Category: Drama ESF
Characters: Sam, Josh, Snr Staff, Abby
Series/Sequel: sequel to 'West Wing Klutz on Crutches', third in Sam 'breathing' series
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam has a little trouble with his breathing.
Notes: Devon O'Reilly makes a return in this fic. Third Sam breathing fic.
Breathless by Jen
It was a fine afternoon despite the crisp chill of winter, and Sam decided to walk back to the West Wing. He needed to blow out the cobwebs after the five hours with the latest embassy on their hit list up Embassy Row.
He walked briskly, desperate to regain some sort of fitness after the enforced lay-off imposed by Dr Woods at the hospital. Josh had kept Sam busy at home over the last couple of weeks, coming up with projects to reorganise cupboards and rearrange furniture. Sam had recognised it as a ploy to keep him in the apartment, no running, no gym, until he was off antibiotics and over his latest chest infection. Luckily his knee had recovered remarkably well.
And he did appreciate Josh's efforts – the range of medication prescribed and the severity of the infection had left him listless, unable to muster the energy to even argue about getting up and active. In fact, he had struggled most mornings just to get out of bed. Only two days ago, Sam had woken hot and headachy….
It was Saturday and they had set the alarm for seven. Sam had slapped it through two snoozes before Josh realised what was going on. He had gently nudged Sam with his knee,
"You want first shower?"
"What was that?"
Sam had groaned, burying himself under the covers. Josh had peeked in, "What's the matter?" He had pulled the covers back from Sam's head to see him blink painfully,
Josh had instinctively wrapped a hand around Sam's forehead, "You're really hot. Are you getting sick again?"
"No! I'm just – it's just a headache." His eyes had slid shut, narrowing slightly, and he had slid back under the covers, curling up into a ball, coughing a little. Josh had sat there for a couple of minutes, worried. He patted Sam through the covers,
"Sam, we have to get going. D'you wanna take a day off?" There was a long groan. Sam had finally dragged the cover off his head and squinted at Josh. Who had turned to mush at the sight of Sam, wrapped up in the duvet, his cheeks hot, his blue eyes miserable, hair on end, mouth turned down in a slight pout. Josh wrapped Sam and the duvet in a big hug. They leaned against one another in silence for a moment. Sam cleared his throat,
"It's been a busy week."
"I know that, God, don't I know that!" Josh scrubbed a hand across his own eyes, "Another rescue like that – I mean, was that senator nuts or what? He thought he could get away with it?"
Sam shrugged, "Probably." He peered painfully at the clock, "We should probably get moving."
"No!" Josh was suddenly determined, "We've had a crazy week, you're still just getting better. You rest a bit – take some painkillers, I'll come back, get you at ten o'clock."….
But now, as Sam tried to pick up the pace, heading briskly along Connecticut Avenue, he could feel the effect of his enforced lack of activity. Sam glanced around, horrified that he was panting, and tried to slow his breathing rate even as he kept up the faster pace. But nearing the huge spire of St Matthew's, he wondered if he should admit defeat, and he slowed, head down, gasping, passing close to some sort of gathering along the Gothic railings of the Cathedral.
He stopped at the end of the line of people and grasped the railings, bending over slightly. He tried to drag in deeper, slower breaths, feeling the burning pain of unused chest muscles, a stitch beneath his ribs…
"Sam! Is that you?"
Sam looked up in surprise – a man had detached himself from the group and was coming towards him, arms flung wide. It was Devon O'Reilly. Sam grinned and straightened up,
"What're you trying to do, Sam, walk the forty minute mile? You look all in."
Sam shook his hand, panting. He pressed a hand to his still-heaving chest, "I've been kind of shut-in, trying to get back on top of things."
"Looks like you were pushing it."
"I was only walking!" Sam sounded confused.
"Hey, I saw you in the paper, sounded like you were pretty sick."
"Nearly sent you a get well card!" They both snorted. "But hey, that job you did out with the Indians-"
"Yeah, that was a great piece of work, Sam, I saw the follow-up report when I was at the Native American's Tribal Forum." He patted Sam's forearm, "That was really good work, that medical check-up clause. They needed that."
"I was only setting up a proposal really," Sam tried to draw a slow breath but coughed. "Sorry, " he choked out, futilely rubbing his hand across his chest. "Yeah, it was a draft – they had to get on with the work."
"Well, they did it fast, in time for the Forum last week."
"Were you there because –"
"Indeed. The fight against abortion knows no cultural boundaries, Sam."
For the first time, Sam looked around at the people lined up along the railings.
"Oh, this is YOUR protest? I hadn't even realised-" He held onto the railing with one hand as he scanned the gathered protestors, all silent but holding signs aloft. "Why so quiet?"
"Five o'clock mass – we don't chant while a mass is on. We had a-" He broke off, frowning at a movement along the inside of the fence behind Sam. Suddenly Sam felt the cold, hard scrape of metal against his wrist – it tightened, even as he turned slightly, squeezing against his skin. Sam goggled at his hand,
"Hey!" A protestor had handcuffed him to the iron railing. Sam tugged, angry, "Hey! Undo this!" The protestors ran off. He rattled angrily at the short chain, the cold metal of the cuff biting into his wrist, and turned to Devon in consternation, "What the hell's going on?"
O'Reilly looked as shocked as Sam, "God, Sam, this was nothing to do with me. PETER!" he called, "God, Sam-"
Sam pulled desperately at the handcuff, feeling the pinch of the restraint. "D'you have a key or something?" He stared at O'Reilly, his eyes wide.
Devon put a hand on Sam's shoulder, "Look, I- I'll sort this." He could feel Sam quiver with shock and mounting anger. "Give me a minute. PETER-" he ambled away, absently reaching for a cigarette.
Sam frowned wildly, coughing and pulling at the cuff, the chain rattling tautly, the other cuff clanking against the iron of the railing. He tried to scrunch his hand and squeeze it out of the cuff, but the metal just bit more tightly into his wrist.
"There's no point pulling," a young woman was staring at him, a hand-painted sign hanging loosely from her fingers, "You think criminals can get out of those?" Sam looked from the woman to the handcuffs and back again, still tugging half-heartedly.
"You'll just hurt your wrist."
"Think the boat's sailed on that one," Sam ruefully ran a finger around the tight cuff, wincing. He began to cough, each movement jerking his captured hand. "Ow, ow!"
The woman leaned down behind her and produced a bottle of water, cracking the seal and passing it to him, "Here."
Sam raised his eyebrows, "You sure?"
"Course. It's a new bottle. You sound a little hoarse."
Sam accepted the bottle and took a long drink, "Thank you. D'you-" he held the bottle uncertainly in his free hand.
"No, keep it, we have plenty."
Sam coughed then drank again, "Thanks."
"No problem. Nice of you to join us."
"I really wasn't. I stopped – to catch my breath – had no idea you were doing this."
"You're not very observant then."
"Hey! I was out of breath. I wasn't looking at the scenery!"
"Why so puffed? Are you in a hurry? You're in a suit- you can't tell me you were jogging."
"Jogging! I wish. Walking's bad enough. I've been – ah – out of action. I'm so unfit right now."
"Well, you're obviously not the typical high-cholesterol, overweight pen-pusher! You look very fit to me." She ran her eyes up the length of his body.
Sam blushed, "I'm not, and it's embarrassing."
"Don't worry about it. You'll be right soon enough. So, you know Devon then?"
"I do. We've been through a few things together."
"He's amazing." Her eyes shone.
"He is. Very dedicated." Sam coughed again, the handcuff dragging, "Ow!"
They chatted for a few minutes until O'Reilly appeared, "A policeman's coming over – hopefully his key will fit. Mary-Kate here's been looking after you?"
Sam smiled at the young woman, "She has."
Devon glanced around, "We might wrap up early tonight. Mares, will you get everyone packed up, signs in the foyer?"
She glowed, "Sure, Dev."
"Thanks for the water, " put in Sam.
"No trouble." She drifted down the line, still clutching her sign. Not long after that, a policeman approached them, silvery hair under his hat.
"Honestly, O'Reilly, you've gotta keep better control over your people. This could be a cause for prosecution. You okay there, Mr Seaborn?"
"You know who I am?"
"Surely. Officer O'Hagen at your service." He shook Sam's free hand. "Now, let's have a look at those cuffs." He closed in on Sam's left wrist, "Oh."
"What?" Both men leaned over in consternation.
"Nothing. No, it's just, this is way too tight. You're going to have a mighty sore wrist, Mr Seaborn."
"Sam it is then. I'll undo the fence cuff first, then we'll get that off your arm, okay?"
He unlocked the first cuff, allowing Sam to bring his arm in close, cradling it slightly, the loose cuff dangling.
"Man, I'm sorry, Sam." Devon gazed at him apologetically. The officer inserted the key, unlocking the cuff. He had to ease the arms apart, as Sam's wrist had swollen around the metal edges.
"You'd better get some ice on that. Will you be wanting to press charges?"
"I- I don't think so."
Devon put a hand on Sam's back, "C'mon, take you back to my office, there's an ice pack in the freezer."
"No, I'll be okay."
"I insist. You don't have any more meetings scheduled?"
Sam leaned back in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. His wrist was aflame but he could only focus on the sheer joy of being free after his brief incarceration.
O'Reilly drove one-handed, a cigarette dangling out of the window. He glanced at Sam every few moments,
"We'll be there in five."
"I'd better call Toby."
"And Josh." Devon had a twinkle in his eye.
Sam reddened slightly, "Him too."
* * *
"You she, I mean, see, see, see," Sam waggled a finger at O'Reilly, "The whole emphasis has to lie with the natural – I mean, native, wildlife, not the people who inhabit the region, the native people, but the native fauna. Compassion," Sam drew himself up straighter, "in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind. Albert Schweitzer said that, y'know?"
O'Reilly frowned, topping up Sam's drink, the alcohol slopping like molten glass into the tumbler. A cigarette hung loosely from the side of his mouth, the ash clinging tenaciously as his lips moved,
"But, Sammy, what about the Rogers report?"
"Don't give me that – the Environmental Review chose the worst company in the whole eastern seaboard to commission a report."
"What d'you see's wrong with Rogers?"
"Dev, Dev, Dev, he's a shell-out," he stopped and frowned, "a sell-out – he's the pocket lining for McConnell's Dams and Hampton Homes Development." Sam took a long sip of his drink, his eyes momentarily widening at the potent liquor, "See, he shouldn't be allowed near any environmental reports with a barge bole. I mean, bole, no, pole. Pole. God, Dev, I think you might've gotten me a little over the limit."
"You're okay, Sammy." O'Reilly was rather tipsy himself. "You were looking washed out. Now you've got some colour back. How long've you been sick?"
"I'm not meant to be sick now, it was after Nebraska." He leaned his head on one hand,
"Jus' been so frustrating, Dev, I can't shake the cough and I can't get my energy back. S'kinda depressing." He eyed O'Reilly seriously, his blue eyes suddenly intense, "Don't tell anyone though. Never told anyone that."
O'Reilly waved in acquiescence. Sam wrinkled his brow,
"I've been, I dunno, been so tired."
"Maybe you're not over it yet."
Sam ran a hand back and forth across his own chest, "Just don't feel – right."
"Should tell someone."
"I'd feel silly. I don't like to talk about me." He took another sip of his drink.
Sam shook his head over-emphatically, "He's really busy, flat out." He shrugged. "What're you working on here?"
Acknowledging the diversion, O'Reilly topped up both of their drinks and lit a fresh cigarette, before outlining his latest protest.
* * *
Josh could tell there was trouble from the number of attempts Sam made to fit the key in the lock. Sighing, he padded over to the front door and opened it. Sam stood there, a gorgeous caricature of a drunken man. His hair hung untidily over his forehead, his eyes were only half open, jacket slung over one shoulder, and he swayed left and right, like a palm frond in a warm breeze. Except it was very cold outside. Sam caught sight of Josh and a huge smile lit up his face,
"Josh! Where are you?"
Josh rolled his eyes, "What've you been up to, Sam? C'mon in." Sam teetered in the doorway,
"You sure?" He shuddered suddenly and Josh realised he was shivering. He tugged Sam over the stoop and into the living room, surprised by the icy chill of his shirt.
"Damn, you're freezing. And drunk."
"Oh no. No no no no nononooooo. I am not drunk. I have not had a single beer. No. You got the wrong Sam there." He chortled and flung his frozen arms around Josh's neck. His mouth neared Josh's ear clumsily, "I had a rum."
"Just one rum?"
"Some rum so-ome rum pa-rum-puh-pum rum."
"O'Reilly gave you rum?" Josh tried to peel the human popsicle away from his neck.
"He did. A n-nice little rum, he said. Give me some colour. Am I colourless, Josh?" Sam tightened his grip, "I'm a little c-cold."
"Yeah, and you reek of cigarette smoke. O'Reilly's, I suppose." Josh managed to unhook one of Sam's arms, "C'mon, buddy, shower."
Sam leaned against him yawning, "Nah, I'll go t'bed."
Josh pulled him along, "Just come with me, Sam." God, he thought, Monday night, and Sam's completely smashed. Gonna be a long Tuesday, that's for sure.
They made it to the bathroom and Josh leaned Sam against the bathroom cupboard while he turned on the shower. Sam slid downwards in a relaxed fashion until he was sitting on the floor. Sighing again, Josh knelt down and undid Sam's already skewed tie. Then the shirt buttons, swatting away unhelpful hands, Sam focusing on Josh's face, smiling slightly, completely trusting him.
Sam held up his right arm, then his left, flinching suddenly as Josh took hold of that wrist, pulling his arm free.
"I – ah – " he blinked distractedly, "I love you, Josh."
Josh gently reclaimed Sam's wrist and carefully released the cuff button, lifting the whole shirt off. As the sleeve trickled away from Sam, they both stared down at the wrist in Josh's hand. It was still swollen, and was encircled by an angry red welt.
"What the hell?"
"A protestor smuggled – snap – snapped a cuffup, no -handcuff – handcuff on me."
" 'S'afternoon," Sam shrugged, "Cop got me out."
"This is terrible. Did you tell Toby?" Josh caressed the raised skin with one finger, "Did you get any medical treatment?"
"'S'not a big deal. Can I've a kiss?"
"After you have a shower. Arms up." Josh peeled Sam's undershirt up and over his head, then went to work on his pants.
About fifteen minutes later, Sam appeared in the living room in an old t-shirt dragged on back to front and a pair of boxers, his hair in skewers like a porcupine. He sidled crablike towards the couch. Josh frowned at him,
"Sam, did anyone see you?"
"I swear, the bathroom is completely-" Sam paused and threw his arms wide, staggering slightly, "completely empty. No-one saw me." He leaned across the arm of the couch towards Josh and whispered conspiratorially, "I think we're alone."
"Oh God! Not here! At the protest. Were there journalists? Cameras?"
"A protest?" Sam's eyes opened wide for a moment, "That's bad, Josh. You should be careful." He patted Josh reassuringly.
"Oh my God! YOU! YOU were at a protest. TODAY!" Josh realised he was screeching. Sam simply stared at him blankly. Josh lowered his voice in resignation, "C'mon, bed."
Sam squinted at his watch, "But it's only – ah – something."
"It's ten o'clock, you're totally making no sense at all, so, yeah, bed for you."
* * *
The shrill blast of the telephone ripped into Josh's very pleasant dream. He looked around. Sam usually answered the phone. But there was no Sam. And no duvet. And no sheet. Josh was alone on a bare mattress. He frowned as the phone rang again, and commando-crawled across the mattress to Sam's side.
"Put Sam on." It was Leo. Josh glanced around the room, looking for Sam in the gloom, "Um, Leo, can I call you back?"
"Just put him on."
"He's…" Josh switched on the lamp. There was a pile of bedding on the floor. "Hang on." Josh leaned down and dragged at the duvet. It was caught up – he yanked and with a thump, Sam rolled out of it, groaning. "I, uh, I found him. Wait a sec." Josh leaned down beside Sam, "It's Leo."
Sam's eyes flew open, startled, "Where?"
"On the phone. Here." He handed it to Sam, who fumbled it, Leo dropping into the bedding. "Oops!" And "Oh!" he groaned again, taking hold of his head.
Josh retrieved the phone, "What's wrong, Leo?"
"What's up with Sam?"
"He's a little – ah – sleepy. What time is it?"
"Four-thirty. Wake him up, use a bucket of cold water if you have to. I want him in my office in thirty minutes." The phone clicked off.
Twenty-nine minutes later, Sam stood in Leo's office, head down, staring at the edge of the polished desk, hands buried deep in his pants' pockets. Leo slammed the early edition of the paper hard on the desk, which sent a wave of pain shooting through Sam's aching head.
"You'd better have a damned good explanation."
Sam peeked across at the paper – it was a remarkable shot of himself pulling away from the iron railings of the Cathedral, handcuffs clearly glinting in the late afternoon light, a large hand-painted sign next to him, UNBORN CHILDREN HAVE RIGHTS TOO, O'Reilly on his other side, hand on Sam's shoulder.
"It, it was an accident." Sam tried clearing his throat, but even that noise made him flinch. He spoke very quietly, "I was passing by, O'Reilly called out, we talked, a protestor grabbed my wrist from behind the fence, and snapped the handcuffs on me."
"How could it happen like that?"
"It happened, Leo. It was extremely unpleasant."
"How could you be so STUPID?"
"It wasn't stupid." His whisper was indignant. "I'm not stupid."
"All right, naïve then. You didn't think there'd be Press? God Almighty, Sam."
"Why should I have to have thought about it – it wasn't planned!"
"You always have to THINK, SAM!"
Sam's stomach flipped with nausea as Leo's voice rose a tone with each angry sentence. And since he had started with a yell, he was soon roaring. The sentiments ebbed and flowed around Sam's spinning head,
"Photographed handcuffed to the RAILING… how many times are you going to be SEEN with this MAN… an ANTI-ABORTION protest, Sam… taking SIDES…"
Although Leo accepted it was an accident, the yelling continued, and Sam grew whiter by the minute. Every nerve was screeching and he was certain the strings attaching various parts of his brain together were twanging violently. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets. He was having trouble standing still, the turmoil within his skin threatening to overwhelm him.
Leo's words started to falter as he realised Sam was totally unresponsive. He stopped mid-sentence and stared at the pale, swaying young man,
"What the hell? Sam, would ya talk to me?"
Sam swallowed. He took a hand out of his pocket and pressed his knuckles against his mouth. He shook his head slowly, closing his eyes.
"Oh, for God's sake, what's the matter with ya? Thing is, you've had that whole media crisis with O'Reilly when you were knocked down those stairs. Too many links'll be made. You gotta be more careful. You can't put this administration at risk." Leo tapped a pen angrily on his blotter. "You're an important part of the team, Sam…"
Sam felt sweat prickle his forehead and knew he was close to throwing up. His head was thumping so loudly he was sure Leo would pick up on it, and he ran one hand through his hair nervously. Leo's eyes narrowed,
"You all right?"
Sam nodded slightly, eyes slowly opening.
"You wanna say something?"
"No." It was barely a whisper.
"Look." Leo was thinking, was I too hard on the kid? "This is clearly some sort of misunderstanding…" He stood up and swiftly moved around the desk, as Sam wavered even more noticeably. "Sam?" Leo took him by the arm and steadied him, peering closely at Sam's pale face. His eyes narrowed, "Are you hung over?"
Sam looked down at the toes of his shoes, a move that sent his stomach tumbling into a deep crevasse. Leo was suddenly not angry, only concerned. He eased Sam to the couch,
"How the hell d'ya get hung over on a Tuesday morning?"
"Drinking on a Monday night?" offered Sam waveringly in a whisper. Leo ghosted a smile as Sam swiped a hand across his face, his fingers quivering. "It was O'Reilly. He – he wanted to apologise – he had this bottle of rum in his office." Sam dropped his head to his knees as the nausea increased. He felt Leo's hand on his back,
"You silly kid." It was a gentle admonition. After a moment, his fingers brushed the angry red welt visible beneath Sam's crisp cuff.
"They do this to you? Jesus, Sam!"
Sam sat up slowly, "It's okay."
They both stood. "You better get out of here, CJ'll be looking for your head."
"I'm sorry, Leo-"
"Get to work."
Sam slipped out of Leo's office, straight to the Men's room, where he threw up.
Josh was in Sam's office making notes on a file when he heard someone in the Bullpen.
He looked up, his jaw dropping slightly at Sam's appearance.
"O-kay. We need to tidy you up already." Ignoring Sam's ashen features, Josh smoothed his hair, "You're all wet. Did you-"
"Head still sore then." Josh patted Sam's cheek and hitched himself up on to Sam's desk. "Did Leo yell?"
"He started with yelling. Then he generously upgraded to a roar." Sam massaged a soothing hand across his stomach.
Josh stared, horrified, "You threw up in his OFFICE?"
"No! God, Josh, I do have some self-control."
"Today, as opposed to last night, you mean?"
"That's not fair."
"What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't really," he sighed. "Josh, I'm –"
"Look out! CJ's coming!" Josh scrambled for safety, swinging his legs over the desk and dropping into Sam's chair, leaving Sam stranded alone in the middle of the office. She was shooting sparks, her eyes aflame, brandishing the folded newspaper like a Ghurkha sword,
Sam flinched, her voice piercing the very epicentre of his brain, reverberating in paralysing pulses. CJ stalked right up to him and poked a strong, slender finger into his chest,
"You" *poke* "are" *poke* "an" *poke* "idiot!" *forceful poke*
He took a hasty step backwards.
"You realise what this paper says?!"
"It's - it's not - it wasn't like that."
"Sam! Did you look at the picture? You're handcuffed to a church railing during an anti-abortion rally. How d'you THINK IT LOOKS?"
Sam took another step back, his insides somersaulting. His butt hit the shelf, and he put a hand down to steady himself, pressing the other hand against his traitorous stomach.
CJ frowned, "I have no idea how to spin this. What on earth happened? I mean, how? How, Sam?" Her pointing finger - halfway towards him – froze as she realised he was not his usual sartorial self. There was a silent moment of evaluation. Sam kept his eyes fixed on CJ's collarbone, way too fearful to meet her beacons of wild fury. He coughed nervously.
Josh swung his feet up on to the desk, "He's hung over," he informed CJ gleefully.
CJ swung her gaze round to meet his, "Hung over? Josh, how could you let him do that on a Monday night?"
"Hey, this is NOTHING to do with me."
CJ looked back to her initial victim, "Sa-am?"
Sam wrapped both arms around his stomach, dropping his chin to his chest, "I went back to Devon O'Reilly's."
"No." Sam sounded suddenly sullen, "His law practice. We needed an ice pack and I stayed for a drink."
Josh snorted loudly.
"Ice pack? What for?"
"C'mon, Spanky," CJ lifted his chin with her finger.
"It's nothing, it's just my wrist. The handcuff was too tight."
"Ouch! Show me."
Sam was still hugging his stomach, "It's fine."
CJ glanced at Josh, "Which wrist?"
Josh did a quick mental recall of the previous evening, holding his own hands out,
CJ tugged at Sam's left sleeve, "Show me."
Sam hissed in annoyance but held out the offending limb. She carefully released the button and lifted back his cuff.
"Oh my!" It was still swollen and starting to bruise, a dark welt encircling his wrist. "My poor Sam." CJ suddenly pulled him into a fragrant embrace, Sam easily melting into her arms.
CJ hung onto Sam, feeling a sense of something different – did Sam feel fragile? She frowned over his shoulder, catching Josh's eye. Josh shrugged non-committally, and reached across the desk to flick the Newton's Cradle.
CJ turned her attention back to Sam, who hadn't shifted in her embrace, and tightened her arms around him for a moment, "Okay, Spanky, let's sit down and you can tell me the whole story."
* * *
An hour later the rest of the Communications staff had arrived. Sam closed his door, trying to prepare himself for Toby's arrival whilst attempting to ignore the thumping in his head.
At 7.13 there was a bellow, "Sam!" and at 7.14 his door swung open, "My office!"
Sam's insides lurched. He wasn't accustomed to being hung over, and wondered if it was a sign of age, or perhaps he was just out of practice. He threw a weak smile at Ginger and Bonnie before easing himself into a corner of Toby's office. The couch looked inviting but he opted for a casual lean against the bookcase, folding his arms protectively.
"It wasn't what -"
"How wasn't it?"
"I can't believe that for one second."
"Oh, right, you accidentally tripped and fell into an OPEN HANDCUFF."
"This had better be REALLY good."
"I – I don't have a really good one."
"So help me, God, what the HELL HAPPENED???"
Sam flinched visibly, "I – was standing by the railing. Talking to O'Reilly."
"Why on earth did you stop beside a PROTEST?"
"How could you NOT?"
"Wasn't – I wasn't really looking around, stopped to catch my breath."
"You were running?"
"No!" He tugged at a lock of hair, "God! This is hard."
"Well, find an easy way. No wait, what am I saying, you have never found the easy way to tell me anything if there was any chance of complicating it." Toby heaved an elephantine sigh, rolling his eyes, "Sit down. You look terrible." Sam made a lateral move to the couch and relaxed in relief. He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling,
"Anyway, I was talking to O'Reilly and I had one hand on the iron railing – suddenly one of the protestors snaps this cuff on me and takes off. Press must have zoomed in, getting in Devon and the girl with the sign – I never saw anyone with a camera."
"SAM!" Toby exploded volcanically, Sam's name flying out like scoria, "You failed to notice the protestors! Why did you even stop there?"
"I was just catching my breath."
"I don't get it."
Sam sat up and stared at Toby, his eyes concerned, "I – well, I'm not doing so well – from the, you know, the thing –"
"The Nebraska thing?"
"Yeah." Sam wondered how Toby just knew what he was trying to say sometimes.
Toby shifted uncomfortably. He decided to press on with the day's activities, not really keen to delve into why Sam was worried about Nebraska and the cold he had, and why Sam looked bedraggled and pale at seven-thirty in the morning.
"What's your morning like?"
"I have three meetings before ten, I know that." He rubbed his hand across his forehead. "Then there's that guy coming, uh, Fischer, from Environment…"
"He's not coming."
"No? Lunchtime, there's the SafeHouse Meeting."
"You don't have to go – Ed and Larry can do it."
"What's going on?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Toby, you look positively evil. What is it?"
"No!" Sam sat up even straighter.
"Please, God. What?"
"I need you to go with Dr Bartlet to St Dominic's."
"That's miles away!"
"What do you know about bio-ethics?"
"I know some."
"Good. By twelve o'clock, I'd like you to know more. Then, well, go to a couple of seminars, fine tune her speech for the evening."
"You must be joking!"
"It's very topical right now."
"Sam, the President asked me. Dr Bartlet has some speechwriter away because –I don't really care why."
"She has other staff."
"Sam, the PRESIDENT asked me. You want to tell him no?"
"You'll leave with her at midday."
"Am I being punished?"
"Because, this, you know, feels like a punishment…"
"MIDDAY! Now get out."
"I'm just saying-"
* * *
The drive out to St Dominic's was a little tense but warmed up as they discussed the topics for the seminars,
"I'm just amazed that they use viruses as gene therapy vectors. I mean, that's sort of weird… and yet brilliant. A doctor giving you a virus."
Abby explained the various viruses that could be utilised for gene therapy.
"So does that mean that the respiratory problems I had, that was an adenovirus?"
"Possibly, Sam, but you developed a nasty infection. Which at least is treatable with antibiotics."
"Which I took."
"Which you flung all over the kitchen and did NOT take. AM I correct?"
Sam blushed, "Yes, ma'am."
Abby continued, "Gene therapy – it is a tricky subject – experimentation means possibly tampering with people's lives."
"I thought the immune response thing is interesting, that our bodies may fight the gene therapy that's designed to help us."
"It's frustrating all round…"
An hour later, the agent leaned over from the front seat, "Excuse me, ma'am. The safest way to the conference facility is actually through the main entrance to the hospital. It's a bit of a walk, but there's a huge roadworking mess up at the conference facility entrance. Everyone's been advised to go through this way."
"That's fine, thank you, Nathan."
Sam coughed quietly, dragging Abby's attention over towards him. She stared at his sharp profile for a few minutes, a small crease appearing between her carefully drawn eyebrows. She had seen at once that he was pale, even for winter, and tired, and she wished she had heard the story of how he ended up handcuffed to the fence yesterday. Maybe he wouldn't be too thrown if she quizzed him on the return journey…
He dragged his eyes away from a copy of her speech, "we haven't really talked for a while." She smiled inwardly as his blue eyes widened – was that fear? "Tell me about Nebraska."
"No, you. You went there with a cold, ended up in hospital. What happened?"
"I'm not really sure. I just found it harder and harder to breathe and the cold air seemed to make it worse."
"You've never had asthma?"
"Not as far as I know." He grimaced ruefully, "And never again I hope."
"Are you still on any medication?"
"No, I've finished everything."
"And how are you feeling?"
"I'm fine." There was a pause.
"You really hoped I'd fall for that, didn't you?"
Sam shrugged, and tapped a finger on her speech, "Is there any chance we'd be able to tidy up the language a little before the function this evening?"
"We have time now, don't we?"
Sam smiled and pulled out a pen.
* * *
An hour later, St Dominic's Research Hospital loomed up ahead of them. Abby Bartlet smiled reminiscently,
"I spent two wonderful years here, on a surgical residency." The car and its escorts pulled up to the front door and agents tumbled out, eyes everywhere, followed by Abby and Sam. The small group smiled briefly at a few reporters before snaking in through the wide entranceway. Abby felt familiarity wash over her as they headed down the soft linoleum corridors. She recalled the freedom of youth, no family, no shadow of politics, her whole focus on her career… They passed the ER, Administration, side corridors winding off towards orthopaedics, ENT, X-ray… her pace was brisk and Sam suddenly realised with a sinking heart that he wasn't going to be able to keep up with her for long.
The corridor eventually widened to a T intersection, and unwilling to risk the insecurity of the elevators, the group headed up the two flights to the next block. Sam was panting at the end of the first flight. He slowed slightly on the second flight, the group spreading apart as Abby forged on. An agent motioned to her at the next landing, and she turned to Sam in surprise,
"Are you puffing?"
"I'm fine – ma'am."
She frowned but turned and continued on up. They moved into a newer corridor, a long link, fresh white paint and rubberised flooring. Halfway along, Sam slowed again, panting heavily. He was desperate to appear normal, but he just wasn't getting enough oxygen. Towards the end of the link, he slowed to a stop, feeling light headed, and put a steadying hand out on the wall, his head down.
Abby was back by his side in an instant, a hand on his back. She could feel his ribcage heaving, and slipped her hand up inside his suit jacket, pressing her palm against his chest. Sam looked away, out the window of the link corridor, trying to ignore the dark shadows on the edge of his vision. He blinked rapidly.
He started, realising Abby was talking to him. "Huh? Sorry, ma'am." Relieved to find his breathing slowing.
"What's going on?"
"It's nothing. I'm just – haven't really – got back into it. I'm – fine." He straightened, "Let's go."
Abby still had her hand on his chest, "Not so fast, Sam. This seems more than just a fitness thing."
One of the agents neared them, "Dr Bartlet, we really should keep moving."
"Oh, right." She released Sam. "I'm not finished with you."
Sam had the good sense to keep his mouth shut.
* * *
The first workshop was more interesting than Sam might have expected, although he felt quite uncomfortable throughout the session. His chest ached and he felt like his ribs were bandaged tightly. He loosened his tie and undid the very top button, Abby casting occasional concerned glances in his direction from her seat at the front of the auditorium.
Sam was getting a coffee during the break when she tapped him on the shoulder.
"Look what I've borrowed!" She was brandishing a sparkly emerald green stethoscope. "Come with me." Sighing, Sam took his coffee cup and traipsed after her, back in to the now-empty seminar room. He untucked his shirt resignedly as Abby rubbed the end of the scope to warm it.
She listened carefully as he breathed in and out, making no comment, then patted him on the shoulder distractedly. "Just wait there a minute, Sam." He sat on one of the tables, letting his feet hang limply, and sipped his coffee. He hoped Abby wasn't going to be long. He felt suddenly nervous, coughing a few times, and began to tap one foot against the leg of the table.
Abby slipped back a minute later, "Sam, come with me. Everyone's going to be back in here shortly." Sam downed the last of his coffee and slid off the table, following Abby out a different door and into a small, empty office. There was a man leaning against the windowsill, a tall, distinguished man with silvery hair. He straightened and crossed the small room to meet them, hand outstretched.
"Sam Seaborn, I am pleased to meet you."
Abby stepped forward, "Sam, this is Dr David Wells, a colleague of mine from many years ago." They shook hands.
"I'm a great admirer of your work, Sam."
"Sam, David is also a respiratory specialist."
"Oh," Sam rolled his eyes slightly.
"Just let him have a listen, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am." Sam's tone was slightly irritable, but he obligingly loosened his shirt and t-shirt again. Dr Wells took a stethoscope out of his jacket pocket and unfolded it, fitting it into his ears. He leaned over and listened to Sam for all of two minutes, giving instructions to inhale, exhale, cough. Abby watched his face intently. He finally straightened and pulled down Sam's shirt, turning to Dr Bartlet,
"I concur entirely, Abby."
"Hey, wait!" Sam looked wildly from one to the other. "Are you suggesting I go to the ER? No way!"
Abby pointed to the desk, "Sit down, Sam." He leaned against the desk, folding his arms and frowning from one to the other. Abby moved closer and laid a hand on his arm, "Please listen to David." He shrugged. She didn’t take her hand away.
Dr Wells perched on the edge of the chair in the corner and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees,
"How long ago were you last ill, Sam?"
"And you were diagnosed with a chest infection?"
"Well, no, they said I had asthma-like symptoms. And they treated me with asthma medication."
"Which you have finished?"
"Just a few days ago?"
"And how have you been feeling?"
Abby squeezed his arm firmly, and Sam realised that this was the time to tell someone the truth,
"Well, no, I – ah – haven't felt right at all. I can't breathe properly, I'm tired, I'm lethargic, I still cough all the time – " he glanced sideways at Abby, "I can't even walk down the freaking street without puffing like an old man – and now –" he looked out the window.
"My whole – " he pressed a hand against his chest, "it all hurts, like I'm being pressed under a giant weight, and I just can't get the air out either." He covered his eyes, suddenly embarrassed. He felt Abby's hand move and rub gently back and forth across his back and he suddenly felt very weary, "Please leave me alone," he whispered.
The two doctors slipped out of the office.
"He's really not very well at all, Abby."
"I can see that. He's also fiercely independent and freakishly stubborn."
"Might I make a couple of recommendations?"
"Of course! You shouldn't need to ask."
"Get him admitted at GW – I could give them a call. He's going to need some work to shift that congestion. What time do you head back?"
"He could do with some relief before then – shall I organise something, send it up to you?"
* * *
At the end of the second seminar session, Abby signalled Sam to follow her back into the side office. She smiled reassuringly,
"How did you find that session?"
"Fascinating. I never imagined IVF could engender such an enormous range of ethical conflicts, especially with the gene therapy possibilities. And in a Catholic teaching hospital."
"Especially in a place like this. How are you feeling?"
"I'm – a little tired."
A nurse tapped on the door, "Here are the things Dr Wells ordered for you, ma'am."
"Thank you. Would you wait, please – ah, sorry, your name is-"
"Erin. Of course I'll wait."
"This is Sam." He shook her hand. "Okay, Sam, roll up your left sleeve." Abby opened the small case and removed a syringe and a small phial of liquid, checking the label before inserting the needle. Sam unthinkingly loosened his cuff and rolled up his sleeve, his eyes on the needle,
"What will that do?"
"Hopefully give you a little respite from the inflammation on your lungs."
"My lungs are inflamed?"
"You are really quite ill, Sam." Abby took his hand and drew his arm out, suddenly gasping, "Oh my God, what happened here?" Sam, Abby and Erin all stared at his wrist, now truly black and blue beside his watch strap.
Sam shifted uncomfortably, "It was the handcuffs yesterday."
"What exactly DID happen?"
Sam described the scene yet again.
"Oh!" gasped Erin, "I saw you in the paper this morning." Sam grinned at her. "That must have hurt."
"I didn't really realise how much until afterwards."
Abby gently touched his wrist, "You are in the wars, Samuel."
Sam shrugged, "Nothing new there… ma'am."
"Well, hold still." Sam jumped slightly as the needle pricked his arm. Abby was smiling, and she glanced at the nurse, "Sam is our resident klutz, Erin!"
Sam turned a wounded face towards them both. They laughed as Erin taped a small bandage over the hole made by the needle. Sam realised that this was another good time to just say nothing at all.
* * *
Abby phoned her husband from the car, "Yes, it went superbly. Sam made a couple of – well, a lot of changes in the car on the way out, but they all worked brilliantly… yes, yes, he is…" she smiled at Sam, "I saw Rosa Robinson… yes, big as a house! Carl Menzies was there, too… Thing is, Jed, about Sam… well, he hasn't been feeling so hot, but no-one really knew, well, Josh did, but anyway, I had someone take a look at him out at St Dominic's and he really has to go back into hospital…. Yes. Can you tell Leo? …we're on our way to GW now… no, he's fine, but he needs more treatment… it's his lungs, Jed. Poor kid's congested up to his eyeballs… yes, solid as a rock. You're going to have to do without him for a few more days… okay, Pumpkin, see you later." She snapped the phone shut and glanced reassuringly at Sam, "Why don't you call Josh?"
* * *
Josh was waiting in the foyer, and leapt to his feet as the usual commotion of agents poured in, "Evening, Mr Lyman." Abby and Sam followed close behind, Sam looking a picture of dejection, head down, so Abby spotted him first,
Sam's head lifted in surprise, a relieved grin relaxing his features, "Hey!"
Josh came close to Sam's side and the three moved through the foyer, agents forward and back. Abby came to a stop at reception, "I need a wheelchair for this man." The surprised attendant leapt to his feet and stumbled across to a side room, re-emerging with a wheelchair.
Sam took a step backwards, "No!"
Abby nudged the chair towards him, "Yes. Sit."
Josh placed a hand on his back, "I'd do as she says, dude. It could get ugly." Sam snorted but stepped up and slumped into the chair, covering his eyes with embarrassment. Abby pointed,
"Josh, you can drive." Josh took hold of the handles and began to push Sam towards the corridor. He leaned forward and put his mouth near Sam's ear, "I think we can safely say, I am in control right now!" It was an old joke between them. Sam snorted again, but didn't take his hand off his eyes. As they reached the elevator, Josh rested a hand on Sam's head.
Abby glanced at him, "How was your day, Josh?"
"It was busy, ma'am. My boss, - perhaps you could have a word with him?!" Josh's hand absently caressed Sam's head.
Abby smiled warmly, enjoying the obvious closeness between the two men, "I'll see what I can do, Joshua."
* * *
An hour later, Abby had left and Sam was esconced in a private room, IV in place, oxygen line back in his nostrils. He leaned against the raised pillows and gazed sadly at Josh, "I'm sorry, about all this."
Josh sat down on the edge of the bed and took hold of Sam's hand, "I'm sorry I didn't realise you were so sick. I thought you were just – you know, slow getting over it."
"Me too." They exchanged rueful smiles.
"I did think it was taking a while. Have to admit, I was getting a little frustrated."
Sam blushed, staring at their entwined hands. Josh squeezed his hand tightly.
"Hey, it's okay, I just can't believe you're back in here." He paused, waited for Sam to look up at him, "Wanna hug?"
* * *
Sam hit 'save' and leaned back into the pillows for a moment. He had been in hospital for forty-eight hours and the treatment prescribed by Tim Woods was just beginning to take effect, the awful congestion of his lungs starting to shift. Powerful antibiotics and three sessions of physiotherapy had left him reeling, relieved to hole up in bed, even if it was a hospital bed.
It was just after ten p.m. and he knew Josh would be in to see him sometime soon. He was working on a piece for Toby, happy to have something to do. Suddenly weary, Sam laid the laptop carefully on the bedside cabinet and settled his glasses on top.
He felt a movement in his chest as he leaned over and began to cough; something appeared to move inside his lungs and, horrified, Sam felt himself choking as cough after cough brought up awful globs of phlegm. He grabbed a small bowl from the other side of the bed, shuddering with revulsion at the thought of what was coming out of his lungs. He was struggling to breathe as the foul mucus filled his airways, and he reached desperately for the call button, tucked on a long cord under his pillow.
Still coughing into the bowl, Sam dropped the button. It swung down behind the bed, and in his panic he unthinkingly rolled over and reached down for it, feeling the sudden sharp sting as the IV popped out of his arm.
"Ow!" Sam sat up, gasping and coughing, to see blood spreading redly down his arm. "Oh God!" He clamped his hand over the IV wound, the bowl spinning to the floor; the movement added to his breathing distress. Sam coughed and coughed, trying once more to retrieve the call-button, his right hand clamped to his left arm, blood seeping out between his knuckles.
At that moment, Josh turned into Sam's room, laughing over his shoulder about something. The nurse was right behind him and she gasped. Josh turned to see Sam twisted in a spiral of bedding, blood everywhere, a bowl and contents strewn across the floor, Sam coughing and gasping in panic.
"Sam!" The nurse ran to the head of the bed and hit the call button on the control panel. She grabbed a sterile bandage from the tray by the bed and tore it open, efficiently removing Sam's bloodied hand and pressing the dressing over and around his arm. At the same time, she eased him into a sitting position, leaning forward. Sam was still gasping and coughing.
She glanced back at Josh, her arm wrapped around Sam's shoulders, "Find me another bowl or a towel, and tell the desk we need a doctor in here." Josh closed his mouth and backed out, before running for the nurses' station.
Twenty-five minutes later, everyone cleared out and there was just Josh. And Sam. Sam had been washed and clothed in clean pyjamas, his bed was changed, the floor cleaned, the IV inserted in his other arm, the call button pinned to the crisp sheet, the nasal cannula reinserted. And Sam, pale and shocky and frightened, Sam stared at Josh, blinking, a picture of misery. Josh walked over and sat up on the bed, close to Sam.
"I'm scared to hold you."
"I won't break."
"You look like you could shatter into a thousand pieces."
"I was choking. It was like I was drowning. And it's only just starting." Sam shuddered visibly, and Josh suddenly realised Sam wouldn't break if he held him - so he did.
Sam sighed into Josh's shoulder, "I was writing a thing for Toby."
"The report from the UN Population Division."
"That sounds incredibly dull."
"No, honestly, world population is spiralling downward. Projections for 2010 have dropped by a billion." He coughed, rattling loudly against Josh.
"Hey, you geek, how about you keep quiet, let me do the talking." Sam's arms snaked around Josh's waist and he leaned a tired head on Josh's shoulder,
"Okay," he whispered, "Tell me about your day."
* * *
Late Saturday morning and CJ stood at the door, surveying the scene before her. Toby was pacing, numbering off points on his hand, dressed in his casual work clothes, a dark plaid shirt and brown cords. Sam, still attached to the IV and oxygen, was wearing an old t-shirt instead of the standard hospital gown, the fading orange 'Princeton' across his chest giving the impression he was on the couch at home instead of incarcerated, as he put it, in hospital. He was making notes, glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose.
As she watched, he pushed his glasses back up and heaved a sigh,
"You could try the Mason Attachment."
"Yes!" Toby snapped his fingers, "Good idea. Write that down."
CJ rolled his eyes and tapped on the doorframe. Both heads turned towards her, and Sam's face lit up with a huge grin.
"Ceej!" He took off his glasses and stretched out a welcoming hand. CJ came up to the bed and the two embraced, then she sat back on the edge.
"Let me look at you."
Sam ran a hand through his hair, "Can't imagine I look so good right now."
"You look tired."
"Ever tried sleeping in a hospital?"
"I can't say that I have." She swung her glance around to Toby, now leaning against the wall, arms folded. "Why are you making him work?"
Toby stared back, "He's bored. You want his brain to turn to mush?"
Sam reached out and clasped her hand, "Ceej, I asked him to come, it takes my mind off being in here. Otherwise, I'd be climbing the walls."
"Okay." CJ flashed Toby an apologetic smile. "So, are you feeling any better?"
"Oh, I am. I – oops!" He stopped as a coughing fit took over. Toby was by his side in an instant, with bowl and towel, and CJ watched, stunned, as Sam coughed up the apparent contents of his lungs, coughed so much that he retched painfully, Toby holding the bowl and rubbing his back at the same time. CJ picked up the towel and held it out to Sam as the heaves diminished, then she collected a damp flannel from the basin and passed that over. Toby caught her eye,
"You catch on fast."
"Well, Toby, look at you, I'm stunned. I can see a whole new side of you."
"Shut up!" He leaned Sam back into the pillows and took the bowl over to the basin. CJ sat back down on the bed, and picked up Sam's limp hand.
"You poor old thing. When do you think you'll get out of here?"
Sam shrugged wanly, "Soon, I hope." After a minute, CJ leaned forward and kissed his damp forehead,
"I should head back, we're frantic – you need anything?"
"No, but thanks. Come again?"
"'Course I will, Spanky."
Toby picked up his pacing as CJ slipped out the door and the last snippet of conversation drifted down the corridor,
"How do we access that publication?"
"You need to get over to the Congressional Library…"
* * *
Josh leaned in close, sitting right by Sam, as Dr Woods checked Sam out, finally pocketing his stethoscope and sitting down on the other side of Sam. He stared at Josh for a minute before shifting his gaze to Sam. Who raised an eyebrow,
"Well, this is cosy. Could you two get any closer?"
Tim Woods chuckled, "You want the verdict now or d'you want me to go out and write up my two page report first?"
"Verdict, please." Beneath the loose bedcover, Sam and Josh entwined fingers nervously.
"Well, it's Monday night. You've been here six days. That's quite a stay in my department, for a generally fit and healthy person. How do you feel?"
"After six days here? I'm going out of my mind – I mean, I can't use a proper computer, I have no printer, I can't go outside.-"
"Sam, I think he means how d'you feel physically, right?"
"Yeah, but I'm getting used to the Sam Seaborn raves. They're becoming classics in the coffee lounge!"
Sam's mouth dropped open.
Anyway," he continued, as Sam's mouth settled into a quiet pout, "about you, Sam, how are you feeling physically?"
"I'm feeling fine."
"Oh God!" Josh stood up and paced to the window, "Tell him the truth!"
Sam looked wounded now, on top of the pouting, and he stared down at the crisp, white sheet folded across his lap, "I feel, well, I feel better. My chest doesn't burn any more, I can take a breath without fear of spontaneous combustion. I'm still a little nervous though."
"In what way?"
"I feel like I'm going to be even more unfit than before. I won't be able to do anything. What if CJ is heading off down some corridor and says, 'Walk with me, Sam.' Or we have to go out with the President – I won't be able to keep up."
"Sam, you weren't unfit last time, you were ill. This time, yeah, you'll be struggling for a few weeks, but every day you'll see an improvement. It'll be different this time."
"So I can go home?"
"Yeah, why not!"
* * *
Leo was fuming as he slammed down the telephone. "I can't believe they're doing this to us! Damn them all to hell!"
Toby leaned on the doorjamb, "What are who doing to us?"
"The Hunter Initiative Group."
"I hate those people," Josh leaned back on Leo's couch, "They always cause us grief – the Arts Centre debacle, the Medical Loan thing – what is it now?"
"Ethical issues in human gene therapy."
"You're kidding." Toby folded his arms. "When are they coming?"
"Yeah, today! I have to meet with them. It was only by chance that I got that call from Twose giving me the heads-up. Toby, help me out here. What the hell can I say if they do raise it?"
"What do you know about bioethics?"
"Zip. I mean, who the hell does around here?"
"SAM!" chorused Toby and Josh simultaneously. Toby rolled his eyes.
"What does Sam know about it?"
"He knows stuff like that anyway, but he went to those seminars with Dr Bartlet. I know one was about the gene therapy thing because he raved about it afterwards. It's probably why they're bringing it up – it was in the newspaper."
"Is he- where is he now?"
"No!" Josh stood up.
"He's at home?"
"No! Well, yes, he was discharged last night but-"
"Toby, c'mon, you saw him. He's exhausted. He just spent six days on IV, he's had physiotherapy three times a day." Josh paced frantically, "The last four days he's been coughing up all that disgusting stuff, he- he-"
Leo stood up and walked over to Josh, "It's okay, son, we won't use him if he's not up to it."
Josh frowned back at him, suddenly stilled by Leo's closeness, "How long's the meeting?"
"Coupla hours tops. And they may not raise it."
Josh glanced at Toby, who rubbed his forehead, "He's bored, you know that. Could he come in, do the meeting, go home?"
Josh ran a tired hand through his unruly hair, "Sorry, Leo, I'm tired too, I'll ask him." Josh flipped out his cell and pressed the speed dial.
"Sam Seaborn." Damn, Sam sounded sexy when he was half asleep. Josh felt himself flush and turned his back on the other two men.
"Sam, how're you doing?"
"I'd gone back to sleep."
"What do you know about gene therapy?"
"Some." Sam must have sat up, as he began to cough. Josh waited.
"Think you could help Leo out in a meeting?"
"What time is it now"
"Six-thirty. It's the Hunter Initiative."
"We need to take them down!"
"You up for it – just sit in with Leo, help him out if it comes up?"
"I guess. I'll need some details, some time on the 'net."
"I'll pick you up at, I dunno, ten-thirty?"
Sam hung up the phone and leaned back against the bed head. He was keen to go into work, despite Dr Woods' insistence that he take things slowly. He had sensed Josh's reluctance in their brief call, and smiled; Josh had been surprisingly attentive after collecting him from the hospital after work. He had walked close beside Sam all the way to the car, opening doors and carrying his laptop and the books he had amassed during his stay.
Back home, Josh had cleared a space on the couch, "Sorry about the mess, I hadn't really realised how hard you work to keep it so neat."
"How did you think it got done?" Sam grinned at Josh indulgently, his eyes starting to droop with fatigue.
"Don't get settled there – bed for you! And hey, I did make the bed! You want anything to eat?"
Sam shook his head, and let Josh pull him to his feet.
Later, Josh climbed in beside Sam, who reached out for him sleepily.
Josh snaked in close to Sam's warm body, rested his head on Sam's outstretched arm and laid a hand flat across his bare chest. Sam's breath hitched for a moment then settled down, Josh's hand a welcome heaviness on his rib cage. Josh splayed his fingers wide, flexing them across the warm skin.
"I missed you, " he whispered.
Sam turned and looked closely at him, their eyes barely six inches apart. His dark lashes flickered against his cheeks.
"I missed you too. Terribly."
Josh's hand slowly slithered down and settled on Sam's stomach and this time Sam's body responded completely, his muscles contracting and tightening, his breath hissing inwards. He closed his eyes and Josh felt Sam quiver all over. He let his hand slide back and forth above Sam's navel, knowing full well that Sam needed to sleep but enjoying the powerful responsiveness of Sam's amazing body.
Reluctantly, he wrapped his arm around Sam's waist and nuzzled in close to his chest,
"C'mon, buddy, sleep."
Sam tried a defiant grumble but he really was too tired to argue. Together for the first time in a week, they slept, entwined.
* * *
Sam and Josh entered the West Wing at a cautious pace, just after ten-thirty. They had weathered the initial desperate coughing fit as Sam hit the crisp, morning air for the first time, and the second during a traffic snarl-up when Josh seriously considered turning the car around and heading directly to the ER.
But now, Sam was safe in the West Wing and they made their way to the Bullpen. Ginger jumped up and hugged Sam warmly before pointing them towards Toby's office. CJ was in there, feet up on the couch. She saw them and leapt up,
"Spanky! Let me look at you!" She took hold of his shoulders and held him at arm's length, "You're terribly pale. And I think you've lost weight." She frowned, "Are you sure you're up for this?"
Sam raised one eyebrow, "I thought you were never wearing pink again."
CJ looked down, "Damn!" Then she looked back to Sam, "Don't let them push you round. If you feel bad, say so. Right?"
"I'll be fine."
"Okay then." She swung round to Toby, "I'll finish that thing with you later."
"Ooh!" Josh bounced on the balls of his feet, "You two have a thing."
"Shut up, Josh." Toby.
"An unfinished thing!"
"SHUT UP, Josh!" CJ
"No, but, I mean, want to share? Sam and I can keep a secret."
Sam swung round to him, "You so can not."
"And that's why we're not sharing." CJ patted Sam's shoulder, then seemed to shake herself, "Oh, what the hell-" and pulled him into a quick hug, whispering, "Good to have you back, Spanky." Then she was gone, and Josh followed her out.
Toby was watching Sam. Sam straightened his jacket and stood in the middle of the office, looking a little lost. He seemed suddenly young and Toby wondered how he felt after a week away, an awful week of physical strain. And it showed. Sam was pale, CJ had been right about that. He had dark rings under his eyes and he looked tense, nervous.
"You want a coffee?"
"Huh? Coffee – yeah, that'd be nice."
"Sit down, Sam. I’ll get it." He waited until that instruction sank in, and wondered if they should have just left him in bed. Sam sat there and stared around Toby's office. Was it really a whole week since Toby had sent him off with Mrs Bartlet? Shaking himself, he began to run over the ideas covered in the seminar and the likely position they would lean towards faced with any sort of arguments from the visitors.
Twenty minutes later he walked beside Leo towards the meeting room. Leo had deliberately slowed his pace and Sam was able to maintain his dignity, arriving somewhat breathless all the same.
The first hour was easy for Sam – he just had to listen as Leo thrashed out budgeting strategies for health reform. He coughed several times, gaining sympathetic glances from the two women in the group. However, at quarter past twelve, the leader, Hayes, turned a page and eyed Leo intently,
"We would like to discuss the possibility of your involvement in legislation covering the limiting of gene therapy. What plans are being made to ensure our unborn children are safe from this type of inhumane behaviour?"
Sam cleared his throat, "I think we need to discuss the accusations and loaded language in that question," and all eyes turned on him in surprise…
* * *
"Donna!! What time is it?"
"Eleven-fifteen. Did you read that memo?"
"Yes, yes. Are you sure that's the right time?"
"I need a reply to the memo."
"All right, all right, don't nag."
"Donna!! What time is it?"
"Eleven-forty. Do you have that reply ready?"
"I did it ages ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I – uh- "
"He'll be fine, Josh."
"He doesn't always say."
"Leo will look after him."
"You have a meeting."
"You have to. Darren Phaler is in the foyer."
"Good alliteration, good assonance."
"Are you ready or are we having English 101 first?"
"What time is it?"
"Twelve-fifteen. What d'you want for lunch – a sandwich?"
"Yeah, yeah, and I've been ready for Phaler since last Wednesday. But can we put him off?"
"No. I'm going to get him now." She paused, compassion overriding business for a moment, "Josh, the minute he's out, I'll let you know."
"He's so tired."
"I know. You are too."
Josh covered his face with his hands, and Donna moved closer, touching his shoulder, "Josh-"
"Yeah?" He dragged his fingers down his face and looked up at her.
"He's going to be fine now. It'll just take time."
"What if he isn't?"
"Isn't – fine? They wouldn't have released him – you said so yourself. So, you and Phaler, you want me to get coffee?"
"Yeah." He heaved a sigh, "Bring him in."
* * *
Leo sat back with a satisfied sigh as Margaret ushered the visitors out. The meeting had been a stunning success from his point of view, and Sam jumping in on the gene therapy issue had been outstanding, taking the group completely by surprise.
He looked at the Deputy Communications Director. He was sitting absolutely still, staring at the table. As Leo watched, his eyes began to droop then flicked open, and Leo realised he was all in.
Margaret slipped back into the room, "Well, they weren't too happy!"
Leo grinned widely, "No! Margaret, can you collect up all these papers? I'm gonna take Sam back to Toby's office." Sam's eyes had closed and Leo placed a firm hand on his shoulder, "Sam!" His eyes flew open, "Let's go, eh?"
"Yeah." Sam took off his glasses and dropped them into his pocket. Leo stood up and waited for Sam,
"You're gonna have to stand up if we wanna get out of here."
Sam looked up at him, blinking, "Oh, right." He pulled himself to his feet, swaying a little. Leo took him by the arm and steered him out of the meeting room and down the hallway. He stopped halfway along, noticing Sam was panting slightly.
"You okay there, kid? We'll just rest a minute. Catch your breath." Sam leaned against the wall. "You did great in there, Sam." He watched a shy smile flicker briefly across Sam's pale features. "Shall we get going?" They made their way slowly to Toby's office, Ginger following them in.
"Ginger, take care of Sam, will ya? He might need to lie down for a while. Where's Toby?"
"In the Conference Room. He'll be back shortly."
They turned as Sam coughed loudly. "You right there, Sam?"
"Okay, thanks, Sam. You get some rest now." He left.
Ginger slipped Sam's jacket off and eased him down onto the couch, "Lie down, Sam."
"Where's Josh?" Sam's words were slightly slurred.
"I'll find out, you have a rest."
"Yeah. I am a little tired." He lay down and was instantly asleep.
* * *
Sam took the last stretch of path slowly, panting heavily, feeling the sweat trickle down his back. He shook the tails of his jacket, letting the cool air circulate up underneath.
"Sam, c'mon, I'm there!"
Sam looked up, Josh was sitting down on the highest point of the hill, grinning widely. Too puffed to answer, Sam picked up the pace and finally flopped down on his stomach next to Josh, his chest heaving. After a couple of minutes, he rolled over and turned his face towards the pale spring sun, arms outstretched, waiting for his breathing rate to slow down.
Josh waited too. Finally Sam sat up and the two of them gazed out across the myriad of rich greens spread out before them, a tablecloth of vibrant spring colours. They were high above the treetops of the parkland, and could see the dark curve of the river snaking between the low hillocks.
Finally, Sam turned sparkling sapphire eyes towards Josh,
"I made it!"
"Right to the top."
"I didn't stop – well, not much."
Sam frowned. Josh wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulders and waited for an answer.
"Yeah, I do. Well, tired, but a good kind of tired." He leaned into Josh.
After a moment, Josh pushed Sam back down flat on the grass and sat on top of him, grinning wickedly down at his surprised face. "How tired?"
Sam looked up at his amazing partner and thought about the last few weeks, how patient Josh had been as he slowly clawed his way back to good health, and he smiled a wide, gentle smile, "No, I'm not so tired!" He put his hands up and around the back of Josh's neck and drew him close – "I feel …very, very fine indeed."
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