Title: Begging The Sun
Rating: NC17 overall (I'll rate each part individually as I post them)
Pairings: Sam/Josh is the main pairing but there are subplots of Jed/Leo, Jed/Abbey and CJ/Toby (also ever so slightly Zoey/Charlie)
Summary: When the USA enters World War II, a young English lawyer finds love in the arms of a fighter pilot.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. Please don't sue me.
WARNING: This story contains the death of a minor character (I didn't feel I could get away with setting a story in the middle of a huge war and not have anyone to die). There's also mentions of the death of another minor character before this story starts, but that death is cannon. Anyway, if you want to avoid any nasty surprises, you can find out who dies by going to www.geocites.com/hannahfmuk/BTS/warnings.html
Notes: Thanks go to Carmen, my shiny new beta, for all her help - that woman can spot a typo at a thousand paces! Thanks also go to Jesse for her help and encouragement, and to Eleanor who was insane enough to become my flatmate while I was writing this, and since then has endured no end of my rambling soliloquies about this story and the writing thereof.
The title comes from a piece of dialogue between Leo and Jordan in the Season 4 episode 'Process Stories'. The full quote is, "Well, let me tell you something about process, Dr. Kendall, and I'll do so while tuning this radio to WNKW, "The Music Of Your Life..." and begging the sun for one more moment of moonlight." I think it's the most fantastically romantic thing I've ever heard, and made me fall more than a little bit in love with Leo.
Being an AU fic, I did a certain amount of research before writing the story. Once I'm back home I'll post a bibliography on my website for anyone who wants to read some more about the home front and/or the US forces in Britian.
I wrote this for National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) - it's a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. You can plan as much as you want before hand, but the actual writing has to take place during that month. It was a lot of fun to do and I hope the result will be fun to read. The slash takes a few chapters to appear - I hope you'll stick with it!
Feedback would be gratefully received at any point. Thanks.
Begging the Sun by Hannah
Early one July morning, the residents of the East Anglian village of Norham were awakened by the rumbling of heavy trucks passing along the High Street. A pothole in the road right outside Sam Seaborn's house caused one of the trucks to make a loud scraping sound and, giving up on the hope of getting back to sleep any time soon, the young lawyer dragged himself out of bed. Although summer, the cloudless night had cooled the air, so he wrapped his blankets around him before he crept over to the window to peer down at the traffic below. The arrival of US troops in the area had been the main topic of conversation amongst his friends and neighbours for the past few months, so perhaps the sight of the convoy shouldn't have come as such a shock to Sam, but suddenly he felt as though the war had been brought that much closer to home.
Having taken down the blackout curtains, Sam pulled a chair up to the window and as the sun began to creep over the horizon to spread a pale peach hue across the sky, he could make out the figures of the men riding in the jeeps, some of whom were lifting up the tarpaulin coverings to peer out at their new home. One vehicle, which had come to a temporary halt in the middle of the road, had its covering completely removed and Sam took a closer look. Two of its occupants sat apparently immersed in a world of their own - a bearded man in his early forties didn't appear particularly impressed with his surroundings, while a man who looked barely old enough to be in the army was staring around him, eyes wide and with a look of open curiosity on his dark face.
Two other men were in the jeep with them. Looking to be only a few years older than Sam, they were sitting close to each other, engrossed in a discussion. One of them lifted his head and grinned triumphantly, and Sam couldn't help smiling at the stranger's obvious pleasure at seemingly getting one over on his now scowling companion. The early morning light caught on the soldier's curly auburn hair, endowing him with an almost ethereal glow. At the sight, Sam's breath caught, and he felt a strange feeling in his stomach - the same kind of feeling he had experienced during his final exams at university just a couple of months previously, or before his first day working at his father's law firm. But those were life-changing events. Why was he feeling it now?
As the truck disappeared around the corner and out of sight, Sam stepped back from the window and pulled on a thick jumper and his shoes, before heading outside to the small garden and the even smaller chicken coop. By the time he had scattered their food and whispered a few words of encouragement about their egg-laying skills before expanding on his theme with a few choice statistics regarding the negative correlation between the number of eggs produced in one night and the likelihood of his father yelling at him the next day, the sky was a bright blue colour, broken only by small wisps of clouds drifting aimlessly in the distance.
Sam headed back into the kitchen where he found his father boiling up some water for his morning cup of tea.
"Bit early for you, isn't it?" his father muttered, without looking up from the book in his hands. "Don't tell me - those bloody Yanks woke you up too, eh?"
"I..." began Sam, but it was a wasted effort.
"Bloody inconsiderate of them if you ask me," continued Clive Seaborn, as though his son hadn't tried to reply. "Wait three years to enter the war then can't wait a few more hours until we're all awake anyway. Oh no, just come trundling in whenever they feel like it. Never mind we've got to get on with real life while they go swaning around in their swanky uniforms and fancy cars. No petrol rationing for them, eh?"
"I'm going to get dressed," mumbled Sam, not wanting to have this conversation now - or at any other time, for that matter. But that was surely too much to hope for. It would be fair to say that his father wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect of members of the United States Army Air Corps coming to their village, and while Sam disagreed with his father's sentiments, he had long since come to realise that it wasn't worth his time or effort trying to persuade his father to change his mind.
On the other side of the village, another family was sitting down to breakfast.
"Did you hear them, did you hear them?" called Zoey as she ran down the stairs.
"Them who?" Her father grinned. "The crew of the Flying Dutchman? The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future?"
"Daaaad." Zoey took her seat at the table, clearly annoyed at having her enthusiasm quashed so abruptly.
"Don't tease her, Jed. It's too early in the morning for that." This light-hearted reprimand came from Abbey Bartlet where she was standing by the stove, scraping traces of butter across freshly toasted bread. "And I think you'll find our sweet and innocent child was referring to the dashing young men of the United States Army."
She watched with amusement as Jed pulled his glasses off and focused his gaze on their youngest daughter. "What are you doing thinking about boys?" he growled. "You should be worrying about school and your dolls and school a little bit more."
"I'm seventeen, Dad," protested Zoey.
"Exactly. And that's far too young to have your mind filled with thoughts of boys and men and soldiers and..."
"Well, if she can't think about them," interrupted Abbey with a grin, "I suppose I'll have to do her share of thinking. And looking. And how about I take her share of dating too?"
"What? I'm not man enough for you?" Jed shot back.
"Well now that you come to mention it, dear, maybe I do feel like looking elsewhere. I mean, after that little incident last night..."
"Aaargh!" Zoey jumped up, hands clamped firmly over her ears. "There are some things I really don't need to know," she stated firmly and ran out of the room.
Teenage girls are so easily embarrassed, reflected Abbey, as she walked over to the table and sat down next to her husband. "When are you going to see him?" she asked softly.
"Not yet," came the curt reply. "Maybe once he's been here a while. But who says I have to see him at all? Just because we'll be living near each other doesn't mean we have to spend any time with each other. He's here to fight a war. I'm here..." Jed's voice trailed off and Abbey saw a familiar look of self-disgust cross his face.
"You're here doing a wonderful job making sure that hundreds of children, including a large number of homesick evacuees, learn everything they need in order to make it through life intact," she said firmly. "Your work is incredibly important and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing."
"I know," sighed Jed. "But the last time I saw him, we were fighting side by side. Now he's in command of an air base and I'm in command of a school. It's a whole different situation - the playing field isn't even now."
"Do you really think he'll care about that?" Abbey's voice became sharper, as she tried to talk some sense into her husband. "You've spent the past twenty four years speaking nothing but good about Leo McGarry and now the moment you have the opportunity to see him again, you're suddenly making him out to be some kind of cold-hearted ogre."
"You have no idea what the two of us went through together," snapped Jed. "You can't possibly begin to understand how huge the differences are between what I do here and now with you and what I did there and then with him."
"Of course I have no idea. You've never told me!"
"That's because I can't! As I've told you on countless occasions, what we did then is all classified, even now, by both our governments! You just... I just need you to trust me on this."
After taking a deep breath to calm herself, Abbey took her husband's hand in her own and spoke. "I do trust you, and you know it. Now, I'm not going to push you into it, but I think it would do you a world of good to see Leo again."
Jed nodded slowly.
"And if nothing else," continued Abbey, "you'd get the chance to ask him to warn his men to keep away from Zoey."
"Well, I suppose that's easier than building a dungeon," muttered Jed as he turned his attention back to his now-cold breakfast.
CJ glanced up at the clock on the back wall of the classroom behind the rows of pupils, who were all bent over their books ostensibly reading 'Macbeth' but in reality, she suspected, scribbling notes to each other about the newly-arrived Americans. With a sigh, she noted that it was only thirty seconds later than it had been the last time she checked, and switched the focus of her gaze to the view outside the window.
A light breeze was rustling the leaves of the silver birch trees that provided a small patch of shade for the playground. Beyond those were the fields that surrounded the village and beyond those... CJ sighed again, louder this time, causing a number of her pupils to glance up worriedly. She opened her mouth to fob them off with a quickly-thought-of explanation but was happily saved from any awkwardness by the end of class bell being sounded in the corridor.
As the children hurried outside for their morning break, CJ found her thoughts drifting again. She had been sleeping badly for so long now, it amazed her she hadn't fallen asleep at her desk at some point, but last night had been the worst since... But she refused to let that thought go any further. The memory could only bring her more pain.
Suddenly, a hand on her shoulder made her jump.
"Mrs. Landingham. I'm sorry, I didn't hear you come in."
"You did seem a little preoccupied, dear." The school secretary paused, then pulled up a chair to sit next to CJ. "I thought you might not want to be alone today," she continued.
"Oh." Unsure of what response was expected of her, CJ decided to simply wait the older woman out.
"Seeing all those soldiers - pilots, I suppose, if we're being exact - can't have been easy for you, Mrs. Donovan." Mrs. Landingham paused before adding, "It wasn't for me."
CJ was immediately filled with a sense of remorse at her own self-centred attitude. "I'm so sorry, I didn't think," she apologised. "Are you...? That is, I mean, how are you...?" At a loss for words, she stopped. It may have been a year and a half since the plane her husband had been piloting had been shot down over London during the Battle of Britain, but CJ had yet to find the words to express her own grief. Asking the mother of two dead soldiers how she was feeling was simply too difficult for her to even know where to begin.
"I miss my boys." It was such a simple statement but the pain behind it was clear. In it, CJ heard an echo of her own emotions and she began to cry, collapsing into the comforting embrace of her companion, whose own cheeks were also wet with tears.
US Army Lieutenants Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler stood by the fence at the far end of their new base, gazing out at the landscape in front of them. Josh had no idea how long the other man had been standing there, but in the twenty minutes that he had been standing there next to him, not a word had been spoken.
Eventually Toby's voice broke the uncomfortable silence between them. "Well."
"I'm not arguing with you here, Toby. It's flat, okay? Big open sky. We can see for miles. What's your point?"
Toby shrugged. "It's flat. That's all."
They lapsed back into silence, relaxing in the relative peace surrounding them. From the distance, at the main part of the base, came the noise of the building work that was still being done..
"You feel like exploring the village?" asked Josh. "John and I are heading down there in a while. Thought you might want to join us."
"John? Lieutenant Hoynes, you mean?"
"You guys know each other already or something?"
"We were at college together," confirmed Josh. "Kinda lost touch a bit afterwards, but we met up again after my basic training. It's good to have a friendly face around, you know?"
When Toby failed to respond, Josh turned to face him. "You don't know anyone here?" he asked, his curiosity clear. "But you're career military. You must know a few of these guys at least a little."
Toby shook his head. "I keep myself to myself," he replied. "It works out best that way."
The click of Toby's tongue against the roof of his mouth was the first sign Josh could pick up on that indicated Toby was growing annoyed with him. "Because that way I don't have to get pissed off with anyone."
"Ahkay," Josh backed away. "I can take a hint."
Well, that was a growl, decided Josh. All the same, he found himself unable to resist the temptation to make one final gesture of friendship. "But if you change your mind, come find me okay? We don't even have to talk if you don't want. Just... you know, just not be alone for a while," he finished quietly.
"Yeah." Toby's voice was softer now.
"Okay." Josh turned to leave but before he could get far, a shout from Toby pulled him back.
"Hey, Lyman. You're Jewish too, right?"
"I am," he replied.
"That why you signed up for this?"
"It is." Josh hoped Toby could hear the determination in his voice and understand how serious he was about this. He'd already been mocked on more than one occasion by people who saw his eagerness to go to war as some kind of idiotic vendetta.
Josh looked at Toby, surprised by the ferocity of that one word.
"If I hadn't already been in the forces, I'd have done the same," the older man explained, before turning his back on Josh in a clear signal that the conversation was over.
At the same time as Josh and Toby were getting to know each other, their Commanding Officer, Colonel Leo McGarry, was seeking a moment's refuge in his makeshift office. In his hand was the letter he had received some weeks ago from his former comrade, Jed Bartlet.
They had kept in touch after working together on an undercover operation towards the end of the Great War, although neither had ever imagined they would have the chance to meet up again as each had returned to his own country after the war. When he had learned that his unit was to be posted to East Anglia, Leo had recognised the village name and immediately contacted his old friend. The response had been unaccustomedly guarded. As chairman of the parish council, the letter had informed him, Jed would be expected to attend a meet and greet-style welcome party for the newcomers. Perhaps it would be best if they refrained from further contact until such a time.
Jed's sudden use of such formal language had thrown Leo off guard. Perhaps their reunion would be less fond than he had hoped. The thought had stayed with him, keeping him awake in the small hours and distracting him from many of his more pressing duties. Now he found his hand hovering over his telephone, as he wondered whether to ignore his friend's entreaty and contact him in advance of the party, which had been tentatively scheduled to take place in two weeks' time.
"Dammit," he muttered, unsure whether his irritation was directed toward himself or Jed. He thrust his hand forward and pushed the telephone off his desk. It clattered onto the floor and Leo paused, waiting to see if the noise would bring anyone running, but when no one appeared, he put his head in his hands and sighed. This tour of duty was going to be harder than he expected.
A couple of hours later, Josh and Hoynes were driving through Norham on their way back to the base.
"This was a way better idea," shouted Hoynes over the noise of the wind as it blew through the open windows. "How the hell did you get permission to borrow one of the jeeps though?"
Josh grinned. "The colonel's an old friend of my father, remember? Thought I might as well see what kind of favours I can pull in while the going's good, you know? And after seeing on the map how miniscule this village is, I figured we'd be better off able to explore a bigger area."
"I like your thinking," replied Hoynes with a smile.
"Thought you might." Josh turned and winked at his friend, whose smile instantly vanished.
"You're not hoping... You don't expect me to... Josh, you know there's things you might like doing that most guys don't even want to imagine..."
"Ah, relax would you?" called Josh. "Don't worry - your virtue's safe with me. Anyway, you're not exactly my ty-"
"I'm serious, okay?" Hoynes' response was brusque. "I don't want to hear about it. At all. I've known you for years, and believe me when I tell you I'm more accepting than most of the guys here are ever likely to be. So you need to keep your odd little tendencies under control."
Josh lapsed into silence, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken. Having been roommates with Hoynes at college, he had found it impossible to hide certain preferences of his from his friend, but he was stung by the sudden hint of disgust that had crept into his tone. He took his eyes off the road for a second, hoping to read the expression on his companion's face, but Hoynes was staring out of the side window, his shoulders set and jaw tense.
Eventually Hoynes spoke again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to sound like that." He paused for a moment, and Josh glanced round in time to catch his friend's glance. "But you're in the army now," Hoynes continued, "and that's a whole different environment than you're used to. We've got to spend all day every day with these guys and if they find out about you, they could get you into all kinds of trouble. So just... lay low would you?"
With a nod, Josh accepted the truth of what he had just heard. He was on the point of saying something to further reassure Hoynes, when his attention was distracted by the sight of a young man wandering slowly along the pavement towards the jeep. Josh felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle - with a lean body and dark hair falling down almost low enough to cover his bright blue eyes, this man was stunning. Without thinking about it, Josh let out a low whistle under his breath.
"What did I just tell you?" muttered Hoynes, but Josh just shrugged.
"For someone that cute, I'd break anyone's rules," he stated firmly, turning round to catch a final glimpse of the vision. A loud shout, and the jerk of the steering wheel being pulled through his fingers brought his attention back to the moment.
"Are you trying to kill us?" his friend yelled, and Josh realised that he had been aiming the jeep straight at a brick wall.
He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry about that," he said, well aware that he didn't sound even remotely apologetic.
"I ought to be madder at you than this," came the reply. "But I have to admit, a guy like that... even I'd look twice."
After a moment of stunned silence, Josh burst into laughter.
"Don't you dare quote me on that," said Hoynes worriedly.
"Wouldn't dream of it, sweetheart," teased Josh with an over the top wink, before he forced his attention to the task of getting them, and the vehicle, back to base before dinner.
The streets were dark as Sam slowly cycled home from the village hall. The two hours of Home Guard training he had just undergone had been exhausting - he may have been a great deal younger than most of the others there, but he was used to spending his days behind a desk and his evenings curled up with a good book. Learning how to handle the 0.300 rifles newly provided by the USA was more physically demanding than he had expected, and given that troops were now occupying the nearby air base, he couldn't help but feel that if any Germans were to appear in the area the American soldiers, being fully-trained and well-equipped, would be much better candidates for the job of defending the village and its surroundings.
As his journey continued, Sam squinted in the hopes of making out the vague outline of the road. Any moment now he would reach the sharp corner where the main road veered to the right, then a few seconds later to the left, neatly cutting round the edge of the cemetery where its border met one of the smaller farms. Sam may have lived in Norham his whole life but in the complete darkness that resulted from the combination of blackout regulation and a cloudy night sky, he found it incredibly difficult to stick to the road and had been known to steer into hedges on more than one occasion.
He could vaguely make out the unusual sound of a voice singing up ahead, and moved out towards the centre of the road, hoping to avoid running over the pedestrian. Sam didn't recognise the voice and tilted his head, hoping to find an angle which would allow his good ear to catch enough sound to tell whether the person approaching him was English or American, or at least make out what they were singing.
Sam was so focused on the voice that he became oblivious to the rest of his surroundings. Suddenly his reverie was broken when, to his horror, he felt a pair of strong arms wrap around him and pull him off his bike, towards the pavement. A fraction of a second later came the sound of squealing brakes and crunching metal, as a speeding jeep he had failed to hear ground to a halt, crushing Sam's bike in the process.
"Are you crazy or what?" an American-accented voice yelled in his ear. "How did you not hear that coming at you?"
Sam became aware that he was still wrapped in a stranger's arms, and that the reason he wasn't in pain was that he hadn't landed on gravel but rather on someone's body. Instinctively he tried to pull away and sit up, but a wave of dizziness forced him to lower his head back down onto his rescuer's chest.
"Sorry," he muttered, feeling himself drift off.
"Hey, hey!" A hand patted at his cheeks. "Stay with me, here! You gotta not fall asleep, okay?"
"Mmm." Sam was so comfortable where he was, safe in a warm embrace. He snuggled into the heat of his companion, who began to shout again.
"No, no, no. Wake up" Anxious hands patted down Sam's back and arms, as though checking that he was in one piece.
Sam heard footsteps approaching.
"Is he okay?" a second voice asked.
"No you dumb idiot, he's not okay. I think he banged his head when I grabbed him. And where the hell do you get off driving around like some kind of maniac, Hoynes? You could've killed him."
"I didn't see him, Josh. It's pitch black out here."
"That's why you shouldn't be driving so fast!"
The footsteps stopped for a moment and then Sam heard them begin again, growing fainter each time.
"I'm going back to base," yelled the second man. "You want a lift?"
"Do I want...?" spluttered the man on the pavement, who Sam now had a name for. "No I don't want a lift, Hoynes, you jackass. I want to get this guy home."
At that moment the clouds passed and moonlight fell onto the scene. With a gasp, the two Americans realised that the man in Josh's arms was the one they had admired on their first day in the area.
"Well, of course you want to get him home," came a mocking voice over the noise of an engine being revved. "I guess I'll see you in the morning then."
The jeep drove off and Sam struggled to sit up.
"Wha..." he mumbled, trying to work out what was going on.
"It's okay. You're okay," came the reply, spoken softly by a mouth so close to his ear that he could feel the puffs of warm air brush against his skin. "There was a jeep heading straight for you so I pulled you down. You're okay." There was a pause, then the voice added, "Your bike, not so much though."
Sam slowly turned around to face the man who had saved him, and against whose chest he was still leaning. "It's you," he cried softly, the words forming before he had time to think.
"Have we met?" asked the American, clearly confused.
"No. I mean... not really. No." Sam was really embarrassed now, but the friendly smile being aimed in his direction gave him enough encouragement that he felt able to try explaining himself. "But I saw you. When you first arrived - in the middle of the night."
Josh nodded his encouragement, and Sam felt his arms wrap tighter around him. Unsure what was going on, but liking the way he felt, he continued. "Your truck drove in front of my house and I was looking out the window. You were in the middle of a conversation with someone, and for a moment you just looked so happy. I remember that."
The two men sat together for a moment. Sam quickly began to feel as though he should stand up and leave, or apologise for the oddness of what he had just said but his companion showed no signs of being uncomfortable, so he stayed still and enjoyed the moment of unaccustomed closeness.
Eventually the silence was broken. "I'm Josh Lyman," said the soldier as he stood, holding out his hand.
"Sam Seaborn." Sam reached out and pulled himself up, using Josh's hand for leverage. The contact was brief but the young man shivered at the sensation.
"You cold?" asked Josh.
"No. I just..." Sam's voice trailed off. He didn't understand what was happening to him, why he was feeling this way, or even what it was he was feeling. There was no way he would be able to find the words to explain it to a complete stranger, even if the stranger had just saved his life. "Yes," he amended. "I am cold."
"Jeez, I'm sorry. I didn't think. Here..." He shrugged off his jacket and wrapped it around Sam's trembling shoulders, then stepped into the road to pull the mangled remains of Sam's bike out of the way of any more traffic.
Sam pulled the thick coat around himself as he began to shake in the chill of the late evening air and delayed shock. "Thanks," he said through chattering teeth.
Instantly, Josh's arms were back around him. "Come on, let's get you home. I'll walk you. Do you live far?"
Keeping his right arm around Sam's waist, Josh slung his rucksack over his left shoulder and began to walk slowly in the direction Sam gestured.
"I'm real sorry about what happened there," he said. "The guy who was driving - John's his name, by the way - he didn't mean to run over you, I'm sure. He's just got a habit of hurting people without realising it," he added with a trace of bitterness creeping into his voice.
Sam nodded wearily and leaned closer to Josh. The adrenaline that had been shooting through his bloodstream as a result of the shock had long since left, and now he found himself too tired for conversation.
The remainder of the walk passed by in silence and a few minutes later, Sam recognised the outline of his house.
"We're here," he said, stepping away from Josh. "Thanks for your help."
"Ah, don't worry about it," came the reply. "It was good to meet you, Sam."
To his immense embarrassment, Sam felt a blush creeping across his cheeks at the sight of Josh tilting his head to one side and smiling broadly. His cheeks grew even hotter as he felt Josh reach for his hand.
"Here, you should have this," murmured Josh.
Sam felt something hard being pressed into his palm.
"Chocolate," explained the soldier. "You ought to get some sugar in you after the shock you just had."
His heart pounding in his ribcage , Sam just nodded. "Thanks," he whispered.
Josh brushed his hand down Sam's arm then, with a wave, turned to leave. Sam watched him go until his outline was no longer visible in the darkness then let himself into the house, aware that although tired, he would be awake for some hours yet; the memories of his encounter with Josh playing through his mind.
Several weeks had passed since Josh's first meeting with Sam but barely an hour had gone by without the pilot's thoughts replaying the incident in his mind, lingering over the amazing feeling of completeness that had come as he lay on the ground with Sam in his arms. Since that night, Josh had been busy on the base; the building work had been completed ahead of schedule - just a day before the first of their aeroplanes had arrived - but finally he had an evening to himself. Well, nearly himself - Hoynes had decided to accompany Josh on his trip into the village in search of a good drink and a good... Unsurprisingly, Josh hadn't been allowed to finish that sentence, but it had only been meant in jest. He wasn't out for a quick fling, but he knew that to attempt a relationship of the type he wanted under these circumstances would be foolish at best and, at worst, could result in his instant dismissal from service and a one-way ticket back to the States.
"Is this the one?" Hoynes asked, pushing open the door to The Crown.
"The one what?" Still caught up in thoughts of Sam, Josh had no idea what his friend was talking about.
"The pub whose owner pulled the stick out of his ass long enough to serve us, that's what," snapped Hoynes, clearly eager to stop talking and start drinking.
With a worried glance at his friend, Josh nodded and followed Hoynes into the pub. An old building, the drinking area was divided in two by a row of beams above a low wall, along which a row of clay beer mugs were sat as decoration. From his quick assessment of the clientele Josh could see why this pub had been more willing than most to accept Americans - the split room allowed for the different nationalities to keep themselves to themselves, with the visitors only needing to cross into the other half to buy their drinks.
In an ideal world, thought Josh, the division wouldn't be necessary, but it had transpired that many of the older residents of the area resented the presence of the American pilots and took great delight in launching into drunken tirades against their late entrance into the war, their 'sloppy' saluting and their casual attitude to handing out gum and chocolate at every opportunity, in what was taken by many as excessive bragging about their country's wealth in a land where such luxuries had been scarce for so many years.
"I'll get the first round in," called Hoynes as he pushed his way to the bar where a blonde girl who Josh decided couldn't be more than twenty was serving a group of men whose scowls indicated their displeasure at the sight of the new arrivals.
"Two scotches. Large, on ice." Hoynes' demand went down like a lead balloon with the other men at the bar, who stopped talking long enough to shoot him fierce glares before resuming their conversation.
"I said, two scotches, large, on ice." Sensing, trouble, and eager to deflect it before any serious damage could be done to Anglo-American relations, Josh headed over to his friend's side.
"I'll be with you in a minute," the barmaid said calmly, with a brief glance at the two men.
As he waited, Hoynes drummed his fingers on the worn wood in front of him, kicking the stool next to him. Eventually, the barmaid smiled at him. "What can I get you sir?" she asked with a warm smile.
"Two scotches, lar-"
"I'm sorry," she interrupted. "We don't have any scotch."
"What do you mean you don't have any? This is a pub, isn't it? You serve alcohol here, right?"
"Yes, but we only have ale at the moment." The barmaid shrugged. "Rationing and all that, you understand."
"God, this country sucks!" yelled Hoynes, knocking the barstool to the floor. "Do you have anything left over here other than dust and relics?" This last word was clearly aimed at the older members of the crowd forming around him.
"John, cut it out." Josh hoped his murmured words would calm the situation long enough for them to leave, but luck didn't seem to be on his side.
"I'll cut it out when they do. When they cut out their tightness and start serving us what we want!"
Tugging on Hoynes' arm, Josh tried to lead him outside but before they could get more than a couple of metres, one of the locals moved to block their way. Not particularly tall and of a fairly stocky build, his most prominent feature at that moment was a moustachioed face that had turned maroon with rage.
"Now you take that back," he shouted. "We're making do with what we've got. Maybe you'd know what that felt like if your lot had bothered getting involved with the war any earlier. Let me tell you, sonny, you may be expecting us to feel grateful to you for coming over here, but we're not. You're nothing but a bunch of poorly-trained, undisciplined..."
Josh recognised the voice. He tore his gaze away from the red-faced Hoynes, whose arm was held firmly in his grip, and felt a sudden rush of pleasure at the sight of the man who had just stepped forward.
Their surroundings forgotten, the two men stared at each other for a moment. Josh took in the bright blue eyes, which he had only glimpsed for the briefest of moments when he had first driven past Sam. He realised with a start that in all his weeks of fantasies, he had lacked such a basic detail about the man who he was beginning to think had the potential to capture his heart, mind and soul.
"How are you doing?" asked Josh, hoping he didn't sound as nervous as he suddenly felt at the prospect of actually speaking to this paragon of beauty in a non-lifesaving situation.
"I'm well, thanks," replied Sam, sounding almost shy - something which made Josh's heart flutter at the sweetness he decided had to be inherent the man who was still speaking. "I'm sorry, I should have tried to get in touch with you earlier, to thank you for everything you did for me. That chocolate really helped."
Josh watched in horror as Sam's father suddenly whirled around and cuffed his son round the head before grabbing him by the shoulders. "What are you talking about, help? And are you saying you accepted chocolate from him too?"
Sam stuttered out a stammering reply, explaining the circumstances of their encounter. By the end, Sam's father had a face redder than Josh had ever imagined was possible.
"Right, I've had enough of this. Come on Sam, we're leaving." Mr Seaborn stormed towards the exit but Josh dived to block his way.
"Sir, please. I apologise for any offence we've caused you. We'll leave. This is your pub, not ours, and it would be wrong for us to drive you out." It went completely against Josh's nature to grovel like that but seeing the relief wash over Sam's expression he knew he'd done the right thing. Dragging Hoynes behind him, he walked out with one final, wistful glance back at Sam who smiled his thanks and lifted one hand, in a pale imitation of the wave Josh had directed at him the last time they had met.
With a sinking heart, Sam watched Josh leave. He had been unable to believe his luck when the Americans had walked into the pub that evening. Sam felt intimidated by the soldiers who all seemed so self-assured and confident; unafraid of the task ahead of them. For that reason, he hadn't felt able to head over to the base and seek his rescuer out to thank him. When Josh had strolled in, Sam had hoped that he would get the chance to speak to him but, as ever, his father had managed to throw a spanner in the works.
Sam wandered back to the bar where his friend Donna was pouring his father a pint. The drink having been served, and Clive having stomped back to his seat in the corner of the room, the barmaid turned to Sam with a grin.
"You never told me you knew one of the Americans. And such a good-looking one, too."
"I don't really know him," Sam tried to explain, but Donna didn't seem to hear him - she was off in a world of her own.
"He looked so handsome in his uniform. And he seems really nice too. Do you think he'd like me? Ooh, imagine if he did. Sam, would you put in a good word for me with him? Sam?!"
As Donna's voice became louder and more insistent, Sam realised it would be best to stop ignoring her. "What was that?"
"I asked if you thought he'd like me. What was his name?"
"Josh." It was the first time Sam had spoken this name to someone other than himself or Josh, but it was far from the first time the word had made him feel... tingly would be the most accurate word, even if it did sound ridiculous applied to the emotions of a Cambridge-educated lawyer.
Aware that Donna was giving him a strange look, Sam shook his head briefly in the hope that he could clear his mind of the confused thoughts that were threatening to overwhelm him before Donna cottoned on to the fact that something was up.
"Josh. Josh, Josh, Joshua." She smiled, apparently overlooking Sam's momentary oddness. "I like it. I like him. Next time you see him, will you tell him about me? Say nice things. Please, Sam. It would really make me happy."
"Ah, Donna, how could I say no to that? You're like my little sister - you know I only want what's best for you."
"So you'll do it?"
Sam took in Donna's wide open eyes, and pleading expression. "If I see him again, I'll mention you to him," he agreed. It would certainly make for an easier topic of conversation than his own emotions would.
"I can't believe you did that!" Josh was furious as he dragged Hoynes down the road. "Our first night off the base in weeks, and you go and blow it by insulting everyone in the area. You hypocrite."
"How the hell am I a hypocrite?" asked Hoynes, confused.
Josh shook his head in disbelief. "Oh, I'm sorry. Maybe I imagined a conversation between the two of us a few weeks ago, where you specifically told me to tone down my behaviour. I gotta say, John, I never took you for the 'do what I say not what I do' type."
"Oh get off your high horse." Hoynes came to a halt and loomed over his friend, his voice full of barely-suppressed rage. To Josh, he sounded on the brink of losing it altogether. "You're just upset because the guy I had the shouting match with turned out to be the father of your boyfriend."
Stepping back, Josh held his hands out placatingly. "He's not my boyfriend," he said in a harsh whisper. "He's not and you know it. Okay, I like the guy. But you can't go saying stuff like that. You never know who could be listening - you told me that yourself."
"Loose lips sink ships, eh? Well, let's see what your loose lips can do when you sink. Get on your knees!" Josh felt Hoynes' hands push him down, before one hand was withdrawn. A second later, he heard the sound of a zip being unfastened right in front of his face.
Josh ducked and rolled away, scrambling to his feet as soon as he had the chance, not wanting any disadvantage in the situation. "Get away from me," he cried as he saw Hoynes approaching again. "I mean it, John. Don't come any closer."
The tension in the air was palpable, then Hoynes dropped into a crouch and Josh heard him begin to cry.
"I'm sorry," whispered Hoynes. "Josh? Are you still there?"
Fearing some kind of trick, Josh kept his distance but answered softly, "I'm here."
"I want to go home," sobbed Hoynes. "I hate it here. I miss my wife and the second I step off base it's impossible to get a decent drink. I'm sorry," he repeated. "I don't know what made me do that. I'm just..."
"It's fine." Clearly, it was far from fine, but Josh was too weary to carry on the conversation right there and then. "Let's get back," he added, taking another step back as Hoynes stood and brushed his knees down.
"You won't tell anyone about this, will you?" asked Hoynes nervously. "I mean, I..."
"I won't. But you gotta promise me you won't try anything like that again, okay? And I don't think you should be going out drinking anymore. If you need to get plastered, stay on base - at least that way if you end up picking a fight with someone, he'll have a chance in hell of defending himself."
"Yeah." A silence stretched, the growing distance between the two friends never clearer.
Within a week, news of the incident between Josh, Hoynes and Mr. Seaborn had spread throughout the village and the parish council decided they could no longer afford to postpone the welcome party they had elected to hold for the Americans. The only way to ease the tensions forming between the two groups would be for members of each to get to know each other, so a guest list was drawn up and the invitations sent out to the small number of people whose presence could be accommodated in the not-overly-spacious village hall.
At seven o'clock on Saturday evening, Sam walked into the hall and looked around him. He noticed Donna over by the table where small plates of sandwiches and thinly-sliced cake were laid out in front of an enormous tea urn, and headed over to say hello to his friend. Crossing the room, he noticed his former headmaster, Dr. Josiah Bartlet, engrossed in a conversation with a distinguished-looking soldier whose uniform made it clear that he was high-ranking.
When he reached Donna, Sam opened his mouth to greet her but before he could get a sound out she glanced over his shoulder and let out a frighteningly high-pitched squeal.
"Ooh, he's here. Don't look now, but he's really here!"
"Who?" Sam was momentarily confused, then he felt a hand being placed gently between his shoulder blades. He shivered at the contact and suddenly he knew who Donna had been referring to.
"Hey, you're here. I was hoping you would be."
Sam turned to see Josh smiling at him, and couldn't help but match his expression.
"Hello, Josh," he stammered.
"How are you doing?"
Before Sam could even draw breath to answer, Donna took it upon herself to join in the conversation.
"I'm Donna, Sam's friend. I work in the pub where you..."
"Ah, yes." Josh tore his eyes from Sam long enough to glance at the blonde and smile perfunctorily. "Good to meet you."
Sam watched with amusement as Donna's cheeks reddened but when Josh turned his attention back to him, Sam found he could understand her reaction. There was something about this man, something indefinable, something that made him feel...
"Sam?" With an eyebrow raised, Josh was looking at him, as though trying to work out a puzzle. "You want to go sit over there? Maybe we could talk for a while."
There was no way Sam was going to say no to this man, so he followed him over to the currently unoccupied far corner of the room where a few chairs had been placed. Josh indicated for him to sit down and once he had, the soldier pulled a second chair close to his and sat on it, barely millimetres separating them.
"I wanted to apologize for my friend's behaviour in the pub that night. And for any trouble my actions got you in with your father," Josh began. "If I'd known he was going to be like that, I never would have gone to the pub."
"He my father or he your friend?"
Josh frowned. "Both, I guess. I mean, no, just John. I've seen him like that in the past - guess it figured things would get him down over here too. It was only a matter of time before he blew up at someone. But your father needs to learn to keep his hands to himself," he added fiercely.
Astounded at this sudden outburst of emotion, Sam sat in silence. Did this man really care about him, or was he just pretending out of some misguided sense of guilt? Could it be that in Josh, Sam had found someone whom he could talk to? Someone he could trust with his best-kept secrets?
No, he decided. Better to play it safe for now, until he knew Josh better. "My father's not usually like that," he lied. "He just... well, he doesn't like Americans very much. I'm sorry."
Sam watched as Josh leant closer towards him to whisper, "Don't make excuses for him. Don't apologize for him. You're not responsible for his thoughts or his actions. You're not him. You're you. And I like you."
His heart pounding in his chest, loud enough surely for Josh to hear it, Sam leaned back in his chair. "You don't know me," he whispered back, not wanting to raise his voice for fear of breaking the spell that seemed to have fallen over them.
"But I want to," came the reply. "And I was hoping you'd want to get to know me, too."
"I'd like that." Sam couldn't tear his eyes from Josh's face - the warm brown eyes and the dimples that formed in his cheeks when he smiled, as he was now at Sam's reply, were really quite a pleasant sight.
"So, what do you want to know about me?"
Everything. The word was on the tip of Sam's tongue, but he managed to bite it back before it could escape to humiliate him in front of his new friend. He decided to let Josh take control of the conversation and settled for replying, "What do you want to tell me about yourself?"
Josh grinned and mirrored Sam's pose, leaning back and running a hand through his unruly hair. "Well, I'm 27, I'm from Connecticut - which is in the northeast part of the States. I'd just been out of law school a couple of months when Germany invaded Poland and I decided to sign up to join the army instead. I'm Jewish. I wanted the chance to fight - knew it'd just be a matter of time before we joined the war."
The courage demonstrated by this conviction astounded Sam. He couldn't think of a single friend of his who had been pleased to be called up to the war. Gone was the glory that had been imagined during the Great War. This time, the reality of pain and death was a less distant memory, and many had hoped to avoid it.
As if reading Sam's mind, Josh continued. "I know, there's not a lot of glory in it, but I had to do something. I couldn't just ignore it, wait for someone else to step in and help. I couldn't live with the guilt. Not again."
It was rude to ask, to push, Sam knew, but he had to understand. "Again?"
To his horror, Sam saw tears prick at the corner of Josh's eyes. "When I was five, there was a fire in my house. I ran out. Left my sister behind. She died."
"I'm sorry." Such an inadequate response to such a personal revelation. Sam fought the inexplicable and somewhat disturbing urge to put his arms around Josh, instead opting to rest his foot next to Josh's, offering subtle contact.
Josh wiped his eyes and tried to smile. "It's okay. It was a long time ago. But what about you? Tell me about yourself."
Sensing Josh's eagerness to change the subject, Sam obliged. "Well, I'm from Norham - I've lived here all my life. My mother died when I was young, so it's just been me and my father for years. In July I started working at his law firm."
"What about your girlfriend?"
"That blonde you were with when I walked in. Dana, wasn't it?"
Sam laughed. "Donna. And she's not my girlfriend. We're friends, that's all. And before I forget, she asked me to put in a good word with you."
"She wants to date me?"
Puzzled by Josh's bemused reaction to the idea, Sam nodded. "Yes. Why? Are you married?" he asked, looking at Josh's hands for a wedding ring.
"No. I... no."
There was an awkward pause, during which Sam wondered if he was supposed to read some deeper meaning into Josh's response, but then the soldier spoke again. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
"Why aren't I in the army?"
"I failed the physical. I'm deaf in one ear. I have bad eyesight, too. So they didn't want me." No matter how many times he explained, it never got any easier. Admitting he was a failure, that his government wanted him to sit at home and wait for his friends to get killed abroad defending his country was not Sam's idea of a pleasant conversation, particularly when the person he was talking to had volunteered to come and defend a foreign country on the other side of the world from his own. But Josh didn't seem to mind, or hold it against him, as he turned the conversation towards more light-hearted subjects.
"Oh, God. That's all we need."
Jed followed his friend's gaze towards two men sitting close together. He was just in time to see the one in uniform shift his leg slightly so that his knee pressed up against the other's. Their heads were close together and they seemed to be oblivious to their surroundings.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"That's Josh Lyman. He's a lieutenant - a fighter pilot. His father's a friend of mine, so when Josh signed up for the Air Corps I pulled some strings to get him assigned to my group. You know the other guy?"
"Yeah, I used to teach him. Sam Seaborn. He's a great kid." The implications of Leo's original statement began to sink in, and Jed opened his eyes wide in surprise. "Hang on a minute. You're not saying..."
"Uh-huh." Leo grimaced. "This could get really bad, you know?"
Jed looked around the room - everyone had split off into groups of their own, and none of them seemed to be taking any notice of the two men in the corner. "Do you think so? I mean, they'll be discreet, won't they?" He paused meaningfully. "Like we..."
"Don't!" Leo's voice was urgent, his face flushed both from his fear of being overheard and from the memories flooding his mind, one after the other, overlapping, as though the dam that had been holding them back all these years had finally burst. "That was a different time and a different place. We had wives. We were away from everyone we knew. And we could have been attacked and killed at any moment. We could get away with what we did. They can't."
"How do you know that?"
Leo glared. "Because I'm his commander and I already know. I should have him discharged and sent home."
"But you won't do that, will you?"
"No. He's a good kid. And for him to get a discharge - especially a dishonourable one - hell, Jed, it'd destroy his father."
"You're a good man, Leo," Jed smiled," and it's good to see you again. Maybe you'll have time to come and visit me at home one of these days."
A waft of perfume announced Abbey's arrival. "Do, Leo," she urged. "Jed's been talking about you for so long now, you've achieved almost mythic status in our household."
Her cheerful tone of voice reassured Jed that she hadn't caught the main part of his conversation with Leo, and with a brief nod to his old friend, he knew this wasn't the last time they would meet.
Lurking at the opposite end of the room to Jed and Leo, Toby was nursing his cup of tea and doing his best to send out don't-approach-me signals to anyone who headed in his direction. He would have preferred a significantly more potent drink, but he'd take what he could get - anything he could use to distract his attention from the people around him. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a woman walk over to what he had decided was His Wall. She leaned against it, and rubbed a hand wearily across her forehead.
His initial irritation at her proximity to him quickly evaporated when he saw her wipe her cheek with the back of her hand. She was crying.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said, turning to her but not approaching, "but is everything okay?"
She sniffed, then rooted around in the pocket of her trousers for a moment, sniffed again then faced him. "Not really," she admitted. "Do you by any chance have a handkerchief with you? I thought I'd brought one but apparently..."
"You forgot?" Toby handed over his handkerchief and stepped closer to the woman.
"Yes. Thank you." She wiped her eyes then, seemingly at a loss for what to do next, flapped the cotton half-heartedly in his direction.
"Keep it," he mumbled.
"I'll wash it and get it back to you. Or, I would if I knew who you were." A small smile appeared on her face and with a start, Toby realised that she was an incredibly attractive woman.
"Lieutenant Ziegler," he said, offering his hand to shake.
"Lovely to meet you, Lieutenant. I'm CJ Donovan."
"Toby. Please, call me Toby."
"Well, in that case, it's lovely to meet you Toby."
He paused for a moment, wondering whether or not to say any more. He still wasn't in the mood for company, but there was something about the way this woman seemed comfortable with the silence between them that made him warm to her.
"I take it your level of enthusiasm for this event matches mine," he commented.
It was a long time before she replied. Toby watched the minutes ticking by on the clock.
"It's not exactly the highlight of my year, no."
The way she refused to look at him as she spoke, the way her voice sounded as though it were about to crack, convinced Toby to wait her out, sensing her seemingly flippant comment barely scratched the surface of her emotions. Eventually she spoke again, almost mechanically, as though trying to distance herself from the painful truth by being as matter-of-fact as possible.
"My husband, Simon, was a pilot. His plane was shot down two years ago. I don't like to be reminded of it."
"And that's what our presence does to you?"
"Would you like me to walk you home?"
She nodded again, this time offering him a small smile of appreciation. Toby pushed himself away from the wall and, offering CJ his arm, lead her out of the hall.
"There's a bus taking us back, else I'd offer to walk you home."
Sam looked around him and was startled to realise that the room was emptying. "That's okay," he grinned. "I do know my way around here."
Josh tilted his head to one side and reached out, brushing his fingertips across Sam's shoulder. "It's not okay," he murmured. "I'd like to spend more time with you. From what I remember, you look good in moonlight."
It was as though a bucket of iced water had been poured on Sam. Trembling, he stepped back. "I have to go."
Without giving Josh a chance to stop him, he dashed out of the hall and down the road. His stomach was churning and his mind reeling. Why had Josh said that to him? What would make one man say something like that to another? So maybe Josh had been invading his thoughts ever since they first met, and maybe Sam did want to be as close to him as possible when they were in the same room, but that didn't mean he liked Josh in that kind of way.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he whispered, but not a soul was around to hear him.
"So, how was the do?"
At the sight of Hoynes lounging on his bunk bed, a half-empty bottle of whisky in one hand and a half-smoked cigarette in the other, Josh sighed to himself.
"Tell me you shared some of that with someone," he asked, with a pointed gaze at the alcohol.
"Nope, all mine." Hoynes let out a weary sigh, as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. "A guy needs something to keep him warm during these long, lonely evenings, don't you know?" His expression turned sour. "I suppose your new comfort blanket was there."
Josh shot a glance across the room, worried that he might not have noticed one of their roommates lying in their beds, but both bunks were empty. He hadn't noticed Toby on the bus, so he assumed he was still at the village hall, and what Charlie did with his evenings was anyone's guess.
"Don't start," he warned Hoynes, who took another swig of his drink in response. "You want to tell me what got you drinking this evening?"
"My cuckolding little slut."
"Yeah. I got a letter from her today. Seems she's bored with waiting for me already. She found someone else. Damn," Hoynes exclaimed, rubbing his eyes, "at least you never have to worry about this kind of trouble."
"How's that?" Josh might have been sober, but he was too confused to follow his friend's logic.
"You don't want relationships. There's no vows of loyalty to be broken. All you have is... whatever you have." He smirked. "And did you have it tonight?"
"That's none of your damn business!"
The smirk grew. "So you did."
Josh was furious, pacing the room as he struggled to get his temper under control. "You know nothing about what I want."
"We shared a room for four years. I think I have a pretty good idea what you want."
"No, you don't!" yelled Josh. "You may know what I wanted then, but this is different. No, I didn't want a relationship then. Yes, I was happy to take whatever I could get. But that was then, this is now. That was random guys, this is... this is Sam." At this name, Josh dropped his voice to a whisper as he remembered where he was.
Hoynes sighed. "And with him you want more?"
"With him I want everything."
"You're sure?" Hoynes sounded sceptical. "You're not just grasping for something to cling to in the darkness that consumes us?"
Josh sat down next to his friend and rubbed his back in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. "Don't try for the drama queen act, John. It really doesn't suit you."
"I'm not... That's not... Shit, Josh. I'm fucking miserable, okay?"
"You really hate being here that much, huh?"
"I do. I want to fight. I want to drink. I wanted to go home, but that's clearly not an option now. And," he added, glancing remonstrably at Josh who was easing the bottle of scotch from between his fingers, "apparently nor is alcohol."
"That's right." Josh pulled Hoynes into an awkward half-embrace. "I'm going to get you through this," he murmured. "You're my friend and I want to help you. But I can't do it alone. You need to help yourself as well."
"Lyman, are you coming on to me?" Josh pulled back and studied his friend's expression. For a moment, it looked as though he was serious, but then he broke into giggles. "It's okay," laughed Hoynes, "I know. You're going to be faithful to Samuel now, aren't you?"
Maybe Hoynes was only teasing him - maybe he meant to mock, but the idea of being faithful to Sam seemed so right somehow. Josh nodded.
"Well if that's the case, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with him?" asked Hoynes as he lay down.
Josh began to explain, how he'd spent the evening with Sam, and how the young man had run out on him the moment he tried to move things up a gear. "So now I don't know what to do," he concluded. "I don't want to scare him away for good. I really like him, John," he whispered. "I think I'm falling in love."
Josh looked at Hoynes, hoping for some kind of response, but it was not to be. His friend had fallen asleep.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he whispered.
Sam couldn't get Josh's words out of his mind; couldn't stop thinking about the way Josh had looked when he complimented Sam's looks. At the office, he found himself unable to focus on the work in front of him; at his home guard training evenings he found himself out of step and uncoordinated - even more so than usual. But worst by far were the nights. Every time he closed his eyes, Sam could picture Josh smiling, laughing, fighting back tears; he could hear his voice and smell his scent - warm, spicy, almost enticing.
What was happening to him? He had never before had a friend who made him feel like this, who left such a strong impression.
By Wednesday, Sam was beginning to fear for his sanity, so when an invitation arrived from Donna, to spend the evening at her family's cottage, he accepted it as a welcome distraction.
After finishing dinner and washing the dishes, he headed out - Donna lived just a couple of streets away, so Sam decided to leave his new bike at home and walk the short distance. Donna welcomed him in and sat him down, then served him a cup of very weak tea.
As he supped, Donna filled him in on the latest gossip she'd manage to glean from her evenings behind the bar and from subtle eavesdropping on the parents whose children she spent each day teaching. Michelle Henderson's fiancé had just been promoted, while Anne Edwards' man was due back home on leave at the weekend.
These titbits of information having been dispensed, Donna abruptly changed the subject. "Josh came into the pub yesterday evening," she announced, her eyes gleaming with excitement. Sam swallowed nervously as he felt his stomach turning cartwheels at the mention of that name.
"Oh?" Trying to sound casual, Sam hoped his friend wouldn't notice the trembling of his hands, and he clenched them into fists by his side. The strength of his reaction at simply hearing Josh's name spoken was frightening Sam, so he made a conscious decision to focus his attention not on his emotions but on Donna's words. They did nothing to calm his anxieties.
"He was asking about you," she continued. "Wanted to know how long I'd known you, what your father was like. All kinds of things."
Sam fought down a wave of nausea and tried to smile. His attempt at casual nonchalance clearly failed to hit the mark.
"Are you feeling alright?" asked Donna as she brushed a hand across Sam's forehead. "You look a little flushed."
"I'm fine," he rushed to assure her. "So what else did you talk about?" It wasn't the most subtle of methods for changing the subject, but fortunately it seemed to work a treat.
"Ooh, all kinds of things," Donna gushed. "He's so intelligent - he can talk about anything. And he was so nice to me. He really knows how to listen to someone - most men can't do that. Well, except you," she added. "You're a really good listener as well. In fact, the two of you are really similar. Except I have a crush on him.," she added with a cat-that-got-the-canary grin.
Sam blushed further. He and Donna had been close for most of their lives, but they had never really discussed romance with each other. Now, while embarrassed, he was also curious about something.
"How do you know that?"
"That you like him, you know... that way?"
"Oh, Sam, how can you not know?"
He shrugged helplessly.
"Well, when I see him, my heart beats faster. I get all light-headed and feel faint. I can't take my eyes off him. When he speaks, I watch his lips move, and wonder how they would feel against my own. And when he's not there, I think about him - remembering everything he said, and the way he looked when he said it. But best of all, when I'm with him, I feel like I'm safe. That's how I know."
"You've only talked to him once," Sam chided gently, stamping down the tiny little thought that had sprung up in a dark and distant corner of his mind - the tiny little thought that pointed out all the terrifying similarities between the feelings Donna had described and those he had been experiencing since he had first met Josh.
"I know." Donna sighed, but the dreamy smile never left her face. "But, Sam, sometimes that's all it takes. Sometimes you meet a person and you just know. You know the two of you are meant to be together. That's the way I feel about Josh. And if that wasn't enough, the idea of him wanting to be with anyone else makes me feel sick to the stomach. Jealousy - it's the best way I have of knowing I'm in love."
Sam didn't know what to think, or what to say. He sat next to Donna, trying to understand the implications of what she had just said. Everything she had described matched the way he had been feeling since meeting Josh. The giddiness, the replaying of conversations and, as he took a moment to analyse his most recent feelings, the jealousy as well. Jealousy that Donna was allowed to feel this way about Josh, while for Sam it would mean being ostracised at best and being imprisoned at worst.
Sam's reverie was broken by Donna's voice. "You know, you really don't look well at all Sam. Do you want to lie down?"
He shook his head. "I'm going to go home." His voice was hoarse and he couldn't bring himself to meet Donna's gaze, afraid that she would see right through him - see him for what he really was. "I'll see you soon," he promised and made his way out of the cottage, shutting the door quickly behind him, lest a shard of light escape and catch the attention of any enemy aircraft in the area or, worse, that of Ritchie, the local ARP warden.
Sam wandered aimlessly through the dark streets. His mind was full of thoughts, of questions, that jumbled themselves together until he was unable to tell where one ended and another began. From the moment Josh had saved his life, Sam had felt something for him. At first, gratitude, then after the American had so deftly defused the tense situation in the pub, admiration and respect. And after spending the evening talking, getting to know him, forming perhaps the basis of a friendship - perhaps the basis of something more, something rom... but no, Sam couldn't let his mind take him to such a place.
To fall in love with Josh would lose him everything. His family, his job, his friends. Everything. And yet the thought of what he might gain - the thought of an unspeakable closeness with Josh - made it seem, for the briefest of moments, almost worthwhile.
As a light autumn breeze drifted across the fens, causing Sam to shiver, he realised he should have been home some time ago. Resolving to put his worries out of mind for the time being, he hastened home.
"Where have you been? You were supposed to be back here half an hour ago."
Sam's father was standing at the top of the stairs, glowering down at his son who had just walked into the house.
"I'm sorry," began Sam hesitantly. "I was visiting Donna and her family. We just lost track of time."
"You should have telephoned." As Clive Seaborn began to advance slowly down the stairs, Sam briefly considered making a run for it, but he knew only too well from past experience that to even try would only make things worse for him.
"Donna's family don't have a telephone," he explained. By now, his father was just inches away. Sam saw the fist approaching and tried to relax his neck muscles, hoping to lessen the pain of contact by allowing his head to flow with the motion.
Hand met jaw and Sam groaned in agony as his head whipped round and bashed against the door frame. Tears sprung to his eyes and he furiously blinked, but it was to no avail - his father had already noticed them.
"Oh, for God's sake, don't start blubbing. You're like a little girl. Take it like a man, can't you? Oh, that's right, how could I forget? You're not a man - that's why you're still here while your friends are off fighting the war for you."
Something inside Sam snapped, as he focused all the stress that had been building in him over the recent days and glared defiantly at his father. "And whose fault is that?" he yelled. "Who's the one who hit me so hard I lost my hearing in one ear?"
Clive's hand slapped across Sam's cheek. "How dare you talk to me like that?" he shouted. "I should punish you properly for talking that tone with me. But I don't have the time."
He stalked into the sitting room and reappeared a moment later with a travelling trunk and his hat. "Your uncle's been called up. I'm going to move in with Laura and their kids while he's gone. That means you'll have to fend for yourself, heaven preserve us," he added darkly.
Sam could hardly believe his ears. His father leaving for Norfolk? To be gone for... well, it could be years. It was a dream come true.
"I'll be checking up on you," warned Clive, as though reading Sam's mind. "So mind you behave." He shrugged on his overcoat and pushed his son aside to open the door. "And stay away from those Yanks. Can't be bloody trusted."
This last comment was called over his shoulder as he set off down the garden path. No goodbye, no glance behind him - not even a farewell wave; and Sam was left to wonder who it really was his father considered untrustworthy - the Americans or Sam himself.
The following Saturday, Sam accepted Dr. Bartlet's offer of a lift into the local town. It would give him a change of scenery, he decided, as well as a chance to visit his favourite second-hand bookshop. It may have been a pokey little place, poorly-lit and containing the same weight of dust as books, but to Sam it was more wonderful than Aladdin's cave.
Dr. Bartlet dropped him off in the town centre and, calling his thanks to her, he hurried around the corner. On the road ahead, he saw the bookshop and his mind wandered there, anticipation filling his senses. He could already smell the musty old texts, and he hurried his pace, so focused on the possibilities of finding copies of the books he had been wanting for months that the faint sound of American voices behind him failed to distract him.
An hour and a half later, Sam stepped back out into the sunlight, shielding his eyes against the sudden brightness. In his hand was a bundle of books - a couple of law texts, a contemporary account of life in the trenches during the Great War, and copies of three Dickens texts. Two would be new to him, and the third was an exquisitely bound copy of his favourite - 'Great Expectations'.
Sam strolled through the main part of the town towards to the river, where he hoped to find a place to sit and read while he ate the lunch he had brought with him. Suddenly he heard a voice next to him.
"Sam? Hey, what brings you here?"
It was Josh.
Sam's heart rate doubled instantly and as he turned to look at Josh it doubled again. The soldier was absolutely breathtaking in his olive green uniform with its brass buttons glistening and polished shoes shining. His peaked cap was sitting jauntily, if somewhat askew, atop his unruly hair and a beaming smile was plastered across his face.
"I was shopping," Sam explained, returning the smile. To his amazement, he found he could keep his voice under control, and as his pulse slowed to a more acceptable rate, he took a deep breath. "What about you?"
"The same. A bunch of us drove in, but I seem to have lost the guys." He cocked his head to one side, and Sam's heart skipped another beat. At this rate, he thought to himself, it was a good job he was guaranteed to see a doctor later that day, even if she was just giving him a lift home. "You mind if I join you?"
"I'd like that."
Josh fell into step on Sam's left. "Where are we headed?"
Sam thought for a moment. "Well, I was just going to go and read these," he explained, "but we can do whatever you like."
He watched as Josh's eyes glinted wickedly and the American bit on his lip for a second. Sam couldn't help but wonder what suggestion his friend had bitten back - from that look he could almost believe Josh was thinking... no. He couldn't be. That sort of thing was wrong. It was wrong, and disgusting and Sam clearly needed to remind himself of that more often, before this tingling sensation threatened to overwhelm him.
"What are the books?" asked Josh, startling Sam back into reality. Sam thrust the pile into his hands, and shifted his lunch into his right hand, which allowed him to move a little closer to the soldier, until he could feel their jackets brushing against each other.
When Josh made no comment on the books, or his sudden proximity, Sam began to wonder if maybe he had been reading too much into Josh's words and actions the night of the party. Perhaps all he had in mind was friendship. And if that was the case, Sam would be satisfied with that, he resolved. But as they reached the riverbank and sat down on the grass, Josh returned the books with a smile that melted Sam to a puddle.
"Will you read to me?" Josh asked softly.
"Yeah," Josh nodded, before adding, in a voice so quiet that Sam was unsure whether he had heard correctly, "I like the sound of your voice."
Sam smiled to himself and opened his favourite book as Josh settled down next to him, lying on his back, one hand beneath his head, the other brushing lightly against Sam's right leg. He began to read, nervously at first, but after the first couple of paragraphs he started to relax. He forgot to worry about how his voice sounded, instead concentrating on the words and the images they would conjure up for the man at his side.
"Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening..."
Sam read on, losing himself in the world painted for him by Dickens. He read and read, barely pausing to draw breath, until a movement at his side startled him back to reality.
Josh rolled onto his side and smiled blearily up at Sam, who was mortified to realise that his hand had been stroking softly through Josh's hair as he lay there.
"Wow. I think I dropped off there for a while."
Sam fought to hide the hurt that statement caused in him - was his company really so dull? But despite his best efforts, his face must have reflected the hurt he felt at those words, because Josh immediately sat up and grasped his wrist lightly. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that. It's just that I feel like I can relax around you, you know? Like I don't have to worry about things so much."
At these words, Sam flushed with pleasure. Unsure of how to respond, his gaze darted away, but Josh's finger under his chin turned his face back.
"You make me feel safe, Sam," whispered Josh. "And there's not a whole lot can do that these days."
Sam nodded wordlessly.
"So you're not mad at me?" Josh smiled hopefully.
"No. Not mad."
"Not even a little bit?"
"Not at all."
"Good." Josh smiled triumphantly. "I guess that means you'll share your lunch with me, then."
"All right," agreed Sam. "But I have to warn you, there's not much."
"Well then, how about I treat you to lunch somewhere? I know of a few places willing to serve us Yanks a decent meal. Come on."
Sam wasn't given a chance to say no - not that he really would have - as Josh stood up and held out a hand to help Sam up. As their palms met, and their fingers entwined, Sam thought he saw Josh's pupils dilate slightly so, ignoring his better judgment, he dared to squeeze his hand gently for a moment, before letting go and telling Josh guide him to the nearest eatery.
As they ate lunch, Sam told Josh more about the area - its history and traditions - and Josh reciprocated with stories of life in the air corps.
"I'm a fighter pilot," he explained. "So basically, I fly one of the smaller planes to help guard the bigger bombers when they're on runs. It's more dangerous - the planes are a lot less stable the smaller they get; but it's more fun too - we get to fight and do all the tactical stuff that's every boy's dream."
"It sounds, well..."
"Fun? Scary? Like the ultimate adrenaline rush?" Josh's eyes were gleaming - clearly this was one of his favourite subjects. "It's all that and more, Sam. It's the most breathtaking experience I've ever had."
"Aren't you worried about getting shot at?"
Josh shrugged a shoulder casually. "Kind of. But the risk's what gives it that edge, you know?" He grinned. "The best things in life come with a risk attached."
Josh continued to extol the virtues of his profession as his food slowly cooled on its plate. Sam, for his part, dug into the meal - the portions were large and the cooking was excellent. With his father gone, Sam only had his own meagre rations to cook with, and he knew it would be a while before he enjoyed such a spread again.
As Sam swallowed his last mouthful, he started the conversation again. "Do you like being in England?"
"Sure. It's a great place to fight Hitler from - nearby but an island - so from a soldier's point of view I love it for that. And as a guy, it has other benefits too." Josh smiled softly. "You're here. And I'm really glad I've had the chance to get to know you, Sam."
"Thank you." Flustered, Sam couldn't think of any other response, and he had no idea how to put into words the true depth of his feelings. But the pleased look on Josh's face told him that his reply was enough.
"So, how's things with your father?" Josh's face turned serious as he leaned across the table, closer to Sam.
"Oh. He left a couple of days ago. Didn't I tell you? His sister's husband got called up so my father's going to stay with her until he's back. I have three cousins - all of them under five - and my aunt just can't cope with them all on her own and hold her job down at the same time."
Josh nodded his understanding. "So it's just you at home now?"
"Yes." Sam smiled at the thought. His father's absence was a welcome breath of fresh air for him "It's not that bad, to be honest with you," he explained. "On the first evening I got a little lonely, but most of the time I've simply been too busy to notice that he's not there."
Josh reached across the table and patted the back of Sam's hand gently. "Well, if you want any company at any time, I have a lot of evenings free. Unlike you Brits, we fly our missions during the daylight hours. It's great for our social lives."
"I'd like that." Sam was having the time of his life. Here was someone brave and intelligent, interesting and handsome, who seemed to genuinely like him. Josh was the one seeking out Sam's company - a dynamic which was in stark contrast to most of Sam's friendships up to that point, where he had been to one to do the running. The thought of spending more time with Josh made Sam feel warm inside.
At 1300 hours on October 18th, 1942, ten fighter planes took off from Norham airfield. Four hours later, the squadron returned - two planes down.
"Lyman, Colonel McGarry wants to see you in his office."
The words took a moment to sink in. Unaware of who had spoken them, Josh hauled himself up off the floor and, with a cursory glance down at himself to check his appearance would pass muster, headed over to the CO's hut. Entering, he saw his father's old friend looking at him from behind his desk.
"Josh, sit down, would you?" asked Leo gently.
"Yes, sir." Josh sat.
"I have something to give you - a letter addressed to you that we found amongst Lieutenant Hoynes' possessions."
Wordlessly, Josh reached out and took the envelope offered to him.
"I know how close the two of you were, and I wanted to let you know personally how sorry I am for your loss," continued Leo. "Hoynes was a good man and an excellent pilot. He'll be sorely missed."
"I know how hard it is the first time you lose a friend. So go take a few moments to yourself, and read what he had to say to you, then put the letter, and your pain, away and focus your energies on fighting the bastards who did this to him."
"Yes, sir." Under any other circumstance, Josh would have reacted to the coarse language the colonel used, but this time he was too numb to even notice it. He stood.
"Is that all, sir?"
"Yes. Dismissed, Lieutenant."
Still dazed, Josh wandered across the fields, eventually coming to a halt when the trembling in his legs grew to such an extent that they could no longer support his weight. He sank to the ground and sobbed, letting out the pain he had been holding inside ever since he had heard John's panic-stricken broadcast over the cockpit radio: "Under fire. Taking fire. I've been hit."
With shaking hands, he opened the envelope and pulled out the letter: John's final words to him.
I can't believe I'm writing this to you. I never thought I'd be the type to write one of these clichéd "If you're reading this, it means I'm gone..." letters. And I certainly never imagined writing one to you. Oh, I've done one for my wife, of course, but for some reason I feel compelled to write to you as well. And of the two letters, yours is by far the more honest.
You see, there are some things I want to say to you, things I could never tell you to your face. Firstly, I want to apologize for the way I've been treating you since we arrived in this godforsaken dump. I took out my frustrations with the situation on you, and you don't deserve that kind of treatment. I've mocked you, and belittled you, and I'm sorry. You are a brave, good man and it was wrong of me to treat you that way. I hope when you remember me, in years to come, our college friendship is what springs to mind, rather than the bullying tormenter I've become in these past few months.
Secondly, I want to offer you some advice. Tell Sam how you feel about him. I know I'm the one who told you to keep that part of yourself hidden, but if there's one thing I'm coming to understand, it's that we should grab whatever happiness we can these days. And if that... if he is truly what will bring some joy into your life, then go for it. Just don't brag too much about it - that kind of thing might make you happy, but it sure as hell isn't to everyone's liking, remember? That said, the way your face lights up when you talk about him makes me see what a good thing the two of you could be together.
I think that's partly the reason for my recent behavior towards you - you're turning my entire system of values on its head, and I don't know where I stand anymore. I shouldn't be condoning the idea of you having a relationship with another guy, but here I am doing just that.
Another reason is Colonel McGarry. He treats me like shit and, as you well know, I don't take kindly to that. And because he likes you, and is a friend of your father's, and helped you get this far in your short Air Corps career, I took out that anger on you. I'm sorry.
Finally, you should know that if you ever let anyone else know the contents of this letter, you can rest assured that I will find a way to haunt you.
It took a while for Josh's grief to lessen to the point where he felt in the mood for socialising, but Hoynes' letter had driven home to him the point that there was precious little worth in putting things off when tomorrow he could be dead, so one Wednesday night, Josh headed into the village and stopped by Sam's house to convince the younger man to go down to the pub for a drink with him.
When they arrived at The Crown, Josh hesitated for a moment before opening the door and holding it for Sam to walk in. He noticed Toby sitting in the corner with a woman he realised must be the mysterious CJ his roommate had been talking about so much recently. He waved cheerily but before the full strength of Toby's "go away" glare could hit him, his attention was distracted by a quickly-muffled squeal of excitement from behind the bar. Ah - Donna was working there. Josh winked at Sam and strolled over to her.
"Evening, Miss Moss. And may I say what a pleasant evening this has suddenly become, finding you here." Josh watched with amusement as the barmaid's face turned crimson at his words. He turned to Sam and waggled his eyebrows, eliciting a small quirk of a grin, before he turned his attention back to Donna and placed his and Sam's order.
Once they had their drinks, Sam and Josh remained near the bar giving Josh the perfect opportunity to do a little harmless flirting with Donna. In his heart of hearts, he knew he'd much rather be focusing all his attention on Sam, but he was in public and there were a lot of people watching him - particularly since he was standing in the "natives'" side of the pub - and so he reasoned it couldn't harm to set up a little tactical camouflage.
From the way Sam was shuffling his feet and drumming his fingers against the side of his pint mug, Josh could tell his friend was feeling uncomfortable but he couldn't just stop and explain his actions right then - he just had to hope that he would have the chance to do so later, as he walked Sam home.
Before that could happen, however, Josh had to get something out of the way. "Donna, we're holding a dance at our base this Friday night. Would you be interested in going as my date?"
Donna's dark red face and frantic nodding suggested to Josh that she was rather keen on the idea. He smiled at her, but inwardly he groaned - why guys were willing to put up with such ridiculous creatures when they could be spending time with more interesting prospects with broader shoulders and firmer muscles was something he felt he was destined never to understand.
From Sam's sudden stillness next to him, Josh realised that he perhaps should have explained his plan to Sam before putting it into action, but he couldn't help feeling a slight thrill at the idea that his asking Donna on a date had possibly made Sam jealous. He ignored his inner realist who was busy pointing out to him that Sam's jealousy could be a sign of protective feelings for Donna or even that what Josh was seeing as jealousy was, in actual fact, simply boredom.
Josh quickly made arrangements with Donna for when and where they should meet up on Friday, then turned to his friend.
"Come on," muttered Josh, tugging Sam over to the table in the corner where a group of land girls were sitting and giggling over their drinks. "Let's find you someone to take to the dance as well."
Five minutes later, it had been sorted out. Sam was to meet Laurie, a Londoner with dark wavy hair and a friendly smile, at the farm where she was billeted and walk her down to the village hall in time to catch the bus that was being laid on by the Americans especially for the occasion.
"You feel like getting out of here?" Josh asked Sam and was pleased that after absolutely no hesitation whatsoever, he nodded. They set down their glasses and, after Josh had taken a couple of seconds to say goodbye to Donna, the two men walked out.
The atmosphere between them was more tense than Josh felt comfortable with, but he was unsure how to break it. He needed to know what Sam was thinking. Eventually, the younger man spoke.
"I didn't know you wanted to go out with Donna," he muttered, steadfastly refusing to look at Josh.
"Oh, Sam, I don't." Josh could have kicked himself for not taking the time to tell Sam what he was up to as soon as they had met that evening. "I just needed a date for the dance - me going by myself would look a bit odd, and you'd said Donna was interested in me so I was pretty sure she'd say yes."
"Ah." There was another long silence. "Why did you set me up with that Laurie, then?"
Josh sighed. Sam was making it so hard for him. "Because I wanted you to come to the dance as well. Everyone's going, and you shouldn't be sitting at home on your own while the rest of your friends are off having fun. And there'll be loads of food there as well. Plus, well..." His voice trailed off.
"Well what?" Josh glanced at Sam to see his gaze focused squarely on him.
"I wanted to be sure of seeing you again soon. Promise me you'll spend some time with me at the dance. I'm really not all that eager to get to know Donna any better. She's kind of annoying."
"She's perfectly nice," argued Sam. To Josh's ears, he sounded like he was speaking as a dutiful friend rather than the bearer of all truth and honesty.
Josh wanted to tell Sam the truth, but he figured it was too soon for that. Unable to keep the words from escaping, however, he whispered under his breath, "Not as nice as you."
Sam clearly hadn't heard, as he pressed on with his questioning, and for the first time Josh caught a glimpse of his friend the lawyer in courtroom mode.
"So what made you choose Laurie for me then?"
With a grin, Josh replied, "She'd been giving you the eye from the moment we walked in."
"She hadn't!" Sam sounded so adorably scandalised, Josh couldn't help but laugh.
"You didn't notice her looking at you?" he asked incredulously.
Sam looked down at his feet bashfully. "I never know if they're looking or not."
"Trust me. A guy as hot as you are? Assume they're always looking."
Josh's inner realist gave his outer flirt a hard kick. That was the kind of comment that would probably scare Sam off for good. But a moment later, the kick was retracted as Josh heard Sam's pleased whisper.
Sam walked into the hangar and stopped stock still in amazement at the sight before his eyes. At one end of the building a swing band was playing dance music from their position on a raised platform. Along one wall trestle tables sat, groaning under the weight of the food piled atop them - cream-filled buns and iced cakes vied for place alongside corned-beef sandwiches, with handfuls of chocolate bars and oranges dotted around them covering each surface completely. He hadn't seen such food in more years than he cared to count.
Laurie dragged Sam in the direction of the food, leaning in to say something to him, but she picked the wrong ear and Sam had no idea what she was trying to tell him. She continued to chatter as she grabbed a plate and piled it high, but with the music from the band and the excited chatter of the throngs of people crowding around him, Sam could only make out the occasional word.
Suddenly a touch on his hip made him whirl round. He instantly relaxed at the sight of Josh, dimple-faced and twinkle-eyed standing inches from his side. Sam's enthusiasm lessened slightly as he noticed Donna leaning against Josh, but he was heartened by Josh's apparent ignorance of her proximity.
"Hey Sam!" Josh squeezed his hip and winked at him. Sam was aware that any normal man would be discomfited by such an intimate greeting from another man, but all he felt was warm. Well, in truth, he felt flushed.
"Hi Josh." He reached forward, daring himself to return the gesture, but at the last moment his courage failed him and he settled for gripping Josh's wrist lightly for a moment.
Josh leaned forward. "What do you say to ditching our dates and finding a corner for ourselves?" he whispered into Sam's good ear.
Sam nodded, and the moment both Laurie and Donna turned their backs to stock up on cake, the two men hurried away, stifling their giggles at the childishness of their own behaviour.
"Ah, they deserve it," said Josh, once he and Sam had retreated to a corner far from the food and the band. "If they wanted to spend time with us, they should learn to be a bit more interesting."
"Josh!" Sam tried to sound scandalized, but he enjoyed - almost admired - Josh's ability to dismiss people he didn't like. Sam sometimes loathed the way he himself tried to get everyone to like him, and in order to do so he had spent many an hour in the company of people who bored him to tears.
Two hours later, Sam was still engrossed in conversation with Josh. He hadn't noticed the time passing, but when his stomach growled, Josh laughed and checked his watch.
"I'm sorry - I shouldn't have kept you from the food for so long," the American apologised.
"It's fine," Sam rushed to assure him. "I had no idea we'd been talking for so long. Where do you think the girls got to?"
"What girls?" Josh looked baffled.
"Laurie and Donna? Our dates?"
Sam laughed. "Yes, them. Come on - we ought to go and make our apologies to them."
Grumbling, Josh followed Sam out into the crowd. Sam noticed that Josh's attempts to locate their missing partners was considerably less than half-hearted and he wasn't sure whether to feel offended on Donna's behalf or flattered on his own. His ego, for once, won out and as he spotted Laurie he promptly turned his back, eager to spend more time with just Josh.
"I can't see them anywhere," he shouted over the music. "Perhaps they left."
Josh shrugged, clearly not caring. Suddenly, his face brightened.
"Hey, Colonel McGarry just arrived! Sam, you gotta meet the guy. I've known him my whole life. Come on." Laughing, Sam allowed Josh to take his hand and drag him across the crowded dance floor, weaving their way between the jiving couples, not for one second losing contact with each other.
"Colonel!" Josh's shout distracted Leo's attention from his conversation and Sam saw him glance up, his annoyed expression quickly turning friendlier as he saw who was trying to get his attention.
"Josh. I'd like you to meet an old friend and former colleague of mine..."
"Dr. Bartlet!" Sam was stunned. Hadn't Leo just said 'former colleague'? When on earth had his former teacher worked alongside the squadron commander?
"Hello, Sam. Josh, it's good to meet you. Welcome to England."
Josh grinned, and Sam's heart melted a little bit more. "Thank you, sir. It sure is good to be here."
"Yes, I can see that." Sam flushed at the knowing look directed at him at this comment, but the awkwardness he had expected never materialized, and instead the conversation quickly turned to a light-hearted discussion of the area and its charms.
"So, did you fellas come here with anyone?" asked Leo eventually.
Josh shrugged his disinterest, but Sam rushed to answer. "Oh, yes, sir. Josh brought my best friend, Donna, and I came with one of the land girls, Laurie."
Sam couldn't help but notice Leo's surprised expression at hearing this, but it was quickly masked, just as Sam heard a voice behind him. A female, more-than-slightly annoyed voice.
"There you are. We've been looking everywhere for you. We thought you must have gone into hiding." Donna and Laurie had materialised and were looking for a dance.
With a resigned shrug at Josh, whose expression was a mixture of annoyance, frustration, resignation and amusement at what Sam felt sure was his own matching frown, Sam allowed Laurie to wrap her arms around him and drag him onto the dance floor.
For the first ten or fifteen minutes, Sam was fine. He hadn't been to a whole lot of dances, but he knew enough to keep up with his partner. All that changed when, to his horror, the band paused for a moment before beginning the introduction to what he recognised as 'Moonlight Serenade' - a slow song. Laurie pulled him closer to her, and put her arms around his waist, resting her head against his. Sam felt supremely uncomfortable, but couldn't think of a single excuse for backing away that wouldn't earn him either a slap or a prison sentence.
Sam's eyes flickered around the hangar, peering through the dimness, seeking. His gaze flittered from one couple to the next, recognising Abbey and Jed Bartlet dancing alongside his neighbour CJ and a bearded soldier Josh had earlier pointed out as his roommate, Toby. Sam kept searching until suddenly he found what he had been looking for. Josh and Donna were swaying slowly, wrapped in each other's arms. Sam tried to tear his gaze away, tried not to think about how right they looked together, and wrapped his arms tighter around Laurie.
At that moment, Josh raised his head and looked directly at Sam, whose heart leapt. The look in Josh's eyes was clear - warmth, and tenderness and... love. Josh was looking at him lovingly, and Sam instantly forgot who he was dancing with. In his mind, his arms were no longer wrapped around Laurie, but around Josh, and the two men held each other close, cheek brushing against cheek as they whispered sweet nothings into each other's ears before turning to face each other and leaning in for a bone-meltingly tender kiss.
Sam felt a warmth settle in his groin, as Josh continued to gaze at him, unblinking and so very handsome. He watched as Josh stroked a hand down Donna's back, caressing her, and Sam could almost feel the touch on his own skin. The warmth in his groin grew, and he felt his penis twitch and begin to harden. A warm body pressed up closer to him, and someone murmured appreciatively. Laurie.
Sam jumped back a foot, suddenly yanked from his fantasy world into the cold hard reality of his life. He was in a cold air hangar, surrounded by hundreds of people, many of whom he had known his whole life, and he was thinking about another man in a romantic sense. And not just thinking about him, but reacting physically to his presence as well.
Disgusted with himself, Sam stuttered an apology to Laurie and fled into the cold night air. In the sky above, the stars twinkled and the thin crescent moon shone her light down, but Sam barely noticed, concerned only with putting as much distance between himself and the dance as possible. He heard footsteps on the tarmac behind him but, unable to tell whether they belonged to a male or female - to Laurie or Josh - he carried on running.
"Sam! Sam! Wait up a minute!"
It was Josh. Josh who had seen him leave. Josh who had followed him out here. Josh who had lead him into this nightmare in the first place. Sam kept running, but Josh was fitter than he and within a few strides had caught up with him. Sam felt Josh's hands grab his arms and he stumbled to a halt, only remaining upright thanks to the tight grip Josh had on him.
"What's going on Sam? Talk to me." Josh's voice was urgent, but Sam couldn't speak. In his panic he pulled away, but Josh grabbed his hands and held on tight, effectively trapping the man. Through the cold night air, the sound of music and laughter drifted across from the dance, and Sam found himself unable to stop his thoughts from returning to the daydream he had had in there - the dream where Josh held him close and where Josh spoke to him tenderly. The dream where Josh looked at him with love shining in his eyes.
"Sam, come on. Let me in - I can't read your mind." Josh's voice tore Sam back to reality, in which Sam was ashamed of the way he felt about Josh. It was wrong to think of another man in this way. And Josh was a soldier - surely he would be disgusted if he knew what was running through Sam's mind. If he found out the truth, that would be the end to their friendship.
"Sam, talk to me. Please." Sam tore his gaze away from the scuffs on his shoes and looked up. Josh's hands were warm around his own, his voice tender and, just as in his fantasy, his eyes were full of love.
Sam felt a wave of nausea rising in his throat. To think about such a thing was bad enough, but to actually feel it, to see it, in reality was wrong. It was wrong and unnatural and he would burn in hell if he didn't get away from Josh right then.
"I have to go," he stammered.
"No, no you don't." Josh's voice was soft and gentle. Sam felt his heart tear in two. One half wanted to stay right here in the moonlight with this amazing man. The other wanted to leave, to forget he and Josh had ever met.
"Please!" Sam yanked his hands free and stepped back a foot.
Josh closed the gap. "Talk to me," he murmured. "Let me help you."
"You can't," gasped Sam. It was too late for help. There was no going back now. The warmth of Josh's breath on his face was making Sam's insides turn cartwheels and a group of butterflies appeared to have just made their home in his stomach. "I have to go," he repeated urgently.
"Okay, okay." Josh retreated and Sam took a moment to take a deep breath and try to calm his nerves slightly. Josh wasn't stupid. Surely it wouldn't be too hard for him to work out what was wrong with Sam, and he didn't want to risk having misread the signals he had thought he had been getting.
"Will you let me drive you home?" asked Josh.
Sam was about to refuse, when he realized his only other option for getting back was to wait for the bus. It was a cold night, and he didn't relish the prospect of standing outside for another twenty minutes, and even less tempting was the thought of facing dozens of people he knew while he was in such a state.
"Come on, then." Josh reached out his hand and rested it behind Sam's elbow to guide him, but Sam shrugged it off, unable to bear the thought of contact.
The drive back to Sam's house passed in silence, and for the first time, it was uncomfortable. Away from the scene of what Sam was already coming to refer to as his 'turn', the young man was already kicking himself for jeopardizing his friendship with Josh, but as the hastily-requisitioned jeep pulled up outside his garden gate,
"Look," began Josh. "I'm not going to push you. But I wish you'd tell me what's wrong."
Sam shook his head and reached for the door handle.
"Wait. Just... wait a minute and let me say this, would you?" Josh's tone was pleading, and his gaze open and sincere so Sam waited. "I don't know why you're acting like this all of a sudden, but I think I have an idea."
A fresh wave of panic spread through Sam's body, and Josh must have realized this, because he spoke again. "Don't worry about it, Sam. If you're feeling the way I think you're feeling, you don't need to worry. It's fine. But in case you're not, and I'm reading the situation all wrong here, then I won't say anything else for now, okay?"
"Okay. So how about you go indoors, make yourself a hot drink and get a good night's sleep. Things'll feel better in the morning. They always do. Then perhaps we can meet up tomorrow evening, and if you want to talk about this, we can do that. And if you don't, well then I'm sure we'll manage to find another topic of conversation, huh? How does that sound?"
Unable to find his voice in the face of such tenderness Sam simply nodded, which Josh clearly took as a sign of assent.
"Good. So I'll see you tomorrow evening, then? How about we meet at the village green at seven o'clock and then we can decide from there where to go."
Sam nodded again. Josh was being so kind to him, when all he really deserved was the man's hatred, for thinking such impure thoughts about him. But if he had understood correctly, Josh knew that and didn't mind. Maybe even was happy about it. Well, now, there was food for thought.
"Tomorrow," Sam replied, and stepped out of the car.
Sam slept fitfully that night and the next morning he awoke feeling no better about the situation. He was in love with Josh - of that much he was sure - but he still didn't understand what he was supposed to do about it. On one hand, he wanted to let Josh know how he felt. On the other, he didn't want to risk his friendship - the first true one in his lifetime other than that with Donna.
Donna. How would she react to finding out how Sam felt? Despite their disappearing act at the dance, Sam and Josh had apparently not managed to annoy their dates enough for the women to feel permanently offended by their behaviour - clearly, Donna's feelings for the soldier were strong enough to overcome such petty actions. But she would never forgive something like this.
It was a moot point anyway - Josh was in the air corps and Sam was a lawyer. Neither of them could afford to be found out to be participating in such illegal behaviour. And the thought of how his father would react to the news was enough to send Sam sinking to the ground, trembling with fear.
No, the cost of admitting his feelings was too high. That was that rational argument made quite clear to Sam. But there was another part of his mind - one only recently awakened - which was telling him to listen to his heart. And all Sam had to do was picture Josh to know that he was a man worth risking everything for.
Seven o'clock came and went. Sam was standing alone on the village green, attracting curious glances from passers-by as they made their way home, or to one of their evening activities.
By half-past seven there was still no sign of Josh and as rain started to drizzle down, Sam began to realise he may be waiting in vain.
At quarter to eight, Sam gave up and with a sinking heart, trudged wearily back home. Perhaps Josh had taken the day to think things over, and had decided that either a friendship with Sam wasn't worth the hassle or, worse, that Sam was an abomination of nature who should be avoided at all costs.
Sam entered his house and lit the lamps in the living room, then settled into the armchair with a book. The text swam on the page in front of him, words blurring together until the paper seemed no more legible than a swarm of flies. Blinking to clear his vision, Sam realised that his eyes were filled with tears, and he pulled off his glasses to wipe the tears away.
Feeling sorry for himself would do him no good. He had to put Josh out of his mind. There was a war on, and he had plenty enough to be worrying about as it was. A sudden shiver of concern shot through him - the war! What if something had happened to Josh. But instantly, Sam dismissed his worry - he hadn't heard any planes taking off that day.
Out of the blue, a knock on the door pulled Sam out of his thoughts.
"Who is it?" he called, but didn't hear a reply.
A minute later came another knock.
"Alright, I'm coming, I'm coming," he mumbled as he dragged himself up and, shutting the living room door behind him, so as not to let its light escape into the hallway and out the front door, went to let his visitor in.
Sam opened the door and was shocked to see his friend standing on the doorstep, one hand raised to knock again.
"Josh? Come in."
As they entered the living room, Sam turned to look at his friend. Josh's eyes were puffy and red, and he was sniffing furiously.
"What's wrong?" asked Sam, wrapping an arm around Josh and leading him to the sofa.
"It's... oh, Sam, it's my father. He's dead." Josh burst into tears, almost doubled over where he sat, arms wrapped tightly around his stomach as though trying to physically hold himself together where he couldn't manage it mentally.
Without hesitation, or thought, Sam took Josh into a fierce embrace, holding the sobbing man close as he let out his grief. Josh buried his head in Sam's neck while Sam rubbed one hand slowly up and down his back, keeping the other around his waist.
After a long time, Josh's sobbing calmed and he sat up slightly, then fumbled in his pocket before pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his eyes and nose.
"Sorry about that," he croaked.
"It's alright," soothed Sam. Admittedly, he had been slightly shocked at the outpouring of emotion - no English man would ever be so open about his feelings - but to Sam, Josh's behaviour didn't seem in any way shameful. Rather, he was touched to know how deeply his friend could feel.
"What happened?" Sam wasn't sure whether it would be best for Josh to push the topic out of his mind, or to talk about it, but given his open display of tears, it seemed to him that his friend was more the talking type. After all, they had barely known each other when Josh had told him about his sister's death.
Josh sniffed again, then leaned back into Sam's side, keeping his arms around Sam just as Sam was doing to him. "He was in the hospital, having some tests done when he suddenly had a heart attack. There was nothing anyone could do, apparently. I... I didn't even know he was ill."
Josh started crying again, more quietly than before, but it was no less painful to hear.
"You know what the worst thing about all this is?" continued Josh, as tears continued to trickle down his cheeks. "The worst thing is that all this happened five days ago. It took that long for the news to get to me. They've already had his funeral, and I didn't know. I've been strutting around all week like I own the world, and all the time my father was lying in a wooden box. Maybe I'm being punished for not mourning John long enough. My best friend died, Sam, and now my father's dead too and I can't stop thinking that it's all my fault."
"Oh, Josh." Sam rubbed his cheek against the side of Josh's head, trying to offer any comfort he could. His action seemed to help, as Josh's breathing evened out slightly and Sam felt a little of the tension leave the taut body in his embrace.
Sam leaned back slightly and smiled softly at his friend. "I'm so, so sorry," he whispered. "I wish I could stop you hurting. I wish I could do something to help you."
"You are helping," Josh whispered back. "When I'm with you, I feel... you make me..." His voice trailed off and he gazed at Sam. Despite his bloodshot eyes, and the tear tracks criss-crossing down his cheeks, Sam thought Josh was the most beautiful person he had ever seen and he reached his hand up to brushed a thumb across Josh's face, wanting to dry away his tears. Josh reached his own hand up and held onto Sam's, interlacing their fingers..
Sam watched in amazement as Josh's pupils widened slightly, and his lips parted a touch. As though under a spell, Sam leaned forward and, with barely a hesitation, brushed his lips across Josh's then pulled back, trying to gauge his friend's reaction.
Josh's grip on his hand tightened, and his other hand slid up into Sam's hair to tug him closer for another kiss. This time, their lips brushed against each other's over and over again, before Josh pressed his mouth against Sam's and opened further, allowing his tongue to flicker out and lick at Sam's lips. Sam moaned in pleasure and opened his own mouth, allowing Josh to enter. The kiss deepened further still and for the first time, Sam tasted Josh as his tongue slid delicately alongside his own, deep inside his mouth.
Something that felt so good couldn't last forever, and eventually Sam had to pull his mouth away, gasping for breath.
"Wow," murmured Josh. "That felt..."
"I know. For me too." They had reached a place where words could no longer express the depth of their feelings for each other, and at the same moment the two men lunged for each other again, kisses more frantic, hands roaming, stroking, rubbing, exploring. Sam felt himself being lowered onto his back, and he submitted to the action, letting Josh take control. It felt so good to just surrender like that, to let his emotions take over.
Josh moved his mouth from Sam's and began to kiss his way along his jaw then down his neck, making Sam squirm with pleasure. Arching his body up against Josh's, trying for as much contact as possible, Sam realised that he was growing hard. He pushed his crotch up against Josh's and started to rub against him, wanting more, swallowing Josh's moans at the sensation.
Sam slid his hand down Josh's back and lower, pressing Josh down harder onto him . Suddenly Josh tore his mouth away from Sam's neck and reached behind him to pull Sam's hand away.
"We can't," he groaned. "Not now, Sam. Please."
The reality of the situation suddenly returned to Sam's awareness. What had he been thinking? Just a few minutes earlier, Josh had been in floods of tears at his father's death. Now Sam was trying to make him... well, Sam wasn't exactly sure what he was trying to make Josh do, other than make Sam feel better than he had ever felt.
Overcome with embarrassment at his actions he turned his head, . "I'm sorry," he muttered into the upholstery of the sofa. Sam put his palms against Josh's chest and tried to push him off, but Josh wouldn't let him.
"No, it's okay," replied Josh, as he bent down to kiss Sam reassuringly. "It's okay," he repeated, his voice a breathy whisper. "I just don't want our first time to be like this. You're amazing. And the way you make me feel is just... wow! But right now I just don't think I could do much more than we just did. And I want the first time we're together to be perfect. It's the least you deserve."
Sam felt his eyes grow full of tears at the ferocity of the love he heard behind Josh's words, and he pushed himself up far enough to kiss Josh again. He couldn't imagine letting Josh's mouth away from his own for long ever again. The feel, the taste, the needy little sounds Josh made in the back of his throat as Sam sucked on his tongue - all of this and more was something Sam felt he could easily grow addicted to.
"Can I ask you something, Sam?"
Josh lay his head on Sam's chest and lay still for a moment before speaking again. "Colonel McGarry gave me 72 hours compassionate leave. I was wondering if I could... if you'd let me..."
"Do you want to spend it here?"
He nodded, and Sam felt himself tingle as the curls of Josh's hair brushed against the underside of his chin.
"Of course you can."
"Thank you." Josh's voice was a pale imitation of its usual self, and Sam could hear that he was welling up with tears again. "For everything, Sam. Thank you for what you did for me this evening. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been here."
"I'll always be here for you Josh," promised Sam. "Always."
They spent the rest of the evening lying together on the sofa. When Josh kissed him, Sam responded; and when Josh cried, Sam did his best to comfort him. Wrapped around Josh, Sam felt as though he had found a place where he belonged. He nestled into his friend's embrace and felt Josh pull him closer still, a sigh of contentment warming his brow.
"Sam, what the hell is wrong with the birds around here?"
Josh sounded three parts concerned to one part amused, and Sam looked away from the hens whose breakfast he was scattering, to see Josh pointing at a motley selection of blackbirds and sparrows staggering across the garden.
"Oh, they're drunk is all."
"Drunk?!" Josh's tone had shifted to one part disbelieving to three parts amused and Sam laughed at his furrowed brow and raised eyebrows.
"The local brewery gives its used hops to the farmers for use as fertilizer on the fields. Then the birds eat the fermented hops and, well, get a little inebriated."
Sam watched in delight as Josh doubled over with laughter. The previous evening, as Josh had lain weeping in his arms, Sam had feared he might never hear Josh laugh again
The two men had dozed off late in the evening, but awoken around midnight, stiff-limbed from lying on the couch for so long.
"Any chance we could move this into a bed," Josh had asked, his voice thick with exhaustion.
Sam hesitated. "I don't think my bed's much bigger than the sofa."
"What about your father's bed?"
Utterly shocked, Sam stared at Josh in disbelief. "We couldn't... I mean, we can't..."
"Why not? It's not like he'd know, and I'd really appreciate it. Please, Sam."
There was a long silence, while Sam thought about it, but as he felt Josh sag against him in exhaustion, he realised that they had no other option. And Josh was right - his father would never know.
They crept up the stairs into the main bedroom where Josh lay on the bed as Sam struggled with the blackout curtains. Once they were in place, he turned on the light and went over to his friend.
"Josh, wake up a minute. You need to take your shoes off and get under the covers. It's not very warm in here at night."
Josh sat up and tugged his shoes off then started to unbutton his shirt and pants.
"What are you doing?" asked Sam worriedly.
"Getting ready for bed." Josh shot him an odd look. "What did you think I was doing?"
"Nothing. I... nothing." Sam turned and, suddenly overwhelmed at the thought of sharing a bed with a man - even this man whom he trusted more than anyone in the world - he started to walk out with the vague intention of sleeping in his own bed, but Josh darted ahead of him and blocked the doorway.
"Where are you going now?"
Sam shuffled his feet and looked down at the floor. "Wasgoingtomyroom," he mumbled.
"I was going to my room," he repeated, refusing to meet Josh's eyes.
"What for? There's room for us both here. That's the whole point of using this bed, isn't it?"
When Sam didn't answer, Josh took hold of his chin and forced his head up. "Sam, what's wrong?"
Sam felt his face grow hot with embarrassment, but Josh refused to let him move. Eventually, he had to answer. "I've never done this before," he blurted out.
Frustrated with himself and his inexperience as much as with Josh's insistence on pushing him, Sam waved his arms around vaguely. "This. Gone to bed with someone. Undressed with someone."
"Oh." Josh let go of his chin and hugged him.
"You know," murmured the American, "we're not going to do anything you need to worry about. Just lie next to each other and get some sleep, okay? And I was only taking my shirt and pants off to get comfortable. You don't have to do that if you don't want. Just do whatever you're okay with."
Mutely, Sam nodded and allowed Josh to lead him back to the bed where he slipped under the sheets while Josh pulled off his shirt and pants before turning off the light and returning to lie down next to him.
"Okay?" whispered Josh.
From the way a soft puff of air brushed across his face, Sam knew that Josh had to be facing him. He rolled onto his side and leaned forward. Their lips met in a gentle goodnight kiss and as Sam drifted off to sleep he felt Josh's arm curl over his side to hold him close.
"I love you," he whispered and his heart leapt as he heard Josh's murmured reply.
"Love you too, Sam."
Sam smiled against the skin of Josh's neck. There was nothing abhorrent or disgusting about this - this was love, and it was good. With that thought in mind, he allowed himself to sleep.
"Oh, darling, you have no idea how good fresh eggs taste to me. I don't remember the last time breakfast tasted this good."
"We only have the powdered crap on base. It's so repulsive, but it's really hard for us to get fresh food. And it doesn't come any fresher than this. I can't believe we just collected these. It's incredible."
Sam thought for a moment. "Well, you know, now my father's staying with my aunt, I don't need all the eggs from the hens. If you want them on a regular basis, they're yours."
"Okay." Josh was delighted at the thought of eating proper food for his breakfasts from now on. "Hey, maybe we could work out some kind of trade. You give me the eggs you don't want, and in return I'll get you what I can from our food stores. What kind of stuff do you need."
Rolling his eyes at the absurdity of that question, Sam stood and opened the cupboard doors, showing Josh the emptiness of their shelves. "Everything," he said. "Whatever you can get me."
"I'll do what I can," promised Josh. "But meanwhile, what do you want to do today?"
Sam and Josh spent their Saturday lazing about the house. Josh welcomed the chance to just relax without needing to worry that at any moment the call would come for him to scramble, and when he started to cry again in the middle of the afternoon he was grateful for the fact that there was no one but Sam around to see him. In the evening, they curled up together on the sofa and Sam read to him until he was on the brink of falling asleep.
They awoke the next morning, arms tight around each other, heads resting on the same pillow. The air seemed warm, and when Sam took down the blackout curtains, bright sunshine streamed in.
"I guess now would be a good time to go dig that hole then," commented Josh over breakfast.
"I'm going to assume that by 'dig that hole' you mean 'install that life-saving air raid shelter that should have been put in years ago but that my father considered an unnecessary waste of time'."
Josh smirked. "Ah, you understand me so well, dear."
Sam put down his mug and chewed his lip. "Why do you get like that sometimes?" he asked. There was no recrimination in his tone, just curiosity, but Josh wasn't entirely sure what Sam meant by his question.
"Like that how?"
"Like... that. You know. When you call me dear or darling, or when you, well, flap your hands around. You didn't do that when we first met."
Shrugging, Josh thought for a moment. Why did he act the way he did? "I don't know. It's just the way I am, I guess."
"So why am I only just starting to notice it now?" asked Sam.
"Well, it's kind of flaky behaviour, you know? And if I acted that way the whole time, I'd find it a lot harder to get along in the army. I have to hide the way I am from most people - it's only those I really trust who get to see the real me."
"Oh." There was a long pause. "Does that mean you trust me, then?"
Josh's heart nearly broke at the amazement he heard in Sam's voice.
"Sweetheart!" He stood and rushed over to where Sam was standing and wrapped him in a fiercely protective hug. "I trust you more than anyone on this planet. I love you more than anyone on this planet. With you, I feel safe, complete. I feel like I joined the bluebirds and flew over the rainbow."
Josh looked at Sam in amazement. "'Somewhere over the Rainbow'? Judy Garland? 'The Wizard of Oz'? None of that mean anything to you?"
Sam shook his head, looking as though he'd just failed some kind of test, so Josh hugged him tighter and rushed to reassure him. "It's a film that came out a couple of years ago. You didn't see it?"
Sam shrugged his shoulders.
"It's okay," continued Josh. "It's not important. But it's a great film - I'll try and track down a movie theatre showing it as a rerun. There has to be one somewhere. But before then, we've got work to be doing. So let's go dig for victory."
"That's gardening," Sam pointed out wearily.
"Digging for victory's about growing vegetables."
"Oh. Well in that case, let's just go dig."
It was hard work, digging a hole large enough for the Anderson shelter to fit in, and harder work still to install it. The hours of physical labour in the unexpectedly warm autumn air had caused Josh's shirt to become soaked with sweat and eventually he tugged it off, inwardly smiling at the way Sam's eyes widened in response. It didn't take long for Sam to lose his shirt as well and Josh had to struggle to hold back a moan of appreciation at the sight of the young man's toned physique.
By late afternoon the job was complete. Wiping the sweat off his brow, Sam stepped inside the shelter, only to emerge moments later.
"We need candles," he said firmly and walked into the house so quickly that Josh wasn't sure whether or not he would hear his teasing reply. "Trying to romance me, Seaborn? Or just giving in to your kinky side?"
Sam returned a minute later holding in each hand a plant pot with a candle fixed in it. The heated look he shot Josh let him know in no uncertain terms that his comment had been both heard and appreciated and, shivering at the thought of what that might lead to that evening, he followed Sam into the shelter.
Inside was cramped, cold and dark, and Josh shuddered at the thought of spending any time in there.
"Nice," he said to Sam, who was looking around despondently.
"I'll put a chair in here. And some food and maybe some more candles. It won't be too bad," Sam said with a trace of desperation in his voice. Josh realised that Sam was clearly trying to convince himself of that and decided to help out.
"It'll be great," he said cheerily.
Sam turned to look at him. "No it won't," he said quietly. "But I'll worry about that later. Right now, there's something else I want to do."
In the dimness, Sam's eyes were almost completely black. His stance, the angle of his head, and the way his tongue was licking slowly around his lips left Josh in no doubt what Sam was going to do next. He had never seen a man so feral. So when Sam's body tensed then lunged forward at him, Josh relaxed and allowed himself to be pushed against the wall of the shelter.
Sam's warm, sweat-slick torso rubbed against his own as his mouth was devoured. Inexperienced hands fumbled at the buttons on his pants but before Josh had time to move his own down to help, Sam had achieved his goal and, as a strong hand wrapped around his pulsating shaft, Josh let his head fall back against the wall, scarcely noticing the pain.
Mirroring Sam's actions, it was only seconds before his own hand was wrapped around Sam, pumping away as the young man thrust wantonly into his grip. Josh thrust his own hips forward and cried out in delight as Sam brushed his thumb on that spot just below the head - that spot that always, always made him...
"Oh, fuck!" he yelled, as his cock pulsed again and a thick wad of come came shooting out, splattering on Sam's crotch and stomach. Josh looked down in time to see the last of his seed trickle down Sam's hand, where it was still holding him, urging out every drop.
Josh stroked Sam faster and faster and seconds later, through the mist filling his mind, he heard Sam's own cry of completion and felt something warm and wet spill across his stomach and hand.
Panting, Sam fell forwards against Josh and they sagged together, heads on each other's shoulder, too spent for any other movement.
When Josh felt able to move again he reached for Sam's hand and lifted it to his mouth. Slowly, gazing into Sam's eyes all the while, he licked the hand clean, sucking one finger at a time into his mouth, letting his tongue play casually around them. Better than all that, though, was the way he could feel Sam's heart racing against his own, so closely were their chests pressed together.
When he had licked all his come from Sam's hand, Josh allowed it to drop and relaxed as Sam tentatively returned the favour, moaning in delight as Sam grew increasingly confident as he mimicked on Josh's fingers what the soldier hoped he would do on another, very much interested, part of his anatomy before too long.
Sam leaned in and kissed Josh deeply, allowing their flavours to intermingle for the first time. The sensation was intense, and Josh felt a head rush at the sheer eroticism of the occasion.
"You devil, Sam," he murmured, pressing his open mouth across Sam's neck. "I never knew you had it in you."
"I want to," came the husky reply.
"Want to what?"
"Have... you know... 'it' in me."
"Oh fuck, Sam. You can't say that," groaned Josh, instantly regretting his words when Sam stepped back, out of reach.
"Why not? Don't you want to?" Sam sounded hurt and confused so Josh moved away from the support of the wall, hoping his still-trembling legs would hold him, and wrapped his arms around the young man in a tender embrace.
"I want to," he whispered. "I want to so much, Sam. I want to take you to bed and make love to you over and over again. But not just yet, okay? Letting a guy inside you for the first time is an amazingly intense experience - I need to know you're ready for it. And I need to be ready for it too," he added. "I've not done that to many guys, so I don't know how much help I'll be in getting you ready for it."
"But we will do it, won't we? One day?"
Josh kissed Sam again. "Oh, we will all right. Don't you worry about that. But for now I think we'd better clear up and get inside before it gets too cold. We've been in here a while, you know?"
"And once we're inside, I'm sure we can find something to do that'll take the edge off the wait."
Josh grinned as he heard a sound a lot like purring coming from Sam in response to that last comment so after placing one more kiss on Sam's lips he turned and climbed out of the shelter into the cool evening air.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Josh peered round the door to his CO's office.
"Yeah, come in." Leo's tone was brusque, and Josh felt a tremor of fear ripple through his body. There couldn't possibly be any more bad news for him, could there?
"How are you doing?" asked Leo.
"Not too bad, thank you, Colonel. I appreciate you letting me have that time away, sir."
Leo nodded and gestured for Josh to sit down.
"I need to talk to you about a few things that happened over the weekend, Lyman, but before we get to that there's another matter I gotta discuss with you."
Confused and curious, Josh watched as his boss shifted uncomfortably in his chair before turning to look out of the window as he spoke again.
"There's some rumours going around, Lyman. Have been for a while now but they're getting more and more lurid, and more and more frequent. You know what I'm talking about, right?"
"No, sir." In fact, Josh had a horrid feeling he knew exactly what the rumours were about but, he reasoned, there was always the shadow of a chance that they were about something else entirely and it would do him no harm to act innocent. Sadly, his acting skills appeared to be a little rusty as Leo swung round to face him.
"Okay, Josh, let me speak to you as a friend for a minute. I've known you since you were born and I know more about you than you think. So don't try and act like you don't know what I'm talking about here. You're a smart kid - there's no way you don't know what they're saying about you."
"What's that?" If innocent wasn't going to get him anywhere, Josh would go on the defensive. He folded his arms and clenched his fists, trying to stop his panic from consuming him. First John had died, then his father, and now it looked like he was going to have to give up the one good thing left in his life.
"Josh, I said I was talking to you as a friend, remember? I'm talking about you and Sam." Leo's voice was surprisingly gentle, and on his face, Josh was surprised to see no trace of disgust.
"Yeah. Oh. Now, listen." Leo spoke quietly. "I'm not gonna tell you what to do. You know what you should do."
Josh nodded miserably.
"But sometimes a guy needs to do what he wants, not what he should do," continued Leo, "so I'm leaving it up to you. All I'm gonna say on the matter is this: be discreet. More discreet," he added firmly, as Josh opened his mouth to protest. "A lot of people saw you and Sam spend most of the evening together at the dance, then the next day you upped and moved in with him for your entire leave."
"I know. It was the right thing for you. But if you want to keep him as your friend, then make sure that's all everyone thinks you guys are, would ya?" Leo's tone grew serious. "Josh, don't make me discharge you. On top of your father's death, that'd just about destroy your mother, and I really don't wanna do that to her. But carry on the way you are, and you'll leave me no choice. Get it?"
"I get it," replied Josh.
"Okay. Keep your head down and just..." The end of his sentence was lost to Josh.
"Sorry, sir. Just what?"
Leo looked away, clearly uncomfortable, but his voice was firm. "Just make sure you wouldn't fail a medical exam if we had to order one. You know what I'm talking about?"
Shit. Josh wanted to crawl under his chair, or better yet, sink into the floor. His father's oldest friend was telling him what he could and couldn't do in bed? He had never felt so embarrassed in his life, and nodded mutely.
"Then let's leave things there, shall we?" continued Leo, brusquely. "Now, Lieutenant, let me catch you up on what we've been doing while you were gone."
"These are for you."
CJ opened her front door to find a man hiding behind the biggest bunch of flowers she had ever seen.
"Where on earth did you get those?" she asked, unable to hide her delight. "We've not been allowed to grow flowers for years." She stepped back allowing Toby to enter the house.
"Ah, we knew we'd have to charm the locals, so we made sure we'd be able to get things like these on order," replied Toby. Unable to tell whether he was serious or not, CJ decided to ignore the comment and bustled about trying to remember what she'd done with her vases after she had turned the flower beds into one huge vegetable plot back when the war began.
Eventually, she found a large vase, wrapped in old newspaper, and unwrapped it to place the bouquet in it. As she did so, the date on the old newspaper caught her eye - April 10th, 1940. Her wedding anniversary, the last one she had shared with Simon. CJ began to feel guilty about having invited Toby for tea; it was one thing to meet him for a drink occasionally, even to go with him to the dance, but to have him as a visitor in her husband's home...
"CJ? Is something wrong?" Toby's voice pierced her thoughts and she shook her head to clear it of the images from more than two years ago, when she had seen Simon for the last time.
"No, no, I'm fine. Sorry, Toby. Can I get you something to drink before we eat?"
When each had a cup of tea, they made their way into the small living room, home to a piano, a worn sofa and matching armchair. Beside the window stood a small table where CJ would sit to mark her pupils' work. Bookshelves lined the walls and CJ smiled at the way Toby inspected their contents before he sat down.
As they drank their tea, they chatted about books they had both read and enjoyed and films they remembered. Toby told CJ about New York and what it had been like to grow up there. It sounded so exciting, so cosmopolitan to her, and she wondered if she would ever have the chance to visit such a place.
When evening fell, they moved to the kitchen where CJ served stew and boiled potatoes. From the look on Toby's face, it was clear that he wasn't really enjoying the food - he was obviously fed much better at the base. But he made appreciative noises as he scraped his plate clean, and complimented her on her cooking which mollified her somewhat.
"Thank you," replied CJ. "I miss having someone to cook for. Under different circumstances, I'd have cooked much more. But as it is, I'm afraid I couldn't even come up with a dessert course."
Toby smiled. "I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty..." He walked out into the hallway, where his coat was hanging on the coat stand, and returned a moment later with a couple of bars of chocolate.
CJ's eyes grew wide. "Really? You're a wonder, Toby," she exclaimed. "Oh, it's been too long."
"You ate some at the dance a few weeks ago. In fact, more than some. Lots. It was quite a sight."
Ripping open the bar she had taken somewhat abruptly from Toby's hand, CJ replied, "Exactly. That was weeks ago. You have no idea how much I love chocolate."
"I think I'm beginning to get the idea," muttered Toby as CJ unashamedly bit a large mouthful off the bar and murmured in delight.
It took just seconds for her to polish off the chocolate, then Toby pushed the second bar across the table. "I'm not such a fan of the stuff, myself," he said gruffly. "Have it if you want."
CJ was beginning to understand that Toby wasn't like most of the Americans she had spoken to - he preferred to hide his emotions behind a gruff exterior. For him, the giving of chocolate was a big gesture.
"You really are very sweet," she told him, enjoying the flush her words caused to spread across his cheeks.
Toby helped CJ to wash and dry the dishes. When they went back into the living room, the clock on the wall startled him.
"I'm sorry, I have to go," he said. "I had no idea it was so late. Thank you for a wonderful evening. You are... very good company."
He stepped closer to her, and hesitantly leaned forward. As his lips touched hers, CJ stepped back, accidentally knocking into a shelf as she did so.
"Are you alright? I'm so sorry."
Rubbing her arm, CJ assured him that she was fine. Toby, however, looked anything but. His face was red, and he wouldn't look at her.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. Have I offended you?"
His concern seemed genuine, and CJ felt a lump form in her throat. How long had it been since a man had looked at her in that way? To her embarrassment, she felt herself sniff, trying desperately to hold back the tears until her guest had left.
"I really do apologise," continued Toby as he backed out of the room. "Perhaps it would be best if I just left."
"No, wait." CJ followed him out into the hallway. "I should be the one to say sorry. You did nothing wrong. I just... I shouldn't have wanted you to do that?"
Toby turned to face her. "You wanted me to kiss you?" he asked softly.
She nodded, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
"But you don't think you should want that?" he continued.
She shook her head, trying to find something on which to discreetly clean her hand.
"I feel like... it's like I'm being unfaithful to Simon."
"Simon? Your husband." Understanding dawned in Toby's eyes and he awkwardly reached forward to pat her shoulder.
"I know it's stupid," sniffled CJ, "because he's been dead for more than two years. But still..."
"It's okay," Toby reassured her. "I understand. And if all you're comfortable being is friends, then that's what I'd like too."
"Maybe... one day..."
Nodding, Toby squeezed her hand gently. "Maybe one day," he promised. "Meanwhile, you have workbooks to mark and I have a job to get back to."
"I'll see you soon?"
"Yeah." Toby smiled again, shrugged his coat on and left, leaving CJ standing in the hall. Suddenly feeling very tired, she made her way upstairs to bed.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant?"
Sam opened his front door and grinned at Josh, who smiled in reply.
"You certainly can, sir. I'm here on official business for the United States Army Air Corps. I absolutely insist you let me in."
Stepping back, Sam waved Josh into the house. "Oh, I'll let you in all right," he whispered as Josh passed him, causing the soldier to skid to a somewhat less-than-sudden halt on the smooth wooden floor and almost lose his grip on the box in his hands.
"Crap, sweetheart, you could at least let me put this down somewhere before you start seducing the hell out of me," whined Josh petulantly, trudging into the kitchen to set his box down on the table.
"What is that, anyway?" asked Sam.
"Payment for your eggs." Josh started to unpack the box, tidying its contents into the cupboards and pantry. "Some sugar and butter, a chunk of cheese, plus a few cans of corned beef and few of Spam."
"You know, if I didn't love you already, I certainly would now." Sam walked up behind Josh and embraced him from behind, pulling him close. Very close.
"Mr. Seaborn, I do declare," cried Josh teasingly as he spun around to rub his suddenly over-heated crotch against Sam's obvious erection.
"So, how about it, then?" Sam lowered his voice, trying to sound seductive. From the moment his lips had first touched Josh's, he had been longing for this, longing for Josh to take him to bed and show him what it meant to make love with another man. So what if his hands were trembling, and his stomach felt as though he had eaten something a little off? He wanted this.
But Josh seemed to sense his nerves, stepping back and reaching back into the box.
"Later," he promised in a husky whisper. "First, though, I want to do something else." He pulled out a gramophone record and, taking Sam's hand in his own, led the younger man to the living room.
He fiddled with the gramophone for a moment, then the sound of a swing band filled the air.
"May I have this dance, sir?" Josh walked across the room to Sam and held his hand forward, invitingly. Sam's breath caught - the song that was playing was 'Moonlight Serenade' - the same song he had danced to with Laurie the night he had realised the depth of his feelings for Josh. The fantasy he had indulged in that evening was about to come true.
Wordlessly, Sam nodded and let Josh guide him gently into the middle of the room. They slid their arms around each other and swayed in time to the music, bodies pressed close to each other as Josh suckled on Sam's earlobe.
It should have felt awkward. It should have felt wrong. But to Sam, nothing had ever seemed so right. He closed his eyes and pulled Josh closer to him, letting the music and the feel of Josh holding him so tenderly overwhelm his senses.
Song after song played, each more heart-wrenchingly beautiful to Sam's ears. He lifted his head and kissed Josh softly. The kiss went on and on, lips sliding against each other. Their mouths stayed closed, keeping the connection chaste - there would be time enough for passion later that evening. For now, it was enough for Sam to learn that Josh could be so gentle and loving.
Eventually, the record ended. Sam and Josh stayed in each other's arms, swaying to the music of their synchronised heartbeats. Sam felt Josh's hands slide down his back, one resting on his hip as the other reached lower.
"Is now later?" he whispered, not wanting to break the spell that seemed to have been cast over them.
Josh smiled and kissed his cheek. "I think I'm the only person on earth who could understand that."
"You're the only person on earth I want to understand that."
Hand in hand, they made their way upstairs. When they reached the bedroom, Sam signalled for Josh to wait on the landing for a minute, while he crept into the room. He closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. It was really going to happen. Carefully, he lit the candles he had placed in there earlier, then reopened the door and beckoned Josh in.
"Oh, Sam." Josh cupped Sam's face with his hands and Sam felt himself being pulled forward into another melting kiss. "You're just the last of the true romantics, aren't you?"
"It's not too much?" asked Sam anxiously.
Josh shook his head. "It's perfect. You're perfect."
They slowly undressed each other, When the last of Josh's clothes had been slung carelessly across the room, Sam stepped back to look at him. His jaw dropped at the sight in front of him - Josh was perfect. A long neck lead down to broad shoulders and a well-toned chest, below which was an impressive six-pack. Still feeling a little shy, Sam dropped his eyes to Josh's feet, moving his gaze slowly upwards as he took in Josh's firm legs and narrow hips.
When he had first made his move on Josh, back in the shelter, he had been driven by a sudden rush of desire but as the days had passed, his sense of urgency had faded and now he was left feeling shy all over again. The fact that they were now inside and could see each other properly somehow made it seem more real, and infinitely more terrifying, than their first frantic encounter. But Josh's eyes were warm and his smile was soft and gentle, and as curiosity overcame his shyness, Sam let himself look at that which he was most nervous about seeing.
Josh's penis jutted out from under a thatch of curly brown hairs. Thick and dark red, Sam watched as it twitched under his appraisal.
"Sam?" Licking his lips, Sam looked up and was reassured to see that Josh was now looking a little nervous as well. More reassuring still was his obvious lack of disgust at being studied so attentively by another man. Even at this late stage, Sam found himself unable to shake that tiny vestige of fear that this was all some colossal joke that was about to see a baying crowd leap out from behind the furniture and attack him for his abnormal behaviour.
"You're..." Amazing. Stunning. Incredible. The words caught in Sam's throat as his nerves threatened to overtake him.
Josh took Sam's hands and they stood like that for a moment. "Can I see you now?" whispered Josh.
Sam pulled his hands out of Josh's grip and reached for the fastening on his trousers, but Josh stopped him. "Let me?"
As Josh began to undo the buttons, Sam found himself being distracted by the sensation of Josh's mouth licking and sucking along his collarbone. A sudden rush of cool air against his lower half brought his attention back to reality, and he watched Josh carefully fold his trousers over the back of a chair before putting his hands on Sam's hips and guiding him to lie on the bed.
"You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen." Josh's voice was soft and soothing, as his hands traced across Sam's chest and stomach. He tilted his head to one side, as though viewing a work of art hanging in a gallery.
"I love you, Josh." The words were so quiet, Sam wasn't sure they would be heard, but his misgivings were in vain. Josh bent down, his face hovering millimetres above Sam's.
"I love you too, my darling. I love you so much. Trust me?"
"Okay." Josh's hands and mouth traced across Sam's body, stroking and tasting every inch of his skin. Sam closed his eyes and let himself relax into the mattress. He had never felt so at peace with the world.
"You still with me here?" Sam didn't need to open his eyes to see the expression on Josh's face - he could hear the smile in his voice.
"Feels so good," he moaned.
"Yeah? Well, it's about to get a whole lot better," promised Josh.
As the warmth of Josh's mouth closed around the head of his penis, Sam let out a cry and pushed his hips up, only to feel Josh's hands push him gently back down. Slowly, oh so slowly, Josh's lips moved lower and lower, taking more and more of Sam inside himself. As he began to suck, Sam felt tears form in the corner of his eyes. Nothing should feel this good. He could never in his wildest dreams have imagined anything more intimate than having Josh taste him.
One of Josh's hands moved lower to caress his balls, and his tongue traced the pulsating vein along the side of his erection. Sam couldn't take it any longer. He began to thrust, small movements at first, growing more frantic when Josh made no move to stop him.
Sam felt his climax build and he erupted in Josh's mouth, feeling the muscles of his throat wring every last drop from his penis. He opened his eyes to see Josh leaning over him, smiling softly.
"You okay there?"
"Josh." Sam reached up and pulled his lover down for a passionate kiss, for the first time ever tasting himself inside Josh's mouth.
"You ready for what comes next?"
Sam paused for a second. "Yes. I think so. Yes."
"We're only doing this if you're sure," said Josh, pulling back slightly. "I'll be as gentle as I can, but your first time - it's going to hurt a little."
"That means it's going to hurt the same no matter when we do it, right?" asked Sam nervously.
"Yeah. I mean, I've got some Vaseline that'll help make things a bit easier, but it's still going to hurt some."
"So, let's do it now. Then it's not so long until the time it doesn't hurt as much, right?"
"Yeah." Josh kissed him again. "You need to turn over, sweetheart."
Sam rolled onto his front, and settled his head onto his folded arms while Josh pressed a line of kisses down his spine, going lower and lower until...
"Oh God! Josh!" Sam's head shot up at the sensation of something warm and wet circling his hole then pressing slowly inside him. This.. this was wrong. It was dirty and disgusting and unbelievably erotic. He spread his legs further and moaned as Josh's fingertips played along the crease at the top of his legs while his tongue pushed deeper and deeper inside, swirling around, withdrawing then returning, again and again until Sam was relaxed enough to rest his head back down.
The sensation stopped and a moment later Sam felt something else slide into him. Josh's finger. It was thicker and more solid than his tongue and Sam tensed.
"Sammy, you gotta relax for me. It'll feel much better if you can. I'll go nice and slow, I promise. Just keep trusting me, okay?"
Gradually, Sam did as Josh told him, helped by the feeling of Josh's free hand rubbing his arm soothingly. Soon, a second finger was added, then a third. Sam felt himself break out in a sweat and he gasped for breath as the room swam around him.
"How are you doing?" Josh's voice pierced the fog in his mind.
"I'm fine," he ground out through clenched teeth. He wasn't sure how he felt - uncomfortable, definitely, but in a way that felt strangely good.
"I'm gonna try this for real now," whispered Josh. "Just remember to relax. And if it hurts too much, just tell me to stop and I will. The instant you want it to, this ends."
The fingers were pulled out and as the warmth of Josh's body covered him, Sam felt something much thicker push its way into him. Then the movement stopped.
"Just get used to that for a minute." Josh was panting and Sam did his best to relax. There was pain, almost unbearable pain, but at the same time he knew that this was Josh. Inside him. The intimacy of being in Josh's mouth had nothing on this, thought Sam. This was two men joined as closely as possible. And he wanted that. Wanted to become one with the man he loved.
Josh moved again, pushing deeper into him. After what felt like hours, Sam felt his hand being lifted up and guided around to where they were joined.
"Feel that," whispered Josh, and Sam gasped. His fingertips rubbed around his hole, where Josh's erection was pushed fully into him.
"I can't believe this is real," he murmured.
Josh placed a kiss at the base of his neck, sending a shiver throughout his entire body. "Oh, it's real all right," he replied. "Ready to feel something more?"
Slowly, Josh began to move his hips, thrusting ever so gently in and out of Sam. The friction made it burn a little, but after a while, Sam felt his passage grow slick, and he realised that Josh must be close to coming.
The thrusts became longer and harder and, experimentally, Sam pushed back against one. A jolt shot through him and he pushed back again, more forcefully this time. Together the two men pushed and thrust and bucked and moaned. Josh's grip on his hips tightened and suddenly Sam felt something warm shoot deep inside him as Josh cried out in ecstasy.
They collapsed into a heap, hands clutching at whatever they could. Eventually, Sam felt Josh roll off his back to lie next to him. He turned and smiled at his lover, who was watching him worriedly.
"How do you feel?"
Sam reached for Josh's hand and placed a kiss on the palm before nestling it to his chest, holding it over his still-pounding heart. "Like I just became whole. You?"
"Like I just became whole."
Beeping the horn to alert Sam to his arrival, Josh leaned back in the driver's seat of the jeep he had managed to commandeer for the day and closed his eyes. It had been a stressful couple of weeks, with missions almost every day, and he was grateful to finally have a few hours to himself. Or more precisely - to himself and Sam. As his mind played out a little fantasy of just exactly how he wanted to spend the day, the passenger-side door opened and Sam slipped in.
Josh knew it was Sam without opening his eyes. Okay, so it was pretty obvious anyway - who else would be getting in the jeep? - but even if that hadn't been the case, he still would have known. He knew Sam now - knew his scent, knew how it felt to be near him. He opened his eyes and turned to smile at Sam, whose clear blue eyes gazed back at him, shining with love.
"I missed you," murmured Sam, touching his thigh briefly.
"Missed you too." Josh returned the gesture, daring to let his hand linger a little longer than strictly decorous, before turning the ignition key and pulling away from the kerb.
"So where are we going?"
Josh grinned. "It's a surprise. But a good one, I think. Toby was telling me about a walk he went on a while ago. There's this kind of ridge of raised earth stretching for a few miles across the fields not all that far from here. It's only a few feet high, but he said the view you can get is amazing. He could see right across the fens to the cathedral in a town twelve miles away. Doesn't that sound cool?"
"Very cool." Sam's attempt at appropriating such an American word would normally have made Josh laugh in pleasure, but today his lover's voice seemed a little flat.
"Are you okay?"
"Hmm? I'm fine." Clearly, he wasn't, but Josh figured if Sam wanted to talk about it, he would, so he let the subject drop for the moment.
Thirty minutes later they had arrived at their destination. Josh parked the jeep and stepped out, walking quickly around to open the door for Sam.
"You didn't have to do that," remonstrated Sam. "But I like that you did."
They were in too public a place for Josh to show Sam just how much he appreciated that admission, so he settled for ruffling a hand through Sam's hair briefly.
"This is incredible you know," he said. "Do you know what this is?"
"It's Devil's Dyke. I've been here a couple of times before. Which direction do you want to head?"
Josh looked around. It was a beautiful winter's day - the sky was a crisp, clear blue and surrounding him were miles and miles of fields standing fallow during the harsh winter months. To his right he could see the church spire and windmill of one village, and to his left another village, this one with fewer houses but two churches and windmills.
"Look over there." Sam pointed straight ahead.
"What am I supposed to be seeing?"
"The cathedral - there, right on the horizon, see? Before they drained the fens, all this land was under water, but the cathedral town sits on a hill."
Josh looked at him incredulously. "A hill? Sam, this place is flatter than flat. I've seen road kill with a steeper gradient than the land."
"For your information, that land over there is twenty metres higher than we are. A raise of twenty metres over a distance of twelve miles counts as a hill around here."
"Huh. You're an odd bunch, you know that?" Josh was teasing, but for a fraction of a second it looked as though Sam hadn't realised this. But then a smile spread over his face and he linked arms with Josh.
"Up for some mountaineering then?" he grinned and pulled Josh up the short but steep slope onto the dyke.
They walked in silence for a while. Josh found to his surprise that he didn't need to be chattering away a mile a minute with Sam in order to feel comfortable, and he let himself enjoy the peace and quiet while he could. The occasional aeroplane passed overhead, but that was the closest the two men got to meeting anyone else.
After a while, though, Josh was beginning to worry about Sam. His earlier ebullience had faded, and he had his hands shoved in his pockets. Something had to be wrong. Why wouldn't he say anything?
The wind began to pick up a little, and Josh felt his ears growing cold. He looked around, trying to see if there was anywhere to take shelter for a while, but there was nothing but fields. He peered down the banks of the dyke and it struck him that they could double as a windbreak.
Josh slid his hand into Sam's and tugged him off the path and down the slope, until they reached the tall hedgerow that grew along the base. Between that and the bushes growing on the slope, they were hidden from view.
"Sammy, what's happened? You're not yourself today." He gripped Sam's hips lightly, then slid his hands upwards. Almost instantly, Sam hissed and winced.
"Sam? Are you hurt?"
Without giving him a chance to answer, Josh lifted Sam's shirt to see a large black bruise spread across Sam's side.
"Who did this to you?" he asked urgently, but Sam refused to answer.
"Who did this?" He took Sam by the shoulders and shook him, trying desperately to provoke a reaction. He was successful. Sam flung his hands forward and pushed Josh away before turning and sinking to the ground where he sat, knees pulled to his chest, looking for all the world like a young child who had just been scolded.
At that instant, Josh understood.
"Your father came back, didn't he?"
Sam's nod was almost imperceptible, but it told Josh everything he needed to know. He crouched next to his lover and wrapped his arms around him.
Sam sniffled. "A couple of days ago. He's gone now," he added hurriedly. Josh wasn't sure whether to be pleased that Sam was out of danger, or pissed that he wouldn't get the chance to show Mr. Seaborn just exactly how unimpressed he was with his behaviour.
"Why did he hit you?"
"I don't know. He said I ruined dinner. But I didn't, Josh, I swear I didn't do anything wrong."
"I know, I know." As Sam burst into tears, Josh held him close and rocked him in the hope of offering a small shard of comfort.
When Sam had calmed down a little, Josh wiped his eyes for him before speaking. "Sammy, I want to say something to you that I don't think you're going to like very much. But just hear me out, okay?"
There was no answer, but as he felt Sam's body relax in his grip, Josh decided to go for it anyway. "You've got to start standing up to him, sweetheart. You're a grown man, strong and intelligent - you don't need to take his crap anymore. I'd do anything in my power to help you, and I'm sure others would lend a hand too. Your neighbour seems nice - I know she's spending a lot of time with my roommate and from what he's told me I'm sure she wouldn't turn you away if you needed something."
"I can't, Josh," whispered Sam. "I live in his house. I work at his law firm. Until I've saved up the money to move out, I have to accept the way he treats me. There is a war on, you know. It's not exactly an ideal time to be setting up a new life."
Josh could hear that Sam was about to break into tears again, and he wanted to avoid that.
"I know, darling, I know. We don't have to talk about this anymore, if you don't want to. Just promise me you'll at least think about what I said."
"I promise." Sam's eyes were still a little watery, and there was nothing Josh wanted more than to make his tears go away. But first there was something else he had to say.
"Listen. While we're getting all deep and meaningful here, there's something else I need to talk to you about."
"Okay." Sam looked at him, clearly puzzled. "Josh, you're shaking. What's going on. Are you breaking up with me?"
"What?" Josh grabbed Sam's hand and nuzzled it. "No. Absolutely not. No way on earth. You're stuck with me for life now. You do know that, don't you?"
Sam nodded slowly. "I do now."
He still sounded unsure, and Josh felt a tendril of doubt and fear wrap around his heart. "That is what you want, isn't it?"
Sam pulled his hand away and curled himself up. "Nossure," he mumbled.
"What?" Josh desperately hoped he had misheard, or misunderstood.
"I'm not sure," whispered Sam. His voice was faint but the words were clear. Josh felt the world fall out from beneath him.
"What do you mean you're not sure. I thought you loved me."
"Because I know what my father will do to me when he finds out. And he will find out, Josh. I'm amazed he didn't hear something when he was back this time. I guess we just got lucky for the moment, but that can't last forever."
Josh swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Sam, do you love me?"
His lover met his eyes. "Yes."
"Good." He relaxed slightly, then pressed on. "So forget about your father. Forget about your friends and your neighbours and your colleagues and the village idiot. Do you want us to stay together?"
"Then we will. God, Sam, I've lost so many people I love. I'm not letting you go too, you hear me? And if anyone ever tries to take you from me, I'm going to fight like hell to get you back."
"But my father..."
Sam frowned but remained silent.
"We'll cross that bridge if and when we get to it. Meanwhile, my darling, you're here and I'm here and we're very much in love. That's all I need to make me happy."
As Sam smiled, Josh let out a breath he hadn't realised he had been holding, and he put his arm around his lover's shoulder. Sam leaned into him, and they sat together, just taking the chance to relax in each other's presence. Eventually, Sam spoke.
"So what is it you wanted to discuss with me?"
Taking a deep breath, Josh grabbed his courage in both hands. "It's not so much a discussion as a me telling you something," he began uncomfortably. "You know how we talked about doing things the other way around... in bed?"
"Well, we can't. Not for a long time. Sam, I should have told you sooner, but we were having a moment and I didn't want to spoil it. When I got back from that first weekend we spent together, the colonel called me into his office and warned me that he was hearing rumours about us."
Sam gasped. "Are you in trouble?"
"No. But he warned me to be careful and, well, to make sure they wouldn't find anything if I had to have a medical exam. So we can't... you know? Because you'd leave... you know? You do know, don't you?" Josh could tell his face was flaming red, but Sam was looking at him kindly so he let himself relax slightly.
"I know," said Sam reassuringly, "and it's fine. I like what we've been doing so far, and it's enough for me."
"There is something I want us to do, though," continued Sam.
Sam stood and tugged Josh up. "Can we please go somewhere a little warmer? Lovely and romantic though this was, my hands are going numb, and something tells me you don't want me to lose the use of them just yet." Sam waggled his eyebrows enticingly then turned to head back up the slope. Laughing with a sudden burst of joy at the knowledge that Sam really did want him, and was willing to go along with whatever boundaries he had to set, Josh grinned to himself and followed his lover back to the jeep.
"I'm really pleased you came to visit, Leo. We haven't seen enough of each other." Leo felt Jed's eyes on him as he lowered himself into a chair at the table. He was in the middle of a long day, in a long week, in a long month, in a long war. There just never seemed to be the time to do anything of a personal nature but when his thoughts had returned to Jed for the umpteenth time that day, he had decided to take the afternoon for himself, commandeering a car and driving himself into the village.
"Yeah. Well, you know how it is," he shrugged, trying to sound casual.
"Yes, because running a school and running an air base are just so similar." Jed's tone was crisp and cold, but eventually he relented. "I can imagine how things are for you, I suppose."
"I have a lot of work - it doesn't mean I didn't want to see you. I really am sorry I didn't come sooner."
Leo felt uncomfortable. His work was consuming his life - it was all he could think of to talk about. The only other thing he knew for sure that he and Jed had in common was the work they had done together in 1917. And that wasn't exactly the kind of thing you could bring up over cake and tea.
The stilted conversation turned to the subject of village gossip - which airmen were dating which locals. The more they talked, the more the two men relaxed, and before long they were chuckling away over the antics of one young engineer who had come back to the base incredibly inebriated one evening under the mistaken impression that Leo's office was his dormitory.
They discussed the dance, and the young man Leo had introduced to Jed - Josh Lyman.
"I was at college with his father," explained Leo. "When Josh wanted to sign up, I made sure he got assigned to my squadron. I promised Noah I'd keep an eye out for him and since his father died - around the time he started spending every hour possible with that kid Sam, I'm keeping an even closer eye out for him." He paused significantly, then continued. "Can I ask you something?"
"Have you heard any rumours going around the village?
Leo paused, unsure whether or not he could still rely on the method of unspoken communication that had served them so well while they were working in undercover ops during the previous war. "We are talking about..."
"Norham's very own Laurel and Hardy?"
"Those would be the ones."
Jed sighed. "Are you going to do something about it?"
"Put a stop to it you mean?" Leo hoped he sounded as incredulous as he felt. "Not if I can help it. Josh is a good kid, and he's been through a lot recently. He deserves any happiness he can get. Anyway, I couldn't tell him to do that. That kind of warning would be okay coming from anyone but me. I may be a lot of things, but a hypocrite isn't one of them."
"Well it's about damn time."
Shocked at his friend's angry tone, Leo started. "What the hell's gotten into you?"
"You're not serious are you?"
"I think you'll find I am."
"Dammit, Leo! You've been here for nearly five months and this is the first time you've been willing to acknowledge what we had; what we were to each other. You don't think that's something worth getting angry about?"
Leo stared in disbelief as Jed pushed his chair back and began to pace the room.
"All these years I've wanted to see you again, wanted to talk to you, touch you, be with you. Then I finally get the chance and you act like nothing's happened. When I tried to bring the subject up, you just dismissed it out of hand. Well let me tell you something, mister. You don't get to act like that anymore. You may be a big shot colonel, but you're in my country now, in my home, and I want to see you show me a little respect."
"Respect?!" Leo was yelling by now. "You have a wife and children. You want them to find out what we did together? Of course I had to stop you talking about it - you might have stopped caring about your reputation, but I'm still looking out for you."
"Then why now? Why bring it up now?"
"Because we're alone," hissed Leo. "For the first time we're alone and I can let my guard down. You have no idea how hard it's been for me to hold myself back all these months. I love you as much now as I did then. But I know we can't do anything about it."
He sank back in his chair, utterly defeated. His friend had come to a sudden halt and was gazing at him in wonderment.
"You love me?"
"I love you."
"As much as then?"
"As much as then."
"Oh, Leo. You know I can't..."
"Yes, I know. I just told you I know."
Minutes ticked by, the clock the only sound in the kitchen.
"So what do we do now?" Jed asked eventually.
Leo sighed heavily. "Now? Now we get on with our lives. You look after your wife and children and I look after the men under my command. And when the war's over, I go home and try to repair some of the damage I've done to my marriage by coming over here instead of retiring years ago like Jenny wanted me to."
"We'll still be friends though, right?"
"Jed. As if you had to ask." So many years had passed since the first time Leo had laid eyes on him, but he was still so attractive - the greying hair only made him seem more distinguished, and the lines around his eyes appeared more as a sign of wisdom than one of age.
Suddenly, the kitchen door flew open and Abbey bustled in.
"Leo, I thought I heard your voice."
Jed shot Leo a concerned look and the American knew exactly what he was thinking - just how much had Abbey heard?
Turning down the offer of another drink, Leo made his farewells. As he started the engine, he turned back - Jed was standing in the middle of his garden, hands in his pockets, looking at him fondly. Leo nodded in acknowledgement and drove away.
That night, Jed couldn't sleep. He tossed and turned for hours until his wife tapped him on the shoulder.
"Either you tell me what's bothering you, or you find somewhere else to sleep."
He rolled over to face her. The room was pitch black, but he felt he should make the effort.
"Oh, don't give me that," she scolded. Then her voice grew soft. "Jed, I heard you and Leo arguing this afternoon."
Jed felt his blood turn to ice. "You heard us?"
"Every last word." That was odd, she didn't sound angry, just concerned.
"You... you..." He was a well-respected teacher, and an author of several books, but for the life of him, Jed couldn't think of a thing to say.
"Don't worry about it," continued Abbey. "I'm not cross."
"Really. I'm glad you had someone while you were away. You can deny it till the cows come home, but the things you saw and the things you did over there still give you nightmares. So if you managed to find some form of comfort, well then I'm happy about it."
"But I betrayed you."
"No, no you didn't. If you'd been with another woman, you would have. And anything happened between you again now, you would do. But you weren't and it hasn't and for some inexplicable reason I think I can accept what did happen. Plus, I have to say," she continued mischievously, "it certainly conjures up some pleasant images."
"Abbey!" Jed was shocked. Maybe his wife did sail a little close to the wind at times, but this... this was a whole new level.
"Oh, don't try and tell me you've never thought about it."
"Hmm." So perhaps his thoughts had drifted back in that direction once or twice over the years. There was no way Jed was ever going to admit to that, though. "I'm going to sleep now," he announced. "Try to contain yourself over there. I can't sleep when you're restless."
Abbey snorted and wrapped her arm around Jed. He smiled to himself - things were going to work out. He could tell.
"I can't believe you tracked it down!"
"Well, I'm a soldier. I've had training you know."
"Training in this?"
Josh blushed. "Okay, so maybe not exactly this."
"I didn't think 'The Wizard of Oz' sounded like a particularly military film." Sam was giddy with happiness - he was going on a proper date for the first time ever. Following up on a promise Sam had thought he had forgotten about, Josh had located a cinema where his all-time-favourite-film-ever-ever-ever-really-you'll-love-it-Sam was being shown.
They walked through the narrow streets of Cambridge, Josh pausing every now and then to admire the architecture of the colleges. "You really studied here?" he asked, slightly in awe. He knew Sam was intelligent, but to see the grandeur of King's College and the Backs, where buildings hundreds of years old faced out across the river, really drove the point home. His lover was one of the most well-educated people in the country. The thought made Josh tingle, and he moved closer to Sam, letting their hands brush together as often as he could.
They reached the cinema just as the film was about to start, and bought two of the last tickets. An usherette walked them through to the screen and told them to wait at the door while she found them somewhere to sit. A couple of minutes later she returned. "I'm ever so sorry," she began, "but the only place we have two seats together is in the back row."
Sam didn't need to look at Josh to know that he was grinning wickedly. He batted his hand against Josh's thigh as a silent remonstration and turned his charm on the usherette. "That's okay," he assured her. "We'll still be able to see the screen from there won't we?"
"Oh yes. But, you see, the seats there are double ones. For the couples, you see," she added in a low voice. "You know the way it is - the men come home on leave, they don't want to be an inch further from their girl than they absolutely have to. But this film's not as popular with the couples, so we've got space there."
"It's fine. Really. He doesn't smell that bad." Sam was hoping that humour would hide his eagerness to sit squashed next to Josh for the length of an entire film. It seemed to work, as the usherette led them up the aisle to the back of the cinema and shone her light at the seats on the end of the row.
"Think you can behave yourself?" he asked Josh in a low murmur as the newsreel began to play.
There was no answer for a long time, then Sam felt Josh's leg press against his own. A moment later, Josh's foot began to rub against his calf.
The torment continued throughout the report, then as the lights came up for the short break before the feature presentation, Josh shifted, and Sam was relieved to find there was now a respectable distance between them. Josh, it appeared, was unable to sit still. He fidgeted from side to side, stretching his legs and arms, and rolling his neck. He began to peer around, as though looking for something. Sam quickly found out what.
"See, there's two guys sitting together over there." Josh chuckled, pointing across to the other side of the room. "What do you want to bet they're friends of Dorothy too?"
Sam's head whipped round. "I've heard of that. Hey, why didn't you ask me the question when we first met?"
"Didn't need to," replied Josh smugly. "I just knew we were right for each other."
"Oh." Sam felt warm at the admission. "How?"
Josh shrugged. "I don't know, really. It's just a sense I got."
"Have you ever sensed it about other guys?"
"Sort of, yeah. With a few."
"Oh." Sam felt less warm now. He knew Josh had been with other men before him, but that was far from his favourite subject. Still, he was curious. "So, did they have that sense about you too?"
"I don't know."
"Why don't you know?"
Even in the darkness of the cinema, Sam could see Josh blush. "Sam, you have to understand. The other guys I've been with... well, those relationships weren't so much with the talking, if you know what I mean. In fact, they don't really deserve to be called relationships. More like flings. You're the first guy I've really... you know... loved."
"Oh." The warm feeling was back, and fuzzier than ever. Sam sank deeper into his seat, wishing he could demonstrate to Josh just how happy he was at hearing that, but looking around the nearly-full room, he realised that would have to wait until they got home.
Halfway through the film, Sam was beginning to get the impression that Josh was feeling the same way about him, but was less eager to wait. His hand had been resting on the top of Sam's thigh for some time, but slowly it began to edge its way higher and higher, the tips of Josh's fingers creeping towards the gap between Sam's legs.
Hot with embarrassment, fear and, he had to admit, excitement, Sam put his hand on Josh's to keep it still.
"What do you think you're doing?" he whispered.
"If you don't know, I guess I'm not doing it right." That had to be a line, but the way Josh's lips brushed against Sam's ear when he said it sent a shiver down his spine anyway.
Josh didn't try to move his hand from under Sam's, and eventually Sam let his grip on it ease. Almost immediately, it resumed its wanderings, sliding upwards and inwards. Sam felt himself hardening at the illicit touch and the thrill of knowing that at any moment they could be caught.
As Josh's knuckles brushed against his cloth-covered erection, Sam let out a hiss of air through gritted teeth.
"You like that, huh?"
Sam didn't dare speak - a woman in the row in front of him had turned at his hiss, and he wasn't eager to attract any more attention. Instead, he stretched his left hand out and grabbed Josh's crotch. Hard.
With a thud that resounded along the entire length of the room, Josh's head snapped back and hit the wall behind him, startling the couple next to him out of their lip-lock.
The two men kept their hands to each other for a couple more minutes, but soon Sam couldn't resist stroking Josh's leg. He leaned in close to his lover.
"Are you going to tell me how this film ends?" he murmured.
Josh looked at him warily out of the corner of his eye.
"It's only got another 45 minutes or so left. You'll find out soon enough.
Sam slid his hand higher up Josh's leg and kneaded the muscle gently. "If you don't promise me that we're going to get out of this place very, very soon," he murmured quietly, "I'm going to get on my knees and suck you right here, right now, and I don't give a damn who sees us."
Moaning under his breath, Josh slid his hand over Sam's. "I'm out of here. Wait ten minutes or so then follow me. I'll meet you round the corner, under that group of trees at the end of the road.
Sam squeezed Josh's fingers in answer and tucked his legs in so Josh could slip past. He couldn't believe what he had just said - sweet and innocent Sam Seaborn was rapidly becoming a hussy.
Sam grinned to himself. Who knew being so wicked could feel so good?
They staggered through the front door and slammed it shut behind them. Sam took Josh's wrist and dragged him upstairs and shoved him backwards, so that he fell onto the bed. Sam pounced and began to attack his mouth as he tore Josh's clothes off, moaning as Josh mirrored his actions.
Within seconds they were naked and hard.
"Turn around for me, baby." Josh's voice was low and husky, and Sam's erection hardened even more as he rolled onto his stomach.
"Not like that. Turn around, not over. I wanna suck you, Sammy. I wanna wrap my mouth around you while you take me down your throat."
"Oh, Josh." Sam rolled onto his back to let Josh straddle him. "Come on," he muttered. "I want you in me. I want you in my mouth, down my throat. Want to lick you, suck you, make you scream."
"You betcha, honey." Josh sank his erection into Sam's open mouth as he wrapped his own lips around the head of Sam's penis.
Together they rocked and thrust and moaned and licked and rolled around on the bed, gasping breaths between long, hard sucks. Sam felt Josh wipe his hand through the sweat gathering in the small of his back, then a moment later he felt a finger ease its way slowly into his hole.
He groaned and pushed back against it, as Josh's thumb swiped the skin behind his balls. Sam gripped Josh's backside harder and forced his penis deeper down his throat.
The sensation of being filled from both ends, while Josh's warm tongue traced its way around his cock, was too much for Sam. He bucked his hips and the head of his penis hit the back of Josh's throat. With a considerably-muffled shout he came, filling Josh's mouth with his seed. Josh seemed to like this and a moment later, salty liquid filled Sam's own mouth. As he sucked the final drops from his lover, Sam jumped at the sound of a loud knocking on his front door.
"Shit!" He leapt off the bed and snatched his clothes up, pulling them on with one hand as he used the other to wipe his mouth.
"Wha' the fu'." Josh was clearly still floating on his happy cloud.
Sam yanked the door open, the noise startling Josh back into full consciousness.
"What in God's name is happening right now?"
Glaring at Josh's lack of urgency, Sam picked up Josh's clothes and flung them onto the bed. "Someone's at the door. Get up, get dressed and get that goofy smile off your face."
It was Sam's favourite 'Josh look'. Just after making love, Josh would lie back, his eyes half-closed, hair mussed and a soft smile on his face - a look that combined seductive with innocent, and one which never failed to make Sam's pulse race a little more.
Blowing his lover a kiss, Sam headed down the stairs, wiping his hand across his mouth once more for good measure. As the knocking started up again, he opened the door.
"Donna! What are you doing here?"
"What took you so long, Sam? I've been knocking for ages."
"I, er, I banged my head on something."
From the landing at the top of the stairs, Sam heard a quickly-muffled snort and moments later Josh appeared. Smirking, he made his way slowly down, sending a barely-perceptible wink in Sam's direction before he smiled weakly at their visitor.
"Hello, Josh!" Donna's face lit up and Sam inwardly groaned - it was going to be so hard to get rid of her now.
Josh's lack of enthusiasm was clear to Sam, but Donna didn't seem to notice it.
"Erm, Josh, do you have mirrors on the air base?"
"Uh-huh." Sam frowned as Josh rolled his eyes, his disinterest in the conversation clear.
"Well maybe you should try looking in one after you brush your teeth."
"What?" Sam followed Donna's gaze to Josh's lips. His heart skipped a beat. There at the corner of Josh's mouth...
"You have toothpaste on your face," said Donna.
With wide eyes, Josh whipped his head around to stare at Sam, who was pleased to see that his lover was beginning to understand the problem.
"Oops. Thanks, Donna." Josh turned on the charm and licked the white specks away, nudging Sam's foot with his own.
Donna either didn't notice or didn't care that she was being unsubtly ushered towards the door.
"Anyway, I came to tell you I won't be working in the pub as much as before," she said. Her words must have been directed at Sam, but she was gazing dreamily at Josh as she spoke. "I have to do four evenings a week at one of the factories in town."
"Mm-hm. War effort and all that."
Sam looked at her worriedly. "But, Donna, how are you going to get there? It's a long way to cycle and those roads aren't safe at night."
"Oh, it's okay. They're putting on a bus for us - it'll go round all the local villages."
As Josh rolled his eyes and, standing behind Donna's back, waved his hands in a gesture of frustration, Sam tried to get her to leave.
"That'll take hours. You'll be exhausted."
Josh pounced. "Yes. Exhausted. You'll be exhausted. So you should go get some sleep now while you have the chance."
Donna smiled. "Really? You're worried about me? That's so sweet of you."
Josh turned away and grimaced briefly. When he faced her again he had a clearly fake smile plastered across his face. "Yes, I really am quite something. Now, why don't you head off. After all, who knows what kind of damage your talking to us instead of sleeping could do the war effort?"
Donna hurried home and Sam turned to Josh.
"Damage the war effort?"
"Eh. War effort, my sex life. What's the difference really?"
"How's that then?"
Josh smirked. "In both, the winner takes all.
Sam stepped closer to Josh. "Are you saying you think you've taken my all?" he asked, his voice husky with desire.
Grinning, Josh gripped Sam's hips and pulled the young man up against him. "Are you saying you've got something else for me?"
"Oh, I've got all kinds of things for you, baby. Come upstairs with me and I'll show you." Sam couldn't keep up the seductive routine any longer, and he burst into laughter, joined a moment later by Josh.
"You're crazy, you know that?" Josh murmured.
"Crazy in love," agreed Sam. "Here. Let me prove it."
Hand in hand, they made their way back upstairs, suddenly very eager to pick up where they'd left off.
"I thought you'd be spending Christmas with CJ," commented Josh. He way lying on his bunk, one leg swinging in the air as he glanced across the room at his friend who had been reading long enough for Josh to get very bored.
"No. She's still at that stage of mourning where she doesn't want to have too much fun. And I'm still at that stage of being Jewish where I don't want to celebrate a Christian festival," replied Toby, putting his book down. Inwardly Josh gloated at his victory, but this gloating quickly vanished as Toby continued. "I have to say, though, I thought you'd be spending the day with Sam."
Josh's eyes widened. "Toby, I don't know what you've heard..." he began, as he leapt down from his bunk and began pacing nervously.
"You know exactly what I've heard, Josh, so don't try the innocent act on me."
"Oh, get that look off your face. Do you see me threatening to hurt you or kill you or blackmail you?"
"Well then how about you try giving me the benefit of the doubt, just as I'm doing the same for you?"
"Ah-kay." Josh sighed and sat down.
"I don't hate you, Josh. I mean, I that's probably because I don't know you all that well, but you seem an okay guy and from what CJ's told me of Sam, he's infinitely better than you. So while I don't hold out too much hope for the two of you having a long and distinguished future together, I'm willing to help you any time you need it."
"Toby, thank y-"
"Uh uh uh. Don't thank me - I don't want you to see this as a sign that I like you, okay? I just don't want to see you lose your job. Our first day here you told me how much you wanted to fight in this war, and I don't want to be the only one around here who feels that way. I'm being selfish in my actions here, and don't you forget it."
"We're done with this conversation now."
"Hey! Am I never going to be allowed to finish a sentence around you?"
Toby glared. "You just did. And that's the only one you're getting."
"Abbey, this food is wonderful. Thank you so much." Leo leaned back in his chair, rubbing his stomach happily. "It's been a long time since I got to enjoy a home-cooked meal."
"Well, it's been a long time since I had all the ingredients to cook one, so any thanks should go to you for bringing so much food," replied Abbey.
"Ah, you're all too polite," grumbled Jed. "What happened to the usual Christmas rows - the turkey's too dry, the sprouts too soggy? That's a traditional Christmas and we're depriving our guests of the authentic experience here, Abigail."
Leo snorted in amusement as he watched the banter between Jed and his wife continue as they cleared the table. Knowing that Abbey was aware of the past he and Jed shared, Leo had worried she would treat him differently, but to his relief she had welcomed him with a hug and been more than willing to let him bring an extra guest to the meal.
"Did you enjoy it, Charlie?" For the first time all day, Zoey piped up from her seat opposite the young man.
"Yes, thank you, ma'am. It was delicious."
"I helped cook it, you know," continued Zoey, blushing slightly.
"Well, my compliments to you as well as to your mother, ma'am."
Jed wandered back over to the table, a grin on his face. "You know, you don't have to call her ma'am, Charlie. She's too young for that."
As Charlie mumbled an apology, Leo laughed. "Ah, don't mind him, Charlie," he explained. "He's just doing the overprotective father act to keep Zoey safe from any untoward attention you might be planning on showing."
Zoey blushed a deep crimson and Jed's grin vanished. "Zoey? Get any thoughts of boys out of your head now. We've discussed this." His tone was grave but his eyes were twinkling, and Leo relaxed as he realised Jed was just teasing.
"Da-aad." The tone of red covering Zoey's cheeks deepened, and Charlie shifted uncomfortably.
"Jed, leave them alone. Charlie, I'm glad you enjoyed the meal. I'm so glad Leo brought you here - it's lovely to meet you." Abbey stepped behind her husband and placed her hands on his shoulders. For a moment, Leo felt a pang of jealousy that she could do something like that while he had to sit there, smiling as though his heart wasn't torn with loneliness.
In a moment of desperation, he had asked Charlie to come to the Bartlets' with him, hoping that with one of the men under his command there he wouldn't say or do anything inappropriate. Charlie's hard work and willingness to do anything asked of him, and his ability to do it well, had impressed Leo, and when Josh had also mentioned how impressed he was with the young soldier, Leo had decided that Charlie deserved a treat at Christmas. While there would be a meal on the base, some of the soldiers had exhibited an unwelcome tendency towards racism, and Leo had wanted to give Charlie a day away from all that.
The group retired to the living room for a game of charades. Jed looked resigned, Abbey looked amused at his resignation, and Zoey took advantage of the opportunity to sit on the floor close enough to Charlie to earn her a 'look' from her father. Watching Jed reluctantly mime clues for a film that seemed to involve a lot of unnecessary grand gesturing and arm-flapping, Leo let himself relax. For a few hours, he could allow himself to forget about the war, and his estranged wife, and his fear and solitude. For now, he could simply enjoy the company of friends.
"Josh!" Sam ran across the tarmac to his lover and was about to fling his arms around him when he remembered where they were.
"Hey, Sam!" Josh grinned ruefully, reaching out to clasp Sam's shoulder and Sam knew that Josh understood how he was feeling. "Want to head inside?"
It wasn't really a hard decision - inside the hangar was food and warmth and most of the residents of Norham chatting away with the entire crew of the air base. Outside was Josh. "Not really," admitted Sam and the warmth of Josh's smile instantly made up for the cold air around them.
Glancing around to check that no one was watching them, Sam looped his arm around Josh's waist and allowed his partner to guide them away from the crowds and over to the barracks.
"How about this type of inside? We can't stay here long," warned Josh as they stepped inside. "Too many questions if anyone finds us here. But you can warm up a bit first, at least."
"I missed you." Sam stepped into Josh's embrace and they stood for a long moment before their mouths met, lips brushing against each other before Sam groaned and allowed Josh to deepen the kiss, nearly swallowing him whole in his enthusiastic response.
"Missed you too," murmured Josh as he began to pepper butterfly kisses across Sam's face. "Missed you so much, sweetheart. So glad you're back." He stepped back and peered intently at Sam. "How was your Christmas? How was your father?"
Sam sighed. "Christmas was good. My little cousins are growing up fast, so they were a bit of a handful. It was good to see my aunt again, though. She'd just had a letter from my uncle, so she was really happy."
"And your father?" pressed Josh.
Closing his eyes, Sam stepped back into Josh’s arms and let himself go. "Not good," he whispered. He felt Josh's arms tighten around him as one hand soothingly stroked his back.
"Did he hit you?"
Sam couldn't move.
"Did he hit you?" repeated Josh, more urgently this time. "He did, didn't he? That bastard! Just you wait till I..." Josh let go of Sam and thumped the wall angrily.
"Josh, please." His legs started to tremble and Sam sat down on the bed nearest him. Instantly, Josh was by his side. "Please don't," whispered Sam. "He's not here now, alright? He can't hurt me now. And it wasn't that bad, really. He's done worse."
"He should never have done anything," protested Josh. "Sam, no one should ever hit you. Ever."
"Please, just leave it. It's New Year's Eve and we're finally together again." Sam knew he sounded desperate, but he didn't care. He was desperate. Desperate to feel Josh's touch, to be reminded that physical contact didn't have to be brutal. "Don't let him spoil the time we have together. Please."
"Okay. I'm sorry. I'll drop it, I promise."
They sat together for a while, chatting about inconsequential things, laughing at Josh's lame jokes and Sam's tales of the cute things his nieces and nephew had said and done while he had been staying with them for the holidays, and of the eccentric old lady he had been stuck next to on the train home the previous day.
"Have you warmed up enough yet?" Josh eventually asked Sam, who nodded.
"We should head over to the others," he replied, "before too many people notice our absence."
Josh nodded and they walked outside, hand in hand, all the while keeping an eye out for anyone who might see them. Josh tugged Sam a little closer to him and tightened his grip on his hand. "I really did miss you, you know," he whispered. "More than I thought possible." It was true. He didn't understand how it had happened, but somehow Sam had become the centre of his universe. "You're my first thought when I wake up and my last before I fall asleep," he continued. "And in my dreams you're always there right by my side. Or over me, or under me."
Sam took a sharp breath and Josh turned to see him gazing longingly at him. It was madness to even think about it, but the images flooding Josh's mind were just too tempting to ignore. With a final glance around him, Josh tugged Sam down the narrow gap between two huts. There were no lights, and it was unlikely anyone would be in the area at that time of night. And he couldn't wait a second longer.
He shoved Sam up against the wall, pushing their bodies together urgently.
"Need you, Sam. Need you right here, right now," he muttered against Sam's neck as he began to suck at the soft skin, his nose buried in Sam's hair.
Sam's hands came up and clutched at his head, pulling him in for a savage kiss, which left his mouth feeling bruised and battered. Then Sam's hand shoved again, and Josh felt them scrabbling at his belt and buttons. Within seconds, he rock hard penis was exposed to the cold night air, and an instant later, Sam's ice cold fingers wrapped around it.
"Shit!" yelled Josh, and Sam clamped his other hand across his mouth.
"Shut up," he whispered urgently. "Josh, shut up and get on with it."
"Huh?" Josh's head was filled with a loud buzzing noise and he couldn't think clearly. Get on with what? Then he realized. He slid his hands down Sam's sides, reaching under his shirt to caress the skin there briefly, before moving them lower.
He undid Sam's trousers and reached his hand in. Oh, he'd missed this. Missed the feel of that thickness, the dribbles of precum trickling slowly down as Josh began to pump his hand hard and fast around Sam's cock, feeling his movements mirrored on his own erection.
As Sam leaned in for another kiss, it became too much for Josh and he came, hard and fast, covering Sam's groin with his come.
"Dirty boy," whispered Sam. "Guess you better get down there and clean it up."
Josh felt Sam's hands on his shoulders, pushing him to his knees. He knelt down and began to lap up his own seed, then as he used one hand to play with Sam's balls, he wrapped the other around the base of Sam's penis and sucked the rest of it into his mouth.
"Yessss. Suck it, you slut," Josh heard Sam's hiss as his fingers gripped his head tightly, tugging at his hair, driving him to suck more and more of Sam's cock deeper and deeper down his throat. He bobbed his head up and down, letting Sam thrust wantonly as he slid his hand away from Sam's cock.
Josh pulled his mouth away from Sam and coated his fingers in saliva before sucking Sam down to the root as he slid two fingers brutally into Sam, reaching to find that spot he knew would make his man go crazy. As he pressed against it, he sucked once more on Sam's cock and enjoyed the sound of Sam's muffled shout as he came, letting Josh enjoy that salty taste he had been missing for so many days.
Rising to his feet, Josh leaned against Sam and as they tidied themselves up, they gradually calmed their breathing down.
"That was a hell of a thing," murmured Josh as he played his tongue around Sam's ear. "Didn't know you knew how to say stuff like that."
"You liked it?" Sam sounded a little uncertain and more than a little embarrassed now that the intensity of the moment had passed.
"I loved it," Josh reassured him. "I loved it and I love you. You're so hot, Sam. You're wonderful. You're perfect." He reached for Sam's hands. "And you're fucking freezing, baby."
Together they wandered off to join the party.
The female voice coming from the garden next to Sam's attracted Josh's attention, and he glanced over to see Toby's friend smiling at him.
"Mrs. Donovan." He waved, and carried on up the path.
"You don't even have a minute to spare for a poor, lonely widow?"
He stopped in his tracks and peered across the hedge, slightly concerned about the direction the conversation seemed to be taking. To his relief, however, he saw her laughing silently to herself, so he wandered across to talk to her.
"How are you, ma'am?" he asked politely, taking off his cap - a move he knew would disappoint Sam, who seemed to be developing a rather disturbing fetish for it.
"I'm a lot better than you are, Lieutenant. I have to say, I'm a little concerned that you army types are so easy to scare."
Josh grinned bashfully and ducked his head and peered through his eyelashes.
"Oh, you're a cute one alright," added CJ. "And don't call me ma'am. Please. It makes me feel like a wizened old crone."
"Whereas in reality you bathe every night in the fountain of youth?" Josh was beginning to understand why Toby enjoyed spending so much time with this woman. She was so much more laid back than most of the women around here - calmer and certainly not as prone to giggling fits as a certain blonde barmaid he could think of.
CJ's only response was a raised eyebrow and a pointed glare clearly honed by many years as a teacher.
"You seem to be spending an awful lot of time with Sam," she commented.
"Mmm." Desperate not to give anything away, while equally desperate to end the conversation and get inside to Sam - then with any luck get inside Sam - he started to back away.
"Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course," CJ continued. "But you might want to bear in mind that not everyone feels that way."
Oh, God. How had she worked it out? He and Sam weren't that loud, were they? Well aware of the need for discretion, they had done their best not to make too much noise while they were doing things he really couldn't think about in front of anyone else because he body would begin to react and someone might notice and... damn. He moved back up to the hedge, trying to hide the sudden tightness of his trousers from Sam's terrifyingly-observant neighbour.
CJ shook her head slightly. "It's okay. I won't say anything, not to Toby and certainly not to Sam - he scares easier than you. But just remember what I said, would you?"
Josh nodded, mumbled his thanks and headed off to Sam's front door, having promised to send CJ's greetings to Toby when he next saw him.
As they lay in each other's arms, their bodies slowly cooling, Sam turned to nuzzle Josh's neck.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly. "You're still really tense."
Josh didn't answer, but his body froze, so Sam decided to take the initiative. He sat up and rolled Josh onto his back before straddling his hips and pinning Josh's hands down to the pillow, on either side of his head.
"Tell me what's up." His voice was soft, but there was no way Josh would doubt that it was a command. For a long time, Sam worried that his attempt to even the balance of power in their relationship was to no avail, but eventually Josh spoke, his upset clear.
"I'm getting a little scared."
"About what?" About their relationship? Please, God, no. For a long time now, Josh had been the only thing Sam had to smile about - the thought of losing him was too much to bear, and he lay down, covering Josh completely. If they were about to break up, he wasn't going to waste a second of contact.
"No, oh no, honey. Not about us," Josh hurriedly assured Sam, as though reading his mind. "About the stuff they've got me doing at work - the missions we're on. You know I can't really talk about them, right?"
"Well, sticking to generalities... they're getting really dangerous, Sam. We're coming under enemy fire more and more, and I've had some near misses recently. One of them was very near. And, you know, when John was shot down, then my father died, it made me realise just how easily it could be me next. I might die, Sam. I might die and leave you and I can't bear the thought of that happening. That would hurt you so much, and I never want to do anything to upset you, darling. I want to make you smile, and laugh, and come so hard you see stars."
Sam appreciated the moment of levity, but Josh's words had frightened him.
"I don't want to lose you, Josh. I love you and I love 'us'. I went into this knowing there was a risk something could happen to you. But think about it for a minute - the first time we met, you saved my life. Anyone could die anytime. The fear of losing someone is just not reason enough to avoid ever starting a relationship. And it is just not reason enough to end one either. So I'm not going anywhere, and you're not going anywhere and if we spend the time we do have together worrying about what might happen, well, that's just a waste of a good love affair."
Sam gazed at Josh as he felt him relax in his arms. The frown lines that had been creasing his brow had gone, and Josh's eyes were twinkling as he smiled at Sam.
"You're incredible, you know that?" he murmured, before pressing a gentle kiss to Sam's lips.
It wasn't enough for Sam, who deepened the kiss, drawing Josh's tongue into his mouth, frantically pouring the deep love he felt for this man into one passionate, exquisite, bone-meltingly perfect kiss.
"I love you," Sam whispered. "You're the only one for me and nothing in the world's going to change that. I'm yours forever, Josh."
It was the first clear day in months, so Sam took the opportunity to eat his lunch outside. While the weather was by no means warm, it was pleasant to be out in the fresh air and see the snowdrops blooming under the trees along the riverbank. He sat on a bench and watched the ducks and swans swimming about on the water, sparing the occasional passing glance for people walking past.
As he ate his sandwich, a squadron of planes flew overhead. The direction they were flying from made Sam realise that they were from Norham Air Base. Perhaps Josh was in one of the planes. With eight to choose from, Sam couldn't work out which would be his lover's, but he indulged his inner romantic and decided that the one in front was Josh's. It just seemed right, somehow, that Josh would be leading.
As the afternoon went by, Sam began to feel restless. He couldn't work out why, or even place his finger on how exactly he felt. Something just felt out of synch, and as he found himself reading the same page for the tenth time, he decided to call it a day and left early.
He cycled home, enjoying the rare chance to take in the scenery in the daylight - the January days were short enough that he usually only saw his surroundings as vague outlines against the dark night sky. He was just a mile from home when he heard the sound of engines. Pulling off the road, onto the grass verge, he dismounted and looked up at the sky to see the group of planes he had spotted at lunchtime return.
He squinted, pulled off his glasses, polished them hurriedly then replaced them urgently. It wasn't his imagination. There were only seven planes, one of which appeared to be trailing a cloud of smoke in its wake. Seven planes. One had been... delayed? Forced to make an emergency landing on another air base? Shot down?
His stomach clenched and his breath shortened. His hair stood on end and goosebumps formed over his skin as he flushed hot then cold. There was no way he could know for sure, but it looked awfully like the missing plane was the one he had earlier decided was Josh's.
By the time he reached home, Sam had talked some sense into himself. For all he knew, Josh hadn't even been flying at all that day. And even if Josh had been on a mission, there was still no reason to imagine that the missing plane had been his. All the same, the restless feeling from that afternoon continued to plague Sam and he realised that the only way to put his mind to rest would be to see Josh. But that wasn't going to happen for a while - just last night, Josh had mentioned the need for him to spend more time on the base, and Sam was beginning to feel guilty about neglecting Donna.
Sam cooked his dinner and sat down to eat, still thinking. The only reason he was worrying like this, he decided, was because Josh had said he was scared. That was all - he was taking on Josh's fear to ease his lover's burden. After eating, Sam would sit and read for a while, then pop over to the pub and spend the rest of the evening with Donna - providing it was one of her nights away from the factory. And then tomorrow evening, Josh would be over to visit him and everything would be fine.
He washed the dishes then wandered into the living room to settle down with a book. Sam's eyes fell on the copy of Great Expectations he had read to Josh from and he decided to read that, hoping that in some way it would help him to feel closer to Josh, that it would lessen his worry.
So engrossed in his reading was Sam that it took him a while to realise that someone was tapping at the door. With a sigh, he put his book down and went to find out who it was. He opened the door and saw Donna standing there, tears flowing from her eyes.
"Donna? What's happened?"
"Oh, Sam. Sam, it's Josh." She broke into sobs again and Sam led her inside, sitting her in the armchair before kneeling in front of her. He knew what she was about to tell him. Knew with absolute certainty that his fears had not been unfounded. Knew that...
"Josh was on a mission today and he didn't come back. He's missing, presumed dead. One of the soldiers from the base was in the pub and he knows how much I liked Josh and he told me and I had to see you because, Sam..."
Donna's tears continued to fall and Sam patted her knee, unable to speak past the lump in his throat, and unwilling to cry in front of her.
"You're my friend Sam. My best friend. And you were friends with Josh, too. That's why I came here - I needed you to know and I needed to be with someone who knew him. He was wonderful. Amazing. And now he's dead and he'll never know how much I loved him."
It was no use - Sam could hold his tears back no longer, and he began to cry as well. Donna slid from the chair - onto the floor and into his arms, and together the two friends held each other as they wept for the man they loved.
After a long time, Donna's sobbing became sniffing, then she wiped her face and looked up at Sam, who was frantically drying his eyes. It was wrong to cry in front of anyone, he knew - even if the person was your best friend. Former best friend, he corrected himself - Josh was his best friend. Josh was his lover. Josh was dead.
Donna broke his train of thought. "I never told him I loved him."
Sam tightened his grip around Donna's waist as her words sunk in. Perhaps he could tell her. Why not? If she loved Josh, she would understand how he felt - how his chest felt tight, how it seemed as though an icicle had been driven through the centre of his heart. Maybe if someone else knew what Josh had been to him, he would find it easier to cope. With Josh dead, Sam was the only person left who knew about their relationship. Somehow that made it seem so unreal - not only had he lost his love, but now he felt as though he were already beginning to lose the memories of that love as well.
"I never told him I loved him," repeated Donna.
"I did," whispered Sam.
Donna lifted her head and stared at him. When she spoke, her tone was harsher than he had expected. "You told him I loved him? I can't believe you did that. Why? Oh, God, that's so embarrassing. Sam, I told you to tell him I liked him. I didn't want him to find out from someone else."
"No, you don't understand. I told him I loved him."
The moment the words were out of his mouth, Sam wished he could take them back. Donna shoved him away and leapt to her feet, covering her mouth with her hands. She didn't look sympathetic. She didn't look understanding. She looked disgusted. Horrified.
"Tell me you didn't just say that." Her voice was low and dangerous, and when Sam shakily stood and tried to close the distance between them, she backed away. "You loved him?"
Sam nodded. "We were in love," he whispered. "We have been... had been for months." His voice broke and he began to cry again, sinking onto the sofa. He remembered another time, months ago, when he had sat on this sofa crying. But then, he had been crying for Josh, crying because he couldn't find the words to comfort a man grieving for his father. Now, Josh was gone, and there was no one to comfort him.
How had he died? Had he known it was going to happen? Had the plane burst on fire while he was in it, or had he managed to bail out and suffered a bad landing. Had he landed safely but in a Nazi stronghold where he had been captured and tortured for information before being executed? So many images were running through Sam's mind - scenes of blood and pain and fear. Scenes which all ended in Josh dying alone.
Donna's shrill voice pulled him back to reality. "He can't have loved you. Not really. You're both men. He was flirting with me. He took me to the dance. He was a nice man and I don't care what you say - he would never do something as disgusting as... that."
"I don't want to hear it. Whatever you have to say, I'm not interested. I don't want to speak to you, or see you ever again."
She stormed out of the house, Sam hot on her heels.
"We never meant to hurt you, Donna. I'm so sorry. Please... I need you. I need a friend." The tears Sam could feel pouring from his eyes had no effect on his friend as she marched up the garden path. At the gate, she turned back to him.
"You disgust me, you faggot. You and your dead lover. I don't think you're really sad he's dead. You're just crying because that's what your type do, you weak, pathetic creature. You... you're an abomination!"
Sam crept back into the house. Donna's yelling would have been heard by everyone in the street and he could never show his face in the village again. Josh had promised him he would never be alone. Well now he was.
As Toby walked nervously down CJ's path, he was startled to hear yelling coming from the house next door. He stopped still as the door was flung open and the blonde barmaid from the pub came storming outside hurling abuse at Sam. Toby winced at her words - there was going to be trouble for Sam once that got around.
But he couldn't worry about that for the moment - he had something else he needed to do. He knocked on the door and CJ let him in. The instant the door was closed behind them, he took her hand to lead her into the living room, where he sat her down before kneeling in front of her.
"CJ, I'm afraid I have some bad news. Josh's plane was shot down this afternoon. We think he's dead."
Toby watched as CJ's face drained of all colour and her eyes began to fill with tears. He moved to sit next to her and they sat quietly as she cried on his shoulder.
"I know this must be hard for you," continued Toby eventually. "And I know right now you must be thinking of your husband, but I need to tell you something, and I don't want to wait any longer. CJ, I love you."
He waited nervously, wondering what her reaction would be. She didn't pull away from him, and she didn't start to cry again, so he continued.
"I've been in love with you for a long time, but I didn't want to tell you. I know you're still grieving for Simon and I understand if you don't want to hear this but I can't wait any longer. I could have been the one shot down today, and the thought of dying without you knowing how I feel about you is unbearable.
"CJ, I came into this war wanting to defeat the Nazis. I was fighting against something. But since I met you, I've found something to fight for. Every time I get in that plane, I do it to fight for your freedom. I want to keep you safe. I know I can't protect you from the hurt in your past, and I know I can't protect you from something similar happening again. But I want to try."
"Oh, Toby." CJ's voice was soft as she leaned against him and put her arm around his waist. "You're an incredible man, but I just..."
"No, don't say it. Please." He knew what was coming, and couldn't bear to hear it. "Don't tell me you don't love me. I don't want to hear it."
CJ smiled and kissed Toby's cheek. It was enough to hold off any regrets he had about becoming so uncharacteristically emotional. "I wasn't going to tell you that," she said softly. "But I can't tell you anything else right now. I've got all these feelings inside me, and I need some time to sort them out. I need to be sure I'm not just reacting to what happened to Josh when I tell you how I feel about you."
Toby's heart skipped a beat. Could CJ be saying what he thought she was?
"I think there's something between us," she continued. "And I think that something could last us a lifetime. So just give me a little while longer, could you?"
He nodded. "I love you," he whispered. "I'll wait as long as you need. Just as long as you promise me we've got a chance."
"Oh, I think we've got more than a chance." CJ kissed him again, this time on the lips - lingering for a moment before pulling back slightly and cupping her hand around Toby's cheek. "I think we've got something real."
Leo hung up the phone with a trembling hand. It had been the hardest conversation of his career - of his life. Telling the wife of his oldest friend that her son was missing, presumed dead. That Josh was gone, just months after his father's death and weeks before the anniversary of his sister's death, and now Ethel Lyman was all alone in the world.
The door to his office opened, and staff sergeant Gianelli stuck his head in. "Anything else you need, Colonel, or are you calling it a night?"
It was all he could do to keep an even voice as he answered. "No thank you, Sergeant. I'm okay. Good night."
"'Night, sir." Gianelli left, closing the door behind him.
Face in his hands, Leo sighed. He had failed Josh. Failed to keep him safe, failed to keep the promise he had made Noah Lyman to do just that. Why had he chosen Josh for that mission? Its dangers had been obvious but still he had decided that Josh was the man for the job.
No. He couldn't just sit here and let these thoughts consume him. That way madness lies, he decided. Leo hurried to the outer office just in time to catch Gianelli heading out.
The officer turned.
"Forget what I just said in there, okay? There is something you can do for me - I need a bottle of whiskey and a glass. You bring them to my room then you forget I ever told you to do that. Got it?"
"Yes, sir." When the young man didn't move, Leo snapped.
"That means now, Gianelli. You go now. You do this now."
"Yes, sir." This time, he moved fast - so fast that Leo arrived at his room just seconds before the alcohol.
With a trembling hand, Leo took the proffered tray and locked his door behind him. He undressed and slipped into bed, never for a moment taking his eyes from the bottle sitting where he had placed it - on the floor in the far corner of the room. He didn't need a drink. There were other ways to escape his torment. He could go and visit Jed - his friend would be kind and understanding, offering sympathy and a shoulder to cry on if that was necessary.
But he didn't deserve sympathy. He had been entrusted with the task of keeping Josh safe, and he had failed. He deserved to suffer, deserved to forget, to lose control, to sink back into good old habits.
Leo crawled out of bed and crept across the room. His hand closed around the neck of the bottle and he unscrewed the cap. Just the scent of it would do - that was all he needed. One whiff and he would remember all the reasons he stopped drinking, all the reasons he shouldn't start again.
It didn't work. As the scent of the whiskey reached his senses, Leo felt a rush he had long since forgotten. His left hand reached out for the glass tumbler and he sloshed a shot of the clear, amber liquid into it. It seemed such a small amount - how could something that size possibly do him any harm?
He drank it.
Down in one, burning his throat on the way to his stomach where it settled, within seconds spreading a warm glow through his body. This was the stuff. Why had he ever given this up? He poured another shot, then another. A fourth followed, and Leo felt himself beginning to smile.
So he'd failed Josh. He would be punished for that when the day of judgement came. And it wasn't as though he'd never failed anyone before - his wife, who had left him; his daughter, who had followed her; and Jed.
He had failed everyone, and as he downed his sixth? seventh? who-the-hell-cares-anyway-th drink, Leo's last clear thought was that he had now well and truly failed himself too. And he didn't give a damn.
Sunlight filtered through the gaps between the trees, warming him where he lay on his back. He tried to sit up but as he leaned on his left arm a piercing pain shot through it. With a cry he lay back down, noticing for the first time the rough texture of the ground.
Slowly, putting his weight on his right arm, Josh sat up and looked around him. A dense forest surrounded him, tall trees reaching high while ferns grew around the base of their trunks. His mind was still foggy, but as he slowly began to awaken, memories came flooding back. The dogfight between his plane and a German Messerschmitt. The fear that had begun to grow as he realised no one was available to come to his assistance. The sight of the enemy approaching, his plane clearly a target in its sights. Then bailing out and falling, falling, not daring to open his parachute until the last possible moment, in the hopes of avoiding catching the attention of anyone on the ground.
Josh had landed hard and at an angle, breaking his arm instantly. Dizzy and nauseous from the pain, he had held himself together long enough to gather up his parachute and stumble the few hundred yards to the woods where he hoped to find shelter for as much time as he needed to formulate a "What Now?" plan.
So. He was alone. In, presumably, France. He had no food, nothing to drink, and a broken arm. The only things of any use were in his emergency pack - on the useful front were a small knife, some deutschmarks, matches, a compass and some water purification tablets. Less useful were the soap, the coffee and, Josh's personal favourite items, a needle and thread. Because he really had nothing better to do with his time than mend the tears in his jacket. Of course, the map included in the kit sounded a wildly useful object, but for the moment, he could only narrow his location down to "probably in France" and he had a sneaking suspicion he would need a few more details than that before he could accurately make use of the map.
"Okay. So maybe things could be a little better," he told himself and was staggered at how comforting he found the sound of his own voice, despite its less than upbeat comment.
Josh checked his watch - it was five past three. At this time of year, it would be dark before too long.
"No point moving before then," he reasoned, speaking out loud in an attempt to comfort himself further. "I'll be able to hide better in the dark, hopefully keep out of the way of the Germans on my way to..." But there his voice trailed off. On his way to where? He had a sneaking suspicion that when the Nazi army took over occupation of northern France, they hadn't thought to build a centre for enemy combatants shot down over the country who just wanted to go home. Somehow it seemed unlikely.
He didn't know what to do. His knowledge of the situation in France was limited to a vague awareness of the north-south divide, with the north being under German occupation while the Vichy government still had a vague semblance of control in the south. He had to still be in the north of the country - he hadn't been in the air long enough to head that far south. Which meant he was alone in enemy territory with no way to contact anyone and no one to contact.
Josh glanced at his parachute again. The ropes that had attached it to his harness caught his attention. Perhaps he should just end it, right there and then - make a loop with a rope and sling it over a branch. His situation was hopeless, and his chances of being captured were high. He reached out a hand, then drew it back with a shudder. He couldn't do it. There had to be another option.
So where could he go? They had been flying back from targeting some armoury in Normandy when they had been ambushed. The attack had forced them to change their direction, so that they were no longer headed north, but rather west. It wasn't unreasonable, therefore, to imagine that he was in Brittany. And in Brittany, he might be able to locate a member of...
Josh looked around him. What was Sam doing here? And what did he know about the French resistance? Nothing, that was what. Tears filled his eyes as Josh realised he was imagining things. Sam wasn't with him. Sam was back home, safe, and probably under the impression that he - Josh - was dead.
And then, in a flash of clarity, Josh knew. He knew he would try anything if it offered him even the faintest hope of seeing Sam again one day. No matter what he had to do, he would do it. Because Sam needed him, and he needed Sam.
Josh would see him again, or die trying.
When night fell, Josh unwrapped himself from the silk cocoon he had improvised from his parachute and headed northwards. It didn't take long for him to reach the edge of the woods, where he stood waiting for a long time. Eventually his patience was rewarded when the clouds cleared and the moonlight illuminated his surroundings. For a second, his mind transported him to his first meeting with Sam and the moment he had realised who it was he had in his arms; then to the time he had confronted Sam outside the dance - the day before their first kiss.
Vowing to see his lover in the moonlight again one day, he forced his attention back to his situation. The land was flat enough that he could see for several miles. In the distance there appeared to be a small river, and Josh decided to find that, drink as much as he could manage, then follow it.
All rivers lead to a settlement, he remembered from his basic survival training. Unsure what he would do once he found the settlement, Josh headed off anyway. Someone would surely have seen him parachuting down, and it was a miracle he hadn't already been discovered. He needed to put as much distance between his landing site and himself as possible.
The makeshift sling he had fashioned by ripping his undershirt up into a bandage supported his arm enough that he could move fairly quickly, but running was out of the question. He had to go, and he had to go now. If he didn't find somewhere else to shelter by dawn, he would be captured for sure.
The night was long and cold. Josh pulled his jacket tighter around himself as he trudged on, hoping against hope to reach civilisation soon. The river had provided him with an abundance of water to drink, but while his thirst was quenched his hunger was growing, as was his need for sleep.
Finally, as the sun's rays began to peep over the horizon, Josh saw it. In the distance was a village, its church spire reaching up into the sky. It was the most wonderful sight Josh had ever seen. Well, he instantly amended, the most wonderful sight that didn't involve Sam.
Josh kept walking, his footsteps lightened by the hope of shelter and the thought of Sam, but as the sun rose higher, he realised that it would be suicide to enter the village during the daytime. He noticed a barn about a mile to his left, and decided to head for that.
As exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him, Josh's footing became less sure, and he found himself tripping and stumbling every few steps, but the knowledge that soon he would be able to lie down and sleep kept him going and eventually he reached the barn. It seemed to be far enough from the farmhouse that he should be safe from discovery for a few hours at least, so he tentatively pushed open the door and crept inside.
It was full of hay, both on the main floor and in the loft which formed a kind of second floor across half of the barn. Deciding he would be better hidden up there, Josh forced himself to climb the ladder, leaning his body against it to make up for the uselessness of his broken arm.
He crawled into the corner and wrapped his jacket over himself, pulling some hay down for extra warmth as he drifted into a deep sleep. For now, at least, he was safe.
"Joshua Lyman was a good man, wise and brave. From those he had known his entire life," Jed's eyes flickered briefly to the slouched form of Leo who was occupying the front pew of the church, "to those of us only recently fortunate enough to meet him, Josh touched the hearts of all he met. He will be sorely missed."
After one final hymn, it was over. Around him, people began to stand - some stopping to chat with friends, others hurrying away - but Sam couldn't bring himself to move. His legs were trembling so hard he couldn't for a second imagine that they would support his weight.
When he had first been told there was to be a memorial service for Josh, Sam had thought that CJ was pulling his leg: Josh had been Jewish, so the church was hardly an appropriate place in which to hold a memorial for him. Furthermore, while services for those villagers who had been killed in action had been held, the Americans had until this point preferred to arrange their own ceremonies. But it transpired that Colonel McGarry had been adamant about Josh having a 'proper send-off' and all kinds of strings had been pulled for this to take place. Further adding to Sam's reluctance to attend had been his fear of what others would be saying about him - he had a horrid feeling Donna wouldn't keep her new-found disgust for him to herself. He was right.
"Well, I guess what Dr. Bartlet said was true for you, eh Sam?" The cold tone of Donna's voice cut Sam to the bone as he turned to see that she had crept up on him from behind. "Josh touched your heart, didn't he? Touched a bit more than that, too. So do you miss him? Sorely? Or aren't you sore now he's not around to..."
"Shut up!" Sam's shout echoed round the church, but he was too numb to feel embarrassed at the looks he was getting. People had been staring and pointing at him from the moment he had arrived at Josh's memorial service, but instead of growing more humiliated with each new knowing look he received, he had grown more numb, choosing to focus not on his small-minded neighbours but on the man they had ostensibly come to remember - Josh. Donna's comment, however, had been his breaking point.
"Just shut up!" he repeated, visibly startling Donna who had clearly been hoping for an easier target. "You have no idea what the truth is. I tried to tell you but clearly you weren't listening! There was nothing sordid going on between me and Josh! Nothing! So take your stupid, unfunny, ignorant comments and mock someone else because I am not in the mood for you right now!"
His face burning with anger, Sam pushed his way through the crowds of staring people and out into the bright winter sunlight, fervently wishing for the cover of night to hide himself from his tormentors. If only he had somewhere safe to run to. If only Josh were still alive.
"Colonel? You have a visitor."
Jed waited beside the young airman as he tapped nervously at the closed office door. They had been waiting for an answer for a few minutes, and Jed wondered what the noises coming through the door were. Eventually, it opened a crack and Leo peered out.
"Jed? What're you doin' here? C'me in, c'me in. That'll be all, corporal," he added, flapping his hand weakly as he let his friend into his office.
Once the door was closed, Jed took a moment to look at his friend. "Leo, you look terrible," he said. "What the hell's wrong with you? Are you ill? You left the service pretty quickly."
Leo snorted. "Ill? Nope. Tired, fed up and a failure? Yes. Ill? No, siree."
Jed stepped closer and took Leo by the shoulders. His friend turned his head to the side, defiantly, and then he realised.
"You've been drinking, haven't you?"
When no answer came, he pressed on. "I thought you'd stopped, Leo. You told me you'd managed to stop."
"Don't worry about it," slurred Leo, trying to escape Jed's clutches.
"I do worry about it. I worry about you."
Leo sighed. "Ain't nothing but a family thing."
There was a long pause. "What?" Jed didn't understand what that was supposed to mean.
"Jenny left me. She took Mallory with her - haven't seen either of 'em in years. And you got married and Noah died and I killed his son."
Jed watched in horror as Leo sank to the floor and curled up.
"What do you mean you killed his son?"
"Josh!" shouted Leo. "I killed Josh! I sent him on that mission and he got shot down and he died. So I killed him and now drinking's the only way to stop it hurting. It hurts so much, Jed."
As tears filled his eyes at the admission of such pain, Jed sank to the floor and gathered Leo in his arms, rocking him tenderly as he spoke.
"I'm not going to tell you it's not your fault, because you won't believe me right now. But I love you and I'm going to help you get through this, okay? You're not alone, Leo. I promise you, I won't let you feel alone ever again."
It was going to be a hard promise to keep, but Jed meant every word of it. He would do whatever it took to help his friend through this, just as Leo had saved his life all those years ago. Being shot in the leg while on their way back from their mission should have been the end of him, but Leo had protected him and carried him to safety. Now it was Jed's chance to return the favour and as he wrapped his arms tighter around the man who still meant so much to him, Jed made a silent promise to do whatever it took to keep him alive.
"I love you," he whispered, and he smiled as he felt Leo relax in his arms. "I never stopped loving you."
Josh moaned in pleasure and ran his hands through Sam's hair as he thrust up into his lover's mouth.
"Come on, Sam, please," he panted. "Just a little more." He wanted to move, to throw Sam down on the floor, to pound into him as they writhed on the rug, but his ankles were lightly bound to the legs of the chair where he sat, buck naked and sweating, unable to escape the exquisite torment of Sam's warm, eager mouth around him. With a shout, he came, letting Sam taste his seed before dragging him up to share a bruising kiss.
Josh's body jerked and his eyes flew open. He was lying on a bundle of hay, his jacket on top of his body for warmth, and a sticky feeling in his pants. Sam was nowhere in sight.
"Oh, Sam. Sammy, I miss you," Josh whispered as he sat up. The dust from the bales of hay was tickling his nose, and he really needed to sneeze but was unwilling to do so until he knew for certain that he was alone. He crept across the floor and peered down from the loft onto the main floor of the barn. Why hay was put upstairs was something he couldn't comprehend - surely the effort of lifting it up there couldn't possibly be worth it.
No one was in sight, so Josh slowly struggled down the ladder and walked cautiously over to the door. He was just about to push it open, when he heard footsteps approaching. There was no time to hide. This was it - the moment that would decide whether he would be captured or helped.
The door was pulled open and a greying, rotund man strolled in, whistling to himself. On seeing Josh, he stopped stark still and stared.
What? Oh, right. French. Josh trawled his memories of high school language classes and the phrase book he had hurriedly skimmed. Who was he?
"Je suis Américain. J'ai besoin d'aide." It was risky to reveal his nationality - this man would more than likely march him right down to the local town hall and have him arrested. But the fact that he hadn't instantly rushed to attack Josh gave the soldier a faint glimmer of hope. Saying he needed help was even more risky - if the man hadn't already attacked because he feared Josh would overpower him, that defence had now vanished.
"How do I know you are who you say?"
Josh stared dumbfounded. "You speak English?"
The man shrugged. "A little. Prove to me who you are."
"Okay." Although not sure if he should take the risk of proving his identity, he couldn't see that he had much choice, so Josh stepped closer and pulled his dog tags out from under his clothes. "These tell you my name. They prove to you I'm in the American army."
For a minute, doubt played on the man's face but eventually he shrugged again. "Bon. You will stay here - to come to the house is too risky. I will bring you food." He turned to leave but stopped when Josh called out.
"Please. What's your name."
"Ah-ah-ah. No names yet. I still need to be sure I can trust you. We will talk when you have eaten, yes?" Without giving Josh the chance to answer, he walked out, closing the door firmly behind him.
He had returned shortly with bread and cheese and steaming hot coffee, which Josh had gratefully gulped down. As he ate, Josh had explained his situation to the man who listened in silence, nodding and smiling occasionally.
When Josh had finished eating, the man finally spoke. "My name is Gaston Lachenal. I am the owner of this farm. I can help you."
"Really?" Josh wanted so badly to believe him. If what the farmer was saying was true, he would be able to return to Sam.
"You want to return to England, yes?" Monsieur Lachenal asked.
"N- Yes. Return to England - yes I want that. Yes." For a moment, Josh had been about to say no - that he wanted to return to Sam. Maybe he needed another coffee.
"And your arm?" The farmer stretched his hand out to touch it, but the contact hurt Josh so badly that he pulled back out of reach.
"I think it's broken," he explained through teeth gritted at the pain. "Is there any way of getting me to a doctor?"
Josh waited patiently while the farmer scrunched his face up in thought. "No, there is no possibility. But I maybe can bring him here. He and I are comrades together against the occupiers. We will help you if we can."
"You're in the resistance?"
He nodded. "Oui. But we must not speak of that. We probably will not be overheard here, but it cannot hurt to be careful. You must stay hidden in this barn - I will bring you blankets and sometimes food and water."
"What about getting me back home?"
"Home? We cannot get you to America. England only."
It took a moment for Josh to realise, but then it hit him. He had refered to England as home. But of course it was - that was where Sam was and he was Josh's home.
"That's fine," he hurriedly reassured the farmer, who had risen to his feet and was gathering the mug and plate.
"It may take time. Days... weeks maybe. But we will find you help."
Monsieur Lachenal left and Josh was alone again. He was no longer so afraid, though. He had hope now. Hope that he would be reunited with Sam.
Sam was crying again. He had been putting up the blackout curtains when he had caught a glimpse of the full moon. He always thought of the night time as his and Josh's time - they had met in the dark, spent many happy evenings together and said their final goodbyes early one morning, before the sun's arrival had ushered in the day that Josh had...
No. He had to stop thinking about it. Had to escape the images of what might have happened. It wasn't good for him to be on his own all the time, with nothing to distract him from his thoughts - books failed to hold his attention for long, and the radio was full of news of the war.
He needed a friend. Someone who would understand. Maybe Donna... maybe she would have calmed down a little in the days that had passed. Maybe she would have realised that a friendship is worth far more than the destruction of an illusion of romance between herself and Josh. Maybe he should go and see her.
Sam walked briskly through the village to Donna's cottage and knocked on the door. She opened it, paler than he ever remembered seeing her.
"What the hell are you doing here?" she hissed.
"I wanted to see you. I need a friend, Donna, and you're the only one I have."
She snorted. "Don't be stupid, Sam. Of course I'm not. I'm not your friend - why would I be friends with something like you? Get away from me."
"Please, Donna. Please... I just need..."
"Oh, we all know what you need, young man." A tall menacing figure loomed over Donna's shoulder - her father.
"Mr. Moss. Good evening."
"Go. Away. Now."
Sam backed up a step. "Mr. Moss, I just wanted to..."
"I don't care what you wanted. I want you away from my daughter. She told me about you, and you'd better believe I told as many others as possible. No one with a shred of decency is going to want to associate with you ever again. Now, leave here and don't ever come back."
Sam stood there, too shocked to think, or cry, or even tremble. Everyone knew? He had suspected as much after the way he had been treated at Josh's memorial, but to hear it stated so plainly was more terrifying than he could have imagined. If everyone knew, that meant his father would find out for sure. And then what would happen to him? He would lose his job. Be kicked out into the streets. He had some money saved, but where could he go? What was he going to do?
The door to Donna's house opened again, and a voice yelled out, "I said get out of here, pervert!"
Sam turned and ran. He ran through the streets, stumbling as he went, desperate to go home and hide from he world. As he turned into his street, he ran headfirst into someone.
"Hey! Who's that?" yelled a female voice angrily, as Sam clutched at the figure, trying to keep them both upright.
"Oh, CJ, I'm so sorry," stammered Sam. "I just.. I just..." His speech faltered and to his horror, Sam felt tears welling up in his eyes again. He blinked them back, but it was too late to hide his distress.
"Hey, hey. What's wrong?" CJ's voice was kind as she put her arm around his shoulders. "Come on. I've got some chocolate that needs eating. What do you say we crack open a bar together, hm?"
Sam let himself be led into CJ's kitchen. He had caught sight of his reflection in the mirror in the hallway and he scrubbed at his eyes, trying to dry his face of the few tears that had escaped, while his neighbour tactfully turned her back to root around for the chocolate.
They ate in silence, then moved into the living room. Sam realised he was shivering, and thanked CJ gratefully as she wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
"I think you're in shock," she told him. "Feel like telling me what happened?"
He nodded. "I went to see Donna. I wanted to talk to her but she refused to see me. Then her father started yelling at me and I had to leave."
"What was he yelling?"
Sam blushed. CJ was being so kind to him, and he remembered Josh telling him that he thought they could trust her. But now Sam was alone, could he bear to risk losing another friendship?
"Was it about you and Josh?" she continued.
She hadn't pulled away from him - her arm still rested around his shoulders. Sam wanted so badly to believe that this meant he could trust her, but he had thought that about Donna and that had gone so hideously wrong. CJ's embrace tightened and Sam gave in, nodding slowly in answer to her question.
"He called me... something," he whispered, too ashamed to repeat the word that had been used. "And it hurt, CJ. God, it hurt so much. I miss him. I miss Josh."
"I know," murmured CJ comfortingly. "I know."
Sam pushed her away. "You don't know," he yelled. "How could you possibly know what I'm going through?" No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Sam wished he could push them back in. CJ had shown nothing but kindness to him and this was how he chose to repay her? He was so ashamed of himself, but CJ reached out for his hand and tugged him back next to her.
"I'm sorry," she told him. "That was stupid of me to say. Of course I don't know what it's like to have insults hurled at me by people I've known all my life. But, Sam, my husband's plane was shot down, too. So I know what that's like, at least."
"Josh wasn't my husband," he corrected her.
"Look, I'm not saying I completely understand what it is you two have going between you, but I know you well enough to be certain you wouldn't risk your reputation over something that wasn't a serious relationship. So I imagine in some strange way, you and Josh were as good as married, and you shouldn't think any different. You and Josh were in love, and now he's dead and you didn't have the chance to say goodbye to him."
Sam nodded wordlessly.
"I know how that feels. And I know the pain's not going to go away any time soon. But it gets easier with time, I promise you. In fact, I've reached the point now where I..."
"Where you what?"
CJ drew back slightly. "I really don't think its the right moment to tell you this."
"Tell me what? You can't say something like that then not tell me. You know how much that winds me up."
"I do." She grinned suddenly, looking much happier than Sam remembered seeing her for years. "Toby proposed to me, and I've accepted. We're engaged."
"Oh, CJ, congratulations." Sam kissed her on the cheek as he hugged her tightly. "I'm so happy for you. When did all this happen?"
"Just now. I know it's all happening a bit quickly, but we didn't want to waste any time. After Josh was... after what happened to Josh," she quickly amended, "Toby told me he was in love with me. I wanted to tell him I felt the same way right there and then, but the news about your Josh brought back memories of my Simon, and I couldn't say anything to Toby just then - it felt too unfaithful somehow. But I meant what I said, Sam. It does get easier and in time you'll be able to move on."
"But what do I do now?" he asked. "When my father finds out..."
"When your father finds out, you'll deal with it. And if you need a place to go to, know that you're always welcome here," CJ assured him. "I'll help you, and Toby will help you, and I'm sure we're not the only ones who will. You're a good man, Sam, and not everyone in the world shares the prejudices that Donna and her family have. Some of us are slowly learning there's more than one way of seeing the world."
"Thank you," sniffed Sam as he wiped his cheeks dry for what felt like the millionth time since he had learned of Josh's death. "I still miss him though."
"I know. I still miss Simon, too. I'll never stop loving him, but his death shouldn't mean the end of my life too. And now I've met Toby and we've fallen in love. We're going to spend the rest of our lives together, but that doesn't mean I'm going to forget Simon. He'll always hold a special place in my heart."
Sam nodded his understanding and the two friends curled up together, taking whatever comfort they could find in the knowledge that for a few hours, they were with someone who understood their pain.
"Lieutenant Lyman? Josh?"
A female voice was calling his name softly, so Josh peered down from the barn's loft to see a dark-haired woman looking around her. She didn't sound French, but nor did she sound German.
"Josh, my name's Amy Gardner. I'm with the Special Operations Executive branch of the British army. I've been contacted by one of the members of the local resistance cell to help you get back to England."
Really? It sounded too good to be true. If Josh's arm had still been causing him agony, he would have believed this to be another of his pain-induced hallucinations, but Monsieur Lachenal had kept his word and brought a doctor over to see Josh on his first night there and his arm was by now as healed as it would ever be. So this woman wasn't a figment of his imagination... that didn't mean she wasn't a German spy, out to trap him. He studied her closely - even from this distance he could see she was beautiful: just the kind of woman who would be used to lure a weary allied soldier into spilling all his secrets.
The barn door opened again and the farmer stepped in. "Josh, it's true. You can trust her. I promise you, she is really here to help you."
Josh had to make a decision, and he had to make it quickly. Should he trust these people or not? On the one hand, the farmer had so far been incredibly generous; but on the other, perhaps he had behaved this way in order to lure Josh into a false sense of security. It only took a second for Josh to decide - he had nothing to lose really. Trusting this woman could be his downfall, but on the other hand, if he never let himself trust anyone, he would never see Sam again. That thought spurred Josh into action and he climbed down the ladder.
"I don't have anything to prove to you who I am," said Amy as she walked over to shake Josh's hand. "So I guess it's up to you really - you've got to decide whether or not to let me help you."
Josh shrugged. "Well, I can't stay here forever. Let's see what you can do for me."
"Oh, I think you'll find there's a whole lot I can do for you," murmured Amy, and for a brief instant, Josh wondered if this was some kind of come on. But the wicked glint in her eye quickly vanished and her tone turned professional as she began to discuss how she would travel with Josh to the north coast and find him a boat that would take him across the channel.
"We need to start moving in the next few days," she told him. "You can't stay in any one place for too long, and we don't want to compromise the resistance cell in this village. So I'll be back on Friday and, provided your arm doesn't suddenly take a turn for the worse in the meantime, we'll set off then. Any questions?"
"Is there anything I need to do before then?"
Amy shook her head. "Just rest up - the journey's not going to be easy and I'll need your help gathering some information on the way that we can radio across when we send the message that you're on your way."
She left, taking Monsieur Lachenal with her, and Josh was left to work through his feelings. He was apprehensive about what was to come - information-gathering sounded a lot like spying, and he was clued up enough to know what a risky game that was. But from the sounds of things, within as little as a month he could be back in England.
Josh drifted off to sleep imagining he could feel Sam in his arms. Soon, he wouldn't need his imagination for that, he told himself. Soon he would be reunited with the love of his life, and they would never have to be apart again.
"Had enough yet?"
Sam cowered on the floor, blood running from his nose down onto his shirt where a stain was spreading across the white cotton.
"I said," roared his father, "have you had enough yet?"
"Yes." It was hard to speak, the pain shooting through his body was so intense - every limb hurt, every bone felt broken. Having returned unexpectedly from staying with his sister, Sam's father had headed straight to the pub, only to return thirty minutes later, incandescent with rage at having heard the rumours about his son and Josh. The second he had walked through the door, his belt had been off and snapped in the direction of Sam. Before long, it had been discarded in favour of fists then, when Sam's legs had finally given way beneath him after a particularly vicious kick to the shin bone of his right leg, Clive's feet had taken over.
Sam felt another kick at his midsection and he doubled up in agony.
"That's what you get for being a dirty little pillow-muncher," yelled his father. "Think you've seen the error of your ways?"
"I don't." The anger had suddenly vanished from his voice, to be replaced by an icy calm. Sam cautiously raised his head and peered at his father through his right eye - the left being, at that moment, swollen shut.
"So we're going to try a little experiment," Clive continued. "You're going to live in the shelter you destroyed the garden to install. And you're going to eat whatever scraps of food I decide I don't want. You're not going to go to work, and you're certainly not going to socialise with anyone until you're cured of your abnormality. Not that anyone would want to be seen with you anyway," he added in a derisory tone as he aimed a final half-hearted kick at Sam's leg.
Sam bit back a cry of pain as he was dragged up from the floor and led without ceremony into the garden then forced into the air raid shelter. Once he was sure his father had returned to the house, Sam finally let himself cry. He sobbed for hours, shivering with cold and fear and pain. How could it have come to this? He had been so happy when he and Josh built this place, and he allowed himself a moment to remember the way they had 'christened' it. The flood of pleasure his memories brought him almost caused his aches to vanish, but it didn't last long. Soon the pain was back, worse than ever - now it wasn't just his body hurting, it was his mind too: Josh was gone now - his promises to protect Sam from his father had been made in vain. No one could help Sam now.
"Jed, it's Leo on the telephone for you again. Shall I take a message?"
"No! I'll be right there. I'm coming, I'm coming..." Jed ran down the stairs and snatched the receiver from his wife's hand.
He could hear nothing down the line.
"Leo? Are you there?"
The silence was broken by a sniffling. "Please..."
"I'll be right there."
Jed grabbed his coat and was out the door before Abbey had the chance to say another word.
Hours later, Jed returned looking exhausted. His eyes were red and swollen and Abbey realised that he had been crying.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" she asked, sounding harsher than she had meant to. When Jed had first admitted what Leo had once meant to him, Abbey had told him she didn't mind. But now she was beginning to feel differently - for weeks now, Jed had been running off at a moment's notice to spend time with him, and when he returned, he refused to talk about it.
"Please, Jed," she tried again, her voice softer now. "Don't shut me out. I'm your wife and I love you. Don't you understand? When you hurt, I hurt too. Let me help."
"You can't." Jed turned away, but Abbey grabbed his shoulder and forced him to face her.
"Just tell me. Whatever it is, just tell me. I know it's something to do with Leo. Are the two of you... is your relationship... has it returned to the way things used to be between you?"
A small smile crept onto Jed's lips. "Abbey, that's the first time I've ever heard you be anything less than direct about sex. Congratulations on locating your subtlety bone. Now how about finding your let-your-husband-stew-in-his-own-problems bone?"
"Exactly - no. Zoey's out and there's nowhere either of the two of us need to be, so we're going to sit here until you tell me what's going on with you."
"I can't!" Jed's shout startled Abbey, but she refused to move.
"Because it's not my damn problem to tell."
Abbey studied her husband's face. "Leo's voice sounded slurred on the phone. Had he been drinking?"
"Is he an alcoholic?"
He nodded again, the pain he was feeling clearly showing on his face. Abbey pulled him into a hug. "You don't have to be the only one helping him, you hear me? I'm a doctor, I know about this sort of thing. We'll get him through it, I promise you."
"He won't want you to know."
"He doesn't have to," Abbey soothed Jed. "Just you remember I'm here for you. A problem shared and all that."
"Okay." Jed's shoulders slumped, and he sank lower into the chair.
"Come on," said Abbey softly. "Let's get you to bed before you collapse." She led her husband upstairs, the unusual lack of lascivious comments letting her know just how exhausted he really was.
As Jed dozed off to sleep, Abbey sat with him. Part of her was jealous to see how deeply her husband still cared for Leo, but when Jed moaned and reached out, unconsciously seeking her, his face only relaxing when she took his hand, she allowed herself to relax as well, safe in the knowledge that no matter how much he loved his friend, she would always be his wife.
It was the coldest night since they had set off on their journey north and for the first time, Josh and Amy found themselves forced to sleep outside. They huddled close together but before long they were trembling so badly from the cold that Josh spoke.
"I think we should share our blankets properly," he said quietly. "So we can share body heat too."
Silently, Amy nodded and they moved together, pulling the fabric around their entwined bodies before wrapping their arms around each other.
"Better?" he asked.
"Mmm." Amy snuggled in closer to Josh. It felt strange to him to be lying like this with a woman - he was used to the feel of Sam's muscular body. Amy's was softer, and there were curves he wasn't used to feeling. A wave of longing crashed through his body as he remembered nights spent holding Sam, watching him sleep, listening to his heartbeat, slow and steady in its love for Josh.
He was pulled from his memory by the sensation of breath against his neck. "I can think of another way for us to keep warm," whispered Amy. Josh's eyes snapped open as he felt a hand creeping down his chest, brushing across his stomach then lower to...
"No!" He grabbed her hand before it could get any further. "Don't do that."
Amy peered at him, curiosity clearly etched across her face. "You don't want to...?"
"I really don't," Josh insisted. "Really, really, really don't."
Frowning, Amy stared at him for a long time. "Are you married?"
"So where's the problem? You're lonely, I'm lonely, we're both here and no one's ever going to know about it." He hand crept back onto Josh's chest and he pushed it away, more forcefully this time, then rolled away from her, sitting up so that he had a height advantage. He was way out of his league here - women had just never featured in his life in this way and he had no idea how to rebuff one politely. In any other circumstances he wouldn't have been too concerned with the necessary etiquette but this woman was the only person who could get him back home to Sam.
"I'm not married or engaged," he explained, "but there's someone waiting for me. Someone who owns my heart, and I'm really not the unfaithful type."
To his consternation, Josh watched as a lone tear trickled down Amy's cheek.
"Oh don't... don't cry," he begged. "Please, Amy, don't cry. It's okay."
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know what came over me. I've just been so lonely for so long. And you're the first person in years I've felt I could trust enough to... you know?"
"I know." Josh fought down the shudder he usually felt at the thought of that particular activity. Much as he liked Amy, the thought of being naked with her, letting her touch him like that, just felt wrong to him. "I'm lonely too," he admitted. "But I couldn't do that with you. It wouldn't feel right."
"Okay," she replied. "Just forget it, will you?"
They curled up together again, and before long Josh felt comfortable enough to hold Amy close to him as she fell asleep. Her body still didn't fit in his arms the way Sam's did, but with luck it wouldn't be much longer until he and Sam could be together again. With that thought, Josh let himself drift off to sleep.
"So, these rumours I've been hearing about you and that American..."
Sam winced as his father's voice pierced the silence. He had no idea how much time had passed - days? weeks? Long enough for his limbs to stop hurting and for the swelling in his eye to go down, that much was sure. The darkness prevented him from checking the colour of his skin, but it barely hurt to press the places his father had hit him, so Sam had come to the conclusion that his bruises had probably faded.
"I said, those rumours I heard about you - are they true?"
Sam weighed his options. His father had asked the same question several times since he had locked Sam away, and each time Sam had refused to answer. To admit that they were true would, he had come to understand, be the equivalence of signing his own death warrant. But to deny them was to erase everything he had shared with Josh. How could he do that to the man he loved?
That question had been running through his mind for a long time, but now something had changed. The last time he had slept had been the first time Sam hadn't dreamed of Josh. Perhaps his subconscious was telling him something: Josh was dead and Sam couldn't hurt him any more. He had to think of himself now. He had to do whatever it took to ensure his own survival.
"No, sir," he called in a weak voice. His throat was parched, and it hurt to speak but he had to take this chance. "We were friends, and I apologise for that. But that's all we were."
The resulting silence seemed to Sam to last forever, but eventually his father spoke again.
"Right, that's enough of that then."
Sam felt his father's hand wrap around the top of his arm and he allowed himself to be dragged out into the bright spring sunlight. Shocked at this sudden change of heart, and scared of what might be about to follow, he waited for his father to explain.
"We're going to show everyone how wrong they were about you," growled his father as he lead Sam into the house. "In three weeks' time, you're going to marry Lisa Sherborne."
Sam was speechless. What on earth...?
"Her father still owes me for sorting out that problem he had regarding various contracts a few years ago. He couldn't afford to pay me at the time, so I said he could do me a favour some time. Last night I decided that that time has come."
"No. No buts. You and Lisa dated while you were at school, so it's not entirely out of the question that you'd end up married. She's agreed, her father's agreed and if you don't agree, you know exactly what's going to happen to you."
Sam nodded slowly. The last few days would seem like a picnic compared to what he knew his father was capable of doing if he refused to go ahead with this.
"Yours isn't the only reputation you've ruined with your indiscretion - that of this family and our business has gone down the drain too, and it's going to take a miracle to keep the firm going now. Who's going to want someone like you knowing the details of their business? Can't be trusted, your type."
As he ate the porridge his father placed in front of him, Sam's heart sank further. His father clearly hadn't believed his denial, but as long as he could state publicly that Sam had said the rumours were false, that would be acceptable - for the time being. Clearly, his father felt more drastic measures were called for in the long-term.
And so Sam was to become a husband. He was to be forced to betray Josh's memory. Unless... Lisa couldn't seriously be happy about this. It shouldn't take much to convince her to just act married for a while - until Sam could gather together enough money to move away for good. Yes, that would work. It had to. If it didn't, he would be trapped in a loveless marriage, forced to share his body with someone other than Josh. Such an idea was unthinkable.
"Why are we doing this?" His voice was no more than a whisper, but he couldn't stop his frustration and boredom resounding in the silence of the night air.
"Because I said so."
"Why did you say so?"
Amy turned to glare at Josh, who resolved not to wither. It was hard - she was a lot tougher than she looked; so much so, in fact, that during the ten days they had so far been travelling, the only rest breaks they had taken had been at Josh's request. Normally, he would have felt ashamed to show weakness like this but, as he had pointed out, at length, on every occasion, falling to earth can really take it out of a guy.
"How's your arm?" whispered Amy from a couple of metres away. They were hiding in a shallow ditch near a railway line, waiting for a goods train to pass. They had been there for hours, and each time wagons had made their way along the tracks, Amy had jotted down the number of cars and any hints they could gather about their possible contents.
"It's not so bad." It was a lie. It was agony. The pain from the break had receded into a dull ache after the doctor had strapped the arm up, but now some time had passed, it had become clear to Josh that the medical attention had come too late - he couldn't fully straighten his arm, and the intermittent ache occasionally turned into shooting pains that made him gasp each time. The cold night air wasn't helping much either, and Josh thanked his lucky stars that this was to be their last night train-spotting: they were approaching the coast and he would soon be on a boat headed across the Channel.
Eventually, Amy announced that the last train had passed, and that they should get a move on in order to reach the next safe house by dawn. Spurred on by the thought of a soft, comfy bed, and the possibility of a warm meal, Josh found himself walking faster than before. The sun began to rise as they approached the village, and Josh was struck by the way the area resembled Norham. The first time he had seen that, it had been dawn.
Josh had since learnt that Sam had noticed him even then - days before they had actually met for the first time. Josh turned his thoughts to the next time the two would meet - how would Sam look, he wondered? Would he be pleased to see him again, or would he already have begun to move on? No. That was ridiculous. It hadn't been that long since Josh had been shot down - there was no way Sam would have forgotten him so soon. They had spoken of their love for each other as deep and unending. Soon, he would find out how seriously Sam had meant that. For now, though, he had the moon fading in the face of the sun's rays. What he would give for just one more moment of moonlight, one more moment of knowing that the moon which had shone upon Sam's face the first time they had met, was still shining on him.
But it was growing light and they had arrived at the house where they were to stay for a couple of days. Amy would be able to radio ahead with the information they had gathered from watching the movement of goods along the railway and request that transport across the Channel be organised for Josh. After that, the only thing left for him to do would be to head for the coast and home to England - home to Sam.
The capture of a member of the resistance near to where they were staying delayed Josh and Amy's journey by eighteen days. They had been forced to change their planned route to the coast, in case their plans had been known by the man the Nazis now had in their clutches, and Josh was becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress they were making. In response, Amy was growing impatient with his hissy fits.
"Would you just stop!" she yelled at him one evening. "What the hell's the matter with you? Flouncing around like that - you're not exactly the model of military decorum, are you?"
"What I am," growled Josh, "is a man trying to get home to his gu- girl." He winced at his lie, and vowed to make it up to Sam the first chance they had. It cut him to the bone to have to deny Sam's existence in such a way, but when the alternative was to possibly never make it back home, his decision to bend the truth became a little easier to rationalise.
Not a day too soon, Josh and Amy arrived in the coastal village where a local fisherman was willing to offer his services to transport allied soldiers across the channel. When night fell, they made their way to the meeting point - a small bay at the bottom of a steep cliff just to the east of the village, whose name Amy had refused to let Josh know on the basis that the less information he had, the less damage he could cause should he be captured.
Introductions were made hastily between Josh and Monsieur LeBrandt, the fisherman, then Amy turned to climb back up the cliff.
"Amy? You're not coming with us?" Josh was startled.
She stopped and turned. "Why would you think I was?"
"Because... I thought..." So, maybe she hadn't said she was going back to England with him, but the way she had constantly referred to their journey, rather than his, had made him think... "Don't you want to?"
"What am I going to do there that would help even a fraction as much as the work I can do over here?" she asked. "This - my work here - isn't something many people can do. It's my duty."
"But it's dangerous."
She snorted. "Unlike your work. Come on, Josh, be honest with me. Would you voluntarily give up flying for a desk job? Destroying the enemy weighs up pretty strongly against paper-pushing, wouldn't you say?"
Amy's words were sure and confident, but her voice trembled slightly at the end of her question. Josh leapt from the boat to run across the stony shore to where she stood, then impulsively flung his arms around her.
"Thank you," he whispered. "For everything you've done for me. I'll never forget it."
"It's okay. Just promise me one thing."
Josh raised his eyebrow questioningly.
"You show your man just how much he means to you, how much you love him."
Amy laughed. "Oh, come on, Josh. 'Sam' isn't exactly the most female of names for you to be moaning in your sleep. Not to mention the fact that a woman lacks certain anatomical parts necessary for the performance of some of the actions you were begging for each night."
Josh's face was burning. He talked in his sleep? Pornographically? First thing he was doing when he got back to England was kissing Sam. The second would be apologizing big time to his roommates, Toby and Charlie.
A shout from the boat alerted Josh to the fact that the tide would soon turn - he had to leave, and he had to do it right away. He hugged Amy one last time, then ran back to the boat, pushing it out into the water before leaping over the side. It was too dark to see whether Amy was still on the shore and he knew there was no chance she would be able to see him, but Josh waved goodbye to her anyway. She had saved his life - it was the very least he could do.
Sam whirled around as he heard a voice behind him. A young soldier, not more than twenty years old, stood on the pavement.
He turned 180 degrees again, to find that another soldier had crept up on him.
A third man joined them, stepping out from behind one of the trees at the side of the road. The three of them closed in on Sam, trapping him where he stood. He looked around for help but, unusually for a Tuesday afternoon, there didn't seem to be anyone around.
"Don't think we're going to let you get away with marrying that woman. It's not going to help you, fairy boy. We know what you are and we know what you did. We know who did you."
Sam couldn't think of a thing to say. There was no way to talk himself out of the situation, and no way he would be believed were he to deny what Josh had been to him.
As the first punch hit his stomach, Sam doubled over, groaning in pain. A second fist hit his side, before the toe of a very heavy boot made sharp contact with his shinbone. The blows continued to fall and, although he tried to fight back, Sam was woefully outnumbered and within minutes was on the ground, curling himself up as small as possible as he had done so many times in the past in response to his father's actions.
To his relief, the kicking stopped. He heard footsteps retreating and opened his eyes. He had been tricked - the blond hadn't left, but was looming over him. As a gob of spit landed on his face, Sam felt tears come to his eyes. Furiously, he blinked them away. There was no way he would show these animals they had the power to hurt him like that.
He closed his eyes, and lay still for a long time. When he opened them again, he saw someone standing in front of him. And this person wasn't wearing boots. Sam tipped his head back and peered up to see Abbey Bartlet crouching down to him.
"Sam? What happened?"
He opened his mouth to explain, but as he sucked in a lungful of air, he felt his chest burn, and gasped in pain.
"Ssh. It's okay, you don't have to say anything," soothed Dr. Bartlet. "I think I can work this one out for myself. Come on - let me help you back to my home and we'll see what we can do for you."
Leaning on the doctor for support, Sam hobbled up the street. It seemed to take forever to reach Dr. Bartlet's home - each step more painful than the next. Finally they arrived. He was ushered inside and made to lie on the sofa.
"Did you recognise the people who did this to you?" asked Abbey as she rubbed ointment into his cuts and bruises, and wrapped a bandage around his chest.
"Soldiers - three of them," he croaked out. "Don't know who they were, though."
"Did you see them?"
He nodded gingerly, wincing as it caused the pain in his head to increase.
"We'll get Leo - Colonel McGarry - over here to talk to you this evening," promised Abbey. "He'll do something about it."
"Nooo." Something in his voice must have alerted Abbey to Sam's displeasure with this idea.
"It's okay," she soothed. "Don't worry about what he'll think of you. It's not an issue for him. Not in the way you'd expect anyway. He'll want to get these guys, and get them good, believe you me."
Before Sam could ask what she meant by all this, Abbey's husband walked in.
"Sam!" he exclaimed. "What happened, son?"
Sam flushed, embarrassed at how pleased he felt to be called that - it had been so many years since he had heard a kind word from his own father that he had almost forgotten how it felt to be referred to as someone's son, however metaphorically.
Apparently sensing his discomfort, even if there was no way she could understand its origins, Abbey ushered Jed out of the room. Sam could hear their muffled voices in the hallway, and from the words he could make out, it appeared that his former teacher was being given a brief summary of that afternoon's events.
A long silence preceded Jed's return to the room - he entered alone, looking more serious than Sam could ever remember seeing him. He perched himself awkwardly on the couch where Sam was lying.
"You know," he began, "the depth of the ignorance of some people never fails to astound me. There are so many evil things a person can do to earn someone's hatred. Loving another man should not be one of them."
Sam blinked, unsure where the conversation was going, and uncomfortable with the idea that this man was aware of his relationship with Josh.
"You're not the first person to experience such a relationship, Sam, and you won't be the last. I wish I could promise you that things will be better in the future, but I can't. All I can do is promise you my support and understanding here and now."
"I don't care about the future," whispered Sam. "Josh is gone. I don't want a future without him."
"Oh, Sam." Jed squeezed his hand gently. "I know you feel that way now and I understand, perhaps more than you realise, what it is you're going through, but things won't always feel this bad. Broken hearts do mend, given time."
Too tired to argue, Sam simply nodded.
"You get some sleep now," said Jed as he stood. "Abbey's going to keep an eye on you for the evening. Just you remember - any time you need a friend, you only need to come here."
"Thank you," mumbled Sam, drifting off into sleep.
The next day, Sam was sitting on a different sofa, gazing at the carpet, barely aware of the conversation going on around him. His ribs still ached, but he had done everything possible to hide the pain from his father, knowing that having to explain how he acquired them would only make things infinitely worse for him.
His head snapped up and he saw his father glaring at him. "Sorry?"
"I was just saying how suddenly this all came about," said Mr. Sherborne. "I had no idea you and Lisa still cared so much about each other."
Not daring to meet his father's gaze, Sam swallowed before answering. "I'm not really keen on public displays of affection," he muttered. "And I know that not having been drafted made me seem like a poor catch. I didn't want to cause Lisa any trouble."
"Ah, that's water under the bridge," boomed Sam's father with false bonhomie. "All that matters now is that the two of you want to get married and that you're going to exchange vows in two days' time. So why don't we give you two lovebirds some time alone while we sort out the final details. All you need to worry about is turning up at the church on time." This final sentence was added firmly as he walked behind Sam's chair and gripped his shoulder tightly, the implied warning only too clear.
Sam nodded weakly and sighed as the parents left the room.
"Sam, are you feeling alright?"
He turned to see Lisa looking at him worriedly.
"I'm fine. Listen, can I ask you something?"
"You don't really want to do this, do you? We've barely spoken since I went off to university. How can you have agreed to do this? We're not living in a Victorian novel, you know?"
As Lisa's face broke into a smile, Sam felt his heart sink. He had a horrible feeling her answer wasn't going to be something he wanted to hear. He was right.
"Oh, I wasn't too happy at first, but then I remembered how good we were together. And it's going to make my parents so happy. Me too. I never stopped loving you, Sam. I was just too embarrassed to tell you. But that doesn't matter now - we're going to be married, and I'll have your children and we can grow old together. It'll be just wonderful - you wait. I'll be the perfect wife."
Lisa was glowing with happiness, but Sam had never felt more miserable. She hugged him and at that instant, any thought Sam had had about being ready to move on from Josh went flying out of his head. Lisa's body felt so wrong in his arms - too small, too curvy. He wanted Josh - wanted the security of his solid embrace and masculine scent. He missed the sense of overwhelming love he had felt every time Josh's eyes met his own. How could he possibly marry Lisa while he still felt this way about someone else? He didn't want a wife. He wanted Josh.
"Monsieur? Monsieur? Regardez."
Josh started awake and followed the fisherman's gaze. On the horizon, he could make out land.
Really? England? And there I was thinking it was Timbuktu. Josh bit back the sarcastic response, born as it was of nerves, exhaustion and not a small amount of sea-sickness. He'd been very specific about not wanting to join the navy, and this was why. He hadn't imagined that anything could have been worse than the seemingly-endless voyage across the Atlantic to his posting in England, but this boat was much smaller, and the effect of the waves upon it much greater. The rocking of the boat had caused him to empty his stomach overboard several times in the first thirty minutes of the treacherous journey and he had eventually taken the advice of the sailor and curled up in the bottom of the boat, stinking fishing nets surrounding him for warmth, as he tried to sleep his way through the journey.
At the sight of England growing nearer, however, he found his sealegs and stood, craning his neck in the hopes of seeing more land. Never had he been so keen for a journey to end.
Just a few short hours later, Josh was stepping ashore. A sergeant from the British Royal Navy met him off the boat and took him to a nearby building, where he was given access to clean clothes, steaming hot coffee and a shower. The water poured down over Josh's skin and he scrubbed hard, suddenly desperate to erase all trace of his experiences. His arm still hurt, and he couldn't straighten it fully, but Josh knew he was lucky that that was the worst he had gone through. He had held it together this far, but he was only too aware that now he was back on safe ground, his mind would begin to contemplate not only what had happened to him, but what could have happened to him. If he was going to get through such a trauma in one piece, he wanted to be as removed as possible from anything that could remind him of France, right down to the dirt under his fingernails.
Once he was clean, dry and dressed, Josh was taken to a debriefing room where he neatly summarised what had happened to him. A more in-depth debriefing would take place at Norham airbase, for the US military, but since it had been a British SOE officer who had helped him home Josh had to speak with the British military first.
Eventually, it was over and a car was summoned. Josh was to stay in the local barracks overnight, before being driven back to East Anglia the following day.
"Can I at least make a phone call," he asked, desperate beyond belief to hear Sam's voice.
"Sorry, Lieutenant. Until you've undergone the full debriefing, your contact has to be limited."
"But I wouldn't say anything about - "
"Sorry, Lieutenant. Rules is rules, and all that. You know the drill."
Josh nodded miserably. Still, he had waited all these weeks. What damage could one more day's wait cause?
Sam was exhausted. Trying to act as though he hadn't been beaten to within an inch of his life just a couple of days earlier was taking its toll on him. The bruises were already beginning to fade, but they still hurt enough that if his father were to lay a finger on him, Sam would be in severe agony.
For that reason, he had decided to keep his head down and channel all his energies into acting happy about his upcoming nuptials. He had no choice but to go ahead with them. It was that or leave the area and start a new life - something too difficult to contemplate given the war. What's more, the only new life he had ever wanted was one with Josh, and while Sam was beginning to realise that such a thing would never happen, it didn't make him love Josh any less. Sam would do whatever it took to make it through the war, then once peace had returned to the world, perhaps he would be able to start a new life away from his father's influence - a new life where he could be faithful to Josh's memory.
"Sam. Get down here now!" His father's voice travelled through the house, and Sam hurried to the kitchen, where his father was ironing his shirts. At the sight of the hot metal, Sam shrank back into the doorway, fearful of what was going to happen.
"You're not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?"
The iron was slammed down onto the kitchen table as Sam's father stepped forward to grip Sam's shoulders hard. Unlike when Josh had held him that way, offering support and love, there was no tenderness in this gesture.
"If I catch you doing anything that could be interpreted as backing out of this wedding, there'll be hell to pay and you damn well know it," he growled.
"I won't, sir," Sam rushed to say. His father's eyebrows rose, and the grip on his shoulders tightened further, so Sam decided that if ever he were to lie for England, now would be the time. "I'm looking forward to being Lisa's husband. I want to put a stop to the despicable lies that are being spread about me. I won't let you down."
The longest minute of Sam's life ticked by as his father stared at him. He kept his expression as neutral as he could manage, while in his mind he sent Josh a fervent apology.
"The rumours are despicable," his father stated calmly. "And if you say they're lies, I suppose that's going to have to be enough for me. But just you remember, boy, if you ever claim otherwise, no matter where you are I'll find you. And you'll regret ever having laid eyes on that faggot Yank."
"Yes, sir." Sam couldn't listen to any more of this. He turned and ran upstairs, mentally kicking himself when he opened the door to his father's bedroom. Even after all these weeks, he still thought of it as his and Josh's room. Slowly, sadly, he closed the door behind him and crept along the hall to lie on his small, hard bed, and dream of the man he would never stop loving.
"It's good to see you back, Lieutenant."
The young officer on the gate saluted Josh as he let the jeep through, into the base. What should have seemed so familiar felt strangely alien to Josh and he gazed around him, urgently seeking something he could connect with - something that would make him feel as though he had come home.
He made his way wearily to Leo's office, as per his instructions. Finding no one in the outer office, he knocked on the door.
"Come in." There it was - Leo's voice, a sound he had known since childhood. Josh pushed open the door and found himself being hugged by his father's friend.
"Josh. It's so good to see you again, son. Come sit down. You want anything to drink? Tea? Coffee?"
"You wouldn't have anything a bit stronger would you, sir?"
He regretted the words as soon as he saw the look on Leo's face. "I'm sorry, sir," he gasped in horror. "I wasn't thinking... I mean, I forgot you..."
"It's okay," Leo reassured him, taking a seat behind his desk. "And you don't need to call me sir for the moment, Josh. We're gonna talk as friends for a moment, okay?"
Josh watched Leo lean forward and clasp his hands, then lean back in his chair, then fiddle with a pen on his desk, then twiddle his thumbs, then lean forward again.
"Leo? Are you alright?"
"I am now." Leo sighed. "I went a bit crazy after you d-... after you went missing - started drinking again, and what have you."
Josh opened his mouth, ready to apologise for what he had put his CO through, but Leo beat him to the chase. "Don't blame yourself. I know you like to do that, what with your guilt complex and all, but really don't. I'm working through it and I'm fine. And now you're back and things are even better." He paused, before muttering under his breath something that sounded to Josh suspiciously along the lines of, "God help me I know these words'll come back and haunt me once you're cavorting around the place again."
"So, when's the debriefing?" he asked. "I was told I couldn't make any phone calls till that had happened, and I really... Leo, I gotta talk to Sam."
When Leo didn't immediately reply, Josh began to feel a tendril of worry curl around his heart. What was going on? He was pretty sure Leo had worked out what was going on between him and Sam, so why wasn't he saying anything. Oh, God, Sam wasn't dead was he? Perhaps, overcome with grief, he had killed himself, and Leo couldn't find the words to tell him. Please, no. Sam had to be alive. He had to have known Josh would come back for him.
"Josh, we're gonna do the whole debriefing thing later," Leo said eventually. "First, there's something you need to know. Something you need to know about Sam."
Josh's stomach constricted as he fought to catch his breath. "He's okay, isn't he?"
No, he killed himself. Josh was so sure that had really happened, that he could almost hear the words. It took him a second to realise Leo was giving him a very different answer.
"He's getting married. Tomorrow, sometime in the morning."
Josh's blood ran cold. "Married?! How the hell's he doing that? Why? Who to? I mean, to whom?" Even in his frantic state of mind, Josh could hear Sam's voice correcting his grammar.
"I'm not sure of the details, but from what I can gather, it seems his father arranged it in order to quash some rumours that got spread around after you went missing."
"Rumours?" Josh knew exactly what kind of rumours, but he needed to hear it from Leo.
"About the two of you. I don't know how they started, but it's not like there wasn't already talk about you. I guess they just grew from there."
The clock on Leo's desk struck midnight and Josh leapt from his chair.
"Leo, it's tomorrow now. I mean, it's today - Sam's getting married today. I have to see him. I can't let it happen - I came back for him."
His boss nodded understandingly. "You want to go now?"
"Yes." He wanted to go weeks ago. Now would have to be good enough.
Leo stood. "Get your hat. I'll drive you over there."
Josh got his hat.
Sam couldn't sleep. In just a few hours' time he would be standing at the altar exchanging vows of lifelong fidelity with a woman he didn't love. How was he supposed to sleep with that weighing on his mind? To engage in such massive deceit went against his very nature - his decision to become a lawyer had been based on a sure and certain belief in the concept of honesty and justice. What kind of justice would be meted out to him for betraying the man he loved by marrying a woman he didn't?
He rolled over in bed, unthinkingly seeking the warmth of Josh's body. Even after all these weeks, in the surreal half-sleep of a restless night, he still felt as though Josh was there. As though Josh was alive.
And if that were true? If, by some miracle, Josh had survived the plane crash, how would he feel upon returning to Norham to find Sam married? He would feel crushed, that much Sam knew. Crushed and worse - Sam had promised to be Josh's forever. He couldn't marry Lisa. He couldn't.
But how could he get out of the wedding? With just a few short hours to go, and his father more watchful than ever, there were very few options available to him.
CJ had told him there was always a place for him at her house. Was he brave enough to take her at her word? He could go there now and, in the morning, visit Lisa to tell her the wedding was off. He just needed to find the courage to do it. Was there any way he could?
His father would sack him - he would be unemployed and, more likely than not, end up homeless. He would be disgraced - unable to show his face around the village. And for what? The vaguest hope that Josh might one day come back to him?
Yes. The hope that he and Josh would one day be reunited. Until he saw with his own eyes incontrovertible proof that Josh was dead, he would live his life as though at any moment his lover would return. It would be difficult, for sure, but Josh was worth it. The certainty that his actions would never let Josh down was worth any amount of suffering on his part. He loved Josh with all his heart - Josh deserved his faithfulness.
The decision made, Sam crept downstairs to get a glass of water - all that thinking was thirsty work, after all. Then he would pack a bag and creep over to CJ's house and explain the situation to her, hoping against all hope that she would be as understanding as he hoped.
As he sipped at his water, Sam continued to think. Was he really doing the right thing here? He would be turning his life upside down and hurting Lisa in a way she didn't deserve. All for the ridiculously overly-optimistic hope that Josh wasn't dead. Of course Josh was dead. Otherwise he would never have felt the pain that had been a constant presence in his heart, mind and soul from the first moment he had heard the news.
He had to make a decision soon, though. Only a few hours remained.
A sound startled him, making him drop the cup from his hands. Sam watched in dismay as it shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Shattered, just as his heart had shattered. It was a fitting, if somewhat melodramatic, metaphor, he felt.
The sound came again. Someone was banging at the door. At this time of night? It had to be some kind of prank. Sam wandered into the kitchen and fetched the dustpan and broom to clear away the glass, but before he could reach the cupboard where they were stored, the knocking came again.
Exasperated, he stomped to the door and flung it open. There was no one on the doorstep. Sam was at the point of closing the door again, when he noticed it. There, halfway up the garden path, he could just about make out the silhouette of a man. A man in uniform.
At that moment the sky cleared and the moon shone down, illuminating the visitor.
Did Sam call that name with his voice or with his heart? In the years to come, neither he nor Josh would be able to say. Their memories, rather, would be full of Sam's frantic run towards Josh; the way they flung their arms around each other, holding on so tightly they could barely draw breath; the feel of their lips meeting, frantically, again and again and again, tasting each other, revelling in the familiar sensation as their breath mingled and they melted into each other.
"Josh? You...? How...? I...?" It was all too much for Sam and he sank to the ground, sobbing with relief and joy. In an instant, Josh had joined him on the grass and Sam found himself safe in the warm cocoon of Josh's embrace.
"It's okay. It's okay, sweetheart. I'm here now. Not going anywhere ever again. Not without you. Love you, Sam, missed you so much."
"I thought... Oh, God, Josh, I thought you were dead. They told me..." Sam buried his face in Josh's neck as he clutched his lover closer to him. "They told me your plane was shot down and you were dead and I didn't want to believe it. But I did. For so long I did and now you're here and I love you and I need you and... Josh."
As the tears flowed down Sam's cheeks, he felt Josh brush kisses across his face and a gentle hand rub his back comfortingly.
"I'm not dead. Not by a long shot. I'm so sorry you had to go through that, Sam. More sorry than I can ever say. But I found the way back to you. I found my way home. All for you, my darling. I did it all for you."
"I love you," gasped Sam. "But I've done something really terrible. I wanted to back out of it, but I didn't know how. Josh, my father arranged for me..."
"To get married? I know - Leo told me. It's okay, though. We'll get you out of it. We belong together, you and me. Nothing's going to get in our way now. If the Nazis couldn't separate us, what makes you think your father can?"
"I don't... I don't deserve you." Sam shook his head in wonderment. "You should hate me for ever saying yes to the wedding. For betraying you."
Josh's lips found Sam's in a tender kiss. "I'll never hate you, Sam. Never. It's okay. I promise you it's okay. We're together now, and together we can do anything. We'll find a way to figure this out. Don't you worry about it."
Sam felt the tension of the past few months flood out of him. Josh was here. Josh was alive. Josh still loved him. With that knowledge in his heart, he could do anything.
Sam breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the comforting scent of the man draped across his chest as he petted his hair gently. He had barely slept all night - Josh may have been back for a whole week, but the novelty of his returned presence still kept Sam from closing his eyes while Josh slept, afraid that Josh's return was no more than a dream.
After the initial elation at Josh's return had worn off that night, Sam's head had cleared long enough for him to decide on a course of action to take. Josh had returned to the base to get some sleep before his debriefing and so, as soon as he was sure she would be awake, Sam had set off on the long walk to the farmhouse where Lisa lived.
In the most excruciatingly painful conversation of his life, Sam had explained to her that he didn't feel he would make her a good husband, and that it was probably better all round if the wedding were cancelled. This gently-worded assertion had not been received with particularly good grace. Lisa had shouted and screamed and aimed more than one kick at Sam's shins but he had refused to go through with the marriage.
As he had hoped, the news that Josh was alive and back in Norham hadn't reached the villagers until late that evening and so, while there had been plenty of eyebrows raised at the coincidence between Sam's cancelled wedding and Josh's miraculous return, no one had been able to prove any kind of link between the two events.
Unfortunately, Sam's father had reacted to the news of the cancelled wedding as badly as Sam had feared. Sam had returned from his visit to Lisa and immediately explained to his father that he would not be getting married that morning. It had earned him a punch in the stomach, but Sam had held his ground.
"No." Sam's father had pulled back, ready to land another punch, but the quietly-spoken word from Sam made him pause for a moment. It was long enough - Sam reached forward and wrapped his hands firmly around his father's fist.
"I won't let you treat me this way any longer. I've spent my life trying to please you and all I've achieved is turning myself into your punchbag. Well enough's enough. I'm not going to marry Lisa and I'm not going to let you control my life."
Sam's father yanked his hand away and took a step forward, which brought him to loom menacingly over Sam. "And just how do you think you're going to achieve that?" he murmured. "You live in my house and work in my law firm. You'd be nothing without me."
The words were harsh, intended to wound Sam. He closed his eyes, not wanting his father to see how deeply he had been hurt, and instantly his mind conjured up an image of Josh. As clearly as though he were in the kitchen with him, Sam could hear Josh's voice. "Together, we can do anything." It was true - knowing that Josh was there to offer whatever support he could gave Sam the strength to face his father.
"I don't care what you say," he said softly. "I deserve a better life than the one you've forced on me. I wish it didn't have to come to this. I wish I didn't have to walk out of your life - you're my father and I do appreciate the good things you've done for me, but they in no way compensate for the bad things you've done to me. I won't let you treat me that way any longer and if the only way for that to happen is for me to leave, then so be it."
Five minutes later, Sam had found himself on the doorstep, unemployed and homeless and prouder of himself than he could ever have imagined.
CJ had been wonderful - her initial tentative acceptance of Sam and Josh's relationship had blossomed into support and generosity: when Sam had found himself with nowhere to live, CJ had kept her promise and taken him in. And now Toby had three days' leave and was using it to take CJ down to the south coast to visit her mother, so that he could meet her and the rest of the family, which had left the house to Sam and "whatever company he deemed welcome".
So Sam had finally been able to invite Josh over. They had spent the whole night talking and kissing and holding each other - unable to bear being apart from each other for more than a second. Eventually, just as dawn had come, they had drifted off to sleep.
Sam had awakened early and quickly decided that, rather than wake Josh, he would indulge himself for a while by watching Josh as he slept - drinking in each movement, each mumble, each smile that crossed his face.
Josh twitched and let out a "harumph", his breath caressing Sam's torso, and Sam bent his head to kiss Josh's forehead. The touch raised a smile on the sleeping man's face as he snuggled in closer to Sam before his eyes blearily opened.
"Hey," he mumbled.
"Good morning." Holding Josh to him, Sam rolled them over carefully until Josh was flat on his back underneath him. He leaned down and attacked Josh's mouth with his own. They kissed frantically as their hands caressed and grabbed at each other, unerringly finding those places each knew would result in the wildest reactions from the other.
As Sam shifted to nibble the spot behind Josh's ear, the spot that he remembered only too well could drive his lover crazy with excitement, their erections brushed against each other and Sam felt Josh's hands shoot down to clutch at his waist before he slid one hand lower to grasp them together.
"I want you, Sam," moaned Josh as he began a slow pumping movement with his hand. "Make love to me."
"I want you inside me, sweetheart. I want to feel you there. Take me, Sam, please."
But... what about the regulations? The medical exams you were warned about?" Josh's suggestion had sent a jolt of arousal through Sam's entire being but, having lost Josh once, he didn't want to lose him again by getting him dismissed from the army - not when there were other options open to them.
Josh shook his head. "They don't matter anymore. Colonel McGarry's promised me that if it ever looks like he's going to have to discharge me for being with you, he'll pre-empt it by giving me an honourable discharge for being injured. We can do what we want, Sam, and I want you to do me."
In a move Sam suspected was intended to emphasise his last words, Josh gripped their erections even closer together, jerking at them with a rhythm that sent Sam sprawling on top of Josh.
"You really want this?" he asked. "I don't know if I'll be any good at it."
"You'll be good, Sam, trust me. We're always good together."
Sam raised his head to smile down at Josh softly. "We really are."
He reached down and pulled Josh's hand away, lifting it out to the side. This was his chance to really take the lead in their lovemaking for the first time.
As his mouth explored Josh's, Sam's hands roamed the body underneath him, feeling each muscle, each special place that made Josh gasp or moan. His hands swept lower and lower until he had one hand around Josh's cock and the other was stroking his anus.
Below him, Josh was writhing in what Sam hoped was pleasure.
"How do you want to do this?" he asked. "I mean, do you want to stay on your back or...?"
"Like this," gasped Josh. "I want it just like this."
"Okay." Sam licked his finger and was about to push it into Josh when he felt a hand clamp around his wrist.
"Don't bother with any of that," Josh told him.
"What?" Sam moved his left hand up to play with Josh's nipples as he tried to work out what it was his lover was asking him to do.
"Don't stretch me with your fingers first. I'll put some Vaseline on you so the friction doesn't kill me but then just, God, just push right in," panted Josh as Sam pinched hard at a nipple, causing him to arch up off the mattress.
"Won't it hurt you? I don't want to do that."
"I like it a little rough. Like to really feel it. I want your cock to be the only thing that stretches me. Please, Sam. For me."
Seeing nothing but honesty and pure, unbridled lust in his lover's eyes Sam nodded shakily and lifted Josh's legs so that his thighs were against Sam's chest.
The sight that met Sam's eyes made his heart skip a beat. Josh's eyes were dark with passion, his mouth wide open and panting, and his body covered in a sheen of sweat. His cock stood thick and throbbing above his heavy balls and below those... below those his dark, tight hole twitched under the scrutiny. Sam couldn't help but moan in anticipation.
"It's okay, baby. It's gonna feel so good. I just need to get you ready." Josh stretched out an arm to grab the jar of Vaseline from where he had set it on the bedside table the night before.
Sam was so focused on holding Josh's gaze that he barely noticed Josh's hand dip into the jar and reach towards his straining erection. Then a warm hand began sliding up and down him, coating his cock in the lubricant, squeezing his shaft and tugging at his balls until Sam couldn't bear it a second longer.
"You've got to stop, Josh, or I'm going to come, and I want to be inside you when I do. Please."
Josh's hand drew back and he carefully moved his right leg down to wrap around Sam's waist, Sam shifted to press the already-weeping head of his cock against Josh's anus. As he thrust slowly forward, he felt Josh's right foot push against his buttocks, driving him in faster and deeper and quicker than he had intended.
With one final buck of his hips, Sam was all the way inside. The tightness surrounding his cock was like nothing he had ever experienced, and the heat was more intense than he had ever imagined. He wanted to tell Josh how amazing it felt to be inside him; how the grip Josh's channel had on his erection was as great as that of Josh's love on his heart, but the physicality of the moment was overwhelming, and he realised he had lost the ability to form sentences.
"Oh, Josh," he gasped as he looked down at his lover. Josh's head was flung back and he was moaning - Sam couldn't tell whether in pleasure or in pain.
"You okay?" he asked, pulling out slightly.
Josh nodded wordlessly as he gasped for breath. "God, you're so damn big, Sam. Never been... oh, fuck!" Josh yelled as Sam thrust his way back inside. "Never been so full," he finished with a gasp.
Sam would have blushed at the compliment, but his body was busy directing his blood flow to a different part of his anatomy. He pulled all the way out of Josh then rammed back inside, harder and faster, delighting in the ecstatic reaction this got from Josh.
"Yes! Oh, Sam, the things you do to me." Josh pushed back against him and before long the two men had set up a perfect rhythm - long, hard, deep strokes which Sam kept up as he leaned down to kiss Josh deeply.
Sam pulled back and raised himself onto his knees to change the angle of penetration. It appeared to be doing good things to Josh, who began to thrash his head from side to side. Overwhelmed with love for the man surrounding him, Sam turned his head to press frantic, open-mouthed kisses along the sides of Josh's left leg, which was still stretched up against his chest.
As their rhythm grew more erratic, Sam watched as Josh reached down to jerk himself off. It was a spectacular sight, at once forbidden and intimate, and Sam felt his balls tighten as he pushed inside Josh harder and harder.
He felt Josh's right foot move lower, until the big toe was rubbing against his anus. Then suddenly it pushed barely millimetres inside. It was all too much for Sam and with one final thrust he came, shooting deep inside Josh's pulsating channel. Just moments later, as the last of the tremors went through Sam's cock, Josh reached orgasm as well and Sam was amazed to see Josh shoot his cum onto his own face.
He slipped out of Josh, blushing slightly at the small gush of semen which followed his cock, and leant down to lick Josh's face clean. He had longed for this taste for so many months - the taste of Josh; the taste only Sam would be allowed to know from now on.
He opened his mouth, meaning to tell Josh how deeply he was loved, but no words came out - the force of his love had brought him to a place where words, once again, simply could not suffice. Instead, he felt tears form in his eyes.
"It's okay," murmured Josh, as he cupped Sam's face gently in his hands. "I know. I feel it too, sweetheart."
They wrapped their sweaty, sated bodies around each other and lay still for a time, enjoying the sensation of being truly together again.
"I love you, Sam," whispered Josh eventually. "I'll always love you. To have and to hold, From this day forth,"
"For better or worse," murmured Sam, clinging onto Josh tighter than ever as he recognised the words being spoken between them.
"For richer or poorer," Josh continued, brushing a soft kiss against Sam's cheek.
"In sickness and in health." As he spoke these words, Sam stroked his hand along Josh's damaged arm.
Sam was moved to see tears form in Josh's eyes as he continued their vows. "To love and to cherish,"
"Until death do us part." Their voices blended as one before they kissed softly, lips brushing across lips again and again until Sam moaned in pleasure and parted his lips to allow Josh inside. The kiss continued for minutes, stretching on and on. For Sam it was more than he had ever dared to hope for.
"I thought it had," he murmured as he pulled his mouth away from Josh's. "I thought death had taken you from me."
Josh kissed him again. "Sssh. Don't think about it anymore. I'm alive and I'm here with you and I'm not going anywhere for a long time. And even if I do leave Norham, there's no way I'm going alone. You’ve got me now, Sam, and I've got you and I never want to let you go. I don't know how we'll manage it, but we'll find a way. We're in each other's arms again now, and together we can survive anything."
It hadn't been all that hard to leave England behind, thought Sam as he looked across the Atlantic as it stretched to the horizon in every direction. Having been disowned, and sacked, by his father, Sam had moved in with CJ and earned his living teaching English with her at the local school. With the war on, the school's budget was tight but Jed Bartlet had played around with the figures to find a wage for Sam, justifying it to the school's governors by reminding them of the simple fact that, with all the refugees in the village, an extra teacher could make a lot of difference.
The job had helped Sam more than just financially, though. Jed and Abbey Bartlet were highly-respected residents of Norham, and the fact that Jed (as Sam had learned to call him) had hired Sam as a teacher meant that many of the villagers had decided to ignore the sordid rumours being spread around about him. After all, if Sam really was a pervert, Dr. Bartlet would never let him near children.
The existence of so many rumours about Sam and Josh had meant that the lovers had to be careful not to be seen together too often. It had been hard, but ultimately worth it. Each snatched second seemed more precious to them than entire lifetimes did to other couples. Having lost Josh once, Sam was determined that nothing should ever come between them again, and so he had been overjoyed, although sympathetic, at the news that Josh's arm was too damaged to allow him to fly again. Josh's initial fears that this would have him sent back to the States had proven unfounded when Colonel McGarry had, with a twinkle in his eye, suggested that he might like to spend the remainder of the war in Norham working as second in command on the air base - a desk job that would put Josh in no danger, and keep him just where he wanted to be.
The war had finally ended a few months ago, to the relief of everyone. Everyone but Josh and Sam, who finally had to make the biggest decision of their lives. They had put off the discussion as long as they could, but when Josh only had a week left before returning home, he had broached the subject.
"Sam, I've spent months - years, even - telling you I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and you've said the same to me. But now we have to put that to the test. The war's over, and we can move on with our lives. I guess what I'm asking you is, do you want to move on with me?"
They had gone out for the day, spending a quiet morning exploring Sam's favourite second hand bookshop in the town where they had first spent the day together, nearly three years earlier. After lunch they had wandered down to the river where they strolled along, lost in their own world.
Even now, Sam could picture the look on Josh's face as he had asked that question - the love he felt for Sam had been only too clear, but it had been joined by a small shred of apprehension and so Sam rushed to allay his lover's fears.
"I've meant it every time I've said it, Josh," he murmured, conscious that at any time they could meet other people enjoying the warm summer's day. "I want us to spend the rest of our lives together, whatever it takes."
A beautiful smile had broken across Josh's face at these words, and Sam had returned the look with a subtle squeeze of Josh's hand as it brushed against his own.
"I guess that just leaves us with one final decision to make," said Josh. "Where do we do that? In England or America?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. I've thought about it a little," he admitted, "but can't decide what would be best. What do you think?"
Josh nudged at Sam's shoulder and steered him off the path and into a small patch of trees which would allow them a moment or two of guaranteed privacy for the most important discussion of their relationship.
"I want to go home," admitted Josh. "My mother's all alone now and with my injury the air corps isn't going to want to keep me on in peace time. So... I guess... I mean, I know it's a lot to ask of you, but..."
"I'll do it." Sam interrupted him, placing a finger across Josh's lips to silence him. "I don't have that many friends around here, and my father's still refusing to acknowledge my existence. I'll come with you, Josh, just as soon as I can get a ticket."
Just four months later, Sam had arrived at the docks in Liverpool. Having married Toby in April, CJ had been offered a ticket aboard a ship primarily intended to take war brides across the ocean to be reunited with their American husbands and Colonel McGarry had used his extensive network of contacts to get Sam a ticket, ostensibly as CJ's escort for the journey.
They were sailing to New York, where Toby already lived and where Josh had decided it would be easiest for him and Sam to set up a life together. After all, in such a big city where housing was at a premium, it made financial sense to share an apartment. And he had heard from friends of his who had joined the navy that there were others like Sam and Josh already in New York - they wouldn't be alone any longer.
There were still things Sam hadn't told Josh, though. The fact that his father had kept him locked up in the air raid shelter still filled him with shame, as did the memory of briefly giving up hope of Josh ever returning. Moreover, while he loved Josh with all his heart, Sam was still too deeply ingrained in the "stiff upper lip" British mindset to feel in any way comfortable discussing something so traumatic. One day, he hoped, he would find the words to tell Josh what he had gone through, but that day would be a long way in the future and a long way from Clive Seaborn. Because even though he had been so unspeakably cruel to Sam, he was still his father and Sam knew instinctively that when Josh learned about the level of abuse he had experienced at his father's hand, Josh would want revenge.
That was all in the future, though. For now, Sam's journey was nearly over - the ship would be docking the next day and he would see Josh for the first time in months. The thought made him smile - it helped him to ignore the small corner of his heart that would remain in the village where he had grown up.
There were still people there he cared about - as long as he lived he would never forget the kindness shown to him by the Bartlets, and Colonel McGarry had proven a true friend to both Sam and Josh. Now, he would be staying in England to keep the air base running. Josh had commented that the decision to do this may have been swayed by the fact that he had recently become acquainted with a local lawyer by the name of Jordon Kendall - a woman who seemed as enchanted with Leo as he was with her. Sam, however, believed the truth to be something else. While he would never mention it to Josh, believing privacy to be sacrosanct, he believed he had seen the spark of something between the Colonel and Jed Bartlet - the spark of something more than just friendship, something that would explain the rather cryptic comments made by the Bartlets after Sam had been attacked in the street.
Sam's mind turned to thoughts of the other people he was leaving behind him. Charlie Young had opted to stay behind in England - he had been tentatively pursuing a relationship with Zoey Bartlet under the excessively watchful eye of her father, and was hoping to be promoted before too long.
Donna had been overjoyed at Josh's apparent return from the dead - overjoyed right up to the moment Josh had gone to visit her and he told her in no uncertain terms just how disgusted he was by the way she had treated Sam. In her distress, Donna had rapidly developed a somewhat worrisome friendship with Lisa Sherborne and Josh had spent many an evening trying to convince Sam that it wouldn't be too long before the women had figured out a way to cast a spell of great evil-doing over the two men.
Sam smiled at the memory of Josh's words. Josh meant so much to him; he was the centre of Sam's life. And come the morning, they would be together again.
The sky was growing dark, and Sam headed below deck for the last meal he would eat with CJ for some time - they would dock first thing in the morning, and Sam was planning on having his breakfast with his lover.
Sam gazed in wonder at the Statue of Liberty, seeing not just its beauty but also its symbolism. Home of the free. Sam's heart leapt in anticipation. He was free. Free of his father, free to live with Josh.
"How are you feeling?" CJ had crept up beside him and now leant against the deck rail to take in the view.
"Terrified," admitted Sam. "It's a big step we're taking here."
CJ slipped her arm around his waist and hugged him companionably. "I know. But it feels right, doesn't it?"
Their beaming smiles joined with the sun to light the November sky as their ship continued along the final stretch of its voyage.
Eventually they reached the harbour, which was thronging with crowds. Sam couldn't see how he would ever be able to find Josh, and a momentary wave of panic took hold of him. But then he remembered Josh's parting words to him.
"I'll see you soon, Sam. It's not long till we're back together - just let your heart guide you."
It was corny and overly sentimental, but it was also true. Sam's heart would always lead him to Josh.
After what seemed to Sam like an eternity, the gangway was in place and the passengers could disembark.
"Would you like me to carry your luggage for you?" he asked CJ, but she laughingly brushed him off.
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that. I didn't bring much - I'm here to start a new life. I can manage my bags on my own. And anyway, I'm sure I'll be able to coerce Toby into carrying them once I find him."
"So, I take it this is it then? This is goodbye?" asked Sam, surprised to hear the tremor in his voice.
"Not goodbye, Sam. We'll stay in touch - you're my only link to home over here. I don't want to lose that," CJ assured him, her voice as tremulous as his own.
Together they left the ship and walked onto the docks.
"Well, I'm off to find my husband." CJ lowered her voice to a whisper as she added, "You go find yours, Sam."
He hugged her tightly to him, smiling at her words. "Thank you. Thank you for everything."
CJ shook her head. "Don't worry about thank you's now - it's not as though we'll never see each other again, is it?"
"No, but - " The end of the sentence escaped Sam as, through the crowd, he saw what he had been looking for. Josh was standing by the fence twenty metres to Sam's left. His arms were crossed and a confident smile played on his face as he gazed across the throng of people at Sam. Letting go of CJ, Sam pushed his way across the quay and, just seconds later, he was back where he belonged - in the arms of his lover.
It was a risky move in such a public place, but they had been apart for so long: Sam tilted his face up and, as the sun's rays warmed his skin, Josh's lips brushed over his own, warming his soul.
"Welcome to America," murmured Josh. "Welcome to our future."
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