Cold Keys Series # 10
Toby leaned against the door frame of Sam's office and scowled. "Sam, it's five damn pages. Just finish it so I can do the polish and get the hell out of here." He waved his ready red pen at Sam.
Sam looked up from behind the stack of paper burying his desk. "Toby, it's not good. In fact, it sucks. I need to rethink the whole thing."
"Sam, what the hell is the problem? You've done five speeches this week. They were all better than average. Why are you losing your swing on a stupid fluff piece?"
Sam stood up and stretched. He'd been working on the speech for the National Audubon Society all day. The notes were there. The points were ready to be made. The goal of the speech was just to acknowledge the worth of the society, affirm the President's appreciation of nature etc., etc. It was easy to do. Bartlet really felt that way. But Sam couldn't string the sentences together.
Toby continued to glare at him. Sam paced his office for a moment, then dropped onto a chair in the corner. He looked tired and uncharacteristically rumpled. Toby grumbled audibly and stepped into the office. He sensed there was more to Sam's problem.
Sam twirled his pen restlessly in his hand. "It's just not there, Toby. I'm just tense and frustrated."
Toby smirked, "So go get a girl, Sam."
Sam looked back at Toby with surprise. "You did not just say that."
"Sure I did. We're grown men. It's spring and all." Toby meant the statement to be just annoying enough to Sam to help him snap out of his funk. It appeared, however, that he might actually have hit a note of truth.
"That's not the problem, Toby. Don't you have a baseball game to watch or something?
You aren't helping by giving me grief."
"Yeah, okay, I'll go away. Get the damn thing done, Sam. I want to be out of here before they start the stupid Easter Egg Roll thing." Toby scowled again as he left the room.
As Toby left, CJ appeared at the door. "Toby, are you disparaging the Easter Egg Roll?"
Toby rolled his eyes and walked away.
CJ stepped in and plopped into a chair next to Sam. "He thinks HE hates the Easter Egg Roll. I could tell him how much I hate it. But it might involve throwing heavy objects that could hit someone."
Sam couldn't help but smile at her attempt to cheer him up. She knew he was having a difficult time with the speech because she'd stopped by earlier to get a report and noticed the disaster zone that was his usually neat office.
"CJ, how come you don't like the Easter thing? It's sort of, well, cute."
"Sam, the kids are cute, the idea is sweet, but the actual headache that is the orchestration of the thing is not fun. You know, the morons even wanted me to wear bunny ears."
Sam laughed at that. CJ would make a very tall bunny. "Is that as in whiskers and fur costume or Playboy bunny?"
CJ swatted at him. "Yes, Sam, I'm going out there as a six foot Playboy bunny in fishnet hose and heels to lead the children around."
He looked thoughtful. "You'd be a very hot bunny CJ."
"I really am going to forget you said that, Sam." The teasing moment was lost. His eyes reflected questions at her. They'd avoided open discussion of their relationship since they'd returned from the LA trip. CJ realized she'd pulled away. She wasn't entirely sure why, but part of the reason was her reluctance to damage the fragile balance of friendship among all of them.
Sam had been entirely clear about his desires. All of them. They did have a relationship, it just hadn't evolved into a sexual one. That was a big line to cross.
CJ cleared her throat and leaned back in her chair, effectively changing the undercurrent of the conversation. "Sam, why are you really having such a hard time writing this speech."
He didn't answer for a moment. When he did, he didn't look at her. "It was our family's favorite charity, my dad's thing. I guess I'm still not over the fact that while he was playing the loyal family man, he was cheating on my mother."
A surprised expression crossed her face. She really hadn't expected that answer. Sam obviously hadn't felt comfortable enough about it to tell Toby.
Sam looked at her closely. He hadn't meant to tell her. It just slipped out of his mouth. His bond with CJ allowed that. He was a bit scared by how much he'd begun to rely on her. That feeling was what usually scared him out of a relationship. And he hadn't even slept with her yet. Sam sighed and continued to twirl his pen absently. His head snapped back up when she replied.
"Sam, why don't you just let Toby do it. Tell him about your father and then let him do it."
"I just want to get past this block, CJ." His eyes flashed the dual meaning of his statement.
CJ was sure she saw true pain in his eyes when Sam spoke those words. She tried to choose her own words carefully. But she didn't know what she wanted to say.
As she took a deep breath to mumble some response, Josh appeared at the door.
"Hey guys, we have to meet in the Oval in an hour. Sam, I need to pick your brain about an oil thing first, cuz I have to call Senator Obnoxious from Texas in half an hour."
Josh looked quizzically at the cold expression on Sam's face.
"Am I interrupting?" Josh seemed to be catching a clue that there was more than the usual shop talk underway between his two best friends.
Sam waved his hand in another expression of frustration. "Yes, Josh, as always."
CJ looked a bit flustered and gave Sam a weak smile as she left the room. Work always came first. They never seemed to catch a break.
Josh waited until she left, then closed the door and took a seat in the chair across from Sam.
"So, what's going on, Sam?"
Sam shook his head slowly from side to side. "Josh, I really think that this conversation needs to wait until we've had a few drinks."
"Actually, it seems like something we need to talk about now."
"Josh, I really think--"
"--Spill it Sam, you're obviously miserable. And you aren't getting any work done."
Sam settled deeper into the cushions of his chair. "Josh, what I'm gonna say stays between us. The 'us' that is Sam and Josh who are friends who've known each other for years. Not Seaborn and Lyman, of the White House Senior Staff."
"Sam, that sounds pretty serious."
Sam paused a moment, then met Josh's worried eyes with his own. "It's pretty serious to me. I think I'm falling in love with CJ."
Josh found himself mentally calculating the distance to the bottle of Scotch he kept in his office. He really wished he had let it wait until they were out of the West Wing.
"Sam, I really had no clue."
"That was the idea, Josh. You remember when you called my room when we were on the trip to tell me about the AG?"
"You sounded pissed and made some comment about taking a woman to bed. And CJ was there and I heard her giggle....Oh hell, Sam." Josh stood up and paced the room.
"How long has this been going on?"
"It's actually been brewing for a few months."
"Sam, are you sleeping together?"
Sam hesitated a moment. Josh continued, "This is your friend Josh asking and not the Deputy Chief of Staff, okay?"
"We haven't slept together. Though not from lack of effort on my part."
Josh finally smiled. "Sam the lady killer is getting shut down? Since when did you lose your touch?" A small chuckle escaped his mouth but was silenced by a sharp look from Sam.
"Josh, can you not do the sarcastic thing for a few minutes?"
"Yeah, Sam. Sorry. What's going on?"
"I think she's scared. For all the obvious reasons of course, and then the work issues. I'm freaked too, but it's been a long time since I've wanted to be with someone this much."
Josh started to smile.
"No, Josh. Not just sex."
"Okay, Sam. This is not an easy situation. Take it slow. CJ is worth waiting for."
"You're okay with this?"
"As your friend, yes. I know nothing about it in any official capacity until you tell me otherwise."
"Thanks, Josh." Sam leaned forward and shifted into business mode. "What did you need to know about the oil world?"
Toby stalked back through the Communications Bullpen and glared at Sam's closed door.
He turned to Ginger and gestured at the door. "Who's in there with Sam?"
Ginger didn't look up from her typing. "Josh."
"He closed the door to talk to Josh? What the hell is going on?"
Ginger managed a suitably irritated expression. "How the hell would I know, Toby? You've got to be in the Oval in half an hour. Leo just called it."
The Senior Staff spent three hours in the Oval that night dealing with the latest fiasco with the ATF. They'd had a shoot-out in Miami resulting in the death of two bystanders. The civilians were a young couple who'd stopped at a drug store to buy formula for their two month old child. The press photos showed their bodies sprawled on the pavement, with a case of infant formula laced with bullet holes. The blood mixed with the formula under the parking lot lights was chilling footage. A Hollywood staging could not have been more affecting. The criminals killed two ATF agents and escaped.
All members of the Senior Staff were visibly shaken by the photos. Even the usually stoic Leo had unshed tears in eyes.
When the meeting finally ended and the press statements finished, it was after two AM.
Sam walked slowly back to his office with Toby at his side.
"Toby, I didn't finish the speech yet."
Toby prepared to yell. Then he really looked at Sam and changed his mind. The speech could wait. His Deputy looked exhausted and miserable. "We'll do it tomorrow, Sam. Get some sleep. I don't want to get grief from everyone about how hard I'm making you work."
He said the last with a teasing tone. Sam understood that Toby was telling him he was willing to be understanding, but that he couldn't admit that outright.
"Sure, Toby." Sam thought briefly about telling Toby why he was having such a hard time with the speech. But he didn't.
Sam entered his office and began packing things away for the night. His television was still on and he absently listened to the news as he sorted the mail and files on his desk.
His hands began shaking when he heard the first words of the story detailing the suicide of Agent Keller, formerly of the ATF. This was the man who's partner was killed when the ATF failed to stop a load of weapons on their first opportunity. This was the man Sam watched testify about the trauma of seeing his best friend and partner shot and killed. Keller's saga hit the core of a problem Sam had dealt with for months. Keller's saga was now over.
Sam deliberately turned off the TV and sank into his desk chair. He had his head down on his hands when Toby knocked on his door ten minutes later.
"Sam, why are you still here. Go the hell home. I said we'd due the speech tomorrow."
Sam lifted his head to look at Toby. "Keller killed himself Toby. He couldn't handle seeing more people die and he killed himself tonight."
It took Toby a moment to recall exactly who Keller was and why this meant so much to Sam. He'd almost forgotten. Sam had almost forgotten. The haunted look in Sam's eyes scared Toby.
Sam put his head back down on the desk, so he didn't see Toby back quickly out of his office and hit Josh's number on the speed dial of his phone. He caught Josh in the parking lot and gave him a terse order before hanging up. "Josh, get back here now, Sam needs you."
Toby hoped that Josh's presence would remind Sam that his best friend was still alive, and needed him.
Josh was back in the West Wing in under five minutes. He found Toby waiting for him, idly tossing a ball from hand to hand at the entrance to the Communications Bullpen.
The two men fell in step together as they veered off to Josh's office. They didn't speak until they were behind the closed door.
Josh dropped his backpack on the floor and turned to Toby. "What's going on with Sam?" He began to pace his office.
"Josh, sit down."
"Is it so bad that I have to sit down, Toby?" Josh actually paled as he strained the words out.
"No, Josh. It's not that bad. You'll just make me dizzy if you pace. Sam's in his office. They just broke the story that Keller committed suicide."
"Keller? Who the hell is that?"
"He's the former ATF guy who testified against his agency after his partner was killed."
Josh still looked puzzled.
"Josh, you aren't this dense. His best friend was shot and killed. He felt betrayed by a system he worshipped, he spoke out against it. He lost his family and friends and then he killed himself."
Josh rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. "And Sam identifies with him because of me."
Toby nodded. Josh seemed to be understanding at last.
Josh spoke softly. "Everything's hit him this week. His father's been calling him and they're trying to patch things up, but he still resents the hell out of what he did. Did you know that the Audubon Society was his father's pet charity? That's why he's blocked on the speech."
Toby let that sink in for a minute. "No. He didn't tell me."
Josh popped out of the chair and started pacing again. "What happened that you called me back tonight, Toby?"
"He's in his office. He just looks...well, worse than I've ever seen him look."
"Okay. I'm gonna go get him and drag him home. Thanks Toby." Josh gave Toby's arm a quick grip as he passed him to open the door. The two men often didn't agree, but they were both Sam's friends.
A few minutes later, Josh entered Sam's office to see his friend sleeping with his head on his desk. Josh crossed the room quietly and put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sam. Wake up. You're going home now."
Sam startled awake and looked at Josh. "What? I thought you went home?"
"I'm back. Let's go."
"I really need to finish that speech."
"Give it up Sam. I'm driving you home and tucking you into bed." Josh frowned as the last part of his statement registered. "No. Forget that. There will be no tucking."
Sam smiled at that. "Josh, why did you come back?"
Josh hesitated for a moment, then turned back to face Sam. "I know about the Keller thing. We can talk about that more, or not. I just think you need to know that I know. And you need to know that this will get better."
Sam realized what Josh was asking him, but he couldn't resist poking fun at his friend's sleep-deprived speech patterns. "So this is on a need to know basis..." He smiled when Josh caught that. Then he took a deep breath and answered his friends question. "Yeah, Josh. It's okay. I'm not suicidal."
"You know if you did anything like that I'd kick your ass, Sam." Josh smiled at him.
"You really haven't learned anything in those counseling sessions have you?"
"Only that I could never be a shrink. Let's go."
Sam and Josh headed down the hall and out to the parking lot.
A sleepy Secret Service agent spoke softly into his mike. "Butch and Sundance are out for the night."
CJ breezed into the Communications Bullpen some thirty minutes late the next morning. Carol slowed her long enough to hand her a stack of messages and a cup of coffee. She turned the corner to her office and promptly spilled the coffee on her hand when she found Josh lounging on her couch.
"Hey CJ. Carol said you got stuck in the mess on Dupont Circle."
"Yeah. I was stuck for almost an hour. What's up?"
Josh stood up and crossed to close her door. CJ looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"Should I be sitting down for this Josh? Did you do something stupid?"
CJ did, in fact, sink into her desk chair when she looked again at Josh's face. He wore a rare serious expression.
"It's about Sam."
"What about Sam?"
"Keller committed suicide last night. It hit Sam pretty hard because of the rest of the stuff with his father and the speech." He paused just a moment. "And the thing with you and him."
CJ's mind only registered the first part of Josh's statement. She vividly remembered what the Keller case meant to Sam.
"Josh, has he talked to you about that?"
"I didn't even remember who Keller was until Toby reminded me last night. Sam and I didn't talk about it in any substantive form. But we touched on it when I talked to him last night. Toby called me back and I drove him home."
"He's okay?" CJ felt bad. She wished she'd known. She wished she'd been there when Sam found out.
"I think he'd be better if you'd talk to him."
CJ caught Josh's emphasis. She wondered if there were two meanings there. "I will, Josh. Thank you." She stood and gave him a quick hug.
Events throughout the rest of the day kept CJ from speaking with Sam alone. He looked tired, but otherwise outwardly normal. She noticed Leo giving them both somewhat worried glances in the usual round of staff meetings, but business proceeded as usual.
At nine that night, CJ reached a point where she could stop working and head to Sam's office. She found him asleep at the desk. Toby told her earlier that he'd finally managed to finish the speech.
She stepped quietly to his side and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Sam, can you wake up for me?"
He stirred after only a moment and stretched as he looked up at her. His blue eyes were dull with fatigue, but brightened a bit when he saw her. "Hey, CJ."
"Hey, yourself. How are you?"
"Josh told me about Keller. I'm sorry I wasn't here."
"Don't be, CJ. It's better. Josh reminded me that he's still here, and that he's okay."
CJ smiled, "Well, as okay as he ever was."
Sam smiled back. "Yes."
CJ realized she'd unconsciously reached down to hold Sam's hand. "Sam, I'm sorry I've been so crazy with this thing between us. I have to admit that I'm just scared."
Sam absently stroked the back of her hand and looked directly into her eyes. "CJ, tell me what scares you. I'll fix it or change it."
CJ felt her heart melt with his words. He really meant it. And he was using the velvet voice that made all of her melt.
"Sam, I really can't explain it."
"That doesn't sound like a good reason." Sam stood and crossed the office to close the door and the blinds. CJ took a deep breath.
Sam leaned in and kissed her. He didn't need to ask if it was okay. He saw it in her eyes.
CJ stopped worrying for the moment and simply kissed him back. It felt very right.
Sam shifted slightly to feather kisses on her neck and CJ pulled back. Awareness of her surroundings crashed back to her. "Sam. Not here."
Sam looked puzzled for an instant and then understood. This was the West Wing. This was work. Part of her fear was that her feelings for him would interfere with her job.
Sam kept her hand in loose clasp. "CJ, how about if tomorrow night I show up at your door at home as a regular guy to take you on a date. I'll bring you a dozen roses and research a romantic dinner spot. We'll be Sam and CJ. We'll be a man and a woman who forget what their jobs are and just get to be together."
She smiled at that. He'd do just that, she was sure, right down to 'researching' a restaurant with the best shade of candlelight.
"Sam, tomorrow is Saturday. We don't have to be back until late morning. Let's just skip the dinner and go to my place now. I seem to recall you had some 'Negotiations' that were to take place on a bed. Mine will do."
His eyes registered surprise at her statement. "Do I need to bring my Latin phrase book for the wooing?" He smiled. He remembered the conversation well.
"I don't think we'll need any books there, Sam."
Sam grabbed his bag and walked quickly down the hall. CJ permitted herself a small chuckle and followed him out.