Just A Temporary Thing
Category: Drama, Sam, implied Josh/Sam
Author's Note: This can also be found here, with everything else: http://subtractions.homestead.com/
He'd thought he wanted some peace and quiet. Instead, he walks out into a cranky storm. A rushing wind, and the growing threat of chunky rain, yet to materialize.
He drives down to Thompson's Boat Center at the foot of Virginia Avenue, and fights his way out of his car.
Making his approach over the foot bridge, Sam walks down to the boathouse, shuttered and desolate in winter's prematurely darkening night. He craves the sound of the river, slapping water like a language to him; something left that he can understand.
Moving off the concrete apron, Sam wanders down to the shore. The ground is soggy under his John Varvatos loafers, and he grimaces at the way he sinks slightly, the way it keeps him off balance. Sam has never liked the feeling of being off balance. He's bad at it.
He stands at the bank of the Potomac. The wind cutting into the water forms deep, bruised looking gashes. It tortures the branches of the trees, and slaps his face, driving away the tears. An abusive wind.
"I'm thinking of painting my office," he'd told Josh that morning. "To match my mood."
"Let me guess. Blue." Josh thought he had all the answers sometimes, but really, he had never even been able to approach the question.
"Aren't you lonely?" Sam had wanted to know. "Is this all really enough?"
But for now. And Sam was damn sick of now.
"I keep imagining all the things I'll be able to do, when we leave here. And then I think, if I'm spending so much time thinking about them, why don't I just go do them?" Sam was pretending to be philosophical, but he knew he was really trying to tell Josh. Hoped Josh would one day know the difference.
"You'd never leave me." Such conviction, it made Sam lightheaded.
He was so damn sick of now.
"When you're married and raising a brood of little Sams, I'll be there sniffing at your backdoor for leftovers every morning, asking what we're gonna do that day. Your wife'll hate me. As it should be." Then Josh's dimples gripped his smile, and he picked himself up off the edge of Sam's desk and started to go back to his own disordered world, down the hall and a galaxy away from Sam.
A wind that violent shouldn't be able to remain invisible. But the sky is clear, full of sparkling diamonds, scattered across the dark canvas. And Sam wonders why he never became an astronaut. The pull of the stars could be so great in him sometimes; usually when he was out on the water, and knew with all certainty that he was the only living soul being sheltered under their watchful, glittering eyes.
Turning away from the water, the wind contradicting his every step as he struggles against a shifting wall of surging air, Sam keeps his head down against the personal assault of the storm. Something his father had said to him, when Sam called him two months after he joined the campaign.
"These people, Dad; I feel like I'm just in the way sometimes."
"Keep your head down, Sam. Avoid the personalities and do your job."
It was terrible advice. It was only when Sam learned to speak up, kept his posture straight and unwavering and stood his ground, that he began to feel a part of things. And he did it on his own. If he'd had any illusions that it would be he and Josh against the world, Sam was set straight within two weeks.
When Josh was even around, he was distracted and distant, and avoided the noisy, frantic common areas of campaign headquarters. He tucked himself under Leo's arm, and explained to Sam that he needed to absorb every drop of experience from the man that he could, as quickly as he could, or he'd drown in the sheer sea of things he didn't know.
So Sam was left to forge his own alliances and relationships, and in the end, he was mildly pleased that he hadn't needed Josh as much as he thought he would.
But he missed him.
The banging on his door at three in the morning brought Sam out of a frighteningly empty sleep. Ignored the peep hole in the motel door. It could only be one person.
Afterwards, he went back to sleep, as if nothing had ever happened, and really, in his waking world it hadn't.
"Hey. Did you get caught in the storm?" Josh brushes a hand over Sam's chaotic hair, right there in front of Toby and Ginger and CJ. "And your skin is cold." Placing his knuckles against Sam's cheek.
"It's not raining." Sam looks at the flashing phone lines and realizes the lightning is in here.
"I didn't ask if it was," Josh says, and he sounds irritable, the concern of a moment ago withdrawn right along with his fingers.
Now sitting behind his desk, Sam looks out into the Bullpen, bodies blinking past his office like fireflies, Josh and Toby still standing together, voices bumping into and slipping over each other without pause. He feels as if he's the only person who doesn't get the joke.
He calls Margaret to find out who he needs to talk to about getting his office painted.
"We're going out for a drink." CJ stands in front of his desk, as tall as a sapling. And when Sam doesn't respond, she adds, "And we want you to come."
"Sure." He doesn't want to go anywhere. He wants to stay here and look at the hundreds of names for blue he's found on a paint store's website. He doesn't want to go back out into that wind. He thought it was a sure sign that he was losing his grip on reality when he'd felt, on his way back in his car, that the wind had left bruises on his body. Under his clothes.
"Yeah?" She almost made it to the door, almost got out alive.
"Have you ever been in love?"
"Uh. What?" She just wants to go have a drink. Just wants to cheer Sam up.
"Have you ever - "
"No. I heard you. I...." Just wants to go have a drink. "Of course." And she should ask why. Knows it's what he expects. "So, I'll see you later?"
He stares for long, stringy hours at his computer. Not at the blues. At the living cursor, darting across the screen.
"You're coming with us tonight. Right?" Sometimes Sam thinks he can make Josh appear out of thin air with just a thought.
"CJ asked me. Yes." Sam's words come out in the wrong order, but Josh will make sure they get put back together right. His fingers pause, and then he types the word 'abundant' three time in a row.
Josh's face, so open, staring down at him, from above Sam's chair, above the pillows. He won't ask Josh if he's ever been in love.
Peering over the top of his glasses. The prescription is so old now, Sam squints sometimes, when he's tired. Josh's open face looking down at him. "Just come get me when you're ready," Sam assures him. Then faces down the winking cursor.
"Is everything all right?" Sam would take that concern over the fingers most days. But right now.... not right now.
"Nothing you need to worry about."
"Do you really think I need your permission to be worried?"
"I meant, nothing for you to worry about." Sam doesn't understand why those were the words coming out of his mouth. They weren't the ones he was trying to say. "You. Shouldn't worry. There... there's nothing to - " Sam's frustration at his failing ability to say even the simplest thing showing blatantly on his youthful face.
"There's no reason for you to be worried. About me. Nothing to...." Sam's eyes mist over with tears of confusion, and Josh's anxious glance towards the door isn't helping matters. "Just, go. I'm coming tonight. There really isn't anything."
"Well, you sure put my mind at ease." And Josh takes his annoyance and leaves.
The wind dies. Suddenly, like it's been sucked into orbit through a jagged tear in the atmosphere. Sam stands by the window of his darkened office and watches it go. Imagines riding on its back.
"Sam." Toby's voice, as quiet as a lullaby. "You coming?"
"I don't think so."
"You said you were." Toby looks over his shoulder, unwraps the scarf from around his neck.
"Josh was going to come and find me." Sam presses his head against the cold glass, wishes he could pour the coolness over his tired, scratchy eyes. "But I don't think I'm coming."
"Sam. Come on. They're waiting for us."
"Josh said - "
"But I'm the one that's here. Come on. They're all waiting."
When Sam turns, Toby is standing there with an arm extended, like a crossing guard at the end of a tired day, waiting to guide that one last straggling, distracted child across a deserted street.
"I don't feel up to it, Toby." Sam's voice is like ground glass. If he keeps talking, it will turn back into sand, and then it won't hurt anyone. But he doesn't have the strength to talk any more.
"Okay." And Toby surprises Sam by unbuttoning his coat and peeling it off his shoulders. "We can work on Prop. 414." He carefully places his scarf on top of his folded coat, on one of Sam's chairs, avoiding the look of agony on his deputy's face. "I'll just go get - "
"Toby. Jesus. Okay. Let's, all right. Let's go." Sam, defeated by everything, fishes his wool coat from the hook and throws it over his arm.
Scooping his own coat into his hands, Toby follows behind Sam, no triumph evident on his carefully constructed face.
CJ is drinking quickly and efficiently, not a movement wasted. She's hunched down like a cat. Her shoulder keeps bumping Sam, establishing her presence over and over, knocking his arm into action when it sits dormant for too long.
He's listening carefully to every word being spoken, looking for his chance to add something to the conversation. But he hasn't thought of anything to say in over twenty minutes. So he keeps bringing his glass to his mouth.
Josh is being obnoxious, and jaunty, and continuously places his foot alongside Sam's, under the table. Side by side, an unmatched pair. He orders for Sam, and for himself, and doesn't ask anyone else if they want anything.
"There's no reason to think it'll get out of committee. So I'm putting my energy into something that really matters," Josh is saying to CJ, his eyes fixed on Sam's ear. "My diet."
CJ laughs coquettishly, and Sam knows she's drunk.
"I've got a new determination to live an annoyingly long life. There are many people left for me to piss off, and I have only just begun to... piss."
"You're off to a very good start," Toby assures him. And Sam realizes Toby isn't drunk.
CJ momentarily rests her hand on Sam's leg, and he jumps when she squeezes it gently. "It'll be okay," she whispers into his ear, only she does it quite loudly, and Josh's expression changes from casual intoxication to sharp suspicion.
Sam doesn't know what to say, so he smiles bleakly at her and says "thank you" to the smudged mascara under her unfocused eyes.
Josh orders Sam another drink, and a glass of ice water for himself.
The next morning, Sam has a hangover that lasts through three meetings, the second draft of a speech for a DNC fundraiser, and Josh's hand low and hot on his back when they leave a staff meeting.
At five, he has a coughing fit that leaves him seeing stars swirling around his office. Ginger brings him water, and he thinks he hears her say 'there, there,' but then his phone rings, and he hits speaker, and it's Josh.
"We're going out tonight."
"No. I can't. I barely survived last night."
"I know. You're out of practice."
The line goes dead, and Ginger smiles and pats Sam on the shoulder.
Later, Leo needs to see Sam, so he gets up and walks limply towards his office. He stops in front of the Roosevelt Room, where Josh is strutting back and forth in front of a group of congressional aides, tossing snide, intimidating insults around like they were Frisbees. He catches Sam's eye, and winks, letting him in on the joke, and Sam nearly sags against the wall with relief.
He pauses in front of Leo's open door, glancing back at Josh, who's eyes have followed him the whole way.
Josh mouths something, but Sam has no idea what it is, and wonders if it was something that might have changed his life.
"It's just one night, in case he needs to change something on the fly. After he meets with the leadership." Leo looks tired, his skin the color of marble. Dark pockets sit under his eyes, and Sam feels guilty that he resisted the president's awkward suggestion that he work with the lawyers on Leo's testimony, saying he didn't want to step on anyone's toes.
The truth was, he didn't think there was anything positive he could say, so he'd made enough excuses to confuse the issue and was spared ever having that discussion again.
"One night; you'll be back first thing," Leo repeats, and Sam realizes that he's supposed to agree to this.
By the time he gets back to his office, Bonnie has all the details of his trip, is already clearing his schedule; has even informed Toby. It makes Sam question if information moves at a faster rate of speed in the White House than in the rest of the world.
Sam calls Donna and tells her he can't meet Josh later, he has things to finish before his trip in two days. He knows Josh is out of his meeting, but she doesn't put him through, and Sam doesn't talk to him again for the rest of the night.
At eleven, he goes home, without being scolded by anyone. He sits in his car outside his building for a long time, because he thinks he's crying. But it isn't him, this time. It's a small, orange, scraggly kitten, bumping into the black tire on his car, arching its bony, immature back into the air, rubbing its impossibly small face against the rubber.
He stands there holding it for ten minutes, out there in the cold, and he can't understand how he suddenly became responsible for another living thing.
He calls CJ, begs her to come take this wriggling, mewling beast away from him, before he hurts it, or loves it.
They sit on his sofa, the kitten between them gnawing on his thumb. And he tells her everything.
"He told me everything, Josh, you selfish son of a bitch!"
"What did he say?"
"What did he say?! You....
"Everything. About your summer of love, how it was only about your convenience, and yet he wasn't convenient enough. And he told you that he couldn't be in government with you there, and not be with you, and you still wouldn't talk to him! I know about you trying to lure him back into politics, and the friendship that kept growing between you, and the relief that you weren't out of his life for good, even if it was just a silent, sticky weekend every few years. And he explained about Lisa.
"Yes, he told me, Josh.
"About how he loved her, and told her he loved you, and she loved him, and it was all going to be perfect anyway. So he poured everything he had into his work, because he was going to be the best at something, anything. And then you showed up, and you took him."
"That - he had a choice, CJ! My god, you make it sound like - "
"You allowed him to think you were coming for him, Josh; you encouraged that. You let him think you needed him, and when he got to New Hampshire he realized that it was still about your needs, and it wasn't him at all.
"But he decided to stay, and fight back, and be the best at this and maybe, if you did it together, you'd finally see. And then, then, you despicable bastard, you went to him! You went to him in the night, and you let him think that was a promise. And when we won, and he wasn't sure he was staying, you fought for him.
"You've managed to turn him inside out, until he thinks he's the problem, Josh. And I hate you. I really, really can't stand the sight of you."
"I can't believe he - "
"Told me? That's your first thought? That I know? Not, 'what have I done to Sam?' But, 'now CJ knows.' "
"What have I done to Sam, CJ? I... I saved him!"
"You stole him."
Josh knows that. "I gave him back what I once took away. I've loved him the only way I know how. It's always been...." He turns his head away from the devastation CJ has just laid out in front of him, his eyes finding the watery, light blue sky beyond the bushes that grow up in front of his window. "I thought it was enough."
"He never said it wasn't. It's always been like this."
Sam's talking rapidly into the phone, forcing himself on the congressman in a way he would never do to a friend. Or a lover. He's making his case, making threats, making peace, and when he's done, he's earned his paycheck.
The figure in his door watches quietly, waits for the right time.
"We're going out tonight," Sam is told much later.
In Leo's office, CJ is sitting close enough for Sam to smell her hairspray and the pickle on her breath. Josh stares at him openly, yet unnoticed.
And Sam wonders; why will Josh look at him, but not touch him? Why does he touch him, but not talk to him? How can he talk to him about everything, but not about anything? Until Sam's not sure what's happening or why.
It hasn't always been like this. There are times, long stretches of time where Sam doesn't need anyone. He's sure and strong and ignorant of the ache, explains it away as insomnia or indigestion. He tells himself he's too busy to date, he's too stressed to fuck, and it's just a temporary thing.
And when he starts to forget, or remember, or whatever it is that gets him into trouble, Josh is always there to remind him, or wipe his memory out, or part his legs, or make him laugh. And it's always been enough.
After a sufficient amount of alcohol to brace him for whatever the next six months bring, Sam steps out into the frigid Washington night. "I'm a little unsteady."
"Actually Sam," ponders his companion. "You're the steadiest thing in my life, but that's something else entirely." Right now, swaying in the gutter of 14th Street, Josh isn't in much better shape.
Being a responsible sort of person, besides having no earthly idea where they'd parked the car, Josh suggests they hail a cab.
"Cabsssssss," Sam slurs towards his friend, making Josh think of a leaking tire. "'Cause we live in opposite directions."
And Sam emphasizes this by pointing one arm to his right, and shooting the other straight over his head.
Tilting his face up, Josh's eyes reach the end of the arm, and sees that hand is pointing too. And he fleetingly wonders, which one of them is supposed to live way up there among the stars?
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