Title: A Trip Away
Series/Sequel: to a story I wrote called Avoidance (sort of)
Disclaimer: the characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam goes on a trip, and - trips!
Notes: A sort of sequel to Avoidance
A Trip Away by Jen
Sam leaned back and closed his eyes. The rumble of the bus was soothing, and for the first time this week, Sam was able to relax. He felt a gentle tap on his knee, a hand that opened out and closed around his thigh with familiar pressure, a heavy warmth he could feel through the fabric of his trousers. Sam cracked open one eye, and found Josh staring at him intently, something he'd been doing a lot over the past couple of weeks.
"Are you feeling all right?"
Sam sighed, "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Yes, Josh, I'm sure." Sam tried not to sound irritable.
"It's just, you know, yesterday..."
"Rough day, Josh."
"Yeah, well, you puking you guts out was certainly spectacular. Then there were the five hours you spent lying immobile on Toby's couch with a God-awful, blinding headache, and I'm not sure you slept much last night. So."
Sam opened his eyes properly and smiled tiredly across at Josh,
"Really, I am okay. A bit wrung-out, that's all."
"Okay. Get some sleep." Josh patted Sam's knee and stood up. He spied CJ further down the bus, and headed over to keep her company. He hovered in the aisle, looking down at the top of her head.
"Go away, Josh."
"CJ!" wounded, "I came to keep you company."
"Sam's asleep then." She hadn't even looked up.
"How - yeah, well, he needs a few zeds."
"Poor Sam. Is he really feeling any better?"
"I think he's heading that way."
"That was an exceedingly bad pun, Joshua. Go away!"
"Aw, c'mon, CJ, I'm bored!"
"Oh, for God's sake!" Sighing with exasperation, CJ cleared a few papers from the seat beside her. "Sit down, then, party boy." Josh plonked himself down next to her and grinned cheerily,
"So, got a strategy for the Press on our arrival?"
"I changed my mind. Go away!"
"All right. I'm working on it." CJ glanced awkwardly at Josh. "I can't believe they caught me out on that one."
"CJ, none of us had any idea-"
"Well, we should have, Josh! A peace march, can you believe it, going through the very city we're visiting, at that particular time, three weeks after the peace address down South, in fact, INSPIRED by that very address, worming its way towards DC and we accidentally intercept it in Pittsburgh?!"
"Toby blasted his entire team, if that's any help."
"Yeah, that was a big help." CJ rolled her eyes and began to tick off items on her fingers, "9 a.m. Press conference where I practically commit the President to joining a peace march, 10a.m. Toby yelling at the entire Communications staff, 10.30 a.m. Sam vomiting himself stupid in the Men's room..."
"Sam felt bad for you, Ceej. We all did."
"It was just so unexpected." CJ waved her glasses in the air. "Of all things, in Pittsburgh. I'm pretty sure Toby'll have something useful to put a spin on it by the time we arrive."
"Want me to go see?"
"No! Leave him alone." Toby was a couple of seats away, typing furiously on his laptop. He looked up to see CJ and Josh eyeing him.
Josh swung around to face CJ again, and spoke in his most innocent voice, "So, CJ, speaking as an outdoors man-"
Toby snorted and returned to his typing. CJ glared at Josh,
"Go away. Far away. I mean it."
Josh rose reluctantly and slid back in beside Sam, who was sleeping quietly, slightly slumped down, tucked into the corner of the huge seat, hair straggled untidily across his forehead. Josh took a good look at him, much easier to do while Sam was asleep. Sam looked frail somehow, even though Josh knew he was physically fitter and stronger than he was himself. He was pale and tired and, Josh plunged around for the right word, ah, fragile. In a very special and private way, Josh was able to find Sam a fragile human being, not so sure and certain, overly sensitive to the feelings of those closest to him, shy and intense, in sharp contrast to the efficient, intelligent, competent lawyer Sam often portrayed.
Josh heaved a sigh himself and leaned back, looking past Sam to the unfolding countryside beyond Virginia. Not a long journey, they'd be back this time tomorrow. And Leo and the President would only be there for a few hours, really, flying in by helicopter at four. Josh mulled over Sam's peace address, the one he'd tried to block. It'd been an enormous success and had fired a whole new enthusiasm by the general public to find peaceful solutions for internal and external conflict. The White House had been inundated with a bizarre range of suggestions and plans, many of which had found their way to Donna's desk, much to Josh's irritation...
"Josh, a really good idea for a peace initiative has come in from Utah."
"Donna, the only good ideas to come from Utah were polygamy and the Osmonds. Hmmm. Actually, I'm not sure either was a good idea."
And now, the national peace production, as Toby referred to it, was well under way, with hundreds of marches nationwide, bumper stickers and talk-show frenzy. Josh was touched by the intensity of the fervour, but not particularly impressed. He didn't see that there was anything valuable for the government in people marching and rallying. Maybe ten years ago, actually more, he mused reflectively, he might have jumped on the bandwagon. But not now, no way.
Sam had viewed it differently. Sam, the eternal, freakish idealist, could see all these activities actually doing something for peace, having meaning. Josh couldn't.
"It's a waste of time, Sam."
Sam was glowing at t.v. coverage of a candlelight rally, everyone in the small town wearing matching t-shirts. He had turned a wounded face towards Josh,
"It's not a waste of time. These people are genuine, Josh. They really want peace."
"So, who gives a damn what they want? It has absolutely NO effect whatsoever on government, policy or the President. It's a small town, Sam, going nowhere fast."
"Josh, you're so wrong. It does mean something. And it is catching on. All over the place. It's gotta make a difference."
"Idealistic crap, Sam!"
"You're so far up the political ladder, Josh, I'm surprised it isn't rammed right up your ass!" And that, from Sam, had taken them both by surprise, and the argument had collapsed into raucous laughter.
Sam moved a little in his sleep, restless hands twitching in his lap. Josh pondered over what Toby would come up with to help CJ out...
"CJ, CJ, would you say the President approves of the peace marches across America?"
"Of course he does. Expression of opinion is very important to this Government. Mike?"
"CJ, will the President listen to the marchers?"
"President Bartlet is always keen to hear the voice of the people."
"Is that why you're going to Pittsburgh, to meet the marchers?"
"As I have already stated, we're going to Pittsburgh to attend a dinner for the Foundation for Abused Children."
"Will President also hear the voices of the marchers?"
"Of course he will hear them. I wouldn't be surprised to find him marching with them!"
"CJ, CJ, is President Bartlet joining the march?"
Josh smiled. The Press had run away with CJ's accidental implication, and Leo had been furious. There was no safe way to let President Bartlet mingle with the marchers, not in Pittsburgh. Now it looked like he was going to SNUB the marchers, when no-one had had any idea they were going to be there!
And Toby had hit the roof when he found no-one had picked up on the route of the marchers, whose numbers had been growing as they moved from town to town. Toby had called in his whole staff, something he did most infrequently, and had berated them at length for poor preparation. Sam had stood silently beside him, trying to appear the supportive deputy, but growing whiter by the minute. He had finally folded quietly into a chair pushed forward by Ed (or Larry).
"I've told you before," Toby had finally neared the end, apparently unaware of Sam disintegrating beside him, "we're a team. But we must be thorough. We must be the best team ever. We must try to have all the answers, all the time. We're working for the President of the United States of America, and there's no-one who deserves more accurate, complete, fully-researched information. We must BE THE BEST." At this poignant moment, Sam had lurched raggedly to his feet, hand pressed desperately against his mouth, and staggered into the nearest men's room. This effectively cracked up the meeting and Toby had dismissed everyone before reluctantly checking on his Deputy. He found Sam being thoroughly sick in the toilet, and, feeling unable and unwilling to really help out there, had sent Bonnie to find Josh.
The two of them had managed to get Sam through that part of the ordeal.
"Sam, are you finished?"
"I think so." Sam had sat back weakly against the open stall of the bathroom, his breathing coming in small, shallow gasps, eyes shut. Bonnie handed Josh a damp cloth. He crouched down and gently washed Sam's face. Sam sat immobile, his eyes still shut tightly.
"Ah, Sam, you can open your eyes now."
Sam's voice was very quiet, "I don't think so." Josh immediately knew what was wrong. He glanced up at Bonnie,
"His head hurts. We need to lie him down somewhere."
They gently levered Sam to his feet, and, taking an arm each, escorted a wobbly Sam to the Bullpen. Toby saw them heading through the door and came out to meet them. He was faced with a greenish, swaying Sam, eyes still closed.
Sam opened his eyes at that, but quickly shut them against the glare of the Bullpen, shuddering slightly. Josh took control.
"He needs to lie down, Toby. He'll be fine in a little while. Can we use your couch?"
"I mean 'he'. ...Toby, did you just smirk at me?"
"The Zieglers have never smirked." He gestured at Sam, "Bring it in and lie it down."
And there Sam had lain for much of the day, immobilised by a migraine almost certainly inspired by CJ's situation on top of an extremely busy week. Toby typed, made calls and tried to formulate a plan to help CJ out. At about 1.30 Sam had awkwardly risen to a sitting position, while Toby was out of the office. He felt dreadful. His throat was dry and his head seemed to have developed a thunderous pulse all of its own. He had attempted to stand up, but found the room sliding precariously so had sat down again quickly. He heard Toby returning and tried to look alert and casual, but failed miserably. Toby, coming back into the room, was surprised to see Sam sitting up, and could see at a glance he was in no condition to work.
"Good grief. Lie down again, you idiot."
"But, Toby, I-"
"Sam!" Sam lay down.
Three hours later Sam was able to make a much better attempt, sitting up slowly and looking around with something akin to interest in his surroundings. Toby glanced up from his computer, smiling slightly now at the vacant expression on his Deputy's face. He watched curiously as the blue eyes blinked heavily, staring at nothing but gradually gaining awareness. Those eyes finally focused on Toby's amused expression, and Sam reddened slightly.
"I'm sorry." He ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair. Toby waved a hand in dismissal.
"You can't control everything, Sam. Your head just took over." Toby stood up and walked round his desk. He perched on the coffee table in front of Sam." Do you want to see what I've worked out for Pittsburgh?"
The bus juddered through a series of potholes, and Sam jerked awake. He found he was looking right at Josh, who was smiling right back at him.
"Hey, Sam. Good sleep?" Josh watched Sam absent-mindedly massage his neck.
"Yeah. Uh, where are we?"
"Nearly there. How's your head doing?" Josh reached out and brushed some of Sam's hair off his forehead in a familiar and caring gesture.
"I'm fine." The automatic response didn't even register with Josh.
"Hungry? We ate a while back but no-one wanted to wake you up."
Sam's cheeks flickered as a red flush highlighted his cheekbones. He buried his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes. Josh patted his shoulder.
"Don't worry about it, Sam, we all really felt for you yesterday. You haven't gone down like that in a while."
Sam looked right at Josh. "And I'm not going down again for a long time. In fact," he shifted resolutely, "for the rest of the year."
"Sam!" Josh tried to look serious but his eyes were shining with humour and he couldn't prevent dimples creasing his cheeks, "It's pretty early in the year - that's a big ask, isn't it?"
"I'm not going down, Josh."
"No more migraines?"
"No migraines, no puking, especially in front of Toby, no illnesses, no accidents. Nothing. You will all be stunned and impressed by my remarkable ability to maintain peak physical condition for the next eight months!"
Josh graced Sam with an indulgent but derisive snort.
"Yeah, watch this space!"
Sam shot him a wounded glare. Josh ignored it.
Sam frowned, "I should have been helping Toby. What about the Press statement?"
"All done. Toby's nailed it, so we're ready for the lions!"
Sam sighed deeply and glanced out the window.
"You're right. We're nearly there."
* * *
Of course, their arrival in Pittsburgh involved much more than just getting ready for a dinner. There were half a dozen different meetings to attend, and Sam had to oversee the entire seating arrangement for the Dinner that evening. Josh stopped by the dining hall at 6 p.m.
"Hey, Sam. We're all meeting in CJ's room for a drink. You done here?"
"I'm feeling sort of boxed in here, Josh. I need some fresh air. I think I might go for a run before the whole thing kicks off."
"A run? Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. There's a huge park right across the river. What's the matter?"
Josh was frowning wildly. "Sam, have you even eaten today?"
"The day after a migraine's a little like a hangover, Josh. You don't feel so hungry."
Josh shifted impatiently. "I KNOW that. How would I not know that? How long have I known you? You AND your stupid head!"
Sam smiled tenderly, "Josh, I'm-"
"Yeah, yeah, you're fine. Okay, catch ya later, dude."
* * *
Within half an hour, Sam was pounding across the bridge towards the park. Twilight bathed the trees in a soft, lemon-coloured light that emphasised the brilliant greens of the leaves. The air was crisp and still, rush-hour traffic already thinning, a few people on foot barely visible as the dusk deepened with startling rapidity. Unperturbed, Sam crossed at the lights and headed into the park. He knew it would be a fairly brief run this time. The events of yesterday had left him jaded and as he hadn't eaten, his energy levels were depressed. He could still feel the migraine scratching away inside his head, although he'd never admit that to the others. He hoped the run would clear the dregs of it out of his system. Everything was set for the Dinner, Toby was actually satisfied - he really could relax. What could go wrong now?
Ten minutes later, Sam found out what could go wrong. Deciding to head back to the hotel, Sam sprinted down the slope towards the duck-pond, knowing he could take a right turn there to return to the park entrance. Part of the path here was muddy and had sunk slightly into the damp pond-soaked ground. Running swiftly, Sam reached the path that encircled the pond. He made to turn towards the gate and felt his foot sink deeply where a sodden patch of mud had oozed across the path. His sneaker squelched obstinately and despite Sam's inertia, failed to leave the mud, clamping his foot unexpectedly where it had landed. Sam's body twisted sideways and the shoe suddenly schlurped out of the mud with a rush of trapped air. Too late, Sam toppled sideways, landing with an enormous splash in the freezing, dank, dark water of the duck-pond.
Arms flailing and a surprised cry of shock ringing in his ears, Sam felt the icy cold water envelop him with a rush, chilling his entire body in a matter of seconds. His rear end hit the shallow, slimy bottom of the pond with a heavy thwack and his head was doused with water and pond weed. Scabbling to his feet, frantically coughing and spluttering, Sam tried to assess the extraordinarily frustrating situation he found himself in. He waded to the edge of the muddy pond, the dark water swirling with disturbed mud, and hauled himself up onto the path. The shivering started right away.
Sam tried to think but the violent tremors shaking his body were blotting out any sense of rational thought.
Cold. C-c-c-cold. That's all he could think. Co-o-o-o-olddd. He took one step away from the mud and crashed face first to the grass. Huh? Sam levered himself up onto one knee and tried to stand, but the other knee just didn't want to co-operate. He felt another round of vile shaking overtake his system. Sam sat down on the grass and, with a shaking hand, checked his knee, cold, wet, slimy and very tender. He bent and straightened it a couple of times, then carefully stood up on the other leg. He gingerly put a little weight on the offending leg and found it wasn't too bad. He'd probably just twisted it a little. The darkness was suddenly intense, and felt like the enemy. Sam realised he needed to get out of the cold, and back to the hotel.
Sam headed onto the bridge feeling like he'd aged thirty years since the last crossing. A light breeze off the river cut right through his sodden t-shirt with knife-like slashes and dragged his body temperature down further. Shivering uncontrollably, Sam limped up over the river, a miserable, bedraggled, aching shadow of his former self!
Nearing the hotel, he saw a crowd of reporters gathering early for the Dinner celebrations, and realised he just couldn't pass through that picture-hungry throng looking like a drowned rabbit. Backing around a sheltered corner, he unhooked his phone from his waistband and shook the moisture off it. It lit up for a hopeful moment then blackened forbiddingly. Despite several desperate shakes, it remained dead. Sam unclipped his pager and checked that. Also dead.
C-c-c-ooold-d-d-d. Sam could feel his brain shutting out all other thoughts, to spend more time focusing on the cold. Squaring his shoulders, he headed to the back of the hotel, where the Secret Service, grinning broadly, allowed him entry through the rear doorway. Sam slipped up to his room, thankfully running into no-one except more grinning agents. Sam knew he wouldn't hear the end of this for some time. And, he realised, this ruined his resolution to Josh on the bus - no accidents.
Sam's hands were shaking violently as he tried to get the key-card to work. After the third attempt, one of the agents crossed the hallway, slipped the card out of Sam's frozen fingers and opened the door for him.
"You all right, Mr Seaborn?"
"Y-y-y-yeah, I'm f-f-fine. Thanks." Embarrassed, Sam slipped into his room and stumbled for the bathroom. He turned on the shower and the heating lamps in the ceiling. The shivering was exhausting. Rather than keep to a rhythm as it did whenever he ventured out in the harsh Virginia winters, this was like waves crashing on a wild beach, a lull then a mighty, violent surge of uncontrollable ague, leaving his whole body feeling beaten and tense.
Not willing to look in the mirror, Sam peeled off his t-shirt, surprised to find the now muddy whiteness stained with a rusty red all down one side. Sam looked down at his own shivering body, pale with cold, and was shocked to see a gash running nearly from armpit to hip, blood smeared wetly across his left side. Sam stared in absolute shock and dismay. He couldn't imagine how he had cut himself. He balled the t-shirt and flung it into the empty bathtub. He stepped reluctantly to the mirror and wiped away the mounting condensation, peering at his body in the smudged reflection. Sam was completely stumped, and more than a little concerned. He eased off his running shoes, green with weed, and dragged his filthy socks down over white, frozen toes. Turning reluctantly towards the shower, Sam peeled off his mud-slimed shorts, dropping them on the tiled floor. His sodden satin boxers clung in cold folds to his thighs, and he stepped into the shower before divesting himself of that article of clothing.
Fifteen minutes later, Sam was still in the shower, sitting on the floor of the shower stall, letting the hot water dissolve the last shivers from his body. Josh appeared in a cloud of steam, clearly irritated.
"Sam! What the hell are you still in the shower for? It's after 7. Toby's threatening to do nasty things to you."
Sam rested his head on his knees. "I'll be out in a minute."
Josh's dimpled grin appeared around the shower curtain. "How was the run?"
"Okay." Sam felt relieved his injured side was away from Josh.
Josh frowned. Something didn't seem quite right. Oh well. He shrugged.
"Get a move on, then. Or Toby will come in here and drag you naked to the dining hall. Okay?"
Sam felt very tired. Couldn't Josh see the muddied clothing abandoned around the bathroom? The blood-stained t-shirt? The weed-caked runners and socks? And couldn't he see that Sam was not okay? Sitting huddled on the floor of the shower?
Arms wrapped around his knees? Couldn't he see the fear that was only now invading Sam's nervous system as delayed shock settled in for the evening? And then Josh was gone.
Sam reluctantly turned off the shower and began to dry himself. The gash down his side gleamed wetly, defying the ministrations of the towel. Sam gingerly towelled off the rest of his body. He sat on the edge of the bath to check his knee. It was red and slightly swollen, but nothing serious. He leaned across and opened the cupboard under the basin. No first aid supplies in there. Sam had a few Band Aids in his overnight bag, but didn't think that would cover the twelve inches or so of jagged broken skin. He rose wearily and wandered over to the phone. He dialled Room Service and requested some gauze and adhesive tape, and a pair of scissors.
* * *
The Dinner went very well, and the President had an excellent time. He was full of the joys of life as they met after the function for a debrief. Leo and the President were soon to fly back to D.C.
Sam had endured one of the longest evenings he could recall. He felt awful, first warm then cold, then warm again. It was as if his body had become confused and couldn't decide what temperature to maintain. His knee was aching and the gash in his side was disturbingly painful. Every movement seemed to cause a twang of pain. Sam had remained stoic throughout the dinner but was beginning to lose control over his ragged nerves. Josh had remained oblivious to his discomfort, assuming it was just a post-migraine downer. And Josh hated those. Everyone else had been focused on the speeches. CJ was particularly merry, relaxing with the knowledge Toby had cleared the march mess up.
As the Senior Staffers gathered in Leo's hotel room, the President bustled in through the adjoining door, high on the success of the night. He flung an arm around Sam with good cheer, his hand closing directly on Sam's now-fiery injury. Sam blanched visibly and staggered against the President, his knees weakened by the intensity of the pain. Jed felt Sam stumble and figured he was over-tired. He'd heard about the migraine, and knew such things were exhausting.
"Sam, I think you need to get to bed." He frowned at Toby, "You working this boy too hard?"
Toby could see something was wrong. Sam had straightened but looked very pale.
"Yes, sir. Sam, go get some rest."
Sam didn't feel like responding. The other staffers were all looking at him with concern. He couldn't look at them. He moved quickly to the door and slipped out.
CJ turned to Josh curiously,
"So, what's wrong with Sam? He looks a bit off-colour."
Josh shrugged, "It's the day after a migraine. He's usually a bit down."
Leo cleared his throat, "We need to discuss the Collins business. What are we going to do without a guy in Fishing? We have to get someone else in there quick, before that South Carolina thing comes up."
"It's already here, Leo." CJ crossed her legs elegantly and leaned back on the couch. "I've had questions about it two days running."
"What have you been saying?"
"Nothing yet. Josh said to keep a lid on it until you've talked to someone."
"I figured we could pull Casey in from the back. Toby was meeting with him the other day." Leo felt like he was playing some bizarre form of musical chairs, as he focused on CJ, then Josh, and now Toby. Toby shifted a little awkwardly, and cleared his throat.
"Well, actually, Sam met with Casey the day before yesterday."
"I had the Arts meeting. Sam said he was halfway there, they were going to meet again yesterday, but Ginger had to cancel all his meetings after, you know, his thing."
"Couldn't someone else've gone?"
"Not really. We didn't realise there was any real urgency."
"Well, there IS. Josh could have told you THAT! Josh, what the hell's going on?"
"Hey, this thing will go down fine. As Toby said, Sam was getting there, and he would have said if he'd had any doubts."
"Josh, go talk to Sam right now. I want a full picture before we head back."
Josh sighed pointedly and left the room.
He didn't bother to knock before letting himself into the room. The room was darkened, but the bathroom light was on, letting Josh spy Sam leaning back on the bed against the pillows. He had taken off his shoes and tie, and was lying semi-reclined. Josh moved over quietly and sat down on the edge of the bed next to Sam.
Sam seemed to be awake, but he didn't acknowledge Josh. His hair was plastered wetly across his forehead and his breathing was shallow and rapid. Josh frowned and laid a hand on Sam's thigh, a favourite gesture between them. Sam flinched and opened his eyes properly.
"Hey, Josh." He sounded croaky. "What's wrong?"
"Leo wanted me to get the gen on the meeting with Casey. How far did you get?"
"It's fine, Josh. I'm certain he'll be our guy."
"What's wrong? You look a bit... are you feeling... " Josh tiptoed with trepidation through the agonising maze of how to get Sam to tell him how he was feeling. "It's just, you look like.. Sam, are you in pain or something? Is it your head?"
Sam was about to answer when a huge sneeze erupted out of him. This drove a searing fire down his side, causing him to cry out. He instinctively wrapped his arm around his side, grimacing and leaning forward. Josh was stunned.
"Sam, what's wrong?"
Sam sneezed again. Josh handed him a tissue and gently rubbed Sam's back. "Are you getting a cold?" He could feel Sam shivering, even though he was warm.
Sam leaned back gingerly. "Uh, yeah, a cold. Must have been that run."
"Okay. I'll leave you 'til later. So I can tell Leo you think it'll be okay with Casey?"
"Yeah. We're ninety percent there."
Josh stood up and headed for the door. "Later."
Leo and the President were ready to fly back to D.C. Josh reported Sam's meeting and saw them off to the chopper. He met up with Toby and CJ in the bar downstairs.
"Yeah." Josh loosened his tie, and unbuttoned his collar. "What're you having?"
They all leaned back, relaxing.
CJ glanced at Josh. "How's Sam?"
"I dunno. He looked like he was getting a cold or something."
Toby sat up a little straighter. "You know, when the President flung his arm around Sam, I thought he was going to pass out."
"No, Josh, you idiot, Sam. Did anything happen to him when he went out for that run?"
"How should I know?"
"Oh, c'mon. Josh, you're sharing a room. You're his freaking partner. You can't tell when something's wrong?"
"CJ, we have been busy tonight. I've hardly seen him." However, a worried frown had appeared on Josh's face, and after a moment he stood up noisily. "I'm off to bed."
Toby smiled knowingly, "Let us know if it's anything serious!"
Josh slipped quietly into the room. Sam hadn't moved. Josh passed through into the bathroom to relieve himself. This time he noticed the filthy running shoes, socks and shorts scattered across the floor, and the t-shirt balled up in the bath. Josh was surprised. Sam NEVER left dirty clothes scattered around. That was Josh's own area of expertise. Thinking of Sam, he lifted the t-shirt to at least smooth it out a little, and was shocked to find the rusty red stains smeared in the damp muddiness. Josh dropped the shirt as if it was hot, and turned back to the bedroom. He moved over to the bed and switched on the bedside lamp, sitting down beside his partner.
Groggy blue eyes slowly met his, and a small smile crinkled the corners of his eyes.
Josh began to unbutton Sam's dress shirt.
"What're you doing?" Sam still sounded croaky, and he was still shivering a little.
Josh ignored him, feeling the mounting pressure of irritation and worry that Sam seemed to cause him at times like this. He opened out the shirt and, briskly shoving Sam's protesting hands aside, lifted his white undershirt. He was faced with a long line of gauze and tape, which didn't cover the spreading black of bruising. Josh looked up at Sam's blue eyes, and indicated that he wanted to lift the tape. Sam nodded slightly, staring at Josh with trust and a little trepidation. He knew Josh was seething and didn't trust himself not to yell at Sam. Josh gently peeled away the lower end of the tape and lifted the gauze. He drew in a sharp breath at the fiery redness illuminating the wound. Sam gasped a little, too, as the tape pulled at his skin.
"Okay, okay." Josh was speaking around clenched teeth, snorting angry puffs of air out of his nostrils, like a young dragon. "You did this how?"
Sam squinted nervously, a colt fearful of the dragon's fiery temper.
"Sam?" Josh ran a hand through his hair distractedly. "That doesn't look so good. Did you use antiseptic?"
Sam shook his head, small, jerky shakes, his eyes fixed on Josh's.
"C'mon, I'll take you to an ER or something."
* * *
Sam reclined against the pillows as CJ collected the morning coffee from Room Service. Josh lay dead to the world beside him on the bed.
"So." CJ began conversationally, "Tell me again what happened." She passed Sam a coffee and a croissant. He wrinkled his nose at it. "Eat!"
Sam compliantly bit into the croissant, and had a sip of coffee.
"Aaah! Now I feel better."
"You've gotta get on top of that coffee addiction, Sam. Now, spill."
Sam took a deep breath, then winced.
"Mustn't do that." His voice was thick with cold. "Okay. I went for a run, across the river to that park we saw from the bus. And that was going fine. I didn't want to go for too long, and it was getting dark, so I decided to head back." Sam cleared his throat, and took another sip of coffee. CJ cleared her own throat pointedly, so he had another bite of the croissant as well before continuing. "I slipped in some mud, and fell into a pond. Well, I thought it was a pond, all slimy and green. " Sam shuddered. "And cold. Ceej, it was freezing. Anyway, I thought I was fine, just cold, and twisted my knee a bit, but when I got back I found this huge cut down my side. I never even knew it was there." Sam frowned, reminiscing.
"How on earth did you get that?"
"It was apparently a fountain, with dozens of metal water spouter things. I must have fallen on one, but the cold numbed it. Trouble is, the water was gross, so now it's a bit infected." He frowned, then brightened. "I have antibiotics. I'll be fine."
"Do you need to take one now?" CJ fingered the bottle on the bedside unit.
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Sam downed two pills with his coffee.
CJ looked at Josh, peacefully oblivious to their conversation. "Did you get any sleep?"
"Not really. We only got back a couple of hours ago." He grabbed a tissue before sneezing loudly. Josh stirred but did not wake up.
"And you caught a cold."
"They said it was sort of a chill, but I must have had the cold in me anyway, so it took over while I was down."
"Not a good week for you, Sam." CJ poured herself a second coffee. Sam held out his cup hopefully. "Don't you want to get some rest?"
"I can sleep on the bus."
"Toby's hoping you'll be able to come with him to that Auxiliary meeting at 9."
"Uh, yeah, sure. Are we ready for that?"
"He's doing it now."
Sam swung his legs over the side of the bed, frowning slightly. "I'd better get on to it."
"Sam, you sure you're up for it?"
Sam reached for another tissue.
"I can sleep on the bus."
CJ waved her cup at Josh's slumbering form. "When are you going to wake him?"
"When I'm ready to put on a tie. I don't think I can lift my arm."
"Want some help?" CJ's eyes were sparkling with humour.
Sam's eyes widened. He grinned, "Can you pass me some fresh boxers?"
CJ dumped her cup on the tray and stood up. "You're on your own there, sunshine!"
Sam smiled, "Tell Toby I'll be there-" he glanced at his watch, "by 7.30."
* * *
Leo eyeballed Sam.
"What is it with you and water?" Sam dragged his eyes away, and looked down at the carpet.
"Sam, you're Senior Staff. If you're going out for a run in a strange city, you gotta let someone know, so when you run under a bus or whatever the hell you have planned for next time, we can be ready to drive you directly to the hospital!"
Sam opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, glancing pointedly at Josh. Leo didn't miss it. He swung his gaze around to his own Deputy.
"YOU knew he was going out?"
Josh had been reclining on the couch. He sat forward nervously. "Hey, leave me out of this."
"It appears you were very much IN it, Josh. You had no better advice for him?"
Josh's head dropped sullenly, "I thought he should get something to eat."
"But you knew he was going anyway."
Leo looked back at Sam, who was busy blowing his nose.
"So, not satisfied with a day on Toby's couch with a migraine, you had to go out and add all-" he waved his hand in a vague circle in front of Sam, "-all this mess."
Sam resumed his study of the carpet.
Leo sighed exasperatedly, "Sam, do you have any voice at all?"
Sam looked up and shook his head.
"Has Bonnie sorted your schedule?" Sam nodded brightly. "Okay. Go do whatever you can." Thus dismissed, Sam realised he needed to stand up. He threw a desperate glance at Josh, who was grinning at him. Sam frowned. Josh pulled at his collar.
"You need me to help you up, don't you?"
Sam nodded miserably.
Josh leaned back. "Answer the question, Sam. Did I or did I not, no, wait, did I recommend that a run was a bad idea? Just nod if I did." Leo looked from one to the other. Sam's head bobbed faintly. Josh stood up.
"Was that a nod? I don't think the court quite caught that one. Was that a nod, Mr Seaborn?" Sam looked all around the room, before meeting Josh's gaze. He nodded.
Leo intervened, "Yeah, all right, Josh. I get the point. Now, get him up and get out of here, both of you."
Josh gently eased a very stiff and sore Sam up to a standing position, and they headed for the door. As Leo put on his glasses to begin his paperwork, he found himself grinning at the backs of the two Deputies. He cleared his throat and tried to sound gruff, "Guys?" They both turned to look at him. "Stay out of trouble, will ya?"
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