NAME: Bless the Beasts and the Children
AUTHOR: Jesse Morgan
PAIRING: Sam/Josh
Rating: CHILD
DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to Aaron Sorkin
NOTE: This is my very first fluffy Christmas story, written especially for Kathi because she loves them so much. I don't write fluff. I don't write Christmas stories. I don't write G-Rated Sam/Josh fic. But I've known Kathi for years and if this is what she wants, I'll give it a try. You'll probably never see the likes of it again. Kathi, enjoy!
THANK YOU: To Carmen, for serving as my BETA on this piece. I appreciate it!

Bless the Beasts and the Children by Jesse Morgan

Josh's bare foot stuck out from under the blue comforter as he slept. Sam quietly opened the red and green Christmas stocking and gently pulled it onto Josh's foot and started to pull it up his calf when Josh shook his leg a little and made some inaudible sound. Sam froze. After a few seconds Josh was still and Sam went back to work. The stocking went all the way up to Josh's knee. It was decorated with Rudolph, snowflakes, candy canes and two yarn puffballs that dangled from the top.

Quietly, Sam crawled back into bed and slid next to Josh. His body was warm and he wanted to cuddle, but he knew what that would lead to and they had to get up in just a few minutes and get ready for work. Two minutes later the alarm blasted the silence with that obnoxious, shrill buzz that didn't stop until Josh reached out and pushed the "off" button.

"Get up!" said Sam. "Gotta get to work."

"Ummmmm," Josh groaned. "Let's snuggle a while."

"Nope. Gotta go."

Josh flopped his arm in Sam's direction, but Sam rolled out of the way just in time and Josh's arm landed in the warm space Sam left.

"Ummmmm." He threw the covers back, sat on the edge of the bed, and swung his legs around.

"What the hell?" He raised his leg with the Christmas stocking up to his knee.

Sam fell back on the bed laughing. "It's a perfect fit!" he said. "You've gotta wear shorts today to show them off!"

Josh tried not to smile as he propped his foot on the bed.

"Look," Sam continued. "There's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and . . ."

"You are a wicked and evil man."

"No. Really I'm not. Try to think of me as a lovable elf."

Josh pulled the stocking off and threw it at Sam as he stood. "Ok, you're a wicked and evil elf. Just don't start wearing those pointed shoes. You know what they do to me. You wanna join me in the shower?"

"Don't I always?"

Sam followed Josh to the bathroom, hoping Josh would like what he found, but he didn't have a good feeling about it.

"What's that?" Josh asked. He pointed to a package wrapped in shiny silver foil wrap with a big red bow.

"It's a present," Sam grinned.

"For who?"

"For you. From me."

"Why?"

"It's a Christmas present, Josh. Millions of people are practicing this very same tradition. I'm sure you've heard of it."

Josh turned to Sam and cupped his face in his hands. "I appreciate the sentiment, but you know I don't "do" Christmas. I've never "done" Christmas since you've known me and I'm not gonna start now. The stocking on my foot was cute and whatever's wrapped up here, keep it for yourself. Please, Sam, don't try and force Christmas on me. I love you and I'll do YOU, but I'm not gonna "do" Christmas."

Josh finished dressing first after their shower and went downstairs. The first thing he saw was a small Christmas Tree in the middle of the dining room table, fully decorated, with several gifts underneath. He sighed heavily and went into the kitchen to start the coffee.

After a few minutes he felt Sam's arms around him. "Did you see it?" Sam asked.

"How could I miss it? There's a forest growing out of our furniture."

"Nice, huh?"

Josh turned around so he was in Sam's arms and they faced each other. "When did you do this? Did you stay up all night?"

"It came decorated. I just snuck down after you were asleep. Do you like it?"

Josh looked into Sam's eyes. They sparkled and laughed and it was as if he hadn't heard a word Josh had said all morning about not wanting to "do" Christmas. Sam smiled. He was having a good time with all the little Christmas surprises.

"No," said Josh. "I don't like Christmas trees. It's not yours in particular. It's all Christmas trees. Will you get it out of the house?"

"It's not mine, it's ours. And you DO know this is December 24th, don't you? And you DO know I haven't even said the word `Christmas' all year, not even once."

Josh handed Sam a mug of steaming coffee. "Let's go."

"Wait," said Sam. "Check this out." He pulled his suit jacket open and revealed bright red suspenders. "Whaddya think? Pretty slick, huh?"

"Slicker than snot on a glass doorknob. Let's go."

"Wait. I need to get my `Secret Santa' gift."

Josh let his body show his exasperation with an exaggerated crumble. "You got sucked into that?"

"I helped organize it this year. You should have played ~~ it's fun. I'm ready now."

As they walked to the car Josh couldn't resist asking, "Who's name did you draw?"

Sam smiled. "Promise you won't tell?"

"Like I really care?"

"Mrs. Landingham. I'm Mrs. Landingham's Secret Santa," Sam replied.

"Really?"

"Yep."

"Really?"

"Well, it's dumb," Josh said as he unlocked the car door. "There's no Santa, secret or otherwise."

Sam's head jerked up and he looked at Josh with horror in his eyes. "I can't believe you said that."

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

"Donna!"

"Good morning, Josh. Merry Christmas!"

"What is this gold furry stuff strung around my bookshelf and windows and . . . all over my office?"

"Garland. Say I did a good job," Donna replied.

"What are those red things?"

"Red crystal teardrop ornaments hanging from the garland in a perfectly symmetrical pattern. You've gotta give me credit for that."

"Why did you do this?" asked Josh.

"Sam asked me to as a surprise and I said it would be my pleasure," Donna said. "Are you surprised?"

"Oh, yeah. You have no idea." Josh started to doodle on a blank legal pad.

"Then my job here is done," she smiled. "What are you doing for Christmas Eve, Josh? Big plans?"

"If I say `no' are you going to make big plans for me?"

"Yes."

"If I say `yes' are you going to leave me alone?"

"Yes."

"Then yes," Josh replied. "I have big, elaborate, major plans for Christmas Eve, thank you for asking. Now go away."

"I'll go away, but I'll always be here. Don't forget, later in the Communications Bullpen we're having snacks and exchanging our final Secret Santa gifts and revealing who our Secret Santas were."

"I, uh, didn't play, Josh said."

"Oh, Josh! How could you not play! I was so sure you were my Secret Santa! All my gifts were just perfect and exactly what I wanted. I thought sure it was you. Come anyway just for fun."

"I'll be busy."

"Don't be a Scrooge. Come be with your friends."

Donna started to leave then stopped at the door. "Josh, I think it's cool that even though you're Jewish, you still celebrate Christmas. `Cause you know, it's what's in your heart." She closed the door behind her.

Josh didn't have a chance to tell her to take the garland and ornaments down, or that he didn't "do" Christmas. He'd tell her after lunch. He looked down at the legal pad. He was surprised at what he'd written:

"I'll go away, but I'll always be here." and "'Cause you know, it's what in your heart."

Josh bounced his pen on the legal pad for a minute then caught himself and stopped.

"The hell with this. I've got work to do."

Two hours passed before Josh realized it. He'd come to an impasse with the task at hand and got up to go see Leo for advice. When he opened his office door, he was hit with the sound of Christmas music from someone's radio.

He was bombarded with Christmas greetings and good wishes as he walked through the hallways to Leo's office. He tried to avoid people's eyes as he mumbled non-answers and kept going. He finally reached what he hoped was the safety of Margaret's desk.

"Ho! Ho! Ho!" she said in her unaffected monotone. "Have a Christmas cookie." She held out a plateful of cookies shaped like bells, snowmen, Christmas trees, and reindeer. They had red and green sprinkles on them.

"Uh, no thanks," said Josh. "I just came to see Leo. Is he in?"

"He's in the Roosevelt Room finishing up a meeting. He'll be back any minute. You can wait or I'll call you," Margaret offered.

"I'll wait."

Josh put his hands on his hips and paced back and forth in front of Margaret's desk. Then he stopped and listened. Very softly, he thought he heard the song "Frosty the Snowman" but he didn't know where it was coming from.

"Margaret, do you hear that?" he asked.

"Hear what?"

"That song."

"What song?"

"That snowman song. Don't you hear it?"

"Sure. It's my pin. I just push this button and it plays "Frosty the Snowman". Do you want to wear it?"

Josh straightened up. "No, thank you. I don't like him."

About that time Leo returned to his office and motioned for Josh to follow him inside. Something compelled Josh to look back at Margaret.

She looked hurt, as if Josh had insulted her personally. She fingered her pin. "Ya gotta like Frosty."

"What's up, Josh?" asked Leo, as he sat behind his desk.

Josh dropped into one of the leather chairs across from him. "Finally, a little oasis of sanity in an insane world. They're nuts out there, Leo."

"Merry Christmas, son. I can't let Christmas Eve go by without telling you what a good Deputy you've been to me. I don't know what I'd do without you, Josh. Here's just a little something." He slid a small wrapped gift across his desk. "Don't make a big thing of it."

Josh was stunned. "Leo, I didn't expect this. You didn't have to . . ."

"I said don't make a big thing of it. Can't you just let yourself be loved without screwing it up?"

"Yes, sir."

Leo chuckled. "Who'd you draw for Secret Santa?"

Josh just blinked his eyes and forgot what he'd come to see Leo about.

When he got back to his office Josh set the gift from Leo on his desk, closed the door, and dialed Sam's number. He turned his chair so he could look out the window. It was snowing hard.

"Sam Seaborn. Merry Christmas."

"Hi babe."

"Hi darlin'."

"I miss you."

"Well, I miss you too, Josh," Sam smiled into the phone. "That's so sweet of you to say."

"That's the kind of guy I am."

"Have you looked outside? It's snowing!"

"Yeah, I'm watching it now," Josh replied. "Can you get away for a few minutes and come to my office?"

"I think that can be arranged. Want me to bring you anything?"

"Like what?"

"Ginger brought in a fruitcake that kicks ass and we've got some eggnog," Sam answered. "Want something?"

"No. Thanks, but I just want you."

"On my way."

Josh swung his chair around. Absentmindedly, he wrote on the legal pad: "Ya gotta like Frosty" and "Can't you just let yourself be loved without screwing it up?"

Sam arrived at Josh's office minutes later. When he opened the door, Josh could hear Donna fawning over Sam's red suspenders. He rolled his eyes and wished it was January. Sam locked the door and walked toward Josh, one hand behind him and a grin on his face.

"You beckoned me and I came," said Sam.

"Yes, you did. I like that in a man."

"Whenever you beckon, I'll come."

Josh crooked his finger and motioned for Sam to come closer. Sam did. He stood in front of the chair with his legs on either side of Josh's. Then he pulled his arm out from behind him and held a sprig of mistletoe over Josh.

"Sam, no," said Josh.

"What? I'm just going to kiss you under the mistletoe."

"Please. I've been bombarded with Christmas all day and you KNOW how I feel about it. Why do you insist on pushing Christmas on me when I told you I don't DO Christmas?"

"Because I'm hoping you'll change your mind and get into the spirit of things this year and enjoy it instead of fighting it," replied Sam. "It's just a kiss, Josh."

"It's a lot more complicated than that."

"Ok, ok, I'll leave you alone. But I've got plans for tonight," said Sam. "Christmas Eve plans. I'll tell you about them when we get home and you don't have to go if you don't want to, but I was hoping you would."

"I'm sorry to be such a stick-in-the-mud, but I just . . ."

"I know, you don't DO Christmas," interrupted Sam. "Unless you have something else, I'm gonna go be with some people who do. We're about to reveal our Secret Santas,"

"No, go ahead."

"Do I get that kiss if I put the mistletoe away?" Sam asked. He stuffed the sprig in his pocket.

"Yeah, but don't go holding that over anybody else's head, understand?"

Sam smiled and kissed Josh sweetly. "There's nobody else in the world I'd WANT to kiss."

Josh tried to get back into his work but he couldn't. Donna stuck her head in his office and said she was going to the Communications Bullpen for the Christmas party and to grab his own calls.

He paced his office. He stood with his back against the wall. He stood at the window and watched the snow. He tried to work again. He ran his fingers through the garland. He looked at the unopened gift Leo had given him. Finally his curiosity got the best of him and he headed toward the Bullpen.

He heard the music before he got there. "White Christmas" was playing and Toby was dancing with CJ, Sam was dancing with Ainsley, Danny was dancing with Donna, Leo was dancing with Margaret, and Charlie was dancing with Mrs. Landingham. He felt a twinge of jealousy at the sight of Ainsley with Sam. It should be him. But he knew that would never go over, so Ainsley would have been his first choice and he should probably be with Donna. Something was so not right about this picture. There was food and gifts on all the desks, people were laughing and hugging, having a good time. Even Toby was enjoying himself.

"Josh! There you are," CJ called to him when the song changed. She picked up a gift under the tree and brought it to him. This has your name on it. Your Secret Santa left it there."

"Uh, it's a mistake. I didn't play," he said.

"It says, `To Josh Lyman, From Your Secret Santa'. It's yours buddy boy." She shoved the gift in Josh's hand.

"No, really, it's a mistake. It's not mine."

"Take it. And Merry Christmas, pal o'mine. As much grief as you give me, I still, you know, I'm glad to call you my friend. My good friend." She kissed Josh on the cheek and mixed back in with the crowd.

Sam sidled up to Josh. "I'm glad you came," he said. "What changed your mind?"

"I got bored."

"Whatever it takes. Are you having fun?"

"No."

"At least you're consistent."

"I try."

"Ok. Do you want something to eat?"

"Can it be something that's not red or green?"

Sam laughed. "I think we can find something that's neutral."

Josh got a plate full of food and as he headed back to the office he found himself walking alongside Toby.

"Too much fun for you, too?" Toby asked wryly.

"I don't `do' Christmas," Josh replied.

"Me neither."

"But I just saw you in there dancing and laughing and carrying on and playing that silly Santa game," Josh reasoned.

"I mean, I don't celebrate Christmas for its Christian beliefs."

"Damn straight. We do Hanukkah."

"Josh, our Jewish faith celebrates Hanukkah for what it is and what it means to us and we have for generations long before you or I entered this world. But we can `do' the spirit of Christmas, and that's what you saw," Toby said. "We can eat and drink and dance and have a good time with our friends. We can decorate our offices and exchange gifts. We can do that in the spirit of Christmas and still be faithful to our heritage. Lighten up."

Toby veered off toward his office and Josh went by to pick up his mail then on to his own office to eat in private. He sorted the mail while he ate and was surprised to find it stuffed with greeting cards. He set them aside and tried to ignore them.

He wished Sam would come see him again, but he knew Sam was having a good time and wasn't ready to leave the party. For a brief moment he wished he'd stayed longer. But there was no way he was going back.

He put the gift from Santa next to the one from Leo. "I've got stuff to do," he said out loud to nobody. "Today's just another day. Note to self: have Donna take down these decorations as soon as she gets back. And turn that damn music off."

Josh sat at his computer and pulled up Solitaire.

An hour later a bubbly Donna gave a quick knock on his door and came in. "Josh! You left too soon! Sam did `The Jackal'. He was HOT!"

Josh's head popped up. He would've loved to have seen Sam do "The Jackal". Now everybody else BUT him had seen it.

"President and Mrs. Bartlet even stopped by and watched. It was so much fun. Why didn't you stay?"

"I had stuff to do."

"No you didn't. I know what's on your schedule, Josh, and there's nothing that pressing. Are you ok?" Donna asked.

"I'm fine."

"It's three o'clock. Remember you said I could leave at three to get to the airport? I can't wait to see my parents. I love it when Christmas is on Saturday. Is it ok if I leave now?"

Josh wanted her to take the decorations down but he'd promised and she was so excited and anxious to leave, there was no way he could make her stay.

"Sure, go ahead. And be careful ~~ the snow is really coming down out there."

"Oh, thank you!" Donna ran over and hugged Josh from behind. "You're more special than you'll ever know," she whispered in his ear. She reached around and dropped a wrapped gift on his lap. "Merry Christmas, Josh."

"I don't DO . . ."

But she was gone.

Josh put the unopened gift with the others and finally managed to get lost in his work. He didn't realize how quickly the rest of the afternoon went by and was startled when Sam came in with his overcoat and briefcase.

"Time to go home, sugar," he said. "You about finished here?"

"Huh? Yeah, sure. I'm sorry, Sam, I didn't realize what time it was." Josh turned off his computer and started to put his coat on. "What's in the shopping bag?"

Sam grinned. "Presents. And cards."

"Presents? Do you see my gloves?"

Sam picked Josh's gloves up off the top of the file cabinet and handed them to him.

"Yeah, I really wasn't expecting all these, but people just dropped by all day and left little things for me. People I never would have guessed. It's been really nice."

"Uh-huh. You have your gloves? It's been snowing all day," Josh asked.

"Right here," Sam replied.

"Then let's get outta here. I just wanna go home and eat supper and be alone with you." Josh shoved some papers into his backpack and headed for the door.

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"There's some gifts on your desk. And a bunch of cards. Don't you wanna take them home?" Sam asked.

"I guess. Will you get them?"

Sam gathered up the gifts and cards and put them in the shopping bag with his. He turned out the light, followed Josh out of his office, and closed the door behind them.

The drive home was slowed by the snow, but Sam couldn't hide his enthusiasm for it. Josh was short-tempered and irritated by the other drivers. Finally Sam took his glove off, removed one of Josh's, and took Josh's hand in his.

"What's the matter, honey? You've been upset all day and now you're getting depressed. What is it?" he asked.

"Nothing."

"Josh, don't give me `nothing'. You know that gets nowhere with me. What's going on?"

A car pulled out in front of them and Josh slammed on the brakes. Their car slid and fishtailed, and for a minute it looked like the two were going to collide, but they missed each other by inches.

Sam didn't ask any more questions until they got home. There they stomped the snow off their shoes, hung up their overcoats, and went upstairs to take off their suits and change into sweats.

When Josh was in his boxers, dress shirt, and tie he went over to Sam, who was hanging his suit jacket in the closet. He wore his trousers and undershirt.

"Sam?"

Sam turned around.

Josh was in his arms. Sam held him close and let Josh feel the protective, safe sanctuary his arms provided. He put his hand behind Josh's head and held it against his and whispered tender, loving reassurances in his ear that said, "I love you", "It's ok", "I'm right here", and "I won't let you go".

Josh sobbed on Sam's shoulder and Sam let him. He didn't know WHY Josh was upset; he just knew Josh was hurting over something deep inside and Sam wanted to find out what it was and fix it. Everything seemed so simple to Sam; everything had come so easy.

When he'd cried all his tears, Josh pulled out of Sam's embrace but held onto his hands. "You think I've acted like an idiot today, don't you?" he asked.

"Not so much like an idiot. Just a little anti-social, but that's ok. You made it clear you don't do Christmas and I respect that. I don't expect you to go with me tonight."

"Go with you tonight? Where are you going tonight?"

Sam brushed Josh's hair back and unbuttoned his shirt.

"I tried to tell you about it a couple of times this week, sweetheart, but each time you'd just cut me off like you didn't want to hear about it," Sam replied. "So I stopped trying."

He took Josh's shirt off and got a sweatshirt out of the drawer and pulled it on over his head. He grabbed a pair of sweatpants and held them while Josh stepped into them.

"It's a Christmas legend so I don't think you'll really be interested, Josh. You'll find it totally unbelievable and make fun of me and I'll never hear the end of it."

Josh became indignant. "I can believe things," he retorted. "I'm not such a tight ass that I don't have an open mind. And I won't make fun of you. Try me."

Sam had finished undressing and put on sweats. "Come downstairs."

Sam plugged in the lights on the small tree and it became alive with twinkling color. "Over here," Sam instructed.

Beneath the tree was white flannel that looked like snow. On it, was a small Nativity scene.

"Do you know what that is?" he asked.

"Of course I know what that is," Josh answered. "I haven't lived in a cave my whole life."

"There's been a story since the birth of Jesus, that at midnight on Christmas Eve, all the farm animals in the world go down on their knees to honor the coming of the Christ Child. My Grandmother, then my Mother, has told this story to the whole family every year on Christmas Eve and I'm just fascinated by it. I've decided this year I'm gonna go find some animals and see for myself."

Josh stared at Sam for a full two minutes before he spoke. "You're shittin' me."

"No. I really, really am. I did some checking around and I know where there's a farm with a barn and I'm gonna drive out there and park and sneak up to the barn and be there right at midnight and see it happen."

"Sam . . ."

"You said you'd have an open mind."

"I did say that."

"Now will you tell me why the tears?" Sam asked. "Does this happen EVERY Christmas? Talk to me, Josh."

Josh walked over to his backpack and got out his legal pad. He ripped off the top sheet and handed it to Sam. "Check this out," he said.

They both sat on the couch and Sam read aloud: "I'll go away, but I'll always be here; Cause you know, it's what's in your heart; Ya gotta like Frosty; Can't you just let yourself be loved without screwing it up; There's nobody else in the world I'd WANT to kiss; I'm glad to call you my friend; You're more special than you'll ever know; We can `do' the spirit of Christmas."

Sam looked up. "What's this?"

"Things people said to me today and somehow they got written down. And people gave me gifts and cards and food and were nice to me all day ~~ people I don't even know said `Merry Christmas' and `God Bless You' and just seemed happy."

"Yeah, Christmas does that to people, but you know, it's not all about the presents. Really it's not about the presents at all."

"Oh, I know that. I'm not that shallow. But Sam, I think I've lost my faith."

"Josh! Your faith is as strong as any man . . ."

"No," Josh said. "It might appear that way on the outside, but inside . . ." Josh's eyes welled up with tears again. He went and got one of the camels from the Nativity and turned it over and over in his hands.

"Have you talked with Toby?" asked Sam.

Josh shook his head.

"Your Rabbi?"

"Nope."

"Is there anybody . . ."

"It's inside me, Sam. I'm the only one who can find my faith. I get through Hanukkah ok because I'm by myself here. Mom's in a different state and there's no other family. I can fake it. Then you guys come along and make such a big friggin' deal out of Christmas and it hammers home how dead I am inside."

Sam put his hand on the side of Josh's face. "My sweet, sweet Josh. Do you have the potential to believe in miracles?" he asked.

"There was a time when maybe . . ."

"Do you have the potential to believe in a miracle tonight?"

"You mean those animals?" Josh replied.

"Not so much, but it wouldn't hurt to have a little support behind me. I'm talking about a miracle for yourself."

"Sam, don't go turning this into some made-for-TV Christmas Eve miracle movie. I hate that schmaltz even at its best. I'll work this out on my own. Don't worry about it."

"Hear me out. I'm gonna put those stuffed shells in the oven and we're gonna open our presents then eat. Then we're gonna take some real warm clothes and drive out to that barn I know about and we're gonna look inside it at midnight. I'm gonna see my miracle of the animals and something may happen for you too," said Sam. He had a sense of excitement in his voice. Not a giddy excitement, but a self- assured tone that something extraordinary was going to take place tonight.

"Yeah, ok, I'll go," Josh replied. "But ONLY because I don't want you out in the snow by yourself. It has nothing to do with animals or miracles or anything else like that. It's just to help push you out of a ditch. Understood?"

Sam smiled. "Understood."

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

Sam and Josh dressed warmly, packed blankets and extreme weather outerwear in the car, and filled thermoses with hot chocolate. They got their wool caps, scarves, and gloves and headed out on their journey.

It was very quiet as they drove through the snow, tires crunching, the windshield wipers whisking away the freshly falling flakes. There was little traffic. Most people were home celebrating with their families.

"Josh, there's something I want you to think about as we drive. It's the ONLY thing I want you to think about. Can you do that?" Sam asked.

"Sure. I'm not an imbecile."

"Do you know what faith is?"

"Of course."

"What is it?" Sam prodded.

"I, uh, can't exactly put it into words," Josh replied, "but it's kinda like pornography. I can't describe it but I know it when I see it."

"The best description I ever heard is this: faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Will you just think about that, real seriously, as we drive? And will you think of what you want from your faith. The things you hope for and don't feel you're getting, but really, you know you are. Then think of all the evidence around you that what you believe in exists. Just ponder that while I drive."

Josh lay his head against the back of the seat, closed his eyes, and went to a place inside himself he'd never been before.

"There it is," Sam said three hours later. "The barn. Right where it's supposed to be."

Josh's eyes flew open and he sat up straight. It felt like they'd only been on the road a few minutes. He looked out the window and sure enough, there was a barn about fifty yards off the road.

"We're going in there?" he whispered.

"Yep."

"We're going across that field and we're just gonna sneak in?"

"Yep."

"What if we get shot?"

"You don't have to whisper, Josh. Nobody can hear you. And we won't get shot."

"How do you know?" Josh continued in a whisper.

"Because the house is far away and it's dark. They're either in bed or not home. Don't worry. Put your stuff on and let's go. It's getting close to midnight."

As they put their cold weather gear on, Sam asked, "Did you think about what I said?"

"I did."

"Any comment?

"No."

"Ok. You ready?"

"As ready as I'm ever gonna be," replied Josh.

They opened the car doors and it didn't seem as cold as it had before. The snow had slowed to a steady, gentle fall and the wind had stilled. They walked a few feet and realized they had to climb over a barbed wire fence, which they managed without incident. Then they walked the distance to the barn. The snow crunched under their boots and echoed against the trees around them. Neither spoke a word.

It wasn't a modern barn; it was made of wood and partially dilapidated with the red paint peeling off. Some of the windows were boarded up with two-by-fours. In others, the glass was either gone or broken.

"I don't know why I let you drag me out here," Josh whispered. "This is just a falling down old barn without an animal in sight. So much for your Christmas miracle."

"It's not midnight yet," Sam replied. "Indulge me." He took Josh's hand and pulled him closer to the barn.

They stood at the window and looked inside. There were bales of hay and straw piled about and scattered throughout. Stables stood empty and a trough with a broken leg was covered with spider webs. A wagon wheel was propped against a wooden pillar and everything was covered with dust.

"This is what we came all the way out here for?" Josh asked.

"Shhh." Sam put his arm around Josh and looked at his watch. It was one minute until midnight. "Josh, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Right now, right this very minute, think of what you want from your faith ~~ the things you hope for and don't feel you're getting, but really, you know you are. Then think of all the evidence around you that what you believe in exists . It's midnight. Do it now. I love you." Sam kissed Josh on the cheek and looked back in the window.

Sam saw something completely different this time. The barn was clean and straw was spread on the floor. There were horses and cows, and goats and sheep and dogs and a menagerie of other animals throughout the barn, silent as they stood still and looked toward the stable. A glow came from inside, but Sam couldn't see what was causing it; he just knew there was something very special that kept the animals rapt with attention. Then at the very same instant, midnight, all the animals kneeled down on their front legs to honor the newborn Christ Child.

Sam's eyes sparkled and he couldn't look away. He knew if he did, it would all be gone when he turned back around. But he also knew it couldn't last forever ~~ just for that minute that brought Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. So he watched until it started to fade and then he closed his eyes to keep the memory alive forever.

. . . "It's midnight. Do it now. I love you." Josh felt Sam kiss him on the cheek then turn away from him and look in the barn window. He was there and had nothing else to do, so Josh looked in the window too, at the same time Sam did.

He should have been surprised at what he saw, but he wasn't. Bales of straw were piled in a semi-circle and covered with white satin. The floor in front of the straw was covered with the satin, and in the middle of it all, sat Josh's sister Joanie with her Raggedy Ann doll. She wore a white nightgown and was barefoot. Her thick brown hair hung to her shoulders. She was the beautiful child he remembered. Then he heard "Ave Maria" playing.

She smiled and waved at him. "Hi, Josh! Can you see me?" she called out.

Josh smiled through his tears and nodded his head. He remembered Sam's words: "faith is the substance of things hoped for."

"Wave to me, Joshie!"

He put his hand up to the window and left it there.

Joanie giggled. "I see you! You look funny in that hat!"

Josh swallowed hard. He had a wool cap like this when he was a little boy. Again, he thought of Sam's words: "what you believe in exists."

"It's time for me to go, Josh. I want you to know I'm ok and I'm happy. I watch over you everyday. Emunah, have faith, my brother. I love you."

Josh waved his gloved hand against the glass. "I love you too, Joanie," he said quietly.

She smiled and waved with one hand and clung to her doll with the other. As "Ave Maria" faded away, so did she and the white satin, until there was nothing left but straw. Josh strained to see more, but there was nothing left to see.

When the minute was over Sam opened his eyes and saw the same, beaten up barn they'd first come upon. Josh took his hand down from the window and saw the same. By all accounts, nothing had happened, nothing had changed. Yet neither of them moved.

"I didn't see any animals," Josh finally said.

"Yeah, well I guess you only see what you wanna believe you'll see. You ready to go home?"

"Yeah. There's something . . . something about this barn. I can't explain it."

Sam put his arm around Josh's shoulder and Josh slid his arm around Sam's waist and they started across the field toward the car.

"Hey," Josh said, "it's Christmas."

"It sure is. But I wasn't gonna say anything. I know you don't `do' Christmas."

Josh turned and looked at the barn. "Have a little faith in me, Sam. You never know what I might do this year. Merry Christmas."

The End

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