Title: Look at Me
Series/Sequel: sequel to The Cast
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam inadvertently causes Josh some anguish
Notes: This story has some references to an earlier story I wrote, entitled, Who is Watching Sam, with Devon O'Reilly as a character. It can be found at The Real Thing site.
Look At Me by Jen
Sam stretched languorously, lying on his stomach, burying his head and arms under the pillow, his toes easily finding the solid foot of the bed. He pushed his face into the mattress and inhaled a long, muffled breath before breaking into a huge yawn. He stretched again, feeling his muscles creak in protest, flexing his toes and heels before another yawn took over. He kept his head under the mound of pillows, as if, if he could just stay there, the day might wait a little longer.
After a full minute of glorious peace, a foreign knee slid across the bed and tentatively shoved his hip a few inches.
"No-o!" Sam groaned aloud into the mattress. The knee wriggled under his hip and nudged his groin.
"No-o-o!" Sam rolled over into a defensive ball, his back to the knee, hugging the pillow around his head. Josh sighed deeply. He knew Sam'd be hard to budge this morning – he'd crawled into bed after 2 a.m. for the last three nights, shivery and damp from the rain and exhausted by the long sessions Toby had been holding. Toby, particularly grumpy over the past couple of weeks, had been driving Sam like a train, demanding constant drafts and rewrites long past normal work hours, even past the norm for the West Wing.
And Sam was beginning to crack, Josh knew that. Last week there'd been several late, long sessions and Sam had yawned his way through Sunday, listless and edgy. Josh wasn't looking forward to another weekend like that. He reached out and took hold of Sam's t-shirted shoulder, rolling him onto his back. Sam moaned again, his voice hoarse with fatigue,
"Please, please tell me it's not morning."
"Josh shrugged apologetically in the darkness, "Sorry, buddy."
"I can't keep waking up like this. I feel like a zombie. What time is it?"
"Five forty-five. I already gave you an extra half hour."
"Aargh!" Sam rolled over out of the bed and stumbled towards the bathroom. Josh sat up in the bed and snapped his fingers,
"But, hey! You get your cast off today."
Sam stopped and fingered the heavy plaster cast on his wrist. He smiled brightly, lighting up the gloom with a sudden, infectious joy,
"You're right! The day's looking better already!"
* * *
By the time Toby arrived, Sam had his head down, deeply immersed in a press statement on Habitats for Humanity. He had long since mastered the art of typing with the plaster cast on, although he found he tired easily. Even now, he sat back for a moment, flexing his hand wearily, resting the cast on the arm of the chair. He still had a couple of pages to work on and he wanted it done before Senior Staff at 8 a.m.
Sam sighed, hoping Toby would leave him alone for a little while. He gently massaged the knuckles peeking out of the now ragged-edged cast, and then sat forward to get on with the task at hand. Five minutes later, Toby's voice rose above the early morning activity of the Bullpen.
"Sam!" Sam pushed back his chair tiredly and rose, grabbing a notebook and pen before heading into the office next door. Toby was standing at the window, his hands awkwardly clasping a semi-collapsed window blind.
"What're you doing? Have you broken another blind?"
"I don't think so. Get up on the sill and retie the cord, would you?" Toby's voice was strained. Sam shuffled around Toby, dumping his notebook before clambering nimbly up onto the sill and securing the loose cord, his efforts slightly hampered by the cast. Toby glanced up at him,
"I forgot you were in plaster – be careful!"
"Toby, I've been in this God-awful cast for over four weeks. How could you forget about it… doesn't matter, I'm done. Let go!"
Toby released the blind gingerly. He backed away so Sam could get down.
"Thanks. Ah, don't you get that thing off today?"
"Yeah, I do. Ten-fifteen." As Sam moved to pick up his notebook, he rammed his hip into the corner of Toby's desk. "Yow!" He rubbed desperately at his hip, trying to alleviate the sudden pain. Toby gawped at him,
"How can you safely climb on a windowsill but fail to manoeuvre yourself past my desk – which has, incidentally, been in the same position for four years."
Sam continued to rub at his hip, frowning. "Was that all you needed?" He yawned widely. "Because I've a lot of work to get done."
Toby shrugged, "Yeah."
Sam huffed back to his office, still absently massaging what will surely be yet another bruise.
An hour later, Senior Staff was nearly over, Leo just running through the events of the following few days. He stopped in irritation as Sam yawned.
"Are we boring you, Sam? You've yawned your way through this entire meeting."
Sam stared at him, "Sorry. Just a little tired." He broke into another yawn, unable to hide it behind his hand. Leo frowned at him,
"Aren't you sleeping again?" Leo flicked a frown at Josh.
"Oh, he would if he could." Josh redirected the blame game towards Toby with a pointed glare. Toby shifted uncomfortably and rubbed at his forehead,
"We're busy right now. And he's not a child. We've got a lot to do, and that, that thing on his arm, slows him down."
"Oh, come ON, Toby!" Sam sat up straighter, eyes flashing. "It's not that, it's you. You're making me write and rewrite and re-rewrite everything. No wonder my arm slows me down, I could do a normal West Wing day's work but you want me to do one and a half times that every single day. Yeah, sure, I get tired. The Incredible Hulk would get tired." He dropped back into the couch, Josh absently laying a hand on his thigh. There was a stunned silence, then Leo cleared his throat,
"Right, well. That'll do for now." As everyone stood, "Ah, Toby, hang about for a sec, will ya?" The others moved away. Leo eyeballed the Communications Director, "Toby, the kid's shattered. Send him off early."
"Sometimes we have to work long hours."
"Not until he's falling over with exhaustion."
Toby thought of Sam bumping into his desk that morning, "You have a point."
* * *
Another hour later, Toby wandered unnoticed into Sam's office with a file. Sam was reading a report, his head leaning sideways into his hand. Toby sat down and took a moment to take in Sam, who remained oblivious. Sam really was looking tired, and slightly transparent. And he needed a haircut. Toby could see dark tendrils of hair curling around his ears, wayward spikes dropping down over the rims of his glasses. He watched as Sam turned a page, absently massaging the fingers of his right hand.
Toby frowned – at least that cast was coming off today. It had been a difficult four weeks to say the least. Sam had tried valiantly to ignore his plastered arm, but the first week, after the new cast was in place, had been incredibly painful for him, and he had been on the verge of collapse by mid-afternoon for several days, brittle and wavering, Toby forcing him to swallow pain-killers and rest on the couch or go home.
So Sam had spent several late afternoons on Toby's couch, his face pale, a sheen of sweat across his forehead, some report or paper open on his drawn-up knees, highlighter grasped in his left hand, his painful right arm hugged tightly against his body.
Toby had rescheduled Sam's meetings and taken his calls, carefully monitoring Sam's respite in the corner of his couch, gruffly aware of showing more concern than usual towards his Deputy. By the second week, Sam's arm had improved immensely and he had got back into the swing of things. It was in week three that Toby's late night sessions had got going, and now, as week four drew to a close, Toby realised that Sam had pushed too hard to keep up with his demands.
Toby shook his head slightly and focused back on Sam. Who was staring at him, wide eyed. Toby shifted slightly in his seat.
"When did you get there? And what were you thinking?"
"I just walked in."
"No, you didn't. I just looked up and there you were, sitting there, staring off into space."
"I never stare off into space."
Sam shrugged his acquiescence. "Okay, okay, what did you need?"
Toby indicated the file he had brought in, standing to hand it to Sam. "This is the work on the cigarette thing for Josh. Most of it has come through Ed and Larry, so just look it over, make me some comments. I have to go up to the Hill, the Rivers meeting. I'll be back by eleven. When's your appointment again?"
"Ten-fifteen. Want me to change it?"
"No, no. It'll be fine – " He paused, staring at Sam's weary face, "Maybe you should take the rest of the day – "
"I'm fine!" Sam looked indignant.
"You're not. Leo's right. You look like crap." Sam's eyebrows shot up, a hurt expression forming." Toby held up his hand, "Stop with the wounded face. Just take it easy today. Don't rush back just to read a few files." He swivelled rapidly and was gone. Sam sat there like a stunned mullet for a few moments before opening the file…smoking. Such a contentious issue. Sam always worried about people who smoked. After reading a few pages, he glanced at his watch. He had to get going! Bonnie appeared at the door,
"You have to get going."
Sam stared at her, "How did you do that?"
"Nothing. I'm on my way."
"Good luck. Are you driving?"
"No, they said I might not be able to, you know, straight after the cast comes off." He looked down at his arm thoughtfully, "D'you think…"
"It'll be fine, Sam. You want someone to come with you?"
Sam snorted derisively, "Thanks but I can cross the road by myself now."
"Yeah, well, call if you need a lift or something."
Sam recognised genuine concern and flashed her a beautiful smile, "Thanks, Bonnie."
* * *
Sam, the doctor and the nurse all peered at his pale, smooth arm, dusty with plaster. The doctor began to move Sam's hand in various directions, noting when he suddenly stiffened,
Sam grimaced, "A little."
"On a scale of one to ten?"
"Six." The doctor moved his hand around and Sam yelped, "Eight, eight!"
"OK, it's going to be rather stiff and sore, and some movements are clearly still painful – that's the problem with having the broken bone, we couldn't really treat the dislocation."
Sam frowned with consternation, "What can I do?"
"We'll just have to bandage it firmly for now, and you'll be able to get your wife to rebandage it after a shower – you'll need to take it easy though, no contact sports or heavy lifting, in fact, no lifting at all."
Sam nodded, "For how long?"
"I'll need to see you in a week. But if it's still very sore earlier than that, we'll get you some physiotherapy."
Sam wandered through the hospital corridors, having disconcerting visions of Josh bandaging his arm. He shrugged. Maybe Bonnie'd be better. Or Ginger. Ginger was very neat.
"Sam Seaborn!" Sam turned in surprise. Leaning beside an open window, the ever-present cigarette smoke trailing from the hand wrapped around the sill, was Devon O'Reilly. Sam had spent an exhausting day with him a few months back, catching up on abortion law. O'Reilly was totally committed to opposing abortion, and had given Sam the full picture in graphic detail. That, on top of nine days straight at work and the overpowering headiness of O'Reilly's chain-smoking habit, had pushed Sam's tolerance too far, and he had ended up on his knees in the law centre bathroom, vomiting uncontrollably. Sam wasn't going to forget O'Reilly or Beechwood Law Centre in a hurry.
O'Reilly flicked his cigarette down onto the lawn and moved closer to Sam, grasping his hand and shaking it firmly. Sam flinched visibly, just as the other lawyer noticed the heavy bandage,
"Oh shite, Sam, sorry. What happened to you?"
"It's fine, I just – I've been in plaster for the last four weeks, just had it off today."
"You broke your arm?" A slow smile spread across O'Reilly's face, "So the rumours about you are true!"
"No?" The grin widened.
Sam frowned, then shrugged resignedly, "I had a fall – in New Zealand."
"New Zealand? For the Forum? How'd you find the country?"
Sam's eyes lit up, "It was breathtaking. You wouldn't believe it, the place is practically empty! And it's all just so beautiful. So green." They moved along the hospital corridor together until O'Reilly spotted a sign for a café.
"Time for a coffee, Sam? You look beat."
Sam made to say no, then reflected on Toby's words, don't rush back just to read a few files. "Sure."
They sat at an outside table, O'Reilly already onto his second cigarette as Sam took his first sip of coffee.
"You guys surprised me, how well you handled that Kabul hostage crisis thing."
"We surprised you?"
"And the Florida gunman – must have been a relief."
"You blew the Partners' Rights opportunity though. Never leave things to individual states…"
"The ramifications were huge on that one. No-one could afford the arguments it would have taken to achieve a national concensus."
"But you know my main interest was the piece de resistance, the handling of the partial birth abortions – that was spot on."
"Thanks. It was the information you gave me that gave us the best ways to control the whole situation."
"I felt pretty bad about that session – I pushed you too hard. I am known to get a little over-enthusiastic."
"No, honestly, I was already tired when I got there – I think my defences were down."
"Yeah, still. I just don't know when to pull back sometimes. Katy absolutely blew my head off after you left, I can tell you."
Sam blushed slightly and concentrated on his coffee.
"Anyway. How's your arm? Why d'you need that big bandage?"
"I broke a bone but I also dislocated my wrist, so the bone has healed but-" Sam shrugged dismissively, "The whole wrist needs more support until things settle down." He sipped at his coffee again and eyed O'Reilly warily, "So what brings you here then?"
"Just took a look at a kid, poor thing, she's only fifteen, same age as my niece, Niamh…" he broke off, frowning inwardly.
"You know the girl in hospital?"
"No, no. She's another victim." He leaned forward, suddenly full of nervous energy again. "Sam, it's a tragedy, a travesty. Back street abortions going on somewhere very close, I think right here in D.C. And they're going wrong. This is the third hospitalisation in a month. God knows how many crawled home to suffer in silence."
"You have any idea where?"
"I'm getting close."
"How do the victims get to hospital?"
"One was dumped here at the front door, one managed to get home before collapsing, one crawled to an apartment after being left in the street. They won't talk about it. They all appear uncertain of the exact location; these are elusive and manipulative bastards. They cover their tracks and appear to have no trouble finding clients."
"What do they charge?"
"Only a couple of hundred bucks – that's what's so amazing. They're putting these kids' lives at stake for a pittance." He stabbed his cigarette out angrily and immediately reached for another, pausing to catch Sam's eye, "You don't mind – "
"Not out here," Sam waved his hand at the garden. "I don't like it so much inside."
"Yeah." O'Reilly blew out a long stream of smoke. "Up at my office…"
"It's fine." Sam fiddled idly with the thick crepe of the bandage on his wrist. "So why are you involved? Apart from your, ah, interest in that subject?"
"One of the families – they're in my Parish. I want to help them. Represent 'em if we ever nail these bastards."
"We all are, Sam, in our own way. How're you doing anyway? Up there with the big guns?"
Sam's lips twitched in a very small smile, before yawning widely. "Excuse me! I'm a bit sleep deprived. The West Wing? It has its great days and its rotten days." He gazed off into the distance, shrugging, before looking right at the other lawyer, "It's hard work, Devon. There's never time to really dwell on something, get your head around your own position, before three more things need more attention than the thing you're trying to figure out. You so often end up relying on someone else's opinion or recommendation, because you haven't got the damn time to formulate your own." He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "Sorry, didn't intend laying that on you."
O'Reilly grinned widely, "Hey, I asked –" They were interrupted by Sam's cell – he fumbled in his pocket awkwardly, the thick bandage seemed to cover more of his hand than the plaster cast had, and he had to slide out the phone between two fingers. He glanced at the caller ID.
"It's Josh. D'you mind-"
"Nah, go ahead."
Sam leaned back in his chair, "Josh!"
"Where are you?"
"Still at the hospital." There was a pause. "Josh?"
"Is – is everything all right?"
"Yeah, well, yeah it's fine." Josh waited. "It's kinda sore. They took the cast off and replaced it with a bandage the size of a small tree-trunk. I don't think I'm gonna get this shirt off."
O'Reilly happened to be looking right at Sam at that moment, and he couldn't hear Josh's reply but did notice a sudden flush reddening Sam's cheeks.
"Ah, yeah, um …Josh, tell Toby I'll be back within the hour. No, no, I’ll get a taxi if necessary. 'Bye." Sam closed his phone and dropped it into his jacket pocket. He looked up and caught O'Reilly's eye. The amusement evident there sent the blush creeping more deeply across his cheekbones, and he looked down at his coffee, fiddling with the handle of the mug.
O'Reilly blew out a long, steady stream of smoke, which shot across the table before slowly vanishing into the sunlit air. He grinned at the top of Sam's dark head, and as Sam looked upwards, quirked an eyebrow at him. Sam blinked back at him and downed the rest of his coffee in a single gulp. O'Reilly stood up,
"I've got my car right outside. I'll give you a ride."
"I'll be fine."
"No, c'mon. I can see how tired you are. I won't even smoke!" Shrugging, Sam followed O'Reilly out to the carpark. The dusty black BMW was littered with papers, files and cigarette wrappers. The lawyer hastily cleared the passenger seat and lowered the windows.
"Sorry about the –"
"Don't worry about it."
O'Reilly knew with a flash of inspiration that Sam's car would be spotless. They had barely pulled out into the steady stream of traffic when his cell rang. After a brief conversation, he glanced across, "You in a hurry?"
"Not really. No, for once."
"Wanna come with me – a site to check out."
"Shouldn't you call the police?"
"They won't come unless I have concrete evidence. And yeah, I know lives are at risk, but it's not enough for them, like this. It's not far from here – won't take long. You wanna come?"
They manoeuvred through the late morning traffic and eventually pulled up outside a dingy two-storey apartment block. O'Reilly put a hand on Sam's arm,
"Maybe you should wait here."
"Wouldn't you prefer company?"
"Well, yeah, but – I don't want the President yelling at me for risking the safety of his speech-writer."
"You think – Oh, c'mon, let's go."
The ground floor apartments were definitely abandoned. They headed up the stairs. As they turned on the dusty landing, there was a commotion up ahead, running feet and yelling. Devon took the rest of the stairs two at a time, Sam hanging back a little hesitantly, suddenly feeling supremely out of place. He heard Devon yell and suddenly there were three men hurtling towards him. Sam tried to flatten himself against the wall as one guy lifted a backpack and slammed it against the side of Sam's head. The blow sent him stumbling sideways down with the men and he landed in a heap on the landing, one of the men crashing down on top of him. Everything went pretty black after that.
* * *
It was nearly 3 p.m. Sam fidgeted nervously with the hem of his shirt, the tails hanging loose over his pants. He flicked a glance at the man sitting silently beside the bed then resumed his intent focus on the shirt tails. He knew Josh was about to explode again, and mentally tensed himself as if waiting for actual body blows. It came barely thirty seconds later,
"I – I just can't believe you'd go there. Put yourself in danger like that. What the hell were you thinking?"
Sam ran an apologetic hand along the cool metal railing of the bed, wishing he could somehow bring Josh over to his side, over the railing. And Josh wasn't finished, not by a long shot,
"You just follow that lunatic into a near-derelict building in pursuit of criminals, for shit's sake."
"Josh, keep it down."
"Why should I keep it down? Don't you see what could have happened? You could have been – I could have…"
"You've been out of plaster, what, four hours, and you're back in hospital. With a goddamned head injury."
"A mild concussion."
"I don't care what sort. I care that you'd put everything at risk by- " He stopped suddenly, realising Sam was wincing at each loud word. "Ah, yeah." Josh stood up, needing to release the mounting tension inside, wishing there was a window he could stare out of. ERs never seemed to have windows, as if there was no time for contemplation or consideration of anything but what was right there on the gurney. And, he supposed, that is all they are there for. But what about family who need a distraction? Josh paced jerkily to the door way and looked out, then over to the wall away from Sam, back to the door, back to the wall…
Sam watched him, trying to tune out the intense thumping of his head, wanting somehow to make Josh feel better. However, his brain wasn't responding. He leaned back on the pillows and watched his partner through slitted eyes. Josh finally looked right at Sam, taking in the dishevelled clothes, the abnormally pale face, unreadable eyes, and Josh was still angry. He blew out a steam of breath.
"Dammit, Sam!" He glanced at his watch. "Can we get out of here before, you know, Christmas?"
Sam let his eyes close. Maybe Josh could come back later.
* * *
"Mr Seaborn… Sam! Open your eyes. Sam? Time to wake up." Sam dragged open heavy eyelids, flinching immediately as a bright torchlight was thrust at each eyeball. "Good!" A young woman in a doctor's coat was smiling at him. "You must have fallen asleep." She held up her hand, "How many fingers?"
"Good, and now?"
"Great." After a few questions to test Sam's lucidity, she helped him to sit up, then lowered the guard rail. "You can probably go home, but you will need someone to keep an eye on you." He swung his legs over the side of the bed, and she helped him to stand – he was a little shaky. "You need someone to come and collect you."
He frowned at the otherwise empty room, "Josh was here. My- my colleague."
"I think he left."
"You sure?" Would Josh just go?
"Mmm. Would you like me to call someone else?"
"Huh? No." Sam squinted with pain. "No, I'll be fine."
"Let me get you some pain relief anyway."
"I won't say no to that."
* * *
It was after 4.30. Sam slipped quietly into the Bullpen. Showered and changed, he just wanted to slide into his office and attempt to work. He wondered anew why Josh might have been called away. Bonnie was there and she stood up in surprise.
"Sam! We thought you'd taken the day off. Toby said- " She trailed off, suddenly noticing Sam's pallor. "Is everything all right?"
"Uh, yeah, fine thanks, Bonnie. Is Toby here?"
"He's at the meeting with Josh and Tony Jackson."
Sam frowned. That was normal. So why had Josh left him at the hospital?
"I'm just going to read some files."
He sat down at his desk with relief, surprised that Josh hadn't even passed on the message about his misadventure. Still, maybe Josh was trying to protect him from the assistants' grapevine.
Nearly two hours later he heard Josh and Toby barrel into the Bullpen. He looked up expectantly but saw Josh head into Toby's office without even a glance in his direction. Sam frowned, suddenly hurt by their indifference. He shrugged, wondering if he should just go home. His head was pounding terribly, a fierce ache that seemed to grind his brain in tight rotations, which caused his stomach to lurch about in sympathetic convolutions.
Loud laughter billowed out of the office next-door and Sam pouted. Ginger approached his desk,
"Sam, CJ wants to see you."
"I don't know, but she sounded pretty, ah, clipped."
"You mean angry?"
"What did you do?"
"Why should I have done anything?"
Ginger shrugged, glancing at her watch, "Now, Sam."
"Yeah, yeah." Sam stood up and stretched, and was horrified to find his whole body tipping over uncontrollably. He managed to grab the corner of the desk, but still slid slowly to the floor, his legs like jelly. Ginger bent down,
"Are you hurt? What happened?" She reached out a hand and helped him to stand.
"Nothing. I'm fine. I must have been sitting too long. I – I lost my balance…" The pain in his head was intense. "I'm fine, Ginger." He tried to grin at her but it was a weak, insipid imitation of a grin, and they both knew it.
CJ's head was down, reading. She was tapping a pencil against the edge of her desk to some tuneless rhythm. Sam leaned on the doorjamb, suddenly feeling terribly weary. He cleared his throat and CJ looked up immediately, peering at him over the tops of her reading glasses,
"God, Sam, quick, sit down before you fall down!"
"I'm all right."
"You're as white as a sheet." CJ stood up hastily and came and took his arm. They sat together on the sofa, Sam leaning back and closing his eyes. CJ stood up again and closed the door, then sat back down beside him, laying a warm hand on his thigh.
"How's the arm?"
"Not bad." He waggled the thickly bandaged arm.
"How's the head?"
Sam cracked open an eye, "What d'you know about that? Did Josh – "
"Josh knew?!" CJ's eyes widened in fury. "When did he know?"
"I- I called him from the hospital. You mean, he didn't, he didn't tell you?"
"How many times do I have to tell you, I'm your first call. No, he did not tell me. I had to hear it from Danny. 'Backstreet abortionists assault Senior White House Staffer, rendered unconscious, taken by ambulance to the ER, working with leading anti-abortion lawyer Devon O'Reilly'… Sam, what in hell's name were you thinking?"
Sam felt each loud word run along every nerve in his body. He lifted his hands, bandage and all, and covered his face tightly, his breaths tumbling over one another. CJ stopped yelling, suddenly concerned by Sam's reaction and even paler complexion, if that was possible. She readjusted to a whisper,
"Sammy? You okay?"
His head was trapped in some sort of war zone, horrific howitzers blasting all around. He squeezed his closed eyes as tightly as he could, fighting the awful stabs of artillery.
CJ stood up,
"Sam, so help me, I'm going to get a doctor – " No response. CJ opened the door. "Carol, find me a doctor."
"Mrs Bartlet just walked past."
"Fine, get her in here, please. It's Sam."
"Sam, open your eyes." Cool hands peeled his fingers off his forehead, and lowered his hands into his lap. Sam blinked desperately as one cool hand gently patted his cheek. He took a careful look at the owner of the hand and immediately felt his stomach lurch – Abby Bartlet.
"That's better. Now, what's going on here, Sam? CJ tells me you were in the ER this afternoon."
"Might have concussion, no big deal."
"Concussion is a big deal."
"Mild just means you're not being admitted for brain surgery. Sam, concussion is serious. Why didn't you call anyone?"
CJ leaned against her desk, folding her arms, "He called Josh. Who, for no immediately obvious reason, decided not to wait for Sam. And failed to mention to the rest of us that Sam was still in the ER."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I kid you not. Sam, d'you know where Josh might be?"
"I think he was in Toby's office."
"Right, well, I need to go see him. Abby, what should I do with Sam?"
"Well." Abby gave Sam an intense look. She could see the tiredness and the pain, and the confusion evident in his blue eyes. "Well, he needs to lie down, and he needs someone to keep an eye on him. I have quite a lot of correspondence to work through – he can come with me. Josh can collect him from there."
Sam stared at her in horror, "Ma'am –"
CJ straightened, "Good idea, Abby. Up you get, Sam." The two women helped him to stand up.
"I'm fine, really, I could just work quietly in my office." He wavered slightly and they tightened their grips on his arms. "Maybe not."
Abby grasped his chin and turned his face towards her, looking closely at him, "You can make it to the couch in my office?"
* * *
CJ approached Toby's office like a mountain lion stalking its prey. Josh was leaning back on the couch, one arm flung casually along the back cushions, one foot crossed inelegantly on the other knee. Toby looked up as CJ slithered in the door, and his eyes widened slightly as he caught the expression on her face.
CJ smiled predatorially, feeling a masterful surge of power as she mentally prepared her attack. She leaned casually against the bookcase, drumming her fingers on the shelf. Josh glanced up at her,
"Hey, CJ, what's up?"
"Why don't you tell me, Joshua?"
"What d'you mean?"
"We-e-ell, I think that you have morning news that you haven’t shared with the class."
"I don't – "
"You do. You just tell me what's up. Tell me because I am the White House Press Secretary and you work in the White House. Tell me because I am your close colleague. Tell me because your office is not far from mine and – " her voice rose, "because God help us, we obviously don't have enough electronic communication devices between us to convey simple messages to one another!"
"CJ –" Josh put his hands up defensively.
"Tell me about Sam, Josh!"
Toby moved his focus from CJ to Josh. He raised an eyebrow at the man on the couch,
"Did you just squeak?"
"No!" Josh jumped to his feet and paced to the end of the office, leaning against the wall with folded arms. Toby watched him quizzically,
"What about Sam? You never said anything about Sam."
"He didn't tell you either?" CJ's eyes swivelled briefly to Toby before refocusing on an increasingly uncomfortable Josh.
Toby frowned, "Isn't Sam in his office?" He glanced back at CJ, "He had his cast off this morning and was really tired – I told him to take the day off if he wanted, but I thought, he eventually came back… Josh?" With both sets of eyes staring at him, Josh managed to drum up some defensive annoyance,
"Hey. I'm not his keeper. You wanna see Sam, call him on one of your numerous electronic communication devices." He stalked towards the door.
"Josh." CJ's tone was suddenly furious and Josh froze. "HE CALLED YOU."
There was a deathly stillness in the room. Josh slowly turned to face CJ, "He's okay, CJ, it was – he had – " his voice cracked and faltered, "I was – I – " he turned and walked rapidly out of the Bullpen.
CJ stared after him, "Well." She sounded thoughtful.
Toby shifted his gaze from the empty space that had been Josh, "What the hell was that? And what happened to my Deputy? I told him to take a bit of time, take it easy."
"Well, he didn't! He apparently ran into O'Reilly, that Irish lawyer from Beechwood, at the hospital. The guy was giving Sam a lift back here when for some unknown reason they diverted to a back-street illegal abortion clinic – in the disturbance that ensued, Sam was knocked down the stairs and rendered unconscious. Rendered – is that the right word for that? Anyway, he was shipped to the ER in an ambulance, diagnosed with concussion, called Josh who went down there but, for some inexplicable reason, left before Sam could be discharged."
"But wasn't Sam here just before?"
"Yes, but he should be resting. He's in quite a lot of pain. The thing is, Toby, I heard almost all of this from Danny. There were reporters on the scene. It'll be on the news in an hour or so."
"Damn. We'd better talk to Leo. Where's Sam now? He's not – " he glanced at the window.
"No, I'd called him to my office, and he just about flaked out on me. I asked Carol to get a doctor and Abby was just walking past. She took him off to her office so he could lie down under her supervision." Toby rolled his eyes.
CJ frowned, "But what's up with Josh?"
"Who gives a damn about Josh? I refuse to waste any time wondering what's going on in his head."
"But he just left Sam in the ER. They're partners, for crying out loud. What on earth could've happened?"
"Some argument, maybe. Don't worry about it." He stood up, "We'd better go see Leo now."
* * *
Abby Bartlet looked up from her correspondence as Sam groaned quietly. He had been asleep for nearly three hours and the pain killers she had given him were probably wearing off now. He rolled over onto his side, a frown on his face, his dark eyelashes emphasising his pale cheeks. She turned back to the letter she was writing. When she looked up a few minutes later, Sam was watching her. She was taken by the blueness of his eyes, even at this distance.
His lips curved into a very small smile. Abby stood up and moved closer to him, collecting a small torch on the way.
"Sam, I'm just going to check your eyes, okay?" She knelt beside the couch and shone the bright beam at each pupil, noticing his immediate grimace. "Sorry. That's pretty sore, I can tell. Do you feel sick?"
"No," he whispered. "What time is it?"
"Nearly 10 p.m. Josh'll be over shortly to collect you."
"Oh." Sam tried to sit up, surprised to find his body rather unresponsive. Abby sat back on her heels and watched him struggle to overcome the fogginess that seemed to have settled in his brain. He rubbed at his forehead, feeling the tender left side of his head, and lay back on the couch. "Maybe I'll just wait until Josh gets here."
"Good idea." Abby narrowed her eyes. "What happened at the ER this afternoon? Why did Josh leave you there?"
"I don't know. He was there, and he was really cross, shouting at me, and I wasn't feeling too good, and I closed my eyes, must have fallen asleep – when I woke up he had gone."
Abby bit her lower lip thoughtfully. She stood up and replaced the torch on her desk.
"Would you like a drink of water?"
About fifteen minutes later, Josh arrived, poking his head in the open doorway.
"Sorry I'm late – Leo had a few things I needed to go over." He came in at Abby's gesture and looked across at Sam on the couch. "Is he –"
"He's just dozing. Give him a little shake." Abby smiled at Josh encouragingly. Josh tentatively rattled Sam's shoulder. His eyes opened, blinking groggily.
"Time to go home."
Sam scrubbed his unbandaged hand over his face, trying to clear his head, then struggled to a sitting position. He looked up at Josh, who seemed to be staring at the top of his head. "I haven't had much luck with standing up this afternoon," he smiled ruefully. "Give me a hand?"
Josh immediately wrapped his arm around Sam's shoulders and helped him off the couch. Sam could feel his legs shaking, and he figured Josh could feel it too, but neither of them chose to acknowledge it. Abby stepped in front of them.
"Josh. Sam needs to stay home tomorrow, in bed or on the couch. No running, no gym, for a few days. Plenty of rest. Absolutely no work tomorrow. And a quiet weekend. Got that? Sam, you followed that?"
They both nodded.
"Off you go then." Abby patted Sam on the shoulder. "You take care."
* * *
Josh stopped half-way down the corridor,
"Where's your jacket?"
"In my office, I guess."
Josh looked around, found a seat in a small alcove nearby. "Sit here. I'll get it."
Sam sat quietly. His head was so sore. And it wasn't like a migraine, this was different – but he couldn't even muster the words to express the difference. He closed his eyes in frustration.
Jed Bartlet decided to collect Abby and head over to the Residence. He was surprised to find a pale, wavering Sam sitting alone in the hallway. He stopped, his agents stopping with him, and laid a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder.
"You all right, son?"
Sam's eyes opened slowly, and he looked at the President blankly for a moment and as realisation dawned on him, he knew he didn't have to even attempt to stand up.
"Leo told me about your accident. Are you trying to force more policy decisions on me?" He was smiling wickedly. Sam looked down at the carpet,
"No, sir," he whispered, "I had no idea – "
"Sam, personally I agree with O'Reilly wholeheartedly. But I have a greater agenda. And I know this was all an accident. How're you feeling?"
"I'm fine, sir."
"I'm on my way to my wife's office, Sam. How are you feeling?"
"Pretty awful, sir."
"Don't come in tomorrow."
Sam looked down again, "No, sir." Jed patted his shoulder, just as Josh appeared with Sam's jacket.
* * *
Josh swung open the door and herded Sam inside.
"What d'you want to eat?" He headed for the kitchen.
"I'm not that hungry."
"You need something. And we need food in the place if you're staying home tomorrow." Josh came back out. "Look, you get into bed, I'll nip down to the 7-11, get a few things." Josh was already backing out the door. "Okay? Go to bed." Josh was suddenly a whirlwind.
"Yeah, fine." The door slammed. Sam stood there, a little stunned, feeling the sudden silence of the apartment. After a moment, he shrugged off his jacket and moved into the bedroom. He had no trouble removing shoes, socks, pants, tie – but he couldn't get his shirt-sleeve over the new bandage, just as he had feared. And he had a feeling Josh would no longer want to try out his suggestions from their morning telephone conversation. Sam stood in the middle of the bedroom, his shirt hanging from one shoulder, his expression completely forlorn.
Josh arrived back twenty minutes later to find Sam fast asleep, and as he lifted back the duvet to climb into bed himself, was surprised to find Sam still in his dress shirt. Josh frowned before recalling the phone call from the hospital. He carefully lowered the duvet and stepped back from the bed.
He stared down at Sam's face, still strained and pale, even in repose, and frowned, confused by the emotions hurtling at him from all directions. Josh knew he was bad at relationships – he had always struggled with genuine intimacy, in fact, genuine anything with most people. Josh tended to hide his real feelings behind bravado or humour, or intellect or sarcasm.
And that made a relationship with Sam so much more challenging. Sam didn't tolerate brashness or sarcasm, he often resented humour in serious situations, and he hated using his intellect for the sake of power. Sam was genuine.
Josh stared down at Sam's amazing face and swallowed with difficulty. He wandered over to the window and pushed the curtain aside. The garden was still and silent, captured in a gentle moonlight, and even as he stood there, huge raindrops started to thunk down sporadically onto the leaves, quickly building to a steady tattoo. Josh watched, fascinated, as the garden began to glisten with rain, leaves dipping with the new weight of crystal droplets slipping and sliding across their surfaces before sparkling down onto the lawn. Slowly the moonlight faded as clouds began to scud across the inky sky and the bushes started a slow dance. A storm was brewing. Josh shivered and turned to the bed. Sam had rolled over onto his back, his arms outflung, crucifix style, they often joked.
Josh smiled gently and slipped into bed, sliding up against Sam's warm, shirt-clad body, Sam's arm automatically curling around his shoulders. He lay there in Sam's embrace, feeling moved beyond belief, heat pricking the insides of his eyelids, and let sleep take over.
* * *
Sam made a long, slow climb back into wakefulness, his eyelids heavy and unresponsive.
He finally managed to focus on his watch, and started with horror – it was close to midday. He moved to sit up and could barely lift his head off the pillow. Gasping in pain, he found his neck as stiff as a board, his head rigidly fixed – it took him several minutes to inch upwards until he could lean gingerly against the headboard, the pain gushing over him in waves. Sam could feel the sweat cold across his forehead, and he reached up to massage away the stiffness, feeling at the same time the sharp tweak of his bandaged arm.
"Oh God, I'm a mess," he muttered to himself. After a few more minutes, he managed to loosen the tight muscles enough to wander into the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror. His dress shirt was wrinkled beyond belief, his hair stood on end, his face was pale and unshaven… Sam wrinkled his nose derisively at his reflection and decided to unbandage his arm – this was one of his favourite shirts, after all. He had a very long, very hot shower and managed to ease his neck muscles back to some semblance of normal movement. His head still ached horribly though. Every slight turn of his head seemed to send waves of pain thudding across the left side of his head, and he decided to leave his face unshaven.
He stared disconsolately at the pile of crepe bandage on the bathroom floor. He gave it an irritated kick and headed for the living room, clad in a t-shirt and track-pants. The phone was off the hook – no wonder he had slept undisturbed. Josh must have done that.
Josh. Sam sat up in the window seat and stared out at the stormy garden, bushes tossing and turning in the wild wetness. Josh had arrived at the hospital while Sam was being checked over thoroughly. He had been tense and silent, and Sam had assumed it was something to do with work. But nothing unusual had happened that morning. Josh had listened to the doctor describe Sam's scan results and the implications of concussion, and hadn't said a word. He had stood by the wall, his gaze fixed somewhere around Sam's shoulder, and his lips pressed tightly together. Even after the doctor had moved on, and Sam had lain back, exhausted, Josh had remained somewhat distant and cool.
And then, an hour later, after another check-up by the nurse, Josh had started yelling at Sam. And again a little while later. And then Sam had fallen asleep. And Josh had gone. Sam gazed at the scene in the garden, branches waving and twisting, as tumultuous as his relationship with Josh. But Sam loved Josh. And desired him. And needed him. And was inspired and electrified by him.
He stretched his legs, absently replacing the telephone receiver in its cradle on his way to the kitchen. He made coffee, his wrist almost useless without its supportive bandage, and he cursed several times as he had to keep swapping hands for every task.
Sam curled up back in the window seat, cradling his coffee against his chest, feeling weary and worn. He wondered what was happening at work. Josh obviously cared enough to protect him, leaving the phone off like that, but why was he so cold now? Sam vaguely recalled Josh climbing into bed, but he didn't know when, or for how long. He pouted at the storm, feeling a heaviness of spirit and an uneasy queasiness in his stomach. He sighed and sipped at his coffee. The wind whipped around the garden, taunting him, isolating him. Sam felt a sudden need for company. He downed his coffee, and headed for the bedroom.
Half an hour later, Sam wandered slowly into the West Wing. The storm had continued to mock him, tearing at his coat and saturating his hair. Sam squelched into the Bullpen, Ginger jumping to her feet in consternation,
"Sam! What're you doing here? You're soaked!"
Sam shrugged, "Just felt a little quiet at home." He grinned sheepishly.
"Sam, there's a storm out there. I thought you were in bed for the day."
"Well, I'm – I'm going back soon, I just – I just thought –" he shivered suddenly, his whole body shuddering for a moment. Ginger realised Sam was running on empty. She came over and slipped his coat off his shoulders, drawing him into his office. He was shivering harder now, his hands fluttering damply. Ginger looked down at his right hand,
"Where's that bandage?"
"I – I – I think it might be on – the – the - bathroom fl-fl-floor." Ginger left him for a moment, returning with a mug of hot water. He sipped it slowly, his hands shaky.
"Oh, there was some mail for you, too, something labelled personal with a capital P!"
Ginger rifled through his in-tray and drew out a large white envelope. "Here you are. How are you doing? Okay?"
Sam nodded, "Thanks." After Ginger had left, he slit open the envelope and drew out a cardboard folder of photos. Sam began to look through them, his face still and white, his head suddenly reeling dizzily. He felt the coffee slide across his otherwise empty stomach in a violent lurch and he breathed faster, trying to avoid throwing up on the spot. He sensed a sudden sweat sweep across his face, and had a desperate desire to move away from the photographs. He pushed back his chair, lurching to his feet and stumbling out into the Bullpen. Ginger looked up in time to see him collapse to the floor in a dead faint.
* * *
"… come from?"
"…labelled Personal. I thought it was family stuff."
"…not for content."
Sam could only hear the ends of sentences. He tried to blink, realising belatedly that his eyes were apparently glued shut. He lifted a hand to wipe away the glue and sensed a change in atmosphere.
"…was concussed yesterday. Supposed to stay in bed…"
"Sam? Can you hear me?" Sam felt the weight of a hand press on his collarbone. He moved slightly and worked on his eyes again. This time they responded slowly, and he blinked heavily up at Ginger, Toby and a man he did not recognise.
"Sam, I'm Neil Sorensen, I'm the Duty Doctor for this part of the building. You fainted here in the Bullpen. Do you remember what happened?"
Sam felt his stomach plunge again as he recalled the photographs. He pressed his lips together.
"Do you feel sick?"
Sam nodded slightly.
"You want to throw up?"
He shook his head slightly, no. The doctor looked at Toby – "We may be able to move him now – would your couch be suitable?" Toby must have nodded, as the doctor turned back to Sam. "D'you think you could move? Did you hurt yourself just now?" Sam shrugged slightly, feeling like he might never move again. "Sam?" He moved his head from side to side, gently; wiggled his fingers, which felt a long way away; finally moved his toes a little.
The doctor smiled, "No to moving or no to being hurt?"
"No to being hurt." His voice sounded very soft. The doctor and Toby gently eased Sam up into a sitting position and waited as he reclaimed his bearings.
"Ready?" The doctor seemed to be talking to Toby rather than Sam. They levered him upright and walked him into Toby's office, gently depositing him on the couch. Toby sat down opposite him on the coffee table as the doctor collected his bag from the Bullpen.
"Why are you even here, Sam? You were supposed to stay in bed."
Sam gingerly leaned his head against the back of the couch and focused on the ceiling. "I don't really know."
Toby hissed at him in exasperation. "Josh is on his way back from the European Council. I don't think he's going to want to find you here on my couch looking like a – like a – dammit, Sam, what's the matter with you? You couldn't stay in bed for one single, goddamned day?" The doctor joined them.
"How are you doing?"
Sam stared at him, his face a picture of misery. "I think I should just go home."
"I'd like to check you over first, if you don't mind." At Sam's shrug, he proceeded to take Sam's blood pressure, check his reactions, inspect his eyes and generally give him the once over. Sam was silent and compliant, suddenly nervous about Josh. Toby had retreated to his desk to write, glancing up now and then before resuming frantic typing. He was eventually interrupted by Ginger,
"Toby, Leo needs to see you."
"And I him." Toby's tone was grim as he picked up the folder of photographs and headed out the door. Doctor Sorensen sat back on his heels and looked carefully at Sam, still deathly pale and quiet.
"I'm worried about you. I wouldn't mind admitting you to hospital for a night's observation…"
Sam's eyes widened in horror, "Hospital?"
"Well, that got a reaction! I thought you were fading out on me. Do you live alone?"
"Well, you mustn't be alone tonight, not for a minute. You're married? A partner?"
Sam's voice was a whisper, "Partner."
"You need a ride home, and plenty of rest. Luckily it's the weekend. And you really need to take the weekend. I know what it's like here but, honestly, you're not going to recover properly if you don't rest."
Sam nodded slightly.
"Do I need to tell all of this to your boss as well?"
"No, I'll tell him. Thank you for coming up though."
"Your assistant was pretty freaked. You're lucky you didn't hit your head on anything today. That might have been a real problem. Sam, you really need to give the poor old brain a rest. From now." He packed away his gear and stood up. "I'd like to see you Monday – I'll still be on duty then, would that be all right?"
"I'll speak to your assistant. Take it easy, Sam."
Sam closed his eyes again. His stomach was still performing flip-flops and his head had decided to entertain the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Hmm, at least his power of description was returning as the fog of concussion lifted a little. He scrunched up into the corner of the couch, drawing his knees up to his chest, and rested his head carefully on folded arms over his knees. He stayed there, listening to the constant clatter of the Bullpen, the phones, the fax, the printer, the human traffic, televisions on various channels. Sam focused on Ginger, then Bonnie, then both as they breezed through all of the action. He felt isolated but this time secure – Toby had taken the photographs of horrific abortions away from his office, to Leo. Leo would handle this. Sam could just go home and sleep.
"Sam!" Oh God, it was Leo and he sounded angry. Sam raised bleary eyes towards the sound of his voice. "How the hell did you get mixed up in all this?"
Sam stared as Leo came into focus, trying to calculate his mood. Maybe he was just … Sam flinched as Leo opened his mouth, and Leo saw it. He closed his mouth again and sat down in one of Toby's chairs, sighing loudly.
"Jesus, Sam! You have a homing device for this sort of thing?" He stared at Sam, hawklike, and Sam felt vulnerable, prey to Leo's biting irritation with misdeeds and cock-ups. Sam decided to stare at his toes, sock clad – when had his shoes been removed? He frowned in confusion. "Sam, did you hear me?"
"I said, d'you have any idea at all where these photos could have come from?"
"Um, no, of course not. I guess, it was in the paper, me meeting O'Reilly –" Sam broke off as a stabbing pain rippled through the side of his head, "Ow."
"You all right there?"
Sam had paled visibly and Leo stood up, concerned, "Sam?"
Sam had closed his eyes and Leo stood near him, suddenly indecisive. He flipped out his cell and pressed the speed dial,
"Josh? Where are you? Good. As soon as you get back, clear your schedule and get Sam out of here… what? …yeah, he's here and he's not looking so good. Passed out in the Bullpen." There was a long silence. "Josh? … No, he's all right, don't freak out. See you in half an hour." He leaned towards Sam, "Josh'll be here shortly – take you home."
Sam nodded weakly, "Leo, I'm sorry – he was just giving me a ride."
"No, O'Reilly. I never imagined – I wasn't in a hurry – it was – he was by himself –"
Leo put a firm hand on Sam's shoulder, "Stop, Sam. I know all that. Just get some rest, will ya? We'll talk about this on Monday."
Toby was next. He came in with coffee, which Sam accepted gratefully. They sipped in silence for a few minutes. Finally Toby fixed his gaze on Sam's face. He cleared his throat noisily.
Sam rolled his eyes a little, "Here it comes," he muttered to himself.
"I just can't imagine what you were doing. Even accepting a ride with O'Reilly is tantamount to advertising some sort of alliance. You don't think we have enough trouble with a Catholic President, without being seen to consort with known defenders of issues like abortion."
Sam kept his eyes fixed on his coffee, gently swirling it in the mug. Around and around. As he was, passing from one Staffer to another. Lectured at by each. Playing musical couches. He realised with a start that Toby was still talking.
"…have to define policy based on so many factors, and we can't be seen to be influenced by one side more than any other. Did you have some sort of hidden agenda here, Sam? Did you think that you could ride around with this man and not be seen here in DC? Did you –" he frowned, "Are you even listening?"
Sam looked up at Toby nervously, "Yes?" he ventured.
Toby was suddenly on his feet, shouting, "Well, maybe you could try thinking next time you stop for a social chat in a public place –" he stopped as Sam held his hand against his mouth. "So help me, if you throw up in here-"
Sam closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his coffee down, breathing between gritted teeth. After a moment, the spasm passed and he moved his hand away, once again lowering his head onto his knees.
"Sorry," he whispered.
"Wait here for Josh. I have to see CJ."
* * *
They drove home in stony silence.
* * *
The rain lashed against the windows as Josh drew the curtains closed. Sam perched on a chair, watching him. He could feel his heart pounding with something akin to fear, fear of Josh's anger, fear of Josh walking out. He felt dizzy with trepidation. Josh finally sat on the couch and stared at Sam's hands.
"I don't know what to say, Sam. You needed to rest. Not go for a walk in the pouring rain to the West Wing for a cosy chat and a glance over the mail. Are you an idiot? You had concussion. You still do. You have to rest. I can't keep going over this argument." His voice was rising, and Sam had a feeling of familiarity as Josh drew in another deep breath. He ducked slightly. Josh stopped, mouth open. There was an odd silence.
"Did you – did you just cringe then?"
"Josh, every member of the West Wing has taken it upon themselves to give me some sort of lecture today, most of them involving shouting. I really can't take any more. I know I shouldn't have gone with O'Reilly. I know I should have stayed in bed. I know I am apparently a moronic idiot. But you wanna know what I DON'T know?" Sam narrowed his eyes at his own raised voice. "I want to know where you were when I woke up in the ER. I don't know why you left me there. I don't understand why you just went." Sam's eyes suddenly burned with heat and he knew he was close to losing it. He leaned his elbows forward on his knees and buried his face in his hands. "And," his voice was shaky and muffled, "why have you been avoiding me ever since?"
"I haven't avoided you. I just drove you home." Josh stood up swiftly. "C'mon, we can talk in the morning. We have the whole weekend."
"Josh – " Sam felt tears of frustration sting his eyes and he swiped them away angrily. Josh was already heading into the bathroom. Sam had never felt less like watching television than he did at that moment but he couldn't face Josh's evasion tactics – he was too sore, too… he frowned, too fragile? He shrugged and flicked the remote, easily absorbing himself in a football game.
Josh wandered out sleepily a couple of hours later. He found Sam sprawled across the couch, fast asleep, a basketball game sweeping back and forth across the screen. His rarely used sleeping tablets were lying on the coffee table. Josh reached down and shook him gently by the shoulder,
"Sam, c'mon, time to go to bed." Sam was groggy and stiff. Josh hauled him upwards and steered him into the bedroom, efficiently removing his clothes before rolling him into bed. Sam barely registered their movements and was asleep again within a minute. Josh slipped in beside him and watched him for a moment in the half light of the bedside lamp. He ran an apologetic hand across Sam's chest, resting right over his heart, feeling the heat in his own belly as the rhythm of Sam's heartbeat melted into the warmth of his hand. As if we could be one, just for this moment - Josh felt overwhelmed by his desire for Sam, and his inability to share his anguish over the events of the last two days. He rolled over the other way, dragging the duvet up around his ears, and slept.
* * *
Saturday morning began quietly, Josh rising first to talk at length over several issues with Leo, deciding he would come into the office when Sam was up. He was pleased he had been shopping the other night – he was able to make a decent breakfast for once, right there in the kitchen. He wandered into the bedroom just after eight, to find Sam lying sideways across the bed, on his stomach, staring over the edge of the bed at the floor.
"What are you doing?"
"We need to vacuum under the bed more often."
"Oh, for God's sake. You want coffee?"
"You made coffee?" Sam rolled over, the sheet twisted around his groin in a tantalising way. Josh forced his eyes towards Sam's head instead, staring at his wayward hair.
"You need a haircut. And yes, I made coffee. How're you feeling?"
Sam frowned and squinted as Josh opened the curtains, flooding the room with sunlight.
"Hey, it stopped raining!"
"I said, how're you feeling?"
"I have one hell of a headache."
"Yeah, well, you think sleeping pills were a good idea?" Josh was suddenly annoyed again.
Sam looked up at him, hurt. Josh spun on his heels, "Coffee's on the bench, I'm going for a shower."
Sam lay there, trying to focus on Josh rather than the splitting headache stomping around his skull, but he just couldn't muster the energy. He crawled out of bed, feeling slightly dizzy, and pulled on some old jeans and a t-shirt. His arm was sore too. He peeked into the bathroom, through billows of steam, and spied the abandoned bundle of crepe bandage in the corner, quickly retrieving it. It took him five minutes to roll it up using his left hand and he collapsed on the couch with his eyes shut, trying to loosen the tension in his jaw, the stiffness in his neck, the heaviness of his heart.
The coffee was good though, and by the time Josh emerged, in his 'Saturday work clothes' Sam was feeling a little more clear-headed. He was tying his shoes as Josh crossed the living room to get himself another coffee.
"You're not going anywhere."
"I thought I could just come with you."
Sam pouted. Josh drove.
* * *
Sam leaned on Toby's doorway, "Hey."
"What the hell are you doing here? I thought you had to stay in bed."
"I just came in with Josh. I won't stay long."
"Why are you here at all?"
"I didn't even finish the smoking paper – I thought I could do that quietly at my desk." Toby eyed Sam carefully.
"Nothing else. When that's done, go home."
He settled at his desk, feeling relaxed despite the continual pounding of his head. Ginger was there, and he asked her to rebandage his arm, pulling the roll of crepe out of his pocket. Ginger did a beautiful job, just as he had imagined. She brought him a coffee, smiling gently. Sam smiled back, relieved one person in the West Wing could keep their opinions to themselves. And five minutes later CJ showed how much she was not like Ginger!
"Samuel Seaborn!" CJ swept into the office and closed the door behind her. Sam took off his glasses and tried a welcoming smile.
"Don't give me that insipid smile! Why are you here at work? What's the matter with you?"
"I – "
"Get your coat. I'm taking you home."
"But – "
"I've already talked to your brainless flathead partner. Now close that gaping mouth and PUT ON YOUR COAT."
Sam put on his coat. He collected the report on smoking and followed CJ to the door. Devon O'Reilly was standing there.
"Sam. How're you doing? I've been wanting to catch up with you. I had to leave the ER – I waited with you until Josh got there-"
"Really? I had no idea. Thanks."
"I'm just so sorry about what happened. Look, I'll talk to you later, I have to meet with your boss." He inclined his head towards Toby's office. "I'm thinking I'm going to get a bollocking!"
"A what?" CJ leaned into the conversation.
"Oh sorry, CJ Cregg, this is Devon O'Reilly, from Beechwood."
"Pleased to meet you. So you're the reason our Sam looks like death warmed up!"
"I'm really sorry about that."
"We understand though – wherever our Sam goes, well, there seems to be some sort of accident. Out problem right now is that he can't seem to stay away from here. He's going home to rest right now." She laid a firm hand on Sam's shoulder, "C'mon, Sam, let's go."
"Talk to you later, Devon."
CJ drove Sam home through the damp, sunny streets, wondering what was going on in his head. Wondering more about Josh. The pair of them, a difficult relationship, one noisy, arrogant, obnoxious, funny, sarcastic, the other quiet, determined, pig-headed, sensitive, trusting, the two of them way too clever for their own good. CJ glanced across at her passenger, unsure of how to handle him. She decided to go for the safe option and see if Sam wanted to say anything. He looked lost, somehow.
Sam could feel CJ's eyes darting his way every few minutes. He knew she wanted to help. But he wasn't sure what to say. He couldn't exactly blurt out, Josh isn't looking at me! And it wasn't the first time Josh had avoided Sam. This should be easily fixed. Sam just needed to make the moment. A moment to pin Josh down and wrestle his fears out of him. It'd have to be tonight.
Suddenly resolute, Sam sat up a little straighter in the seat. CJ looked at him,
"I didn't say anything."
"You sat up, like you'd decided something, or figured something out. Share, Spanky."
"I just – it's – oh, here's our place."
"Not so fast, sunshine." CJ stopped the car and turned off the engine. "C'mon, spill!"
Sam leaned his head back for a moment, then rolled it sideways to look at her, feeling still the awful tension and pounding headache. "It's Josh. Something happened the day I got hurt, and I need to get inside his head, find out what's wrong. He's been avoiding me in a way – "
"But you came in together, you left together last night…"
"It's not that he's physically avoiding me, he's just – it's hard to explain." Sam rubbed his brow fiercely, trying to drive the pain away, "He's just – please don't laugh – he's just not looking at me."
CJ held her breath. She could see this was no time to crack a joke about Sam and good looks. This was obviously a big deal, and Sam was clearly upset. His fingertips were shaking visibly and his eyes were red-rimmed.
"Sammy, I'm sorry. Can you fix this by yourself? I mean, you and Josh?"
He closed his eyes, and she saw a tiny tear slip out of the corner of his eye, quickly flicked away by a nervous finger. He drew in a shuddery breath.
"Ceej, it's so hard – there are problems out there so monumental, so important, to millions of people, and here I am falling apart over a minor thing with my best friend." He scrubbed a hand over his face.
"Sam, this IS important. To you, to Josh, to all of us. Sure, it's not earth-shattering, but it is still important. And it needs to be fixed." She softly rubbed his arm. "Fix it, okay?" Her tone was gentle and warm. Sam looked at her, and she was as captivated as ever by his real beauty; even pale and upset, Sam was so desirable. She gazed at his sad blue eyes, framed by luscious dark lashes. CJ felt like slapping Josh for messing with this man. Instead, she leaned across and kissed his cheek. "Let me know, okay?"
He nodded, unsure of his voice.
He watched her drive away.
* * *
Sam rested for the remainder of the day, lying on the couch, channel-surfing, dozing, nibbling Josh's bagels. He was surprised that the immobility actually helped, and realised he should have done this before. Josh arrived back mid-afternoon, full of a crisis in one of their oil-producing regions of the Middle East, supplying Sam with blow-by-blow details of the negotiations that had flown back and forth in the space of three hours of extraordinary tension. And it was solved.
"Just like that!" Josh snapped his fingers.
"Wish we could fix things that easily," muttered Sam, hugging a cushion to his chest.
"We – what d'you mean?" Josh was frowning. Sam kept his eyes fixed on the television screen – last season's baseball. He took a deep breath,
"You and me, Josh."
"Sam, turn off the tv… please." Sam flicked it off. "Now, tell me what the hell you're talking about."
Sam took a deep, shaky breath. The moment had arrived and he wasn't sure he was ready for it. "You." He stared down at his wringing hands, focusing on Ginger's neat bandage job.
"What about me?"
"You don't look at me."
"You haven't looked me in the eye since the ER, Josh. You just glance at my hand, my shoulder, my hair – Josh, I want you to look at me!" Sam slowly lifted his face, anguish in his eyes as he stared at his partner. Josh was staring at his own tightly clenched hands, the knuckles white with strain.
"Josh, look at me?"
Josh slowly raised his eyes and looked at Sam, melting instantly into the intense blue, sliding into the deepest ocean waters, the coolness closing overhead as he drifted into the mysterious depths. Josh floated downwards, suddenly at peace as he realised that the sea was seeping out of his own eyes in a cathartic release of pent-up pressure. He gasped achingly and Sam slowly stood up, moving to sit beside him, an arm around his shoulders.
"Please tell me what's wrong."
Josh turned to face Sam, their noses inches apart, salty trails winding down his cheeks.
"I was afraid, I was – I thought you had – I thought you didn't care anymore."
"Care about what?"
"About me, us! You could have been killed, Sam. It was dangerous. You would have been – I would have been – I could – " he closed his eyes in horror for a moment then opened them to look right at Sam again, "I don't want to be without you."
* * *
They lay in bed, Sam flat on his back, Josh propped on one elbow, a lazy finger exploring Sam. He ran a hand up under Sam's t-shirt, then down across his stomach to one hip, gently pressing the deep purple flower there.
"Ow!" Sam jerked slightly.
"Did you get this in the fall?"
"No, on Toby's desk."
"How the hell did you run into Toby's desk?"
"Don't worry about it."
"When did it happen?"
"The other morning, while I was still in plaster. I had to help him – he broke a blind. When I climbed down, I bumped the corner of his desk. I was so tired, I could hardly see straight, and my skills for failing to negotiate furniture are renowned in the West Wing. It wasn't something I was keen to mention any time soon!"
Josh circled the bruise with a playful finger before laying his hand flat and sliding across Sam's belly, one hip to the other, then back up to his stomach, leaving it there, absorbing the very gentle rise and fall, the warmth, the very core of Sam, his Sam. Sam writhed lightly, immediately aroused.
"Uh-uh, no way, Sam."
"Complete rest, remember. No activity at all. Not even this." He felt Sam squirm under his palm, and exerted a firm pressure, holding his partner in place. "I mean it." He looked right into Sam's eyes. "We have plenty of time ahead of us." He slipped down until his head rested against Sam's shoulder and slid his hand up under Sam's t-shirt again. Sam's arm curled around him. They lay there breathing in harmony, absorbing one another's physicality. Sam sighed, a tiny frown between his eyebrows,
"When can we – "
"I don't remember what the doctor said."
"Tell me!" It was a plea. "When – "
Josh snuggled harder against Sam's shoulder and held him firmly. "I'll let you know."
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