Category: Drama ESF
Characters: Sam, Josh, Toby etc
Series/Sequel: Sequel to Breathless, fourth in Sam 'breathing' series
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron Sorkin etc
Summary: Sam meets with trouble in Maine – angry lawyers, a rain storm and an asthma attack make for a difficult couple of days in New England
Notes: Fourth in Sam breathing stories
Fallout by Jen
LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON - MAINE
"Look, a diner! Hallelujah." Josh swung the car across the highway and pulled into the carpark. "I need coffee." He eased himself out of the car as Sam clambered stiffly out of the passenger side.
"You should let me drive."
Sam chose a booth by the window, the valley spreading magnificently before them in the late afternoon sunlight.
"Josh, I just can't believe Leo gave us a whole twenty-four hours."
"You've said that, like, seven times now. And it wasn't hard, I mean – face it, no-one wanted you to work this weekend."
"Huh? Whaddya mean?"
Josh eyed his partner carefully. Sam appeared upbeat, cheerful, but he was struggling and Josh knew it. Now three weeks out of the hospital, Sam was still pale, and appeared less robust than normal. Only Josh had known at first how exhausted Sam was every night, still battling a latent cough and occasional spikes of fever. But this last week, they'd all had to work long and late, securing a vote for the Justice Bill, as well as preparing for meetings in New Hampshire, and the Senior Staff had all seen first hand how hard Sam had been hit by his most recent chest infection.
"Face it, Sam, you're still not a hundred per cent, and after what's gone down this week - well, you need a break."
"But we've ALL been working around the clock…"
"Yeah, but the rest of us are not doing walking imitations of the ghost of –" he waved a vague hand, "I dunno - Green Gables. Oh, don't pout like that, take a look in the mirror."
Sam stared at his hands, knotted together on the table, "I haven't even been able to go to the gym."
Josh put one hand over both of Sam's, "Look, I've watched you stagger home shattered every night, and crawl reluctantly out of bed every morning. Maybe I need a break too, from worrying about you."
Sam's head came up and the earnest blue eyes bore into Josh's light brown ones, "You've been worrying?"
"You were sick, you lost weight, you were in hospital more than once, and I'm not sure it's over yet. 'Course I've been worrying!"
Sam dragged his eyes away to stare out the window, "I just – I don't feel so – I mean, it's not like I'm Superman or anything, but I don't feel as powerful as usual. Ever since Nebraska I've felt kind of – " he glanced shyly back at Josh, "kind of weak - " he looked down, embarrassed, " - fragile."
"Maybe you're being impatient. Give it a little more time."
"That's just what Toby said."
"You're kidding! Our Toby? Really? When?"
"Must have been Wednesday…"
WEDNESDAY NIGHT – TOBY'S OFFICE
"We need a stronger line at the start of that section."
"What've you got now?"
Sam pushed his glasses into place and read back the line. Then he yawned, "Excuse me!"
"I think the line's all right."
"But it's the start of a paragraph."
"Not everyone's going to know that."
"I'll know that. You'll know that. The President'll know that."
"The teleprompter operator'll know that, Ed and Larry-"
Yeah, but – " he yawned again, "don't you think we could come up with a better line?" Sam wiped at his eyes, running a finger under his glasses.
"I do, yes, but we have other whole paragraphs to write yet."
"Okay, okay, I'm just saying – "
"Right." Sam took his glasses right off and scrubbed a hand over his face.
"Huh? No, I'm good. Just need some coffee or something."
"Get this section done and I'll personally get you a coffee."
Sam's eyes widened, "You're on!" and he resettled his glasses before bending over his laptop, fingers flying. Toby frowned at the top of his Deputy's head. He wasn't used to Sam being wiped out at ten o'clock at night.
"Mmm?" he stopped typing and peered over his glasses.
"Maybe you should give yourself a bit more time."
"To feel better."
"Oh. Yeah. Maybe."
Everything was quiet for over half an hour, the only sounds Sam's typing and yawning, and Toby turning pages quietly. He looked up as the typing slowed then stopped,
"Huh?" Sam's head jerked upwards.
"How far did you get?"
"I think it's done," he blinked slowly at the screen. "Might have to run it by Josh."
"He's coming over after his dinner with Ellis."
"Can't see you lasting that long."
Sam leaned back on the couch, pulling off his glasses and dangling them from a limp hand. He closed his eyes, "I'm a little tired maybe."
"You're no use to me like this."
"No, I'm okay."
"Yeah, right." Toby glanced back at his report, highlighting one more passage before looking back towards Sam – he was already asleep, sprawled on the couch. Toby stood up, sighing, and approached him, gently extracting the glasses from Sam's right hand.
Josh arrived thirty minutes later. Toby had taken Sam's laptop into the Bullpen to connect it to the printer.
"Toby!" Josh stood there, overcoat flapping, his cheeks red with cold, grinning widely, "That went so well! I think I've secured another three."
"Three is good. We had the names right?"
"Yeah. Uh, where's Sam?"
"What – he went home?"
"No, he's on my couch." Josh looked into Toby's office – Sam was still sprawled loosely on the couch, an arm wrapped around his chest in a now familiar pose. Josh had quizzed him several times as to whether his chest hurt or bothered him, that he slept like that now, but Sam had merely shrugged.
Josh came back over to Toby and waved a hand at the printer now spewing out pages,
"Is it done?"
"First draft, Sections One and Two. Sam finished up that last bit tonight. What's with him anyway?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Oh, c'mon, Josh, this is Sam, the star all-nighter. He's out like a light and it's not even close to midnight."
Josh dropped into a chair, "He's been like that ever since the hospital. Every night. Totally zonked. He falls asleep on the couch and then I wake him up and he literally stumbles into the bedroom."
"You go back to the doctor?"
"Abby admitted him."
"I'd even consider talking to her but she's away."
"Till the weekend."
"I need him. Tonight."
"I know." There was a lengthy silence, neither man wanting the job.
"I'll go get us some coffee."
Josh rolled his eyes, "Gee, thanks. Hey, I'll go wake up Sam then."
* * *
It was nearly a quarter to two. Sam was typing up pages of notes, a combined effort from the three of them. Josh was sitting on the floor, sipping a beer amidst the pile of law books and reference texts that Sam had accumulated during their brain-storming session. Toby was pacing behind Sam, a beer in hand, contributing the odd phrase and picking on Sam's punctuation as usual,
"Sam, what's the point of using a semi-colon there?"
"It's to encourage a pause."
"Use a period then."
"That would impede the flow of the whole sentence."
"Make two sentences."
"One is better."
"Not with a semi-colon in it."
"A semi-colon is perfect there."
"It's ridiculous. This is a presentation."
"All the more reason to get it right."
"Semi-colons are just not appropriate –"
"May I quote Walden on semi-colons?"
"No, you may not! Put in a period."
"But – "
"Sam – "
"I just – "
"Can – "
"Guys – " Josh interrupted what appeared to be a ridiculous conversation. Two sets of flashing eyes turned to him. "Can we just – it's like, like – "he glanced at his watch, "five past one."
"Josh, " Sam never even looked at his watch, "it's closer to two."
"Really? Damn this watch!"
"Get a new one."
"I like this one."
"I have people who tell me the time."
Toby rolled his eyes, drawn into the conversation despite himself, "People? What people?"
Josh stared back for a beat, "Time people."
"Oh God! Can we wrap this up?"
"I'm nearly done."
"Shut up then and get on with it."
Sam stared at him, his eyes huge behind his glasses, hair hanging untidily, his tie loosened, his entire exhaustion clearly evident, and pressed his lips together for a moment.
"I'm doing it," he muttered, focusing on his screen. "Just let me get on with it."
Toby dropped into a chair and leaned his head back, and Josh leaned against the wall. Bang on two a.m. Sam hit 'save' for the last time and stretched. "It's done."
The other two yawned simultaneously, before Josh clambered to his feet, "Yes! I'll get my backpack."
Sam leaned back in his chair and stared at the screen. He was totally spent.
"Sam." Toby stood up and shrugged on his jacket and coat. "Sam!" He walked over and laid a hand on Sam's shoulder, and the younger man jerked in surprise,
"Get up, go home. We have to be back here in four hours."
* * *
FRIDAY EVENING - MAINE
They left the diner as dusk cloaked the valley, the late sun catching the tips of the mighty pines overhead like golden flames on birthday candles.
"Want me to drive?"
"Nah, I need you to navigate."
"You still haven’t said where we're going."
"I have a brochure somewhere –" Josh patted his pockets, finally producing a dog-eared pamphlet, "It's a cabin style holiday place."
"Aww!" Sam gazed at Josh, melting, "You'd stay in the Park for me?"
"I knew you'd like it."
"That explains the groceries."
"Not much gets past you."
Josh began to drive. Sam swivelled around so he could watch the road and Josh at the same time, "This is sort of an adventure really."
"It so isn't."
"No, c'mon, it's like we could be pioneers - "
"In a Mazda rental."
"It's a Holden."
"Anyway, we could be, you know, heading out on unknown roads to-"
"Who built the roads?"
"Josh, you're ruining this."
"Anyway, I remember this trip we went on when I was little…"
Josh tuned out the details, content enough to just hear Sam's soft voice chatting beside him. Maybe a day out like this would be the answer to getting Sam on the road to recovery. Josh certainly didn't want another day like yesterday. He frowned.
THURSDAY MORNING – D.C.
Sam tossed Josh the car keys, "You drive."
"You never let me drive."
"Well, congratulations, today is your lucky day."
"Oh, c'mon, every day for –"
"Can we just GO??" He'd slammed the door and slumped in the passenger's seat, dragging on the seatbelt with a petulant air. Josh had carefully backed out of the parking space and onto the road. They were both suffering from lack of sleep, snatching barely three hours. After a couple of minutes, Sam's hand brushed Josh's thigh apologetically, as he cleared his throat,
"I – I have a headache."
"Why didn't you just say so? Is it a bad one? Did you take something?"
"Yeah." He gave a huge sigh.
"You sure you wanna go to work?"
"You do know what we've got today?"
"True. Well, take it easy."
They both snorted at that.
Directly after Staff, Toby and a very pale Sam had shut themselves away to work on Section Four of the Bill. They had battled with it for an hour and a half when Toby sat back and almost smiled.
"I think we've done it. As much as we can at this stage."
Sam leaned back against the back of the couch and closed his eyes, "I'm sorry - about before, I – I have a really sore head."
Toby waved him off, "There's nothing to apologise for, you just didn't see where I was coming from."
"Yes, but –"
"Neither of us had enough sleep and you didn't look so hot when you arrived in here."
"Yeah, well, it's really warm in here now."
"It is?" Toby shrugged. "We've got Corrin in twenty-five minutes, let's get some coffee." They traipsed down to the Mess. "You want something to eat?"
Sam's stomach flip-flopped, "Ah, no thanks." Toby grabbed a couple of sandwiches and they found a quiet corner. After only one sip, Sam loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves, "Man, it's hot in here."
Toby frowned slightly, "It really isn't. You leave your internal thermometer at home?"
Sam snorted. He dug the aspirin bottle out of his pants pocket and took three with a gulp of coffee.
"Still got that headache?"
"It'll go after the next meeting."
"It's going to be tricky – we need to convince this guy to go away."
"How is it that one congressman can cause us so many hassles?"
"The power of one? I really don't know. But I hope you're ready for a battle."
They gathered in one of the small conference rooms, Toby and Sam, and Larry, on one side of the table, Phil Corrin, Congressman, and his party of five on the other. Corrin was an average-sized man of average build, with anything but an average-sized attitude towards Bartlet and his administration. He was also against American's involvement in overseas interventions, and was fast becoming a voice to listen to in the media. Today's meeting had been called by Toby, desperate to overcome Corrin on the issue of the US-Baltic Charter and it's subsequent support programmes…
Twenty minutes into the meeting and Toby was growing irritated as Corrin continued to thrash the Charter,
"Why Estonia? Latvia? Lithuania? We need to channel more funds into our schools, our own people here at home, our own defence, our own strategies. Let the Europeans look after the Baltic States, not us."
Toby sighed, "The US supports full integration of the Baltic States."
"Yeah, and I don’t see why."
"It's bringing them into Trans Atlantic structures as well as European ones. And it's establishing principles for co-operation-"
"Why should WE have to be there though?"
Toby gritted his teeth, "We were at this spot ten minutes ago."
Sam pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, surprised at the heat there, and cleared his throat, "America has always had a profound interest in the security and independence of these countries. Who are we to abandon nations which have struggled for so long for independence?"
"Oh, c'mon, Sam, doesn't that sound a little trite?"
"No, I don't think so…" As he continued talking, Sam unconsciously loosened his tie and top button, feeling vaguely swollen and shivery. "It's a genuine agreement, the whole Commission of Partnership was set up with the most positive of intentions." He coughed and gratefully accepted a glass of water from Larry. Phil Corrin frowned at Sam then turned his attention back to Toby,
"I don't even see why we have to maintain the North Eastern Initiative – can't we leave it to these countries to get –"
"The NEI is one of the most positive moves we've ever made, for that very reason." Toby was clearly cross now.
"We can use that money here."
"It's not a money issue." Toby's voice had risen and he thumped back in his chair. Sam leaned forward, glancing at Toby,
"Can I carry on?"
"Why not? I can't think of another sensible thing to contribute to this meeting."
Sam looked across at the tense Congressman, "Phil, there's been so much good that's come out of this. The Partnership for Peace Programme –"
"What about defence, Sam? What about the weapons we've fed into that country? There's been substantial movement of military equipment and armaments."
"Sure, but we've also been a great provider of training."
But Corrin wasn't ready to let up yet. As his questions rapped out across the table, Sam watched Phil's head wavering like a mirage. He stared open-mouthed. Corrin broke off, "What?"
Sam shook his head and tried to focus. "Phil, we have – we have a long term modernisation plan – it's – " he was panting hotly and ran an hand through his hair, "It's to strengthen self-abil… abil- ability," he gasped. Toby stared at him. Sam's cheeks no longer bore the pallor of earlier; bright red patches highlighted his cheekbones and he appeared somewhat distressed. Still he attempted to carry on, "And - and increases their contribution to Euro – European stability." Larry was staring too, as was Corrin and his team. Sam blinked down at his arms. He was too hot. He began to roll up one sleeve, surprised at his shaking hand. "The US MLT in Estonia – " he broke off, feeling a wave of heat and nausea, "gotta – " He pushed back his chair, feeling choked and claustrophobic.
"Sam?" Toby seemed to be spinning around.
"Toby, sit still. Making me dizzy." He stood up, and staggered behind Toby's chair, still trying to talk, "You see, you see what I'm getting at, Phil? It's three nations of people, three countries, cultures…" Sam waved a hand in the air then stopped, staring at his own hand, which blurred as it moved, "Oh!"
"Sam." Toby had swivelled in his chair to look at his Deputy, who was swaying a little, panting, a hand now pressed to his forehead. Phil Corrin could also see something was really wrong. He stood up and rounded the table, taking Sam by the upper arm and helping him to sit down. He wrapped his other hand around Sam's forehead,
"He's burning, he's got a fever. Has he been sick?"
Ginger had just come into the room with a message for Toby, "We thought he was better. What should we do?"
"Get the duty doctor in here. And get some wet cloths or towels or something." He sat down and let Sam lean against him. Larry pulled out a folded handkerchief and plunged it into the water jug, wringing it out before handing it to Corrin. "Thanks."
Sam now seemed only vaguely aware of what was going on and Toby felt oddly helpless. "Larry, go see what Josh is doing, and if he's in a meeting, get Donna to page him – see if he knows more than we do."
Corrin pressed the cold handkerchief against Sam's hot face, and Sam sighed quietly with pleasure, relaxing into the Congressman's hold as the politician kept up a constant patter, "It's okay, Sam. You're doing fine, you've just got a bit of a fever, just relax…"
Toby raised an eyebrow, "You've obviously done this before."
"One of my kids was sick just last week. Didn't feel this hot though. He's really burning up."
"Yeah, Sam doesn't do anything by halves."
"I guess I'm causing you guys some grief."
"Can't you see where I'm coming from though?"
"Yes, but these are global initiatives. We can't pull the plug on great things that are really making a difference. It's so much what we want to do."
Corrin looked up at his support team, "D'you want to get back, take my car? I'll catch you up back at the Hill." They all stood hesitantly.
"You don't have to stay."
"Just wanna see how he is." The team filed out the other door and Corrin handed Toby the handkerchief. "Can you dampen this again?"
Sam seemed to be almost asleep but the cool cloth brought a slight smile to his lips. Ginger arrived back with the doctor, a small, dark-haired woman in her forties. Ginger looked at Toby, "This is Dr Evans."
Toby stood up and shook her hand, "Toby Ziegler. This is Congressman Corrin, the only person in the room who knew what to do."
Corrin took one hand off Sam to greet the doctor, shrugging, "I have kids."
"Sam here – he's been feeling off-colour all morning but we didn't think anything of it, then during this meeting he just seemed to lose it, couldn't finish a sentence, told me to stop spinning around!"
"Has he been ill?"
"He was about three, four weeks back. He had a chest infection, he was in hospital."
"Any other symptoms?"
"He's been very tired. That's not like him."
The doctor took a thermometer out of her bag and sat down beside Sam and Phil. She pressed her fingers against Sam's forehead and grimaced, "Yes, he's hot, all right. Sam?" She cupped his cheek and his eyes fluttered open, "Hi, Sam, I'm Katie Evans and I'm a doctor. I'm just going to take your temperature, okay?"
Sam's blue eyes looked a little unfocused but he nodded. After a moment, Evans read off the temperature, "It's 104.2."
"Now what's he wearing – let's get that shirt and tie off, and perhaps his shoes, then we might get this temp down right now."
Toby's cell rang. "Toby, what happened?" It was Josh.
"Sam had this sudden fever."
"Damn, he spiked a couple of those last week, but only at night."
"Hang on." Toby relayed this to the doctor. Ginger came back in with a towel and some ice. Phil had taken off Sam's tie and shirt, leaving him in his white t-shirt, and Katie slipped off his shoes. She made a roll with some ice in the towel and wrapped it around Sam's neck. Toby told Josh he'd call him back. He paced up and down, finally dropping into a chair beside Corrin.
"Where did we get to, Phil?"
"I – guess I could back off a little, for now. It makes a difference, hearing what you and Sam had to say."
"We'd appreciate that a lot. Is there some other way we can help you?"
"Can I get back to you on that one?"
Corrin felt Sam shiver suddenly, "I think the ice is working."
"Good." Katie took Sam's temperature again. "It's down a wee bit already." She raised her voice, "Sam!" Through all of this Sam had been quiet but now he turned towards her and blinked. "D'you know what's happened here?"
Sam frowned and looked around the room, "Meeting over?"
Katie smiled at his confusion, "You spiked a fever, not for the first time, apparently. How're you feeling?"
Sam shuddered against Corrin, "Cold!"
"That's actually a good sign, but we'll take the ice away now. I want to give you some medicine to lower your temp even more. Could you swallow a couple of tablets?" She turned to Toby, "D'you know if he's taken anything else?"
"He took some aspirin at about nine. Three, I think."
"Oh. Well, this is better for fever, acetaminophen – Advil to you. And he needs plenty of fluids."
Ginger picked up the jug – "I'll get some fresh water."
* * *
Josh swung into the Bullpen at a quarter to twelve, waving to Bonnie. He could see right away that Sam's office was empty, so headed for Toby's. Sam was semi-reclined on the couch, reading, cocooned in his thick, navy-blue sailing sweater.
"Hey!" Josh dropped his back-pack at the door and walked in, shoving Sam's legs back so that he could sit down. He stared concernedly at his partner, who resignedly removed his glasses and tried to meet the stare head on.
"Hey, Josh." His voice was croaky, and after half a minute of staring, dropped his gaze. Josh laid a gentle hand on Sam's knee, "
"How's it going?"
Sam looked back up at him and gave a small smile, "Doing better, I guess."
"You planning on going sailing?" Josh fingered the hem of Sam's sweater, his dimples tweaking ever so slightly.
"I was cold. Toby fetched it from the trunk."
"Sam, why is this happening?"
"I don't know. I really don’t."
"What'd the doctor say?"
"Ten days antibiotics, in case I have an infection, lower respiratory or even throat or something. She said it depends on any other symptoms that develop." He turned down his mouth with distaste.
"Aw, I'm sorry. Where's Toby?"
Sam shifted restlessly, "Taking MY meeting with the Chilean Embassy. He should be back soon."
"What else've you got on today?"
"Bonnie's moved nearly everything to next week, except my briefing thing with CJ – I have to get her ready for tomorrow."
"Maybe you should miss this trip."
"What? No! I've prepared for ages for this."
"It's only one session."
"I know, but it's that issue…"
"Sam, it means travelling, you sure you're up for this?"
"Josh – I'll – look, I'll be all right. I'm sure." He swallowed awkwardly.
"Your throat is sore."
"I'm just dry. Quit it, will you?"
"Wanna get coffee?"
"Yeah." He put the papers aside and waited for Josh to move out of the way before swinging his legs around and standing up. "Whoa!" He sat down quickly. Josh whirled around,
"What?" He looked down at Sam, whose face had turned the colour of chalk. "Oh. O-kay. How about, I get the coffee, you stay here?" Sam closed his eyes, disappointed in himself. Josh ruffled his hair, "We'll beat this."
* * *
EARLY THURSDAY EVENING – CJ'S OFFICE
CJ rubbed her temples, "Sam, I think I have it."
"One more section."
He pressed his lips together for a moment, reminding CJ of nuns long ago in France…
"You need this."
"I can't take any more. Honestly, Samshine, I've had it up to here with the whole thing."
"One more section."
"Aren't you hungry?"
"I have water here. C'mon, Ceej," his tone was suddenly pleading, "Let's do this, please."
She looked carefully at him, "D'you have a headache?"
"There's no point lying to me, Sam, I have extraordinary powers of retribution." Sam's eyes widened behind his glasses. "And I know what happened this morning, with Corrin."
"I'm feeling a little sore." She stared. "All right, I feel like crap!"
"Sam, stop if you're not feeling well."
"Ceej, if I stopped work while I wasn't feeling well, I wouldn't have worked for the last month – " he broke off suddenly, his voice catching, and CJ watched him blink stubbornly at the coffee table. "Can we just finish this?"
"Sure." She watched him cautiously. They worked solidly for another twenty minutes, until Sam dropped his glasses on the table and leaned back with a sigh,
CJ patted his knee and fetched him a coffee. She sat down again and smiled delightedly at him, "I feel so ready for New England now."
"That's not the only battle tomorrow."
"Oh, you have that thing with the lawyers, right?"
"Yeah." Sam closed his eyes. CJ's hand was still warm on his knee.
"You look beat."
"I'm just tired. We didn't finish yesterday until two this morning." He yawned, wiping his eyes.
"Well, drink your coffee then go home, get some rest." CJ began making some notations on Sam's briefing notes and he happily rested there beside her, a companionable silence between them. The phone rang on CJ's desk, and after a lengthy conversation she turned back to find Sam had relaxed completely into the corner of the couch and fallen asleep. CJ felt her heart lurch at the unexpected vulnerability of Sam. He was so intense, so brilliant, so …impressive, and yet here he was curled up like a kid on her couch.
She leaned out the door, "Carol, come'n' have a look at this!" The two women stood there staring at him. CJ took the blanket from behind the couch and draped it gently over Sam's sleeping form. "No calls in here, okay?"
CJ sat down at her desk and worked in silence for half an hour before dialling Toby's extension, "I have a package for you!"
* * *
FRIDAY MORNING – AUGUSTA, MAINE
"HR525 is going to be passed, despite -"
"The last thing we needed was something that would divide us and this is dividing us – we have a split vote and the fallout is killing us."
"I know that, Chris, but –"
"How can you know that, Sam? You have no idea what the stress is like over this."
"I'm not claiming to be having your experiences but –"
"Why don't you just go back to DC then?"
"Mike, you asked us to come here."
"Not for the news you're bringing us now."
"I wasn't aware our visit was conditional to your happiness with the result of the Bill." The thirty-seven lawyers gathered in the small conference room were shifting and muttering, and Sam was feeling frustrated. He took what he hoped was a deep, calming breath and tried to continue, "This has been ratified by seventeen states and I'm hoping for more positive feedback throughout the north-east. Despite the proposals put –"
"Sa-am." And Sam was surprised at the sarcasm and cruelty they could fit into that one name, his name, and he rolled his eyes, sick to death of being the bearer of bad news to people. "Why don't you just go back to Washington and tell your people that these people don't want any part of it."
"I need you to come on board with this," Sam felt his irritation rise and suddenly felt it was time to assert his authority over the meeting. "It's going to pass anyway, and if you aren't involved you won't get to have your input at the appropriate times…." Sam stood up slowly and deliberately then, and spoke for ten minutes without a pause. He was convincing and thorough, and despite his mood, sparklingly upbeat. He paused for a drink of water, then continued, "I'm going to ask for your vote again, and if there's any way you can give us an affirmative response, I'll guarantee to get back to you with every step in the process, but if you cut out now – " Sam closed his notebook with a purposeful air and took another drink of water, desperately hoping his nervousness was invisible.
The Secretary finally organised another show of hands and this time it was affirmed by a small margin. The meeting broke up quickly. Sam slipped out the back to the bathroom. His insides were churning, turning somersaults. He leaned against the basin, breathing deeply. After a moment, he turned and ran the cold tap, splashing water over his hot face.
He heard someone else come in, but kept his face over the basin. As the other man came past him, Sam glimpsed a blue suit just as a knee came up hard into his stomach, then a shove sent him reeling into the wall. Sam crashed to the floor, the bathroom door swinging wildly behind his attacker.
Sam staggered to his feet and stumbled into the corridor – it was empty. He leaned against the wall and wrapped his arms around his stomach, slowly sliding to the floor. After thirty seconds he pulled out his cell and hit the speed dial.
* * *
Leo was sitting in the foyer with Toby when Sam came through the double doors. They both stood up at once and watched him cross the foyer. He was very pale, and Leo threw a concerned glance at Toby, who shrugged.
Leo put a hand on Sam's back, "C'mon, kid, we've got a room over here." He guided Sam across the lobby to a private parlour, Toby following close behind.
"Sit down, Sam." Leo eased Sam into a chair and sat close beside him, a hand on his shoulder. Sam leaned forward, elbows on knees, and buried his face in his hands, letting the fear take over for the first time. His shoulders shook slightly as his body registered the shock of the assault.
Toby leaned against the door, watching Leo and Sam. He was seething, rubbing a finger up and down the side of his face. Leo was experienced. Leo understood shock. Leo knew how to handle this. Toby had no idea what to do.
Leo gripped Sam's shoulder tightly, "Are you hurt, Sam?"
Sam slowly lowered his hands and turned his white face towards Leo, "N-no, not really." One hand moved instinctively towards his stomach. Leo's hand slid up to Sam's jacket collar,
"Take this off, son." He eased the jacket off then indicated Sam's shirt, "You'd better check yourself out." Sam's blue eyes looked into Leo's for a long moment, resolve melting into trust, and he sat back, pulling his shirt-front out of his pants and tugging up his white t-shirt. He revealed a huge, livid red bruise already tinted with purple. Toby had moved over to sit opposite Sam and he hissed. Leo frowned, "How sore is that?"
Sam peered down, "I don't know." He explored the angry redness with tentative fingertips, wincing slightly, "It's not too bad."
Leo sat back, "You hurt anywhere else?"
"Ah – " Sam ran a hand up his arm, "My shoulder, I guess, where I hit the wall, but it's okay too."
"You really didn't get a look at this guy?"
"I had my head over the basin. By the time I hit the floor, he was gone."
Leo gazed at him, an eagle-like evaluation, and Sam tried to quell the fear, show Leo he was fine, but an involuntary shudder shook his whole body. He looked away, towards the door, "I should've been more alert."
"Sam, this was not your fault."
"I just never imagined – "
"None of us would."
"But these were lawyers."
Toby snorted, "Now that's the funniest thing you've said all week."
Leo reached out and straightened Sam's shirt, a tiny gesture that surprised and warmed Sam. "I don't want you going by yourself anywhere for the rest of this trip. Y'understand?"
"Where're your things?"
"I – ah - in the conference room, I guess."
"I'll go." Toby was up and Sam was left with Leo.
"You were just doing your job in there."
"We all knew they wouldn't like it."
"We should've been ahead of 'em though. This – this shouldn't've been able to happen."
Sam shuddered again, "I need to put my jacket back on."
"You don't look so good."
"I don't think I've looked good all week. This is just a bonus." He gave a small grin as he awkwardly shrugged his jacket back on.
"You're gonna be sore tomorrow."
* * *
FRIDAY EVENING – MAINE
"This road is beautiful."
"You've really never been up here?"
"No! I can't believe it, I mean, the Appalachian trail's up here."
"We'll be right on it, at Monson."
"Wow! So how come you had a cabin booked already? I mean, I know it's off-season but when did you plan this?"
"Last week. As soon as we triple-confirmed the meetings in Augusta, and the President had that great idea of Saturday night in Manchester. And I'm glad I did. It's been such a shitty week, and you've been so… "
"Yeah, well, after that it was easy. Leo and Toby had no problem with it."
"So we meet 'em tomorrow in Manchester? What time?"
"I dunno – mid to late afternoon, I guess. Whatever."
Sam relaxed back in his seat, feeling unusually content. He closed his eyes as he felt Josh's hand rub gently along his thigh. The hand snaked upwards, brushing tantalisingly over his groin, and settled heavily against Sam's hip, fingertips drumming delicately across Sam's stomach. Sam squirmed with aroused delight, covering Josh's hand with his own.
"Josh, you're driving."
"Yeah? What gave you the first clue?" His fingers pressed firmly into Sam, who wriggled desperately, his cheeks flushing with pleasure.
"Couldn't you, like, pull over or something?"
"We're nearly there. I just wanted to check you're up for this." Josh smirked and put both hands back on the wheel, leaving Sam hot and flustered and definitely up for the evening.
* * *
The cabin was just like the one in the brochure, and they fell together on the bed with relief, savouring the immense silence. Sam felt his eyes grow heavy and was surprised when Josh suddenly straddled his thighs. He looked up and Josh grinned wickedly,
"Where were we in the car? Hmmm." He leaned forward and laid a hand on each of Sam's hips, sending shock waves through Sam's system, and ran his long thumbs up and down Sam's belly, making him writhe and wriggle. Josh lifted one hand and slid a forefinger slowly and deliberately from Sam's sternum down towards his navel, then in under his belt, and back and forth above the elastic of his boxers. Sam was no longer sleepy.
* * *
They decided to walk up the track behind the cabin before bed. It was a still night, crisp with winter chill. Sam's fingers brushed shyly against Josh's in the dark and Josh caught his hand and for the first time in a long time, they walked hand in hand.
The track was clear in the moonlight and they climbed together, enjoying the chance to stretch their legs. Sam was soon panting though, and Josh had to tug him along. They eventually stopped at a small, enclosed clearing, Sam sinking to his knees, his chest heaving.
"Am I ever going to get over this?" He punched the ground with his fist in frustration. Josh dropped down beside him.
"You are. You will." He took Sam's face between his hands and stared into the blue, deep and dark under the night sky. He waited like that until Sam's breathing slowed and evened out. Josh was moved by Sam's plight, but also oddly aroused, perhaps by Sam's vulnerability, and he leaned in and kissed him, a long, deep, powerful kiss that drew Sam close and enkindled his own amazing passion. Within minutes there were items of clothing scattered in the undergrowth and the two men were fiercely entwined, their lean bodies wildly enmeshed in a silent, urgent lovemaking that set their brains reeling and their insides on fire. Oblivious to everything around them, they revelled in the closeness and the pure joy of skin against skin, their breaths melding into one. The darkness closed in around them as clouds began to scud across the sky and a cool moisture
chilled the air.
Sam, flat on his back, struggled onto his elbows, rolling Josh clumsily onto the grass. He coughed loudly then collapsed back onto the ground, panting. Josh sat up and looked around.
"It's gotten dark. Where'd the moon go?"
"Josh, did you check any weather reports? You know, before you brought me up here?"
"Uh - no?"
"'Cos I think it's going to rain."
"Shit! Where're our clothes?"
Dressed, they started running back along the track.
"Wait!" Sam stopped at a bend, one hand on his bruised stomach, one against his chest, "I can't."
Josh doubled back, "Sam, it's going to pour."
"I know. I just – can't. You go – ahead." Icy raindrops began to plop around them.
"Don't be an idiot!" Josh put a hand on his partner's back. "It's only water. We can just walk." Sam straightened slowly and they headed down at a brisk pace, rain drenching their clothes, Sam puffing all the way with Josh eventually taking him by the hand again. The track was hard to follow now that the moon had vanished and they stumbled a few times before bursting into the grassy clearing behind their cabin. Sam dug the key out of his pocket and they staggered inside. He stared at Josh, totally bedraggled, hair plastered to his head, clothes clinging wetly to his lean frame,
"You're beautiful, Josh." A wide grin split Josh's face and he patted Sam's cheek tenderly,
"I’ll turn on the shower. You're shivering, California boy."
* * *
SATURDAY MORNING – MAINE
Sam lay on his back and stared at the cut logs that formed the ceiling. The cabin was great, close and private and everything they'd missed during their frantic week, maybe even the whole last shitty couple of months. And they'd had a great evening. He smiled to himself. A really great night. He looked at Josh, still fast asleep beside him. Josh, whose mind Sam admired, whose body Sam enjoyed dominating. He grinned to himself. He was much stronger than Josh. Raised on the Pacific, sun, surf, sail, swim, he enjoyed and embraced physical fitness as a necessity. Josh, veritable East Coaster, preferred to dominate with his mind and his mouth. But Josh had had the edge in every way last night, Sam so tired and bruised and out of condition. He looked back to the ceiling. His throat was sore and his chest felt tight and heavy. He sighed and coughed, feeling the sudden ache and tug in his stomach. Josh's eyes flickered open and he grinned widely, his dimples deep and warming,
"Hey, what's the time?"
Josh stretched languidly, "Last night, Sam, that was great."
Sam pursed his lips prudishly, "To which event were you referring, Joshua?"
"All of them!" Josh snickered and rolled onto his stomach, pushing his hands up under the pillow. "Aaargh!" he stretched again. Sam coughed, a dry, wheezy cough, and Josh leaned up on one elbow, "Where'd that come from?"
"I don't know. My chest feels a bit tight."
Sam tried to sit up a little, grimacing as his bruised stomach muscles complained, "Ow!"
Josh pulled back the duvet and sat up to look at Sam. He ran a tentative hand across Sam's navel, closing in on the ugly purple bruise beneath his diaphragm. Sam twitched as Josh gently caressed the painful patch, feeling the slight swelling and the quiver of Sam's stomach.
"Aw, Sam, you're in the wars."
"It's not too bad, just a bit tender."
"Well, I'm in charge of breakfast so you can just stay there. Don't move a muscle." He jumped out of bed and skittered naked to the tiny kitchen area, pulling out a few groceries. Sam carefully sat up and settled himself against the wooden headboard. He coughed, unable to get relief from the pressure in his chest any other way. It was like the air kept getting trapped in his lungs.
Josh had been humming and he grinned at Sam from across the cabin, "Isn't it great to be away from everything?"
"Sure is. It's feels magnificent!"
"Even though you feel crappy?"
"It's just a bruise."
"And the cough?"
Sam shrugged, "It’ll pass."
"Great breakfast – thanks. We never get to have a leisurely breakfast."
"Cool!" Josh ferried the dishes to the bench. "I've a couple of reports to read – why don't you lie down, grab a few more zeds?"
"I can do the dishes." He coughed.
"Duh! This isn't our place. We don't have to do the dishes here. Lie down."
"Josh – "
"Do I have to come over there and make you?" he leered at Sam.
"No," wailed Sam, pressing his hands against his stomach, "I'm too full."
"Well, then. Gimme half an hour's peace."
"Okay." Sam reluctantly slid down and burrowed into the pillows. He was asleep within minutes, his breath wheezing quietly in the small cabin. Josh dragged on pants and a sweater and sat in the sunny doorway to read. Every now and then he'd glance across as Sam coughed or rolled over. Nearly an hour later he called Leo and they chatted about issues at hand for twenty minutes before Leo's tone softened,
"Yeah, but –"
"He's a little stiff. And the bruises are a lovely shade of purple."
"Poor kid. We should've seen that possibility."
"Maybe gonna need more back-up."
"When d'you get here?"
"We're about four and a half hours away – say, mid to late afternoon?"
Josh packed up his papers and took a shower. When he emerged, Sam was sitting up, leaning forward over hunched knees.
"Hey! Nice sleep?"
Sam's eyes looked a little strained, "I'm – yeah, fine. Better have a shower." He coughed.
"You sound a little – "
"I'm just gonna have a shower!" Josh recognised Sam's brittle tone – one not to be argued with, and threw up his hands in surrender.
* * *
They drove south towards Augusta in glorious winter sunshine, everything sparkling after the overnight rain, greenery lying close to the highway, tiny white knots of cloud hovering close to the mountains in the distance. Traffic was light and they made good progress. Back in Augusta, Josh handed over the wheel and he stretched out in the passenger seat, dozing for an hour or so. As they crossed into New Hampshire, Sam's coughs became more frequent and his breathing noisier, a laboured scratchy in-breath and a wheezy squeaky out-breath.
"Maybe I should drive."
"No! Dammit! Can't you just let me alone?" Contrary to his outburst, Sam pulled over a minute later and stopped the car, dropping his forehead against the steering wheel, his shoulders lifting and falling with the sheer effort of getting enough air in and out. Josh waited – something Sam had taught him, to shut up and wait sometimes. Finally Sam lifted his head.
"Okay, you can drive."
"You need a doctor?"
"No! We've got less than an hour to go." They swapped places.
* * *
As they drove into Manchester, Josh pulled in unexpectedly at a 7-11 store, "Wait!" After a minute he was back, and turned off the main road at the next intersection.
"Where're you going?"
"There's a doctor down here."
"Sam, you're getting worse. Abby'll kill us if we arrive like this."
Sam looked down, "My fingertips are bluish," he commented with interest.
The nurse took them straight into a side room.
"Are you asthmatic, Mr Seaborn?"
"Sam. No. Well, I don't know."
"He had an asthma-like attack a few weeks back."
"Any other illnesses?"
"I'm on antibiotics right now – for some low-grade infection."
"He's been sick with a chest infection on and off for the last month or so."
The nurse smiled at them both, "The doctor's gonna need to see you as soon as he's free but I'm gonna give you some oxygen." She lifted Sam's fingers and inspected them, "You're a little cyanotic." She fitted a mask over Sam's face and turned on the O2 machine.
After she'd gone, Sam turned to gaze morosely at Josh, "You can go on up to the house."
"I'll wait. Might call Leo though. I'll just be outside."
-Where are ya?
-Oak Street Medical Centre.
-What the hell?
-It's just down the road. Sam's not too good.
-I – well, I, it's asthma, apparently.
-Asthma? This just happened?
-Nah, he's been whistling and wheezing all day.
-Damn. What're you doing?
-I'll just see what the doc says.
-Call me back.
Josh arrived back to find the local doctor bending over Sam with a stethoscope. After a minute he straightened, "I'm sorry, Sam, but like I said, this is definitely asthma." Sam's eyes filled and he blinked desperately, two tears snaking down the sides of his oxygen mask. The doctor, an elderly man with thick silver hair, looked up at Josh and held out his hand, "Scott McKenzie."
"Josh Lyman. Thanks for seeing Sam so quickly."
"Well, we don’t want our patients to stop breathing in the waiting room." He winked at Sam, then sobered, "This is a nasty little attack." He laid a hand on Sam's back, gently soothing him. "I'll have to give you an injection to open up your airways and then you'll need a couple hours on the nebuliser."
Sam closed his eyes as another two tears escaped, running down around the rubber mask. McKenzie's hand stayed on Sam's back, "I know it's disappointing but this is very, very manageable. You needn't feel despondent at this stage." Sam nodded miserably.
As the GP prepared the injection, Josh stood next to him, "How quickly does that work?"
"It gets things started. Hopefully the nebuliser'll make a bigger impact."
"Can he leave after the two hours?"
"If he gets some relief. Otherwise he'll have to go up to the hospital and be admitted."
"Oooh noooo, not a good idea."
* * *
Sam was waiting for Josh to collect him. The door opened slowly and Abby Bartlet popped her head in.
Sam's eyes widened in shock and he stood up, keeping a careful hold on the chair, "Ma'am." His voice was hoarse and dry.
"I had a good chat to Scotty, and now I'm taking you home."
"I – no – "
"Give me your arm – you can be rather light-headed after being on the nebuliser." Sam was frozen. "I've fixed everything up here, picked up some medication, we just need to go back to the house. Sam?" She took his arm and tugged – Sam went.
He leaned into the cushioned car seat and sighed involuntarily. Abby slid in next to him. "Sam, it's quick trip up to the house. What's on your mind?" Sam closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. He felt Abby's warm hand close over his cold one. "C'mon, Sam. You scared?"
He nodded slightly.
"This should be quite manageable. It can sometimes occur after a serious respiratory illness." Abby squeezed his hand, "Sam – " He put his other hand over his eyes,
"I'm okay," he croaked.
"We'll talk tomorrow morning, right?
"You need to get some rest tonight."
"The croakiness'll pass in a day or two."
"Uh-huh." He was shaking, a fluttery vibration that worried her,
He waggled the fingers pressed against his eyes, "I'm okay."
* * *
JED BARTLET'S KITCHEN, MANCHESTER
"Oh, good, you're back, honey. I was just gong to start cooking. How's Sam?"
"He's doing fine. Tired and croaky, but he'll rally round."
"He's a tough kid." Leo looked at Abby, "Did he tell you what happened yesterday?"
"In Augusta – he had a rugged meeting with some Law Centre Reps – someone assaulted him afterwards in the bathroom."
"You're kidding. I couldn't see anything."
"Stomach and shoulder."
"Good Lord. He must be sore then, an asthma attack can play havoc with your stomach muscles."
"Well, at least he's in good hands here this evening. Who's going to help me cook?"
Leo and Abby stared at one another in alarm.
* * *
SATURDAY NIGHT – PICTIONARY GAME IN MANCHESTER
Toby was rolling his eyes, as Josh and Leo stared at his paper. Josh grimaced in concentration, "Aha! A spider."
"No! NO!" Toby banged the heel of his hand against his head. Leo tried to look helpful,
"I see, it's a space shuttle thingy."
Jed Bartlet grinned at his friend across the table, "White House Chief of Staff identifies a space shuttle thingy?!"
"No, wait, I know it – shut up, Mr President – oh, it's a satellite."
"No!" Toby dropped his head to the table.
CJ pointed at the timer, "Nearly up, guys."
"Shut up, nerdsville."
"Joshua – "
"Sorry, Mr President."
The final grains of sand dropped to the lower half of the timer and CJ waved it gleefully. "What was it, Toby?"
"What?" Leo turned to him in surprise.
"You know," put in Josh, "Those little pots with a burner and long forks – oh, I get the picture now!"
"NOW you get it. Good on you, Josh. Too late. The super Nerds will move ahead again."
"Hey!" Sam was safely esconced between Jed and CJ. Croaky, stiff, sore and slightly wheezy, he was determined to enjoy the game anyway. "We're not nerds, we have CJ."
CJ frowned into her wine glass, "I'm not sure how to take that, but what the hell, I'll take it as a compliment!" She took a good gulp of wine. Sam started to cough and she absently patted him on the back.
"Your turn, Sir," gasped Sam, "take a card."
Abby looked up from across the room, "Sam, come see me."
"Oh, please let him stay, Abby."
"I can hear him wheezing from here, Josh."
Jed looked at Sam out of the corner of his eye, "One more, Sam?"
"Yes, Sir," he croaked.
"That's my boy!" CJ wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulder, then stopped and pressed her hands against his ribs, "My God, I can feel it all wheezing and whistling." Sam flushed with embarrassment and pushed his glasses up his nose, "Ceej!"
"Okay," the President put his own glasses back on his nose, "where's my card?"
Toby gave him the five seconds and then turned over the timer. Jed began to draw at once. CJ leaned over and stared at the page,
"Ew! What's that?"
"Ooh, I know that one!" Sam leapt to his feet but collapsed back in his chair, arms wrapped around his middle, "Oh, forgot!" he gasped. CJ patted him on the back again, "Poor Spanky." They all waited for the pain to subside, then he sat up slowly and croaked, "Peanut butter."
"YES!" Jed crowed with delight. CJ grabbed his cheeks and kissed him right on the mouth. Sam grinned.
Abby stood up, "I'm sorry but I think I need to borrow Sam." They all looked at Sam, who stood up slowly. "Charlie, come and take Sam's place." Charlie left the backgammon board and slid in beside CJ.
Abby wrapped an arm around Sam and steered him towards the parlour. They sat down on the couch in there.
"Dr Bartlet, I'm not doing badly."
"Listen to yourself, kiddo." They sat in silence for a moment, the wheeze loud and unnatural. "Sam – " Sam tried to look away but Abby turned his face towards her, "Sam, we're going to treat this and master it and it is not going to beat you. All right?"
Sam sat up a little straighter and his head bobbed nervously.
CJ's voice rang out, "Octopus!" There was a roar from Toby and Josh, and cheers of 'Nerds rule' rumbled across the hall.
Ten minutes later, Sam rejoined the group. Josh was the first to catch his eye,
"Sam, come and join our team!"
"I thought I was cast as the world's second biggest nerd." He raised an eyebrow at the President. The others watched the interchange contentedly.
"I take it back – please, we need a nerd!" Everyone laughed. Josh held out his arm invitingly and Sam slid in beside him, Josh leaving his arm around Sam's waist. Sam leaned against him a little, and Josh inclined his head,
"You okay?" he whispered.
"I'm going to be fine," Sam smiled back at him.
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