Kiss The Moon Goodbye

by: Abigale

Character(s): Josh, Sam
Pairing(s): Josh/Sam
Category(s): Angst, Romance, Slash
Rating: ADULT
Summary: What is most important to Sam, and what price is he willing to pay for it?
Author's Note: For a number of reasons, I've resisted posting this story for nearly nine months. Chief among them I think, was the feeling that it was mine alone, written only for the sheer satisfaction of it, and for my precious beta reader, amerella.

Secondly, I was vaguely working under the assumption that I was saving it to be the last thing I would share in this fandom. Since recently I've managed to write something else that, while just as satisfying to me as 'kiss the moon goodbye', was also more of a pleasure to write, I've reached a point where I'm comfortable letting this baby out on its own. (Maybe comfortable is overstating it...)

As always, but never more so, I want to thank amerella for her continued friendship, support, humor and honesty. She's inspired everything I've written since the Tangled Up In Blue series, simply because she's such a delightful human being, and I enjoy trying to keep her entertained.

His lip was bleeding. When Josh noticed, the words wore a groove in his mind.

Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding.

It seemed so insignificant; a small, thinly drawn dribble of bright red, seeping out of the corner of his mouth. Lip distended slightly.

And then he saw the smudge of brooding skin grow darker by the second above a smooth cheek. Foggy blue eyes brimming with crystal clear tears, threatening to drip from thick lashes.

Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding.

"Jesus Christ! Sam!" When he spoke; when he heard his own voice over the close sound of cars streaking along the D.C. street, Josh broke whatever spell had held him and he came to Sam's side instantaneously.

They were just supposed to be buying vegetables.

~~

"Nowhere - Didn't see - They - "

"They?! Sam? More than one? How badly are you hurt?" Josh felt his chest contract, squeezing his heart. Breathless. He drew Sam to him, flinched at the evident wince that brought to the usually flawless face, now grubby and fragile.

A creeping sense of being watched brushed across the back of Josh's neck; the shadows closed in on him, his imagination sparked to life by the flame of fear.

While one hand clutched Sam's arm, Josh dug blindly into his suit jacket. The feel of the cold, sturdy phone dispelled some of his panic. Even holding the priceless connection to their brightly lit, ordered world, Josh couldn't bring his eyes away from Sam. He was afraid of what he'd find when he looked back.

A stumble, a crumble, and Sam was slumping against Josh, who was still fumbling with their lifeline.

"Here Sam, sit. Sit on the curb. Sit down. Sit." Josh shifted Sam's weight away from himself, knees crackling as he lowered him down. A small gasp of breath, a hiss of pain, and Josh cringed along with his charge.

"I'll call for help. Everything'll be okay." The platitude nearly caught in Josh's teeth. Sam hated platitudes, avoided them when he could, accepted them when he had no other choice. "Did they take the car? Sam?"

Head bowed deeply, eyes latched to the pavement. Tears falling freely into space.

"No." The raspy voice didn't belong to Sam. Not to sweet, sensible, cocky Sam. It belonged to someone home from a war. A survivor of brutality. It was sorrow; not Sam.

The top buttons on Josh's phone, the ones meant for fire or police, were programmed for the White House. It had never once before occurred to Josh that any other kind of emergency existed.

The emergency services operator asked for his address. All Josh knew was the name of the market. Probed for a location, he almost said 'the one Sam likes to get vegetables from,' but he heard the words in his head first, and managed to replace them with something more helpful at the last minute.

Someone came around the corner, a woman with a stroller. Squirmy baby peering over the top of a yellow blanket, big round baby-eyes locked on the top of Sam's still lowered head. Even an infant could see something was wrong here.

Waving off the mildly concerned, but mostly relieved mother, Josh put an arm around Sam's quaking shoulder, brushed his mouth over his ear. "They'll be here soon. Hang on."

"I'm not... going... anywhere...." Sam brought his head up slowly, the pain it caused etched into his waxy skin. He turned slightly, spit a fat glob of blood onto the curb beside him, a string of pale pink saliva growing long from his mouth.

Instinct steered Josh, and he mopped it away with the back of his hand, wiped it off on the leg of his own pants. "Sam. Tell me what happened." The sound of an approaching siren layered itself over Josh's words, and brought him to his feet. "Here they are," he said reassuringly. The bruise that grew more vivid by the minute told Josh that whoever 'they' were, they were already too late.

First one, then another white patrol car turned into view, coming to a gliding stop in front of the two men. More people, laden with grocery bags, began to appear, rounding the corner into the first section of the parking area. A few marched directly to the officers, most hung back, drawn and repelled by the flashing lights.

"EMS is on the way," one officer, wearing the name Franklin on his chest, told Josh, moving around him easily to stand in front of Sam. "How bad...?" His skin was dark and highly polished, and Josh had the ridiculous urge to run his hand over the perfectly smooth cheek.

"I don't know. He's...." Sam's bleeding. "I don't know what happened. It just happened." Josh and Sam were a team. When one found himself faltering, the other reached out a steadying hand. Josh was faltering now, but Sam's hands were buried in his hair.

"We came out of the store. He went around back to get the car. I - I waited here. With the bags. And he...." Josh looked down at Sam, thinking how strange it was that he remembered all this, when he thought nothing existed before the moment he saw the blood running from Sam's mouth. "He stumbled around the corner. And... that's all." That's all he knew.

"Sir?" Another police officer joined the first, a younger man, lighter skinned, and Josh wasn't tempted to touch him. "How badly are you injured?" Squatting beside Sam, his holstered gun jutted out from his hip.

Bringing his head up to look at the dark brown face towering above him, left eye beginning to squeeze shut above folds of puffy flesh, Sam started to struggle to his feet.

Josh lunged into place, urging Sam to sit, helping him to stand. "Hey, hey. Easy."

"That looks like the mark of a gun butt," the younger cop observed, reaching out tentative fingers towards the vivid bruise. "Sir? Did he have a weapon?"

Josh stared at Sam, looked hard at the area the other man was examining. Sam was bleeding. And there had been a gun.

"Yeah," Sam answered. "I... they had... one." His eyes cut guiltily to Josh, as if the mere word 'gun' would cause him to lose his grip.

"So there was more than one man?" The officers traded looks. Josh caught a silent

exchange of information before the older man continued. "Can you remember how many? Can you give us a description?"

The scratchy sound of walkie talkies squawked to life making Josh jump, and Sam recoil. The only words Josh could make out were 'suspects' and 'armed' and it was enough to tell him that he wanted to get Sam the hell away from this nightmare.

As another siren began filling the air, Sam cleared his throat and spit again. He barely missed Josh's shoe; the blood splattered near the sole of the highly polished wingtip.

"There were, maybe four? I saw... I know I saw three. Maybe there were... only three. I think there were four." Sam's voice sounded unfamiliar, like his tongue was swollen and strange in his mouth.

"Did they take your vehicle?" they wanted to know. "We'll need a description."

"No."

Again, the officers communicated their silent thoughts to one another, and it pricked at Josh's nerves.

As the ambulance slowed to the entrance of the parking lot, Josh stepped closer to Sam, too late to protect him from anything but his own unfocused fear. "It's okay, Sam. Everything's gonna be fine now."

Two paramedics in blazing white uniforms, stethoscopes flung around their necks like scarves, swung from the ambulance and dashed straight to Sam's side. Nudged away, Josh watched helplessly as they lowered Sam back to the curb, and began a quick examination, asking terse questions about his medical history.

Sam Seaborn. No allergies, no medications, no prior health issues. Between Josh's mechanical answers, one of the policemen asked for a description of Sam's car, and disappeared around the back of the store in search of it.

"I need some more information," another said to the paramedics, shouldering himself to stand directly before of Sam. "Did these men say anything to you, did they ask for money?"

"I don't know," Sam croaked. He peered at the officer over the wad of gauze the paramedic was using to dab at his cheek. "I don't... think... they...."

"Did you hit your head Mr. Seaborn?" the woman pumping the blood pressure cuff asked with alarm. "Do you know if you lost consciousness at any time?"

"No. I don't...."

"No." Josh's face registered his unease, eyes darting wildly from Sam to the faces of the two EMS workers. "There wasn't time. He was only gone for - I mean, it was only a few minutes." All of eternity.

"They'll want to get a head CT at the hospital to be safe. And it looks like your ribs. I don't think they're broken."

"Mr. Seaborn?"

Josh heard something in Franklin's voice; impatience, maybe.

"You don't think they said anything, or you don't recall what they said?" His small black notebook dwarfed in his massive hand, pencil poised above it waiting for Sam's words to fill in the page.

"I... can't... think." Sam attempted to shake his head, and Josh could almost feel the exploding stars detonating through his brain.

"Sarge?" The officer who had jogged away to find Sam's car returned, addressing Sam's interrogator. "I don't think this is what we thought," he announced. "I was sure I recognized you two." Looking sympathetically at Sam, then Josh. "They work for Bartlet. He has a White House sticker on his car. You're Lyman, right? And Seaborn."

Yes! Josh wanted to shout. I'm Lyman, he's Seaborn! And this is all a dreadful dream. Instead he nodded slowly, his mind now finding the first part of the young man's statement. 'I don't think it's what we thought.'

A sharp intake of breath from Sam, a quick apology from the paramedic; blue eyes blinking back tears, and that was all Josh could manage to think about again.

Until the policeman spoke once more. "They're not gay. They work for the President."

Sam's expression remained mired in pain, but Josh felt his own tremble and shift. He tried to remember how he arranged his face when he was the mighty Joshua Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff. But only Josh, lover of Sam was present here; only a frightened, and aching man existed at this moment.

"Mr. Seaborn?"

Josh looked down to where Sam sat, devoured by the concern of the paramedics. He looked paler, shakier, and more dazed than he had just five minutes ago, and alarm bells jangled in Josh's head.

"Sir," Franklin was saying, his voice softened now to a kind rumble, like distant thunder. "Did they want the car? Was this a car-jacking, Mr. Seaborn?"

"I... don't..."

"We have to roll. He's getting shocky." The woman straightened quickly, expertly gathering up the detritus that had just moments ago spilled from her duffle bag. A gloved hand under Sam's arm, her partner coming to his feet on the other side. Josh stood watching strangers do what he could not.

"We're going to Washington Hospital Center." She spoke directly to Josh. Established firm eye contact with him. He should have felt reassured, but it made him nervous.

"That's, why there? He's not critical."

"It's close. They're slow right now. You'll be in and out in a couple of hours, barring any complications." The bells went down a notch.

A firm hand grasped Josh's shoulder as he watched Sam being led away. "You should ride with them," the young officer was telling him. "We'll need to check out the vehicle."

After nodding enthusiastically, Josh dove through the dwindling crowd, making it to the ambulance right beside Sam. Clambering inside, he sank back against the side of the rig, trying to stay as unobtrusive as possible while Sam was lowered onto, then loosely strapped to the gurney. As the doors slammed shut, Josh moved into place next to his lover, finding his hand under the stark white sheet.

Looking out the back window, Josh saw two bags of groceries spilled across the pavement; dazzling red peppers, bright yellow squash, intensely green kale, and he thought again, they were just supposed to be buying vegetables.

~~

"Mr. Seaborn? Can you tell me how you got those injuries to your hands?"

Sam blinked at the police officer vacantly, then looked down at his dirty hands, scraped and bloody, his right one showing unmistakable signs of swelling around the knuckles.

"Sir? Did you try to resist?"

The cold bright lights of the exam room, and the warm hands of the doctor were sharp contrasts in Sam's mind.

"We always tell folks, no vehicle is worth their life. Just let 'em take it, let 'em go, and chances are, you'll be fine." The policeman and doctor clucked their tongues knowingly.

"I didn't even get my keys out," Sam said. "I didn't see them coming." As if these things explained what had happened to him in those timeless moments before the moments froze forever.

Looking through the glass wall across from the table on which he sat, Sam could see Josh, cowering against a bank of pay phones, receiver in hand, hanging limply at his side. He tried valiantly to will Josh's eyes towards him, but the man stood perfectly, carefully still, gaze fixed on the leg of a chair nearby. So far away, Sam was already forgetting what his touch felt like.

"The x-rays are clear. No head trauma, no fractures. A few cracked ribs." The doctor had already told Sam, then Josh this. She repeated it word for word for the officer's report, her voice a blissful monotone. "But those bruises." She shook her head compassionately. "Front and back. They'll be with him for a while."

In his hand, Sam clutched the single sheet of home care instructions a nurse had given him. He'd tried to listen; he was a good listener. But every word she said evaporated into the air in front of him as she spoke, and Sam was too sore to reach out and pull them back.

He asked for Josh, over and over. He told her to just tell it all to Josh. But she'd kept talking, told Sam it was important, and he had to pay attention. It was Sam's job to listen to urgent, important things all day; this was just one more.

They allowed Josh back to help him with his shirt.

"They're not taping your ribs?" Josh sounded disappointed, reluctant to button the shirt over bare skin. Sam's ubiquitous white undershirt lay drooped on a chair, forgotten by both men. Josh slowed his motions as if to draw out the moments he was allowed to be this close.

"No fractures, so...." Sam touched Josh's fingers briefly; it was all he needed to remember the other touches.

Sam saw the now familiar frame of Sergeant Franklin walking towards the cubicle, and he shifted his hands away from Josh.

"You indicated that you might recognize some of the men who attacked you. We'd like you to look at some photographs, Mr. Seaborn. Known carjackers, and the like."

Sam set his stare on the shiny shield pinned to the large man's chest. A badge of courage, and honor, and faith in a system and world that Sam no longer understood. He swallowed hard, willed his pulse to cease throbbing at his temple, so he might hear what Josh was saying.

"...impression you were surprised this was a carjacking. Why is that?"

"Well sir, our, uh, first impression of the crime was more in line with some other attacks we've had over the last four months or so. Close to that area, same m.o. Except in those cases, the victims were clearly targeted for their homosexuality. And there was no weapon involved."

"And you haven't been able to catch them?" Josh asked with some irritation.

"The victims, for the most part, were too badly injured to make any kind of identification."

Sam's eyes stung, and he tried to blink them, but couldn't control the one nearly swollen closed, and the other was still fixed firmly on the polished shield in front of him.

"I understand," Josh said sympathetically. And Sam thought, that's good. Josh understands, he can explain it to me; under layers of blankets, with CNN in the background, Josh can explain all this to me.

"Well, he's not going to the station tonight. If he's up for it, in the morning; but not now." Josh sounded startling like a lawyer, and this thought almost brought a smile to Sam's lips. "Morning is soon enough." Josh's declaration ended the conversation.

Moving slowly into the night, Josh drew Sam to a bench near the curb. "Cab'll be here in five."

Sam shook his head slowly at the concrete slab Josh was directing him towards. "If I sit, I'll just have to get back up. I can stand."

His eyes searched the street for signs of a bright yellow vessel to take him back to the reality he'd left behind in a parking lot behind a grocery store. The precisely folded sheet of paper with careful, step by step instructions on how to regain his life tucked securely in his pocket.

~~

Even to Josh, the apartment looked alien, like a set on a stage. Everything exactly as they'd left it that morning, each item waiting to be newly discovered in this fresh light their lives had been cast in.

"Bed or sofa?" he asked Sam, who stood wavering in the doorway.

"Um."

"Bed. You should lie down."

"Sofa," Sam said, looking embarrassed at sounding contrary.

"Oooookay."

He steered Sam around the back of the sofa, and Josh was about to lower him onto it, when Sam put a restraining hand on his arm.

"Bed," he whispered timidly, eyes cutting to the open bedroom door.

"Okay."

Settling Sam on the firm mattress, Josh bent to remove his shoes, his socks, stroking both ankles quickly before reaching for Sam's hands to bring him back to his feet.

After sliding pants off wobbly legs, Josh began twisting open the buttons on Sam's shirt, heart rate picking up as more and more purple skin appeared from under the filthy white shirt.

"Jesus," Josh mumbled, reaching behind the younger man to peel off the garment. "Sam, this looks bad."

Big, mottled bruises, splashed across Sam's torso like an angry abstract painting brought tears to Josh's eyes, while dark blotches shaped like continents mapped Sam's back, making him gulp down a strangled gasp.

Leaning his head against Sam's, Josh's mind raced though all the things he could say, all the wretchedly empty things he could utter in this moment. Nothing was right, nothing could make a difference, and Josh sobbed with helplessness.

"Hey. No. Josh, it's okay." Sam brought a hand to Josh's waist, that being as far as his screaming muscles would allow. "Shh. Please don't. I'm okay. I'm bruised, not broken. Everything's all right now. Shh."

Josh pulled away, brutally swiping at his wet cheeks, and looked at his lover carefully. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. I'm sorry you were alone."

"I'm just glad I'm not now," Sam answered simply. "And I'm so grateful you weren't there, Josh." A grimace creased Sam's brow as he stepped closer to the shuddering man standing in front of him. "Can we just...?" He glanced at the bed, the dove gray comforter like a storm cloud, puffy and promising.

Stepping back into his role as caretaker, Josh eased a clean over-sized tee-shirt over Sam's head, stretching the fabric cruelly to avoid as much contorting as possible. He helped Sam lie down, constructing a wall of pillows to keep him somewhat upright, lifting his legs onto the bed, deftly pulling the blankets over him.

Josh had read the care instructions on the way home, ticking off each item in his head as the cab clicked over the notorious pot-holed streets of D.C. Ice, for the first few days. Ibuprofen, as needed. A single tiny blue pill to put Sam to sleep.

Tucking the covers loosely around Sam's chest, he noticed the slight shivering, and wondered miserably how he'd be able to place sloppy, cold icepacks on that frail body.

Sitting cautiously on the side of the bed, Josh took hold of Sam's hand, careful of the scratches and discoloration. "What can I do for you?" His voice practically begging for guidance.

Sam's bleary eyes scanned the room, orientation dawning slowly before he rested them back on the concerned face before him. "I don't think I need anything. Maybe you could stay here with me for awhile." It came out sounding like a question.

"Yeah," Josh said. He almost gestured for Sam to scoot over, to make room for him to slip next to his battered body. Realizing the folly in that, Josh stood up and circled the bed. Climbing across what would normally be 'Sam's side', Josh was wary of disturbing him, imagining every jiggle of the mattress ricocheting violently through his body.

After what felt like an interminable amount of time, Josh settled his own lanky, healthy form alongside Sam's injured one, purposely not touching him anywhere.

"You know...." Sam's voice was getting thick and less distinct. "You should call. Someone. Let them know what happened." He let his head drop to the side a little, towards Josh. Sensing a desire for contact, Josh swept a light kiss over his forehead.

"I called from the hospital. Don't worry about anything now. Once you fall asleep, I'll... I'll bring in some ice, and...."

And what? Josh thought harshly. Heal you? Make everything better. Catch these bastards, rope 'em up and hang 'em high? The image of a pack of rabid dogs, nipping at each other's ankles in a frenzy of blood-scented hysteria intruded into Josh's mind. What do you do with mad dogs? he contemplated sourly. You shoot them. You Put. Them. Down.

A sorry little whimper from Sam set Josh's teeth, and he realized with dismay that he was clutching Sam's hand tightly, strangling it in his own.

"God! Sam, shit! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Josh released the hand, breaking the connection, and it was like letting go of an astronaut's tether. He watched the anxiety build, Sam licking his arid lips with a dry tongue.

"I need -- "

Josh was already moving away, retracing his earlier path, back across the bed to where he couldn't hurt the man he loved.

"I'll get you some water; I'll bring you the pill." His guilt rising as he saw Sam attempt to take a breath, assuming it was to tell Josh to calm down, but it ended in a gasp of pain, and Josh couldn't even look. He dodged around the bed and headed straight for the kitchen, propelled towards the counter, a drowning man reaching for the only boat floating in the lake.

After steadying Sam's hand as he tried to raise the glass to his mouth, Josh stayed and watched the pill take effect. One by one the horrors of the evening fell away, revealing a little more of the beautiful, trusting man Josh had called his friend for so many years.

Once Sam's breathing had slowed, lengthening enough for Josh to recognize it as sleep, he left the room and dragged himself to the sofa. Clawing for the phone, he hauled it to his ear and spoke raggedly to Sam's mother, lavishing assurances, and promising that he would have her son call the next day.

After finishing the call Josh sat summoning memories of recent small joys; forced them to crowd out the hazy remnants of the night's atrocities.

Was it really only two nights ago Sam had fallen out of bed, laughing like a joyful lunatic when Josh had shaken him awake to tell him his aching dick was stuck?

"You woke me up for that? Take care of it yourself!" Sam had groused, attempting to turn back away.

"I tried," Josh had whined. "You know, when you get as far as you can, and you can't go forward, and you can't go back? I'm stuck."

Josh had felt pathetic, and a little fearful of Sam's anger at being roused on the first night in a week that they'd gotten to bed before one a.m.

Instead, Sam had waited a beat, absorbing what he was hearing, then began laughing. The hysteria, whether from exhaustion, or simply Josh's ridiculous ability to scramble every moment of his life, sent Sam over the edge of the bed. He'd eventually climbed back up, and dealt with Josh's problem between giggles and deep kisses.

Was it really only two nights ago?

Walking into the bedroom, Josh stood over Sam. Listening to the familiar sound of breathing, he felt the tears welling again, but instead of brushing them from his own cheeks, he reached out tender fingers to Sam, dusting them across the unblemished skin that served as a canvas for the sinister bruises growing near it.

Returning with two dishtowel-wrapped ice packs, Josh dropped to the bed, and drew down the covers. He had no idea where to place the ice. The bruises seemed to spread like a puddle, and he wondered if this was simply something they told caregivers to do to make them feel useful. He eventually placed one, delicately, in the center of Sam's stomach, pulling the t-shirt down over it.

Leaning closer to lay an apologetic kiss on Sam's mouth, Josh studied the unfamiliar outline the police concluded was a gun butt above the left cheekbone, where the darkest part of the bruise lay. To Josh, it looked like nothing he could ever recognize, save violence. He then held the other pack to the side of Sam's face, kept it there until the cold sting bit into his own hand, and he shifted the towel around to afford them both some relief.

He was beginning to feel drowsy, the pull of sleep growing stronger as each minute slid away. The sound of the phone ringing crashed through the room, his hand momentarily sending more pressure than he intended down on Sam's face.

"Hello? Yeah, hello?" Josh spoke in a frayed whisper.

"Josh? It's Leo. When did you get home? How's Sam?"

Leo referring to Sam's apartment as 'home' threw Josh for a second, still not entirely sure where they stood as far as making casual references to their relationship like that.

"A while ago. I'm sorry I didn't call you back." Looking down at Sam's slumbering form, Josh rose from the bed and backed away a little, but remained floating at the edges of the room. "And he's okay. They said... no concussion, nothing broken. Just, his ribs are cracked. A couple of ribs."

"That's gonna hurt like holy hell, let me tell you." Leo's voice reached through the line to find the frightened younger man he couldn't see. "He'll be fine in a few days, Josh. He went into this ahead of the curve; strong, healthy. He's not made of glass, and he's a hell of a fighter."

"Yeah," Josh sniffled. "Look, tomorrow -- "

"You stay where you're needed, you hear me?"

"There were four of them, Sam thinks."

"Ribs?" Leo sounded unsure.

"Guys, Leo! Four guys jumped him. What the hell was he thinking, trying to fight back?"

"It's a reflex. Go easy on him."

"You should see...." A wave of emotion lapped at Josh's feet. "I've never seen.... He has the most beautiful skin, Leo. I can't describe it. And now he's got these furious bruises all over, and it.... I can't...." Gasping for breath, for control, Josh was unaware of the stark silence in his ear.

Stealing a nervous glance over at Sam, Josh quickly regained his equilibrium, and approached the bed stealthily. "He's, um, sleeping now. They gave him something." Picking up the conversation from somewhere close to where he'd dropped it.

"That's good." There was a tightness in Leo's voice, and Josh brought a distracted hand to his eyes to try and rub away some of the strangeness that clung to him.

"We have to go down to the station tomorrow, to look at pictures."

Leo's manner perked up at that. "He got a good look at them, then? That's great!"

"Yeah, great." Josh wasn't too sure yet how great that was. The threat of a trial loomed before him, Sam testifying to the beating he'd received from men Josh still couldn't bring himself to think of as human.

"It'll make a difference, Josh." As though he could read his thoughts. "Trust me. Bringing these guys to justice will be all it takes for Sam to put this behind him."

Josh could see the truth in that, a small flicker of truth. Sam was a law and justice kind of guy. And while feeling helpless and victimized was going to be hard to deal with - Josh could give him a few pointers on that - he also knew that being a part of the system that administered justice would help Sam feel like he was taking back his life.

"Listen, Josh. Toby and CJ are going a little nuts. You need to call them. Unless you want me to...?"

Josh shook his head heartily in the dark. "No, I'll do it. Are they still around?" Time no longer a set concept to Josh.

"They're waiting in Toby's office. They were hoping you'd call. I think I can put you through. Nah. I don't know how to do that." The familiar impatience in Leo's voice a tonic.

"Margaret's gone?" Josh dared to tease.

"She's, uh, up to something. Hell if I know where she goes." A moment of silky silence enveloped both men, so many things unsaid. "So, you'll call Toby and CJ?"

"Right now. Then, I need to get some sleep."

"Anything we can do, Josh." A pure statement of support, unequivocal and undemanding.

A grateful and clearly spoken "thank you," and then Josh hung up.

Toby answered, but CJ snatched the phone away before he finished his first query.

"Put me on speaker," Josh suggested, amazed that he still had the strength to speak. "I can really only go through this one more time."

Is Sam all right? Have they caught the guys? Did you see anything? Is he in pain? His face? Not his face! A few nervous snickers, washed away by the next wave of questions.

"I don't think his name has been released," CJ was saying, answering Josh's concern that Sam would be facing press inquiries. "Just another botched carjacking; it happens so often now they barely make the news."

"This one will."

"Yeah. But we're good on crime, Josh. No one will try to turn this into a morality tale. So...." CJ's voice petered out at the end.

"I just don't want him bothered," Josh complained weakly.

"No one will bother Sam." There was no arguing with Toby. Josh felt satisfied that the subject was securely closed.

CJ again, her voice a soft, womanly thing Josh had never paid much attention to before. "Do you need us to do anything? Do you guys have, I don't know, milk? And... bread?"

Deadbolts and peace of mind? Josh thought absently. But he smiled to himself and told them they were fine. They were both fine.

~~

The slippery sounds of cars whooshing past his bedroom window made Sam think of raisin dark nights as a child, struggling against sleep, waiting to hear his father's car chug into the driveway after one of his business trips.

He wanted to roll onto his side, or his stomach, or anywhere that wasn't his back. But just drawing in the breath to support such an effort was enough to remind Sam why he was beached in this stagnant position.

Kicking his legs ineffectively was the only movement that didn't bring the pain screaming back.

"Are you awake?" Josh's voice melted into Sam and, despite the discomfort, he sighed deeply.

"It's hard. Sleeping in one position."

The bed complained a little as Josh slithered closer to Sam, rolling over to meet him. A warm hand rested on his thigh, breath at his face.

"Well, can I just tell you what a delight it's been for me?"

The subtle humor in Josh's tone made Sam curious enough to try and turn his neck to face him. He managed just enough to touch his cheek to Josh's lips.

"For once, you're the one with the bruises," Josh teased. "Although, if this is what it takes to keep you still for an entire night, I think I'll take my old Sam, even with all the violent tossing and turning."

"I don't toss and turn," Sam replied, reaching for Josh's hand, settled on his leg.

"No, of course not. You thrash."

A mild harrumph came from Sam before he drifted back to a dreamless sleep, unaware that Josh's eyes stayed on him for another hour.

~~

The police station was modern and bright, and far quieter than Sam would have imagined. The phones purred, voices were hushed, and there was significantly less bustle than in the West Wing at midday.

Seated in front of a nineteen inch monitor; his second cup of coffee cold and scummy, and cradled in one hand. Sam removed his glasses, rubbed weakly at his eyes, and then slumped down in his chair slightly.

"I'm sorry, detective. None of these... people... look like the guys."

Josh leaned against a desk, arms crossed over his chest, eyes in constant motion between Sam's pale face, and the continually rotating images on the screen.

"You should take another break, Sam," he attempted for the third time in an hour. "They're just blurs at this point. You need to refocus your eyes, stretch your legs."

Sam was shaking his head slowly.

The detective, Hodges, leaned low over the keyboard on one arm. "You've looked at every white male car thief or known carjacker in the system half a dozen times, Mr. Seaborn. To be honest with you, there aren't a whole lot of those. You've seen four Maryland counties as well."

"Maybe if we expand the scope a little." Sam looked up hopefully at the perfectly groomed policeman, who reminded Sam of an actor he couldn't name.

"You want me to get Virginia to send over their mug shots?" There was tired resignation in the man's voice.

Josh groaned and pushed himself away from the desk. "I need to take a lea- uh, where's the men's room?" he asked, already advancing down the aisle.

After pointing to a hallway, Detective Hodges rolled a nearby stool over to Sam and perched himself on it. "So, Virginia?"

Sam sat up as straight as his aching ribs would allow and put down his mug before looking over at the other man. "I was thinking. Maybe.... Granted, I know you have a system for dealing with these kinds of things. But, it occurred to me, if you thought it was worth pursuing, maybe I could look at some... other photographs. Of other.... What I mean is, maybe this is the first time these guys have tried to steal a car. Isn't it possible that they started out as something else, this is the first time?"

Sam reached for his mug, hesitating when he spied the coagulated cream quivering along the edge of the muddy looking liquid. He brought it to his mouth, and took a dainty sip. "Maybe if I looked at mug shots of guys who've been arrested for any violent assaults, you never know, it's possible we might get lucky."

The detective looked sympathetically at Sam, turning his stool to face him. "I understand how much you want to get these guys, Mr. Seaborn."

"Sam." Exhaustion barely allowing the single syllable to register past his lips.

"Believe me, we appreciate you sitting here for the last few hours looking at all these faces. But unless these jokers were just out for a joyride, carjackers usually have a network in place to move the boosted vehicle. Which means, they tend to stick with what they know."

Sam stirred in his seat, sucked in an exasperated lungful of air before he could catch himself. Biting the inside of his lower lip to keep from whimpering in pain, he blinked hard a few times. "I'd be willing to try, anyway," he said helpfully.

Placing a meaty hand on Sam's shoulder, Detective Hodges rose to his feet. "I appreciate that. Look; you remembered this morning that there were only three men. And your descriptions were a little vague, but certainly gave us enough to narrow the scope of our search down. I'll bet by tomorrow, your memory get's even sharper. When that happens, you let us know, and we'll take a crack at the pictures again."

Sam was being dismissed. "Yeah," he agreed quietly.

"Hey." Josh came alongside Sam's chair. Sam saw him hesitate before fleetingly touching the back of his neck. "You gonna take a break?" Josh asked hopefully.

"Actually, I think we're done for today," Hodges said. He reached a hand out for Josh to shake. "We sure do appreciate the White House sparing both of you to come down here. We'll do everything we can to find these bastards."

Sam rose unsteadily to his feet, searched helplessly for his jacket.

"Oh. Okay then. Well, that's good," Josh was saying. "So, you're ready, Sam?"

Taking the presented hand, Sam firmly shook with the detective before accepting his jacket from Josh. The leather felt cold and slippery in his hands, and Sam smelled autumn and animal on its supple surface.

Outside, Josh offered to bring the car around, while Sam waited by a Wall Street Journal vending machine. He was tempted to plunk in some coins and take one. At the office, the daily papers were divided between Communications staff, but Sam always read beyond his assigned papers. It had felt strange that morning to have only the Post with his first cup of coffee.

The sharp yelp of a horn jolted Sam away from his stupor, and he walked awkwardly to Josh's car, taking his time folding himself into it.

"So, that wasn't too bad." Josh looked over his shoulder before pulling into traffic. "They seemed to think you have a shot at finding these assholes. Listen, I was thinking; how about I give Mike a call at the Bureau?" Josh glanced quickly at Sam's regal profile. "Carjacking's federal, Sam, and they used a gun. I can call in a favor, get some real lawmen working on this."

Sam wished he had his sunglasses. The glint from the sun bouncing off the hood of the car sent daggers of light through his eyes. He shut them tightly, but it seemed to burn straight through, turning hot pink against his clamped lids. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

Sam sat silently for a moment, then a moment more. Josh's head swiveled back and forth between his passenger and the road ahead.

"Yeah, Sam?"

"Um. Josh...."

Sam's Adam's apple rose and fell a few times, his vision growing murky around the edges.

"Are you going to be sick?" Josh asked with growing alarm. His eyes searched out a safe place to pull over.

"No," Sam said. "Just get home. I need to get home."

For the rest of the drive, Sam held tightly to the armrest, nails pinching deep furrows in the cushiony leather. He tried to keep his eyes straight ahead, aware of Josh's frequent, pointed glances.

By the time Josh smoothly delivered them into a lucky parking spot directly in front of Sam's building, the seeds of panic Sam had felt taking root in his chest seemed to re-submerge.

The inside of his apartment felt warm and close. Like someone had been breathing heavily in it over a long period of time.

Shuffling into the center of the room, Sam swayed slightly from the density of the air. Hands were on him, drawing him close until all the light streaming through the window was blocked by Josh's throat, where Sam buried himself.

"You need to sit down," Josh murmured sternly. He began to pull Sam away, turn him in the direction of a chair near the sofa.

Sam seemed to surprise him by stepping away and shaking his head.

"No, Josh. I... I need to talk to you."

"Okay. Let me fix you something to eat. Come sit at the -- "

"No, Josh. I need to talk to you now."

Even Sam was a little bothered by the sharp tone he'd used. But he was feeling the pull of something, and he couldn't ask Josh to hold onto him if he didn't understand. He had to allow Josh a chance to understand.

"Sam?" Josh closed the distance between them and brought his hands up to Sam's face, a feathery thumb dusting across the yellowing bruise on his cheek. "Sam, what's wrong? Should I call someone?"

"No. Not.... Please, Josh, I have to talk to you." The tears that Sam felt prickling at his eyes didn't drive away the burning he felt there. He sucked them up and walked to the window, putting half a room between him and his lover.

"I never meant for this. I never... I didn't have time to think, it all kept happening before I could deal with it. It just kept coming, and I tried to make sense of it, but I... I couldn't do it fast enough, Josh."

Josh took a step closer, arms hanging lifelessly at his sides.

"The thing is..." Sam paused to draw in a painful, steadying breath. "When he said it, it seemed right. I, I believed it. I wanted to. Believe him."

"Who, Sam? One of the carjackers?" Josh took another step. "What the hell did he say?"

"No," Sam whispered in frustration. "No, no, no. No. The, the cop, Josh. When the cop came back, and he said it wasn't... what they thought. He said, we worked at the White House, we weren't gay, it couldn't be what they thought."

Sam's eyes, brimming with unshed tears, met Josh's questioning stare. "They were right. It was. It was what they thought." The tears toppled over Sam's bottom lashes, splashed to his battered cheek. Excruciating, heaving breaths rasped out of Sam's runny nose, and his lips clamped tightly against the sobs.

"Sam...."

"It was." As Sam's head dropped, the sobs sprung from their confinement. He ignored the agony they brought to his battered ribs and instead of choking them back, he let them wash out of him, hoping distantly that it might cleanse him of this indignity.

Josh came to Sam, hesitant at first, sure when he reached his side. Taking him into his arms, Josh's expression of pure shock was hidden in Sam's shoulder.

When the crying slowed, Sam was leaning awkwardly against the windowsill, Josh pressing into him painfully. Sam didn't care. He was holding on for his life, and possibly for the last time, he thought abstractedly.

"Oh, Sam. Oh, Sammy. Did you just remember all this?" Josh asked, between flimsy, healing kisses to Sam's neck, his ear, the untainted side of his face, finally his mouth. Desperately driving his lips against Sam's, Josh didn't allow him to answer.

Eventually unable to stand the discomfort any longer, Sam weakly pushed at Josh's chest. "I'm sorry. I should have told you last night. I should have said something right then. But I.... The next thing I knew, there were people saying 'carjacking' and, they said...." Sam extracted himself from Josh's arms and moved away from the only place he knew he could find security. "... It wasn't the same gang anyway, because of the gun, and the, the, they never used a gun."

"Wait. You remembered all this last night? Sam! Why didn't you... god. No. You should have said -- "

"I tried to." Staring at the floor with unfocused eyes, Sam buried his hands under his arms. "But when they said - they said it was a carjacking, Josh - I started to believe it could have been. I didn't have to say a word."

"Well, maybe? Sam, maybe it was. I mean, how do we know? Right?" Josh's expression held all the hope Sam didn't feel. All the hope he wanted to cling to, but knew was about to slip through his fingers. When he yanked it away.

"I know. There wasn't a whole lot of room for doubt. When they.... After what they said. After they started...." Sam gasped a little at the memory, and now he did need to sit down. Maneuvering across the room, he bypassed the single chair and went to the sofa, selfishly hoping Josh would join him. Hold him again. Wipe his nose with his sleeve, the way he had a moment ago.

Josh came. But he didn't sit. He stood over Sam, palms out. "What about today? I can understand what happened last night. You were in shock. And there were so many people, and it felt like we weren't left alone together for two minutes." Josh placed his hands on his hips, and took a deep breath. "But today, at the station, you could have told Detective Hodges. He'd understand, Sam. He deals with this stuff all the time."

"I know."

Throwing his hands into the air, Josh fell to the sofa at last.

"Sam! Listen, Franklin said no one had ever gotten a good look at these animals before. You did! You could...." Josh blinked at Sam. "You did. But you, you were looking at mug shots of car thieves all morning."

Sam blinked too.

"That's why you couldn't identify the guys. You were looking at car thieves."

"I guess I was still hoping they might be. That I'd recognize them. But then I knew. I asked Hodges to... I tried to get him to show me other pictures."

"But you didn't tell him why."

"No."

"Aw, Sam."

Josh was giving up on Sam. He could feel it. He was giving up, and Sam didn't know what to do. How to explain so it didn't get any worse. Something in Sam faintly wondered if he would recognize what 'worse' looked like, even though it was what he'd been staring at every waking hour.

He knew what 'worse' was. And he didn't want to look at it alone.

"I don't think I can do it, Josh."

"Fuck that, Sam."

The sound of Josh was the only thing Sam needed right now. If Josh would just keep talking....

"You have to do it. You have to tell them the truth. Why are you even...? I don't understand. Sam, this is you, right? No injustice unpunished? Righteous, honorable, upstanding Sam? You have to do this. We'll do it."

Now, Sam needed Josh to stop talking. He couldn't find his voice, so he told him with more tears, fighting not to fall.

"Sammy, no." Pulling him into his arms, petting his head compulsively. "There's nothing to cry about. We'll be okay. I don't care, Sam. We'll be okay."

"We...." Sniffles filled the air. " Josh, I don't think -- "

"Sam. Leo, the President, they aren't gonna take this lying down. They're still a little shocked about us, but they've been supportive. You can't doubt that?"

"No."

"You know they'll stand behind us."

"Yes."

"Everyone will. It's, it's sooner than we'd talked about. I mean, it's a lot sooner than we'd planned. But fuck that! And forgive me for sounding like a cold and calculating politician for a minute, but public opinion will be behind you, Sam. To have it come out because of this, you'll - we'll - have more sympathy than that girl that fell down the well. You can't doubt that!"

"No."

"Then, what? What?"

"It's...." The worst. "Us." Sam mumbled the word into Josh's shoulder, had almost bitten through his wool sweater to keep from saying it.

"Us what?" Leaning away from Sam. "What us?"

"What I doubt." Sam could barely see through his waterlogged lashes, the swelling eyelids. "Us."

~~

He doubted them.

Josh stared unwaveringly at his lover, barely recognizing him through the discoloration, and the bloating; the dread and this doubt. The eyes were still blue. But not steady and clear, the way Josh had seen them for nearly a decade. They were white-washed, watered down, barely holding onto their color. Bleached.

"Ex... explain what you just said," Josh said hoarsely. "Explain why you sound like you don't have faith in us getting through this." Josh had his answer. He had it the moment he realized Sam couldn't look at him. With diluted, bleached eyes.

"It's too soon." Sam rubbed at his runny nose with the heel of his hand. "I don't know that we're ready. For something this.... Big."

"We were gonna tell everyone, Sam. We agreed we weren't going to live our lives shrouded in secrecy."

"And we did. We started to. We told who needed to know." Sam's words tumbled from his mouth like pebbles. "But the rest, Josh. You know we aren't.... we haven't had enough time."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about." Josh removed his hands from Sam, sat away from him.

The younger man finally drew his eyes to Josh's, obviously searching for something he'd seen just this morning, gone now. "I'm not sure we're strong enough for this."

"You know how I feel about you, Sam." The words themselves were comforting, but the tone they were relayed in was damning. "I thought you knew." Slowly changing to uncertainty.

Sam reached for a hand, but he barely touched a finger before it was pulled away. "I do. And I love you. I'm just not sure if that's enough for this. Can you see that it's possible we won't be seen as noble victims of intolerance to everyone? It would be hard, Josh. It'd be messy. And it'd go on for a long time."

Josh leaned in, the hand offered freely now. "We have time. We have all the time in.... Oh." Now it was Josh's turn to look away. "Wait. You don't think we'll, that we'll have time. You're thinking we could be over before that."

Sliding his hands over his face, Sam shuddered.

"Is that it, Sam? You're not even sure how long we're gonna last, you're already thinking of the end."

Josh leaped to his feet and strode towards the bedroom, then paced back. Curled fists, brought in front of his face like hands praying in anger. He glared at Sam, still sitting meekly in the center of the sofa, arms folded protectively around himself. And Josh impulsively thought, 'That's my job. That should be me, protecting him.'

Moving closer, but not willing to give away any more ground than necessary, Josh tried to look into Sam's face, wilted, but stunning, even with all this anguish sweeping across it.

"Sam? Sam, look at me, please?" Taking another slight step closer, his arms aching to take his friend into them. "I don't understand. I thought we were good. You thought so too. What was this? What was this to you?"

Sam hesitated before speaking, squinting up at the man he loved. "The same thing it is for you, Josh. And it is good. You know what this has been for me -- "

"I thought I did."

"It's - you've given me everything I always felt was missing before. And I feel the ferocity of your love every time you look at me. I don't question that now." Sam's voice quavered with conviction.

"Yes. You do."

"No. I don't question it now. But, Josh," His chin jutted out bravely, a small child facing down the shadow behind the door. "Can it last? You, and me; we're not very good at this. In the best of times, with the best of intentions, we've never been good at this."

"But together, Sam, it's different. And I thought that was understood."

"We can want what we want. That doesn't guarantee anything."

"Yes!" Josh exploded, sending Sam cowering into the cushions. "It guarantees we try, dammit! It means we don't give up so easily!"

"I'm not giving up!" With effort and barely veiled distress, Sam struggled to his feet. Standing unsteadily, one arm still wrapped around his own waist, he approached Josh. "Don't you see that I'm trying to protect us?!" he roared. "I believe we're good. I believe in us. And I'm doing whatever I can to make sure we have every advantage to make this work. I'll do anything for that, Josh! Anything! The last thing I'm doing is giving up!"

Gulping for air caused more waves of pain to ripple across Sam's features, and Josh was helpless in the face of it, stumbling to his side. He stroked between his shoulders, where he knew there were no bruises. "God. Oh, god. Slow down, Sam. Take it easy."

Grappling for control, sucking oxygen between his teeth, Sam leaned into Josh, accepting the support of arms stronger than his.

"I don't want you doing this for me. Even for us, Sam. You can't let them get away with what they did to you. The price, it's too high," Josh tried to reason, smoothing his hand over Sam's hair, his face. "I can't let you do it."

"I need to lie down. I'm sorry, but I need to go lie down," Sam said shakily.

Josh settled Sam on the bed and lovingly tucked a blanket around him. He sat down and studied him carefully. "This is a sacrifice I can't allow you to make, Sam."

Sam's haunted eyes drifted over Josh, drowsily blinking shut. "It's not your decision," he murmured.

Chapters: 1 | 2 |

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