Title: Redivivus Chapter Two
Author: Sue C
Spoilers: What Kind of Day Has it Been; In the Shadow of Two Gunmen Parts I and II
Pairing: Josh/Sam
Rating: PG-17
Disclaimer: My two favorite boys, plus the other well known protagonists, belong to Aaron Sorkin/Warner Bros. Nurse Julie Delaney and Stacey are my own creations
Summary: This is set within my Carpe Diem A/U. It is essentially the back story to Carpe Diem 1 seen from the pov of a number of different people who have been touched, either directly or indirectly, by the events at Rosslyn. Some scenes are reworked from a different pov, while some are entirely new. There is also a rework of a scene which is dealt with in flashback in Carpe Diem 2. This new chapter takes us a few months further into Josh's time in the rehabilitation hospital, and picks up from Redivivus Chapter One. Should you wish to remind yourself of the events of Carpe Diem 1 and 2, they can be found at either http://www.aeglos.org/westwing/ where you can also find Redivivus Chapter One or at http://www.geocities.com/godlessharlot/therealthing/ Grateful thanks go to my dear friend Kathi for her encouragement and support when I needed it, valuable feedback and also for providing me with some of the ideas contained within this fic.
Notes: Redivivus means "come back to life". The National Rehabilitation Centre at Washington DC is a real facility and I took the information on its aims and program from its website. I have taken a little writer's license with wheelchair access within the White House. Any mistakes or inaccuracies are my own
Archive: As above; anywhere else, you're more than welcome - just let me know
Feedback: This is a slight departure from my linear Carpe Diem timeline, so I'm interested in what people think of it. Any feedback is gratefully received as long as it's constructive. I'm at susan.clements4@btopenworld.com

Redivivus Chapter Two by Sue C

PART 1/5

I hate this time of day. Late afternoon. The vacuum that exists between the hours spent engaged in my rehabilitation program and the arrival of the people whose turn it is to carry out hospital visiting duties. That period of the day stands out in stark contrast to the intensity of the program I've been following for two months now. The majority of my waking hours is spent in physical activity. Lifting weights. Exercising the muscles of my upper body. A physical therapist flexing my knee and hip joints to prevent them seizing up from lack of walking. Hydrotherapy. Getting used to using a wheelchair. All the exertion that's essential for my fitness, mobility and independence. And it serves another purpose: it stops me thinking too much.

It stops me thinking that in the outside world my working day would only be half over. It stops me thinking about what's in the news and what I'd be doing to influence it. It stops me thinking that I'm here, my mind stagnating, while my closest friends are attending meetings, conducting press briefings, writing speeches, interacting with the leader of the free world. It stops me thinking that my lover is out there being looked at by other men and possibly prey to a temptation that he'll end up hating himself for if he succumbs to it.

The other thing I hate about it is much more prosaic: it can be so damn boring. To combat the tedium I do my best to keep occupied. After that horrible first week here I decided to stop shutting myself away like a hermit, and so I began meeting the other patients, finding out about their backgrounds and what had brought them here. It's been an eye opener. The irony of being a public servant is that in my particular job I meet very few of what I would actually term 'the public'. It's been a reality check finding out what people really do think about politicians, hearing them speak the words rather than seeing their opinions filtered through the number crunching and conclusions of the pollsters. It's also given me the opportunity to compare my personal situation with those around me, some of them a lot less fortunate than myself. It doesn't always make me feel any better. I have good days when I feel some sense of optimism, but the bad days still come around when I feel anxious, depressed and angry. But at least I'm not the sole breadwinner of a family, I'm not a construction worker who has to completely reassess my employability, and I can still move my upper body and breathe unaided.

So to combat the monotony I chat with my fellow patients; I'm now better at backgammon than I ever was at poker; I've even started playing basketball. I was never particularly great at sports, but I still enjoyed taking part. Funny, that was one of the things that hit me hardest and when I was in one of my particularly dark moods I mentioned it to a guy called Tom who's always ready to listen to my woes. He just sat me in front of a computer and showed me the National Wheelchair Basketball Association website. I was vaguely aware that wheelchair basketball was popular and I seem to remember seeing a snatch of it when highlights from the Paralympics were shown on TV, but I hadn't realized just how popular it is. The next thing I knew I was in the gym doing my best to get at least one shot in twenty through the hoop. I'm getting better at it though.

But not today. Today I'm *really* bored because I've been told to rest up. Just when I was starting to get fit, move around without as much pain and generally feel more like me, my blood pressure started doing some weird sort of fandango up and down the scale. My cardiologist at GW couldn't find anything wrong, but the staff here were still concerned. Enter the friendly neighborhood nephrologist. Apparently high blood pressure can be a symptom of renal problems. Conversely, high blood pressure can also *cause* renal problems. Either way you're screwed. So they pushed a hypodermic full of dye into my vein giving me the hottest flush I could get without being a menopausal female - so much so that I think I probably glowed in the dark - x-rayed my kidneys and left me feeling wiped out for the next twenty-four hours. And after all that the results were negative. Which, I guess, is a good thing because on top of everything else I could do without my kidneys going postal on me. Everything seemed to be fine for a few days, until this afternoon when I came back to my room and Julie took my blood pressure.

160/80. Compared to the reading this morning of 131/50.

Julie asked me what my therapy had entailed today, and when I told her the usual, apart from the last hour or so when I'd been practising getting myself *and* my wheelchair in and out of a car, she came up with this crazy theory that this might have been responsible. Giving me no chance to argue she ordered me to stay in my room and not go wandering around engaging people in political debates on the latest news from the Hill. I'm to stay still to allow my blood pressure to stabilize. As a consequence, here I am, having showered and changed into my PJs, lying on my bed at four o'clock in the afternoon.

I pick up the novel I'm part way through. 'Cold Mountain' - it's about the Civil War and Sam loved it , so that's as good a recommendation as any. I don't know how he makes time to read books for pleasure. I've read more while in hospital than I have at any time since leaving college. But this afternoon I can't settle to it and I close the book after a couple of paragraphs. I leaf through the Post. Same old same old. It's not the same reading the news when I'm not expected to extract the information that impacts on domestic policy and the administration's strategy. There's a short piece by Danny Concannon on the role of interest groups and the influence they have on government, and I pick out a couple of things I don't agree with so I can tell CJ and she can feed them back. Let him know I'm still alive and functioning.

I am so bored.

Taking the remote from the nightstand I channel hop through the desert that is daytime TV.

Little House on the Prairie. More homespun homilies from the pioneering days.

A couple of dreary sitcoms. Repeats from the 1980s disguised as 'another chance to see ... '

The Shopping Channel. What is it with these people? They spend half an hour describing a figurine of a shepherdess that looks like something you'd win at Coney Island.

I give up, and find myself staring at something called The Bold and the Beautiful. A woman called Amber is having a terrible row with some guy, and another character called Hector jumps into a car and drives off at about two hundred miles an hour. And that guy who was the gardener last week is now apparently the long lost son of the rich couple living in the English- country-manor-style house.

I really need to get out more.

The irony of that thought threatens to engulf me and I can detect that my mood is about to go into one of its downward spirals that usually ends with me lying staring at the ceiling. This isn't good, but at least nowadays I can recognize what's going on when my mood suddenly lurches unexpectedly. To combat it I begin mentally listing the things I've done today that have given me some sense of achievement. I recently agreed to have some sessions with a therapist and this is one of the techniques he recommended. Unfortunately I get stuck at the first item on the list - my newly acquired skill of getting in and out of a car - and just as I'm once again staring blankly at the TV screen I hear footsteps outside my door.

And in walks Sam.

He looks incredible. He had his hair cut a couple of weeks ago, but now it's gotten to the stage I really like where I could take a lock of it when it falls down over his forehead and brush it back with my fingers. He looks pleased to see me as he smiles in that way that crinkles a couple of tiny laughter lines around his eyes. And as for those eyes ... they look bluer than ever against the light golden tan that he seems to wear all the year round.

God, but he's gorgeous.

What I wouldn't give for him to lie here next to me, me wrapping my arms around him, then sliding my hand down his leg to his thigh. Sam's inner thighs are notoriously sensitive, and I'd be forced to smother his moans with kisses as he ...

I suddenly snap back to reality as I see Sam standing next to the bed. He's got an odd look on his face so I ask him what's wrong. He mumbles something then makes a movement like he's going to touch my hand. It strikes me that he's obviously having the same thoughts as me, but I need to nip it in the bud because he *knows* we've agreed to cool it while I'm stuck in here. But in my usual tactful way I end up snapping at him then regretting it when I find out exactly why he's here at this unusual hour.

"Josh, I've brought Charlie to see you."

Charlie not coming to see me is something that's been bothering me for weeks. Everyone's been giving me reasons, personal *and* professional, for why he can't spare the time, but as the weeks have passed they've sounded less like reasons and more like excuses. Some people cover better than others. CJ's pretty good, but then she gets plenty of practice at misdirection in the press room. Sam's useless, his voice says one thing but I just have to look in his eyes and I can tell he doesn't believe what he's saying. And I know Charlie doesn't owe me anything and I can't expect him to give up his time to visit me but I always thought we had this special ... well, sort of a bond. Ever since I recruited him, he's been a bit like the younger brother I never had. I mentored him a little when he was new to the job and sometimes he'd come to me for advice. That day in the Newseum where he was so pleased the President had used that report he'd found, we shared a little moment. It was special. It was the only good thing I could take away from that day. So I don't mind admitting I've been feeling a touch hurt at his failure to get in touch. Not even a note or a phone call. Maybe he feels bad that I got shot by mistake. I hate the thought of him feeling so miserable if that's the case. Maybe he just doesn't like dealing with people who have disabilities. If that's the case, it makes me sad that this would affect our friendship; that I'm like a different Josh to him.

But now he's come to see me, maybe I'll get some answers. I look around behind Sam, expecting to see Charlie standing there. I ask where he is and get some vague comment from Sam about how he wants to talk to me about not visiting and that he's frightened I don't want to see him. He finally steps out and Charlie appears in the doorway. His head's bent and he looks like he's afraid even to look at me. Sam's standing behind him. I can tell he's hovering ready to intervene if necessary. Well, since Charlie is giving a very good impression of being rooted to the spot I stretch my hand out.

"Charlie ... "

Still refusing to give me any sort of eye contact he walks in. Our hands fumble awkwardly for a second as if we're unsure whether to shake hands or not, and it's only when Charlie makes a sort of sobbing noise that it's resolved. I pull him towards me with my other arm and manage to hug him clumsily. Sam's watching this, obviously debating whether to go or stay so I jerk my head to tell him to go. Sam and I can almost read each other's minds, so he interprets this with no problem. I wait until the door shuts before I speak.

"Aah, Charlie, it's good to see you."

"It's good to see you too," he says, although it comes out kind of muffled since his mouth is pressed against my shoulder.

"I'd believe that if you'd actually look at me for a few seconds."

"Sorry." Charlie backs off a little, sniffing in an embarrassed way. I know how *that* feels so I do the practical thing and hand him a couple of tissues.

"I'll not get mad if you laugh at how stupid I look in these PJs."

"CJ?" he asks.

"Mm-hm. I think she miscalculated."

At last he looks directly at me. Normally I'd just pitch right in and ask him what his problem's been, but these are far from normal circumstances. Instead I opt for small talk.

"So how're you doing?"

"I'm fine, Josh. I've been really busy. The President's schedule has been really full in the last few weeks."

"And Deana?"

"She's great. She's been getting straight A's in everything except math, and she's joined a soccer team."

"She's a credit to you, Charlie."

"Yeah, what with work and Deana and ... " His eyes shift slightly as he shuffles his feet.

"Yeah, right," I laugh. "Now tell me the *real* reason you haven't been to see me."

I'm using a humorous tone to let him know that I'm not mad at him, but it misfires badly.

"Josh, don't. I couldn't feel any worse than I do now."

"Then tell me why." I decide to be as straight as I can be, give him an opening. "Charlie, I've been shot, I've had my chest cracked open, my back hurts for like, fifty per cent of the time, and I know I'll never dance the tango again. So you don't have to bullshit me to make me feel better. Believe me, nothing you can say will hurt me. It's been hurting more to think you didn't want to see me."

"It's all my fault," he begins. His words are halting. "I decide to date the President's daughter ... an African-American dating a *white* President's *white* daughter. I make no apologies for that. Even when the threats started, there was no way I would have broken up with Zoey. That would have been giving the racists just what they wanted ... we would have played into their hands. And if it had been me who'd been shot that night ... "

He shrugs, then continues.

"Well, it would have been my decision. You take a decision, you stand or fall by it. But it wasn't me. The President was shot and you nearly died."

He stops.

"Yeah ... but I didn't," I say, knowing full well the fact that I survived won't give Charlie any succor. This time it's his turn to laugh. It's a small, bitter sound.

"You know it's not just that," he says.

"I know."

"The thought of you being ... knowing ... seeing you in ... " Charlie seems to have lost the ability to articulate. His eyes are focused on something on the opposite side of my bed.

"It's a wheelchair, Charlie. *My* wheelchair. I'm disabled, I can't walk, I use a wheelchair to get around. It's that simple." I know I sound harsh, but I can't stand this skirting around the subject. "Are you embarrassed by that? 'Cos *I* was the first time I ever had to let someone outside of the medical staff see me use it. The first person to see me in a wheelchair was my mother, and I felt like a child again sitting in a stroller. So please don't tell me about feeling embarrassed."

God, I'd told Sam I could handle this, and yet the whole conversation is making me say things that I hadn't even realized I'd thought.

"Well I *am* embarrassed, but it's not because of your wheelchair. I'm embarrassed because it's you lying there and not me. I'm ashamed. Ashamed and guilty that I've come out of this unhurt, and you'll have to live with it all your life. All because I fell for the President's daughter. You asked me to look at you. Well, I can't. I can't look you in the eye knowing that I'm the person those bastards were after, but they missed and now one of my best friends has had his life ruined. You want to know why I wouldn't come to see you? Everyone's been saying how awful it was that I was targeted by racists, what a terrible ordeal it was, how it shouldn't happen in a civilized society. But I feel like a fraud. I'm still walking around, doing my job and you're in here ... paralyzed."

By this time Charlie's crying again, and I know that he won't hear any words I say until he's calmed down. So I wait, handing him tissue after tissue until he seems like he's all cried out.

"Charlie, all those things people have said are true. Even *thinking* about targeting you for seeing Zoey would have been a crime against humanity. It doesn't matter who was hit, who got in the way ... you were their objective, and nothing changes that. We're all outraged at that. I have such anger about it. Yes, I admit, I'm angry because I got hit, but I'm more angry that there are still lynch mobs at large in this country who feel it's their God-given right to take revenge on people who are in a mixed race relationship. So don't you *dare* deny yourself the right to feel rage at the crime that was aimed at you."

I'm shaking now and breathing heavily at all the emotions this is stirring up. I can't stand it that Charlie has been going through these agonies because of the evil that was directed at him, but that I got in the way of. He stands up and puts his hand on my shoulder.

"Are you okay, Josh? Should I call for someone?" he asks anxiously.

I take a moment to take a few deep breaths.

"It's all right ... I'm fine. Listen, what you said about decisions. Yeah, you took the decision to date Zoey. And if I remember correctly I encouraged you."

"That night the President was making chilli ... "

We both smiled at the memory.

"Well if we want to talk about blaming events on decisions .... cause and effect if you like ... I might as well say my decision to go and hear an obscure presidential hopeful in New Hampshire ... my decision to switch allegiance from Hoynes to Bartlet ... my decision to accept the job of Deputy Chief of Staff ... my decision to hang around talking in the Newseum that afternoon so I was in the line of fire ... we could argue that it all led to this. But it gets us nowhere."

"Wow," Charlie said, as if seeing a revelation.

"It makes sense, yeah?" I ask.

He stares at me, like he's scrutinizing my face to see if I really mean it. I suppose he's been subjected to so many well meaning platitudes that words have started to lose their meaning. At last, he nods his head.

"Sam was right," he says.

"He said the same thing?"

"No ... no, I don't mean that. I mean he's right ... you *are* amazing. He said you wouldn't make me feel uncomfortable about all this."

You know, lately I've gotten used to people - friends and medical staff alike - greeting my every small achievement with constant positive reinforcement. I know it's all part of the program, designed to encourage and motivate me, but I've started treating it with a very large pinch of salt. But this ... the fact that Sam, my beloved Sam, has said this privately to a third party ...

I turn away under the pretext of taking a glass from the nightstand and swallowing some water, hoping that Charlie doesn't see my face has grown hot with pleasure.

"Sometimes he forgets he's having a conversation, not writing a speech," I say, trying to keep my tone light, like I don't take Sam's comment seriously.

"He meant it. He said you wouldn't make me feel bad or treat me any differently. Sam was the one who got me to come." Charlie's talking to me quite naturally now. His fears and concerns seem to have gone, or at least he's managing to put them to one side. "He's very persuasive."

"You've not seen him litigating. I remember seeing him in New York one time. He had that courtroom eating out of his hand. Anyway," I say, swiftly moving the conversation into safer territory because I can feel myself getting starry-eyed thinking about the talented Mr Seaborn, "I'm just glad he hasn't lost his touch."

I smile at Charlie and he grins back, and it's as if we're back in the White House laughing about something CJ's said to the press corps or discussing some particularly difficult scheduling in the President's itinerary.

"Come on, tell me what's been happening on your side of the house," I prompt him.

"Well," Charlie begins, "there was the visit by the King of Norway and the President decided to tell him about some new theory about the Vikings he'd just read about ... "

And that's that. The next hour passes swiftly and by the time Sam returns it's as if nothing has ever been amiss between Charlie and me. I want to let Sam know how much I appreciate what he's done because I know it can't have been easy. Charlie's young, he was obviously hurting badly and it must have taken all Sam's patience and sensitivity to get him here today. So I say goodbye to Charlie and ask if he minds waiting outside until I speak with Sam. Not a problem, he tells me, and leaves us alone.

This time Sam doesn't stand next to me but positions himself at the end of the bed. There's a tension between us that I know stems from things unsaid and unresolved sexual tension. But the more I want to touch Sam the more nervous I get about it. I've worked out there's a direct correlation between my desire for him and my fear that if and when we do make love - not to mention *how* we make love - it'll be an unmitigated disaster. But knowing the lengths that Sam goes to in order to please me and keep me happy, I've got an overwhelming urge to somehow show him how much I love him. Seeing him standing there looking so serious, so uncertain about what I'm going to say, I get butterflies in my stomach.

"Good job, Sam," I say.

God, how pathetic is that? I can't even come up with something original, I've had to borrow a phrase from the President.

Sam shrugs and mumbles something about not doing very much. I try to explain to him about how Charlie and I had both been miserable, but my explanation becomes so convoluted that Sam says I'll need to explain it with a flowchart. I can't believe it, but now we're both smiling.

"Maybe some day I can show you just how grateful I am." I'm finding it difficult to speak, but I want to convey to Sam that I'm moving towards a time when I can use something other than words to express my love. But I feel shy, despite the fact that this is the man who has lain in my bed, wrapped himself around my body, taken me with wild abandon inside his own body. I've screamed out his name, I've fucked him more creatively than I would ever have thought possible, and I would die for him. But I'm terrified to do the one thing that has always been easy: tell him I love him.

"I can't wait." Sam's voice is quiet, intimate. "Just tell me when and where - I'll be there."

As Sam walks to the door I call his name. He's opened the door but I suddenly feel reckless. I can't leave things like this with half articulated promises of things to come. I lift my palm to my mouth, kiss it and turn it towards him. For the first time in two months I mouth those three powerful words.

"I love you."

I hold my breath, only daring to let it go when Sam repeats my actions.

"Me too," he says, smiling his most stunning smile. His reluctance to go is obvious, but we both know Charlie and the West Wing are waiting. The door closes and I lie here staring at it for a full five minutes until Julie comes in to check my blood pressure.

"You're quiet," she remarks as she takes the reading. "There's nothing wrong I hope?"

"No, everything's very right," I say dreamily.

"It must be - your blood pressure's 127/60," she announces. "See - I told you it was a good idea to rest up."

I just nod in agreement. Well, she'll never buy into my theory of love and the promise of hot sex as the powerful new cure for hypertension.

But I'm going to keep putting it to the test.

Purely in the interests of medical science of course.

PART 2/5

Sunflowers. Such a profusion of them, the color so bright, so vibrant it seems to suffuse the room as the light hits them through the window. I try to concentrate on them, hoping their cheerful flower-faces will lift my spirits. I feel exhausted and miserable. My mind is buzzing even though physically I've been functioning on autopilot, resenting it when any colleagues or patients have intruded on the internal dialogue I've been having with myself. Josh is having physical therapy or working out in the gym or something, so I sought out his room as a refuge, hoping the peace and quiet will give me some respite from the drowning feeling that's been plaguing me all morning.

I stroke one of the sunflower petals, feeling the surface that is strangely both soft and coarse at the same time. There's a card in amongst the blooms: "To Josh. With best wishes from the President and Dr Bartlet." I remember how impressed I was that first week when the first bouquet was delivered. Flowers have arrived from the President and First Lady every Tuesday since then without fail. Last week they were the purest of white lilies, the week before deep red roses and pink carnations. I now take the different displays for granted. After all, why wouldn't I? I've actually met the President and his wife, and I don't mean a quick smile and a handshake with the rest of the ward staff when they came to visit recently. No, Josh insisted on introducing me personally. I thought it would be nerve wracking, but Dr Bartlet steered the conversation towards my job, and the President wasn't nearly as intimidating as I thought he'd be. Actually, not intimidating at all, especially as Josh put me at ease. He's good at that.

"Hiding from Santini?"

As if I've conjured him up by just thinking about him, Josh appears in the room. I spin around to see him grinning at me, and it strikes me how well he now looks. He's put on a little weight, his arms are more toned and his face has lost that tense, haunted look it wore for the first month he spent here. He must have showered in the gym because his hair is slightly damp, his curls feathery and soft, and oh, it looks so cute ...

Okay, where did *that* thought come from?

He pushes himself over to sit next to where I'm standing. He peers at me.

"Are you okay?" he asks. He sounds concerned.

"Yes ... yes. Why shouldn't I be?"

"You look a little washed out. Tired." He's still looking at me intently, and now he's not smiling.

"Thanks, Josh. I can see how your tact and diplomacy is a real asset to the government," I snap. I know he means well, and secretly I'm pleased he thinks enough of me to ask, but I really *don't* need to be told how unattractive I look this morning. Especially as I saw Donna Moss last night who, even after a full days work in the White House, looked like she'd just visited a beauty salon.

"All right, I'm just sayin' ... " he says defensively.

Now I feel bad. "I'm sorry. I didn't sleep well last night and this morning I was five minutes - five *minutes* - late and got yelled at."

"Nurse Rached giving you a hard time?" he asks. He's smiling slightly, like he's said something amusing.

"What?"

"Santini ... she's, like, Nurse Rached."

By this time I'm looking at him blankly. This is going *way* over my head.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? The head nurse? Jack Nicholson tried to throttle her?" He gives me a look of disbelief. "You haven't seen it, have you? You haven't seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

"Josh! That film was made before I was born!" I can't believe he's getting so worked up over this.

"Well your education is sadly lacking," he says. "I'm going to get the DVD and we'll watch it."

"Whatever." I can't be bothered to argue about a stupid film.

"So, she tore you off a strip for being five minutes late?" he asks, returning to my original complaint.

"I can't understand her. One minute she's really encouraging, then next I can't do anything right." I'm horribly aware that I'm whining like a ten-year-old.

"Like what?" Josh settles down to listen, all teasing forgotten.

"Well, she asked me to special you, knowing it wouldn't be easy," I start.

"Hey!" he shouts. "Nurses were falling over themselves to look after me. Count yourself lucky you got the chance."

"You know what I mean."

I pull up a chair. I'm starting to enjoy getting some of this off my chest, although I'm not going to tell him about everything that's on my mind today.

"So that was a challenge, and she took a bit of a risk giving someone so inexperienced the responsibility," I continue. "But then I do some really simple task, like reorganizing the supplies closet, and I can't seem to reach her oh so high standards."

Josh nods.

"Has it ever occurred to you that she gives you a harder time because she expects more of you?" he asks.

"How do you mean?"

"Well ... " he draws the word out. "It's possible - no, I would say highly probable - that she's seen your potential and she wants to stretch you. Maybe when she's hard on you it's because she knows you're capable of much more."

He shrugs.

"That's the way I see it."

"She's asked me to take part in a case conference next week ... on my own," I tell him. Up to now my participation in these things has been with a more experienced nurse, but to my surprise she suggested it would be a development opportunity for me to be the only nurse present along with the doctor, social worker and the patient.

"Really? Whose?" Josh asks nosily.

"Josh! Confidentiality! You know I can't tell you." I guess he's not used to being told that. In his job I'll bet he has to deal with all sorts of top secret stuff.

"Right. Sorry," he says. "But see - it proves my theory about Santini. Maybe she's not as bad as Nurse Rached."

"I'm a little nervous," I admit. "I'll be the most junior one there."

"Sometimes nerves are good. Not too many, but enough to make you want to do a good job," Josh advises.

I'm not convinced.

"Just so long as I don't say anything stupid."

"Julie, as long as it's a subject you know about, you won't." He starts to laugh a little. "Believe me, I'm speaking from experience."

I can sense he's going to relate some story from the White House. Josh is a lot happier these days, and lately he's been willing to let himself think about his career. He's still wary about talking about when he'll return to work - I think he still harbors a residual concern that he won't be returning to his old job - but he's been telling me a lot about what it means to work at the highest level of government. I like it best when he tells me tales of some of the funny things that have happened, and I wait eagerly to hear this latest one. He leans back in his wheelchair, folding his hands behind his head.

"See, there was this time when CJ had root canal work. Or 'woot canaw' work I should say. She couldn't pronounce my *name* let alone do that afternoon's press briefing. So I said I would do it. I mean, CJ's the best, but she's got her own style which can be kinda informal, so I thought let's see how they take a little discipline in that press room. I mean, how hard could it be?"

I'm suddenly reminded of a profile on the Internet that my political junkie brother showed me a couple of days after I'd met Josh. It painted a picture of a brilliant and ambitious politician, but also described him as 'arrogant' and 'sure of himself'. There's something in his demeanor now as he relates how he approached the briefing that allows me to see a flash of the behavior implied by those words. But instead of the negativity the writer had sought to portray, I only see something that gives me ... well, a shiver up my spine. A not unpleasant shiver, I might add. Eventually I start laughing as he tells me how he realized it was harder than he thought dealing with the press, ended up inventing a secret plan to fight inflation, then had to face the President.

"That's better," he says as he finishes the story, "at least I made you smile."

"Yeah." Unfortunately the real reason for my gloom finds its way back to the front of my mind. I *was* unhappy about the way Santini yelled at me, but I knew that I could handle it eventually. I wasn't so sure about my other problem. Josh catches my change of mood.

"But there's still something bothering you," Josh remarks, catching my change of mood.

I move to stand up, smoothing my tunic. Josh leans over, touching my arm lightly, indicating that I stay sitting.

"Josh, thanks for the chat and the advice, and I loved your story, but I need to get back or I really will be in trouble."

"Look ... " he stops, giving me a slightly embarrassed grin, "I know this sounds corny, but ... not so long ago someone knew better than I did that I needed to unburden myself. I hadn't done it with anyone else until this one individual who was patient enough to persevere with me. I'd like to return the favor."

That does it. I can feel the hurt and sadness overwhelm me. I grope in my pocket for my handkerchief and wipe my eyes before I start howling.

"Oh, Josh. It's my parents. They're getting divorced. They told me last night."

Josh moves himself closer to me.

"I'm sorry, Julie. I really am."

His voice is very quiet and soft, the way it gets when he's being thoughtful or serious about something. It's kind of soothing. He doesn't say anything else, doesn't question me, just lets me sit there until I'm ready to speak. He clasps my hand in both of his. For the first time I notice that he has the nicest hands I've ever seen on a man. They're strong but the fingers taper. They actually look quite artistic. What are you doing, I think. I'm sitting here, and in the midst of all my miserable self-absorption I'm admiring Josh Lyman's hands of all things. Still looking down I try to explain how I'm feeling.

"I didn't even see it coming. I've lived in my own place - well, I share it with another nurse - for the last couple of years. Whenever I saw them I never actually heard them arguing or anything. All they said was they'd been growing apart ... their own interests ... there's no one else involved but ... God, it's such a mess ... "

"Did they tell you together or ... " Josh lets the question hang in the air.

Now that I'm sure I'm not going to cry I lift my eyes from their contemplation of Josh's hands to see him looking at me, his head tilted on one side.

"Yeah, both of them. My brother and I went round for dinner and that's what happened. After dessert my parents tell us they're splitting up and my dad goes back to the hotel he's been living in for a week. Talk about happy families!" I spit the last part out as maliciously as I can.

"But you're still a family." Josh's voice is louder now, insistent, trying to convince me of something I don't think I can believe in anymore.

"Well it doesn't feel like it!" I stamp my foot, quickly realizing how childish the action must make me look. I pull my hand from Josh's because I feel like I'm crossing some sort of invisible line that exists between patient and nurse, then run my hands through my hair. "Last night I slept at home in my old room with my teddy bears and I felt like a child again. All I wanted was my mom and dad there."

"When I woke up in hospital after I was shot, there were only two people I wanted to see," Josh says. "One of them was ... well, they couldn't be with me a whole lot of the time for various reasons ... but the other one was my mother. I remember waking up and seeing her sitting by my bed. It was like being a kid again, like when you're sick and your mom lets you stay home from school. I kept drifting off to sleep, but if I woke and my mom had stepped out for a minute, I'd be asking where she was. A grown man, I hadn't lived at home since I was eighteen and went to college, and all I wanted was my mom. It's what happens when you feel hurt and vulnerable. You forget you're all grown up."

I open my mouth to speak but find I can't, momentarily distracted from my own troubles at the thought of this strong, confident man lying in such helpless agony. I can't help wishing I'd been there for him at that time.

"Anyway," he goes on, his expression brightening a little, "they're getting divorced from each other, not from you. In the final analysis you still have two parents who love you."

I notice that as he says this he's not looking at me any longer but gazing at something over my shoulder. I turn round and I finally deduce that he's looking at the pictures Jane Lyman placed on his nightstand. One of them is a family group. I go over and pick up the photograph.

"Do you mind?" I ask.

He shakes his head.

Two people. A tall man who looks a lot like Josh, a small woman beside him. Two children : a little boy with a shock of curls and a beautiful girl of about ten years old. They're all smiling at the camera, the mother and father standing proudly behind their son and daughter. It's the first time I've really looked at this picture.

"You're lucky having two parents, even if they no longer come as a unit." Josh doesn't say this in a self-pitying sort of way as if he's trying to put me on some sort of guilt trip. It's more a statement of fact. I know his father is dead - Jane told me that not long after I'd met her and her son.

I sigh. "You're right. I'll keep reminding myself of that."

I look again at the image in the silver frame as I place it back on the nightstand. Josh has never mentioned the girl in the picture.

"Is that your sister?" I ask.

"Mm-hm."

I walk back over to Josh, resting my elbows on the back of the chair I vacated and leaning against it.

"Does she live a long way away? I only ask because she hasn't visited."

"No. Joanie's ... " He clears his throat. "Joanie died in a fire when I was six years old. She was twelve."

"Oh, God. I'm so sorry. Me and my big mouth." I put my head in my hands. I can't bear to look at Josh, see the pain that flitted briefly across his face.

"Don't worry about it. You're talking to someone who's in a class of his own when it comes to big mouths."

I catch the smile in his voice and decide I can look Josh in the eye. Nowadays the humorous side to his personality is so much more evident. Mind you, sometimes it can still be a touch bitter, but today Josh has been not so much a patient as a friend. I feel comforted and supported, but somewhere at the back of my mind is a little warning voice reminding me of that invisible line.

I look at my watch.

"I really *must* go now. Do you want some lunch?"

"No thanks. I'm meeting a couple of the guys downstairs in the coffee shop," he replies.

"Okay. Josh ... "

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. You've really helped. And I'm sorry if I upset you when I asked about your sister," I say feeling awkward.

"I was happy to listen, and no, you didn't upset me. I'll tell you about her sometime if you like."

I open the door and he follows me out into the corridor. Santini glances up from behind the nurses' station. Josh tugs at my arm and motions for me to bend my head.

"It's us versus Nurse Rached," he whispers.

"Josh, stop it!"

He wheels himself towards the doors, then suddenly spins around, giving me a wicked, dimpled grin, then he's gone. My stomach lurches as if I'm in a fast moving elevator. The warning voice is more insistent now because I feel like a cliché from a bad romantic novel .

I'm falling in love with my patient.

***

It's Sunday and for once I haven't shown my face at work. Not even for half an hour. Since Friday it's been pretty quiet, and barring emergencies I've decided to let my deputy press secretary handle things today. My pager and cell phone have remained silent and I'm confident that no one's decided to start a war, instigate a coup or become embroiled in a sex scandal. So instead of sitting in my office keeping a weather eye on the TV screens and waiting for Leo or Toby to give me some situation to spin, I've sorted my laundry, defrosted the fridge and given my apartment more attention than it's had for months. But now I'm a little bored with domesticity, and because my vacuum cleaner isn't a great conversationalist I'm getting a little desperate for some company. Figuring Josh may be feeling the same if no-one else is able to visit today, I drive over to the hospital, stopping on the way to pick up a couple of magazines and some fruit.

I ask Josh's nurse if he's in his room as I pass the nurses' station, and she nods and smiles. There's a small window next to the door to Josh's room. The blinds are open, which means he isn't in the middle of some medical type activity, and when I glance through the glass I see that Sam has already beaten me to it. Josh is telling Sam some story, complete with wild arm gestures, and from where he's positioned between the bed and the window it's not evident that he's sitting in a wheelchair. For a moment I expect him to stand up and start pacing around the room as he usually does when he's excited or angry or both. Sam's leaning back in his seat smiling at Josh with a mixture of affection and amusement; the image framed in front of me is like a depiction of the depth of feeling that I surmise is meant by male bonding. I must be getting sentimental or something, but I suddenly feel thankful that Josh has his friendship with Sam to sustain him. I'm not sure his other friendships provide half as much support.

"Hey, guys."

As I go into the room, I hear Josh laugh and see Sam is leaning towards him, talking softly. When they see me they jump apart and fall silent. Maybe it's just my imagination, but in the last few weeks it's not the first time I've felt as if I've intruded on something private. I don't just mean in terms of a conversation, I mean ... hell, I don't know *what* I mean. It's as if the atmosphere in the room has shifted. Or something. Anyway, they fall silent as Sam stands up to give me his seat.

"Slow news day?" asks Josh as I sit down.

"This is the thanks I get for feeding your mind and body." I hand him the bag of fruit and the magazines.

"Is there a cheeseburger in there?" he asks hopefully.

"Yeah, it's banana flavored," I reply.

Sam drags another chair over and sits down.

"So, what were you two sounding so conspiratorial about when I walked in?" I don't suppose they'll tell me, but I like yanking their respective chains.

Josh's eyes flick over towards Sam. "Nothing," he says. "I was just telling Sam about some properties the realtor sent me."

I don't believe him for one minute, but I guess if I can get Sam alone I can beat it out of him what they're plotting. So instead of pursuing it further, I say, "Oooh, let me see," because I am actually very interested in Josh's apartment hunting.

He tosses over a couple of glossy booklets and I start to flick through them, half listening to the desultory conversation he and Sam are having on some football game they've both seen. Josh has put ticks and crosses against various properties.

"This is a nice one - why've you put a cross against it?" I ask, pointing to a picture of a two-story apartment block.

"No elevator," Josh answers matter of factly, "and all the available apartments are on the second floor."

"So why did the realtor include it?" I ask.

"Because they don't go to the extent of producing brochures especially for their wheelchair using clients," he points out. "In case you hadn't noticed we're pretty much in the minority."

I glance up but Josh doesn't look particularly upset or annoyed, he just looks as if he's stating the obvious. I continue flipping thought the pages, one ear tuned into Josh and Sam talking.

"Is your mom coming by today?"

"Leo took her to lunch. She'd only go between my house and the hospital if he couldn't spare the time."

"When is she going back home?"

"She's threatening to stay until I'm settled in my new apartment, whenever *that* is."

It's weird, I've listened to these two guys talk and argue and banter, in the West Wing, in the Oval, in hotel rooms, in bars, in my apartment or their apartments, but I've never heard them sound so *awkward*. They're acting as if they're just acquaintances, not best friends. Maybe Sam still feels uncomfortable with Josh's disability, but that's not the impression I got earlier when I looked through the window. I'm just perusing the floor plan for a converted loft apartment as I work out how to break into this oh-so-polite little tête-à-tête when Josh asks me about the briefing I gave last week on the latest polling figures. My next session with the press corps will be a breeze after answering the million and one questions Josh fires at me about variance and trends and the impact of the "don't know" responses on the bill we're trying to push through on child care.

We eventually exhaust that topic of conversation, so I give Josh the latest gossip from the pressroom. He cheers up considerably when I tell him a rookie reporter from NBC has dumped Pete Sewell. Schadenfreude doesn't even begin to cover it. After a while the conversation begins to dry up. With the best will in the world I find it difficult to keep Josh entertained - my God, you'd think I talking about a child - without reminding him of how much he's missing out there in 'the real world' as he puts it. To make matters worse, this building is too hot and I'm getting sleepy.

"Keeping you awake, CJ?" asks Josh as I stifle a yawn.

"Wow, Josh, on the CJ Cregg scale of sarcasm that only rates a two," I reply. "Hospitals always make me tired - I think it's the thought of all those beds makes me want to take a nap."

"Right." He goes quiet and looks down at his feet. I hate myself for giving him the - false - impression that visiting him bores me. I look over at Sam, but he's no help at all as he's just sitting staring out of the window, his mind obviously someplace else. Once more I wonder what's going on. Maybe they'd rather I wasn't here.

"Time I was making tracks, I have some reading to do before tomorrow." I stand up, nudging Sam with my foot to get his attention. "When can I expect that statement on those new defense contracts?"

That manages to drag him back from whichever parallel universe he's been visiting as he replies, "It'll be on your desk at seven."

"That'd be seven *am*," I say wryly.

He makes an impatient 'tsk' noise. "*Yes*, seven am. Why would I mean otherwise?"

" 'Cos for the last half-hour you look as if you'd be hard pressed to say what day it is."

He walks over to stand in front of me while I pick up my purse and root around for my car key.

"In fact," he proclaims in a magnanimous tone of voice, "I'll come see you before staff and throw a few questions your way so you can try out a few responses. How's that?"

"Sounds great. And don't forget the President wants us around for that group of city counselors from Arkansas. The First Lady's been giving him grief about the budget cuts to the city clinics down there."

Sam groans. "Do I have to? I mean, I know it's important but Toby and I ... "

"Yes, Spanky, you have to and the same goes for your boss."

We carry on in a similar vein for a couple more minutes until I look over Sam's shoulder and see Josh's face. He appears as if he's aching to be a part of it and I feel guilty when I think how we've been rattling on as if he weren't even in the room. Sure, he never expects us to avoid talking about work - far from it, he's always positively hungry for discussions about policy and strategy and even all the humdrum bits of news that emanate from the White House. But that's different. In those conversations he's involved, we're talking *with* him, he's an active participant. Today we've excluded him as if he's no longer a part of our world, and I can't bear to see the sadness in his eyes.

"Sorry about the shop talk Josh." I try not to labor the point, figuring that will make him feel worse.

"That's okay - I'm just thankful I don't have to placate some angry Arkansas folk."

He smiles, but I can tell it's forced, that he's putting on an act. No matter how much he's adapting to his situation, being reminded of how much he's missing in the West Wing still gets to him.

"Hey, give me a hug," I say as I lean towards him.

I put my arms around him, kissing the top of his head. I feel so much affection for Josh at this moment I want to weep. I don't of course. Josh would hate the sympathy even more than Sam and me ignoring him.

"It won't be long now - you'll soon be home."

"Yeah, I can't wait," he says softly.

So softly in fact that I can hardly hear him. But then it becomes apparent his reply wasn't directed at me, because as I stand up I see Josh isn't talking to me. He's looking at Sam, who's gazing right back at him. It's over in a split second, that look they exchange, but it's as if I've been standing in a darkened room with some shapes that I can only just make out and then someone puts the light on and everything becomes clear.

"I'm going to stay a while longer until Jane gets here."

Sam's voice breaks through the revelatory moment I'm having. I hope I don't look as stunned as I feel. All at once I can't wait to get out of here, go home and try to make sense of something that I can't believe has just become obvious now. As I walk out into the corridor I look through the window, intending to wave goodbye. But neither Josh nor Sam is looking. Instead, they're sitting deep in conversation and this time I know it's not polite small talk.

It's dark by the time I return to my apartment. I switch on the lamps that make my home look so cozy, feeling grateful for this all too rare chance to enjoy some time to myself. Going into the kitchen I debate whether to have coffee or something stronger. I go to the wine rack and pull out a bottle of Rioja. I've got some thinking to do, and a nice glass of red will help me relax.

I take my drink into the living room, sitting in a chair beside the window. I love the view from my apartment - it overlooks the Potomac and the lights twinkle on the opposite bank. A boat sails past. From the number of occupants and the lights festooned above the deck I can see it's one of the many vessels that are used for parties and other celebratory functions. As I take in the scene I sip my wine, trying to disentangle the thoughts and images that are darting around my head like atoms.

The campaign trail. Josh turning up with this gorgeous creature that he said could write like an angel. Smiling excitedly as he introduced him to the team. Sam sitting in meetings hanging onto Josh's every utterance. Josh looking on with pride as the Governor spoke the words that Sam wrote. At the time I thought it was so sweet that these two good friends had such a regard for the other's work.

The night of the Iowa caucus. Me dancing with Toby, but I still catch Sam mouthing something at Josh. I thought it was 'Thank you', but now I'm sure it was something else.

Josh lying on a gurney at GW. Sam racing up to him, grabbing his hand, saying, 'I'm here, Josh.'

And today. The talk and laughter as I looked through that window. The polite, bland conversation that seemed to be for my benefit. The look, the shared moment they thought I hadn't seen.

Yep, it's the last piece of the jigsaw. It's three cherries clicking into place in the fruit machine.

On the campaign trail that wasn't regard but love that I saw.

In Iowa it wasn't 'Thank you', it was 'I love you'.

At GW it wasn't '*We're* here Josh' but '*I'm* here."

This afternoon that wasn't platonic male bonding I saw. The idle chitchat was a smokescreen.

And that look? It spoke of intimacy and passion and sheer, unadulterated longing.

And now I know.

Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn love each other. No, correction: they're *in* love.

Once again the thoughts are bouncing around inside my head as I contemplate the still waters of the Potomac.

First I think about what the political ramifications will be and how I spin it if it all gets out.

Then I wonder how on earth have they managed to conceal this for so long?

And despite the potentially explosive nature of this situation, I can't help but smile.

Because I'll bet they're *sooo* hot together.

PART 3/5

I'm standing in my office, back to the door, looking up something in a textbook on international law. Out of the corner of my eye I see a blurred shape which, it becomes apparent, is in the process of removing my glasses. I hear them being tossed on my desk but I can't see it because my eyes are now covered by the opposite hand to the one that divested me of my eyewear.

"Guess who?" It's hardly a whisper, more like a breath. No, it *is* a breath - I can feel it on my neck.

"Senator Broomfield?" I venture, deliberately choosing the name of the oldest member of the Senate. Eighty-two at his last birthday, if I recall correctly.

"Hmmm."

I turn around as Josh snorts scornfully. Immediately he's all over me, one hand on my ass, the other gripping the back of my head as he jerks me towards him. We stand like that for a second or two, groin against groin.

"Josh." Now *I'm* whispering, my voice hoarse and urgent. "We can't ... we can't just out ourselves *here*, like this."

My gaze drifts over his shoulder, and with a rush of relief I see the Communications bullpen is totally empty. *That's* weird, I think.

"I want to do you out there, Sam." His eyes are half-closed; he jerks his head back towards the work area that's usually a hive of activity. "I want to take you body, mind and soul right in the middle of the West Wing."

He grabs my hands, and despite my better judgment I let him drag me out of my office. He stretches an arm out behind him and with unerring accuracy swipes papers, files, pens and pencils off an adjacent desk. A stapler bounces across the floor and a White House gift shop mug smashes into several fragments. God knows what he would have done if there'd been a computer there too. The next thing I know Josh has performed this nifty maneuver so that I'm lying back on said desk, with him kissing me while at the same time rubbing his hand over the rapidly growing bulge in my pants. He's groaning and talking dirty, but over all that I can hear the President's voice somewhere nearby.

"Of course, the word 'economics' is derived from 'oikonomikos', which means 'skilled in household management'. However, modern economic thought didn't emerge until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ... "

Oh, God, I know I should make Josh stop but my groin feels like it's on fire. In fact, we're generating so much heat I suddenly realize we've set off a smoke detector. Oh, man, this is bad on so many levels. I look up into Josh's face. He's giving me that lopsided, sexy, slightly mocking smile that makes my spine turn to jello.

The President's voice is getting louder. "When Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776 ... "

I know we'll soon be waving goodbye to our careers, but Josh has got his hand inside my pants and I have no inclination to stop this. I close my eyes as he begins working my cock harder and harder. The damn smoke alarm is getting louder and I open my eyes as I feel my semen spurt out.

My eyes meet Josh's smiling face. But it's surrounded by a silver frame.

And the smoke alarm is actually my alarm clock.

The semen's real enough, though.

"Fuck."

Another wet dream. Another night without Josh. Another day of wishing and hoping that Josh would call a halt to our mutual self-denial.

"You're killing me, baby, you know that?" I say to the picture on my nightstand. My God, he's even got me talking out loud when I'm on my own.

I throw back the covers, strip off the sheet and throw it into the laundry basket. I decide to delay making the bed until I turn in tonight. Toby and I have got a pre-meeting before we try to drum up support for the latest health initiative. We can't afford any more amendments to the bill that's being worked up, so we need to sort out who's going to play good cop and bad cop. Or more correctly we need to sort out when my good cop will be replaced by Toby's bad cop. So all in all I don't have time for housekeeping.

I turn the shower onto cold hoping it will take the edge off my frustration a little. I stand the needle sharp spray for as long as I can before adjusting it to hot. Tilting my head up, the water pours down my face, making me gasp as it pours into my nose and mouth. Shaking my head to clear my ears, at last I feel wide awake, the dream-induced fogginess in my mind dispersed.

As I pull my clothes on I concentrate my mind on this morning's meeting, running through strategies that I can suggest to Toby. Of course, if Josh were around, he wouldn't be handling this double handed. He'd just swagger in there, tell them exactly what he wanted to get out of the meeting, make the deal and swagger out again. Although sometimes it *did* entail some subsequent firefighting on the Hill if he'd let his mouth run away with him. But when it came down to it, those were the types of negotiations he was good at and he didn't need another person in there to handhold him through it.

Handhold. Now there's an unfortunate turn of phrase. Why do so many of my thoughts about Josh these days turn to the physical? Probably because the sight of an increasingly healthy and fit Josh reminds me of what I'm missing. What *we're* missing. He's getting stronger every day, he's lost that horrible washed out look he was wearing for a couple of months after the shooting and he certainly seems happier. No, more than that, because for a few weeks after he was admitted into the rehabilitation hospital it was as if a quality that was uniquely Josh had been taken away from him. Sure, he never shirked from his physical therapy, he worked hard at finding ways to maintain his independence and he became a little more sociable, but it was as if that bullet had broken his spirit as well as his body. Then about a month ago something happened.

I'd gone to see Josh in the late afternoon. When you walk into Josh's ward there's a small waiting room to the left. It's usually used by visitors when they have to vacate a patient's room to allow some medical procedure to be carried out. But on this particular day as I walked past the open door I heard a familiar voice. I was pulled up short as I realized it was Josh talking. He was talking in a way I hadn't heard in a long, long time: well, not since a warm May day in Virginia. Forceful, voluble ... *determined*. Arguing, as far as I could tell, the case of a teenage tetraplegic whose parents didn't want him to take a trip to a baseball game with his buddies. I made myself scarce, and thirty minutes later Josh came into his room to find me sitting there reading a magazine. It transpired he'd found the fourteen year old patient in tears because his - not unnaturally - over-protective parents were dead set against the idea of him leaving the hospital for a few hours in the company of a group of boisterous, physically active adolescents. Josh being Josh was fired up enough to use his not inconsiderable influencing skills to persuade them otherwise. And judging by his face and the way he sped into his room you'd think he'd persuaded the Republican leadership to renounce their allegiance to gun ownership, pass the patient's rights bill unopposed and vote for a tax hike to fund childcare for working mothers.

And that was the day Josh's emotional wounds began to heal.

Picking up my watch from the nightstand I look at Josh's picture feeling something not unlike an ache inside me. The only word that describes how I feel at times like this is bereft. It's not about sex - no, wait, I suppose it is to a degree - but it's also about being close to Josh, about sharing, about the intimacy we used to enjoy. If and when we share a bed again I don't know what the sex will be like, but I just want the chance to either succeed or fail as a lover in this new situation. I have no doubt Josh loves me. We've graduated from mouthing the "L" word to actually saying it to one another. Which is what happened last Sunday just before CJ visited. Fortunately we're such masters of misdirection that there's no *way* she could have suspected anything.

Six am. I decide to skip breakfast. I'll grab something from the mess that I can eat while I meet with Toby. I want to maintain my focus so that my thoughts don't keep getting hi-jacked by the unsettling images of that dream I just had. I grab my briefcase, making a quick detour to the kitchen to take a gulp of water from the last bottle of Evian in my fridge. As I step out of my building the dawn-washed sky and the freshness of a fall morning convince me to walk rather than drive to work. The weather has been unseasonably warm, so it's tempting to grab some fresh air before I enter a building that can both energize and enervate, but which I nevertheless love. But I have an ominous feeling about today. A difficult meeting, a speech that's gotten stalled halfway through my writing it, not to mention the fact that I haven't seen Josh for a couple of days. I'll visit him this afternoon and I'm scared he'll detect the frustration I'm experiencing. I hate myself for feeling this way, it makes me guilty and angry all at once.

This is *so* shaping up to be a bad day.

" 'Morning Mr Seaborn."

I flash my security card, step through the metal detector and make my way to the West Wing. It's six-thirty and already the place is buzzing. Cathy follows me into my office.

"Sam, Toby wants to see you before your nine o'clock."

"I know. I arranged the pre-meeting myself." My tone is a little terse, but with some justification I think.

"Okay, don't shoot the messenger. And here are the abstracts you asked for from that conference on social policy." She dumped the file on my desk with a little more force than was strictly necessary. "And I only mention the pre-meeting because Toby thought you might need reminding."

"Thank you."

I rearrange my face into what I hope is a placatory smile. Inside I'm actually seething because the sub-text of Toby's comment is saying something about me being distracted and forgetful. And the annoying thing is he's right.

Cathy swings out of the office and is immediately replaced by Toby, who grips the doorjamb with one hand so he's hanging half in and half out of my office.

"Ah, good. You're here," he remarks.

"Unless I'm a particularly convincing hologram, yes, Toby, I am actually here." My answer is snappy rather than witty.

"Hm, rancor at ... " he glances at his watch, "six-forty. Well done. It usually takes me at least half an hour after I've gotten here."

I plant my hands flat on my desk, leaning on them heavily. Toby doesn't move from his position in the doorway, but the look he's giving me isn't encouraging.

"I ... I just need a caffeine fix," I protest feebly. "I'm going down to the mess. Can I get you anything?"

"A better humored deputy?" he throws back at me as he turns and walks away.

Yeah, 'cos you're a regular Pollyanna, I think to myself sourly as I check I have my wallet before heading out to the mess. On my way out of the bullpen I see Toby poke his head out from his office.

"Five minutes, Sam, my office." He holds up a hand, palm towards me, fingers splayed out to emphasize his command.

I take the stairs down to the mess quickly, thoughtlessly, as I've done hundreds of times before. I don't know what makes me do it, but as I reach the last flight I suddenly imagine Josh getting down here in his wheelchair. Except he won't be able to, because due to the eccentricities of the White House, the elevator doesn't come all the way down to this floor. I stop at the bottom of the staircase, look up, then down towards the mess itself. There's got to be *some* way in apart from the stairs, otherwise how do the staff get all the supplies down here? I push through the double doors and grab a bagel and a cup of coffee from the counter.

"Are the stairs the only way down here? I mean, how do you transport supplies and equipment?" I ask the woman who takes my payment.

She gives me a pitying look.

"There's a service elevator." The statement has that questioning upward inflection at the end that implies I may be senior staff but I'm distinctly lacking in common sense.

"And can anyone use it?"

She hands me my change. "I guess ... if you *want*."

"Where is it?"

She gestures behind her. "In that little corridor next to the kitchen. Through

that door."

Great. Josh can share an elevator with sacks of potatoes and catering size cans of soup.

"Thanks." I pocket my change and feel her eyes following me as I leave. Yep, today just got even better. I don't think.

By noon all indications are it's going to get a whole lot worse. I'm sitting in the Mural Room with Toby. Opposite us are a phalanx of Republicans who've been giving us a hard time on a range of issues from child vaccines to care for the elderly. But we're okay, we're holding our own, and I think wins are about seventy/thirty in our favor.

Then we get to stem cell research.

We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but as the room's occupants turn the pages of the bill's proposals to the appropriate section, I can feel them bristling.

"Absolutely not," says Samuelson, the senior Republican present. "This will stop the whole bill. You push for this and everything else you want will be dead in the water."

"Senator," begins Toby, and I can tell he's struggling to keep a reasonable tone to his voice, "we're talking about a strictly controlled number of scientists having access to the cells. The research they'll be permitted to carry out will be for therapeutic purposes alone. *Therapeutic*."

He repeats the word with added emphasis.

"I find it interesting that a bill that wants more funding for intensive care units for premature babies is also wanting to fund the technology that proposes the use of unwanted embryos to obtain cells," Senator Bryce, the representative for Kansas, retorts.

"We're not talking about using sentient beings here, we're talking about a cluster of cells produced as a result of IVF procedures that would otherwise be disposed of," pointed out Toby.

"We can't allow scientists to play God with living tissues, tissue that could one day be used to create clones." Samuelson was jabbing his finger on the oak table to make his point.

I can't take this sort of hysterical claptrap any longer.

"We're not talking about playing God, we're not talking about clones. *That* is the sort of rhetoric that stifles any rational debate about these issues. We're talking about curing or at least alleviating the effects of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, diabetes. We're talking about giving some hope to people paralyzed because of traumatic spinal cord injury ... "

Samuelson interrupts me with a snort of laughter, and a glance to the female senator sitting to his left.

"What was that for?" I demand.

"What?" At least he has the grace to look defensive.

"What you just did. The laugh."

"Sam ... " Toby's voice warns me.

"Well excuse me for being cynical, but doesn't your administration now have some sort of vested interest in the problems of paraplegics?" Samuelson retorts.

I stand up, gathering my papers together.

"If by that comment you're referring to Josh Lyman who, by the way, sustained his injury while serving at the pleasure of the President of the United States, then I think this meeting is closed. When you can come back to us with a more cogent argument to support your opposition to this research, feel free to give my assistant a call."

As I turn my back to walk out I'm aware of a row of gaping Republican mouths.

I'm also aware of the white heat of Toby's displeasure radiating towards me. I don't close the door behind me, and as I walk away I hear Samuelson's voice drifting from the room.

"It's a pity Josh Lyman is still hospitalized - he wouldn't have allowed this debacle. At least you can always rely on him to do a bit of horse-trading."

And the worst of it is I know he's right.

I reach my office at last, slamming the door shut behind me. This state of affairs doesn't last long as I've no sooner sat down than Toby pushes the door open, almost breaking the hinges in the process. If he could I think he would have just walked right through it leaving a Toby-shaped cartoon style hole in it.

"You do realize we've probably lost the bill now?" His voice is ominously low.

"Their arguments, Toby ... I wouldn't care if they could come back at us with some well-reasoned, rational arguments. But it's the contempt I can't stand. It's just ... that ... " My voice trails off lamely.

"You left me in there, Sam. Did you think I'd be able to run interference after that?" he demands, not unreasonably I have to concede.

I shake my head, looking down at my clasped hands. I realize I'm sitting like that to stop them shaking.

"I'll go see Leo - this one's down to me. I don't take back what I said, but he deserves an explanation." The anger's still there. Anger at Republican stupidity, anger at the irrationality of people who see sciences as some unholy black art, and anger for the fact that someone dared to use Josh as a cheap shot.

"No, you're not going anywhere near Leo. You report to me, I was the senior member of staff in there. You might be responsible for your comments, but I'm accountable. Besides ... " I can't be sure, but I think I can detect an infinitesimal softening of his tone, "Leo's gonna be mad and I don't want you making things worse."

This is the point where it really hits home what I've done.

"Toby, just let me ... " I begin, but I know it's hopeless. It's very rare that I feel the superior/subordinate dynamic, but there are times when I know how far I can go. And this is one of them.

"No. Get your not inconsiderable intellect into gear and come up with some ideas about how we can fix this, *then* you go and see Leo. You know, Sam, your reaction in there ... I know how passionate you are about this research. Believe me I feel the same. But it's controversial - my God, it's *more* than controversial, to some people it's like we're getting into Dr Frankenstein territory here. They're not just going to roll over because we talk at them." He stops, giving me a look that's both challenging and curious. "Sam, the way you acted - I know he hit a nerve, but you're so ... *raw*. It's as if your response to everything these days is magnified."

I know he's right. But how can I tell him that I feel I've shed a couple of layers of skin since Rosslyn? That my moods swing from a dizzy thankfulness that Josh is still alive to despair at what's going to happen to the two of us? That I'm so much on love with a co-worker it's starting to drive me nuts that he won't let me express my love in anything more than occasional whispered endearments? I can't tell Toby any of this, so I just shrug.

He sighs. "Go take a break. Clear your head. I'll see you later. Let me know what you come up with," is his parting shot as he goes out the door.

I pick up a pencil and tap it furiously on my desk. Toby's right. I need to get away from this for a few minutes. I grab my car keys and go visit Josh.

It doesn't take me long to reach the hospital. Well, that's a relative concept. What I mean is it's one thirty in the afternoon so the traffic is a steady, slow moving stream rather than a steady, non-moving gridlock. When I reach Josh's room I wish I'd called first - he could be anywhere in the building. But instead I find him there reading a newspaper and eating lunch.

"Hey!" he says, looking pleased to see me. "You're early - what gives?"

He's right. If I visit him during the day it's usually late afternoon. I sit down and watch as he folds up his newspaper, tossing it to one side.

"Have you eaten?" he asks.

"No ... actually no, I haven't. I've been in a meeting and I wasn't sure if I'd make it later today, so I decided to skip lunch and see you instead."

What I really mean but don't say is that I'll need the rest of the afternoon to come up with some damage control then meet with Leo and Toby. Or alternatively, I need to keep the afternoon free so Leo can kill me.

"Here," he says, handing me the uneaten half of his sandwich.

"No, Josh, you should eat it," I protest.

"You mean I need fattening up?" He's grinning and oh, my, it's so good to see him like this. "It's not exactly gourmet, but if you can stomach the food in the White House mess, you can eat anything."

I give up refusing the food, and take the chicken salad sandwich from him. As I eat it, Josh gets a glass from his nightstand, pours some water into it and hands it to me. He lifts up the half empty bottle in a mock toast and takes a swig.

"Gracious living, huh?" he asks.

"I went there this morning," I announce.

"Mmm?" he questions, taking another drink. "Where?"

"The mess. In the White House," I add unnecessarily.

Josh gives me an ironic half smile and I know some sharp retort is forthcoming.

"Sam, I know my activities here are fairly limited, but you must think I'm *really* bored if you think I want to hear what you had for breakfast. You want a yogurt? It's low fat." He picks up the container standing on his lunch tray.

"No, you eat it. I'll have an apple." I get up and take one from the fruit bowl, then I go to stand against the wall by the window. "Did you know the elevator doesn't go all the way down to the floor that the mess is on?"

"God, why couldn't they give me a doughnut," Josh says in disgust, shoving the yogurt pot to one side. "Yeah, I knew that."

"I found out this morning that the only way you'll be able to get down there is by using the service elevator."

"Yeah, I know that too. In fact, I've been *in* that very elevator." Even a bit of information as mundane as this makes Josh smirk at the idea of knowing something I don't.

"When?"

"Remember that time about a year ago when that delegation of British MPs visited?" He pauses as I nod. "Well if you remember, I got into a conversation with a couple of them - one who wanted to modernize the monarchy by having a more streamlined royal family, and another one who wanted to ban fox hunting. I merely said - as a *joke* - that they could keep a lot of people happy by banning fox hunting and letting the hunts people chase superfluous members of the royal family instead."

"And the press got hold of it ... " I interject.

"... and the day after I'm in the mess and I hear CJ yelling that she'd like to set a pack of fox hounds on me, so I ask if there's another way out and someone points me to the service elevator. I was out of the building and in my meeting on the Hill before CJ had the chance to say Yankee jackass."

Josh is *definitely* smirking now.

"Until she caught up with you that afternoon and gave you a verbal beating," I point out.

"Yeah, there is that," Josh says. "I got some idea of how the fox must feel."

"You don't mind, then?"

"What - CJ administering one of her regular punishments?" he asks.

"No. Having to use a service elevator." Personally I think it's an affront to his dignity.

Josh shrugs with a studied casualness. "Why should I? If I'm still gonna be working in the White House I've got to eat."

I don't like that 'if' but I let it go.

"So, apart from checking out the mess for wheelchair access, what else is new?" Josh queries.

I shake my head. "Don't even ask."

I'd come here today intending to unburden myself to Josh, but now I feel ashamed at my incompetence. How can I tell someone as able as Josh that I'd blown the whole meeting and the chance of any positive outcome? But then I look Josh in the eye. Seeing the concern he's feeling makes me think this isn't just about me. I know he always wants to help if there's something worrying me, and these days *he* needs to feel needed more than ever. Maybe by sharing this I can process what happened and at the same time help Josh feel a part of things outside the narrow confines of the hospital.

"Have you got a few minutes to spare?" I ask, gazing out at the blue sky while I wait for his answer.

"Why don't we go get some air and you can tell me all about it," Josh suggests, wheeling over to the closet and pulling out a jacket.

I don't protest as I follow him from the room.

As we walk through the hospital Josh is stopped a couple of times by people wanting to chat and he calls out greetings to sundry other patients and medical staff so I don't manage to start the conversation until we're almost outside.

"Who was at this meeting?" asks Josh as I begin telling him the whole sorry tale.

"Samuelson, Bryce, de Silva, Hatcher. Samuelson's new chief of staff."

"The usual suspects," is the wry response. However Josh doesn't say anything further apart from the occasional "hm" and the odd muttered expletive as I describe the increasingly disastrous scenario that unfolded.

Eventually Josh takes me to an area in the hospital grounds known as the Therapeutic Garden. I love the ethos of this facility that the people who spend time here after illness or accident need more than treatment for their physical condition. Initially Josh had kicked against this, dismissing it as 'New Age crap', despite the fact that the NHR had been practicing all sorts of therapies long before they became fashionable. But eventually he began to accept that his recovery went far beyond his chest and spinal injuries, and he opened his mind to the counseling on offer and what they call therapeutic recreation.

Josh steers us towards a bench on the periphery of a large grassy area. In the middle is a sculpture fountain that he once told me is called the Victory of Human Spirit. Nearby I see a man in a wheelchair with two small boys. They're throwing a ball around, and listening to their laughter I can't help but think how apt that title is. The sound of the water from the fountain soothes me, and as I sit down I'm grateful to Josh for having the consideration to lead us to this restful spot. Although he gives me anything *but* a considerate look when I tell him about my diatribe that included my little paean of praise to him.

"You shouldn't have done that, rising to the bait when they used me to rile you," he protests. "I could care less what a bunch of sanctimonious, anti-science Republicans think about me *or* the administration."

"I guess. Anyway, the upshot is that it looks as if we don't have a Wellbeing of the Nation bill anymore," I conclude.

I'm sitting at the end of the bench and Josh has maneuvered his wheelchair so that he's sitting right alongside me. But not touching, of course. How I wish we were.

"All the people at the meeting are against stem cell research," he verifies.

"Well," I say, stretching my legs out in front of me, "Samuelson was the most vocal, but I took the silence of the others to mean they were right alongside him. But to give him his due I did hear him say something to Toby that if you'd been there you wouldn't have allowed things to get so out of hand."

"Damn right I wouldn't," he says loudly. "I could have told you this would happen."

"Then why didn't you?" I demand, still nettled by the fact that I've had to tell Josh Lyman, political fixer par excellence, about my spectacular screw up.

"You didn't ask me," he retorts, his voice quieter now.

Hence his statement earlier: '*If* I'm still gonna be working in the White House.'

Josh leans forward, leaning his elbows on his knees, stroking his steepled index fingers up and down his lips. I say nothing, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought.

"You haven't forgotten about those tax breaks we've proposed to encourage expansion into those areas where the more traditional manufacturing industries are declining?" he asks.

"That's a different bill entirely," I point out.

"Think laterally, Sam. Companies that want to get into stem cell research on the ground floor while it's still relatively new - find out what their lobbyists are saying, find out who they're lobbying. There's a powerful informal caucus within the Republican Party that wants to negotiate the value of those tax breaks, and I'll bet they've been approached. *They're* the Republicans you want to talk to. And eventually there'll be profits from this research."

At the mention of the profit motive directing science I open my mouth to protest. Josh holds his hand up.

"Hear me out, Sam. Sometimes we have to accept that business and science have a symbiotic relationship. But if we've got the checks and balances in there, if it's carefully regulated why shouldn't it benefit humanity? And do we as a nation really *want* our scientists to go work in the UK where they'll have more freedom to carry out this research? 'Cos that's what will happen if we don't get this bill back on track." Josh finally stops to draw breath.

I finally find the words to respond. "God, we need you back, Josh."

He just smiles, then for the next ten minutes he outlines how Toby and I should go about retrieving the bill. I remember him once saying that I'm the creative, poetic half of our partnership, and he's the nuts and bolts guy. But as I listen to him putting this plan together I realize that there's poetry in the way he formulates a strategy, that it's an art in itself. Fortunately I always carry a small notebook in my jacket pocket - hey, who knows when inspiration might strike for a speech?- so I pull it out and scribble down the key points. Just as I'm writing down the last of the names Josh suggests, a ball bounces over towards us. Josh picks it up and throws it to one of the two small boys I noticed earlier.

"Thanks, Josh!" he shouts, catching it and taking it to his dad, who manages to throw it a little way. It's only then I notice he's actually sitting in a powered wheelchair.

"That's Stephen who I threw the ball to. He's nine," said Josh. "His brother Nathan is six. Their dad John was a construction worker. He broke his back when he fell from some scaffolding. Paralyzed from the mid-chest so his arms are affected."

"That's so tough," I sigh.

"He used to coach Little League," Josh continued, "but he found out that they've appointed a new coach now. Said that for health and safety reasons they couldn't have someone who lacks mobility in charge of a bunch of kids ."

"But he could still *coach*, couldn't he?" I'm aghast. "Couldn't some of the other parents help out for the more active stuff? Why didn't they wait until he left here and look at the options?"

"You're right - look at what people can do, and not what they can't." Josh's expression was neutral, but I knew he was thinking the same as me: why don't we use his knowledge and expertise now? Why wait until he's back in the West Wing?

"I'm sorry, Josh." I gesture with the notebook I'm still holding. "We should have come to you for your input."

He shakes his head and gives a slight laugh. "I know you've been told not to bother me with work while I'm on sick leave. But I'm not sick now. Everyone just needs to accept that."

"Okay. I'll pass the message on."

I put my notebook and pen away, glancing at my watch.

"Sam." Josh's tone has changed, it's more urgent somehow. "I need to tell you something before you go. "

"Go on."

"I know ... I know how hard it's been for you, these past few months." His voice is low, so low I have to strain to catch the words. "Work, visiting me, keeping things ... us ... what we can do ... under control. I know I've put an intolerable strain on you ... what I'm trying to say ... oh, crap!"

He rubs his fingers across his forehead, a gesture so familiar when Josh is under pressure.

"Sam, I've come to a decision."

So this is it, I think. I close my eyes, waiting for Josh to tell me that it's not working, that we might as well finish it now. Why else would he be agonizing over articulating what he wants to say? My fist clenches involuntarily as I wait for this day to get even worse.

"I'm ready," Josh continues. "Remember that day when I said you'd know?"

My eyes snap open. How could I forget? How could I forget the pledge I'd made? No touching, no kissing, no physical expressions of love until Josh was ready.

"Well, this is it. I want us to ... " His voice chokes up a little. "I want it to be more than just words ... "

His voice is low; I know he's obscuring the true meaning of what he's saying because we're in a public place, even though there's no one within earshot. But I know exactly what he means. I can't find the words to let him know how deliriously happy I feel. Which means I'm just sitting here staring at him, my mouth slightly open, giving Josh the entirely wrong message about what I'm actually feeling.

"Okay," Josh says. "You don't have to say anything. Just ... just forget I mentioned it ... we'll just keep things as they are ... friends, right? 'Cos that's not gonna change."

He turns his face away, but not before I see a tear trickle slowly down his cheek. He tries to brush it away surreptitiously.

"Anyway." His voice sounds a little *too* upbeat. "Don't you have some calls to make?"

"Josh." At last I find my voice. "Don't you know you've just made me the happiest man on the planet?"

His head whips round.

"I have?" he asks.

I nod, and for a few seconds we gaze at each other. I don't mind admitting I'm in something of a quandary. How do we do this? Not here, I'm sure Josh hadn't planned on the Therapeutic Garden as the scene of our first tryst.

Wait a minute, did I just say tryst?

"So ... " I begin.

"I thought," Josh begins, "if you could get some free time, we could go out someplace. Get away from here. Maybe sometime this week?"

"That'll be okay? You can do that?"

"Sam. " And now Josh is laughing. "The therapists positively encourage it as a means of regaining independence, etcetera, etcetera, but I didn't want it to be an organized hospital thing - it's a bit too much like being bussed out into the community. I promised myself that the first time I leave this place will be with you, and I didn't want to do that until I was ... ready. In terms of ... 'us'."

"I'll check my schedule as soon as I get back."

"No," Josh contradicts, "you'll speak to Leo and Toby about how you're going to save the bill, *then* you'll check your schedule."

"Okay." I smile, acquiescing gladly.

"You should get back."

"Yeah," I agree reluctantly. "You going back in?"

"No, I think I'll sit here awhile."

I look down at Josh sitting there in the sun that is so warm for the time of year. He looks up, the smile on his face reflecting my own happiness.

"Thanks, Josh."

"What for?" he asks.

"Oh, just ... everything."

"Sure."

At last I manage to drag myself away. As I walk towards the exit I turn around and see one of the little boys - Nathan, I think - go up to Josh. He pulls some sort of small toy out of his pocket and shows it to Josh, who then follows him onto the grass, joining in their ball game.

I didn't think it was possible to love someone as much as I love that man.

I spend the next few hours putting Josh's plan into action to save the bill. After a few choice words from Leo about my performance earlier that day, he gave me a free hand to put things right, so here I am making phone calls. arranging meetings and, it has to be said, eating some humble pie with Senator Samuelson. But by eight o' clock this evening things look a whole lot better than they did and Toby is finally starting to cut me a little slack. I even find time to look at my schedule, making sure it's clear for Friday afternoon. I can't wait to tell Josh, so on an impulse I decide to visit him again this evening and give him an update on the afternoon's events. I'm just signing out in the lobby when I hear a familiar voice.

"Well if it isn't Sam Seaborn, the man who can single handedly kill and reanimate legislation in the space of one day!"

CJ's tall figure appears beside me. The several brown paper bags she's clutching indicates she's been buying takeaway.

"I heard about the meeting and your subsequent heroic efforts to retrieve things," she says. "You're certainly keeping the press corps on their toes. But it sounds like you've got things back on track. Congratulations."

"Don't congratulate me, it's all down to Josh. he came up with the strategy."

"Ah." She gives me a look that I can't read, it's kind of knowing and thoughtful. "You wanna come and celebrate with beer and Chinese?"

"No. Thanks. I'm ... er ... going to see Josh."

"Ah." Another look, the significance of which eludes me. "Give him my love."

"Right."

As I walk out of the building I can't for the life of me fathom her behavior. I shrug my shoulders. Women.

Josh is in bed watching television when I walk into his room. I close the door before I greet him.

"Hi, babe."

"Sam!" he says, with something like delight in his voice. "Twice in one day."

He switches off the TV.

"Don't turn it off on my account," I tell him.

"It's only a rerun of Frasier. So, to what do I owe the honor?"

I drag a chair over and position it next to his bed, leaning my elbows on the edge of it.

"Oh, I just thought I would drop by to tell you how wonderful you are."

"That's nice," he says in throwaway fashion, but I can tell he's pleased. "So, things went well, I take it?"

I proceed to tell him about my meeting with Leo - and Leo's message "to tell Josh chances are he's saved our collective ass" - and my subsequent phone calls. I have a crowded timetable of meetings for the next couple of days and I'm hopeful we can achieve a positive outcome. Then I get to the other reason for my visit.

"Are you free Friday afternoon?" I ask.

He looks at me, deadpan. "Well, I'll have to consult my social secretary, but I guess I can find a window for you."

"Good. What do you want to do? Go for a drive, see a movie ... you choose."

"Can I think about it, Sam?" he asks.

"Sure. Whatever you decide, just say the word."

We stop talking and the tension between us is palpable. I know Josh wants the same as me - he wants us to touch hands, kiss, share some small intimacy. I'm finding it hard to keep my hands away from Josh's arm - it's near enough for me to stroke it. As if he's reading my thoughts Josh breaks the silence.

"I know what you want to do, Sam, but not here, okay?"

"Not even a peck on the cheek?" I plead.

"It's been so long. Even if that's all we do on Friday, I don't want our first time to be here. I want it to be away from the hospital, and illness, and all the ... the ... clinical stuff. I want it to be *special*. Can you understand that?"

"Yes, Josh, I do," I say.

And I mean it. I do understand. Totally.

Josh covers his mouth and yawns.

"Stay with me 'till I fall asleep?" he asks.

"Of course."

"I love you, Sam, you know that, don't you?"

"And I love you. More than you can ever know."

So I sit there quietly and watch Josh close his eyes. I stay for another thirty minutes, just enjoying the sight of my lover lying there. When I'm sure he's in a deep enough sleep for my departure not to disturb him, I stand up next to the bed rail. I love Josh Lyman because he's clever and funny and handsome and sexy and kind. I always did. But now I add another quality to that list. It's not just that Josh is strong. He always has been, like when his father died and on his return to the campaign I was the only one who witnessed the sleepless nights, the weeping and the agony of Josh not being able to tell his father goodbye. I could use a word like bravery or courage. But the word I want to use is one you don't often hear these days. Josh is valiant.

And as I watch him I have to fight the urge to bend down and kiss him. But I don't, because even if he were totally oblivious to my action I'd know I'd betrayed his trust. The need to show how close to him I feel persists, however. So as gently and delicately as I can, I stroke his hair with the back of my fingers. Josh doesn't stir, but he murmurs something unintelligible in his sleep. My breath catches in my throat as I hear my name.

"Goodnight, my darling," I whisper.

I take my leave, opening and closing the door as quietly as I can.

It has, in fact, turned out to be a *very* good day.

PART 4/5

I can't sleep. My mind's working overtime, my emotions are all over the place. Because tomorrow - or should that be today? - I'm leaving this place for a few hours to be with my lover. At least I hope he's still my lover. Well, at least I should know by tomorrow evening whether we can still do anything remotely at all like lovers do. Although we can still kiss, hold hands, cuddle. 'Cos that would count as being lovers, right?

So I guess I should be excited. Yes, I *am* excited. But I'm scared too and there's also a little bit of guilt mixed in there. So in the absence of counting sheep - which, by the way, I've always thought of as a singularly stupid thing to suggest as a cure for insomnia unless you're, like, an actual *shepherd* - I'm lying here giving my emotions star ratings in terms of the power of keeping me awake. In ascending order, of course.

Coming in at number three we have guilt. Bottom of the list because over the years I've gotten used to feeling guilty about all manner of things. My sister not surviving the fire when I did; me not being there when my dad died; the idea of abandoning my friends and keeping myself safe in some bunker with the President. Tonight it's all to do with my mother. There she was this afternoon worrying about me going off on my little jaunt with Sam. By that time my happy anticipation of the next day's outing was starting to turn into an acute feeling of nervousness, so her own anxious questioning didn't help matters. What will we be doing? Will he tire me out? (I hope so, but let's not go there). Don't forget to take a jacket in case the weather turns chilly. Don't stay out too late ... and on ... and on ... Until eventually I just yelled at her to stop treating me like a child and it might be a good idea if we both took a break from each other's company, so why didn't she go back to Connecticut? Which she did, wearing an expression on her face which screamed out, "You're an ungrateful son, can't you see what you're doing to your mother?" Hence the guilt, because a little part of me feels a sense of relief that she's gone, while another part of me hates hurting her. I'll give it a couple of days then I'll call. See, I told you I could handle the guilt. Really, I can.

A little way ahead of guilt in the rankings is excitement. I'm always pleased and excited to see Sam, but this is different. I've booked a hotel room outside DC. *Our* hotel. The one we used to stay at when we wanted to go and indulge ourselves in mad, rampant sex, where we knew there wouldn't be the risk of someone we knew or a photographer seeing us. God, the thought of us alone, in a bedroom that's not in a hospital, where we can talk, kiss, touch ... We can look at each other without worrying about our faces betraying what we really feel. I can hold Sam's hand, we can ... What? What can we do?

And that's why right out in front comes scared. I'm scared of what Sam will say when I tell him I want us to go to a hotel. I'm scared he'll say that's not what he wants. I'm scared that if and when we get there we'll be too embarrassed to do anything much. I'm scared that maybe Sam will want us to make love and I know we can't. Not in the way we used to, anyway. And if that doesn't matter to Sam and he still wants to go to bed with me regardless, I'm scared of his reaction when he sees me naked. I'm scared he'll flinch like he did when he saw my scar. I'm scared that he'll be repelled by the way my legs just lie there, paralyzed, unmoving, like two dead things. I'm scared I can't satisfy him. I'm scared that he'll try to satisfy me and I can't feel anything anywhere in my body. But what scares me more than anything is not knowing. Not knowing whether Sam really still loves me in every sense. Not knowing whether I can still make Sam happy.

So I lie here in the dark and I think about tomorrow. Because scared or not, at least tomorrow, one way or the other I'll *know.*

***

I can't sleep. I walked out of the West Wing at eleven pm, came straight home to bed expecting to go out like a light. Two hours later I'm still lying here thinking about tomorrow. Or should I say today? Whatever. I should be happy about meeting Josh and taking him out for the afternoon. Just the two of us. Together.

We haven't got any firm plans, so I thought maybe a movie first. There's a Farrelly brothers' comedy, a romcom with Jennifer Lopez (I think not), and a couple of kids' films. Everything else seems to be crime or action and I've discounted those because there's bound to be guns. So it looks like the Farrelly brothers' comedy.

Okay, then maybe something to eat. Pizza? Chinese? A steak? As long as there's wheelchair access - that's the main thing.

Oh, God, what if Josh needs to use the bathroom? I know he manages on his own in the hospital, but will he need me to help if we're in a restaurant? Should I ask him if he needs help? Or wait for him to ask me? What if he's too embarrassed to ask for help?

Then there's his wheelchair. I'll have to fold it up to put it in the trunk. Right, that sounds easy. Wait, will the trunk of my car be big enough? And will Josh be able to manage to get from his wheelchair into the car okay? What if he slips and falls?

Jeez, this is a minefield. In the hospital everything's fit for purpose, it's safe, Josh can't come to any harm. But tomorrow he'll be with me, outside the hospital, and I'm sure I'll screw up. What if he needs me to push his wheelchair and I tip him out of the damn thing?

I really want tomorrow to go well. If anyone's going to screw things up it'll be me. I mean, Josh has chosen me as the one he wants to go with him on his first outing. But I feel so unprepared, so inadequate. I don't know what's expected of me, or how much I'm supposed to do for Josh. I hope he's fit enough. He *seems* pretty healthy - I mean he works out and plays basketball and there's all that physical therapy. I'm picking him up at one o'clock and I don't have to be back at the White House until nine, and if I know Josh he'll want to make the most the most of it. Please don't let him get exhausted. I'd never forgive myself if he became sick. I still worry that his arterial repair will give way or he'll have a heart attack or something. Or at the very least that his back will go into one of those spasms he still gets. I *know* he's making a good recovery, I *know* he's getting stronger, but there are times when I visit him in the evening and he looks so wiped out. They're the times when I really, really want to hold him close, comfort him, care for him.

Maybe I can do that tomorrow. Maybe we can find somewhere private, even if I have to drive the car to a secluded place somewhere.

So I lie here in the dark and think about tomorrow. Because no matter how unsure I am now, at least tomorrow, one way or the other I'm determined to make Josh happy.

***

"I want to undress you."

I look at Sam, knowing that we've reached some point of no return. We've been in this hotel room an hour now and what have we done? We've kissed, I've cried, Sam has pleaded with me to love him, insisting that the fact I can't thrust inside him and make him scream and shout matters not one bit. So if I get into that bed with him, I don't have a clue how this will work out, but I sense that it will be a turning point.

He takes my silence for assent, which I suppose it is as I lift up my arms and let him pull my sweater over my head. I force myself to look him in the eye, gauging his reaction to the full on sight of the scar and bullet hole that's made an ugly mess of my chest. But there's no look of horror, or disgust. Not even mild distaste. Instead Sam's got the ghost of a smile on his face, and his eyes look hungry. I've seen that look before. I know what it means.

He wants me. Oh. My. God. If I'm not mistaken he still thinks I'm attractive.

He leans over and kisses me on the cheek.

"My guy," he murmurs.

He slides his hands down my legs, down to my ankles and slips off my socks. I flinch a little inside, hoping the idea of touching my legs and feet doesn't repel Sam. But then he does the most unexpected thing. He bends his head and kisses first one foot, then the other.

"You don't mind?" he asks.

Mind? I think I've lost the power of speech, I'm so bowled over by his actions. I'm scared to speak in case I turn into a weeping, gibbering wreck, so I just give him a quick shake of the head. Then he smiles shyly.

"Thing is, Josh, I want to kiss you from head to toe, and all points in between."

He slides back up the bed, kisses me on the forehead, and proceeds to unbuckle my belt. God, I've got to remember to keep breathing, 'cos now he's unbuttoning my jeans and pulling down the zipper. It's only when he stops and raises an eyebrow quizzically that I realize he needs some input from me to get my pants off. So I put my palms flat on the bed, raise my ass and Sam slides my jeans and boxers off so adroitly it's almost as if he's been practicing. Okay, so I know he's undressed me many times before, but now the practicalities make it a little more complicated.

But it doesn't faze Sam at all.

And now I'm naked. It's at this point that I can't look into Sam's eyes any longer, not now he can see all of me. He lays his hand against my chest and I can hardly bear to think that he might be forcing himself to touch me there. I start to tell him I know I don't look the same, but he stops me by placing a finger against my lips and reassuring me with one word. "Perfect." It's an intense moment, the emotions swirling around are so exquisitely, finely balanced that it makes me shiver. Sam mistakenly thinks I'm feeling cold, so suggests that I get under the covers. That poses another logistical problem, but we make a good team as I move a few inches down the bed, Sam pulls down the covers and I manage to slide under them. So easy it makes us laugh.

I'm glad I can use the sheet to cover me. I sit here in the bed with it pulled up to my upper chest while Sam sits there, gazing at me. Now we've gotten this far - and believe me, it's further than I ever envisaged when I booked this room - I want him next to me here, now. So ...

"Sam, this bed's too big for me on my own."

I lean forward to unbutton his shirt, but he doesn't need any further encouragement. He must be going for some kind of world record in undressing, the rate that he's abandoning his clothes. His boxers are the last item to join the others on the floor when he stops momentarily.

The sight of him takes my breath away. I know my mouth is slightly open and my eyes are even wider as I take in the sight of his hair, his eyes, the slight tan that's just golden enough. Then there are his toned arms and chest, his torso tapering towards his hips, the athleticism of his thighs. And already he's half erect, and while I hope his desire for me has something to do with that, I can't help but compare his body with mine. The slight feeling of self confidence that I'd experienced a few minutes ago subsides slightly. This man is as near flawless as anyone can get, and I know I can't compete with that. I never could, but that's just increased by tenfold. But I think: I'm naked, he's naked, I can't reach my wheelchair from here, so what the fuck. Sam looks hesitant, as if he can read my mind, interpret my concerns. If I don't do something he's just gonna stand there and get goose bumps.

"Now *that's* what I call perfect."

It's not exactly poetry, but it does the trick. Sam climbs into the bed and all my doubts disappear as his body touches mine. My arms are around him, he lays his head on my shoulder and I can't believe I've denied myself this for so long. His skin is warm, his hair soft as I brush my lips against it. I take a deep breath, squeezing my eyes tightly shut as I take in the intimacy, the strength in his arms as they encircle me. My hand skims down his arm, makes contact with his thigh until I finally take the velvety hardness of him in my palm. My fingers enclose him, but the moment is broken as Sam blurts out how I can't know how good that feels, his words immediately followed by a tensing of his body and a stammered apology . No, no, no, this is just what I don't want to happen. Okay, things are never going to be the way they used to be, but lovemaking is never going to be natural again if Sam is constantly monitoring his language. So I tell him it's all right, and that seems to calm him somewhat.

And then I look at him, and soon we're kissing slowly, languorously , until it builds, carrying us away. My body jerks and I gasp as Sam's fingers trail down my spine, the delicious sensation making me kiss him all the harder. I'm pushing him back against the pillows, struggling to turn my body to lie against him. The top half I can manage, but if I'm to move my legs I'm going to have to loosen my embrace, and I don't want to do that. But then Sam takes hold of my right leg, then the left, and moves them gently so that I'm in exactly the right position to shift my kisses from his mouth to his face to his neck.

How did he know how to do that? No, don't analyze it, just go with it because this is so good and Sam is moaning so appreciatively and ... and ... I didn't know it would be like this, the sounds he's making are turning me on. His body is so familiar, I can remember all the places to touch him, to kiss him, to nip him with my teeth. Down his body I go, reveling in the feel of his skin against my lips. I'm sucking his nipples, teasing them, loving the way they harden in response, Sam's body writhing beneath me increasing my own arousal. As I reach his taut stomach, his cries are getting louder, and he begs me to take him in my mouth. Okay, it's a bit of a challenge reaching Sam's groin, but I get there, prolonging his agony a little longer by planting some kisses on the inside of his thigh. Yeah, that's for me, 'cos that's a part of Sam's body I love to kiss. But he's becoming more demanding now, and he's squirming so I give him a little bit of sexual banter before I brush my lips against his swollen balls, finally swiping my tongue against his shaft. Sam gives a guttural cry as I open my mouth and take him inside. I'm reminded of how big he is, and as I suck him I alternate this with exploring him, the feel of Sam's prick familiar against my tongue. I find that sensitive place at its base so I tease him, enjoying the noise that he's making. His hips buck frantically, I'm taking him as far back into my throat as I can until I sense his body stiffen and he fills me, hot and sticky and magnificent.

Oh God, I can still make Sam come.

I rest my head somewhere in the region of his stomach listening to him gasping and making little helpless, moaning sounds. I detect my name in there somewhere; it makes me melt inside. I run my fingers along his hip bone, not attempting to move, happy enough to be still and enjoy hearing Sam's very obvious satisfaction. Then I feel him grasp my hand tightly. I lean my other elbow on the bed and lever myself up so we're face to face, then mouth to mouth as we kiss and wrap our arms around each other. I don't need to communicate with Sam as I turn myself over so that I'm lying on the side opposite to the site of my gunshot wound. He doesn't protest, but slides one arm under me, while he starts to run the fingers of his other hand through my hair. It feels incredible, and reminds me of a dream I had the other night that Sam was standing next to my bed in the hospital and touched my hair. But this is the here and now and Sam is telling me how wonderful the sex was. I press my back against his chest, thinking that he'll probably just want to nap now. I don't care, I'm content just being here in Sam's arms.

Except ... oh, oh, wow, he's running his hand down my chest, touching my nipples, teasing them, stroking them. I nearly leap off the bed, it's so electrifying. He's caressing my chest, my stomach and oh, please, yes ... he's kissing me and now his lips are nibbling my earlobe. All the while he's asking do I like this, and how does that feel, and I can't believe that he's pushing all the right buttons. I get him to touch my nipples a little more and from the position he's in against my back I can feel he's getting hard again. That makes me groan even louder, and suddenly the most important thing in the world is that Sam touches my neck. I manage to gasp the request, and as soon as his fingers stroke me I realize that what had always been a sensitive spot is now explosively responsive. Maybe other parts of my body are starting to compensate for those areas where the feeling has gone. I don't know for sure, but what I *do* know is that my upper body feels like one terrific erogenous zone.

At least that's what I thought until Sam lies me on my stomach, and then I know that what I've been feeling so far is only a fraction of how good it's getting. His hands are on my shoulders, massaging, fondling. I'm groaning and gasping, my breath coming ever more rapidly as Sam runs his fingers down my spine. Then the kisses start, following the same path, and it's so pleasurable I can hardly bear it. I'm almost weeping when I feel Sam's thumb gently stroke the small of my back. Oh, fuck that's good, don't stop ... let me on top, let me touch you Sam, but don't stop touching me.

And Sam does exactly as I ask. He rolls onto his back, pulling me with him so that our bodies are pressed together, but not so much that I can't wrap my hand around Sam, hard, beautiful Sam. I kiss him roughly, our teeth grinding together and all the while Sam is stroking the small of my back and the sensation is more intense and sexual than I could ever have imagined. In the back of my mind there's still a little bit of disbelief that I can be fully satisfied sexually without experiencing any sensation below the waist. Until the point where I'm kissing Sam's neck and I hear him cry out.

"Josh, you're my baby, you're my sweet, sweet baby."

And at that moment the final barrier falls. The part of me deep inside that I thought had been frozen forever when the bullet hit me suddenly thaws. I knew I'd physically survived - how could I not - but now I know I'm emotionally alive. I never, ever stopped loving Sam. But now I know I can love him totally. Now I know I can *be* loved.

I don't need to be scared.

I'm shaking and crying because I know I'm climaxing as everything I can feel at that moment is concentrated on that one area that Sam's caressing, but the orgasm's not just physical it's in my mind and emotions too. And oh, it's so good, and I love you, Sam, I love you ... oh, Sam ... I'm screaming the words out loud and as if in reply Sam's body jolts and for the second time today he comes. He clutches me tightly and holds me against him. I'm glad he does because the force of his own orgasm is enough to topple me from where I'm lying atop him, especially as I can no longer use my legs to grip him. My balance is a little off these days, and somehow Sam understands this. Together we weather the sublime storm, until at last we're spent. For a minute or so we just lie here, our breath coming in labored gasps. My heart's beating fast and I can hear the blood singing in my ears, but I feel alive. It's the most alive I've felt since that night in May.

Eventually Sam moves slightly beneath me, raising his arms to place his hands on either side of my face. He kisses me frantically - my cheeks, my eyelids, my mouth - then he shifts his body so that he gently rolls me over on my back, being careful not to crush my immobile legs with his own, very active, ones. After one more loving kiss he leaves me to go into the bathroom, returning with a damp washcloth. Getting back into bed he tenderly wipes my chest and belly that are sticky with his cum. I touch my fingers to his face.

"Thanks, sweetheart."

Sam flashes me a grin filled with affection and understanding. He knows I'm talking about more than his current attentiveness.

"Always a pleasure, babe," he replies.

After cleaning himself he slides down into the bed, pulling me towards him. I lie curled up in his arms. I feel more than loved. I feel *cherished*. We haven't spoken any more than those few words, so now we share a quiet, post-coital conversation reflecting on the sweetly profound lovemaking we've shared. After a while, Sam orders me to get some sleep and I'm happy to give in to him. But I don't sleep for long and now I'm wide-awake I take the opportunity to rerun this afternoon's experiences through my mind. Sam's fast asleep. His hair's a little mussed up and he looks slightly flushed the way he always does after sex. For such a good-looking man he's strangely unaware of his beauty, but in actual fact it's peerless. His physical perfection, however, is nothing compared to what's inside. Because today he's shown me patience, and love, and imagination. He's shown me there's more than one way to be a lover. Trying not to wake him, I trail my index finger along his jaw line.

"I love you, Sam Seaborn," I whisper out loud.

I close my eyes, knowing that he's made me whole again.

PART 5/5

The rain is hitting the window in sharp, staccato bursts, reminding me that I didn't bring an umbrella with me this morning. If I'd left work at my usual time I would be sitting in my apartment now, warm and cozy while my roommate regales me with tales of the hard day she's had in the ER at GW. But I've decided to stay on for a couple of hours longer, so I'm taking the opportunity to write up my notes on a case conference I attended yesterday. Santini's bustling around on the ward, so she's letting me use her office to allow me some peace and quiet. I glance at my watch. 8:45 pm. I'm thinking I hadn't realized it had gotten so late when I hear voices drifting through the half-open door. It's Josh laughing at some one liner he's just made, and no sooner has he gone past than Stacey shoves her head in the door.

"Your boyfriend's back," she whispers.

"I don't know who you mean," I reply, keeping my eyes fixed on the computer screen.

That, of course, doesn't stop her coming into the room. She shuts the door, which tells me that she's going to persist with her teasing.

"Joshua, the handsomest, cleverest, nicest patient in the hospital," she continues.

I crumple up a piece of paper and throw it at her, hitting her squarely on the forehead. I wish I'd used Santini's ornamental paperweight instead.

"Please don't talk about Josh that way."

I save my document into the shared drive then shut down the computer.

"Don't be so coy, Julie. You should have left hours ago, but you wanted to make sure that your baby got home unscathed."

Stacey's been going on like this for weeks. I've not said a word to her about how I feel about Josh, but she's obviously picked up on it from my words and behavior. It started off with little comments about how much I talk about him, how much I say he makes me laugh, how in awe I am about the job he's got, then it gradually turned into quips like the boyfriend one. What makes it worse is that I'd *love* to be able to talk to her about it, the fact that I know how hopeless it is, that I'm not the sort of woman the Josh Lymans of this world date. I just don't think she'd understand because Stacey just wants to have a good time. Which, I presume, is why she's hanging around here herself in case that new doctor shows up. She bends down, retrieving the paper I'd thrown at her before dropping it in the wastebasket.

"Hey, that guy he works with was with him. He is *so* hot. I wonder if he has a girlfriend?"

"I don't know and I don't care," I retort. "Shouldn't you be doing something useful like annoying the dashing Dr Jack Carr?"

That hits its mark, because she looks a touch crestfallen. "He's engaged. So," she continues, brightening just as quickly, "d'you think you could put a word in for me with Josh's friend?"

"I've never even spoken to him," I tell her. "Even when he's been there when I've gone into Josh's room. I don't think I've seen him raise a smile, so I guess he'd be the date from hell."

She shakes her head so emphatically her bobbed hair whips across her face. "You're wrong - he was laughing and talking with Josh when they just came in."

"He was?" I ask doubtfully while I begin gathering up my papers since I have to go and check Josh's blood pressure before I leave. Who am I kidding? What I really want to know is how his afternoon went. Good, by the sound of it. If even miserable Sam Seaborn was smiling it must have been a success.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Stacey calls as we walk towards the nurses station. "Give Josh my love."

She winks broadly as she pushes through the double doors. Wishing I'd had time to think of a sarcastic reply I find the blood pressure monitor and go to Josh's room. I assume Sam Seaborn will have gone by now, so I rap quickly on the door and without waiting for a response I open it.

"Hi, Josh, I've come to take your blood press ... "

For a split second my brain doesn't process the sight that greets me as I enter the room. Josh is here but he doesn't hear me. Sam Seaborn is with him and it finally registers that he's sitting in Josh's lap and ... oh my God ... they're kissing. And when I say kissing, I mean they're kissing like ... well, like *lovers*. My first reaction is to get out of here before they realize I've walked in, but something must have alerted Josh because his head shoots up and he pushes Sam away. Unfortunately this has the effect of Josh's wheelchair rolling backwards and hitting the wall behind him. Sam turns his back, thrusting his hands in his pockets as he moves over to the window. I don't know if it's shock or hysteria but I suddenly have an uncontrollable urge to giggle, but I manage to calm myself, trying to act as if nothing has happened under cover of setting up the blood pressure monitor and wrapping the cuff around Josh's arm. I can't meet his eyes as I work, and I'm painfully aware of Sam Seaborn glaring out at the rain as it pours down. The silence is deafening. I've got to say something, so I decide I'm on safe ground letting Josh know what the reading is.

"It's a little high - what have you two been up to today?"

Oh, no, did I really just say that? They'll think I'm making some snippy comment on their relationship. I can feel a blush starting down at my toes and racing up to the roots of my hair. I wait for Josh to yell at me and Sam to march me out of the room and report me to Santini. But instead I hear Josh asking if this should worry him and he sounds exactly as he always does. I look up from his chart, steeling myself to make eye contact with him. He's smiling slightly, and I get the impression he's trying to tell me that everything's okay without actually saying it in so many words. The tone of his voice is enough to tell me that he wants to save me from any more embarrassment. Sam Seaborn, on the other hand, looks as scary as ever. He's most certainly *not* smiling, and I can see a small muscle at the side of his face twitching, his jaw is clenched so tight. I'm only going to make the situation worse if I say anything more, so I play it safe by reassuring Josh he should be fine as long as he gets some rest, before making myself scarce.

I have never been so glad to get out of a room. I put away the blood pressure monitor before bolting to the ladies room, praying that no one else is in there. Thank God, it's deserted. I stand against a basin, and as I think about what just happened I go hot and cold all over again. I turn the faucet on, letting the water run over my hands before splashing it on my face. Tearing at the paper towels that I use to blot my face dry, my face stares back at me from the mirror. I look stupid and naive, I decide. There was me with a crush on a guy who I knew, in my heart of hearts, would never look at me as anything other than his devoted nurse. Yeah, maybe there's a little friendship in there as well, but nothing more. But all along I'd thought my rival was Donna Moss, and in my more hopeful fantasies I saw Josh deciding she wasn't the woman for him, he wanted somebody younger, somebody more caring.

But I never figured on my rival being a man.

Once more I see the image of Josh and Sam entwined around one another. I remember Stacey saying how they were laughing when they came back on the ward. And I recall how Josh's eyes were shining when he looked at me. I could see an indefinable change in him since I'd last seen him this morning. It was happiness. *Real* happiness.

And despite everything, despite the fact that my heart is aching just a little, that makes me happy too.

***

The door closes behind Sam and already I feel lonely for him. I managed to keep a smile on my face as he left, but all the time I wanted to beg him to stay, just another few minutes, don't leave me alone here. I should be accustomed to it, but now that I've finally let Sam get close again, now that we've made love, I don't think I'm going to be able to bear spending my evenings without him.

I need to get out of this place as soon as I can.

I want my work.

I want my friends.

Oh, God, I want my lover.

This is crazy. We've spent a fabulous day together and now I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I've been away from the hospital, away from physical therapy and counseling and vitals being checked. Away from the institutional feel of the place. Away from *sick* people. I've breathed in real, non-DC, fresh air. I got in and out of Sam's car without giving him a heart attack.

And not forgetting the fact that Sam and I made mad, passionate, this-is-for-keeps love that I can safely say was mutually satisfying despite the fact we've had to adapt our technique somewhat.

But the sheer joy of rediscovering one another, reaffirming our love, the just *being* together makes our separation that much more difficult to cope with.

And then there's the little matter of Julie walking in on us.

The mere thought of it makes me groan out loud. I cover my face with my hands, agonizing at the mental image of Sam sitting in my lap while we neck like a couple of teenagers. I'm not ashamed of being gay; I'd love to be able to show affection to Sam without fear of the consequences. But even if we were totally out and proud I wouldn't want to express my feelings for Sam quite so explicitly in front of anyone else. Maybe a kiss or holding hands, but not the full on making out that Julie witnessed.

Especially as no one knows about Sam and me. We've always been so careful, never sleeping together when we're away on official business. If Sam stays at my place or I stay at his we never enter or leave together, and always park our cars a couple of blocks away. And I can't believe it happened here, of all places. It makes my embargo on physical contact seem a tad ridiculous. All those months of keeping Sam at arms length, all those times when I've wanted him to wrap me up in is limbs and his body, the days when I've had to steel myself against the almost uncontrollable desire to feel those wonderful soft, pliant lips against mine. But give me one afternoon in bed with Sam and I throw caution to the winds. Which is *exactly* the reason why I wanted us to be so careful. And it was *me* who instigated it, me who virtually dragged Sam into my arms. However - and I can't help but smirk at this - he didn't exactly resist.

Oh boy, what do we do now?

I look out of the window where the rain is beating against the glass. Come on, you're Josh Lyman, you helped get a President elected, you're a strategist, a fixer. Stop being so indecisive. *Do* something, for God's sake. Maybe Julie's still here. That's it - at least I can try to make things right between us. I'd hate for her to feel bad about what happened.

I get out of my room as quickly as I can, heading for the nurse's station.

"Is Julie still here?" I ask the nurse who's just started her shift.

"She just left. Anything I can help with?" she asks.

"No ... thanks, Clare." I crash through the double doors almost before I've finished the sentence.

I make for the bank of elevators, but I can see the doors closing and I think I catch a glimpse of Julie's red coat. I smack my hand against the call button, but the car has already started on its downward journey. The next one to arrive opens to reveal a nurse with a patient in a bed, so once more I have to wait. If only I could run down the stairs. Except if I could do *that* I wouldn't be in this current situation. Well thought through, Lyman.

At last. I get in the elevator and wait impatiently until it reaches the first floor. I speed through to the lobby, but I'm sure she'll be long gone. I look towards the exit and see the red coat again. Gotcha - Julie's standing talking to someone. I put on a last spurt, but she suddenly turns away and she's through the door. I can see her turn up the collar of her coat as the rain and wind hits her.

"Julie!" I call out, pretty ineffectually as it happens. "Dammit!"

There's nothing for it but to follow her. When I get outside I call her name. I have to do it twice before she hears me.

"Josh?" she replies questioningly. "What are you doing? It's pouring with rain - you'll get soaked."

"You always were perceptive," I yell back. "Come back inside - I need to talk to you."

I can see her give a sigh, but she does as I ask, taking the opportunity to berate me soundly as we re-enter the hospital.

"Josh, that was incredibly stupid. You can't afford to get chilled like that, you're not fully recovered yet. Get back up to the ward and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Oh, no, no, no, no." I peer towards the coffee shop. It looks pretty deserted. "Let's go in here - we really do need to talk. We can't just ignore what happened tonight."

She looks down at the floor. "Can't we leave it 'til tomorrow?"

"No, we can't, because then we probably won't talk and then it'll be a thing and it'll be there between us all the time. It'll be awkward and it'll spoil our friendship."

She doesn't speak. Time to deploy my tactical masterstroke.

"I'll buy you hot chocolate." I bend my head so I can see her face, which is still scrutinizing the tiled floor.

"Okay."

Before she changes her mind I wheel in there, turning my head to make sure she's following. She is. Reluctantly.

"We close in twenty minutes," the woman standing behind the counter says.

"Fine. I'll have one hot chocolate and one regular coffee. Black."

"Make that a decaff," Julie's voice says behind me.

God, sometimes I think she's channeling my mother, Abby Bartlet and Donna combined.

"Right. Decaff."

Julie picks up the cups and finds a table while I pay. There are only two other tables occupied, but I'm relieved to see she's chosen to sit as far away as possible from the room's other occupants. She pulls a chair away to make a place for me to maneuver into, and we sit there sipping our drinks as if it's a diversionary tactic. What I wouldn't give for some good, honest caffeine, although I guess I'm buzzed enough with everything that's gone on today. I can probably live without the extra stimulus.

"I'm sorry ... "

It comes out in unison as we both decide at the same time to break the silence. Then we laugh and do all that "You go first", "No, you go" stuff before I say, "No, Julie, talk to me, just as long as you don't say you're sorry because there's nothing to be sorry for."

She stares into her cup.

"But I *am* sorry. I should never have barged into your room like that. I should have knocked again or just come back later."

"Julie, if you'd stood outside that door with a marching band playing Sousa's greatest hits I don't think I'd have heard you." At last, a smile. A small one, but it's definitely a smile. "You're the last person I'd want to embarrass, and it must have been awful for you coming in like that and seeing ... "

"Two people who've been through a horrible time sharing some love and comfort?"

Whoa. I did *not* expect that. God, it's almost too much this level of ... understanding. For a few seconds I can't speak. I've got a lump in my throat and I could cry with the relief of it all.

"Well, yeah, but seeing me and ... and ... Sam," I finally manage to stammer.

She looks down again, then smiles and when she catches my eye I can see a mischievous glimmer in them.

"I must admit I wouldn't have been so surprised if I'd disturbed you and Donna together," she says.

Because we're in a public place we've been talking in the lowest tones possible, but it takes me all my time not to yell. I can't keep the incredulity out of my voice, though.

"Donna? *Donna*? You thought Donna and I .... oh, God, no. I mean, I'm her boss and we're like really good friends ... but ... what gave you *that* idea?"

She shrugged. "It's the way she behaves, like telling me what's best for you, what your likes and dislikes are, always bringing you things that you need. And I could just imagine you two together, I guess."

"Ever since Donna came to work for me she's made it her mission in life to take me in hand, and I admit I rely on her for a lot. But that way ... never."

"Do you remember that day when you told me how worried you were about the way your friends and colleagues would react once you got back to work?" she asks.

"Yeah." How could I forget the day Toby visited and I ended up spilling my guts to Julie?

"You mentioned something about a relationship, then clammed up. I thought you were talking about Donna. I assumed you were engaged or something."

I shake my head. "Sam and I have been a couple since the President's election campaign. We'd been best friends for years, but didn't take it any further until then."

She puts her hand on mine.

"Josh, you don't have to tell me any of this. It's none of my business."

"You're the only person who knows about Sam and me." I rub my hand across my eyes. "You don't know what it's like to be able to talk to someone else. How it is for us ... not being able to let people know we're a couple. And today was the first time ... since I got shot ... "

"Josh, please." Again, she squeezes my hand. "I'm not going to say anything to anyone."

"God, no, that's not what I meant. I didn't mean to imply ... " I'm horrified that she'd think I'd have such a low opinion of her.

"Okay, but I just want to reassure you. I'm a nurse, things I know about my patients are confidential. What happened earlier is your own private business. That's what I told Sam."

Oh, no. He got to her first. I'll bet he put the fear of God into her.

"He didn't," I say. "Please, tell me he didn't take you someplace and lecture you. 'Cos he does this thing, sometimes, when he feels strongly about something. He talks and talks really quickly and doesn't draw breath, and he's so articulate but it can be scary if you're not used to it. He doesn't mean any harm, it's just he used to be a lawyer and he's passionate and he acts like he's in a courtroom ... "

The words are pouring out of me as I try to convince her that Sam can be intimidating but it's nothing personal. I can feel my breath quickening and my heart starting to pound.

"Josh, stop it!" Julie's voice cuts through sharply. "Calm down. *I* was the one who approached Sam."

"You did?" I say weakly.

"I wanted to speak to him, tell him you both can trust me," she continues. "He was very nice, and he's not scary at all, although up until today he used to terrify me the way he would walk through the ward glaring at everyone."

"Well, in mitigation he's been scared too, and worried," I say.

"It didn't stop Stacey from thinking he's hot," Julie tells me.

"Well you can tell her 'hands off'! Or rather, don't," I hastily amend.

That makes her laugh. "You should thank your lucky stars it wasn't Stacey who walked in on you both."

She lowers her voice to a whisper.

"Although I *did* think it was funny when Sam jumped up and sent you crashing into the wall."

I lean towards her conspiratorially.

"Not nearly as funny as when you checked my blood pressure and said 'It's a little high, what have you two been up to today?' "

"Oh, don't!" she says, putting her hands to her face. "I'll never live that down."

We both end up laughing, then I realize the coffee shop is empty and we're getting a killer look from behind the counter. I guess our time's up.

"So we're good?" I ask as we leave the table. "You'll still be my nurse?"

"Josh, I think I'm the only one who'll put up with you. What choice do I have?"

I go with her to the lobby.

"Thanks, Julie. For everything, but most of all for being such a good friend."

She bends down, kisses my cheek.

"I'm happy for you, Josh. I'll see you tomorrow."

Then she's gone. I take a deep breath and go back up to my room. I'd love to be able to phone Sam to tell him everything will be okay, but I imagine his feet haven't touched the ground since he got back to the West Wing. I decide to get into bed, maybe watch some TV, read a little, then if he doesn't call me I'll call him. I peeled off my sweater before coming into the bathroom and I've just finished brushing my teeth when I notice something as I look in the mirror. There's the scar on my chest of course, but now there's something else. A little to one side of the surgeon's handiwork is a red mark that wasn't there this morning. I run my hand over it, remembering that moment this afternoon when I lay astride Sam and as he came his mouth made contact with me just there, on that sensitive spot below my collarbone. I shiver inside at the memories it evokes.

A little ephemeral reminder of Sam.

Until the next time.

***

It's midnight and the West Wing is quiet. A few minutes ago Toby poked his head round my door and announced that he was going home. As for me, I'm way to preoccupied to even think about sleep right now. A little while ago Josh phoned me to tell me that he'd spoken to Julie and everything seems fine. What he *doesn't* know, of course, is that tonight CJ dropped her own bombshell by telling me that she already knows about Josh and me. Somehow she'd worked it out when here was I thinking that we'd been so clever in concealing our feelings towards one another. So now that CJ knows it kind of puts things in a different light. I think the chances of keeping this thing secret are getting slimmer by the day. But where do we go from here? Say nothing, split up until we're both in jobs where being gay isn't going to be a liability? No, absolutely not. If today has taught me anything it's that Josh Lyman is more important than my career. I *cannot* put our relationship on hold for maybe another six years. Resign, then come out? I don't want to do that to Josh. He needs his career, his self confidence has been bruised and battered enough. Continue as before and hope no-one else finds out? Eventually the strain would show, and there's the risk of subjecting Josh to so much stress. So what's left, breeze into the Oval Office and say "By the way, Mr President, Josh and I are crazy about each other and if it's okay by you we'd like to spend the rest of our lives together."?

I need some air. This is what I do sometimes when it's late and I lose my way writing some speech: I go take a walk around the grounds. Tonight - or I should say this morning as it's now gone twelve - I find myself in the Rose Garden. The rain has stopped and the air feels warm and moist. The wind has dropped to a breeze and it makes the leaves rustle. The garden has concealed lighting that gives it an other worldly sort of look that I like. There's a wrought iron bench, so I take my handkerchief and wipe it across the seat to remove the moisture left by the rain. When I sit down I take a few moments to empty my mind, the distant sound of the traffic the only thing disturbing the peace.

I'm sitting next to a late display of American Beauty roses. The scent fills my nostrils as I gaze at the rich red blooms. They remind me of the time I took Josh to see the film of the same name. It was a Sunday afternoon and the cinema was only a quarter full. I stretch my hand across the back of the bench, feeling the cool metal and the bumps and grooves of the ornate design, remembering how we enjoyed the movie. Brilliant Kevin Spacey, Mena Suvari in a bath tub full of rose petals and me holding hands with Josh in the dark. Josh whispering in my ear words so dirty that I ended up with a raging hard on so I had to get him home and into my bed as fast as humanly possible. Bizarrely, I've found the smell of popcorn erotic ever since.

Who would have thought then that Josh would now be in hospital trying to put his life back together again? Or that we'd be on the brink of something that could either make or break us as a couple. I let my mind wander over thoughts of Josh lying in that hotel bedroom, his face so vulnerable, so unsure as I undressed him. The touch of our bodies, skin on skin. The heart stopping cries Josh made as he felt his body come alive again. The sight of him asleep, his hair all tousled, a small contented smile on his face.

I can't let that go. Whatever we decide, we're staying together. I nearly lost Josh to some insanely criminal act, the consequences of which Josh will live with for a lifetime. But no one - and I mean *no one* - is going to destroy the love we have for each other.

Somewhere far away I hear a clock strike twelve thirty and a wave of tiredness sweeps over me. I should get some sleep as I sense tomorrow is going to be a big day, that Josh and I will make decisions from which there'll be no turning back. I stand up, feeling suddenly resolute. Whatever happens, Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn will stay together.

And that's a promise.

END OF REDIVIVUS CHAPTER TWO

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