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Sam had rushed home, showered and changed as quickly as he was physically able. He hadn’t been invited, but like hell he was just going to wait any longer for Toby – he was ready, and they both knew it, both felt it. Whatever the night threw at him, whatever he was asked to do, whatever was needed, he would comply eagerly. The previous days had dripped by noiselessly, bleeding one into the other, and to the dehydrated man who had been tested and taunted on end, the mere insinuation that relief could be had and was more than a ridiculous fever dream was too much for Sam Seaborn. What was in reality only a few days felt like weeks and week and weeks, the strain of need suffocating him with every passing second, and he was well beyond the threshold of sanity. Promises were more than that, now. He ached as though his soul had been compressed, the box containing all rational notion sealed shut. The only true indicator that time had passed was the hardly healed cat-scratch scab in the shape of a backwards ‘Z’ on the meat of his hand. Tomorrow was another day. Tonight…?

 

He knocked on Toby’s door, an umbrella shielding him from the continuous downpour. He had at some point found the cohesion to at least put on a coat, but the wind had whipped it about his knees and it did nothing to protect him really. The door opened – he was uninvited, yes. But expected? Absolutely. It wasn’t Toby who answered the door though, and for a long, hard moment, Sam Seaborn and Josh Lyman stared each other down, neither knowing quite what to say, the steady drumbeat of the storm an anthem to the uneasy understanding that dawned on them.

 

“Come in already, you’re letting a draft in.”

 

It was Toby’s voice, thrown from what felt like a mile away, and Sam smiled and began to turn away, his umbrella blocking Josh’s view of him. Enough drama. His teeth chattered. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

 

“I know, Sam.” Josh blurted out. “Everything. I know everything.” His voice was soft, barely audible over the hurricane, and Sam didn’t have to look at him to know his eyes were wide open, as they were when he was especially vulnerable. He couldn’t have known for long.

 

“Even more reason for me to come back another time. When you’re not here.” Sam was resolute – there was no indicator that just a day before he had been twitchy enough to climb out of his own skin when faced with an empty room. Electricity pulsed under his skin, and thunder cracked the sky above as the sun began to set. Enough games, he wanted to say. Get out of my sight.

 

“No, I was invited to witness you.”

 

That made Sam pause, his foot dangling off the step in front of him. This was just getting better and better, “Eh?”

 

Josh sounded tired beyond all reason. “I told you, I know. Come in. Toby wants you here, and he asked me to come too. Well.. I forced his hand.”

 

“But… why?” Beyond pissing me off, he added as an afterthought. Beyond making a fool of me.

 

Josh sounded really tired. “Because you both work for President Bartlet, and you need a third party safeguard. Not for your sakes. For his. This thing you’re about to commit to isn’t a pass time easy shrugged off, and it’s not something that just… lets you go either. Sam, come in.”

 

“Get your ass in here, Samuel Seaborn. I’m tired of waiting.”

 

“You’re not the only one,” Sam yelled back, still facing away from the open door. Rage bubbled in his throat, but it had no outlet. “when will this end, Toby? Hell, even Josh seems to know more than I do.” His voice echoed noisily down the street, and even the wind and rain couldn’t mask it. Further down the street, a car backfired almost in response to his petulance.

 

“There’s a reason for that” Josh said quickly, pulling on his shoulder gently. “Come in, I’ll explain everything.” He felt Sam tense, then reluctantly relax into his grip as he was steered inside, for even Sam had his limits and his thirst to know just what had been under his nose the entire time had thrown all his caution to the wind. He was done appeasing. Shaking off his umbrella and leaving it in the entryway as a clear signal that he wouldn’t be staying, he allowed Josh to guide him upstairs to the first floor. He would get to the bottom of this bullshit conspiracy tonight, one way or another. Revenge could come later.

 

He saw Toby sitting in the same armchair as he had been before, and as he approached, he shrugged Josh’s hand off his shoulder and walked defiantly towards him, head unbowed and with a scowl sharp enough to cut. Toby regarded him silently, and though he would never admit it, he was impressed.

 

“You owe me an explanation.” Sam said, his voice even and calculated. After all the restraint, the avoiding, the held breaths. After fucking Jake into the mattress like a good little toy at his whim. Like he was told to. It felt like betrayal to have Josh there, and his heart burnt white-hot. Toby could almost see the fire in his eyes, the brimstone on his tongue, and it made him run his tongue over his bottom lip.

“I owe you nothing until that contract is signed, and even then, you’ve been a complete brat and yes, I would say I owe you a little more than that.” Toby’s hand twitched where it lay on his armrest. How he would love to strike him down in that moment, drag him across the carpet by his hair. “Sit down. It’s time we had a conversation.” Toby’s voice was hard and unyielding, as it had been in dreams unremembered. Sam sat down heavily at the table behind him with as much emphasis as he could, and with Josh opposite him, he raised his eyebrows in quiet expectation.

 

“I’m not putting up with your inconsistent performance at work. Today was all well and good, but you’ve seen nothing yet of our world and you’re already handling it as badly as anybody could. It’s embarrassing.” From the way Toby glared at him, he knew he meant it too.

 

“Your world?” Sam scoffed. “Who the hell-”

 

“Our world.” Josh cut in abruptly, scratching the back of his neck. He held his head up with the palm of his hand, his fingers spread wide over his bottom jaw to cover his mouth. In any other situation, Sam would have thought him bored, but then and there? It was more like he was trying desperately hard to stay put and not to hide. It was practised for sure, Sam thought, like a knee-jerk reaction. He had never seen the man as uncomfortable as he was in that moment.

 

“What? You and Toby is it now? Your world?” Sam scoffed again, louder this time. He could believe it too. Both Toby and Josh chuckled, shaking their heads. “Who then? What are you? First? Second? Guardian?” Sam’s temper was beginning to boil over, for the whole thing felt like some elaborate joke specifically designed to make a fool of him and him alone, and his eyes watered in rage. Perhaps Toby really had been as dissatisfied with his work as he said, and was trying to make him quit to save face? He honestly wasn’t far from it, he admitted to himself.

 

“First.” Josh muttered, closing his eyes. He told himself this wasn’t really happening. “Like you’re intending to be.”

 

“To who? First to who?” Sam snapped.

 

“I’m not an official player in this game any more, Sam. I don’t go to the functions, I’m not kept in the loop outside of the White House. It was before I joined Bartlet’s campaign.” Josh sounded… odd. It was almost like regret, bittersweet, but at the same time, it looked as though he were trying to not throw up. Or cry. Both…?

 

“Who.” Not a question. A blunt demand. Josh shivered and sat up straight in his chair, as though steeling himself for some great strain. He couldn’t comprehend how Toby had thought taking this man on as a submissive was a good idea, and as he blinked to regard the man sat opposite him, it didn’t make any sense what so ever. He held himself more like a Guardian than a First, and it sent all the wrong signals under his skin and straight to his dick.

 

“Come here.” Josh half whispered.

 

Sam stood, his chair skidding back a few inches, and marched over to him. Josh hadn’t dared to moved an inch. He chanced a sideways glance at Toby, who was staring at him with an odd expression, like he could see how ashamed he was in the deepest recesses of his being. He raised a hand gently, and Sam watched how he shuddered with almost-hesitation, watched how pale his skin had turned against the crisp black of his shirt. He reached his hand behind his right ear and up into his hair, and lifted a tuft. There, in dark red ink, almost but not quite invisible amongst the hairs, was a signature. One he knew very, very well. Tattooed into his scalp, forever there. Always.

 

J. Hoynes.

 

It had been there the entire time, from before the moment he had knocked on Sam’s window to interrupt him mid-meeting, to here and now. “Our world.” Josh repeated, nodding. He let the tuft fall again and smoothed it over roughly, and just like that, it was hidden once again. If only he could hide the pounding of his heart so well, he thought. Toby was still watching him.

 

“Hoynes… Is into men?” Sam asked stupidly, his bubbling anger threatening to turn to laughter. In that moment, it was all he could think of, the ridiculousness of it all having stolen his wit. He stifled the snigger with the back of his hand and sat on the edge of the table. It was no good. He half laughed, half coughed, the sound strangled. Joshua Lyman. Why the hell wasn’t he surprised.

 

“No.” It would have been funnier if Josh hadn’t been deadpan serious, and Sam’s hysterics were abruptly silenced. It would have been funnier if his eyes hadn’t have glassed over, like he had kept them open too long without blinking. Funnier if his bottom lip wasn’t almost wobbling. Funnier if his voice hadn’t cracked. “He liked having men. Powerful men. Under his command. There was a contract. But touch me? No. Never. Not him.”

 

Sam frowned in confusion.

 

“John Hoynes likes to watch.”

 

Sam closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. This had to be a joke he thought to himself miserably. If it were a joke, Josh had to be one hell of an actor. “Explain.”

 

“He likes to watch, Sam.” Josh said, louder and with more purpose. Across the room, Toby had lit a cigar and was smiling broadly at the two of them in their discomfort, savouring the fact that Josh had all but demanded to come along tonight, and he deserved every awkward question Sam would ask for sticking his nose into his business. “Me, alone. Me with other people. Me with his wife. Me in public, me in private, me at meetings, me at functions. His demands escalated, and I had to bow out or risk ruining myself, especially with the campaigns starting. There’s no saying no to John Hoynes, Sam.”

 

“Our world. More like yours.” Sam repeated stiffly – it felt acrid on his tongue. Hell, he sounded as tired as Josh all of a sudden. “When did it become too much? How did you know?” From the way Josh retched quietly, he knew he shouldn’t have asked, but he did anyway – it was none of his business and he knew it, but pressed anyway, knowing he deserved an answer and would be given the truth. Toby stiffened slightly in his seat. He hadn’t expected Sam to ask that of all things and Josh knew it as well, and it didn’t bode well. His face was a mask of marble as he drummed his fingers on the tabletop.

 

“He told me to put him in the Oval.”

 

Sam frowned again, it wasn’t an unreasonable request given he was tipped to win, and he was one hell of a personality. If Josh hadn’t have joined the Campaign, Hoynes would be there even now, and he would be halfway across the country covering the asses of lesser men. His confusion must have been evident, for Josh coughed loudly. “Not in that room, Sam. We don’t take this into that room. Can you imagine the madness? Hoynes sat at the desk, in one hand the launch codes, in the other, a belt as he watches you bend over? It wouldn’t have been just me. It would have been the whole damned country at his whim.”

 

Sam shuddered. He could well imagine, not that he had any choice with the vivid imagery, and it made him feel dizzy. They were, however, getting off topic, and Josh had given him more than enough to think about on top of everything else. His head buzzed. “So you’re here because you’re worried what happened with Hoynes will happen here?”

 

“Nah.” Josh said dismissively. “Anything that happens in the White House gets run by me first. Those are the rules.”

 

“You’re running the show? There are others?” He should have known.

 

“In the White House, yeah. A few others, hardly any of which are practising. They all came to the same conclusion I did. There’s a system in place, a few rules to keep everything running smoothly. Everything low key, invisible from the outside looking in.”

 

“Does the President know?”

 

“Probably.”

 

“And Leo?”

 

“Probably.”

 

Sam moved to sit back in his chair, his legs almost giving way as he stood. He gripped the edge of the table roughly and took an equally rough breath. How had this been going on for as long as it had without anybody knowing? “CJ? Does CJ know?”

 

“Who do you think brought Toby in? You can’t just join this community blindly, you need an invitation.”

“You’ve lost me again.” Sam said, pinching the bridge of his nose again. Come the morning he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a thumb-shaped bruise there.

 

“I’ll use the terms in your contract to explain, not everybody uses the original phrasing like your paper does. Most Guardians in this business take on two submissives.” Josh said, the words pouring from him quickly, as though he thought getting it all out at once would make it less painful.

 

“Alright.”

 

“The First is usually more experienced, a long-time practitioner.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“The Second is usually somebody entirely new, invited into the fold by the First. And the Guardians? Usually start as a First. This way, you know the current Guardians have been vetted and approved by the people around them and there’s no danger, no leaks, and the submissives are kept safe and everything is dealt with in-house responsibly. If this shit went public? Mutually assured destruction for everybody involved, and given there are people across the country in power who’re members, everything would implode. There are Judges, Congressmen, people on the Hill. People in the White House. Statesmen, politicians, people in the FBI. People in the Press. It’s been going on for years. Even a former President or two.”

 

“Wait… I need a minute.” Sam shook his head. “CJ is a Guardian?”

 

“Was. She and Toby did what I did, got out as soon as we got on the Campaign Trail. Too risky, tempers too high.”

 

Sam couldn’t imagine Toby on his knees, but it made his stomach twist oddly. “Okay… So why is Toby wanting back in?”

 

“You.” Toby said. It had been a long while since he had spoken, and it made Sam jump out of his skin.

 

Josh fidgeted in his seat. “I told him it was a terrible idea. I’ve known you a long time, Sam. Don’t think you’re built for this, I just don’t.”

 

“I’ve known you for years too. Didn’t realise you were.”

 

Toby snickered again, and took a long drag of his cigar. The smoke on his tongue gave a pleasant tingle. Josh was looking at Sam with a thoughtful expression – outside the storm raged on. He was starting to tire of this.

 

“Why is this making you uneasy?” Sam said, shaking his head. “Why’re you concerned with what I do in my free time, and why the hell is it any of your business?”

 

“Because you’ve chosen Toby, and John Hoynes is nothing compared to Tobias Zachary Ziegler. That’s why it’s my business.”

 

“Josh.” Toby warned, blowing out another stream of smoke. “It’s his decision.”

 

“Yeah.” Josh said, swallowing. “It is. Which is why he deserves full disclosure here.”

 

“I’m… I’m going to step out for a few minutes. Get some fresh air. When I come back, I’m signing the contract and being done with it. You can then leave, and whatever happens, happens.”

 

They watched as Sam stood up, swiped the keys from the table, and left. They heard his heavy footsteps on their stairwell, and heard the outside door close gently behind him with a click. Neither had the right to stop him, as much as they wanted to, and Josh knew he wasn’t the only one with a headache. Usually, it didn’t go down as messily as all this had, there were quiet formalities – the First explaining everything to the Second in bite-sized, easily digestible parts, the scope of their madness being revealed gradually, as and when they could take it. Toby stubbed out his cigar, his throat sore. He tried not to think of how much he had actually been smoking recently – a rare treat had become an overindulgence, and he tried to rationalise it was the way Sam’s eyes widened in fascination as his lips fastened around the wrappings that had spurred him on, and not the way the action calmed his jittery nerves and settled his stomach, which had been happily performing backflips on and off since Sam had waved the contract in the air and thrown it onto his sofa a few days ago. He had a love/hate relationship with the way Sam made him itch, and he wondered idly if Sam knew just what he was doing to him. He doubted it. Everything was too new for him, and he was wrapped up in his own delicious tortures to pay his any mind.

 

“I’m telling him, Toby.”

 

Toby nodded solemnly.

 

“I mean it. All of it. If he wants in, fine. Find him somebody else. But not you. It can’t be you.”

 

“It’s not my call. He...” Toby hesitated, which was in itself unusual. Josh had exposed himself far more than he had intended, and he sighed, knowing visible weakness was something owed to him. Even if it was just for a moment. “He… wants me.”

 

“You have to be the responsible one here.” Josh replied quietly. “He can want all he likes, the way an addict reaches for a needle, but you can’t be the one to give it to him. Turn him away. Sure, it’ll be shitty for a few weeks, months, but it’ll return to normal as the State of the Union approaches. The administration needs him too much for him to quit, and he needs the administration. But you? Toby...”

 

“It’s still his call.”

 

“How many have you had sent to you in the past six months? Five? Ten? Do you even keep count?”

 

“Eleven.”

 

Josh swore under his breath and turned to face him on his chair. The sickish colour of his skin had faded, giving way to a slight flush, and Toby knew he was remembering another time which felt an eternity ago but was, in actual reality, about a year. “I-”

 

“When Hoynes sent you to me, what had you done? What was it?”

 

“I told him I was quitting to join Bartlet’s Campaign. He was… furious. He told me he would let me go, no strings attached, on one condition.”

 

“And that’s why you were sent to me? I was that condition?” Toby muttered, eyes closes. “He left you with me, alone, for a night. You...”

 

“Yes.”


“I remember you begging, Josh. Eleven in the past six months and not one begged like you did. You begged me to show restraint, I remember how hard you were shaking. You threw yourself at my feet and begged me to not lay a hand on you, but wouldn’t say why Hoynes had sent you to me, of all people, and why he didn’t stay to watch as he usually would. You never told me why, even as you ended up with carpet burns on your palms from you pawing at my ankles.”

 

Josh, with his head now flat on the table, half sobbed. He hammered his fist on the surface, his whole back shuddering as he held back a sob. “He… He knew you were on the Campaign, and...” Toby held his breath as Josh paused to swallow, “he thought it poetic. That was the condition. Spend a night with… with YOU of all Guardians, and if I managed it, I was free to go. Even if that meant working for the opposition.”

 

“Hoynes never explained it either.” Toby hated how raw his voice sounded. It had been the most he had spoken all day, and just thinking back and remembering set him on edge. “He just dumped you at my feet, told me you were desperately in need of a lesson he couldn’t teach, and then told me not only had you consented to it, but it would be your final act of servitude to him. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand that.”

 

“T-Thank you.”

 

Toby huffed through his nose. “For what?”

 

Josh turned his head to look at him, his eyes red as tears dripped onto the surface of the table. “For not… Giving him what he wanted. Giving in to what you wanted.”

 

Toby nodded mechanically. He hadn’t actually laid a hand on him that night, as Hoynes delightfully had intended. Instead, as Hoynes turned to leave, he had muttered darkly about looking after him. Hoynes had laughed loudly as he left the room, but no, Toby didn’t so much as touch him. As Josh kneeled at his feet tearing his soul to pieces in what should have been a futile attempt to appease the man who towered above him, Toby had listened intently for a while before pulling him to his feet and roughly handing him a tumbler of whiskey. This was a conversation that had gone unsaid for the entire Campaign, and they parted ways the following morning fresh with a stout friendship and a dream of the White House with Bartlet at the helm.

 

“I was exhausted, and you just… let me sleep. Why didn’t you… You know… You could have...”

 

“Because,” Toby said, cracking his neck. The sound pierced the air, and Josh flinched. “Hoynes was the enemy, and I knew he wasn’t telling me everything. You were joining Barlet. Nobody takes me for a fool. And I take what I like, thank you very much.”

 

Josh breathed a sigh of relief and wiped the tears away. He sat up in his chair, his back cracking just as loud as Toby’s neck. “Thank you.”

 

“Don’t. I wanted it, Josh. To break you in two. I wanted to. It doesn’t nullify your reason for being here. I understand why you’re terrified. Go ahead, tell him. You were a broken Rook on Bartlet’s chessboard, I don’t need another. Tell him.”

 

-

 

Sam pressed his ear to the door as lightly as he thought he could get away with. He wasn’t a fan of eavesdropping, but it was infuriating to be kept in the dark. Sure, he was acting like a child, but they were treating him like one, as though he weren’t responsible for his own decisions and there was only so many times he could be told he didn’t know what he was doing, and only so many times he could put up with the knowing looks that told him the same. His nerves were shot, and as he had climbed back up the stairs, effectively soaked to the skin having not thought to grab his umbrella, he had replayed what he had been told back in his head trying to rationalise just what it was he was missing. There had to be some great puzzle piece he had yet to uncover, else Josh wouldn’t be trying to stop him. He hadn’t reacted at all like he should have, Sam thought, frowning. Josh was the type of man to find everything hilarious. So why hadn’t he been laughing…?

 

It was that thought that had tipped him over in favour of listening like a thief at Toby’s door. He had missed the first part, and just caught the end of Toby asking what Josh had done to when he frowned. He listened silently, his heartbeat thumping harder and harder against his ribcage as he listened to the rest of the conversation. By the end, his fingertips were numb. He gave them a minute before re-entering – both men jumped having being so wrapped up in their memories they hadn’t heard him re-climb the stairs. He took a seat, not saying a word as his hair dripped down his face.

 

“Sam, you can’t sign that contract.”

 

Sam still said nothing, thinking back to the conversation he just half witnessed.

 

“I meant it when I said Hoynes has nothing on Toby. He hasn’t ever had a stable First. Jake was the exception, coming over every once in a while to spend a few weeks here, but it was temporary, two people blowing off steam.” Sam thought back to Jake’s network of scars and thought it didn’t seem all that temporary, actually. “Their deal wasn’t a proper contract, they signed it because it was the only way either of them were going to be able to sleep on a night. It was a temporary thing, a formality that needed to be honoured. A binding requirement.”

 

No response. Josh took a deep breath in, and Toby sank deeper into his chair, waiting for it.

 

“Toby Ziegler is the one other Guardians send their submissives to in the event they misbehave to the point where the Guardian’s pride has been wounded. It’s a spiteful punishment, one designed to break the submissive – the contract is a steadfast item that swears one person to another. The ones that break that?” Josh swallowed, sweat beading his brow, “They’re sent to Toby for a night.”

 

Sam stared at him. In the silence, drops of water could be heard hitting the floor. Thud. Thud. Thud.

 

“Not just the submissives,” Josh said rubbing his eyes as they stung. “Guardians too. Anybody breaks a contract, they get sent to him. The submissives kicking and screaming. The Guardians even more so. He breaks them, Sam. Everyone. He breaks them.”

 

“But he didn’t break you.” Sam said, unflinchingly. “I heard your conversation. A pen, please.” Sam rifled around in the inner pocket of his jacket, too far in for the water to have reached, and produced the contract with a ‘fuck you’ of a flourish.

 

“Sam. Listen to him.” Toby said. He had closed his eyes again, his fingertips digging into the fabric of his chair.

 

Sam simply wiped the tabletop with the damp sleeve of his coat, and slammed the document down a little too forcefully.

 

“You heard? Obviously not, did you even understand! He did break me!” Josh was almost shouting, the veins in his reddened eyes bulging. “He didn’t even fucking touch me and he broke me! All Hoynes had to do was mention his damned name and I was in pieces!”

 

“And how do you know I won’t break him?” Sam said quietly. Josh shivered violently, and as he glanced over to Toby, he knew he wasn’t the only one. There it was again. A whisper, almost inaudible, but there it was. The smallest indication of Bartlet’s presidential voice. Where the fuck had that come from?

 

“Please don’t sign it Sammy.” Natural appeasement. He couldn’t help it. Sam clicked his fingers in front of his eyes, motioning for a pen again. He hadn’t used that nickname in years, not since they were a good deal younger. Across the room, Toby felt a burst of warmth in his stomach, and insinuation washed over him. Yes he thought. He would quite like to see the two of them together… one day perhaps. Josh was becoming desperate. “You have no First to vouch for you, because Jake isn’t here and this doesn’t work on a ‘he said she said’ basis. You’re new, entirely new, and you’re agreeing to give yourself entirely to him, so I can’t give the final go ahead for this, there’s just no way.”

 

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Then why are you here?”

 

“Toby’s signature confirms consent, but you’ll need to be seen by her.” Josh said, his hand shaking as he reached over to hand him a pen.

 

Her? Sam grabbed the pen quickly, as though Josh might change his mind, and signed his name neatly on the dotted line, the motion fluid and practiced. He didn’t see Toby twitch, barely able to contact his ecstatic excitement. He did see Josh retch quietly, his hand massaging his throat. “Okay, who now? The god damned Queen of England? Who else do I need to satisfy here?”

 

“CJ. Since you have no First to formally swear you in here, it’ll have to be the person that Guarded Toby. That’s CJ.”

 

“God Save the Queen.” Toby muttered.

 

Sam paused again, his fury growing. He threw the pen down, watching it skid across the table, and then put his hands deep into his coat pockets. They couldn’t see him, but he had flipped open his phone and was sending a message. Unlike Toby, Sam had honed this particular skill to a fine art, for where Toby lovingly hand-wrote most of his correspondence, Sam relied on his computer and in this instance, it served him beautifully. They would need to hurry up. Toby had peeled himself from his armchair, and had walked silently across the room to stand behind Sam. Josh loosened his tie – be it the heat or the insane pressure that radiated from the sight of both Sam and Toby looming over him, he couldn’t breath. He stood and began to pace as Toby’s breath hitched. He had leant over Sam’s shoulder to almost reverently run his thumb over Sam’s name on the paper.

 

“Toby, don’t, you can’t. He doesn’t know what he’s doing for Christ’s sake!”

 

But Toby wasn’t paying attention. He had recovered Sam’s pen from where it had skidded across the table, and was in the process of adding his own signature. His pen stopped moving, and Josh couldn’t look at first – the air had become thick and heavy, and as he did finally glance over his shoulder, he saw Toby whisper something into Sam’s ear, their eyes closed in muted ecstasy. He needed to get out, he couldn’t breathe. He practically ran over to the door and tried to pull it wide open – it didn’t budge. Sam had locked it on his way back in. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe. Where was the key? He had to leave before he was caught up in whatever black hell was about to happen.

 

A tune rang out across the room, happy and jaunty and completely out of place and inappropriate. Sam took his phone out and pushed it to his other ear as Toby’s teeth hovered just out of reach of his ear, for through the whole scene he still hadn’t touched him.

 

“Sam Seaborn. Ah yes, hello. No. Yes. No. Okay.”

 

Sam shuddered as he put the phone face up on the table and activated the loudspeaker. In the gloom, the bright display threatened to hurt their eyes as it illuminated everything above it in a cone of bluish green. All three men froze in terror at the voice that exploded from the speaker, their blood running cold but it was nothing compared to what they were hearing.

 

“You little fucking shits. I’m on my way over. NONE of you move. You wait RIGHT there.”

 

CJ’s voice reverberated from the walls. Toby’s hands fastened themselves upon Sam’s shoulders with enough force to bruise. He inhaled sharply as Toby’s fingers dug in against his collarbones – there it was. Finally. Contact. “Sam, what did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO!? YOU MESSAGED CJ!?”

 

It wasn’t Toby that was yelling at him though. It was Josh, who had somehow regained his ability to speak, and who was throwing chairs and cushions across the room trying to find the keys Sam had taken earlier on. He promptly ran to the kitchen and vomited in the sink, the wet sound punctuating his choked sobs. Toby was utterly silent, his grip getting tighter, until Sam’s back arched. Not once did he tell him to stop.