These Friends Of Mine

by: Abigale

Character(s): Sam
Category(s): Friendship
Rating: YTEEN
Summary: "Ladies," he warned gently.

Numb. The toes of one foot were deeply buried under the heavy wet sand, which was cold and gritty. The other foot at the end of an extended leg, just out of reach of the skittish tide; rushing boldly, then retreating timidly.

"Schizophrenic waves," Sam mumbled to himself, and he leaned further back on his elbows. He didn't bother turning his head. He knew what they'd look like, all of them. It was just Sam talking.

"Have another beer," Donna said in a voice that wasn't quite as gritty as the sand, as Sam's. A gust of seaward wind played with the ends of her hair, radiant in the last of the waning sunlight. She sat just downhill and to his right, and her hair lifted into the air, and brushed against Sam's cheek, dusted with a light stubble.

With a sigh that came from his diaphragm, Sam pushed himself up straight and looked to his left.

"Nuh uh, I don't have them," Bonnie confirmed, scooting away an inch, while holding an unnecessarily protective hand over her own bottle of hard lemonade. "Ginger? Give the man a brew."

A brown bottle appeared over his right shoulder, its label buckling with sweat. "Can you open mine, too?" Ginger's voice asked, as a matching beer followed the first. He settled one between his thighs, powerful and clad in canvas pants, pale as the rising moon and worn to velvet. Sam twisted easily at the bottle, then back-handed it to the assistant behind him. After tackling his own beverage, he placed both caps to his right, where Donna scooped them up and added them to a growing pile next to her. Alongside them was a perimeter of teetering, empty, upended bottles, the only defense between Donna and a mound of seaweed, lumped Medusa-like in the sand.

The failing sun behind them cast long, lean shadows of the small group out to the water, further distorted by the lapping tide. "I feel so damned cheated," Sam declared, eyeing the swelling waves beyond the breakers. Ginger snorted softly in his ear, but Donna patted his calf.

"You like the big waves?" she guessed, following his gaze. "They sure look like they'd make it to shore. I wonder why they don't." Her hand moved away, leaving a cold spot where a moment ago there was warmth.

"Tell us, Sam! Tell us why the waves aren't breaking!" Bonnie began teasing. Ginger, at his back, leaned against him, and shook his shoulder gently. "Tell us, Sam! You know you want to!"

His eyes crinkled, a faint flush heating his tan. "Well... when the wave height becomes one seventh the size of the wave length...."

The sound of four voices laughing into the wind rose above the persistent hum of the living sea.

A man jogged towards them, a big, floppy Boarder Collie at his heels, legs and belly wet from the surf, and when she saw the gathering at the edge of the water she bounded up to them with unfettered enthusiasm.

"Oooh! I want a puppy!" Ginger cooed into the dog's alert ears while accepting drooly kisses. She wrapped her arms around her neck, and nuzzled her face against the soft fur. "I'm a dog person," she told her. "Without a dog."

Reluctantly, and with a longing look back, the dog caught up to her person, and continued racing down the shoreline. Getting to her knees, Ginger began swiping clumps of sand from the thick cables of Sam's black sweater, kicked there during the canine's contortions. "No. I really do want a puppy," Ginger said, even though no one had challenged her statement.

"You'd do better with a cat," Bonnie advised, swirling the remainders of her drink around, making a whirlpool in the bottle. "I don't think we work with anyone with a dog."

"Or kids," Donna added. "Hell, I bet you don't even have a plant at home, do you Sam?" She looked at him eagerly.

"You're telling me I have a home?" he shot back, leaning away to fire a long, mock-shocked look at her. "As long as you're giving me this alleged home, wanna throw in a new dishwasher?"

Ginger's sun-pinked foot darted out to nudge Bonnie. "I thought you said you'd call the guy about that?" she reprimanded.

"I called," Sam said, smacking the scolding foot. "Which is how I know I need a new one."

The next wave rushed at them, whispering its presence before seeping into the sand, leaving nothing but a galaxy of tiny bubbles along the surface. With one synchronized, perfectly choreographed movement, all four White House staffers pushed back eight feet and were resettled by the time the next breaker swept over their former position.

Two strands of coiled curls hung about Bonnie's face, and she struggled to secure them behind an ear before giving up. "What if I had a straight bob?" she asked, and it took Sam nearly a minute to catch up to the conversation and realize that they weren't talking about someone Bonnie was interested in dating.

They laughed at him again, and he let them, and even made a joke about how his gaydar was in for permanent repair ever since he'd ended up practically engaged to his junior year lab partner before realizing what was going on. "He was the coolest guy I knew," Sam recalled. "But that's not the same as being the coolest guy in school," he rushed to clarify. "My definition and everyone else's wasn't always in synch."

"He was cool because he liked you," Ginger speculated, and the blonde on the other side of Sam nodded her head in agreement. "Not liked you, liked you; but he thought you were cool, too, so--"

"It was a mutually agreed upon definition," Bonnie supplied before downing the rest of her lemonade. "But was he still cool? After you figured it out?"

Sam stared ahead, a long, tapered finger slipping around the top of his bottle pensively. Before he touched the bottle to his lips, he mumbled, "Coolest guy I knew, even after I was a jerk to him," and took a long drink.

"Well, you're the coolest guy I know," Donna said, leaning forward on her knees. She used her forearm to scoop up the abandoned mound of bottle caps, and pull them away from the approaching waves. "That works in the White House and, you know...." She looked back at him, over her shoulder, brow furrowed. "Is a lawyer and a geek."

"Geeks are hot," Bonnie said.

"So are Greeks. Fiery hot," Ginger said, agreeing with and expanding upon Bonnie's observation. "You can invite the Greeks back any time, Sam."

Sam waited until his mouthful of beer went down before he swung his head around to stare at the young woman, eyebrows suspended above clear eyes. "I didn't invite them. It wasn't... it wasn't my party," he said, shooting a plaintive look at Bonnie, who was pressing her lips together against a grin. "You do understand how it works, right Ginge?"

With a dismissive shrug, Ginger flopped to her left, propped up on one arm. "Yes it was."

"No, it wasn't!" Sam said. "I was... they asked me to... these things don't.... It was a fluke," he sputtered. "I don't think that in the history of the White House--"

"--Of which you're so knowledgeable--" Bonnie interjected.

"--the first family has been stricken so suddenly ill as to not be able to perform their official function as hosts during a State--"

"I," Donna said, settling herself back near Sam, and wagged her fingers at Bonnie's stash of malt beverages, "think the two pictures in the Reliable Source were much nicer than the big color one on the front page." Her friends--minus Sam--nodded in concurrence.

"You always look better in candid shots, when you aren't so formal and self-conscious," Bonnie told Sam. He sighed in confusion and defeat. "Like Vanity Fair."

"Vanity Fair!" the women cheered, and awkwardly reached up to clank their bottles over Sam's head.

As Ginger lowered herself back to recline in the sand, a flock of snowy white gulls swept across the shoreline, and drifted above the whitecaps, diving and dodging among the waves in the nearly conquered daylight.

"The Greeks bore gifts," Ginger said dreamily. "Why did they call you a neo-liberal?"

Sam faltered as he handed his empty bottle to Donna, and met her eyes in a plea for clarification. "The Greeks?"

"Vanity Fair," Donna informed him, adding his bottle to the phalanx a few feet away.

"They...." Sam turned his body to face Ginger, who was sprawled on her back in the sand, wrestling with a new bottle of Down Home Punch. "Here," he said, taking the bottle from her. "They didn't call me a neo-liberal. They--she--called me a neo-socialist, and it was facetious." As Sam placed the now opened beverage in Ginger's outstretched hand, he glanced at Bonnie. "You guys got that, right?"

"We got it," she assured him, just as a gull screamed overhead. "Rats."

"With wings," Ginger said, looking straight at the underbelly of the bird. "If that thing craps on me...." She craned her neck above the ground to sip at her drink, as Sam scrambled to reach for a new beer of his own. The gull swooped down closer, shouting; indignant. "We're on its turf," Ginger observed.

"No redeeming social value," said Donna. "Gulls," she quickly clarified for Sam, "not neo-socialists."

"Thank you."

The moon was now a hovering, swollen orb, rising out of the ocean. The air itself had turned blue, the night implicit. An indistinct chill sailed by on the failing breeze. When Donna shivered in her simple cream turtleneck, Sam wordlessly shrugged out of his sweater and handed it to her with a definitive nod, before smoothing down the long sleeves of his black tee-shirt.

An enormous wave roiled about at the edge of the horizon, slipping from left to right, then seemingly back again, and Sam watched it carefully as he sipped at his fresh beer. "If you want a socially responsible animal? Bats," he told the vacillating wave.

Bonnie crinkled her brow, and swept the sand at her side with an open palm, making a deepening trough. "Too much baggage. Myths and legends. No, there's not much socially redeeming about that," she decided.

"Um, Batman," Sam pointed out, taking in a lungful of air, gearing up for a debate. "Totally counters the whole vampire thing." He held a hand out in front of him, palm down, and quivered it in the growing darkness.

Ginger rolled into a sit, and squinted at him in the dimness. "That's a generous thing to say, coming from you."

"I'm not --"

"He's Robin," Bonnie informed Donna, who told her she already knew. "And," Bonnie continued as if she hadn't heard, "Toby is --"

"I know. I read the column."

Sam's shoulders slumped, and he hung his head before speaking. "No, see. He only said we made a good team; not which one." He looked from face to face, wondering where he'd find his ally.

Donna brushed the sand from her bottle with the sleeve of Sam's sweater. "Well, isn't it obvious?"

"No," Sam said, shaking his head sadly. "It really isn't."

Bonnie chuckled deeply into her bottle, the sound coming back to them hollow and amplified. "There truly is a touch of Dick Grayson in you, Sam."

"To Dick!" came Donna's jubilant cry.

"To Dick!" the women chorused, and Sam frowned as he hesitantly raised his bottle to clang with theirs, and muttered that he wasn't really sure what he was drinking to.

The sun was gone, but the night glowed with the emergent moon. Behind them, across the wide expanse of sand and sea grass, the lights of the inn the president's staff was billeted in for the summit they were attending flickered to life like summer fireflies, and there was a tart taste of smoke in the air, rising from the chimney.

"They made a fire," Bonnie said, as she fingered a suede lace that ran up the side of her wide, bell-bottomed jeans. "And I bet Toby's smoking a cigar by now."

"Is that what I smell?" Donna asked vaguely, her voice adrift on the dying gusts.

Poking her with an extended finger, Sam tilted his head back towards the inn. "They made a fire. They did."

"Oh."

Just to Sam's left, a few inches away, Ginger's feet rested on a sandy rise, and he bent in the meager light to get a closer look at her nails. "Jesus, what color is that?" he asked, his voice a mixture of awe and unease.

"Lagoon Green," he was told, and she wiggled her toes merrily. "What is it they say about the size of a man's toes in relation to--"

"It's their feet," Donna said, leaning over to get a glimpse of Sam's exposed feet. She wasn't quick enough though, and Sam tucked them under himself, cross-legged.

"Ladies," he warned gently, the smile that appeared on his lips enigmatic.

Donna sank back into place, and flipped her hair over her shoulder, mumbling something under her breath that was dulled and muted by the ocean. "And," she then said, raising her voice above the crash of the next wave, "I do smell cigar. It's not a fire-type smell. It's a Toby-type smell, don't tell me it's not." Her bottom lip expressed itself in a pout, and she blinked at Sam, pale lids lowering over teasing eyes.

Feigning exasperation and a weary surrender, Sam leaned forward until his face was close to her shoulder. He inhaled. "It's me," he informed Donna, lifting his head to look at her. "It's my sweater, with the smell on it."

She scowled mildly, then pulled the sleeves down over her hands and hugged the sweater to herself, excess material filling her arms like a swaddled infant. "Hey," Donna called to Bonnie, who was smirking across from her, "are there any more of those chips?"

As Bonnie began searching around in the two tote bags laying beside her, Sam directed a mischievously hurt look at the woman being swallowed by his sweater. "I just bought you a pound of shrimp, an entire basket of hush puppies, two ears of corn, a mound of pasta with scallops and, seriously? The biggest slab of cheesecake I've ever seen a waitress carry, and now you want, what? Some stale Doritos that have been at the bottom of a bag of Bonnie's 'blended beverages' for the last three hours? Are you trying to impress me, or just hoping to make me sick?" he kidded, lazily blocking her outstretched arm.

"I want something," Donna whined feebly. "I should have grabbed a mint on the way out of the restaurant."

"Can I stop looking, then?" asked Bonnie hopefully.

Donna's shoulders wilted, and she nodded her head. "But thanks again for dinner, Sam. It was great."

"It was really great, thank you, Sam," Ginger chimed in.

When Sam drained the beer he'd been holding, Bonnie retrieved another from one of the bags and offered it to him. "You did good, boss." Her gaze drifted up to the inn that now seemed to glimmer in the distance. "Do you think CJ ordered the pigeon?" she mused, tipping her head back to look up into the night. "Whoa. Would you look at that sky?"

One by one, the heads tilted back, and a look of discovery played at their assembled features.

"Orion. I can always find Orion," Bonnie said.

Donna cocked her head at an awkward angle, and squinted into the heavens. "I bet she didn't. I bet she just threatened to eat a pigeon to get Toby's goat. Pardon the mixed species there."

"It was squab--"

"Same thing," Sam corrected Ginger.

"I'll bet no one ordered anything disgusting, and we didn't have to leave after all," Donna said sulkily. She pursed her lips and glanced at Sam, then gasped. "Oh! I'm sorry, Sam! I mean, of course we're grateful you took us!" Donna scootched closer, and tapped his leg reassuringly. "We didn't want that smelly, pretentious French food, did we girls?" She was shaking her head indignantly, looking for support in the faces of Bonnie and Ginger.

They pet him, and cooed, and told him that his generous offer to take them to dinner had saved them all from certain gastronomical calamity, and they were much more comfortable drinking beer on the beach than cognac with the president's senior staff.

Sam accepted their gratitude with a modest, loopy smile. "And you can't say, forevermore, that I never took care of you guys," he said, satisfied.

Ginger fingered the embroidered moose on the front of her sweatshirt and grinned at him with fondness. "Aw, Sam, you've always taken good care of us."

"Ditto," he replied softly, and went back to considering how his lukewarm beer beat out a Hennessy Paradis Extra cognac any day of the week, until someone asked if they were going to see any shooting stars.

Bonnie turned her body around, so she was facing away from the group, and then leaned back until her head was resting on a tote bag, near Sam's leg. "Well, something's moving up there," she said. "Do you see?" Ginger twisted around to rest beside her, and followed the line of sight Bonnie had set up along her arm. "There."

"Shooting stars... shoot. That's just, what? Not a star, it's a planet, right, Sam?" Ginger asked.

"Okay." Sam glanced up only fleetingly, when he took a sip of his beer.

The moon wasn't climbing in the sky; it was sailing. Detectibly rising, throwing down its light on the irregular surface of the ocean. Donna slumped against the cool sand, a near-perfect counterpoint to Ginger, on Sam's other side. She pointed a finger up at the infinite sky and twirled it around in a tight little circle. "Which one is that? Sam, do you know? That blinking blue one."

"Yeah. That's... uh. That's...." He chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Leucine. If you, see, you just have to find the moon and Neptune, and follow the elliptic.... Yup; that's Leucine all right."

"Sam! It is not, there's no Leucine! That's a chemical compound or something," Bonnie cried, reaching over her head to find his knee. She thumped it soundly with a loose fist, just as Ginger announced that it was actually an amino acid.

"But it's a pretty word. Something should be named Leucine," Sam decided, accepting his punishment.

Ginger tapped a finger against her lip, then sputtered dryly to clear the sand away. "Ptooy. If I had a dog, I'd name it Leucine." She shrugged, and assured them, "I would."

"Artemis," Donna said, and the way she said it, no one was about to argue.

"What if it's a girl?" Bonnie wanted to know.

After a moment's indecision, Donna said, "Plum. It's my favorite fruit. What about you, Sam? What would you name a dog?"

"Oh, god. You know, I'm really bad at this kind of thing. I never had a pet as a kid."

Bonnie snorted derisively. "Your parents wouldn't get you a pet because you couldn't decide what to name it?"

Sam glowered at her playfully. "No. I just mean, I never had to think about that kind of stuff."

"Think now," Bonnie ordered.

Sam looked up, blinking stars filling his vision; stared until they swirled feverishly, swirled out of focus. "Is it a boy dog or a girl dog?" he wanted to know.

"Oh my god," Donna groaned, and she reached across him and dragged one of the totes closer. "It's a boy, Sam. A big old boy dog."

"Well, I don't know!" Sam exclaimed, seeing now that this could never end up well for him. "David?" he said, and braced himself against the stunned silence his choice was met with.

Ginger turned on her side and muffled a giggle in Bonnie's shoulder. "Do you see, now? Do you see what we have to put up with?" She was talking to Donna, who tittered behind her hand. "Come on, Sam! Try harder!"

Chagrinned, Sam raked his hand through his hair, and tried again. "Okay, well, that's only if it's a brown dog." He let their laughter die, and then looked down at the two Communications aides looking upside-down at him. "Actually...." Their expressions grew eager, and Sam paused before continuing, his voice rough with intimacy. "There is a name; a word, really. It was something someone once.... It's a good word. And it.... I could see myself -- not to say that I am, you know, or that's how I see myself. But I could just hear.... It's a good word." They were all looking at him now, patiently awaiting the eventual end of his thought to catch up to his mouth. "Peritar," he said, then repeated it so they could hear the subtle accent of it. "Peritar."

Ginger and Bonnie exchanged questioning looks, as if neither one was willing to voice the fact that they had no idea what it meant. It was Donna who asked, who was curious enough to brave the answer. "I don't need the full lecture, Sam, a simple translation will do," she decided to add, just in case.

In the dark; in the gloom of the night and the glow of the moon, Sam blushed. He quickly guzzled the rest of his beer to stall, and then dangled the empty bottle from his fingers, swinging it heavily, like Foucault's Pendulum. "It's Spanish. 'To give an expert opinion on something'," he finally admitted.

"That is so..." Donna began with hesitation, then studied him warily before ending, "Yeah. That's good, Sam. Peritar."

"Peritar!" came the refrain, and Sam's empty bottle clattered sharply against the others'.

Ginger pulled back the tote bag Donna had taken, and chanced a glance at Sam, before she began rooting around for something to hand him. She came across a few bottles of sickly sweet Down Home Punch, and she took the top off herself. As she pushed the bottle into Sam's hand, she asked Donna, "What would you name a baby?"

"Oh, I'm so stuck in junior high," Donna confessed. "Names that make people look at you with barely veiled contempt still make my lists. What about you? You said once that everyone in your family has unusual names. Would you pass that down?" Donna sat forward, her chin cupped in her palm.

Bonnie laughed openly. "Girl, you wouldn't believe the names that have fallen out of Ginger's family tree!"

Venturing cautiously into the conversation, Sam said, "Don't tell me they're all spices."

"No, no," Ginger said, waving away the idea. She had crawled to her knees while looking through the bag, and now she sat back on her heels and ruffled her hair violently to dislodge some sand. "That would actually be all right, I suppose. But no, we've gotten way past the names of things. Now we just make stuff up."

"Hey, that's not just you," Bonnie told her, scrambling to sit herself. "It took me a month to remember the names of some of my sisters in Alpha Kappa Alpha. And even then I'd mumble half of them until I got the pronunciations down," she said, laughing, and then called out, "Alpha Kappa Alpha!"

"Alpha Kappa Alpha!"

"Your turn, Seaborn. What would you name a baby?" Bonnie asked, curling her legs under herself until she matched Sam's position.

Sam stared at her, then blinked in surprise. "I would never name a baby!" he finally said, shaking his head adamantly. "What, are you crazy?"

Straightening up, Donna's eyes grew large. "You don't want kids? I always thought you'd make such a wonderful father," she said, and a look of sadness and loss came across her face, as though the tribe of blue-eyed, dark-haired wonder children, sired by her equally wondrous friend, were evaporating from sight.

Sam started slightly, and he looked at Donna, a barely resisted grin pulling at the corner of his mouth. "I'd make a great dad," he told her assuredly. "But unless they don't all mind being named David, or, you know, Peritar or something, I'll abdicate that responsibility to my wife, or their mother, or however it works itself out." A baffled frown glanced across his brow, but he shook it away and then looked over at Ginger and Bonnie, both staring at him with openly mocking smiles. "I know what I said. Let's not, okay?"

"As long as we're asking for favors," Ginger said, winking at Bonnie, "I'm really going to need some time off when we get back. For the eye thing." She looked up, and squinted dramatically. "You know it's getting bad when you can see a million light years away better than you can your computer screen."

In an uncharacteristically theatrical display, Sam threw an arm over his eyes and hunched his shoulders together, cowering. "Uuugggghhh, Ginger, please!" he moaned, and scooted away from her as if dodging a contagion she'd sneezed at him. "Of all the unnatural things man has wrought," he said, peeking out from under his arm, "aiming a laser into an eye has got to top out the list." He shivered, and Donna laughed.

"Are you really going to do it?" she asked Ginger, whose enthusiasm was coloring her cheeks.

"Yup. I made a promise to myself, I would never get glasses. And I finally got insurance to cover most of it, so, here we go. -- Sam!" He was still huddled in a defensive pose, cringing visibly at every word Ginger spoke. "It hardly hurts! You can be the biggest baby about some things," she admonished, emboldened by the alcohol. Then her voice dropped, and she spoke conspiratorially to Donna: "Did you know he can't even put in contacts?"

"My mom had it done, and I got to watch. It's amazing," Bonnie said, slinging an arm around Ginger's neck. "I think it's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. It's not gross," she added for Sam's benefit, and slid around to sit alongside of him.

Donna tilted her head, and she bore a meditative look on her face. "The most amazing thing I've ever seen is a volcano. An active one," she clarified, as if dormant volcanoes were a dime a dozen. "That trip down to assess the damage in Montserrat? Wow." She took a sip of her drink, and then looked sadly at Sam. "It's really too bad you guys couldn't get them the aid they wanted." Sam's face registered his regret too, and Donna positioned herself on his other side, bookending him with Bonnie.

"Most amazing thing?" Ginger said, scuttling over to sit by Bonnie, the four of them lined up like the planks of a fence. "A baby being born. I filmed it for my cousin, Tottie." She fell back against the sand, and clasped her hands over her flat stomach. "Now that was gross. But still. Amazing."

One by one, the other staffers collapsed onto their backs, until they lay in a row, nothing in their field of vision but the endless expanse of stars, dazzling and dancing in a private performance, just for them. Sam grasped his hands behind his head, and began mapping out his known universe, starting from his position right there on Earth. "This sky; that ocean. And the man staying in a house about a quarter of a mile down the beach are the most amazing things I'll see in my lifetime," he said quietly. Bonnie turned toward Sam and watched him closely in the dark.

On his right, Donna lifted herself up on one arm, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before she placed her hand on his tricep. "Sam," she said, and then let her head fall to rest on her shoulder. "You just wait. There's more amazing stuff for you coming up. Just wait."

He turned his head to see her, a soft, tranquil expression meeting his gaze. What rose to his lips was too small to be called a smile, too joyless to be a grin. It was mystery and magic, and for a moment, Sam thought he might make some magic, right there, in the sand, with the stars. Instead, he swung his face back to the night and said, "Well, there was the time Margaret made origami dice when we were snowed in in Montana, and all we had was a Disney Monopoly game to pass the night. That was beyond amazing."

"She still has them," Ginger offered, from her place behind Bonnie's back. "They're remarkably sturdy."

"I remember," Sam said.

"Me too," Bonnie agreed.

"So, is Tottie short for something?" Donna wanted to know, and she removed her hand from Sam's arm and turned onto her back again.

"'Fraid not," was Ginger's answer. "I mean, make something up, but let it be dignified, can't you?" She sprang up, and clawed at a tote bag. "Two left, anyone want...?" She held up the remaining bottles of Punch.

Sam offered to spilt one with someone, before he unscrewed the top and took a deep gulp.

"Me," Bonnie said, and took it from his hand. After a few sips from her own bottle, Ginger reached over the bodies between them, and gave the remainder to Donna, then took her place back on the sand.

"For instance," she picked right up again, "what was the name of that actress you dated, Sam?" She scrunched her face up in exaggerated concentration, and then jabbed Bonnie in the thigh with her knee.

"The sister?" Bonnie responded, then looked at Sam with delight. "She means Sekai," she told him, and giggled.

"Sekai," Sam echoed hollowly. "Yeah, that was a made up name. And for the record, I didn't date her as much as she let me follow her around," and he smiled wanly.

A satellite swinging overhead caught and held their attention, glittering and alive among the billions of incomprehensively distant sparks of light.

"Thrilling," Sam whispered, again to himself, again overheard and gently mocked. "Oh come on," he responded defensively. "You can't tell me it doesn't make the hair on the back of your necks prickle just to think about the fullness and promise of space!" He swung his head left and right searching for an answer.

"Fullness?" Donna wanted to know. "I'm sorry, Sam. Space is... space. Open, unfilled, vast, empty --"

"No!" Sam argued, bringing himself up on an elbow. "God, no. I mean, yes, there are endless amounts of... of space between all the.... Can you not think literally for a minute? Let's call it humoring Sam, okay?" He sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees, then angled his head up to take in the full night sky. "Promise. Possibility. Opportunity. Potential. That kind of fullness. And either you're teasing me again, or you're just a very limited thinker," Sam ended a little breathlessly, the trill of his words left reverberating in the air.

With a monumental groan, Sam clambered to his feet, and took three strides away before turning back. "I'm... that was a rotten thing to say," he said in a regret-choked voice before dropping to his knees in front of Donna. "Those Punch things clearly aren't for me," he joked mirthlessly, and brushed a hand across Donna's arm. "That and my damn professor up and died on me yesterday before I could secure his legacy, so um...."

"Sam!"

Sam rested his hands atop his thighs and looked deeply into Donna's alarmed face. Her eyes were probing and beseeching, and with the bright moon at his back, his shadow fell across her delicate features making him feel enclosed with her in a private place. "That's not an excuse for me to --"

"He's been a little touchy today," Ginger supplied knowingly. "Contact lenses and death are two things Sam doesn't do well."

"I'm sorry!" Donna exclaimed, and made a move for Sam's wrist, but he was already throwing himself back into place between her and Bonnie, and brushing aside her concern, along with the sand that was scraping at his palms.

"And frankly, I wasn't kidding about that Punch. It totally killed my buzz." Sam shot Donna a quick, pointed look, loaded with apology, before sighing deeply.

"Well," Bonnie began cautiously, "I may be able to do something about that." She traded battling looks with Ginger, and they tussled a little when Bonnie slid her hand into one of the tote bags.

Sam shifted uneasily and, slightly stricken, glanced at Donna before pulling himself up and faced the two assistants. "God help me, if you're about to pull out some --"

"-- Some what?" Bonnie challenged, as Ginger giggled.

"I'm saying, I'm going to need to walk down to the water or something if you guys are gonna --" Sam's mounting anxiety collapsed as Bonnie drew a pint bottle of Southern Comfort out of the bag. "Oh."

Bonnie's snorts weren't as humor-filled as Donna's, and the scornful quality wasn't lost on Sam. "Sorry," he offered, chagrinned.

Donna accepted the bottle from Bonnie, and her nose wrinkled instinctively when she brought it to her lips. "You didn't seriously think...." she said, before taking a deep breath and then another gulp, and held the small bottle out to Sam.

Sam hit the bottle hard before passing it along to Ginger. "Not that it matters, at this point," Sam said. "I'm sitting here getting drunk on the beach under a languid, star-filled sky with three women, two of whom work for me." His mouth turned into a gentle, crooked smile, and he jammed the heel of one hand against his right eye and rubbed. "No way that could end up with me in trouble."

Ginger was staring at him intensely, and she barely flinched when Bonnie nudged her in her side. "Stop it," Bonnie murmured, and when Sam glanced over at them, they both pointedly looked back at the quivering lights behind them.

"Sekai means laughter, by the way," Bonnie said, and her voice was still a little edgy. "She didn't make up the word."

Sam blinked twice, perceptive enough to hear the tightness, but not enough to hazard a guess where it might be coming from. "That's... that's not a very good name for her," he finished lamely, and realized as he said it that it probably wasn't going to do much for Bonnie's sudden change in mood.

"And it's not like we're going to jump your bone or anything. Bones," Ginger said, the words tumbling out of her as she twisted her hair into a knot, then combed it down again with her fingers.

"Jesus, Ginger!" Bonnie hissed, and even Donna bit down hard on her lip.

"Uh." Sam's head swiveled around as if searching for the target of Ginger's remark, but he was already turning deathly pale. "Uh. Did she mean me?"

"Lie back, sweetie," Bonnie was cooing to the redhead. "You got hit between the eyes by that last drink, didn't you?" As Ginger settled onto her side with a small whimper, Bonnie patted her hip maternally. "We forget every time, don't we?" she directed to Sam, and he nodded his head obediently.

"Lightweights; all of 'em," Donna said, her voice warbling.

"She's not going to be much good to us in the morning." Sam filled a fist with sand and let it run out the bottom. "And Toby's gonna ream my ass," he went on, shaking his head resignedly.

"And you were afraid of a little pot," Bonnie teased, allowing Ginger to nestle closer in her sleep.

"It really means laughter?" Sam wanted to know, belatedly.

"It really does. And okay, I agree, she was pretty humorless. I swear sometimes I think you...."

"I wouldn't go there, if I were you," Sam declared, and lifted an arm into the air sluggishly. "Now that's a shooting star."

He, Donna, and Bonnie watched the light streak determinately across the sky. "Do we name them?" Donna wanted to know.

"Those are comets. This is a meteor."

"Can we name this one?" she persisted dreamily.

"Can I?" Sam asked, a tiny plea to his request.

"As long as it isn't David," Bonnie said, and she took a long sip of Southern Comfort before she handed it to him and rested her head against his shoulder.

A brief moment passed before Sam turned and spoke into her hair. "I'm having performance anxiety," he whispered just above the crash of a breaker.

"Okay, David it is," Bonnie sighed extravagantly, and grinned into his smiling eyes.

"David!" Sam crowed, and raised the bottle in his hand to the retreating light that was almost out of sight.

"David!"

One by one they each laid back, sprawled in the sand. To Sam's right, Donna shivered violently and turned to face him, hooking a foot over Sam's crossed ankles and slipping a hand between his arm and torso. "It's getting late."

"It isn't."

"It's getting cold."

Bonnie looked over her shoulder at a softly snoring Ginger. "It is."

Sam raised his head from the sand enough to take a drink, then secured the top and rested the bottle flat on his stomach. "It is," he agreed, his voice chalky and dry. The day's summit and the ocean's relentless rhythm were mixing with the alcohol to drain him of his last reserves of energy.

"Can't we sleep here? I've never slept on the beach." Donna yawned enormously and reached up to run a finger over the cool glass on Sam's belly. "I want."

"Nope." He snatched the bottle, and held it away from her, where it hovered over Bonnie's horizontal body. "No sleeping here and no more drinking. I need to get her --" he lifted his head to glance at Ginger "-- back to her room, and you guys need to get every last bottle cap off this beach." And with that, his head hit the sand again, and his arm flopped down over Bonnie. "Oh god."

"Sounding better and better, isn't it?" Donna wanted to know, and she burrowed a little closer.

Her hair smelled aquatic and clean, familiar and invigorating, and it made Sam dizzy to try and describe it to himself. Her foot was making his itch; minuscule grains of sand between them clawing at his skin, making the prickle and the scratch simultaneous and delicious. He imagined falling asleep right here, Bonnie to his left, her hands pillowing her head high enough that she could rest her face on Sam's shoulder, her legs pulled up tightly into a secure ball of Bonnie, and Donna to his right, long and warm and already breathing deeply.

He moaned softly. The idea of rising from the firm sand, pulling himself away from this perfect moment, caused him a pang of regret that had climbed into his throat. "I had wanted to take a walk along the beach tonight," he confessed. "Now I can't even move my head."

Ginger snorted indelicately. Bonnie chuckled lightly. Donna clung to Sam's arm, and he closed his eyes to the sparkle above, surrendering to the one inside.

A wisp of cool air danced over their prone bodies, causing gooseflesh to rise on exposed skin and adding a low whistle to the symphony of the sea. "I'm tiny," Sam said quietly. "It's good to be small sometimes."

He felt Bonnie smile against his shoulder; pictured her brown eyes, deep and friendly and amused. He was grateful for her understanding, and her remorseless attitude.

"No one likes to feel small, Sam," Donna said, her voice vibrating through him.

"Oh, I don't know," he disagreed. "I don't mind it when I'm looking up into that." He turned and smiled at her, but her eyes were closed, her face placid and glowing in the moonlight. Ginger huddled closer to Bonnie, shifting the other woman against Sam, and he felt his throat close with emotion, his heart alive in his chest. The air tasted ancient, like the ocean, and he gulped it down greedily to stave off the wave of life that was sweeping through him, here on his back, on the beach, on the earth, with these friends of his.

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