Negotiations
Cold Keys series part 7

--MC

"Are there any more secrets I should know about?" Leo asked quietly.
"C.J. looked up at him from the couch. "I think that's all you need to know for now."

Leo was aware of her careful phrasing. "That means there's more I should know that you aren't going to tell me."

"Something like that." C.J. smiled at him. She really had learned a great deal about being a politician from these men. She was fairly certain Leo arrived too late in the conversation to hear the discussion about Sam's nightmares. She really didn't want Leo to know about that yet, if it could be avoided. Those nightmares were a form of PTSD, and while not as disruptive as Josh's, would need to heal. Sam would be embarrassed if Leo knew. Leo would be hurt by knowing that another of the young men he'd adopted as a surrogate son was suffering. She wanted to protect both of them.

C.J. glanced at Toby for affirmation. He seemed to understand and just nodded his head at her.

Leo started to say more, but halted when Josh bounded into the area.

"Guys, Donna's going to kill me, I lost the file for the Jackson thing and--"

He stopped when he noticed their somber faces.

"Are you talking about me? 'Cause the only time you guys ever look that serious is when you're talking about somebody and I'm the only one who wasn't here except Sam-"
He looked at their faces and realized that's exactly who they'd been talking about.

The teasing tone left Josh's voice. "What's up with Sam?"

"Josh, why can't you tell us? He's your best friend." C.J.'s voice betrayed her anger, and Josh caught that. He thought for a moment. He really didn't know. His confused eyes slowly swept the room to look at their faces. And Leo, Toby and C.J. saw the guilt settle on his face.

Josh sat down next to C.J. and spoke quietly. "I know he's been working like a dog lately and we haven't really talked about anything except work. The whole thing with C.J.'s 'brain tumor' was weird, but Sam's got a hyper imagination so..."

He looked at them each in turn. "What's going on?"

C.J. stood and left, upset enough that she didn't trust her self not to say something harsh.

Josh was more shocked by that than anything else. C.J. never fled a bad situation. She should be the one yelling at him right now.

"Josh, talk to Toby." Leo ordered in began in a calm tone, "I'm gonna go talk to C.J."

Leo found C.J. next to her seat. She stood in the aisle and stared down at a sleeping Sam. She reached over and tucked in the blanket around him.

Leo motioned her further down the aisle to where he was sitting, so they could talk without disturbing their sleeping friend.

"C.J., Sam's fine. He's been doing phenomenal work this week. I plan to tell him that, and make sure the President tells him that. Josh cares about him. He'll beat himself up over this, but he'll find a way to help. But Sam didn't want to talk to us about this, clearly, or he would have. A man is entitled to deal with his demons in his own way. You have to accept that."

C.J. saw the genuine concern in his face. "I do, Leo. I do. Sometimes it's just harder than others." What she wanted to say was that it was harder because Josh was better and they'd only discovered Sam's pain. Sam was stronger than she'd known.

"You'd better go wake up Sam. We're landing in a few minutes."

She went back to her seat and settled in quietly. She thought about Leo's words. "A man has to deal with his demons in his own way." She understood what Leo meant. Sam was a man. They sometimes all forgot he wasn't their little brother. He didn't want anyone to protect him. He did need people who cared about him.

But that thought scared her the most. She cared about him with an intensity that still surprised her, and that realization scared her. Any relationship they might have would be challenged by their jobs, their personality differences, and perhaps even by their friends and colleagues. Was it worth it?

Sam woke up on his own a few moments later. He watched C.J.'s face and could tell she was deep in thought.

He sat upright beside her. "Hey."

She took a deep breath. "Sam, I should warn you that we've been talking about you. Josh is feeling guilty that he didn't know what was going on. Leo knows why you went overboard on my 'brain tumor' thing. He doesn't know about the nightmares. I didn't tell him. Toby didn't tell him. But if you're not okay, or need to talk to him about it, I think he'd understand."

As she'd expected, Sam seemed a bit angry with his friends discussing him, but it was just a flicker across his face.

"I think I am okay, C.J. Now that I understand how this all fits together, it's not so scary. I don't know if the nightmares will be gone, but they will be easier to deal with, and I think the worst is over."

"Okay, and I do have to give you the stupid reminder that trauma does not cause brain tumors, so your whole thought process was seriously warped and stupid."

"Yeah." He gave her a big smile.

"Sam, when we get some time, I'd like to talk to you about a few other things."

"I think that might be a good idea."

They sat quietly as the plane landed.

That night after everyone settled in, the group gathered in the hotel lobby and clarified the schedule for the next day. There were no problems evident and everything seemed organized. Then Josh declared the need for an expedition to one of the bars in LA.

"Come on guys, we don't have anything to do tonight. Toby and Sam are done with the speeches. C.J.'s ready for the press, and Leo and I are actually caught up. This only happens once a year or so and we need to enjoy it."

"I'm very happy with the bar here at the hotel," remarked Toby.

"Take Donna, Josh. Go to Skybar and have fun." This was from C.J. as she idly flipped through a magazine.

"Skybar...that's a real place?"

"Yeah, Josh. It's a real place. Take your Secret Service guys and they'll let you into the VIP section."

"The one with movie stars and stuff."

"Yeah."

Josh turned on Sam, who'd been watching CNN. "Sam. We are so there. Butch and Sundance do the Skybar. I'll bet there are gorgeous California women there for us to hit...um, have the pleasure of meeting." He looked around the room to see if Donna or C. J. caught the slip.

Donna glared at him.

C.J. looked amused. "Have Sam help you dress, Josh. LA women are a little more style conscious." She smiled and headed back to her own room. The bar expedition was Josh's way to get in some 'guy time' with Sam. It was a start.

Apparently "Butch and Sundance" enjoyed their night out. The next morning both of them wore sunglasses to breakfast, dead giveaways that they'd had too much to drink the night before. Donna was conspicuously absent.

Leo noticed that Donna wasn't there. "Josh, where's Donna?

"She 'quit,'again. She got mad when I yelled at some gomer that was hitting on her."

Sam looked over at him under his sunglasses. "That 'gomer' was Steve Jensen."

C.J piped in. "The producer?"

"He was a gomer." Josh persisted.

"He owns an island, Josh." C.J. supplied.

"So..."

C.J. looked at Josh with some annoyance. The man was a bit dense at time. "I don't blame Donna for being pissed at you. He's also gorgeous."

"What make him so gorgeous?" Sam asked.

"Kids, can we get to work, please." Leo dropped a binder on the table and began handing out the schedules for the day.

C.J. was not destined to have a good day. In fact, she had one of her worst days in recent memory. Bartlet was ambushed at the speech by reporters asking about a proposition for rezoning in the northern California forest that would allow preservation of the habitat for some species of bird. At this point she didn't care to remember exactly what species it was. And it didn't matter. They hadn't known about the bird, the proposition, or the problems. They were soundly trounced. C.J. spent the majority of the post-speech spin time trying to redirect questions so they wouldn't look quite so unprepared.

Once she'd left the podium she'd actually ended up yelling nose to nose with a reporter from a local paper who insulted the President and accused her of lying about several key points. Her only consolation was that she'd not fallen into anything or anyone.

Josh and Sam took meetings with local representatives until late in the evening so she hadn't seen either of them since breakfast. Leo said that they'd had a quiet day.

As soon as she entered her hotel room, she headed straight for the mini-bar and downed a shot of brandy. The shot calmed her enough to stop cursing under her breath at the horror of the day. Her next stop was a long bath.

She was up to her chin in bubble bath when the persistent knocking began on her door. She shrugged on a robe and padded to the door, prepared to yell at the person disturbing her only peaceful moments of the day.

As she reached the door she called out, "Whoever it is better really need to bother me or I'm gonna yell." She paused a moment. "If you're still there now, talk. "

"C.J., it's Sam."

She opened the door to see him smiling at her rant. "Oh, just get in and don't give me grief."

She motioned him in and shook her hair out of the towel. She watched him cross the room and sit on the couch.

"So, C.J., I hear you had a bad day."

"Yeah, I'm just hoping you are not gonna tell me about anything that's gonna make it worse."

"Well Josh only hit the one guy, and it was an accident."

C.J. dropped onto the couch. No, she thought. This can't be real.

Sam looked at her closely. He thought he'd said it so she'd know he was kidding.
"Kidding, C.J., kidding. No problems all day, except that Josh's golf game sucks and I think I got a little sunburned."

"You guys were playing golf? While I had people screaming at me? Get out of my room!" She swatted at him with the towel.

"Leo told me what happened. I'm sorry. Was it bad?"

She looked at him and was ready to brush it off as she usually would. Being one of the guys meant you didn't care if you got yelled at. Or at least you weren't supposed to let it bother you. But he looked truly sympathetic so she said softly, "Yeah, it was bad, Sam."

"Sit down. I still owe you a full neck rub. We were interrupted the last time."

"Sam, I'm in my bathrobe."

"I've seen you in less C.J."

"Yeah, but you usually see me in more."

"C.J., sit down." This voice was new, she thought. It was like velvet.

She dropped down on the couch next to him. She wondered how many women had given in to that voice.

Sam smiled when she complied and lifted her hair to the side so he could massage her neck. His fingers deftly eased the knots and his hands slipped under her robe to reach her shoulders and upper arms.

She began to think even her day from Hell was worth this reward. Sam continued until she was relaxed and nearly asleep at his side.

"C.J., about this talk we've been meaning to have... I think now would be a good time, because I'm starting to think about how much I'd rather be in bed."

Her eyes flew open at that comment and she moved to the other side of the couch.

She wasn't at all sure about his meaning and looked at him questioningly.

"Sam, I could interpret that in several ways. You are a speech writer for the President. Do you think you could be a little clearer?" She honestly wasn't sure if he simply meant he was tired and ready to head to his own bed or if he was suggesting something more.

"Okay, I can be clearer. I really want to kiss you, and I'm going to kiss you now, C.J. unless you hit me with something very hard. Is that easy to understand?"

"Sam, this could be a really bad thing."

"It could be a really good thing."

"But we've been friends, and there's never been anything romantic between us."

"I think there is now." He moved closer to her on the couch.

"You are drunk, Sam."

"I haven't had a drop."

"I'm drunk and tired and unhappy and--"

"--You are not drunk, C.J." He paused and smiled at her. "Should I get you drunk? Should I list for you all the reasons I think this is a good thing? I could do it in Latin, it's not like that's sexy, but I don't know any other languages." She couldn't help laughing. He sounded like a lawyer arguing a case.

"Well, counselor, would you like to lay out the key points of your proposal?"

"I'm thinking you, me, and that bed, constitute a good neutral territory for 'negotiations'"

"Sam." She shook her head softly.

His voice became serious again. "C.J., if I'm wrong about this, please let me know. I thought about everything that's happened and everything you've said. You said you thought I was sexy. I thought you were kidding, but I hope it was real. Because somewhere in the past few months, I forgot you were my friend and started thinking about you as the woman I wanted to be with every night."

She thought about talking about her feelings. She thought about trying to explain them. But she didn't. She simply settled into his arms and kissed him.

 

 

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