The Friday Night Club: 1. Jed


It had been a bad week – not in the sense that there had been a huge crisis but just that there had been a drip, drip, drip of minor disasters that had left all the West Wing staff feeling wrung out and demoralised – not least Josh, who had presided over three of the disasters in question and had ended up barricaded in Leo’s room for most of Friday afternoon doing a moratorium on what had gone wrong and why.


Jed Bartlet didn’t begrudge Josh his time with Leo – he knew that Leo was blessed with a gift for restoring badly dented confidence that few others possessed. Not that his Chief of Staff didn’t ask some hard questions first, and make sure you knew exactly what kind of mistakes you’d made along the way – but in the final analysis he was always there for you, and he never, ever, withdrew the support that made you feel that even if you had screwed up badly, at least you still had him on your side. Somehow he gave you hope that the sun would shine another day, even if it didn’t feel like it at that precise moment in time.


So Bartlet understood why Leo and Josh needed to spend a few hours together reviewing Josh’s performance – but that didn’t make it any easier when he wanted to spend a few redeeming moments with Leo himself. Bartlet sighed and took a sip of water, casting a reproachful glance at the closed door to Leo’s office. He knew he could interrupt, but he also knew that unless it was an emergency, any interruption would be met with the full force of one of Leo’s baleful glares and that wasn’t worth the risk. No, he just had to wait this one out and hope that he’d get a few minutes of Leo’s time when he had finished with Josh because he did need those minutes – very badly. Bartlet rolled his shoulders experimentally, feeling the ache in them. Damn but it had been a difficult week. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back in his chair. At least today was Friday and this evening…he let a small smile play on his lips. This evening he’d get the release and redemption he always craved at the end of yet another hectic week in the Oval Office. Not that he stopped being President at the weekends, but there was a different, more relaxed, less formal atmosphere then, and his Friday night activities helped ease him into that change, as well as giving him a chance to step down from the pace of the week, and find a different, more restful kind of energy. Friday nights were when he recharged his batteries and touched base with himself…which was why he badly wanted a few words with Leo before this evening. He needed to get all the day’s business out of the way before Leo joined him in the Residence later – because Leo had made it a strict rule that they never talked shop on their Friday evening get-togethers, a rule which Bartlet heartily approved of; not that it would have made much difference if he didn’t because he’d come to learn that he flouted Leo’s strict rules at his own peril – on Friday nights at least.


The sound of a door closing jolted him out of his reverie; the next-door meeting was – finally – over. He was about to get up and knock on Leo’s door when Charlie appeared in the doorway.


“Sir – Josh would like to see you.”


Bartlet sighed and waved his hand – his few words with Leo would have to wait. Josh would undoubtedly need a few words of his own. He knew he was right about that the second Josh walked into the room. His face was pale, there were dark shadows under his eyes and his wavy hair was even more unruly than ever as if he’d spent the entire afternoon running his hands through it in despair, which, Bartlet judged, probably wasn’t far off the mark. Still, his shoulders weren’t slumped in depression as they had been before his meeting with Leo – and there was just a little light in his eyes; Leo had worked his usual magic.


“Come in, Josh, sit down…” he began, but Josh, caught up in his own emotions, interrupted him before he got any further.


“Sir, I just wanted to apologise,” the younger man said, sweeping his hand through his hair again and making it even more untidy. “I know you must be really disappointed in me. I feel like everything I touched this week just fell apart.” He gave a despondent sigh.


“Josh – it’s okay. We all have weeks like that. Weeks where we feel like we’re walking through molasses,” Bartlet told him, gazing at his Deputy Chief of Staff sympathetically.


“I’m sorry if I caused you and Leo any extra headaches because of my actions,” Josh said, as if he hadn’t heard, or maybe because he wasn’t yet ready to accept any absolution for what he saw as his sins.


“Well, y’know, sometimes I’ve caused you a few extra headaches because of my actions and Leo’s done the same.” Bartlet smiled and sat down, hoping this would encourage Josh to do the same. It didn’t.


“I guess.” Josh stopped pacing and stood, forlornly, on the carpet, looking utterly lost. Bartlet’s heart went out to him – he knew what it was like to be in that place, where you knew you’d made mistakes and you knew that everyone else knew, and you wondered what you could safely touch without breaking it.


“Josh, yes, you screwed up. You know that, I know that, Leo knows that,” Bartlet said, his soft tone belying the hard words. Josh’s shoulders stiffened, preparing to take the fell weight of his President’s censure but Bartlet had no intention of heaping any more guilt on Josh’s shoulders – he knew Josh was capable of beating himself up far more effectively than anyone else could. “All I’d say is, don’t let this make you timid,” Bartlet told him, watching the younger man keenly. “It’ll be understandable after the kind of week you’ve had if you just withdraw into yourself, play it safe, not take any risks – but that’s not what we pay you for, Josh. We need you to be your usual bright, inquiring self – not cowed because you’ve lost confidence in your own abilities.”


Josh’s shoulders relaxed a fraction, and he gave a faint ghost of a smile.


“Right now I’m not sure my abilities amount to a great deal but thanks for the vote of confidence, sir. Funnily enough, Leo said pretty much the same thing.”


It was Bartlet’s turn to smile now – he had been on the receiving end of one of those lectures from Leo himself, and while they were always couched in the sternest tones, the underlying warmth and affection of the man always shone through; sometimes Bartlet thought he’d walk a mile over hot coals in his bare feet just to be on the receiving end of one of those pep talks from Leo. They never failed to lift him when he was down, and restore some of his battered pride and self-esteem.


“Well, he’s right,” Bartlet said, nodding. “Now, you look a mess, Josh. Why don’t you go home, take some time out, and put this week behind you.”


“I think…I feel kind of cramped,” Josh replied, starting to pace again. “If I sit at home feeling like this I’ll go nuts but you’re right, I need some time out. I think I’ll hit the gym, maybe wear myself out enough that I actually sleep tonight.” He gave a self-deprecating grin.


“See that you do – and that’s an order,” Bartlet said, with what he hoped was a twinkle in his eye. Josh looked a little reassured. He gave another faint smile, and, with a nod to his President, turned on his heel and left the room. Bartlet watched him go with a sigh. Josh reminded him of himself many, many years ago. Too smart for his own good, and too worried about letting himself and everyone around him down. Josh Lyman was a fine man, with a lot of promise – if he could just believe in himself. Bartlet, of all people, knew that was easier said than done…which reminded him. He got up, crossed the room, knocked on the door to Leo’s office, and was half way through the door before he realised that he hadn’t waited for Leo to invite him in. His Chief of Staff glanced up from where he was stuffing various files into his briefcase.


“You spoke to Josh?”


“Yeah.” Bartlet put his hands in his pockets and sank back on his heels. “He’ll be okay.”


“He might.” Leo shrugged. “This week was tough for him.”


“He made a lot of mistakes,” Bartlet pointed out.


“I know. He knows that too. I told him but he already knew. You know Josh – he hates making mistakes. He thinks he isn’t as smart as the rest of us so has to work twice as hard to keep up – and when he makes mistakes that just makes him doubt himself even more.” Leo fastened his briefcase, and reached for his coat.


“You’re going?” Bartlet asked, alarmed.


“Yes, I’m going.” Leo pulled on his coat, straightened up, and looked him in the eye. “I’m already running late – I have 45 minutes to make the flight.”


“Flight?” Bartlet asked, bemused. Leo sighed.


“I told you about this. It’s the thing. I told you I have to go to the thing in Florida. I’ll be back on Monday.”


“But it’s Friday!” Bartlet protested, his eyes full of meaning.


“I know.” Leo raised a warning eyebrow. “But this was arranged months ago and I said I’d attend. There are several Fridays when this happens, sir. With the jobs we do it’s hardly surprising.” Leo picked up his briefcase and walked towards the door. Bartlet gazed after him, forlornly. Leo reached the door, sighed again, and turned back. “I did tell you about this, sir. If it’s any consolation I won’t be enjoying myself anywhere near as much as I would if I was here this evening. I’ll be stuck on an airplane going through these files, and when I get there I have two days of meetings, lectures and events to sit through, so trust me, I would rather be here with you tonight.”


“I forgot,” Bartlet said, in what he knew was a childishly small voice but he couldn’t help himself. “Damnit, Leo! It’s been such a difficult week. I need to talk to you. I need to see you this evening as usual.”


“Well, I’m sorry. I can’t do anything about that.” Leo raised his hands, his eyes fixed firmly on the President. “I didn’t know that this would turn out to be such a difficult week then this conference was arranged. Trust me, I could do without it too – we’re both tense and we both need to unwind – I need that just as much as you.”


Bartlet thrust his hands even further into his pockets and traced a pattern on the carpet with his shoe.


“I am not cancelling, sir,” Leo said in a firm, stern voice. “Not for this reason. We promised that what we do on Friday nights would not get in the way of our work. Friday nights are supposed to make it easier for us to do our jobs, not harder. The moment they start getting in the way is the moment we have to stop and ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing,” he added. The President sighed, and, finally, nodded.


“You’re right. I know you’re right…I’m just disappointed.”


“So am I.” Leo’s voice was sympathetic.


“I really needed this tonight. I have so much…” Bartlet balled both his hands into fists and stood there, helplessly. The frustrations of the week had built up to the point where he needed release and the idea that he’d have to wait another seven days for it was just too depressing.


“I know exactly how you feel, and yes, there were a lot of problems this week, but most of them weren’t about you,” Leo said softly. Bartlet glanced up, sharply.


“What do you mean?” He asked.


“I mean that usually you need this for a different reason…but this week it was Josh who had a lousy time and who is really feeling it. You didn’t have anywhere near as bad a week as he did.”


“It was his own fault,” Bartlet growled. Leo frowned.


“And those times when you’ve felt like Josh is feeling now, did it make it any better that sometimes that was your own fault too? No – it makes it worse. You know that.”


Bartlet gazed at Leo, trying to resist the urge that was welling up inside him to have a full blown tantrum. Leo was right – Josh had been to hell and back this week, but that didn’t change the fact that both he and Leo had had to deal with the fallout from that which had meant extra work for them too.


“So what are you suggesting? I go and ask Josh to take your place tonight?” Bartlet asked, knowing his tone was verging on the petulant but unable to stop himself. Leo gave him that stern look again, the warning look, the one he always gave him when he was going too far, President or not.


“No, I’m not suggesting that,” Leo said patiently. “But…you could take my place with him,” he said softly, so softly that Bartlet wasn’t even sure he’d heard him properly.


“What?” He frowned.


“You remember that thing you asked me a few months ago? And a few more times after just because you like pushing although I always refuse.” Leo waited patiently.


“Thing…?” Bartlet frowned, and then coloured. “Oh, that thing,” he muttered.


“I said no. I’ll always say no,” Leo said firmly. “It’s just never going to happen that way between us. It’s not something I could do or enjoy and it’s not something I want and also, I don’t think it would be good for you to have that kind of experience with me for various reasons which I’ve already explained to you. However…if you still feel you want it – then I think you could do worse than approach Josh right now. As a matter of fact, I think he’s in exactly the right kind of mood to appreciate it.”


“You can’t be serious!” Bartlet protested. “I can’t just go up to Josh and suggest…” He shook his head, appalled by the very idea of it. Leo shrugged, and put his hand on the door.


“Well, then you spend tonight going through your papers and possess your soul in patience until next Friday,” he said.


“Wait,” Bartlet stopped his best friend as he stepped through the door. Leo turned, one eyebrow raised, waiting for Bartlet to continue. “This is madness, Leo,” Bartlet said. “I’ve known you for years, we have an…understanding. I couldn’t just go up to Josh and…” He shook his head again. “Josh might view it as harassment and rightly so.”


“He wouldn’t,” Leo said softly.


Bartlet glanced at him sharply. “You’ve spoken to him?” He asked.


“Not exactly.” Leo smiled. “I’ve just seen the same look in his eyes that I’ve often seen in your eyes – and today that look was particularly beseeching. When he was in here earlier…” He shook his head, glanced around absently, and then shrugged. “He wanted from me what you’ve often wanted from me only that wasn’t something he could ever put into words, obviously. Now, I think he’d take that just as happily from you as from me – in fact, it might even be better coming from you.”


“Why?” Bartlet couldn’t believe he was really talking about this.


“Because you’re the President of the United States.” Leo grinned, and patted the President on the arm.


“Why would that make a difference?” Bartlet asked. Leo sighed.


“For a smart man you can be very dense at times,” he commented. “It makes a difference, sir, because you’re pretty much the ultimate authority figure. If anyone can grant the kind of absolution he’s looking for then it’s you.”


“And you think Josh would be happy to take that ‘absolution’ from me?” Bartlet asked.


“I think he’d like that very much. In fact, I’d go so far as to bet on it. Now, I really do have to go. Do what you like, sir – there can either be two lonely, frustrated, upset men in this building tonight or two men who can help each other feel a whole lot better. It’s up to you.” So saying, he turned on his heel and walked out before Bartlet could call him back.


“If this goes wrong it’ll be your fault, Leo McGarry!” Bartlet called after him. Leo waved a nonchalant hand in reply and then was gone. Bartlet remained, looking after him, for several minutes, still thinking about their extraordinary conversation. He couldn’t – could he? No…no…he couldn’t. It was absurd! What was Leo thinking?




Bartlet returned to the Oval Office and began sifting through the usual mounds of papers that were spread out on his desk, but his mind kept drifting. He thought of Josh, with his unruly hair and his pathological pacing, the guilty expression on his face, the sense of weariness permeating his every movement, the need for atonement shining out of his eyes. Bartlet knew that feeling all too well – the feeling of having the whole world on your shoulders and having failed it somehow. It didn’t help that both he and Josh were perfectionists.


“Oh dear god,” Bartlet sighed, casting aside any pretence that he was seriously going to study his papers this evening. Could Leo be right? His Chief of Staff was innately cautious so he could hardly imagine that Leo would direct him into such a foolhardy course of action if he wasn’t sure of his facts. But even so…it was still risky. Bartlet would go to the ends of the earth not to hurt Josh Lyman, a young man he viewed as being among his closet comrades. Between them, he and Leo had mentored Josh, helped him, nurtured his talent…he loved the younger man – not in the way he loved Leo, as old friends, warhorses, who’d done battle side by side for many years, but in the way you love a bright young colt, full of promise, who you’ve watched grow to maturity. Bartlet felt a heat rise inside him. When he’d asked Leo, a few months ago, whether they could swap their usual Friday night roles, his old friend had been adamant that it wasn’t going to happen – it wasn’t ever going to happen. Now, he was telling him that Josh might be willing – no – that Josh might want this and need it, the way Bartlet himself had so often needed it from Leo.


Bartlet thought of Josh’s pale face and darkly shadowed eyes, full of unexpressed need, and got up. He remembered himself, going to Leo with a similar expression in his eyes on many, many occasions – he’d needed what Leo was able to give with him, and he was just so lucky that he had someone in his life who was prepared to do that for him, to be there in a way that few people would understand. Poor Josh – if he felt the same way and didn’t have anyone to help him through that then he really had to be suffering right now and Bartlet could empathise with that all too well. Could he do that for Josh though? Could he be there for him the way Leo was there for him? Leo was a natural at it – anyone could see that. Bartlet wasn’t so sure about his own abilities in this area. He’d never done anything like this before – had never wanted to – but his Friday night sessions with Leo had awakened his curiosity, made him look outside himself and question himself and a few months ago he’d – extremely tentatively – asked Leo whether they might play around with the roles they’d assigned themselves. Leo had adamantly refused, but, as always, he hadn’t forgotten Jed’s request or the thoughts and feelings behind it – and now he had offered Bartlet a way to have that experience he’d asked about – and, in typical Leo fashion, had tacitly given his permission and approval as well. But with Josh…Bartlet had never even considered bringing anyone else into the close relationship he shared with Leo – he hadn’t wanted to, and neither did Leo. Yet, if Bartlet was honest with himself, he knew that if there was anyone else it would be Josh. He knew that both he and Leo felt the same way about Josh – they’d mentored him together, and were closer to him than they were to any of the other West Wing staff. He remembered sitting side by side with Leo, neither of them speaking, while they waited for news about whether Josh would live or die. He’d realised then, without either of them saying it, that they both felt the same way about Josh. The shooting had just brought it home to them. Then, later, when Josh had suffered from PTSD, they had both watch him almost disintegrate before their eyes. Bartlet could still remember every single word that Josh had said to him during that meeting where he had fallen apart. There had been an out of control look in Josh’s eyes, and he’d waved his hands and paced the carpet, and, finally, shouted at the President. “You’ve got to listen to me!” he’d pleaded – it had been a desperate cry for help and the fact that he’d directed it at Bartlet revealed just how much, on a subconscious level at least, he trusted, admired and liked the President.


Bartlet took a sharp intake of breath; maybe Leo was right. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do but it couldn’t hurt to at least go and find out…


He told Charlie to go home, dismissed his security staff, and wandered down to the White House gym. He frowned as he got close and saw that the place was in darkness; it was Friday night though – and most people had better things to do than spend their Friday nights sweating in the gym. Even so, he was disappointed. Josh had said he’d go to the gym but maybe he belonged to another gym somewhere else… Bartlet was about to turn and go when he heard a noise; a slight thump, and the sound of someone’s breathing coming in hard gasps. He turned back and quietly pushed open the door to the gym. He stood on the threshold for a moment, blinking, and then made out the single, lone figure sitting at a weight stack at the far end of the gym.




Bartlet frowned – why was his Deputy Chief of Staff working out in the dark? Then he sighed in realisation – Josh couldn’t face himself right now. He needed to be alone with his mistakes, alone in the dark, punishing his body until he felt he’d atoned for what had gone wrong this week. Bartlet felt a strange sense of confidence sweeping through him – Leo might well be right – the question was, what to do about it? This didn’t just affect one Friday evening – it could have far reaching consequences. Maybe Leo had known that; Bartlet had the feeling that he had been well and truly Leo’d tonight.


Bartlet stood, watching Josh work at the weights – he was pushing himself too hard, that much as obvious. He was sweating profusely and his eyes were glazed, fixed straight ahead. Bartlet took a deep breath, wondering if he could do this as well as Leo did it, because this wasn’t all or even mostly about him. He knew that. This was about Josh and what he needed as much as it was about himself – but there was no reason why their two needs couldn’t be compatible on this occasion. Bartlet spent a long time thinking about how Leo always treated him during their Friday night sessions – the other man seemed to know unerringly what he needed and had always given it to him but he wasn’t sure he possessed such an empathetic soul himself. He was all too well aware that if he did this he had to do it properly and he had to get it right – he cared about Josh too much to get it wrong. He smiled, softly, at that thought, the heat sweeping through him more strongly now. Oh yes, he cared about Josh. He cared about all his staff but he saved a special place in his heart for Leo and Josh. Leo he loved more than his own life, but Josh…he realised, without surprise, that he loved Josh in an utterly different and yet at the same time very similar way. Yes, Leo had been right. He was certain of it now. Bartlet turned and locked the door behind him, ensuring their total privacy, and then, slowly, quietly, acting purely on instinct, Bartlet walked over to where Josh was struggling to lift the weights. Bartlet didn’t say anything, just leaned, almost casually, on the bars of the weight stack next to the one Josh was using. Josh saw him, faltered, tried to push the weights again, and then gave up, his breath coming in exhausted pants. The weights crashed back down with a reverberating clang, and Josh sat there, hanging his head, the weight of his own self-loathing far heavier than the weights he had just been trying to lift.


“Can’t even do that right,” Josh commented, still not looking at the President.


“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Bartlet told him in low, purring tones that took him by surprise. They clearly had the same effect on Josh because he looked up, startled. It was dark in the gym, but not so dark that Bartlet couldn’t make out the desperate, hopeless light in the other man’s eyes, and the lines of his body. Josh had a good body – nicely toned but not too muscled. Bartlet was aware that his eyes were sweeping over it, assessingly. He wondered whether Josh would say anything but then he noticed the younger man pull his stomach in and sit a little straighter. Bartlet gave an inner smile – oh yes, Leo had definitely been right. “Are you punishing yourself, Josh?” He asked, in that same deadly, purring tone. Josh swallowed hard, and finally dared to look straight into the President’s eyes.


“Yes, sir, I guess I am,” he whispered.


Bartlet’s heart went out to the young man in front of him. He could help. This was definitely something he could help with. He moved slowly and gracefully to stand behind his Deputy Chief of Staff, and put a hand on each of Josh’s shoulders.


“Would you like me to take care of that?” he whispered. He felt Josh stiffen beneath his hands.


“I’m sorry, sir?” Josh faltered.


“Would you like me to take care of punishing you? Would you trust me to do that?” Bartlet whispered in Josh’s ear. “If you do it, you’ll take it too far and it’ll never be enough to satisfy you. Trust me, I know,” he added in a wistful, heartfelt tone. “If I do it, you have to agree that you’ll accept that I control how long and how hard and how much – and when I’m done then you have to accept that it’s over; you mustn’t brood on it any more after that. You have to put it behind you. Learn from it, yes, but dwell on it – no. If I take charge of your punishment, you have to agree to that, or it won’t work.”


Josh took a harsh, shaky breath.


“Punish me, sir?” He asked. “How?” The word was almost voiceless, barely audible. Bartlet smiled.


“That’s my decision but I think you know the answer to that,” he whispered in Josh’s ear. “That’s what you really want, don’t you, Josh?” He felt the young man shudder beneath him. Then, unexpectedly, Josh put his head back until it rested on Bartlet’s thigh. His eyes were closed as if in prayer, seeking guidance. Bartlet looked down on this young man leaning on him so trustingly and felt a wave of exhilaration pass through him. This was what both he and Josh needed – there was no question of it. “Understand this – it’s your choice. There are no consequences to you saying no,” Bartlet added, his tone more serious, much closer to President Bartlet than the purring, deadly tones he had just been using. “If you don’t want this I’ll turn around and walk out of here and we’ll both forget it happened. I just thought you could use my help right now. It’s your call, Josh.”


There was silence in the room. Bartlet was acutely aware of the sound of Josh’s breathing, his chest rising and falling too fast.


“Hush.” Bartlet slowly slid his hand down Josh’s body until it came to rest on the young man’s heaving chest. “Breathe more slowly. Breathe with me.” He took a deep breath and was almost surprised when Josh struggled to do the same, mirroring him. Oh god this felt good! Suddenly he knew why Leo was so addicted to this particular role. He hadn’t known that it could feel like this. They breathed in time for several minutes, Josh’s back warming Bartlet’s thighs and groin.


“All right – I’m going to want an answer from you in a minute,” Bartlet said softly, almost lost in the sensation of them both breathing together in the dark room, warming each other, at one with each other. He heard Josh swallow – the sound was audible in the quiet gym.


“Okay…” Bartlet slid his hands away from Josh’s chest reluctantly. “What’s your answer, Josh? Remember that it’s your choice.”


“I know that.” Josh’s voice sounded strained, full of need. “My answer is yes. Please.” He tipped his head back and looked up at the President, his face upside down, his dark eyes glowing. “Please,” he whispered again. Bartlet placed his hands on either side of Josh’s face and caressed him lovingly. Josh closed his eyes with a heartfelt sigh, his lips slightly parted, moist and inviting. Bartlet dropped his head and bestowed the smallest of kisses on Josh’s slightly opened mouth. Josh opened up a little underneath him and it took all Bartlet’s strength not to plunge straight in there – but this, as he had to continually remind himself, wasn’t just about him. Josh needed him to think of his needs as well as his own. He dragged himself away reluctantly, and Josh remained in exactly the same position, his lips still parted, his eyes still closed – his whole body held in a state of rapt attention. He gave a sweet, shuddering little sigh, as if, by kissing him, the President had just fulfilled a long held, deeply felt fantasy – and Bartlet realised, with some surprise, that that was exactly what had happened.


“All right, Josh. There will be more of that after – but first we must deal with how you’re feeling right now. Do you understand me?”


Josh seemed to come to, and, roused from his statue-like state, he opened his eyes and nodded. Bartlet stood in front of him, so that Josh could see his every move, and his hands went, slowly and deliberately, to his belt. He paused there for a moment, waiting for Josh’s reaction. The younger man swallowed, and even in the semi-darkness, Bartlet could see the flush on his skin and the dilation of his pupils but he made no move. Instead he seemed to drink in the sight of the President’s hands, lingering on his belt. Finally, Josh tore his eyes away from the belt, and looked into the President’s eyes. Bartlet found the acceptance he wanted there and gave a little nod, then, still very slowly, he began to unbuckle the belt. His hands were surprisingly steady as he drew the belt through the loops of his pants. Josh followed the movement without alarm, his eyes calm. Bartlet hung the belt from the handles of the weight bar and moved on to his tie. Josh continued to sit there, a peculiarly serene expression on his face. Bartlet reached out and stroked his hair gently anyway, needing to give the reassurance that he felt was required. Just because Josh showed himself no mercy, didn’t mean that Bartlet had to do the same. Then Bartlet began undoing his tie.


“I’m going to tie you to the weight stack with my tie,” he said in that same low, deadly voice. “I’ll whip you with my belt – but how hard and for how long is for me to decide. Do you understand that? It still isn’t too late to say no.”


“I don’t want to say no,” Josh whispered, but his eyes were wide and alarmed. Bartlet knew why – he understood many of the emotions the young man in front of him was experiencing, had lived through them himself and knew how powerful they were.


“I don’t have to tie you but I think it would help you if I did,” he explained. “I know you’re not scared of the belt but being tied will make it easier for you. I can’t explain how, just that I know it’s true.” He gave a small smile, because this was something he had learned from his own experiences with Leo. Leo often tied him, and, while he always fought it at first, it was easier submitting to one of Leo’s spankings when he was tied than if he wasn’t. When Leo didn’t tie him it took all his own courage to stay in position and take what he badly wanted to take – what he needed. A little voice in his head always whispered to him, telling him he could get up, that he didn’t need to stay here, that he could go – and that voice was absolutely right. He could do all those things – but if he did, then he didn’t get the absolution and sense of release that he needed and sometimes he needed it very badly indeed.


“I’ll be tied. That’s fine,” Josh told him, but his eyes were still so bright with anxiety that Bartlet stopped what he was doing, and pulled the younger man to him. He held Josh’s face against his chest for a long time, stroking that wild hair, soothing the tightly strung body. Josh was stiff, and resisted him for several long seconds, and then gave in, and wrapped his arms around the President’s body, holding on tightly. He allowed himself to be soothed for a long time, and finally his tense body began to relax. That was Bartlet’s cue.


“It’s time now. In a moment, I want you to stand up and prepare yourself for your punishment,” Bartlet whispered. He felt Josh’s nod against his stomach, waited for a beat, and then stepped back. Josh swallowed hard and then got to his feet. Bartlet felt himself moving up a gear, getting deeper into role – if this was going to happen then it had to count, or Josh would be left feeling even worse than before. He needed to feel that he was in safe hands, that someone was taking care of him, but at the same time, he needed to know, also, that Bartlet was in charge, and had all the control in this situation. Josh needed his punishment and he needed to know that it was being delivered by someone with unimpeachable authority over him – someone with his own best interests at heart, but someone strong, firm and unyielding. Bartlet drew himself up to his full height and began to slowly roll up his shirtsleeves. He knew that Josh was watching, transfixed by the sight, and could guess the countless emotions that were surging through the young man’s body. He knew the moment before a spanking was the absolute worst, and yet also, the time when he felt most alive. Even Leo, never a showy man, understood the need to make this moment count and give it maximum dramatic impact. Bartlet finished with his shirt-sleeves and then glanced at the hapless man standing beside him, looking as if his knees might buckle at any moment.


“Take off your shirt, Josh,” he ordered. Josh swallowed hard again, but nodded, and, with visibly trembling hands, pulled the tee shirt he was wearing over his head. He held it, stupidly, for a moment, and then slung it over the weights behind him before turning back to the President. Bartlet looked the young man over, taking his time. He didn’t touch – he just looked. He took in the pale, well-toned chest, covered with liberal amounts of wiry hair. Josh stood up to the scrutiny well – and Bartlet knew that this was about more than just punishment. This could be, if everything went well here tonight, about so much more; Josh had a yearning in his soul that was tangible and it was something that Bartlet felt himself responding to in a way he hadn’t expected. Maybe this was how Leo had felt that first time, maybe that’s what had led them on to the places they had subsequently decided to go with each other and the many different facets of their self-imposed roles that they had explored.


“All right. You’ve done very well so far, Josh. I’m proud of you. Now, just relax. This is where it gets really tough.” Bartlet pulled his tie out from under his collar and stepped forward. “Hold your hands out, wrists together…that’s good.” He tied Josh’s hands tightly, but not harshly, and then, unexpectedly, pulled Josh forward sharply. The younger man came towards him with a gasp of surprise, which he swiftly bit back. Bartlet had to turn his face away to hide his smile. Josh was a revelation – a beautiful revelation but a complete revelation none the less. He was so willing, so eager to please – it was hard not to love him when he was like this. Bartlet used the two loose ends of the tie to fasten Josh’s hands to the overhead bar of a pec dec, taking his time, making sure that the young man was comfortable, but immobile. Finally he finished, and took a step back.


“That’s good,” he commented. “Are you still with me, Josh?”


He stroked the back of the other man’s head and Josh gave a low moan, clearly beyond coherent speech. Bartlet smiled to himself – that never happened with him. Even when he was having his hide royally tanned, he still managed to argue vehemently with Leo – a fact that his good natured, implacable Chief of Staff endured with his usual fortitude, although Bartlet was of the opinion that his punishments might well end sooner and be far less painful if he was only able to hold his tongue. He never was of course – not until he had reached the place where he needed to be, and Leo seemed, instinctively, to know that. Josh was clearly a very different proposition. He hadn’t wheedled or resisted or put up any kind of struggle at all, as Bartlet often did with Leo. His responses were entirely different.


“Okay, Josh. Punishment always takes place on the bare, so I’m going to get you ready.” He looped his fingers into Josh’s shorts, and lowered them down to the young man’s ankles. Josh gave another low moan, but he wasn’t in distress – in fact, when Bartlet looked at the young man he saw that Josh was on a different zone completely. His face was flushed and almost feverish with anticipation, and there was a slight film of sweat on his upper lip. He looked – beautiful. It was a strange word to use, Barlet thought, but it was true. Josh looked beautiful like this, arms tied above his head, fixed to the gym apparatus, his lean body stretched out, awaiting punishment, his pale buttocks curved enticingly, clenching and unclenching furiously under Bartlet’s scrutiny, anticipating what would soon happen to them.


“Relax.” Bartlet ran a gentle hand over the twin globes of flesh, soothing his Deputy Chief of Staff. Josh made a little noise in the back of his throat as he was touched in that intimate area but Bartlet wasn’t about to start in until Josh was ready. He had too many memories of the bad physical chastisement he had experienced at his father’s hands to want to inflict that on anyone else. And he’d had enough good experiences at Leo’s hands to know how it should be done. “All right, Josh, I’m going to punish you. Would you like to tell me why you’re being punished?” Bartlet asked in low, firm tones.


“Because I screwed up in that meeting with Hoynes, because I didn’t keep the lid on that story about the new acquisitions bill, because I dumped you and Leo up to your necks in shit with the Crossley fiasco,” Josh said quickly.


“Okay – it’s true you made some errors of judgement in all three of those areas, Josh,” Bartlet said. “But my guess is that Leo’s already raked you over the coals in a professional capacity about them. I’m not going to use corporal punishment on you for anything you might do professionally. Not now, not ever – there are other ways of dealing with that. I’m going to punish you because you need me to and because you’ve given me permission to. Do you understand that?”


Josh blinked – this clearly wasn’t what he had expected. “I’m not sure, sir,” he said honestly.


Bartlet knew how difficult it could be to understand anything while standing butt naked, tied, waiting for a whipping, but all the same, he felt this point was important. He decided to try a different tack – something that he thought might work with the young man standing in front of him.


“When you’ve made mistakes in the past, have you fantasised about something like this happening, Josh?” He asked softly. Josh hesitated, and then, as if it was something shameful, he nodded.


“I thought so – it isn’t anything to be ashamed of,” Bartlet told him firmly. He went to stand in front of Josh and looked the other man in the eyes. “Who do you see punishing you like this, Josh?” He asked carefully. Josh hesitated, dropping his eyes to the floor. Bartlet took hold of his chin and made him look up. “Answer me please, Josh,” he said implacably. Josh swallowed hard.


“When I was younger – my father, sir,” Josh whispered. “It was just a fantasy though, sir – maybe because I hated those sorrowful looks he’d give me whenever I screwed up. I would have done anything, endured anything not to have him look at me like that. I wanted him to spank me rather than look like I was a cross he had to bear. He never did though! He never laid a finger on me. He was a very good father, sir.”


“I know that, Josh,” Bartlet said gently. “My own father was a small-minded, petty tyrant who used his fists to prove his points and not his arguments. I’m telling you this so you know that I would never punish you in anger or for getting anything wrong – I know how that feels and trust me, it feels lousy. I’m punishing you because you want me to and because I believe it’ll help you. Am I right?”


Josh gazed at him blearily and then nodded.


“Good. Now tell me, when you got older – who else did you fantasise about punishing you?” He asked. Josh flushed.


“Leo, sir,” he whispered. Bartlet gave a little grunt of amusement.


“Yeah, you and me both,” he said. “Hell, I don’t suppose we’re the only people who work with Leo who occasionally have those thoughts. Anyone else?”


Josh bit on his lip and nodded. “You, sir,” he admitted.


“I thought so. All right then, Josh, I’m going to do that for you. I’m going to punish you the way you’ve fantasised about me punishing you – but I want you to remember that your consent is important to me. I can be firm, Josh. I can be strict – and I will punish you as hard as you need me to, but what I will not do is punish you for your mistakes or because you’ve failed me or disappointed me. You haven’t. You just got some stuff wrong, and you get plenty very right – so I figure it all evens itself out in the end. Are you listening to me, Josh?”


“Yes, sir.” Josh nodded. “I understand, sir.”


“Good. Then I think it’s time we began. You don’t have any control over this, Josh. I’m taking that control.”


Josh gave a deep, heartfelt sigh, and a lot of the tension went from his arms. Bartlet smiled – he knew that feeling so well. It sometimes took a hell of a lot of persuading on Leo’s part to make him give up control. One of the things about running the country was that you sometimes found it hard to step back and let someone else be in charge for a change. Leo’s ‘persuasion’ could sometimes be very severe before Bartlet would relinquish the degree of control his old friend required of him. Josh, on the other hand, seemed all too eager to give it up – perhaps because he already viewed Bartlet with the deference you gave to the President.


Bartlet took a step back, but he wasn’t ready to use the belt yet – he knew from his many experiences at his father’s hands that being whipped hard on bare skin without a warm up hurt like hell, and while he knew Josh wanted to be punished and expected to be whipped hard with his belt, Bartlet wasn’t prepared to give him the kind of punishment he had endured so often at his father’s hands. His experience with Leo had taught him that there was another way; when he had first thrown himself on Leo’s tender mercies in this way he had been astonished by the time and care his old friend had taken. He had gone to Leo needing punishment, just as Josh needed punishment right now, but Leo had given him something else entirely. At first Bartlet had rebelled against it, but, hours later, when Leo held him in his arms and allowed him to cry his eyes out, he had to admit that his friend had known exactly what he was doing.


Bartlet put a hand on Josh’s bottom and held it there gently for a moment. Josh took a choking intake of breath. Bartlet gave the white globe of flesh a sharp tap and Josh tensed and then gave a shaky little laugh.


“You were expecting that to hurt?” Bartlet grunted. “Not yet, Josh. I told you, I’m in charge of this. We’ll go at my pace.”


Josh nodded and lowered his head in acceptance. Bartlet smiled – oh, this boy was so much more amenable and obedient than he ever was. He was a terrible sub – opinionated, difficult, mouthy – luckily he had the most patient, firm and even tempered top in the world because he didn’t think that anyone else would put up with him. Josh was sweetly eager to please though, thoroughly prepared to abandon himself to Bartlet’s will in a way that was beautiful to behold. Bartlet began to spank the younger man’s backside more firmly now, alternating sharp slaps with softer, gentle, almost caressing taps. Josh’s bottom soon began to glow a lovely rosy colour in tone but he made no sound. He did start to shuffle his feet a little bit though, to move out of the way of the steady slaps that were raining down on his unprotected flesh. Bartlet decided that this was something that could not be allowed to continue; he put one arm around Josh’s waist, and, holding the young man firmly in place, began to pepper down harder slaps on his butt cheeks. Now he could feel Josh squirming and could hear little mewling sounds emerging from the back of his throat. He knew he never made noises like that – he hollered like a banshee when Leo was punishing him, maybe because he could – because when his father had whipped him he’d always tried to keep quiet, so as not to give the man the pleasure of knowing he’d really hurt him. With Leo it was different – with Leo he had been able to let it all out, and finally find the voice that had been denied him all those years ago.


“You can scream if you like, Josh. The gym is a long way from anywhere else and I doubt anyone would hear you,” he said. Josh nodded but he still stayed pretty quiet. Bartlet decided this was just the way he preferred it, and continued about his task, stepping up the pace even more until he knew that Josh had to be smarting badly. His bottom was glowing a bright red, and he was squirming against Bartlet’s arm – not seriously enough to imply that he couldn’t take much more but enough to let Bartlet know that the spanking was doing the work it was supposed to. He continued for several more minutes until he heard a muffled whimper emerge from Josh’s throat. He stopped immediately, and stepped away from the young man’s body. Josh slumped a little in his bonds, still making the little whimpering noise in the back of his throat. Bartlet touched his shoulder gently, and went to stand in front of him.


“Okay, Josh?” He asked gently, taking Josh’s face in his hands. Josh focused on him with some difficulty, and then nodded – his face was bright but he didn’t look in any distress – in fact he looked almost exhilarated, lost in the moment.


“I’m going to use my belt now. Not many – just a few strokes to make you realise you’ve been fully punished,” Bartlet told him. Josh straightened and nodded, his eyes following Bartlet’s every move, eager and full of emotion. Bartlet took the belt from the bar where it had been hanging and doubled it over slowly in his hands. He hated it when Leo did this to him, slowing everything down just as it got to the really painful part, but now he found himself doing the exact same thing. Josh reacted differently though – instead of being impatient, headstrong and rebellious, he was transfixed by everything Bartlet did, his eyes patient and accepting, full almost of a kind of rapture. “You’re doing very well, Josh. I’m proud of you,” Bartlet said, finding that it was the truth. He wasn’t just saying it – he did feel a wave of almost absurd pride in the young man standing in front of him, his hands tied above his head, his ass glowing bright red from the spanking he’d just received. “I don’t want you to think I’m short-changing you though,” Bartlet told him firmly. “This will be a hard punishment. I want you to take it and afterwards you’ll need to forgive yourself. Okay?”


Josh nodded, his eyes looking a little uncertain. Bartlet grabbed his face again, and held it so that Josh couldn’t move. “I mean it, Josh. This is your punishment. You don’t punish yourself any more when I’m through. I’m in charge of you right now and I say when you’ve been punished enough. Okay?”


Josh seemed happier with that and his eyes cleared. He nodded more firmly.


“Good boy. Now take your punishment, Josh.”


Bartlet slapped the belt on his hand a couple of times to get the feel of it, remembering how Leo usually did exactly the same thing and wondering if he wasn’t just copying all his best moves from his old friend. He went to stand behind Josh, and raised his hand. He had never done this before and he wanted to do it right so he studied the waiting ass in front of him for a long moment before bringing the belt down with a firm thwap – not too hard, but on the already sensitised flesh he guessed it hurt enough. Josh gave a little start and another of those mewling sounds emerged from his throat. Bartlet decided that this had to be done fast now – fast and hard to take Josh over the final hurdle he needed to clear. He brought the doubled up belt down over and over again, six times in quick succession, painting several broad, red stripes on Josh’s backside. Josh twisted and the mewling had now turned into a semi-sob but Bartlet thought that was probably the right reaction in the circumstances. After six strokes he stopped, replaced the belt on his pants and moved in close once more. He cupped Josh’s red buttocks with his hands, feeling the heat – Leo often did this to him, and although it chafed to feel anything against the newly whipped flesh, he also took comfort in the human contact. Josh seemed to react the same way because he pressed back against Bartlet’s body in a way that was desperate, even needy.


“All right, boy. You did fine. You did very well in fact,” Bartlet told him, stroking Josh’s body gently. He hadn’t intended for it to get this far – he had meant to keep his distance, not wanting to intrude on Josh in a way the other man might be unable to protest about in his zoned out state, but somehow it felt wrong not to go in close and give the kind of comfort that Leo always gave. He kissed the back of Josh’s head tenderly, held him for a second, and then stepped back and pulled Josh’s shorts up before going to stand in front of him again. “That’s it – it’s all over now. I’m going to untie you and then you can get dressed. Your punishment is over.” Josh gazed at him from under those heavily lidded eyes of his, and Bartlet couldn’t stop himself stroking the side of Josh’s face. “Did you hear me?” He asked. “You did really well, Josh. It’s over.”


“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Josh whispered, and Bartlet was surprised to see a look of utmost reverence in his eyes. He carefully untied the other man and Josh slumped momentarily, then pulled himself together and reached for his tee shirt. He never took his eyes off Bartlet as he pulled the tee shirt on. Bartlet leaned on the gym equipment, returning the look – something profound had just happened here between them and he suddenly realised it would be impossible for them to just leave as if nothing had happened. Had Leo known that when he’d made his suggestion earlier this evening, Bartlet wondered? Yes, probably he had – Leo didn’t do or say anything without first considering it down to the last implication and possible consequence.


“Josh, I don’t want you to have any concerns that this will change things between us professionally,” he said. “This was just between us – it doesn’t have to happen again unless you want it to, and I won’t refer to it again if you ask me not to.”


Josh looked as if the bottom had dropped out of his world and Bartlet realised, too late, that he was interpreting his words the wrong way. Still lost in the sensations of what had just happened, he thought Bartlet was extricating himself from the situation and that wasn’t what he’d meant at all. Now he could see that Josh was embarrassed – and scared that he had let himself down or revealed too much to a man he quite clearly adored.


“Okay, sir. Thank you, sir. I appreciate what you did here for me tonight. I’ll just go and…” Josh began walking, unsteadily, towards the door. Bartlet shook his head, realising that this was definitely going wrong. He wondered, briefly, what Leo would do in the circumstances, but didn’t have time to ponder that for too long as Josh stumbled into the wall and stood there for a moment, holding on breathlessly, before heading for the door once more.


“Hold it right there, Josh,” he said, his voice ringing out loudly in the quiet gym. Josh stopped dead in his tracks, responding to the tone of total command in the voice. “I haven’t given you permission to leave yet,” Bartlet said, playing the role on instinct alone. Josh pulled himself up straight, and turned. His eyes were confused, as if he wasn’t sure what was happening now.


“I didn’t realise I needed your permission, sir,” he whispered.


“Normally you don’t – but I just whipped your ass, Josh, so I don’t think we’re in a normal situation any more. I think you need some taking care of for the next hour or two, and I intend to do just that. Come with me, please.”


He strode towards the gym door and unlocked it, then held it open for Josh to walk through. The young man responded immediately, surrendering himself up once more to the firm authority of the man who had just taken such consummate charge of him for the past half hour. He followed Bartlet out of the West Wing and up to the Residence, without either of them saying a word. Somewhere along the way the President attracted his usual complement of secret service guards, and he wondered what the hell they thought of him accompanying a silent, almost zombiefied Josh, walking awkwardly, still clad in his gym clothes. When they reached the Residence he gave them strict orders that he was not to be disturbed and took Josh with him to the bedroom he and Leo used for their Friday night sessions. He opened the door, ushered Josh inside, and closed it again behind them, locking it as he did so. Josh stood there, clearly unsure what to do next. He was also shivering – the cold air affecting him as it came into contact with his body, which was still warm from the spanking he’d received.


“Lie down on the bed, Josh. I’m going to cover you with a blanket,” Bartlet ordered. Josh did as he was told, and Bartlet laid the blanket over him, and then, to Josh’s evident surprise, crawled in beside him and held him.


“Sir, you don’t need to do this. I’m fine. I can go home,” Josh said, sounding embarrassed.


“Strange that you’ll let me whip your ass but you’re embarrassed by a hug,” Bartlet commented. “It’s okay, Josh, I used to be the same – it’s easier to accept punishment than affection sometimes. That’s just the way we are.”


“We, sir?” Josh asked. He turned his head and looked Bartlet in the eye.


“We, Josh,” Bartlet said firmly. “We’re very similar in many ways – although I’m older than you so you’ve got a lot more to learn.” It wasn’t quite a tongue in cheek comment and Josh managed a faded smile in recognition of that fact. “The way I see it we’re both perfectionists, we both beat ourselves up when we get something wrong…and we both need the occasional application of a firm hand in order to jolt ourselves out of it.”


Josh’s eyes widened in surprise. “Who would do that to you, sir?” He asked, but his meaning was clearly – who would dare? “Ab…I mean Dr. Bartlet?”


Bartlet laughed out loud. “No, Josh, not Abbey. This isn’t her kind of thing at all.”


Josh’s eyes widened even further. “Leo,” he whispered. “You let Leo…” He let the words trail off, looking amazed. Bartlet chuckled and squeezed the young man comfortingly. “Oh shit. Sorry, sir but I mean…oh shit,” he whispered. “I can’t believe… I mean, I can’t imagine…”He trailed off again. “Oh shit,” he said once more. Then his expression turned to one of alarm. “Does Abbey know?” He asked.


“Of course,” Bartlet replied sharply. “Do you think I’d deceive Abbey? In fact, it was she who suggested Leo. It wasn’t something she felt she could do herself, and I clearly needed it.”


“Was Leo surprised?”


Bartlet considered that for a moment. “I’m not sure anything surprises Leo. No, he wasn’t surprised. He took it all in his stride. To be honest, I think he enjoys having the chance to shut me up and put me in my place when at the office it’s ‘yes sir, no sir’ all the time.”


Josh gave a delighted little laugh.


“One thing Leo did impress upon me was the need for a wind down period afterwards – which is what we’re doing here, Josh. I didn’t want you just walking out of there without making sure that you’re okay with this, and talking about where we go from here.”


“Me? I’m fine.” Josh gave a dreamy smile. “I feel great, sir…a bit light headed but…”


“That’s normal enough. Did it work for you? Will you stop beating yourself up about what happened this week?” He asked. Josh thought about it for a moment, and then nodded.


“It did hurt, sir, but it felt like a good hurt – you know?” He gave a lazy, hazy smile as if this conclusion had come as a total revelation to him.


“Oh yes, I know.” Bartlet smiled a conspiratorial smile in return. They were silent for a long time, and then Josh shifted against him restlessly. “Go ahead, ask away. I know you’re dying to,” Bartlet said.


“Do you…I mean, that is…oh hell, do you ever…to Leo?” Josh asked nonsensically. Bartlet grinned.


“Joshua Lyman, can you imagine anyone ever spanking Leo McGarry?” He asked with a snort. Josh started to laugh.


“No, sir – but then again before this evening I couldn’t imagine anyone ever spanking you either,” he added.


“Ah well, I need it – Leo doesn’t. And you need it too, Josh, judging by what happened tonight.”


“Sir – you said something about what would happen next…” Josh began.


“That’s right – I want you to know first of all that this doesn’t have to happen again unless you need it to, and…”


“How did you know?” Josh said, interrupting him in turn and turning to face him. “How did you know I needed this tonight, sir?”


“Leo told me.” Bartlet sat up, and looked down on the young man next to him.


“Leo knew?” Josh tried to get up and went back down again with a yelp as his sore ass made painful contact with the bed. “Oh shit,” he hissed.


“I’ll get you something to ease that in a moment,” Bartlet said. “For now – I think you need to feel the sting. As for Leo knowing – he suggested to me that you might need this tonight. I wouldn’t have come to find you otherwise. You see…” He hesitated, but he realised that he’d already crossed a line and there was nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by telling Josh the rest of it. “Leo and I have an arrangement, Josh – every Friday night we get together in this room, and, for a few hours every week – our schedules permitting of course – he’s in charge. Tonight I was a little bit…put out that Leo had to go to a conference in Florida, I’ll admit.” Bartlet made a face. “But he suggested that your need was greater than mine tonight anyway and that I could do for you what he usually does for me.”


“Every Friday night?” Josh looked astounded. “I mean, we knew you guys had dinner or something on a Friday night but we always assumed it was…” He broke off with a grin.


“Yes, I know, don’t say it – you assumed I was subjecting Leo to my cooking. Well, Josh I can tell you that in fact Leo was subjecting my ass to a good cooking instead.”


Josh laughed out loud but he still looked completely amazed by what he’d learned.


“I don’t need to tell you that this is entirely confidential,” Bartlet continued, nudging him. “I’m not making any excuses for what I am or what I need – but Leo and I both have very stressful jobs and this really does help me unwind. I do a much better job as President of this country because of it.”


“I understand that, sir.” Josh nodded. “You know I’d never tell anyone.”


“Good – then I think it’s time we rubbed something into that thoroughly whipped ass of yours.” Bartlet tousled Josh’s hair affectionately, and then went into the en suite bathroom and fumbled around in the cabinet until he found the tube of gel that Leo always used on him. He pulled the blanket off Josh and the young man began to try and lower his shorts.


“I’ll do that,” Bartlet told him, swatting his hands away. “I’m still in charge, Josh until we agree that this evening’s session is over.” Josh made a little sound of acquiescence and buried his face in the pillow, allowing Bartlet to carefully lower his shorts. “Hold still – sometimes I swear this part hurts more than the actual spanking,” Bartlet said, smearing a liberal amount of cool gel onto his finger and then spreading it carefully on Josh’s butt cheeks. Josh made another of those endearing little mewling noises in the back of his throat and Bartlet thought he really could come to enjoy those sounds. He was quick about his work and then pulled Josh’s shorts up again. Josh emerged from the pillow, his face flushed with embarrassment. “The sting goes in a few minutes,” Bartlet assured him and Josh nodded, but he had that bright, inquisitive, Josh Lyman look in his eyes and Bartlet knew that if he wasn’t careful he’d be subjected to a Josh Lyman grilling session any moment now. The younger man was clearly bursting with questions.


“All right, Josh, fire away,” he said, with a sigh, realising that the question and answer session was unavoidable. Josh grinned, but what he said next took Bartlet completely by surprise.


“This…Friday night club that you and Leo have going – does it end with just that – with…” he flushed again, clearly embarrassed. “Spanking?” He bit on his lip.


Bartlet thought about it for a moment – this wasn’t his secret alone to share, Leo was involved too…but he and this man lying on the bed next to him had already kissed and shared moments that demanded a certain level of trust and confidences.


“No,” he ventured finally. “Leo and I are very old friends, Josh. At first our Friday sessions were just as I told you, just spanking – but we moved on from that. Now we do a lot more.”


“You’re lovers?” Josh held his breath as he waited for the reply.


“Yes.” Bartlet nodded. “Well, on a Friday night we are. And before you ask, yes, Abbey knows about that too.” He gave a little smile. “As a matter of fact, judging by the way she asks me about what happens between Leo and me on a Friday night, I’d say she finds it a bit of a turn on.”


“And she’s okay with that?” Josh looked puzzled. Bartlet laughed.


“Josh, Abbey and I have been married for years – she would throw me out of the house on my ass if she caught me in bed with another woman, but she seems to feel that my one night a week with Leo is actually a good thing for all concerned and I’m not about to argue with her about that. Abbey’s always accepted that my friendship with Leo is as much a vital part of my life as my love for her. She knows that on Friday nights I sub to Leo – I think it amuses her as a matter of fact. She’s pleased that there’s someone with whom I don’t get my own way, although lord knows I don’t always get my own way with her either – she just likes to think I do.”


“Would you – do you think she’d mind about me?” Josh asked. Bartlet frowned – to be honest he hadn’t even thought about what Abbey would say about this. He assumed she’d view it the same way as she viewed his relationship with Leo. In fact, he was pretty sure she would. “I mean…” Josh continued, “Do you think she would mind if I joined this Friday Night Club you and Leo have going? If I was your…your lover too?” There was a look of intense yearning on his face, and Bartlet remembered how he had responded to that kiss, in the darkness of the gym, his lips parted, his eyes lost in some rapt world of their own.


“Is that what you want?” He asked gently.


Josh nodded, just a shade too eagerly. “Sir, when you talked about being Leo’s sub, I knew that was what I wanted – I want to be your sub, and Leo’s too if he’ll let me, if that’s the best way to make this work. I’ve always envied what you have with Leo. I know I’m much younger, I know you two go way back and you’ll never feel the same way about me as you feel about each other…but I would so love to be a part of what you have, even if it’s only a small part.”


There was a look of wistful longing in his eyes and Bartlet knew he didn’t have the heart to refuse him – no, that wasn’t true – he didn’t want to refuse him.


“I’d need to talk to Leo about it,” he said.


Josh swallowed hard, as if that thought worried him.


“Don’t look so anxious – Leo doesn’t bite,” Bartlet chided. Josh gave him a hollow smile in return.


“Leo’s wonderful but he’s…well, you know, he can be kind of scary,” he said. “Do you think he’ll agree to this, sir?”


“I have no idea…but it was Leo’s idea that I came to you this evening, so…” Bartlet shrugged.


“You don’t know what it’s been like – watching you two, the kind of relationship you have together. I’ve always wanted that kind of friendship. I’m never happier than when I’m with you both, when we’re working together, when you’re bouncing ideas off each other. I kind of feel like the little kid at school who tries to hang out with the older, smarter kids – you let me tag along with you as long as I don’t get too irritating.” Josh gave another little smile and Bartlet stared at him fascinated – he’d had no idea that all this had been going on inside Josh’s head.


“We’ll see what Leo says,” he repeated softly, gently pushing back Josh’s hair with his hand. The young man smiled up him, utterly trusting, and completely willing and in awe of him. A look like that could, Bartlet thought, swell his head – thank god he had Leo to cut him down to size occasionally. He continued stroking Josh’s hair, absently, and, after a little while, the younger man’s eyes closed and his breathing deepened. Bartlet looked down on him, still faintly astonished by the way the evening had turned out.


His cell phone rang a few seconds later and he quickly fished it out of his pocket and answered it. Josh, his body as boneless as a jellyfish, completely relaxed, a wide smile still etched on his face, remained asleep.


“Bartlet,” he said in a low tone.


“So, how did it go?” Leo’s voice asked, just the tiniest trace of amusement in the gravelly tones.


“How did you guess? Oh never mind – although we should really talk about this annoying prescience of yours. It’s disturbing.”


“You did as I suggested then?” Leo asked.


“Yes, I did.” Bartlet smiled down at the sleeping man beside him.


“He’s there now, isn’t he?” Leo said.


“Yeah, he’s here. He’s fast asleep.”


“Where are you?”


“In the Blue Bedroom. I brought him back here…after…Leo, this kid is amazing,” Bartlet confided. “He’s not like me – you wouldn’t have any trouble with him at all. He just eats out your hand.”


“If you treat him right. If you treat him wrong I suspect he’d savage you like a Rottweiler,” Leo commented. Bartlet chuckled.


“Yeah, maybe so. Leo…” He hesitated.


“You told him about Friday nights didn’t you?” Leo said.


“I wish you’d stop guessing everything I’m about to say before I say it,” Bartlet said in an exasperated tone. “Yes, I told him about Friday nights. He calls it our Friday Night Club – and he wants to join, Leo.”


There was silence for a few seconds, and then:


“We’ll see,” Leo said, finally.


“Leo, we’ve started something here – we can’t just…”


“I said we’ll see,” Leo told him firmly.


“It’s not just your decision to make,” Bartlet snapped.


“Yes it is,” Leo replied calmly. “Sir, the ultimate responsibility for this entire country rests on your shoulders. Just accept that there are some decisions you don’t have to make and this is one of them. I’m in charge on Friday nights, not you. That’s the way we both agreed it, isn’t it?”


Bartlet sighed. “Yes, yes it is.”


“Good. Now, tell me, was tonight what you expected?”


“Yes…and no…it was fantastic, Leo. He trusted me so much. I felt…exhilarated by it – by him. He says he’s willing to sub to you too…in fact, I think he’s more than willing…”


“Don’t get ahead of yourself, sir. If we decide to invite him to join us on Friday nights then we’ll need some new rules and I’ll need to think very carefully about what those will be. As for him subbing to me, well I sure as hell ain’t subbing to him, so I think we can take that as read.”


“What is this power complex you have, Leo?” Bartlet teased.


“I could ask you the same thing, Mr. President,” Leo shot right back. Bartlet made a face at the phone. “I’ll talk to him when I get back.”


“He’s one of us, Leo. He always has been. You know we both feel the same way about him.”


“I said I’ll talk to him. Don’t wheedle, sir.”


“I was not wheedling,” Bartlet exploded, and then he dropped his voice as Josh stirred on the bed beside him and muttered something in his sleep. “I’m not wheedling,” he repeated in a whisper. “But you have to admit that you feel the same way about him as I do. I know you, Leo. I know how much you care about Josh.”


“Yes, I do,” Leo admitted readily. “Which is all the more reason to take this slowly and make sure nobody gets hurt. He means too much to both of us for us to rush in and screw up his life because we didn’t wait to find out exactly what it is he wants and expects from us and to ensure he knows the limits of what we can give him.”


Bartlet sighed, and nodded. “You’re right, Leo.”


“I know. Tell Josh I’ll speak to him on Monday. Good night, sir.”


“Good night, Leo.” Barlet turned off the cell phone and looked down on the sleeping form beside him again. “Friday night club,” he snorted, although he had to admit that it was an apt title. He stroked Josh’s hair again and smiled to himself. “Welcome to the Friday night club, Josh, because whatever Leo says, somehow I have the feeling that you just joined.”


He leaned over, brushed Josh’s hair aside, and bestowed a gentle kiss on the younger man’s forehead.



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