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With Respect, To the Gentleman From California

by: Abigale
Category: Drama, Sam, Sam/Josh (slash) Toby
Rating: ADULT
Author's Note: For more of Abigale's WW fiction: http://subtractions.homestead.com/

Wednesday

Leo's day was going the way of all Leo's days.  At breakneck speed and with sweeping frustration.  Throw in one or two minuscule victories; just to tempt him into waking up the next morning and hauling himself back to the office.

Squinting his eyes at the silent television, Leo reached for the remote control. 

"Leo?"

"C'mon in, Toby."  Leo adjusted the volume to a comfortable level and resumed glancing through the correspondence in front of him.  "Whatta you need?"

Toby moved further into the room, two files in one hand, a coffee mug in the other.

"There's a problem..." he began tensely.  "Sam just got an advance copy of Congressman Swift's speech tomorrow at Temple University."

Leo looked at Toby over his glasses, then removed them and sat back in his chair.  "What are they doing giving Sam...?"

"Yeah.  Well, Sam's not saying.  But I'll get it out of him. The point is," Toby came around to the side of the desk and placed one of the files directly in front of Leo.  "Take a look at that."

Opening the file, Leo replaced his glasses and began skimming over the first page of the speech, as Toby restlessly paced over to the television.

The sound of Leo's palm making violent contact with the desk brought Toby back across the room.  "How far did you get?" he asked skeptically.

"Far enough to recognize this as the speech you wrote for the President.  The one he's giving on *Friday.*"  Leo rose out of his chair, causing Toby to back up a few paces.  "This is nearly word for word, Toby!  The implication - besides the fact that Swift has been pretty vocally opposed to the Transportation Equity Act - the implication that we have a leak somewhere.... That bastard thinks he can embarrass us?!"  Leo picked the file up, then threw it back down.  "All right, first things first."  

Toby stood impatiently in front of Josh's desk, waiting for him to hang up the phone.  Tapping fingers against the arm of a chair.  Sighing in agitation.  Rolling his eyes when Donna darted in to drop a message in front of her boss.

"What the hell's going on?" Josh asked when he finally placed the phone in its cradle.

"You couldn't have drawn that out any longer?  'How's the bean soup today?'  For the love of god, Josh, we have an actual problem here."  Toby's free hand was clicking the end of his pen frantically.

Josh stood up and ran his hand across a slew of papers in front of him.  "Better make it quick.  I've got to get to the Hill - "

"Oh, you're going to the Hill, all right," Toby scoffed.  "You're going to talk to Daniel Swift, and if you're really good, I'll take you off your leash and you can tear his fucking throat out."

Josh was startled to attention by the vitriolic venom in Toby's voice.

"I want his blood to run through the streets," Toby stated plainly.

Because Sam was better at organizing his desk than his thoughts, it took awhile for him to eventually stammer out that his source had requested anonymity.  It only took Toby three words to break him.

"Tell me.  Now."

"This puts me in a very bad position, Toby.  In the future - "

"Tell. Me. NOW."

"Kim Carruthers," Sam blurted without further convincing.  "His chief of staff.  She gave it to me over lunch.  But if you're going to ask me how she knew it would be significant to us.... "

Toby very much wanted to know how a conservative Democratic Congressman ended up with a draft of a major address the President was scheduled to give in a few days, a speech Toby himself had written.  But Sam had said he didn't know any more, and Toby really had no reason to think Sam would lie about that.

One hand on his hip, the other drumming away on his windowsill, Toby drew in a few steadying breaths before turning back to Sam.  The look on his deputy's face would have caused Toby to smile, any other day.  A cross between deathly ill and nervous expectation, with a little fear thrown in for good measure.

"What do you want to do?" Sam breathed apprehensively, taking a cautious step closer to his boss.

"Josh is taking care of it.  In the meantime," Toby buried his face in his large hands and moaned elaborately.  "I guess we need to come up with another version of the speech."

The clock above Donna's desk read quarter to five when Josh blew into the Bullpen, cheeks flushed, and eyes ablaze.  "Where's Toby?!" he exclaimed to his assistant, who was diligently logging correspondence into her computer.

Looking up for a moment before her fingers continued sweeping across the keyboard.  "Why would you ask me that, when you already know the answer?" she asked with studied annoyance.  "Where would you imagine he'd be right now?"

"I - tell him I'm coming over.  No.  Tell him I have returned!" Josh trumpeted.  "Tell him I have made a triumphant return, and I bring to him the head of Daniel Swift.  On a platter.  With... garnishes."

Her eyes leaving the screen for only a second, Donna snorted. "You'll be there before I can get through on the phone.  I'll leave the gleeful retelling of this tale to you."  And returned once again to her work.

Shaking his head, a typewritten page in his hand, Toby looked over at Sam.  "It's spelled wrong.  Don't you have spell check on that thing?"

Looking down at the screen of his laptop, Sam clucked his tongue and flicked at a few keys.  "It's spelled correctly.  It's just... it's the wrong word."

"Can you spell 'unmitigated disaster?' " Toby asked sarcastically.

And when Sam started to, the usually dour Director of Communications actually chuckled.

Before Toby had a chance to begin ridiculing the writer, Josh's lanky form skidded past the window into the Bullpen, colliding with Toby's closed door.  An instant later, he spilled into the room.

"Stop writing!  You - you don't need to rewrite it," Josh crowed.  "Swift is not going to give the speech on Thursday, so stop writing."

The initial look of annoyance on Toby's face softened to awe.  "How?  How did you do it?" he desperately wanted to know.

"You told me to kill him," Josh stated easily.  "I bring you the head of - "

"Josh!" Sam blurted, laughter overtaking him.  Josh placed a hand on Sam's shoulder and squeezed gently, then quickly shifted away. 

Rising from behind his desk, Toby joined Josh in the center of his office.  "Don't tell me what you did with the body," Toby instructed.  "That would make me culpable.  Just - "  He tossed the now un-needed speech onto his desk.  "Tell me what he looked like when you cut through his jugular."

Sam, still smiling, shaking his head back and forth, stood up and plunged his hands into his pockets.  "Politics.  Very messy business."

Swinging around to face Sam.  "You," Toby commanded, startling the grin right off of Sam's face.  "Now that we don't have this thing hanging over our heads, you and I need to have a very serious talk."

"Uh oh," Josh, drifting towards the door.  "I'm just gonna... I'm gonna go fill Leo in."  Aiming a sympathetic look at Sam, Josh ducked out of the office and disappeared down the hallway.

Looking perplexed, Sam brought both hands out of his pockets and raised them in supplication.  "What the hell did *I* do?" he lamented.  "I'm just standing here!"

"Sit."

Sam reluctantly lowered himself onto the couch, carefully closing his laptop.  "Okaaay," he drawled.  "Is this about my spelling?  'Cause to be fair, those two words are often mistaken - "

"Stop talking," Toby ordered, closing the door and returning to his desk.  He leaned against it, crossing burly arms in front of himself.  "Leo and I are very interested in knowing why you were having lunch with Kim Carruthers," Toby said.  "She isn't the friendliest person to this administration, and her boss has been downright hostile to us in the past.  And as today confirmed...."  Rubbing his thumb over his forehead, Toby continued, "We might even consider him an enemy.  And you're having a cozy lunch with his chief of staff, who not only clues you in on a major betrayal, but gives you the proof?"  When Sam didn't respond immediately, Toby pinched the bridge of his nose.  "Those aren't the sort of playmates you should have, Sam."

Sitting up stiffly, Sam tilted his head and looked carefully at Toby.  "Excuse me?  It almost sounds like you're questioning my loyalty here, Toby, and I'm sure that wasn't your intention."

"No," Toby conceded.  "That wasn't my intention.  My intention is to get to the bottom of this, this fiasco.  And I'm choosing to start with your involvement."

It was obvious from the hardening of Sam's jaw, the press of his lips, that a storm was brewing there.  "I had lunch with Kim.  She thought Swift was acting despicably.  She knew it would be incredibly embarrassing to *him* when he went through with it.  She was protecting him more than she was helping us.  And that," Sam stood and went to the door.  "Is all there is to it."

"Hold on."  Toby pushed off the desk he'd been leaning against and took a deliberate step towards Sam.  "I'm still trying to figure out what your relationship with Carruthers is.  She's a pretty abrasive person, Sam.  Not the sort I'd imagine you having a cozy tête à tête with."

Sam paused with his hand on the doorknob.  Taking a deep breath to quell his growing irritation, he turned to face his boss.  "You don't really know Kim, Toby.  So it would surprise you to learn, she's not the type of person you've characterized her to be."  Placing his hands on his hips, Sam lowered his voice to an annoyed hiss.  "It would also surprise you to know that she doesn't necessarily think the Congressman is playing with a full deck. That, in fact, she sees her job in terms of keeping him from being even *more* of a destructive lunatic than he already is."

From the unconvinced expression on Toby's face, Sam wasn't sure he wanted to continue this conversation.  It certainly didn't seem to be going very well, and it was a little disturbing to him how they had moved from good-natured ribbing about his spelling to this in so short a time.

"Tell me, in case I missed it in all that proselytizing, what exactly is your relationship with Kim Carruthers again?"  Toby was obviously not about to relent.

"I have no relationship with Kim Carruthers, Toby."  Sam waved a hand dismissively through the air.  "Other than, once in awhile she'll give me a call to talk about policy."  Sam allowed both arms to flap against his sides in exasperation.  "Is that what you wanted to know?"

Toby considered Sam carefully.  And he wondered if, four, five, ten years from now, he would still think of Sam as the kid who came out of nowhere, to teach them all a lesson or two about what they were supposed to be there for.  Toby had never been that young, he'd confided to CJ very late one night amongst bourbon and cigar smoke and a deep melancholy. It had only just occurred to him that maybe Sam wasn't even that young anymore.

Sensing the building tension, Toby retreated behind his desk, hoping the distance would diffuse the situation a little.  "This isn't a personal attack, Sam.  I'm sorry if you see it that way.  I'm just trying to understand why someone like Kim Carruth -"

"Oh."  The word fell from Sam's mouth with a thud.  "I see."  He carefully removed his glasses, and folded them into his palm.  "Now I get it."

Completely confused, Toby stared hard at Sam, waiting for an explanation.  When none seemed forthcoming, he shrugged his shoulders rapidly, and cleared his throat.  "Have I missed something, Sam?" he finally prompted.

A bitter snort worked its way out of the younger man. "Yeah.  I think you've missed a lot, Toby."  Head down, eyes blinking rapidly, Sam was clipping his words now, a clear indication that his emotions were on the rise.  "You're missing the fact that there are some people who might... there are people who might actually come to *me* first.  You don't recognize that there *are* those who value my opinion, Toby.  Some even seek out my counsel."  Sam raised his eyes to meet Toby's in a clear challenge.  "You never do that." 

"I come to you!"

"If I happen to be in the room, if I'm already in on something!  But you never Come. Looking. For. Me.  Unless it's for a legal opinion, or a grammar lesson.  You should know, Toby.  There are some people out there who believe my contributions to this administration go beyond turning a clever phrase, or reciting legal precedent."  Pursing his lips together intensely, Sam could feel the muscles in his cheek twitch.

"And you should know, there are people out there who could do your job without needing me to HOLD THEIR HAND," Toby spit back without thinking.  The instant he heard his own words, his mouth gaped open and he inhaled violently, as if he could suck the words back in.  But Sam was already heading out the door, throwing a wounded look behind him.

"I have work to do," Sam said evenly.  The next thing Toby heard was Sam's office door slamming shut.

Sam's door was closed, but as far as Josh could tell, he wasn't working on anything, or even on the phone.  Knocking out of habit, but not waiting for a reply, he eased into the room and closed the door behind him.

"What's up?"  When Sam didn't respond right away, Josh waved a hand in the air and tried again.  "Hey you.  Yeah, the good-looking guy in the blue tie."  Beaming a warm smile Sam's way.

"Hi.  Sorry," Sam apologized, sitting up a little straighter in his chair.  "I was just thinking; I need a couch in here.  There's room, don't you think?  I could... I could lose the desk.  Probably won't be needing it much after today anyway."  He chuckled mirthlessly.  "Of course, I probably won't be needing the couch, either."

Josh heard the hurt in Sam's voice and was instantly at his side.  "What happened?" he wanted to know, hoping he wasn't going to have to drag it out of Sam.

Blue eyes flickered over towards Toby's office, then Sam stood up and put a neatly manicured hand on Josh's arm.  Leaning in closely, even though they were alone in a closed room, Sam's whisper was a low rumble that sent vibrations through Josh. "What's the earliest you can get out of here?"

"I - I can leave - " Josh checked his watch.  "Maybe eight?  Maybe sooner, if I can get Donna to help line up some calls.  She's still upset about the whole Kabuki make-up remark."  Josh looked closely at Sam.  "What happened?" he asked again.

With a wounded sigh, Sam sat back down in his chair.  "I don't want to talk about it here.  I don't even want to *be* here."  A mischievous smile tweaked at the corners of his mouth.  "If I were to ask you to ditch the calls and run away with me, would you?"

Knees buckling, clutching at his heart dramatically, Josh groaned.  "Oh god, Sam!  What are you trying to do to me?"

"I thought that would be pretty obvious," Sam deadpanned.

Once again, Josh looked at his watch, hoping that by staring at it, the hands would magically sweep around to eight o'clock.  Seven forty-five, at the least.

Reading Josh's mind, Sam stood up and began sliding some work into his briefcase.  "Make the calls from home, Josh," he suggested in a way that left no question of Josh complying.

"Oh god.  What are you trying to do to me?" Josh wondered again.

It *felt* like running away. Josh kept expecting to feel Donna's killer grip on his arm, dragging him back to his office to deal with whatever loose ends she could find to tie him up with.  He told her to go home, thinking that would make it more palatable to her that Josh was skipping out early himself.  Instead, she'd looked somehow stunned and hurt, and then insisted, no, no, she'd stay and get more done without him around to get in her way.

"Bonnie and Ginger; you don't know how lucky you are, Sam," Josh said to the man behind the wheel of the car.

"Oh, shut up," he got in return.  "Don't forget who you're talking to here.  There isn't a minute that you've regretted hiring that woman."  Sam risked a glance at his passenger.  "Give it up, would you?"

"Yeah, but... don't think I'm telling her that."

Sam snickered.  "Like that isn't the single surest thing in her life already."

Sam seemed in a better mood, just being out of the White House.  Josh desperately wanted to know what had transpired between him and Toby, but he could read Sam well enough to know he was waiting for the right time.

A not too subtle grumble from Josh's stomach could be heard over the low radio, bringing a small smile to Sam's lips.  "Where do you want to eat?" Josh asked, confident he would get no argument.

After a moment's hesitation, Sam slowed the car suddenly and checked his rearview mirror.  "Back thataway?" he suggested, a hopeful look on his face. 

"You are so predictable," was the only answer Sam needed. 

Gliding the car into a smooth turn, Sam reversed their direction, and began driving towards Georgetown.  Not ten minutes later they pulled into a metered spot at the bottom of Wisconsin Avenue, and were out of the car. 

Walking up the steep incline of Wisconsin, Josh was momentarily tempted to take Sam's hand in his.  It would feel so good to feel anchored to him, attached physically the way he felt emotionally.  He was delighted when Sam suddenly reached out to brush his fingers against Josh's.  But then the hand was gone without comment, and they continued climbing to the top of the hill. 

Reaching the corner of M and Wisconsin, they both hesitated outside the entrance to Nathan's.  "How much you want to bet Daniel Swift is in there right now licking his wounds?" Sam wondered aloud, not afraid to show a little pride in Josh's handiwork.

"Not possible.  I have his head in the trunk," Josh informed him, as they turned the corner and strolled casually until they neared their destination.

Three doors away, the blissfully humid smell of spices and seafood reached the two men.  Broadening his strides unconsciously, Sam turned his head to look back at Josh; an unmistakable expression of delight playing across his face.

A bowl of bouillabaisse, Josh mused.  If all it took was a steaming bowl of bouillabaisse to put that look on Sam's face, he'd fill the tub with it every night.  Whatever it took.

Once inside the dim restaurant, coats shed, orders placed, Josh took a deep swallow of his beer and grazed a foot across Sam's calf.  Rewarded with a smile, and a press of Sam's knee, Josh figured it was okay to ask now.  "So what's up with you and Toby?"

Sam looked into his own glass for a moment before speaking.  "Son of a bitch."  Catching Josh's bemused expression, Sam helped himself to a sip of beer.  "I'm not sure what his problem is with me sometimes."

"Toby doesn't have a problem with you, Sam.  He's just Toby.  And you usually don't let him get to you.  So what's up?" Josh asked while reaching for a breadstick.

Shaking his head dismissively, Sam looked chagrined.  "I'm being overly sensitive, I guess.  It was just... the tone of his voice and... it's stupid.  It's probably just me.  Let's drop it."

So now Josh knew that Sam was smarting from something Toby had said.  It was always something Toby said.  Unless it was the fact that Toby said nothing at all.  Sometimes there was no way for Sam to win.

Sam was looking past the table to their right, eyes scanning the sidewalk on the other side of the large plate glass window.  Couples drifted past, arms linked easily, effortlessly connected in a way that made Sam a little wistful.  Glancing over at Josh, he was startled to catch him staring intently back.

Both men leaned back when the server arrived with large, deep bowls of soup billowing clouds of steam; glossy black mussels piled on top.  A satisfied grin spread across Sam's face immediately, and he simultaneously dropped his napkin in his lap while picking up a fat spoon.

"Oh, man."  A mixture of excitement and contentment in his voice, Sam slurped up a mouthful of steamy broth.  "The world just got right again."

Idle chat about Josh's adventures with Daniel Swift, and some speculation from Sam that the abandoned second speech was actually better than the first kept them busy between mouthfuls of bouillabaisse and beer.  Sam was talkative and loose and, Josh noted for future reference, devastatingly sexy, frequently moaning over his dinner seductively.

With some amusement, Josh eventually handed his nearly empty bowl to Sam, who finished it off with a flourish, then a deep sigh and a gentle burp.  "I could eat this every day," Sam declared.  "Every single day.  I'd be a happy guy."

"You aren't already a happy guy?" Josh wanted to know.  Sincerely wanted to know, but was usually too afraid to ask directly.

Sensing something in Josh's tone, Sam offered him a sultry smile and his full attention.  "There are certain aspects of my life which make me very, very happy."

"And then there's Toby."

Groaning with annoyance, Sam snapped a breadstick in two and jabbed one end into Josh's mouth.  "I'm over it.  Don't start."

"Okay, okay," Josh responded quickly, determined not to let the evening turn into anything other than the leisurely seduction he had envisioned.  "Let's... I'm full.  Do you want anything else?"  Hoping the answer was no.

"No." 

Josh waved over the server and paid the bill while Sam stepped out into the cool evening.  The smell that had assaulted them when they'd approached the restaurant earlier still hung in the air around him, and despite his satisfied appetite, Sam's mouth watered slightly.

Josh joined him on the sidewalk.  "Can we go this way?" Sam asked, pointing in the opposite direction of where they had come.  "I'd like to walk a few blocks and then cut down to the canal."

"Sure," Josh agreed readily. 

End Part 1/7

With Respect, To the Gentleman From California

Part 2/7

Looking into shop windows with a little less than passing interest, while Sam pointed out a particularly abrasive display of premature holiday fare, Josh realized just how long it had been since he'd stepped out of his insular White House life and felt a part of the city around him. 

He liked the District of Columbia, and told himself it was in no small part because of everything it had to offer.  When he was younger, fresh out of law school and just starting his career in Washington, Josh had embraced the cultural and social aspects of the city.  Within a year, though, politics had overshadowed every aspect of his life, and he found little time for indulging his interest in anything but legislative matters. 

The first time Sam had come to DC, his youthful enthusiasm made Josh anxious to share everything that had excited him about living there that first year.  And instead, Sam had ended up showing Josh a city he'd never noticed before.  Because of their hours, their excursions were confined to visiting monuments in the dead of night, which gave them an other worldly feel. 

Between illegal sips of ginger brandy and experimental, breathy kisses, Sam remarked that the glowing marble shapes looked as if they'd been dropped across the Washington landscape by some giant race in a distant past.

Josh was so lost in the memory of those long-gone days of exploration and discovery, he missed it when Sam turned down a side street, and laughed when Sam's 'yoo-hoo' caught up to him.

"Who the hell says 'yoo-hoo,' Sam?" he teased affectionately.  Deflecting the childish look Sam shot him, Josh reached his side quickly, and they continued walking along the uneven cobblestone sidewalk until they reached a short bridge spanning the C & O Canal.

"I want to go down there."  Sam's voice had dropped low, and sounded a little husky, which made Josh's skin prickle.  Pointing to the ribbon of dirt running alongside the dark slice of water.  "We can walk back on the path."  And Sam was moving again. 

"Wait, Sam," Josh implored, reaching his side.  "It's dark.  Is it safe?"

"Of course.  It's early.  There'll be people everywhere," Sam assured him.  But there weren't.  There was no one around, and the sounds of traffic on M Street were barely reaching down this far.  And Sam had that look in his eyes.  So while Josh wasn't exactly afraid for his physical welfare, he was still afraid.

It didn't surprise Josh when Sam pulled him against the back of a rough tree trunk and plunged his tongue into his mouth.  It did surprise him to feel Sam, already hard against his leg, pressing there with more than a little urgency.  And when Sam's hand started rubbing the front of Josh's pants, he gasped audibly.

"This is stupid, Sam."  Josh squirmed away and nervously ran his hand through his hair, his eyes looking everywhere at once.  "And you're not stupid," he added.  Expecting an argument, or at least Sam defending himself, Josh was bewildered when he simply smiled and started walking back to the path.

"A guy can try," he tossed over his shoulder playfully.

When Josh caught up, they walked in silence for a few minutes, occasionally encountering another couple, or a lone jogger.  Josh still felt a little edgy, but Sam appeared completely at ease.  Finally relaxing some, Josh reached out and took Sam's hand in his own across a particularly dark, empty stretch of the path.

"That's all I wanted," Sam's quiet voice came out of the darkness.  "Sorry about that back there."

"Never mind, Baby.  It was kinda excit-"  Josh's words were cut off when Sam's hand inexplicably tore out of his.  For a panic stricken second, Josh imagined some unseen attacker had come between them, but he immediately saw that they were completely alone.

Sam.

In the thick shadows, Sam's usually luminous blue eyes were dilated to a dark, unnatural black.  It made him look vaguely wild, slightly hysterical.  And right now, unimaginably disgusted.

Completely confused about what had just happened, Josh took a step closer to his partner, closer even than they had been just a moment ago.  Close enough to smell the faintest scent of bay leaf on Sam's breath.  "Sam, what's wrong?" he asked in a high voice, tight with caution.

Sam looked away suddenly, jaw working furiously.  Josh could see the fight for control, and instinctively stepped back again, giving Sam some space.

"God.  I'm sorry, Josh.  That... that came out of nowhere."  Sam sounded slightly awe-struck.

"I'm... confused.  And... scared," Josh confessed.  "What came out of where?"

Sam was nodding his head vigorously.  "I know, I know.  I'm sorry," he repeated.  There was a bench a few yards away, and Sam went to it and sat.

Joining him there, Josh sat too.  "Sam?"

Laughing bitterly, Sam leaned his head in his hands for a beat, then sat up straight.  "If I tell you what happened just now, are you gonna think I'm...."  A sigh expelled from his diaphragm, a slight groan at the end of it.  "You called me Baby."  He sounded wounded.

"Oh."  Josh was amazed it sounded like he knew what that was supposed to mean.  "Well, I... I... okay.  I did."  And Sam was looking at him now as if he expected something more.  "I have no idea why you're looking at me.  What did I do?"

The laugh was genuine now.  "You didn't do anything!" Sam responded. "You really do think I'm crazy, don't you?"  He caught his bottom lip between his teeth and sucked on it greedily.

"No, of course - yes.  At this particular moment in time, yes.  I think you're completely crazy.  And you make me crazy when you do that thing with your lip, so.  I called you Baby.  I... I guess you don't like that."  The words spilled from Josh out of nervousness and concern and just a hint of arousal at the sight of Sam still nibbling on his lip.

"Well," Sam began slowly.  "It's not... I guess we never...  You've never done that before.  It took me by surprise."

"Oh," was all Josh could come up with.

Sam looked apologetically at Josh.  "I... I don't like it."

"Oh...."

"Can you give me a second here?" Sam asked casually, then leaned his back against the hard planks of the bench.

He'd give Sam all the time he needed if it would help him understand this weirdness, Josh decided.  Not daring to look at his companion, Josh tried to focus on the surface of the canal in front of him.  It was too dark to distinguish much, but he could hear the occasional flicking of water that a breaching fish made.

When Josh finally risked looking over at Sam, he was surprised to find him staring back, bemused.  "Fish," Josh said by way of explanation.

"You love me."  Sam's statement came out of nowhere.

The only thing Josh could think to say was, "Of course I do."

"And you... I don't know how to put this.  You think of me as your equal?"

"Of course I do!"  Josh, suddenly aware he was repeating himself.  So he tried to expand his remarks.  "That's a really ridiculous question, Sam."  Josh was shocked to realize there was anger in his own voice.

Sam looked uncomfortable.  "I'm not questioning that.  It was supposed to be a....  Shit.  It's just... 'baby.'  It's."  Sam huffed a little.  "It's demeaning."

"It's an endearment!"

"It diminishes me."

"Sam, what in god's name are you talking about?"  The anger was still there, but Josh was mostly perplexed.  In all his adult years, in all the relationships he'd had, this was the first time he'd ever had a conversation like this.  "It's a nickname!  You are so out in left field on this.  You've never called a lover 'baby' or 'sweetie' before?"

"No."

Well, of course not.  Because Sam was not a hypocrite, and everything was unequivocal to him, Josh thought bitterly.

"I find that hard to believe," Josh said defiantly.  As soon as he said it, he knew it was actually true, and he was about to be told so.

"I haven't.  Have I ever called you anything - anything other than 'Josh?' "

Josh didn't have to think about it.  "No.  But - "

"Because that's your name," Sam interrupted.

Mouth opening and closing like one of the fish in the water at his feet, Josh turned on the bench, and stared openly at Sam.  "This is insane.  What the hell's the big deal?"

"This is where you really *will* think I'm unbalanced," Sam retorted.  And there was a slight glimmer of humor in his eye which came as a great relief to Josh.

"Oh, I am *so* looking forward to this."  Josh sat back and folded his arms in front of himself in anticipation.

Sam looked a little embarrassed, but Josh released one hand and made a beckoning motion with it.  "Out with it.  And this better make sense."

Sam adjusted himself on the bench.  "Yeah.  See, I was... the thing is...  It wasn't until I was eight years old before I knew my mother's name wasn't Honey."  Sam's eyebrows rose in anticipation of Josh's next remark.  When none came, he continued cautiously.  "It was her birthday, and I got her a little silver box.  It cost me $11."  Still nothing from Josh.  "And Dad said I should get it engraved, 'cause that was free."

"Ah."

"I still think he should have paid more attention, and watched me write out the message.  But I have other stuff I can hold against him now," Sam babbled.

"So, I amend my statement.  You're not crazy, you're just a freak.  But we knew that."

"Josh," Sam cautioned.

"So your father called your mother 'honey.'  You've kinda taken that to extremes, haven't you?" Josh asked dryly.

Sam brushed his hands against his legs a few times, then resumed speaking.  "You don't understand.  I never once in my life heard my father call her anything but.  She was either 'honey' or 'your mom.' " 

Sam's pain sounded so fresh, Josh abandoned all pretense of annoyance and scooted closer to put an arm around Sam's shoulders.  "How did he refer to her to other people?" he wanted to know.

"That's the really bad part."  Sam looked at Josh with soulful eyes.  "The Wife."

And they both let out simultaneous groans.

Recovering, Josh saw a small smile playing at Sam's mouth, which he leaned in and kissed before speaking.  "That *is* pretty bad.  And I can see... all kinds of ugly connotations with the baby thing.  But, Sam.  That's your dad.  Your mom.  That's not us."  Looking around quickly, he stole another kiss, just because he could.  "So... this is kinda like the 'beautiful' thing, huh?"

Sam nodded mutely.

Josh sighed heavily in acknowledgment.  Another one of Sam's 'things.' "Anyway... since that really is a fairly disturbing story, I won't call you anything that makes you uncomfortable."  Another kiss.  And another.

"And Toby."

Sputtering violently, Josh fell away from Sam's mouth.  "Toby?!"  Not quite knowing what to say to this perplexing, awkward segue, Josh just stared with questioning eyes.

"He made me feel diminished today too," Sam said in a flatly matter-of-fact tone.  "He referred to... he called Kim Carruthers my 'playmate.' "  Cutting his eyes over to Josh quickly, Sam shrugged loosely.  "That's kind of what made me angry earlier.  He made it sound incredible that I would -  No, he made it sound incredible that *Kim* would have anything to do with, you know, someone like me."

Firmly back on solid ground, Josh placed a hand on Sam's knee.  "That's not true, Sam.  He was probably just tired and cranky about the damn speech.  I'm sure he didn't mean - "

"Now, please don't compound things by trying to justify Toby to me, okay, Josh?"  The irritation was clear in Sam's tone.  "I know exactly what he meant.  He told me he and Leo had been wondering why Kim and I would even be having lunch.  Like I'm simply not in her league.  Jesus, I'm sick of that kind of shit."

Sam was off the bench now, standing at the canal's edge looking into the ebony water. 

Speaking to Sam's back.  "His remark was uncalled for, Sam," Josh offered.  "I hope you gave it right back to him."

"I did."  But Sam didn't sound too pleased about that.  He turned to face Josh. 

"That's my boy," Josh declared.  They each looked at one another with mild horror.  "And I mean that in a completely supportive, non-patronizing way," added Josh quickly.   Sam seemed appeased, so Josh relaxed. 

"I don't ask for much, Josh."  Sam returned to Josh's side and sat close.  "Look.  It's all well and good that you can, you know, charge up to the Hill and decapitate wayward members of the Senate.  But we also need to build relationships with people."  Sam paused to look up at the black sky, no stars in sight, as dark as the water before them.  "And that's... that's something I'm good at."  Taking Josh's hand in his own.  "I just wish once in awhile...."

"You got a little credit for it."

"Not credit.  Just acknowledgement," Sam decided.

"I'd like to acknowledge you into oblivion right now.  You are deathly sexy when you turn all vulnerable," Josh growled into Sam's ear, adding a slick flip of his tongue. 

__________________________

It was a long, tortuous walk back to the car, then an agonizing drive back to Sam's apartment.  By the time they arrived, Sam's reflective mood had evaporated, his earlier good humor restored.

Flipping on lights, tossing aside mail, Sam and Josh went through the usual motions that turned the empty space back into a home.  The trash stank, so Josh took it out.  And the light on the answering machine flashed madly, so Sam wrote down messages, compulsively checking his pager's power. 

"I have to make those calls," Josh reminded Sam when he returned.

"Your mom called, too, asking if you got the oranges." Sam tapped the pad by the phone with a finger.  "Nothing else important."  Walking easily to Josh's side, Sam began working his fingers through the knot in Josh's tie.  "It's too late to call people.  Call them tomorrow.  Or don't call them at all."  Sam slipped the tie out from Josh's collar and draped it around his own neck, then began fingering a button.  "You should let them come to you.  Be... play hard to get."

Bewitched by the dexterity Sam was showing by unfastening each button with one hand, Josh rocked a little on his heels before clearing his head enough to answer.  "Gotta make at least two.  Sam, I gotta make... I at least have to call Kerns."

Tilting his head, Sam studied Josh carefully, mischievously.  "When I suggested you play hard to get, I didn't mean with me."  Stepping away from Josh suddenly, nonchalantly heading across the apartment.  "But... whatever," he teased, disappearing into the bedroom.

Watching Sam glide out of sight galvanized Josh into action.  Digging through his backpack, pulling out an array of files, he continuously shot expectant glances at the bedroom doorway.  By the time he'd located the phone number for Jacob Kerns, he heard the television click on in the other room. 

A cocky smile rose to Josh's lips as he recalled the battle he'd had with Sam about bringing over Josh's tv for the bedroom.  As someone who sporadically fought bouts of insomnia, Sam insisted that bedrooms were best used for two things only.  But Josh had worn him down eventually, and now Sam frequently fell asleep to the low drone of the set.  In fact, he was sleeping much better since Josh had brought the television - and himself - to reside in Sam's bedroom.

Distractedly, Josh rushed through his phone call, scribbling notes, abbreviating his answers, all the while realizing a second call was going to be necessary, as well as a review of his agenda for his morning meeting.  After disconnecting from Kerns, Josh rose from his seat and went to the bedroom door.

"Sam, I'm afraid I really am going to have to make - "  Josh looked around the room, but saw no Sam.  "Sam?"

"Yup?"  Sam's head popped up from beside the far side of the bed. 

Josh stepped into the room, puzzlement on his face.  "What are you doing down there?" he wanted to know.

Sam stood up and dusted off his knees.  "I can't find the spare battery for my laptop.  If you're going to make calls, I have some work I can do...."

Walking purposefully to the windowsill, Josh moved aside the curtain.  Pulling his hand back, he opened his palm to reveal the missing battery.

While Sam was shaking his head in wonder, Josh shook his in surrender.  "I swear, Sam.  I watch you do these things and I always tell myself you must have some reason, but...."  And with that he walked back into the living room to complete his calls.

__________________________

As a concession to Sam's soulful looks, Josh decided to finish reading in the bedroom, propped against the headboard.

His laptop abandoned on the bedside table, Sam stared almost spellbound at the television.  Without thought, he folded one leg and leaned it against Josh's thigh.

"God, Sam."

"Am I bothering you?" Sam asked, a little concern creeping into his voice.

Josh put down the memo he'd been editing and looked over at Sam.  "No, you... electrify me."

Sam blinked a few times, absorbing that bit of information, then rolled on his side and worked himself under Josh's arm, tucking his head under Josh's chin.

"Don't get smug," Josh warned lightly.

"What are you talking about?"  Sam snuggled a little closer.

"You know damn well.  You're smiling."

"You can't know that," Sam challenged.

"I know.  'Cause you do this thing," Josh explained.

"Enlighten me."  Sam, feigning innocence.

"I've named it."

"Named *what?*"

"The... the thing.  I call it... Sam's Self-Satisfied Squirm," Josh announced grandly, planting a chaste kiss at Sam's temple.

"Oh you did not."

"I did.  I've named all your trademark moves and characteristics."

Josh tried to keep his expression impassive as Sam drew back enough to look up at him.  Once Josh's smile began to crack, though, it spread quickly to Sam's face as well.

"I have moves?  No one.... I never had moves before."

"Sam," Josh began, delighted to watch the astonishment crest his lover's face.  "You have moves.  The thing that makes you so irresistible is that you don't know you have them."

Sam pulled himself out of Josh's arms, the smile wiped away by genuine amazement.  "I'm irresistible, too?  Have I *always* been irresistible and... movey?"

Groaning dramatically, Josh playfully pushed Sam away and picked his brief back up.  "If you want to show me any of your other moves, let me finish this, would you?"

Resting his head back against the pillow, nursing a confident smile again, Sam obediently went back to watching a week old re-broadcast of Booknotes.

It was nearly an hour later when Josh put aside the pad he'd filled with notes and questions for his meeting, and turned to find Sam curled on his side, lips parted slightly, exquisite and peaceful in sleep.  Switching off the lamp by his bed, Josh felt around for the remote.  Patting the billowy comforter, - another item brought from his own nearly abandoned apartment - the remote magically rose to the surface of the fluffy down ocean.  With a click, the room was plunged into darkness.

Adjusting his pillow so he was nearly nose to nose with Sam, Josh waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark, then silently counted the blessings that had come his way in the form of Sam Seaborn.

Reaching out with as much stealth as he could manage, Josh traced a finger along Sam's cheek.  Unable to resist, he craned his neck enough to place a tiny kiss on the tip of the classic nose, then breathed one just above thick, dark, luxurious lashes.  Which fluttered open.

"Did you get everything done?" Sam croaked groggily, pulling himself into a tight ball under the covers, hands tucked under his chin.

"Sorry it took so long," Josh whispered.  "I didn't want to wake you."

"Wake me, wake me," Sam whispered back without inflection, before he brought his lips to meet Josh's.  "Wake me," he mumbled into Josh's mouth.

Their lips melted together, hands finding familiar places easily in the dark.  When Sam began whimpering into his neck, Josh moaned his encouragement, unable to form words. 

Feeling Sam gradually unfurl to his full length in his hand, Josh pulled him closer, closer, never close enough, until he absorbed Sam into his own body.  The air became humid with their dense breathing, the heat from two men reaching their boiling points. 

Sam climbed higher and higher, his voice becoming hoarse in the thin atmosphere. "Josh, please!"   Holding tightly to Josh, wailing his way down until they landed together, a heap of thudding hearts and raspy breathing.

Dragging his tongue through the sweat on Josh's chest, Sam began a decent of another kind.  Slower and more controlled, Sam carefully worked his way down his lover's body, until Josh's mind was overrun with thoughts of Sam's tongue riding the thick ridge that ran along his shaft, and the way Sam's fingers slid in and out, and how he'd fucked over Daniel Swift so magnificently and expertly; and he came again, shrieking something unintelligible about forever and ever, and the price to be paid for crossing Josh Lyman.

Dazed and dazzled, they fell asleep quickly, arms overlapping, their breathing synchronized.

Chapters - 1 | 2 | 3 |

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