Experiments In Elasticity
Character(s): Josh, Sam
Category(s): Romance, Pre-White House, Slash
Summary: Sam decides he's an idiot.
The tropical breeze ruffled Sam's hair, lifting the rebellious bangs away from where they'd tangled in his long eyelashes. His sigh drifted off the balcony, scattered through the palm trees outside the hotel room.
"Hey, you," Josh said from his place, leaning in the doorway. "Are you honestly gonna sit out here all evening?" He wanted to push away from the wall, push himself towards Sam, but his feet declared what his head had days ago; keep your distance.
The discarded newspaper at Sam's feet crinkled in the draft, and he deftly placed a foot down to quiet it. He turned to look back at Josh. "I'm enjoying myself."
"Thanks; it was getting hard to tell." And Josh went back into the room, leaving the sliding door open.
Going to the small bedside table that separated the two double beds, he tore off the top sheet of the hotel notepad, filled with scribbles and doodles. Staring down at the paper in his hands, Josh couldn't remember which swirling designs had been made by him, and which had dribbled out of Sam's pen. There seemed to be a single mind at work there, picking up the abandoned patterns; adding, building.
Seeing Sam's still silhouette on the other side of the billowing, sheer curtains, Josh decided he'd had just about enough. One day left in Nassau; one day until they headed back to Washington to complete the transition from a ragtag group of enthusiastic campaigners, to an actual administration of leaders. He wasn't going to spend it sitting in a hotel room staring at the ocean.
"I'll buy you dinner," Josh called to Sam, as he collected his wallet and jammed it into the back pocket of his jeans. No response forced him back onto the balcony. "Jesus, Sam; I'm talking to you," he grumbled.
"Hm?" The dreamy expression on Sam's face softened Josh's irritation a little. "I'm sorry. What?"
Josh planted one hand on his hip, rested the other on the railing next to Sam's now elevated feet. Was so tempted to knock them off. Knock him to the ground. "I said, come with me to eat, and then I'll push you into the waves. It'll be like that movie with the people you liked so much."
"The French one."
"Where are you gonna get French food around here?" Sam asked distantly.
Josh stared hard, incredulous darts at Sam's open, questioning face. "The fuck is your problem?" he growled. "I'm leaving. I have a key."
Out on the street, Josh tried to resist the urge, but he just had no willpower; not when it came to Sam. He followed the shelled path around to the back of the hotel, until he stood at the pool's edge; water a brilliant aqua, shimmering above the single submerged light sunken just beneath the surface.
The first night of their stay, Josh had been able to persuade Sam to venture into the balmy pool at midnight, light refracting through the quivering water, distorting the lower part of Sam's body into a carnival-mirror version of himself.
That, as it turned out, was the only time Josh had convinced Sam to join him in the pool. Stepping away from the overhang, Josh counted up to the fourth floor and immediately found the pair of feet resting atop the railing. So, Sam hadn't moved, probably didn't even realize that Josh had left.
Shaking his head sadly, Josh turned and started back the way he'd come.
The first thing he noticed was that the lights were out. The second thing was the puddle of sandy water just inside the door. He could hear the soft whooshing of the waves as they tagged the shore, draining back out into the endless sea. Moving into the room, Josh plucked at the switch on the wall, flicking to life the dull lamp across the room.
"Swear to god, Sam," Josh muttered, striding across the room to the open balcony door. "You son-of-a-bitch."
The shadowy figure slumped in the chair turned to him. "Hi," it offered quietly.
"Okay, no kidding. There's something seriously wrong here," Josh began, waving his hands through the air. Suddenly realizing he still held the styrofoam carton he'd brought Sam's dinner back in. "Here; this is for you," he said mildly. Then, "I'm not doing this another day, Sam. Not another night. You either come in off this balcony, or...."
Sam cocked his head slightly, and silently looked up at Josh.
"Well?!" Josh bleated, folding his arms around himself. Tipping his weight from one foot to the other.
"Huh?" Josh's frustration flattened out, and his brows knit themselves into puzzlement.
"Come in off this balcony, or...?" Sam shrugged his shoulders lazily. "Or?"
"I'm not playing games."
"I'm not making empty threats."
"You're not making any threats," Sam reasoned. "You're dangling the end of your thought in front of me, hoping I'll bite. But I can't possibly imagine what you'll do if I don't come inside, so - "
"Sam." Josh pressed his back against the wall in defeat, and sank slowly to a crouch. "You went swimming while I was out." The fact that it wasn't a question, and that Sam could sometimes be frighteningly stubborn and specific about such designations, made Josh assume he wouldn't be getting a response to that statement.
He was wrong.
"I didn't go swimming, per se. I... went into the water. It wasn't by choice." Sam's voice dropped slightly, something Josh easily recognized as embarrassment layering itself over the words.
"Do I want to hear about this?" he asked with trepidation.
"Um, no. No, I really don't think you do." Sam's eyes slid away from Josh, and latched themselves back onto the ocean, sliced open by the rising moon.
Josh decided that Sam was right; he didn't want to know what might have transpired in the few hours he was gone. "I'm gonna take this inside," he said, climbing out of his crouch, snagging the carry-out in his hand.
"What is it?" Sam asked, shooting a chin-directed glance at the starkly white container.
Josh turned from the doorway, and looked down at his hands. "Oh. I, uh, brought you something to eat," he answered. Taking another step into the room, he was caught by Sam's words.
"What's in the box?" Sam wanted to know.
A hefty sigh escaped Josh's lungs, and he came to a hesitant standstill. "I brought you some pasta primavera," he announced firmly, and took off for the small kitchenette by the front door.
It surprised and unnerved Josh when Sam followed him in, and fingered the box Josh had placed on the counter. Sam bent one end of the lid up to peek inside. "Spaghetti," he huffed mildly. "You brought me spaghetti."
"I wasn't sure if you'd ordered - "
"I hate spaghetti," Sam declared softly. "You know I hate spaghetti." Seeing Josh flinch, Sam's mouth straightened into a tight line. "Oh, no."
Josh looked miserable.
"You petty, petty man," Sam scolded, shaking his head. Giving the box a slight nudge with his knuckles, Sam headed back to the opposite end of the room; back towards the balcony, shrouded in shadows.
Bouncing to life, Josh danced ahead, turned to face Sam's advancing form. "Wait, no, don't go back out there!" He held his hands out, beseeching and placating. "I'm sorry. You're right. I'm childish and malicious. And really, really sorry." Sam stood before him, lips turned inward, pressed together firmly. "Please, Sam."
Eyes darting away, settling on the matched beds, Sam exhaled softly. "I'm not hungry anyway," he declared. Looked back at Josh, noting the expression of apprehension and expectancy on his face. "But I'll be damned - "
"I know," Josh groaned, a nervous hand combing through his hair. He didn't think there was any reason to expand on the apology. He knew he was an asshole; Josh recognized himself in the reproof he saw in Sam's eyes. "Look, this is going nowhere good, and at an alarming speed. Sam, could we just back up? To, maybe Friday?" He offered a roguish smile, which fell from his lips when he noticed Sam frown. "Thursday?"
Sam sighed with a thin smile, and pushed Josh from his path with a forearm, heading towards the balcony door.
If he hadn't already pulled such an immature stunt with the food, Josh might have considered stamping his foot and whining. But he honestly couldn't think of a single thing that would accomplish besides making himself look even more foolish, and driving Sam out of the room for good. "Okay, wait!" he blurted, just as Sam reached the threshold. "Wait, just wait one second."
Bolting for the kitchen, Josh opened the small refrigerated compartment secured below the counter, and squatted down in front of it. "Sam, come here; I need your help."
Out of the corner of his eye, Josh saw Sam hesitate, then creep slowly back to the kitchenette. Stand directly behind Josh.
Without turning, Josh began handing things back to Sam. "Beer. Limes. Papaya. Um, that's the only food we have in here." Rising to his feet, Josh grabbed a sticky plate, and began rooting around in a drawer for the knife; dull, handle scarred, rust gathered at the juncture of the blade. He pressed these items into Sam's hands, taking note of the raised eyebrows, and darted into the adjacent bathroom.
Flipping on the light, the sight of Sam's jeans and shirt lumped in a sopping heap in the tub momentarily halted Josh. Deciding to ignore the sodden mess, he grabbed the only two clean water glasses in the suite, and swept out of the bathroom. After awkwardly adding his loot to Sam's growing burden, Josh turned him by the shoulders and gave a gentle shove towards the balcony. "Go. I'll be right there," he instructed the bewildered younger man.
Josh stood, watching Sam reluctantly make for the other side of the room, then grabbed the ice bucket and eased into the hallway. Halfway to the ice machine it occurred to him that Sam might take the opportunity to lock him out, but he dismissed the idea by force of will and hurried back as quickly as he could.
Relieved to find the door still ajar, embarrassed for having entertained the thought....
Grabbing four more beers, which he plunged into the bucket of ice, Josh then dashed over to his carryon bag and extracted a bottle of rum. Taking one more quick look around the room, he headed out to join Sam.
Who was already working on a beer.
Josh flopped into the only available seat, a densely padded wicker chair, white paint flecking off every time he brushed against it. "Hey," Josh said with surprise. "This is really comfortable."
Sam grazed a passive look over him.
Wriggling his ass around, sinking into the squashy cushion, Josh snorted softly. "No wonder you fell asleep out here," he mumbled.
Sam shrugged once and went back to sipping at his beer.
Somewhere below their perch, down by the ceaseless waves, Josh could make out laughter. He envied the careless, easy sound of it; remembered the way Sam had laughed at the sight of a pale, wiry Josh in his swim suit, trying to slip surreptitiously into the pool below their roost.
Pouring a generous splash of rum into a glass, Josh gestured towards the lime and knife sitting on the low iron table to Sam's left. "Can you slice me a wedge of that?" he asked, while plopping a few ice cubes into his drink.
The sharp odor of lime drifted across to him a moment later, making Josh's tongue sting, and his mouth water. Sam deftly tossed a ragged chunk in the general direction of Josh's glass, and both men turned silent, triumphant smiles towards one another when it effortlessly found its mark.
"Two points," Josh congratulated him.
Sam met his eyes briefly before turning back to the water.
Josh sighed twice; heaving, hostile sighs. He swished around the amber liquid in his glass before swallowing a mouthful, which predictably scorched the back of his throat. Gulping a breath, he reached for the bottle and poured another serving, eyes cutting to Sam's nearly empty beer. "Join me?" Josh suggested, jiggling the bottle in his hand above his legs.
Sam assessed his beer and shrugged once more, draining the remnants easily, then set aside the bottle while reaching for a glass of his own.
After settling back into their seats with fresh drinks in hand, the two men sat in silence while a feathery, cool breeze occasionally fluttered past them. When Josh tipped his head back to take a deep drink, he furtively glanced over, his eyes digging through the darkness to see his friend.
"Sam," Josh said, unaware really that he'd said it out loud. "Sam, this can't be it. This - " flapping a limp hand through the space between them. "Can't be how it's gonna be from now on." He didn't pose it as a question, because that would leave Sam room to give a different answer than the one Josh wanted to hear. Expected to hear.
Sam looked at him; eyes narrow, and lips tight. "I'll let you know," he finally responded, and didn't look away, as Josh assumed he would.
"Let me know what?" Josh felt something here. Something that might have been surprise that Sam was talking to him again, or possibly closer to trepidation. Either way, just the sound of Sam's voice was like a light shining down a dark path.
"How it's...." Sam was still looking at Josh, his eyebrows arching into his hair. "You know; how it's going to... be." The slight confusion Josh saw in Sam's expression was unexpected.
"I know how it's gonna to be!" Josh insisted irritably. "Isn't that what the last few days have been about? You're showing me exactly what it's gonna be like when we get back to D.C. and start putting this transition together. While I suffer through the silent treatment." He guzzled his drink and set down the glass, reaching for a beer in the ice bucket. "I got it, Sam. Loud and clear."
Sam was still staring at Josh, and it was becoming unnerving. Twisting violently at the top of his beer, Josh flipped the cap away; tossed it willfully over the side of the railing.
Sam sat forward a little, neck stretching out to watch its descent. "Two points," he droned. Then turned to face Josh. "Let me understand. You think I'm not speaking to you?"
"You're not speaking to me," Josh pouted, then drew himself up to his full height in his seat. "You're angry, okay. Fine. I mean, it's not fine. Obviously I'd have preferred you to be... something else than angry."
Josh's eyes cut away quickly, then settled back on his companion defiantly. "But you're entitled, Sam. How could I blame you? I just, I need to know what to expect when we get to D.C. To the White House." He couldn't keep the smile from forming on his lips; it happened every time he thought about working in the White House. He and Sam, working together as staffers in the West Wing.
Sam's mouth hung open slightly, and he blinked at Josh. "I'm angry?" he asked reluctantly. "You stopped talking to me, and you think I'm angry?"
"Well, you aren't sitting on my lap, so, yeah, Sam," Josh huffed, days of frustration spilling over. "You won't come inside with me for ten minutes. You won't go out with me, even to eat. You sit here staring straight ahead when I approach you, blink your baby blues when I try to talk to you. Um. Anger. Pure and simple, and not unexpected. Just... just..." Josh flung himself back into his chair and brought a condensation soaked hand up to his eyes. "I'm sorry. Okay? I can't keep saying it for the next four years, but I'm sorry, Sam."
Sam sat back too. He carefully set his drink aside, and dropped both hands into his lap, shoulders sagging slightly. "You idiot," he whispered to himself. "Total and complete idiot."
"Nah, Sam." Josh leaned forward, his irritation pushed to the side by concern for Sam. "You're not an idiot. Anyone would react this way to having their best friend put his hand down the front of their bathing suit."
Sam's head snapped up, and he looked over at Josh, who was staring back at him sympathetically.
"I'm not an idiot, Josh. You are," he clarified. "And I'm not - I never was - angry. I'm... I've... I've been..." Maybe he was an idiot. "Thinking. About it. About... what could happen," Sam ended weakly.
"Happen?" Josh squeaked. "You mean like, what charges they could bring against you when my body turns up?"
"What could happen if we... if we... if we followed through on what you started in the pool," Sam said quietly. "Maybe it's the last year of campaigning and strategizing, but I can't stop thinking about consequences here, Josh. That's all I've been thinking about."
Josh scooted his chair closer to Sam's by a few inches, addressed him solemnly. "Wait, now. When you say 'following through,' are you saying... do you mean you'd actually be open to - No." Josh shook his head vehemently. "I've left you completely alone the last few days because.... I did not read your reaction wrong. You were pissed off, Sam. You nearly bit my lip off, and pulled away from me like a bolt of electricity went through you."
"Well, I was shocked, sure."
"You got out of the pool, and marched up to the room, and proceeded to sit here for the next three days! You were mad, Sam. I know you, and I know mad. ...Don't I?" he finished feebly. Josh wished he could touch Sam. Not in the ill-conceived and drunken way he had that night; but in the open, familiar way he had through the years of their friendship. "I crossed a line."
Sam's eyes flashed at Josh, his hands dragging through his wind-tossed hair. "Yeah, Josh; you, uh, don't go around grabbing other guy's dicks. Friend's dicks. It's not really done. But it's not as if you couldn't have reasonably guessed that I'd react better. I mean, considering...." He shot Josh a chagrinned look.
After waiting patiently for Sam to finish that intriguing sentence, Josh couldn't take any more. "Considering?"
"That you know I'm open to the idea," Sam summarized, and then reached for the bottle of rum and poured a generous helping.
Josh watched the liquor slide from the bottle, one long, seemingly endless stream of golden liquid. Sam was... open?
"Since when?" he blurted. "When have you been open to being with another man?" he wanted to know.
"I told you."
"You never told me any such thing, Sam. You think I wouldn't remember something like this?!" Josh's arms flew up between them in exasperation.
"I told you."
"Stop saying that! When, when did you tell me?"
Sam sipped at his drink, then carefully handed Josh his warming, half-consumed beer before answering. "Malcolm."
"What? Who?" Josh accepted the bottle and drank absently, a look of puzzlement evident on his face.
"Malcolm, Josh." Sam spoke evenly, and he appeared so calm and at ease, sitting there in his wicker chair.
Josh shook away the surreal nature of the scene and proceeded to stop his racing mind for a moment to consider the name. Malcolm. He'd heard it before.
Sam saw the uncertainty and continued. "When I broke up with Grace. I needed somewhere to stay until I could find a place of my own...."
"Malcolm, from Dewey Ballantine." Josh's eyes went wide with the slowly returning memory.
"You - no. You never.... Tell me now," Josh demanded carefully.
Sam sighed wearily, and lifted an ankle to his knee, exposing the dusty bottom of his foot to Josh. "I would hear him in the bedroom," he said, slowly.
Josh remembered something now. "You slept on the sofa," he began, pulling the memory out one word at a time. "You'd hear him in the bedroom. You, you said you knew he wanted you to hear him." Josh placed his elbows on his knees, and leaned forward. "You knew he was... he was thinking of you."
Sam's eyes cut away briefly.
"So you...?" Josh ventured cautiously.
"No. I told you - "
"I remember," Josh broke in. "You said all you had to do was go in there. But you never said you did. You said, what you said was, if you wanted - "
"If I wanted to be with someone, if I wanted to have someone help me get over Grace, all I had to do was go in his room."
Josh dipped his head low, brushed a thumb across his forehead. "But you didn't. Because he was a guy."
Snorting softly, Sam shook his head. "Because he was a guy I worked with, Josh. I told you."
Sitting back in exasperation, Josh once more set down his beer. "You didn't make it sound like that. So, you were telling me...?" His mouth fell slack, and he breathed through it, deliberately trying to regulate his colliding thoughts.
Sam's smile was faint, almost sad. "And I thought, that's cool. Josh is being very cool about this."
"Only I just didn't know what the hell you were really telling me," Josh concluded.
They sat in the dark, looking out into the night. In his chest, Josh felt the steady beat of his heart, as steady as Sam's friendship had been to him all these years. A connection linked them like no other, and the knowing smile returned to Josh's lips. "We're going to the White House, Sam," he whispered in awe.
"And you'll be a guy I work with," Sam offered quietly.
Helplessly, Josh replied, "Right."
The word came from knowing, and realizing; of pieces falling into place, while other pieces flew off into the night. Josh looked carefully at Sam, whose eyes bore into him with the same knowing, and realizing; the complicating of something simple, and the simplifying of something else, so convoluted and involved, it could never really be known. Or realized.
"So, it seems I am an idiot," Sam decided. "I thought you'd sobered up; changed your mind. I wasn't angry. I was... I was living it all. In my head." He set his glass down, and palmed the papaya, soft and fragrant and leathery.
"With me?" Josh ventured, the hopeful sound in his voice the most important part of his question.
Sam nodded twice, smiled warmly. "It was great. It would have been really great, Josh."
A lump rose in Josh's throat, and he swallowed around it when he spoke. "You know, the other thing's gonna be great, too. Working in the White House."
"Working for the President," Sam agreed, blinking shiny, wet eyes. "This was the best vacation I've ever had, you know?" he chuckled quietly.
Ducking his head, Josh blew out a warm breath before looking back up at Sam. "I wish I could have been there with you. In your head."
"That would have defeated the whole purpose," Sam said, lightly tossing the heavy fruit Josh's way. "The reason it has to be this way." He rose and stretched, first his arms, then his back. "Come with me to the beach. Just once, let's walk along the beach together."
Josh looked up at Sam, dark hair framing a face so eerily perfect it always felt as if he was seeing it for the first time. "And you'll tell me how you ended up in the ocean with your clothes on?" he asked, taking the offered hand that brought him to his feet.
"Some things are best left unshared," Sam said softly. And they walked through the room together, shoulders brushing, hands to themselves.
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