"Crumbling" by Jae Gecko

It's dark in Sam's apartment, like a dream he once had. Josh doesn't remember the dream, doesn't even really remember why he has a key to Sam's apartment, but he's there now, creeping past the couch and a number of expensive tables that he knows are there but can't see in the dark. He runs his fingers along the wall, because Sam has expensive tables, but nothing hanging on his walls, no photographs or posters or Renoir knock-offs.

His fingers catch on a doorframe and he flows into the room. Three beers make him feel like a god, though he still can't see in the dark and he trips over a pair of Sam's shoes.

It's three in the morning in Georgetown and Sam's bedroom is empty. He's not still working, because Josh saw him leave, heard him say he was going home, heard him say he was tired and going home to bed.

He wonders where Sam is, and he wonders why he's here. Because he has a key, but that's not an explanation. And he had a couple beers, but that's probably an excuse. He kicks the shoes under the bed, the unslept-in bed. Sam can just drop to his hands and knees and look for them in the morning.

He collapses face first onto Sam's bed. This isn't the first time he's done that, but it's the first time he's done it alone. It feels like the bed is spinning, or maybe the room is spinning, not that it makes that much of a difference. Josh closes his eyes, even though he knows that's the last thing he should do when the room is spinning. He tries to remember what you actually *are* supposed to do, and vaguely recalls something about making sure to keep one foot on the ground. Or maybe that's what you do when you're trying to make sure your hands don't wander too far into the space of the person lying next to you; he's not sure anymore.

This is the downside to being drunk, he thinks, the part that always slips your mind when you've got a beer in your hand and you're trying to distract yourself from the threat of impeachment with a hand of poker. He thinks he hears laughter from the living room, and he props himself up on his elbow, straining to hear. A wave of nausea attacks his stomach.

"How can you oppose this bill?" Josh hears a girl's voice ask, with just the slightest edge of indignation. "The Republican leadership in the House just wants to reduce imports of foreign oil."

"Right, it's pure altruism on their part," Josh hears Sam scoff, and Josh can't help but smile. "Discrediting the Bartlet Administration's energy policies has nothing at all to do with it."

"Sam, this bill is the best way to lower the price at the pump! This crisis has gone on long enough. With this combination of-"

"If we're going to lower the gasoline tax, we need to see to it that the *consumers* are the ones who benefit. This administration is not going to let Congress lower the corporate tax burden and increase the profits of companies like Shell and Kensington!"

"Consumers have been paying an average of about a dollar twenty per gallon for gasoline since 1997, and excise taxes make up by far the largest component of that price!" Josh hears the girl insist, and he wonders how Hitler's last surviving henchman has ended up in Sam's apartment. "Oil industry profits only account for an estimated seven point three cents per gallon!"

"You didn't by any chance major in economics as an undergraduate, did you?" Sam sounds half condescending, half seductive.

"Business. Why?"

"Because you're incredibly sexy when you try to bolster your feeble little arguments with statistics," Sam murmurs, his voice low and husky, "and I've been wondering whether you have the credentials to back it up, or if you're just trying to dazzle me into giving in."

"You're incredibly sexy when you argue back," the girl counters with a gasp. "Hell, you're incredibly sexy when you *breathe*."

Sam laughs, but the sound gets cut off midstream, and Josh knows they're kissing because he would recognize that muffled hint of a moan anywhere. His nausea swells, though he hasn't tried to sit up again.

It occurs to him that he really should, though. He should get up, and then maybe, like, go hide in the closet or something -- anything to prevent this from turning into a bad 70s sitcom. He puts one foot back on the ground and leans on it, trying to support his weight, and his knee buckles, sending him crumpling back down onto the bed. All right, he's drunker than he thought he was. Maybe it's just as well, because if he went and hid in the closet, then eventually he'd have to come *out* of it, and he doesn't feel like listening to the pointed observations Sam would inevitably make about that.

Their footsteps are in the bedroom now, and Josh isn't sure whether to be more concerned that they might turn on the light next, or that they might not. He can hear their lips smacking. It sounds like a kid sucking on a lollipop that's too big to fit into his mouth all the way, only wetter.

When he hears shuffling that sounds like the removal of clothing, he knows he can't keep lying there, and he tries to keep his head as still as possible as he rolls off the bed. His leg catches on Sam's just as Sam is pushing the girl against it, and then Josh is falling onto the floor and onto something soft, crushing two bodies beneath him into a tangled heap. Sam makes a sound halfway between a yelp and a howl, and Josh feels something metallic cut into the skin on his cheek as it meets up with a feminine fist. He thinks it should hurt -- and it does, but as if from a distance, like he's still really up there somewhere and his pain is down here on the ground with Sam.

The light flicks on with a sharp click, and Josh turns his head toward the girl, who's now standing on the other side of the room with her hand on the switch. She's tall and thin, taller than Sam but not quite as tall as C.J., with thick red hair that cascades to her shoulders and endless freckles on her bare arms. She's wearing a black skirt and a black bra and not much else. Josh supposes this would have to be the girl Sam mentioned to Toby after the last staff meeting, when Sam was pretending he didn't know Josh was listening. Aimee the investment banker, Josh recalls. With two 'e's, like 'free' or 'glee'. Or 'banshee'.

"Who the fuck are *you*?" the-girl-who's-got-to-be-Aimee demands.

Sam's gaping at him. "Josh!"

"Uh ... hey." Josh scrambles to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his temples.

Aimee's eyes snap from Sam to Josh and then back again. "This is Josh?"

"What the *hell* are you doing here?" Sam yells.

"I'm ..." Josh furrows his brow, trying again to remember why he's there, but he realizes he doesn't really have a reason. Going to Sam's apartment and falling into his bed just seems like the thing to do when he's drunk. "I'm pretty drunk," he tries, as if that explained it, and he glances once at each of their faces. Aimee looks bewildered, and Sam looks angry. It doesn't seem to have worked, that explanation.

His face feels wet, and he touches his fingertips to his cheek, drawing them back again to look at them. They're red. He's got blood on his hand again, only this time Sam doesn't look particularly willing to try and distract him from the pain.

"God. I'm sorry." Aimee's eyes flicker between Josh's face and his hand, her eyes wide. "I didn't mean- I thought you were some kind of ... intruder." Her voice is squeaky, like nails on a chalkboard.

Josh turns his head to Sam. "You said you were going home to bed," he accuses. The other man's eyes narrow, and his lips press together in a tight white line.

Aimee walks quickly over to them and bends down. "I didn't think I hit you that hard, but my ring must have ..." She reaches out to wipe the blood from Josh's face, but he jerks his head back, and she drops her hand. He's still got his eyes fixed on Sam, who just looks disgusted now.

"Here, let me go get you a wet washcloth for that," Josh hears Aimee say quietly, and she stands again and backs away from them. Josh is glad to see her go until he really notices the way Sam is boring holes into Josh's skull with his eyes. He realizes Sam hasn't said anything since "what the hell are you doing here". Maybe he's still waiting for an answer.

Josh blinks at him. "So. You had a date tonight."

"I'm finding your use of the past tense particularly apt, there," Sam sneers.

"Are you sleeping with her now?"

"What, you mean right this minute? No, I'm sitting on the floor of my bedroom, talking to you. Now, if you can tell me why *that* is-"

"No, I mean ... generally." Sam doesn't respond, and Josh decides he doesn't really want to know the answer, anyway. "Is she the one who doesn't even know how to spell Amy?"

"It's French, Josh. It means 'beloved'."

Josh snorts. "You don't love her."

Sam shakes his head and scoffs, rising to his feet and brushing himself off. He's obviously livid, but he looks almost frighteningly beautiful. Strong emotion always flushes Sam's cheeks red, and Josh can't help but remember some of the other times he's looked like that. Like the time he lit into Ainsley Hayes for bringing up the Second Amendment in front of Josh not long after he'd returned to work. Or the night after the call from California that changed Sam's life, when he lay his head down in Josh's lap and tried to appear stoic through tears. Or when he came in Josh's mouth the night after they spent the evening working on that speech with Donna and Ainsley.

"You love *me*," Josh attempts. "And I love you."

"No, Josh, you don't."

"I do. I love you."

Sam looks tired, and he offers Josh an outstretched hand. Josh grabs on to it and uses it to hoist himself to his feet, and now they're almost nose to nose. "You know, there was a time not that long ago when I would have believed that," Sam says quietly, gripping Josh's wrist.

"You said you were going home to bed," Josh says again, and he feels his footing falter. He's got just enough self-awareness left to realize how pathetic he sounds before he passes out.

###

Josh wakes up the next morning on Sam's couch. He's still wearing all of his clothes, and someone's carelessly thrown a blanket over his carcass. His head hurts, and his jaw hurts, and his mouth feels like someone stepped on his tongue with an old wet sneaker and left it there.

He hears footsteps from the kitchen, and he's thinking clearly enough to reason that since this is Sam's apartment, those footsteps probably belong to Sam. He hears the creak of a cupboard door opening, the clank of a glass against the counter. He can sense how angry Sam is by the jerky, staccato movements, and Josh wishes he didn't know the man quite so well. He wishes drinking as much as he did could, just this once, make him forget what happened the night before. He's never wished that more than he wishes that right now, and that's saying a lot.

Sam strides into the room and stops just short of the couch, folding his arms. He's wearing a scowl and a thin sweater with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and he's standing close enough that Josh can see the contrast of fine dark hair against pale skin on his forearms and that familiar mole near his elbow. Sam doesn't say "Good morning, Josh." Not that he ever has -- or if he ever did, he stopped after the first time.

The two men stare at each other. The corner of Sam's right eye twitches, and Josh glares back so he doesn't end up looking sheepish.

"Where's Aimeeee?" Josh draws out the vowel, pulling it like taffy.

"She decided she'd already had enough excitement for the night and went home shortly after she helped me carry you to the couch."

Josh raises a hand to his cheek. It's swollen, and someone's put a band-aid across the cut. "Your new girlfriend throws a pretty impressive punch. She seems to have put quite a dent in the right side of my jaw."

"And I should have put a matching dent in the left side," Sam snarls.

"She *hit* me!" Josh tries to sound outraged, but his voice comes out in a squeak. "That's, like, assault. Or something."

"And since you were breaking and entering, I think we can all call it even on the criminal charges," Sam volleys back, his voice cold. "In any case, I'm heading over to Aimee's place now. I'm going to see if I can manage to offer her something resembling a reasonable explanation for what happened last night, and then I'm going in to the office. If you and I see each other there, let's just pretend last night never happened. God knows we've had enough practice at that." Sam sounds bitter, and Josh wonders why he's never noticed that before.

"You don't get to do this," Sam adds, his voice shaking. "You don't get to ruin this for me, okay? This is the first girl I've really liked in a long, long time, and I'm not going to let you screw it up."

Josh runs his hand along his face, rubbing his eyes. "She's a fascist, Sam."

"And you're an asshole," Sam spits. "I think I can count that as an improvement."

Josh flinches. He doesn't want Sam to think of him that way. He thinks he should probably apologize -- if not for last night, then for something else, maybe everything -- but he's not sure he remembers how to sound sincere. Sam's no Mary Marsh. "I'm sorry," he tries. "I didn't mean to ruin your- your date. I was just ... drunk, and I thought we could-"

"But we can't," Sam says, a little more gently. "We always knew we wouldn't be able to do the get-drunk-together-and-fuck-once-a-month-and-never-discuss-it thing for the rest of our lives. And now I've got a chance at something more."

Josh swallows hard. He's never thought of it like that. He's never thought about it much at all, but when he has, it's certainly never been like that. "But we're- I mean- you're my best friend." His voice sounds plaintive, like a girl's, but he can't seem to help himself.

"And you're mine," Sam insists. "But the rest- the rest has got to stop."

Josh watches as Sam's expression shifts from determined to resigned, with a brief stopover in melancholy. And then it's blank.

"You can take your time, shower if you want, get yourself something to eat," Sam says. "Just leave my key on the corner of the coffee table when you leave, if you would." He sounds matter-of-fact, like he's asking Josh to be sure to close the windows or turn out the lights.

Josh fingers the lump in his pants pocket and traces the outline of the key he's had almost as long as Sam's had the apartment, ever since the night of the inauguration. "In case I ever need someone to water the plants," Sam said back then, stammering a little as he slipped it into the pocket of Josh's tuxedo jacket. And Josh smiled, because he knew Sam didn't have any plants.

"Sam, come on," Josh protests, his voice sounding hoarser than he wants it to. "Don't you think you're overreacting just a-"

"It wasn't the real thing, Josh," Sam says quietly. "We never were."

Josh looks away. Not because he disagrees -- he only disagrees with that when he's drunk, and he's cold sober now -- but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt to hear Sam finally say it out loud. And when Josh looks back again, Sam is already gone. He hears the door slam, and the room feels as empty as a yet-unused tomb.

Josh squeezes his eyes shut, first in a little wince, then as hard as he can. If he closes them hard enough, maybe he'll be able to remember what Sam's living room looks like with him in it. At least long enough to forget that the very last time Josh saw it, he'd just chased Sam away for good.

His head's still pounding, and the cut on his cheek still stings, but the worst pain is the hollow feeling in his chest. It took him five long months to recover from the last blow to his heart, but he knows it'll take a lifetime to recover from this one.

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