Title: West Wing Klutz on Crutches
Category: Drama ESF
Series/Sequel: Sequel to Out Nebraska Way, second in Sam 'breathing' series
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Still unwell from his trip out west, Sam, along with Josh and Toby, try to forestall a potential political nightmare.
Notes: Follows Out Nebraska Way, so is the second in what Geraldine coined the Sam Breathing series!
West Wing Klutz on Crutches by Jen
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
Josh literally crawled out of bed, tangled in a teeming sea of pillows and a knot of duvet. He stood up and frowned back at the mess – Sam was asleep, sprawled on his stomach near the foot of the bed, arms outstretched, his face turned towards Josh. Even as Josh looked at him, Sam broke into a noisy cough that gurgled and rattled alarmingly. He didn't wake though, rolling onto his side and curling up, hands clasped under his chin.
Josh sighed deeply, almost wishing Sam didn't look so damned desirable. He grimaced as Sam choked and coughed again, struggling for breath.
"Sam, c'mon, buddy, you need to move." His hand on Sam's bare shoulder absorbed the heavy warmth emanating from his partner – Sam still had a fever of sorts. Josh tossed a few pillows back up to the top end of the bed and turned back – a groggy Sam had lifted his head,
"C'mon, lie up here," Josh patted the pillows invitingly. Sam was a restless sleeper and it never surprised Josh to find him in any odd arrangement by morning. Sam pushed himself into a sitting position, unsettling the phlegm that had settled during the night, and he coughed raucously and painfully for a couple of minutes, while Josh waited. Finally, Sam crawled up to the pillows and leaned back into them, turning his head to look at Josh. He blinked heavily. Josh smiled a gentle smile,
"How're you feeling?"
"Kind of tired." Sam rubbed the heel of his hand across his forehead, "And hot."
"I'll get your antibiotics and stuff – then you can go back to sleep."
"I thought – thought I'd be able to go in. But…"
"Yeah." Josh fetched the medication prescribed by John Storm in Nebraska – one bottle of pills for Sam's chest infection, one for fever, one for sinus pain, one precautionary one for asthma prevention. Sam rolled his eyes at the handful of capsules in Josh's hand,
"I have to take all those?"
"Face it, you're a mess!"
Sam looked up at him as he swallowed, his blue eyes serious,
"I am," he agreed. "Should I phone Toby?"
"Nah, I'll talk to him." He swiped damp strands of hair off Sam's forehead. "I have to take a shower. Go back to sleep." Sam's eyes drooped obediently. "I'll phone you later – you need to take stuff at lunchtime."
"Uh-huh." Sam's eyes closed completely.
* * *
Josh leaned in Toby's doorway.
"How is he?"
"Josh, how's Sam?" CJ appeared at his shoulder. They both moved into Toby's office.
"He's pretty low this morning."
"Is he any better though?"
"S'pose. He's still kinda feverish, and tired. You know, 'can't keep your eyes open' sort of tired."
"I'm not surprised."
"When d'you think he'll be in?"
"Not today. Don't know about tomorrow."
"We've got a lot on."
"Hey!! You sent him out there!"
"I didn't know he was going to get sick."
"He was already sick!"
"It was just a cold."
"But you know how he gets. He was hospitalised!!"
"Guys, guys, I think we need to move on from that." CJ stepped between them.
Josh sat down wearily, " I didn't sleep so well – he coughed all night. I just – it's just he-" he stared up at CJ, "He's had a few – " Josh laid a hand across his own chest, "a few-" He took a deep breath, "I'm a bit worried, that's all."
CJ sat down beside him, patted his knee, "Sam's fit and strong. He always bounces back. It's just a few days."
"Yeah." He turned a conciliatory eye on Toby, "Anything I can help you with?"
"I'll let you know."
* * *
Sam felt a little less sleepy late morning, and wandered slowly out to the kitchen to make a drink. He wrinkled his nose at the dishes Josh had left in the sink and turned on the hot tap. He sipped at his tea as he cleared up the mess, cooling the drink on the window-sill. He still felt hot and foggy and terribly lethargic. The grey skies outside matched his mood. The various bottles of medication were eyeing him from the kitchen table and finally Sam sat down tiredly and squinted at the labels. He couldn't read a word without his glasses. He brought one bottle close to his nose then slowly slid it out to arm's reach, trying all sorts of facial contortions to make the label come into focus, and just as he made out an 'oxyl', the telephone rang. Sam jerked with surprise and the bottle flew out of his hand, soaring across the kitchen and smashing spectacularly against the fridge, capsules flying all over the kitchen like tiny missiles. Damn! Sam reached over and lifted the receiver.
"How're you doing?"
"Fine. Well, - " he sighed, "I'm just so tired. I can hardly move."
"I think that's a fairly normal reaction."
"Is Nebraska the only state left still using glass bottles for pills?"
"What've you broken?"
"It doesn’t matter."
"All over the kitchen."
"Which one was it?"
"How would I know? I can't find my glasses and I can't read the stupid miniscule labels!" Sam started to cough. Josh waited, smiling inwardly at Sam's frustration.
"Glasses'll probably be in your jacket."
"God, I hope so!"
"The pills – they're probably important."
"I'll sort it." Sam leaned his head on one hand. "Josh?"
"Going back to bed."
"No! Sam! Get your glasses, take the pills!"
"Yeah-" Sam felt his eyelids drooping.
"I think it's two of the antibiotic and one of each of the others, three times a day."
"Mmmmm." Sam leaned on one folded arm, the phone still pressed to his ear.
"Sam – SAM! You're dropping off!"
"Glasses! Pills! Now! I'll wait."
Sam rubbed fiercely at his eyes and stood up, a little unsteadily. He located his glasses and a pair of boat shoes, and crunched across the kitchen floor to retrieve the label still adhered to a fractured piece of glass – it was the antibiotics. TAKE TWO THREE TIMES A D- Sam gingerly dusted off two capsules, poured a glass of water and picked up the telephone.
"Course. Find everything?"
"I did." Sam swallowed the pills. "Gonna sleep now."
"Talk to you later. Wait! Eat something."
Sam rose wearily and defrosted a bagel, which he chewed between bouts of painful coughing. He rescued a few capsules – tried to do the maths but his feverish brain didn't seem to be working. He shrugged and swept up the glass. Five minutes later he was asleep again.
* * *
Josh dragged on his overcoat.
"You ready, Donna?"
"You don't need to yell."
Because (a) I have very good hearing, and (b) I knew you were ready to go so I accordingly readied myself."
"You 'accordingly readied yourself'???"
"It's perfectly appropriate."
"It's one of Sam's."
"That's how I knew it was right!"
"You wouldn't use one of mine?"
"You don't have any."
"You either yell or grunt."
"Oh yes, or whine."
"Did you order the food?"
"It'll be ready when we get there."
* * *
The apartment was quiet and nearly in darkness. Josh switched on the light by the door, then a lamp beside the couch. Donna tugged at his overcoat – curled up in a large armchair, Sam was fast asleep, glasses still on his nose, a book collapsed in his lap. His feet were clad in his favourite purple cabin socks and he was wearing an old baggy grey sweatshirt. Donna clutched Josh's arm wonderingly and they gazed at Sam as the light seeped into his consciousness; he slowly stirred, blinking and stretching, and looked up in surprise at Josh and Donna, a smile creeping across his face,
Donna held up the bag of food, "We slipped out to have dinner with you. How are you?"
Sam took off his glasses for a moment to rub his eyes, "Better." He plucked at the baggy sleeve of his sweatshirt, "I got cold – I think that's a good sign."
"How long've you been asleep?"
"I don't know," Sam glanced down at his watch and his eyes widened, "Whoa! Hours!" He sat forward as a coughing bout silenced him. Donna took the food over to the dining table,
"I'll get some plates and stuff."
Josh squatted down in front of Sam and waited for his cough to subside,
"Your cough's still bad. But you really feel a little better?" He gently cupped Sam's cheek, then leaned in and kissed him tenderly, right on the lips. Sam responded warmly, slipping one hand behind Josh's head. Josh only drew back as Sam began to cough again.
"Sorry!" he gasped between coughs.
Josh ruffled Sam's hair. "Help me up," he groaned. "I'm too old for this position."
"Well, that'd be a first!"
"That's good coming from you."
"Hey, I read, I get ideas."
"Shut up and help me up!" Sam stood up, pulling Josh to his feet, and Josh wrapped his arm around Sam's shoulders, steering him towards the dining table.
Josh was shrugging into his overcoat as Sam leaned against the wall,
"I could maybe come in for the eve-" he broke into another loud, crackly cough.
"I think not, my good buddy! Have you realised how loud that cough is?"
Sam shrugged helplessly, clearing his throat, "How's Toby doing, really?"
"Foul as usual. Don’t worry about it. DONNA?"
"You don't need to yell!"
They left, laughing, and Sam stood miserably at the window watching them drive off in Donna's car. He pressed his forehead against the cool glass, feeling the awful pressure and burn and tickle in his chest and the return of the heat in his head. He glanced into the kitchen – Donna had cleared everything away. Sighing, Sam curled up on the couch and switched on the television.
* * *
"You're certain you're up for this?" Josh eyed Sam in the mirror as he knotted his tie. Sam was sitting on the bed, fumbling slightly with his shirt buttons, and not really looking up for much at all. "Why don't you come in a little later?"
"There's too much to do at the moment. I already had two whole days at home. I want to get out of here."
"Why don't you let me bring some work home or something? You really don't look so great."
"I can always come home if I have to."
"But you won't."
"I'm up on the Hill most of the morning."
"I can come home by myself. Honestly, I really can. I have a key on a string around my neck and everything."
Josh smiled thinly, "What tie d'you want?"
"You choose. The blue one maybe?" He took a few short, shuddery breaths, trying to get some air without coughing.
"Stand up then." Josh lifted Sam's collar and slid the tie around his neck, gently tying the knot and buttoning Sam's wee collar buttons. Sam stared at Josh's eyes, desiring him, and felt his insides tweak with longing and not a little lust. Josh kept his eyes firmly averted as he tucked in Sam's shirt,
"Stop doing that smoky eyes thing. We have to go." He held up Sam's jacket and helped him slide into it. "Take your pills. And take some with you just in case you stay at work."
"I'll be –" he coughed, wincing at the fire in his chest.
"Fine? Yeah, right." Josh gave him a gentle hug before they headed for the kitchen.
* * *
"You can't have a pause there."
"You – you can't have a pause there."
"It's a really important point and-"
"If it's so important, a pause gives the audience time to think."
"But it links to the next point."
"The President needs to breathe. He can't speak entire paragraphs without taking a breath!" Toby eyed Sam pointedly.
"I don't do that!"
"You do. Constantly."
Sam spluttered with indignation, which dissolved into an explosive bout of coughing. Toby sat back with a satisfied grunt, which turned to a frown as Sam kept coughing.
"You sound terrible."
Sam gasped and gurgled, leaning forward, elbows on knees, his face suddenly dark with effort, his eyes panicky. Toby looked out through the doorway,
"Bonnie, can you bring Sam some more water?" She was back quickly, surprised to find Toby beside Sam on the couch, patting him on the back. Sam's cough abated after another minute and he leaned back, Toby wondering at the instant paleness that reasserted itself over his features. "Go home."
Sam closed his eyes, panting in tiny breaths, his chest rising and falling rapidly. Toby stared closely at his Deputy – he could see shadows ringing Sam's eyes. At least his cold seemed to have gone – just this damned cough. Sam always looked to be the younger, fitter, healthier one, and Toby tended to be somewhat irritated by that, but at moments like this, as Sam sat there pale, unwell, fluttering and fragile, Toby felt physically powerful and uncharacteristically protective.
So when Abby Bartlet appeared in the Bullpen, stethoscope swinging loosely from her right hand, Toby slipped out quickly to meet her.
"I heard there's someone coughing like a steam train in Communications, and since I had to spend the other evening with a certain George Pathfinder, I figured it might be Sam."
"It is. He's been home for two days but he's still not very well. He just had an awful coughing fit."
"I heard it. D'you mind…" Abby took a step towards Toby's office.
"No, no. I'm sending him home as soon as Josh gets back…"
Sam still had his eyes closed, and was still panting, the struggle etched sharply on his face. Abby sat down carefully beside him on the couch, and Toby retreated behind his desk,
"Sam, Dr Bartlet's here to see you." Sam's eyes flew open and he made to stand, Abby easily stopping him with a firm hand against his sternum.
"Don't move, Sam." Sam started with surprise to find the First Lady practically on top of him. And that set him off again. He began to cough, a chesty, painful hacking, Abby glancing concernedly over towards Toby, who shrugged and picked up a pen.
"Sam, why are you even here?"
"Lot-" he gasped, "lot of work to do. Sorry, Ma'am."
Abby held up her stethoscope, "D'you mind?"
Sam turned helpless eyes on Toby, who kept his head down. He shrugged. Abby eased his shirt tails out of his pants with a practised hand and slipped her stethoscope up under Sam's undershirt, smiling as he jumped at the first contact with his skin. Abby listened intently for a whole minute, shifting her scope from one spot to another, her face introspective, before indicating he sit forward so she could listen at the back as well.
She saw a flicker of pain sweep across his face as he tried to suppress another crackly cough. Straightening his shirt a little, Abby laid a hand against his chest,
"Poor Sam. That hurts in there, doesn't it?" Sam nodded very slightly, wary eyes on her face. "What medication are you on?" Sam described the various pills. "Well, you can drop the others as you feel better, but you must take all of the antibiotics." She smiled encouragingly, "Being up and moving about might actually help, kiddo, but you need to have a quiet few days." She shifted her gaze to Toby, "No late nights. No long hours."
Toby suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, and stood up as Abby did.
* * *
Nearly an hour later, Josh dropped into one of Toby's armchairs. Toby looked up from his laptop, vaguely raising one eyebrow. Sam stirred sleepily on the couch,
"Whaddya make of this!"
"Christos Kouros and Mack Fanning."
Toby frowned and Sam struggled to sit up, immediately coughing. Between coughs he managed to gasp,
"On the Hill."
"You sure it was them?"
"Toby, how could I not get that right?" He absent-mindedly handed Sam his water-bottle.
"Kouros!" Sam wrinkled his nose, "He's so – so oleaginous!"
"What?" Toby and Josh stared at him, then Toby turned back to Josh, "So they were IN the building?"
"No, Toby, they were having a picnic on the front steps. Yes, they were in the building, together, with papers and folders – the Russell Senate Office Building, east corridor to be exact."
"Damn! Who's down that corridor, Sam – that they're likely to be meeting?"
Sam closed his eyes to picture the layout, "Hawkins, environment, Davidson, environment, Deere – "
"I always thought he should've got environment!"
"Shut up, Josh. Carry on."
"Daley – Police. Martin – Education – oh!" Sam's eyes flew open, "There's a huge forum in a week or two in New Jersey, ah, Atlantic City, 'Are Our Schools Failing Our Children'. Martin's a key-note speaker. And Kouros started up that education watch group…" Sam stood up in agitation, immediately staggering to one side. Josh leapt up to steady him and lowered him back to the couch, sitting beside him,
"Easy, buddy, you're not really well enough to be buzzing like that."
Toby had stood up though. He strode to the door, "I'm gonna get us some coffee."
Josh took a moment to evaluate Sam, "You look a bit off-colour. Maybe you should head home."
"I've been resting here for ages."
"I just think, you're supposed to take it easy…"
"Dr Bartlet said it might-"
"Abby was here?"
"She sniffed me out!" As they snickered at that imagery, Sam started coughing again.
"Take your pills?"
"I'll do it now." Sam pulled out a folded tissue holding his lunchtime medication, and carefully laid it out on the coffee table like a tiny picnic mat.
"God, Sam you're so-"
"What?" Toby inadvertently rescued Josh, returning with coffee, raising one eyebrow at Sam's colourful display of pills. They sipped their coffee in silence for a minute. Toby had dropped into an armchair, clearly cogitating. He cleared his throat,
"We need to do some things. First," he leaned forward, and using his pen pushed one of Sam's pills to the edge of the tissue. Sam's eyes widened impossibly but he didn't speak. Josh also stared in fascination. "First, we need to establish they met with Martin. Second," another capsule rolled across the tissue, "we need to get the history. Are Kouros and Fanning still the Citizens' Group- " he glanced at Sam.
"I think it's the Citizens Educate by Rights Watch Group."
"Yeah, are they representing that? Third, " another pill stumbled across the tissue, propelled by the pen, "we'll have to track Martin."
"You think they might have petitioned him?" Josh was frowning now.
"It's almost certain. Sam, will his office be able to do the language?"
"No, he'll more than likely consult with the Senate Legislative Counsel – they can frame the language."
"Can we establish if he's been there?"
"We could try our counsel – might have an insider – it worked with the Barton thing." Sam frowned at his pills, "Ah, you mind if I take a couple of those?"
"In a minute!"
"Toby, he needs to take the pills."
"I know, I just want to get this clear." He shoved a fourth capsule across, "We need to get hold of the secretary for this forum, see what's on the agenda, if Martin's given any hints about his topic, or if he's been asked to speak on a particular thing. Fifth, " Sam's final pill joined its mates at the edge of the tissue, "Fifth will depend on the answers for one to four." He rolled the fifth pill back into the centre of the tissue, Sam staring in fascination at his medication, Josh staring at Toby.
Toby picked up a notepad and began writing, glancing at Sam's pills to remind him. Sam turned to Josh,
"Stop wrinkling your brow like that."
Josh swivelled his gaze back to Sam, "What?"
"You're making wrinkles. Relax your forehead."
Josh stared at his pale partner, "I'm driving you home."
"You look terrible."
"I'm all right here."
Toby sat back, "He can just stay on the couch, make some calls. We can let you know about Martin."
"Okay!" Josh slapped his knees in a business-like fashion and stood up. He waved a hand at the table, "Take the pills at least. That is, if you've finished playing, Toby. "
"I was not playing."
"No, I bet you never played. You were probably three years old, negotiating a better brand of blocks by intimidating your mother. God, you probably interrupted your bottle to tell your mother that GM research is affecting the flavour of the milk!"
"No, that was Sam."
They both laughed and looked at Sam, who smiled but then broke into a lengthy bout of coughing. Josh laid a hand on Sam's head, "You feel any worse, you have to go home."
"Yeah, yeah." Sam leaned forward and retrieved his pills.
* * *
At quarter past four, Sam sat back clutching the telephone in silent wonderment – he stared blindly at the window, oblivious now to the burning in his chest. Must find Toby, Josh. Toby. Josh. But he was in Toby's office. His eyes wandered around the room – Toby was definitely not there. He leapt to his feet, lurching again with tiredness and fever, but there was no-one to steady him this time. He stumbled sideways, crashing his knee into the corner of the coffee table.
The pain burst through his nervous system like a bullet, scorching his knee and searing his insides. Sam gasped, his lungs frozen in shock, his mouth opening and closing uselessly, a shout of pain echoing in his ears from a long way off. He teetered on one leg for three seconds then collapsed in a crumpled heap beside the sofa.
Ginger rushed into the office. She found Sam attempting to crawl on three limbs, his forehead still on the carpet, before he gave up, rolling on one side in the narrow space, clutching his knee. He was literally writhing, his teeth clenched.
"Sam!" Ginger pulled the heavy coffee table away and knelt down beside him. He began to cough, choking on his congested lungs, the phlegm gurgling and sucking, sapping his energy. "Sam, what did you do?" He still had his hands wrapped around his knee, and Ginger put two and two together. "You've hurt your knee, right? C'mon, you need to sit up or you won't be able to breathe." He continued to gasp. Ginger leaned outwards, "Bonnie, phone Donna, see if you can get Josh in here."
Sam sat up against the couch, coughing, and between coughs, groaning, one hand over his mouth, one covering his knee. By the time the cough slowed, Josh had slipped back in and dropped to his knees beside Sam. Ginger backed off,
"I'll get some ice."
Josh frowned at Sam, "How did you hurt your knee? It's not enough that you're coughing your insides out?" He stared worriedly at Sam's stricken face.
"It's awful, Josh – it's a no-religion thing."
"The Bill – they want – ow!" He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, "They – ow- they want to ban all –Oh God, "he hissed, "This really hurts."
"Forget about the Bill for a sec, will ya?" Josh rolled up Sam's pants' leg towards his knee, stopping to peel Sam's hand away, and eased the material over the knee. There was a deep indentation just beside the kneecap and it was already swelling, turning pink, white and red before his eyes. The kneecap looked odd somehow. Ginger handed him a bag of ice, inhaling between her teeth at the sight of Sam's injury. Sam opened his eyes and looked at her, then down at his knee. He was already pale, but seemed to whiten even further. Josh held up the ice pack,
"I'm gonna put this on, okay?"
Sam shifted a little against the couch and nodded, biting his lip. Josh eased the ice pack against Sam's knee, both of them flinching. Sam coughed, and coughed, and coughed, Josh reaching across with one hand to retrieve his bottle of water.
"I .. was shocked about the last call I'd taken – I was going to find you guys – I jumped up-"
"As unsteady as before, I bet."
"Yeah, well, maybe, and I couldn’t remember where Toby was…" he shifted and inch or two, "Josh, I feel sick."
"Sam, you are."
"No, I mean," Sam pressed a hand against his stomach, "nausea, puke, upchuck."
"Yeah, I get it." Josh stared at Sam, who was sweating profusely. "We need to get you to the ER."
"Oh God, no! I'm sick to death of that place."
"Well, can you walk?"
"I'll be fine, I just need to keep the ice on it."
"Ah, Sam, I think it-"
"I'll be fine." Sam glanced around foggily, "Where's Toby?"
"Meeting with Turner – remember?"
"I need to tell – ooh!" Sam had tried to move, "Oh hell, I can't."
"I could get the White house doctor."
"No! Double no!"
"Then you have to come with me to the doctor's." They stared hard at one another, blue eyes versus brown. And Sam usually won these battles. "At least let me help you back up onto the couch," Josh conceded.
"Sure." Sam scrabbled helpfully as Josh hefted him upwards, and they collapsed together on the couch, panting. Sam readjusted the ice pack as delicately as he could, coughing a little. Josh placed a hand on Sam's chest – the uneven and rapid rise and fall indicators of Sam's distress and his struggle to breathe normally. He glanced at Sam's watch.
"I have a meeting. Two, in fact. Should be clear by seven. Take you home after that?"
"You'll be right here?"
"Guess so." Josh left Sam in Ginger's care, and she brought him a coffee. He was rolling his pants leg back down.
"Why don't you put your feet up?"
"I – I – will you help me?"
"Sure, Sam," Ginger carefully took hold of his lower leg, "You ready?"
Sam nodded nervously, and as he swivelled on the couch, Ginger lifted his sore leg – it was a painful move and Sam blinked hard, feeling tears of pain blur his eyes. Ginger readjusted the ice pack, pretending not to see how upset he was.
* * *
Toby was gone for another hour. He returned to find Sam hunched on the couch, his face so pale it was almost luminous. Toby frowned at the ice pack – Ginger had replaced it twice now – and raised his eyebrows questioningly at Sam as he leafed through his messages.
"I hurt my knee."
"So I see."
"I'll be fine."
"I don't care."
"Not at all?"
"It's a religious thing."
Toby froze, messages stilled in his hand. He came and sat down on the coffee table, his eyes piercing,
"A religious thing?"
"Kouros and Fanning. They're pushing a mandatory removal of all, and I mean all, religious uh paraphernalia people currently wear to public schools." Sam ran a tired hand through his hair. "It took me seventeen calls to get it."
"And they're bringing it to the Senate?"
"They are. They want Martin-" he coughed, "they want Martin to present it."
"It's way too controversial."
"They're looking for a precursor to a public hearing."
"NO!" Toby was thunderous. He slammed his hand down on the table beside him, his messages fluttering to the floor like summer butterflies. "I want them in here."
Sam sighed, his whole body aching. "You can't do that, Toby. They're a perfectly legal citizens' group."
"We can't let this go public."
"I know that! Don’t you think I know that?"
Toby looked at Sam carefully, surprised at his irritation. Sam was still frighteningly pale, and appeared to be sweating. Toby glanced down at Sam's knee – he had one hand tightly gripped around his thigh just above the ice pack.
"How bad is your knee?"
"I just banged it on the table."
"That's not what I asked."
"It's – ah – it's sore."
Ginger tapped on the door, "Leo'd like to see you guys."
Toby stared down at Sam's knee, "One minute, Ginger?"
Sam was already removing the ice pack, grimacing even at that. It left his trouser leg damp around the knee area. He swung his good leg to the floor and tried to move the other one, but it was too painful. He placed his hands around his thigh and lifted his leg until it could touch the floor – but at that point he was unable to suppress a groan, doubling over.
Sam waved a dismissive hand, "Just wait," he muttered between clenched teeth. He tired to put weight on his foot but just couldn't do it. Toby's frown grew deeper,
"Look, I'll go see Leo, you wait here."
He was back within five minutes, "The President wants us to include the Barrington report in next week's Philly address." He noted that Sam was still seated in the same position, "Are you any better?"
Sam had taken off his glasses, and his eyes were red and strained. He shrugged.
"Might need to go home, get some rest." He coughed mightily, Toby shuddering at the noise.
"Josh is back when?"
"I'll take you."
"No, no, I'll be fine. Let me tell you about Kouros and Fanning." Sam leaned back gingerly and picked up his notes and glasses.
By the time Josh arrived back, Sam and Toby had thrashed out a complete plan of attack to forestall the petitioning of the Senator, and the potentially disastrous idea of a public hearing about the banning of religious items in public schools.
By the time Josh arrived back, Kouros and Fanning had been invited to a Saturday afternoon meeting in Toby's office.
By the time Josh arrived back, Sam was unable to still the slight tremor in his hands, he was hot and sore and tired, and he still hadn't moved off the couch.
Josh dropped his backpack by the door and flopped on to the couch. Toby almost smiled at him,
"I'm glad you're back. Take Sam home."
"Now." Josh turned sideways and took a good look at Sam,
"Dude, you look like you were hit by a bus."
Sam wriggled in irritation, "Help me get home, please?" He dropped his glasses into his pocket, "I just-" he scrubbed a hand fiercely across his face.
"He can't put any weight on that leg. I'll help you get him to the car."
"Really? Sam, it's that bad?"
"He hasn't moved all afternoon."
"Hmm. Okay, let's get you on your feet then." The two men closed in on Sam and took him by the upper arms, helping him to stand. As Sam's leg straightened, he cried out in pain and his other knee buckled. They had to sit him back down. Sam clutched his leg above the knee with one hand, covering his eyes with the other. Neither Josh nor Toby could miss seeing sudden tears leaking out from the corners of his eyes.
"Aw, shit, Sam," Josh's voice was gentle, "what've you done this time?" He sat too and wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulders. Sam leaned into him, overwhelmed, his hand still pressed against his eyes. There was an awkward moment of silence. Toby glanced at his watch,
I think we need some advice." Just at that moment, Leo appeared in the doorway.
"Toby, I – what the hell's happened here?"
Sam tried to sit up straight, wiping at his eyes, but ended up doubling over again in pain, Josh rubbing his back helplessly. Toby cleared his throat, his concern over Sam playing havoc with his emotions,
"Sam – ah – hurt his knee. We’re having a little trouble getting him home."
"It's that sore? Has anyone had a look?"
"I did before, when he first did it. It was all red and swollen."
"When was that?"
"Hours ago. Honestly, Leo, we can't even stand him up." Leo stared at the top of Sam's head, frowning, then he moved over to Toby's phone,
"Margaret, put me through to Abby, will ya?"
Sam groaned loudly.
Toby looked at him, "Shut up, Sam. We need some help here. You want to sleep the night on my couch?" Sam's head moved from side to side.
"Yeah, Abby, sorry to bother you… yeah, well, it's Sam… did you? This morning?… Well, it’s another problem… No, I'm not kidding, he's hurt his knee and we can't move him and we need some advice, I mean do we call an ambulance or what? ….Thanks, Abby." He hung up. "She'll be here in a few minutes."
Sam groaned again and sat up slightly, his eyes red-rimmed and swollen.
"Jesus!" Leo sat down, "how d'ya do it, kid?" They all stared at Sam for a minute, then Toby leaned against his desk and told Leo about Kouros and Fanning. Leo cursed,
"How did you find out?"
"Josh spotted them up on the Hill, and Sam's sat here making calls all afternoon to track down what they're up to."
Leo's eyes flicked across to Sam and Josh, "Good work, guys." He looked back, "Fix this, Toby. I want them to back off that topic."
"We're meeting them tomorrow afternoon."
"Good… oh, hey, Abby, sorry about this." Everyone stood up except Sam. Abby smiled calmly,
"Two calls in one day to your boy, Toby. Didn't I say he had to go home early?"
Toby shrugged, "We couldn't move him."
Leo moved towards the door, "Let me know."
Josh sat down next to Sam again, an arm around his shoulders. Abby focused on Sam, taking in the obvious distress in his blue eyes, and softened,
"Hey, kiddo, what've you done to yourself?"
"I – I just caught my knee on the corner of the coffee table."
"We need to have a look." She knelt on the floor by his knee and gently rolled up his pants' leg. The damp cloth clung to his skin, and Abby had to ease it away before rolling the fabric over his kneecap. Sam twitched and shuddered, coughing, and Josh tightened his arm around Sam's shoulders.
Abby was smiling, "You're doing fine, Sam," but Josh could see her stiffen as she inspected his knee – which was very swollen, red and purple, the kneecap clearly out of place, pushing whitely against the skin. Josh goggled in horror,
"God, it didn't look that bad before!"
Abby rolled her eyes and her voice was crisp, "When exactly did this happen?"
"Ah – just after four, I guess," Josh shrugged slightly. Abby gently prodded around Sam's knee – as she inspected his kneecap, Sam grimaced and could no longer contain himself – his eyes pooled and a few tears overflowed unchecked down his cheeks. He gripped the edge of the couch with one hand, and wrapped his other hand around Josh's wrist, squeezing his eyes shut.
"I'm sorry, kiddo, this must be really painful." Abby sat back on her heels, frowning, then leaned over and held a hand against Sam's forehead for a moment. "You're running a fever. Are you taking your pills?" Sam nodded. "All of them?"
"I finished the antibiotics today."
"You can't have – you should have had ten days worth." Sam closed his eyes again. Josh frowned at him,
"Sam, are those the ones you dropped?" A small nod. "He smashed the bottle."
Abby's mouth twitched at the corners, "Samuel Seaborn, you are a disaster! And now you have a dislocated patella on top of a chest infection!"
Toby shifted uncomfortably, "A dislocated patella? He did that right here?"
"Yes, and he needs to go to the ER. There's some swelling behind the bone, pushing it out of place." Sam groaned loudly.
"He hates the ER," put in Josh helpfully.
"They're offering him a membership."
"Oh, hush, Toby, some support here." Abby rattled in her bag, "Sam, I'm going to shoot some painkillers into you, then Josh can take you over there."
"I don't –"
"You really do." Abby unwrapped a syringe and inserted it onto a tiny bottle. Sam flinched as she quickly swabbed his skin and injected him, just above the knee. "It's still going to hurt, but not so much. Toby, may I use your desk? I'll write a quick note for the ER."
* * *
Much to his disappointment, Sam was actually admitted to a ward for the night. There was a little debate over which ward, but orthopaedics won and the respiratory registrar called in to add some IV antibiotics. Sam lay there in the narrow bed, awake at one a.m., wondering how on earth he could have ended up in hospital again. He listened to the night sounds – the whirr and hiss of a respirator nearby, some car accident victim; the squeak of nurses' shoes, the rattle of glasses in the nurses' station, murmured voices as the quiet night staff went about their duties. He rubbed his eyes in frustration – he needed to get out of here for that meeting with Kouros and Fanning. Sam had known Kouros for quite a while – they had actually met in New York, when Sam represented a firm of patent makers – Kouros had been the slippery frontman and had irritated Sam no end. They had eventually worked out their differences but had met again on more difficult grounds early in the campaign, when Kouros was leading a petty religious right wing group fighting the notion of a Catholic President. Sam had been sent to quash their activity in as quiet a way as possible, and after the group had actually agreed to disband, based on Sam's legal threats about their unconstitutional approach, the two had ended up drinking together in a local bar down in Richmond. A slightly inebriated Chris Kouros had accused a very tipsy Sam of checking out the men at the bar, and Sam had been hard pushed to deny his accusations, try as he might. Chris had freely admitted he had no problem with that, and they had parted on reasonable terms. Sam had arrived in at the campaign office the next morning with a disastrous hangover, and Toby and Josh had gleefully slammed doors all morning until Sam locked himself in the bathroom.
Sam smiled gently to himself. The bathroom jokes had gone on for months, and he only had had to put on his sunglasses for them to all rise to the surface again. He began to cough, his whole chest seemingly on fire, the movement also tweaking his sore knee. Sam coughed and coughed, dragging in gasps of air in between, wincing at the burning pain behind his ribs. A nurse popped her head around the doorway, then came close to his bed, switching on the overhead lights. She placed a cool hand against his forehead, and waited for his cough to settle down.
"You feel feverish. Does that cough hurt much?" Sam nodded. "I'll get you some pain relief. How's the knee? Sore too?" Sam nodded, pleased he didn’t have to speak. She was back in a moment, and injected some fluid into his IV. "There. Try to get some sleep now." She dimmed the lights. Sam lay back and concentrated on the shadows in the room. He wondered how many words there were to describe the colour grey. After all, the Eskimos had all those words for snow… there were so many different shades of grey…
* * *
Josh arrived around lunchtime to collect him. He found Sam still attached to the IV, his leg firmly fixed in a brace. Sam grinned widely,
"Hi! Are they going to let you out of here?"
"They are. Just waiting for the chest guy to get here. Did you bring the texts I asked for?" Josh nodded,
"They're in the car. What about the knee?"
"It's sort of fine – they want me to come back when the swelling has gone down, in a few days. But they don't need to operate or anything, I think."
"Great." He frowned as Sam coughed, the congestion alarmingly loud and crackly. Sam held up a hand as he caught his breath,
"It's okay, they gave me some drugs to loosen it all up."
"You wanna come to the meeting?"
"Do I what!"
"Toby's been building up steam all morning. And guess who wanted to come – Martin!"
"No! They ran to him with their tails between their legs and he wanted to defend their right to petition a senator!"
"Get me out of here!"
The respiratory consultant was a stocky, powerful young man who looked more suited to a football pitch. He introduced himself as Tim Woods. He listened to Sam's chest for an agonisingly long time before sitting on the edge of the bed. Sam and Josh both eyed him nervously. The doctor suddenly burst out laughing.
"It's just, you two, incredibly powerful guys, and you appear to be waiting with fear and trepidation for my decision."
Josh grinned, "We're just desperately hoping you'll let Sam off that leash!" He indicated the IV.
"I'm not sure he's well-enough behaved."
"I can put him on a leash of my own!"
"Hey!" Sam was blushing mightily.
"Sorry, Sam. I need to discuss your prognosis – do you want-"
"No, he can stay."
"Okay. Well, your history describes quite a few chest infections in the last three years, some of them quite serious."
"He's Californian – can't take the cold weather."
"Yeah, it sure is cold here – I'm from New Mexico."
"How d'you cope?"
"I have a sun lamp at home!" They all laughed. "Now, Sam, thing is, once you're over this current illness, it'd be good if you could get through the rest of the winter without that awful cough reasserting itself. You're obviously in good shape otherwise, but at the moment, you've been carrying a fever for over a week, you're in pain, and you're quite congested. That makes your health pretty fragile right now, and I'm quite concerned about you." Sam shifted uncomfortably on the bed, eyes downcast. "I'm not ever sure I agree with you being released." Josh moved in closer and perched on the other side of the bed, placing a hand on Sam's shoulder.
"What can we do?"
"I really want him, you, Sam, to take things easy for two or three weeks. I know that's almost impossible in your job, so maybe limit other things – don't push the fitness thing, don't go out night-clubbing, in fact, no alcohol, some early nights – get my drift?"
"Yeah," Josh squeezed Sam's shoulder. "The knee thing's gonna slow him down anyway."
'True." Tim looked seriously at Sam, "Did you really do this on a coffee table?"
Sam tried looking at the ceiling this time.
"He's a klutz, Tim. They're naming a cubicle after him in the ER."
"That joke is so not funny, Josh."
Dr Woods, stood up, "Well, look, Sam, you really need this rest." He withdrew a pill container from his pocket, "Here's ten new days of antibiotics. Take them all." As Sam held out his hand, "Uh-uh, I think they'll be safer with your friend here."
Sam swivelled, "You TOLD him??"
"I told the registrar – I had to explain how in your feverish state you mislaid twenty-one capsules somewhere in our kitchen." Josh pocketed the container. "By the way, I found one in the sugar bowl!"
"God!" Sam flung himself back against the pillows, immediately coughing raucously, over and over. Josh and Tim Woods both waited, watching him, Josh wincing at the noise. Eventually Tim whipped out his stethoscope and listened again to Sam's chest. As Sam tried to calm himself, the doctor frowned,
"I take it back. I get the feeling you really need to stay here."
"Oh no!" Sam gasped, "We have a meeting at three."
"This is not resting, you don't rush out of hospital for a meeting."
"You do for this one," muttered Josh.
"But the other guy said I could go."
"Well, I'm his boss. And I say you're not well enough." Tim Woods paced up and down the room for a minute. Josh reached down and surreptitiously caught Sam's hand, their fingers entwining naturally. Woods turned and held on to the railing at the foot of the bed, "I'll make a deal – I'll let you out for the afternoon, go to whatever meeting is so important, and be back on my ward by six. One more night IV, and maybe oxygen."
"You mean, he gets a pass, but has to be home for supper?"
"So I don't come here?"
"No, I'll have a bed ready and waiting on Level Four."
"I'm really needing to do this?"
Woods rubbed at an ear in frustration, "Yes, you're really needing to do this. Let me seal off that IV line temporarily."
Josh rattled the pills in his pocket, "Shall I just hang on to these?"
"Yeah, we'll start 'em tomorrow instead."
* * *
They were slowly making their way across the foyer, Sam in a dark sweater and track pants, when Danny and CJ emerged from a side corridor behind them.
"SAM!" CJ's voice boomed across the foyer. Sam started with surprise and dropped one of his crutches, clutching Josh's coat instead. The crutch clattered loudly on the marble floor, drawing the attention of guards and passing staffers alike. "Oops, sorry!" The pair hurried across, Danny retrieving the fallen crutch and carefully handing it back. CJ looked closely at Sam, "They released you then? You look a little better than you did last night in that hospital bed."
Josh grinned, "No, he's on a four-hour pass. He has to be back before lockdown."
Danny caught Sam's eye, "How d'you want me to word this one… Deputy Communications Director Taken by Coffee Table?"
"Coffee Table Creams Communications Senior Staffer?"
"No, wait, I'm on a roll, Coughing Deputy on Crutches."
"Coughing Coffee Table Communications Victim…"
"Guys!" CJ glared at both of them and put her own arm around Sam – "C'mon, honey, let's get you out of here. See you later, Danny." They headed for the Bullpen, Josh hanging back to talk to Danny. Ginger's face lit up as Sam came in,
"Are you feeling better?"
"Much, thank you, Ginger." Sam smiled beautifully.
"Would you like a coffee?"
"I'd love one!"
CJ steered Sam into his office and helped him manoeuvre in behind his desk. "What's this?" she tapped the obvious thickness of one forearm.
"The IV line – they didn't want to take it out."
"Oh." CJ leaned in and gently kissed the top of his head, "My poor Samshine. I'd better let you get on with your work. Good luck with the meeting."
Sam caught her hand as she straightened, "Thanks, Ceej." His eyes were serious.
CJ smiled, "You're just having a rough week, that's all." As she left, she heard him break into a coughing fit, and she shuddered.
* * *
Toby was pacing in Sam's office. "Are you sure you can prove all this?"
Sam sighed, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes, "Yes, yes, for the hundredth time, yes. Toby, I am still a lawyer. I know how to find and present facts."
"So we stick to the plan, me first, then you."
"Right. Ah, what about Josh?"
"Josh isn’t allowed to speak."
"Have you told him that?"
"Not yet." Toby looked slightly uncomfortable, "Could you-"
"No way. You can't put me in that position right now. Why don't we just wait and see?" He coughed loudly.
"Sam, you're such a freaking optimist." He stopped pacing for a moment, pausing awkwardly, "Are – um – are you feeling all right?"
"I'm – yeah, I'm all right."
"You're up for this?"
Josh slipped in between Toby's paces and came round behind Sam's chair, brushing a hand across Sam's shoulders. He perched on the edge of the desk,
"How ready are we?"
"We are reasonably ready – you are the silent partner in this one."
"Hey! I spotted them."
"And for that we are grateful. But I think you'd do better to keep a low profile in this meeting."
"Look, it's potentially contentious that we're even meeting with them. You really want to be part of that?"
"I'll be at the meeting."
"I'll talk, Sam'll back me up."
"I can back you up too."
"Sam's backing me up using legal points."
"Oh… hey, I studied law."
Sam sniggered, which triggered yet another huge coughing fit, his shoulders shaking and his eyes watering. The others flinched, Josh finally leaning towards him and patting his back firmly, which became a gentle rub as Sam quieted again, leaning forward, forearms on his desk, his hands covering his eyes.
"You should be in bed." He looked up at Toby, his face pale, his eyes ringed with shadows reflecting the strain of the past week, and nodded slightly.
"I know –" his voice was suddenly croaky. He cleared his throat, "But this is just so-" he waved vaguely, "and, hey, I can go straight to bed afterwards."
Josh was still rubbing Sam's back, "That's true. There's a bed with his name on it in the respiratory ward."
"God! Respiratory ward! That sounds so gruesome." Sam leaned back tiredly into Josh's hand. Toby glanced briefly at Sam from beneath beetle brows before resuming his pacing.
* * *
Toby's office was unnaturally quiet, considering Toby and Sam were both working in there. Toby was reclining behind his desk, reading a huge report on farming futures in the north-western states. He would periodically rub an irritated index finger up and down his temple but he was otherwise still and silent. Sam was in one of the armchairs, his injured leg propped up on a column of conservation and ecology reports. He was reading through a dog-eared report on equality in education. He looked more pale and more tired than he had two hours earlier, if that was possible, but he was still focused, skimming quickly through page after page.
Ginger arrived with coffee for both of them, "This is NOT getting to be a habit, but it's quiet out there so-"
Sam caressed her with his smile, "Thanks, Ginger."
"Your guests should be here in ten – you want to meet with them in here?"
Toby nodded, "And when they arrive, get Josh in here too."
Sam yawned widely, wiping his eyes. Toby looked up, "You all right?"
"Please, look, I'll tell you if I'm not, okay? I'm just – tired."
Toby frowned at his paleness but shrugged in acquiescence. They carried on reading.
Ginger poked her head in the door. "The guests are in the foyer and Josh is on his way. Shall I bring them in?"
"We're ready." He turned to Sam, "Don't try to stand up. I don't want you shaking up that cough or keeling over."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."
Josh strolled in, glancing at Sam, "Man, you look beat."
Sam smiled at him grimly, "Let's just get this done."
Christos Kouros was not a tall man, barely five foot seven, slightly paunchy, he was the epitome of swarthiness – dark, shiny, wavy hair, unreadable brown eyes, arched brows, olive skin - and teeth, huge white teeth that could have walked in by themselves and held a party. Sam shuddered – oleaginous, he thought again. Kouros wore a pale suit and dark shirt and tie, contrasting strikingly with his watch-group co-petitioner, Mack Fanning.
Fanning was tall, almost rangy, with long, loose limbs, clad in a dark suit, white shirt and stringy black tie. He had sandy hair that flopped in an unruly fashion over one side of his forehead and his eyes were pale blue, almost green, intensified by thick blond eyebrows drawn in a perpetual frown.
Toby introduced everyone, briefly excusing Sam's immobility and casual attire, then invited the men to sit on the couch. Kouros perched rather nervously on the edge, alternately wringing his hands and spinning a thick, gold wedding band on his ring finger…
"You see," Toby was saying, in a frighteningly patient tone, "you were seen there, visiting Martin. And then we find Martin running for the Counsel's office… at this point we catch a whiff of something that made us-" Toby swept his hand inclusively around the office, "something that made us very nervous."
Fanning was irritated, "You track and spy on every honest citizen who makes a visit to the Capitol Buildings? I thought you'd have more important work to do than that."
Toby smiled slightly, shaking his head, a gesture that sent warning bells clanging for Sam, but Fanning was oblivious,
"I mean, leave the spying to the CIA and get some decent law-making done, that's what I say."
Kouros shifted uncomfortably at that point, suddenly alert to the tension in the room and realising that Fanning was making things worse. "Toby –" Toby's eyes slowly dragged themselves off Fanning, "We are just concerned citizens. Let me tell you about our watch group…"
"No, you listen to me. Your watch group exists for no other reason than to find ways to bring down this administration."
"Oh, no," Kouros' oily voice attempted to soothe Toby, "We are only concerned with educational standards, the quality of care our children get, and the equality they deserve."
"Equality? You want equality in education?" Josh and Sam glanced at one another, a slight buzz passing between them in an instant. This was their ace and Toby was going to play it now. "You want to ban children's rights to wear items specific to their religious beliefs so that they are more equal?"
Kouros leapt to his feet, his face shocked, "How did you know? How can you know that?"
Toby shrugged, the other man's irritation calming him immensely. He leaned against his desk and folded his arms. Kouros paced in front of the couch, wringing pudgy hands in agitation. "I mean we've barely, it's not that it's so secret, but we- how can you have – did Senator Martin-" he broke off and stood there by Sam's chair, confused.
"No, senators don't come running to the West Wing with every pet project, especially Republican senators. We do have other ways of finding out what's going on. And this particular project is of huge concern-"
"But, but we –" Kouros was still sputtering, fast losing the wind in his sails. Sam caught the edge of Kouros' jacket and tugged lightly,
"Why don't you sit down, Chris?"
"Uh, yeah, sure." He moved over and sank back down beside Fanning. Unfortunately Sam started to cough then, a build up of crackly congestion, surprising the men on the couch, who both stared at him in consternation. Josh collected Sam's water bottle from the bookshelf and passed it over, and they all waited for Sam to stop. Kouros frowned at him,
"You really don't sound so well."
Sam waved a hand dismissively, slightly breathless, his other hand pressed to his chest, "Sorry, I'm fine."
"You should see someone about that."
Josh snorted, "He is!"
As Sam took a drink of water, Toby moved over to a chair and sat down, "We need to talk about what expected outcomes you had."
Sam was describing in careful detail yet another test case, Gottlieb versus Burns, leaving no doubt as to the validity of the case and fairness of the outcome. He constantly referred back to Amendment I to the Constitution, using his hands to emphasise his points. He felt confined, unable to move about as he normally would, and his voice was starting to sound a little scratchy. As he continued to expound on the constitutional right to wear religious paraphernalia, citing case after case, Kouros seemed to deflate, his head down, his hands hanging limply between his knees.
Sam's voice had grown hoarse. And Kouros had clearly given up. But Fanning had grown angry at the inevitable result of the meeting. And even as Sam closed his notebook, coughing painfully, Fanning ran a hand through his hair,
"So we should just go away with our tails between our legs?"
Josh moved restlessly, pacing towards the door and back. Toby was still in one of the armchairs, elbows on his knees, his face unreadable but his silence hostile. Sam was just about all in, the battle to suppress his cough and ignore the pain in his knee all too much. Josh realised this could be a moment to step into the ring, but Sam cleared his throat first, "Chris, Mack, the whole point of this meeting is not in any way to interrupt the petitioning process in general. That's not what we're about. But this, this idea – to raise the notion that a headscarf or a yemulka or a crucifix – that those things interrupt the education process- " he coughed again, shifting uncomfortably, flinching, "that those things make people less equal, it's already been done and the other side won. And you're opening up an incredibly disruptive hornet's nest – for what purpose?"
"Sam's right." Josh leaned against Toby's desk, "The rationale behind this – what were you originally aiming for?"
Fanning punched a fist into the palm of his other hand, "It's the differences that detract from the equality. The children should all be the same!"
"But none of us are the same. The President's a Catholic, Toby and I are Jews, Sam – well, I don't quite know what Sam is, but that's the point, it doesn't matter!"
"But, by God, it DOES matter, Josh. What if the next thing we have to face in the West Wing are GAYS!" He spat the word, the distaste obvious.
There was a solid, deathly silence.
Josh froze, mouth open. Sam froze too, staring at Fanning. Toby, like a lizard awakening in the sun, slowly came to life. His gaze crawled around the room until it settled on Fanning, and Mack Fanning suddenly realised with the brilliant clarity that one occasionally has the good fortune to experience, that he had gone too far. He blushed with embarrassment and put a hand to his mouth,
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"What. Was. That." Toby's tone was pure ice.
"I. We-" he glanced at Kouros, who seemed suddenly distant, "I went too far. That wasn't what-"
"Get out, Fanning." Toby said it quietly. Fanning stood nervously, all bravado gone. He walked to the door, pulled it open, and strode across the Bullpen. Christos Kouros looked from Josh to Sam to Toby, and kept his eyes on Toby,
"He doesn't know, Toby, I swear he had no idea."
"Chris, drop this one. Go petition Martin about something that's going to help children."
Kouros glanced at Sam, "You're right. You're all right. I –well, okay, I-"
Toby stood up suddenly, "I'll see you out." He shut the door behind them.
Josh slowly closed his mouth, feeling the loud buzz in his head recede. He looked across to his partner, staring at the floor, blinking desperately. Josh swallowed with difficulty, "Sam?" Sam took off his glasses and pressed a hand across his eyes,
"-don't-" he croaked.
"It's, it's not the first time we've heard that-"
"Please," Sam whispered, "please don't." Josh walked over and sat on the arm of the chair, drawing Sam's head in against his body. They sat there in silence, a soft silence this time, the only sound Sam's ragged breathing. Finally, Josh ruffled Sam's hair,
"C'mon, your pass is nearly expired. I'd better get you to your home away from home."
Sam pouted, "What if I just didn't show up?"
"You're showing up!"
"I don't want to."
"Yeah. I'll get your jacket."
Ginger was still working at her desk.
"It is. Did things go – well – all right?"
"It was a little tense, but we got the result. Ginger, could you tell Donna I'm just taking Sam back to the hospital? Then I'll be back."
"Oh no! What happened?"
"Heh! Nothing, he just hasn't actually been released yet."
"Yeah, he's pretty tired so we'll get going right now. Where's Toby?"
"Right behind you." Toby was achingly uncomfortable so Josh faced him easily,
"I'm taking Sam back now." They stared at one another, a thousand unspoken words crossing the small space between them. Finally Josh ghosted a smile, "Toby, it was a good result."
"Yeah," Toby rubbed his forehead.
"I'll be back afterwards."
"We'll go see Leo then."
Josh fetched Sam's jacket but stopped as he saw Toby go into his office, and watched surreptitiously from the window. Toby stood in the middle of the room and stared at Sam, and Sam looked up at him, pale, tired, sad blue eyes. Toby raised an eyebrow,
"That was good work, Robin."
A slow smile crept across Sam's face, and Josh knew he could go in then.
* * *
Josh arrived back at Sam's hospital room at a quarter to ten. Sam was reading in a pool of warm light cast by the small bulbs above the head of the bed. His glasses had slipped down his nose, and as Josh watched, he pushed them back up with the heel of his hand. He was reattached to the IV and as Sam moved slightly in the lamplight, Josh could see the almost transparent line of a nasal cannula feeding oxygen in through his nose. Josh grimaced. He knew Sam hated that. He felt breathless, watching Sam, breathless with a consuming desire to hold this man close.
He glanced back along the corridor. There was no movement. Josh swiftly crossed the room, and placed his hands on the guard rail. Sam looked up in surprise,
"Hey!" He was hoarse. Josh lowered the guard rail and sat on the edge of the bed,
"Hey!" Josh leaned towards Sam and opened his arms expansively, "I wanna hold you!"
Sam smiled a shy smile, which melted Josh, and took off his glasses. He leaned forward carefully into Josh's arms, trailing lines behind him. He coughed, but Josh held on until Sam relaxed completely into the embrace. They stayed there, clasped together for a few minutes, then Josh gently pressed Sam back against the pillows.
"What did Leo say?"
"He's thrilled to bits. Toby really blew your trumpet. Y'know, he was really impressed with what you did today."
"It was just basic legal stuff."
"It's your persuasive power though. You won Kouros over," Josh snapped his fingers, "just like that."
"Think he'll tell Fanning?"
"I know he will. Boy, I'd love to be a fly on the wall during that conversation!"
"Yeah," Sam grinned thoughtfully, then suddenly spoke in Kouros' oily voice, "I say, Mack, I have to tell you, bad news, there are already some terribly gay people in the West Wing." They both laughed.
A nurse tapped on the doorway and approached the bed, "Hi, Sam."
"Hi, Clare. Clare, this is my good friend and colleague, Josh Lyman."
"Hello, Josh, nice to meet you." She turned back to Sam, "I just need to see if your temp is coming down."
"Your temp was up?"
"Only a fraction, Josh. I'm fine."
"Tell me that when you're out of here."
The nurse made a note on Sam's chart, "You're doing fine, Sam. I'll just get you some iced water."
Josh leaned over and surveyed Sam's chart, "You are up again."
"I'm just tired." He hesitated, "It was – it was worth it today, you know? I think, if we'd left it alone…" he coughed, and Josh waited, still holding the chart, "if we had, it would have stirred up such a racket – I mean, we would have had a huge outcry-"
"Huge? It would have been a nationwide thing! We were a great team today."
The nurse came back in with a glass of water, the ice cubes clinking merrily, which she handed to Sam, deftly easing the chart out of Josh's hand at the same time. She checked Sam's lines and took his wrist between her fingers, an eye on his respiration, and then made a note on the chart, quietly leaving them alone again.
Josh picked up, "Honestly, if we'd let it go to petition, and a public hearing-"
"And imagine if Martin had presented it to the Presiding Officer's Desk, or, God help us, if he'd introduced it from the floor-" Sam covered his eyes in horror.
Josh took a deep breath, "Let's hope it's over." Sam slowly lowered his hand and looked seriously at Josh, his blue eyes haunted,
"You don't think Fanning will try to – I mean, he wants to bring down this administration – you don't think, you know…. us…"
"No way. Toby made sure of that when he saw Kouros out."
Sam's eyes opened wide, his long fingers clutching Josh's arm, "Toby did that? Really? How d'you know? God!" Josh put a hand over Sam's,
"He told me tonight. Well, he told us, we were in Leo's office." He squeezed Sam's hand reassuringly. "I, well, I asked the same question." They grinned at one another.
* * *
Monday morning and Josh skittered into the bedroom where Sam was still buried under the covers. Josh threw open the curtains and tossed the morning paper down on the bed, dragging the duvet off Sam's head,
"He got you!"
"Danny! Must've waited 'til we were heading back to the hospital. Look!"
Sam rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. Josh always loved Morning Sam and he sat down on the bed, enjoying the sight of Sam, tousled and sleepy and unshaven, his dark hair spiky and his blue eyes unfocused. Josh smiled. And stared. He sometimes felt Morning Sam was the most vulnerable and loveable, before Efficient Sam got going in the bathroom.
Sam struggled into a sitting position, a confused look on his face. He blinked heavily at Josh, adjusting to the light. Josh couldn't contain the Sam-butterflies in his stomach any longer and he leaned over, grabbed Sam by the shoulders and hugged him wildly. Sam jerked in surprise but his strong arms immediately wrapped around Josh, squeezing him until Josh gasped,
"Okay, okay, yet again you WIN! PLEASE!" Sam kissed him chastely on the cheek as he loosened his grasp, and he reached for his glasses.
"Now. What," he cleared his throat, brushing a stray lock of hair off his forehead, "what did you say?" He coughed lightly.
"Danny! He must've waited for the meeting to be over. When I took you back to the hospital."
"You're kidding right, a photograph?"
"Lookit!" Josh had folded the paper over to the Politics section, and there was a photograph of a white-faced, uncomfortable-looking Sam negotiating the front steps, on crutches. Sam groaned and scanned the brief notes underneath,
DEDICATED TO DUTY
An injured knee and a serious chest infection couldn't keep Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn from work on Saturday afternoon, despite having spent the previous twenty-four hours in hospital. Seaborn mysteriously dislocated his knee on Friday in the West Wing and was released from hospital for that injury, but returned directly after this photograph was taken for further treatment of his chest infection. He attended the Winnebago Children's Memorial March in Nebraska on Monday where he was initially hospitalised for the same complaint. White House sources say he should be back at work some time during the week.
Sam peered at Josh over the top of his glasses, "Did he have to write 'mysteriously'?"
"You wanted him to put 'attacked by a coffee table'?"
Sam pouted, "He couldn't have just written 'accidentally'?"
"He should have entitled it, 'West Wing Klutz on Crutches'!" Josh took off running for the bathroom. The pillow hit him fair and square on the butt.
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