Title: Seventeen Years
Author: Willow
Summary:
Josh gets a new roommate and then, seventeen years after the fire, talks to his parents about his feelings.
Spoilers: Small for season 1, 'The Crackpots And These Women'.
Characters: Josh and his parents, Sam
Rating: PG
Notes: Started off as 'how Josh and Sam met' but then went off at a tangent, judge for yourself.


1986

"Hey, I hear you're leaving?" Sam asked as he sat down at a table with his former mentor.

Stuart nodded, "Yeah and I can't wait. You still enjoying it?"

"I am, I just wish I had time to read more of the stuff." Sam looked suddenly worried, "We are allowed to do that aren't we?"

"If you really want," Stuart laughed.

"Don't you find it interesting?"

"Not really, I'm only doing this 'cos my uncle got me the position," Stuart told him. "But this is my last week, thank God. I just feel a bit guilty about leaving my roommate in the lurch."

"You think he'll be looking for someone to share?" Sam asked.

"I doubt he's going to make the rent on his own. Why? I thought you were happy where you are?"

Sam was currently living with a friend of his mother. It was his parents condition for letting him intern in Washington instead of in a law firm somewhere. "Yeah, but they've got so many rules, it's worse than living at home. Do you know, if I'm not working I have to be home by midnight."

"You're kidding me. How old are you?"

"22, but I feel like I'm 12."

"Go round to my place, take your stuff," Stuart suggested.

"Won't your roommate mind me just moving in?"

"He probably won't notice for a week. He's hardly ever there. He's works for Senator Matthews, thinks I'm mad to be leaving, doesn't understand how anyone would want to do anything other than this. You'll probably like him," Stuart grinned.

"Yeah okay. You will tell him I'm coming?"

"Yeah. Come out with us tonight, you can meet him then," Stuart suggested.

"Can't, sorry. I'm going home tonight, but I'm back on Sunday morning."

"I'll tell him you'll move in then, then."


"What are you, a dating service?" Josh asked, as he handed Stuart his beer.

"You need a new roommate, he needs somewhere to stay for the summer."

"The summer? He's an intern? How old is he?"

"22."

"Oh, okay then."

"What," Stuart laughed, "you think I'd fix you up with a 17 year old. You'll like him. He can be a bit serious, but he's alright."

Josh followed Stuart to the pool table. "What's going to happen with you and Caroline then?"

"She's still furious with me."

"Well yeah, you kind of neglected to tell her that you were leaving town."

"You think that's what it is?" Stuart grinned, as he racked up the pool balls.


On Sunday afternoon Sam stood in the rain, looking up an old redstone apartment building. He had Stuart's keys, but he'd forgotten what the apartment number was, in fact he wasn't entirely sure this was the right building. He walked up the steps and looked at the names next to the buzzers, but there was no S. Bremner. He tried to remember his new roommates surname, but it escaped him entirely. Well there were two 'Js' - J. Gibson in 4c and J. Lyman in 2b. He entered the building, walked up to the second floor and apartment 2b and he knocked on the door. A minute later the door was answered by a young man in jeans and a sweatshirt.

"Hi. Josh?" Sam asked.

"Hey, you must be Sam," Josh smiled, taking one of Sam's bags of him and letting him into the apartment. "Stuart said you'd be coming by today. I'm on my way to a meeting and I'm late, so I've got to go, but make yourself at home and I'll see you later."

With that Josh was gone and Sam was alone in his new home. He looked around the small, untidy living room and wondered what he'd let himself in for. He dumped his bags on the floor and walked around the apartment, not that there was much to see. The living room had a small kitchen area in one corner, there was a couch, a TV and a desk under the window. On one wall was some shelving, half full of books. The first door off the living room was the bathroom. Opposite that were two bedrooms, the one facing the front of the building was obviously Josh's, so Sam moved his stuff into the other room.

Once he'd put all his belongings away Sam went to put his books and some LP's in the living room. The other books on the shelving were, predictably, mainly politics and law, though there were a few on history and philosophy. Sam tidied the shelving up a little and then went to make himself a drink. While he was waiting for the kettle to boil, he tidied everything away in the kitchen, which, although clean, looked like they just left things where they last used them. Next to the bathroom was a small cupboard with a vacuum cleaner and an ironing board. Sam decided that a quick vacuum wouldn't hurt the apartment .

By the time Josh arrived home, five hours later, the apartment looked like someone's mother had called by. Josh looked round and grinned. "Did you hire a cleaner?"

"Sorry, I just thought..... "

"Guess that means I should buy dinner," Josh offered.


Josh handed Sam another beer. "Duke?"

"What's wrong with that?" Sam asked.

"Nothing. I guess if you couldn't get into Yale then it'll do."

"Oh God! Harvard and Yale?"

"I am. Princeton and Duke, huh? You want to be a lawyer then?"

"Yeah. My dad's a lawyer, so was his and my uncle."

"Family tradition then?"

"Yeah. You?"

"Not so much, no. My dad's a lawyer but my grandfather was a jeweler, so no traditions to uphold. If you want to be a lawyer why are you doing this?"

"I might like to work here one day, so the experience will be good, plus it looks good on my resume," Sam admitted. "You always wanted to do this, not law?"

"I never really gave law a chance. I started interning here when I was 18."

They were interrupted by an older man. "Hey, Josh, you got a minute?"

"Sure," Josh replied. "I'll be back in a minute," he told Sam. "What's up?" he asked Leo.

"I heard a rumor you where thinking of moving to Congressman Hiller's office?"

"Where'd you hear that?"

"Or possibly to the whip's office?" Leo asked.

"Are you running a book on me?" Josh smiled.

"The whip's office would be a good move, career wise."

"If I'd been offered a job there," Josh grinned.

"Very cagey," Leo smiled.

"Where'd you hear this?" Josh asked.

"Maddox mentioned he'd asked you."

"And you think it'd be a good move?"

"Don't you?"

"I do," Josh agreed.

"Let me know what you decide. I'll see you later," Leo started to walk away, before turning back to Josh. "And Josh. Call your parents next weekend."

"Yeah," Josh nodded, though Leo knew he probably wouldn't.


Josh had thought about what Leo said once he got home that evening. Not so much about moving to the whips office, but about the weekend. It was 17 years since his sister died, 17 years next Saturday night. He usually called his parents sometime around the anniversary, but for some reason never on it. It was always his grandfather he'd called, but his grandfather had died in March.

The next morning he sat at his desk and phoned his father's office. "Hey, Chloe, it's Josh, is he available?"

"Morning, you okay?" Noah asked, as he rummaged around his desk looking for the file he was suppose to be reading.

"Yeah. You?"

"I'm fine; be better if I could find things on my desk. CHLOE!"

"Thanks, dad, now I'm deaf."

"Sorry," Noah smiled, "just hang on." He turned to his secretary. "Where's the deposition from Cooper Melling?"

"Here, under your phone," Chloe sighed.

"Thanks." Noah picked the receiver back up. "So what's wrong?" he asked Josh.

"Why would something be wrong?"

"You're phoning me at 9am on a Monday, that usually means something's wrong."

"That's not true," Josh protested.

Noah took the paper he was searching for out of the file and started to read it. "Usually means you've crashed your car or you need money."

"Actually last time I called during the day I'd flooded my apartment and the landlord wanted money, not me," Josh grinned.

"My mistake," Noah smiled. "What's up?"

"You and mom home this weekend?"

"I would think so."

"Can I can up?"

Noah put down what he was reading and took his glasses off. "This weekend?"

"Yeah."

"Of course you can. You don't have to ask to come home."

"I wanted to make sure you'd be in. I'll come up on Friday night stay 'til Sunday."

"That'd be great. I'll see you on Friday," Noah smiled. Josh had avoided coming home this weekend since he left to go to Harvard, he'd always found some excuse, some other place he had to be.


Sam caught up with Josh as he left the building on Friday evening. "So what you doing this weekend that's keeping you away from the baseball?" he asked.

"Going home."

"Can't you get out of it?"

"Yeah, but I don't want to."

"Okay."

Josh smiled at Sam's desolate tone. "There's plenty people going, you'll be fine."

"I don't know any of them."

"You know Gail and Trevor."

"You don't think I'll be in the way of their secret romance?" Sam asked.

"It's a secret?"

"Supposedly. So you really can't get out of going?"

"No, it's a family thing," Josh replied a little ambiguously.

"And you call yourself a sports fan," Sam teased. "When are you going?"

"As soon as I've packed. On the plus side you get the apartment to yourself all weekend."

"Excellent point."


Saturday morning found Josh walking back from the cemetery. He'd spent nearly an hour talking to his sister and grandfather, and for the first time he hadn't felt stupid, hadn't feel like he was sat talking to himself. One of the things he'd done was promise them both he'd talk to his parents, though he wasn't sure how much he'd tell them. He hadn't been able to sleep and had gone to the cemetery very early, while his parents were still in bed, but when he got back they were both sat in the kitchen eating breakfast.

"Morning," Josh smiled.

"You were up early."

"Yeah, it's nice to get a Saturday off, you not at work?"

"Not today," his father replied.

"Have you eaten?" Clara asked.

"No, I'll get something in a while."

"Sit down, I'll make something," she instructed.

Josh was about to protest that he was 26 and quite capable of making his own food, but it was nice to be home and have his mother fuss over him, so he did as he was told.

Once he'd finished breakfast and they were sat around the table drinking coffee, Josh decided it was time. "I don't know why it's taken me this long to come home for this weekend," he admitted.

Clara had to ask, because she'd always wondered. "You blame us."

"No," Josh protested, "no. Why would I blame either of you, you weren't even there."

"Because of that, because we left you alone."

Josh was horrified that his parents thought he blamed them, that that was why he didn't call them on the anniversary, why he didn't talk about that night. "Honestly, I don't. I don't blame anyone for the fire, it was an accident, it could have happened anytime. You couldn't have stayed home with us permanently, never have left Joanie on her own in the house. I don't blame you."

"Then why do you blame yourself?" Noah asked. "It was an accident, Josh, like you said. There was nothing you could have done. You did the right thing and went to get help"

Josh looked at his parents and then down at the table, 17 years of guilt washing over him in waves that seemed strong enough to knock him over. He'd known this was coming, he'd known when he decided to come here this weekend that he'd have to tell them, that finally he'd have to admit his guilt. "I ran out of the house and left her there," Josh replied quietly. "I left her. I know they found her in the hall, she must have fallen where I did. If I'd waited, if I'd gone back maybe I could have helped her."

"You couldn't have gone back......" Clara began.

"She would never have left me." Josh's eyes were bright with unshed tears.

"Oh God, Josh." Clara walked round the table and crouched next to her son, placing her arm around his shoulders.

Josh gave his mother what he hoped was a reassuring smile and looked across at his father, but Noah was studying his mug of coffee and didn't look up at Josh.

Noah's father had told them the reason for Josh's feelings of guilt and Noah had waited years for Josh to share those feelings with him. Now that he had, Noah had no idea what to do or say. He wanted to comfort Josh, wanted to tell him it wasn't his fault, that they didn't blame him, they never had and never would; they were just grateful Josh had run from the house, that he hadn't died as well. The trouble was he can't put those thoughts into words. When he finally looked across the table, Josh had stood up.

"I'm going for a walk," Josh told them and left the kitchen.

Clara glared at her husband. "What was that?"

"I don't know what to say to him," Noah admitted.

They heard the front door close before Clara asked, "Do you blame him for leaving her?"

"No! God, how can you even ask that?" Noah asked, his tone hurt and angry. "I just don't know what to say to him," he repeated quietly.


Noah found Josh sat out in the yard ostensibly reading the morning paper. "Where'd you go so early this morning?" Noah asked.

"Just walking," Josh fell back into the old routine of denial. He sighed, "The cemetery."

"We could have gone together."

"I wanted to go alone," Josh replied. "We can go later," he added in an attempt not to shut his dad out. "I'm sorry, I just needed to be there on my own."

"It's alright, you don't have to apologize," Noah told him. "Your mom and I go alone all the time. It's easier to talk to her alone."

"What do you talk to her about?" Josh asked.

Noah smiled, "I don't know to be honest, I just talk. You?" he asked Josh, hoping to prize something out of him.

"I apologized," Josh admitted. "I never did that before." He caught his father's look. "It doesn't matter what you think, I needed to apologize, to Joanie and to you and mom."

"You have to know there was nothing you could have done, Josh. We don't blame you, Joanie wouldn't have blamed you."

"I know," Josh agreed. Though he was relieved to hear his father say it, it didn't change the fact that he blamed himself, that deep down he always would. "I told grandpa about work," he quickly changed the subject to safer ground.

"I was going to ask about that. Made a decision?"

"Whips office," Josh replied. "Do you mind? That I didn't go into law I mean."

"You hated law. You couldn't wait to leave Yale."

"I know, but you're a lawyer, family tradition," Josh shrugged.

"What tradition?" Noah asked with a smile. "Your grandpa was a jeweler, as was his father, so if anyone broke the family tradition it was me."

"Can't imagine you as a jeweler," Josh grinned. "I got a new roommate. He's at Duke, studying to be lawyer because his father's a lawyer, so's his uncle and his grandfather. It's kind of expected of him."

"The only thing expected of you was to do what makes you happy. We don't care what it is, as long as it's legal." Noah grinned, "Or as legal as possible in politics."

"Hey!" Josh laughed. "Let's go back in before mom sends out a search party."

"She'll want to go out tonight and celebrate your promotion."

"It's not a promotion, it's a move."

"To your mom, every move you make is a promotion."

END