Chapter Twenty-nine

"I didn't mean them." Josh had walked into the kitchen to find Sam leaning over the sink, his hands gripping the edge. "I don't know why I said those things. I don't know why I wanted to hurt you like that."

Sam looked up at Josh and shrugged. "Well don't ask me, I don't why you'd want to either."

"Do you really think there's a place for guys like you in government apart from making the rest of us look good?" Josh shook his head as he repeated his words. "I don't believe that for a minute. I know your worth, Sam. The President knows it, Leo knows it and Toby, although it would kill him to show it, knows it."

"Well that's nice to know. Thank you, Josh. Do I get a report card now?" Sam replied, his weariness as he pulled a chair over, evident.

Josh didn't dare make a move. He wanted to go and sit opposite Sam but felt it best to stay where he was for the moment. "You're not making this very easy."

"Good. It shouldn't be."

Josh bent his head and smiled. "No, it shouldn't." He pushed away from the counter and nodded to the empty chair. When Sam made no move to object he quickly sat down. "People don't know you as being my friend. That was a crass thing to say. They know you as the guy that crafted one of the most stirring inauguration speeches of recent times. They know you as the guy who, despite his inner feelings, used his genius with words to help the public trust the President again. They know you as the guy who was shot at, waiting on news of his best friend but still managed to be the calm, eloquent face of an administration in turmoil. Sure, some of them know you as the jerk who together with that even bigger jerk tried to set the White House on fire but most of them, whether they realise it or not, know you through your words, and your words will be remembered, Sam, they'll be remembered and quoted long after I leave politics."

Sam had been looking at his clasped hands but now he looked up at Josh and was surprised to see moisture in his friend's eyes.

"And then," Josh continued, "one day someone who never knew your name will put two and two together and they'll be listening to President Seaborn's inauguration speech and wondering if you wrote it yourself."

Still Sam didn't react. He showed no emotion on hearing his friend's earnest words. "And what will you be doing?"

Josh frowned. "I'll be there right beside you, if I haven't completely ruined any chance of that. I'll be your Chief of Staff."

Sam shook his head.

"Communications Director?" Again Sam shook his head. "Press Officer?" A snort from Sam put pay to that notion. Josh frowned but then tried again, "Food taster?"

Sam clapped his hands. "Excellent! Then, when you least expect it, I'll get the Secret Service to poison the crab puffs and finally be able to exact my revenge on you."

"No one would suspect a thing. You could even serve a few off ones so that just enough people came down with serious food poisoning to make my sad demise even less suspicious."

Sam nodded as if he was seriously considering the plot then stood up and placed his chair back under the table. "We've gone from a great speechwriter to President, that's a bit of a leap."

"The President doesn't think so," Josh replied and smiled at Sam's startled reaction. "And, whilst we're on the subject, neither do I. I doubt it would be much of a leap for Toby either. In fact he's probably already planning the opening paragraph of your inauguration speech."

Sam walked slowly towards the door and Josh rose and followed him. "I know what you're doing. You're trying to boost my ego in an attempt to make me forget those things you said."

"Is it working?"

"Pathetically, yes, I think it is." Sam shrugged helplessly and pushed the door open. CJ and Toby looked up expecting to see either Josh or Sam storming out. They were both surprised by the relaxed atmosphere that accompanied the two men.

"When Sam's president, I'm going to be his Chief Food Taster and he's going to have me cunningly murdered in a fit of revenge."

"I didn't say Chief Food Taster. Even in fantasy land you're looking for promotion."

Josh sighed and flopped onto the sofa next to CJ and reached over to steal the sandwich from her plate. The slap to his arm did nothing to dislodge the snack from its journey to his mouth. "I have to practice, CJ," Josh explained, "I can't be Chief Food Taster to the President of the United States if I don't practice."

Toby listened to Josh's protests but his attention was fixed solely on Sam who was helping himself to a sandwich and smiling at CJ's reply to Josh. Sam glanced up and caught Toby's eye. He sent Toby a slight nod and Toby relaxed back against the cushions once more.

They stayed until late. CJ left first, hugging Sam and holding onto his arm even as he opened the door for her. "Thank you."

"What for?" Sam asked.

"Not giving up on Josh. Being the friend I knew you were." She hugged him once more then left.

Sam returned to the living room and collapsed onto the sofa. "I think I may have broken a rib."

"Sam!" Toby jumped up out of his seat. "Now? You're telling us this now!"

"I'm no doctor-" Sam started but was cut off by Josh who was also on his feet and fumbling for his phone.

"Josh, what are you doing?" Sam asked but his attention quickly turned to Toby who was running his palm up Sam's chest. "Toby! What the hell are you doing?" Both men froze. Josh looked at Toby and stopped dialling. Toby removed his hand and straightened up. "I'll tell you what you're doing, you're overreacting is what you're doing!" Sam reached for a bottle of beer and shook his head. "I said I thought I may have broken a rib and you too are acting like it's code blue on the trauma ward!"

Toby coughed and scratched at his beard. He looked across at Josh who was staring at Sam with a frown. "Well, excuse us! You don't get to make flippant comments about your health for at least...I don't know, the next six years."

Sam groaned. His head hit the back of the sofa. "My ribs are fine. A little cracked maybe...maybe bruised," Sam hastily changed his diagnosis then frowned, "Actually, I don't think you can bruise a rib as a rib is bone...maybe there's muscle which surrounds the-"

"Have you broken a rib or not?" Toby yelled.

"Not," Sam replied meekly.

"Okay then. I think this would be a good time for me to go as that never distant urge to throttle you which seems to have lessened of late appears to be returning." Toby picked up his coat and followed Sam to the door. He called good night to Josh and pulled the living room door closed behind him. "You're okay?" Sam nodded. "I mean you're okay with Josh staying?"

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually am."

Toby nodded and then embraced Sam in a quick, awkward hug before turning to the open door and hurrying through it.

It was raining. Cars slowed down and people quickened their pace. A young man pulled his collar tighter around his neck and ran as fast as he could from his car to the door of his apartment. Three storeys above him a window was closed firmly against the torrent of falling water.

"It's really coming down." Josh wiped his hands on his trousers and returned to his seat opposite Sam who nodded at his comment but remained staring at the bottle in hands.

"Do you want another?" Josh stood again, "I'm getting one." Sam shook his head and Josh went into the kitchen returning a moment later with two bottles of beer. Sam smiled softly as he took the offered bottle.

The rain lashing against the windows was the only sound in the room. Josh watched as Sam peeled the label from the bottle. He placed the shreds on the arm of the chair and tried to put the label back together. Josh wished he could put the pieces of their friendship back together but, like the shredded paper, it was proving impossible.

Eventually Sam gave up and brushed the pieces into his hand and placed them on a plate. He drained his bottle and placed it on the table. Without turning to Josh he finally broke the silence. "What did Leo say to you about your PTSD? You said once that he said something to you after you'd seen Stanley and it helped."

Josh smiled as he always did at the memory of Leo's moving and eloquent words. He leaned forward and began to relate the story. Sam stared at the bottle on the table but Josh knew he was listening intently. When he had finished, he waited for Sam to speak hoping that the story would be as helpful to Sam as it had been to him.

"I suppose you're the guy."

"What guy?" Josh asked.

"The guy down the hole. The one who knows the way out."

"I suppose I am," Josh agreed, "if you want me to be." It had stopped raining and Josh missed the constant noise that managed to drown out the silence in the room. "Do you want me to be?"

Sam rubbed wearily at his eyes and then slowly turned his gaze to Josh. "I suppose I do. I don't want to live like this anymore I know that much."

"You don't have to." Josh stood and in a move that surprised Sam he came and kneeled down in front of him. "Let me help you, Sam. I can't go back and change anything but I'd give anything to be given the chance to, so let me help you now."

Sam looked down at his friend and for the first time in he couldn't remember when, he wasn't filled with anger at the sight of him. He was instead hit with the realization of exactly what his friend was going through, how desperate he was to make amends, and what damage would be done to him if Sam didn't allow him to. Sam nodded and then fixed his stare on his friend. "Help me."

The rain lashed against the window pane but its ferocity had lessened. Down below people who had been rushing to get out of the downpour were now adopting a more relaxed pace along the sidewalk. In the apartment above them, two men were beginning to regain the relaxed pace of their friendship.