NOTES: First four paragraphs courtesy of Punk and a Mango challenge, the rest is me. Much thanks to Jae for making it better. No beta = bad story, I tell you. And the song in question is Lauryn Hillís Ex-Factor.


It's dark in Sam's apartment, like a dream he once had. Josh doesn't remember the dream, doesn't even really remember why he has a key to Sam's apartment, but he's there now, creeping past the couch and a number of expensive tables that he knows are there but can't see in the dark. He runs his fingers along the wall, because Sam has expensive tables, but nothing hanging on his walls, no photographs or posters or Renoir knock-offs.

His fingers catch on a doorframe and he flows into the room. Three beers make him feel like god, though he still can't see in the dark and he trips over a pair of Sam's shoes.

It's three in the morning in Georgetown and Sam's bedroom is empty. He's not still working, because Josh saw him leave, heard him say he was going home, heard him say he was tired and going home to bed. He wonders where Sam is, and he wonders why he's here. Because he has a key, but that's not an explanation. And he had a couple beers, but that's probably an excuse.

He kicks the shoes under the bed, the unslept-in bed. Sam can just drop to his hands and knees and look for them in the morning.

He thinks in Sam's unknown direction, we had sex. He can remember every time from those six months, years ago. He can remember what Sam was wearing the first time and the last time. He remembers the song playing in the bar where he got the beer - some woman, some hip hop thing everyone else knew and Josh didn't - the singer sang "you said you'd die for me, why won't you live for me?" Sam never said he'd die for Josh but he left Josh anyway.

Josh sits on the bed and starts counting to pass the time. He names Congressmen he hates, entrenched civil servants he'd like to drown in the Potomac, and as he starts listing reporters he'd like to cover in honey and leave in a hive of killer bees he realizes he's been in Sam's apartment for a while. For a period of time longer than someone should sit in an expensive apartment that isn't his.

He lays down on the bed and decides to leave when the room stops spinning. He watches the ceiling spin for a while. Then he sits up suddenly and almost throws up when the light comes on in the living room. Sam mutters as he comes in and walks straight to the bedroom. He stops at the door, staring at Josh who is jamming his fist against his lips so he doesn't throw up. Josh doesn't know if it's nausea or the sudden memories of Sam kissing his neck.

"Josh," Sam says and sounds weary.

Josh can't think of anything to say and he's afraid to open his mouth for fear he'll throw up or say something. He moves his hand and says without thinking, "You left me. You never even said you'd die for me, and you left me. And why don't you have anything on your walls?" Josh realizes he wasn't nauseous after all.

Sam sits down like an old man and sighs. "Josh." Sam rubs his neck and pulls his glasses out of his jacket pocket. They're broken. Josh sees a bruise forming and even a little dried blood on Sam's forehead.

"Sam - what happened? Are you okay?" Josh doesn't feel so drunk suddenly and he moves closer to Sam, putting his arm around him.

Sam rubs his eyes and mutters, "It was just a fender bender. Some idiot. Some guy with a blue hat. He. His car rear-ended me. I just wanted to come home and sleep." He turns and looks at Josh and he's starting to pout. "I just wanted to come home and now my car's in the shop, my glasses are broken and you're here."

Sam is always seduced by beauty, he told Josh that once, but Josh is always laid low by something else entirely. He pulls Sam close and rests his chin on Sam's shoulder. He tries to ignore Sam trembling against him. Josh manages a snarky tone and says, "Was the accident your fault?"

Sam snorts against his chest. "No, it was not my fault. And it was just a stupid accident. And I don't mind the car or the waiting around, but I broke my glasses." Even muffled against Josh's shirt, Sam sounds whiny when he starts on about the glasses. "I broke my glasses and I can't see very well."

Josh rubs Sam's back. "I asked if it was your fault cause you're generally a lousy driver. You get distracted by the tiniest little thing." Donna would be hurt by his tone and his words, but Sam just laughs. Josh can feel Sam shiver. Then Sam inhales sharply and stops shivering.

Sam starts pulling at Josh's shirt with his teeth. He moves the hand crushed against Josh's chest up to loosen Josh's tie. After a moment, Josh's shirt pulled open, his tie hanging loose, Sam starts kissing his neck. As Sam's hand moves down to tug at Josh's belt, Josh thinks for the second time tonight that this is like a dream. Not like hope and a thing with wings, but surreal and weird and something he just accepts. Two nights ago he dreamt that he and Joanie were private investigators. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. hired them to find Ulysses S Grant so they could attend a funeral and Josh and his sister wandered all over tree houses like the Ewok Village.

Sam's opened his belt and unzipped his fly. He moves his hand inside Josh's boxers easily. Sam breathes, "Josh." The simple breath against his neck sounds shaky with lust or shock. Josh moves his hand from rubbing Sam's back and pulls back a little so he can kiss Sam. They're pressed together in the kiss and Josh hears Sam's broken glasses fall out of his lap onto the floor. The glasses can hang out with the shoes, he thinks.

The next morning Sam comes into Josh's office after an 8 am staff meeting. Josh raises an eyebrow and looks at the bruise on Sam's forehead. Sam waves off the question, and says he feels fine. He sinks down into the chair across from Josh.

"The thing is," Sam says with a cautious smile, "the thing is when I first moved in, I didn't put anything on the wall because I didn't have a hammer."

Josh leans back in his chair and puts his feet up on the desk. He grins. "You didn't have a hammer?"

"I didn't have a hammer."

"Sam. You can, you know, buy hammers pretty easy. Or use a bottle or something. Or even borrow a hammer." Josh crosses his arms on his chest and looks over suspiciously at Sam.

"I know." Sam's still smiling, but now his eyes are unfocused. "But the thing is - I got to like it. My empty walls. I started to think of it as symbolic. I came to Washington and the administration started and my walls are tabula rasa - like starting over with a clean slate. I like my empty walls and the idea of starting clean."

Josh thinks Sam is too easily seduced by poetry and beauty. He wonders what Sam saw in him all those years ago. He rubs his forehead and says, "Nobody starts clean, Sam. And you can always borrow a hammer from me, you know."

Sam laughs. He stands up. "I know. I know I can borrow a hammer from you. Maybe I'll change my mind someday." He looks at Josh and stops laughing. "I know you would lend me what I needed."

Josh smiles. "Well, you'd have to ask."

Sam smiles back. "If I change my mind and want things on my wall, I will ask politely if I can borrow your hammer."


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