The Kind Of Man He Is
Character(s): Josh, Sam
Summary: As the end of a friendship, there's often some debris.
It was a betrayal, what Josh did to Sam. But how could he ever apologize, when it was something they could never, never talk about?
Would never talk about.
A brutally scorching hot August night, in California. Hours after a lackluster campaign speech by the president, which Sam took full responsibility for in spite of the fact that he'd worked the entire trip out there punching up Toby's flat, purposeful text.
CJ took one look at the dejected expression on Sam's face, and shamed Josh into showing up at his room with an elbow to the ribs, and talk of the healing properties of beer.
"He doesn't want company, Ceej," Josh had griped. "Why don't you come too?"
"People to see, stockings to wash out, Joshua. Be a man and help out a friend, wouldja?" Josh didn't know if she meant her or Sam, but there he was, standing outside Sam's door, a bulky twelve pack under his arm, already feeling the sweat trickle down the small of his back.
It wasn't like the other times he'd visited Sam's room, on the first campaign trail. Furtive, fumbling, frenzied. Josh flashed on a memory of balled-up sheets, abandoned pillows, and a powerful, ripe scent that would intoxicate him into doing things he'd never dreamed of before, only since.
He rapped on the door with lily-white knuckles.
"That's a lot of beer, and I don't have a mini bar to keep it cold," Sam informed him right after "Oh."
"Well, we can leave the rest as a tip for the maid that has to clean up this -- god, Sam. I've never seen a hotel room of yours so trashed."
Sam stepped over a pile made out of his limp business suit, and kicked at a binder on his way to the couch. He was clad in jeans, as ragged as his humor, and a white tee-shirt with a flaking smiley face plastered across it. He sank into the sofa, and gestured impatiently towards the box under Josh's arm. "Gimme."
Settled beside the younger man, Josh popped a beer open and handed it over, then pried another can from the case, and sat back. "You have a party in here last night?" In another lifetime, he may have added, "And didn't invite me?" but these days, he'd be surprised if he got an invitation to Sam's birthday.
Sam took a long swallow of beer and sighed. "I couldn't sleep, I couldn't find my notes, I couldn't remember what city we were in. I may have taken out some frustration on the décor." He shrugged at the mess, and raised an ankle to his knee.
"'Kay." Josh looked longingly at the dark television, and wished it had been on when he came in. How much easier that would have been than this. "Um. You wanna try and catch a game?"
Sam fished around for the remote, and handed it off to Josh. "Not particularly. But then, I doubt you want to watch the boating forecast."
"Hell, we'll watch whatever you want. I just need to listen to something besides that sucking sound your mood is making."
Sam shot a disbelieving look Josh's way. "You're gonna, you're really gonna call me on my mood after today? Your compassion knows no bounds," he grumbled.
Josh was stunned. He was trying to show some compassion. He knew the speech was a bust, a major disappointment to Sam, the president, the party leaders who had trekked to Santa Monica to --
"Oh, shit, Sam." Josh leaned down and placed his beer on the floor between his feet, then turned to face him. "You... this morning. You had breakfast with your dad today, didn't you?"
Sam snorted derisively. "That was the plan." He brought the can to his lips. "Something came up."
"For you, or for him?"
Sam's bare foot began rapidly tapping on the carpet. He stared hard at the blank tv in front of them. "Does it matter? Put something on, Josh. I don't care what it is."
Josh started with a baseball game, got bored and switched to the local news. Flipped that off the second they began the lead-in for Bartlet's appearance, and landed on a cheesy sci-fi show with a cute kid with a gap-toothed smile on the nostalgia channel.
"I wonder if he lost them when someone kicked him in the teeth," Sam wondered aloud.
"For chrissakes," Josh muttered in return. "Have another beer."
Sam shook his unfinished can in the air, and then went back to watching the star-spangled hero save the universe.
"I don't have to tell you, right? I mean, you know that if it had been in your hands from the start you would have made a rousing success out of that speech, right?" Josh figured Sam would think he was blowing smoke up his ass, but it didn't matter. It had to be said, because it was true; had become truer and truer as the campaign ground on.
Somehow, Sam had dug in and found a voice as mature and pragmatic as Toby's, but infused with a lyrical sensibility that made people's jaws drop. He was tossing out phrases that stirred, challenged, and rebuked the politically lazy and cynical all in one inspired swoop, dazzling voters with simplicity and sincerity.
And Bartlet was dancing to Sam's music like he'd been doing it all his life.
What had impressed Josh the most though wasn't Sam's newfound display of commitment. Or even the reserves of sheer talent he'd unveiled. It was his diplomacy, sharp and elegant, in handling his place in Toby's Communications Office.
Josh knew Toby was as blown away as everyone else by the treasury of insight Sam had revealed in fashioning the campaign's California assault. He'd seen the look of awe Toby expressed while reading a first draft of something Sam had whipped up in an hour, and wasn't the only one to notice the evaluating squint he sometimes leveled on Sam.
But at no time did Toby appear concerned about being overshadowed by his protégé, and this, Josh was convinced, was because Sam handled Toby with exquisite care.
He didn't condescend; he didn't kowtow. He neither offered undue praise, nor undue criticism. He'd found the perfect balance needed to overtake his boss, and still maintain his respect, and Josh was proud.
And wished he could take a little scrap of credit. But Sam had detached himself from Josh's star long ago.
Josh had to admit, Sam's new persona -- outspoken; demanding what he thought worked; dismissive of what he found to be old-school -- was exciting. It had been a long time since Sam had excited Josh.
"I sat in on a meeting with the head of NASA, three science technology advisors and educators from MIT, and six scientists from JPL for the Classroom of the Future program. I understood almost everything they said, and let me tell you Josh, that weapon wouldn't work in space." Sam pointed his beer at the tv before turning back to Josh and grinning lopsidedly. "It's pure science fiction."
"Uh, yeah, Sam. It is science fiction." Josh watched Sam turn back into profile, and shook his head. "And you did not understand what they were saying, you lying piece of shit."
"Well," Sam said, "not when they were explaining about all the technical stuff, no. But when they listed their credentials, and then started talking about their favorite sci-fi shows when they were kids, then yes, I could follow that just swell." Sam stifled a yawn, and sipped at his drink carefully.
Sighing, Josh reached down for two more beers, handing one to Sam. "Don't hurt yourself with that," he cautioned.
Tired of counting the strings attached to the flying saucers careening around the galaxy, Josh flipped through a stock car race, a shopping channel, and local coverage of dogs up for adoption before he stopped.
Both men sat up straighter on the couch.
"I'm pretty sure I didn't pay for this," Sam disclosed.
"Well, uh, be sure you look over your bill when you check out." Josh drained his beer and snatched another from the box at his side. "We don't need that showing up in some enterprising young Turk reporter's hands." He glanced sideways at Sam. "Jesus; especially about you."
Sam turned his head towards Josh, but his eyes remained glued to the screen. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'Especially you'?" He looked to Josh fleetingly, and scowled.
"The rule is, one sex scandal per person, Sam. You're done."
Sam snorted humorlessly.
Josh figured the smart thing to do now would be to turn the channel. Pick something that didn't compete with the heat index outside, and would get their minds off the debacle at the rally, or Sam's father.
"You know...." Sam started, leaning forward a little, a look of intellectual concentration on his face. "I do think that's...."
"No," Josh interrupted, matching Sam's posture. "I thought that too. But look, his hairline is all wrong. I think they're, like, celebrity look-alikes." They watched the shot widen to include three more bodies. "Yeah, see? That's what they were going for." Josh sat back confidently and worked on his beer.
Sam remained bowed towards the screen for a moment longer, his head tilting this way and that as he scrutinized the picture. "Ah," he finally concluded, and relaxed into the cushions. "That's a pretty good gimmick."
"Hey! Now, now, don't you think... I mean, if she looks like that, wouldn't you think she could be getting legit acting jobs?" Josh wanted to know, pointing at a statuesque figure that was writhing across the screen.
Sam shook his head knowingly. "But she looks exactly like her. Who's going to hire her for anything other than as a stand-in? And besides." He stopped speaking, and rooted around until he had the remote in his hand. Pressing the volume button, he shook his head again. "In my unprofessional opinion, she can't act worth shit."
"Who needs to act when you're...."
Both men snickered, Josh hiding his behind his beer can, Sam rubbing at the knee of his jeans. "Hey, you need another?" Josh asked, kicking at the warming twelve pack on the floor. "Sam? Sam?"
"Hm? Uh, no, no thanks."
Josh took a good look at his companion while Sam stared wide-eyed at the flashing images in front of them. He marveled, for the hundredth time since he'd met Sam, at what a changeling the younger man was. In a fifteen-hundred dollar suit and a white shirt he was the epitome of the high-powered, super-charged establishment lawyer. In khakis and a polo, he could be on the trail of his own campaign, affable and Kennedy-esque. In jeans and a ridiculous tee, he looked right at home in a demolished dorm room, drinking beer and watching porn with his best friend.
Two out of three, at least, Josh realized with something like regret.
"Are you sure that's not her? Sam. That really looks just like -- "
"Can you trust me on this? I'd know. That is not... you think I wouldn't know?"
Josh had to laugh. "Because you and Nicole Kidman are such good friends, she would have told you she's doing porn now, right?"
"Because I love her with all my heart, and she'd never cheat on me with a look-alike Ben Affleck," Sam stated solemnly. "That is supposed to be Ben Affleck, right?"
"I hope for Matt Damon's sake it is," Josh quipped.
"Oh my god..." they both breathed at the same instant, eyes fixed to the continuing action in front of them.
Josh popped another beer, the one that Sam waved away when it had been offered to him. "It's too hot for that," Sam said wearily, then flashed a chagrinned look at Josh. "I mean, alcohol, and the heat, and I'm tired anyway."
"Yeah. Hot. Right," Josh concurred. He took note of the way Sam's neck was faintly flushed, just at the hem of his shirt, and that there was the thinnest sheen of sweat at his sideburns. Josh was feeling pretty warm himself, and gestured weakly at the thermostat under the window. "Do you mind if I fine-tune that?" he asked, struggling to his feet.
Sam shook his head.
Dialing up the air a notch, Josh stayed turned to the wall while he made a slight adjustment to his jeans, then rejoined Sam. "Are you sure you don't want another beer?" he asked, measuring the contents of his own can with a shake. "You earned it, Sam. You've really been on fire lately."
Sam pulled his eyes away from the screen, and turned his attention to Josh. "Uh, thanks." He accepted a fresh beer from him.
"Today, today wasn't your fault, you know. The president just...." Josh laid his head against the back of the sofa and drew a hand over his brow tiredly.
"He didn't sell it, Josh. He didn't even try." Sam's voice was marbled with fatigue. "He can't do that. Once he gets up there with that speech in his hands... once that mic is on...." Sam frowned and took a deep, irritable gulp of alcohol. "It could be the New York Times bestsellers list for all I care. He has to nail it, every time. And today, he didn't even swing at it. He can't do that again."
"Yeah," Josh said with a mild sneer. "Well, next time you see him you be sure and tell him that."
"I already did," Sam informed his stunned friend.
Sam's attention was back on the show, while Josh's lingered on Sam. He'd had a haircut right before they'd left on their three day swing through California, and it was cropped closer than he usually wore it. Josh could make out a few silvery hairs nestled near his temple, and found that utterly fascinating. Sam as a graying, distinguished gentleman. The image made Josh smile, then sober, once he began to imagine where in life Sam might have ascended to by then.
But now, he was sitting here slugging back beers with Josh, and it almost felt like the first campaign.
Scrambling for a neutral topic, Josh noticed a small ripped-open bag of peanuts next to the bed. "Hey, you didn't come back with us, and we stopped for dinner. Did you get anything to eat?" he asked with a touch of rare concern.
"Yeah," Sam answered distractedly. "I picked up a little Mexican."
Josh sputtered into his beer. "Way to go, Sam," he leered, but got no response.
The scene playing out on the screen drew Josh's attention again. Glorious Hollywood-perfect bodies bathed in sweat, or oil, Josh figured, glistened in the diffused
light. He felt his groin stir as one of the women lifted her hips off the bed, aiming a ripe round rump at the Affleck clone. He turned his head to catch his breath.
Turned towards Sam. Sam's expression was glazed, and his head swayed ever so slightly, as if he was fighting to look away. Josh dared a peek at his crotch, and was surprised to see his morally unambiguous Sam sporting a furious hard-on.
"Hey, buddy," Josh rasped. "You got a little problem there."
Sam bit his bottom lip and shot an annoyed look Josh's way. "Grow up," he retorted before shifting in his seat with effort.
"I'm not judging, Sam, so loosen the fuck up, would you? I'm sitting here with a log between my legs too, you know, so I'm not about to try and pretend like I'm immune." He laughed dryly. "You just look like you're in a bit of a bind there, is all."
Squinting narrowly, Sam stared at Josh, but said nothing.
The groaning from the television snapped their attention away from each other, and both men sat with rapt attention as yet another star twin joined the canvas of flesh.
Sam sighed heavily, and with what Josh perceived as regret. With calculated slowness, Sam moved his hand to the top of his jeans, and leisurely unbuttoned the closure. His chest heaving, he slipped his fingers under the heavy fabric, working the zipper down with the back of his hand.
Moaning softly, Sam arched his back before rubbing his hands over his eyes. "Where did they find these people?" he wondered aloud. "That's gotta be, I swear. What those two are doing? That's like my ultimate fantasy right there." He sounded more annoyed than aroused. "Shit."
As the seconds ticked by, Josh's amusement at the pained expression on Sam's face increased. It took Sam almost two minutes to reach for the remote that sat between them, but his movements triggered Josh's reflexes, and he swiped it away just in time.
"What the hell are you doing?" Sam snarled, reaching again for the slim device in Josh's hand. "I don't want to watch this crap anymore."
"This ain't art, Sam. It's engineered for one purpose only," Josh said. He waved the remote at the moaning coming from across the room. "We're both supposedly men here, responding in exactly the same way, exactly as it was intended. I won't tell anyone how human you are, Sam." He looked at his friend's ashen face. "And I don't have any designs on you, pretty boy, so don't look so scared."
"I'm not afraid of you," Sam replied under his breath as he lifted his hips and worked at raising his zipper.
"I'm sorry? I didn't -- "
Sam snapped his head around and locked his eyes on Josh. "I said I'm not afraid of you," he reiterated clearly. "I'm not afraid of you, I'm not exactly like you, and I never want to be," Sam told Josh.
There were times when Josh had to admit he indulged in a bit of bullying of Sam. At least he had, back when Sam used to respond to Josh's attempts to pull rank and throw his experience in Sam's face. Always before, Josh had been able to fool himself into thinking it was sibling-like play, born of affection and familiarity.
But there was undoubtedly some rush of power Josh got when Sam would bow to his tormentor, even as they both would joke about it. And there was more, Josh realized now, as he watched Sam's eyes measuring him, assessing the man he'd followed from New York to New Hampshire to a new life in Washington.
It had been some time since Sam casually accepted that kind of treatment from his old friend. Sam had done a lot of growing up, Josh recognized, and it stung to realize that he didn't know where he fit into Sam's life any longer.
For years, the balance of their friendship had been constant, and Josh drew strength from knowing that Sam looked up to him. These days, Sam walked his own path. And although, again, Josh wished he could take some credit for how far Sam had come, another part of him seethed at the way he felt undefined now.
"Ya gotta do something there, Sam," Josh taunted, eyeing Sam's bulging crotch. "It hurts just to look at it."
Sam bolted from his seat and moved in front of the television. "Then don't look," he spat, banging his fist against the off button.
The air crackled with intensity as Sam stared down at Josh. He held his right hand away from his body, and it wavered in the air with each deep breath he inhaled.
"It's kinda hard not to," Josh observed mockingly. "You are a sight."
Sam's pupils grew rapidly to crowd out the blue of his irises, an alarming phenomenon that fascinated Josh.
"You know, everything you do reveals a little more of your contempt for me, Josh. And... and fuck you. Just get out." Sam turned and stalked to the other side of the room, straight for the door. "Get the hell out," he growled.
Josh didn't move, the smirk falling from his face. Suddenly, he didn't feel very smart or fascinated or amused. He saw that there was much more to Sam's expression than anger, and he wasn't sure how to fix that. To remove that look of betrayal he'd earned.
"Whoa. Sam -- "
The door swung open, slamming against the wall. "Game's over. Get out."
Josh fought his way to his feet, his eyes never leaving Sam's. "You think I have contempt for you? You think I...." -- God. Sam thought that, Josh speculated to himself. He wasn't always a good friend; he'd give Sam that.
If Josh's brain was clicking at its usual rate, he could have told Sam he'd been trying to distract him from a professional embarrassment, and a personal setback. He could have said he was going for some bonding, as adolescent as it was.
But that wasn't what Josh had been going for, and Sam saw right through him. He'd been curious, and wanted to see just where he could still take Sam, and what he would do once he got there. It was an intellectual exercise at the expense of the man who used to trust Josh implicitly.
The revelation that Sam felt Josh treated him with contempt was stunning. It dulled Josh's reactions even more than the four beers, and before he could gather his usually formidable powers of argument, he found himself in the hallway, the door closing at his back.
He'd wait. He'd let Sam calm down, allow time for the anger to pale, and then he'd go to him and try to explain. He'd tell Sam that he was no one's hero, nothing much to look up to, but he did care. He cared about Sam, he was amazed by him, and it was more important than Josh had known that Sam believe that, even as he realized he no longer held that kind of importance in his long-time friend's life.
He'd wait. He'd wait and show Sam what kind of man he really was, deeply afraid that he already had.
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