Title: Another Helping (a sequel in spirit to "Chicken Soup for the Speechwriter's...Whatever")
Author: Nomi (gnomi@world.std.com)
Archive: Sure, just tell me where
Codes: J/S
Rating: PG-13
Notes: There is no doubt that, if any of the following people hadn't contributed, this story would not exist. I must first-off thank Vero, who - not long after "Chicken Soup" first came out - asked for a sequel (and a recipe). She planted the seed for this one. Roo came along next, not only seconding the request for a sequel but also acting as the best tush-kicker a writer could ask for and sending positive writing vibes (the virutal puppy-dog eyes helped, too). Alethia listened to me ramble and helped me through the "whys" and "hows" of writing. Teri shared her good wishes just when I needed them. Amber...well, Amber was Amber - part cheerleader, part general, part enforcer. Sam's dream-state in this story is totally her instigation. Past stories in this universe of mine can be found at http://world.std.com/~gnomi/stories.html .
Warning: Spoilers for, basically, all of season 2, plus the occasional season 1 bit. Also contains spoilers for a couple of my stories (especially Test of Strength).

Another Helping by Nomi

I was first woken by the sound, but I couldn't place it immediately. The minute I did, I was out of bed, yanking on my boxers, and sprinting to the bathroom.

Sam was sick...again.

I should've seen the signs earlier, I told myself. My only possible excuse is that it had been one Hell of a week topped by a real pressure cooker of a day.

As I stood near the bathroom door - close enough to be there if Sam needed me, but far enough back not to crowd him - I remembered looking over at Sam as we stood at the President's press conference that afternoon. I had known that our future was being decided at that moment, but I couldn't focus on what President Bartlet was saying. I had been entirely focused on Sam. He had looked pale, but I had hoped it was only a result of recent events. It now appeared that I had been wrong.

I again berated myself for letting Sam's health deteriorate without my noticing. The rational side of my mind - which doesn't speak up nearly enough - was trying to get me to admit that Sam was an adult and that we'd been distracted.

That morning, we had attended Mrs. Landingham's funeral. It was one of the saddest things I'd ever been through. Mind you, I'd cried my way through Joanie's funeral all those years ago, convinced I had caused her death. Then, many years later, at the height of the most stressful time of my life, I cried my way through my Dad's funeral, saddened not just by the loss of my father but also by the fact that he hadn't lived to see my greatest achievement.

But this was different. This was the latest stressor in a very difficult year, both personally and professionally. And I knew Sam had been through just as much as I had - we feel each other's stresses as deeply as our own. I'd been through the shooting and my breakdown at Christmas, and had just now been starting to get through the day without people asking me how I was doing every 10 minutes. Just as my life began to even out, Sam had to start dealing with his own crises. Toby had chosen Sam - instead of the President and Leo - as his target for his frustrations at the lack of focus that he saw in the administration. As part of this, Toby found little ways to undermine Sam's confidence in his abilities as a writer.

And then Sam found out about his father.

For the average person, that would've been enough to drive them over the edge. For Sam, it was just another thing to get through.

To add to the stress, Sam then got sick...but that's a different topic altogether.

Just as Sam came back to work, the world shifted again. From the tension in the office - especially between Leo, Toby, and the President - we had been aware that something big was coming; we just didn't know how big. And the four days between when I was told about the President's MS and when Sam was told were - I thought - the most tension-ridden in our household. Sam knew something was up, 'cause Toby had been even more of a nut than usual, and he knew that I knew more than he did, but he also knew that I couldn't tell him. I think he was angry about that, but there was nothing either of us could do about it. And then he'd had to deal with Dr. Bartlet (mind you, not _Mrs._ Bartlet) over how she'd talk to the press and others about her treatment of the President. We both have great respect for Dr. Bartlet - if it weren't for her, so many things would be different in our lives - but she's not an easy person to tell what to do.

So by the time we all heard about Mrs. Landingham, we were already more tense than an overstretched rubber band. I have been trying to keep an eye on Sam's stress level - he gave me a good scare about a month ago, and now I watch him like a hawk - but I was dealing with my own crises, the least of which was the fact that the Justice Department was running out of money in its trial against big tobacco.

We'd sat next to each other at the funeral, and Sam had been OK while acting as one of Mrs. L's pallbearers...or so I'd thought. But his outburst in Toby's office while we were discussing the President's possible answers to the question "Will you run for a second term?" surprised the Hell out of me. I should've recognized it as a sign. The only reason I could think of for not picking up on it was that I was in a mood of my own - the sentence "I'd sooner have my family take their clothes off and dance the tarantella on the Truman Balcony than go through a campaign with this around my neck" might have crossed my lips - but I hadn't seen Sam that angry since the infamous GDC drop-in fiasco. And this time, even though he had no one directly responsible for the situation to direct that anger at, Toby became his main target.

At the time, I just thanked God it wasn't me. But I should've seen it as an indicator that Sam wasn't really himself.

And the time we spent in the rain before the press conference couldn't have helped if Sam was already coming down with something. I knew I should've made him take an umbrella.

Then I reminded myself that, basically, Sam was young and healthy and this was probably just some random virus. I had to stop jumping at shadows.

Having given myself a good talking-to, I tried to focus on Sam's immediate problem - his stomach's rebellion.

Purely out of instinct, I had grabbed my watch on my way from the bed to the bathroom. Taking a quick glance at it, I noted that it was 4:42 AM - the alarm was going to go off in about 15 minutes, but something told me I wasn't going to be going into the office on time this morning.

When there was a pause in the retching, I spoke softly. "Is there anything I can do?"

Sam - bedraggled, sunken-eyed, but still sexy as all Hell - looked up at me. "Shoot me now," he said, still clutching his porcelain support.

"Not funny," I replied without thinking.

"God, J...didn't mean..." That was all he got out before turning a new shade of green and leaning over again.

The next time he surfaced, I walked over to where he was and crouched down next to him, encircling him with my arms. Tears - I wasn't sure if they were from physical or emotional distress - were cascading down Sam's cheeks.

"Shh...love...relax. I didn't mean it..." I held Sam and stroked his hair while his body tried to figure out if it was done trying to turn itself inside out. We must have sat there for almost 10 minutes before Sam said, "I think I'm done."

"OK, then," I said, standing - much to the delight of my very stiff knees - and helping Sam to his feet. "C'mon, love. Let's put you to bed." We walked slowly back to the bedroom, Sam groaning softly as his stomach decided that motion wasn't its favorite thing. Once we got back to the bed and Sam was seated, after I turned off the blaring alarm clock and called Leo to tell him I'd be late, I helped Sam lie back onto the bed and then covered him with a sheet and blanket.

"J...it's too hot for that."

"Give yourself a bit of time; you'll want it when the chills start." And I was right - about 15 minutes after I got him back into bed, Sam started shaking.

"J?" I couldn't stand hearing Sam sounding so weak.

"Yes, love?"

"Hold me 'til I stop..." Sam's teeth were chattering so hard that it was difficult to understand him. Once I figured out what he wanted, I stripped off my boxers and curled my naked body around his. I reached up and stroked Sam's hair again, knowing that it soothed him.

"Shh, love...just let go..." I whispered to him. I could tell by the temperature of Sam's skin that he was running a high fever, but I didn't want to leave him to go fetch the thermometer. We've been through health crises so many times by now that I knew it was probably better for both of us if I just stayed where I was 'til Sam fell asleep. Already I could hear his breathing deepening and evening out. Sam's shaking slowed as his body wore itself out and he fell asleep.

Slowly, gently, so that I wouldn't wake Sam, I got out of bed and pulled on my robe. I padded as quietly as possible into the living room and tried to read, but I quickly discovered that my concentration was shot. I finally gave up and headed to the kitchen, figuring that cooking would provide an outlet for my nervous energy. Sam would need rehydration when he woke up, but he wouldn't necessarily be able to keep anything down. I settled for making him some soup, figuring I'd strain it down to just broth before serving him any.

Just as I turned down the soup to let it simmer, I heard Sam's voice. I was too far away to make out the words, so I started toward the bedroom. I soon discovered that proximity wasn't the issue in my not understanding Sam - I wasn't sure if he was dreaming or delirious from fever, but he wasn't making much sense.

"The fish...the fish..." Sam mumbled into his pillow.

Silly me, I tried to be rational in an irrational situation. "Love, tell me about the fish," I said, sitting on the bed next to Sam. I reached over and smoothed some rogue hairs out of Sam's face.

"It's _looking_ at me," Sam cried.

"Love...there is no fish. You're perfectly safe."

"No, seriously," Sam said, his tone completely earnest. "The fish was giving me the evil eye."

It didn't seem to matter that we didn't have a fish. In Sam's fever-baked brain, he was being stalked by an evil fish.

Sam continued to thrash on the bed. "Rutabagas...don't let them vote...Piaget...stop the mollusks!"

I had no good response to that, but I didn't want Sam hurting himself - or me - with his wild movements.

"Shh, love. I'll make everything OK," I said.

That seemed to appease Sam, 'cause he rolled over and went back to sleep. I stayed by his side for a while longer to make sure he was calm, then I returned to the kitchen.

A couple of hours later, at about 9, Sam came stumbling out of the bedroom wearing his winter-weight robe.

"God, J...I feel like shit." Sam's voice was hoarse, no doubt a result of the abuse his throat had taken earlier.

I was on instant alert. "Can you be more specific?"

"I'm hot then cold, my whole body aches, and I feel like I swallowed sandpaper. There's a rehearsal for 'Riverdance' going on in my stomach and a review of the 23rd Drum Corps going on in my head." For someone as sick as Sam appeared to be, he sure had a flair for imagery.

"D'you...are you hungry?"

Sam paled even more. "I'm not up for real food, but I should probably have _something_ in me," he replied.

I poured him a bowl of clear broth and set it at the table. As he ate, I hovered in the background, ready to help him the minute he asked.

Halfway through the bowl of soup, Sam removed his robe, leaving him in just his boxers.

"Hot now..." he said around the spoon in his mouth.

"Should I call Dr. Bartlet?" The First Lady has essentially become our family physician, and she's the first one we tend to call about health issues.

"Hell, no," Sam said as sharply as he could. "I mean...well, I had such a horrible meeting with her earlier this week. It's...it's just that..."

"She got technical and haughty and you got defensive and all Ivy League on her," I concluded.

"Yeah," Sam mumbled as he scraped the last of the broth out of the bowl.

"How..." I didn't want to ask the real question, but I figured I should know what to expect.

"I think it'll stay down," Sam said. "Thanks."

We sat in silence for a bit, then Sam spoke again.

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"Remember this past winter? When I had that flu-like thing?"

"Yeah."

"You gave me a sponge bath to cool me down. Could'ja..."

I smiled, remembering the last time I'd given Sam a sponge bath. He'd been too sick for it to become anything other than medicinal, but I was sure turned on by it. I'd promised him we'd try it again when he was healthy, but then our lives went to Hell in a hand basket and we hadn't gotten around to it.

"Sure, love." I don't always take enough time to pamper Sam, and this was a perfect opportunity. "Why don't you go lie down in the bed, and I'll be along in a couple of minutes."

Sam got up and, after retrieving his robe off the back of his chair, headed back to the bedroom. I cleaned up the kitchen quickly then filled a large bowl with cold water and carried it toward the bedroom. I stopped briefly to get a washcloth and some towels to place under Sam, then entered the bedroom.

It turned out that Sam was way ahead of me - he'd already covered the bed with towels and had stripped off his boxers.

Even while sick, Sam had the ability to turn me on just by displaying his body to me. But I tried to block that out and put my task of soothing Sam at the forefront of my mind. I dampened and wrung out the washcloth, then started gently bathing Sam's overheated skin. I was trying to focus totally on doing this for Sam's health, but he kept making little sounds of pleasure, so similar to his pre-orgasm sounds that I had to shift to accommodate my burgeoning erection. I willed myself back under control, knowing that Sam was in no shape right now for any...extracurricular activity.

Once I'd finished with his chest and his arms, I leaned down to place a kiss between Sam's closed eyes.

"You still with me, love?"

"Oh, yeah," Sam said.

I re-wet the washcloth and continued my ministrations, tending to every inch of Sam's front. Once I reached his toes, I said, "Turn over, love."

Sam complied, slowly, and I started to smooth the cloth over Sam's back, pausing briefly to massage his tense shoulders.

I kept whispering to him as I moved down his body.

"God, Sam...I love you," I said. "Don't..."

Sam turned his head so that he could at least make partial eye contact with me.

"It's just a virus, J," he said, understanding my fears without my having to verbalize them. "There's nothing you should have done...sometimes people just get sick. Sometimes things happen for no reason..."

He paused, and I couldn't help thinking about the biggest random event in our lives recently - the car accident that killed Mrs. Landingham.

"Oh, God, love...she..." My voice broke. How could I put into words all that Mrs. L had come to mean to all of us?

But, again, Sam understood.

"I know, Josh. She was like a combination Grandma and general, getting us to do the things we should do but didn't want to and rewarding us when we did them...It just won't be the same without her."

I stopped bathing Sam and put the cloth back into the bowl. After climbing off the bed and moving the bowl out of the way, I took off my robe and climbed back into bed.

"Things just won't be the same without her," I confirmed, pulling Sam close.

Sam wrapped his arms around me. "I hope..."

"Yeah, love?" I asked.

"I hope that I will be remembered with such love at my funeral," he said softly.

I kissed his forehead again. "You will be, love...but not for a very long time...not if I can help it."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Sam said.

We lay together in silence, just holding each other, until Sam spoke again. "God, J..." he said softly.

"Yeah?"

"If I felt better..."

"Yes, love?"

"I'd fuck you so hard you wouldn't be able to see straight."

Well, now. "Where'd this come from?" Not that I would want to discourage him, but given how Sam was feeling, I was surprised to hear it.

"Being with you...in you...after all we've been through this year," Sam said, "it's life-affirming."

I leaned in and placed a kiss on the end of his nose. "Affirm all you want," I said, attempting to lighten the dark mood we'd fallen into.

Sam ground his hips against mine, rubbing our cocks together. "Oh, I intend to," he said. "I'd kiss you, but I don't want to infect you."

I responded by bracing my hands on either side of Sam's face and pulling him in for a deep kiss.

"J!" he said once I had released him, "you're gonna get whatever I have."

"I'm not worried," I responded. "I know you'll take care of me."

Sam, apparently accepting my lack of concern, snuggled even closer.

We lay in silence, holding each other. Soon, Sam fell back asleep, and I stayed with him this time, if for no other reason than to protect him from his maniacal-fish dreams.

This...this was where I was meant to be. Despite the stresses, despite the illnesses, despite it all, Sam and I were meant to be here...together. The sheer fact that we'd come through this year with our sanity intact was proof enough.

And on that thought, I joined Sam in sleep.

---END---

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