Title: The man in the picture
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: February 2005
Category: Josh/Sam
Rating: PG
Email: jackiethomas73@hotmail.com Feedback appreciated.
Website: www.angelfire.com/realm2/wayfinding
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: Not mine
Spoilers: S1-4
Warnings: None.
Note: In this universe Sam joins the campaign but marries Lisa in the second year of the first term. This means Laurie didn't happen. Also, Sam has won his election to Congress.
Summary: "Get sobered up before the villagers with pitchforks and torches arrive," said Sam from behind his hands.

The Man in the Picture by Jackie Thomas

It was eleven when Josh left the West Wing. He was too tired to drive so he left his car to walk through the mild, late Summer streets toward home.

He stopped at a corner, remembering some of the staffers had gone to a bar nearby. He wondered whether to join them or go home to his peaceful but empty apartment.

He had decided to head home and was vacantly watching for a gap in traffic to cross the street when he heard his name being called.

"Mr Lyman, excuse me."

He turned to see a young man hurrying to catch up with him. He was dark haired and brown eyed with some carefully cultivated stubble. Josh guessed he was in his mid twenties.

"Hi, Mr Lyman," the man was breathless and smiling when he caught up with Josh. "My name's Larry, I'm interning on the Hill."

"Hi," said Josh finding himself smiling back.

"I hope you don't mind me stopping you. But I'm a fan of President Bartlet and a fan of yours. And I wondered if you'd let me buy you a drink."

Josh contemplated him for a moment. "I was just ­ I was just going home. But thanks, anyway."

Larry's expression took on an unmistakeable intensity. "I'd really like to buy you a drink."

Josh stared at him and did not misunderstand the message. He considered it. Considered, as he always did, the consequences if he accepted.

"Are you hitting on me?" He made his voice incredulous and mildly offended.

The man hesitated, seemed to dart an anxious glance at something beyond Josh. "Sorry, I thought ­ I assumed ­."

"Well you thought wrong. I have to go."

The traffic finally eased and Josh crossed the road leaving Larry standing, looking dejected. Suddenly concerned he would be followed, Josh hailed the first passing cab.

But he couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if he had taken the young man home. The young man who might, in a certain light, look a little like Sam.

Two months later

Josh and Donna were working on Josh's report to the Government Contracts Committee when Ned Wallis arrived for his meeting. Donna showed him in and left them alone when he refused coffee.

Josh shook hands with Wallis and gestured to him to sit. He was a large, imposing fair-haired man who dominated the room even when squeezing himself into one of the guest chairs.

"What do you need, Ned?" Josh asked, taking a seat himself and making up his mind the meeting was going to be over in five minutes.

Ned was Managing Director of one of the firms with a bid to be considered at the next Government Contracts Committee meeting. There were valuable contracts for building work being tendered and Josh had received visits, invitations and apparently accidental meetings with representatives of almost all the companies in the running. So he had a pretty good idea of what was coming next.

"Josh, I want to know if you're recommending Wallis Construction to GCC for the defence contract." It was just like Ned Wallis to come straight to the point.

"You know it's not up to me to make a recommendation. If it was I couldn't even speak to you."

"But you can influence the committee."

Josh laughed. "You must be confusing me with someone else."

"No Josh, the committee would listen to you."

"Come on Ned, there are a dozen experts and elected officials on that committee perfectly capable of making the decisions without my help. You know that. All the White House can do is present the qualifying applications."

"A recommendation from the White House would do me a lot of good," Ned insisted.

Josh leaned forward. "Honestly Mr Wallis, even if I had the authority I wouldn't recommend Wallis Construction. The last time we had you build for us you came in 110 per cent over budget and a year late."

"You think I don't know that?"

"110 per cent! You can only get a 100 per cent of anything."

Ned gripped the edge of the desk with a strong, ex- construction workers hand. "We blew it, just once and we've been paying ever since. Josh, I'm looking at going under here."

"As I said," Josh said less patiently. "Its not my call, you'll have your chance to make your presentation to the committee. Now if you'll excuse me -"

"No," said Ned suddenly. "I can persuade you." He pulled his briefcase on to his lap and took an envelope from it.

Josh stood. "I've seen your bid already."

"You haven't seen these." Wallis handed the envelope to Josh.

Something in his tone made Josh stop and sit back down. He stared at the plain manila envelope. "What's this?"

"Open it."

Cautiously Josh unsealed the envelope. It contained photographs. Sliding them out he turned them over and saw two 7x5 black and white images. He gazed at them until he understood what he was looking at and then he threw them down.

"What the hell is this?" Josh spat.

"I'm just asking for the right word in the right ear, Josh."

"You want to use these to blackmail me?" He shouted. He picked the pictures up again and examined them and again threw them down. "These are fakes."

"Are you sure about that?" Ned asked quietly.

"Of course I'm sure," he hissed. "Sam's not gay."

The photographs, though unclear showed Sam with a young man on a public street. In one, the man had his arm around Sam and was talking into his ear. Sam was smiling as he listened. In the second, and Josh could scarcely believe his eyes, the two were kissing.

His anger faded into confusion. "Sam would never - he would never do anything to harm Lisa, or his kids. He would never risk his position."

"Look, here's the situation," Ned said brusquely. "If you really feel you can't recommend my firm to the GCC I'm going to send these to the newspapers."

Fake or not the pictures appeared to be of Sam. "You'll ruin him," Josh breathed.

"I know Sam's your friend and believe me I like the guy. But you seem to live like a monk so I had to look elsewhere."

"I'm going to call the police." Josh reached for the phone.

Ned shrugged. "Either way these pictures will come out." He chuckled. "And so will Sam."

Josh dropped the receiver back into place. "Who took these? Who knows about them?"

"I took them, I developed them and I promise you, if you do what I ask I'll give you the negatives and all the copies and that's the last you or Sam will ever hear about them."

"Look," Josh said desperately. "I think you're making a mistake about mine and Sam's relationship. I brought him on board and we used to work together, but since he's been elected to Congress we don't have much to do with each other. I haven't even seen him in six months. What makes you think I'd commit serious misconduct for him?"

Ned looked at him narrowly. "Just a hunch Josh, just a hunch." He finally stood. "I'll leave those with you. Think about it overnight. If I don't hear from you I'll be in touch."

"Don't do this Ned," Josh pleaded. "You're better than this."

"I can't afford to be," he said as he left closing the door behind him.

Josh paced his office trying to order his thoughts and decide what to do next. He snatched up the pictures to look at them again. They seemed genuine. They were blurred and amateur but the image was so much Sam he had to admit they could not be anyone else. And yet Sam was married with children. He was straight and had never given any sign of being anything other.

No sign, that is, which could not be put down to Josh's imagination or wishful thinking.

He dragged himself back to the issue. Could he do what Wallis wanted him to? In theory he could. There were ways of making a recommendation without making a recommendation. He had not got to his position in life without knowing all of them. But the thought of doing something to tip the scales in Wallis' favour sickened him and he knew it would be the last thing Sam would want him to do.

Finally he stuffed the photographs into his bag, grabbed his coat and, making an excuse to Donna, he left the West Wing. He had no alternative but to talk to Sam and hope he would have some unique perspective on what should be done.

Sam, a freshman congressman, had drawn two small offices in the Capitol building. It took Josh a while to find them and he regretted not checking in on him in the months since his election to office.

An assistant with a reproachful air, who reminded him forcefully of Cathy, greeted him. She made him regret not phoning for an appointment and he was on the point of going away again when Sam came out of his office. He was without a jacket, holding paperwork and obviously busy but broke into a smile when he saw Josh.

"Hey!"

"Hi, Sam. Sorry, I should have called first."

Sam came round to the front of his assistant's desk to hug Josh. He introduced them.

"Josh this is Elaine. Elaine, this is Josh Lyman. He doesn't ever need an appointment."

She sniffed. "Another one for the list, Sam? Half of Washington doesn't need an appointment to see you."

Sam looked hunted for a moment. "Cross the others off the list and just leave Josh on it." He beamed at Josh, then his brow furrowed again. "And Toby Ziegler. On no account try to prevent Toby Ziegler coming through the door."

Josh smiled a conciliatory smile. "That's for your own safety."

"Are you here about the Patients' Bill of Rights?" Sam asked as he took Josh into his office. "Because I'm definitely making progress with Geddes and Grossman -. They're sticking on liability but - "

"No man, nothing like that."

The room was larger than the one Sam had in the West Wing, accommodating a desk, a couch and a round table for meetings. They both sat at the meeting table.

Josh picked up the framed photograph Sam kept there. It was of Lisa and their two daughters.

"Is that Antonia?" Josh pointed out the older child. A dark haired girl, bearing a strong resemblance to Sam. "That's not possible. She was a baby when I saw her last. How old?"

"She's four soon. And this is Janey. She's 9 months." The younger child, held by Lisa, was golden haired and the perfect image of her mother.

"They're beautiful, Sam. It must be tough having them live in California. How often do you get to see them?"

"I fly back every Friday. I haven't missed a weekend yet, though I'm mostly working when I'm there."

"How are you finding the life? Your name keeps coming up, you must be on 5000 committees."

"Decisions are made by those who turn up, Josh," Sam quoted in comic imitation of the President. He caught Josh's fond smile and smiled too. "Sorry, did you want to talk to me about something."

"Uh, yeah."

But as he spoke Sam's phone rang. "I've got to take this," he said getting up. "Its to do with the bill."

Josh gestured to him to take the call, glad of the reprieve. He listened to Sam talk for a while, as he convinced a recalcitrant Democrat of the benefits of one of the clauses in the Patient's Bill of Rights.

He let himself enjoy Sam's easy eloquence, dogged persuasiveness, let his eyes wander over him as his face and body took on the demeanour of a politician, certain as always this was where Sam belonged.

As the call seemed likely to go on for a while, Josh took a look around the office. Some of the pictures from Sam's West Wing office had found a home here, as had most of the books. On one of the bookshelves he found more framed photographs.

Among them was one of Sam's wedding. It was taken outside the church and was of Sam and Lisa with the three bridesmaids and Josh, who was best man. Everyone was smiling though Josh did not remember it as a particularly happy day. Embarrassingly, despite the photographer's instruction that everyone should look at Lisa, he appeared to be gazing at Sam.

He remembered the morning of the wedding, in the second year of the Administration. Sam had already moved to the apartment he would share with Lisa but he had stayed the night in Josh's guest room and they spent a sombre morning together preparing for the wedding.

Josh remembered waiting with Sam for the car to take them to the church. Sam gave Josh Lisa's ring to keep and they stood so close Josh could feel Sam's breath and hear the beating of his heart.

"Sorry Josh, I'm all yours."

Josh blinked at him. "What?"

Sam had finished the call. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"

"You know what," he paused. "Its nothing. I just wanted to catch up with you."

"Okay. Well, I've got one more meeting, in half an hour," Sam moved to show Josh out. "Do you want to go for a drink or something afterwards?"

"I can't. I've got this thing I have to do." He picked up his backpack, aware of Sam watching him and reading him as he was always able to do.

"Are you sure?"

"Its ­ GCC tomorrow and we don't have you to figure out all the damn contracts."

"Okay," Sam said.

"Any other time though. Email me."

Josh left quickly. He had decided what to do about Ned Wallis and he wanted to get it over with.

It was after six when he returned to the West Wing. Donna was waiting for him.

"Where did you suddenly disappear to?" She asked.

"I had to sort something out. Are you ready to work on the report?"

"Yes, Josh," she said taking her place at the computer. "And so is Leo. Margaret came by twice asking for it."

"Okay, okay."

They went through the report together, ironing out details, double-checking and expanding on facts. When they reached the concluding paragraphs Josh said. "Add this sentence; 'The committee is invited to note the submission made by Wallis Construction and to take into consideration their longstanding reputation in the field of government contracts.'"

Donna typed the sentence and looked back at him. "What does that mean?"

Josh didn't want to be questioned. "What it says."

"I thought you weren't allowed to make recommendations." She looked at it again. "If that's what it is. Don't they have a longstanding reputation for lousing things up?"

"Just leave it as it is."

She shrugged and they finished up. She printed a copy for Josh and emailed the document to Margaret.

"You can go now," Josh said. "I'm going to finish up here myself."

She eyed him suspiciously. "Anything wrong? Its only eight o'clock."

He insisted she go home and he went to his office, closing the door. Standing with his arms tightly folded across his chest, he tried to quell the nausea and guilt he felt at what he had done. He had submitted to blackmail to protect a friend. He had betrayed the trust placed in him as a public servant. He had done something purely for love.

He sat at his desk with just the lamp casting long shadows across his office and took the photographs from his bag. In the hours since he had last looked at them he had begun to doubt his recollection. Could they really be what he believed them to be? Could they really be of Sam compromised with a man?

It took only a brief second look to convince him once again. The pictures were genuine. No matter how poor the photography or how unlikely the situation he knew Sam when he saw him.

For the first time he began to wonder who the other man was. He was dark haired, good looking, younger than Sam, perhaps in his twenties. Josh was certain he knew him from somewhere but could not say where.

The intimacy between him and Sam was electric and Josh envied him. He had crossed a line with Sam, the line forbidden to Josh by everything he thought he knew about his friend.

Sam had arrived in Washington after the election with two suitcases, ten suits in three suit carriers, a box of Bartlet For America T-shirts and nowhere to live. He stayed in Josh's guest room until he found a place for himself and Lisa to move into after they married. It was during those first months Josh had to lay down rules for himself, to draw his imaginary line.

At that time they worked impossibly long hours at such a fevered pace they were rarely home. The apartment became a place not so much to live as recharge. A couple of hours sleep, a shower and a change of clothes and they were out again.

On rare free days Sam would usually go to New York to see Lisa. But there had been moments.

There had been rainy Sundays when the day did not start till the afternoon, when they would share newspapers and coffee at Josh's kitchen table. Days when Josh had to physically stop himself from reaching out and touching Sam's hair.

Evenings when they would come home at ten or eleven with a bag of food from the deli on the corner. Shared lounging on the couch in front of the TV.

Nights when he was so aware of Sam close by, asleep on the other side of the wall, he was sometimes surprised to open his eyes and not find him next to him in the bed.

Then in the quiet, dim lit darkness of his office, Josh allowed his mind to wander on to the sacred sites of his relationship with Sam. The standing stones and temples of his imagination, which was how he thought of the few faint signals he had received.

There had been the proximity of a human body closer than it should have been one night on Air Force One. There had been an unmistakeable gaze of regret in a church on a warm April wedding day. There had been a press of lips against his just once when he had lain in a hospital bed.

But there was nothing tangible there, nothing that could not be explained by painkillers or wishful thinking. And these photographs were nothing to do with Josh, these photographs proved nothing. He found a lighter in his desk drawer and slowly burned them both.

After a long and sleepless night Josh called Ned Wallis and arranged to be in a coffee shop near the White House where they would appear to meet by chance.

He showed Wallis the final version of the GCC report, concealed in newspaper. He read it swiftly through.

"Couldn't you have been any more ambiguous?" He whispered.

"Fuck off, Ned," Josh said too loudly and then consciously lowered his voice. "The committee won't like being manipulated. This is the best I could do."

"All right. It'll have to do." He drained his coffee and started to walk away. Josh grabbed his arm.

"Give me the photos and negatives," he hissed. "I want them now."

Wallis pulled himself free. "After the meeting. You'll get them when I know this is the report the committee have in front of them."

Josh controlled his temper. "Where?"

Wallis wrote down an address. "You can come and get them this evening. This is the house I'm renting while the bids go through."

Josh let him go but he was angry all over again. He had been due to attend GCC with Leo that afternoon but he realised that in his current mood and with the secret knowledge he now possessed he would not be able go.

That afternoon, at about five o'clock when the meeting had been in session for three hours Margaret bustled in to Josh's office.

"Josh, I forgot to give you a message from Leo about your report."

"What's that?"

"He had me amend it to take out the sentence which said," she read slowly and carefully. "The committee are invited to note the submission made by Wallis construction and ­."

Josh stared at her. "He took the whole sentence out? He didn't just amend it?"

"He took it all out and didn't replace it with anything. Here's a copy." She passed him a reprinted version of the report, the sentence was gone completely, the space between the one before and the one after was a dizzyingly deep cavern. "The message he said to give you was 'Did you hit your head?' Does that make sense?"

Josh grabbed his coat from the hook, slung his backpack over his shoulder and was already half way out of the office when he called. "Margaret, tell Donna I've got to go."

He ran all the way to Capitol Hill and landed breathless at Elaine's desk.

"I've got to see him. Its urgent."

Elaine eyed him calmly. "If you had made an appointment ­"

"Elaine, I swear to God, this isn't the time."

"If you had made an appointment," she insisted. "I would have been able to tell you he isn't available this afternoon."

"Where is he? He's got meetings, right? I'll take full responsibility for pulling him out of them."

"He isn't in a meeting. He's -," she paused and then said. "Unwell."

"What do you mean unwell?"

"I mean, ill."

Josh sensed that underneath the professional veneer there was a conflict going on. "Elaine, you don't know me but Sam and I go back a really long way. Whatever it is, you can tell me."

"I do know you," she said. "You used to work in the White House with Mr Seaborn and you're the man in the picture ­ the wedding picture." She paused again. "You were Sam's best man."

"Elaine, what's wrong?"

"Mr Lyman, I don't know where Sam is." It had taken a lot for her to admit this. "He went out at lunchtime and didn't come back. He didn't call and he hasn't attended his appointments. I can't raise him on his cell phone or his home number. I was thinking about telephoning Mrs Seaborn."

"Don't do that," Josh said. "Whatever you do, don't do that. I'm going to find him." Josh took his own phone from his pocket. He checked with Elaine he still had the correct numbers for Sam and he called them both. His calls were not answered.

"Did he say where he was going for lunch?"

Elaine shook her head. "He said he was just getting some air. Its very unusual."

"I'm going to go to his apartment," he said as he started to leave.

"If you find him ­"

"I'll let you know."

Josh took a cab to Sam's apartment and spent a long time knocking at the door and ringing the bell before accepting Sam wasn't in.

He was sorry to admit he had no idea where to look next. He did, however, have an idea of why Sam had suddenly vanished. He must have somehow found out about the photographs. Perhaps Wallis had contacted him though Josh couldn't see why he would.

He hailed a cab to take him home and as it turned into his street he saw Sam was there waiting for him. He was sitting on the front steps of his building, his head resting on folded arms. He appeared lost in his black overcoat.

Josh paid the taxi driver and went to Sam. He seemed to be asleep and Josh touched his shoulder gently to wake him. Eventually he lifted his head and blinking he turned to Josh. He smiled sadly and Josh put an arm around him and helped him up.

"Lets go inside."

Closing his apartment door he helped Sam off with his coat. He noticed his clothes smelt of smoke and his breath was heavy with alcohol.

"Do you want a drink?" he asked and Sam shook his head with a spare, almost imperceptible movement.

"I've done something stupid," Sam finally said. "I've let you down."

"Not me, Sam," Josh whispered. "You could never let me down."

Sam closed his eyes, seemingly to steady himself against a shiver rippling through him. Josh touched Sam's face and felt how cold he was.

"I'm going to make some coffee," he said. "Then we can talk."

While he waited for the coffee to brew he called Elaine to reassure her about Sam's whereabouts. Then he poured a cup and went to find Sam who had left the living room. Josh had assumed he had gone to the bathroom but he found him outside on the fire escape at the back of the house. A place he would sometimes go to think in the year he lived here with Josh.

He gave Sam his coffee and they stood together looking out onto the city, lighting up point by point as the sun set. Sam, shivering in the damp autumnal air.

"Ned Wallis came to see me yesterday," Josh said.

Sam turned to him. "Then you already know. Why didn't you -? Oh. You tried to tell me."

"He said he would publish two photographs of you and ­ of you. If I didn't recommend him to the GCC."

Josh could not bring himself to admit the end of the story and eventually Sam said. "You made the recommendation."

Josh did not reply.

"You shouldn't have. I wouldn't have let you."

"I know, that's why I couldn't tell you yesterday."

Sam, slowed by alcohol, considered this. "Withdraw it," he said. "I won't allow you to ­"

"The committee are meeting this afternoon, it'll be over soon."

"So I'm safe?" Sam's head dropped lower.

"Leo took the recommendation out of my report."

Sam breathed out a sigh. "Good."

He fell silent, staring down into the postage stamp backyard as it vanished into darkness. The quiet enfolded them, the city had never been so quiet.

"Tell me how to do this, Josh," Sam said whole minutes later. "Tell me. Help me. I'm so scared."

"I'm not going to leave you, Sam," Josh whispered. "I'm going to be here beside you, whatever happens."

Sam took deep breaths. He warmed his hands around the coffee cup and finally took a couple of sips.

"Aren't you going to ask me?" He said, still not looking at Josh.

"It's your business Sam, not mine."

"All of its your business."

"What do you mean?" Josh asked but Sam moved on.

"I'm a good liar," he said. "Especially good at lying to myself. I thought ­ I really thought - I was meant to be with Lisa, I was even happy for a while."

"Will you go to him?" Josh asked.

Sam frowned. "Who, Josh?"

"The man in the pictures. Who is he?"

"Don't you know?"

Josh shook his head.

"I guess he's some kind of male escort," Sam said, finally turning to lean back against the rail.

"Jesus Sam, you picked up a rent boy?"

Sam looked horrified. "You think I paid him for sex?"

Josh remembered who he was talking to. "Sorry, of course not. What happened?"

Sam stared ahead, gathering the words to start the story. "There was an event that finished late, last Thursday night. I was walking home. He approached me and asked me if I wanted to go for a drink. I thought he - I drank more than I should have and he said he'd walk back to my apartment with me. We got to my street and he put his arm around me and a minute later we were kissing."

Sam was quiet again as if with this, he had used up a quota of words.

"Then what?" Josh prompted.

Sam looked at Josh for the first time. "Then he left me standing like the fool I am."

"Ah, Sam."

"I guess Ned Wallis paid him to stage the photographs."

A cold realisation began to settle on Josh. Ned hadn't caught Sam in an indiscretion, he had set a trap for him. His anger began to rise again but he listened while Sam finished the story. For him, the most important part of the story.

"But Josh, I wanted him so much. It was 38 years of wanting all directed at him. I would have ­ I would have spent the night with him, if I could. Even though I knew I was risking everything. Does that make any sense to you?"

"Perfect sense, Sam."

"Then he called me at work. This afternoon. He told me Wallis had set the whole thing up."

"Did you meet him again?"

"No. I called him a liar and hung up on him. I couldn't see why Ned Wallis would want to blackmail me. I thought he was just trying to extort money from me."

"Then you figured it out?"

"I remembered you said it was GCC and I realised Wallis had a reason to blackmail you. I'm so sorry I've put you in this position, Josh." Sam started searching his pocket for his cell phone. "I've got to call Lisa."

Josh put his hand on Sam's arm. "Not yet. No need to go confessing to something you haven't done just yet."

Josh's phone rang before Sam could answer him. It was Ned Wallis. "What the fuck do you think you're playing at, Lyman?" He demanded.

Josh left Sam and went inside to speak to Wallis. "You set Sam up," he hissed back at him. "You set him up."

"You think you can play me. Do you know I've lost everything?"

"I did what I said I'd do Ned. Leo altered the report, that wasn't my fault."

"McGarry, I might have known. I thought you had authority, I didn't realise you were Leo McGarry's secretary." Ned was bitter and spiteful.

"Look, you should know how these things work. I told you I wasn't allowed to influence the process. This wasn't my call and Sam shouldn't have to pay."

"Sam's mine. I haven't got anything to lose now. I'll happily see one of Bartlet's prodigies shown up for what he is."

"Look calm down, I'm coming round. We should talk about this."

But Wallis had already rung off.

Sam had followed Josh inside. "Was that him?"

Josh was putting on his coat. "I'm going to talk to him."

"Josh, don't." Sam said, carefully putting down his coffee cup. "I don't want you getting any more involved. You could already be in serious trouble with Leo."

"I'm just going to talk to him. He's a businessman. If he can't get what he wants with those pictures I don't believe he'll use them just to harm you."

Sam gazed slowly at him. "I'm going with you."

"I don't think - you look kind of out of it."

"I'm fine." Sam said dragging his coat from the back of the chair where Josh had left it.

Josh watched Sam put on his coat and then look up. Slowly refocusing, he smiled slightly.

"Hey, I haven't been to a meeting with you in ages," he said.

Josh guided Sam out of the apartment. "Its not a meeting it's a scene from Film Noir."

"Shall I be menacing then? Or do you want to be menacing? I don't mind. I could be quietly brooding."

"You should be appealing. I don't think it's a coincidence Ned Wallis knows male prostitutes."

The house Ned was using while in town was only a few streets from Josh's so they walked. Josh rang the doorbell and waited. When there was no answer he tried again.

"Look at this," Sam said. He gave the door a slight push and it swung open.

"The lock's broken, its been forced," Josh said. He stepped into the hallway. "Ned are you there?"

Again there was no answer. They waited but the house was silent.

Sam and Josh looked at each other and then went into the first room off the hallway where a light was on. Ned Wallis was there, lying unmoving on the floor. He was on his side with papers and files scattered around him. Josh went to him and turned him so he could feel for the pulse at his neck. "He's unconscious."

Sam pointed to a gash on his forehead. "Look at this."

Josh reached for Ned's phone on a sideboard behind him. He dialled 911 and while he waited for an answer he looked at Sam.

"Sam, you'd better get out of here."

"It's okay, Josh." Sam had gone to Ned and was trying to get him to wake up by calling his name.

"Seriously Sam, get out now. You're a Congressman, you can't be found here."

Sam continued to tend to Ned, who was beginning to blink slowly awake.

"Sam," Josh hissed. "Don't let him see you. Get on now. I'll take care of things."

Sam ignored him and as Josh called an ambulance Ned slowly woke. He looked up at the man helping him and finally realising who was there he jerked away from Sam.

"Easy Ned, I'm not going to hurt you," Sam said. Wallis gazed about him in slow comprehension, finally focussing on Josh who was still on the telephone. Josh smiled.

"I might."

Sam helped Ned sit up. "What happened here?"

Ned put a hand to his head and then dazedly looked at the blood on his fingers. "It was your friend, the gigolo. He came for the pictures. The little bastard."

"Did he get them?" Josh demanded.

"Yeah, he got them."

Josh cursed. "What's he going to do with them?"

"What do you think?" Ned Wallis said. "He's a prostitute, he wants money. He'll sell them to a newspaper."

Josh realised Sam's situation had suddenly got a lot worse. "Where did you find this prince?" Josh asked. Ned dabbed at the graze on his forehead tentatively. "A male escort agency."

Josh took a pen from his pocket. "What's the number?"

Ned reeled off the telephone number and Josh raised an eyebrow at the instant recall. "So what's his name?"

"Larry something. They use first names anyway."

Josh wrote the number on his hand. "Its obviously your area of expertise, Ned."

"Fuck off, Josh."

Ned stood with some help from Sam and lowered himself painfully into a chair.

"You guys ought to get out of here," he said.

"Yeah, we should," said Josh though Sam started to object.

"Go on," said Ned. "I've got enough problems without having to explain why I'm half-conscious in a room with Bud and Lou."

Josh took Sam's arm. "You're not mentioning Sam's name?"

"No. I wasn't going to use the damn pictures. All I wanted was the contract. "

"Are you heading back to Baltimore?"

"To declare myself bankrupt, yes."

Josh led Sam out of the room. "You still shouldn't have done it, Ned."

Josh checked the way was clear of cars and pedestrians and when he was sure he hurried Sam down the road. "We should really have stayed," Sam said. "We might have been needed to give statements."

"I somehow don't think Ned's going to want to press charges."

When they were a couple of streets away Josh stopped at a payphone and, while Sam waited, he called Ned's escort agency.

"Hi," he said when he got an answer. "I need to speak to one of your guys urgently."

"What's this about?" answered the suspicious female voice at the other end of the line.

"I can't talk about it but I need to contact Larry. Have you got a number for him?"

"I don't give out numbers. Are you a client?"

"No," Josh said.

"Then who the hell are you?"

"I'm a guy who's asking for Larry." His voice rose in impatience.

"Do you want to make an appointment? Larry's not with us anymore but I'm sure I could find you someone who met your requirements."

"What do you mean Larry's not with you anymore?"

The lady dropped the sales pitch. "He quit today, I don't know why. And he had to give his pager back so I couldn't call him even if I wanted to."

Josh knocked the receiver on his forehead a few times until Sam stopped him.

"You're sure you don't know how to contact him. Do you know where he lives? I'll pay whatever your standard rate is for the information."

"I've got a real nice kid called Johnny, just as cute as Larry ­" the woman said as Josh hung up.

"Larry's found something better to do," Josh said to Sam.

"He left no forwarding address then?"

"No, dammit. I could try again and - "

"Lets go, Josh," Sam said. "Come on, its all right."

Josh bit his lip. "You know what this means?"

Sam nodded slightly. "I'm ready. I'll call Lisa now and I'll talk to the minority whip tomorrow, get a statement ready."

"You're not thinking of resigning, Sam," Josh said, his voice low though the residential street was dark and quiet. "You've done nothing wrong."

"But it'll look like adultery, Josh. It nearly was. And I'm going to have my picture in the paper. I've got no choice but to resign. Talk to Leo and Toby, there's no way the White House can officially support me." Sam's voice caught and Josh put an arm around his shoulder.

"Let's talk about it at home."

Sam looked around to get his bearings. "I'm going to go back to my apartment, I think I can get a cab over there."

"Stay with me tonight. Just in case you get a call from the press tomorrow."

"Josh, thank you, you know, really thanks. But its not your job to protect me, its your job to protect the President."

"My job? What are you talking about? You're my friend."

"I know, but I'm not the only one with a career to wreck. You've already risked your position for me I won't have you doing it again."

"I'm not risking anything. Come on, the guest bedroom's still yours." Sam looked ready to continue his protest but instead collapsed a little into the circle of Josh's arm around him.

Josh quietly held him until he regained his composure and then steered him in the direction of his apartment.

By the time they arrived at Josh's place it was after eight o'clock. Josh found some sweats and a Tshirt for Sam to change into and he ordered pizza. He was drinking a beer on the couch and sliding his tie off when Sam emerged from the guest bedroom. He sat next to Josh and eyed the beer he had opened for him.

"I don't think that's a good idea." He leaned back and closed his eyes, exhaustion catching up with the alcohol in his system. "Your couch is too comfortable."

"Where were you drinking all afternoon, anyway?"

"I don't know. Some bar." He scrubbed his hands across his eyes. "I'm such a cliché."

"You never talked to anyone about this, about how you were feeling?"

"I might have mentioned it to the barman." Sam leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him. "I mostly didn't know how I was feeling."

"But you have to have known."

Sam seemed to search for an answer for a long time. "Don't you ever get so frightened you can ­ pretend - you can pretend to yourself everything going on in your head doesn't mean a thing."

"It gets to a point though. Doesn't it?"

"Yes," Sam admitted. "Sooner or later it gets to a point."

"So how much of a shock is all this going to come to Lisa?" Josh asked.

"Not much I don't think. We haven't really been ­ well - together since Antonia was born."

"What about the little one ­?"

"Janey. I don't know who her father is."

"Ah."

"She's still my little girl though. I'm still her father."

Josh looked at Sam, sitting with hands still clasped and his head bowed. "You're one of the good guys, Sam."

Sam seemed unconvinced.

"So, do you think Lisa will stick by you?"

"Lisa will probably kill me."

"Yeah, I figure that."

"The deal was that she'd get to be a Congressman's wife, or a Senator's wife or First Lady or whatever and she wouldn't divorce me or expect anything from me. Not that we ever talked about it, but it was understood. She's very much one for appearances. If it looks all right from the outside she's happy. It worked for both of us for a while."

Sam wandered into the kitchen and came back with a glass of water.

"I nearly never married her you know. I nearly walked out on the day."

Josh watched him sitting back down. "I was with you all of that day, you never said anything."

"That was it though, you were with me." He stopped abruptly.

"What are you saying?"

"Nothing. I'm still a little drunk." Sam waved away the question as the buzz of the doorbell interrupted. "I think the pizza's here. Or possibly the National Enquirer."

They started to share a pizza out of ancient habit watching the news channels. After almost finishing one slice Sam abruptly stood up and disappeared into the bathroom where Josh could hear him throwing up.

Josh left him to it and went into the guest bedroom to make up the bed. Sam followed him there a few minutes later looking pale and watery eyed. He sat down on the armchair next to the bed and put his head in his hands.

Josh put a hand on his shoulder. "I think you should lie down for a while."

"Get sobered up before the villagers with pitchforks and torches arrive," said Sam from behind his hands.

"Yes."

"I've got to phone Lisa," Sam said dropping his hands. This time Josh agreed.

Sam got into bed and Josh brought him the phone. "Are you fit for this?"

"Not really," Sam said sitting up to dial the number. "But she might get a call from a newspaper soon." He shivered at the thought.

Josh started to leave but Sam grabbed his wrist. "Don't go."

He dialled the number of his house in California. "Answering machine," he switched off. "She's probably still at work."

Josh took the phone from him. "Try and sleep. I'll wake you in a couple of hours if you want to try again."

Sam nodded and lay down again. "Thanks, Josh."

Sam shivered once more, and Josh pulled the covers over him more securely, letting his hand brush across Sam's hair. Sam did not close his eyes, he turned instead to look at Josh.

"Can I ask you a question?" Sam said.

"Sure."

"How do you manage? I mean, being on your own, not being able to find someone to fall in love with or spend the night with, or even to talk to."

"You know about me then?" Josh asked, his voice as low as Sam's.

"I guessed."

"When?"

"A long time ago."

Josh withdrew his hand thoughtfully. Sensing the world adjusting around him. Someone else knew. Sam knew.

"I should have told you," he said. "I wanted to. I almost don't think I could say it out loud after all this time."

"We both had to find ways to survive."

"It's easier this way," Josh said though he didn't often think so. "It's less complicated to be on my own. But Sam, it's different for me than for you. I'm never going to run for office. And I'm never going to run Mary Marsh's campaign. So I've always thought that if I found someone and I could just be sensible about it I could be with him and be out."

"But here you are, not in love."

"Who says I'm not in love?"

Sam's gaze softened. "Before Josh, I shouldn't have said what I said."

"What's that?"

"That I almost didn't marry Lisa. That it was because of you." Sam's voice caught, tangling with all of the history.

"We don't have to talk about this now."

"I didn't mean to say it, because things are so awful now. But that day was so precious to me - I felt your presence so strongly with me, before we went to the church, standing next to me at the alter. I can pretend I didn't know what was going on in my head. In my heart. But it couldn't have been clearer then."

Josh's hand rested then, softly on Sam's cheek. He remembered the wedding picture in Sam's office, the picture where he saw himself gazing at Sam. In it, Sam was gazing straight back at him.

"Sam, I didn't know," he said.

"It's funny," Sam half smiled. "I thought you'd see right through me. I was sure you knew better than I did."

"Because Perceptive is my middle name, right? Sam I just had wishful thinking when it came to you."

Sam's gaze dropped as he considered this.

"That day," Josh went on. "Your wedding day, was precious to me too but life gets in the way. We both had to find ways to survive."

"I've done it by deceiving people, by letting people down. I've let you down."

"I don't understand why you'd say that," Josh said.

"Because you've never -, because you've always been careful and cautious and all the things I should have been."

"Sam you've done nothing wrong, you kissed a boy once when you were drunk." He tried to smile. "Who's never done that?"

"I kissed you once," Sam whispered.

"When I was in hospital?"

"I didn't think you'd remember."

"I wasn't sure."

"You kept saying my name, under all that medication, you kept surfacing and saying my name. I couldn't have forgiven myself if I didn't try to comfort you then."

Josh finally leaned down to Sam and as Sam closed his eyes he kissed him.

The kiss was first soft as the memory of a dream and then Sam pulled Josh closer and made it deep and dark and desperate.

The kiss ended and Sam did not let Josh go, but pulled him close, his head buried into the warm crescent of his neck until Josh could only breathe by breathing Sam in. Soon Sam became still and eventually his embrace fell away as he slept.

Josh watched Sam sleeping for a while wondering if the silent kiss which had tasted like love, as far as he knew, had in fact, been a dream.

Still not sure, he left Sam's room to stand at the window of his apartment looking out on to the street, where the slightest of autumn breezes was gathering and shifting fallen leaves.

He was watching when his phone rang. It was Donna calling from home. She was pretty annoyed with him for not telling her where he was going for the second time and for not listening to the messages she had evidently left on his voicemail.

"Elaine's been trying to get hold of Sam," she finally explained. "But he's not answering. She thinks he's with you."

"He's here. What's the message?"

"Some guy called Sam's office saying he had to speak to him. His name's Larry but not our Larry. He wouldn't say who he was or what he wanted but he convinced Elaine he wasn't a nut and it was urgent. Can I give you his number?"

Josh took it down and said goodbye to Donna. He dialled the cell phone number and it was answered immediately.

"Larry?"

"Yes," came the voice of a young man against background noise of a busy street. "Is that you Mr Seaborn?"

"No, its Josh Lyman. I got your message for Sam. Listen, I need to meet you."

"I ­ I really need to speak to Mr Seaborn."

"Larry, listen to me. I know about the photos. I know you took them off Ned and I want to talk to you about it."

"Can I speak to Mr Seaborn?" Larry repeated anxiously. "No offence. I have to ask him something."

"No, you can't. I'm taking care of things for Sam today. Tell me where you are, I'll come and meet you."

"Oh," he said and there was an anxious pause. "You're his friend aren't you? You're not his lawyer or anything."

"I'm Sam's friend and I just want to talk to you."

Another long pause. "Okay."

Larry gave the name of a street downtown where they could meet, promising he would be by himself.

As Josh grabbed his coat and left the apartment he thought about how much money he could get together to pay Larry off. There couldn't be any other reason for the kid to keep calling Sam but he knew Sam would refuse to have anything to do with such an arrangement.

Josh took a cab into town and saw Larry waiting as arranged. He recognised him immediately from the photographs and, he finally realised, from their brief meeting outside the White House two months earlier. He looked different now as he stood with hunched shoulders and hands burrowing into his pockets.

"Larry?" Josh said. "I think we've already met."

"Yes, I hoped you wouldn't remember."

"Larry, have you ­"

"Its Laurence, really. Its that stupid escort agency that made me use the name Larry."

Josh stared at him. "You know, I don't really care. Have you got the pictures?"

"Right of course," Larry stammered. He looked at his feet, thought for a moment and then pulled a brown envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket. He handed it to Josh. "Can you give them to Mr Seaborn?"

Josh stared at him not daring to believe it could be true. He opened the flap of the envelope and saw two copies of the two photographs and a strip of negatives. He folded the envelope into his own pocket.

"Have you kept copies?" He demanded.

"No. I swear."

The young man looked terrified. Josh shook his head in disbelief.

"Why the hell did you knock Ned Wallis into the middle of next week if you were just going to hand these over to Sam?"

Larry now looked like he was going to faint. "Is he all right? I really didn't mean to hurt him."

"Never mind Ned Wallis, he's got the hide of a rhinoceros. What did you think you were doing?"

"I thought he was going to publish those pictures in a newspaper. If he did I'd have been finished."

Josh realised he was missing some key part of the story here. "Wait, you were worried about your reputation?"

Larry nodded. "I'm studying law. I only did the escort work to pay my way. I can't afford to have my picture in the paper."

Josh hooted with laughter. "You're a lawyer. That's perfect."

Larry hushed him urgently. "You won't tell anyone about me will you? Will Mr Seaborn?"

"You're joking?"

"I'm serious. How did I get mixed up with Congressmen and the White House? People like me end up in front of Grand Juries."

"Okay, well that's not going to happen."

"People like me end up floating face down in rivers."

"Hey, hold on. We're not republicans."

"So what's going to happen? What's Mr Seaborn going to do?"

"There's one thing you can rely on," Josh said. "You behave yourself and your name won't come up again."

"What about Mr Wallis, I've heard these construction guys…"

"He's not doing anything, he's going home."

"Really?" Larry smiled broadly.

"Really. So you go and get a job waiting tables like everyone else and I hope I never see you again."

As Larry turned to go he was evidently struck by an afterthought. "Mr Lyman, Mr Seaborn's really nice isn't he?"

"Uh ­"

"Only do you think he'd go out with me? I mean on a real date."

Josh stared at him in delirious disbelief. "You mean one where you're not followed round by a fat man with a camera."

"Yes."

"No he won't."

"Would you ask him?"

Josh came close and spoke quietly. "He's a married man with children, Larry. He's got a lot to lose. Go complicate someone else's life."

And when Larry had hurried off he thought about what he had just said. That the warning did not only apply to Larry.

When Josh got back to his apartment Sam was awake. He looked pale and tired but the couple of hours sleep seemed to have done him some good. He had been waiting for Josh in the living room.

"Where have you been?" Sam asked.

"You'll never guess who called your Elaine."

"Larry. I've just picked up my messages. You didn't meet him, did you?"

"Uh, yeah."

"No one saw you?"

"I don't think so."

"Josh," Sam's voice was faded with exhaustion. "I asked you not to get involved."

"It's to do with you so I'm already involved," he shrugged. "Anyway, it was fine. Here, look." He pulled the envelope from his pocket and handed it to Sam.

Sam first just stared at Josh but when he got no explanation he opened the envelope and took the photographs out. He studied each one and each of the negatives.

"What did you do to get them?" He asked quietly, sounding more worried than before.

"Nothing Sam, honestly. Larry's a law student. He doesn't want the publicity."

"A law student? No way."

"Plus he's scared to death. He thinks we're G Gordon Liddy and Ned Wallis is Tony Soprano."

Sam seemed to be waiting for the downside, the awful twist and when it didn't come he simply breathed out his relief.

"Thank God." Sam sank down into the nearest chair. "Thank you, Josh."

"You're welcome."

"It's over then." Sam shook his head. "Am I really just going to work as normal tomorrow?"

"Unless you really want to screw up Elaine's appointment system, yes." Josh smiled back at Sam. "Oh and Larry asked me if you wanted to go on a date."

Sam looked up at him in confusion.

"With him," Josh added. "No charge."

"I think I'll pass."

Josh found matches and over a bin in the kitchen they burnt the pictures and negatives. Josh stood back from the smoke and chemical smell but Sam watched mesmerised as the flames took the pictures.

"They were good pictures, don't you think?" Sam said when there was nothing but ashes left.

Josh frowned. "Sure, you're kind of cute, but I wouldn't have used them for your next campaign poster or anything."

"No, I don't mean that."

Josh poured water on to the remains of the photographs to stop the smoke. "What is it, Sam?"

"I mean, I look happy in them."

Then Sam turned away to pick up the kitchen phone.

"Who are you calling?" Josh asked.

Sam didn't answer and after a moment when he had dialled and the line connected he said. "Lisa, its me. I need to tell you what almost happened."

Josh's instinct was to keep everything that had happened a secret, to stop Sam confessing to Lisa but, as Sam sat at the kitchen table to talk, he knew he would not be able to.

Josh went into his bedroom to let Sam speak to his wife in private and to finally change out of the suit he felt he had been wearing for weeks. Thirty minutes later the call was still going on but seemed to be winding up.

"I'll be home Friday," Sam said to Lisa as Josh came to stand in the kitchen doorway. "We'll talk then. Kiss the girls for me."

He switched off the phone. "Lisa says, hi."

"I bet." Josh came and sat at the table with Sam. "What did she say?"

"She wants to stay married."

"Really? Wow."

"She said I shouldn't do anything to damage my career."

"Was she angry?"

"No, you know, she wasn't. She said she'd more or less figured it out anyway."

"And she doesn't mind?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Seems not. Its like I said, she wants to preserve the appearance. She says she doesn't want me to risk everything I've worked for. And she thinks it would be better for the children if we stayed together. Somehow. I don't know how." Sam squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then opened them to look at Josh. "I think its time to be honest though. I think she's wrong."

Josh had been processing the situation. Slowly, strategically, logically. The drama and panic of the evening had evaporated. There were choices now.

"No," he said. "She's right."

"Is she?" Sam looked at him as if he couldn't possibly have heard correctly.

"But she is right. You should have a great career in politics. A truly great one. You were born to it. But you have to stay married, stay straight. Sam, you wouldn't be the first."

"Don't say that to me, Josh." Sam's brow furrowed under sleep- disturbed hair. "This is what you think I should do?"

Josh nodded a slow assent.

"Live a lie?" Sam pressed.

"You wouldn't be." Josh resisted Sam's growing distress. "Your sexuality doesn't define you, you're so much more than who you want to sleep with. Sam, don't throw everything away. Not now you've come so far."

"And I'd be throwing everything away if I was divorced and dating Larry?"

"You date Larry and you get so far and no further. These are the rules and you know it."

"But I kissed a boy when I was drunk," Sam's warm blue gaze found Josh's. "And that would be my second."

"Sam, don't," Josh dragged his eyes from Sam's. "This is the worst conversation, this is - look, I'm not a complete asshole. I want to see you happy but I also want to see you President one of these days. I can't see how you can be both."

"You and Lisa seem to see eye to eye on this one."

"Haley's comet must be passing by early."

Sam let a laugh escape him. He was tired. His hand, which had been supporting his head, moved to cover his mouth. A mannerism he had picked up from Toby. He watched Josh thoughtfully as he spoke.

"Sam, whatever you decide to do I'm going to support you. If you want to come out, I'll stand next to you when you speak to the press. I'd be proud to. But I'm not going to compromise you further. I won't do it."

Sam did not reply for a long time until Josh said quietly. "Why don't you get some sleep?"

Sam's hand dropped to rest on the table. "Yeah," he said. "I should sleep." But he didn't move, instead he spoke with a voice almost gone. "Then we carry on as normal, Josh. Is that what we do? We don't try to change anything. We live alone or loveless. We don't fall in love." The sentence drifted away and Josh had no more words.

But Sam nodded. A faint acknowledgement of understanding. He got wearily to his feet and made his way out of the kitchen.

And he did not turn when Josh whispered. "Who says we're not in love?"

End

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