little more."

"A little more what?"

Donna studied Josh's eyes. He had no idea. He really didn't know. All this time while Donna had longed for Josh, Josh had already given his heart to another. She decided there was no reason to tell him now ~~ he belonged to Sam.

Donna's voice softened "A little more of a friendship," she said. "And you might have confided in me something like that . . . because of our friendship."

"It wasn't you, Donna. Sam and I chose not to tell anybody at the White House until just a few months ago."

"Who'd you tell?"

"Toby."

"Why Toby?"

"Donna! I said I wasn't gonna get into it."

"Does anybody else know?"

Josh realized he was going to have to tell Donna more than he wanted to. Now that she knew about him and Sam, he needed to tell her the Senior Staff knew as well and it was to go no further. He chose not to reveal the rest of the story, even though he trusted Donna and was certain she would keep their secret.

Donna sat quietly while Josh named the staff members who he and Sam had told about their marriage: The President, Leo, Toby, CJ, and Charlie. He didn't see any point in mentioning Danny, Lionel, Simon, or Joey Lucas and Kenny, of course."

When he was finished he put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair.

"So," he said matter-of-factly.

"So," she repeated.

"What do you think of me now?"

"Josh, what I think of you will never change, and you know there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. If you were in the hospital I wouldn't stop at red lights to get there. But what you're doing, with Sam, I find despicable. It's a personal belief and I won't change it for you or anybody."

Josh swallowed hard. He hadn't expected that from Donna. "Ok then," he said. "We'll never speak of it again and you and I will continue on as if this whole conversation never happened. Deal?"

Donna stood to leave. "I don't know if I can do that, Josh." When she left his office, Donna closed the door behind her.

Chapter 77

Monday

1:00 p.m.

Sam didn't need to walk past Josh's office to get to Ainsley's, but today he did. He glanced inside and was disappointed to see Josh's office was empty. He took the few steps over to Donna's desk and quietly stood next to it while she finished her phone call. It wasn't long before she hung up.

"Hi Donna!" he exclaimed. "Where's Josh?"

"Out." She didn't look at Sam.

"Out where?"

"Lunch meeting."

"Oh yeah? With whom?"

Sam was trying his best to have a conversation with Donna, who was doing HER best to ignore Sam. When she DID speak to him, she used as few words as necessary. Her tone of voice was clipped and curt and she still refused to make eye contact.

"Who's he having lunch with?" Sam repeated.

"Karen Cahill." Then she muttered under her breath, "So there's no need to worry."

"What'd you say?" Sam asked.

"Nothing."

"You said something after you said `Karen Cahill'. What was it?"

Donna spun around in her chair. "Sam, I'm really busy here. Is there something you need? Josh is NOT in the building," she snapped.

Sam recoiled in bewilderment. He'd never heard Donna speak so sharply, and he had no idea why he was the target of her barbs.

"Are you upset with me for some reason?" he asked. "Did I do something . . ."

"No."

"Donna, are you ok? Do you not feel well?"

"I'm fine, Sam. Just go away. Josh isn't here so there's no reason for you to hang around." Donna turned her chair around so her back was to Sam.

He stood there a few seconds then left.

Ainsley's door was ajar, but he could hear music coming from her office so he guessed she was inside. He knocked on the door as he slowly pushed it open. She was busy at her computer, but looked up and smiled when Sam came in.

"Sam! I intended to come to YOUR office today, but since you've come to MINE, I won't need to make the trip. Don't you just love it when things like this happen? It's one of those serendipitous moments the universe gives us that makes you want to smile."

Sam smiled.

"See? I told you."

Sam laughed.

"It's infectious, isn't it?" Ainsley asked. "Have a seat, Sam, let's visit."

Sam sat in the chair across from Ainsley. She had fresh flowers on her desk and a bowl of mixed hard candy. Her office smelled good and she played music that made him want to close his eyes and relax. Sam wondered why he didn't come see Ainsley more often.

"I know that song," he said. "Bach, right?"

"I'm impressed." She tucked her hair behind her ears. "You know Bach?"

"Just a few pieces," Sam replied. "I recognize this one. It's . . ."

"Air On A G String," Ainsley finished for him.

"Yes, I was just about to say that."

"No, you weren't."

"Really, I was."

"If you say so," Ainsley conceded.

Sam dug in the bowl on Ainsley's desk and brought out a piece of hard candy. He held it up and studied it.

"What kind is this?" he asked.

"Let me see." Ainsley took the piece of candy out of Sam's hand for a better look. "Root Beer," she said.

He tossed it back in the bowl and tried again. This time he pulled out butterscotch and was satisfied. He unwrapped it, tossed the cellophane wrapper on the middle of Ainsley's desk, and popped it in his mouth.

"So Ainsley, why did you intend to come by my office today?" he asked.

She threw the candy wrapper into the trashcan. "Oh Sam, I'm so embarrassed about yesterday, I just had to come see you to apologize."

"Apologize for what?"

"For getting drunk!" she said. "For getting so impaired I couldn't drive and you had to take me home and who knows what would have happened if you hadn't been there to do so? What would I have done then? Hitched a ride with a stranger? Can you imagine? I don't even want to THINK about it. Pass me one of those butterscotches, please. And Sam, you were so kind to stay with me for I don't know how long and I know you tucked me in on my couch because when I finally DID awaken, I was covered up and my head was on a pillow and I was in my nighties and . . . oh Sam, I'm mortified all over again. If my Father knew I got drunk in a public place, he would NOT be proud. That's NOT the kind of thing my people do."

Sam smiled. "My people do. We're known for getting sloshed and falling in the gutter. Besides, your Father doesn't know."

She peeked up at him through a lock of hair that had fallen forward. "Sam. You're funny. And no, he doesn't."

"Is your car still parked at Nick's Grill?" Sam asked.

"It is. I caught a taxi in to work this morning, and I'll take one over at lunchtime and pick it up. It was parked at a meter all night so I know there must be ten tickets on it by now. Sam, if you EVER see me put a sip of alcohol to my lips again, would you PLEASE slap it away?"

"I don't think I'll have to go to that extreme," Sam laughed, "but maybe I'll whisper in your ear. Why don't I drive you to Nick's myself. We can get a bite to eat if you'd like."

"Would you, Sam? Would you do that for me?"

He smiled and nodded. "My pleasure."

"You're a lifesaver. When shall we go?"

"Now?"

"I'd love to," said Ainsley. "I'm starving."

"You're always starving. I need to stop by my office and check my messages first. Meet you in the bullpen?"

"It's a date."

"Well, its just lunch," replied Sam. What he didn't say was, "I save all my dates for Josh."

"Are you afraid to date Republicans?" Ainsley taunted. "Still afraid of getting Republican juice on yourself?"

"Something like that. Ten minutes?"

"Ten minutes."

Sam got back to the bullpen and was just about to walk into his office when Cathy stopped him. "Toby wants to see you," she said."

He veered off and went into Toby's office instead of his own.

"Shut the door," Toby said.

Sam shut the door.

"Sit down."

Sam sat down.

"You did good in there," said Toby. "In Senior Staff. I'm proud of the way you held it together."

"Josh looked great, didn't he?"

Toby laughed. "Yeah, Josh looked great. I know it was hard for you guys to agree to stay apart when you had a second chance."

"Just because Lionel said nobody can MAKE us separate doesn't mean we had a second chance. Leo's right," Sam shrugged. "Until this mess is over, Josh and I don't need to be living together."

"You're a good boy, Sam," replied Toby. "I don't expect this to last very long."

"I wish that was a promise instead of an `I don't expect'."

"I wish it was too. I hope you know I'm doing my best."

"I hope you know how much I appreciate it. I don't know what Josh and I would do without you, Toby. Not just this, but . . . everything."

"Yeah." Toby changed the subject when the atmosphere became too solicitous. "What are you up to now?"

"I'm going out for lunch. Do you need me for anything?" Sam asked.

"No, it can wait until after lunch. And you're going with . . .?"

"Ainsley Hayes. Absolutely no attraction whatsoever. Don't worry."

Toby shook his head. "Foolish boy. When you get back I want you to go see the Vice President and tell him what's going on. He needs to know about this. I ran it past the President and he agrees."

"I wondered about John. Should I go now?"

"No, but you have an appointment at five-thirty this evening. Do you wanna go alone or do you want me to go with you?" Toby asked. "You two are pretty close, aren't you?"

Sam nodded. "We are. I'll go by myself."

"Before you talk with Hoynes we need to get on this Education Bill."

"Isn't that something you and Josh had started?"

Toby looked up and gave the slightest wink. "I think it's gonna take all three of us working together in the Mural Room for a couple of hours. You got a problem with that?"

Sam smiled. "No problem. I won't be gone long."

3:00 p.m.

Toby, Josh and Sam met in the Mural Room to work on the Education Bill. Donna interrupted once, handed a stack of messages to Toby, and asked him to pass them to Josh. Bonnie interrupted twice; once to hand a stack of messages to Sam and a stack to Toby and to see if anybody wanted coffee; and once at five o'clock to tell Toby it was time for his appointment with Seth Gillette.

Business as usual.

5:00 p.m.

Toby went to his office to meet with Seth Gillette. Josh went to see Leo about healthcare appropriations. Sam went to his office to get his mind off the Education Bill and think about what ~~ and how ~~ he was going to tell the Vice President he was married to Josh.

Business as usual.

5:30 p.m.

"Hold on," said Leo, "let me finish writing this sentence." He folded over a used page on a legal pad and began to write on a blank sheet. After a couple of minutes, "You getting along ok?" he asked without looking up.

"I'm doing ok."

"Eating right?"

"Uh huh."

Leo continued to write, then set his pen down and looked at Josh.

"Where are you staying, son?"

"I've got a little apartment across town. Don't worry about it," Josh replied.

"Nice place?"

Josh shrugged. "It's ok."

"You know, this hotel I'm living at, you can get decent rates by the month if . . ."

"It's not gonna take a month, Leo."

"We don't know how long this will take. I just want you to be comfortable until this is over."

"It'll be over long before a month's time."

Leo's jaw hardened.

"I'm comfortable, I'm fine, I'm eating right, I'm sleeping well, I couldn't be happier." Josh couldn't hide the sarcasm in his voice.

"You don't have to convince me. Call your Mother and tell HER that."

"What?"

"Your Mother's worried. If you're really ok, call and let her know," said Leo.

"When did you talk with my Mom?" Josh asked.

"She got a hold of me last night and said you'd called her, upset because I'd made you move away from Sam. She raised hell." Leo tried not to chuckle. "Your Mother's been raising hell with me nearly forty-five years. She's not about to stop now, especially when it involves her boy."

Josh managed to laugh a little. "You better hope she doesn't come here, Leo. She'll open up a can of whup ass on you, and you know it."

"I know she will. That's why I'm telling you this. Will you call your Mother tonight and let her know you're all right so she won't come after me?"

"Sure," Josh replied.

Leo wrote a few more notes. Then again, without looking up, "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you really all right?"

"No, but it wouldn't make a difference if I told you otherwise, would it? You wouldn't tell me to go home to Sam. It wouldn't change your mind about me, about what I am and how you think of me. I'd still be a lesser man in your eyes."

"Dammit, Josh! Let's not start this again!" Leo thundered. He threw his pen on his desk so hard it bounced and fell off the other side. "We've been over this and OVER this and I told you NOT to bring it into the White House! Leave it at home!"

"I don't have a home! You made me leave my home, or don't you remember?"

"I have my priorities, Josh, and this job . . ."

"Then let's do our jobs! Let's conduct business as usual like we were instructed by the President! That's the plan I came in here with and I'd just as soon not talk about my private life with you ever again! Ok?"

Leo pressed his lips together and took three deep breaths. "Calm down, son, I didn't intend . . . "

"And I'm not your goddamn son."

Business as usual.

5:30 p.m.

"Sam? The Vice President will see you now."

"Thanks, Tess."

Sam went into the Vice President's office and closed the door behind him. John Hoynes stood and motioned to Sam.

"Sam! Always good to see you! Come in and make yourself comfortable."

The two men shook hands warmly and sat in deep, leather chairs away from Hoynes' desk. Close since Bartlet and Hoynes opposed each other in the Presidential primary campaign, Hoynes always made Sam feel like they were equal by sitting next to him in a visitor's chair instead of sitting in a place of power behind his desk.

"Coffee? Iced tea? Water? Juice? Anything?" he asked.

"Iced tea sounds good, thank you, sir."

Hoynes spoke to his assistant then sat back down.

"I haven't seen you at our Thursday night poker games, Sam," he continued. "Just that one time, and you rushed out of there like the building was on fire."

"I apologize, but I just didn't get much out of it. Things are straightened out now and I really don't have a need to attend. But I assure you, if the situation arises again, I remember which unmarked door it is," he laughed.

"Let's just make it a point to see that the situation doesn't arise again, how about it?"

"Yes, sir," Sam agreed.

"But if it should . . . "

Sam smiled. "I remember which unmarked door it is."

"I know you do. What can I do for you, Sam?"

There was a knock on the door and Tess came in with a tray. On the tray were two tall glasses of ice and a pitcher of iced tea. There were china bowls of sugar, Sweet `N Low, and lemon wedges. Two long iced tea spoons sat on linen napkins embroidered with the Vice Presidential seal.

"Thank you, Tess," Hoynes said. "Help yourself, Sam. Now, what mission has the President sent you on this evening?"

Sam took a sip of his tea and leaned back in his chair. He had the President's permission to include the Vice President in this plan, but what and how much he revealed was all up to Sam. Up until this moment he'd felt no trepidation whatsoever. Now, when it was time for him to speak the actual words, he couldn't find his voice.

"Sam?"

"I, uh, something out of the ordinary has come up in the, uh, West Wing and you need to be . . . to be made aware of it," said Sam.

"And you drew the short straw?"

"No, I wanted to come. I had to come. I'm really the only one who COULD come, sir."

"Have I stepped in shit and nobody wants to tell me it's on my shoe and I'm tracking it all over the White House?" Hoynes laughed.

"Oh, no sir. I don't like to think of it in these terms, but it's more like MY shit. Mine and Josh's."

Hoynes crunched on a piece of ice. "Oh, yeah? Josh is in on this? I'm curious now. What's up?"

"Mr. Vice President . . . "

"Call me John," he interrupted.

"Yes, sir. Mr. Vice President, do you remember when we first met? You and me?"

"I do. It was in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and I was SENATOR Hoynes from the great State of Texas then. It was during the primaries and I was on the campaign trail running for President of the United States."

"That's right," said Sam.

"We were fogged in, maybe snowed in, some kind of bad weather, and I was walking to the VIP lounge with my campaign manager, one Joshua Lyman," Hoynes replied.

Sam smiled. "Josh, yes, sir."

"You two ran into each other, wanted to catch up since you hadn't seen each other for a while, so you joined us in the VIP lounge, and that's when I became acquainted with the mysterious Sam Seaborn."

"Mysterious?"

"Josh had mentioned you a time or two or five hundred and I found myself intrigued just from the way he talked about you."

Sam willed himself not to blush. "I'm surprised you remember that, Mr. Vice President," he said.

"Sam, I told you to call me John. I really want you to call me John."

"John."

"Thank you. And don't be surprised that I remembered being stuck in the airport with you. I was much more intrigued after I met you and it stayed with me."

Sam looked at the floor, and despite his efforts, he felt the color rise in his face.

"Sam?"

Sam drained his glass of iced tea.

"Sam? What is it? You know you can tell me anything. You've always been candid with me and we have an understanding. What's bothering you? "

Sam looked up. "What I came here to talk with you about links back to that first meeting, the one in the airport, and subsequent conversations you and I have had since then, for the most part," Sam explained. "Mostly about Josh."

"Subsequent conversations?"

"For the most part."

Hoynes propped his elbow on the back of his chair and leaned his head on his fist. He studied Sam without expression, then slowly a slight smile crossed his face and he nodded just a little.

**************************

October 14, 1997 ~~ Springfield, Illinois Presidential Primary Campaign Trail

"Senator Hoynes, I need your signature, please." John Hoynes glanced at the paper on the clipboard, signed his name, and handed it back to the young woman.

"Senator, here are the polling numbers you said you wanted to read over tonight. Where do you want them?"

Hoynes looked around the hotel room. Every surface was covered, every chair piled with file folders, every corner stacked with boxes.

"Put them in the bathroom," he said.

The aide carried the binder into the bathroom, found it just as crowded, and finally set it on a box in the tub.

"Senator Hoynes," an aide called out, "David Gates is on the phone. "He said . . ."

"I'll take that call!" Josh got up from his chair at the round table in the corner. "And Carmen, snag everybody before they get to the Senator and see if it's something you can handle so he doesn't get interrupted every two seconds."

Josh was already on one call, but he needed to take this one too. He paced the room as he talked, his voice strong, commanding, in control, and take-no-prisoners tough as he spoke with self-assurance and authority.

His trousers and shirt were wrinkled, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his tie loosened. His hand with the other phone was alternately on his hip or on top of his head as he talked. Josh was a bundle of energy, never stopping, never slowing down, never showing any sign of fatigue despite the late hour and the long day.

Sam lay on the double bed amid more boxes and more stacks of folders, binders, campaign signs, and so much stuff he didn't even know what it was he was on top of. He watched Josh move around the hotel room, weaving in and out of other staffers coming and going, giving them instructions without missing a beat, flipping pages and pointing to passages for Senator Hoynes to read, all the time keeping up his end of both phone conversations.

Sam loved watching Josh at work, doing what he did best, doing what HE loved.

Sam loved watching John Hoynes at work too.

A different style from Josh, he sat calmly at the desk and deliberately went through what needed to be done one task at a time. If he had a pen in his hand, he wrote with it or held it still; unlike Josh who had to tap it on the tabletop, bounce it between his teeth, or doodle on whatever scrap of paper was handy.

After their chance meeting in the airport, Josh had gone to Gage Whitney and told Sam about Hoynes and practically begged Sam to leave the law firm and join them on the campaign trail. Hoynes was the front-runner in the primaries and as his campaign manager, Josh wanted to take Sam to the White House with them.

Sam was reluctant. Dropping his life and chasing Josh's dream just didn't seem practical. All he knew about John Hoynes was what he'd seen at the airport, although he'd liked what he'd seen ~~ maybe a little too much and maybe not in the way that would have been in the best interests of either of them.

Not only that; Sam was about to make partner at Gage Whitney and he was engaged to Lisa. There was no good reason for him to go. Except Josh really . . . really, really wanted him to. He finally convinced Sam to take a two-week leave of absence from the law firm and travel with them, get his feet wet, and see if the political bug bit.

So on the eighth night of traveling on the Hoynes bus, Sam lay propped on the bed of the Best Western in Springfield, Illinois and watched Josh strut in and out of the room and up and down the hall with a telephone to each ear, as he took command and led a fleet of enthusiastic believers toward their common goal of getting John Hoynes elected President of the United States.

It had been a long time since Josh and Sam had been together.

Too long, thought Sam. Why did we ever let go when we first had our arms around each other?

It was all so tentative at first. Fresh and tender and sweet and easy and warm and soft and comfortable and seductive and earthy and passionate and raw and sensual and erotic and manic and carnal and hot.

Josh looked over at Sam, winked, and walked back out into the hall. Sam pulled a pillow in front of him as he felt his erection strain against his jeans. He turned his attention to John Hoynes, still at the desk, still trying to keep up with the demands of his staff . . . and kept the pillow in place.

He wasn't surprised to be attracted to the Senator, but John was straight, married, and he and Sam didn't travel in the same circles. He was handsome, intelligent, self-assured, sexy, and charismatic. When he walked into a room, all eyes were on him and his natural charm won over women and men alike. There was no future with him, nor was Sam looking for one . . . he was just looking.

And it didn't hurt to look while Josh was out of range. Josh had been too busy with the campaign since Sam had been there, so he didn't even know what Josh was thinking these days.

"Unless your name is Hoynes, Seaborn or Lyman, out of here now!" Josh bellowed when he came back into the room. "We're done for the night! Meet in the dining room at eight a.m. tomorrow!"

Aides and staff members dropped what they were doing, said their goodnights, and hurried out of the room. Josh hung a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the doorknob and closed the door behind the last person to leave. He looked from Hoynes to Sam, back to Hoynes and grinned.

"Another day closer to the White House," he said in a singsong voice. "Anybody hungry? I'm calling room service."

"Sounds good to me," said Hoynes.

"Count me in," Sam added.

They sat at the round table and went over the day's goings-on, talked about whether Sam was having a good time, and Josh fretted over whether the kitchen would cook his hamburger long enough. Josh waited until their food came before he told Hoynes about the call from David Gates.

"You're gonna have to make a detour, John. I know you don't like it when your schedule is interrupted, but that call from Gates . . ."

"What the hell has he done to me now?"

"He's committed you to a luncheon tomorrow with potential financial backers, and you really need to go," Josh replied.

Hoynes swallowed the gulp of Coke in his mouth before he asked, "Where?"

"Sacramento."

Sam watched the two men and ate quietly.

"Josh, this had better be Sacramento, Illinois very close to Springfield," Hoynes said with a glare in Josh's direction.

"Um, no. This is the Sacramento in California, very far from Springfield. I've already booked you on an early flight tomorrow morning."

"Dammit, Josh!"

"You've gotta go, John. When I said potential financial backers I meant they're almost a sure thing. They've got their checkbooks out just waiting to ask how much."

Hoynes looked at Josh and rolled his eyes. "Are you gonna eat this?" He picked up his pickle spear.

"It's yours. These are cattlemen and they'll back you all the way. You've gotta go." Josh shook a French fry in Sam's direction. "And you're going with him."

"I'm going with . . . why am I going with him?" Sam asked. "I don't know anything about cattle."

"He needs a body man who has some sense and can get him there and back, and you're not doing anything here," Josh explained. "You're fast on your feet, you know about money, and you'll make a good impression for John."

"But I don't know anything about cattle!"

"You don't have to," Hoynes laughed. "Just come along with me and see how it's done. If you're going to be my speechwriter, you'll need to put something together on the plane."

"But I don't know anything about cattle!"

Josh grabbed Sam by the scruff of his neck, pulled him forward, and kissed him on top of the head, while he and Hoynes laughed.

"When this is over you'll either be a politician or a cattleman," Hoynes said. "Either way, I can use you. I've got eighty-five hundred head of Black Angus near Luchenbach if this President thing doesn't work out and I'll put you on a horse. Ok, if we're flying out of here before sane people wake up, we need to get some sleep. Is this my room, Josh, or yours? Or Sam's?"

Josh's eyes glazed over. An hour ago the world was his oyster and he ruled. Now he had that proverbial deer-in-the-headlights look.

"What?" Hoynes asked.

"I just got the command post room. This . . . is the command post room. I didn't get any individual rooms for us. The staff and aides made their own reservations."

"What the hell were you thinking, Lyman?"

"Apparently I wasn't."

"No shit, Sherlock." John Hoynes got up and found his suitcase. "There are two beds in here and they're both covered with crap. Dump everything on the floor and we'll make do. I'm gonna take a shower and when I get out, I want a clean bed, turned down, and I'm gonna get in it, by myself, and go to sleep. You two are on your own with the other bed. Josh, wake me up in plenty of time to get to the airport. Good-night, fellas."

John Hoynes went into the bathroom and closed the door. "Josh! There are boxes and binders and reams of paper in the bathtub! Get in here!"

As Hoynes showered Josh and Sam cleared off the beds. Sam turned down the covers on them both, then they stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do next.

"So," said Josh.

"So," said Sam.

"I need to take a shower too."

"Yeah, so do I."

"You know, we used to . . ." Josh said tentatively.

"I was just thinking that myself."

"Together.

"Uh huh."

"John doesn't know."

"I wondered."

"He doesn't," Josh replied.

"Then we probably shouldn't," confirmed Sam.

"It'll just be for a few hours and we'll both go right to sleep," Josh reasoned. "I think it'll be ok since we're just gonna sleep."

"You're right about that. You'll be on your side, I'll be on my side . . ."

"Ok then. Just this one time. In this business, you do what you've gotta do to get from day to day."

"Right," Sam replied. "Just this one time."

Josh started to move toward Sam. Time alone with him had been rare on this trip, and he just wanted to touch him.

Before that could happen, Hoynes had finished his shower and came out of the bathroom in a pair of boxers.

"Josh, where's that polling data I need to read tonight?" he asked. "Somebody brought it in here earlier."

"In here? It could be anywhere!" Josh waved his arm around the room. "This place looks like a tornado blew through. It would take a miracle to find those numbers, John. Not gonna happen tonight."

"They're in the bathroom."

Josh and Hoynes turned to Sam.

"What'd you say?" asked Josh.

"The polling numbers. The aide who brought them in took the binder into the bathroom."

Josh looked at Sam a minute more, then went into the bathroom. Almost immediately he saw the binder on top of a box on the floor. He took it into the main room and handed it to Hoynes, who was already in bed, propped up on two pillows against the headboard.

"It was in the bathroom," he said.

"Yeah, that's what Sam said," Hoynes replied. "Thanks and be quiet. I need to concentrate on this then get some sleep."

Josh looked at Sam. "You wanna . . .?"

"No, you go ahead. You're closer. I'll wait."

Josh picked up his travel bag and went into the bathroom to shower.

Sam turned out the light over the table, slouched down in one of the chairs, and watched John Hoynes. He studied John's face and took in what a handsome man he was. He noticed his thick hair, how it was combed, that a shock fell over onto his forehead. Sam watched him rub the back of his neck, trying to relieve some of the tightness. Sam looked at John's chest ~~ muscular, taut, and well defined. Even as he campaigned John Hoynes went to a gym every other day to work out.

Sam wanted to be in the shower with Josh.

As that thought passed through Sam's mind, Josh came out of the bathroom in a pair of sweat pants.

"All yours," he said. "It's kind of steamy in there but the hot water feels great."

Sam consciously brushed against Josh's bare arm as he headed into the bathroom. A shiver of familiarity ran down his spine as he relived for a moment the days their naked bodies against the other was the norm, a way of life, not something he had to choreograph and then have it last only a split second and hope they weren't seen. He closed the door behind him and tried to make sense of the conflicting thoughts that were racing through his mind.

Josh sat on the opposite bed and talked with Hoynes about the polling data while Sam showered. Numbers were holding steady but there was some interest in this new guy who had thrown his hat in the ring ~~ a Josiah Bartlet from New Hampshire. The Governor. He was making noise and people were paying attention.

Sam showered quickly and also put on a pair of sweats. He was tired and anxious to go to bed. He ached for sleep, but more than that, he ached to lay next to Josh again.

"Which side do you want, Josh?" he asked.

Josh walked over to the desk, wrote a note to himself and put it in his backpack.

"Doesn't matter," he said. "Pick one, I'll take the other."

Sam chose the inside. Josh called the front desk and left a wake-up call for five o'clock, turned off all the lights, crawled into his side of the bed, and pulled the comforter up.

"Good-night, guys," Hoynes said in the dark. "Thanks for all your hard work."

Sam and Josh both said goodnight to the Senator, then the room fell silent. In minutes Hoynes' breathing was deep and steady, with just the slightest hint of a snore. He rolled over on his side, pulled the bedspread up around his neck, and went sound asleep.

The awkwardness between Josh and Sam was conspicuous. Both were so aware of the space between them that neither moved. They wanted to. They wanted to meet in the middle of the bed and wrap themselves in each other's arms and make love like they used to how many years ago?

Before Sam worked as an attorney for Dewey Ballantine; before Josh worked as Floor Manager for the House Minority Whip; before Sam worked as an attorney for Gage Whitney; before Josh worked as Chief of Staff for Congressman Earl Brennan; before Sam became caught up in Lisa Sherbourne; before Josh became immersed in John Hoynes.

Josh's hand crept slowly across the sheets. He didn't know what reaction he would get when he touched Sam . . . if he kept up his nerve and didn't stop before he reached him.

And then, he felt Sam's finger, stretched toward him. Josh folded his hand around Sam's and squeezed. Sam's hand relaxed in Josh's and they both fell asleep.

October 15, 1997 ~~ Sacramento, California

Sam walked John Hoynes to and through the Cattlemen's Luncheon like a born politician. He knew how to glad-hand and back-slap and bull- shit with the best of them.

Hoynes introduced him as "my right-hand man", "my second-in- command", "the man who will pen the words I put voice to from the White House". Sam smiled and didn't deny it.

Being a native Californian, Sam ingratiated himself to the ranchers with his vast knowledge of the west coast and its environment and natural resources. He knew their needs and he had ideas for resolving them. When he'd get too close to making a campaign promise, Hoynes would step in and politi-speak him to another topic and Sam would be off to the races in a different direction.

Hoynes couldn't take his eyes off Sam. He marveled at Sam's enthusiasm, wit, sharp mind, and ability to learn quickly. "I learn things fast," Sam had told him on the plane. "That's what I do." Hoynes smiled as he watched Sam work the room like a seasoned political operative. He had already decided from the way Sam spoke and carried himself that he wanted to take him AND Josh to the White House in January. He knew he would go to great extremes to keep Sam with him.

Hoynes called Josh and told him he and Sam wouldn't be coming back that afternoon as planned. They'd be staying another night and would that be a problem?

"Of course you've gotta stay!" Josh yelled into the phone. "I cannot BELIEVE those cowboys wrote that many checks! Hell, we can pack up and go home tomorrow."

Hoynes laughed. "They're not cowboys. And you can thank your buddy, Sam, for the big haul. Are you sure he hasn't done this before?"

Josh grinned, propped his foot on the bed, and upset a stack of file folders. Papers spilled out across the mattress but Josh didn't even notice.

Hoynes explained to Josh that the California cattle barons were calling their cronies in Nevada and Arizona to set up another luncheon for the next day for the same purpose . . . to hear what President John Hoynes could do for them and what they could do for their next President.

"I'll move a couple of things around on your calendar," said Josh, "while you and Sam do what you need to do there."

"I'm not worried about that. You'll take care of everything just fine. I'll call you after while and let you know where we're staying tonight and our flight info for tomorrow," Hoynes replied. "We'll talk later from the hotel. Sam and I are going to take a little break tonight and just hang out and get to know each other."

After they hung up Josh's irrational thoughts immediately went into overdrive. Am I jealous? he wondered. Jealous of what? John Hoynes and Sam Seaborn being alone in a hotel room halfway across the country? That's crazy. They're just hanging out. What, exactly, constitutes `hanging out' to John Hoynes? Sam's a grown man. He can do whatever he wants to do. What will Sam want to do?

Josh walked over to the TV and turned it on with the sound down. "I Love Lucy" was on. The one where Lucy and Ethel work at the candy company. His eyes were glued to the set until the conveyor belt stopped.

I haven't seen Sam . . . until we met in the airport . . . he's engaged to Lisa for godsakes . . . I don't even know how he feels, for sure . . . if he still . . . if I still . . . Hoynes isn't interested in that . . . John is straight, married to a woman . . . yet some men do . . . John would never . . . Sam would never . . . they wouldn't . . . Sam will go back to his life in New York in a week . . . I'll go back to my life, whatever that is, when Sam is gone.

"So why am I standing here pulling the stuffing out of this pillow?" he said out loud as he threw it on the floor. "Because I want Sam and Hoynes has him."

Josh jerked his head up when the phone rang hours later. He'd fallen asleep in the corner chair while he worked on Hoynes' defense spending platform. He got stuck when he realized he had no idea what Hoynes' defense spending platform WAS because John never wanted to talk about it. Josh had made a mental note to himself: This is not a good thing.

Now, when he was startled awake, he felt like a kid caught with unfinished homework.

"Yeah, what, hello?" he answered.

Hoynes laughed. "Relax, Josh. It's just me. How come you're so jumpy?"

"Uh, I'm not jumpy. I was . . . sleeping. I was sleeping."

"Sorry about that. Everything ok there?"

Josh filled him in on the day's activities and Hoynes told Josh more about his and Sam's plans for tomorrow. Then they were finished talking business and it seemed like there was nothing more to say.

"Um, is Sam around?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I think he's just getting out of the shower," replied Hoynes. "Hang on." There was a pause then Josh heard him call out. "Sam? Josh wants to talk with you!" Then on the phone again, "He'll be right here, Josh."

"You guys just have one room?" Josh asked.

"Sure, why not?"

"Well . . ."

"Don't be an ass. Rooms are expensive and we're watching every dollar. We're here to shower and sleep so why waste the money when there are two perfectly good beds right here? I just remembered why you're not my financial advisor."

"Yeah, ok."

"Here's Sam and I'm going to bed. See you tomorrow, Josh." Hoynes handed the phone over to Sam and went to take a shower.

Sam turned his back to Hoynes. He had on a pair of jeans and was barefoot and bare-chested. His hair was wet and spiky, yet to be combed, and his body was still damp from the shower. A droplet of water fell from the tip of his nose as he spoke into the phone.

"Josh?"

"Hi, Sam."

Sam smiled and sat on the edge of the bed, happier than he would admit that Josh wanted to talk with him.

"I'm glad it's you," said Sam. "I was hoping it would be."

"Were you expecting somebody else?"

"No, but you could have forgotten about me altogether, wiseass."

"I'd never do that."

Sam was touched by the sincerity in Josh's voice. He was only joking, but Josh took him seriously.

"I know you wouldn't," Sam replied. "I didn't mean it."

They were quiet for a moment, then Josh spoke softly. "I wish I was there with you instead of John," he said.

Sam turned and saw that the bathroom door was still closed. "I wish you were, too. I've missed you today. After being with you all week, then you leaving. I don't know, it's just . . . bizarre . . . after all this time apart, then we're together again, and now we're separated . . . not even a full day."

". . . not even a full day." they said in unison, then laughed.

Hoynes came out of the bathroom. He, too, had on a pair of jeans and was pulling a t-shirt on over his head.

"You still talking with Josh?" he asked.

"Yeah," Sam replied.

"I need him again before you hang up."

"John wants to talk with you again," Sam told Josh, "so I'd better go."

"Yeah, ok. I'll . . . uh . . . see you tomorrow, Sam."

"Uh huh." Sam tried not to sound too intimate. He didn't want Hoynes to hear any emotion.

"Well, good-night." Josh's voice cracked.

"You sleep well too."

"I don't wanna hang up, Sam. Can you tell?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I can. And I agree with you one hundred percent."

"After John falls asleep, why don't you sneak down to the lobby and call me back and I'll talk dirty," Josh teased.

Sam laughed. "I don't think I'd better do that, although it's a nice thought. I'm gonna give the phone to John now."

"Why?"

"Something's come up," Sam replied playfully.

"Oh yeah? And what would that be?"

"You're walking on thin ice, Lyman. You're responsible for that action, you know."

"Ok, but we're gonna have a serious talk . . ."

"I don't know if we should do that, Josh. We've been through it before, and there's Lisa to consider . . ."

"Give me the phone!" Hoynes yelled.

Sam passed the phone back to Hoynes then stood in front of the mirror and combed his hair until it was nearly dry, about the same time Hoynes finished his conversation with Josh.

Hoynes had a smile on his face and an easy-going laugh. He was pumped from all the money they'd raised today, and credited much of their success to Sam. The almost certain guarantee for even more contributions tomorrow made him enthusiastic, spontaneous, and demonstrative.

Then it happened. It happened so fast neither Hoynes nor Sam were prepared for the repercussions it would have.

John mussed Sam's freshly combed hair then wrapped his arms around him from behind in a bear hug and gave him a big kiss on the side of his neck.

"I love you, Sam Seaborn!" he announced. "Just say the word and you won't regret it! Just say `yes', my boy, and you're mine!"

Caught up in the moment, Hoynes pulled Sam tight in his strong arms and lifted him off his feet for a few seconds before he set him down, still in a hug.

Impulsive, frivolous, playful.

Misinterpreted.

Sam turned in John's arms so he faced him. "Yes," he responded.

The zippers of their jeans touched. John's cotton t-shirt pressed against Sam's bare chest. Sam moved his hand so it hooked in the waistband of John's jeans under his shirt. Sam looked up and stared into John's eyes, a look so unsettling to John that the smile left his face.

"Sam? What is it?" he asked.

"Yes," Sam repeated.

"Yes, what? What's the question?"

Sam leaned into Hoynes and closed his eyes. Just as their lips touched, John dropped his arms from around Sam and stepped back.

"What the fuck . . .?" He knocked Sam's hand from his waist.

"I said `yes'," Sam said again.

"No!"

"Yes!" Sam laughed and reached once more for John's waist.

"NO! And no MEANS no!" He took another step back. "What's wrong with you?"

Sam looked at Hoynes, hurt and confused. He didn't understand why John had reacted the way he did. He tried once more, his palm on John's chest, his voice soft and tentative.

"Yes."

"What the hell are you doing, Sam? I said no. And no. Means. No! I'm serious and I'm NOT going to tell you again."

"You said . . ." It was then Sam realized he had totally misread what John had meant. He wanted to melt into the floor and disappear.

Delusion, colossal blunder, ignis fatuus.

Bummer.

"I said . . . oh God, Sam. You didn't think . . . did you just try to kiss me?" Hoynes asked, his anger gone, his voice softened. "Sam? Did you just try to kiss me?"

Sam lowered his head and moved to walk away. He didn't know where he was going, but his humiliation wouldn't allow him to stand before this man any longer.

Hoynes grabbed Sam by the arm and stopped him.

"Sam?"

"Let me go."

"I won't let you go until you answer me," Hoynes replied. "Did you just try to kiss me?"

Sam nodded. "Uh huh. I got confused for a minute and thought you meant something you obviously didn't mean. I apologize."

Hoynes didn't speak, nor did he release his grasp on Sam or take his eyes off him.

Sam felt his stare and it was excruciating. He closed his eyes. Still, despite the disgrace he was experiencing, he was very aware of John's hand wrapped around his bicep and it made that ache return . . . that ache he had tried to deny . . . that ache he thought, he hoped, would go away when he met Lisa . . . that ache for another man . . . that ache for Josh.

"Sam? Look up here," Hoynes said gently.

Sam opened his eyes and raised them to meet John's.

"Do you want to tell me what just happened here?"

"Not especially," Sam replied.

"I think maybe you should. Let's sit down. Do you want a Coke or something?"

Sam shook his head and sat on the bed. "No, thanks."

Hoynes didn't want to point out to Sam that he might be more comfortable if they sat in chairs. He knew Sam's discomfort level was already high, and he didn't want it to go through the roof, so he said nothing and sat on the other bed.

"So, what's up Sam?" Hoynes asked. "What was that all about?"

Sam picked up one of the pillows and started to knead it with his hands. Thoughts were racing through his head so fast he couldn't even sort them.

"I imagine you've already figured it out," he began.

"Probably, but I could be wrong."

"You're probably not wrong."

The two men looked at each other. Hoynes stared so deeply into Sam's eyes, unflinchingly and with no hint of emotion, that Sam again had to turn away from him. "No means no," he had said, "And he means it."

"You don't have to hide your face from me, Sam," Hoynes said. "Why'd you do that? Why'd you turn away?"

"I feel like I should be ashamed."

"Ashamed of what?"

Sam turned back to Hoynes. "I feel like I should be ashamed because of what just happened."

"And what just happened?"

"Dammit, you know what just happened! I tried to . . . I almost . . . I tried to kiss you! I said `yes' to the wrong question!" Sam sucked his lower lip into his mouth and bit on it, mostly out of anger at himself.

"You keep saying `yes', but I swear, Sam, I don't know what question you're talking about. I swear I don't," Hoynes said. "I mean, I was talking a mile a minute with Josh about all the money we pulled in today, I was psyched and got carried away, and I could have said anything."

"You said, `Just say the word and you won't regret it. Just say yes and you're mine'," Sam replied. "So I said `yes'."

The proverbial light bulb came on in John's head as he remembered.

"Sam. It's me who needs to apologize. I misled you, but I didn't realize . . ."

"It's ok, you don't need to explain, and I've gotta tell you, this is really uncomfortable for me."

"Hear me out. `Just say the word and you won't regret it . . . just say yes.' That was my clumsy, inept way of asking you to be my Director of Communications in the White House. I realize that sort of job offer isn't usually made while two men are in an embrace in a hotel room and that's entirely my fault. Hell, I hardly know you, Sam, but I've seen enough and heard enough about you from Josh that I know I want you on my Senior Staff, you and Josh both, right there in the Oval Office with me every day for eight years. THAT'S what I wanted you to say `yes' to."

His eyes danced when he talked about the Oval Office and his words came out in an earnest rush of vibrancy. Sam tried not to get caught up in the exhilaration of it all; he'd never pictured himself in the White House. Maybe once, years ago when he and Josh worked as Congressional Aides together, but that was another time and things were different now.

Were things different now? Sam had just tried to kiss John Hoynes and if he and Josh Lyman didn't make love before the end of these two weeks, he was going to implode. He willed himself not to think of the White House.

"So you see," he said instead, "I thought you meant something totally different. I thought you meant . . . I'm gay, John. Yes, I was going in for the kiss. My bad."

"Ok then, yeah, I figured it out." A little smile crossed his face.

Sam looked at Hoynes for a minute then he smiled back. "Did I just blow my chances for a shot as your Communications Director?" he asked.

"Only if you fall down and forget how to communicate. Or if you try to kiss me in the Oval Office."

"No, sir."

"Sir? What happened to John?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't know. All this talk of the Oval Office, I guess. It seems right."

He bounced his fist on Sam's knee. "Don't be ridiculous. Call me John. I don't EVER want you to call me `sir' in the White House, understand? Well, except in formal situations."

"Yes, sir."

John Hoynes laughed. "This is none of my business and you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but, does Josh know you're gay?"

Sam hesitated then threw his pillow to the head of the bed. "Good- night, sir."

**************************

Present Day

8:45 p.m.

Josh put on his jacket, slung his backpack over his shoulder, and walked through the bullpen toward Toby's office. His intention was to say good-night to Sam, but he knew he had to play by the rules.

Sam's office was dark and the assistants were gone, but he was grateful Toby was still working. He leaned against the doorframe at Toby's office.

"Hey," he said.

Toby looked up. "Hey."

"You going home pretty soon?"

"Pretty soon."

Josh nodded his head toward Sam's office. "When did he leave?"

"He's still here," Toby replied.

"Where is he? He doesn't turn out his lights until he leaves for the night."

"With Hoynes."

"With Hoynes? His meeting with Hoynes was at 5:30! What could they be talking about for three hours?"

"I don't know, Josh. I wasn't invited. He went to talk about the . . . thing . . . so I guess they've been talking about the thing for three hours."

Josh tapped his foot against the doorframe, gently at first, then a little harder, then harder still.

Toby threw his rubber ball at Josh's foot. "Stop it."

"I just don't see what he had to take three hours to say that he couldn't say in one hour."

Toby leaned back in his chair. "Josh, go home."

"I don't wanna go home. I hate that apartment."

"I know. I'm sorry." And Toby really was.

Josh kicked the doorframe again. "Ok, I'm outta here. If you're still here when Sam gets back . . . "

"I will be. I'm not leaving until I see him again."

". . . will you tell him I said good-night?"

Toby nodded. "Sure."

"And will you tell him," Josh's voice cracked. "that I . . . "

"I'll tell him."

Business as usual.

END OF CHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVEN

Chapter 78

Tuesday

Vice President John Hoynes was already in the Oval Office with Jed Bartlet when the rest of the staff made their way in for the Senior Staff Meeting. Everyone wondered why, but none more than Sam.

"You're probably wondering why John is with us this morning," Bartlet said. "He asked for a few minutes of our time and I invited him here. John, I turn the meeting over to you."

"Thank you, Mr. President, I won't take much of your time." He turned his attention to the staff. "Good morning, everyone. I want you to know that I'm aware of the situation with Daniel Seaborn's threats. I know the reason for the threats. Sam and Josh have my full support, 100%, and I'll go on record with that. I'll go public, I'll make a statement, I'll do whatever it takes to make sure these guys get their lives back. I'll make my staff and myself available if we can help with this in any way. Just say the word."

He scanned everyone in the room. He paused for an extra couple of seconds on Sam and gave a little nod that Sam returned.

"Ok, that's all I had, unless anybody has something for me."

"Thank you, Mr. Vice President," said Sam.

Hoynes' eyes went back to him. "You're welcome, Sam."

"Thank you, Mr. Vice President," Josh added.

"You're welcome, Josh. I'm glad to do it."

He stood. "I'll take off then, Mr. President, with your permission."

"Sure, John. Thanks so much for coming by. We all appreciate your support with this."

As Toby, CJ, and Leo thanked the Vice President for speaking at the staff meeting, Josh turned to Sam and said something so low Sam couldn't make it out.

"What?" he asked.

Josh repeated it.

Sam leaned toward him. "What?"

But by then Hoynes was gone and the room was quiet and Josh couldn't repeat what he'd said.

Both men were restless and both fidgeted on the couch as the meeting continued. It wasn't until Josh stood up, shook the non-existent wrinkles out of his trousers, and sat back down so that his leg was flush against Sam's leg that they both settled down.

It didn't last. Still not satisfied, in minutes Josh rested his arm on the back of the couch behind Sam. His movements didn't go unnoticed by his colleagues, but after the miserable night Josh had just experienced, he really didn't care if he'd been obvious or not.

Leo crossed his legs away from them and focused on Jed. Toby made a mental note to tell them after the meeting to tone it down. CJ watched with great amusement, which she did her best to hide, and couldn't wait until the threat crisis was resolved so she could find out all the details about their marriage. Jed didn't seem to notice.

Halfway through the meeting, Jed stopped talking, took his glasses off, and rested his hand in his lap.

"Hi," he said.

He was greeted all around with "Hello, Mr. President" all around and puzzled looks.

"Who here is more interested in what I'm saying than the fact that Josh and Sam's legs are pressed against each other and Josh's arm might or might not be touching Sam's back?" He looked around the room.

"It's a toss-up," said Leo. "But now that you've pointed out the elephant in the middle of the room, it's kind of hard not to notice."

CJ let out a little snicker.

"And it's distracting as all get-out," Leo continued, with a glare at CJ. "What happened to `business as usual'? What happened to these two staying away from each other?"

Sam felt Josh's leg tense against his and he knew he must have been gritting his teeth to keep from speaking up against Leo. Sam hoped Josh held his temper and didn't say anything.

"Leo, Leo, Leo," said Jed. "Relax. We're running this country just fine. And nobody will see them together in this office except the four of us. So unless WE spread the word about what we've seen . . ."

"All right, all right," Leo conceded. "I'm certainly not going to spread any rumors at the Danish cart."

"Ok everybody, it's my turn to talk and your turn to listen," said Jed. "It occurred to me just before I fell asleep last night that I've never been clear in sharing with any of you how I feel about this relationship, this marriage."

The President leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and clasped his hands together.

"Sam, Josh, not that my approval or disapproval is worth a rat's ass in your personal lives, but I want you, and the rest of the staff here, to know exactly what I think on this subject. We've danced around it ~~ all of us have ~~ but I've never just sat down and spoken from the heart. We should have done this before now, and that's my fault. I'm sorry it took a critical situation to bring this to light." "It comes as no surprise to any of you that I'm strongly devoted to my Catholic faith, and I will be until the day I die. I've read my Bible from cover to cover and I've heard ad nauseam the arguments admonishing homosexuality based primarily on the Book of Leviticus. But in my lifetime, as I've watched and studied and interacted with people, and most recently people I love and care about, I've come to some conclusions that feel right to me. They don't jibe with Leviticus, but they feel right in my heart, and that's how I want my heart to feel." "I'm proud to see Sam and Josh had the courage to look the sacred covenant of marriage straight in the eye, say `screw propriety' and do it anyway. Marriage is an act of love and commitment. I believe all of us would be foolish if we didn't support love and commitment wherever it can be found, including in the gay community. Let's remember this, and not lose our way interpreting the Bible or endorsing destructive propaganda." Jed sat back in the chair and took a moment to collect his thoughts. "Love is the most beautiful and grandest thing I know. We make it smaller when we say it's only for one group of people. It is not. It's for us all, no matter whom we choose to love." Josh slid his arm around so his hand was on Sam's shoulder and squeezed. Sam shifted so he was a bit closer to Josh, tucked in the familiar warmth against his side, under his arm. The tension had left Josh and he was relaxed now that he finally had some physical contact with Sam. "What Daniel Seaborn has done to Sam and Josh is reprehensible. They should have been allowed to share their lifestyle with whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and however they wanted. To force these guys to expose themselves in this very sordid way was beyond malicious. What happens between two people in a relationship . . . this marriage . . . is so private and deeply personal that it's not possible for anyone outside to truly understand or judge them. This marriage between Sam and Josh is no exception. The cruelty they're being forced to endure . . . I will not allow it to destroy their lives; I will see to that personally. Having clarified that, just because heterosexuals and homosexuals have different love interests, we're still united by the glorious fact that we all have the capacity to love and we all seek love. I, for one, celebrate the love between Sam and Josh, and for what it's worth, give my blessing on their marriage. What's next?"

*************************

For Sam and Josh, it seemed like Tuesday would never end. It was a long, hard day for them both. Independent of the other, they had back-to-back meetings, appointments that ran long and upset their schedules, found themselves up against argumentative Republicans, and if anything COULD go wrong, it did.

They barely saw each other throughout the day; still, they sought out a few private moments to share, even if it was only a glance or a word.

Josh sat in the Roosevelt Room with two men and a woman Sam didn't recognize. Whatever they were talking about was intense and Josh was fully engrossed in the debate. Sam stood at the door, off to the side, and looked at Josh through the glass window. In less than a minute, Josh felt Sam's presence and looked up. He saw Sam and the voices around him became white noise. He couldn't leave, he couldn't wave, and he couldn't do anything overt.

Josh casually put his forefinger to his lips, then just as unnoticeably pointed his finger at Sam. It was his way of blowing Sam a kiss. Sam put his own forefinger to his lips. It was his way of saying he caught it.

A private moment shared.

Later, by chance, Josh saw Sam go into the Press Room. He waited a minute, then followed him in. Sam was in a cluster of five reporters, talking about something, Josh didn't know what, he didn't care. It was tight quarters where they stood. Josh brushed up against Sam as he walked past them. "Sorry," he said, "Just passing through . . . shortcut. Sorry."

And so it went.

A moment here, a moment there ~~ it probably made them more frustrated than if they had no contact at all, but they were both running on empty and needed just a little something from the other to keep them going. When they finally left the White House in separate cars to separate destinations, Josh was bone weary and Sam had a headache.

Josh was in no hurry to get to the apartment, although the idea of a hot shower and sleep appealed to him. He had worked late and was so tired, his eyes were red and watery. He stopped at the deli near his and Sam's townhouse to get something to eat, hoping but not believing he'd see Sam there. He didn't.

He drove past their townhouse, looked for and found Sam's car, and saw the light on in the living room. He felt a lump in his throat; he wanted to park and go inside. It would be so easy and who would know? Sam was so close, but he couldn't reach him. Josh circled the block; nothing had changed. He made one more pass and saw that the light had been turned off. He knew Sam had gone to bed.

The longing Josh felt for Sam caused his heart to physically hurt. He pulled over to the curb, stopped, and turned off the ignition. He put his right hand to his chest and took slow, deep breaths. He trembled in the dark silence and squeezed his eyes shut. Josh never knew he had the capacity to be affected so strongly, to ache so desperately, or to love so deeply. Sam had become his reason for living.

Josh started the car and cried as he drove.

It was after eleven o'clock by the time he found a parking spot and went inside. He hoped he could get to the apartment without being seen just one time for a change. No such luck.

"Hey, Josh."

"Hi, Brian."

Josh had to stop. He didn't want the manager walking with him to his apartment and Josh knew he would if he didn't stop.

"You're getting home late," Brian said.

"You keeping track?" Josh replied curtly.

"Would it bother you if I was?"

Josh didn't want to make any enemies, so he changed the subject and the tone of his voice.

"Yeah, late night at work. I'm, uh, pretty tired and need to get some sleep so I'll . . ."

"I was thinking, how about having a beer with me?"

"A beer."

"Yeah, I've got some ice cold Little Kings and thought maybe we could kick back and talk a while," said Brian.

Little Kings. I haven't heard the name Little Kings since Sam was a freshman at Princeton, Josh thought. He was so young and we were so new together. We drove to that liquor store on Calvin and I told him to grab the beer. He set something called Little Kings in a green carton on the counter. I laughed and told him that wasn't beer ~~ it was jazzed up Sprite. He said I didn't hurt his feelings but I know I did.

"So, Josh? Ice cold Little Kings and some chips `n dip? I think a rerun of `Law and Order' might be on."

"No, not tonight, really. Some other time maybe, but not tonight, thanks."

Josh started to walk down the hall.

"One beer."

"Not tonight, Brian."

Brian took a few steps after him.

"Just one," he insisted.

"Uh uh."

"You'll be sorry," Brian said with a half-sneer.

Josh stopped and turned around. He felt a prickling on the back of his neck, and swallowed hard.

"Why will I be sorry?" he asked, keeping his tone light.

"Cold beer, fresh chips, and me to entertain you? I don't make that offer to just anybody, and I might not ask you again. So you'll be sorry if you don't take advantage of the offer tonight."

Nutcase, Josh thought. He walked backward down the hall, positioning the door key in his hand so he could go inside quickly and not have to fumble at the door.

"Good-night," Josh said.

Brian smiled. "Good-night, Josh. Sleep well."

Josh unlocked the door and hurried inside. He closed and locked the door behind him, then stood in the dark for a minute, grateful to be away from the bothersome man he had coined "The Leach", and now "The Nutcase Leach".

He had never put a bulb in the overhead light, so he had to make his way across the room in the dark to turn on the light at his table or next to his futon. The room was empty except for his living area in the corner, so he knew it was a straight shot.

He hadn't gone five feet when he bumped into something and fell over it. He dropped his backpack and keys and landed hard on the floor. He reached out and felt debris all around him.

"What the hell . . .?"

Josh crawled on his hands and knees the rest of the way to his corner. Each time he put his hand down it landed on something that didn't belong there. He recognized some of it; some was a mystery.

When he got to where the table should be he realized it wasn't there. Nor was his futon. Nor were the lamps.

"Shit! I need some goddamn light!"

He made his way to the kitchen, reached up to the light switch on the wall, flicked it, and gave a sigh of relief when light brightened the kitchen and fell out into the living room.

He blinked several times, trying to register what he saw. Everything in his kitchen had been pulled from the cupboards and refrigerator and dumped on the floor. His dishes were broken, his flatware scattered, his pots and pans smashed. All his food had been opened and thrown against the wall and appliances. Jelly was smeared with catsup; Spaghetti-O's and chocolate pudding clung to the wallpaper; melted ice cream and smashed eggs dripped from the ceiling.

Josh turned back to the living room. It was in shambles. All his belongings had been vandalized and scattered around the room. His futon had been gutted with a knife and its stuffing was strewn throughout; his table was overturned and everything on it broken or torn up. His lamp and clocks were broken; he didn't even see his chairs. The rug had been ripped with the knife and was useless. His suitcase was open and empty. His clothes were strewn about the room.

Josh picked up one of the two picture frames with photographs of him and Sam. The glass was shattered so badly the faces were unrecognizable.

He couldn't believe this had happened. Who would have done this? Was it a random break-in or had he been targeted?

He felt cold and clammy and sick at his stomach, like he'd just been kicked in the gut. He dropped the picture frame on the floor and started toward the bathroom. He stepped on the photograph and heard the glass crunch even more under his foot. He made his way through his belongings to the bathroom and turned on the light.

The water in the bathtub had been turned on and left running so it had overflowed onto the floor and continued to pour over the side. Washcloths and a couple of towels were stuffed into the toilet. Josh's bottle of cologne had been thrown against the wall and broken, leaving glass shards everywhere. His shampoo and conditioner had been poured onto the floor, his toothpaste squirted on the walls, his toothbrush floated in the mess, and his razor had sunk to the bottom. Josh turned off the water in the bathtub.

The mixture of smells in such a small space was overpowering and Josh backed out of the bathroom. He turned back to the upturned room in front of him. He felt trapped. There was nowhere to go and he didn't know what to do.

Josh was stunned and at a loss. Should I call somebody? he thought. Yes, I should call somebody. Not the police, definitely not the police. Would this be considered an "I'm your first call" to CJ? Probably not. Simon? Ron Butterfield? The President? My Mother? Toby? Yeah, Toby. He'd be thinking clearly and I'm certainly not.

Dammit! Josh kicked what was left of his futon. We've been so careful, and now to have this happen. We could have stayed together and . . . Sam! Did the same people go to our townhouse and vandalize it? Or worse? What if Sam was there?

Josh got his phone out and dialed Toby.

"Answer, dammit!"

"Yeah, Toby Ziegler."

"What took you so long to answer?" Josh demanded.

"Josh?"

"Yeah. What were you doing? Why didn't you answer?"

"It's late and I have a guest," Toby explained. "What's the matter?"

Josh ran his hand through his hair.

"I just got to the apartment. Somebody's been in here and ransacked it. It's destroyed," said Josh.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, they were gone by the time I got here. I'm worried about Sam. What if they went to our townhouse too? Sam might have been there when they showed up. Will you call him and see if he's ok?"

"Sit tight."

They hung up and Toby dialed Sam. He didn't want to alarm him, so he called on the guise of asking him a job-related question. Sam wasn't suspicious and their conversation was brief.

Toby immediately called Josh.

"Sam's fine," Toby assured him. "Nothing out of the ordinary. We talked about work for a couple of minutes, he made a chess move, and we said good night. He would have said something if there'd been a break-in."

"Oh, he'd have called you first thing. If he's making chess moves, he's ok, thank God."

"Are you hurt, Josh?" Toby asked again, concern clearly in his voice.

"No, but what am I supposed to do? Should I report this to somebody, or is that what I'm doing now?"

"I suppose that's what you're doing now."

"Should I call the police?"

"No, no, no. Look, Josh, did you say everything is destroyed?"

"Furniture, clothes, even my toothbrush," Josh replied.

"Why don't you come on over and stay at my place tonight? You can't stay in that mess."

"Thanks, Toby, but you said you had a guest. I'm assuming its Julianna, right?"

"It's ok. You'll be on the couch, which is where you'd be whether she was here or not. "

"Toby, I need to go to a twenty-four hour Wal-Mart and buy a suit to wear to work tomorrow! And a toothbrush. I'll just go on in and sleep on the couch in your office."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're talking crazy. You're not going to buy a suit at Wal-Mart and wear it to work in the White House."

"Then what do you suggest?" asked Josh.

Silence. Then a sigh.

"I'll go to your townhouse and get you a change of clothes and what you'll need until you can get to a REAL store tomorrow," Toby finally replied. "Come on over here and Julianna will let you in."

"But . . ."

"Josh, I'm not in the mood to argue. Either come over here right now, or stay there and sleep in that pile of rubble. Now, what's it gonna be?"

"I'm on my way."

Before Josh left, he took the two photographs out of the broken frames and was thankful they weren't damaged. He slid them into a file folder in his backpack, left the lights on, and escaped from the apartment without being stopped by Brian.

Toby called Sam as he drove to the townhouse and told him what had happened. He wasn't surprised that Sam didn't take the news well. He assured Sam that Josh wasn't hurt, that he was ok, and told Sam to pack a suitcase for him.

Toby was concerned. Had Josh been discovered for who he was? And by whom? What would have happened if Josh had been in the apartment when these ~~ whoever these people were ~~ had come to do their damage? What if he walked in on them? If they knew where Josh was, did they know where to find Sam?

Or maybe it was just a random break-in.

Toby didn't want to think about it, but he couldn't stop. He wondered if he should have Josh stay with him until this whole threat business was over so he'd be safer. Then he wondered if Josh would be safer, or if Toby was just putting himself in danger too.

Sam had been asleep when Toby called. He didn't know when he turned out the light that Josh was outside in his car and wanted nothing more than to come in. When Toby called Sam was groggy, but he understood what Toby said and met him at the door.

"Is Josh ok? He isn't hurt, is he?" Sam's voice was slow and deliberate.

"Can I come in?"

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Sorry." He stepped back so Toby could come in.

"We just hung up five minutes ago and I told you then, Josh is fine," Toby said again. "The assholes just wrecked the place and Josh was nowhere in sight. Let's go into the living room and sit a few minutes."

"Excuse the, uh, the mess here," Sam apologized. "I was just . . .I haven't had a chance . . .wanna beer?"

Toby took a good look at Sam. He was wearing Josh's blue pajama bottoms that were too big and hung loosely on Sam's slender body. He had on a long-sleeved white t-shirt with one sleeve pushed up to his elbow. Sam's hair was disheveled, his eyes were droopy, and his words were slow in coming. His hand was wrapped around a bottle of beer. Toby knew Sam left the White House that evening with a headache and wondered if he was getting a migraine. Or if he was drunk.

Toby saw the sheets, pillow, and comforter on the couch. "Sam? Are you sleeping down here?" he asked.

Sam settled into a club chair and Toby took his regular seat. "Pretty much." He took a swig of his beer then put the bottle on the floor.

"Every night?"

Sam nodded.

"Why?"

"It's too big. The bed. The bed upstairs is too big without, you know, Josh . . . and I can't sleep, so I've just been, uh, crashing on the couch. It's just . . . easier."

Toby watched Sam put the fingertips of his hands together and move them like a spider; he seemed mesmerized by this. Toby noticed Sam wore his wedding band.

"Hey, why don't you give me Josh's ring, I'll give it to him, and he can sleep with it on," Toby suggested.

"Josh has it. He t . . .t . . .took it with him."

"He can't wear it to work," Toby said. "Do you suppose . . .?"

"What?" asked Sam. "Do I suppose what?"

"Would Josh have put his ring in a similar box and left it sitting in that apartment when he couldn't wear it?"

Sam let Toby's words sink in. "They might have taken Josh's wedding band?"

"I don't know, Sam. Josh didn't say that; I'm just wondering."

Sam put his head in his hands. "Oh man, I can't believe this is happening."

"Sam, it might not have happened. I'm just thinking out loud. Don't worry about it until I talk with Josh."

Sam ran his hands through his hair and raised his head. "I'm so tired, Toby. Would you . . .?"

"Would I what?"

"Nothing. Never mind."

Sam went into the kitchen and came back with two beers. He handed one to Toby, who set it on the end table without taking a drink. Sam took a huge swallow from his and dropped back into the chair. He propped his elbow on the chair arm and began massaging his temple.

"Do you have a headache?" Toby asked.

"Sorta . . . kinda . . . somewhat . . . not so much . . . yeah."

"I thought maybe because you're rubbing your temple there."

"I had a headache, but, uh, it's better. Now." Sam's words were slurred.

"Did you take anything for it?" Toby pushed.

"A couple of Advil?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Ask . . . telling you."

Toby didn't respond and the two men sat in silence for a few minutes. Sam closed his eyes and Toby wondered if he'd fallen asleep. Then Sam opened his eyes, took another drink of beer and spoke up.

"The guys that did this. What will ha . . . ha . . . happen to them?" he asked.

"We're not reporting this to the police, Sam. You know better than that."

"They gotta go to jail!"

"Sam, use your brain! We're trying to do this with as little fanfare as possible. We're not gonna make an issue of it."

"No fanfare?"

"What did you take tonight, Sam? It wasn't fucking Advil."

"It was Advil. For my head." Sam sounded indignant.

"What else?"

Sam shook his head and closed his eyes.

Toby took the few steps over to him. He put his palm on Sam's forehead. Locks of Sam's hair fell over Toby's hand. No fever. He put the back of his hand against Sam's cheek. Toby thought he felt flushed. Then with his thumb and forefinger, Toby pulled Sam's eyelids open. His pupils were dilated and glazed over. He was rapidly getting more sluggish and his voice more slurred.

"What else did you take?"

"This."

Sam stumbled a bit as he stood up. Toby caught his arm and steadied him.

Sam dug in his pajama pocket. He couldn't find what he wanted, so he reached his left hand inside the pocket and turned in a circle until he pulled out the bottle. Toby thought he looked like a pup chasing his tail. Sam handed the medicine bottle to Toby and sat back down.

It was legitimate, prescribed by a neurologist for headaches. Mepergan, 50 mg., 1-2 capsules every 4 hours as needed for severe pain, 30 capsules.

Toby opened the bottle and poured the contents into his hand. There were eight capsules.

"How many of these did you take?" Toby funneled the eight capsules back into the bottle.

Sam shrugged and slouched deeper into the chair.

"Sam, I don't have time for this. How many of these did you take?"

"Maybe . . . wanna beer?"

Toby leaned over Sam. "I'm gonna ask you one more time, then we're going to the emergency room and they're gonna pump your stomach. That wasn't much fun last time, was it? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Sam nodded.

"How many of these did you take?" Toby held the bottle up for Sam to see.

"Six. No more."

"No more?" Toby asked. "You took six capsules and no more? No more drugs of any kind?"

Sam shook his head, closed his eyes, and listed to the left.

Toby caught Sam by his hands and sat him upright. When Toby started to pull away, Sam clung to Toby's hands and wouldn't let go. Toby felt Sam's urgency, his need for physical contact, and let him hold on.

"Sam, this medication is strong. It's Demerol and you know better than to take six and you know better than to drink alcohol on top of it. I wish you hadn't done this. Are you listening to me?"

Sam looked up at him, his head lying to the side, his eyes struggling to stay open.

"Toby?"

"What?"

"What I was, uh, gonna say earlier was . . ."

"Was what?"

"Would you stay here tonight?" Sam asked. He was almost asleep and his voice so soft, Toby barely heard him.

"Why do you want me to stay here, Sam?"

"I just . . . Josh is gone . . . just want somebody here."

"I'm gonna put you to bed then I'm gonna sit here with you a little while, and we'll talk more about this when you're sober, ok?"

Without waiting for an answer that he knew wouldn't come, Toby untangled his hands from Sam's. As he did, Sam fell forward and wrapped his arms around Toby's waist. He pressed his face against Toby's stomach, then it slid down and stopped at Toby's crotch.

"Sam."

Toby tugged on Sam's shoulders to push him back. Sam tightened his grip.

"Sam, you've gotta let go."

Sam was immovable.

Toby just stood there with Sam clamped onto him. It was already the early hours of the morning and he wanted to go to bed too. Nothing was getting accomplished here.

Maybe it was. Toby felt Sam's cheek and decided he was no longer flushed. He put his hand on Sam's head and smoothed his hair with slow, gentle strokes. I take that back, he thought. Something is getting accomplished here, something far greater than I first realized. Sam needs somebody tonight, a warm body, Josh. He can't have Josh and I'm the closest thing to a warm body he's gonna find.

He let Sam hold on to him for another ten minutes, then he pried Sam's arms from around his waist.

"Come on, Sam, you've got to lie down and get under the covers and go to sleep," he said. "Let go of me and lay down."

Sam let himself be separated from Toby. Toby guided his head to the pillow and covered him with the sheet and comforter. He walked through the room and turned out the lights.

"I'm just gonna sit here a while Sam, is that ok?"

"Uh huh." Sam's voice was soft and little and could barely be heard against his pillow.

"I'll stay until you're asleep."

"K."

Sam was asleep in less than a minute, but Toby stayed about a half hour. He wanted to make certain he was sound asleep and wouldn't try to get up and hurt himself.

Toby gathered the empty beer bottles and put them in the recycling bin and set Sam's medicine bottle on the kitchen counter. He opened the refrigerator to make sure Sam had food, took the last piece of pecan pie, then headed toward the front door. He picked up Josh's suitcase, took one more glance in Sam's direction, and double- checked the lock behind him when he left.

If nothing else happened tonight, Toby might get an hour's sleep before his alarm went off.

*************************

Wednesday

Sam arrived at work on time and Toby was already there. Before he went into his office, he went into Toby's to apologize and thank him for what he'd done the night before. Uncomfortable with words that were too personal, Toby brushed him off and told him not to do it again. Sam said he wouldn't. Both knew he would.

"Is your headache gone?" Toby asked.

"Yes."

"Good. We've got a busy day. Leo needs that piece on the energy bill before noon and I wanna go over it first."

"It'll be done by nine," Sam replied. "Toby?"

"Yeah?"

"Was everything ok at your place last night?"

Toby rubbed his thumb and ring finger together, a habit he'd picked up since he stopped wearing his wedding band.

"Everything's fine at my place. I'm, uh, supposed to tell you, uh . . . you know."

Sam smiled. "Thanks Toby. That was sweet of you to think of that."

Toby grimaced. "Don't say, just don't say sweet, ok? Now if there's nothing else, go to work."

It was another day where Josh and Sam barely saw each other. They passed in the hallways by chance, and spoke briefly in-between meetings and appointments and generally working in their offices. At day's end, they both felt they'd been cheated.

Josh stayed with Toby again. Toby went to Julianna's and spent the night with her to give Josh some privacy. Josh remembered his conversation with Leo and called his Mother. He assured her he was fine, Sam was fine, and there was nothing to worry about. She said she wasn't sure she believed him. He said she'd have to come visit them soon so she could see for herself and she said she would.

Josh was sad when he hung up the phone. Sad for his Mother because by the end of the phone call, she DID believe him, and Josh had never lied to his Mother before. Sad for Toby because between himself and Sam, they were wearing him out. Sad for Donna because she was so angry and she didn't even know why. Sad for Leo because he was quickly alienating someone who had loved him since birth and would love him until death, unconditionally; except Leo was setting conditions Josh couldn't abide by. Sad for Sam because he was about to lose his family. Sad for himself because he ached for the people he loved.

It brought him comfort and made him feel closer to Sam. He just wanted to go home. Finally, Josh fell into a restless sleep on Toby's couch.

Thursday

Thud.

Sam ignored Toby's rubber ball as it slammed against his window.

Thud.

Leave me alone, Toby. I'm busy.

Thud.

Sam looked up. Danny stood in his doorway. Toby had been trying to get Sam's attention.

"Hi, Sam," Danny said.

"Hi, Danny. What's up?"

"Not much. Just thought I'd stop in and see the President. Gotta go."

"Wait!" Sam jumped up from behind his desk and started after him. "What'd you find? Is your investigation over? Where's all the evidence?"

Danny smiled. "I can't tell you, I hope so, and right here." He opened his jacket and patted the inside pocket where he had some computer discs. "Gotta go."

Sam stood in Toby's doorway with a grin. "Did you hear that?" he asked.

"I did." Toby tossed his rubber ball to Sam. "Have you finished the President's remarks?"

"For . . .?"

"The National Association of Broadcasters Convention," Toby reminded him. "Ring a bell?"

"Oh yeah. No, not yet. But Danny . . ."

"Don't you think you'd better get to work on them? He's speaking at the luncheon TODAY."

"They'll be ready," Sam insisted. "But Danny . . ."

"Go."

"Yeah, but . . ."

"Go."

Sam tossed Toby's ball to him and went to his own office. Two hours later he was grateful Toby had been insistent; he'd completed his remarks for the President and as Toby in his wisdom knew, had given little thought to what Danny had brought the President.

Danny stopped by Josh's office and found him with his feet propped on his desk, crossed at the ankle, deep in conversation on the phone. Danny didn't say a word; he just opened his jacket and pecked on the discs much as he had with Sam. It took a second for it to sink in with Josh, then he nearly fell out of his chair as he tried to end his conversation, get his feet on the ground, and stand up all in one motion. Danny just laughed and started to walk away.

"No, Danny, hold up!" he called. "Yes, Congressman, I hear what you're saying but that's NOT going to happen." He covered the mouthpiece on the phone. "Danny!" Back to business. "Yes sir, I understand that, and as I told you before, I'm speaking for the President and his mind won't be changed." Cover the phone. "Danny!" Uncover. "Yes, Mr. Congressman, I'll see if we can do that. Thank you." Hang up. "Danny!"

Josh rushed out of his office to chase Danny down. He found him just outside his door, leaning against the wall. Josh exhaled.

"I thought you'd gone," he said. "Why didn't you let me know you were right here?"

Danny smiled. "It's more fun watching you run around your desk like a chicken with its head cut off and an hour later try to remember what you promised that Congressman."

"Come in here," Josh said.

Josh and Danny went into Josh's office and Josh closed the door. "What `cha got?"

"You know I can't tell you that," Danny replied.

"Give me an idea. Enough to get the bastard off our backs?"

"Josh, you heard the President. He said this stuff goes to him only. I can't tell you or it's my ass."

"Oh, come on!"

"Don't whine, Josh. I'm leaving now and I'm going to the Oval Office and if you try to stop me, I'll have the Secret Service stop you at gunpoint."

Josh cocked his head and looked at Danny. Was he serious? He couldn't do that. Could he?

Danny started laughing. "Kidding! I'm kidding, Josh!" He ducked out and continued on toward the Oval Office.

"Hey, Charlie."

"Hi, Danny. Good to see you again."

"I don't have an appointment, but could I get some time with the President? I think he wants to see me," Danny said.

"Let me check."

Charlie went into the Oval Office and came out a few minutes later.

"Go on in, Danny. He can see you now," said Charlie.

Danny tipped his head toward Charlie as a `thank you' and went inside to see the President. A few minutes later Bartlet asked Charlie to call Sam and Josh and give them a message.

"It's Charlie," he said to each. "I don't know what this means, but President Bartlet asked me to call you and say emphatically, `business as usual' and that you'd know what it means. So I'm being emphatic and I'm saying `business as usual'. Does that make sense to you?"

Both Sam and Josh said that it did. They each wanted to call the other and speculate what might be happening in the Oval Office, but knew disobeying direct orders from the President probably wasn't the best move.

Instead, they conducted business as usual as best they could.

Toby, Josh, and Sam hoped they'd hear something from the Oval Office by the end of the day. They all extended their workday hour by hour, but there was no word. Finally at nine o'clock Toby wandered down the hall. Charlie was closing up his desk, getting ready to leave.

"Hi, Charlie," said Toby. "You taking off?"

"Just about. I need to write just a couple of notes then I'm gone."

"Is Danny still in with the President?"

"No, he left hours ago," Charlie replied.

"Hours? How long did he stay?"

"About forty-five minutes."

"Forty-five minutes? That's all?" Toby asked. "Are you sure?"

"I was right here the whole time. Saw him go in, saw him come out. My time-telling skills are pretty sharp, Toby."

"Who'd the President see after Danny?"

"Senators Garth and Harold, he took a phone call with Prime Minister Tony Blair, then he went to the National Association of Broadcasters Convention to speak at their luncheon, then . . ."

"Here," Toby read upside down. "Lionel Tribbey."

"Yeah, he came this afternoon," Charlie confirmed.

"When did Lionel leave?" asked Toby.

"He didn't."

"He's still in there?"

Charlie nodded.

"It's been hours! Is anybody else in there?"

"I probably shouldn't be telling you all this. But it's President Bartlet, the Vice President, Leo, and Lionel Tribbey. Now you didn't hear any of that from me and I'm outta here. See you tomorrow, Toby."

"Good night, Charlie."

Toby stopped by Josh's office first. The assistants had left so he didn't bother to close the door. "Danny's already left. Looks like we're not going to hear anything tonight. I'm heading out."

Josh rubbed his eyes, the sleepiness still there from this morning. "Did you find out anything?" he asked.

"No, I just said . . . never mind. Leave your car here and ride home with me. You look like you're about to fall asleep sitting up."

"I'll take you up on that," Josh agreed. "Danny in the Oval, that's gotta be a good thing, right?"

"Yeah, I'd think so. He wouldn't come back empty-handed, and he seemed in a good mood, so I'm encouraged. We'll hear something soon. Let's stop by Sam's office and tell him to go home, too."

Josh threw his backpack over his shoulder and he and Toby went to see Sam.

He was standing next to his desk talking on the phone when they got there. He held up his forefinger when he saw Josh and Toby, telling them to wait. "Yes, sir," he said. "That's fine. No, sir, I trust you implicitly. I want you to do whatever needs to be done." He paused and listened to the conversation on the other end. "If you have to. If you have to. If you have to. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Good night, Mr. President."

Sam hung up the phone.

"That was the President," he explained to Josh and Toby. "He's meeting with . . . come in here and close the door."

"There's nobody out here," said Toby.

"I don't care. Come in here."

They went inside Sam's office and Josh closed the door.

"The President met with Danny and Danny gave him a verbal summary of what he found out about my . . . about my Dad and Jack. My Uncle Charles was a lot more involved than I ever realized, too. He gave him two discs full of stuff. The President called in Leo and Lionel and then he called the Vice President and said he'd like him to sit in on this because he wanted his opinion. He's with all of them now."

"Why'd he call you?" asked Josh.

"He . . . " Sam picked up a paper clip and twisted it until it broke. "He wants to tell the others about what Jack . . . Jack did to me but he wanted to ask my permission first. That's why he called me. I told him he could."

Josh went to Sam and put one arm around his neck. He pulled Sam close until their foreheads touched.

"Are you ok with that?" Josh asked. "With other people knowing? And what other people does he mean?"

"Lionel, who I'd rather didn't know, but I guess it's important. Leo. Same. And John Hoynes," Sam replied.

"Are you sure you're ok with that?" Josh repeated. "You don't have to tell if you don't want to. You know that, right?"

Sam nodded and their foreheads rubbed against each other. "I know, and I'm not especially ok with it, but at this point, there's not much choice. We've come this far, and I'm not about to get modest now."

Josh stroked Sam's hair with his free hand. "That's my boy," he murmured in a soothing voice. "You don't have to tell the story ever again." He kissed Sam's nose. "The President's gonna do it."

"You slept with your ring on last night, didn't you?" Sam asked, changing the subject.

"I did. Just like you."

Toby was thankful his fears about Josh's wedding band being stolen hadn't come to fruition. He guessed Josh had carried it with him in his pocket instead of leaving it in the apartment that had no connection to Sam.

"Come home, Josh," Sam said hopefully.

"I want to. You know I want to, baby."

"Ok guys, break it up. Let's go, Josh," Toby interrupted.

Sam and Josh didn't move.

"Guys?"

They still didn't move.

"Come on, guys. Don't make me have to be the scoutmaster here. Just do what I ask. Please? I didn't get any sleep last night because of you two."

Sam and Josh pulled away from each other with quiet "I love yous" and "good nights" and lingering looks.

"Sam, why don't you leave now too and we'll walk you to your car?" Toby suggested.

It sounded simple and innocuous enough, but Toby was a little worried about Sam being in the near-empty parking lot by himself after what happened at Josh's apartment. So the three men left together, then Sam went home alone to an empty townhouse, and Toby and Josh went to Toby's apartment.

At Toby's, Josh showered, ate a grilled cheese sandwich and an apple, then lay on the couch and was asleep within minutes. Toby watched TV for a while and turned the volume down low so he wouldn't disturb Josh. He poured a highball glass of Scotch, downed it quickly and poured another. After about an hour he'd shaken off as much of the day's stress, as much as he was capable of shaking off, and went to bed.

Sam also ate a grilled cheese sandwich. He packed his gym bag for racquetball after work the next day, and set it by the door. He showered in the guest room bathroom then laid on the couch, picked up the remote, and turned on the TV.

Sam fell asleep watching Nick at Nite. When he woke up the next morning, it was still on.

Friday

"Ok people, here's where we stand," the President addressed his Senior Staff. "Yesterday I met with Danny and got a list a mile long of things to hang the Seaborns on. And let me say this upfront, Sam. I apologize that I have to speak about your Father this way, but it would insult your intelligence if I referred to him as 'Mr. X'."

"I understand, Mr. President."

"Thank you, Sam. Just know if there was any other road to get where we have to go . . ."

"It's ok. I knew this would all be open for discussion eventually. I just hope it doesn't go far."

"No, no, just among the people working on the plan. Now, after I met with Danny I met with Leo, Lionel, and John Hoynes. Sam, the Vice President thinks quite highly of you and wasn't just blowing smoke when he said he wants to be involved in this. So I asked him in and he was right here. I hope that's still ok."

"It is."

"I thought it would be. Sam, Josh, I promised you I'd get on this the minute I had something to work with. I got what we need from Danny and we worked on this last night. First thing this morning Lionel Tribbey, Oliver Babish, and Jordon Kendall flew to California. They'll work out of the law offices of Oliver's colleagues in L.A. and will have everything they need to conduct business there."

"What will that entail?" Josh asked.

"First, they'll approach Daniel, Jack, and Charles Seaborn with simple but strongly-worded Cease and Desist Letters, hand-delivered, to see if they'll be reasonable. The letters will be followed-up by phone calls If they indicate they don't want to play nice, our guys will try to talk some sense into them, and let them know about the evidence we have on them about their illegal activities. If that doesn't work, our attorneys will go to their attorneys, giving them every chance to save themselves. If they're still resistant, Leo will call Daniel Seaborn personally and the words 'federal prison' will no doubt come up."

"Excuse me, sir," said Toby. "Leo will make the call and go to bat defending Sam and Josh?"

The President smiled. "Ironic, isn't it?"

His comment lightened the mood for a moment, a much needed lift for the solemn faces in the room.

As cool and composed as Sam appeared on the outside, on the inside he was crumbling. Despite everything, he didn't want his father and brother to land in prison. He wanted them to stop what they were doing, but not like this. But that ship had sailed and he couldn't turn it back now.

So he just listened as the staff talked around him; Toby would prepare a statement in case their plan didn't work; CJ would get her facts straight for the gaggle; Leo would serve as the liaison among the White House Counsels, the Seaborns, and whomever they brought in. Sam and Josh were to conduct business as usual.

"Let us do something to help," Sam pleaded. "We can't be left out of the loop when things get crucial."

"We're covered," said Jed. "If we need you, we know where to find you. What's next?"

"Wait a minute," said Sam. "Let's not move on to `what's next' just yet, sir, please. I won't speak for Josh, but I wanna be proactive in this, especially now that something's happening."

"I need you doing your job, Sam," the President replied.

"I'll do my job, but I need to do more."

"I know, Sam, and it's all right."

"It is NOT all right!" Sam's voice became louder and his words came out in a rush. "And you DON'T know. You have no idea what it's like for the person you love to come home to an apartment that's been turned upside down and vandalized ONLY because he loves another man! You don't know what it's like when he finds his possessions broken and battered and destroyed forever, and his bathroom flooded and his photographs shattered by who the hell knows! He could have been killed!"

"Sam! Knock it off!" Leo said curtly. "Not another word."

Sam stood up and faced Leo. "I WON'T knock it off! Not when there's more I have to say! You don't know what it's like to be made to feel like less than a man because Josh and I love each other! In fact, Leo, you make it WORSE for Josh by dumping your homophobic shit all over him until he's so filled with guilt he . . ."

"Settle down, Sam!" the President ordered. "When did this happen, Josh? When was your apartment ransacked?"

"Night before last. It was like that when I got home."

"Were you hurt in any way?"

"No, sir."

"Do you have any idea who might have done this?"

"No, sir. I don't know, maybe Brian."

"Who's Brian?" Sam and Toby asked in unison.

Josh ran his hand over his head. "He's . . . he's . . . he's nobody."

"Did you tell anyone?" Jed continued.

"Toby. And now you. If I could I'd go to California myself and take care of business."

"That's good, Josh," Leo said. "Talk that up on the streets like a common thug and your apartment won't be the only thing turned upside down and vandalized."

"Oh, come on, Leo!" replied Toby. "Statements like that come off as intimidating and are the seeds gay-bashings grow out of."

"Guys!" CJ tried to speak over the din. "Can we try to maintain a little decorum in here?"

"Did you just call me a `common thug'?" Josh demanded.

"If you go out with that cocky swagger of yours and threaten to `take care of business', then yes, you ARE a common thug!" Leo was on his feet now, too.

"Guys!"

"Josh, let it go," Sam said. "Don't do this."

Josh whirled around. "You started it!"

"Guys!" CJ tried again.

"Listen to your . . . whatever it is you call him!" Leo shouted.

Josh turned back to Leo. "You know damn well what I call him! Sam is my husband and you know that! If you can't accept that, then the hell with you!"

The President sat back and allowed his staff to blow off some much- needed steam. He knew if he didn't, if the words were left unspoken, there would never be peace among the people he depended on to run the country. And if they didn't verbally go at each other in this confined space, there was no telling where they would.

"How dare you speak to me that way!" Leo growled. "You're my subordinate and you'll show me respect!"

"This isn't about subordination, Leo, this is about sex! You've come unglued because I have sex with Sam and we . . ."

"Josh!" Sam interrupted.

Josh spun around and faced Sam. "Didn't you hear what he just said about you? My `whatever it is you call him'. That's what Leo thinks of you, Sam!"

"I didn't mean for this to happen!" Sam protested.

"Guys!"

Toby grabbed Josh's arm. "Let's take a walk," he said.

Josh jerked free. "I don't need to take a walk."

"You're taking one anyway. I'm pulling you out."

Toby grabbed his arm again and yanked him away from the group. Sam started to follow them. CJ grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him back and sat him down on the couch. Jed looked at Leo and nodded toward his chair until Leo sat down again.

"Ok," said the President. "What's next?"

Toby and Josh walked to the closest exit and went outside.

"You," said Toby, "need some fresh air and to cool down. What was that all about?"

"Sam started it," Josh said again.

"Well you picked it up pretty fast. What's the matter with you? Why are you so hot?"

"I don't know, I didn't mean for it to happen. Everybody had their assignments and it seemed like Sam and I were being excluded and I felt helpless, like I wasn't doing anything to help this along, although this is our lives we're talking about. Then Sam got into it with Leo and I wanted to support him."

"You've GOT to control your temper, Josh. There's not gonna be a whole lot of times you can tell the Chief of Staff to go to hell while you're in the Oval Office and get away with it, understand?"

"Yeah."

"Rein it in, dial it down, put a harness on it, muzzle it, and keep it in your pants," Toby replied.

"Keep it in my pants? How does that apply here?" Josh asked.

"It doesn't. I just had this cadence thing going and it sounded good."

Josh laughed. "Ok. You guys get all the fun and for Sam and me, business as usual. But if there's a lynching, we get to watch."

"Wouldn't have it any other way. You about ready to go back in now?"

"Yeah."

"Think you can talk like the Deputy Chief of Staff and not a common thug?" Toby razzed him.

"I'll try. Thanks, Toby. Oh, and we're out of grape juice. Would you pick some up on the way home?"

Toby grimaced. "Don't say those things out loud. You make it sound like we're a . . . "

"Couple?" Josh teased. "Kinda sweet, isn't it?"

"I TOLD you not to say `sweet' around me! Go!"

They returned to the meeting and it continued as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. When it ended, Leo and CJ went to their respective offices, and Toby rushed off for an appointment on the Hill. Josh and Sam started down the hall together to spend a few precious moments alone, but Ed and Larry came up on either side of Josh, which left no room for Sam. He veered off to the left and headed toward the Communications bullpen by himself.

He sat at his desk and knew he should be working, but he was preoccupied. His mind wouldn't focus on what it was supposed to focus on. So he stared straight ahead and gave in to the voice prodding at his conscience.

"Call him," it said. "You know you want to. Just pick up the phone, dial his number, and tonight . . . well, tonight you'll be glad you did."

Sam made a tent with his fingers and brought them to his chin. His conscience continued to speak.

"No, Sam," the voice said. "Do. Not. Call. Him. You know the rules. You've gone this long; don't blow it now."

Sam looked at his watch, got up and closed the door, then sat at his desk again. "Go on, call him. Nobody has to know."

Sam slowly flipped through his Rolodex.

"Don't be stupid, Sam."

He stopped at the letter "M", went to the card in the back, and pulled it out.

"Nobody will see you, and you'll feel much better afterwards," the voice badgered him. "You know you want to."

Sam turned the card around and saw the initials "MH" and a phone number.

"You promised Josh."

Sam drummed his fingers on the desk.

"You promised Toby."

He picked up a pencil and tapped it on his stapler.

"He can bring it to the gym tonight when you play racquetball."

He picked up the phone.

"You promised Josh."

"Just do it."

"You promised Josh."

"Just do it, Sam, just do it."

END OF CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT

Chapter 79

Saturday

9:15 p.m.

The phone rang.

"C.J. Cregg."

"We need you to come into the office."

9:17 p.m.

The phone rang.

"Toby Ziegler."

"Come on in."

9:19 p.m.

The phone rang.

"Josh Lyman."

"Josh, come to the office."

9:21 p.m.

The phone rang.

"Sam Seaborn."

"Sam, come on in now."

"Did you call Josh?"

"I called Josh."

"Is it over?"

"Sam, just come on in and we'll talk when everybody gets here."

"Ok, thanks, Leo. I'm on my way."

10:30 p.m.

Vice President Hoynes, Leo, Toby, Josh, CJ, and Lionel Tribbey sat in the Oval Office. The President had told them to "talk amongst themselves" while he and Sam met privately for a few minutes in Sam's office. Josh turned around in his chair and watched them walk out and wondered what was going on. He wanted to go with them but knew if he'd been welcome, he would have been invited. So he turned back to the mindless babble, as he depicted the Senior Staff's voices, and tried to listen, but they were empty words. His mind was filled with the "what ifs" that he hoped would soon be answered. And all he could do was wait.

"Have a seat, Sam," Bartlet said. He closed the door to Sam's office and they both sat in chairs in front of Sam's desk.

"I wanted to meet with you privately first just to give you a heads- up on what's happened. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable or be embarrassed around the others, although I think you know there's nothing any one of those people in that room wouldn't do for you."

"I know that, sir."

"Danny uncovered a wealth of information on your family, Sam. He found illegal activities that go back to your grandfather and indications that point to your great-grandfather that he would have investigated if he'd had time."

"Granddad?"

Jed nodded.

"Let me throw some options down on the table and see what you pick up. I can tell you what Danny's findings are, you can take them and go over them yourself, or you don't have to know anything at all. After they serve our purpose I'm going to lock them away until our Administration leaves this White House and then destroy them. It's your choice, son."

Sam took in a deep breath. He'd wondered how he would react if asked this question. He already had the answer.

"Just lock them away and then destroy them, please. I don't wanna know," he said. "The fact that you and Danny know is bad enough. Then there's Lionel, Oliver, Jordon, and anybody else who may already know."

"Nobody else knows. I haven't talked with Leo or John, but I need to. Since things worked out in our favor, Toby, CJ, and Josh don't need to know the details unless you want them to, or unless the situation changes."

Sam shook his head. "No, please."

"What your family did is no reflection on you, son. You are NOT responsible for your Father's actions."

"No, but I AM my Father's son. We share the same blood. How do I know I don't have it in me to do such a thing? Jack did."

Jed smiled warmly at Sam. "You don't have a criminal mind, Sam. Or a cruel bone in your body. I'd bet my next term on it. I'm going to tell you something that may surprise you."

"What's that, sir?" Sam asked.

"Of all the people in this White House, of everyone on my staff, I trust your loyalty to me more than anyone else's," the President said.

"After Charlie's."

"More than Charlie's."

"Unquestionably after Leo's."

Silence.

"After Leo's loyalty to you, right, Mr. President?" Sam asked.

Jed made eye contact with Sam and smiled just a little. "I've known Leo well over thirty years," he replied. "I love him like a brother and we argue like brothers. But one of these days something's going to come between us. Something we can't resolve through argument, reasoning, or love. Leo's loyalty will be tested to the limit and he'll turn away from me."

"No, sir, no. Leo would never . . ."

"Sam, are you questioning my instincts?"

"Of course not, sir."

"Then believe me when I say, of all the people in this White House, of everyone on my staff, of those I've known and those I've yet to meet, I trust your loyalty to me more than anyone else's. Don't get me wrong; I love my daughters with all my heart, but I would give the world to call you my son."

His words took Sam's breath away.

"You're a good man, Sam. You're well on your way to being a great man. Don't let anything hold you back, especially not your family. If you're absolutely certain about Josh . . ."

"I am," Sam interrupted.

" . . . and Josh is absolutely certain about you . . ."

"He is."

" . . . then I encourage you now to start getting used to facing the world standing at each other's side."

"We've kept our relationship secret to protect you. It just wouldn't do to come out as long as you're in office. We just won't do that."

"Sam, Lionel, Oliver, and Jordon had a successful trip to California. I can tell you the process they went through, or I can just tell you there will be no more threats and no further action taken to discredit this Administration or me. Your family will not expose you and Josh and they will not conduct any kind of rigged campaign to get Robert Ritchie elected. They met all of our demands."

"Thank God," said Sam, then as an afterthought, "and Lionel Tribbey."

"To Lionel, that's one and the same," laughed Jed. "Now Sam, I'm going to ask Lionel to brief everyone in my office about what took place in California and he'll go into more detail. You know, the steps he, Oliver, and Jordon went through. It's important for the Senior Staff to know this just in case there's any fallout or repercussions we didn't anticipate. You understand that, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"I want Leo and John to know about your family's criminal record, but unless you expressly want them to know, I don't think Toby, CJ, and Josh need to hear those details. Of course, what you decide to tell Josh is up to you."

"It's ugly, isn't it?" Sam asked.

"Yes, son, it is."

"I don't want Josh to know. I want as few people as possible to know, please."

The President stood and Sam was on his feet immediately.

"Let's get back in there with the others," Jed said, "and tell them what's going on. Next Friday, I want to meet with you and Josh at six p.m. in my office, ok?"

"Yes, sir. I'll tell Josh."

"Let's do this."

"Mr. President?"

"Sam?"

"Does this mean Josh and I can move back in together?" Sam asked.

"Who told you to separate in the first place?"

"Leo."

"Oh yeah, Leo," Jed replied. "And Josh's apartment got destroyed, so where's he been staying?"

"With Toby."

"With Toby?" Jed laughed. "That I'd like to see. Yeah, Josh can go home. And since we'll be getting into details during the meeting, if you two want to take off now, go on and get out of here."

Sam grinned. "Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you."

Sam almost bounced as they walked back to the Oval Office.

"Josh," the President said. "Step out here a minute, please."

Josh walked out to where Bartlet and Sam stood by Charlie's desk.

"I'm ordering you and Sam to go home," Jed said. "I don't want to see either of you back here until Monday morning. Is that understood?"

No, Josh didn't understand. "Home . . .?"

"Home!" said Sam in a loud whisper. "OUR home!"

"Are you serious?" He turned to the President. "Is he serious?"

Jed laughed. "He's serious. Go. Now. Before I change my mind."

*************************

"Can't you drive any faster?" asked Josh.

"You always complain that I drive too fast," Sam replied, "and now you want me to drive faster?"

"Turn left up here."

"What's up here?"

"Some bed and breakfast I've seen. We'll get a room."

"Josh! We're not gonna get a room!"

"Then pull over."

"I'm not gonna pull over," Sam laughed. "You think we can just crawl in the back seat and go at it like rabbits?"

"Sure, why not? We've done it before," Josh replied.

"No! We're civil human beings. We'll be home soon. If I can wait, you can wait."

"Yeah, but can you wait?"

Josh walked his fingers across his leg, over the console, across Sam's leg, and rested them on Sam's crotch. His fingers did a little dance to the song on the radio and within a minute, Sam's penis began to twitch. Sam stopped at a red light and shifted in his seat to adjust himself so Josh could get to him easier.

Josh splayed his fingers so his entire palm covered Sam's dick. He began to massage it and before the light turned green, Sam's penis strained against his trousers. Josh pulled the zipper down and slid his hand inside Sam's pants and felt the cool cotton of his underwear.

"I think you'd better wait until we get home, Josh," said Sam. "I can't keep my mind on my driving."

"What's your mind ON?" Josh asked.

"Fucking you. Being fucked by you. Our fucking each other."

Josh grinned. "Exactly where I want it to be."

He started to put his hand inside the opening of Sam's briefs. Sam clamped his hand onto Josh's wrist and stopped him.

"Josh, I'm serious. You're making me crazy here, and we're almost home. Just give it a rest."

Josh ignored him. "I wanna go down on you. I'm gonna bring it out so I can wrap my lips around that beautiful piece of meat and suck you off right here and . . ."

Sam pulled Josh's hand out of his pants and slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid rear-ending the car in front of them by inches.

"For godsakes, Josh, control yourself!"

Josh burst out laughing at Sam's annoyance. He didn't care. They were together again, they were going home, and they were going to make love. Again and again and again.

Sam drove two more blocks and found a parking space near their townhouse. He hopped out and ran around the front of the car to the sidewalk. But Josh didn't get out. Sam came back and opened the passenger side door.

"What's the hold-up? What's going on?" he asked.

Josh struggled to get his seatbelt unfastened. "I can't get this thing undone!" he said. "It's stuck or something! Help me!"

Now it was Sam's turn to laugh, and he did as he leaned across Josh and easily unsnapped the seatbelt and released Josh to freedom.

Sam had his keys in his hand and quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open. Josh was right behind him and pushed it closed with his foot. Sam hadn't left any lights on and the house was dark. Josh grabbed Sam by his shoulders, spun him around, and pushed him up again the door. He moved in for the kiss when Sam put his hand up between them and Josh's mouth met with Sam's palm.

"Stop right there!" Sam commanded.

Josh froze. "What the hell?"

"Not like this."

"What `not like this'? What are you talking about?"

"I changed my mind," said Sam.

Josh's left eye twitched. "What do you mean, you `changed your mind'? Just what did you change your mind about?"

"As much as I want you at this very moment, Josh, let's not race in here and tear our clothes off and just fuck on the floor and that be it," said Sam.

"Why not?"

Sam took Josh's hands in his. "Because I want to savor you, Oshie. I don't want us to fuck. I want us to make love. I want us to go slowly and touch each other, absorb each other, inhale and taste and consume each other. We've waited this long, can't we wait another fifteen minutes and do it right?"

Josh squeezed Sam's hands. "I wouldn't have it any other way, Angel."

"Why don't you take a shower down here in the guest room, then put something on, and come up in fifteen minutes, ok?"

"Ok," Josh said, a smile in his voice. "It's a date."

"Don't be late."

"You can count on it."

"You know I will."

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"One little kiss first?" Josh asked.

Sam played coy. "Just a little one."

Still holding Sam's hands, Josh leaned forward and kissed Sam on the cheek. Then he went into the guest room and closed the door.

Sam took a deep breath, surprised with himself that he was able to resist Josh, then he sprinted across the room, into the kitchen, and turned on the light. He opened the door to the Wine Pantry, skipped the steps altogether, and went directly to the bottle he knew he wanted. He chose a Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac French Bordeaux he'd been saving for a special occasion. Tonight was very special.

Sam bypassed the stone steps again and as he passed through the kitchen, grabbed the corkscrew and two wineglasses, turned off the light with his elbow, started through the living room in the dark, stopped long enough at the bookshelf to open the cedar box and get his wedding band and put it on, made his way to the stairs, went into their bedroom, closed the door, and turned on the light. He uncorked the wine so it could breathe, then set the bottle and glasses on the dresser. He stripped and headed for the bathroom.

After a hot shower, shampoo, and shave Sam brushed his teeth and went into the bedroom, still wet. He opened the drawer on the bedside table and took out a lighter. He lit candles set on each bedside table, the dresser, and the chest of drawers. He put a tube of lubricant on each table, turned down the sheets, fluffed the pillows, and looked around to see what else needed to be done.

Nothing.

Sam pulled on the pair of holey jeans he and Josh took turns wearing and a grey and burgundy striped rugby shirt. He ran his hand through his wet hair, turned out the light, and was just about to sit down for a minute before Josh came up when he heard a knock at the door.

He jumped. Although he knew Josh was coming upstairs, the knock on the door startled him. And odder still, he had butterflies in his stomach.

I'm nervous! he thought. I feel like I'm on a first date with a new boyfriend!

On his way to the door, Sam took a big swallow of wine from the bottle.

"Who is it?" he asked playfully.

"Josh."

"Josh who?"

"Your husband, Josh."

Sam smiled and opened the door. Josh, too, had dressed. He'd found some of Sam's clothes in the guest room where Sam had begun to leave them since Josh left. He had put on a pair of jeans and a light blue button-down Oxford cloth shirt. It was tucked into his jeans and open at the top.

"May I come in?" Josh asked.

Sam smiled. "Of course." He stepped back for Josh, and closed the door behind him.

Candlelight cast a warm glow in the room. Fragrances mixed and swirled and filled their nostrils. Shadows swayed on the walls and framed Sam and Josh in blacks and whites.

Josh reached from behind him and presented to Sam a long-stemmed red rose. "This is for you," he said. "There was a bunch in a vase . . . on the table."

Sam took it from him. "It's beautiful. Thank you. A dozen were delivered here this morning."

"From who?"

Sam smiled. "There was no card."

Josh offered just the slightest smile and winked at Sam.

"Be right back," Sam said.

He went into the bathroom and came out a minute later. He'd broken most of the stem off the rose and stuck it in a Dixie cup full of water. Sam raised it up for Josh to see, set it on the bedside table, and walked back over to Josh.

"May I kiss you?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded.

Then they were in each other's arms. Their lips came together gently, softly, and they kissed with sweetness as chaste and tender as 12-year-old boys discovering each other for the first time. They both smiled into the kiss.

"Your lips taste like sweet wine, Angel," said Josh.

"Do they?"

Josh put his hand on the side of Sam's face and kissed him again, this time with a growing hunger, the hunger he'd repressed when he couldn't touch the man he loved. Sam responded with the same urgency. Their lips parted and their tongues met and filled the other's mouth. Josh brought his other hand up and held Sam's head firmly as they kissed, determined not to let him get away again. Sam moaned as Josh's hands held him tight. He moaned as their lips and tongues made love. He moaned because he was overwhelmed by Josh, and it made him weak in the knees.

They had to stop to breathe, and when they did, Sam poured two glasses of wine.

"Where'd that come from?" Josh asked.

"Our collection." He handed a glass to Josh.

"Your collection. I don't know anything about wine except it comes in red, pink, and clear. And corks float."

Sam laughed. "White, not clear, silly boy. This is a red Mouton Rothschild and I've been saving it for something special."

"Am I something special?"

"You're beyond special, Josh," said Sam. "There IS no word to describe you. Here, taste this."

Sam filled his mouth with wine and kissed Josh . . . soul on soul of lover's lips. Wine flowed into Josh's mouth and they both laughed. A trickle of it ran down Josh's chin and Sam licked it up with his tongue.

"Grab that bottle, sugar, and follow me," Josh said.

Sam did, and the two men sat on the edge of their bed. Sam re-filled their glasses and set the wine bottle next to the rose. He touched his glass to Josh's for a toast. He wrapped his ring finger around Josh's ring finger so their wedding bands lay against each other. He faced Josh.

"T'was ever thus," he said quietly.

"T'was ever thus," said Josh.

They clinked their glasses and drank their wine, then without words, they both crawled to the middle of the bed. They balanced on their knees and faced each other. Josh put his hands on Sam's upper arms.

"I love you, Sam, I love you. Being separated was the worst experience in my life. I don't want to ever live without you. I commit myself again, to be your husband forever and ever."

Sam blinked back tears.

"I adore you, Josh, with all my heart. Our time apart felt like an eternity. All my joy left when you did and nothing else mattered but you. I commit myself, again, to be your husband forever and ever."

The candles seemed to burn brighter, the glow in the room was warmer, and Sam and Josh were more in love than even they thought possible.

Josh clutched Sam's rugby shirt, slowly pulled it off over his head, and tossed it onto the floor. He looked at Sam's torso. Broad shoulders, defined pecs, and a firm abdomen that was lean and ripped. Strong arms, cut biceps, and forearms that Josh dreamed about. Not much chest hair; but a little line of hair that started just below Sam's navel and disappeared into the waistband of his jeans.

Josh put his hands on Sam's neck and massaged it. Slowly and deeply, his fingers kneaded Sam's muscles until his head lolled to both sides, back, and forward. Josh slid his hands down to Sam's shoulders.

"Lay back, baby," he said.

Josh lowered Sam onto the bed and Sam let him. Josh instantly covered him with his own body and kissed him with a passion and fervor he could no longer contain. Sam wrapped his arms around Josh and pulled him closer. He rose to meet Josh as the two unleashed their desire with kisses.

Josh rose to his knees and Sam reached for him. Josh put his hand on Sam's crotch. He felt Sam's dick, hard and pressed against the front of his jeans, anxious to burst out. Josh unfastened the button with a quick flick of his finger and pulled down the zipper. He pulled the fly open and Sam's penis escaped.

Before Sam realized what happened, Josh lowered his head and took Sam's dick into his mouth. It stiffened and grew as Josh went down on him and sucked his bulging dick. He slid it in and out of his mouth, wet now, slick and slippery. Josh wrapped his palm around the base of Sam's penis as he used his tongue to tease the head of Sam's shaft. He licked the velvet-smooth tip and gently nibbled the rim. Sam's penis jerked and twitched with excitement. Josh ran his tongue along the underside of Sam's dick and sucked the little flag of skin under the head into his mouth and barely scraped it between his teeth.

Sam pushed his pelvis up toward Josh. "Oh, God! That hurts, Josh! That hurts! Do it some more! Do it harder!"

Josh stopped, rose to his knees, and looked down at Sam. Leave him wanting more, he thought. He'll get his fill soon enough.

Sam breathed heavily, eyes closed, a smile on his face. Josh smiled. He was so glad to be home.

Josh tucked his hands in the waistband of Sam's jeans and started to pull them down. Sam lifted his hips to make it easier. Josh took his time. He wanted Sam to experience every second of pleasure Josh could give him. He got Sam's jeans off and threw them on the floor with his shirt. Sam didn't have on any underwear or socks. He lay naked on the bed. Josh let his eyes slowly wander over Sam's nude body. Sam spread his legs a little.

Sam liked it when he was naked and Josh looked at him. Sometimes Josh watched him when he thought Sam didn't know it, but Sam DID know. It was those times Sam would take his penis in his own hand and masturbate in plain sight of Josh. He knew it was a terrific turn-on for Josh because minutes later, Josh would appear, himself naked, penis erect, and ready to fuck or be fucked. Sam would continue the ruse of being caught unaware would allow himself to be overpowered and taken by Josh, or he'd follow Josh's orders to assume the dominant role and take Josh.

Josh rolled off the bed and re-filled their wine glasses. He handed one to Sam and drank from his own. Sam propped up on his side and watched Josh as he stood by the bed.

Josh drained his glass and put it down. He untucked his shirt from his jeans as Sam watched. He started at the top, slowly unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it off, and let it drop to the floor. He unsnapped his jeans and took them off. They ended up in the same pile.

Sam reached out with his empty wine glass. Josh took it from him and set it on the table.

Then Josh crawled to the middle of the bed and he and Sam wrapped themselves around each other; legs wound around legs, arms crisscrossed arms to pull the other closer, faces buried into necks, chest against chest, stomach against stomach, penis against penis, man against man, lover against lover.

Their hands meandered over each other's body, slowly, caressing, a familiar touch, yet new at every stroke. Their whispers of loving endearments satiated days of unspoken words. Eyes gazed into eyes; neither wanted to look away, for fear the other would once again be gone. Lips pressed against lips, kisses sweeter than wine.

"You smell good," Sam whispered.

"You taste good," Josh replied.

"You feel good."

"You feel better."

"I want you inside me, Oshie. I want you to consume me."

"Anything for you, baby."

"Now. Please, now."

Sam and Josh untangled themselves from each other. Josh gathered pillows and brought them to the middle of the bed.

"Turn over, honey," he said.

Sam turned over onto his stomach. He brought his knees up so his head was on the bed and his buttocks were raised. Josh tucked pillows under his head and torso so he'd be more comfortable. He stretched over to the bedside table and picked up the tube of lubricant.

Josh ran his hand up and down Sam's back. "You comfortable, sweetheart?" Josh asked.

"Yeah, I'm great."

And hung like a racehorse, Josh thought.

Josh got on his knees behind Sam then put his hands between Sam's legs and spread them apart. He squirted a big blob of lubricant into one hand, then rubbed his palms together to warm it. He scooped up a dollop of the lubricant with three fingers and gently inserted them in Sam's anus. At Josh's touch, Sam pushed himself toward his lover, ready to take him inside.

Josh slathered the rest of the lubricant on his own penis and rose up close to Sam. He put one hand on Sam's waist, and with the other, he guided his dick into Sam, slowly until the head was in, and then with one thrust, his entire penis was inside Sam.

Josh put his other hand on Sam's waist so he had a good grip on him, and started to rock back and forth, his pelvis slamming against Sam's hips as his dick slid in and out of Sam's ass.

Sam clutched a pillow and released an indescribable sound into it ~~ a raw, primitive outcry that left no doubt he was being fucked . . . in a good way.

Josh was about to shoot his wad, but he didn't want to yet. He knew he had to take his mind off what he was doing or he would cum for sure. His thoughts turned to Amy and he was able to keep going.

Finally, he pulled out and pulled Sam out of position. "Turn over on your back, Angel," he said. "I wanna look at you."

Josh re-arranged the pillows under Sam so his hips were elevated. He raised Sam's legs up and rested his knees on his own shoulders, one on either side of Josh's head, so Sam's legs hung down Josh's back. Josh turned to the left and kissed the inside of Sam's thigh, then turned to the right and kissed the inside of his other thigh.

Josh looked at Sam's face. It glowed in the candlelight.

Sam smiled. "I love you," he said.

"I love you too, Sam."

"Show me."

Josh squirted more lubricant into his hands and smeared it on his penis He moved forward and pushed Sam's legs back. When he did, his anus was fully exposed and stretched opened. Josh's dick easily slid in. He held onto the fronts of Sam's legs as he pumped him.

"Harder, Josh. Fuck me harder," Sam pleaded.

Josh fucked Sam harder.

"Harder! Come inside me more!"

"There's no more of me! I'm all inside you!" Josh replied.

"Come, Josh! Do it! Fuck me harder! Do it! Now! Do it now!"

Josh pushed his way into Sam as deeply as he could. When he thought he would tear Sam apart and go through to the other side, Josh felt himself explode with the fury of a man undone, releasing the pent-up passion he'd held deep and only now, could liberate.

When there was no more, Josh slid Sam's legs off his shoulders and onto the bed. He put his hands on the insides of Sam's thighs and began to rub them.

"Josh."

Sam reached out and joined hands with Josh, who stopped massaging Sam's legs and pulled him up. In one fluid move, Sam put one arm behind Josh's back, one arm under his legs, and laid him back on the bed.

Sam stretched over Josh. He plucked the rose from the Dixie cup and could barely reach the wine bottle with the tips of his fingers. He rolled it toward him, caught it by the neck, and settled back in between Josh's legs. He grinned at Josh.

"I'm gonna lick you up like a fine wine," he said.

With that, Sam held the bottle over Josh and dribbled the Mouton Rothschild over his chest and stomach. Josh laughed. Sam propped the bottle against the headboard, where it was held upright by pillows.

Sam lowered himself close to Josh and began to lap up the wine. His tongue worked quickly to catch the purple threads that streamed down Josh's side before they hit the sheets. Josh put his hand on Sam's head as it bobbed up and down and back and forth over him. Sam's lip found a treasure of wine that had puddled in Josh's belly button and sucked it out, which elicited another laugh from Josh.

Sam twirled the flower stem between his fingers and held it to his nose, then to Josh's. Lightly, he brushed the delicate rose petals over Josh's face and neck. Josh shivered.

"Does that tickle?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, but I like it. Don't stop," replied Josh.

"Close your eyes." Sam touched the tips of Josh's eyelids with the velvet-smooth petals. She swirled them over his cheeks and across his forehead, behind his ears and under his chin. He dusted his lips with the rose then kissed Josh's lips with HIS lips. The he laid the flower on the pillow next to Josh.

Sam hovered over Josh on all fours. He dipped his head down and took Josh's nipple between his lips and started to suck. He pinched Josh's other nipple hard with his finger and thumb, and didn't let go when he felt Josh jerk. He knew that's the way Josh liked it, and he wasn't about to disappoint him.

Sam ran his tongue around the areola and flicked at Josh's protruding nub before he tugged it between his teeth. He nibbled at it tenderly at first, licking and sucking and purring like a kitten, then bit down sharply.

"Ow!" Josh yelped and tried to push himself into the bed.

Sam raised his head. "Oh baby, was that too hard?"

"Hurt like a muther," Josh moaned. "Do it again."

"Oh, I'll do it again," Sam growled. "I'm gonna fuck your ass and make you cry like a little girl."

Josh wrapped his arms around Sam's neck. "What happened to `I want to savor you, Oshie. I don't want us to fuck. I want us to make love."?

"We did that already. Now I'm gonna fuck that sweet little ass of yours until you . . ."

"Cry like a girl," Josh finished for him. "I know, I know. So do it already."

Sam scooped Josh up, turned him around, and shoved him against the headboard. He put Josh's hands top of the headboard and his own hands on top of Josh's. With his knee, he roughly spread Josh's legs apart and got on his knees between Josh's legs. He glanced at the tube of lubricant and decided against it. In the heat of impending ecstasy, Josh relished the fantasy of being man-handled and Sam enjoyed his role as the tough guy.

He rubbed the head of his dick at Josh's anus; Josh pushed toward him. Sam slid his cock in just a little and pulled it out, then he did it again.

"Do it, Sam! Fuck me!"

Sam teased him a minute more until he thought he would cum, then he rammed his dick into Josh. Sam was big and hard and Josh yelled out in pain and pleasure. Josh loosened his muscles so he could take more, and when he did, Sam pushed the rest of his cock inside. He tightened his hands around Josh's, as he gripped the top of the headboard until his knuckles were white.

Sam pounded Josh until he felt himself about to cum, then he pulled out. His cock was throbbing, ready to burst with his cream.

"Turn around, Osh," he said. "Come down here."

Josh turned, slid down on the bed, and half-laid, half-propped against pillows. Sam straddled his chest and put one hand behind Josh's head. With his other hand, he ran the head of his dick across Josh's lips. Pre-cum seeped out and Josh's tongue darted out to lick it into his mouth.

"Open, sweetie," said Sam.

Josh opened his mouth and Sam slid his cock in. It went deep into Josh's throat and for a moment, he choked, then got used to his mouth being full and was ok. When Sam knew Josh had adjusted to him, he reached over and grabbed the wine bottle. His dick didn't miss a beat as it pumped in and out of Josh. When it was out of Josh's mouth, Sam drenched his cock with wine and slid it back in. Josh looked up at Sam and his eyes danced. Sam smiled at him, squeezed his eyes shut, and with a final thrust and a shudder that rocked them both, he came inside Josh's mouth with an exuberance matched only by the euphoria Josh felt as he wrapped his arms around Sam's neck and held on for the ride.

Sam gradually slowed and stopped and pulled out of Josh's mouth. He plopped down on the bed next to Josh, as they both caught their breath. Josh had swallowed most of Sam's cum, but still, it overflowed from his lips and ran down his chin. Josh used his fore and middle fingers and wiped the white cream from his face. He rolled over on his side and as he moved his hand toward Sam, Sam parted his lips. Josh put his two fingers all the way inside Sam's mouth and Sam closed his lips around them. Gently, he suckled his own cum off Josh's fingers as his chest heaved up and down.

"You want a drink?" Josh asked.

Sam nodded.

Josh found the nearly empty wine bottle. He put one hand behind Sam's head and raised it. He pulled his fingers out of Sam's mouth and held the wine bottle to his lips, tilted it, and let Sam drink from it. Then Josh drank what was left and took Sam's hand in his.

"Our candles are about burned out," said Josh. "I think we've been at this for a while. Not that I'm complaining . . ."

"Absence lessens half-hearted passions and increases great ones," Sam replied, "as the wind puts out candles and yet stirs up the fire."

"That's nice. Did you make it up?"

"No."

"Well, my fire was definitely stirred," replied Josh.

The two held hands in the dark silence for a few minutes. For this time, a simple touch was enough.

Then Sam continued to orchestrate their evening of love-making.

"Josh," he said, "why don't you start the shower while I change these sheets. We're really sticky and grody and these sheets are a mess. I need to get them soaking in some cold water."

Josh smiled. He was home. "Sure. Is there a time limit like before?"

Sam gave Josh a gentle shove off the bed and started stripping the sheets off. "I'll be there in a minute. Brush and don't forget to floss!"

Josh shook his head and wandered into the bathroom while Sam busied himself taking pillowcases off pillows.

Josh came out of the bathroom first, showered, brushed, and flossed. He found fresh sheets and a comforter turned down on the bed, and a new long-stemmed red rose lying across the pillow. He picked it up and inhaled its fragrance just as Sam came out of the bathroom. Sam shook his head rapidly back and forth and water sprayed in an arc around him.

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Come over here."

Josh and Sam met at the foot of the bed.

"What have you got planned for the rest of our date?" Josh asked.

"I thought maybe we'd climb under those clean sheets and snuggle up and go to sleep and hold each other all night long. Just to have your arms around me again, in our own bed . . . I can't imagine anything better," replied Sam.

"Before we do that, will you indulge me with one dance? My arms will be around you. I'm just not quite ready for tonight to end with sleep yet."

Sam nodded. "Anything for you, Osh."

Josh took Sam in his arms, held him close, and began to softly sing. "While I give to you, and you give to me, true love, true love." Sam put his head on Josh's shoulder, closed his eyes, and they slowly swayed. "So on and on, it will always be, true love, true love." Josh rested his cheek against Sam's head. "For you and I have a guardian angel, on high, with nothing to do. But to give to you, and to give to me, love forever true."

When the song was over, Josh and Sam kept moving. After a few minutes Josh whispered in Sam's ear. "Ready for sleep?"

Sam nodded.

Josh put one arm behind Sam's back and the other under his knees and scooped him up. He carried him to the bed and lay him down with his head on a pillow. Then he picked up the rose and handed it to him. Sam had put the small, wilting rose back in the Dixie cup.

"Thank you for tonight, Angel," said Josh. "Making love was so much nicer than . . . you know . . . the other."

"Would you like to stay the night?" Sam asked.

"Thought you'd never ask." Josh grinned. "Scoot over to the middle."

Sam did, and Josh joined him there. Then as they did every night ~~ except when they're ordered not to by the White House ~~ Josh and Sam wrapped themselves around each other, and with a few minor shifts and adjustments of their bodies, they filled in the open nooks and crannies until they fit together like perfect puzzle pieces.

"Good-night, Sam. I love you."

They shared a tender kiss.

"So, fall asleep love, loved by me . . . for I know love, I am loved by thee. Good-night, Josh. I love you."

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