Title: Irritation
Author: Jen
Pairing: Sam/Josh
Rating: PG
Series/Sequel: Stand alone
E-mail: jennyob@slingshot.co.nz
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam irritates the people around him
Notes: Inspired by Abigale who has never actually seriously irritated me But this may irritate her, as time is not a continuum in this fic!

Irritation by Jen

Sam switched off the car engine and leaned his head forward against the steering wheel. He was tired. No, he was more than tired, he was completely and utterly shattered. He toyed momentarily with the possibility of having a nap right there in the driver's seat, but realised it was too cold. He was too cold. He lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. The pale green digits of the dashboard clock caught his eye – 7:19. He watched the colon between the numbers flash and unthinkingly counted, …nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen – there, 7:20. Sam shook his head, rousing himself, and climbed wearily out onto the sidewalk.

Heading home at seven o'clock could be considered unbelievably good luck, but he wasn't just heading home, he'd been sent home, ordered home, by an irate and tempestuous Director of Communications, who had decided that the West Wing would be a much better place with Sam Seaborn out of it for the evening.

Sam let himself into the apartment and turned up the heating right away, shivering slightly in the still chill of the quiet living room. He methodically removed his pager, cell phone, keys, wallet, ID, lining them up on the side table. Sam looked around miserably in the gloom before shaking himself and switching on some lights. He changed into jeans and a sweater, digging out a pair of woollen socks. He always felt the cold more severely for a couple of days after a migraine, and yesterday's migraine had been a real doozy.

* * *

"Oh, God, not again!"

"There isn't anything we can do to stop it."

"This is like the tenth time in less than two hours."

"He always throws up when he's like this – and it's only the fifth time."

"Yeah, well, we're not usually shut up in a mini-bus together. Just hearing him makes me feel nauseous."

"Cover your ears."

"Not in these earrings."

"Well, do what Toby does. Ignore him."

"I can't! I feel sorry for the poor thing."

"It's Sam, CJ, not a puppy." Josh carefully stowed yet another barf bag under the seat, as Sam laid his head down on his knees again. Josh rubbed his hand up and down Sam's back, relaxing in the seat and frowning at CJ's concerned face. "Look, I've got everything under control. Just go…write a Press release or something. We'll be back in D.C. soon."

"Nah, I'll cope." She peered over the back of the seat at the back of Sam's head. "How long will this go on?"

Josh shrugged, "Who knows? It started about four a.m. so I can't imagine he can go on much longer."

"What d'you, I mean, did he, you know, take something for it?"

"Yeah, but it's hard to tell if it stayed down, and the pills're too powerful to risk a second dose."

"Really? How powerful?"

Josh's eyes blazed at her for a moment and his tone was acidic, "I really couldn't comment on the exact dosage, CJ. I'm not a pharmacist or a doctor of medicine."

"Oh, shut up!" And CJ swung around to face the front, folding her arms in irritation. Josh had sighed, his hand finally resting on the warm space between Sam's hunched shoulder blades. He yawned widely. He was tired. He'd slept barely three hours before being disrupted by Sam being ill, and had dozed only fitfully until dawn as Sam had alternately writhed in the bed and stumbled for the bathroom, head in hands.

He'd left Sam to suffer alone during the hotel breakfast, returning to pack both their bags and get Sam up and on the bus for their return to D.C.

"C'mon, sit up, whoa there. Arms up, t-shirt coming. Hang on, get your, yeah – no, other, no, shit, Sam, arm in the hole. Uh-huh – good. Wait! Sit up, yeah. Shirt coming, hold still while – you can do the buttons yourself? Yeah, right, fine. Try. Heh, yeah, well, that one's wrong for a start. Just let me. Hmm, uh, no tie, I think. Okay, pants…"

It was a time-consuming effort, and the end result, Sam reasonably dressed but barely responsive and pale as a ghost, managing to look fragile and sexy simultaneously. Josh had gazed at him for a long moment before collecting both their bags and herding Sam towards the door.

* * *

Toby slammed the hotel room door and dropped into an armchair.

"You can't meet with Everson when we get back tomorrow."

Sam's head shot up, his blue eyes startled, "I have to."

"Cancel it. Call Ginger."

"No! I mean, I want to meet with him." Sam leaned away from his laptop, folding his arms.

"You can't. I've just been on a phone conference with Levy from the Johnson Committee. They're going to alter their submission."

"That might not change the vote."

Toby snorted with derision, "Don't be naïve, Sam."

"I'm not being naïve. Why do you always have to throw that in my face?" He dragged off his glasses in annoyance.

"I'm not throwing anything in your face. I'm just saying, you can't see Everson now."

"I really want to meet with him."

"Can't happen."

"Why NOT?" Sam leaned forward, frowning. "He has an important contribution to make. What the harm in seeing him?"

"Because – it will be seen as a lack of faith in Levy and his Committee. I'm not prepared to put that at risk, when we're only this far out," he held a thumb and finger close together, "this far out from starting the State of the Union."

"We're not so close that we can't hear new ideas."

"You're not doing it."

Sam pressed his lips together, the whiteness evidence of his irritation. After a tense thirty seconds, Sam's eyes flickered around the hotel room before settling on Toby,
"How come Levy's changed his call?"

Toby relaxed a fraction, "It was the other two, I suspect, well, not Richards, probably Best and Dunne." As Toby outlined the fresh proposal, Sam massaged his temples, fingers rotating in slow circles, eyes closed. He had spent a long time on various aspects of the Johnson report, and wasn't sure he was ready to quite let go yet. And Toby expected him to jump every time he snapped his fingers. Sam hated that. Still, a change in attitude from the others was a positive move… he sat back in his chair and sighed quietly, finally looking up. Toby was glancing at him sideways,

"You all right?"

"Sure. I'm fine."

"You look a little … ah… pale."

"Pale? You're kidding, right?"

"No!" Toby suddenly sounded defensive. "I'm not. You look like crap. Are you sleeping?"

"Yeah, yeah."

There was a knock and CJ was in, dancing, "Guess who's not coming to the dinner?"

She sashayed across the room, settling down elegantly on the couch, a triumphant smile lighting her face. As she and Toby discussed a rearrangement of seating, Sam leaned his head into his hands, his elbows on his knees. He felt distinctly out of sorts and blocked out their voices. He could feel the warning signs of a migraine, and knew it would arrive before they got back to D.C. And that meant he couldn't hole up safely in his apartment. Vulnerability was something Sam detested and he felt a flutter of panic – Josh wasn't going to like this. Nor was Toby.

"Sam, what do you think? Sam?"

"SAM!" Sam jerked in surprise as Toby's foot bumped his, dislodging one elbow and jolting his head suddenly.

"Ow!"

"Were you even listening?"

Sam suddenly saw red. "What's the point of listening? It's not like you care about my reply."

"Sam, " CJ's voice was gentle, "It's just the seating arrangement…"

"Oh, well then, great. I am so glad you are seeking my opinion on the seating arrangement." Sam's voice was laden with uncharacteristic sarcasm. "Gee, could you go over it again, I might have missed one or two dessert forks!"

CJ swung her eyes to Toby, "What's with him?"

"I told him he can't meet with Everson."

"The Parks thing?"

"Yeah."

Sam stood up abruptly. "I'm going for a walk."

"Sam-"

"Just leave him." The door slammed.

"I was going to say, take your coat." She shrugged. "I'll go see to the changes."

"Yeah."

* * *

Sam strode furiously through the huge park directly across the road from the hotel, trying to find a physical distance to match the emotional one he was feeling right now. Toby was the last straw, well, nearly. After a disagreement with Josh, everything was compounded in Sam's head, everyone else suddenly appeared to be on some other side than his. He needed to find some way to claw back his own sense of self but there never seemed to be enough time.

'Josh' had been during lunch.

CJ had been idly tapping her fork on her plate, "I'd like to see us push the whole anti-drug campaign much further this time round."

Toby speared a tomato, "We can't just say we're anti-drugs. We need to have financial programmes showing our good intent, actual action."

"But we do, don't we?"

"We-ell," Sam wiped his hands carefully on a serviette, "most of the programmes are funded privately or by charity – we personally have hardly created any programmes."

"Oh, c'mon, " Josh was clearly irritated, "it was in my health bill."

"Josh, there wasn't enough in there to replace the anti-drug posters in the subways. We'd need a huge input to say we've actually done anything."

Josh glared at Sam, "Since when did you get so high and mighty about the anti-drug campaign?"

Sam sat back, pushing his still-full plate away a little, "I'm not high and mighty. I just think we could have done more, and hope we can do more this year."

"You mean me? I could have done better?" Josh was suddenly defensive and angry.

"I – no – that's not it." Sam looked pleadingly at CJ who shrugged and picked up her knife and fork again.

"Well, what is it? I'm the one who brokered the drug deal in that plan. I'm the one who set the final limits. Why are you attacking me now?" Josh's voice was low but razor sharp.

Sam was suddenly pale, and seemed unable to absorb Josh's heat, "I – I think-"

"Why don't you try thinking a little more before you comment – I mean, how long since you last took a powerful drug – thirty minutes?!"

Sam's mouth had dropped open and he stared aghast at Josh, blinking.

"Josh!" CJ hissed, "keep it down! And Sam, close your mouth. Eat!" The air around the table felt like playdough. Toby reached out and nonchalantly poured Sam a glass of water. Then he'd turned to CJ,

"Looking forward to the dinner tonight?" He casually passed Sam his water, "Drink." Sam's hand was visibly shaking but he obediently sank half the glass before replacing it very carefully on the table, staring at it fixedly.

"I have to sit beside McDonald, the filthy old codger. He always finds a way to brush his hand on me. I am so not looking forward to that."

Toby had smiled grimly, flicking a small glance at Sam then Josh.

CJ turned to Sam, "You haven't eaten much. Are you feeling all right?"

Sam dropped his folded napkin over his meal and pushed back his chair. "I've had enough. When d'you want to meet, Toby? Two?"

"Make it three. Go get some rest."

Sam wandered away, weaving carefully between the tables. Josh's eyes followed him, suddenly sad.

"You shouldn't have said that." CJ laid a hand on his arm, startling him.

"What? No, I know. It just-"

"Fell out of your mouth?"

"Yeah."

Toby snorted and CJ frowned, "What d'you mean, though, Josh? Drugs? What drugs did Sam take?"

"He's trying to stave off a migraine. These pills, like killer antihistamines and massive pain relief in one tablet – they're meant to help."

"Josh, that's got nothing to do with the drugs campaign."

"I know, I know, it – I didn't get – he'd already driven me crazy last night with that stupid zoo and then when I saw him take those pills, I got – oh, to hell with it, he'll get over it. Let's talk about something else."

* * *

Sam sat back with a sigh as the portable printer began to spew out the final draft of the President's address, "Done!" he breathed.

"What was that one?" Josh was reclining on the couch, surrounded by papers, a highlighter sticking out of the side of his mouth like a cigar.

"The dinner address for tomorrow night. We're way ahead –" he broke off to yawn widely.

"Tired?"

"It always seems harder when we're on the road."

"We'll be back day after tomorrow."

"We will." Sam rubbed his eyes.

"Why don't go get some sleep? You and Toby've been burning the candle at both ends this week."

"Just need to go over a few things."

"Do it in bed. At least it feels like you're resting." Sam nodded and stretched. As Josh watched appreciatively, Sam slipped out of his shirt and pants and padded over to his case for a clean t-shirt and boxers. Josh removed the highlighter and wolf-whistled quietly. He was rewarded with an instant flush creeping around Sam's ears as he pulled the shirt over his head. Sam's head popped out.

"Get back to work." He was grinning.

"You're such a delicious distraction."

Sam looked suddenly bashful, "Yeah, well, look who's talking."

Josh smiled indulgently, "Go get into bed."

Sam disconnected the printer and shifted his laptop to the bed, as Josh focused on his paperwork again, highlighter back in place clamped between his teeth. There was a peaceful silence for about twenty minutes, and then Josh's head came up as he heard the quiet roar of a lion.

"What was that?"

"Huh?" Sam peered at him over the op of his glasses.

"That noise. Sounded like a lion."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Um. Sorry." Sam looked down again. Josh frowned but kept on reading. However, minutes later,

"Sam, what the hell? That was a goat or something."

Again the peering. "Actually, it was a markhor."

"What the hell?"

"It's a zoo maker. I'm creating a zoo."

"You're kidding!"

"No, it's fascinating." Sam's eyes glowed behind his glasses, "You get to build your whole zoo from start to finish, you can budget stuff, buy animals, hey, look I have a baby panda."

"They MATE on that thing?" Josh looked suddenly interested.

"You don't see it. Babies just appear."

"Oh. So what's the fun?"

"It's just so… cool."

"Cool?" Josh raised an eyebrow.

"Shut up." But he was smiling.


Ten minutes later,
"What's that noise?"

"It's just one of the keepers healing a sick orang-utan."

"Oh God!"

"Shut up!"


…"Damn!"

"What?"

"Nothing."


…"Oh no!"

Josh could sense a rising tension in Sam, one he could often pick up from across a crowded room at a single glance. Other people complained that Sam was unreadable, but Josh always knew when he was tense – his lips, his eyes, his slight – vibration. Josh didn't see how anyone could miss it but CJ said it was because they were so close, that Josh was somehow wired to Sam's very unusual channel, and she'd been grinning. And Josh had felt his own face heating up.

He leaned over the back of the couch, "What's the matter? Are you bison buggering one another?"

"No!"

Sam's hands fluttered over the keyboard, "The ice is melting and my penguins are angry and they won't stop-"

Josh's mouth tweaked. "Can you, like, make more ice?"

"I don't know! I haven't had penguins before! Oh no, they’re all gathering in one corner. Oh no!!"

"Stop the game."

"Oh. …Okay." Sam hit pause and leaned back against the pillows, "That. That was stressful."


Two hours later, Josh dragged his eyes open as he felt Sam twitch in surprise.

"What're you doing?"

Sam's glasses were teetering on the tip of his nose. "I don't have enough maintenance workers and everyone's throwing up."

"You're – what're you doing? It's like two a.m."

Sam's eyes were fixed to the screen, "There's too much poo."

"Turn it off."

"Huh?"

"Turn. It. Off. NOW!"

Sam's eyes widened as he looked down at Josh.

"Now, Sam, or I'm gonna break it."

Sam saved, exited, shut down.

"Now can we get some freaking sleep?"

Laptop and glasses stowed, Sam slid down until he was lying next to Josh. He stared at the ceiling. "I couldn't stop."

"Yeah, well, you won't be playing THAT for a while. Turn off the lamp."

There was a pause in the darkness, then a very small voice, "Sorry."

"Oh God, come here. " And Josh grabbed Sam in a tight bear hug. "Wanna play zoo with me?"

"Zoo? With you?"

"Josh Zoo. It's R-rated. For starters, get those boxers off."

* * *

Sam hadn't felt better after a couple of hours lying stock still on the bed as instructed by Toby. And he hadn't felt better through nearly three hours of Toby's meeting. And the walk in the park had only compounded his confusion. And now he had the dinner to get through, and a function afterwards, and the damn pills weren't working.

He ended up in the lobby waiting for the elevator next to Leo.

"Been out?"

"Just for a walk. Clear my head."

"You're shivering. Why the hell didn't you wear a coat?"

"I – uh – it wasn't so cold. And I was moving fast."

"State of the Union coming up." They stepped into the elevator, "You can't get sick now."

"I'm not going to get sick. I'm not even cold."

"You're shivering."

"I'm fine."

"Swear to God, you can be a stubborn son of a bitch!"

"Leo!" The doors opened on their floor, agents everywhere.

"Go have a shower before you get dressed up."

Oh God! "Yessir."

* * *

The rearranged seating for the dinner put Sam on one side of CJ and local poet Danyon Geary on the other. Sam seemed quiet during the entrée, picking sporadically at his shrimp cocktail, so CJ turned her attention to Geary.

"So Mr Geary – may I call you Danyon?"

"Sure, ah, CJ?"

"That's fine. Tell me about your work."

"It's really very boring." He adjusted thick spectacles.

"No, I'd love to hear it." CJ took a sip of wine.

"There's not much to tell."

"You're a poet. Isn't that interesting enough?" CJ stabbed a shrimp with her fork, tiny droplets of thousand island dressing splattering her hand. She reached for the crisp napkin on her lap. "So do you get up each morning and write?"

"You really don't want to hear about my boring writing."

CJ growled through clenched teeth, "You're a poet. You're invited to this dinner. Why won't you talk to me about your work?"

"I – excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom."

"God!" CJ stabbed another shrimp, this time spraying Sam's curious face liberally. "Oh, sorry, Sam." She took him by the chin and cleaned him up.

"Uh, thanks, Ceej." Sam blushed, pushing away his plate.

"You've barely touched your entrée. I thought you loved shrimps."

"Not tonight, apparently."

"You're not still smarting over that Everson thing, are you? Or is your head playing up?"

"I'm fine. What did you do to the poet?"

"I might have been a little over-interested in his lifestyle."

A small smile brushed across Sam's face, "You intimidated him."

"I did not!"

"You did! You love doing that to men!"

"Sam, that is so untrue. I'm not intimidating."

"CJ, if it weren't for the J, I'd assume it was your middle name!"

"What was?"

"Intimidation." Sam took a triumphant sip of his wine. CJ elbowed him firmly in the ribs as he swallowed, and he choked, coughing and spluttering into his napkin, finally gasping for air, blushing as heads turned in his direction.

"You all right there, Sam?" The booming tone of the President carried from several seats away. Sam nodded weakly. "We have to watch out for Sam, he's a little accident prone."
There was general laughter before people resumed their conversations. Sam stared red-faced at his plate of shrimps. CJ reached down and squeezed his thigh,

"Sorry, Spanky."

Sam gave her a dark glare.


The main course entertained few redeeming features. Sam took one mouthful of chicken and realised with a dim despair that anything he ate now would be back to see him later. His head still ached and he doubted these migraine prevention pills were going to be any better than the others.

CJ, on the other hand, was enjoying herself immensely. Freed from the pressure of the awful grasping hands of the absent McDonald, she was determined to have a good time, and finally cajoled the poet Geary to bare his soul. Towards the end of the meal, she leaned close to Sam,

"Honey, you haven't eaten a thing." Sam shrugged. CJ frowned at him, "Sam, c'mon, lighten up. You've had a spindle up your butt all day!" Sam shrugged again, and CJ's frown deepened. "This is supposed to be a fun night. If you're not going to enjoy yourself, well, I have a poet to talk to."

* * *

Sam crawled into bed at eleven, unable to sustain small talk any longer. Josh had not come in for another two hours. He stood there, watching Sam sleep, his face half lit by the lamplight. Sam still looked pale, the lamp casting deep shadows around his eyes. His Sam, who suffered so deeply from the quirks and failings of political decisions. Josh slipped into bed, irrationally irritated with Sam just for being Sam.

* * *

The mini bus crossed the State line at ten a.m. Sam kept his head pressed firmly against his knees, desperately fighting the heaving, tumultuous battle raging between his stomach and his head. He was incredibly relieved Josh was there beside him, despite the tension still evident between them, but he couldn't say anything at all while the bus was in motion. He could feel the weight of Josh's hand on his back, sometimes still, sometimes sliding soothingly across his shoulders or up and down his spine. Without moving any other part of his body, he snaked his right hand across and rested it on Josh's thigh. After a long moment, Josh's other hand had closed over Sam's.

* * *

Ginger tapped hesitantly on Sam's doorway before approaching his desk. He looked awful. The last few hours, since Josh had delivered him to his desk and cleared out, since CJ had left him three messages without going in, since Toby had not even spared him a glance, despite his obvious suffering, had given her some idea of the tension raging.
He looked up at her, squinting painfully through his glasses, "Hey, Ginger."

"Sam, there's a visitor for you in the foyer."

"Really?"

Ginger consulted a slip of paper, "An Ian Everson." Sam stared at her. "Sam?"

If it was really possible to see the colour drain from someone's face, Ginger watched the colour not only drain from Sam's face but slide right out of him, across the floor and out the door.

"Oh God."

"What's wrong?"

"I – I was meant to cancel."

"Why? When?"

"Toby said, yesterday. Levy was changing the submission."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"I didn't – want to… I – I have no idea – I went for a walk…"

"You want me to send him away?"

"Oh no. No. He'd be really upset. I'll – I'll take him somewhere else."

"You'd better tell Toby."

"Not now. He'd kill me, and I don't have the strength to fight him. I'll go sort Everson out." Sam stood up very carefully and shrugged on his jacket.

* * *

"Bonnie, where's Sam?"

"I don’t know, sorry. I'll check his schedule. Ah, he had a meeting at three with Ian Everson."

"No, he cancelled that."

"It's not cancelled here."

"What? Damn! Where's Ginger?"

"Getting coffee."

The door slammed and a book fell off the nearest shelf.

* * *

Sam slipped quietly into his office, relieved no-one seemed to be around. He felt like he had the flu and was shivering constantly. It was just after six but he didn’t imagine for a minute that everyone had gone. While he still hovered near the door, Bonnie entered the Bullpen,
"Oh, Sam! Toby and Josh are after you. You are so dead."

"Hey, wow, thanks, Bonnie, I really need that snippet of information."

"No need to be like that. Why can't you be-"

"I really don't think you get to tell me how I ought to be!" and he slammed the door, immediately regretting that, sinking down on the floor behind the door, head in hands.


"What's wrong with you?" Toby stared at Bonnie.

She sniffed, "Well, it's …" there was a pause, "Sam's back."

"SAM!!?"

Toby glanced into Sam's office, then back at Bonnie, "Where is he now?"

"I don't know. He's in there somewhere."

Toby turned the door handle and stopped there. He jiggled the door a little and a rather dishevelled Sam crawled out and stood up, facing them. Toby pushed open the door.

Toby stared at Sam. Sam stared at Toby.

Bonnie very slowly lowered herself into her chair and stared at the screen saver, holding her breath.

"YOU MET EVERSON? You MET with him? I told you to CANCEL. Are you happy to put the entire vote at risk because you're too STUBBORN to follow orders? What's the matter with you? You are so irritating. You think my reasons aren't GOOD ENOUGH??!"

Sam stumbled backwards under the onslaught, running into one of his own visitors' chairs. He tumbled right over the chair and landed on the other side in a scrambling heap of limbs and chair legs. Toby turned and stormed into his own office, slamming the door with an earth-shattering crash.

Bonnie stood up slowly and peered in through Sam's window – he hadn't even bothered to get up off the floor but was sitting hunched up beside the upturned chair, his eyes pressed into his bent knees. Bonnie heaved a sigh and looked across through Toby's window – he had turned his chair around to face the cupboards, and the slow thwack of his rubber ball began to reverberate rhythmically out in the Bullpen.

Ginger appeared behind Bonnie, "What're you looking at?"

"Sam."

"Why?"

"Toby's mad at him."

"Oh. The Everson thing."

"You know?"

"Sam was s'posed to cancel."

"I know that now."

"How mad is he?"

"On a scale of one to ten? I'd go for ten." The sound of the ball slowed. "maybe nine now? Give him five minutes."

"What about Sam? You'd better go in."

"Why not you?"

"You were here first."

"OK, but that means you get Toby."

"There's always the down side."


Bonnie stepped into Sam's office and crouched down beside his hunched form. She placed a tentative hand on his shoulder, "Sam?" He lifted his face and blinked sadly at her.

"Yeah, Bonnie?"

"You want to get up off the floor?"

"Not really."

She gazed at his eyes, tired, red-rimmed, dark shadows leaking out from the corners and spilling across beneath long lashes, "How's your head?"

"Better."

"You look tired."

"I am, I guess."

"You really want to stay down here?"

"No, I suppose I don't. It just seemed – "

"Safer?"

"Yeah." He heaved a huge sigh, "Bonnie, I'm sorry."

"It's all right. Bad week?"

"Yeah." Bonnie stood up and righted the chair, then held out a hand to him,

"C'mon, you'd better talk to Toby."


Sam knocked hesitantly and opened Toby's door, "May I come in?"

Toby waved a hand in acquiescence. Sam slipped in and closed the door, leaning against it. Toby leaned back, rocking gently in his chair, and stared at Sam. Sam tried to stare back but couldn't hold it. He focused on the floor instead, jiggling slightly, his hands flexing and then closing into fists, over and over.

"Go home."

"What?"

"You heard. I'll see you in the morning."

"It's not even – it's only half past six." Sam's tone was bordering on a plea.

"Look, everyone's mad as hell at you right now. And you look like something the cat dragged in. How… how's… is your head any better?"

"I'm fine."

"Balls! Have you eaten today?"

"Uh-"

"Look. Sam. Just get the hell out of here. And if you don't feel good in the morning, sleep in or something."

"But, -Toby- "

Toby stared at Sam, pale, tie askew, hair straggly, his eyes huge and pained and pleading,
"Read my lips. Go home. Now." And he picked up a book and began to read. Sam stood there, absorbing the inevitable. Finally he turned, opened the door and slunk into his own office to get his coat.

* * *

Josh let himself into the apartment just after ten. He balanced a pizza in the other hand.
Sam was sitting at the dining room table, his head cradled on folded arms, face turned towards the window. Josh laid the pizza on the table and fetched two beers from the fridge.

He loosened his tie and moved around behind the table – Sam was asleep. Josh slowly sat down. He leaned forward, chin on his fist, and stared at Sam close range, close enough to feel Sam's soft breaths ripple across his face. Sam's dark hair had fallen forward untidily, his long eyelashes lay in dense formation, his perfect nose, lips… Josh smiled ruefully. His Sam, sometimes lost in the rush for the line, and so very lost this week. He reached out with his other hand and with one finger touched Sam gently on the end of his amazing nose. The nose twitched slightly. Josh pressed a little more firmly. Sam's nose wrinkled and his eyes slowly blinked open. They were heavy and red with emotion and exhaustion, but the blueness still captivated Josh and sucked his breath right out, leaving him gasping lightly. Sam smiled slowly.

Josh lifted his hand and gently swiped Sam's fringe away, "Hey."

"What time is it?"

"About ten. How long've you been sleeping there?"

"I don't know."

"You'll be stiff." They stared at one another, then both sat up slowly, Sam rubbing the back of his neck,

"I'm okay."

"I brought pizza."

"At ten?"

"When did you last eat something that stayed down?"

"I – don't know."

"Sam – I, well, about yesterday –" Sam's eyes glazed over slightly and Josh could see him working through the last couple of days. He looked over Josh's shoulder, his eyes suddenly moist and haunted,

"I didn't ask for all of that."

"You weren't completely innocent."

"I had to take the pills, Josh. I had to see if they'd stop the migraine. That wasn't fair."

"I didn't mean that-"

"And they didn't work." Sam wasn't listening. He rubbed a hand along one side of his head. "I'm still sore… but, look, if you think, if you see it as drug-taking, Josh, I can – I can stop- " he blinked rapidly, "I can."

"No, God, no! I was just hitting out, can't you see that?"

"No."

"I didn't mean it."

Sam's voice dropped to a whisper, "Why would you say it if you didn't mean it?"

"You guys were right. We haven't funded nearly enough. I was in a corner and I lashed out. I would never want you to stop the pills – I know how much it hurts." His voice cracked a little, "On the bus, I just wanted to wrap my arms around you. You were in such agony but I was still pissed at you and – I'm sorry."

Sam's eyes met his for a moment before focusing on the table, "I – I forgot to cancel Everson."

"So I heard."

"Did you?"

"Toby yelling, we all hear about it!"

"But I couldn't just leave Everson out in the foyer. I had to see him." Sam risked a quick glance at Josh.

"You did not! If you didn't want to, you'd have happily sent Ginger out to get rid of him. You're one stubborn son of a bitch, Sam."

"Have you been talking to Leo?" Sam eyed him curiously.

"I'm always talking to Leo. Why?"

"He said exactly the same thing – before the dinner."

"About Everson?"

"No, about me being stubborn. I didn't think, I mean, I'm always doing what everyone else wants. I never get a chance to be stubborn." He looked down at the table again.

Josh stared at Sam's bent head and felt he'd had an unexpected peek into Sam's troubled Pandora's box of turmoil. "Is that how you feel? That you do what everyone else wants?"
He shuffled his chair round closer but Sam was suddenly up and pacing, wringing his hands,

"I'm always hearing my name, Sam, and it's 'Sam, do this' or 'Sam, don't do that', 'Sam, get it done, will ya?', 'Sam, we can't do it that way' or," he stopped pacing as his voice cracked, "'Shut-up, Sam!'" His shoulders slumped a little and he sat down again, swiping at his eyes with irritation. Josh felt moved,

"I can think of a number of occasions when you WERE stubborn for the right reasons. And you, you, " Josh gulped in air in his struggle, "You keep me honest, damn you."

Droplets of water hung tremulously on the edges of Sam's lashes and Josh touched one, feeling it spread over his fingertip. He licked his finger, savouring the salty sensation.
Sam took out a crumpled handkerchief and blew his nose and Josh had a feeling that those weren't the first tears of the evening. He ruffled Sam's hair,
"C'mon, let's eat." They both took a slice of pizza and opened their beers, clinking the bottles together as they always did. "Did Toby really send you home?"

Sam quirked an eyebrow.

"I don't blame him. You look like hell. Are you still cold?"

"I turned up the heat."

"I can tell. Migraine over?"

"Pretty much. But I did fall over a chair tonight."

"What? Here?"

"No, in my office, while Toby was yelling."

"You're kidding! God, that must've been funny. What did Toby do?" Josh was laughing.

"Stormed off and slammed his door –" Sam started to laugh as well, "Didn't even check to see if I was all right!" They both leaned on the table, chortling.

"Are you?"

"I might have a few new bruises." He put down his beer and rubbed at his hip, "I fell right on this side."

"Have some more pizza, klutz!" Josh rattled the box. "You've been running on empty for hours."

Sam took a slice. "I really stuffed up this whole trip."

"Nah, you did good work."

"I irritated the hell out of everyone."

"Well, yeah. But, Sam, we wouldn't expect any less of you."

"Hey!"

"I love you and all the ways you irritate me."

"I do not – what ways – I don't!" Sam's face was a picture of surprise.

"C'mon, eat. You're gonna need your strength."

"What for?"

"I wanna play zoo again."

"My zoo?"

"No – mine!"

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