Title: Fear of rectangles
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: January 2002
Rating: R for trauma.
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Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: Big fat ones for Noel and ITSOTG.
Summary: Nineteenth December. Three missing scenes from Noel.
Fear of rectangles by Jackie Thomas
Josh, I’m here.
Josh gasps for air and searches for Sam’s face amongst the sea of strangers.
Josh, a bullet collapsed your lung.
Listens for him through the noise.
Okay, tube him.
Josh blinks and glances at Sam, briefly wonders how he had not noticed him standing in his office.
“Aren’t you meeting with…?”
“Didion. It’s done.”
“It’s done. We met.”
Josh looks around, he finds he is standing in the middle of the room. He must have been going somewhere.
“Yeah, I just wanted to…” He couldn’t think. “I can’t talk. I’m just on my way to…”
“Oh…Okay. Where are you going? I’ll walk with you.”
“I’m just on my way...But I had to take a call.”
“Hey, are you all right?”
“Dammit Sam, I can’t think with you talking.”
“Its okay, Josh.”
“Can you just…I need to…don’t, don’t.” He shakes off the hand that touches his arm.
There had been a meeting in the Oval Office.
You have to listen to me.
Then Leo had spoken to him. Then he had taken a call. Then he had started off for the motorcade while the President worked the rope line.
Didn’t you hear me shouting for you?
He spins and looks at Sam. He is wearing white tie and tails. “Sorry, I was going somewhere, I’m trying to remember.”
“Let me help you Josh, you’re not…”
He bats the hands away before they can touch him again. “No you couldn’t help me, it wasn’t your fault. I took a call.” He’d come from the Oval Office, he’d come from Leo’s office, he’d taken a call, President working the rope line, people screaming, people running, people falling. “Okay, yeah, I’m going to the motorcade.”
“Josh, listen to me, there’s no motorcade.”
“No, I know. I know that.” Sam is wearing white tie and tails. “The party. I’m going to the party.”
“The party hasn’t started. You don’t have to be anywhere yet, why don’t you just…”
“Aren’t you meeting with Didion? You and Leo.” You have to listen to me. “I think it’s a good idea, you know, just a meeting, a meeting can’t hurt.”
“We had the meeting already, it went fine.”
Shots fired, someone crashes into him, something hurts, hurts so much, can’t breathe, the blood.
“God Sam, what happened?” There is blood seeping through Sam’s shirt. A dark continent on a white sea.
“Nothing happened. Nothing happened to worry about, Josh.”
Then it’s gone. “I thought I saw…it’s nothing.”
He had taken a call, he had started off for the motorcade, President working the rope line, shots fired, people screaming, people running, people falling, slowly, slowly forgetting how to breathe, blood on his hand.
“What’s that noise?” He can barely say the words, air has seeped out of his lungs at such a rate.
Okay tube him.
Sam slams the doors shut. Both of them. One shot, two shot. “It’s the musicians, it’s just Toby’s musicians.”
Didn’t you hear me shouting for you?
He had come from the Oval Office, he had come from Leo’s office, he had taken a call, he had heard the music, he had got up to close the doors, he had left for the motorcade, people screaming, blood on his hand and…
This guy’s dead right now.
Sam’s moving closer to him now but he’s not touching him. “Sam, what…?”
But for two centimetres of a miracle this guy’s dead right now.
“Lets just sit down for a second.”
This guy’s dead right now.
Josh staggers and Sam reaches for him but he’s not quick enough and they end up on the floor. There’s no part of him that doesn’t ache and his head is in his hands as Sam rubs slow circles into his back until he can breathe again.
“Yeah.” He sighs and draws the heels of his hands across his eyes.
“Where were you? You just scared the hell out of me.”
The noise is just background now. “I haven’t been sleeping too well, that’s all, I must have drifted off.”
“It sounded like you were flashing-back to...”
That almost made it sound fun. “No. I was just…I haven’t eaten, I got a bit woozy.”
“Okay.” Sam’s doubtful.
Josh holds his hands out in front of him, they are trembling and cold. “Sam, I yelled at the President today.”
“I know, it was quite impressive.” Sam pulls Josh’s jacket off the back of a chair and wraps it round his shoulders. Sam holds him lightly with one arm, one caressing hand. It would be the easiest thing in the world now to fold into Sam’s arms and hide there, to let him run fingers through his hair, let him take over.
Josh gives a good approximation of a reassuring smile. “I just wanted to make sure he was listening.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
He closes his eyes. He half-remembers what happened, his imagination fills in the rest. “I’m so going to lose my job.”
“No way. The President loves you, Leo loves you. That’s not going to happen.” Sam has faith in all his father figures. “But Josh, you’ve got to talk to someone.”
He flicks his head up and sniffs. “I am. Leo’s sending me.”
“Good, because, just now, it seemed like you weren’t even here.”
It had happened before. A couple of weeks ago, the day when Toby was torturing him with yodellers. Yodellers for Christ’s sake. The feeling that there was a tight ball of terror stuck in his gut and the only way to get rid of it was to relive every damn moment. Maybe he should talk to someone.
“What’s ATVA all about?”
“Is it Travel Agents?”
Sam pauses, piecing together the acronym. “No. American Trauma Victims Association. That’s who you’re talking to?”
“I guess. Leo’s organising it.”
“I’ve heard of them. They’re supposed to be real good.”
“What do they do, Sam? What’s their thing?”
“I don’t know. Well, they have experience in…” Sam trails off, struggling to avoid sensitive words. Josh helps him out.
“In whatever the hell it is I’ve got?”
“My compulsion to stand around yelling in curved rooms.”
“Yes. Which clearly stems from a fear of rectangles.”
“Oblongophobia. I’m fairly sure there’s no cure for that.”
“So maybe Leo should send you to a travel agent.”
“Where at least I’d get a discount on car hire.”
Sam half-smiles, looks at him steadily. “Let them help you, Josh,” he says quietly. “Don’t…you know…don’t…”
“Screw it up?” Josh finishes for him. “That’s fine but I have to protect myself. It wouldn’t take much for them to say I’m unfit and then I’ve lost my job. Seriously, it wouldn’t take much.”
“I know you think that, but Leo…”
“Look, Sam can you find out for me, what they do, huh? I want to know their methods. Are they going talk to you guys? Can they get me admitted to hospital, put me on observations? I just want to know what I’m up against.”
“This is what I mean, it doesn’t exactly sound like the most constructive attitude.”
“Yeah, I know but can you do this one thing for me?” His voice is getting high-pitched, shrill. He hates it like that and he tempers it down. “Can you just do this one thing?”
“Yeah, I’ll find out what you need to know, that’s no problem.” He watches Sam taking off his glasses, folding them and unfolding them before slipping them into his pocket.
“And Sam, don’t tell anyone what just happened, okay.”
“Of course I’m not going to…”
“No I mean Leo, or the ATVA shrink.”
“It’ll just make it sound worse than it is.”
“I don’t know, because…”
“I’ll tell them myself.” His voice is rising again. Despite his reputation his fuse has never been this short. “I will. When the moment’s right. But I need to control this.”
Sam doesn’t speak for a moment, he hooks a finger behind his white bow tie and pulls at it a little. A cat trying to lose its collar. “On one condition.”
“No, on one condition. That you stay with me until you see the doctor.”
“Ah, come on. Don’t do this. I’m fine.”
“Look, humour me okay, I’m...”
“You think I’m going crazy.” He deflates a little. Someone’s going to say it eventually and it might as well be Sam, who loves him and will say it nice.
“No, I…No I don’t. I’m worried about you. These last few weeks…” He stares at the leg of Josh’s desk and stops speaking. There’s another sentence there; probably something about ‘doing something stupid’ but it’s left unsaid.
He thinks about it sometimes. Thinks about closing his eyes and letting himself crash into the mountain. But he’s never been one to give up that easily.
Now, he thinks about hurting Sam. Smacking his head against the wall, until the blood pours out of him, until he does what he wants him to.
Did you beat them into submission?
This is a new thing too, the certainty that with one violent act he can cast out all his demons. It’s a horrifying thought, almost the worst one. There ought to be some special laws against hurting people like Sam. Good souls amid the muck and bullets. But for a moment he knows he is capable of it.
He wraps his arms around Sam who is just in the process of putting his glasses back on. It is an ungainly hug, all wrong at this angle and seems to startle him.
“Hey,” Sam says and finds a way to hug him back. But it doesn’t last for long, just adds embarrassment to all the other emotions. Sam gets to his feet, pulls Josh up with him. Everything hurts.
“I’m going to change into my Jack the Ripper outfit,” Josh says with a smile he knows won’t convince.
“Are you really going to this party?” Sam asks, looking back to see what has become of his tails. “We could blow it off, go and get beers.”
“I think you might be a little overdressed for a bar crawl. Anyway, I’ll be okay. Classical music is supposed to soothe savage...you know, things.”
“Right. You clearly didn’t have to listen to the President on the subject of modern classical.”
“No but I have a lot to thank your boss for; brass bands, the Highland Fling, the festive sound of the Alps. A bit of Bach should be no problem.”
Afterwards Sam catches up with him outside his office. Josh had forgotten about him in his haste to get out of the building.
“Wait for me.”
“No, I’m going.” The noise is a deafening roar, now in G Major.
Okay tube him.
Josh is going down the corridor tugging his bowtie loose, if he can get out of this building he might stop hearing the screaming, might be able to breathe.
Josh, a bullet collapsed your lung.
“Wait for me. The President wants briefing on Didion, it won’t take long and then we can go.”
The ball of terror is back and dispersing and travelling through veins and arteries to every part of his body.
Josh, a bullet collapsed your lung.
Sam grabs his arms, stops him. They face each other like two characters in a costume drama.
Josh tries to struggle free but Sam’s holding firm this time. “I have to get out of here, please Sam, I have to.”
But focussing on Sam helps a bit, helps the noise to subside. Josh takes a breath and tries to speak but can’t. Sam lets his thumb stroke across Josh’s face, wiping away a tear he doesn’t realise he has shed, pulls him a little closer and kisses his cheek. “Wait for me, okay. Wait. Leo can brief the President. I’ll talk to him and get my coat. I’ll be one minute.”
He nods and lets Sam deposit him in his office, watches him fly off and when he has gone the noise starts again and Josh gets his things and goes.
Josh is in his bathroom running his hand under the tap when the Super lets Sam in to the apartment. Sam has walked over glass and followed a bloody trail to find him and his expression fails to conceal his horror.
“I’m all right, Sam.” His voice is reduced to almost nothing.
Josh finds himself appraised. He knows from the bathroom mirror that he is ghostly pale and he knows it shows he has been crying. But he also knows that the wildness has gone from his eyes replaced by a blank emptiness.
He turns away from Sam and goes back to watching wisps of blood rinse away down the plughole. Sam watches with him for a while. He doesn’t ask any questions and Josh is grateful for that.
Sam takes the hand and inspects it. “Ah, Josh,” he murmurs. “We should go to hospital and get it stitched.”
Sam looks at him, makes another swift assessment. “Then have you got some stuff?”
Josh stands, palm outstretched, head bowed while Sam inexpertly dresses and bandages the cut. Then Sam puts his arm around Josh. “Get some things. Let’s get out of here.”
“I can stay here.” He can still only manage a humbled whisper.
“You can’t, there’s a big hole in your house.”
“Sam, you don’t have to.”
They go into the living room. December seeps in through the broken window and Sam shudders. It finally decides the matter. “Let’s just go.”
Josh has one bandaged hand and an exhaustion which is practically knocking him over so it is Sam who gets out a suit for tomorrow and pushes clothes and toiletries into a bag for him. It is also Sam who gets Josh into his coat, locks up the apartment, talks to the Super about the window.
He straps Josh into the passenger seat of his car and they drive to Sam’s apartment mostly in silence. Josh stares at his bandaged hand, already dotted with red. He wonders if it worked, he wonders if he has bled the terror out. Probably not. It was never the most viable of propositions.
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself,” he says eventually. Because he wasn’t and because it’s not at all clear. He coughs to recover his voice. “I’m not…going to.”
“Okay.” Sam’s voice is level but Josh can hear that he doesn’t believe him, can hear how scared he is. Sam is one flashback away from turning him over to the proper authorities. “What then?” Sam asks, then stops himself. “I wasn’t going to ask you tonight.”
“No, its okay.” He needs to talk to Sam. Means to tell him the things he won’t tell a therapist, or any other soul. But he can’t do it now when forming even the most basic sentences is impossible. “Its okay but I don’t…I mean I can’t really explain it.”
“It’s all right, Josh. There’s no need to do this now.” Sam glances at him. “You’ll stay with me through Christmas and we can talk then.” His tone is gentle but it is something more than an invitation.
“It’s the rectangles, they’re everywhere.” Josh tries.
Sam tries too. “We should stamp them out. Get CJ to announce a strategy for curved edges.”
“Yeah. A strategy.”
Sam’s hand rests permanently on Josh’s shoulder now as they go up to his apartment.
“In here.” Sam guides him into the bedroom.
“No, I’ll take the couch.”
“Its okay, I had the Secret Service sweep the room for rectangles.”
Sam drops Josh’s bag and they face each other. He manages a sad-eyed smile and helps Josh out of his coat. He starts to unbutton Josh’s shirt and Josh can’t argue, can’t contemplate the complexities of a dress suit when the movement of Sam’s fingers is enough to make him dizzy.
“Shall I just do this?” Sam asks slipping off Josh’s shirt. “I have twice as many hands as you.”
He finishes undressing Josh. Everything hurts but Sam is careful and his hands are their own kind of miracle. He leaves Josh in Tshirt and boxers, waits while he gets into bed. Then sitting on the edge of the bed Sam watches him.
“So, what did you think of the party?” Sam says eventually.
“Great, I think I scored with that waitress.”
Sam runs a finger along the edge of the blanket. “You want me to stay?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Though it would be the easiest thing in the world.
“Goodnight Josh,” Sam says but doesn’t move.
“I’m sorry Sam, sorry about all this.”
Sam combs his fingers through Josh’s hair. “Ssh just sleep. It’ll be okay.” His lips flutter across Josh’s and are gone.
He switches off the light, hovers for a while. “I’m leaving the door open.”
Josh is too tired to close his eyes. He watches the shadows cast by streetlights against the wall and listens to Sam moving quietly about his apartment before finally stopping just outside the bedroom door.