Title: Out Nebraska Way
Category: Drama ESF
Series/Sequel: First in Sam 'breathing' series
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam, sick with a cold, flies out to Nebraska to visit the Winnebago Indians
Notes: I would hate to insult any people of the Winnebago tribe – the Indian characters in this fic and the Department of Family Services are purely of my own imagination, although the problem Sam is sent to address is very real.
This is the first in a series of fics about Sam and breathing problems – Geraldine called it the Sam breathing series.
Out Nebraska Way by Jen
Early Sunday Morning
Sam stopped trying to read. He leaned back into the couch cushions for a moment, closing his eyes, but that seemed to increase the pressure on his sinuses tenfold. He sighed and sat forward, resting his head in his hands, elbows on his knees. He hated having a cold. Pushing aside the books and papers, he padded out to the kitchen, blinking as he switched on the bright light, and decided to make himself a cup of tea.
After um-ing and ah-ing at the open cupboard for a few moments, coughing softly in the cooler air of the kitchen, he settled on Jasmine, no milk. While the kettle came to the boil, Sam sat up on the kitchen table, swinging his feet idly. He could feel the weighty throb of his blocked sinus cavities, a dense, constant pressure against his cheeks, his nose, his forehead.
He glanced at the darkness beyond the kitchen window. Scattered raindrops slapped at the glass and trickled down in wobbly lines towards the sill. Winter was well and truly on the way. Just a week ago they had enjoyed a gloriously sunny Sunday. He and Josh had driven up to the Park for a long walk.
Sam had planned a two-hour route and bounced along ahead of Josh at first, enjoying the air, the plant life, the soaring trees, the sheer freedom. And his excitement had been infectious, Josh soon buoyant, his face relaxing as his dimples deepened. Suddenly taking Sam by the hand, Josh had steered him off the path into a thick cluster of bushes. They had embraced fiercely, feeling the incredible freedom of their very private location, and they had lingered for some time, finally emerging leaf-strewn and dusty, to find the sky had clouded over.
The weather had deteriorated rapidly, and fifteen minutes from the car, they'd been caught in a sudden, freezing rain shower. They had run for the car, Josh laughing delightedly, Sam quieter, disappointed with the ruination of his plans. He had shivered all the way home, Josh suddenly concerned,
"Please, please don't catch a cold."
"I'm not that fragile."
"I don't want you to get sick."
And he would have been – but Monday night he had pulled an all-nighter with Toby, Tuesday was crazy and by Wednesday he was exhausted – he felt hot and cold all day and had arrived in Josh's office at four with his coat on.
"I'm gonna head home."
"What? Why?" Josh stood up at once.
"I just don't feel so good."
"Toby's okay with that?"
Sam shrugged, "He threw a notebook at me and told me to 'get the hell home and get some rest!'"
And by that evening, Sam had been streaming with an awful cold…
* * *
The kettle boiled and clicked off suddenly, jerking Sam out of his reflective reverie. He slid off the table and made his tea, before settling back on the couch amongst his many piles of papers. He realigned his glasses and picked up the next report, a biting indictment of the Department of Family Services.
Half an hour later found Sam poring over a map of northern USA, tracking the history of the Winnebago Indians from north-eastern Iowa to Minnesota on to South Dakota before their settlement in Nebraska. As he smoothed the map out across the coffee table, he knocked the now-empty mug. It teetered mockingly for a couple of seconds then leapt to its death, smashing to smithereens on the hardwood floor. Sam froze. Within thirty seconds he heard footsteps, and there was Josh, tousled and sleepy and cross.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Sorry – I had some tea – knocked the mug off the t-"
"What are you doing UP at this time of night?"
"It's like, it's like – what the hell time is it anyway?"
Sam glanced down at his watch, suddenly nervous. It was two-fifteen.
"Ah, nearly one."
"Okay, okay, it's a little later than that."
Josh strode over to the couch and grabbed hold of Sam's wrist, twisting the watch up towards him. "Sam –" Sam tried to pull his wrist away, but Josh held on tightly, "Why are you doing this now?" He waved Sam's hand in the direction of the papers.
"I – this cold, couldn't seem to lie down comfortably, it was easier to –"
"Did you take anything?"
"You know, some cold medicine or something."
"No… achoo!" Sam sneezed, jerking his wrist out of Josh's grasp, and blew his nose. Josh tugged Sam's t-shirt.
"I need to clean up this mess."
"I'll do that. You'd only cut yourself."
"That's so unfair."
"Sam, please, just get to bed." He fetched the dustpan. Sam sat on the couch watching for a moment before traipsing off towards the bedroom with a box of tissues. Josh arrived a minute later with an extra pillow under his arm. "Here!" he tossed it to Sam.
"Thanks. Sorry I woke you."
"Forget it. At least you're in bed now. You'll never shake this cold if you don't get some rest."
Sam leaned back against his three pillows, trying to ignore his screaming sinuses. He rotated his thumbs gently above his eyebrows in an attempt to ease the pressure. Josh leaned up on one elbow,
"You need some painkillers, maybe? It'd help."
"I guess." Josh got up again and brought Sam a couple of tablets and a glass of water. He lay down and wrapped an arm around Sam's chest. "Just don't get any sicker, okay?"
Sam coughed, rattling them both, "Sure."
* * *
The day before
"Ah, yeah. I've been looking at your schedule for Monday."
"I haven't seen it yet."
"There's a tribe of Indians out west."
"Uh-huh." Sam blew his nose.
"These people, they're attracting a good deal of attention at the moment. I need you-"
"No, wait, these people, they're the –" Toby looked down at a paper, "the Winnebago tribe."
"You're kidding me, right? Winnebago?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding? These people claim they've been hit hard by child welfare – losing a disproportionate amount of their children to foster homes – and some of these have died in foster care. They're holding a march to honour and remember these children – "
"Just wait. Thing is, Dennison's up and running with the story."
"Gerard Dennison? That leech?"
"Yeah. If he swings it, Family Services are going to be threatened on every Indian nation, homeland, tribal area, whatever. We need to engender a little confidence. There's an Amelia Emery from Family Services out there and I want you to go with her, represent the Office of the President. Work through a couple of meetings. Show a united front. All right?"
"Wait, I didn't say yes."
"You did. I definitely heard a yes in there."
"But, but… I have a cold." Sam pouted.
"You'll be fine by Monday."
* * *
CJ was in his office after lunch, reclining at his desk, long elegant legs outstretched, ankles neatly crossed next to his computer, reading a magazine and crunching on an apple.
"Spanky, c'mon in."
"This is my office." Sam sneezed and dropped into one of his visitors' chairs. His eyes were red-rimmed and he looked tired.
"Aw, your cold is worse. Way to ruin the weekend."
"Yeah," Sam sniffed miserably.
"You're going to this Nebraska thing?"
"Crack of dawn, Monday morning. In fact, before dawn. Uh, why are you here?"
"Give you a few hints about Dennison."
"Hang on." Sam blew his nose a few times.
"Your nose is running like the Mississippi. Will you be up for this on Monday?"
Sam shrugged, "Toby thinks so! Fill me in on the leech."
"Leech is right. He's ready to suck up just about any anti-government programme publicity going, and this one, with child welfare, suits him just fine. Now, he loves to rile us, so be incredibly polite all the time no matter what he says. Got it?"
"I mean it, Sam. You know that teeny little temper you keep tucked away for special occasions…"
"I don't have-"
"Glad you see it my way."
"Why does everyone keep doing that to me?"
"Anyway, keep calm, polite and in control. Right?"
"He's gunning for children's issues, so do your best to focus on the adults in the situation, right?"
"And if things get ugly, back out fast."
"It'll be cold over there. Pack your woollies."
"Woollies?" Sam's eyebrow shot upwards.
"Winter clothes, Samuel."
"Josh's helping me get ready."
"God, the idiot boys in charge of a suitcase!"
"I'm only going for the day." He broke into an extended cough, leaning forward in his distress.
CJ swung her legs to the floor and stood up. She came around the desk to sit close to Sam, and slipped a slender hand under his tie, feeling the rise and fall of his chest. Sam sat back slightly. CJ left her hand in place, and stared at his face,
"You look pale. You're not getting another chest infection?"
"No! I'm fine."
"Mmm, well, take care, just in case." CJ smoothed her hand across his chest tenderly. "Keep warm, Spanky."
* * *
Sam did seem a little better in the morning but he was tired and scratchy. He had been up for a couple of hours when Josh wandered out in a towel after a long shower.
"Hey, how're you feeling?" Josh turned on the television and perched on the arm of a chair, eyes on the screen. Sam glared at him in irritation,
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Hmmm?" Josh wasn't listening already.
"I'm dying here."
"Ye-ah." Josh changed to another channel. Sam rolled his eyes and turned back to his work. He had transferred everything to the dining table when he got up – he could keep his piles of notes neater that way, and he felt better sitting up straight. But Josh's presence had interrupted his train of thought,
"Mmm?" Josh had changed to ESPN sports.
"D'you think, you know, we could have a conversation?" His biting tone sliced through the clatter of the television.
"Huh? What?" Josh turned around, frowning.
"Oh, hello. Morning, Josh. How are you this morning? Have a good sleep? Nice shower?" Sam's tone was acidic. "Would you like some breakfast? Coffee? Let me get you something."
Josh raised his eyebrows in surprise, "What's the matter with you?"
Sam frowned at him over the rims of his glasses, "Who me? I'm just fine. Why wouldn't I be?" He turned his back on Josh and tried to focus on his work. Josh was still staring. He ran their brief exchange through his head,
"I asked you how you were feeling…"
Sam turned back, "Yeah, but it's not like – " he broke off to cough, "it's not like you actually waited to hear the answer."
"Oh, for God's sake, 'course I wanna hear it. I just got distracted for a sec, that's all." Josh got up and came over to the table. He stood right behind Sam, placing his hands on Sam's tense shoulders. He leaned down close by Sam's ear and murmured,
"How are you?"
"Not too bad," Sam shrugged under Josh's warm hands, and coughed again.
"You're not getting another chest thing?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
Josh's right hand lifted and wrapped across Sam's forehead, pressing the back of Sam's head against his own stomach. They were both still and silent for a moment, Sam relaxing into the contact, then Josh moved his hand to smooth Sam's hair,
"You don't feel feverish."
"I am not."
"You are. You're …tetchy."
"Shut up, Josh!"
"God, please! I have to do this. I'm off first thing in the morning."
"Excessively grumpy." Josh stepped backwards. "I'd better get dressed, have to go into work for a while."
"You're gonna work here all day, aren't you?"
"How the hell do I know?" Sam broke into a long, dry cough.
"Ooh, grumpy, sickly Sam. I'm out of here." Josh skittered off to the bedroom. Sam peeled off his glasses – they seemed to be cutting into the tops of his ears this morning. He rubbed his ears, then his eyes. He felt tired. Just breathing seemed to be tiring him out. His chest felt heavy.
When Josh reappeared, Sam was standing at the window, staring out at the rain. Josh sat on the couch to tie his shoes, "I think Fall is officially over."
Sam swung around and leaned against the window-sill. He folded his arms,
"One of Donna's."
"How long will you be?"
"I'll be back for dinner. Pick something up on my way?"
"Can I take your car then?"
Sam narrowed his eyes calculatingly, "If you absolutely guarantee that you will lock it every single time you get out."
"Yeah." Josh stood up. They automatically moved towards one another and embraced, the movement causing Sam to cough over Josh's shoulder. Josh hugged him more tightly,
"You sure you're gonna be okay?"
"It's just a cold." Sam leaned his forehead into Josh's shoulder, already weary.
"You could cancel the trip."
"It's a march. Someone needs to be there for this."
"It'll be colder there."
Josh absently rubbed a hand up and down Sam's back. They stood there, absorbing one another's physicality. They didn't need to say anything else.
* * *
Sam arrived in Sioux City via Omaha a little shaken, his sinuses aflame from the cabin pressure. He met Emery at the gate, a tall, capable-looking woman, black hair swinging in a glossy bob, and with black jeans, a khaki sweater and a dark coloured flak jacket, Sam felt he was out on some sort of military excursion.
Amelia Emery drove a powerful Toyota 4WD, and they'd only been on the road for ten minutes when she pulled into a garden centre.
"You look terrible. I have a friend in here, she'll make you something." Emery was already out of the car.
"Huh? Wait!" Sam scrambled out after her, "It's just a cold." She appeared not to have heard him. There was a café inside and Emery leaned across the counter,
"Gwen? You in there?"
"Mimi, is that you?" A small, wiry woman in gardening attire emerged, drying her hands on a towel, "What a nice surprise!"
"We don't have long. We're off to the Winnebagos. Gwen, I want you to meet Sam Seaborn. Sam, Gwen Truscott."
Gwen stuck out her hand, "Pleased to meet you, Sam." They exchanged greetings.
"Sam's not feeling so well. What have you got to get him through the morning?"
Gwen's cheerful face grew serious. She guided Sam to a table by the window and sat him down, taking the seat opposite. She leaned forward on her elbows and took a good, long look. Sam squirmed uncomfortably. Finally she turned to the other woman,
"God, Mimi, where did you find him? He's gorgeous!" Sam blushed brilliantly and buried his face in his hands. Gwen patted his head,
"Don't be embarrassed! It's a complement. Now, you have a bad cold, right?" Sam nodded, slowly lowering his hands. "But you're in pain. Is it your sinuses?"
"I just flew in from DC."
"Oh, ooh, I can see why you were so pale then. But you're not now…" she winked at Amelia, then grew serious again, " And a touch of asthma too?"
Sam frowned, "No, I don't get asthma."
"Really? You certain? It's just that you –"
"I get chest infections sometimes – maybe you…"
"No, this, your cough, sounded like asthma." She stared at him a little longer, then stood up, shrugging, "Never mind. I’ll get something that'll help your nose." She slipped away and Amelia dropped into her seat.
"She's an incredible diagnostician. And she's a healer."
"A healer? Amelia, I work for the President – this had better be above board –" he broke off, sneezing.
* * *
They drove south towards the Village, the temperature considerably cooler. Sam did feel some relief after Gwen's special tea. He settled back into the car seat.
"That friend of yours."
"Mmm. She does a lot of that healing stuff? That was a pretty weird experience for me."
"Oh yes, she's well known hereabouts. Natural healing, healing oneself, that's considered very important in these parts – there's quite a lot of suspicion of the medical profession – mainly because of the authority that comes with it." Amelia glanced at Sam, "You do feel better though, don't you?"
"I do. Thank you. I seem to get awful colds since I moved to DC." He fished out his glasses and began to run over his notes, thrashing out the issues with Amelia. It was good to have someone on his side for a change.
* * *
They were welcomed formally by people from the tribe, and Sam was asked to stand up and greet a huge number of elders who seemed to come and go throughout their late morning meetings. Those meetings went well and Sam and Amelia felt they had achieved some measure of success, along with a sense of reassurance for the Winnebago people.
Lunch was a formal affair at the local Public School, Sam treated as an honoured guest. One speaker described him as a protector of the Winnebago tribe and there had been approval from everyone there.
Sam, feeling heavy with cold and tired beyond measure, forced himself to concentrate on the speeches and problems raised, smiling warmly through the lunch and responding to questions from the children about the White House and President Bartlet. They broke for one more meeting before the march, which was due to start at two.
* * *
A cold wind swept up the main street, light flurries of first snow whipping sideways across the storefronts. Sam gathered his overcoat tightly around himself, burying his hands in his pockets. Amelia had reappeared in a thick oilskin parka with fur trim and together they walked towards the Village centre, where the march was to end.
They had both felt it was inappropriate for them to join in the march, but as they stood stamping their feet, he wondered if any sort of movement would've been better than freezing to death on the sidewalk. The effects of Gwen's medicinal tea had worn off, and Sam's cold had resurfaced, his eyes and nose red and sore, and despite sipping from a water bottle, he coughed constantly in the cold air. Amelia eyed him worriedly,
"You want to wait inside somewhere? That cough's awful."
"It's all right. Look, here they come now!"
"And there's trouble," Amelia nudged him and indicated a group of reporters off to one side. Sam snorted derisively,
"Dennison! Keep away from him."
"In the red jacket."
The march had begun peacefully but somehow tension had arisen, and there was some angry yelling between the couple of hundred people marching and watching. The whole crowd moved towards the Village square. Dennison was suddenly at Sam's side, on camera,
"Good afternoon, Sam Seaborn, all the way from the White House, welcome to Nebraska. Are you here to explain why the government programmes are failing our Winnebago children so drastically?"
Sam smiled grimly, "I'm here to represent the office of the President, who is always concerned about the safety of our children."
"What comment would you make about the failure of Family Services to provide responsible foster care for these children?"
Sam broke into a long cough, unable to answer. The marchers were much closer and suddenly the crowd seemed to surge around them, possibly attracted by the camera aimed at Sam, and someone began to shout in his ear,
"Save our children! Respect our rights!"
Sam tried to back away from Dennison and his camera, and felt a sharp elbow in his ribcage, wresting the air out of him and sending him stumbling backwards onto the wet grass. He sat down with a thump. There were people milling all around him and a couple leaned down and helped him to his feet. Sam felt the coldness seep through his damp clothes, chilling him. He looked for Amelia – she was already shoving her way over to him. She frowned, seething,
"I can't even see the Sheriff. Sam, are you okay?"
"Yeah, a bit damp!" He grinned ruefully then began to cough again.
"C'mon, the speeches are beginning."
It was a touching memorial for lost children. Sam and Amelia stood shoulder to shoulder, aware of cameras zooming in on them. Amelia tried to ignore Sam's shudders – he was shivering constantly and coughing every few moments. The final flower tributes were laid next to a carving that looked like a mother and infant. The march broke up. Sam and Amelia tried to get away quickly, but Dennison was waiting for them,
"A couple more questions, Sam."
"He's not feeling so great." Amelia took a firm hold of Sam's arm.
"C'mon, Sam, we need this."
Sam rolled his eyes, "One minute, Gerry."
"What comment would you make about the failure of Family Services to provide responsible care for these children?
Sam took a deep breath that ended in a long cough. "Sorry. The Family Services is certainly under close scrutiny right now to ascertain the seriousness of the accusations."
"Would you say President Bartlet is failing our Indian children?"
"Of course not. This administration has set up a number of programmes designed specifically to care for the welfare of Native Americans."
"But they're failing, Sam. What would President Bartlet say about that?"
"The success or failure has not been established. We are looking into this."
"Are… or maybe might one day?"
Sam gritted his teeth, remembering CJ's words of caution, "We are." He felt a heavy weightiness settle on his chest and a rising panic as he began to cough.
"Sam, are you going sure about that? What guarantees are there?"
Sam turned desperate eyes towards Amelia – he just couldn't get enough air into his lungs, or get the air in out. He grasped for her hand, coughing.
"Sam, what –"
Sam swung back to Dennison, "Shut the hell up, Gerry. We'll do whatever we can-" He felt his knees weakening and he leaned towards Amelia, "Get me out of here, please!"
Amelia flung an arm around his shoulders and steered him towards the nearest store. They staggered into the warmth, Sam gasping and wheezing. He doubled over, coughing desperately. Amelia looked over to the approaching storekeeper,
"Can you call an ambulance?"
"They're pretty slow to respond to this place. You'd do better driving yourself."
"You're joking!" She sat Sam on a nearby stool. "Lean forward. Try to stay calm." She turned to the storekeeper, "My car's just down the road. Will you keep an eye on him?"
"Sam, wait here, right?" Amelia patted his shoulder. His breathing sounded a little less stressed now they were out of the cold. He nodded.
She was back within a couple of minutes, to find Sam clenching his teeth, wheezing, his face chalk-white, eyes huge and scared. One of the tribal elders was behind her,
"You helped us a lot today, Sam Seaborn. I will accompany you to the hospital."
Sam looked up at him, "I may, I may have – " Sam stopped to cough, wincing at the dry, raspy pain, "may have blown it with a reporter."
"We don't care about reporters."
"My boss does." Sam swiped a hand across his eyes, his wheezing breath sounding abnormally loud in the small store.
Amelia grasped his arm, "C'mon, let's go."
* * *
Sam closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows, concentrating on his breathing. The overwhelming sense of panic and loss of control were beginning to subside as the drugs took effect. The constant whirr of the nebuliser was also soothing. Sam adjusted the mask slightly over his mouth and nose and wondered if he could fall asleep. He felt so tired.
The doctor slipped back into the cubicle, and smiled warmly,
"Sam, how're you doing?"
He lifted a tired hand.
"Tired? You'll be exhausted for a few days." She perched on the edge of his bed, "Would you be able to talk a little now?"
Sam nodded, his hair hanging limp, his pupils unnaturally large, making him look youthful and vulnerable.
"Now, you've definitely never had asthma before?" He shook his head slightly. "Family?" Another shake. "Now, you've had a bad cold. How many days?"
Sam frowned. He'd had the cold all weekend and on the Friday for the meetings with Education, and on the Thursday for the second conservation forum - Toby had sent him home on the Wednesday – he held up one hand and one finger. "Six days?" A nod. "Do you have, have you had any history of breathing problems?"
Sam lifted the mask a little, "I've had a few chest infections in the last couple of years."
"Hmm. Well, what we think might've happened, Sam, your cold has been a severe one, and has somehow inflamed your lungs, maybe they're weakened from those infections, well, you were probably on the verge of bronchitis, but the sudden change in air temperature, the flight perhaps, you look like you were already tired – all this set up to cause an asthmatic reaction. We don't think it means you have asthma, but your body is responding to the same drugs we'd use to treat a fairly severe asthma attack."
Sam's frown deepened, "I had an asthma attack?" His voice was muffled by the mask.
"Well, technically, yes. It's probably a one-off, but you'll have to see a specialist back in DC if it resurfaces."
Sam swiped a hand across his forehead, "I need to make a phone call."
"Yes – I'm supposed to be flying back tonight – can I still do that?"
"Sorry, you need to stay here overnight – you're going to be very tired, and I'm not certain we've stabilised you yet."
"Stay here, in the hospital?"
The doctor smiled, "Don’t need to look so horrified. I'll get a phone. It's very quiet today."
Sam was coughing raggedly when she returned.
"See, you really aren't ready to go anywhere. What sort of call do you need to make?"
"Oh my, I was forgetting who you are. Write down the number and I'll get the operator to put it through."
-Josh Lyman's phone.
-Donna! I need Josh.
-Sam! Oh, Sam. Hold on -.
-SAM! WHAT THE HELL D'YOU-
-CJ and Toby are going BALLISTIC here. She WARNED you about Dennison. But you didn't listen, did you? You-
And YOU told him to SHUT THE HELL UP??? Sam, that's all we've been seeing. CJ-"
Sam felt his chest constrict, his breathing speed up. He dropped the receiver noisily into its cradle. The doctor looked across, reaching for her stethoscope as Sam leaned forward in panic. The doctor replaced his mask then wrapped a soothing arm around his shoulders, whilst listening to his chest. Sam was shaking visibly. After a couple of minutes, his breathing calmed.
"Right, well, you're going to have to stay calm, or I won't be able to see my other patients. Lucky it's a usual quiet Monday."
Sam held up a finger.
"You need to make another call?" He nodded. "You need to stay calm."
Sam mimicked Josh's scout salute…
-Bonnie, it's Sam.
-Sam, oh my God, where are you?
-Bonnie, can you cancel my day tomorrow? I can't get away from here tonight.
-Why? What happened?
-I, I'm not feeling so good.
The doctor snorted in the background.
-Everyone's after your neck right now.
-Bonnie, I was, I was sick – that's when the reporter got that statement. I'm in the hospital.
-Sam, no! Are you all right?
-I will be. Keep it quiet though, okay?
-Should I tell Toby?
The very idea made him cough again.
-Not, not if you can, can help it. Please, Bonnie?
-Where are you?
-I'll be back some time tomorrow.
He hung up and leaned against the pillows. The hovering doctor eyed him grimly,
"You're exhausted. You need to rest."
"Can you keep my presence here secret?"
"Don't," he coughed painfully, "-don't let your receptionist be intimidated by a call from the office of the President."
"I'll brief her. Now relax. Oh, and you have a couple of visitors, just for a minute."
After Amelia and the elder left, Sam closed his eyes. Thoughts of Josh kept flickering through his tired brain – Josh angry. Sam felt tears of frustration prick his eyelids. His chest still felt heavy, his nose was running. He sank back into the pillows and banged his hand against the sheet in irritation. The meetings with the Winnebago tribe had gone so well, and now had he ruined all of that? Intensely concerned, Sam sat up a little and lifted his legs. He hadn't been admitted to a ward yet, and was still dressed. Perhaps he could get that flight. He just needed to be careful of the IV – he shuffled closer to the edge and tried to swing his legs over the side. Only then did he realise how out of kilter he was – he over-balanced, crashing to the floor, the IV tugging sharply as he tried to keep that arm up. There was a bedpan there, and Sam leaned over it, losing his lunch.
A nurse ran in, the young doctor close on her heels,
"Sam, you need to stay in bed. Asthma medication can make you very light-headed, and nauseous." They helped him back on to the bed, the nurse pointedly raising the guard rails as the doctor checked his IV and readjusted the nebuliser.
"Don't move one inch, you hear me?"
Sam nodded miserably, his eyes blue and startled over the rubber rim of the mask.
"Try and get some sleep. We'll wake you later and move you onto a ward. Or if it stays quiet, we may just keep you here. Okay? Sleep."
Sam closed his eyes.
* * *
He awoke early as usual, and lay there blinking at the ceiling. The nebuliser was now silent, and the light had been dimmed over his cubicle. He was still in the ER but someone must have helped him undress in the night – he was wearing only his own warm underclothes, and his pants and shirt were folded neatly on a chair in the corner.
It reminded him of an evening not long ago with Josh – they had arrived home from a formal banquet both a little tipsy – the electricity between them strumming physically all evening – and Josh had been suddenly amorous, pinning Sam up against the front door and kissing him deeply. They had stumbled into the bedroom and Josh had shucked his tuxedo, dress shirt, bow tie, the lot, in a crumpled heap on the floor. Sam, wavering from alcohol and arousal, had meticulously removed every item of clothing and folded each neatly, placing them all in a careful pile on a chair. By the time he was down to his socks, Josh had had enough and had tackled Sam wildly, twisting him around and crashing them both to the floor, where they had made love fiercely and joyfully before crawling into bed together, satiated and exhausted.
The next morning, Sam had been unable to straighten his right knee and Josh had a stiff shoulder – they had slunk, or in Sam's case, limped, into the West Wing, hungover and aching. CJ had been the first to call them on it,
"What happened to you two between your merry departure after the banquet and your arrival here this morning?"
Sam had turned wide, innocent eyes towards her, "CJ! What are you thinking?"
Josh had leaned casually against Margaret's filing cabinet, attempting to look nonchalant, flinching at the pressure on his shoulder. Toby's dark gaze had flicked from one to the other,
"Why are you limping? And don't tell me you did it on the dance floor." He tipped his head at Josh, "What did he do to you?"
Sam blushed a brilliant red, from collar to hairline, just as Leo opened the door. Leo glanced at Margaret to collect his messages and as he turned he caught sight of Sam's face,
"What the hell?"
Sam smiled to himself – Toby had actually stepped forward and distracted Leo as Sam had limped in behind the others. He stretched the arm that wasn't attached to the IV. He had woken a few times in the night, coughing. He felt hot and tired and wrung out, but had to get back to the West Wing today, somehow. He didn't fancy being alone on another flight. He leaned forward to retrieve his watch from the cabinet, surprised as his head spun dizzily. It was nearly 6 a.m.
Jus then a nurse glanced in, "Oh, you're awake." She approached his bed, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right. A little hot –" She frowned, clearing damp strands of hair before pressing her hand against his forehead, and reaching for a thermometer with her other hand. After it beeped, she smiled reassuringly and slipped out, returning within a minute with a doctor, a young dark-haired man. He stopped and talked for a moment with someone seated at the door, then came up to Sam,
"Hi, Sam, I'm John Storm. Sarah here says you're feeling hot?"
Sam struggled into a sitting position, "Might be these warm clothes."
"You're actually running a bit of a fever. I'd like to listen to your chest, if you don't mind." The nurse helped Sam roll up his warm undershirt. "Cough!" Sam coughed and surprised all three of them with a loud, crackly explosion. The doctor jumped visibly. Sam coughed and coughed. John Storm gingerly replaced the stethoscope as Sam struggled to get a breath. At last the doctor stepped back. The nurse rolled down Sam's shirt and eased him back onto the pillows, cranking up the back of the bed at the same time.
John Storm evaluated his patient for a minute. He took in the pale feverish face, sore nose, tired blue eyes, dark hair sticking up in all directions,
"I heard you need to get back to Washington?"
"I do." Sam rubbed his eyes. "I think they may be cleaning up a mess I made."
"You realise you'll have company?"
John Storm indicated the shadowy figure seated outside the cubicle. "One of our elders. He'll go back to DC with you."
"What? Why? Why is he here? Your elders?" Sam spluttered into a long cough.
The doctor waited. "You made a big impression yesterday. Your visit was very important – and the media are belittling that. Our people, yes, I'm a Winnbago myself, well, part, anyway, the elders want to protect all the good work that was done, and they want to protect you."
Sam's mouth dropped open in surprise, "Me?"
"There's been a tribesman outside this cubicle ever since you were admitted."
"Really? Wow. I don't know what to say."
John Storm shrugged, "Don't say anything. Just accept it."
Sam cleared his throat, "Can I get out of here?"
"We-ell, you seem to be over that attack, but you still have a bad cold and the start of what looks like a nasty chest infection. You've had those before, right?"
Sam sighed, "Yeah, ever since I came to DC."
"You could easily stay here another day, get some rest. Look like you could use it."
"Yeah… but I have to get back."
"I'll prescribe you some antibiotics, and something to try and keep that fever down – you still won't be able to go back to work. Your body was seriously stressed yesterday – it’ll take a few days to recover."
"Thanks for all your help."
"I think it's you I have to thank," he hesitated, "my people – " he looked sadly at Sam, "they have suffered so much. To get a visit from the President's office – it meant a lot."
Sam looked sad then, "I should have done better."
"I'm amazed at what you did – do you always work when you're ill?"
"Pretty much," Sam grinned at him ruefully.
"Well, I'll write you a letter to take back to your own doctor and I'll take out that IV in a couple of hours." John Storm withdrew, leaving Sam with his thoughts.
At eight, he telephoned Bonnie again.
-Sam! Everyone's looking for you!
-I'm still in the hospital.
-Still in hospital? What's the matter- oh Sam, Toby's here-
-Where the hell are you?
-This'd better be good, Sam.
-I'm in hospital. They're releasing me later this morning.
-I became really ill, after the march. I couldn't breathe.
Sam broke off to cough loudly.
-Sorry, he gasped, suddenly breathless.
Toby sat down slowly on Bonnie's desk.
-You don't sound so good now.
Sam closed his eyes.
-I'm gonna, gonna try and get a flight back this afternoon or evening.
He coughed again and swallowed painfully.
-You sure you're all right to travel?
-I know what happened, Toby-
-I'll see you later tonight.
There was a pause. Toby stared at the ceiling then rubbed his forehead.
-Just – take care getting back, right?
Sam closed his eyes against the wealth of emotion he was feeling.
-Toby, can you tell, no – I –
-It's all right, I'll talk to Josh.
* * *
Amelia delivered George Pathfinder and a pale Sam to the airport in Omaha. She gave Sam an unexpected hug,
"Be careful on the flight. Thanks for all your good work, Sam, and for coming out here. I'm so sorry you got so sick."
"Thanks for driving us all the way down here."
"I wanted to save you one flight."
"And thanks for saving me." He smiled gently. "Tell your friend Gwen she's amazing."
"Oh yeah – the asthma!"
"I should have listened more carefully."
He wrinkled his nose, "Well, I hope not!" They both laughed, which started Sam coughing again.
"Get going before something else goes wrong." She patted his shoulder, "and get well! See you later, George, take good care of him."
George nodded grimly and took Sam solicitously by the arm, guiding him out to the plane.
* * *
Sam turned on his cell in Omaha.
-Sam! God, what happened to you?
-I'll be back soon. Our flight leaves in a few minutes.
-I'll send a car to the airport.
-It's okay, my car's there.
-Are you up to driving?
-I have someone who can.
-See you soon.
-Sam, wait! About yesterday –
-Josh… I'll be there soon. OK?
* * *
George Pathfinder negotiated the route from Dulles to the West Wing like an old hand, which was fortunate as Sam was exhausted.
They walked slowly towards the Bullpen. Leo was in Toby's office and both men emerged to meet the pair. George was holding on firmly to Sam's upper arm, his grip tightening with every cough.
"Sam!" Leo moved forward.
"Leo, this is George Pathfinder. He's –" Sam broke into a raucous cough, making everyone wince. He stumbled slightly and George looked at Leo,
"Can we sit him down? He is very tired and unwell."
Toby indicated the couch in his office and they all trooped in.
"I am George Pathfinder. I have brought Sam Seaborn to you."
"Leo McGarry. This is Toby Ziegler." They all shook hands. "What can we do for you, Mr –ah- Pathfinder?"
"You do not need to do anything for me. I have brought Sam Seaborn to you."
The two senior men looked at Sam, pale and limp on the couch. Sam smiled up at George,
"He, the people there – they wanted to see me back safely. Someone sat near my hospital bed the whole time."
"Sam Seaborn had shown respect for us. Then he became very ill. We would not allow him to be alone in a hospital, or on a journey."
Leo's gaze slid back to Sam, "You were really that sick?"
"I was," Sam shrugged. "I've brought home enough antibiotics to sink a small yacht."
He swiped a tired hand across his face. "They never left me alone, Leo."
George adjusted his coat, "I will go home now." He turned to Sam, "Thank you again."
Sam's eyes widened, "I would never have made it off the plane if you hadn't been there. I am so grateful. Thank you."
Leo took George by the arm, "There's someone I want you to meet." Leo steered him out of the office.
Sam and Toby looked at each other. Toby reached out and touched Sam's knee,
"I'll get Josh."
"Charlie, can you look after Mr Pathfinder here for a moment?"
Leo slipped into the Oval Office,
"I have a story you're gonna love, Mr President, and a person you're gonna love meeting…"
* * *
Josh sat down gingerly beside Sam, shocked at his pale face. Sam appeared to be asleep but his hands were clenched tightly on his thighs, the knuckles white. Josh put one hand over Sam's, and watched his eyes slowly blink open. He looked quickly up at Toby, who shrugged and dropped into a chair. Sam's amazing blue eyes focused on Josh and a slow smile crept across his face,
Josh felt Sam's gaze burn a warmth right through his body and he flinched involuntarily. Sam looked over to Toby and their eyes locked for a moment, then Sam's eyes closed again,
"How much of a mess did I make?"
"I might just save your butt if you give me a good excuse." They all jumped – CJ was leaning on Toby's doorway. She glided swiftly towards the couch and sat down on the other side of Sam, "Spanky? What've you been up to?"
He lifted a tired hand, "That cold I had – have – it was affecting my lungs. I hit that cold air… I didn't feel so good as soon as the plane landed… then this healer…"
"Healer?" they all chorused, frowning at one another before turning back to Sam.
"She gave me some tea and said it sounded like I had asthma on top of the cold, but I said I didn't get asthma. So anyway we drove to the Winnebagos and the meetings went really well. They were so pleased I was there- " he stopped to cough, gasping a little urgently for air between coughs. Josh tightened his grip, and CJ slipped a hand across his back, rubbing gently.
"Yeah, it was great. The march was good, but I wasn't doing so well, then Dennison kept getting in my face. I got knocked over in the crowd, lost him for a while – God, it was cold – then when he caught up with me, I just couldn't breathe anymore – it was just this awful gasping, wheezing noise, like a fish chucked out of the tank, and Amelia –" Sam coughed again. Josh looked over to Toby,
"Family Services rep."
"She was amazing – got me out of there, drove me to the ER."
"My God!" CJ gaped at him in horror. Josh shifted even closer, until he could feel the warmth emanating from Sam's feverish body.
"They pumped me full of drugs, a nebuliser, IV –" Sam leaned against Josh wearily. "I'm tired," he whispered. His eyes drifted shut.
Leo appeared and glanced at Sam's inert form, "How's he doing?"
Sam blinked up at Leo but his eyelids closed again and he leaned harder into Josh. Leo turned his attention to CJ and Toby. "The President wants to use Sam's buddy for a Press release – make good the crap Dennison's putting out."
CJ frowned, "Sam's buddy?"
"I'll explain on the way," Toby stood up. "You'll take him home?"
"Yeah – that all right with you, Leo?"
"Sure. He's no use to us like that." The three senior staffers left together.
"Sam, wake up."
"I'm gonna take you home. Wait here while I get my things."
When Josh returned with Donna in tow, Sam was in the middle of a coughing fit. They watched through the window as he winced after each cough, dragging in hasty breaths before exploding again.
"Yeah, just help me get him to the car."
* * *
"That's all the pillows I could find."
"It looks like, like, like you're preparing for childbirth or something."
"How d'you know what THAT looks like?"
"Anyway, this way you'll keep upright, stop you coughing so much. How was the shower?"
"Good. I tried to keep it on cool."
"Still feel hot?"
"Can't tell anymore," Sam stood dejectedly in the middle of the room in a t-shirt and boxers and lifted his hands in weary defeat. Josh moved over to him and slipped his arms around Sam's waist, letting Sam lean into him. After a moment, Josh eased him towards the bed.
"C'mon, slide into the birthing centre then!" He settled Sam back against the pillows, resting a hand against Sam's forehead, "You are still warm!" Sam reached up and moved Josh's hand from his head to his stomach, sliding it under his t-shirt.
Josh sat down, curling his fingers into Sam's warm skin, feeling his partner squirm with pleasure. He let his hand slide around Sam's navel. He ran a finger under Sam's waistband, slipping his hand under the charcoal cotton of Sam's favourite boxers,
"Well, one part of you's feeling better!"
Sam made to speak and instead was beset by a long coughing fit. Josh moved his hand back up under Sam's shirt and slid his other hand in there as well. He wrapped his hands around Sam's heaving ribcage, sharing his struggle. By the time Sam finished coughing, he was dizzy and breathless. Josh caressed Sam's chest.
"You're so disobedient," he chided gently. Unable to speak, Sam looked at him questioningly. "I clearly instructed you not to get any sicker."
Sam risked a whisper, "Sorry."
Josh lifted Sam's t-shirt away from his skin, "You're too hot."
"Want me to find that thermometer?"
"I'm too hot." He leaned forward and Josh lifted off his shirt, then sat back and gazed at Sam, sighing,
"How many times have we been through this?"
Sam bit his lip, "Not sure. Once or twice."
Josh snorted, "And the rest. Soon as you're on your feet again, you're starting a new regime, more sleep and pots of Vitamin C."
"I'll be up tomorrow."
"You so will not."
"But I already cancelled today."
"And I'm sure Toby will have cancelled tomorrow. What did the doctor say?"
"Don’t do that sullen thing."
"It'd take a few days."
"Right, well, take 'em." Josh moved across the room and changed into a t-shirt and sweatpants, feeling Sam's eyes on him.
"Sure." Sam's face was slightly flushed and damp. Josh felt moved beyond measure. He slipped onto the bed, leaning around the mound of pillows to kiss Sam's feverish forehead.
"I hope the President enjoys meeting your Indian."
Sam coughed as he smiled. Josh lay down on his side, resting a hand on Sam's chest, monitoring the uneven rise and fall, the crackly sounds coming from somewhere behind his ribcage. It didn't take long for Sam's eyelids to droop heavily.
"Josh," he murmured sleepily.
"G'night." His breathing evened out a little. Josh slipped out to the living room and picked up the telephone.
-It's me. How did things go with Sam's Indian friend?
-You wouldn't believe it. The President is keeping Pathfinder as a guest overnight.
-They got on like a house on fire. Turns out Pathfinder is a National Park Ranger.
-Heh! Took the threat of a hostage crisis in the middle east to get me out of there.
-You need me?
-Nah. Just need to hide in my office for a while. How's Sam?
-Sleeping now. He's pretty unwell though.
-He had a rough time.
-He did a good job with the Winnebagos.
-He did… Leo, he was in hospital – he was really sick, and he didn't want to tell us, because of Dennison. He didn't call us….
-Josh, he knew what he'd done.
-See you in the morning.
Josh leaned on the doorframe and gazed at Sam asleep, feverish and tousled and vulnerable. He smiled gently, enjoying the internal stirring that was always the result of watching Sam. His face grew serious. "When you called," he whispered, "when you called, I should have listened." He stared at Sam a minute longer, then he turned and headed back to the living room.
Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page