The second they had called Nevada for Matthew Santos, Sam had looked to his phone as if it would magically start ringing. Of course, it didn’t. He tried not to be disappointed by it.
The next morning, he went into work, and his coworkers talked about the election, and Sam had nothing much to say beyond the fact that it was impressive, that the Santos campaign had pulled off what should have been an unattainable feat. The other men in the office were much more conservative than Sam, but he had adjusted to it. It had taken him a few months, especially coming from such a liberal workplace, but he had eventually settled in, learning not to make too many comments about President Bartlet, or later, the presidential campaign in general. Then someone had asked him, “You worked in the White House. Josh Lyman ran the campaign, right? What’s he like?” Sam hadn’t known what to say. He left it at “He’s talented,” and no one prodded for more.
A few days after the election, it was back to business as usual. It had pretty much left everyone’s minds already. They kept up with the news, maybe made a passing comment, but it was like nothing had happened. Everything went back to normal. Sam continued to ignore the little jump in his heart whenever the phone rang, because it was never the right person calling. For most of the week, he sat in his office and stared out the window but found himself becoming increasingly bored of the view.
Nine days, ten hours, and twenty-five minutes after Matthew Santos was elected President of the United States, there was a commotion in the hallway outside the conference room, and someone yelled, “Sir, you can’t go in there!” The door swung open, and Sam spun around in his chair, and his eyes almost popped out of his head.
Everyone stared. The room was silent. Josh was looking at him, one hand on the doorframe, his bag slung haphazardly over his shoulder, out of breath. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes told Sam everything he needed to know, and Sam cleared his throat and said, “I’m going to need to take a lunch.” As he got up and brushed quickly past Josh, he muttered, “I thought you were never going to call.”
The scene was all too familiar. Everything about it reminded him of eight years before: Josh showing up unannounced, bursting into a conference room he had no place being in, dragging Sam out of the room and into a whirlwind. Not that Josh ever had to drag him anywhere—Sam followed willingly.
He looked exhausted. Sam didn’t want to say he looked bad, but he did. The bags under his eyes were more prominent than they had been for as long as Sam had known him. His skin was noticeably pale. He looked like he was on the verge of being sick, the kind of sick that landed you in the hospital with an IV in your arm. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world and then some on his shoulders. He looked like he had aged thirty years in the four since Sam had last seen him. But he was there, in California, sitting across from Sam. He had come to get Sam again. That was enough to send a familiar rush through Sam’s chest, enough to cause his heart to skip a beat.
“You could have just called, you know,” Sam said. “I would have appreciated it.” He didn’t say that longer he waited, staring at his phone and praying for it to ring, the more he started to believe that Josh was never going to reach out, that he had gotten his hopes up for nothing.
“I figured it would be harder for you to say no if I did it in person,” Josh replied, smiling slightly.
“Playing into the nostalgia factor?”
“Yeah, just a bit.” Josh leaned forward, clasping his hands together on the table. “Come work for us.”
“Very subtle pitch.”
Sam sighed. “Josh…”
“I have a life here.”
“You have a job here.”
“A career. A house.” He took a breath, then added, “I’m engaged,” because he was, and she was smart and gorgeous and had an even better salary than he did, and she was a she, and his mother hadn’t been able to disguise the relief in her voice when Sam called to tell her about his new girlfriend. Because he had settled down, again, for real, for the first time in a decade, and he was happy.
Josh Lyman had a habit of crashing into his life at exactly the wrong moments.
Josh looked shocked for half a second, then let out a short laugh. “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.”
It stung. Sam flinched, just slightly, but Josh noticed, because he always did.
“I meant… congrats. I didn’t—”
“I know what you meant,” Sam cut him off coldly.
“Congrats,” Josh repeated, looking like the word was causing him pain. “Seriously.”
Josh sighed and looked down at his hands, then back up. “Sam.”
He hated that his heart still skipped whenever Josh said his name. “Yeah?”
“Come work for us,” he said again.
He wanted to say yes. It would have been so easy to give into Josh, because it was always easy to give into Josh. But he couldn’t say yes. He couldn’t say no, either.
“So, Chief of Staff,” he said instead. “Not a bad gig.”
Something flickered in Josh’s eyes, but he nodded, allowing Sam to shift the focus for a moment. “Yeah. I have no earthly idea what I’m doing, but yeah.”
“You’ll figure it out pretty quickly. You had Leo McGarry as a mentor. Can’t go wrong with that.” Sam smiled, and Josh swallowed hard and looked down. Sam cleared his throat. “How was the funeral?”
Josh shrugged. “It was a funeral. Lots of people, lots of crying, lots of condolences offered.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t make it out for it.”
“You’re busy here.” Josh looked around, eyes scanning over the other people sitting at tables and enjoying their lunches.
“Still, I could’ve taken a day or two, if I had—”
“It’s fine, Sam.”
“Don’t worry about it. He would’ve hated us for making such a big deal out of it, anyway.” Josh smiled, slightly forced. Sam didn’t know what else to say. There wasn’t much else he could say that hadn’t already been said by someone else. Josh didn’t need to hear I’m sorry for your loss, or He was a good man, or He would have been proud of you, even if it was all true.
Josh had lost a father for the second time in less than a decade. He didn’t want Sam’s sympathy. He knew Leo was a good man. He knew Leo would have been a damn fine Vice President. He knew that Leo would have been proud of him. He didn’t need Sam to remind him. So, Sam didn’t.
Their conversation stalled for a moment as a waitress brought them the drinks they had ordered, an iced tea for Sam and a coffee for Josh.
“Why didn’t you come see me earlier?” Sam asked, attempting to keep his voice level.
“Been a bit busy.” Josh stirred some sugar into his coffee.
“Before the campaign, I mean.”
Josh shrugged. “Didn’t know if you would want to see me.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to see you?”
“I thought we left things kind of weird.”
It was Sam’s turn to shrug. “I wouldn’t have minded a phone call.”
“So am I.”
“Come work for us,” Josh said for the third time, and coming from anyone else, it would have bordered on desperate, but he managed to keep his tone in check. Sam started to shake his head. Josh continued quickly, “Sam, I have to fill an ungodly amount of positions in the next few months. You have no idea how many résumés I’ve sifted through in just the past twenty-four hours. If I could get someone I trust with my life on board, it would make my job a whole lot easier. Not to mention that it would be a lot easier if I had someone else to do interviews.”
Sam’s lips twitched upward. He wasn’t sure if Josh was just trying to tug at his heartstrings, but he didn’t really care. God only knew how, but Josh still trusted him. He met Josh’s eyes, and Josh looked so exhausted that he almost let a yes slip out.
To stop himself from speaking for a moment, he took a sip of his drink. Josh looked down at his mug. Sam wanted to pull Josh in and hold him tightly and not let him go until he had slept for about eighteen hours and didn’t look quite so close to death. He had never seen anyone who so desperately needed a break. If things had been different, if Sam could have said yes and left his life as simply as that, if he hadn’t fucked everything up by leaving Josh… he tried not to think about what their lives would look like if he had moved back to D.C. after the election. He tried not to picture a ring on Josh’s finger instead of Sarah’s, tried not to imagine a house in Georgetown, tried not to lay out a hundred different ways they could have ended up together instead of sitting across from one another, too many miles and too many years in between them.
He tried to pretend that they were in New York again, that they were eight years younger with five times the naivety and a fifth of the experience. If he concentrated hard enough, he could imagine that the years were falling away from Josh’s face, that he was the same man that had come to get Sam so long ago. But Josh no longer had the same bright, excited expression that he had worn when he came to Gage Whitney. The past year had been hard on him. Sam felt a twinge of guilt for not being there.
“I’m doing good things here,” he said, quietly, hiding his uncertainty as best he could, as if Josh couldn’t read him like a book. “I don’t know, Josh. I can’t just up and move to Washington again. I can’t give up a job this good." He shrugged. "I don’t think I want to go back to the White House.” Except he did, desperately, and this was Josh asking, so he would.
“You’d be getting a promotion.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “I would hope so. But seriously. I don’t know if I want to be your Communications Director.”
“You wouldn’t be.”
“I already have a Communications Director. Louise Thornton. She was the campaign director.”
Sam tilted his head. “Yeah, I recognize the name. So why do you need me?”
“I need a deputy.”
“What?” Sam asked again.
Josh’s mouth twitched. “Deputy Chief of Staff. I need someone who knows the ropes, who’s been in the White House before. Who isn’t afraid of bossing people around because he’s the new guy.”
“So, you need a you.”
“I need a you.”
Sam sighed. “Josh, I can’t.”
“Because…” He faltered.
“For me. Do this for me.”
He would. He would in a heartbeat, if it made Josh happy. He would, but he couldn’t.
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me you’ll think about it.”
Sam started to shake his head, just to stop the thoughts racing through his mind and nip the whole thing in the bud before he let himself fall back in, but he nodded instead, because he couldn’t say no. Not to Josh. Son of a bitch. “I’ll think about it.”
Josh smiled then, and he really did look ten years younger. Sam found himself distracted by Josh’s dimples, and he let himself stare for a second before averting his eyes. Josh straightened up in his seat. “I’ll make sure not to hire anyone else while I wait.”
“I should get back to work. I was kind of in the middle of a meeting.” He glanced down at his drink. It was still almost full, but he wasn’t much in the mood to finish it, not with the weird taste in his mouth and the weird twisting of his stomach.
“I’m good at interrupting those.”
Sam laughed softly. “You are, yeah. But I need to get back now.”
“If I get you fired, you’ll have no choice but to find a new job,” Josh said, a glint in his eye.
“Don’t push your luck,” Sam warned him, giving him a pointed look.
“Let me cover the drinks.”
Sam shook his head. “I’ve got it.”
“Fancy corporate lawyer salary, remember?”
Josh flinched. “I can get it.”
“I can write it off as a business expense.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know if you’re technically allowed to do that.”
Sam shrugged. “I’ll cover it. Seriously.”
“You’re never going to let me cover a bill, are you?” It was soft, and Sam was flooded with memories of a hundred arguments across tables, demanding that Josh let him pay. He smiled sadly before shaking himself out of it.
“I’ve got it.”
“Fine,” Josh relented.
They both got to their feet, then stood awkwardly for a moment, unsure of what to do next. Finally, Sam rolled his eyes and pulled Josh in, wrapping his arms tightly around him. In an instant, Josh’s arms were around his waist, and Josh’s head was pressed against his, and Sam felt like he could breathe for the first time in four years.
Josh was holding him as if he was scared Sam was going to float away if he let go. Sam took a deep breath in. Josh smelled like airplane air and coffee, but underneath it was the familiar smell of his cologne and his apartment and cinnamon candles. Sam smiled against Josh’s shoulder.
He ignored the disappointment he felt when Josh pulled away. “Are you heading back to D.C., then?”
“Yeah. I can’t really be away for much longer than three hours before it all starts going to shit. It’s already been too long.” He grabbed his backpack from the ground and pulled out a pen and a loose sheet of paper. He scribbled two numbers down and handed the paper to Sam. “The top one is my phone at the OEOB, and the bottom one is my cell phone. In case you didn’t have it.”
“I still have it.”
“Oh. Good.” He shrugged, then zipped the backpack up and slung it over his shoulder. “I’ll see you, then?”
“At some point.” Sam patted his shoulder, like friends did, and Josh smiled. He turned to leave, but after only a few steps, Sam cleared his throat and said, “Josh?”
Josh turned back around to face him. “Yeah?”
“I don’t think I said congratulations.”
“It’s okay. I’ve gotten enough congratulations to last six lifetimes.”
“It was—it’s good to see you.”
“You too, Sam. I better see you in Washington.” And then he was walking away again, and Sam looked down at the paper in his hand. He had already made up his mind. He looked back up and watched Josh walk across the street and wave down a cab, and he wanted to yell for Josh to wait, to rush back upstairs and grab his briefcase and leave with Josh and never come back, but he stood and watched as the car pulled away, taking Josh with it.
He couldn’t say no. It had been clear from the second he had made eye contact with Josh, though he tried to tell himself that he wasn’t going to say yes—until Josh practically begged him over the phone (“Humiliation is not beneath me,” he had said, and Sam had to bite his tongue to restrain from making a comment about that). It had been barely twenty-four hours since Josh had barged into a conference room and turned Sam’s life upside down again. But Josh needed him. He couldn’t say no.
Still, though, he tried not to give a definitive yes. It was a trial run, just to see if things could work out—see how the Santos administration was getting started, offer some help here and there, and then make a decision. That’s what he had told Sarah, at least—a couple of weeks in D.C., then either return home to California or have a lengthy discussion about what exactly their future would look like if he moved back to Washington. But his decision had been made the moment he had seen Josh, and when he bought his plane ticket, though he could have easily selected a round-trip, he chose one-way instead.
He wouldn’t be going home to California after a few weeks. He already was home.
Whether “home” meant Washington or just wherever Josh happened to be, he still wasn’t sure.
Josh was getting worse. He was exhausted, and his stretch of days without sleep was only getting longer. He was stressed and tired and definitely getting sick, though he claimed otherwise. Sam tried to help, but he was still getting the hang of things and couldn’t work efficiently enough for Josh’s standards. The others did their best to help out, but working around Josh was like sitting in the same room as a ticking time bomb and not knowing when it was going to finally explode. And the longer they waited, the worse the damage was going to be.
Sam could have guessed that Otto would be the one to finally light the fuse. He was smart and intuitive, along with all of the other qualities that made a great assistant, but he was young and inexperienced, and he didn’t stand a chance once Josh was pushed too far.
They could hear Josh screaming throughout the entire floor. Sam approached his office cautiously. Ronna looked at him, fear and shock behind her eyes, and he shook his head. Otto came rushing out of the room and grabbed Josh’s Blackberry from his desk. Sam held up a hand to stop him before he could go back into the office.
“I’ve got it,” he said gently, and Otto, looking immensely relieved, handed him the device. Sam walked into the office slowly. Josh whipped around to face him.
“Your Blackberry? Yeah, it is.”
“What, is Otto too scared to come back in here and face me, that little—” His voice was getting louder and louder again.
“Josh!” Sam snapped. Josh stopped, chest heaving.
“Give me that,” Josh demanded.
“In a minute.” Sam set it down, then closed the door and stepped closer to Josh.
Josh turned around, running a hand through his hair and making it even messier than it had been before. Sam stuck his hands into his pockets and waited until Josh had regained control of his breathing and turned back to face Sam before he started speaking again.
“Josh, do you know why I’m here?”
“Because I asked you to be.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m not just here for you. I could have said no to you.” It was a lie, but he didn’t care. Josh needed to be put in his place, and it seemed like Sam was the only one who could do it. “I came because I think Matthew Santos is going to great things for this country. I really do. I’d like to be a part of it. But he can’t do this on his own. He doesn’t have the kind of experience that other politicians have. As good as he is, he’s young and untested. He needs a staff to make up for it. He can’t do this without them. He can’t do this without you, Josh. You’re what’s going to make this actually happen. You know Washington inside and out. When people are pushing at us from both sides, it’s going to be up to you to kick them in the ass and get them to work.”
Josh was staring at him, almost glaring, but Sam refused to let it deter him. He was used to Josh’s moods—more used to them than anyone else on the staff, save for maybe Donna, and only because she had been dealing with him for the four years Sam had been gone. But no one knew Josh better than Sam. He still believed that, no matter how much time they spent apart.
“But you’re not going to get anything done if you’ve completely lost your mind.”
“Sam—” Josh began, but Sam held up a hand to cut him off. It hurt to see Josh like this, to treat Josh like this, but if someone didn’t step in, nothing was going to get better.
“I still haven’t said yes. I still don’t know for sure that I’m going to. You make me question my decisions every damn minute. But I’ll tell you this—you need to take a break. You’re not doing anyone any good right now. You’re hurting yourself, you’re hurting the President-elect, you’re hurting this administration before it even takes office. And it’s only going to get worse. So,” he took a breath, “I’ll give you the ultimatum: tonight or tomorrow, either you get on a plane, or I do. You take a round trip to Miami, or Cancun, or Venice, or Sydney. I don’t care where. You buy a round trip ticket, and you come back in a week. That’s option one. Option two, I buy a one-way ticket back to California, and I’m gone.”
Josh’s mouth was half-open, and he shook his head. “Sam…”
“You better decide by tonight, because if you don’t, I’m making the decision for you, and you know what my choice will be. If I leave, I’m not coming back. Not this time.”
He picked the Blackberry up and tossed it towards Josh, who caught it without breaking eye contact. Sam shook his head, turned on his heel, and left the room, the door slamming against the wall behind him.
“Sam?” Josh’s voice was soft, hesitant, almost scared. Sam looked up and took his glasses off. Josh had his hands in his pockets and was bouncing anxiously on the balls of his feet.
“Hi,” Sam responded quietly. He set his glasses down on his desk and ran a hand through his hair.
“I, uh…” Josh cleared his throat. “I made a decision.”
“Yeah. I just bought a round-trip ticket to Cancun.”
Sam smiled, relief washing over him. “That’s good, Josh.”
“I wanted to—I wanted to apologize.”
“You shouldn’t be apologizing to me. You should be apologizing to Otto. Actually, the entire staff, to be fair. They’ve been working their asses off for you. Give them some credit, Josh. They’re still new at this. They’ll get the hang of it, just like we did.”
Josh cracked a tiny smile. “We weren’t too good at this at the beginning either, were we?”
“I’d even go so far as to say we were awful.” Josh laughed, and it was quiet and tired and not the way Sam liked to hear it, but it was a laugh, and that was a start. “So, a week in Mexico?”
“Yeah. Figure a week of sun will be good for me. As long as I don’t get skin cancer. You know how the sun hates me.”
Sam laughed softly. “Yeah, I know. If you come back looking like a lobster, I won’t be surprised.”
“I’m packing all of the sunscreen I own.”
“Have you ever been before?”
Josh shook his head. “No.”
“It’s gorgeous, if not a bit overwhelmingly touristy.” Sam smiled. “But the beaches are beautiful. I could’ve spent a month there.”
“When did you go?”
“Spring break in college.”
“Of course you did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam narrowed his eyes.
Josh did his best to hide a smirk. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Sam rolled his eyes but decided not to push the subject. “I’d love to go back.”
Josh cleared his throat. “Maybe you could come with me.” The sentence hung in the air between them, and Josh fumbled to clarify. “Later, I mean. I’m probably not gonna get another vacation until we’re out of office.”
Sam paused. Josh seemed unsure about the offer, biting his bottom lip and averting his eyes. “Yeah, maybe.”
“So, my flight is pretty early tomorrow morning, so I think I’m gonna head out now. Try to get some sleep, you know?”
“You need it.”
“I kind of got that. Thanks, ah… thanks for looking out for me, Sam.”
He smiled gently. “Kinda my job, isn’t it?”
“Kinda been your job for the last two decades.”
Sam couldn’t think of many other things he would rather spend twenty years doing than looking out for Josh Lyman.
“Must be why I’m so immune to your bullshit.”
Josh laughed, finally making eye contact again. He already looked slightly less stressed, and even though he hadn’t even left yet, Sam missed him. “Sam?”
“Thank you. Seriously. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“God only knows.”
Josh walked closer to his desk, then dropped his backpack onto the carpet and grabbed Sam by the shoulders, hauling him to his feet. Sam let it happen, both too surprised by Josh’s actions and too happy about Josh’s hands on him to protest. Josh wrapped his arms around Sam’s waist, tucking his face against Sam’s neck and breathing in deeply. Sam returned the hug with the same amount of pressure, gripping the back of Josh’s jacket. They stayed liked that for longer than would have been considered socially acceptable, but Sam couldn’t bring himself to care.
Even after so long, Josh’s arms still felt like home, and he didn’t want to leave.
Sam had taken a risk by offering himself as an ultimatum. Josh could have easily said no and sent him back to California. But Sam had wagered that, after all the work Josh did to drag him back in, he wasn’t going to let him go that easily. Josh still wanted—needed—him around. Sam had to stay. He couldn’t leave, not again. He shouldn’t have left to begin with. But the past was the past, and he couldn’t fix the mistakes he had made. He could only hope that from then on, he would stop making quite so many.
That night, as soon as he walked into his hotel room and dropped his coat and briefcase onto the bed, he sat down, called Sarah, and told her he was staying, and that if she didn’t agree, he understood. But he couldn’t go back to California.
“I belong here,” he told her, because he didn’t know how to explain it, and she quietly said that they could discuss it later, that she could fly out so they could talk in person, but Sam, rashly, probably stupidly, made the fatal decision to tell her no, he had already made up his mind. He was staying in Washington.
Sam had been searching for home for so long that he ended up feeling more lost than he had before he had left his parents’. Carrying himself from California to New York to Washington back to California, and now to Washington again. Somewhere along the way, between the presidential campaigns and elections and insanity of working in the White House, Sam hadn’t found a home; he had carved one for himself out of stone, one where he fit perfectly, one where he fell asleep each night wrapped in Josh’s arms, one where he loved and was loved in return.
He never could have settled anywhere else. He would have kept searching forever, never figuring out his place, because he had left it before realizing it had been exactly what he was searching for since the day he left his family and the place that never really felt like home to begin with to go to college two thousand miles away. He should have known four years earlier, before he made the worst decision of his life. California wasn’t his home. It never could have been.
As much as he tried to convince himself that he could leave again, there had never been any chance. He had sealed his fate, and on the flight in, when the pilot had said Welcome to Washington, D.C., Sam could have sworn he heard him say Welcome home instead.
A week on the beach was exactly what Josh had needed. When he returned to the office, he looked younger and healthier than Sam had seen him in almost a decade. The bags under his eyes, while not completely gone, had shrunk considerably. He was smiling, for real now, and every time it was directed at Sam, it sent a rush of warmth through his chest. Josh was back.
Sam had never fully understood Josh’s job. He knew the basics, sure, and the stuff they worked together on, and the things Josh would complain about late at night while lying face down in bed with Sam massaging the knots out of his back. Then, of course, had been the one mess of a day when Josh had been stranded in Indiana, and Sam was forced to fill Josh and Toby’s roles at the same time. But, even after spending four years working closely with Josh in the Bartlet White House, Sam didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Josh told him he would get the hang of it—it would take some adjustment, but they would all get the hang of it. Sam believed him. He didn’t know how Josh could be wrong.
While Josh was gone, Sam had started to figure things out, just like Josh had said he would. He, being him, had picked up all of the names and schedules and intricacies of planning a presidential administration much quicker than any normal person could have. Otto and Ronna viewed him as some kind of deity, and he would be lying if he said it didn’t give him a bit of an ego boost.
Without Josh, though, Sam would never have been able to keep going at the same pace. They fell back into sync so easily it was almost scary. Only three days after Josh had returned, they were already moving and speaking like one person again; Sam would start a sentence, and Josh would finish it, or Josh would look around wildly and mutter “Where did—” before Sam handed him whatever paper or folder or pen he had been searching for without even looking up from his work. They still got each other. Even after four years apart, they fell back into being JoshandSam like it had been only four days.
Louise said it was creepy. Each time Josh trailed off while asking a question or making a comment, and Sam jumped in to fill in the rest of it, Louise gave them a look and mumbled, “Freaks.” But Sam didn’t mind. Instead of making him self-conscious, like it would have years before, it always brought a small smile to his face. Every time, he looked at Josh, and Josh winked subtly (or as subtly as Josh could wink), and everything was perfect.
Donna had almost screamed with joy when she saw Sam for the first time. He had grinned so widely his face hurt and hugged her so tightly he was slightly concerned about snapping her ribs. She had berated Josh for not telling her Sam was coming, and Josh had shrugged and said something along the lines of an apology, and Sam and Donna had both rolled their eyes and whacked his shoulders simultaneously.
He was a little surprised that Josh hadn’t offered Donna the role of Deputy Chief of Staff. Though she didn’t have Sam’s pedigree, she was smart and savvy, and he guessed that she would have filled the position amazingly well. But, as Josh told him, the First Lady had snatched her up. Sam couldn’t help but feel proud of Donna. She had come a long way from the college dropout who first came to work for Josh eight years before.
A lot of things had changed while Sam had been gone. It was nice to have a few familiar faces around as he adjusted to being back in D.C.
Sam and Josh knew each other like the back of their hands. But there was still something unsaid, something unresolved, between them. They were both unsure of how to navigate the space between themselves, not professionally, but personally. It was so much like old times, just like their first days in the White House, but there was a tension there that Sam didn’t know how to handle.
He felt it when he made eye contact with Josh across the room, and Josh’s stare lingered for just a second too long. He felt it when they brushed arms as they walked through the building together, when Josh had yanked his away like he had been shocked the first couple of times. He felt it in the way Donna looked back and forth between them, knowing something, but visibly feeling just as uncertain as Sam.
Sam knew he couldn’t avoid it forever. He did a pretty good job of ignoring it, though, until Donna dared to broach the subject.
“So, what’s going on with you and Josh?” she asked quietly one morning while she and Sam were venturing outside to get coffee and donuts for the office.
Sam cleared his throat, unsure of what exactly she was asking or what answer she was looking for. “What do you mean?”
“Are you two…”
Donna nudged his arm. “You know.”
“I don’t know.”
“You guys seem to be okay.”
“We are. For the most part. We haven’t really talked about… you know.”
“He mentioned you’re engaged again?”
Sam sighed. “Not really. Not anymore.”
She tilted her head, expression surprised, but only slightly, and Sam got the strange feeling that she had somehow been expecting it. “What happened?”
“She doesn’t want to move to Washington. I don’t blame her, really. It wouldn’t be fair to force her to uproot her entire life and move across the country.” That was something only idiots did.
He pulled open the door of the coffee shop and let her inside before him. “Does that mean you’re staying?” Her tone was tinged with hope.
“I don’t know. I think I might.”
Donna smiled widely. “You should. We need you, Sam. Josh needs you. He’s not going to be able to do it without you.”
Sam dropped the conversation to place their order, but as soon as they stepped back to wait, Donna picked it up again.
“Really, Sam. It’ll be good for everyone if you stay. It’ll be good for Josh. You’re perfect for this job. And everyone loves you already.”
He smiled and shook his head. “They just like me because I’m easier to work with than Josh.”
“Which is exactly why they need you around. It’s a good balance. He’s an insufferable asshole, and you’re a charming genius.” She winked at him, and he laughed quietly. “He needs you here, Sam. I don’t know how he was surviving without you in the first place.” He glanced down at his watch, then cleared his throat.
“When I left… did Josh—I don’t know, did he talk about it?” he risked asking.
“Not really.” She shrugged. “You know how he internalizes that stuff.”
“But how was he?”
“Not great.” She grimaced.
Sam looked down at his feet and sighed. The guilt he had carried since leaving for California still hadn’t left him, and it only got worse whenever he thought about everything he had missed because of the decisions he made. It felt like he had missed so many important moments. Hearing about initiatives and scandals and decisions from the news instead of being in the room sent a shock through his system every time. He couldn’t read a news story without imagining what Josh had to say about it. He couldn’t watch press briefings without missing CJ, or listen to speeches without thinking about how much Toby had stressed over the language.
Then, of course, was Toby, whose future was still uncertain, who Sam had desperately wanted to reach out to but didn’t know how. He had debated calling him several times over the course of the past few months, but never got around to it. He felt bad. He knew it didn’t have anything to do with him, but the whole thing just added onto his guilt.
Day after day, he found himself missing Leo and CJ and Toby. When he looked around at the younger staff members, he couldn’t imagine that he, Donna, and Josh could be role models for these new kids the way that the Bartlet senior staff had been for them. It made him feel old. He missed the senior staff. He wished he had tried harder to keep in touch, but once he stopped talking to Josh, he stopped talking to everyone.
“Sam,” Donna said, dragging him out of his thoughts. “You don’t need to feel bad about it. Seriously. We don’t hold it against you.”
“You might not.”
“Neither does Josh,” she added, reading into his statement.
“How do you know?”
She shook her head. “He was so happy when you came back, Sam. When he disappeared that day he went to see you, everyone was freaking out. He didn’t even talk about it when he got back. But then when you showed up a few days later… I hadn’t seen him look that relieved in months. You’re good for him. He needs you. He can’t be mad. I know it seems like he is, but he really can’t be mad at you.”
Josh had never been able to stay mad at Sam. Sam had used that to his advantage many, many times. Even when he acted all grumpy and moody, Sam could get Josh to crack with just a smile or a cup of coffee. But he still seemed betrayed, and maybe even the tiniest bit hostile. Sam deserved it. He knew he did. But it still hurt that there was so much tension in their interactions.
Despite the mess of navigating their past, being around Josh was a breath of fresh air. He hoped that it was the same for Josh.
He needs you, Donna’s voice repeated in his head.
I need him.
One of the employees called Sam’s name, and he and Donna collected the boxes of donuts and trays of drinks before leaving. The cold wind blew right through his jacket, and Sam shivered slightly. He still hadn’t adjusted back to actual winter. By the time inauguration rolled around, he guessed he would be used to it again, but for the time being, he just tried to think warm thoughts.
He directed the conversation towards other topics as they walked back to the OEOB. When they got back inside, they set out the drinks and boxes on a table and watched as the entire staff flocked to them. As Sam looked around, he noticed a conspicuous lack of Josh. He grabbed one of the coffees and a donut and carried them to Josh’s office.
Josh was on the phone, talking animatedly. He glanced up at Sam as he entered and greeted him with a warm smile and a raised finger. Sam waited patiently in the doorway as Josh finished the conversation and hung up the phone.
“Delivery,” Sam said, holding up the coffee and donut. He handed them to Josh, who took a sip of the coffee and smiled blissfully.
“I needed this,” Josh murmured.
“I figured. You look like you’re working yourself to death again.” Sam sat down. “How much did you sleep last night?”
Josh cleared his throat and averted his eyes, busying himself with the mess of papers on his desk.
“At least tell me you slept more than four hours.”
“You slept more than four hours?”
“…three and a half?”
“Jesus Christ.” Sam sighed. “Take a nap.”
“Take a nap,” Sam repeated.
“Sam, I’m fine.”
“Thought you brought me back to kick your ass when you needed it?”
Josh snorted. “I brought you back because I needed you around.”
“To kick your ass.”
“Partly.” Josh smiled.
“I don’t see why else you need me.”
Josh shrugged. “Because I like having you with me.”
Sam felt his cheeks get warm, and he looked down at his lap. Josh took another sip of coffee, then a bite of the donut. He muttered something under his breath. Sam glanced up at him. “What was that?”
“Hmm?” Josh looked up, donut crumbs falling out of his mouth. “Oh, nothing.”
“It’s rude to talk with your mouth full.”
Sam stood up. “Take a nap.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Sam raised an eyebrow. Josh shrugged. “I will force you to sleep. Get Otto to run out and get me some chloroform.”
“I don’t think you can buy that at a convenience store, honestly.”
“I work for the government. I’ll find a way.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“I’m sure.” Sam broke and laughed softly as he turned around to leave. Josh called a quiet goodbye as Sam walked out the door, and he tried to ignore the desperate way his heart was fluttering.
“Have we finished filling the cabinet?” Sam asked, checking over his notes. “Last update I got, we were going back on forth on education. Have we decided anything about HUD yet?”
“He and I are meeting with the two candidates for education this afternoon before we make a final decision,” Josh replied, picking his coffee mug up off the desk and taking a sip. “We’re still finalizing the shortlist for HUD. There’s a few people that he wants to look into that I’m not sure about.”
Sam nodded. “What about the speech?”
Josh peered at him over the top of his mug, quirking an eyebrow. Though his mouth was covered, Sam could tell there was a small smile on his lips. “You know it’s not your job to stress out over speeches anymore, right?”
Sam fidgeted slightly. He shrugged. “Yeah, I know.”
“Relax. It’ll get done.”
“You’re still going to stress out over it, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Sam admitted. “I can’t help it! You can’t spend four years writing speeches for a president and then not care about the ones that other people write.”
Josh laughed softly. “Sam.”
“I know, I know.”
“You want to go talk to Lou about it?”
“No, I’m fine.” His leg was bouncing up and down rapidly. He glared down at it, willing it to stop. Josh set his mug down and looked at Sam. Sam cleared his throat awkwardly, avoiding eye contact.
“Go ask Lou about the speech. I’m sure the writers would appreciate your input, anyway.”
“I don’t want to overstep.”
“Tell them you’re working on direct orders from the President-elect’s Chief of Staff.”
Sam shook his head. “I thought Lou told you not to encourage me.”
“Lou can’t tell me to do shit. Go.” Josh gestured to the door, and Sam got up and left, a smile on his face.
He had missed this. The camaraderie that came with being part of a presidential administration, the inside jokes and relationships and shared grievances among the staff. He had missed it. Sam thrived while working alone—he had always been better at getting work done by himself than participating in group projects, and wrote best while sitting alone in his office, but he had missed having a group of people like the senior staff.
The Santos administration wasn’t the Bartlet administration. No one had CJ’s wit, or Toby’s gruff affection, or Leo’s wisdom, but they each were special in their own way. Sam had been nervous at first that he wasn’t going to mesh well with them—they had a year to get to know each other, and he was coming extremely late to the party. But when Josh had introduced him, his voice laced with just the slightest bit of pride, and gaze daring anyone to challenge his decision to let Sam on board, Sam had felt more comfortable than he had since leaving the White House.
With a week to go until the inauguration, Josh still wasn’t sleeping. The stress was starting to get to him, but this time around, Sam refused to let him reach his breaking point. Josh was still in his office, hours after everyone else had left, and Sam knocked lightly on his door.
Josh jumped in his seat looked up quickly. Relief washed over his features when he realized it was Sam standing in the doorway and not an axe murderer.
“What are you still doing here?” he asked, glancing over at the clock.
“What are you still doing here?” Sam shot back, sitting down in the chair across from Josh. Josh gestured to the papers spread out in front of him.
“I have stuff to finish up.”
Sam shook his head. “Josh.”
“Be honest. What are you going to get done in the next hour that you couldn’t get done on Monday?”
Josh opened his mouth, his eyes darting around his desk and computer screen. “I mean…”
“Let’s go. Come on.” Sam stood up and held out a hand, raising an eyebrow. Josh started to protest, but Sam cut him off. “Josh, you need to get a full night’s sleep. Take tomorrow off, too. Don’t make me send you back to Mexico.”
Josh sighed, and Sam was worried for a moment that he was going to say no, but he nodded and started stacking his papers into piles. He turned off his laptop, then stood up and started loading folders into his backpack. Sam almost told him to stop, that he didn’t need to bring so much work home with him, but he figured he was only going to get so far.
Sam turned off the lights as they left the offices, then sped up for a couple of steps to catch up with Josh. Josh attempted to cover up a yawn but failed miserably. Even though he was visibly exhausted, he still seemed slightly annoyed that Sam had forced him to leave work. He would get over it eventually.
They paused outside the entrance to the OEOB, bathed in the artificial glow of street lights. Sam looked down the street at the lights coming from the White House. It was hard to believe that in just one week, they were going to be back in there. A nervous anticipation washed over him. It had been a while since he had thought about working in the White House, but now that he was back in Washington, one more week felt like an eternity.
A gust of wind blew down the street. Sam shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him.
Josh glanced over, and the corner of his mouth quirked up. “Cold?”
“A little,” Sam admitted.
Josh blew air out of his mouth and watched with childlike fascination as it turned into steam and drifted away from his face. “That’s what you get for going to California. You’ve become weak.”
Sam laughed softly. “Maybe, but you couldn’t survive a California summer.”
“You’re right. That’s why I’m smart and stay above the thirty-fifth parallel. I’m a northern man, Samuel.”
Sam rolled his eyes good-naturedly as he pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“What are you doing?” Josh asked.
“Calling a cab.”
Sam looked over at him. “Because I don’t want to walk all the way back to my hotel in freezing cold weather at one in the morning?”
Josh bit his bottom lip and looked down, dragging his shoe across the sidewalk. “I thought, uh, maybe… maybe, if you wanted, you could come over?”
“To my place. I don’t know.” Josh shrugged. “It’s late, I know, but… I don’t know. I thought maybe staying in a hotel could get kind of lonely.”
It did. But Sam hadn’t gotten around to finding an apartment yet. He had already accepted that he was never going back to California, but something was holding him back. If he was completely, one hundred percent honest with himself, he didn’t want to find a place to live in Washington. He didn’t want to go searching for a bachelor pad again like he had the first time around. Because in the first four years he had lived there, things had changed. Because Josh’s apartment had become more of his home than anything else could be. It would feel weird moving in anywhere else. Before Bartlet’s second election, before Sam had agreed to run in California, he had been considering the possibility of leaving his own apartment and moving in with Josh for real. But then everything went to shit, and all of those plans had gone out the window, and Sam had moved out of his apartment, not to live with Josh, but to find a place two thousand miles away from home.
Josh seemed to take his silence as a no, and began apologizing, mumbling, “Sorry, it’s stupid, you don’t have to, I’ll just wait with you until your cab comes. I’m sorry.”
Sam shook his head, finally getting his voice to work. “No. I’ll—I’d like to. Come over. If you want.”
Josh’s expression brightened as Sam slid his phone back into his pocket. “Yeah?”
“Sure. Why not? We can get some beer, watch some MASH. Just like old times.”
“Just like old times,” Josh echoed, something flickering across his face, and Sam silently cursed himself as the memories rose to the surface.
A hotel room somewhere in Oregon or Montana or Idaho, cheap beers from a convenience store down the street, a two in the morning M*A*S*H marathon. Josh hesitantly leaning in, Sam not being able to handle it any longer and surging in to kiss him, their heads knocking together painfully, and Josh yanking away and laughing so loudly that Sam was worried he would wake their neighbors. Sam apologizing over and over, and Josh shaking his head and pulling him in and kissing him again, softer, sweeter. Josh’s hands exploring his skin, creeping under his t-shirt and raising goosebumps all over his body. Josh whispering softly to him, quiet confessions traveling through the darkness. Waking up next to Josh for the first time, the sheets a tangled mess around their legs. Sam’s anxiety as Josh woke up, Sam’s terror that Josh would think it was a mistake. Josh kissing him in reassurance, laughing softly and calling him ridiculous. Josh’s smile as Sam stammered out a quiet “I like you.” Josh’s gentle touch against his cheek, Josh’s lips against his.
“Just like old times,” Sam said again.
Josh smiled, nodded, and gestured towards the parking lot. Sam trailed a step behind him, mind still flooding with memories he had thought he had locked away a long time ago. He wondered if Josh was going through the same memories.
Sam couldn’t remember the first Bartlet campaign without being overtaken by Josh. They were completely intertwined, Joshua Lyman and Sam’s life in politics. Sam couldn’t think of any moment of his four years in the White House without it somehow being connected to Josh. Josh had shared in Sam’s every victory and every defeat, every tragedy and every success. The fact that Josh couldn’t say the same about Sam put a sour taste in his mouth.
The feelings swirling around in his chest were even more confusing than they had been during the first campaign. Back then, he had been younger and stupider and more terrified of the things he felt for Josh, because he still wasn’t certain they weren’t wrong. Because he didn’t know if Josh would return them, if Josh would like him, if Josh even liked men. The uncertainty had been the source of most of his anxiety. Now, he wasn’t sure why he was so anxious about all of it.
Maybe it was the four long years that had passed since they had last been together. Maybe it was the fact that there hadn’t even been a real breakup, just a slow descent into never talking. Maybe it was the fact that Sam had moved on, found a nice girl and settled down the way he and Josh never could have. Maybe it was the fact that the moment he had seen Josh again, his heart had leapt almost out of his chest, and he knew that as long as he was around Josh, he was going to be hounded by feelings for him.
If Josh hadn’t come to get him, Sam could have moved on. He could have been happy with staying in California, with getting married to Sarah, with settling down in a house and having kids and living a satisfactory life. If Josh hadn’t torn back into his life, Sam could have moved on for good.
Josh coming to get him tended substantially fuck up Sam’s life. But he knew he wouldn’t have it any other way. He and Josh were tangled together. It seemed like their futures had to involve each other, somehow. Like the universe was telling Sam that he needed Josh around. It would have been fine if Sam could have been satisfied with being Josh’s friend and nothing more. But he couldn’t. He hated everything about it, but if Josh was going to be in his life, he could never settle for just friends.
It seemed like fate had something in store for them, the way she kept nudging them back together. Sam had always thought that Josh came careening into his life at the worst possible moments, but the more he considered it, the more he realized that Josh had come whenever Sam needed it most. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was just Josh, somehow sensing when Sam needed him most, even when Sam didn’t realize it himself, and always following through.
If destiny was real, Sam thought, then his lied with Josh.
He had already fallen in love once. It had been quick, and easy, and happened before he even realized what was going on. It had been simple—or as simple as it could have been, once they figured out they both liked men. He had been in love with Josh, and Josh had been in love with him, and despite the complications of working for the President of the United States, they had made it work.
He thought maybe he could fall in love again. He thought maybe he had never fallen out of it.
He found himself feeling glad that Sarah had officially broken it off for them. Then he found himself feeling guilty, because she had deserved better than that. But he couldn’t deny that it wasn’t going to work. It couldn’t have worked, because he moved back across the country and would be there for at least four years and possibly (hopefully) twice as long. It couldn’t have worked, because Sam couldn’t do long distance. It couldn’t have worked because he was back around Josh, and Josh’s smile and touch and voice were too much for Sam to handle. It couldn’t have worked, because he had Josh again, and he knew that even if he left, his heart would stay in Washington, safe in Josh’s hands.
Josh’s apartment was the same as Sam remembered. A few new pillows on the couch, new stools at the bar in the kitchen, but otherwise the same. As they walked through the door, Sam took a deep breath. Even the smell was the same. It was comforting. It was like home.
“Are you hungry?” Josh asked him. Sam removed his coat and shoes, leaving them by the door before following Josh into the kitchen, untying his tie as he went. “I don’t know if I have anything, really… I’ve mostly been eating takeout,” he continued sheepishly. “But I’m sure I can find something.”
“I’m good. Really. I ate dinner with Ronna.”
“You’re getting along well with her.” Josh opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. He grabbed a bottle opener from a drawer and popped the tops off before handing one to Sam.
“Yeah. She’s nice. I really like her.”
“So do I.” Josh headed for the couch, and Sam followed. They settled in comfortably, in the same positions they had claimed ages ago: Josh sitting against one arm with his legs stretched towards the other, taking up two cushions, and Sam tucked against the other arm with his feet propped up on the coffee table. Josh turned on the TV and flipped through the channels.
“Wait, go back one,” Sam said. Josh did, and Sam laughed. “No way.”
“You’re an oracle, Samuel,” Josh joked, setting the remote down after turning the volume up a couple of notches. He set his drink down to remove his tie and undo the first few buttons of his shirt. Sam avoided letting himself look at the pale strip of skin beneath Josh’s neck.
“I don’t know if prophecies about what TV shows are going to be on really count.”
“I think it’s useful.”
“Isn’t that why they make TV guides?”
“Yeah, but you’re free.” Josh picked his drink back up and took a sip.
“Might have to charge you a few bucks for that one. You know, since I’m making a government salary and not my big-shot west coast lawyer one anymore.”
Josh snorted into his beer. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I’m right, is what I am.”
“Whatever.” Josh sighed dramatically. “Why do I keep you around again?”
“I dunno, you tell me.”
“I think there’s a few reasons.” Josh looked at him, and he didn’t elaborate, but there was a soft smile on his lips, and Sam didn’t really care what those reasons were. Josh’s gaze lingered for a second before he cleared his throat and looked back to the TV.
After the episode of M*A*S*H finished, Sam grabbed the blanket that was laying across the top of Josh’s couch and covered himself with it, pulling it up to his chin and letting his eyes close for a moment.
“Are you falling asleep on me, Seaborn?” Josh asked quietly, teasing.
Sam cracked open one eye and looked at him. “It’s two in the morning, Lyman. I’ve been working all week. Can you blame me?”
“You’ve gotten old.”
Sam opened the other eye and glared at him. “Says you. I’m younger than you are.”
“You used to be able to stay up until four, then go to bed and get up at six for another eighteen-hour day. You’re old.”
“At least I still have a full head of hair,” Sam shot back.
“If you worked the whole campaign, your hairline wouldn’t be that good either, pretty boy.”
Pretty boy. He hadn’t heard that one in a while. Once upon a time, it had been Josh’s favorite insult. Soon after that, it became his favorite term of endearment (and Sam’s, too).
“I think the fact that you can go a week without sleep is more concerning than impressive, honestly.”
“Red Bull and coffee are my saviors.”
“You’re going to die,” Sam said flatly.
“Nah, I’m still young and full of vigor.”
“I thought that was Santos’ selling point?”
“Him and me both.”
“I can see it now. Santos-Lyman 2010: young and vigorous.”
Josh laughed, then asked all of the sudden, “Do you remember Chicago?”
Sam tilted his head, squinting his eyes, then nodded. “First campaign?”
“When you accidentally broke the shower head at three in the morning and flooded the bathroom?”
“I’m pretty sure it was you who broke it.”
Sam shook his head. “No, it was definitely you.”
“Your memory is failing you.”
“No, it was you, because then you were soaking wet, and I had to sprint downstairs to get someone to come fix it because you were drying off and trying to clean it up.”
“…okay, maybe it was me.”
Sam smiled. “I thought Leo was going to fire us after that one.”
“Oh, he threatened me with that one more times than I can count. Always said he was going to send me back to New Hampshire to work in the gubernatorial office. Scared me the first couple of times, but then I figured out it was an empty threat.”
“He needed you. He wasn’t going to send you home.” Josh nodded slowly, smiling slightly, and Sam guessed that he was thinking back on his time with Leo. Sam cleared his throat quietly. “He would have been really proud of you. I know you probably don’t want to hear it again, but he would. You’ve done a damn good job with this whole campaign. It never would have happened without you.”
“I did my best.”
“Bet I could’ve won California if you had been the one running the campaign.”
Josh flinched slightly, and Sam immediately regretted mentioning the C-word at all. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Josh started talking before he could.
“I hated you for leaving.”
It sent a shot of pain through his chest. He stared at Josh for a second before responding with a simple, “I’m sorry.”
“I was selfish,” Josh continued softly. “There was no reason to keep you around. I mean, there was, but none that were so good that you would have to stay. It was just me being selfish. I wanted you to stay so badly, because I was scared of what would happen if you left. So, when you really did leave… it was easier to hate you. I decided I had to hate you, because it was easier than dealing with it.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam repeated.
Josh shook his head. “You don’t have to be.”
"I am, though.”
“I never meant to do that to you. I didn’t want to. I just… I don’t know. There’s a lot of things I wish I could change. But, hey, hindsight is twenty-twenty.” He managed a weak smile, but it disappeared quickly.
“You ended up okay out there.”
“I don’t know.”
“Sam, you had a career. You were making a ridiculous amount of money. You—you’re engaged.”
“Was engaged,” Sam corrected him quietly. Josh jerked his head to look at him, eyebrows furrowed. Sam sighed. “We called it off. When I told her I was staying here. She didn’t want to leave California, which I understand. I get it.”
“No, it’s okay.” He shrugged.
“So, I’ve destroyed two of your relationships.”
Sam laughed quietly, but Josh wasn’t smiling. Sam shook his head. “Don’t be stupid, Josh.”
“If I hadn’t dragged you away—”
“You didn’t drag me anywhere. I chose to come. I made my own decisions.”
“Still.” Sam looked him in the eyes. “It was my choice, Josh. Both times. I chose to come with you to Nashua, and I chose to come back this time around. My choice. You didn’t force me into anything. It was me.”
“Your fiancées must despise me.”
“Maybe a little bit.”
“Do you regret it?”
Sam paused for a moment. Josh looked shockingly vulnerable. He looked tired, and nervous, and like he was already regretting the question the second it left his lips. He was fidgeting with the remote, turning the volume up and down before finally hitting the mute button and setting the remote down on the arm of the couch. Sam studied him, carefully choosing his next words.
“Following you? Not for a second. It was the best damn decision I ever made.”
“Do you regret anything else?” was what he asked next, but Sam could tell what he meant was Do you regret me?
“None of it?”
“I regret leaving,” Sam murmured. “I should have stayed. I should have come back after the election. Staying away was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”
Josh looked hesitant to believe him, but Sam couldn’t have been lying. Leaving Washington, leaving the White House, leaving Josh—Sam had regretted it from the moment he made the decision. As soon as he had said his final goodbye to Toby at the airport, something had been missing. There was a space in his chest that stayed empty until Josh came stumbling into the conference room in California.
“I mean, maybe if I had won… I would have been working on the Hill. I would’ve been around.”
“You were never going to win in the first place.”
“You’re going to run again.” It wasn’t a question.
Josh nodded. “You’re going to run again. After Santos is finished, we’re gonna get you a seat. I promise you that.”
“I think the whole California thing kind of ruined my shot.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Sam smiled slightly then, but Josh was dead serious. Sam cleared his throat.
“I don’t regret anything else. Besides leaving. I don’t regret anything I did.”
Josh had moved his legs so that he was sitting forward, feet on the floor. He was no longer looking at Sam now. Sam slowly moved closer but kept enough distance between them that Josh wouldn’t freak out.
“I don’t regret following you to Nashua. I don’t regret leaving New York. I don’t regret breaking off my engagement—either of them. I don’t regret joining the campaign. I don’t regret working in the White House. Not for a second.” He took a deep breath. “And I don’t regret you, Josh.”
Josh shook his head. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“I don’t. I don’t regret sleeping with you. Even if we hadn’t ended up together, I wouldn’t have regretted that part.” A tiny smile appeared on Josh’s lips, but it was gone in an instant. “I don’t—I don’t regret falling in love with you. I could never regret that. Even if I regretted everything else, I couldn’t regret you.”
“Can I… can I ask you something?” Josh bit his bottom lip. Sam tried not to stare.
“Yeah, of course.”
It was quiet for a moment. Sam looked at Josh expectantly. Josh sighed, averting his eyes. “How… how long did it take for you to decide you were going to marry Sarah?”
The question surprised him. He had to take a second to gather his thoughts. “About two years, I think. But we were together for three before I asked.”
“We were together for four.”
Sam furrowed his eyebrows. “We were.”
“Was it never that serious to you?”
The question hit Sam directly in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. As they sat there on the couch, too far apart, he was filled with an urge to drag Josh into him and hold him to his chest until he got any other thoughts like that out of his mind.
“That was a stupid question. I’m sorry. Forget it.” Josh shook his head.
“It wasn’t.” Sam took a deep breath. “Josh, I was more serious about you than I’ve ever been about anything in my entire life.”
“Didn’t I ask you to marry me?” Sam finished for him. Josh nodded. “I didn’t—I mean, for one, we couldn’t, but other than that… I didn’t know if you wanted to. You didn’t seem like that kind of guy.”
“Oh,” was all Josh said, and the whole situation felt off. Josh always had something to say. Sam didn’t like that he wasn’t speaking now.
So, he tried again. “I would have married you. I don’t know if that sounds stupid, or if I was just stupid, but I would have. I knew that after about six months.”
Josh still didn’t say anything else, and Sam couldn’t shake the feeling that he had ruined everything, anything that could have been happening between them again.
“Would you have said yes if I had asked?”
A quiet, pained laugh. “I thought that was pretty clear.”
“It wasn’t your fault. I didn’t talk about it.”
“Did you think I wasn’t that serious about you?”
Josh shrugged. “I didn’t know. I didn’t want to assume…” He let out a slow breath. “And then you left, and things got weird, and it just… I don’t know. It all kind of fell apart.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, unsure of what else he could say to make things better.
“I am too.”
“Kinda missed the boat on that one, huh?” Sam smiled sadly.
Josh finally looked at him. “I’m not sure.”
Sam’s breath caught in his throat. He moved closer again, until they were only inches apart. Josh swallowed, lips parting just slightly. Sam’s gaze flicked back and forth from Josh’s eyes to his lips.
“I don’t regret anything either. I don’t—I don’t regret falling in love with you either.”
Throwing all caution to the wind, Sam surged forward and kissed Josh firmly. Josh, like he had been expecting it, responded immediately, wrapping his arms around Sam’s waist and pulling him even closer. He leaned back against the arm of the couch. He heard the remote clatter against the floor. Sam leaned forward, reaching up to cup Josh’s jaw in his hands.
It was still the same. The feeling of Josh’s lips against his, of Josh’s hands, warm and firm against his back. It was almost like he had never left, but the chills racing down his spine were a reminder of just how long it had been since Josh touched him like this.
Josh pulled back, and Sam smiled. He briefly thought of how cliché it was for him to be breathless. They both opened their eyes. Sam’s gaze met Josh’s, and Josh smiled softly.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“Hi,” Sam responded.
“That was—that was nice.”
Sam laughed quietly. “Yeah, it was.”
“Is this a bad idea?”
“I’d like to think it isn’t.”
“You just—you just called off your engagement, I don’t know if this is…” Josh cleared his throat. Taking the hint, Sam moved back, but stayed close enough to Josh that their knees were still touching. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m pretty sure I just made this weird.”
Sam shook his head. “Don’t worry. You didn’t.”
“Should we talk about it?”
“We already are, aren’t we?”
Josh ran a hand through his hair. Sam reached out hesitantly, and Josh’s hand found its way into Sam’s. Josh laced their fingers together. Sam smiled.
“I just thought… I’m not sure. I didn’t want to rush into anything, but if you…”
“Josh, I was the one who just kissed you.”
“You didn’t rush anything.”
It seemed like Josh was only ever unsure of himself when it came to Sam. When it came to everything else, he made his decision and stuck with it. He assumed he was in the right most of the time, and whoever disagreed with him was in the wrong. Sam couldn’t remember the last time Josh had been uncertain about a choice for longer than about two seconds. But when it came to Sam, Josh seemed to second guess everything.
“Was that okay with you?”
Josh nodded quickly. “Of course it was.”
“So, what’s wrong?”
“It’s just—it’s been a while.”
“What, you out of practice?” Sam teased softly, and Josh laughed, and the sound warmed Sam’s chest. “If this is weird for you, though, we don’t have to… I can just call a cab. It’s late.”
“No,” Josh said quickly, tightening his grip on Sam’s hand. “No, it’s not weird. I mean, it’s a little weird, but not—not in a bad way. And don’t—you don’t have to call a cab. You can stay here. I want you to stay.”
Sam stared at him, eyes searching his face, trying to read his expression. He still looked so tired. Sam didn’t think Josh would ever again look like he had gotten a full night’s sleep. He could pass out for fifteen hours straight and still look like he had only slept for two hours. But he looked better than he had two months ago. A break had certainly helped. Having Sam there, Sam dared to think, had helped, too—there was less pressure on Josh to handle everything when he had Sam around.
Josh brought his eyes up to Sam’s, and Sam blushed a little as he was caught staring. He looked down at their hands resting on top of Josh’s leg. They still fit together perfectly. They still looked right. Sam thought maybe his body had been specifically designed to fit in with Josh’s.
Josh used his other hand to lift Sam’s chin. He leaned in slowly, and Sam closed his eyes as Josh kissed him, hesitant and gentle and so light it was barely there. Sam returned it with more pressure, hoping it would encourage Josh. It worked. Josh let go of his hand to hold Sam by each side of the jaw, fingers firm against his cheeks. Sam moved forward again, and Josh moved back in sync, moving back so he was halfway to laying down. Sam held himself up on his arms as he hovered over Josh, refusing to break the kiss even as they shifted into a more comfortable position.
Life was too complicated. The mess of work, politics, money, and relationships was often too much for Sam to deal with. He did his best, and always tried to hide it when he was struggling, but life was complicated. Sam questioned himself every day. He questioned the decisions he made, the words he wrote, the legislation he moved around, the men he allowed to take power.
Josh was a brief reprieve from everything else. Josh was loud and cocky and arrogant and too self-assured most of the time, but with Sam, he was quiet and gentle and tentative. Sam could get Josh to stop on a dime. When Josh was blowing up, Sam could simply say his name and bring Josh back down to earth. Everything else was complicated. Being with Josh, alone in his dim living room, the taste of beer on their tongues as they shared soft kisses, was simple. It didn’t always make sense out in the world. In the daylight, things were hard. Things were confusing. Things had to be hidden. But there, just the two of them, everything fell into place. The world made sense when Sam was home.
For the first time in four years, Sam woke up wrapped in Josh’s arms. He took a moment to breathe and let himself enjoy it. Josh’s skin was warm against his, and his breath was tickling Sam’s ear. Sam opened his eyes and looked around Josh’s bedroom. Sunlight was filtering in through the blinds, bright enough to illuminate most of the room but not so bright it felt like daytime quite yet.
Sam glanced at the clock. He had slept for six hours and would have been perfectly happy to close his eyes again and fall back asleep, but something kept him from doing it. Josh’s breathing was still slow and steady, his chest rising and falling against Sam’s back. Sam burrowed deeper into the blankets and took a deep breath.
He rolled over carefully, trying his best not to wake Josh. Josh was peaceful, mouth slightly open and eyelashes fluttering. Sam smiled softly.
Josh had always looked younger while sleeping. The worry lines disappeared from his forehead, and the crinkles by his eyes smoothed out. Looking at him then, Sam could almost imagine that Josh was eight years younger, that they were still young, stupid White House staffers, that they would have to get up in a few minutes, drag themselves out of the warmth of the bed to get to work and be yelled at by Leo and CJ. It was a good thought.
Sam gently brushed his knuckles across Josh’s cheek. Josh made a soft noise, mouth twitching, but didn’t wake up. His skin was slightly rough, a result of not having shaved for a couple of days. It was Sam’s favorite period—he liked the feeling of Josh’s facial hair scratching against his skin when they kissed, when Josh dropped his head down against Sam’s neck. He would have accepted Josh’s kisses at any moment of any day, but he had a special fondness for unshaved Josh.
Sam trailed his hand down Josh’s jaw, then to his collarbone and across to his shoulder. He traced lines between the freckles on Josh’s torso. He liked to pretend Josh’s skin was the night sky, and if he searched hard enough, he could find each and every constellation.
There had been one lazy morning years ago, the first day they had off in a while, when Sam and Josh had indulged in staying in bed for longer than they usually did on the weekends. Sam had traced the same patterns over Josh’s chest, a gentle finger trailing each and every which way across the warm skin. Josh had mumbled softly and asked Sam what he was doing, and Sam had smiled and whispered, “I’m finding the constellations.” Josh had opened one eye to watch him as he worked, then quietly asked which one he was working on then.
“Aquila,” Sam had murmured, “but I’m missing one star.”
“Does that ruin it?”
“No,” Sam had replied simply, leaning in to press a soft kiss to Josh’s chest. “You don’t have to match our sky exactly.”
“Thank God,” Josh had said, gently pulling Sam up and kissing him. Sam had smiled, and so had Josh, and Sam had thought about the fact that Josh’s smile was prettier than any constellation in the night sky.
Josh stirred now, soft noises falling from his lips, and Sam stopped the movement of his hand, but kept it resting on Josh’s hip. Josh opened his eyes slowly. His met Sam’s, and he smiled sleepily.
“Morning,” Sam whispered.
Josh hummed and nodded, moving closer and pressing a soft kiss to Sam’s lips. It sent a spark through Sam’s body, and he shivered slightly. He didn’t know what to think about the fact that even the simplest touches from Josh still did that to him.
“Hey, pretty boy,” Josh murmured, his voice rough with sleep. “Sleep well?”
“Very well.” He cuddled in closer to Josh and rested his head against his chest. Josh wrapped his arms around Sam, hands warm against his back. Sam kissed the dip in Josh’s collarbone, and Josh let out a content sigh.
“What do we have today?”
“There’s no way that’s true.”
Sam shook his head. “You’re not allowed to do anything today but sleep. You need it.”
“Josh,” Sam said exasperatedly. “We have less than a week until inauguration day. After that, we’re in the White House, and it’s the first hundred days, and then suddenly it’s the midterms, and you never get another break. Take one day.”
“Yep.” Sam lifted his head and kissed the corner of Josh’s mouth. “It’s good for you.”
“I can’t believe I put up with you.”
“Frankly, I can’t either.”
“There must be some reason.”
“Maybe it’s because you’re so good at sex.”
Sam snorted, then coughed. “Josh!”
“Yes?” Josh asked innocently.
“Jesus Christ. We’ve been back together for like eight hours, and you’re already being inappropriate again.” He heard Josh’s breath catch before evening out again. “You okay?”
Josh nodded slowly. “Back together?”
“You said back together.”
“Was that bad?”
“No,” Josh confirmed, a slight smile on his lips. He kissed Sam again, and Sam squeezed his hip lightly. Josh mumbled something into the kiss. Sam pulled away and looked at him inquisitively. Josh repeated, “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.”
“I was worried you weren’t going to come back,” Josh admitted, averting his eyes.
Sam shook his head. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I thought maybe it had been too long. You had a job, a life. I wouldn’t have blamed you for not wanting to give it up.”
He would have given up anything for Josh. A six-figure salary, a house on the beach, summer in January, expensive Italian suits, catered lunches every day… none of it mattered next to Josh. Sam kissed him slowly, then moved his head down to trail kisses along his jaw. He felt Josh shiver and smiled against his skin before pulling back.
“I couldn’t say no to you.”
“I was hoping for that.”
“Did you do it on purpose? The whole dramatic bursting into the meeting?”
“Kind of. I was planning the dramatic part. I just got lucky with the meeting.”
“As if you just showing up to come get me wasn’t gonna trigger those memories anyway.” Sam tangled his fingers in Josh’s hair and pulled him in for another kiss. He couldn’t help himself. He had four years of kisses to make up for, and he was desperate to catch up as soon as possible. “You’ve always been the dramatic one.”
“You always seemed to be into the grand gestures.”
“Maybe a little.”
“And it worked.”
“Yeah.” Josh kissed him, then bit lightly at his bottom lip. Sam let out a soft whine, and Josh pulled back with a satisfied grin. “Like that.” He trailed his hand down Sam’s back, fingernails scratching lightly against his skin, and Sam shivered. “And that.” He leaned in and pressed his lips against Sam’s pulse point. Sam tilted his head back easily. “And that.” He moved down to Sam’s collarbone and bit lightly at his skin, pulling him closer at the same time, and Sam, though he tried to keep it in, let out a desperate, breathy Josh. Josh’s grin only widened as he pulled away. “And that.” He moved his hips against Sam’s, achingly slow, purposely teasing him, and Sam moaned quietly. Josh nipped at his earlobe. “And that.”
After almost four years together, they knew each other’s bodies as well as they knew their own. Sam knew every sweet spot, every place that caused Josh’s breath to get caught in his throat, every way he liked to be kissed and touched and held, and Josh knew the same about him. They had found their way into perfect sync, barely even needing to think about their actions. They fell back into it just as easily as they had fallen back into the flow of work. Sam wrapped his arm around Josh’s waist and pulled him in even tighter, until their chests were flush against each other.
Sam kissed the corner of his mouth. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Josh murmured, leaning in to kiss him again. After they pulled away, Sam pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek, and he felt Josh smile.
“You’re right, though. About me being predictable. I would always have come back for you,” Sam told him quietly. “I tried to convince myself I wouldn’t, that I was stronger than that, but I wasn’t. If you had flown out there, or called, or hell, even sent me an e-mail, I would’ve come back. All you had to do was ask.”
“I guess I should’ve asked sooner then, huh?” Josh’s hands were trailing across his sides, down to his hips, then around his back and tracing up his spine. Sam mentally tracked the movement, imagining that Josh’s touch was leaving lines across his skin, physical evidence of where he had been.
“Would’ve simplified a lot of things.”
“We figured it out eventually, though.”
“Eventually,” Sam repeated, kissing his cheek. “Josh?”
“Did—does this count as having the talk?”
Josh furrowed his eyebrows. “The talk?”
Sam felt himself blush. “I mean, you know, the talk. About… us. What we’re doing. That talk.”
“Your eloquence took a hit out west.”
Josh smiled and pecked his lips. “Sorry.”
“Is this it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Should we actually have it, then?”
“Are you reading too much into this?”
“You tell me.”
Sam groaned quietly and hit Josh’s shoulder. “I don’t know. That’s the problem. This is kind of… it’s new. Kind of. I don’t know.”
“Not really. We’ve been here before.”
“Yeah, four years ago.”
“Samuel.” Josh sighed. “Why are you getting so worked up about this? You never worried about it before. And if I recall correctly, last night you were the one telling me to chill.”
Sam bit his bottom lip. “I just… I want to know what this is. Before I get ahead of myself.”
“How would you get ahead of yourself?”
“Because I want to be with you,” he admitted. “Because it’s only been a couple of weeks since I officially called off my engagement, and I just slept with my ex-boyfriend again, and it was fucking amazing, and I’m kind of scared of how I feel about it. Because I wish we could go back to what we were before, but we can’t, because we’ve both changed too much. I don’t know what this is supposed to be.”
Josh was quiet for a moment, and Sam was worried he had gone too far. But he didn’t want to tiptoe around the issue. If they were going to do this, he needed to know exactly how it was defined. He didn’t want a friends with benefits thing, or a casual fuck every once in a while, or a nameless thing that was confusing for everyone involved. But it all depended on what Josh wanted. Sam knew what he didn’t want. He also knew he only wanted one thing, and that was Josh.
“We can take it slow,” Josh murmured, his eyes following his fingers as they trailed down Sam’s arm. “We don’t—we don’t need to figure it out just yet. Not that I’m saying either of us should go around sleeping with other people, but… I don’t know. I like the idea of being back together. I just don’t want to rush you into anything.”
Josh was too fucking considerate. Sam hated him.
He kissed Josh gently. “We’ve already had this conversation. You’ve never rushed me into anything in my entire life. I wouldn’t have followed you if I didn’t want this stuff. My choices, remember?”
“Yeah,” Josh said softly.
“But if you want to take it slow, I’m fine with it. Figure it out as we go.”
“That sounds good.” Josh nodded. “As long as you promise you’re not going to sleep with any of the other staff.”
Sam shook his head and laughed softly. “Wouldn’t dream of it. I only have eyes for one staffer.”
“Who?” Josh asked, corner of his mouth twitching up.
He rolled his eyes and decided that Josh didn’t deserve an ego boost. “Bram, obviously.”
“You’re an ass, you know that?”
“Yeah.” Sam smiled.
“You’re good then? Not gonna freak out on me again?”
Josh closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Sam’s. He breathed in deeply, and Sam lifted his hand to brush his thumb across Josh’s cheek.
“I missed you,” Josh whispered. “I missed you every goddamn day.”
“You don’t have to be.”
“I missed you, too.”
“I missed this.”
“I missed us.”
Sam smiled sadly as he nodded. He closed his eyes and let them lay in silence for a while, listening to each other breathing. He never wanted to leave Josh again. It had taken him too long to realize that this was where he belonged—in Josh’s arms, in Josh’s bed, in Josh’s apartment. With Josh. He didn’t want to jeopardize that now, not when he had finally gotten his shit together.
Being in bed with Josh again was like stepping out of the car after a long road trip and taking a deep breath, letting fresh air wash over you and fill your lungs until it felt like they were going to burst. With Josh, Sam felt like he had been living on shallow breaths for four years and didn’t even notice until his lungs were finally filled again.
They tried to keep it under wraps. It wasn’t something that they wanted the entire staff knowing about, especially not so close to inauguration day. They needed to focus on their work, not on gossiping. Josh mentioned it to Donna, of course, because she always figured those things out anyway.
They did their best, but Lou noticed, because of course she did, and she kept sending Sam knowing glances that made his cheeks flush every time he stood anywhere close to Josh.
Luckily for Sam’s sanity, she waited until they were alone, discussing some of the finer details of the inauguration, to bring it up.
“So, you and Josh?” she asked casually, looking at Sam over the rims of her glasses.
Sam reached for a stack of papers. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, but he knew his face gave it away.
“Cut the bullshit, Sam,” she responded, a smile on her lips. “I’ve never seen him look this chilled out. There’s two days left before inauguration, and he’s calmer than he’s been in probably ten years. And that happened after you came around. So, spill.”
He shrugged. “What’s there to spill?”
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “As much as Josh gets on my nerves, you two are cute. Really. I didn’t think he was actually capable of expressing affection. He’s a lucky guy.”
“You’re a hottie, Sam.”
He blushed harder and shook his head. “I don’t think—”
“Oh, relax, I’m not hitting on you. You and I are in the same boat, my friend.”
“You like men?”
“I’m bi,” he said. With other people, he would have been more hesitant, but Lou had clearly already figured it out, and Sam felt comfortable around her.
“Hi, bi. Nice to meet you. I’m lesbian.” She held her hand out across the table, and Sam shook it, laughing. “How long have you been together?”
“Uh… four days.”
He furrowed his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on. It’s obvious you two had a thing back in the day. Nothing sends you on a crazy-ass one-day trip across the country like true love.”
Sam looked down at his hands, fidgeting. “Four years. We got together during Bartlet’s first campaign. Ended it when I moved to California.”
“Now I understand why he was so mopey about you not jumping back on board right away.”
“I don’t think…”
“I do think.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. We’re kind of taking it slow.” As if spending four straight nights together counted as taking things slow. Sam cleared his throat. “I have work to do, so if you’re finished gossiping about my personal life…”
“I’m desperate,” she admitted. “I’ve done nothing but work on this campaign for so long, Sam. I’ve started treating everyone like they’re characters in a sitcom.”
“Would be kind of a lame sitcom, don’t you think?”
“You would, but you start to notice things.”
“Like what?” Sam picked up the can of Coke that had been sitting on the table.
“Like the fact that the Chief of Staff and his deputy are banging.”
Sam sputtered, the drink spraying out of his mouth and onto the table. Lou jumped back and made a disgusted face. Sam coughed and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Sorry. Sorry. I’ll, ah, get some paper towels.”
“I’ve got it.” Lou was laughing as she stood up and left.
Sam set the can back down and took a few deep breaths before moving his papers out of the way of the drink. Miraculously, they were all free of stains. He stacked them neatly to one side of the table. Lou returned a moment later with a roll of paper towels and tossed them to Sam.
“What did you two do?” Josh peered around the door, one eyebrow raised.
“Sam made a mess,” Lou said.
“Hey!” Sam responded. “It wasn’t my fault.”
“Children. I work with children,” Josh muttered.
“You’re one to talk,” Sam shot back at him.
Lou looked back and forth from Josh to Sam, smirking slightly. She winked at Sam, who blushed again and dropped his head. He wiped the Coke off the table and threw the paper towels into the trash can.
“All good?” Josh asked.
“We’re fine.” Sam offered him a smile.
“I’m stopping by the White House to see CJ before I go home. You wanna come with? I’m sure everyone would like to see you.”
“You think?” His expression brightened.
“Yeah, of course.”
Sam looked at Lou. “You good without me?”
“I think I can manage. We were about done anyway. Shoo.” She waved him away, and he thanked her quickly, then followed Josh out.
The White House still looked almost exactly the same as Sam remembered it. There were a few different paintings on the walls, but beyond that, not much had changed. It was a strange experience, stepping foot inside the west wing for the first time in four years.
“Sam!” Margaret grinned as he and Josh entered. She got up from her desk and rushed to hug him. He grinned and returned it, squeezing her lightly before they each pulled away.
“Hey,” he said. “New haircut?”
“Do you like it?” She turned her head so he could get the full picture.
“Yeah. It suits you.”
“She’ll be ready for you in just a second,” Margaret told Josh.
“I’m ready for him now,” CJ corrected as she appeared in the door to her office. Her eyes fell on Sam, and she looked shocked for half a second, but she quickly smiled. “Samuel Norman Seaborn.”
“Claudia Jean Cregg.”
“What do you think you’re doing here?”
“I figured I wanted to check out the new digs before we move in.” She laughed and walked over, holding out her arms. He hugged her tightly. “Missed you, CJ.”
“You’re certainly a sight for sore eyes.”
“You too.” He stepped back. “Did everyone change their hair while I was gone?”
“We need to do something to keep things interesting around here. It gets so boring if you don’t switch up your hair every once in a while.” She waved them into the office.
Sam looked around as they entered. He hadn’t seen it since CJ had taken over as Chief of Staff. It was different from how it looked when it was Leo’s. Brighter, more open. It was nice. He and Josh sat down on the couch, and CJ in the armchair closest to her desk.
“Rearranging the furniture?” CJ asked him.
“Won’t be my office, will it?”
“I’ve already tortured her by talking about what paint colors I’m going to choose,” Josh chimed in, smiling.
“I wish you would just let me enjoy my last few days in peace.”
“No time like the present to talk about my visions.”
“Josh, you don’t know the first thing about interior design,” Sam commented. Josh feigned offense, but then shrugged.
“That’s why they have people here who do it for you.”
“Beyond Josh redecorating my office,” CJ said, giving him a look, “let’s talk transition.”
After their meeting with CJ had finished, Josh and Sam wandered the hallways, greeting people they hadn’t seen in a while. To his surprise, everyone seemed happy to see Sam, and his hand was starting to hurt from the number of handshakes he was giving. Every time someone else told him how glad they were to see him, Josh glanced at him with a hint of pride in his expression, and it made Sam’s heart just a little warmer.
“Hi, Debbie,” Josh greeted as they entered the room.
“Joshua.” She gave him an icy look, but he didn’t seem deterred. “Who let you inside?”
“I had a meeting with CJ. Any chance the President is available for a quick minute?”
“For you? I’m sure he’ll run in the other direction.”
“How about for Sam Seaborn?”
Sam waved and smiled. “Good to see you, Debbie.”
Debbie examined them suspiciously but got up from her desk and walked towards the door anyway. Sam heard her say something he couldn’t quite make out, then a second voice from deeper in the Oval. Debbie returned to her desk.
“You have about two minutes. Push it, and I’ll drag you out of there myself.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Josh gestured for Sam to follow, and he knocked lightly on the door before entering the office.
Sam took a breath as they entered. He never got used to stepping into that room, no matter how many times he did, and it was quite an experience walking in for the first time in years. He looked around, taking it all in, before his eyes fell on the President.
“Good evening, sir,” Josh greeted.
“Hi, Mr. President,” Sam added.
Bartlet smiled warmly. “Josh. And Sam. Been quite a while, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir, it has.”
“Josh manage to wrangle you onto a plane again?”
Sam glanced at Josh and smiled. “Yes, sir.”
Bartlet shook each of their hands. “It’s good to see you both. What are you doing around here today?”
“I had a meeting with CJ,” Josh answered. “I thought it would be nice for Sam to see everyone. Not sure if he’ll get much of a chance on Inauguration Day, with how crazy everything will be.”
“How’s it feel to be back?” Bartlet asked Sam.
“Good. It feels good.” He nodded. “It’s really good to see you, sir.”
“Always a pleasure to see you, too, Sam. Should’ve come to visit before they kicked me out of this place. My presidential power has almost run out.”
Sam laughed. “My apologies. Better late than never, though, right?”
“I suppose it is. What were you doing in California, again?”
“Went back into law, sir. I was working for a corporate firm.”
Bartlet gave him a knowing look. “I always thought of you as a writer before a lawyer.”
Sam smiled sheepishly. “I did, too.”
“I’m glad you’re back.” The President clapped a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Wish I could have had you again, but I guess I’m okay with you going to Santos instead.” He looked at Josh. “Keep this one around this time, you hear me?”
Josh nodded. “I’m doing my best, sir.”
“Sir, I hate to interrupt the lovefest, but it’s time to go,” Debbie said from the doorway.
“What is it now?” he asked.
“Your wife, sir. She gave specific instructions not to let you dawdle.”
“Every damn day,” Bartlet sighed. He shook Josh and Sam’s hands again. “Always nice to see you, gentlemen. I assume I’ll see you on Inauguration Day?”
“I hope so,” Josh answered. “Thank you, sir. Tell the missus we say hi, would you?”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” Sam said, grinning. Bartlet smiled at them before following Debbie through the door.
Sam took a deep breath and looked around the Oval Office. Josh reached for his hand and laced their fingers together, holding on tightly to Sam. Sam glanced at him, and Josh offered him a reassuring smile. Sam found himself flooded with memories of his time inside the Oval Office with Josh and Leo and Toby and CJ. It was hard for him to believe that he was never going to have that again. They would be back with Santos, sure, but it was going to be different. He needed a minute to come to terms with the fact that things were changing entirely, and nothing was going to be the same as it had been when he was there before.
Then Josh squeezed his hand, and Sam looked at him, and Josh smiled once more, and a rush of affection washed through Sam’s chest. Everything was changing, except for this. He and Josh were still there, still together, like they had always been.
“Ready?” Josh asked softly.
Sam nodded slowly, glancing back once more at the Resolute desk before meeting Josh’s eyes. “Yeah.”
“Let’s go home.”
He didn’t find it in himself to tell Josh that he already was home, and that he had been since the day Josh came to get him, but something told him, as they smiled softly at each other, taking just one more moment together in silence, that Josh already knew.