Characters: Sam & Josh
Author's Note: Second in the 'Tangled Up In Blue' series, which can be found at http://subtractions.homestead.com/index.html
"You all right there, Sam?"
Josh was rewarded with a small noise.
"Was that a 'yes' whimper or a 'no' whimper?"
The face in Josh's lap turned up to him, and he didn't bother to suppress a dimpled smile at the look of complete and utter confusion on Sam's face. The face turned back to the pillow on Josh's legs with an audible groan.
"Ask a simple question, get an absolutely non-committal non-answer. At least you're consistent, Sam."
"What was that?" Josh leaned down a little and gently pulled Sam's shoulders back, uncovering his face again.
"I said, I'm trying." And in an instant Sam was abruptly dropped back into his suffocating pillow.
"And don't drool on that."
The remote control was getting sweaty in Josh's hand. There was nowhere he wanted to be except here, but his legs were getting stiff, and the ankles crossed on the coffee table were already so far past numb he wondered if his shitty government insurance covered prosthetics. As much as Josh hated to do it, he was going to have to move. Which would involve moving Sam. But at least he'd know if Sam was still awake. There was really no other way to tell at this point.
"I'm gonna need a little help here." Seriously, he couldn't feel his feet. "I need you to, uh, reach over and knock my legs off the table," Josh instructed.
With a groan devised solely to make Josh feel guilty, Sam extricated himself from the life sustaining dark blue fake velvet pillow, and unceremoniously slid Josh's legs from the low table. So he *was* awake. Shooting Josh a sullen glare, Sam rose to his feet and tugged at his T-shirt where it had ridden up over one hip. The refrigerator beckoned, and he shuffled towards it.
"Hey, Sunshine!" Josh called. "I can't stand up either." Arms extended in front of himself like a child waiting to be scooped up by mommy. Did that make Sam mommy?
Turning away from the siren song of the fridge, Sam trudged back to the sofa and limply held out his hands for Josh to clasp. Dispensing with that bit of business, and mumbling something about his work here being done, Sam turned his attention back to the kitchen while Josh wobbled off to the bathroom.
"My legs actually, like, *hurt!*" came the whine from the bedroom door a moment later. Josh lurched into the kitchen and gingerly dropped into a chair.
"Like stubbing your toe hurts, or getting shot in the chest hurts?" Well, that was indelicate, and Sam really hadn't meant to sound so surly. He'd been doing that a lot lately. CJ hated it, and he'd been trying, really trying to keep his pouting in check lately. But Josh promised that tonight he could do whatever the hell he felt like doing. Scream, pound the walls, break some stuff, whatever Sam wanted. Josh seemed a little taken aback when all Sam seemed to want to do was wallow in his lap and grunt.
"More like, your legs have been pinned under the weight of a grown man for over an hour cutting off the circulation hurts." And Josh pointedly ran his eyes over the full length of Sam.
Oh for the love of god, Sam. "Hey, could you hand me a beer?" Sam was right there, leaning against the counter like he was posing for a magazine. But he made the effort seem Herculean, pushing himself away from the supportive counter with what Josh realized was supposed to be his last ounce of strength. And if it had been *anyone* else on the face of the planet, he would have been beyond irritated now, getting testy himself. But this was Sam, and it actually made Josh smile. Usually, no one got to see Sam like this, except him.
"So... now that you're up...?" queried Josh.
"I really just want to go back down."
"Do I have to go too?" So. Talk about whiny. And Josh knew what was coming, because he was the one who'd made such a theatrical production of the whole idea. Anything you want, Sam. Whatever works for you. I'm there for you, tell me what you need. I'll feed you dinner and videos, put a bottle of vodka in the freezer. You can throw those rat's ass ugly gas station water glasses I've had since law school, and believe me that'll be great. So when Sam fixed him with a genuine mournful expression, Josh knew he'd stepped in it.
"Sam Seaborn is officially closed for business." And he watched Sam cross to the sofa and throw himself into the cushions.
"Unconditional love, Josh. You promised me unconditional love."
Rolling his eyes, even though Sam couldn't see him, Josh stayed at the kitchen table finishing his beer, occasionally leaning forward to sneak a glance at Sam's prone body. He hadn't moved in 10 minutes.
Josh wondered idly if anyone would care if he stuffed Sam in a closet for a couple of weeks. Someone was bound to notice. Then they'd want to throw a party.
Shakily pulling himself out of the creaking chair, Josh moved to the freezer and removed the bottle he'd put there last night. He debated for a second about using the green bubbly looking glasses he planned to let Sam smash, but decided he might be tempted to toss it right away, and Josh wasn't ready for that portion of the evening's entertainment yet. So he brought down a plain tumbler and poured out a good healthy measure before replacing the bottle.
I'm ambling over to the sofa, I'm standing over you now. Do I *really* need to -
"Is that for me?" came a tiny voice.
Well, if two year olds drink vodka it is. "Move over, Sam."
They sat there together, Sam licking at his vodka, Josh nipping at a fresh beer. Every so often Josh would steal a glance in his friend's direction, trying to gauge the effects of the slowly diminishing drink. He really didn't plan to get Sam drunk, at least not fall down we're really gonna regret this in the morning drunk. What he was hoping for was enough of a buzz to loosen him up a little, lower the inhibitions a smidgen. Get. Sam. Talking.
Of all the things Josh had ever imagined wanting from Sam, getting him to *not* shut up was pretty far down the list. But this had gotten so completely out of hand, this silent treatment Sam had adopted with a vengeance, and now Josh wasn't too sure that Sam was going to break out of it without a fight.
Was he aware that people watched him when he moved through a room, steered clear in the halls and went out of their way to avoid going anywhere near his office? Josh suspected that was probably the whole point. Sam acted as if he was just taking up space, and Josh wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't enjoying the solitude a little. There was a strong loner streak in Sam, one that was usually buried under his gregarious nature. But things had shifted so radically in the last few months; Josh was seeing sides of people he'd never imagined existing before.
And there were other things. Like the drinking, which Josh wasn't concerned about in the least. But Leo was, and that was enough. Leo made the point that this wasn't social drinking, since Sam wasn't socializing with anyone. But it wasn't the drinking that worried Josh, it was where Sam was drinking that kept him up at night.
There were certain moods Sam got in, and certain places he was supposed to stay clear of, and he was mixing both these things up in the same glass. That was one of the reasons Josh had ordered Sam to show up tonight. There were a few things they needed to get straight.
But he was going to have to ease into that. Right now he had bigger fish to fry. "What in hell are you watching, Sam?"
There were swirling frilly dresses, and men in string ties, and some kind of god awful screeching sound he supposed was music, and everyone had very sour looks on their faces. That was no party Josh wanted to go to. Sam seemed transfixed by it.
"Are you drunk? Why are you watching that?"
Sam looked genuinely startled by Josh's question. "I - " He was actually blushing. "It's what you left on when you got up. I thought you wanted to watch it..."
Feigning an annoyance he really didn't feel, Josh snatched the remote off the coffee table and punched in another channel, then settled back in the sofa. "I got videos. I promised you videos, so I got some, but you should know, I have no idea what any of them are. But the covers looked cool, and the kid at the counter didn't laugh at me, so we might get lucky." Josh fingered the raised buttons on the remote. "By the way, my lifetime membership had lapsed from under-use. Do you think that's significant?"
Sam slid his eyes over to Josh slyly. "I'm not ready for a movie." That sounded suspiciously like an opening. "You wanted to talk about something, Josh. And I don't relish a long night of playing hard to get, so, let's just do it. All right?" That sounded like so much more than an opening, and Sam was insane if he thought Josh wasn't going to plunge right through it.
He had almost written down what he wanted to say. Josh wasn't the best at expressing himself, but he was the best at being Sam's friend. So in the end he decided he was willing to see where Sam would let this go, and hope his improv skills were up to the task.
And now Sam was making it so easy, Josh was thrown off his game. "Well, okay," he began. "Let's start waaay back at the beginning. Your attitude sucks. Your writing is flat. People are either afraid of you or plain hate you. Toby's given up on you. Leo's afraid - "
"My writing is flat?" Blue eyes wide open now, and maybe a little fearful.
"And people hate you."
"But I'm more concerned that my writing is flat." Yes, Josh could see that. So, he'd started with the wrong thing.
Every couple of months Sam expected a pep talk. Nothing Knute Rockne, just a pat on the back to counter the lack of enthusiasm from Toby. Josh understood this like no one else. Sam worked hard, put everything he had into everything he did, and sometimes got a little needy when it came to his writing. For the life of him, Josh couldn't comprehend why this simple humanistic gesture was so difficult for Toby to make, but Josh was happy to do it.
He liked the look on Sam's face when he got that validation once in awhile.
Josh had just been trying to get Sam's attention, but it had backfired big time. As fun as it might be to play with Sam's head any other day, this was going to throw him into a tailspin. Which called for spin control.
"Ya know, that wasn't funny, I'm sorry." Shit. Josh put his beer down pointedly and leaned in closer to Sam, who was back to staring at the tv. "Hey. I'm sorry." He felt a need to emphasis that part. The hand clutching the glass of warming vodka felt brittle under Josh's fingers. "It wasn't funny. And it's not flat." Now he was just going to have to wait.
It took a while. At first Josh stayed close, watching the striking face in profile, until Sam growled at him to stop. Then he got up to get a bottle of water, and grab a bag of Fritos. He had to wait this out or risk Sam shutting down completely. Since that was the whole thing Josh was trying to fix in the first place, he found a patience he never knew he had, and sank back into the cushions.
Eventually, Sam sorted it all out, and without turning away from the screen, quietly asked, "Everyone hates me?"
Thank god, because that patience Josh had located was dwindling fast, and something told him he was going to need to find some more before the night was through.
"No, they don't hate you. They love you, and they're worried as hell about you. But yeah, they hate you, or..." Josh took a chance at catching Sam's eye. "At least, they hate the sight of you. And I know that makes you feel so much better."
It did, actually, but that was just too warped for Sam to tell him.
Josh figured Sam would need to digest that for a minute or two, so he dug into the Fritos and stuffed another handful into his mouth a split second before realizing he so didn't want to be eating Fritos. What he wanted was something sweet. Josh came to his feet and started to move towards the kitchen, savoring the thought of the mocha praline ice cream sitting next to the vodka in the freezer.
"Where are you going?" Sam, a little plaintive there, like Josh had given up on him. That would never happen.
"I'm getting some ice cream." Josh pointed towards the freezer, like Sam would need to know where it was kept. "I got you ice cream. You want some?"
"I don't have a broken heart, Josh." Not exactly.
"Sam, ice cream isn't *just* for break ups. It's... all purpose depression food."
"Well, I *am* pretty fucking depressed..." Oh. That was putting it succinctly.
Josh had a choice. Continue on to score a couple bowls of creamy sweet goodness, come back and join Sam. Or turn right back around now, and tell him how proud he was of him. Because Sam really meant what he just said, Josh could see the resignation written all over his face.
No question. He took his place on the couch.
"I don't think ice cream's going to cut it, Josh."
"I know it won't, Sam. Trust me, I know." And Josh swept Sam up in a bear hug the strength of which took Sam's breath away.
Not that Sam felt any great compunction about suffocating in Josh's arms. And Josh knew. Beyond being Sam's friend, Josh knew what it felt like, all this emotion Sam kept chewing on, swallowing, regurgitating.
They stayed that way for a long time, at least long enough for Sam to get his bearings back, and Josh to feel a little more hopeful about his plan to Get Sam Talking. But Josh didn't want to let go unless he was certain Sam wasn't going to hit the ground, so he pulled back a little to try and gain a glimpse of his face. And was compensated by Sam burrowing in a little deeper.
Josh had expected that at some point, Sam would be crawling back into his lap. Sam seemed to like it there, and through the years they'd developed a kind of four armed choreography that made it possible to go an entire evening without moving out of that position. But Josh desperately wanted to keep the momentum going, and that necessitated moving away from Sam enough to look into his eyes. It was like ripping flesh from his bones, pulling Sam away from him in that moment.
With an explosive sigh, Sam tumbled back into the farthest corner of the too-springy sofa, and drew his knees up to his chest. He was completely conscious that this was probably a textbook defensive position, goddammit. But it was only Josh, against whom Sam had *very* few defenses, so he wasn't going to analyze it too deeply. Somewhere along the line Sam had made a decision to do this thing Josh wanted him to do. He'd made it before he'd even gotten here; when he'd finally realized how hard Josh was trying, had been searching for a way to draw him out.
All through the take-out Thai they had for dinner, and the first beers, and the settling in on the sofa, Sam had been surreptitiously sneaking peeks at Josh. Josh wanted to say something to get the ball rolling, but clearly couldn't find an opening. Sam wanted to get the whole ordeal over with so he could slink home and take a sleeping pill.
Right now, Sam was wide awake. But the thought of the pill gave him an idea. "Should I be on medication?"
A little beer through the nose never hurt anyone, as Josh just learned. "What the hell?! Sam, what are you talking about?"
It hadn't seemed like such a preposterous idea to Sam. He was an extremely health conscious guy, read Men's Health when he got a chance, took supplements and exercised on a fairly regular basis. But he had no hang-ups about pharmaceuticals like some people. He took something for hay fever since moving to Washington, and occasionally the aforementioned sleeping pills for the killer insomnia that had plagued him since his second year at Princeton. Only his assistants and the senior staff knew about his 5-Advil-at-a-time three-times-a-day headaches. So it wasn't that outrageous to link depression with anti-depressants in his head.
Sam decided that the idea of simply taking a pill to cure what ailed him was his number one favorite way to make this all go away. "I would never take Paxil, because of the information that's come out during the class-action suit in California," Sam began. "But Zoloft has a good reputation, and there's always amitriptyline, but I've heard there's a lot of weight gain with that." His nose momentarily scrunched up at the idea. "Nope, I think Wellbutrin's the front-runner, 'cause it's safe - that whole seizure scare was completely bogus and overblown by the competition - and the incidence of weight gain is lower than any other group of anti-depressants." The words continued to tumble out of Sam. "It's not available generically, but I've got decent prescription coverage, unlike 44 million American citizens that have *no* insurance at all, prescription or otherwise, but that, you know, of course, includes those on Medicare...."
And that right there was the most Josh had heard Sam say in a good two months. Of all things. "So, you've given this considerable thought, have you?" Josh allowed himself to wonder if this was a bad sign, Sam suddenly showing symptoms of outright mania when an hour ago he'd been as sullen as a two year old.
"No, not really. But the idea is appealing."
"So you just happen to have all this information in your head about - "
Which, naturally, explained everything to Josh. So much so, he hoped Sam knew there was no need to explain more; explain how when Josh had been in trouble, and Sam had been the one feeling helpless and impotent he'd done the one thing he could do with his eyes shut and his hands tied. Research.
Josh was touched, but his mission wasn't to Get Sam Talking About Josh, so he inquired softly, "Are you ok?"
"Of course. Or, whatever."
Ah, Sam had just broken the rule. Yes, Josh had made a rule while planning this little tryst. He didn't want to put too much pressure on him, but he wanted Sam to know that something would be expected of him, besides just showing up. So Josh had told him there was one rule.
Sam wasn't allowed to pretend everything was fine. Josh had been circling for weeks now, plotting ways to draw Sam out, scrutinizing the cracks in his melancholy and generally trying to wear him down. The effect had been that he'd worn himself out, and he was so sick of the song, of trying to guess what was playing in Sam's head. That was when he got the idea of the plan. But the plan was of no use if Sam was going to sit there and pretend. Obviously things weren't okay. So Josh appealed to the bright, eager lawyer in Sam, and had made him stipulate to that. In writing.
That had actually made Sam happy. Since then, they'd avoided the whole are-you-ok-I'm-fine-song, which everyone in the White House was humming, not even aware at this point they were doing it. Leo would snap at CJ, and Toby would sidle up to her later and ask if she was okay. She would say she was fine. Josh would ignore Donna, and when he'd finally notice her pouting, he'd ask if she was okay, and she'd assure him she was fine.
So Sam saying he was all right was a setback, but the fact that he'd caught himself was encouraging.
"I think drugs have their place." Josh wanted to make sure Sam was getting this, so he scooted closer, legs folded Indian style over Sam's sock clad feet before continuing. "I think they could be helpful with the kind of entrenched depression you're displaying right now. But I don't think that's the problem with you. You know it's not magic. There's stuff going on in your head that needs to come out. Or at least, you have to put it all in some kind of order so you can deal with it." When Sam didn't respond, Josh sighed. "For your sake I wish it was as easy as swallowing a pill, or eating some ice cream, or burying your head in a briefing memo, or any of the other pleasurable ways you could try to fix things. This is going to be harder than that, but so worth it in the end."
Sam knew. He knew all that. It wasn't something he was willing to put away forever though. He was beginning to recognize that he could use all the help he could get, and if some of it came in a little amber bottle, he'd take that too.
"And it won't help with the anger." Where had Josh's voice come from? Oh, right there in front of him, not two feet away. Josh, who had just been through all this himself, and had become Sam's hero for surviving not only a bullet, but his own memory of it. Josh who had also just felt his world crumble a bit when he'd discovered *his* heroes were flawed. It should make Sam feel better, having Josh here with him, living through this with him. But the truth was, it only made Sam feel more alone and like a failure. More disappointed in himself and his own selfish disillusionment. Josh was a better man than he. Everyone was a better man than he.
Anger sounded right. Sam couldn't look at Josh when he asked this. "Tell me about the anger."
"It's your anger, you tell me."
"I thought I was depressed." Sam spoke so softly, and with a touching sense of wonder, Josh felt a corner of his heart melt away.
"You're a fairly brilliant guy, Sam. You know anger and depression are often one and the same."
"And for such a brilliant guy, I'm finding myself at a complete and utter loss for ways to describe what I feel. It's like... I have to conjure all the words I know for... policy summaries, and speeches, and briefs, and there aren't enough left when I'm done to cover the stuff in my..." And if Josh needed an example of what Sam was talking about, he was about to get one. "Heart." Sam choked on the word. "I have the vocabulary of a second grader."
This made Josh smile, dimples embracing his mouth, lines crinkling around his eyes. Even when Sam was tongue-tied and stumbling over his words, they were always very impressive words. "If you're thinking that you sound like a cliché, Sam don't worry about it. Personally, I think the sentimental usage of the word heart is vastly under-used in government."
"So do I." And now not only was the tiny voice back, but there were tears.
It was sheer instinct that made Josh reach out and flick Sam's cheek like that with his thumb. The tears weren't falling, just standing there, caught in Sam's dark lashes. The friends sat there so long, and Josh was watching Sam so intensely, he swore he could see them evaporate.
When Sam was nearly dry-eyed again, and had somehow regained his equilibrium, he drew his eyes back to Josh's face. Filled with emotion, grappling for control himself, Josh's wonderful face.
Resting his chin on his forearms, draped across his knees, it was difficult for Sam to maintain eye contact. But he really didn't want to be looking at Josh when he asked this again. "Please tell me about the anger."
Josh didn't hesitate this time. "It's like, you're standing in this white-hot blazing circle of rage, and *everything* you look out at is through this... haze. If you could just step out of it for a moment, Sam, you'd see - there's no great conspiracy to break your spirit, nobody has you in their crosshairs. It's just... life."
Sam wanted to say, 'But Josh, someone *did* have you in the crosshairs, and they hit their mark.' And he wanted to say 'You should be writing for the President.' And he wanted to say 'How can you know me better than I know myself, when I won't let even you see the ugliness that's there?' What he said was "You amaze me," and hoped that covered it all.
And after a few minutes Sam said "I don't know what to do next. Tell me what to do next." And he would have done anything Josh had told him to do right then. Which was why Josh was his closest friend, he would never take advantage of that, would never put Sam in harm's way.
And for some inexplicable reason, Josh turned around and did exactly that. "Sam, you have to start dealing with everything. And I don't care if you start with your father, or your loss of faith, or the sex, or... or... Lisa. But grab something, and haul it out here in the light."
It took all of four seconds for Josh's brain to catch up to his mouth. But four seconds was all it had taken for a dark, forbidding cloud to envelope Sam's delicate features. A cloud that had a face of its own, which at this moment was vigorously warning Josh away. If he'd stepped in some shit earlier, this smelled a whole hell of a lot worse.
There were certain moods Sam got in, and certain places he was supposed to stay clear of. And the same went for Josh. This was definitely one of those places. And even though he felt as if he had a toe inside for the first time in years, every alarm in his head was shrieking at him to put his hands in the air and move away from the door.
Which is exactly what Josh did. Hands in the air, right there in front of Sam. Total surrender. Sam would never hit him, there wasn't a molecule in Josh that ever thought he would. But he subtly shifted his weight back a little nonetheless, hoping it completed the picture of supplication.
Clearing his throat when he realized how raspy it felt, Josh's eyes never left Sam's face. "I'm not saying anything here. I'm just waiting for you."
Like a string had been cut, Sam's knees came down on either side of himself, and his face flushed with anger. This time, Sam knew where it was coming from, could reach in and put his finger right on it. Take its pulse.
"Fuck you." Now Sam was off the sofa, twirling around the livingroom, obviously looking for something.
For a second Josh thought it was something to throw, and he moved to his feet with the idea in mind to go get the hideous glasses. But then he saw Sam's eyes rest on his shoes, and Josh skidded to a stop.
"Oh no, no no no. You're not leaving." If Sam had expected Josh to plead, he was negligently wrong. There would be no pleading here. There would be yelling, and breaking things, and probably a whole hell of a lot of tears and ugly epithets, but there was no way Josh was going to beg Sam to get sane. "For god's sake Sam, this is it. This is your chance. You don't have to self-destruct. You can talk to me. Just stand right where you are - stop that whirling, your keys are over there - take a breath and say something to me, besides, you know, 'fuck you.' "
Josh had always been good at telling Sam what to do. Of course Sam didn't always listen, sometimes he stubbornly did quite the opposite. But Josh spoke from a certain authority, from having made so many right decisions for Sam. So even though it was one the enormous issues in his life, Sam considered what would happen if he did what Josh told him. He stopped spinning around. And opened his mouth. "You ambushed me. You... you - "
"You think you're helping, that it would help. But I know it... No, Josh. I'm not going to now. I'm not! *This* has *nothing* to do with...." Now they were both gasping. "Nothing. Nothing."
"Okay. All right." Like soothing a cornered animal, which is exactly what Sam was. And as Josh moved closer, fully expecting Sam to walk right into his arms, he caught a sneaker in the shoulder. It would be so easy, so Joshua-easy to make a crack about knowing Sam was aiming for his head. But the look on Sam's face killed any sarcasm within a 30 mile radius of the place.
There was one sure way Josh could screw this up again. It slayed him to know that he was this close, that if he had the guts he might actually get Sam to go there, to open up and talk about it. The thing living in the pit of him that fueled the doubt and the anxiety and the anonymous partners and the headaches and these tears. The ghost they never talked about, ever ever ever, drunk, sober, longing, satiated. Everyone knew of Sam's penchant for riding to the rescue, but only Josh knew where it came from. And he couldn't help but speculate why no one ever tried to save Sam.
He could see Sam's chest heaving, hear his ragged breath in the center of all the stillness. But his eyes were dry, and that scared Josh unreasonably.
For the first time ever, Josh asked. "Do you blame me, for highjacking your life?"
It wasn't the question he really wanted to ask, but he'd never been able to get within a thousand yards of *that,* and knew he probably never would. This may have still been too close to the ghost for Sam, but Josh had the distinct feeling they had just moved down to defcon 3, at least.
Sam was having a hard time catching his breath. And felt a little unsteady on his feet. And was still thinking of tossing his other shoe at Josh's head. So he spun on his stocking feet and careened to the refrigerator. Throwing open the freezer, his right hand found the sticky bottle of vodka while the left plunged into a cabinet for a glass. The crash snapped Sam's head around, and in an instant Josh was there, still pale, eyes dilated wildly, but an amused smile tugging at his lips.
Looking down at the shards of green bubbly-looking glass on the counter, Josh gently punched Sam's shoulder. "You started without me," he teased softly.
Of course, Sam didn't know what Josh was talking about, and he was hardly aware of being led away from the kitchen and deposited in the upholstered chair near the sofa. The next thing he knew there was a glass in his hand, just like the one he'd broken, and the sounds of sweeping from the other room, and tinkling as the debris was shifted into the trashcan. It reminded Sam of something, some time....
And Josh was there with his own glass, as well as a pint of ice cream, and a container of leftover Thai food. Then Sam was alone again, wondering what the hell Josh was doing now, amazed that he still cared.
Josh, back, sitting on the coffee table across from him. "Talk to me, Sam. Just talk to me. Tell me about pesticides, or the debt, or what lousy thing Toby did to your speech. Do you blame me for highjacking your life?" Like they were having a conversation.
"Blame... is not the word I would choose." Because Sam was trying very hard not to lie to Josh, especially about the important stuff, unless you counted omissions as lies.
"But you're pissed off because you think it was all for nothing?"
"I do wonder. And it... takes more than I have in me right now to fight that feeling."
"And you've constructed all these defenses because..." Josh was pretty sure Sam could take it from here.
"Because I'm sick of getting sucker punched, Josh! Because I've been hurt, and disappointed, and I'm not sure I'll survive another hit." Sam's hand plucked absently at a thinning spot in his jeans, his voice turning thick and soft. "It hasn't escaped my attention that I'm not handling all this well. And maybe I'm not... maybe I'm not the man I thought I was." A modicum of resolve crept back into Sam's voice. "And because the job I loved doing and was amazingly good at is no fun anymore. And the people I admired and looked up to and whose respect I thought I'd earned see right through me. I *thought* I'd earned an equal voice."
"Sam, you *are* the voice."
"You see right through each other too, and that makes me incredibly sad, sadder than anything." Sam gulped some vodka and let the fire spread before he met Josh's stare. "And I. Josh, I've made a mistake." Looking back down at his jeans.
Josh felt the dampness from the sweating container of ice cream against his thigh and slid it away a little. Placing his hands on either side of himself, he leaned in towards Sam, hoping to catch his eye. And waited.
Finally, patience worn threadbare. "Sam, this wasn't one of your things?"
Well, they were making eye contact now. "My things." Amazingly, Sam sounded insulted. "My 'encounters?' 'Indiscretions?' "
Oh god, please don't let this be happening. 'Cause I just don't think I can - Josh figured at some point they'd have to talk about the possibility that Sam was about to do something he'd regret. But the reality was, Josh would do just about anything to avoid that right now.
"No Josh, I haven't made that mistake yet." Yet. "I was talking about... I've spoken to a few people. They came to me. I guess they heard I was... possibly entertaining offers." Sam boldly looked directly into Josh's warm eyes. "And the mistake was not in talking to them, for reasons I don't need to go into. But in letting my behavior reflect on the President. For letting it show so much that outside people are thinking I don't support him enough to stick by him. And I feel awful about that. Because I have thought about it."
Josh hadn't known about this. "I thought we decided, when this first happened," he began hesitantly. "That first night. You leave with the person who brung you." It had been an understanding they'd reached a couple years ago, reaffirmed in the spring.
"What if I don't want to dance anymore?"
"But you do, Sam. You just had to sit out a few songs." Josh solemnly held Sam's eyes. "We should talk about that some more." The moment hung between them. "Isn't this better?" ventured Josh. "Better than bolting from the room?"
Running his hand across his forehead, Sam nodded absently and sat back in the chair, fixing his eyes on a photo on Josh's shelf. Josh's family. Josh, his mom and dad, an overgroomed poodle, and Sam. He had never noticed this picture before. It struck him as odd now that Josh should have this in a frame. Sam wasn't part of that family. He'd met Josh's father three times, his mother a bunch more. Always brief visits, a spare day or two when the campaign was close enough to manage it. It was nice that Josh thought of Sam as family. But he had a family, as fractured and slippery as it was.
And he told Josh that.
Whether dizzy from the whiplash change of subject, or from snapping his head around to look at the picture Sam was pointing to, it didn't matter. Josh slipped off the table, landing in a heap at Sam's feet. This drew a bark of laughter from Sam, who stood and offered his hand.
"Please don't forget that I'm here, Sam." Josh allowed himself to be pulled to his feet for the second time that evening. "I'm always here."
Sam: "This isn't good for me." His legs were firmly planted across Josh's thighs, a video which Josh was quite engrossed in flickering away on the television.
"Neither is that vodka you keep throwing back." Sam had refilled his glass twice since they'd moved to the sofa, though with less and less liquid every time.
"No, I mean this movie. It's not working for me."
"Try opening your eyes."
One Saturday night, well over a year ago, CJ and Josh had gone over to Sam's and they'd sat around for hours trying to think of someplace to go, something stimulating to do. After deciding they were all a bunch of lonely, pathetic losers, CJ remembered that she had a couple of video rentals on the back seat of her car, unwatched and wildly overdue. They'd turned off the lights, brought out Wheat Thins in lieu of popcorn, and started watching a movie. Throughout the entire second hour, CJ kept sneaking looks at Josh, slumped listlessly on the sofa, and Sam, sprawled across him, eyes firmly shut.
"Maybe we should go. I think Sam wants to go to bed," CJ eventually suggested.
"I'm watching." Sam's voice was surprisingly clear.
"With your eyes closed?"
"That's how Sam watches movies."
CJ was sufficiently intrigued to ask why, and Josh had been happy to explain, because this was one of those quirky things that endeared Sam to him so much. "He isn't very visually oriented. He likes to listen to the dialogue."
So it was no wonder Sam was feeling uninterested in 'Urbania' since there wasn't too much talking going on. Josh told him he was missing a very good movie, and Sam said Josh wouldn't know a good movie if it reached out and grabbed his cock, and just as he said that Josh looked away from the screen, and....
And then Sam was sniffling. Josh knew there were tears behind it, and part of him was relieved, because he really didn't think Sam was done riding his roller coaster emotions. So this was good.
Only... he wished he knew what set Sam off. Over the years that they'd been friends, Josh and Sam had shed a few tears together. Josh recalled clearly when his father died, Sam wept not at the funeral, but when Josh had asked him to stay close to him during the reception. And Josh had cried the night Sam told him about how he sometimes coped with disappointments, and even then, Josh had been baffled that Sam would reveal something so intimate, yet steadfastly refuse to explain what drove him to it. And there was Maine, and the shooting, and a couple of other times. But he still wasn't used to it, seeing Sam's eyes shine like that. It cut him in two, and Josh couldn't figure out how to stop it from feeling that way.
Reaching behind himself for the Kleenex involved twisting a little, which unfortunately dislodged Sam. Shifting into a sitting position, Sam shot Josh an apologetic look, then accepted the tissues with a deep sigh.
"Call me a girl and I walk," Sam muttered.
"Tell me what's wrong and I won't."
"It might save a lot of time if you just told me what's right."
"Sam, there is a shitload that's right." When had Josh become the optimist?
"This movie is unspeakably depressing." Sam was facing Josh, tucking a leg under himself, reaching for his drink.
"Right now I imagine you'd find anything depressing. At least this is good. But I can turn it off."
"No. It is good." Small victories. "Josh?"
"Do you think that ice cream has re-frozen yet?"
"I'll get it."
Josh was back in a few minutes, two bowls of not quite resurrected ice cream and a bottle of kahlua. "Want some on your ice cream?" he asked proffering the bottle. Sam smiled warmly if not fully, and held out his bowl.
"I feel like I owe you for tonight." Sam slid a gloppy spoonful into his mouth, then kept talking. "I know I owe you for much more than that, for months of shit, and not just you, but everyone. And all I can do for them is apologize and try to do better. But you, how do I ever repay you?"
Josh didn't want to be repaid. He just wanted Sam to be happy. And if Sam's idealism was somewhat smoother around the edges, and he started to look both ways before he crossed the street, it didn't change who Sam was. But maybe it would keep him a little safer.
Nothing Sam could give him would come close to expressing to Josh what he had meant to Sam. Still meant. "I want to tell you something." Sam was looking up cautiously through his eyelashes, as if he expected Josh to stop him. Josh had no intention of stopping him. "I want to tell you something you've always wanted to know."
This caused Josh to literally choke on his spoon. This could be anything. Or nothing. A little long-absent playfulness finding its way back into Sam, or another opening, Josh didn't know which. But every fiber of his being wanted to know what Sam wanted to tell him, so he leaned in a little closer, then a little closer....
"Sam. You have a call on your cell."
"I'm in the shower!"
"It's your dad."
After 20 full seconds of silence Josh expected to find Sam in a heap on the shower floor, maybe huddled and weeping. Instead, when he peered behind the curtain all he found was Sam standing under the spray, rinsing chunks of foamy shampoo away. One eye opened long enough to acknowledge Josh's presence.
"Take a message, please. And... tell him I'll call him right back."
Sequel - And The Walls Came Tumbling Down
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