Character(s): Josh, Sam
Summary: Josh doesn't want to be one of those people.
The thunderous sound of the approaching Sikorsky filled the twilight sky. Josh leaned against a stark white pillar, arms crossed, eyes sweeping the treetops for the first sign of Marine One.
Five days. Four nights.
The mechanical whir grew louder, the large machine bobbing into view. Just a moment after it settled itself on the lush green expanse of White House lawn the door slid open and the President of the United States was discharged. In the blink of an eye, Sam scampered down behind him, hair tussled in the artificial gale whipped up by the blades. Hesitating at the bottom of the steps, Sam's eyes found Josh. Radiant smile blazing across his face at the contact, he raised his right arm straight up, palm out in greeting.
Josh stepped away from the cool column, and mirrored Sam's pose. Slowly folding his fingers together into a fist, catching the world in his hand, the words finally burst through the last of his studied defenses; poured like scalding liquid into his conscious mind.
"I'm in love with that man."
It was so late. It was always, always late when Josh really took a moment to look at the time, calculate exactly how long he'd been toiling away in his hovel of an office. It was late and he was still waiting for people to return his calls, and no one ever said, Lyman, it's too late to talk to you. They always returned his calls, and took his meetings and listened to what he had to say. This was his job. And it was his life. Even if he wasn't sure it was the only life he wanted anymore.
There was another life out there, beyond the monuments and the deals and the ferocious duty. A life that had real people in it who would laugh with him and know him, and grow old with him and love him. Somewhere out there. Somewhere... down the hall, across the lobby, sitting in a different office, there was another life.
Easing out of his chair, Josh went to the doorway and stretched up to graze his fingers along the top. Relishing the feeling of muscles he hadn't used in hours, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with slightly stale, dry air.
"If you need something to do...." intruded Donna's voice.
Prying his eyes open, he glanced at her desk. Empty desk. "Where are - ?"
"I have plenty of things you can do while you wait," a voice answered from his left. "Actual work related things, even."
Carefully sliding his hands into his pockets, Josh ducked his head down and wandered over to her abandoned desk, fingered a few sheets of paper; hit the space bar on her computer to dislodge the screensaver. "I don't want to do anything, I just want to talk to these damn people so I can go home." The petulance in his own voice took him by surprise, and he avoided Donna's judging eyes. "What, how many hours difference is it again?"
Slapping down a stack of files and shooing him out of the way, Donna took her place at the desk. "You could go eat. Should I order something? I think... I think I saw the delivery guy from Jade Garden a little while ago." She looked at him expectantly. "Do you want me to see if Sam has anything left?"
What does Sam have left for him? "No. I'll just go." Josh had already turned to walk away, walk as quickly as he could without slipping or stumbling or getting caught up in his own anticipation. Suddenly turning back to Donna, spinning on his heels, he nearly did all three. "You'll page me the second - ?"
Time moved slowly, winding down the corridors. So quiet. He passed a dozen people still buzzing around, still doing their jobs. But around ten o'clock, people began doing it in hushed tones and noiseless movements; an unspoken agreement that, even if they were all still here, they should show some consideration for the darkness looming outside the dimpled bulletproof windows.
Drawn beyond Toby's dark office by the watery light spilling out of the one adjacent, Josh slowed his approach, eventually coming to a drifting stop at the threshold. The tangy, spicy, comforting smell of orange beef, and Szechwan noodles, and Sam wafted towards Josh, warming every sense he had.
He loitered there for a moment, which turned into two. Watching Sam, who was leaning back in his chair, turned slightly from the door. A report in one hand, held in front of his face, the other holding chopsticks above an open container on the desk. He was clearly absorbed, and unaware of the food dripping from the wooden implements, or Josh soaking up the sight.
Josh blew his clandestine presence when Sam distractedly used the back of his hand to push his glasses up his nose; chopsticks still clutched between slim fingers, dropping bright red sauce on the desk, Sam fumbled to reverse his mistake. Allowing his loud snicker to announce his arrival, Josh moved easily to a chair and dropped himself into it. "You're one smooth motherfu - "
"Hey!" Sam interrupted. "I didn't know I had an audience." As if that would have made the slightest bit of difference, he seemed to be waiting for Josh to retort.
"I heard you had food. You might be willing to trade food for... certain favors...." Josh's tone was teasing, his eyes serious.
Sam looked up from the smear of a mess he had made; continued to make by wiping at it with a greasy napkin. "Ah, shit. This was a final, too." He motioned with an elbow. "Help yourself." Reaching across the desk, Sam handed Josh his chopsticks.
Tucking his grin back into his face, Josh accepted the chopsticks, then the container of noodles Sam slid his way. He inhaled deeply, letting the smell sting the sides of his tongue. Then sniffed back a laugh when Sam tipped his can of ginger ale over the disaster he'd managed to create in just under thirty seconds.
"You need help," Josh deadpanned, digging into the quickly congealing contents of the box he now held. "How do you stay so clean all day, is what I want to know?" Slurping up a tangle of noodles.
A slight scowl marring the delicate planes of his face, Sam squinted Josh's way. "I'm having a bad night," was as far as he allowed himself to be baited. "But... it got better as soon as you walked in here." His voice had dropped measurably to a gravelly drawl, his eyes grazing over Josh almost thankfully.
Josh felt each individual strand of food slip down his quickly constricting throat. Could picture them coiling in his belly, knitting themselves together into a solid sphere.
"You could really help me out with the wording here." Sam was still speaking, unaware that Josh's ears were filled with a deafening pulse. "We've already offended just about everybody there is, but I could use you to make sure we didn't miss anyone." Sam cocked an eyebrow at Josh, signaling his permission to laugh.
Josh's spooked expression prompted Sam to continue. "Everything okay? Do I need to do the Heimlich maneuver on you?"
Sputtering slightly, Josh returned his attention to his food, poking violently at an elusive green pepper. "Wrong pipe. It's fine now," he offered by way of explanation.
"Here." Sam rose from his seat and came around to the other side of the desk with what was left of his drink and waited patiently while Josh sipped at it. Josh allowed the lukewarm liquid to dissolve the lump in his throat, then gratefully handed what was left back to Sam.
And noticed for the first time that Sam had changed from his suit into more casual clothes. Which indicated that he thought it was going to be a very long night. Pulling his eyes away from the soft, black cashmere clinging to Sam's biceps, Josh dug into the soggy carton in his hand, suddenly aware of the gradual warmth spreading through his palm, his chest, his stomach, his thighs....
"...them to finish the vote in Sacramento?" Sam was asking, keeping his place leaning against the desk, naval to nose with Josh. "I hear Bethel held it up, they won't finish till maybe ten, west coast." Sam considered Josh carefully. "So, are you waiting around?" His tone made it obvious it wasn't the first time he'd posed the question.
"Um, yeah. I'm expecting a call from Otero any minute to let me know how it's going."
"Good," Sam declared, and reached down to pinch gently at Josh's arm before pushing away from the desk. "You can keep me company."
Giving up on ever getting any food down his throat or into his stomach to stay, Josh placed the container on Sam's desk and gave it a resolute push. In answer to Sam's puzzled expression, he replied, "I'm really not that hungry, after all." And managed half of an apologetic grin.
Sam hitched up his khakis and took his seat behind the desk. Surveying the catastrophe he'd wreaked upon his brilliant treatise on internet commerce, even he had to admit to Josh that the situation was hopeless.
Seeing the slight look of defeat scroll across Sam's face, Josh spoke up. "You don't have to re-write that or anything, do you? I mean, you just have to print it out. Right?"
"Yeah," Sam exhaled softly. "I just have to...." He cast his eyes around the surface of the desk, spun in his chair to look behind himself. "Um... the disc. It was right... Just have to...."
Josh was already laughing, chuckling fondly at Sam's expression of self-doubt more than the befuddled words coming out of his mouth. Although that was amusing him to no end, as well.
"...and now you're laughing at me," Sam confirmed grumpily. "You could be helping me... Why did you come in here again? You just want to stare at me and eat my food and laugh at me."
Josh stopped laughing. "I wasn't... staring... when was I staring at you?" he gulped. Hoping Sam wouldn't say, for the past two weeks, Josh. You haven't been able to keep your eyes off me since I came back from South America.
Instead Sam swiped his hand across his mouth and asked, "Do I have sauce on my chin, or something?"
"No," Josh answered with relief.
"AH HA!" Sam exclaimed, holding up the blue disc triumphantly. "Ha!" he added for good measure. Slipping it into the drive of his pc, his fingers flew gracefully across the keys, and soon the drone of the printer signaled that his universe was once again in perfect order.
While Josh's was quickly spinning completely away from him. He watched guardedly as Sam leaned forward to inspect each page as it methodically materialized out of the printer; humming a little here, squinting a bit there, until he had the entire document securely in his hand, holding it up for Josh to admire.
"See. You're staring at me again." This time, Sam wasn't wiping at his face. "Josh? What's going on?" He deftly tossed the still warm report onto a stack of papers away from the center of his desk and sank back into his chair. "It's like you've been wanting to... maybe talk about something. For days." Sam gestured at the empty Bullpen outside his door. "This seems like it would be a good time. If there was.... something." His smile, warm and concerned, seemed to reach across the desk for Josh.
And there was. Something. Something Josh wanted desperately to share with the only person he'd really been able to talk to about anything for - years. Years and years of random phone calls just to say 'Were you watching? Did you hear what he said?' and, 'It's just as well, she and I were never going to work out.'
But never 'God, where are these feelings coming from?' Or, 'Why do I have this hole in me?' Never that. Years and years, and the only person who could have ever helped him understand it, was the only person he could never talk to.
"Is there something?" Sam still wanted to know.
"Yeah, actually," Josh admitted without thinking. "There's something."
Patiently, Sam nodded his head and rocked a little in his chair. "I'd like to help. If it's something you think I could help with." He extended the invitation gently. "You're not worried about California." He knew that at least. "So...?"
No, Josh wasn't worried about California. He wasn't going to fret about the House vote either, when the time came. But could he tell Sam, 'I'm worried that I'll never really be happy; with everything I've been given, everything I've achieved? Am I still gonna end up being one of those people lamenting the fact that they go home alone every night, never have someone know them? Am I really one of those people?'
"I don't want to be one of those people," Josh murmured quietly. "I don't want to be one of those people, Sam."
"Okay. Then I don't want you to be either," Sam commented easily. "What kind of people are we talking about here?" The lightness in his tone barely disguised the concern he obviously felt.
Sinking lower into his chair, sighing dramatically, throwing cautious glances at Sam, Josh was the very picture of uncomfortable indecision. Wanting so much to open his heart and his mouth at the same time, let them both speak for him once and for all. Such a terrible risk; keep the sureness of his relationship with Sam as it stood. Or hazard the promise of a fuller, more fulfilling one, the one he'd allowed himself to begin imagining.
Sliding a finger along the outside of his ear to scratch an itch he didn't feel, Josh shook his head slowly. "I don't know. I really don't know what's gotten into me," he admitted. "It's nothing for you to worry about, though."
Sam snorted, and replied with predictable sarcasm. "No, I'm not worried."
Now Sam was worried about him. That wasn't his intent, of course. But somewhere inside, in that place Josh usually avoided, he was warmed and pleased. Sam was worried about him.
"So, I'm not worried, and you're not troubled, and everything that could possibly go right will. I guess that's it, huh? We might as well just pack up the kids and head on home." Sam turned towards the muted television glowing to his right and fixed his gaze there, studiously ignoring Josh.
Assuming that whatever was there had Sam's full attention, Josh sat back and allowed himself a moment. A moment of Sam.
The profile, sharp as a knife. Shoulders strong and squared. Posture impeccable; hair displaced just enough to look charming and casual, instead of wild and frenzied like Josh's tended towards.
He saw Sam's jaw twitch faintly, eyes squint slightly at the screen. Wondered what intense thoughts might be sloshing around in his head, watching television without sound.
"Turn it up, Sam. If you're so interested in what's going on." Josh shifted in his chair, resting one ankle over his knee.
Suddenly directing the remote at the screen, Sam popped off the power and swung around to face Josh. "I wasn't watching. I was waiting for you to talk to me."
Sam placed the remote on the desk, his palm lingering on top of it as he kept his eyes down turned. "Do you, maybe want a drink? Toby's got a bottle - "
"No," Josh answered, dismissing the idea with a shake of his shaggy head. "I still have work." He grabbed his ankle with his left hand, surprised at the rush of warmth that was transferred to the skin under his sock. And immediately recognized that he was working feverishly hard to distract himself from the beautiful, inquiring eyes Sam had focused on him now.
Sam tipped his head to the left and sat back in his chair; one finger tapped against the remote beneath his hand. "Is it something personal, Josh?" he asked slowly, his eyes measuring his friend's response. "Is your mom okay?"
Josh's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Yes! Why would you assume...?" His ankle dropped from his leg and he scooted forward in his seat, sharp elbows digging into his thighs. "My mom's fine," he reiterated, aware of Sam's skeptical expression.
"Should I keep guessing?" Sam asked. "But I think we both know how much I suck at party games." He pushed the remote away, and crossed his arms over his cashmere-clad chest.
"You're really good at party games, Sam," Josh responded without thinking. He chided himself for being so literal, when Sam was obviously becoming perturbed by Josh's caginess.
But what could he say? What were the right words to use to tell your best friend that you'd begun to think of him as something unearthly and desirable? To let him know that you'd imagined what it would feel like?
To put your hand on the back of his
neck, and draw him closer, feeling his hair between your fingers. Would you tell him that you wanted to keep your eyes open as your lips moved closer, wanted to see into him when they touched, tasting him for the very first time?
Longed to see his response when you whispered, "Why have I never kissed you before?" Hoped he'd laugh easily, joyously, and return the kiss?
Reason stolen from him, Josh actually considered standing up, and moving to Sam's side of the desk. But he felt suddenly betrayed by his own fears. Those eyes, as blue-gray as the sky the day he buried his father, kept watching him, and Josh felt as if there was a dare hanging in the air.
"Maybe you should go home or something, Josh." Sam unfolded his arms, and pulled his chair up to the edge of his desk, like a loan officer relaying the unfortunate news that his application had been denied. "I'll have Donna put the call from Sacramento through to me, and if there does turn out to be a problem, we can page you."
Sam, when all business, could be a glorious sight, Josh mused, but he shook his head. "That's, that's really nice of you to offer, Sam. But I gotta stick around, and you were doing something anyway. You should just do that, whatever it was that you were, uh."
Josh rose to his feet with a weary sigh.
"I can't read you. I'm never sure anymore," Sam said, as he slowly lowered his head.
"I know, I know." No one apologizes to Sam. And he apologizes to everyone, Josh realized. But instead of saying 'I'm sorry I'm acting so strange', he said, "You worry way too much."
He ran a hand through his hair and was about to turn when Sam's hushed voice caught him. "There are times I could use you, Josh."
The vulnerability of those words, that voice, his eyes, made Josh's stomach clench. He thought he could feel the Chinese food shift inside him, quivering in his gut.
"I know a little something about self destructive behavior." Sam's eyes flickered to the side for just an instant, but Josh caught it and was drawn closer by the defeat he heard.
"I, I'm not - Sam. I'm not gong to self destruct!" Josh claimed, his voice climbing away from him. He wanted to assure Sam he wouldn't do that, but where was the proof? Certainly not in his history, of which Sam was perfectly aware. The scar on his palm itched, but Josh resisted scratching it, clenching his fist tightly instead.
As he watched, Sam rose from his chair and walked right up to him without hesitation. Josh could smell the warm scent of skin and wool, a comforting and confounding feeling of familiarity coming over him. Distinctly Sam. Skimming his eyes over Josh's face, Sam pulled himself up to his full height and looked at him intensely. "You need to let me know you're all right."
Josh sniffed nervously, but held Sam's gaze. "I guess I thought that's what I was doing."
"When?!" Sam challenged. "When you came slinking in here? When you faltered over your denial? When you couldn't look me in the eyes, or was it when you tried to stare me down?"
Josh liked being the one. The person who could make Sam stop. But lately, he didn't seem to have that power anymore. So Sam kept going.
"It's like you're hovering over me and avoiding me and afraid of me and angry, and I swear to god, Josh, I don't know." Sam stood his ground, his eyes boring straight through Josh. A staring contest. And Josh wondered, did adults really solve things this way?
"Sam." The longing in his voice made it a whine, and he broke eye contact.
With a look that was indecipherable, Sam turned away and went to the shelves on the other side of the office where his fingers strayed over the glass. "Talk to me, don't talk to me; your call. But know this." Sam turned around and placed his hands on the top of the chair Josh had vacated. "I can't read your mind, so please don't forget that I asked, this time. I asked."
While he watched Sam speak, paying special attention to the divot above his lip, Josh considered what would truly happen if he closed the space and took Sam in his arms. Sam was asking - begging - to gain insight into what was troubling him, and Josh fleetingly wondered how he'd react once he had it.
He was staring again, he knew that. There were fewer and fewer excuses Josh could come up with to assure Sam that he wasn't getting lost in the curve of his jaw, following it in his mind with the lingering touch of a lover. Smelling the scent that collected behind Sam's ear, predicting the way his soft, pliant lobe would feel between his lips...
Thinking, 'you used to be a source of my strength. Suddenly, you're my weakness.'
Josh, enunciating carefully, voice scratchy, said, "There's this life, you know?" He saw Sam's countenance become focused and intent, so he went on. "And I've never had it. Never even come close."
Sam's head was shaking back and forth. Not in disagreement, Josh realized. But in recognition; understanding. But how could Sam understand? He had had that life, as brief and fleeting and unhappily as it ended.
His hands still bearing down on the top of the chair, Sam leaned into it more deeply. His head dipped down, and Josh could imagine seeing the thoughts being assembled together.
"I can't help you there, man," Sam said softly, and Josh nearly laughed at the irony. Sam's head came up, and his hands moved away from the chair, as he came around it to Josh.
This was something Josh was always mindful of, usually tried to avoid. The subject wasn't Sam's favorite, and Josh often wondered just how much he'd left unresolved. On a few occasions, Josh had made self-conscious attempts to revisit the old wound, but Sam was more adept at warding off those kinds of inquiries while drunk than most people were when sober.
He'd overheard a fragment of a conversation Sam was having once during the campaign. On a darkened bus careening through some rectangular state, Sam could be heard speaking in that voice that sounded like rustling rice paper: "I'm not afraid of commitment. Just because I'm not good at it, doesn't mean I don't want it. Not all men are like Josh, Donna."
No. Not all men are like me, Josh mused as Sam stood in front of him, unafraid to hold eye contact but still oblivious to what he was seeing. "I'm not the one to help you figure that stuff out," Sam confessed, nearly causing Josh to make a confession of his own. "God knows I want to; I just don't think you'd take anything I have to say on the subject very seriously."
But I would! Josh wanted to crow. "Why not?" is what he actually asked.
A soft breath escaped Sam and he hesitated a moment, hands buried up to the wrists in the pockets of his slacks. When he stepped away, past Josh, Josh felt abandoned.
"Why not?" he solicited again, this time turning to follow Sam's movement to the window.
"No way I can say it, without it sounding cheesy." The apology was nearly covered under a layer of self-deprecation.
"Why can't you speak the way you write?" Josh wanted to know, thinking of the way Sam glided across his office reading from a page the words he'd deposited there, which the president would use to ignite a room.
"I speak with a different voice when I write. It's not me." Sam flicked at the blinds at his window, and Josh could see the humility in the action.
"I think it is. I think that's your real voice."
With a tilt of his head, Sam turned back towards Josh, but stayed across the room. "And then there's the fact that in my speeches for the president, I don't talk about the value of love, the human need for companionship or the desire for a decent fuck. I've tried, but the man has certain ideas about what he wants to say to the American people."
"So do you," was Josh's inaudible response. In a sudden guilty rush, Josh realized that all evening, Sam had been the one coming to him, closing the distance that separated them while Josh stood or sat immobile, impassive.
With the awareness came the impetus, and he walked to where Sam stood, wearing an expression as sweet and innocent as the taste of bubblegum. Josh was wildly conscious of the contrast to his own lusty nature, and it excited him. He stopped within a foot of Sam, close enough to notice the network of thin red squiggles running through the whites of his eyes, and the small web of crinkly skin that framed them.
And there it was. A smudge of brown Szechwan sauce, just to the right of Sam's mouth, tiny and of no consequence. Missed, when Sam had wiped at an imagined stain he thought caused Josh's earlier assessment.
"Here," Josh offered huskily. He brought his thumb to the spot, desperate for the contact, fighting the desperation. "You have some...." No flinch; not even a blink. Only a trusting tilt of the head, a submission to Josh's ministrations, and then the sound of a pager shattered the intimacy.
Automatically bending his head down to check the readout, Josh could feel Sam's breath on the top of his head, an unexpected expulsion of air that tickled the roots of his hair and sent a surprising chill to his neck.
"Sacramento?" Sam wanted to know.
Josh nodded, and straightened. "Trouble," was all he needed to tell Sam, because Sam understood. Sam understood.
Josh took two steps away before he could bring himself to turn his back on Sam and head for the door. In his mind's eye, he was already behind his desk, phone in fist, a few fat, well placed threats crouching beside his diplomatic pleas. He had his job to do; his life to get back to. "I swear to god, Otero's gonna be getting all his protein through a straw if he doesn't come through as promised," Josh was threatening.
Sam's "Hey?" stopped him before he got away.
"What about me?"
"Everything about you, Josh."
"I just love these enigmatic chats of ours."
Sam blinked his concurrence. "Goodnight."
Later that night, Sam woke up with a pounding erection, no memory of the dream, and utterly alone. Taking the situation firmly in hand, he let his mind drift lazily from place to place, face to face, until his physical desire was resolved. Peacefully, he relinquished himself back to the hazy, drugged pull of sleep without ever realizing consciously that he'd been thinking of Josh.
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