"Honor the Man" by Jae Gecko

"And I honor the man who is willing to sink
Half his present repute for the freedom to think,
And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak,
Will risk t'other half for the freedom to speak."

-- James Russell Lowell

###

"You're going to quote the Bible at me?" Josh removed his hand from the wall and turned around to face Matt, an incredulous look on his face.

"I didn't-"

"Really?"

Matt stretched out in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. He stared at the series of empty beer bottles stretched out on the table in front of him in the White House mess. God, Josh could be a stubborn son-of-a-bitch sometimes. "My point, which was parenthetical at best," he said, closing his eyes and drawing his elbows closer together, "is that the founders based the country on a Judeo-Christian morality-"

"Matt." Josh walked over next to him.

"And that the biblical concept of marriage *maybe* can't be separated from the law quite as easily as you'd like." Matt put his elbows on the table, both index fingers pointing at Josh.

"The founding fathers made it very clear that they didn't want Judeo-Christian morality within ten city blocks of the law. Matt!" Josh's voice was growing more and more intense with every word, making him sound increasingly irritated.

"What?"

Josh stared at Matt with a look of pure frustration.

"What?" Matt held out his hands, questioning. He knew Josh wanted to call him a hypocrite. Well, if he did, it would turn into a shouting match, because he could return the favor.

Josh paused for a moment and just stared at Matt, chewing on his potato chips. The silence between them magnified the drip from the faucet in the kitchen next door. "Nothing," he said finally, sitting down opposite his old friend.

Matt leaned back again, thrusting his chin forward in exasperation and rubbing his face. He looked away, but he still heard Josh's sigh, and the sound made him bristle. It was simply amazing to Matt that this guy could get so fired up about any political issue that might possibly do the slightest bit of perceived disservice to homosexuals, but remain so detached from anything that might scratch even the surface of his own feelings. It was a political issue to Josh. Pure politics, when it should have been personal. And the fact that Josh thought *Matt* was the one with screwy priorities -- well, that was pretty incredible. Matt couldn't believe the gall of him on that one.

"You understand that gay partners will be permanently ineligible for survivor benefits, Medicare, Medicaid?"

Josh had on his condescending voice now, and Matt rolled his eyes. "Which the government can't afford to pay out anyway."

"So- so we caught a break there," Josh admitted.

Matt raised his eyebrows at Josh and stared at him, rubbing his forehead. "It's getting pretty late."

"I have more notes," Josh said, rustling through the papers in front of him, and Matt wanted to scream.

Matt had lusted after him once; secretly at first, and then, later, not so secretly. It wasn't that kind of secrecy, though -- he was far enough out of the closet at that point that he was a lot more embarrassed to admit to his friends that he was interested in someone who believed in a waiting period to purchase a handgun than he was to admit he was interested in a man. But he convinced himself that the political differences didn't matter, not really, because there was something special about Josh Lyman. The fact that Josh could be a jackass only made him more fascinating, somehow, because he was in touch with his sheer jackassedness in the same way so many of the swishier types were in touch with their inner drag queens. Whatever it was, it made him incredibly charismatic, and incredibly appealing to Matt.

Josh worked for Schaeffer, a first-term Congressman who was only a few years older than the young turks he employed on his team. Matt worked for Gregory, a staid old Republican he was determined to drag into the twentieth century, even if it he knew it would only happen with the man kicking and screaming all the way. They had met on the Hill because their offices were next door to each other, and within a matter of weeks they had started to hang out at a somewhat rundown bar that ended up finally meeting its maker looking into the headlights of a bulldozer sometime in the early nineties. Nearly every night the two of them would gather up a regular group of about ten young spin doctors and congressional aides from the two offices, and they would wind down after work debating the issues of the day and bragging about their respective bright prospects. Matt knew he was headed for the Hill himself in the not-too-distant future, while Josh saw himself as the Chief of Staff for a Congressman or even a Senator. It would take him five years, tops, he said, and Matt found the perfect arrogance of that statement incredibly erotic. He believed it.

For the first two or three months, Matt played "is he or isn't he" games with himself. Josh hardly fit any of the stereotypes, but then again, neither did Matt. Josh never set foot in a gay bar, but he had more of a hardon for gay political causes than any straight man had a right to have. He never dated women. Okay, he never saw Josh date *anyone* back then, Matt had to admit, and the guy always cited a huge stack of paperwork and a career to jumpstart as the reason, but it still made Matt wonder. After all, Josh always found time to drag Sam Seaborn, Schaeffer's youngest legislative aide, down to the bar for a beer with the rest of the crowd. And even more curious was the fact that Josh never *looked* at women unless he knew other people were watching him. In fact, he didn't seem to think much about them at all. That was Matt's biggest clue.

In any case, if Josh was gay, he wasn't telling anybody. Matt, on the other hand, never made a point of hiding it. He had brown hair, he played racquetball because he was a little too short to play basketball, he was from Ohio, he was a homosexual. All of that was secondary.

"Don't you ever worry that it's going to hold you back?" Josh asked him once, late one night after the others had already gone home.

"Hold me back?" Matt turned the question back on Josh with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah. Are the people really going to elect an openly gay Republican to Congress anytime this century?"

"No."

"No?" Josh held his arms out to his sides in a gesture of amazement. "How can you just sit there so calmly and say that?"

Matt leaned back confidently in his chair. "They're going to elect a guy who has good ideas and knows how to put them into action, a guy who knows what he wants and can work with other people to get it. A guy who also happens to be a homosexual. That's different from what you said."

Josh shook his head in disbelief. "Do you really think anybody else is going to think of it that way?"

"I'm not a poster boy, Josh," Matt said with a shrug. "I'm a guy who has a lot to offer, and none of that has anything to do with the fact that I also happen to be gay."

"You're more naive than you look, Skinner," Josh snorted.

"You think so? Just watch me."

So Josh watched, and Matt did, too. He watched Josh fight his own party on its decision to drop official recognition of the Gay and Lesbian Caucus. He watched him brush off the advances of a beautiful redhead named Maggie who worked for one of the other Democrats in the House. He watched him spend every evening with the guys from the Hill, with no thought at all to planning any sort of romantic future with a woman.

Matt watched, and waited, until one day when everybody else from Gregory's office was too tied up working on a new piece of potential education legislation the Congressman wanted to bring to the floor to head over to their regular haunt, and the only one of Schaeffer's crew who was interested in coming along besides Josh was the kid, Sam Seaborn. They'd practically be alone. A door was opening, and Matt knew he had to stick his foot inside this time, or else it could close again. Maybe for good.

They avoided their regular, larger table in favor of a booth that night, and Matt slid in next to Josh while Sam sat down opposite them. They talked about something big -- Matt didn't remember what, but it was something political, something intense and heated -- until Sam finally excused himself to go pick up another drink from the bar, breaking their concentration. Josh and Matt shifted their bodies to face each other in the booth, tried to stare each other down, and then burst out in simultaneous laughter.

"I think we scared him off," Josh said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Matt grabbed a pretzel from the basket on the table. "I think *you* scared him off, with the way you were yelling and carrying on like that."

"Maybe he was just too nervous about the idea of sitting at the table with a right-wing, gun toting bastard like you, with only me there to protect him."

Matt felt his mouth turn up in a silly grin, and when he saw that the same expression was mirrored on his friend's face, his heart soared.

"You know, you almost never make a bit of sense, Skinner, but I have better discussions with you than I do with almost anybody from Schaeffer's office." Josh's tone was light, but behind it Matt could sense a sentiment that was entirely serious.

"Yeah, I feel the same way," Matt responded, his grin mutating into a very different and far more seductive expression, and suddenly he was all too aware of how close they were sitting to each other.

Looking into Josh's eyes, Matt could see his own unmistakable hunger reflected in them. They were only inches apart. Josh swallowed and licked his lips, and Matt thought he could almost kiss the other man right there, in the middle of a public bar.

Instead he put his hand on Josh's knee under the table, discreetly enough so that no one else could see. "I really like you, Josh."

Mesmerized, Josh leaned in closer, not breaking eye contact, and for a moment Matt thought they actually *were* going to kiss. In an instant, though, it was over, and Josh pulled back, looking away. "I'm not-"

"Hey, I'm sorry, man," Matt said, bewildered, grabbing his hand away as abruptly as if Josh's knee had burned it. How could he have misinterpreted the situation so badly?

"Available. I'm not ... available," Josh concluded, and his eyes suddenly shifted across the room to the bar. Matt's own eyes followed until he saw Sam standing there, talking to a young woman who didn't look any older than twenty, and she was probably younger than that. She was sitting on a barstool, leaning close to him and touching his arm. He looked like he was enjoying it.

Matt turned back to Josh, who was still staring at Sam, the look on his face so full of longing that Matt instantly knew *he* hadn't been the one who'd fallen for a straight man. Josh had it bad, for the kid. The Adonis-like, too-good-to-be-true, straight-as-an-arrow kid.

"I'm sorry, man," Matt repeated, but this time it came out sounding more like an expression of sympathy than it did like an apology. Josh swallowed hard, but couldn't take his eyes off of Sam.

Matt certainly understood his friend's reaction, but the rejection was still hard to take. He pretty much stopped going to the bar after that night, and did his best to avoid running into Josh in the hall whenever possible. It took Matt about six months and four guys to get completely over him, at which point he was lucky enough to meet Ken. Ken was a doctor, he barely knew the House from the Senate, and he certainly wasn't the first guy you noticed when you walked into a room, but at least with Ken there was no danger that one of them would toss the other out of bed because of another fight about the size of the defense budget. Matt noticed, but didn't comment on the fact that Josh's sudden interest in dating a different woman every week coincided with Sam going off to law school. He figured every guy had to have his own method for getting past unrequited infatuations, and he certainly wasn't going to be the one to call Josh on his choices. That would have been far too awkward.

The fumbled advance and the confessional refusal created a distance between them that Matt didn't bother to try and breach for years to come, but he still kept an eye on his old friend. True to his word, Josh went on to become Chief of Staff for Congressman Earl Brennan almost four years to the day from when he'd promised it would take him no more than five.

Matt had a rougher time of it, suffering through two failed campaigns before finally being elected to represent the Ohio 2nd in the House in the mid-1990s. Despite the fact that all of that had been long ago by that point, Matt couldn't help but feel a sense of superiority on the day he was sworn in -- he'd proven Josh wrong, shown him that it didn't all have to be about being gay. And that night when he climbed into bed with Ken and they celebrated Matt's success in a way that by then he didn't want to share with *anybody* else, he knew once and for all how right he'd been about everything, all along.

Matt knew Sam had gone on to become some big corporate lawyer in New York, but since he hadn't heard from him since the mid-eighties, he was more than a little surprised to get a call from him all those years later. He was going to be in town on business, Sam said, and he wanted to get the old crowd and their significant others together for dinner. His treat, he added, as if it should have been self-evident. Since the old haunt had been torn down to make room for a parking structure, he'd have to take them somewhere a little nicer, he also said, ending the conversation with a little laugh, and Matt knew that meant he was accustomed to nicer, these days.

Ken was on duty that night, so Matt showed up at the restaurant alone, not quite sure what to expect, and there Sam was -- a little older, and wearing a much more expensive suit, but still looking like some Hollywood movie star. Josh was already there, too, flanked on one side by a woman named Carrie who Matt had heard he was seeing but had never met, and on the other side by Sam himself. As the others filed in and Josh barely acknowledged them, it became apparent to Matt that Josh was still completely infatuated with Sam, and from the familiar way the two of them were behaving with each other, it was clear that the infatuation had been fed by a longstanding friendship.

Matt was stunned; he didn't know it was even possible to carry a torch that long. But if anything it seemed that Josh's feelings had only grown stronger in the intervening years, now that Sam's boyish good looks had turned into something much more adult and sexy and permanent. Matt watched Carrie's face fall as the evening wore on and she found herself ignored. The more beers Josh ordered, the more shamelessly he stared at Sam, and the more the woman's face slowly set in a fixed expression of indignance.

"So Sam, how's New York?" Tom Phillips asked, raising his voice to be heard from the other end of the table.

"Big," Sam called out in response, taking a gulp of his beer. "Loud. I miss the green spaces in this city. Some urban planner from New York accidentally left out the grass and the trees when they built downtown, I think."

"So which law firm are you with, now?" Matt asked, mostly out of politeness.

"Gage Whitney. I'm supposed to make partner this year."

"You don't sound too enthusiastic," Josh said, resting his elbow on the table and turning further to face Sam. Carrie scooted her chair back, but Josh didn't seem to notice.

Sam shrugged. "It's a good living. I mean, I can't complain. But somehow it felt like I was making more of a difference when I was back here. It felt a lot more honorable to defend civil rights than it feels now to defend the fortunes of oil barons."

"It can't be all that bad if you're the only one at the table who can afford to buy us all dinner!" Tom shouted, laughing.

"Well, Lisa's a computer consultant, and I do okay as well, so yeah, we're not doing too badly," Sam dismissed. Josh turned away from Sam at the sudden mention of the other man's longtime girlfriend, in an obvious attempt to hide his jealous reaction. He took another big gulp of his beer, and Carrie's face turned red.

"What would it take to get your ass back to Washington?" Josh slurred, turning back toward Sam and running his finger around the rim of his glass.

Sam looked thoughtful. "I do think about it every now and then. But Lisa's a New Yorker -- she can't even imagine living anywhere else. So if I went back to politics, at least on any level higher than New York city politics, I know I'd have to do it on my own." He grinned, and Matt watched Josh melt just a little more. "I'd consider it for the right candidate, though."

"You could come work for me," Matt joked.

"You could come work for Hoynes," Josh said, sounding dead serious.

"I said I'd consider it for the *right* candidate, not for just anybody," Sam responded, prompting whoops from the peanut gallery.

A waitress walked up behind Matt and stopped just over his shoulder. "Can I get anyone anything else?"

"I'll have another beer," Josh mumbled in her general direction, holding out a five dollar bill.

"I think you've had enough," Carrie said, smiling a little too sweetly over gritted teeth.

Josh rolled his eyes. "Carrie," he warned.

"What, Josh? You've already had three. You know what a lightweight you are."

Josh turned toward her for the first time that night, his eyes narrowed in a glare. "I'm not a lightweight. Lay off, already, willya?"

Carrie's smile disappeared as quickly as it had crossed her face. "You're making a fool of yourself," she hissed, grabbing Josh's arm, and he jerked it away. "I think we should go."

"I'm not ready to leave yet," Josh said defiantly, thrusting the money across the table at the waitress. "And I'd like another beer."

The waitress took Josh's five dollars and scurried away as Carrie leapt to her feet. "Well, *I'm* leaving, then," she said through tears. "You can find your own ride home, you- you sloppy drunk!" she screamed from the end of the table as she ran out of the restaurant.

"She hates it when I drink," Josh muttered, looking like he was trying to ignore the bewildered stares of his old friends, but Matt knew the woman must have barely choked back a far worse insult than 'sloppy drunk'.

The party, of course, was over at that point. Within about ten minutes, they had all had excused themselves, said their goodbyes, and Sam had paid the check. Sam offered to take Josh home in a cab, but Matt recognized that no good could come of that, and he managed to intervene and volunteer a ride. Josh shot him a look of pure hatred, but Sam looked relieved that Matt had ended up being the one to guide him out of the restaurant and through the summer rain, the one to make sure he didn't stumble down the stairs or step in any puddles. Sam waved goodbye as he hailed a cab, leaving Josh and Matt alone.

The two of them drove back to Josh's place in silence, Josh looking angrily out the window the entire time. Matt tried to make a comment about the nasty weather, once, but Josh ignored it, and when they arrived back at his place, he refused to allow Matt to help him out of the car.

"I can let myself in," he insisted, blending the words together into an almost unrecognizable string of sounds.

"I don't think so," Matt responded, watching Josh nearly fall on his face as he stumbled out of the car and onto the pavement. Matt had to practically carry him up the stairs to his second floor apartment, and Josh didn't even object when Matt grabbed his keys away from him to open the door himself. When they entered the apartment, Josh collapsed onto the couch in a heap of tormented exhaustion, slouching down and resting his head against its back edge.

Matt walked over and sat down on the edge of the coffee table next to Josh. For a moment, he just looked at his old friend, who looked so pitiful at this moment that Matt almost couldn't remember what he'd once found so attractive about him. "I know you're upset."

Josh looked away, unable to meet Matt's eyes. "Of course I'm upset. My girlfriend ran out on me in front of all of my friends."

"Josh," Matt said gently.

Josh's eyes were fixed on the far wall on the other side of the room, and they didn't budge.

"Sam's probably innocent enough that you can fool him, regardless of how painfully obvious you were being tonight, but you didn't fool me."

Josh just sat there in silence.

"You know, you've got to get over him."

Josh drew in a deep breath, exhaling it in a shuddery sigh.

"Let me fix you up with somebody. I promise, he'll be a Democrat."

"I can't do that." Josh's voice was level.

"Why not?"

Josh closed his eyes, as if the thought was too painful to contemplate.

"I was pretty fixated on a guy once," Matt said, rubbing his forehead. "We were great friends, but the interest just wasn't there on his end. Hurt like hell."

"Yeah?" Josh looked over at him, his eyes wide in surprise. Matt knew they were both entirely aware of who he meant.

"Yeah. But I got over him. You can, too."

"How?" Matt could barely hear Josh's whispered question.

"You stay away from him for a while," Matt said with a shrug. "You make some mistakes. Maybe break some hearts along the way, yourself. You drink a lot of Scotch."

"Is it okay if I substitute a lot of beer?" Josh asked, and then retched at the thought of more alcohol, clutching his stomach.

Matt stifled a laugh. "But you know, eventually it goes away. And then, finally, you meet somebody else."

Josh didn't respond.

"You've got to have a life, man."

"It's not worth it if he's not there."

At first it sounded like Josh was saying something drastic, and Matt's eyes grew wide with shock as he wondered whether he should plan to camp on the couch and watch him in an all-night vigil, hiding the kitchen knives, the way he had with his friend Bill the night his longtime boyfriend had left him. But he realized a moment later that Josh wasn't referring to his whole life, but to what it meant to be a gay politician. Josh thought it wasn't worth risking his career to be with a man if that man wasn't going to be Sam. It sounded both touching and pathological.

"Josh, it's not going to be him. It can't be him."

Josh rolled his head along the back of the couch, a look of pure anguish on his face.

"You know, that doesn't have to be the end of the world. You've got to realize that no matter how much it feels right now like you'll never fall in love with another guy, it's just not true. You've got to let him be, and let yourself get over him."

Josh finally turned his head toward Matt, looking him in the eyes.

"It's been fourteen years, Josh," Matt said as gently as he could. "You can't live out your entire life pining for a straight guy, no matter how good he looks in an Armani suit. Nobody's worth that. Not even Sam Seaborn."

Josh sat up straighter and nodded almost imperceptibly, the pain melting away from his face and turning into something that looked a little more like acceptance. Matt felt triumphant when he sat down next to Josh and grabbed him in a friendly hug, and by the time he left him about an hour later, still fully clothed and passed out on top of the covers in his own bed, Matt thought it just might finally be possible for Josh to put Sam behind him and move on.

Not two weeks later, though, over lunch at a restaurant not too far from where he and Josh had once hung out long ago, a colleague mentioned to Matt that Josh had jumped ship on Hoynes and run off with a lawyer friend from New York to join the Bartlet campaign. Matt knew that meant Sam had left Lisa after all, and his heart ached for his old friend.

He felt a sudden anger well up inside him -- anger at Sam for doing this to Josh -- but that didn't last long. After all, Sam was still oblivious and inept enough not to recognize it when *women* were interested, so it only made sense that he wouldn't have had any idea how long Josh had been in love with him. It only took a few moments for the anger at Sam to be transformed into frustration with Josh, frustration that the guy would insist on living out a modern version of some Shakespearean tragedy when he was already a lot further along on the road to being happy than he realized.

It was then that it finally dawned on Matt that maybe it was easier for Josh this way -- maybe this was even some sort of freakish coping mechanism. Maybe it was easier for him to pine over a straight man than to come to terms with the fact that he could have something a lot more real with somebody else.

Matt straightened his tie as he and Josh walked through the hall of the West Wing toward Josh's office. "Fifty-seven percent of the people-"

"I know what fifty-seven percent of the people say." It was past midnight, and Josh sounded almost like he had gotten a second wind. "What fifty-eight percent of them say is that gay spouses should receive health benefits and fifty-four percent say social security benefits. And by the way, we haven't talked about the fourteenth amendment."

"Uh, Josh, the fourteenth amend-"

"I think a strict interpretation of the equal protection clause would dictate that homophobia can't be made into a law."

Matt followed Josh into his office. "That's for the court to decide, but I think they'll uphold it."

"Laurence Tribe disagrees with you."

"Laurence Tribe doesn't sit on the U.S. Supreme Court."

Josh walked around his desk toward the chair and held out his hand, five fingers outstretched. "Five justices-"

"Josh! I came here as a friend." Matt held his hand out in an attempt to stop this insane bullshitting. Josh could damn well acknowledge that this wasn't entirely political. "I think you know that."

Josh bristled visibly. "What does that have to do with-"

"I- I came here 'cause I came here." Or maybe he *couldn't* acknowledge it. Matt shook his head. The guy was hopeless. "Look. This is gonna be a law whether the President vetoes or not. They have the votes in the Senate to override-"

"The Senate's not in session." Josh put his hand on his hip. You can't make me, his posture seemed to shout. "The President could stick this in his pants pocket and it's vetoed."

"And it will come back in January, and you will have to live through this twice, and you will lose both times." Matt's voice was as calm as he could muster.

"Matt!"

"Ask me the question."

"He compared homosexuality to kleptomania and sex addiction, Matt!" Josh's voice shook. It was so obvious that he was pouring all of his own life's frustration into this. This was personal for Josh, and at this point there was no way Josh could possibly think Matt didn't know that.

"Yes."

"The majority leader- the leader of your own party!"

"He was wrong, and I told him so." Matt's tone was level.

"For crying out loud!"

"Ask me the question, Josh!"

Josh threw his arms out to his sides, his voice breaking. "How can you be a member of this party?!"

Matt shook his head, chuckling under his breath. "You've been holding that in for *way* too long, man."

"This party that says who you are is against the law!"

Josh was playing the offended liberal now, and Matt had really had enough. He sighed. He hadn't wanted to think of it as pointless to take this meeting, but now he knew. "You know, I never understood why you gun control people don't all join the NRA. They've got two million members. You bring three million to the next meeting, call a vote. All those in favor of tossing guns-" Matt snapped his fingers. "Bam. Move on."

"It's a heck of a strategy, Matt," Josh said sarcastically. "I'll bring it up at a meeting." He sat down in his chair, putting his feet up on his desk and leaning back with a sigh.

"I agree with ninety-five percent of the Republican platform. I believe in local government. I'm in favor of individual rights rather than group rights." Matt leaned over the desk, watching the scornful expression on Josh's face change to one that held a hint of the admiration they'd once felt for each other. "I believe free markets lead to free people and that the country needs a strong national defense. My life doesn't have to be about being a homosexual."

Matt laughed aloud, remembering that he'd said something similar years ago, when Josh had asked him if it was worth risking everything to be out. Yes, damn it -- it *was* worth it, because in the long run it meant that just living out your life didn't end up *being* a risk. Being out meant that being gay was just another thing about you. It didn't have to haunt you. It didn't have to be a source of shame.

"It doesn't have to be entirely about that," Matt concluded.

For a moment, Josh's eyes locked on Matt's, and it looked like there were a thousand questions he didn't dare ask. Watching his face, Matt couldn't help but think about Ken. Ken, who was neither as beautiful as Sam Seaborn nor as charismatic as Josh Lyman, but who loved him and who he knew he could count on. And at this moment, all Matt could feel for Josh was pity -- pity for this amazing guy who would never be able to allow himself to know what that was like.

"Thanks for coming by," Josh said quietly.

Matt pressed his lips together in a tense smile. "Thanks for the beer," he said as he left Josh's office for good.

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