Title: Bridges and Tunnels
Characters- ESF Josh/Sam
Rating: R for swearing
Summary: To say Sam has a headache would be an understatement.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but having said that, I like to think that Sam belongs to us now ;-)
Bridges and Tunnels by Coupdepam
“I’m not saying she’s not a memorable woman, I’m just saying I don’t remember dancing with her.” Sam placed his feet on the table in front of him. After countless flights on Air Force One, they had all snagged their favourite seats. Sam’s was in the middle of a row of four, with two armrests and a table at the perfect height for putting his feet on, “Not that I’ve actually agreed to your assertion that I did dance with her.”
“I was there, I saw you,” CJ stated as she reached past Sam and nudged Toby, “Hey, stop pretending you’re asleep and help me pick on Sam.”
“Leave him alone,” Toby ordered CJ, earning a surprised smile of gratitude from Sam, “If you get him all worked up he won’t be able to sleep and he’ll be knocking on my hotel door at two in the morning with a rewritten draft or inspirational quote. This would be bad for you because I would have to kill Sam and then you’d have to spin a dead Deputy.”
CJ and Toby slept for the rest of the flight. Sam dozed fitfully, his sleep disturbed by images of CJ spinning his dead body above her head.
Sam started to doze again during the short trip to the hotel. It was late at night and they were all looking forward to going straight to bed. The three day trip was going to be more fun for CJ than for Toby and Sam. She was attending a ball with the President, presenting an award at a media dinner and going shopping with the First Lady. Sam and Toby’s trip was filled with meetings and any spare time they did have would be spent trying to come up with some jokes to include in the President’s speech he was giving to members of the farming community on his last night of the trip.
As they neared the hotel Toby nudged Sam awake, “We’re landing, buckle up.” CJ smiled as Sam groped around for the seatbelt before realising he was no longer on the plane.
“Very funny, Toby, and yet a gag for the President’s speech eludes you.”
Once they had been given their bags they collected their keys they went straight to their rooms. They came to CJ’s first and she called goodnight as she let herself in. Toby and Sam walked a little further along before Toby checked the number on the key fob and stopped. “We’ve gone past it,” he announced as he turned around and walked back along the corridor.
“Are we sharing?” Sam asked sleepily as he followed Toby.
“We’ve got adjoining rooms. And…” he checked the fob again, “We’re here.”
They entered the room and, despite his tiredness, Sam agreed to a quick nightcap. They spent twenty minutes becoming more frustrated with their inability to think of a single joke for the upcoming speech before heading off to bed.
Sam had a quick shower, unpacked a few things and then finally got into bed. He didn’t think about elusive jokes or the upcoming three days of meetings, he just pulled the comforter over his head and fell quickly asleep.
Toby rubbed at his eyes and listened to the foreign sounds of the hotel room. He had been dreaming. He had been trying to write down an idea for a speech but every pencil he picked up was broken and every pen had run out of ink. He closed his eyes and turned onto his back trying to rid himself of the frustration that the dream had caused. It was only when he heard the groan that he realised that it was not the dream that had woken him.
Toby sat up at the sound of Sam’s curse. He switched on the bedside lamp and listened. Another curse came from the adjoining room. Toby assumed Sam was talking in his sleep and shouted at him to go back to sleep.
Sam’s reply was a loud moan. Toby could hear him pacing and worried that he might hurt himself he got out of bed and went into Sam’s room. He switched on the main light and when his eyes had adjusted to it he was taken aback by the sight that greeted him. Sam was pacing frantically around the room. His eyes were tightly shut, one hand gripping a handful of hair and the other balled into a fist at his side. Toby changed his mind about the sleepwalking as he caught sight of Sam’s pale face as he turned a circle in front of him.
“Sam, what’s wrong?” he could hear Sam’s breathing now, short harsh breaths interspersed with moans.
“Fuck!” Sam cried as he spun away from Toby and towards the bathroom. He watched bewildered as Sam groped for the handle and kicked the door open. Once inside he simply paced up and down. He paused long enough to pick up his wash bag and empty the contents on the floor.
Toby was fully awake now and alarmed by Sam’s behaviour, “Sam! What’s wrong? Do you need some medicine? Is there something in here you need to take?”
Sam dropped to his knees and raked through the items on the floor. He didn’t have much success as his right hand was still glued to his head. Toby turned on the light and crouched beside him. Sam turned towards him and it was Toby’s turn to curse. Sam’s face was ashen; his right eye was red and streaming with tears. He opened his mouth to speak but the sound became a moan and he doubled over letting his head hit the floor. Toby was horrified when Sam sat up and repeated the motion this time banging his head on the floor repeatedly.
Toby reached forward and pulled him up, “Sam! What the hell are you doing? Stop it!”
“Make it stop…please…fuck, please make it stop.”
Toby didn’t need to ask what Sam wanted him to stop; it was clear that Sam’s head was the cause of his pain and for him to try to cure it by beating it on the floor, Toby realised it must be a pain worse than he could imagine. He tried to pull Sam up but he was intent on sitting doubled over. He now held onto his head with both hands and was rocking in time with his moans which were increasing in volume. Toby stood up and walked towards the phone. He picked up and was about to dial when a knocking on the door stopped him, “It’s Doctor Briant. Do you need me?”
Toby hurried over and opened the door. He recognised the man as the staff doctor who had travelled with them. He said ‘bathroom’ by way of greeting and the doctor pushed past him and hurried towards the sounds of Sam’s moans. CJ appeared wearing a hotel dressing gown, still in the process of tying the belt as she came rushing through the door, “What’s going on? I could hear the noise down the corridor.”
“It’s Sam, he’s…I don’t know. The staff doctor must have heard as well…he’s with Sam now.”
CJ studied Toby’s pale face and placed a hand on his arm as she walked past him and towards the bathroom. The doctor was trying, unsuccessfully, to prise Sam’s hands away from his face.
“What’s his name?” he asked CJ who came and stood behind him and managed to say ‘Sam’ even though her throat had dried at the scene before her.
“Sam! Do you know what’s wrong? Has this happened before?”
Sam shook his head and continued to rock himself, his head hitting the floor but cushioned now by the towel that the doctor had folded and put down. He tried to pull Sam up so he could look at his eyes but Sam wouldn’t let him. Toby remained outside but moved to the doorjamb when he heard Sam’s moans lessen slightly. A few seconds later the moans and curses were replaced with the sound of Sam’s harsh breathing. Sam stopped rocking and let his head rest on the towel, his hands over his head but no longer clenched.
“Has the pain gone?” the doctor asked and Sam mumbled a reply into the towel.
He pulled Sam upwards and helped him lean against the bath, “Are you in any pain?”
Sam shook his head; he seemed as shocked at its sudden departure as he had at how intense it had been. The doctor shined a light into Sam’s eyes and then handed him a tissue so that he could wipe away the water that had been streaming from his right eye. Sam blew his nose which was also running. Toby crouched down at his side and took the tissue from him.
Doctor Briant turned to CJ, “Can you arrange for a car or a taxi? I’d like Sam to go to the ER.”
CJ nodded and went back to her room to look at the schedule for the trip and work out who she could phone. The doctor told Sam to relax, making sure he took a few slow breaths, before gesturing to Toby to follow him out of the room.
“Does Sam suffer from migraines?”
Toby shook his head, “He gets a lot of headaches but they’re never debilitating. I’ve never seen him like that…I’ve never seen anyone like that!”
“I don’t know what’s wrong but I think he’s had some sort of severe migraine attack. I’m going to phone ahead to the hospital. They’ll probably do a scan to make sure there’s no sign of anything else. When we get back to Washington it’s vital that Sam sees his doctor straight away. Make sure you get the name of the doctor that sees Sam at the hospital. He seems okay now, but if the pain returns or he seems confused call me and call an ambulance. I’ll meet you there.”
Toby tried to register everything that had been said to him. He held out his hand and thanked Doctor Briant before returning quickly to the bathroom. Sam hadn’t moved an inch but Toby was pleased to find that his breathing had slowed and he had a little more colour than he’d had before. Toby crouched down beside him, “We need to get dressed. CJ’s going to sort out a car to take us to the ER. Can you stand?”
Sam nodded and raised his elbow so that Toby could help pull him up. Toby led him out of the bathroom and sat him on the bed. Sam was happy for Toby to take charge and watched as he opened his suitcase.
“You’ve got some jeans and a sweater in here, will they do?” Sam nodded and so Toby pulled out the garments and handed them to him. He rummaged a little more, “I can’t see any underclothes.”
Sam was still completely dazed by the pain that had woken him and then attempted to rip his head apart, “I think erm…I think I put them in a drawer.”
Toby walked to the chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of boxers and some socks. He put them on top of the other clothes and placed the pile next to Sam.
“Put these on and then we’ll go, okay?”
“Okay,” Sam replied quietly.
“Okay,” Toby repeated more confidently and walked into his room to get changed.
By the time Toby was dressed, CJ had returned to tell him that a car was waiting for them. She had also changed out of her nightclothes.
“You don’t need to come,” Toby said as he picked up his wallet, cell phone and room key and placed them on the bed, “We’ll probably be waiting around for hours. There’s no point us all getting no sleep.” Toby tied his shoelace and looked up at CJ, “You’re not going to sleep until we get back anyway, are you.”
She shook her head, “Might as well be drinking bad coffee with you,” she said and then looked towards Sam’s room, “How is he?”
“He seems okay just a bit dazed more than anything.” Toby walked towards the adjoining door which he had purposely kept open, “Ready, Sam?”
The door opened wider and Sam appeared. He was wearing the clothes Toby had given him and was carrying a class of water which he placed on the table.
“Finish that first,” Toby said and sat back down on the bed.
“It’s okay, let’s just go. I’m pretty sure they’ll have water at the hospital.”
CJ opened the door and waited for Sam and Toby to join her, “Have you got everything?” she asked no one in particular. As Sam went to walk past her she put her hand on his arm, “Don’t you want to take your coat?”
A flicker of a smile crossed Sam’s face and he looked at CJ incredulously.
“Wow,” she said as she ran her hand over her forehead, “Toby, Sam, I’d like you to meet my mother.”
“I’m freaked out enough as it is without you going all momsy on me,” Sam said as he carried on through the doorway. CJ switched off the light and shut the door behind them.
It was starting to get light by the time they returned to the hotel. Sam had seen two doctors and after having a MRI which was clear, was given a prescription for some pain killers, told to see his own doctor as soon as he got back, and discharged. Toby and CJ had sat and waited for the four hours that it took and Sam had alternately apologised and thanked them all the way back to the hotel.
“What do they think it is?” Toby asked. Still finding it hard to believe that the man he had watched writhing and moaning in pain a few hours earlier was now walking next to him in seemingly perfect health.
“The first doctor sort of lost interest when the MRI showed that I didn’t have a tumour. The second doctor-”
“What was his name?” Toby suddenly remembered Doctor Briant’s request.
“Oh, erm…Doctor Powell. He said that I should see my doctor when I get back.”
“But what do they think it was?” Toby asked in exasperation. They had reached the hotel and Toby held the door for Sam and CJ.
“They weren’t sure. They both said it was probably a migraine.”
CJ pressed the button on the elevator, “But you don’t get migraines and that was some migraine.”
“Well I think it was just a combination of stress, tiredness, late night whiskey and…I don’t know it was just a one-off. Anyway, I feel fine now so…” Sam shrugged his shoulders.
The elevator pinged and the doors opened, “But did they say if they thought it would happen again? I mean surely you need to have some tests done, they can’t just say they think it was a migraine and leave it like that,” Toby said as the elevator started its journey to their floor.
“If I have another…whatever it was, then I have to go back to my doctor. This is all conjecture because I’m not going to have another one,” Sam declared.
“You’re not?” Toby said, glancing at CJ.
“No!” Sam replied adamantly. “But, listen, thanks for coming to the ER and getting me dressed.”
“You dressed Sam?” CJ asked a wicked grin beginning to appear.
“I most certainly did not! I grabbed some clothes from his suitcase-”
“And my underwear,” Sam added helpfully.
“And then I left the room, and you can write that down CJ, ‘The Communications Director handed his Deputy some garments and left the room.”
Sam had been fine the next day. He had woken early used the hotel’s gym, showered and breakfasted before Toby was even up. He was doodling under the heading ‘Jokes- Funny Ones!’ when Toby knocked on the dividing door.
“How’re you feeling?” he asked, assessing Sam’s appearance.
“I feel okay, I guess. My head doesn’t hurt. I’m a bit tired, like I’m hung over, that sort of feeling but I’m been to the gym and I’ve had breakfast and I’m feeling…okay.”
Toby nodded. Sam looked tired and he didn’t have as much colour as usual but apart from that Toby had to agree that he seemed fine.
“We’re meeting Bert Homer in an hour, you up to it?”
“I am but if he’s got yellow skin and a wife called Marge, I’m out of there.”
“Save the funnies for the speech,” Toby said and looked pointedly at Sam’s collection of doodles.
The meeting went well and Toby concluded that the trip had been more than worthwhile. He blew the cigar smoke from his mouth in long lazy puffs and watched it climb to the ceiling. The chandeliers hanging above him had long since been replaced with discreet modern lighting but still they hung sending beams of reflected light dancing around the room. The President was about to finish the speech and Toby was more than pleased with the way the jokes had been received. Neither Sam nor Toby could take the credit; they had all come from Ainsley who Sam had phoned in desperation and was rewarded with an endless stream of funny yet inoffensive farming jokes.
The sound of the applause didn’t wake Sam. He had fallen asleep during dessert and although Toby knew he would want to hear how the speech was received he didn’t have the heart to wake him. He was partly obscured by a pillar so Toby doubted anyone would notice anyway. An hour after the speech had finished CJ came over and told Toby it was time to go. Their bags were already on Air Force One and the cars were lined up outside waiting to take them to it. CJ crouched beside Sam and placed her hand on his shoulder, she called his name a couple of times before his eyes sprung open and he sat upright. CJ had to explain to a confused Sam that the speech had been and gone and that they were going. Sam slept in the car to the airport and all the way back to Washington.
The car pulled up outside of the West Wing and their bags were handed to them.
“It’s so nice to go travelling, but it’s oh so nice to come home,” CJ sang as they walked along the corridor towards their offices.
“Promise me you’ll never leave me alone again,” Josh said as they entered the Bullpen. “It was suddenly me and all these assistants. The ratio of me to assistants was like 1:8. They nearly toppled me.”
“You stood firm, though?” CJ asked.
“Yeah, but it was touch and go at times.” Josh put his hands in his pockets and watched Toby dump his bags in his office. “It went well then?”
“It did. Hindman and Stoughton are on board and the DFT are going to look at increased funding for the areas we suggested.” Toby answered Josh but kept an eye on Sam who was talking to CJ next door. Josh looked at them too and raised his eyes as CJ grabbed hold of Sam’s arm and kissed him on the cheek.
“Everything else okay?” Josh asked.
“Yeah,” Toby replied but he gestured Josh into his office confirming to him that everything was not okay.
Toby briefly explained what had happened while Josh stood and stared at Sam through the window. “He’s going to see a doctor tomorrow and I imagine they’ll run some more tests. Sam’s pretty sure that it’s a stress thing, a bad migraine or something.”
Josh turned away from the sight of Sam flicking through his mail and messages. “But you don’t?”
Toby ran a finger along his forehead, “I don’t know. It looked pretty bad to me but I’ve never had a migraine so maybe that’s what they’re like.”
Josh nodded a slow measured movement that was totally out of synch with his rapidly beating heart. He was about to go next door and talk to Sam when Margaret appeared, “Leo says welcome back and you can’t go home.”
Toby sighed. He had planned to check his messages, check in with Josh and then go. Something had obviously happened and whatever it was it was going to keep him here much longer than he had anticipated.
Toby looked across at Sam and wished he was still awake. He would know the word that Toby was looking for. He tapped his pen on his forehead as if it would force the word out like a woodpecker forces grubs from a bark. Admitting defeat, he put the cap back on the pen and clipped it back onto the pad.
It had been an hour since Leo had called them into to his office to explain that in the time it had taken them to fly home, Senator Hindman had reversed his position from the one he had continuously stated throughout his meetings with Sam and Toby. The news had meant a round of phone calls and then a rewrite of three paragraphs of a speech that the President was due to give tomorrow.
Sam was asleep on the sofa. One hand loosely held his glasses and the other rested on his laptop’s keyboard. Toby carefully pulled it off Sam, his fingers making a scrawl of letters across the screen as the keyboard was dragged beneath them. Toby saved the document and then reached over and took Sam’s glasses away as well. He toyed with the idea of pushing Sam’s feet off the table to wake him up but then remembered how tired he had looked earlier and reluctantly changed his mind.
He walked out of the office and wandered around the Bullpen for a few moments. He would have to wake Sam up soon anyway as it was getting late. He decided to get a cup of coffee, have one more try at the paragraph that was tormenting him and then wake Sam up and go home.
He had been staring at the empty computer screen for a while when Sam shifted slightly and then started to wake.
“It’s about time,” Toby mumbled.
Sam’s hand reached for his head before he even opened his eyes. He moaned, cursed and then his eyes opened wide.
“Sam, is it happening again?” Toby asked. He watched Sam sit upright both hands clutching at his head, and knew that it was.
“We have to go home now!” Josh announced as he appeared at the door, “The President has just met with a spokesman from the National Parks committee and he’s walking the corridors brimming with new facts and trivia that I have no interest in at…” Josh’s voice trailed off as he realised Toby was ignoring him and staring at Sam.
“Where are your tablets?” Toby asked Sam who got up from the sofa, staggered past Josh and into his office.
Josh and Toby followed and watched as Sam emptied the contents of his briefcase onto his desk.
“They’re not in there, Sam; you didn’t take that with you. Look in your desk,” Toby suggested.
Sam tried to pull at the drawers but was incapable of thinking past the pain that was getting worse by the second. Toby pushed him into a chair and rummaged through the drawers. Josh looked around the room trying to see if he could find them. He walked over to the collection of pills on Sam’s desk and started to read the labels, “What are they called?” he asked but neither Toby nor Sam could remember.
Sam stood up and started to pace around the office, it was the same frantic pacing that Toby had witnessed in the hotel room and it was just as unsettling to watch.
“Coat,” Sam mumbled, “Pocket, coat.”
Toby remembered Sam putting the prescription in his coat at the hospital, “Josh, Sam’s coat, it’s in my office.”
Josh rushed next door and patted the pockets before finding what he was looking for. He ripped the paper bag and threw it on the floor. Sam stopped pacing and walked over to Josh who was fumbling with the container.
“Damn, it’s got a Josh-proof lid,” he muttered as he tried again to unscrew it, his shaking hands doing little to help.
“For God’s sake, Josh, get it open,” Toby shouted. Josh was about to shout back that he was trying to when he felt the bottle snatched from his hand. Toby and Josh looked on in surprise as Sam raised the bottle and bought it smashing down onto his desk. Pills and glass flew in all directions. Sam grabbed two that were rolling along the desk and quickly swallowed them dry. He pushed past Josh and went next door to Toby’s office shutting the door behind him.
“What do we do?” Josh asked.
“Nothing, I don’t know…he’s taken the pills so it will probably wear off in a few minutes…he obviously doesn’t want us around,” Toby walked over to the connecting window and watched as Sam paced up and down. He bumped into the table and Toby’s desk but carried on unperturbed. Toby turned away and leant against the wall. Josh sat down in the guest chair.
“How long was the other one?”
“Twenty…thirty minutes. I don’t know how long he’d been in pain in his hotel room so it’s difficult to say. He’ll be alright in a minute.”
“Well, yeah, until the internal bleeding starts from the broken glass,” Josh pointed out.
Toby rolled his eyes in response. They sat and waited in silence. For a while all they could hear were Sam’s footsteps as he moved around but then they could hear him moan and curse and from the sound of it, the pills weren’t working as quickly as Toby had hoped. It was only when a steady rhythm of thuds came from the room next door that Toby leapt away from the wall and out of Sam’s office. Josh followed him and was shocked to find Sam standing against the far wall slowly banging his head against it. Toby pulled him away and spun him towards him. He held Sam firmly by his shoulders but Sam simply replaced the wall with his own fist.
“Jesus,” Josh muttered.
Sam struggled out of Toby’s grip and walked towards the corner of the room. He fell onto his knees and, like he had in the hotel, started to rock up and down, his head hitting the floor with a sickening thud.
Toby hoped that like last time this meant that the attack would soon be over. He moved next to Sam and tried to make him see that too, “It will be over soon, Sam. Just hold on a little longer.”
“Fuck you, Toby!” Sam hissed out between rapid breaths. Toby folded his jacket and placed it on the floor to cushion Sam’s head.
Gradually the rocking motion slowed and the sound of Sam’s head hitting the floor became less frequent. The only sound in the room was of Sam’s breathing which eventually slowed too. Sam remained crouched over, both hands cradling his head. Toby reached up to his desk and grabbed a handful of tissues. He pulled Sam upright and handed them to him. Sam’s right eye was streaming, the eyelid drooping slightly. Josh hadn’t moved since Sam had sunk to the floor and even though the attack was over, he remained by the door. He wanted to take Sam to the ER but he knew that Toby was taking charge of dealing with Sam. He was slightly resentful of Toby’s understanding of the situation but mainly greatly relieved that someone else was taking control.
Finally, Sam took a deep breath and sighed. Toby noticed that he was less dazed than he had seemed after the first attack. He was pleased that both he and Sam had dealt with this one slightly better and then shuddered at the thought that this was something Sam was going to have to get used to dealing with.
Sam wiped at his streaming eye again, “I don’t know if those pills worked but if that’s what it’s like when they’re doing their stuff then I need to triple the dose.”
Toby helped him get to his feet and guided him to the sofa, “What do you want to do?” he asked.
“Go home,” Sam answered simply.
“I’ll take you,” Josh blurted out, “I mean, it’s on my way, it’s no problem.”
Sam just shrugged and Josh took it as a sign of his exhaustion rather than indifference to the idea of who would take him home.
When they entered the apartment, Sam walked immediately into the kitchen and set about emptying the coffee machine.
“It’s a bit late for coffee, Sam. You should go to bed.”
“I’m going to have a cup,” Sam answered, “I don’t want to fall asleep.”
“Why? You must feel like crap,” Josh walked closer to Sam but not as close as he wanted to, sensing that Sam did not want his space invaded.
“It’ll happen again. If I sleep, I’ll wake up, and it will happen again.” Sam looked at Josh and smiled uneasily, “I know that sounds pathetic but I don’t think I can face pain like that again.”
Josh knew it was hard for Sam to admit to his fear. He also knew that Sam looked ready to drop and if he humoured him and stayed up for a while with him that he would fall asleep within an hour, “Let’s stay up then. It’s Friday, I don’t have to go in tomorrow. We can watch a bit of-”
“Hold on, I said I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t say anything about having a slumber party.”
“Yeah, but you’re warming to the idea. We could invite Toby, although I don’t think my mom likes me hanging around with him, so…”
Josh relaxed a little as he saw a small smile on Sam’s face, “I’m going to drink some coffee and sit and watch TV. If you want to sit with me, fine, but I’m more than happy by myself.”
They settled down in the living room. Sam sipped at his coffee while Josh flicked through the channels. Josh was disappointed to discover he had been wrong about Sam falling asleep in an hour; it only took ten minutes.
Josh left Sam where he was and covered him with a blanket. He felt guilty taking the guest bed when Sam was on the sofa so he went back to the cupboard and fetched a blanket for himself and lay down on the sofa opposite Sam. As he tried to get to sleep memories of another time he had slept on Sam’s sofa kept him awake.
“Get out! Get out of this bed!” Sam pulled the covers off Josh and pushed him towards the edge of the bed.
“Sam! Calm down,” Josh said holding his hands up in a gesture of appeasement. “All I said was that I was having a little trouble digesting it, not that I didn’t enjoy eating it or that I didn’t appreciate the effort that went into making it.”
Sam jumped out of bed and put his hands on his hips. The stance was less impressive in boxers and t-shirt than when he was wearing an Armani suit but impressive nonetheless. “You come over here,” Sam said as he walked slowly towards Josh, “Sit at my table and eat my food that took me two hours to prepare, watch my television, use my shower-”
“Oh come on, Sam, I think we both enjoyed that,” Josh said but was silenced by Sam’s glare.
“You use my razors, lie in my bed and then, then, you wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me that you’ve got indigestion because of my cooking!” Sam walked right up to Josh until their faces were almost touching, “Well now you’re going to get to sleep on my sofa!” A pillow landed on Josh’s chest with a thump.
“Okay, just…before I go…” Josh looked at him sadly and placed his hand on Sam’s face, “You got any Pepto-Bismol?” The pillow landed on Josh’s chest again, this time the action was repeated until he was being pushed out of the room and down the stairs. By the time they got to the sofa, the pillow had been discarded along with Sam’s t-shirt and any thoughts of indigestion.
Josh rubbed his hand over his eyes and forced the images away. He looked over at Sam who was still sound asleep. Josh walked over to him and, crouching by the sofa, pulled the blanket up over Sam’s neck. “I fucked up. I’m sorry, Sam,” he whispered to the sleeping form below him.
The next morning the two men walked into the West Wing together, Sam rubbing at his neck and Josh at his shoulder. “Next time, remind me to take the guest bed,” Josh moaned as he swung his arm in a wide circle.
“God, I hope there isn’t next time,” Sam mumbled. Josh assumed he was talking about sleeping on the sofa but when he looked at him he realised he was referring to the reason for it.
“Hey,” Josh stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, “You go to your doctor, you get the strongest pain pills he has and then it’ll be over. With the right pills, migraines can be as easy to treat as a-”
“These aren’t migraines, Josh.”
Josh stared at Sam. He was stopped from replying by Toby’s arrival. “How do you feel?” he asked as he walked up to them.
“I feel absolutely fine, it’s like it never happened.”
“Sam says they’re not migraines,” Josh announced and continued, undeterred by Sam’s objection, “That’s what you were saying before Toby arrived.”
Sam started to walk towards the Communications’ Bullpen. “I’m not saying that I know what they are, I just know they’re not migraines. If you suffer from migraines you keep getting them, don’t you? And whatever I’ve got it’s obviously just a temporary thing…an allergy or something.”
Josh glanced at Toby before replying, “Yeah, I’m sure it’s just something that your doctor can prescribe something for and that will be that.”
“Well, there you go then,” Sam said as he hurried on past Josh and Toby and towards his office. He shut the door behind him and collapsed into his chair. He knew he needed to make an appointment to see his doctor but before he did he wanted to try to get things straight in his mind. He’d had two attacks; that was all. There must be something he was drinking or eating that had caused them. Sam started to compile a list but even before he had started, he knew that he’d had nothing over the past couple of days that was any different to normal. He screwed the paper into a ball and threw it at the bin. He stared at the paper ball on the floor for a moment before reaching for his phone and dialling his doctor before heading off to Staff.
“Fine!” Leo snapped after Sam had told him about his appointment. “Does anyone else need some time off? CJ, you had a cold last week, do you wanna go have a check-up?”
Sam looked at the folder in his hands. He couldn’t remember the last time he was off work for any reason but that didn’t seem to make any difference to Leo. Toby cursed himself for not speaking to Leo sooner about what had happened on their trip.
“They’re not just headaches, Leo,” Josh said.
“Oh, they’re a special kind of headache?” Leo snapped back. He sighed deeply and for the first time looked at his staff. He couldn’t see Sam’s face but glancing at Josh, Toby and CJ, he could see that they knew something he didn’t and with that came the realisation that he couldn’t remember the last time Sam had complained of feeling ill, couldn’t even remember Sam ever being ill. He sighed again and sat down. “Sam, get back by two if you can.” He shook his head, “Special kind of headache. You’re a special kind of headache,” he said pointing accusingly at Josh.
By the time Sam returned from seeing his doctor, Toby had written and then rewritten the first paragraph of the speech they were working on. He looked up as Sam walked into his office and when it became clear that Sam wasn’t going to come to him, he went to Sam. “Well?”
“No, Toby, not well at all, apparently,” Sam said as he hung up his coat. “He took blood and blood pressure readings and stuck long, thin things into my mouth and told me to say ‘Ah’ and then concluded that I am stressed!”
“What, these are stress headaches?”
“Oh he didn’t have much to say about the headaches but decided that I’m on a short path to destruction if I don’t stop drinking coffee, start eating regular meals and take time away from work when I feel stressed!” Sam rolled his eyes. “I did point out to him that he just about described the physical state of every White House staffer but he-”
“Sam! Is he going to refer you or send you back to the hospital or…what?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. He didn’t seem to think they were that significant. He said they were a symptom of my high stress levels,” Sam sat down and started to browse through his mail.
Toby walked over to the door and closed it. “I’m not a doctor but I would think that a headache so bad that it makes you bash your head on the wall must be pretty significant.”
Sam nodded in reply and started to open one of the letters. His actions were halted when Toby leant over the desk and pulled it from Sam’s hand. “You did tell the doctor about the wall banging and the cursing and the pacing, didn’t you?”
“Yes, of course I did. Look, he said that sometimes tension headaches can be worse than migraines and he prescribed some painkillers.” Sam looked up at Toby but he didn’t seem satisfied. “He said I was to go back if I keep getting them or the pills don’t work.” Sam held the stare that Toby was levelling at him. “Can I have my letter back now, please?”
Toby handed it over silently and left Sam’s office. He didn’t know what was wrong with Sam but he knew for sure the attacks he had witnessed were nothing to do with stress. He sat back down and looked at what he had written earlier but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t focus on it. He pushed the pad to the side and opened his laptop. He glanced up to check his door was closed before typing, ‘Tension Headaches’ in the search bar.
Josh made a point of not going to see Sam after he got back from the doctors. He knew that in his own way Sam had been grateful that Josh had stayed last night but he also knew when to back off. A part of him was also resisting going to see Sam in the hope that Sam would come to him. He didn’t. And so Josh finished the report he was reading, filed it, and made his way to Sam’s office.
When he arrived, Sam was sitting at his desk engrossed in a legal book. “Hey, how did it go?” Josh asked. Sam held his hand up, scribbled something down and closed the book with a thud.
“Hi, well, apparently I’m the most stressed man in DC.” Sam gestured to the empty chair and Josh sat down.
“What, so he said they’re migraines or something?”
Sam shrugged, “You know what, I’m not really sure what he said they were. He seemed more interested in trying to get me to try yoga.” Sam had been carrying on with work while talking and Josh realised he hadn’t actually looked at him yet.
“Sam,” Josh leant forward and placed his hand on Sam’s stopping his frantic flicking through the pages of a book, “Sam!”
Sam sighed and reluctantly looked up at him, “I know.” He pushed the book away and slumped back in his seat. “They’re not tension or stress headaches and they’re not migraines.”
“You need to go back to your doctor.”
“I know,” Sam said.
“You have to go back to your doctor,” Toby announced as he appeared in the doorway.
Sam rolled his eyes, “What are you- Reiteration Man?”
Toby ignored Sam’s comment and walked into the room shutting the door behind him. “I’ve been looking online and I can’t find anything about tension headaches that describes what your headaches were like.” Toby perched on the bookcase and folded his arms. “You need to find out what these things are.”
“I know,” Sam repeated.
“You can’t just sit around waiting for the next one or hoping that there is no next one.”
“I know!” He stood up and rubbed at his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ll make another appointment. I’m just…I suppose I just really want to believe that he’s right and they are just tension headaches.”
Toby nodded but the conversation was ended by Ginger who appeared at the door and told them that Leo needed to see them. Toby and Sam walked along the corridor ahead of Josh and as he followed them he tried not to wonder if Sam would have told him what the doctor has said if he hadn’t gone and asked.
Sam adjusted the lamp on his desk and looked at his watch. It was later than he thought and almost everyone else had gone home. He knew Toby and Josh were both still here though and wondered if they were waiting for him to go home. Sam took off his glasses and scrubbed at his eyes before returning to the piece of paper in front of him.
Tuesday- 11pm first attack
Wednesday- 10pm second attack
He put a line through ‘second attack’ and wrote ‘LAST attack!’ instead. He looked at his watch again. It was quarter to eleven. Sam told himself that if he held out until eleven then that would be the last of whatever it was that had caused his headaches. There would be no pattern. It would be a fluke, just an isolated migraine caused by a stressful trip and too much Toby. He slumped back in his chair and looked up at the clock. The second hand ticked on obliviously unaware of its journey towards Sam’s deadline.
In his office, Josh sat staring at the clock. He was waiting as well, he was waiting for Sam to come and ask him to stay again, like he’d asked on the night that Bartlet had won the Hampshire primary. But Josh had refused then. He wouldn’t refuse this time, but as he looked at the clock again he knew Sam wasn’t going to ask him; would never ask him to stay again.
Five past eleven. Sam smiled and stood up. He picked up his coat, switched off the lamp and walked into Toby’s office. “I’m heading off. I’ve made the changes you suggested and I’ll add the summary tomorrow.”
“Good.” Toby stood and started to clear his desk. It didn’t take long; he had been ready to go for two hours. He watched Sam’s office plunged into darkness as the lamp was switched off. Sam cursed and Toby shook his head at the picture of Sam stumbling through his office in the dark. The curse was repeated and the tone of Sam’s voice made Toby freeze. “Sam, you okay in there?” There was no reply. Toby walked out of his office and slammed into Sam who was charging out of his.
“It’s happening again! It’s not meant to, it’s not meant to!” Sam shouted and Toby flinched at the sound of desperation, anger and bewilderment.
“Okay, okay, let’s…okay…just…” Toby guided Sam back into his office and towards the chair. “Just sit down and see if it goes off. Where are your pills?”
“Don’t work, they don’t fucking work!” Sam cried and now there was just anger.
Toby ignored Sam’s protests and found the pills in his briefcase. He hurriedly poured a glass of water and handed it, and the pills, to Sam. He watched as Sam took them and jumped up from his chair. He paced around his desk a couple of times and then towards the door.
“Sit down, they won’t work if you don’t give them a chance to. Try to relax and-”
“Oh shit, please Toby, I can’t do…I can’t…please,” Sam fell to the floor and gripped his head, his knuckles whitened as his fingers attempted to squeeze the pain away.
Toby walked over towards him slowly and crouched down. Sam was folded over, his head almost touching the floor. Toby didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t a tactile person and found himself wishing that CJ was here so that she could manifest his concern with physical comfort like she had with Josh, gripping his hand while the paramedics had worked on the bullet wound.
Sam started to moan more loudly and Toby tentatively placed a hand on his back. The action didn’t seem to provide any comfort though and Toby wasn’t sure that Sam was even aware he was there. The moans became louder and Toby gave up any hope that the pills were working. He moved aside as Sam lurched forwards and then upright. He walked quickly away from Toby and began aimlessly pacing around the small confines of the room. Toby had seen him do this twice now and he knew that there was nothing he could do to help Sam and just had to sit and watch and wait for it to end.
He couldn’t watch, though. He couldn’t stand there and watch Sam walking around in circles, moaning, cursing and shouting. He couldn’t stand there and watch Sam walking into furniture oblivious to anything but the pain in his head. Toby turned and looked at his office through the window and tried to block the sounds of Sam’s agony out. He closed his eyes and willed the attack to end. He was amazed that Sam just didn’t pass out from the pain. He spun around as a sudden thud made him think that was exactly what had happened. Sam had collapsed on the floor but he hadn’t passed out. Toby grimaced at the sound of the thuds as Sam relentlessly banged his head against the desk. Toby looked around the room until he found what he was searching for. He pulled a towel out of Sam’s gym bag and folded it up. Between thuds he quickly placed the towel where Sam’s head was hitting the desk and held it there.
Toby didn’t know how long he sat beside Sam but he knew it was long enough for him to have to change hands because his arm had gone dead. He let the towel fall to the floor when Sam finally stilled and helped him sit up and lean against the desk and then sat beside him.
Sam laid his head back and closed his eyes. He could feel the moisture running from his eye and wiped at it. “Is it blood?” he asked. Toby told him that it wasn’t and pulled a tissue out of his pocket and handed it to Sam. “Is it bleeding?” Sam asked again and when he didn’t take the tissue, Toby wiped his face for him. The pain had been so intense that Sam was sure his eye was bleeding and insisted on looking at the tissue to make certain that it wasn’t.
“Your eye’s a bit swollen, Sam,” Toby explained. “It’s only your right eye. Is that where the pain is?”
Sam nodded slowly. He felt completely drained and even the act of moving his head seemed insurmountable.
Toby reached for the glass of water and passed it to Sam. He took it in shaking hands and Toby steadied it for him. “I’m going to take you to the hospital.”
“No, no need, better now.”
Sam’s speech was slurred and Toby decided Sam was going to the ER no matter how much he protested. “That wasn’t a question, Sam. I’m just telling you what I’m going to do.”
Sam started to turn towards Toby but could only manage to let his head fall back against the desk, “Don’t think I can move…feel wasted.”
Toby sat silently beside him. He brushed his fingers along the carpet and picked up a stray paper clip. He pulled at the end until he had straightened the thin metal. In the distance an unanswered phone rang. The sound of laughter drifted through the door and was followed by two cleaners who passed the office unaware of the two men sitting on the floor inside. “Let’s go,” Toby said as he stood and pulled Sam to his feet. He held onto him until he was steady but Sam continued to sway and so Toby took a tighter grip of his arm and placed his hand on Sam’s back. They made their way out of the West Wing.
The two cleaners parted ways. One started emptying the bins in the Bullpen. The other opened the door to Josh’s office and quietly made his way to the bin by his desk. He decided to change the bag outside; he didn’t want to disturb the man sleeping at his desk.
“Here,” Toby passed Sam a cup of water and sat down beside the exam table.
“You’ve got coffee,” Sam complained.
“I’m not the one lying on a hospital bed.”
“I could have sat on a chair to drink it,” Sam pointed out.
“Sam! That’s not what I meant and you know it. Drink your water and shut up.” Toby took a sip out of the steaming mug while Sam looked on with a scowl.
“I told you I didn’t need to come. I feel fine now. This is just like the other night, all the way to the ER and then I feel fine when I get here.”
“You feel fine now but you didn’t look so fine when you were trying to break your desk with your head!” Toby took another sip and added, “And shut up! It’s one o’clock in the morning and I’m drinking bad coffee so stop moaning and wait for the doctor.”
Sam stared at Toby but realising he was being ignored he went back to staring at the tiles on the ceiling. By the time the doctor arrived Toby had finished his coffee and Sam was asleep. He introduced himself to Toby, walked to the end of the bed and looked at Sam’s chart. “The episode was over before Sam was admitted?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, when the headache was over he seemed out of it so I brought him here. This is the third attack in two days. He saw his doctor earlier today and he said that he thought Sam was suffering from stress. When he had the first attack I took him to the ER and they did a scan and gave him some pills but they don’t work.”
“Okay,” he continued to read the chart, occasionally glancing at Sam. “I’m happy for Sam to go. You can wake him up in a while and I’ll have a prescription for him. Do you have the pills he was given before?”
Toby reached into his pocket, glad that he had thought to bring them with him.
“If you have time, I have a colleague who I think might be interested in seeing Sam.”
“Why?” Toby asked bluntly. He was tired, once again they were getting nowhere and he could still taste the bitter coffee from earlier.
“I don’t know what’s causing Sam’s headaches but I’m certain it’s not stress. I’m also pretty sure from what the doctor who attended Sam when he came in told me that they’re not migraines. My colleague, Doctor Hollis, is writing a paper on a condition that seems to fit with Sam’s symptoms. He’s on duty. If you wake Sam up and he agrees, I’ll page him and I’m sure he’ll be down straight away.”
Toby rubbed at his neck and tried to ease the tension away. He thought about waking Sam and going straight home but the idea that a diagnosis and possible end to Sam’s headaches was in sight outweighed any notions of his own needs. He shook the doctor’s hand and walked over to Sam.
If he found Sam asleep on his couch at work he normally shouted to wake him or pulled the cushion from behind his head. Toby knew that, effective as that was, it probably wouldn’t go down too well in the ER. He placed his hand on Sam’s shoulder with the intention of shaking him. His hand stilled as Sam rolled away and mumbled a protest. Toby found himself staring at his deputy. His stomach lurched at the memory of Sam’s face contorted with pain and he took a few moments just to enjoy the look of total relaxation that he wore now.
He replaced his hand and shook Sam gently. “Hey, Sam, time to wake up. Sam!”
Slowly Sam’s eyes opened and he stared groggily around the room. Toby watched as Sam made sense of his surroundings.
“How long have I been asleep?” he asked as he rubbed his eyes.
“Not long. There’s a doctor who’d like to see you. He’s doing some research and he might be able to help you.” Toby waited until Sam had sat upright before handing him a cup of water. “Do you want to see him now or do you want to go?”
Sam looked at his watch, “Well, we might as well make a night of it.” He yawned and lay back down.
“Don’t go back to sleep,” Toby ordered and Sam reluctantly opened his eyes. The sensation of a cold wet cloth in his hand surprised him but not as much as the gruff direction that followed. “Wipe your face or something. I know you feel deadbeat but you need to listen to this guy.”
Sam wiped the cloth over his face and neck and handed it back to Toby. “Thanks, Batman.”
Toby rolled his eyes and took the cloth back to the sink. When he turned around the doctor who had visited earlier had entered the room followed by a younger man.
“Hello, Mr Seaborn, Mr Ziegler, I’m Doctor Hollis.”
Toby doubted if the man, who seemed to him to be barely out of his teens, would be able to diagnose a cold let alone whatever Sam had. He was about to suggest coming back another time when he glanced at Sam and the look of hope on his face made Toby keep his suggestion unvoiced and walk over to the bed.
“I’ve read your notes, Mr Seaborn and I’ve talked to the doctor who saw you when you were admitted and I think you might be a suitable candidate for some research I am undertaking.” Doctor Hollis proceeded to ask Sam a series of questions about the attacks he had suffered so far. Whilst Sam talked, he nodded understandingly. “You’ve just described a classic cluster attack,” Hollis said as he instinctively reached out to help Sam who was raising himself into a sitting position.
“Cluster attack? I don’t…what’s a cluster attack?” Sam asked trying desperately to concentrate but still unable to fully banish the drowsiness which had cloaked him on waking.
“A cluster headache is a severe attack of headaches that come in groups of attacks. They can last from a number of days to weeks or even months. Between clusters, sufferers are free from any pain until the next episode.”
Sam felt the bed dip as Toby moved and sat on the end. He knew he should say something, ask some questions, but all he wanted to know was if Doctor Hollis could stop the attacks and he didn’t know how to ask that without sounding as desperate as he felt.
“And this research you’re doing,” Toby said, “You think you’ve found some sort of treatment or cure?”
“It’s nothing new. It’s all about the use of oxygen which is already being used with incredible results. There have been few in-depth studies of its use though and I’m working on comparing the results of oxygen with more standard forms of pain relief.”
“So what happens next?” Toby asked.
Doctor Hollis answered Toby but looked at Sam, “If it’s convenient, I’d like you to meet me tomorrow. We can meet here. I’ll give you a direct number you can reach me on to arrange a time.”
“It’s not really that sim-”
“Tomorrow will be fine,” Toby said reaching for the card and thanking the doctor.
When he had gone, Toby stood and walked closer to Sam. “You take whatever time you need. Make whatever appointments you need to. You don’t need to start worrying about that.”
Sam nodded. He wanted to comment on Toby’s uncharacteristic concern, but he was too tired to do anything but allow himself to be helped off the gurney and out of the ER.
There was a bird singing outside the window of Toby’s window. Its song was beautiful and relentless. Toby was oblivious to it. He had spent a few restless hours in bed before giving up any notion of sleep, showering and returning to the White House. He took a long sip of his coffee and entered a new phrase into the search bar on his screen. ‘Cluster attacks treatment oxygen’. The list of sites was exhaustive and Toby scrolled past sites that he recognised as already having visited. He added another drug to the list on his pad and scribbled, ‘how use oxygen at home?’ on the page he had dedicated to notes about the treatment the doctor had mentioned last night. He put his pencil down and sighed heavily. The cleaners were finishing up and he knew Ginger would be in soon. He was pleased to find his coffee still warm and so walked over to the window to finish it. The bird was still singing and Toby closed his eyes and focused on the sound trying not to think about everything he had just read online.
He was still standing at the window when Sam appeared. The cleaners had left and so had the bird. The communications Bullpen was unusually quiet. Sometimes Toby came in early just to enjoy the rare experience of peace in the usually frantic workplace.
“Hey, Toby,” Sam called from his office before walking into Toby’s. “Thanks for last night. I’m sorry you had to see that and then deal with the aftermath.”
Toby waved his hand in the air and dismissed Sam’s comment. “Listen, did you have a look online about Cluster headaches?”
“No, I mean I was going to but I was just so wasted last night and I overslept and came straight in. I was going to look now.”
“Maybe you should wait and see what Doctor Hollis says.”
Sam was about to agree when he caught site of the scribbled notes on Toby’s desk. He looked up and flashed a nervous smile at Toby. “Why? What am I going to read online that you’d rather I heard from him?”
“Nothing, it’s just that web sites can be unreliable and I just think you should hear from a professional before you go diagnosing yourself.”
Sam sat down on the sofa and pointed to the pad on Toby’s desk. “You don’t bother noting down unreliable information, Toby. Tell me what you’ve found out.”
“We don’t even know that this is what you have,” Toby argued.
“Don’t even know that who has what?” Josh said as he walked into the office. He looked at Sam staring at Toby and Toby staring at Sam. “What’s going on,” he asked, more quietly.
Toby eyed the door and Josh shut it before sitting down next to Sam.
“Sam had another attack last night.” Toby said. “I took him to the ER and he saw a doctor who-”
“Hold on, what do you mean he had an attack last night? I was here. I was waiting …I was here.”
“What was I thinking?” Toby exclaimed. “When I was trying to stop Sam from cracking his head open I should have been checking to see if you were still here.”
“Yes! Yes that’s exactly what you should have done because I need to be there too. I can’t help if I’m not there,” Josh shouted back matching Toby’s equally furious tone.
Sam jumped out of his seat, knocking a pile of newspapers flying in the process. “This is so what I don’t need right now.” He charged between the pair of them, the slam of his office door making Josh jump. He looked at Toby, all anger dissipating and turned and left. Toby went back to the window. A few moments ago it had been quiet, Toby thought. A bird had been singing and then it had been quiet. He walked back to his desk and slammed down the lid of his laptop.
“Where’s Sam?” Leo asked Toby without looking up from the paper he was holding.
“At the hospital,” Toby answered and Leo looked up. “He had another headache last night so I took him to the ER and there was a doctor there who thinks he can help Sam so he’s gone to see him. He’ll be in later.”
Leo didn’t miss the glare that Josh was aiming at Toby but ignored his seemingly irate Deputy. “I don’t get it. Sam had a headache bad enough for you to take him to the hospital but he’s okay to come into work later? Was he admitted?
“No,” Toby sat down wearily, “Can we just do Staff and then talk about this afterwards?”
Leo decided the problems of running the United States were easier to solve than trying to ascertain what was wrong with Sam. Toby mumbled something about Cluster headaches and Leo was none the wiser. They decided to wait for Sam to come back from the hospital and take it from there.
“We’ll force him to take some time off,” Leo stated. “Whatever the doc prescribes I’m sure he’ll recommend some time away from the West Wing. He just needs the right pills and some rest.”
“I don’t think-” Toby started but he didn’t finish his sentence. He looked at Leo who was waiting for him to continue. “I don’t think making Sam take time off is as easy as it sounds,” he finished, having decided not to voice his fears that Sam’s condition would not be solved by either pills or rest.
CJ was the first to see Sam when he returned from the hospital. Events in the West Wing had, as usual, forced the staffers to push their private concerns aside and so when she saw Sam walking towards his office her only thought was that she could finally get someone to explain an item for her briefing to her. “Hey, Sam, the amazing, walking, encyclopaedia man.” She followed him into his office and leant against the doorjamb. “I’ve got a briefing in like five minutes and I’m having a few problems understanding how-”
“CJ, can you ask Toby? I’ve got this…I need to get this done. I’ve been out all morning so I’m really running behind.”
“Oh my God, the doctor, how did it go? What did he say?” CJ crossed the room and stood in front of Sam’s desk.
“He gave me some pills and he wants me to keep a journal and then see me again in a few weeks.” Sam busied himself with the messages on his desk and CJ didn’t miss the fact that he hadn’t looked at her once since she had entered the room.
“Okay, well, I’ve got to go see Toby but when the briefing’s done I’m coming back here and taking you for a coffee and you can tell me all about it.”
“There’s nothing to tell!” Sam shouted. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…there’s nothing to tell, CJ. I’m fine…I’ll be fine.”
CJ stared at Sam. “You’re lying and you wanna know how I know?”
Sam couldn’t help but smile, “How do you know?”
“Because, there’s a little vein in your neck that throbs when you lie.”
“There really isn’t,” Sam said. “Go do your briefing.”
CJ left after telling Sam to be ready for their date after the briefing. Sam shook his head and sat down at his desk. He knew he had to talk to Toby but was glad that CJ had got there first. He went to the men’s room and splashed cold water on his face, combed his hair then studied his neck for throbbing veins in the mirror.
“Josh!” Ginger had already asked Josh to move off her desk once. “You’re sitting on Toby’s diary.”
Josh jumped off the desk and perched on it instead. “How long have they been in there?”
“Three hours,” Ginger replied.
“Feels like it,” Ginger mumbled as she picked up her notes and went to work at Bonnie’s desk.
“Josh!” He drew his gaze away from Toby’s window. Donna was standing, hands on hips, staring at him. “You’re meant to be phoning Senator Adams.”
“I was just waiting to see Toby then Ginger started asking me about…stuff…”
Donna didn’t move. Her expression didn’t change. Josh reluctantly walked away from the communications Bullpen and back to his office. Leaving Ginger to sigh loudly and move back to her desk.
Sam had been in Toby’s office for forty minutes. He had told him what the doctor had said and looked at the sites Toby had found online. He had glanced up a few times and seen Josh waiting impatiently outside but he couldn’t face Josh and his concern, it was enough dealing with Toby.
“So, what happens now? You just wait and see how many more you have?”
“Pretty much- he said that they sound like cluster headaches but as I’ve only had three he can’t be certain. The symptoms are similar to migraines so…”
“Oh, so I suppose it could be possible that I’ve just had three bad migraines. He went through a list of cluster symptoms though and all the ones that are different to migraines, I had.” Sam stood up and crossed his arms over his chest. It was a protective gesture that Toby had seem Sam adopt before.
“Sit down, I’ll get us something to eat.”
“I’m not sick, Toby.”
“No, but you look a little…you know…so I’ll go and get us something and you sit there and finish my paragraph.”
“Okay, well, that sounds more like it.”
Sam spent the rest of the afternoon in Toby’s office. Since returning to his, Josh had been holed up dealing with the aftermath of his phone call to Senator Adams.”
Sam rewrote Toby’s paragraph which necessitated rewriting much of the middle section of the speech. He worked in silence, his shoeless feet on the coffee table, Toby sat at his desk equally engrossed in his work. Both men were surprised when they finally stopped and realised it was gone five. As the afternoon drew into evening, all Sam could think about was the approaching hour of eleven and what it may bring.
Evidently Toby was thinking the same thing. “What time do you think you’re heading off tonight?”
Sam continued to type as he answered. “Why?” Toby didn’t answer and so Sam stopped typing and looked up at him. “I was thinking I’d stay until this was done.”
“Are you planning on spending the night here?”
“I’m almost there. It won’t take that long, I only need to add-”
“Do you want to stay at my place?”
The question was so unexpected that Sam couldn’t hide his surprise. His reply surprised him even more, “Yes, I do, if that’s okay?”
Toby nodded. If he was feeling scared at the thought of another attack, he could only imagine what Sam was feeling. “Don’t snore, don’t touch any of my things and if you so much as look at my newspaper before me there’ll be repercussions.”
Sam smiled and went back to his typing. He hated the thought of anyone seeing him when he was having an attack but couldn’t bear the thought of being alone after one. They worked on in silence Sam managing to stop looking at the clock and concentrate on the words on his screen.
“Senator Adams thinks I have an over inflated notion of my own importance.” Josh appeared in the doorway. “He thinks I’m a jackass as well. He didn’t say that but that was the impression I got, reading between the lines.”
“Really?” Sam asked, “Because normally you miss those sorts of nuances of conversation.”
“I’ve been practising. I’ve been using Donna as my basis. I work on the theory that she thinks I’m a jackass seventy percent of the time so if I study her tone and mannerisms I should be able to pick up on it in other people.”
“How’s it working out so far?”
Josh slumped onto the sofa next to Sam, “I really do seem to annoy people even when I’m not trying to. It’s like this…gift.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Yeah, it’s a rare and beautiful thing.” He finished what he was working on and closed his laptop. “I’m going to stay at Toby’s tonight.” He caught Josh’s look of surprise. “I know, I know, but I just don’t want to be alone and he offered so I-”
“You don’t have to be alone. You could stay with me until you’re better or I could stay at yours for a while.”
“I asked you to stay with me once before, Josh, and you chose…” Sam rested his head against the sofa and sighed, “You chose not to.”
“This has nothing to do with that. I’m just…let me just…”
Sam never found out what Josh wanted Sam to let him do, as Toby chose that moment to re-enter the office carrying Sam’s coat and briefcase. “We’re going home. Well, I’m going home, you’re going to my home, with the things you can’t touch and newspapers you can’t read.”
Sam ducked his head, smiled and took his coat from Toby. He glanced at Josh who had stood and was following them out of the room. “Buy me lunch tomorrow and you can finish your sentence then.”
Josh smiled and nodded, unable to hide the relief that he felt at Sam’s offer. “If I buy you dessert can I have an exclamation as well?”
Sam rolled his eyes, left the room and hurried after Toby.
Toby opened his eyes and listened. The sound had woken him but he was still muddled from sleep and tried to remember why hearing a sound in his house wasn’t a problem. Eventually it came to him; Sam was staying. He lay back down and pulled the comforter up. Sam! Toby sat bolt upright as he remembered why Sam was staying. He jumped out of the bed, bashing his knee on the bedside table in the process. Cursing, he hobbled around the bed and towards the spare room. He could tell without switching on the light that the bed was empty. He called Sam’s name and tried the bathroom. Heading downstairs he continued to call, his tone becoming more urgent. Sam wasn’t in the kitchen or the living room. Toby stood by the sofa and caught his breath. He glanced at the door and realising Sam hadn’t left the house he moved quickly towards the basement stairs. The white of Sam’s T-shirt was clearly visible in the far corner of the room. Toby hurried down the stairs towards him.
Sam was huddled in a ball. His arms wrapped tightly around his waist and knees tucked almost to his chin. His eyes were closed but Toby could tell by his rapid breathing that Sam wasn’t asleep. He reached out to touch Sam’s shoulder but on feeling Toby’s hand, Sam batted it away and moved further towards the wall.
“I didn’t hear you, Sam. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Toby reached out again and this time Sam let him pull him upwards. “Let’s get you up…there you go, just take your time.”
Sam rubbed at his face and then cupped his running eye with his hand. His eyes were closed again and Toby knew that if he didn’t get him to move now he would be dragging a semi-conscious Sam up the stairs by himself. “I need you to stand up, think you can do that?” Sam nodded and mumbled something but Toby couldn’t make out the words. “Just to the sofa, Sam, can you get to the sofa?”
Sam nodded again and placed his hand on the wall to help push himself up. He felt Toby’s hands on him, one on his arm and the other around his waist. He tried to relish the feeling of being free from pain but all he could feel was bone-weary and confused. He couldn’t work out why Toby was with him and although he knew he wasn’t home, he couldn’t remember exactly where he was. He felt the warmth increase as he made his way slowly up the stairs until he reached the top and was bathed in light from the living room. “Don’t know?”
“Don’t know what?” Toby asked as he steered at the increasingly drowsy man towards the sofa.
“Where,” Sam said, “where I am.”
“You’re at my place, remember?” Feeling a rush of fear, Toby shook Sam slightly and raised his voice, “Remember, Sam?”
“Yeah, sure, I remember,” Sam lay down and drifted off immediately. Toby pulled down the throw from the back of the sofa and covered him.
He went back to bed but sleep wouldn’t come and so he grabbed a book from his bedside table and returned to the living room. He read for a while and then placed the book down and watched Sam sleep. He wondered if he should wake him and check that he really did know where he was. He read a few more pages before realising that he was never going to relax until he was sure Sam was okay. It took him a while to wake Sam and a while longer for him to ascertain that Sam knew where he was. Satisfied that he could leave Sam to sleep, Toby returned to his bed and eventually drifted off thirty minutes before the alarm woke him.
Toby showered, dressed and had breakfast before Sam showed any signs of life. By the time Sam sat up from his uncomfortable curled up position on the sofa, Toby was ready to leave for work. “The coffee’s on, there’s bread on the side and orange juice in the fridge,” he said as he walked over to the sofa. He smiled slightly as he watched Sam trying to disentangle himself from the throw. “How are you feeling?”
“Good, give me five minutes and I’ll be ready.”
Toby decided to let Sam stand up before answering. Sure enough, he wavered and collapsed back onto the sofa. “Coffee’s still hot. I’ll get you a cup. Get back into bed and I’ll see you later if you feel okay.”
Sam conceded defeat, miserably pulled the throw around his shoulders and slowly stood up and made his way into the bedroom. He heard footsteps padding across the room and smelt the coffee as the sound of a tray being placed down made him open his eyes. “Thanks, Toby.”
Toby shrugged and stood watching Sam for a few moments before leaving the room. When Sam heard the front door close he sat up and sipped at the coffee. There were two headache pills on the tray and Sam smiled at Toby’s thoughtfulness then drifted back to sleep longing for the days when his headaches could be relieved with a couple of pills.
“Then don’t come in,” Toby said to Sam for the third time during their phone conversation. Sam had phoned Toby after lunch and Toby had spent the last five minutes listening to Sam’s indecision about returning to work.
“I could come in and then crash on the sofa if I don’t feel any better,” Sam suggested.
“Then come in,” Toby said as he took a bite from a sandwich and turned the page of the Washington Post.
“Wait, was that a …have you got me on speaker phone?”
Toby wasn’t expecting Sam to include him in the conversation for a while and so had taken a large bite from his sandwich which he tried to swallow before mumbling ‘no’.
“Are you even listening to me? I’m asking you if you think I should come into work today.”
“No you’re not; you’re sitting there having some sort of unnatural conversation with yourself about whether you should come in today. The fact that you’re doing that should tell you that it would probably be best for you to just go back to bed.”
“So you don’t think I should come in?”
“Oh for the love of…” Toby snatched at the phone and brought it to his ear. “Sam, stay there, come in, it’s all the same to me but just make your mind up! For what it’s worth, I’d be a lot happier knowing you were getting some sleep.”
“There you go again with that ‘concern’ thing. It’s freaking me out, Toby. Making me coffee, telling me to get some sleep, what happened to my gruff and uncaring boss?”
“He’s still here; would you like me to get him?”
“Okay, stop clogging my phone line, go to bed and don’t call me again unless you’re making sense!”
“That’s more like it,” Sam replied. He said goodbye to his boss and took his advice and went straight back to bed. He was still asleep when Toby got home four hours later.
“Success in today's global marketplace is often a struggle of great ideas against even greater regulation and red tape. But, there’s no business…” Toby stopped pacing his office and looked at Sam to provide the end of the sentence.
“Like show business?” Sam offered.
“Sam!” Toby warned.
“Oh come on, Toby, everything about it is appealing.”
“And I’ll tell you something else, there’s no people like show people, they smile when they are-”
“Say one more word, just one…” Toby shot Sam a menacing glare but couldn’t manage to put his all into it. Sam was happy and relaxed for the first time since he’d had the first attack. He’d fallen asleep at Toby’s and although Toby had laid awake waiting for another attack, Sam had slept through the night.
Sam knew that the chances that the attacks were gone for good were slim but at least he had broken the pattern of having one every night. He lay back on the sofa and put his feet up on the table. “I’m a little peckish.”
“You’re a little something,” Toby mumbled as he put down his pad and pen and led the way to the Mess.
Leo asked Sam to ‘stick around’ after the staff meeting. He asked Sam how he was feeling and told him that he wasn’t to worry about work. If he needed time off he would sort it. Sam thanked him but said that it probably wouldn’t be necessary. He let Leo tell him a story about a fighter pilot friend of his who suffered from crippling migraines. Sam didn’t care where he was as long as he wasn’t near Josh. He had been aware of Josh’s concerned glances all through the meeting and knew he had to talk to him at some point. He just didn’t want it to be today.
Sam managed to go all day without bumping into Josh. It took some doing, and meant he had to wait an hour before he could go to the Mess for lunch but he managed it. He nearly managed to get out of the building as well but Josh had been waiting for him to leave.
“We need to talk,” Josh said, appearing at the door as Sam was putting on his coat.
“We don’t, not now anyway.”
Josh walked into the room and shut the door. “Why won’t you let me help you? I know I’m not…good…in medical situations that require calm but you’re blocking me out…why?”
Sam sighed and pulled his coat off. He sat down at his desk and wiped tiredly at his eyes. “Because suddenly you’re all over me when for the past few months you’ve hardly had a word to say to me that wasn’t to do with work. Because you’re acting like I’m being unfair by not letting you help me and I really can’t deal with your feelings on top of everything else. And, because, why now? Where were you after I gave the tape to Kevin Kahn? Where were you when we were struggling to deal with the MS? Where were you, Josh, because you weren’t here, hanging round my doorframe and following me down the corridors.”
“I was…” Josh slumped into the chair and took a deep breath, “This isn’t about any of that.”
“Oh, it isn’t?”
“No,” Josh stood and walked over to Sam. He knelt down beside him and lowered his voice. “This is you being unable to forgive me. This is you saying ‘fuck you, Josh’. I chose Bartlet over us and you’ve never forgiven me for that.”
Sam opened his mouth to protest but Josh carried on, “It’s okay, I’ve never forgiven myself for that. There’s no ulterior motive here. I just want to help you. I know I’ve been a shit and I’ve handled things badly. I turned away when I shouldn’t have but now I want to help you. I want you to-”
“Forgive you! That’s what you want, you want me to say that it doesn’t matter that you said no to us but promised me a friendship and then turned your back on that as well.” Sam stood and pushed past Josh. “I can’t do this now.”
“Sam!” Josh stood up and walked over to him. “Okay, I’m sorry but tell me you want to be alone tonight and I’ll go. Tell me I’m wrong, that you’re not petrified of being on your own.”
Josh was blocking the doorway and Sam pushed against him but he wouldn’t budge. “It’s not your problem…anymore. It’s not your problem.”
Josh stayed where he was. Sam’s hand was on his chest, pushing against him. His other was grasping the handle by Josh’s side. “Let me help, Sam.”
Sam didn’t move. He stared at Josh and his hand closed around the material of Josh’s shirt. Something passed between the two men, memories of shared intimacies that made them step apart simultaneously. Wordlessly, Josh moved aside as Sam walked past him and opened the door.
Two weeks passed and Sam didn’t have another attack. He kept in touch with Doctor Hollis who told Sam that he was more or less certain that he was suffering from cluster headaches. Sam accepted the diagnosis but inwardly convinced himself that he would not be experiencing any more. He gave up researching the condition on the internet when he could fine no examples of sufferers only experiencing one bout of attacks.
Toby gave up trying to find out what the doctor had told Sam and waited. He had read enough internet sites and contacted enough help lines to be sure that Doctor Hollis’ diagnosis was correct. He knew it was probably only a matter of time before the next cluster of attacks struck. He tried not to think about it too much though and when he did, he kept in mind the case studies he had read of sufferers who had years between attacks. He became almost as good as Sam at ignoring the inevitable. Three weeks to the day of Sam’s last attack, the inevitable happened.
“Where’s Sam?” Josh asked as he stuck his head around Toby’s doorframe.
“Meeting Boarson and Grieves on the Hill.” Toby stopped writing and looked up, “Why?”
“No reason. When’s he due back?”
“It’s Boarson and Grieves, he’ll be lucky to get out of there before tomorrow.”
“Okay, well, I’ll-” Josh didn’t finish his sentence, his cell phone started to vibrate and he pulled it from his pocket. Sam’s name appeared on the screen. He walked out of Toby’s office and answered the call. “Hey, Sam, what’s up?” Silence greeted him from the other end. He repeated Sam’s name and then hung up and dialled Sam’s number but there was no answer.
“Are you sure Sam’s still on the Hill?” he asked Toby who had entered the Bullpen and was talking to Ginger.
“Yeah, probably still in the meeting and losing the will to live right about now.”
Josh opened his mouth to tell Toby about the call but then closed it. He knew something was wrong, he could feel it and where Sam was concerned his instincts were usually correct. This time Sam had come to him and he wasn’t about to let Toby get involved. “I’m going to go meet him, see if he fancies some lunch,” Josh said.
“Well make sure you let me know what you had because I’m really interested in your dining affairs.”
Josh hurried out of the Bullpen and grabbed his coat and bag. Donna was at lunch so he left a message for her to cancel his two o’clock meeting with the interns and set off to find Sam.
He entered the Capital Building and stopped at reception to find out where Sam’s meeting was. The knot that had been slowly tightening in his stomach coiled even more when he saw Boarson and Grieves coming out of the elevator alone.
“Well hello there, Mr Lyman. Quite a beating you took from Callaghan last week. You should have met with O’Brian like I suggested.”
Josh ignored the jibe, focused only on Sam he walked quickly over to Ted Boarson, “Where’s Sam?”
Ted frowned at his failure to get a rise from Josh but he could also sense Josh’s agitation and realised it had nothing to do with himself or failed Bills. “He was right behind us a while ago but didn’t get in the elevator, said he’d take the stairs.”
Josh nodded his thanks and grabbed the closing elevator door. Health-nut though he was, Sam seldom used the stairs if there was an elevator. Josh tried to reason that maybe Sam had just had enough of Boarson and Grieves but the tension in his stomach was overriding any reasoning he could manage. He entered the floor where Sam had left Ted and went to the room where the meeting had been held. It was empty and so Josh walked to the end of the corridor and started to check the other rooms. He opened the door of the third room and the sunlight reflecting from a white table made him squint. He closed the door quickly and turned back the way he had come; Sam would be in a dark room, somewhere he couldn’t be found or heard. Josh walked back to the first room he had tried. He had cracked the door of the stationary cupboard open and dismissed the dark room but now he realised it was the perfect place.
He was not disappointed. After negotiating a pile of cartons of paper, Josh finally found Sam sitting huddled against the wall in the far corner. He could tell from Sam’s position that he’d suffered another attack. Sam was kneeling with his head resting on the floor. His hands held his head but he was still and quiet and Josh knew the attack had passed. He tried to work out how long this one must have lasted and cursed himself for not asking Ted how long it had been since Sam had left them.
As he walked up to Sam and crouched down beside him he realised it was irrelevant. All that mattered was letting Sam know he was there and getting him back to the White House. He had been so preoccupied by his thoughts that he didn’t stop to think that his appearance at Sam’s side might startle the vulnerable man but Sam didn’t even react to the sound of his name or the hand on his back. Josh lifted Sam’s head with his other hand and wiped away the liquid streaming from Sam’s eye.
Sam squinted up at him and then let his head fall back to the floor. “It came back, Josh…wasn’t meant to…meant to end but it came back.”
Josh hauled Sam up and helped him lean against the wall. “It’s alright, just rest a minute then I’ll get you back to the office, okay?”
Sam nodded, “Rest…a while…just a bit…” his speech was slurred and Josh pulled the slumping body towards him. Sam was asleep before his head finally came to rest on Josh’s legs. Josh looked at his watch and decided he could spend thirty minutes here while Sam slept. He smiled at the thought; he could spend forever here he thought to himself.
Josh spent an hour sitting against the wall, slowly brushing his hand over and over Sam’s head. Four people came into the stockroom oblivious to the two men in the far corner. Josh watched as the first person stacked three boxes of paper and then tried in vain to lift them. He watched as a man carefully ticked items off a list as he selected objects from the shelves. He smiled and shook his head when two women workers sneaked into the darkened store and pretended to be shocked while delighting in the latest office gossip.
By the time Sam started to stir, Josh’s legs were dead and his hand was tingling from the constant stroking motion. He sat upright and let Sam get himself together and when it became clear that Sam had made it up from leaning on Josh only to lean just as heavily against the wall, Josh finally spoke. “We need to get going. I know you feel like shit but we need to get back to the office.”
“You go. I’ll fashion a bed from recycled paper and box tape.”
Josh laughed, a gentle sound, and Sam felt his chest vibrate and realised he was leaning more on Josh than the wall. He started to haul himself up but couldn’t get his legs to cooperate. Josh’s smile disappeared and he gently helped Sam to his feet. He checked the coast was clear and then helped Sam out into the corridor and to the restroom.
“How did you find me?” Sam asked as he splashed cold water on his face.
“I just…I don’t know, I just knew where you were.”
Sam grabbed a towel from Josh and dabbed at his face and then the splashes of water on his shirtfront. “Toby’s going to be pissed.”
“Toby’s always pissed but when he’s finished being pissed he’ll be concerned and ask if you want to stay at his place again?” Josh held the door open for Sam.
“And what will I say?”
“You’ll say that you’re grateful for the offer but the sexiest man in Washington has already offered to stay with you.”
“Oh, okay.” The elevator doors opened and Josh stepped inside. Sam didn’t move.
“What are you doing?”
Sam stared at the far end of the corridor, “I’m waiting to see the sexiest man in Washington who’s going to be spending the night with me.” Josh grabbed Sam’s arm and pulled him inside.
They returned to the White House to find Donna in a state, pacing the Bullpen having been trying to contact Josh continually for the past hour. “Where have you been?”
“Checking out the stationary supplies on the Hill and you’ll be pleased to know they’re well stocked.” Josh steered Sam past his office and into his own.
“Josh! I’ve been trying to get hold of you and you’ve been counting paperclips! Anything could have happened!”
“Has anything happened?”
“No,” she admitted reluctantly, “But that’s not the point.” For the first time since starting her tirade, Donna looked at Sam properly and immediately stopped talking. She watched as Josh helped him into a chair and then opened a bottle of water and handed it to him. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, Sam’s got a migraine that’s all.”
Donna looked from Josh to Sam then back at Josh, “Aw that’s so-”
“Donna, don’t start awing.” Josh pushed past her and walked towards the coffee machine.
“No, that’s just…aw…Josh, you went to the Hill to rescue Sam from his migraine. That’s so sweet.”
Josh took a long sip of coffee and walked over to Donna’s desk, “I didn’t go to the Hill to rescue Sam. I went because I needed to see…someone…about…something.”
Donna leaned over and kissed Josh. “I think that’s the sweetest thing and I want you to know that if you hadn’t just made yourself a coffee I’d have made one for you.”
“You know, you really should be doing that sort of stuff already,” Josh pointed out. “But I appreciate the gesture,” he added as he perched on the edge of her desk.
Donna waited, she knew there was something wrong with Sam and it was more than a migraine. The assistants had been speculating that something was wrong since Sam and Toby had returned from their trip. And, despite Josh’s bravado, whatever had happened today had upset him.
“I don’t want any calls unless it’s Leo, cancel my meeting with Harley. Give it thirty minutes and then phone Toby and tell him that Sam’s in my office.”
Donna nodded and went to sit at her chair placing her hand on Josh’s arm as she passed.
“It’s time like this that I almost think I might make you a coffee,” Josh said. Donna smiled up at him. “It’s passed now but the thought was there.” Josh went back to his office closing the door behind him.
It was strange looking at up at Toby and Josh from a horizontal position, Sam thought as he lay on Toby’s sofa staring at the two men. He couldn’t remember much about getting from Josh’s office to Toby’s but he had a vague recollection of Toby appearing and shouting and then silence and then Toby asking incredulously if Josh had ‘shushed’ him. He decided that he must have been asleep for some time as it was dark outside now. Toby was running a hand alternatively over his beard and forehead while Josh sat perched on the desk, arms folded and head down. Sam kept his eyes closed and tried to focus on what was being said. He listened for a while, to no avail, and fell asleep again.
The next time he woke the office was in darkness. A blanket had been thrown over him and he was confronted by the sight of Josh’s shoeless feet resting on the table in front of him. One foot moved, scratched at the sole of the other and then dropped back to the table.
“Aromatherapy?” Sam questioned as he started to raise himself into a sitting position.
“Hey! My feet don’t smell!” Josh replied. He raised his feet from the table and leaned forward to study Sam. “How are you feeling?”
“Good,” Sam saw Josh’s frown, “Better than I was?” he tried again.
Josh nodded. “Toby had to go. He’s taking Andy to the Brad Consol Dinner.”
Sam closed his eyes, “Yeah, he said something about that.”
“Open your eyes.” Josh waited until Sam complied and then moved to sit next to him. “You’re coming home with me.”
It wasn’t said as an order just simply a fact. Sam knew he didn’t have the energy to even try to argue he just nodded and let Josh pull him upwards.
“What were you talking to Toby about earlier in his office?” Sam asked Josh who was sitting on the bed beside him.
“I knew you were awake!” Josh accused.
Sam smiled and shuffled further down the bed pulling at the comforter that Josh was sitting on. “I wasn’t awake the whole time. I was awake for a little while.”
“Ah!” As Sam moved down the bed, Josh sat further up it. “I should let you rest.” He started to climb off.
“Does Toby think I should take some time off?”
Josh had reached the side of the bed. He didn’t turn around. “No.” He heard Sam sigh and turned. “No,” he repeated.
“Because I was thinking maybe I should…just until I get these headaches sorted…maybe I should take some time off.”
“And leave me to deal with an overworked, stressed out, Toby! Yeah, that’s gonna happen! Get some sleep.” Josh walked out of the room pulling the door to behind him.
The morning bought a dazzling sunrise that bathed Josh’s living room in a golden glow. He tiptoed around the kitchen, making coffee and throwing away out of date food until he found something for breakfast. He called Sam’s name but there was no reply. Looking at the clock he knew that they would have to get a move on if they were both going to get to work on time. He poured two glasses of orange and two cups of coffee and walked towards the spare room.
The door was ajar and he peeked inside before entering. Sam was lying on his back, his arms folded tightly across his chest and his gaze on the ceiling. Josh watched as he closed his eyes, turned on his side and curled into a ball. Josh was pleased to see he didn’t look tired anymore but the look of fear that he had glimpsed on Sam’s face was worse to see. The sound of the door opening made Sam unfurl and sit up in the bed. Wordlessly, Josh placed the tray on the bed and opened the curtains. The same golden rays that lit the living room spread into the bedroom. Sam was oblivious to them.
“Real oranges,” Josh said by way of a morning greeting.
“Real- you just squeezed them or real- it says so on the box?”
“The second one,” Josh answered and sat down on the bed.
They drank the juice in silence. Both men thinking about the day ahead and what it might bring. If the last series of headaches was anything to go by, the chances were high that Sam would have another one today and at roughly the same time as yesterday.
“I’m meant to be in the Oval this afternoon,” Sam said, voicing both men’s concerns.
“Stay home then,” Josh said.
“I can’t stay home because I might have a headache!”
“Exactly!” Josh swigged down the rest of his orange and placed his glass on the cabinet. “Although, you know, you can, if that’s what you want to do but then do you not go in the next day and the day after that?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“We could have a code word or something. Then, if a headache’s starting I could come get you and take you to…the stationary cupboard.”
Sam finished his drink and reached over Josh to place his glass next to his. “Good idea. How about this for a codeword, I’ll start screaming and swearing and bashing my head against the President’s desk.”
Josh stretched and held onto the top of the headboard, “You’re going to deny me my codeword.”
“I am,” Sam sat up and yawned. “I need to have a shower. Have you got a shirt for me?”
Josh nodded and watched Sam picking up his clothing that he had discarded last night. “You need to phone that doctor today.”
“Jesus! Alright, Josh! Will you just let me shower and get to work!” Sam threw his collected clothing back onto the floor.
Josh stared at him, taken aback by the sudden outburst. He slowly rose from the bed and walked over to Sam, picked up the clothes and handed them to him. Their hands brushed briefly as Sam mumbled an apology. “It’s okay,” Josh replied. He looked down at his hands and Sam moved away quickly and went into the bathroom.
In the end, there hadn’t been time for a codeword. Sam’s headache had struck just as he was due to go to the Oval Office. He had taken himself down to Ainsley’s old office and then remained there until he could summon the energy to return upstairs.
Toby took one look at him and made him sit in his office. He disappeared for a while and then returned with Sam’s coat and told him a car was waiting to take him to the hospital. “I’ll finish up here and meet you there.”
Sam nodded and Toby had to guide him towards the door to make him move. “I’ll walk down with you.”
Doctor Hollis chastised himself for feeling pleased to see Sam. The carer in him knew that Sam’s return meant the headaches had returned also but the professional in him was excited by the prospect of having a sufferer of cluster attacks to try out the oxygen treatment on.
“Okay, Sam, I think we can say that what you’re experiencing are definitely cluster headaches.” Doctor Hollis removed the blood pressure cuff from Sam’s arm and returned to his seat. “As I’ve told you, there are few physical presentations that aid diagnosis but I have found the carotid artery in your neck is tender at several points and that’s something that can be found in the majority of sufferers.” He picked up a pencil and started to jot a few notes. “I want to give you a prescription to use pure oxygen at home and work. I can tell you how to use it here and then we can see how you get on with it.”
Sam tried to focus on Doctor Hollis’ words. He wished that he had brought someone with him as all he could seem to remember from what had just been said was the word ‘sufferer’ which now repeated in his head.
“So what do you think, Sam?” He reached for his prescription pad and started to write. “We’ll give the oxygen a go and take it from there?”
“Oxygen? I thought…I’m sorry…I thought you would give me some drugs? I’ve been prescribed two lots that didn’t work but I thought that you might have something else I could try.”
Hollis pushed the pad away. “Oxygen therapy has been a very successful form of treatment for many sufferers and I think that if it works for you it would be better to try that than prescribing drugs that may have side effects. CH is a serious condition. It’s not just a case of popping a few prescription pain killers.” As soon as he had said the words, he regretted them. He could see Sam’s whole demeanour change as he sat up straighter in his chair and leaned towards the desk.
“No, but it may well be a case of popping some dihydroergotamine, prednisone, ergotamine, methoxyflurane or lidocaine and if its all the same to you I think I’d like to try those before I have to resort to carrying an oxygen tank around the White House with me.”
Hollis couldn’t help but smile. “I’ve told you about the research I’m doing and I won’t lie to you, I’d love the chance to include you in it but I can see you’ve done some research yourself. Medical internet sites can be a wonderful resource and I can see you’ve used them to supplement what you’ve been told by me and others. If only everyone could use them like that.” He reached for the pad again and started to write. “You know what’s worse that a hypochondriac?”
Sam sat back and shook his head.
“A hypochondriac with internet access.”
Sam smiled and took the prescription from Hollis. He listened to a list of instructions and nodded politely when the Doctor told him about the various help-groups available. He made an appointment for the following week and left the office. He went back to work and stayed late to make up for the time out. By the time he arrived home it was late but he wasn’t surprised to find Josh sitting outside waiting for him.
“Hey, what’s up?” Sam walked up the steps and sat down beside him.
“Your neighbour, Mr Dillin, thinks I should trade in my car and get a Cadillac XLR.”
Sam cocked his head, digested the information and nodded, “At $76 000 some people might consider it a snip.”
Josh smiled and wondered how Sam managed to make a word like ‘snip’ sound remarkable.
The two men sat on the steps and watched the people passing by. Josh leant back and rested his elbows on the step behind. Sam was leaning forward resting his hands on his knees. “You can’t stay with me every night. If I’ve got this cluster thing then I need to start dealing with it on my own.”
“You don’t.” Josh turned and waited until Sam was looking at him. “You don’t. I can be here with you. I can help. At least until they’ve actually found a drug that works for you. I can help you deal with it.”
Sam took a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. “We’ve talked about this. I don’t need you here just because you feel sorry for me or you think you can make up for…”
“Make up for not being there before.” Sam looked away and Josh noticed his hands that had hung loosely between his knees were now clenched.
“When we were talking the other day in your office you walked out on me. I wanted to tell you then, I wanted to ask you…I want you to let me help you, Sam. I want to be here for you, not to make up for anything but just because I want to. I don’t expect anything. I’m not trying to rekindle anything here. I just want to help my friend.”
Sam’s hands relaxed and he hung his head. Josh stared at the passing cars and waited and let his mind drift back in time.
Over three years had passed since he and Sam had broken up. They had been together before Sam had moved to New York but the timing had been off; both men had their careers to think about and neither were sure that they were what the other wanted. A year apart had confirmed to them both that they had made a mistake but by then it was too late; Sam was involved with Lisa and Josh was engrossed in his role of Congressman Brennan’s Chief of Staff. By the time a soaking wet Josh had turned up at Gage Whitney, Sam and he both knew exactly what they wanted.
“Okay, if you think you can help, which I seriously doubt but, yeah, okay.”
Josh smiled with relief but simply replied, “Okay.”
Sam had a meal in the freezer left over from his mother’s last visit. It had been a while since either of them had tasted home cooked food and they both relished it. After they had eaten Sam told Josh what the doctor has said. He showed him the ergotamine aerosol and told him how Doctor Hollis had been so disappointed when Sam had refused to take part in the oxygen research. Josh grabbed the care instructions for the drug as Sam told him also about the KIP scale of pain.
“KIP?” Josh repeated.
“Yeah, it’s a scale from nought to ten and you’re meant to-”
“KIP? What does that stand for? KIP?”
“Josh, we’re not going to get very far if you blurt out KIP every five seconds.”
“Sorry, go on.”
“Bob Kipple came up with the-” Sam looked at Josh’s raised eyebrows at the name of the Kip Scale’s author and bashed him with a cushion. As Sam continued though Josh’s smile faded. “He created this scaling of pain which has become an accepted definition of how cluster headaches progress. Doctor Hollis says I’ve only reached point eight on the scale; head banging and screaming.”
“Jesus, if that’s point eight then what’s ten!”
Sam took the care instructions from Josh and read from Doctor Hollis’ notes on the back, “Major pain, screaming, head banging, ER trip. Depressed. Suicidal.”
Josh looked at Sam and shook his head, “It’s just theory, someone else’s interpretation of a condition that, from what I’ve read, can be different for each sufferer.” Sam didn’t look convinced. “And anyway, you might not even get a scale ten.”
Sam laughed, “You make it sound like a freak weather condition.” Josh didn’t return the smile and Sam watched as he stood up abruptly and started to pace.
“And I’ll tell you something else; we’re going to beat this. We’re going to find the drugs that work and it’s going to be over.”
“Well we better find them soon because I don’t think I can take much more of it.”
Josh spun round and returned to the sofa. “Yes you can. You’ll be amazed at what you can endure. There were times after I was…there were times I didn’t think I could keep going but you do. You don’t have a choice.”
This was the side to Josh that Sam had never stopped loving; a side that he had seldom seen in recent months. But Josh was showing it now and Sam was grateful. He reached out and grasped Josh’s hand, rested his head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes as he felt his hand held tightly in return.
The week passed and on Thursday Sam went into work only to be told by Toby to go back home.
“You’ve had an attack every day this week. You look like shit and you’re writing it.”
“I’d like to thank you for that amazing show of support in my time of-”
“I don’t care about your writing, Sam, I care about…”
A slow smile spread across Sam’s face. “You care about me, you really care.”
Toby picked up Sam’s coat that he had just removed and handed it to him. “I care about not having a Deputy next week when I have to face Hindman and Stoughton again…that’s what I was going to say,” he finished lamely.
“I’m getting a warm feeling right about here,” Sam said, laying his hand on his heart.
Toby walked out of Sam’s office and into his own. “You’re still here!” he shouted without looking up. A few moments later he looked up and smiled when he realised that Sam, without any resistance, had gone home.
The ergotamine was working in as much as the attacks that Sam had suffered hadn’t been as bad as previous ones but they were still bad enough to exhaust Sam and make him next to useless for the rest of the day. Secretly, Sam feared that it was just a coincidence. He had started to look for internet sites about clusters again and had discovered that during a cluster most attacks get progressively worse until the cluster was over. Sam had had four attacks so far and each one had seemed worse than the one before.
He had been relieved when Toby had ordered him home. He felt shattered and the knowledge that at some point in the afternoon he would probably experience another attack only served to add a constant feeling of fear and dread to the exhaustion. He lay down on his bed and went straight to sleep. He woke later that evening greatly surprised to find that it was the door buzzer and not another attack waking him.
“They were fresh when I bought them,” Josh explained of the croissants he held up as he walked past Sam and into the apartment.
“I was asleep, I was sleeping. What makes you think I wanted to be woken for Josh and croissants?”
“I could warm them up,” Josh offered holding up the bag.
“I want the croissants, it’s you that-”
“Don’t bite the hand that brings croissants.”
Sam smiled and moved away from the kitchen doorway. “Warm them up and make me a coffee. I’ll be in the other room pretending you’re not here.”
“Okay,” Josh replied getting to work on his task. A few moments later they were sitting on the sofa. Sam had been starving and tried not to show Josh just how much he was enjoying the impromptu snack. Josh filled him in on what he had missed at work and he shared Sam’s relief when Sam told him that he hadn’t had another attack.
Josh listened to Sam’s gentle laughter as he watched the Danny Kaye movie. He picked at the crumbs left on his plate and thought of the many hours he and Sam had spent slumped on a sofa fighting over what to watch. He had always lost and ended up watching The Court Jester more times than he cared to admit.
“What’s this one?” Josh asked as he slumped down even further against the soft cushions.
“The Inspector general,” Sam answered distractedly.
Josh nodded and turned his head so he could watch Sam. He loved watching Sam’s face as he laughed or nodded and smiled at scenes that he had watched dozens of times before. He had seen so much pain on Sam’s face recently that is was good to just to sit and see him smile.
Josh had it all worked out. He was going to prove to Sam that he could be here for him. He was going to prove that he could stay. Eventually Sam would find the drug that worked and then things would return to normal and he would be there for all of it no matter how hard it got. What Josh didn’t realise though was that as hard as it had been, there was worse in store.
“If you casually cover up your mouth with your hand, you will never put your foot in it,” Sam sang along to the film. He turned to Josh and shrugged, “True,” he said.
Josh smiled and turned back to the TV. By the time the film ended he was asleep. He awoke to find himself being shaken by Sam and followed him bleary-eyed to the spare room. Once in bed he found that he was no longer sleepy. He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He could hear Sam in his room next door and wondered what he was doing. The cars passed, their headlights briefly splashing the room with light. A breeze caught the curtain and Josh glimpsed the DC skyline before the curtain fell back. Sam was still moving about and Josh decided to wait until the noise stopped and then sneak back into the living room to watch TV.
The noise didn’t stop. Josh waited a while longer and then got out of bed and walked quietly to Sam’s room. He pushed the door open and watched as Sam paced slowly beside the bed.
“Sam?” Josh opened the door wide and walked into the room.
“It’s okay, it’s not too bad. I think it’ll be okay. Go back to bed.” Sam was pacing but not as frantically as Josh had seen him do before.
Josh walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. “Can I get you anything? Did you take the stuff?” As Josh asked the question he saw the ergotamine canister on the bed and realised that Sam had already taken it.
“It’s not too bad,” Sam repeated as he continued to walk back and forth. His hands were on his hips but occasionally he reached up and rubbed at his eye.
“Well, I’ll just sit here and watch you parading up and down in your boxers and T-shirt then. It’ll be like old times.”
Sam smiled but still he paced. A few moments later Josh stood up as Sam cursed under his breath and rubbed furiously at his head.
“Yeah,” Sam’s voice was croaky, “But it’s-”
“Not too bad- yeah, I know.” Josh picked up the canister and read the dosage instructions. “I think you can have some more of this in a while.”
“It’s okay, it’s going I think.” Sam stopped moving and took a few deep breaths then turned to Josh. “It’s finished.”
“Just like that?” Josh asked incredulously.
Sam nodded and walked back to the bed. He sat on the edge and Josh joined him. “Maybe the ergotamine works! That’s great if that’s what they’re gonna be like. You can handle that, right?”
“Yeah,” Sam stood and got back into bed. “Thanks, sorry to get you up.” He pulled the comforter over himself and said goodnight to Josh. He didn’t share Josh’s confidence that the drugs were working. He closed his eyes and tried not to think about Doctor Hollis’ warnings that the pattern of attacks could differ and sometimes attacks could come in quick succession, each one more severe than the previous.
After leaving Sam’s room, Josh returned to his own. He still didn’t feel like going to bed so he chose one of Sam’s books from the cupboard and got back into bed to read.
At first Josh thought it was the sound of the book slipping from his lap and landing on the floor that had woken him and he reached down and straightened the rumpled pages and then switched off the light. He was drifting off to sleep again when another sound made him open his eyes and sit up. It only took a few moments for him to realise that the sound that had woken him had come from Sam’s room and he quickly made his way to the room next door.
Sam was moving around his bedroom, frantic, directionless strides that made Josh dizzy to watch.
“Did you take this?” Josh asked walking straight into the room and picking up the canister from the floor.
Sam stopped moving and sat on the floor. “Worse.”
“Okay, don’t worry. It’s okay,” Josh came and sat down next to Sam and tried to show in his actions the confidence he didn’t feel in his words. He reached out and placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders. “Did you take the ergotamine?”
Sam nodded and leant against Josh. “Sorry.”
Sam started to rub at his head but Josh gently removed his hand and replaced it with his own. Slowly, Sam slipped further forward until he was leaning against Josh’s chest, gripping Josh’s T-shirt in his hands. Eventually his breathing slowed and Josh shuffled backwards towards the edge of the bed. Sam showed no inclination to get back into bed and so Josh reached behind him awkwardly and pulled down the pillows and the comforter and made a makeshift bed on the floor. He forced himself to ignore his body’s reaction to Sam and thought about his agenda for tomorrow instead.
An hour later, Sam woke. He opened his eyes to the sight of the side of his bed. Beneath his head he could feel a pillow and the warmth he felt was supplied by the comforter that had been draped over him. He tried to work out the strange angle he was lying at and then realised the warmth beneath him was Josh’s thighs on which the pillow lay. Sam closed his eyes and smiled. After a few more moments he became aware of a gentle movement and could hear the faint scribbling of a pen.
“What are you doing?” he asked lifting his head slowly from the pillow.
“I’m keeping a record of your attacks, when they happen, how long they last, that sort of thing.”
Sam reached up and turned the book towards him. He was amazed at the neat and exact recordings of his journeys to hell. He looked up at Josh who was looking slightly embarrassed.
“You do this after every attack?”
“Well, I’m a scientist, Sam. We have to be meticulous.”
“You’re so not a scientist,” Sam said but his smile was one of true appreciation.
When Josh had finished the entry he looked back at the others. He had recorded the night’s attack under a new heading of Multiple Attacks.
“You’re naming categories as well,” Sam mumbled, and rested his head back on the pillow.
“Go back to sleep,” Josh said as he tried to make sense of how Sam’s latest attacks fitted the pattern of the others. After a while he gave up and concluded that there was no pattern. There was no pattern to any of it, but lying there, with Sam on his lap, gently stroking his hair as he slept, that was a pattern that he had destroyed and was determined to restore.
Josh woke an hour later, his neck already aching from the awkward position he had fallen asleep in. It wasn’t the ache that had woken him though but the sounds of Sam pacing again. Josh cursed and tried to sit up, shaking his legs in an effort to return the feeling to them. He realised that as well as pacing, Sam was looking for something. “Sam, what do you need?”
“Drugs…canister…kicked it…rolled…can’t find,” he continued to search frantically but he was in too much of a state to focus on anything. Josh found it immediately lying under the bedside table.
“Here,” he handed it to Sam who lifted it straight to his mouth. “No, you have to shake it.” He tried to take it from Sam but he wouldn’t let go. “Shake it or it won’t work!” Sam responded to Josh’s raised voice and again lifted the canister up. “No, Sam, Jesus, you have to take a deep breath out and then do it.”
“Fuck off, Lyman!” Sam shouted but Josh was used to Sam’s outbursts and held onto the canister easily overpowering Sam’s shaky hold on it. His stomach turned at the sight of Sam desperately trying to take a deep breath but unable to calm himself enough to do so. Josh grabbed Sam’s face and forced him to look at him. Breaking through Sam’s panic, Josh guided his breathing. “There, that’s it. Now one more…good…here,” he held the canister up to Sam’s mouth. “Hold the breath, remember to hold it.” Sam nodded and held on before breathing out as slowly as he could. Sam turned away from him and walked out of the room. Josh could do nothing but watch helplessly as Sam marched around the living room. Eventually, Sam collapsed onto the floor and started to rock, the sound of his head hitting the floor made Josh’s stomach turn. He spun round and walked out of the room. He couldn’t do it; he couldn’t watch Sam go through this again. He felt a sudden wave of nausea and made it to the basin just in time. He splashed cold water on his face and cursed himself for leaving Sam, for not coping. He took a couple of deep breaths and returned to the living room and walked quickly over to Sam and grabbed him. He pulled him away from the floor and ignoring his protests. He was used to the cursing by now and ignored the verbal abuse that Sam was throwing at him. Finally, Josh’s anger at the situation lessened and he realised that he wasn’t helping. He let go of Sam and watched him crawl away from him.
He knew the pattern of Sam’s attacks so well by now that he knew that the pain was about to reach its worst point. Sam would always crawl away from him when the pain increased. He couldn’t bear to have anyone near him and so Josh stayed where he was. He brought his knees up to his chest and watched helplessly as Sam rocked up and down. Sam’s behaviour during the previous attacks had followed such a similar pattern that Josh was surprised when Sam suddenly jumped to his feet and rushed past him.
Josh assumed that Sam wanted to be on his own so he stayed in the living room. The sound of banging from the kitchen made him run quickly towards it. Sam had filled a glass with water and was opening and shutting cupboard doors frantically. He was muttering something repeatedly and Josh watched as he searched through the contents of each cupboard with one hand; his other clamped to his head. Sam hadn’t found what he was after in the cupboards so he turned his attention to the drawers instead.
“What do you need? What are you looking for?”
Sam ignored Josh and spun round, he was headed for the cupboards on the other side until he saw, on the kitchen table, exactly what he was looking for. He grabbed a glass from the side and walked towards it.
“No, no Sam, you’ve had the ergotamine you can’t have any pills.” Josh walked towards him and was surprised at the strength with which Sam pushed him away. He grabbed for the packet and ripped four pills from the strip.
“Not enough…not working.”
Josh tried again, “No! Give them to me!”
This time Sam pushed Josh away more forcefully. He stumbled back, his head narrowly missing one of the open cupboard doors. Sam finished prising the last pill from the strip and was about to place all four in his mouth when Josh’s hand swiped in front of him knocking the pills out of his cupped hand, scattering them across the table. Sam grabbed one before it rolled out of his reach but Josh yanked his hand away from his mouth and prised the pill out of his hand. Sam shouted and swore at Josh and seemed determined to carry on his struggle for the medication until the pain suddenly worsened. It took Sam by surprise and to his knees. He clung onto the edge of the table as his breathing became even harsher.
Josh walked behind him planning to take advantage of Sam’s immobility and put the pills out of Sam’s reach. He bent down to collect two from the floor and rose in time to see Sam get hold of the glass from the table. It toppled and the water gushed across the table washing the remaining pills down onto the floor. Sam’s hand was shaking but he managed to get a good hold on the glass. He raised it above his head and then brought it crashing down against his forehead. The glass splintered in his hand but Sam seemed oblivious to it as he cradled his forehead in his hand, blood seeping through his fingers and down his face.
“Jesus, Sam!” Josh crawled over to Sam and tried to prise his hand away but Sam wouldn’t loosen his grip and Josh realised that he wasn’t going to get anywhere until the attack had passed. Instead, he pulled Sam towards him and moved with him as Sam started to rock. Josh placed his hand over Sam’s and tried to stop the blood from pouring into his eye. He was shaking from the act he had witnessed and the accounts of sufferers committing suicide during an attack suddenly became chillingly plausible to him.
Timing had become an important part of how Josh helped Sam through each attack but this one was already longer than any others he had suffered and Josh didn’t even know if it had reached its peak yet. He realised it had when Sam started to rock to and fro within Josh’s arms. Josh craned his neck to look at the clock and wasn’t surprised to see that this attack was already twenty minutes longer than any of the others.
Sam’s movements gradually slowed until he sat still against Josh. He was breathing heavily and Josh waited a few moments before gently prising Sam’s hand away from his head. The blood that had been cupped within it flowed freely down Sam’s face and Josh reached for a towel and placed it over the cut before helping Sam into a chair. Sam was totally submissive to all of Josh’s actions. Both men were shocked by the severity of the attack and neither spoke until Josh had cleaned and dressed the cuts on Sam’s head and hand.
“Stitches?” Sam asked as Josh came and sat down opposite him.
“I don’t think so.” Josh reached across the table and covered Sam’s hands with his. Sam glanced up at the action but didn’t pull away. He knew this must be as frightening for Josh as it was for him.
“Do you want to go lie down?” Josh asked.
Sam shook his head.
Josh stood up and got a brush from under the sink and started to clear up the glass. He carefully wrapped it in paper and threw it in the bin. Sam watched him work, too exhausted to move. When he had taken care of that, Josh poured two glasses of water and placed them on the table.
“Do you want to lie down?” Josh asked again. “Sorry…repeating myself…not that most of what I say isn’t worth repeating.” He glanced at Sam and was pleased to see a small smile cross his face. Josh placed his hands back over Sam’s which had remained on the table. They were still shaking. “You should go lie down.”
Sam rolled his eyes but stood slowly and started towards the door. He stopped and turned back to Josh. “Will you…this sounds pathetic…” Sam took a deep breath and started again, “Will you come with me?”
Josh was up and leading the way to the bedroom before Sam had time to even begin to regret his words. He watched in amazement as Josh picked up the bedding and replaced it on the bed telling him to climb in before getting on top of the covers. Sam sighed as his head hit the soft pillow. Beside him he felt the dip as Josh lay down too.
Josh folded his hands on his stomach and closed his eyes. He assumed Sam would fall asleep soon and then he would return to the spare room. He felt Sam’s hand rise from beneath the comforter and then grope at the space between them. Josh stilled it with his and smiled into the darkness when he felt Sam’s grasp.
“Leo was once telling me about a plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge,” Sam said into the stillness of the dark. “I told him my nightmare was bridges and tunnels. I remember I asked him what his was and he said something like, ‘Well, now it’s bridges and tunnels.” Josh laughed quietly at Sam’s perfect imitation of Leo. “Not anymore though…bridges and tunnels…that’s not my nightmare anymore.” Sam rolled onto his side and faced Josh. “It’s like some creature has sunk its claws into my head. When it’s over I can’t believe there isn’t a hole there. I’m frightened, Josh. I’m frightened that this isn’t as bad as it gets and I don’t think I’ll be able to take it if it gets any worse.”
Josh rolled over and brought their still clasped hands up between them covering them with his other hand. “I don’t know if it’ll get any worse but I know you’ll get through it and I know I’ll be here for as long as you need me.” Sam nodded and his hand squeezed Josh’s tightly as he fought to retain control of his emotions.
“I won’t cope if it gets worse,” Sam whispered.
Josh flinched at Sam’s words and tightened his hold on Sam’s hand. “Tomorrow I’m gonna go see that Doctor Hollis and I’m gonna…he better be ready…cos I’m gonna…” he hadn’t meant to make Sam smile but he was glad to see it anyway.
“You go get him, Josh.” Sam’s words were slurred and Josh hoped, as he watched Sam’s eyes close, that they wouldn’t open again until morning and that the morning wouldn’t bring another day like this.
“It’s like a migraine but it’s not a migraine?” Bartlet clarified. Josh had been explaining Sam’s headaches to The President for a while and Bartlet’s questions were beginning to give him one.
“It’s like a migraine only…more so.”
“So he has some pills to take, lies down for a while and then he’s alright?”
CJ sat forward and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “Well, not exactly. They really knock him for six…they’re not like…they’re a lot worse than migraines.”
“Okay, so what can we do? What are the signs that he’s having one of these things?”
CJ hadn’t moved back so Josh sat forward and peered past her at the President. “He gets this look on his face like the world’s about to end.”
“That’s a pretty standard look for senior staffers, Josh. Can you be more specific?” Bartlet asked.
Josh wiped a hand over his face and glanced at Leo who had sat in silence throughout the conversation. “He gets this look…he looks at you like…” Josh sat back and sighed, “You’ll never see a better example of the expression ‘naked fear’ than when you look at Sam when an attack is starting.”
Bartlet sat back, “Okay” he said again but this time more quietly. “So, what do we do?”
“I think we keep this as quiet as possible but at the same time we need to let people know so if Sam has an attack they’re going to know what to do,” CJ offered.
“Sam won’t like that,” Josh objected, “There’s no need for anyone to know. He’s got his meds and he’s aware enough to get the hell out of wherever he is when an attack starts.”
“Can he do his job?” Leo’s question silenced everyone.
Toby, who hadn’t said a word so far, answered it. “I’m sitting here trying to work out ways to make sure he can. You think there’s someone out there who could compete even with a debilitated Sam?”
Leo shook his head and glanced at Bartlet, a small smile crossed both men’s faces as Toby continued. “I think we make sure that wherever Sam is, someone is with him who knows how to handle what might happen. He’s never far from one of us so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“And if he goes to the Hill and it happens there again?” Josh asked.
“We make sure he doesn’t go.”
“Toby, we can’t just-”
“Yes we can. Sam told me that these things come in bouts and when this bout is over he may not have another for months, even years. There are drugs that can control Clusters so it’s just a case of making things as easy as possible until Sam finds the right drugs.”
“Josh?” Bartlet asked realising that he didn’t seem happy with Toby’s plan.
“No, that’s fine, Toby’s right.”
Bartlet nodded and stood up. “Keep me up to date with this.”
A chorus of ‘yes sirs’ filled the room as the staff filed out. Toby hurried ahead of them and had made it to his office before Josh appeared closing the door firmly behind him. “It’s just a case of making things as easy as possible until Sam finds the right drugs!” Josh repeated Toby’s words incredulously.
“Yes,” Toby answered without looking up from his desk.
“He’s afraid to wake up!”
Josh’s words made Toby put down the file he was pretending to read.
“He’s afraid to go to sleep in case an attack wakes him, he’s afraid to go to work in case he ends up screaming and ‘head banging’ in front of the President, he’s afraid to go out by himself in case he has an attack and gets carted off to the psyche ward and he’s afraid to wake up because every morning just brings another day of fear. So you can tell the President that everything’s going to be okay once Sam has the right meds but don’t expect me to agree with you.” Josh had stood with his hands on his hips in front of Toby’s desk but he let them drop to his sides as he dropped equally dejectedly onto the sofa. “Jesus, Toby, he smashed a glass on his head, he sat there and grabbed a glass and-”
“Wait a minute, when was this? You said he cut his head by accident. What’s been going on Josh?”
Josh looked up at Toby and realised he had said too much. He also realised there was no going back. “The other night, after he’d been to see Doctor Hollis, I went to Sam’s and stayed. He had about three attacks, each one worse than before and he…I wouldn’t let him have anymore pills and he just…” Josh shrugged, “He just grabbed this glass and smashed it onto his forehead.”
Toby stood up and wandered around behind his desk before sitting again. “And you didn’t think I needed to know that?”
“No, I didn’t. You’ve read the same stuff as me, heard the same things from the doc, you know how bad Clusters can get.”
“Yes, and I’ve just sat in the Oval and told the President that we can deal with it and now you’re telling me Sam’s taken to trying to cut his head open.”
Josh stood and walked over to the desk. He leaned on it and towards Toby. “Well excuse me, but I wasn’t thinking about what to tell the President when I was washing Sam’s blood off the kitchen tiles and I wasn’t thinking about what to tell you.”
“Well, maybe you should have been because I can’t help him if I don’t know what’s going on and I can’t stand by him if you’re not being straight with me.”
Josh slumped forward and sighed deeply. “I threw up.”
“When Sam was having his attack, I threw up. I don’t know how he gets through them.” Josh walked back to the sofa and collapsed onto it. “He showed me this thing, KAP…KOP…KIP that was it, KIP. It’s a scale of pain for attacks. He wasn’t even at the top of the scale. You know, people actually kill themselves during attacks that are at the top of the KIP scale!”
“KIP?” Toby repeated, sceptically.
“Yeah, I know,” Josh smiled remembering Sam’s interrupted explanation of the scale. His smile disappeared as images of Sam writhing in agony filled his mind. “What if-”
“He won’t!” Toby cut Josh off, his words brooking no argument.
“Where is Sam, anyway?” Josh asked, rising and walking to the adjoining window.
“I sent him home. He looked half dead.”
Josh turned away from the window and stared at Toby. The two locked eyes for a moment and then both reached for a phone. Toby picked up the phone on his desk as Josh pulled his cell from his pocket. Neither Sam’s home nor cell phones were answered and again a look flashed between the two men as they hung up on their calls.
Toby returned to the file on his desk and Josh stuck his hands in his pockets and walked over to the window. “He’s probably asleep,” Josh said more to himself than Toby.
“Probably sleeping,” Josh reiterated, still staring at Sam’s empty desk.
Toby returned to his reading and Josh returned to staring through the window.
“But if he is sleeping, he usually leaves a message on his answer phone to say that so we know that he’s sleeping and not…whatever…and then we can leave a message or shout or something so maybe he’s not sleeping, maybe he’s not answering because he’s having a shower or something.”
“Or on his way in,” Toby suggested.
“Or on his way in,” Josh agreed.
Toby looked down again at the paper in his hand but his other hand was tapping a pencil against the desk. Josh stuck his hands in his pockets and walked over to the sofa, sitting for a moment before returning to the window and its view of Sam’s empty office. By the time he had made up his mind to go over to Sam’s, Toby was already standing and putting on his coat. “We go, we check, and if you’ve got me worked up over nothing with your KIP paranoia, then we come back and you highlight and rephrase all references to the Global Economic Resource Centre in this paper.”
“Okay,” Josh agreed as he followed Toby out of the room. “You know, for someone who’s reacting to someone else’s paranoia, you’re setting quite a pace.”
They drove to Sam’s in silence both embarrassed by their need to check on him but also afraid to tempt fate through voicing their concerns.
“This is pretty stupid,” Josh said as he led the way to Sam’s apartment. “He’s going to be asleep and we’re going to look…”
“Stupid,” Toby provided and walked past Josh and towards the door.
Sam didn’t answer. Josh knocked and tried the buzzer but there was no reply. With a look at Toby that suggested maybe they weren’t as stupid as they thought, Josh reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. He opened the door and immediately realised that their stupidity was no longer an issue; broken glass covered the living room floor, Sam’s CD collection had been knocked over and discs and cases were lying amongst the glass. The apartment was in darkness and silence. The sound of a door being opened filled the room but it was the sudden gust of cold air on Josh’s face that made him start. He mumbled a curse, pushed past Toby and hurried towards the spare room. The sight that greeted him made him stop in his tracks. Toby had followed and came barrelling into him.
The curtain that hung at the side of the balcony door was billowing in and out of it. Josh stared at it for what seemed like an eternity but in reality was only a matter of seconds, certainly no longer than it took for Toby to regain his balance, shout Sam’s name and push past Josh. The shout spurred Josh back into action and he ran towards the balcony and the sight of his friend climbing the railing that surrounded it.
Sam was oblivious to the sound of his name being called and the sudden presence of his two friends. He was oblivious to everything but the need to climb over the balcony railings and find an end to the pain that was ripping at his head, gorging out his eye and consuming his mind until all he could think, feel and hear was pain.
He had nearly made it as well. He had managed to get one leg over the rail and only needed to raise the other and let go and it would stop. He felt a tug pulling him back. At first a tenuous hold, grappling at his belt but then a stronger force, a strong grip that pulled his waist backwards against the rail, a tight hold on his arm, a hand clutching firmly at his leg then a strong arm around his waist pulling him away from his escape, away from the means he had found to make the pain stop. He fought it, tried to pull away, but the hands where strong and determined and lifted him almost effortlessly up, over and away from the railing. He shouted at the hands, cursed them, tried to prise them off but they continued to pull, to drag him backwards until the cold night air was replaced with warmth.
He was lying down now but the hands were still there. One arm wrapped around his waist, another, higher, covering his chest. Beneath him was softness, warmth, that moved up and down, accompanied by short, shaky gasps for air. Like the hands, the pain had not let go and Sam believed it was the pain he could hear gasping for air, shaken by the attempt to end it but determined only to worsen in retribution. Sam cried out a desperate howl of despair at the hands that refused to loosen and the pain that tightened its grip. The hand that had held his arm tightened at the sound of it and moved down to clutch at his hand. The movement beneath him slowed and the gasps quietened. Simultaneously, the pain began to decrease, slowly loosening its hold, creeping away, draining from Sam’s head and eye. The stream of noise that had been constant since he had been dragged into the room became disjointed words that Sam grabbed at in an attempt to get away from the slowly lessening pain.
“Just lie…don’t fight…relax…nearly…alright…alright…over…nearly…”
The hands were soft now, their movements calm and careful, stroking his head, rubbing slowly at his hand. The words stopped dancing and began to make sense.
“Don’t move…it’s alright…just breathe…nice and slow…everything’s alright…it’s alright…we’re here…we’ve got you…just breathe…”
The arm around his waist moved to under his arm and he was lifted up and pushed forward. He was pulled sideways away from the vomit and propped up again against the warmth and softness that was talking to him. He knew it was talking because he could feel the vibrations from the warmth that matched the sound and they carried him even further from the remnants of pain.
“We don’t need to…we know what…take him in ourselves…he’s never passed out like this…it’s over now…no need…I will…if I have to…”
Sam knew the voice and focused on it.
“Never like this…I don’t know…it looks like it…calmer now…finished…I know what it looked like...”
Sam knew the warmth beneath him was a body. He knew the voices belonged to his friends. He let both guide him back.
“Sam, can you hear me? Open your eyes, buddy, look at me. It’s over, Sam. Open your eyes.”
Sam opened his eyes and looked straight ahead at a circle on the wall. Slowly he turned his head and found the face that matched the voice. “Josh.” Sam whispered the word and the face smiled.
“Yeah, it’s me and Toby here’s too. It’s over now, Sam.”
Sam looked around for Toby. “Where?” he whispered.
“Here, Sam. Right here,” Toby answered.
Sam’s gaze returned to the circle on the wall and he watched transfixed as it turned into a clock. The clock was on his living room wall, he was in his living room, Josh and Toby were here. He couldn’t make any more sense of the situation than that.
“If we help, do you think you can make it to the sofa?”
Sam nodded. As he became more aware he began to remember why he was here. He had been frightened, he knew that. Pain worse than anything he had experienced had frightened him and he had tried to end it. He was shaking. His legs were shaking but Josh and Toby were holding him. He could taste vomit.
“Need a…some water…please?”
The sofa was cold. The door to the balcony was still open and the cold evening air had been blowing into the room. Sam heard the door being closed, slammed shut, and the memory of why he had opened it flooded back.
“Oh God, I…”
“It’s alright, Sam. Don’t worry about it.” Josh handed Sam a glass of water. The cool liquid revived him physically and mentally and he rubbed at his eyes and looked up at his friends. Toby was standing in front of him, arms folded and an expression on his face that made Sam realise that Toby was scared and for Toby to be scared it must be bad.
“Scared?” Sam mumbled.
“I know you are but it’s over now.”
“Not me, you, you scared?”
Toby glanced at Josh and wondered if the fear showing so blatantly on Josh’s face was mirrored on his. “I’d rank it up there with being shot at, yes.”
Sam nodded and tried to smile at Toby’s attempt to lighten the atmosphere with dark humour. His hands were shaking and he felt the sofa dip as Josh sat beside him and removed the glass from them. “We’re going to take you to the ER.”
“No,” Sam tried to stand but a hand on his arm was enough to push him back down.
“Sam, I scoffed at KIP but man, if that wasn’t a scale ten then I don’t know what was. We’re taking you to the ER.”
“They’ll say I’m…” Sam swallowed hard in order to quell another wave of nausea, “suicidal, they’ll evaluate me and then it’ll get out and I’ll be finished and it won’t matter what CJ says to-”
“Listen!” Josh placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders and turned him towards him. “You just tried to jump off your balcony and if we hadn’t have been here you’d be dead now so that sounds pretty much like an attempt at suicide to me and it will to-”
“I didn’t want…I just wanted the pain to-”
“It sounds like it to me and it will to the people who were watching from below, the landlord who phoned and asked what the hell was going on and the police officer who just called to check that a ‘Mr Samuel Seaborn’ was okay.”
“What? When did he?”
“Sam, you’ve been out of it for about thirty minutes. Toby dragged you into the living room, you puked then passed out.”
“I don’t want to go, Josh. Please don’t make me.”
Josh cringed at the pleading tone of Sam’s voice and did his best to ignore it. He knew it was useless though. Toby was phoning CJ and had left Josh to tell Sam they were taking him to the hospital. Josh knew that one more minute sat beside Sam would be his undoing and so he did all he could think to do, “Toby!”
Toby came back into the room and crouched down in front of them. “Are you listening to me?” Sam nodded. “You seem okay, like you do after your attacks, but if you think for one minute that I’m not taking you to see a doctor after what I’ve just experienced, then you’re crazy. I’ve already spoken to CJ. If the people who saw what happened tonight make something of it she’ll make a statement. You’re not suicidal, Sam. You’re suffering from a known condition that has caused many others to resort to acts like yours to end the pain but you’re not suicidal and that’s what she’ll say, that’s what the doctor will say and that’s what we’ll say.” Toby stood up and held out his hand to pull Sam up. “Do you trust me?”
“Come on then.” For a few moments, Toby thought Sam would refuse his outstretched hand but finally he reached up and grasped it. Toby passed him his coat and they walked towards the door where Josh was waiting for them.
“You were floundering,” Josh announced as Toby handed him his second cup of hospital coffee. “You were floundering and I was stoic.”
“Right, I misread the situation then because when I heard a shrill cry of ‘Toby’ coming from the living room I thought that indicated a certain lack of stoicism.”
“I asked you to come in to talk to Sam because I knew that as his boss he’d have a…wait a minute, did you just say ‘shrill’?”
Toby nodded as he blew over the rim of his cup.
“Can I remind you that it was me that managed to talk Sam round when he refused to get out of the car when we got here?”
“You can, and I was pleased to see that you managed to do it without resorting to calling my name like you did earlier, in a very shrill tone.”
“I know what you’re doing- you’re trying to take my mind off everything by offending me and denying my stoicism.”
Toby raised his eyebrows and blew again at his coffee. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Josh put his coffee down untouched and walked over to the door. He stared down the corridor through the glass and rested his head against it. Toby watched him and waited until he had returned to his seat before speaking. “What’s going on with you and Sam?”
Josh twisted round in his seat, nearly knocking the abandoned cup of coffee over. “What? What do you mean what’s going on? Nothing’s going on.”
Toby kept a wary eye on the door before continuing in a lowered voice. “You’ve barely spoken to him for months and now you can’t keep away. I know you’re worried about him but…I don’t want you confusing Sam with…issues…that he doesn’t need to be…confused about right now.”
Josh couldn’t help but smile at Toby’s fumbling of words. “Hey, speechwriter, spit it out.”
“Don’t confuse Sam needing you at the moment with Sam wanting you back.”
Josh’s smile disappeared and he stared at Toby open mouthed, shocked both by what he had said and the fact that he had said it at all. He didn’t have time to reply as Toby stood up quickly, mumbled something about finding out what was taking so long and walked out of the room. Josh remained frozen to his seat staring at the door through which Toby had quickly exited. He had known that Toby knew about him and Sam; everyone knew. Nobody spoke about it though. There were veiled references but no one ever mentioned it in terms that anyone who wasn’t in the know would understand. Josh and Sam were together during the campaign, Bartlet won and they weren’t together anymore. It was as simple as that and everyone accepted, some with considerable more relief than others, that Sam and Josh had decided that being a gay couple and working on Bartlet’s senior staff was not an option. What they didn’t know though was that Sam and Josh hadn’t decided, Josh had, and it was a decision that Josh had regretted and Sam had found hard to come to terms with ever since.
Eventually, Josh closed his mouth and sat shaking his head instead. He had just decided to go and find Toby and ask him what ‘wanting you back’ meant exactly when Toby, followed by a doctor, entered the room.
“This is Doctor Simms,” Toby said as he walked over to his seat and picked up his coat. “I’m going to see Sam.” For the second time Toby exited the room before Josh could say anything. He turned his attention to the doctor and listened to what he had to say.
On the floor above them, Toby and Sam sat in a waiting room. Sam was nervously pulling at a piece of unravelling wool on his cuff. Toby was watching him.
“Just be honest with them, Sam. If you try to make it sound less bad than it was they’ll know.”
“Yeah, because I was thinking maybe if I glossed over the whole jumping off the balcony thing they might not cart me off to the asylum straight away and then we’ll-”
Sam didn’t know if Toby meant for him to stop unravelling his sweater or talking so he stopped both.
It didn’t take Josh long to listen to the doctor and ask a few questions and by the time he went upstairs, Sam was already being seen and Toby was sitting alone. He nodded at Toby and chose a seat on the opposite side of the room. He was ignoring him but it didn’t seem to be having the required effect as Toby was paying Josh very little attention anyway. Josh decided that he could outlast Toby at ignoring and so reached for a magazine. He didn’t last long. “About me and Sam, what you said earlier, you’re wrong you know. I’m not here now because I think he’ll want me back.”
Toby rubbed at his nose, sighed and then looked up. “Do you wanna maybe come over here because I’m not sure they heard you in the ER!”
“Oh! Right, yeah, okay,” Josh threw the magazine on the pile and went and sat next to Toby. “What I mean is I don’t have any ulterior motives. I just want to be here for him.”
“I’m looking at my watch and the big hand’s on the six. When the big hand’s on the seven, this conversation is over and we will never again talk of you know what.”
“The love that dare not speak its name?” Josh asked.
“See, a few seconds just went by there when you could have been saying something sensible.”
Josh grinned at Toby and then stood up and thrust his hands in his pockets. His smile faded and he walked over to the window. “
“It’s not about me trying to get Sam back. It’s…it’s more that I realise I should never have…you know…I shouldn’t be here having this conversation because if I hadn’t have ended…the thing…like I did, when I did…I would be here because…” Josh sighed and took a deep breath. “This isn’t making much sense is it?”
“Not much, no.”
“To have to justify why I’m here to you, just makes me realise what I’ve thrown away. I should be here because I should always be where Sam is.”
Toby had thought Josh would whine about how dumping Sam before the campaign had been a mistake. He hadn’t planned on having to respond to a declaration of such depth that he was momentarily lost for words. He stood up and ran a hand through his hair to give himself time to come up with a reply that wasn’t as flippant as he had planned on making. “Well then, if that’s how you feel, you should tell him that. Although, I’d work on your delivery a little before you do.”
For the second time that evening, Josh looked at Toby in stunned silence. Of all the responses he had expected that hadn’t been one. “Wait a minute, did you just…are you saying…condoning…a very un-heterosexual relationship between two senior staffers?”
“I’m not saying we should paint the White House multicoloured and sing I Can Sing a Rainbow but yeah…what you said.”
Josh tried to start a sentence three times but bursts of surprised laughter stopped him. By the time he had ordered the words in his head to make any sort of sense, Toby was engrossed in a medical journal that had been lying on the coffee table. Josh turned back to the window and looked at the idiot grinning back at him. Toby didn’t mind, Toby didn’t mind if he and Sam got back together and as far as Josh was concerned that was as good as Sam not minding too. The idiot stopped grinning as he realised that he was yet to even gauge Sam’s views on the matter but soon started again when he realised he didn’t care. Toby didn’t mind and that was as good as a done deal for Josh.
“I think I’ve got some at home.”
The sound of Sam’s voice shook Josh from his reverie and he turned to see Sam enter the room with the doctor who had evaluated him. Josh sighed in relief when he realised his irrational fears that Sam wouldn’t be released were unfounded.
“You think? How many have you used since last week?”
“I don’t know. I had three left, I think, but I can’t remember how many I used tonight.”
Doctor Hanley looked at the exhausted man before him and gave up on his attempt to discover what medication Sam had taken and how much he had left. “Okay, well it doesn’t matter. I’ll give you a script for what we discussed and the next time we meet we can talk about ways of keeping tabs on your medication.”
“Just ask Josh; he’s keeping a journal,” Sam replied as he sat heavily in the chair.
Toby rolled his eyes at Sam’s announcement but Doctor Hanley beamed, “Well good for you, Mr Lyman. That’s an excellent idea. Can I take a look at Sam’s next appointment?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty methodical, I try to-”
“Sam, start walking.” Toby didn’t need to hear, yet again, about Josh’s scientific, methodical, note taking skills.
They all shook the doctor’s hand and filed out of the room and towards the elevator. Once inside Sam slumped against the hand rail. “If I don’t get home soon I’m going to fall asleep standing up.”
“Giraffes do that,” Josh replied thoughtfully, “Actually, it may be…no I think it’s giraffes. Maybe it’s elephants…”
Toby shook his head and muttered to himself. He was desperate to find out what the doctors had said to Sam but was too reassured by the sound of Josh and Sam’s inane banter to want to ask him now.
“I don’t think it’s elephants,” Josh continued.
“Neither do I.”
“Whales, what do they do? They do something while they’re swimming.”
“I think they do most things while they’re swimming.”
Toby closed his eyes and leaned against the wooden panelled wall. Less than four hours ago he had dragged Sam back from the edge of a balcony and now he was listening to inane banter. To Toby, it was a very sweet sound indeed.
The line of Sam’s CDs had grown to reach from the living room door to the sofa. Josh had been clearing up the room while Sam slept when he had spotted amongst the broken cases and sleeves, a CD that he had bought for Sam just before they had split up. Further inspection of the scattered cases unearthed a CD Josh had made for Sam, a recording of a live show they had gone to together, Sam’s favourite driving CD and a collection of albums by a group that Josh had introduced Sam to. The line of CDs told the history of Sam and Josh. It started with the pre Josh and Sam collection, CDs that Josh had ridiculed Sam for owning, then there were the albums that Josh had bought Sam or could remember Sam buying, the album that replaced the one Sam had played all the way to Maine and Josh had thrown out of the car window, the collection of songs that Sam always chose to relax to. After that came the post Sam and Josh collection. This was made up of artists that Josh didn’t even know Sam liked, albums that made Josh smile because they were released by artists that he had introduced him to and CDs that made Josh grimace with the knowledge that Sam was reverting back to his own ways. Josh opened the case to the Best of Gilbert and Sullivan Overtures and shook his head. Enough was enough. Josh decided that he needed to wake Sam up and tell him that for the good of his music collection they had to get back together again.
He walked quickly into the bedroom but one glance at the figure sprawled on the bed made him smile at the thought that he had even considered waking Sam who looked more peaceful than he had for weeks. Josh walked more slowly towards the bed and knelt down beside it. Sam’s arms lay crossed over his chest, one hand tucked beneath his face which Josh was glad to see had more colour than it had when they arrived home from the hospital. His breathing was deep and slow. Tentatively, Josh reached up and ran his fingers softly through Sam’s hair, revelling in the sensation that he had never forgotten. Sam shifted slightly and Josh’s hand sprung out of the way but Sam settled again and so he let his hand return.
When Josh’s knees began to ache he stood and walked over to the other side of the bed. Carefully and as gently as he could, he lay down on it next to Sam. He intended to just watch Sam sleep but soon the temptation became too much and he reached over and returned his hand to Sam’s head. This time he didn’t stroke at Sam’s hair but let his hand lay still.
Josh slept and Sam slept on. The light from the living room peeked through the doorway and settled on the bed in a line that divided the two sleeping men. When Josh woke, the line’s bluntness had been lessened by the natural light of dawn that was now creeping into the room. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes and opened them to the sight of Sam staring at him.
“Morning,” Josh said with an unapologetic grin at having been discovered lying next to Sam.
Sam closed his eyes and a hint of a smile tugged at his lips. “Morning.” He looked beyond Josh at the alarm clock on the bedside table. He made no protest at Josh’s presence and so Josh remained where he was, wishing Sam was still asleep so he could go back to staring at him and working out ways to make Sam see he deserved another chance.
“Can I get you anything?” Sam shook his head. Josh was beginning to get slightly unnerved by the way Sam was staring at him. He had done the same to Sam but Sam had been dead to the world at the time. Safe in the knowledge that Sam wasn’t about to kick him out of the bed, Josh made himself more comfortable. “What are you thinking?”
Sam closed his eyes again and scratched haphazardly at his scalp before settling once more. He placed his hand under the covers and smiled softly at the man lying on his side opposite him, mirroring him, returning his gaze. “I’m thinking…I’ve woken up to find you in my bed, a place I vowed I’d never let you be again, and I’m thinking…I’m thinking that reason and logic are meaningless at five in the morning when you’re scared shitless and staring into the eyes of your ex-lover.”
Josh was taken aback by Sam’s words. He had longed to hear some sort of sign that they still had a chance but this frank admission from Sam spoke more to Josh of how much Sam needed him than of any increase in his chances of getting Sam back. He reached out and placed his hand on Sam’s face. “I know you’re scared,” he whispered but he could think of no other words to comfort Sam and so resorted to the banter that Sam had told him many times was an unsuccessful defence mechanism. “I don’t know about reason and logic, but I’m having a few problems with self restraint right now.”
A small bubble of laughter escaped Sam and he placed his hand over Josh’s. “Are you going to take advantage of my vulnerable state?”
“Sam, as if I would even consider such a low down move!” Josh looked suitably outraged before adding, “Unless of course you wanted to be taken advantage of?”
“Not tonight, Joshua,” Sam said as he moved towards Josh and let the other man wrap his arms around him in a comforting hug. “Not tonight.”
‘Reasons why we should get back together’ Josh wrote as he scribbled carefully, trying not to nudge Sam who was still asleep, his head on Josh’s chest. ‘Number one- your CD collection needs me. Number two- I can sleep with you next to me without taking advantage of your vulnerable state.’ Josh chewed the pencil thoughtfully and added number three, ‘I was a jackass for letting you go in the first place and know that now and that makes me humble and you always said I should try being more humble!’ Josh sighed and glanced at the clock. He didn’t know what the plan was except that Toby had told him not to do anything until he had called. Josh was glad Toby had taken charge; he couldn’t think straight anymore and he was certainly beyond being able to spin and strategise an event that still made him feel sick when he thought about it. Carefully, Josh inched out from under Sam and went into the kitchen. His cell phone was on the floor by the CDs where he had left it last night and it started to ring as Josh walked by it. He scooped down to pick it up and perched on the arm of the sofa. He listened without comment as Toby told him what he and CJ had decided. He agreed that he would wait for Donna to arrive and then leave and head into work. Sam would follow an hour later and they would tell him what they had decided to do then.
“Oh my God, I thought you were kidding but you really did sort my CDs into a chronological relationship order!”
Josh jumped at the sound of Sam’s voice and looked around the doorjamb into the living room to see him staring in horror at the neat line of jewel cases. “You need to do something about that!” Sam said pointing at the discs as if they were a dormant monster. He walked tentatively towards them and peered down seemingly surprised that he recognised them as belonging to him. “Yeah, that’s not the actions of a severely disturbed man at all.” He looked up at Josh and raised his eyebrow.
“Have a shower. I’m gonna wait for Donna and then go to work where people appreciate my ability to order inanimate objects and tie them to emotional events. Last week I showed Donna how the pencils in my drawer were all-” The sound of the bathroom door closing made Josh pause, “They were all related to various milestones in the history of the administration is what they were,” he finished to the empty room.
Sam didn’t argue about the need for Donna to come and baby-sit him and drive him into work. He knew the ramifications of what had happened last night and he knew that until he had talked to Toby and Leo he had no choice but to play along with whatever strategy they had put into place. He wondered what Donna had been told and how much she already knew. He noticed her glancing up and down the road before getting into the car and decided she probably knew more than he did at the moment. He was still thinking about how much Donna knew, who Toby had told and just how furious CJ was going to be when he looked up and realised Donna had parked and was waiting for him to move. They had spoken little on the way in and Sam was surprised when Donna leant over and kissed him on the cheek before opening the door and leading the way to Toby’s office.
The sound of a rubber ball smashing into the doorframe clued Sam into what the mood was like in the room.
“You set it up and now you’re asking what I think!” Toby shouting was not unusual but the fact that he was shouting at CJ made Sam feel relieved that Donna had paused before knocking on the door.
“We could go to the Mess, have a coffee, come back when Toby’s calmed down. Tuesday’s good for me,” Sam suggested.
Donna gave him a sympathetic smile before knocking and opening the door to reveal CJ glaring at Toby, Toby glaring at CJ and Josh retrieving a rogue ball from behind the desk.
“Has something happened?” Sam asked and despite the tense atmosphere, Josh couldn’t help but smile at Sam’s bogus enquiry.
CJ turned and glanced at Sam before turning once more to Toby. “The police officer knows, the man who was on the street below knows, Sam’s neighbours know. We can’t afford to cover this up only to have it come out later!”
“What do they know?” Toby asked as he stood up and walked back to sit behind his desk. “We can’t be sure they know anything. The officers won’t disclose what happened. It’s unlikely that man on the street had the first idea who he was looking at. The neighbours heard a noise but they don’t know what happened. The only people who really know what happened are me, Sam, Josh and the doctors and we should keep it that way.”
While Toby was speaking, Josh caught Sam’s eye and nodded to the sofa. Sam sat down on it and Josh joined him, playing with the ball that he had picked up but not replaced on Toby’s desk.
CJ remained standing. Sam noticed her fingers were tapping repeatedly against the side of the folder she held. He sent Toby a questioning glance.
Toby sighed deeply and then turned his full attention to Sam. “CJ thinks we should make an announcement about last night. She thinks getting what happened into the open and making a statement would be-”
“No way!” Sam jumped to his feet, the volume of his emphatic outburst made CJ jump. “There’s no way, no way, that’s going to happen!”
“Sam, you have to be reasonable and consider what it would mean if we tried to hide this and then later on-”
“This?” Sam turned towards CJ his hands on his hips.
“Here we go,” Josh mumbled.
“This? What exactly is it that we’re hiding? By ‘this’ I suppose you mean the fact that I tried to kill myself last night or is there something else you think we shouldn’t hide?”
CJ walked closer to Sam, unfazed by his confrontational stance, “I think we should explain what you are suffering from. I think we should tell people what happened because if we continue to cover up what’s wrong with you, eventually-” she held up her hand when Sam tried to interrupt, “Eventually someone will make a story of it and when they do, the fact that we covered it up will make it appear much worse than it is. Apart from the obvious ramifications for you, can you imagine the coverage a suicidal Senior Staffer would get-”
“That’s the last time anyone in this building is going to use the word suicidal!” Toby stood up and walked over to Sam. “He’s not suicidal and every time someone says it, I can almost hear the press corps sharpening their pencils from here!”
“You’re not seeing this objectively, both of you; you’re so busy covering up for Sam that you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and you’re doing Sam a disservice if you continue to cover for him.”
“Oh this is just…” Sam’s hand slamming against the wall made everyone start. “I don’t care about the picture bigger, whatever the hell that means and I’ll tell you something else, I’ve got no intention of becoming a poster boy for Cluster sufferers and that’s all that would happen if you make this public. I don’t know who saw what last night but if you make a statement saying what happened it’s an absolute given that they’ll come forward with their version. You’re as good as inviting them to do it.
If Toby or The President tells me that I’m not doing my job then you can make your statement but until then it’s not an option. If you do this, CJ, don’t expect me to support it.”
Josh stared at his three friends who were glaring at each other. He knew CJ cared for Sam as much as anyone else in the room but he also knew that she was looking at the situation as the press secretary now and Josh admired her for it and knew to a certain extent she was right to chastise him and Toby for not doing the same. Josh waited until the tension in the room had lessened slightly and then stood and picked up his bag from where he had dumped it what seemed like hours ago. “You’re not making a statement, CJ. Cancel any arrangements you’ve made. Sam has a condition that he’s being treated for and that will eventually be controlled with the right drugs.”
CJ opened her mouth to speak but then closed it and nodded. Josh rarely pulled rank but when he did there was no point in even attempting to continue the discussion. She glanced at Sam but he was staring studiously at the floor and so she left the office without another word.
There was a lot of nodding going on, Sam decided as he watched Toby nod at Josh and Josh return the gesture, a lot of nodding and a lot of spinning. Sam decided the floor probably shouldn’t be spinning and so sat down on it. Josh mirrored the action by slumping onto the sofa and Toby completed the act by sitting heavily in his chair. “She had a point,” Josh said as he laid his head back and closed his eyes.
“The floor’s still spinning,” Sam commented.
“CJ could have spun it if we’ve let her,” Toby added.
“I mean, literally going round in circles,” Sam explained.
“I know how it feels,” Josh said and placed his feet on the coffee table.
The three men, still recovering from the night before, were granted thirty minutes of peace and quiet before the phone rang for Toby, Donna arrived to tell Josh to see Leo and Ginger came in to hand a fax to Sam.
The neighbours below Sam were fighting. Sam and Josh were sat on the sofa listening to the muted sounds of anger and flying crockery.
“Wow, they’re really going for it!” Josh exclaimed. “We never fought like that.”
Sam shrugged, “Maybe we should have.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, maybe if we’d had fights and aired a few issues, we wouldn’t have been so totally clueless about what the other wanted.”
Josh considered this for a moment as he opened and then munched on a pistachio. “Maybe,” he conceded, “But, maybe we just didn’t have that many issues that needed airing.”
Sam snorted. Josh knew that wouldn’t be Sam’s only response and if he waited the snort would be elaborated upon.
“If we didn’t have any issues then how come asking you to move in with me was a total shock to you?”
Josh put down an unopened pistachio and scooted round to face Sam, “Oh, that issue.” Over the past few days, Josh had felt increasingly optimistic that there might still be a chance that Sam would consider another go but he also knew that chance would only come if they discussed a subject that both of them had managed to avoid for the past three years. “You’re waiting for me to say something sincere and profound, aren’t you?” Josh asked, a small smile playing at his lips.
“Sincere and profound, I’d be in for a long wait!”
Josh ignored Sam’s sarcastic reply and let Sam take him back to the night they had won the election, the night all their work had paid off and hopes were realised but the night they fell apart.
“Are you hiding?”
Sam was startled by CJ’s sudden appearance. He had noticed over the past few months that she had a habit of appearing out of nowhere and usually when he was doing something wrong.
“I’m just taking it all in,” Sam replied. He knew he had a stupid grin on his face. He had been wearing it since it had become clear that the exit polls were going their way. He was waiting for the Illinois primary to be called and wanted to be with Josh when it was but he couldn’t see him.
“Yeah, poochey, it’s a lot to take in.” CJ sipped at a drink and looked at Josh and Abby who were deep in discussion.
CJ nodded in agreement, “I’ll think of something better. Give me time.”
Sam smiled and returned his attention to Josh. He would celebrate here with his colleagues who were fast becoming friends and then take Josh away to his place for their own private celebration. He had already experienced enough long hours to know that they would be returning to the campaign headquarters before the night was through but he needed to have some time alone with the man who had got him here. He needed to affirm to himself that this next chapter of their lives would be one that they experienced together.
Finally, Sam caught Josh’s eye and moved over to him. CJ finished her drink and placed the glass down. She had suspected Sam and Josh where involved the minute she’d met them and when Toby had told her what Sam had given up based on a nod from Josh, her suspicions were confirmed. She sensed Sam wanted to be alone with Josh and smiled as she realised that Josh was too wrapped up in the events of the night to realise.
As soon as she had gone Sam moved closer to Josh and snagged the cuff of his jacket. “Listen, how about we sneak off later? I know we won’t have long but I-”
“Leo!” Josh pulled away from Sam as Leo walked towards them.
“You need to make sure he’s ready, Leo, cos it’s getting a little late for a change of heart.”
Sam stood by and watched as Josh’s attention, which had never really been on him, turned back to Bartlet.
Leo smiled, shook his head and placed his hand on Josh’s shoulder. “You know what, Josh, you worry too much. You won’t last a year if you keep this up.”
Someone else called Leo’s name and he hurried off. Josh turned back to Sam. “What were you saying?”
“I was just asking you if we can get some time together tonight. I know we won’t have long but just an hour together would be great. I’ve got some things I want to tell you and it’s probably better if we’re alone when I do.” Sam sent Josh a look that if CJ had seen would have left no room for any doubt. “So, if we can, let’s sneak off.”
“Who’s sneaking off?” Toby asked appearing between Sam and Josh and making both of them jump.
“No one, Sam was just saying I should-”
“Josh is sneaking off and he won’t say who with,” Toby informed CJ who had come to join them.
“I’m not sneaking. Lyman’s don’t sneak…they…move…stealthily…and…”
“Have you finished?” Toby asked.
“Yeah,” Josh sighed.
“So are you sneaking off with someone or not?” CJ asked.
Josh glanced at Sam and then at Donna who was standing talking to a campaign worker whose name he knew but who he had spoken to only a few times. “With Sarah Rine, I was going to try sneak off with Sarah Rine.”
Sam shot him a look which everyone but CJ missed.
“If that had been it, Josh, if you’d left it there we’d have been alright, you know? It would have just been a…thing…and it would have meant nothing.” Sam stood up and walked over to pour himself a drink. “It would have meant nothing and we’d have been fine. I’m not going to go over that again, no, I’m not going there…except to say, we wouldn’t have been fine, not really because you wanted me but you wanted the White House more and that’s fine, I can see why you would, I mean it’s a great place and I’m not denying this it’s a once in a lifetime experience that we’ll never get even close to again but for me, you and me, we were bigger than the White House.” Sam spun round and Josh watched a drip of bourbon spill out of his glass and onto the carpet. “Not that I would have it any other way, knowing what I know now but I don’t see, I don’t understand, what I fail to comprehend is why we couldn’t have had both. We could have done everything we’ve done and stayed together but you chose not to. I wasn’t the one that made a play for Sarah Rine in front of everyone when what you could have done is said, ‘I’m not sneaking off with anyone and even if I am it’s none of your business’ or, and there was a time when I thought this would be a possibility, you could have said, ‘I’m sneaking off with Sam because he’s my partner and we’re going to sneak off now and then we’ll be back when we’re done sneaking and by the way, it’s none of your business!’ I wasn’t the one that went rushing off without talking to-”
“Sam,” Josh could take most of what Sam was saying but he felt he had to defend himself on that point, “My dad had just died, Sam, I had to go rushing off to his funeral.”
“Well, yes, that’s…yes…that’s a fair point. But, actually, that’s not a fair point! You didn’t tell me you were going, you didn’t even say goodbye. You didn’t answer my calls, you shut me out completely and I didn’t know if that was because you were grieving or because you’d realised I wasn’t as important as your job or that you’d realised Sarah Rine actually wasn’t such a bad prospect after all. Then, when you came back we didn’t get a chance to turn around let alone talk. The first few weeks of being in office were hell and we were all…I’m saying we never got a chance to talk and then the next thing you did was to spend the Inaugural Ball chasing, wooing and dancing with Sarah Rine making very sure that I witnessed every swagger, smile and out of time step on the dance floor.”
Josh continued to stare at Sam the word ‘wooing’ going round and round in his mind. He thought that it was a funny word to use, almost obsolete, and couldn’t seem to shift that notion from his mind. He watched as Sam started to pace, still holding the now empty glass by his side. Josh closed his mouth, determined not to say a word because he knew for sure if he spoke the words ‘Jesus, Sam, you drive me fucking wild when you get in a state like this’ would leave his lips and he had a feeling Sam wouldn’t be too responsive to that sort of comment at the moment.
“You couldn’t have just told me? I mean, it was too much for you, the big political operative, to come see me and tell me to my face that we were through. I had to work it out from the oh so subtle clues like you not talking to me for four weeks or sending Donna over to my place to pick up your tux or sending the key to my apartment back to me through the internal mail!” Sam had stopped pacing and had walked behind a chair and placed both hands on its back. The glass was gone but Josh hadn’t noticed Sam putting it down. “And now, now I get the feeling I’m supposed to just forget all of that and let you come back into my life because you think I need you and you think that you being here now makes up for all of that, well it doesn’t. I’ve needed you before now, plenty of times and you were down the hallway from me but you weren’t there. Jesus, it seems I really do have to bang my head against a wall to get your attention! You left me, Josh. The first time we left each other but the second time you left me and don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m willing to put myself in the way of that amount of hurt again because I am so not! And another thing-”
“What!” Josh shouted back finally no longer able to take Sam’s tirade. He stood, arms folded and waited for the continuation of the rant.
“I really don’t feel too good,” Sam admitted. Josh was at his side in an instant, guiding him towards the bedroom, asking him what he could get him.
“Sorry- it’s probably all the excitement of last night catching up with me.”
“Excitement? There are many words I could use to describe what happened last night but exciting isn’t one of them!” Josh steered Sam towards the bed and pulled back the comforter. “Terrifying would be nearer the mark.”
Sam lay down and didn’t comment when Josh lay down beside him. “I’ll just stay here for a while,” he explained, “Until you fall asleep. I think you should know I’ve locked your bay windows and buried the key in one of your plants.”
Sam smiled and closed his eyes. He was exhausted but was glad to find he had stopped shaking now that he had lain down and the floor had stopped zooming up towards him. There was silence for a while. The only sound that disturbed it was the ticking of Sam’s alarm clock that stood on the bedside table. Josh started to rise from the bed but then changed his mind and turned back to Sam. He lay his head close to Sam’s and waited for him to open his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sam.”
“It’s not enough.”
Josh concentrated on the ticking and counted. He lay next to Sam for the fifty-four seconds that it took him to fall asleep then he rose from the bed, grabbed a blanket and slipped into the armchair at the end of it. Still close to Sam, still in sight of him but nowhere near as close as he longed to be and feared would never be again.
Josh felt the hand on his shoulder and without opening his eyes, turned away from it. His eyes opened slowly as he felt the hand grab him again, this time more forcefully. He sighed deeply and was about to tell whoever it was to get the hell off him when he heard the words that forced him wide awake.
“Take me to the ER.”
Josh sat up and turned towards Sam, “Why, what’s wrong?” his sleep-muddled brain couldn’t make sense of Sam’s request.
Sam replied by pulling the blanket off Josh. The shock of the cold air was nothing compared to the shock of seeing Sam standing by his bed, clutching his head with one hand and thrusting Josh’s car keys at him with the other.
“Please, Josh, please…they’ll make it stop…drugs…please, Josh…can’t…need drugs to stop…can’t, please…”
“Shit, Sam, alright, alright.” Josh threw on his jeans and a sweatshirt and grabbed his shoes. Sam was pacing up and down in front of the bed and it was only when Josh reached down to tie his laces that he saw Sam’s bare feet. He knew trying to get socks on him was out of the question so he pulled a pair of sneakers from the cupboard.
Sam was nearly at the door so Josh grabbed his arm, “Put these on.”
Sam thrust the shoes back at him and shouted at him to hurry up. Josh had noticed that someone had smashed a bottle outside on the stoop and although he knew Sam would happily cut his feet to shreds if it meant he could get to the ER, he also knew Sam wouldn’t thank him once the headache had gone and he was thinking more clearly. He blocked Sam’s way to the door and slammed the shoes into his chest. “Put the damn shoes on or you can walk there!”
The force of Josh’s voice momentarily stunned Sam and he slipped the shoes on and, laces trailing behind, he opened the door and bolted for the car.
The journey to the ER was silent apart from Sam begging Josh to drive faster. Josh gripped the steering wheel and forced himself to ignore the pleas. He was driving as fast as he could and comforted himself with the knowledge that if Sam wasn’t in pain he would be horrified at the speed he was already reaching. He concentrated on the road ahead and told Sam over and over that they were nearly there. Sam had both hands on the dashboard subconsciously trying to push the car nearer its destination.
When they entered the emergency room, Josh recognised a nurse who had seen them before and went over to her ignoring the main desk completely.
“It’s my friend; he’s having a cluster attack. You helped us before do you remember?”
Slightly taken aback by the panicked man, she took a few moments to place him.
“Josh! What are you…make them stop it!” The voice more than the words prompted the nurse to remember Sam’s previous visit perfectly.
She led Josh back towards Sam, “Of course I remember. How could I forget? Take him to that cubicle, I’ll get a doctor.”
Sam paced around the small space. Every time he passed the end of the bed the curtains parted in his wake and afforded Josh a glimpse of the corridor. He knew better than to try to calm Sam down and so sat in silence and sighed in relief when the curtains fully opened to reveal Doctor Hollis.
He acknowledged Josh and walked over to Sam, “I’m not going to give you anything if you don’t get on the bed,” he said and to Josh’s surprise, Sam immediately got onto the bed and sat with his arms wrapped around his legs. “I’m going to try some oxygen, Sam.”
“What? No!” Sam turned a panic stricken face to Josh. “Josh! Tell him!”
While Doctor Hollis explained that he would try the oxygen and if it didn’t work he would give Sam something else, Sam got up and pulled back the curtain.
“Whoa, Sam, come back here!” Josh grabbed Sam’s arm and steered him towards the bed. He turned furiously back to Doctor Hollis, “Just give him the damn drugs and try out your oxygen tank another time!”
Doctor Hollis immediately set about pulling up Sam’s sleeve and wiping his arm in readiness for the IV. Even though he was disappointed that he wouldn’t get consent to try the oxygen, he had never seen a cluster attack as bad as this before and knew at least that the drug he was about to administer would probably provide Sam with immediate relief. He hid his disappointment from Josh and Sam; the studies on oxygen therapy were very promising and Sam was an ideal candidate to try it. He made a mental note to talk to him before he was discharged and see if he could persuade him to try the oxygen the next time he had an attack at home.
Sam forced himself to sit still while the drugs were injected into him. He wanted to be moving, walking around, but he knew the drugs would start working soon and if he held on it would all be over. The doctor stepped away from the bed but remained in the room. He was fascinated by cluster attacks but had only ever treated two patients for the condition before Sam. He watched as Josh perched on the end of the bed, rubbing Sam’s back as he rocked backwards and forwards. He couldn’t make out the words that were being spoken and so stepped a little closer. He realised that Josh was counting and occasionally Sam was joining in.
“15,16,17, not long now, Sam, 18, 19, you still with me? 20, 21…” Josh didn’t know how long it would take for the drugs to kick in. “22, 23, 24…” Josh stopped counting when he felt, more than heard, Sam sigh. The doctor could hear Josh speaking but stepped away from the bed, aware that the words were private and left the two men alone.
“It’s finished, Sam, lie down,” Josh ordered and he quickly adjusted the pillows as Sam straightened his legs and lay back. “It’s finished,” Josh repeated and Sam was aware of a hand on his forehead as he fell into a deep sleep.
“Why can’t he take what you just gave him all the time? Why is it so hard to find a drug he can just take to stop this from happening?”
“I just gave Sam intravenous dihydroergotamine. It worked the last time he was treated in the ER and it looks like it’s aborted the attack this time but I want to wait and see how he is when he wakes up. Last time, he had a few problems breathing on waking and that can be a side-effect. We can control it here but I don’t want to give Sam a drug to take at home that may cause worse problems after the attacks.”
Josh walked away from Doctor Hollis, ran a hand through his hair and then turned back to him. “How hard should I be trying to persuade Sam to try the oxygen therapy?”
“It depends, why is Sam so opposed to it?”
“He not opposed to oxygen so much as to the idea of having to sit in the Oval Office with an oxygen tank strapped to his back.”
Doctor Hollis couldn’t help but laugh at the image, “Well, that’s not how it works but I can see his point.” He sat down on one of a row of plastic chairs and gestured for Josh to do the same. “Oxygen therapy would require Sam to have a canister handy at all times and yes, that can be off-putting for a lot of patients but those who have tried it tend to swear by it and would happily strap a canister to every limb if it meant an end to their attacks. Even I have to admit that an injection, nasal spray or pill is a lot easier to take and makes the condition much more manageable. Let’s see how Sam does. If he’s okay on waking then we’ll know we can try him on the same drug that he can inject himself.”
Josh nodded and looked up and down the corridor. He started to speak but a nurse hurried by and he stopped.
“Was there anything else?” Hollis knew that Josh wanted to ask him something and waited patiently for the frazzled man by his side to formulate his thoughts.
“We haven’t told the press about what happened last night. We haven’t told them because we don’t want people to think that what happened makes Sam...makes it look as if Sam is…”
“He isn’t, you know that and he knows that but I can see why you don’t want to spend the next few months making the public see that. It’d almost be as hard as trying to convince them that MS isn’t fatal.”
Josh’s eyes widened at the doctors candid comment before he smiled and nodded. “Yeah, it would.”
“There is an end to this, Josh. Sooner or later we’ll find the right medication. We’re a long way from running out of solutions. We haven’t even begun to look at possible surgery yet. There’s plenty more options so just keep telling Sam that.” Doctor Hollis rose from the seat and stretched his back. “These chairs are killers. I’m on call tonight. I’ll come and see Sam in the morning; I doubt he’ll wake before then. Are you planning on staying?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d just, you know, hang around, make sure he’s okay. He doesn’t like to wake up alone.” Realising what he had said, Josh glanced up quickly at the doctor but his expression was unreadable.
“You better find a more comfortable chair than this then. I’ll see you in the morning.” He picked up the notes he had left on the chair and hurried off down the corridor.
Josh stood and wandered over to the vending machine. He chose the healthiest snack he could find and headed outside to phone Toby.
The first thing Sam heard when he woke was the clatter of a trolley being wheeled by. “I don’t have a trolley,” he said sleepily as he tried to make sense of his surroundings.
“Sam…Sam,” Josh leant closer to the bed and waited for Sam’s eyes to open. When they did it was followed by a groan of recognition as Sam finally realised where he was.
“It sucks, I know,” Josh handed Sam a cup of water. “How’re you feeling?”
Sam took a welcome sip and shrugged, “Tired but no pain.”
Josh took the cup away and helped Sam to sit up. Sam coughed as he moved up the bed. “Feel a bit funny actually.”
“Funny how? Ha ha or oh oh?”
Sam smiled at Josh’s categories of funny. “Oh oh, I think…chest is tight.”
Josh cursed under his breath but Sam caught it. He gave Josh another shrug and tried to smile but couldn’t find the energy to try to make Josh or himself feel better. “You better get Doc.” He heard Josh curse again and closed his eyes.
Before Josh had reached the door a nurse entered closely followed by a doctor. Josh stayed by the door and watched as Sam was asked questions, hooked up to machines and given an oxygen mask. By the time Doctor Hollis arrived Sam’s breathing was laboured.
“Same as last time, Sam,” Doctor Hollis said as he picked up his chart and studied it. “Just let the oxygen work and you’ll be fine. I’m sorry this has happened; I was hoping you’d be okay this time. We’ll find the right drug; it’s just going to take longer than we would have hoped for.”
Sam nodded and concentrated on the hiss of the oxygen. At first he’d only been concerned by the fact that he was having the same reaction to the wonder drug that had halted his attack but now it was dawning on him exactly what that meant and he willed everyone out of the room because he was surprised to realise that he was going to cry. He closed his eyes until the sound of chatter by his bed faded. Everyone had gone. He felt a hand reach for his and didn’t need to open his eyes to know whose it was. He knew also that he didn’t need to hide how he was feeling and so let Josh’s grasp on his hand provide some comfort as he awkwardly tried to wipe at his eyes and nose without removing the mask.
“This sucks,” Josh said simply and Sam could only nod in agreement.
“Makes worse…because…drugs so…good at…stopping-”
Josh told Sam to shush, so he did. He closed his eyes and concentrated on trying not to panic as each breath wheezed through his lungs. Eventually his breathing became easier and as it eased, Sam’s field of vision lessened. “Go to work,” he managed to mumble to Josh before finally falling asleep.
“You see this?” Sam shouted in an attempt to pull Josh’s attention from the television. “This!” he repeated waving the spoon around.
“Yes, it’s a spoon.” Josh dragged his attention away from the sports report and focused on Sam.
“It’s a spoon,” Sam repeated. “And do you know where I found it?”
“In the knife section of the cutlery holder?”
“Yes, in the knife section of the…hold on, you mean you’re actually aware that you’re doing it? You stay at someone’s place on the pretence of ‘looking after’ them, see that they have an orderly system for cutlery storage, and you actually disrupt it on purpose?”
“It’s not like I plan it, it just happens. Knifes, forks, spoons, I’m a political mover, Sam, I can’t let myself be distracted by mundane domestic issues.” Josh stood up and walked over to Sam. “Hand me the spoon.”
“No, you’re going to displace it.”
“Sam!” Josh laughed and made a grab at the spoon. “Give me the spoon and sit down, read a book, something! And anyway, what’s with the ‘pretence’ thing? I am looking after you!”
Sam snorted and went back to the kitchen. He had been home for a day. Josh had picked him up the night before from the hospital and had spent the following day with him. It was a Saturday and Sam knew Josh would be spending all weekend whether he wanted him to or not. They hadn’t talked about anything to do with headaches, drugs, their relationship or press releases but both knew the subjects couldn’t be avoided for long. Clanging from the kitchen made Josh stand up and reluctantly go to investigate.
He leaned unnoticed on the doorjamb for a while watching Sam neatly order every item of cutlery on the kitchen table. A smile settled on his face at the sight of Sam’s concentrated frown.
“That’s a butter knife,” Josh offered helpfully as Sam stood wavering, unsure where to place the odd item.
“I know it’s a butter knife! I’m just deciding if I need to make a new pile or not.”
Josh took a few tentative steps towards the table and looked at the cutlery that had been neatly placed in piles. “It’s a dilemma that’s had cutlerytarians stumped for years.”
“Josh, I’m grateful you’re staying and I know you’re doing what you think is best for me but I swear to God, if you don’t leave me alone to obsess over this I’ll ram this butter knife so far up your ass you’ll be making sandwiches with your eyeballs!”
“Oh Sam, Sam, Sam, I can think of so many other things I’d much rather have jammed-”
“Josh! I mean it! Get out of my kitchen!”
“Would you like me to stay and keep an eye on the dessert spoons? I mean I don’t want to worry you or anything but I think they’re looking a bit mutinous, they’re thinking they could take the teaspoons if you ask me.” Josh ducked but wasn’t quick enough, the spoon landed squarely on his head and he had more sense than to stay and make an issue of it.
Later, after they had eaten, Sam lay on the sofa watching a documentary about Black Holes. Josh was sprawled on the chair beside him. Sam was watching the documentary, Josh was watching Sam. He had forgotten just how much he loved watching Sam. It had once been his favourite pastime. There would always be some documentary or other that Sam would switch on and instruct Josh not to interrupt his viewing of. ‘Don’t talk for the next sixty minutes! Heavy petting or a foot rub is allowed just no actual conversation.’ Josh smiled as he remembered how he and Sam would curl up on the sofa, Sam fully engrossed in the programme and Josh in the task of spending the next hour attempting to distract Sam to the point that he would forget the television was even on. Josh watched Sam now and his smile faded as he realised that distracting Sam was a game he was no longer allowed to play.
Thirty minutes passed. Josh stood and went to get a couple of beers. He handed Sam one and instead of sitting back on the chair, sat next to him. Sam pulled his legs up off the floor and tucked them beneath him. He took a swig of beer. His hand holding the bottle rested on the arm of the sofa. His other hand fiddled absently at the hem of his sock. Josh went back to his study of Sam and wondered if he could get used to never being able to distract him again. He decided he couldn’t and tentatively reached out and covered Sam’s hand with his own. Sam’s fingers stilled but he didn’t remove his hand. Somewhere, during the first ad break, he removed his fingers from the hem of his sock and allowed Josh’s hand to cover them fully. His eyes never left the television and anyone else in the room would have hardly noticed the movement but to Josh it was a massive gesture and so he sat as still as he could, cherishing the feel of Sam’s hand in his own.
The sun, when it was rising, cast a glow in Sam’s office that never failed to amaze him. Sometimes the sunrise, an empty Bullpen and a cup of fresh coffee stolen from the pressroom’s coffee machine were all it took to make Sam sit back at his desk and feel like he was the luckiest man alive. Sam hadn’t felt very lucky for quite a while though and this morning the sun’s low rays and the silence failed to have their usual effect.
Sam sighed and put his feet up on the edge of his desk. He thought about his current problems and tried to make himself feel better. Work was a problem; his writing was flat and his enthusiasm gone. His headaches were a problem but he had a new drug to try and so told himself that it would be the one, the magic drug that would make Cluster Attacks a thing of the past. He refused to think about the crippling fear that he lived in of them. Josh was a problem. Sam smiled despite his melancholy frame of mind and tried to think of a time when Josh hadn’t been a problem. A part of him knew it was hopeless, they were hopeless. But, a part of him wanted to believe that this time it would be different. It would work. They would both be able to find time for their careers and each other and Josh wouldn’t have to choose because he wouldn’t force him to. But then, Sam thought as he swung his legs off the table, a part of him wanted Josh to have to choose or at least to be sure of what the answer would be if he did.
He walked over to the window and watched as the red of the sunrise turned to the golden glow of early morning. Staffers had started to arrive, a phone was ringing and suddenly the peace and quiet was shattered. Sam drained his cup and turned to put it on his desk and jumped when he found CJ sitting on the edge of it.
“Hey there, Samshine,” CJ’s long legs were swinging and she was worrying a pencil in her hands. “I was sitting in my office thinking about you and, you know, me and what happened the other day and I was wondering if it was time for a little Sam chat, just to test the waters. Don’t be fooled by my relaxed demeanour I’m ready to flee if the waters are choppy.”
Sam shrugged and CJ winced inwardly at the gesture. She had expected anger and hoped for understanding but had not even considered indifference. She jumped off the desk and walked over to Sam. “The waters are indifferent?” she asked incredulously.
“I’m fine, we’re fine. I haven’t even thought about it. I know what you were trying to do and I know you were acting as Press Secretary and thinking of the Administration and I totally understand.”
“I was, but what I didn’t do was this…” she reached out for Sam’s hand and kissed him on the cheek. “That was me as me, not me as the Press Secretary,” she added helpfully.
Sam smiled and kept hold of CJ’s hand. “Thank you,” he squeezed it and let go. “Although, I think you should know that I’ve never have the slightest problem making a distinction between you as you and you as Press Secretary.”
“Well, you don’t scare the crap out of me when you’re you as you.”
“I scare you when I’m Press Secretary?”
“You scare me when I’ve done something wrong,” Sam confessed.
“I might start wearing a scarf, they can be softening,” CJ said as she sat in Sam’s chair and he perched on his desk.
“See, if you were wearing a scarf, I’d just think you were picturing ways to strangle me with it.”
“Okay, well I’ll try a few variations it might just be the type of scarf.”
Sam grinned and stood up. “Get back to work, scary woman!”
CJ stood and straightened her skirt. “And apparently my work is scaring people.” She smiled at Sam and brushed her hand down his arm as she passed him. Sam took in the look on her face and gentleness of the action and allowed himself a few moments to wallow in the comfort she had provided before Toby’s gruff voice from the room next door brought him back to the reality of a speech that was three days behind schedule.
“Two days, three hours and forty minutes,” Josh called to the kitchen from Sam’s sofa.
“What?” Sam called back before walking into the living room and joining Josh.
“It’s been two days, three hours and forty minutes since your last headache.”
Sam was going to reply sarcastically but then saw Josh’s notebook and realised how sweet it was of Josh to keep such detailed records of his attacks. “That’s so sweet!”
“Sweet! You might want to rethink that. I am not sweet, methodical, yes, scientific, certainly but sweet-”
Sam stopped Josh mid rant, “Sorry, what I meant was, ‘Gee, Josh, that’s so methodical and scientific of you’.”
“Much better, if it gets around DC that I can be ‘sweet’ I’d be finished.” He turned back to his notebook and moved along the sofa so Sam could join him.
“I ordered a pizza,” Sam announced as he put his feet up on the coffee table.
“Great,” Josh answered but he was once more absorbed in his task of trying to find a pattern to Sam’s attacks. Josh had stayed the first night after Sam had been in hospital and had only been home once since. He had returned to Sam’s with enough clothes to see him through the week. Sam didn’t mind, he was glad to have someone with him and although neither man spoke about it, Sam’s suicide attempt had petrified them both. Sam shuffled further down the sofa and crossed his arms over his stomach. He felt the sofa dip and Josh’s arm reach across him.
“This is it, Sam, this is the miracle we’ve been waiting for.”
Sam opened his eyes and turned to see Josh holding the drug that Doctor Hollis hoped would finally put an end to Sam’s pain.
“Amazing really, just looks like a pen or something, but inside this tube lays a magical cure. It’s like something from a Bond film.” Josh started to unscrew the top.
“Hey!” Sam dived towards him and grabbed at the injection pen. “That’s all he’s given me, 007, and if you break it we’re fucked!”
“You know what? These cluster attacks have really dragged your language into the gutter.”
Sam rolled his eyes and placed the drugs back on the side table. He closed his eyes again and tried to get comfortable but the sound of Josh turning pages back and forth made him sit up and turn to face him. “So, according to your journal, when am I due my next one?”
Josh closed the book and scooted round. “You’ve never gone longer than three days without one and the last time you had a gap of four days it was followed a series of attacks that got progressively worse so…”
“Tomorrow.” Sam stated flatly. It wasn’t anything he didn’t already know. He’d had enough attacks now to be able to work out the pattern and if the last few weeks were anything to go by, tomorrow would bring a new cluster. He slipped down the sofa and covered his face with his hands. “Fuck!”
“Yeah.” Josh moved towards Sam and gently removed one of his hands. “Remember the other night when you went to Geeksville and watched that space documentary and I sat here and held your hand and you let me?” Sam nodded slowly. “Well, I was thinking that was nice and I can’t do much for you at the moment but that was nice and I was thinking we could do that again cos it made me feel better and…”
“It made me feel better too,” Sam finished for him and smiled as Josh’s hold on his hand tightened. Josh pulled Sam closer towards him until he was lying against his chest, the top of his head nestling neatly under Josh’s chin. When the pizza arrived neither man wanted to move from the comforting position and it was with great reluctance that Sam finally got off Josh and called after the disgruntled pizza man who was heading back to his bike.
“Words, Sam! Little things on their own but collated and ordered they can be really quite something and yet you seem to have lost the power to even write them down let alone manipulate them!”
Sam was about to protest when Toby snatched his pad out of his hands and stormed back to his office. Sam stood up quickly and followed him.
“What’s this?” Toby asked, pointing at a doodle on Sam’s pad.
“It’s a doodle, actually it’s a series of interconnecting boxes if you want to be precise and I bet if you looked that up in a doodle dictionary it would mean something about having a stifling boss.”
“And this?” Toby’s finger moved down the page.
“That, believe it or not, is the pattern on the curtains in my Grandmother’s study.”
“I see, and that is related to a speech about school prayer how exactly?”
“Well, my Grandmother was a very religious woman so…”
Toby mumbled something and sat down at his desk. “We have twenty-four hours before The President is going to be standing in front of a lot of people and looking at a teleprompter and seeing nothing but a doodle of interlocking boxes and your grandmother’s curtain pattern!”
“And I can see that wouldn’t be good.” Sam sat heavily on the sofa and looked across at Toby. “I’ve tried, Toby, but I can’t even get past ‘good evening’.”
“It’s my fault; I shouldn’t have gone to Boston. I knew it would be a waste of time and it’s shot my schedule to hell. I tell you what, you talk, I’ll write.” Toby turned the page on Sam’s pad and waited for him to start listing the points they had agreed they wanted the speech to make. He wouldn’t admit it but he was angry with himself for leaving Sam alone while he went and talked to a Senator even though he knew his support was unlikely at best. He scribbled frantically to keep up with Sam’s ideas. In the time he had been away Sam had written enough notes and outlines to write five speeches but just hadn’t been able to order any of it into an actual speech. Toby had told Leo that Sam was fine and now realised that leaving him alone when he knew he was struggling wasn’t fair to him. Toby forced himself to focus on what he was writing but stopped when he realised Sam was no longer dictating but talking to him.
“…and I’m grateful but I don’t want you to carry me and if you think I’m not doing my job then I-”
“I’m not listening to this. We have a speech to write and we have it to write in less than twenty-four hours. Now, are you going to sit there feeling sorry for yourself or are you going to carry on telling me what needs to go in it?”
“The first one…no wait…the second one.”
“Good, so talk!”
Sam looked down at his notes, found his place and continued to read. In the window behind him Josh caught Toby’s eye and nodded before turning away and heading back to his own office.
Five hours later the speech was done. Toby was sitting with his feet on his desk listening to the printer in the Bullpen churning out the final draft. Sam was lying on the sofa glasses in his hand, but slowly slipping out of his relaxing fingers.
“It’s done?” Josh asked as he entered Toby’s office, realising from the men’s demeanours that it was.
“Of course it’s done, we’re Batman and Robin,” Sam said and because Sam had his eyes closed and Josh had his back to him, Toby smiled at the comment.
“Anyway, you were wrong, Doctor Kildare!” Sam said to Josh as he hoisted himself up the sofa.
“Your prognosis, it’s now been three days and fifty-four minutes and I haven’t had an attack.”
“Well then!” Josh replied.
“Well then?” Sam sat up and swung his legs off the sofa. “Methodical, scientific Josh is proved wrong and all he can say is ‘well then’?”
Josh shrugged, “Yeah, the endeavour of scientific enquiry is a thankless task.”
Toby rustled his newspaper noisily and peered over it, “Would you like to go and play in the Bullpen or something so the adults can read in peace.” He watched as Sam and Josh rose from the sofa as one and to his surprise took him at his word and went outside to annoy Ginger. He knew that Sam’s upbeat mood was for Josh’s benefit. He had seen how tense Sam was even when he was lying on the sofa supposedly asleep. It may well have been three days since his last attack but Toby knew that just made the waiting for the next one even worse.
Sam rubbed at his temple and tried to forget the dull thumping in his head of his usual ‘meeting headache’ that had been largely caused by Senator Morrison and Paul Grey. It had been five days since the last attack and that was the longest Sam had gone without one. He glanced up and saw Toby talking to Josh in the corridor outside. Josh caught his eye and Sam excused himself and left the room. He followed Josh and Toby as they walked further down the corridor and out of view of Morrison and Grey.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked.
“I had a call from Senator Howell. He reckons-”
“Senator Howell the Republican,” Sam interrupted.
“Yeah,” Josh replied eager to tell his story.
“He doesn’t like us very much,” Sam continued. “He said you were to politics what Stan Laurel was to-”
“Yeah, Sam, that Senator Howell!” Josh cut in and Sam knew better than to finish the quote. “He says that Adler is going to go against the health care bill tomorrow and has four proxy votes.”
“Four would kill it! Does he have four?” Sam knew how hard Josh had worked on the bill and for Adler to sabotage it now would be a blow for him and the party.
Toby leant away from the wall and glanced back down the corridor, “What are Morrison and Grey talking to you about?” he asked.
“Funding from the MLB for the Chronic Care package.”
“Well then, he has two.”
Josh crossed his arms and stared at his feet, “And Burrell and Cairns are meeting me tomorrow, what are the odds on them offering an amendment?"
“There’s your four,” Toby agreed.
“So what, Howell was just telling you this out of courtesy?”
“He wants this bill to pass as much as we do, he’s always supported it. He told me that Adler’s going to be at the dinner tonight and he told me what he wants. He thinks I can talk him round.”
“I think you can talk him round,” Toby agreed.
“I think I have to pretend like this never happened, go back into that room and listen to Morrison and Grey and pretend like I care,” Sam sighed.
“Yeah,” Josh nodded.
“I didn’t care before I knew I didn’t have to care, and now, I have to pretend that I care even though I don’t care and know that I don’t need to care.”
“Yeah,” Josh repeated.
“And you wonder why you get headaches,” Toby said but he patted Sam on the shoulder before turning and walking away to his office.
Josh walked silently beside Sam. He looked up the corridor then spun round and checked the other direction before nudging Sam sideways, pulling open a cupboard door and jostling Sam into it.
Sam had never been in this cupboard before. He must have walked past it a thousand times and yet he had never been in it. It was dark and he couldn’t tell what it stored. He wondered if he would find Ainsley in there looking for the toilet. He tried to remember noticing the cupboard and couldn’t really remember if he had or not. He decided to tell Ron Butterfield about it; it might be dangerous having an area of the West Wing that nobody had really noticed but seemed big enough to house two men comfortably. Those were the thoughts that went through Sam’s mind as Josh kissed him senseless in the confined, dark space. He felt Josh’s hands on his head, holding him in place but there was no need; he had no desire to move. Finally Josh moved away, “That’ll give you something to think about while you’re pretending not to care,” he whispered and then Sam was suddenly bathed in light as the door opened and then swamped in darkness once more as it closed. Sam didn’t think that Josh meant it was Morrison and Grey that he was pretending not to care about and he had to admit that perhaps the fact that he was finding it difficult to take a breath meant that Josh had a point. Sam raised his arm to lean against the wall and unwittingly discovered the contents of the cupboard. A cacophony of bangs and crashes filled the tiny space as a rack of brooms and mops fell to the floor. He kicked away the few that had landed at his feet, brushed at the front of his shirt and taking a deep breath, stepped back into the corridor. For once, miraculously, it was empty.
Sam walked back into his office and looked down at Morrison and Grey who were waiting impatiently for him. “There’s a…I’ve worked here four years and I never knew…have you ever walked by something for four years and not…” Sam turned away from them and walked back to his desk, sitting heavily in his chair he took another deep breath, put his glasses on and looked across at their bewildered faces. “Okay, funding from the MLB for the chronic care package- give me what you’ve got.”
By the time Morrison and Grey had left, Sam had just about pulled himself together. He knew Josh had planned on going home before the dinner and they had made tentative plans to go home together, shower and change before returning to work. Sam peered into Toby’s office and seeing no sign of Josh, quickly went into it. He told Toby how the meeting had gone and then announced he was going to ‘have a walk’.
He went back to the corridor were Josh had ‘ambushed’ him and searched for the cupboard. He was surprised that he couldn’t find it and was beginning to think he had imagined the whole thing. He went back to where the three men had stood earlier and retraced his steps and smiled when he realised the cupboard was largely unnoticeable as the door was formed from one of the panels of the corridor and the handle was almost camouflaged against one of the ridges of the panel. He ran his hand slowly along the ridge, amazed that he had never noticed the door before, amazed at what its opening had revealed; more than just brooms.
“You ready?” The question jolted Sam out of his musings and he looked up to see Josh standing beside him, bag in one hand and his tux in the other. Sam nodded and they walked silently to the car. They drove back to Sam’s in silence. Once home, Sam told Josh to shower first and he spent the time taking one last look at the speech they would deliver to the President before leaving the White House for the dinner.
Josh hadn’t said a word about what had happened earlier. He knew from Sam’s response and subsequent behaviour that he didn’t need to apologise for it. He hoped it had helped in his quest to make Sam realise that Josh was serious about them. He hoped it had awakened as many feelings in Sam as it had in Josh.
Josh got out of the shower and went into the spare room to change. By the time he was done, Sam was out of the shower and in his bedroom changing. “We’ve only got ten minutes,” Josh called as he passed the bedroom door and went towards the kitchen. There was no answer so he went back to the bedroom and peered through the open door. Sam was standing in front of his mirror tying his bow tie. He was staring at his reflection and Josh watched as Sam slowly raised his hand and traced a line with his fingers from where the pain always started, behind his ear, to the front of his head above his right eye. He seemed mesmerised by the action and repeated it slowly. Josh pushed the door open wider and stepped into the room. He walked towards Sam until he was standing unnoticed behind him.
Sam continued to stare at his reflection, his expression one of fear, his hand hovering over his eye. It was stilled by Josh’s. “Don’t,” Josh whispered and his hand tightened around Sam’s.
“I’m scared, Josh,” Sam replied just as quietly and Josh stepped forward and placed his head beside Sam’s.
Josh felt Sam’s head move as he shook it, “No, I mean all the time.”
“Don’t be, don’t let it beat you, you’re strong enough to not let this beat you.” He lowered Sam’s hand down to his side and wrapped his other hand around his waist. “Don’t be,” he repeated.
He felt Sam’s head move again but this time he was nodding. Josh released Sam and stepped away. He looked at the reflection of the two and them and grinned. “We look good.”
Sam smiled, “We really do.”
It was late by the time they got into the car to make the short journey to the dinner. Josh sat next to Sam and CJ and Toby sat opposite. CJ flattened her dress down and stretched her legs. Toby rolled a cigar between his fingers that he was looking forward to smoking after the speech.
“I met a man today,” CJ started as she reached down and rubbed at her foot, “who was adamant that I went on a blind date with him in 1998.”
“Did you?” Josh asked glancing at Sam who was staring out of the window.
“I’m not sure. It’s not like, totally impossible, but I like to think I haven’t been on so many blind dates that I’ve got to the stage where I can’t remember them.”
“Still, it’s nice to know they remember you,” Josh pointed out. His attention was drawn to Sam again who was fumbling with his bowtie and impatiently trying to loosen the knot. Josh looked at his hands and tried not to think about the times he had seen Sam’s hands fumbling with his bowtie with impatience born of an entirely different source.
“You feeling a little buttoned up there, Spanky?” CJ asked.
Sam started to reply but then suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. Toby looked up at him and his stomach lurched as he recognised the look of fear on Sam’s face. Josh turned Sam towards him and seeing the same expression he tightened his hold on Sam’s arm. He didn’t need to ask Sam what was wrong, he knew from the way Sam looked at Josh, pleading him to stop what was about to happen. Josh had tried to harden himself to the sight and sounds of Sam during an attack but the look on his face when he knew one was starting was a sight that never failed to make Josh feel totally useless.
“Make them stop the car,” Sam pleaded. He needed to move. He couldn’t stay in the small confines of the back of the car.
“Can you stop? We need to get out for a minute,” Josh called to the driver but he knew it was useless; they wouldn’t deviate from the motorcade just because Sam was feeling ill.”
The driver looked in his rear view mirror, “We can’t. We’ll be there in ten.” He scanned the anxious faces of the passengers and settled on the sight of Sam sitting hunched in his seat, his hands grasping at his head. “Should I call ahead for a doctor?”
“No, it’s alright,” Josh answered as he pulled Sam’s hands away from his face. “Where is it?” he asked, placing a hand on Sam’s head to make sure he kept his attention.
“Breast pocket,” Sam managed and Josh quickly reached inside Sam’s jacket and pulled out a pen shaped object. He pulled Sam’s jacket off, a task made difficult by Sam’s tight grasp of his head, then he ripped a seal from the pen, placed it against Sam’s arm and clicked the top. Toby and CJ watched in fascination as Josh quietly counted to ten and then withdrew the pen, flinging it behind him on the seat.
“There, done it, just give it a minute to kick in,” Josh said leaning close to Sam’s ear to make sure the words got through to him. He felt Sam’s jerky nod against his face. “One minute and you’re home free, Sam, just one minute.” Again Sam nodded but by the time a minute had passed the drug that Josh had injected into Sam wasn’t bringing him any relief.
Sam shifted away from Josh, “It’s not…it’s not working…you said it would work!” He tried to grab for the door handle but both Toby and Josh lunged forward and stopped him.
“Get off…fucking get off me! Let me out! Stop, I need to…let me out!”
Sam tried to move towards the door again but landed on the floor of the car. His legs kicked out uselessly at the door. Josh squeezed down beside him and CJ lifted her legs up to make room for them.
“Give it time, you just have to hold on for a few more minutes,” Josh held Sam as he tried to rock within the confines of the space between the seats.
“Didn’t work…didn’t…oh, God…oh no!” Sam started to move more frantically as the pain worsened. He cursed and moaned and tried to crawl away from Josh but there was nowhere to go. He grabbed hold of Josh instead, clinging to his jacket lapels with white knuckles, “You said it would work! You said one minute…it…oh, Jesus.” Sam moaned again and pushed Josh away from him.
“Nearly there, Sam, nearly there, hold on,” Josh shouted. He moved as far away from Sam as he could to give him as much space as possible, silently praying that they got to the venue soon. He wasn’t sure what Sam would do if he wasn’t able to pace around and he really didn’t want to find out. Sam made another move to the door and both Toby and Josh sprung forward. Josh wrapped his arms around him and told him again to hold on.
Finally the front car in the motorcade pulled up to the entrance. Toby leant forward and peered out of the window. “Go round again,” he ordered the driver.
“What?” Josh was focused on Sam but was sure he had heard Toby to tell the driver not to stop.
“The place is swarming with press. Do you want them to get a shot of Sam like this?”
Josh was crouching over Sam, moving with him as Sam started to rock. He looked at Toby then CJ before repeating Toby’s request.
The agent in the front of the car turned to face them. “We can’t deviate from the route. Maybe we can get Mr Seaborn an ambulance?”
Toby was about to agree but Josh stopped him. “There’s no need. It’s working, the drugs are working. Hear that, Sam, they’re working.” Sam’s head was buried in his hands but Josh saw the nod that followed his words and he rubbed Sam’s back before straightening slightly and looking up at Toby. “You and CJ get out.” He sat up further until he could see the driver. “Phone Ron Butterfield. Tell him Sam is ill and we need to get him home and we need to do it without anyone seeing.” The driver nodded, he knew he couldn’t do anything without Ron’s say so but was happy to phone ahead and ask for it.
“I’ll stay with Sam, Josh, you need to speak to Adler. I don’t want to sound dramatic but the whole bill is sort of resting on your ‘discussion’ with him tonight.”
Josh ignored Toby and helped Sam rise to the seat. “Has the pain stopped?” Sam mumbled that it nearly had and Josh smiled. “They worked, Sam. We found the drugs that worked.” He pulled Sam upright and undid the bowtie that Sam was trying to remove.
“Josh, I’ll get Sam home, you need to get in there.”
Josh looked up at Toby and shook his head.
CJ looked at her friends. Sam was sitting upright but it was clear that Josh was holding him up. Toby and Josh were staring at each other, neither man willing to budge. “Well, someone needs to get out of this car,” CJ announced. “We need to drive around again before you get out or this will look odd whether they see Sam or not.”
Toby nodded but didn’t turn away from Sam and Josh. CJ pulled her phone from her bag and opened the door. Toby watched as she pretended to finish a call before placing it back in her bag. He knew they had left it too late for him or Josh to get out now. Their car had pulled up directly in front of the awaiting press and waiting for the driver to contact Ron had held up the cars behind. By pretending to have taken a call CJ would stop any awkward questions so long as they moved now. As if able to read his thoughts, the car’s engine started again. “Ron says to go to the car park entrance for you and Mr Lyman and then take Mr Seaborn back to the White House.”
“No!” Josh’s exclamation made Toby jump but Sam remained slumped against him. “I’m not leaving Sam. You go in the back way and I’ll go with Sam to the White House.”
Toby waited for the car to round the corner then moved to sit next to Josh. “You have to speak to Senator Adler remember? You’re going to speak to Adler, get him onside and put the bill back on track.”
“You speak to him; I’m going back with Sam.” Josh turned away from Toby and placed his hand on Sam’s face. “We’re going back to the White House, Sam, and then I’m going to take you home.”
“Josh, listen to me. I know you want to be with Sam but you need to go to that dinner. I can take Sam home and then meet you there later. If you don’t get this sorted tonight then Adler’s going to be a chain around this bill for months.”
“Look!” Josh swung round at Toby nearly knocking Sam from the seat, “Dihydroergotamine stops Sam’s headaches, it stops his pain and puts him to sleep and when he wakes up he can’t breathe, he’s not in pain anymore but he can’t breathe. He’s finally been given a drug that’s worked but this is the first time Sam’s used it and I don’t know what he’ll be like when he wakes up. I don’t even know if he should be this drowsy. I don’t know much but what I do know is that I promised Sam I’d stay with him, be there with him and if you think I’m going to leave him you must be out of your mind because there is nothing right now that I would consider more important than staying here and seeing Sam through what I hope to God is an end to the hell he’s in.”
Toby stared at Josh for a moment before sitting back in his seat. He glanced out of the window before turning to Josh again. “I’m going to be with the President before the speech and I’m meant to meet with Harrison afterwards. I’ll try to talk to Adler but I can’t promise.” Josh nodded and held Toby’s gaze. “You know what you’re risking?”
“I’m risking more if I don’t stay. I promised, Toby. I’m not letting him down again. We can deal with Adler later.”
“Sam may not even wake up before the dinner has ended.” Toby was playing devil’s advocate. A part of him needed to make sure that Josh was clear about the consequences of not facing Adler tonight, a bigger part of him wanted Josh to stand his ground and refuse to leave Sam, refuse to put politics before him. Toby had made the same mistake with Andy once and he was surprised at the extent to which he didn’t want Josh to do the same thing to Sam.
“The way he’s slumped against me now I’m guessing you could be right but it’s not a cha-”
“Okay.” Toby interrupted. He knew Josh knew what he was doing and that any further discussion was pointless. The car slowed and pulled up beside the back entrance. “Phone me as soon as Sam wakes up,” Toby said as the door was opened and he was ushered into the building. As the driver walked back to the car, Josh shuffled back to the corner of the seat and pulled Sam up against him. He tried calling his name but Sam only mumbled in reply. Josh pulled out his cell phone but waited until the driver had returned before entering Doctor Hollis’ number.
The driver leant over the seat and for the first time took a proper look at Sam. “Does Mr Seaborn need to go to the hospital?”
“I don’t know. Let me phone his doctor and see what he says.” Josh was relieved that the injection he had given Sam had appeared to work but not being able to get a lucid response from him was beginning to worry him. Doctor Hollis soon put his mind at rest and told him that many people reacted that way and that he was to keep an eye on Sam until he woke fully. Josh snapped the phone shut and sighed with relief. “It’s okay, he’s just needs to go home and sleep it off. Can you take us home?”
“I need to be back at the White House in an hour. Where does he live?”
The car pulled away as Josh reeled off Sam’s address and settled back against the seat pulling Sam back against him once more.
Josh stared alternatively at Sam and his cell phone that sat on Sam’s bedside table. Sam had passed out in the car and hadn’t stirred when Josh and the driver had carried him up to his apartment. Josh didn’t regret going home with Sam but a part of him was desperate for an update from Toby. Sam hadn’t moved in the two hours since Josh had placed him on the bed, removed his shoes and belt and covered him with the comforter. He had phoned Doctor Hollis twice since he had brought Sam home and both times had been told that the medication Sam had used often caused patients to sleep and that he should wait until Sam woke up and phone him then. Josh had got as far as dialling the third time before realising he was obsessing and hanging up.
A faint murmur from the bed pulled Josh’s attention back to form lying beneath the covers. He sat forward in his seat and waited. Sam’s eyes opened and then closed. A huge sigh was issued and then silence. Josh’s patience, which was already worn thin, reached its end and he pulled the covers down batting Sam’s hands away as they moved to reclaim them. “How you’re feeling?” he asked, relieved to see by the expression on Sam’s face that he wasn’t in pain.
Sam slowly sat up and appeared to be seriously considering the question before mumbling an unintelligible reply. He rubbed at his eyes, then his neck, yawned and lay back down before he began to remember the night’s events. He sat up and turned to Josh, “Shit, it worked! It stopped it didn’t it?” Josh grinned and nodded in response. “It worked,” Sam repeated and the look of wonder and joy on his face made Josh laugh, a bubbling sound of relief and joy that Sam had finally found a drug to end the attacks that were crippling him.
Josh’s joy only increased as he realised that Sam appeared to be waking from his sleep displaying no ill effects from the medication. “It made you pass out but that’s all. It took about three minutes to work then you went all dopey and zoned out and-”
“It worked,” Sam repeated in a whisper and Josh stopped talking and reached out, placing his hand on Sam’s face.
“Yeah, it worked,” Josh whispered and the two men stared at each other, their elation replaced with a relief that was evident on both their faces.
Slowly Sam lay back down and closed his eyes. “Tell me about the dinner, about Adler.” When Josh didn’t reply, Sam opened his eyes and looked at him expectantly.
“I didn’t meet with him,” Josh hedged.
“Didn’t he show?” Sam asked but his eyes were already closing again.
“I don’t know…Toby might talk to him.”
Despite his growing drowsiness, Sam forced his eyes open again. Josh watched as Sam glanced at the clock on the wall behind him and tensed at what he knew was coming.
“Is it nine pm or am?” Josh remained silent and Sam turned the bedside clock towards him, “Why aren’t you at the dinner? Why aren’t you meeting with Adler?”
“I didn’t go.” Josh shrugged as if blowing off the chance to avert Adler’s plan to scupper the bill was unimportant. “I stayed,” he added as if that too meant nothing.
Sam sat up and grabbed Josh’s wrist. “The bill, you were meant to…Adler…the bill…” he stared at Josh and the look of confusion on his face was slowly replaced by a look of comprehension, “You stayed,” he whispered and Josh simply nodded in reply.
Sam looked at his shoes and tried not to cringe too noticeably as Leo, Josh and Toby held yet another discussion about what to do about Adler. Sam knew that he had not intentionally influenced Josh’s decision not to go to the dinner to speak to the senator but he still felt guilty and indirectly responsible.
“Do you think that’s enough to sway them, Sam?”
Sam’s head shot up and he stared at Leo as he realised he’d been asked a question but didn’t have a clue what had preceded it. “I think…I’m sorry, could you just go back over the main points of what you’ve been saying for probably the last two or three minutes?”
Toby flung his hand up and hit his forehead with the file he was holding. Josh stepped forward holding up his hands in a gesture of appeasement. “Why don’t I take Sam away, fill him in on what we’re planning and then we can meet again this afternoon?”
Leo looked at Toby who was fuming, Sam who was about ready to let the floor swallow him and Josh who looked rattled. “You look rattled,” Leo decided to tell him.
“I am rattled, we’re all rattled…I’m possibly more rattled than some.”
“You’re more rattled than Sam,” Toby agreed, “But then he wasn’t listening to the thing that’s got us rattled, wait until he hears that!”
Sam put his hand up and the gesture made Leo smile briefly. “Yes, Sam?”
“Can I be excused?”
Leo sighed and shook his head, “Millions and millions of people, out there, totally oblivious to what goes on in here and let’s pray to God it stays that way. Get out of my office I need to do some stuff with intelligent people who don’t get easily rattled.”
Josh threw Sam a bottle of water and then walked over to his desk and sat down opposite him. “Where did you hear up to?”
Sam took a long sip and rested his head against the back of the chair. “I think Leo was saying how he didn’t want to know why the opportunity had been missed but how you were going to create another one.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t a good moment for me. I don’t think I had a quick comeback for that one. In fact, the meeting went pretty downhill from there.”
“Why did you do it, Josh?”
“Risk wrecking this bill. Anyone could have seen me home and sat and watched me drool onto my pillow.”
“But it shouldn’t be anyone, it should be me!” The sudden burst of anger made Sam turn quickly and push the door to.
“You’re not responsible for me, Josh. I don’t want you to feel like that. I wouldn’t have got through the past few weeks without you but I don’t want you to think that I can’t cope on my own.”
Josh laughed but it was sudden and short lived, “You just don’t get it do you.” He turned away from Sam and walked back to his desk. Sam watched as he leant on it and took a deep breath before turning to face him once more. “I want to be the person that takes you home…stays with you…watches out for you. I want to be responsible for you. When something’s wrong with you I want to be the person that people come and get. I want you to need me again, Sam.” Josh’s eyes closed and he shook his head. “I never stopped needing you.”
Sam stood still, mouth slightly open, a startled expression on his face. He could not think of one word to say in reply. The fact that Josh had bared his soul to him deserved some sort of reply but Sam was incapable of anything beyond staring at Josh and trying to process the words he had just heard.
“Josh, Leo wants to know if school is out yet.” Donna’s voice came through the door but neither man stopped staring at the other. “Josh!”
“I’ll go see Leo…” Josh trailed off as he realised that they had run out of time and Leo would be impatient to meet and finish their earlier discussion. “We’ll go the long way round,” Josh decided and he dragged a still dazed Sam out of his office and on a tour of the West Wing as he quickly filled him in on what Sam had missed in Leo’s office. They arrived to find a very impatient Leo and Toby waiting for them.
“Josh has got you up to speed on what’s going on?” Leo asked Sam.
Sam answered Leo but kept his gaze on Josh, “Yeah, I think I’ve got the picture now.”
Sam was waiting while The President read the first draft of a speech. He was staring at Bartlet’s hand. He was staring at his hand and thinking about wedding bands. He was thinking about inscriptions on wedding bands and trying to remember what his mother had inscribed on hers when the pain started. Even though Sam had successfully aborted five attacks by injecting his new meds, he still felt a twinge of panic on experiencing the first signs of another attack. The fact that his worst fear, an attack in the Oval, was about to come true made his panic all the worse. He jumped out of his seat and frantically patted his pockets for the injector pen. Bartlet was oblivious to Sam’s actions until he heard Sam tell himself to calm down.
“Is there something wrong, Sam?” he asked placing the speech on his lap.
“No, fine, no, just need to…” Sam suddenly stopped checking his pockets and looked up at the President with an expression of pure horror. “I don’t have it!”
“Don’t have what?” Bartlet placed the speech on the table and walked over to Sam.
“My drugs, my injector pen, I don’t have it!”
“Drugs, pen, I don’t…oh boy, is there any chance that you are having one of your things?”
“Yes, yes, one of my things and I don’t have my drugs.” The sound of panic in Sam’s voice did little to alleviate Bartlet’s rising state of agitation.
“Okay, well let’s not…the important thing here is not to panic.” He pushed Sam back onto the sofa and quickly walked over to the tray that Charlie had just brought in. “I’ll get you a coffee. Abby swears by coffee for-” Sam groaned and Bartlet put the cup down. “Okay, not coffee, although you’d be amazed to learn that in certain South African tribes they-” Another groan stopped him again. “Okay, now’s probably not the time. Why don’t I just go and see if…yeah, that’s what I’ll do…don’t move, Sam and if you want a coffee it’s right here.”
The Secretary of Agriculture was listening intently to Leo when the door burst open to reveal the President looking less than collected. “Leo, if you have a minute I’d appreciate it if you could step in here,” Bartlet finished the sentence with an exaggerated nod towards the Oval office. On noticing the other occupant of the room, he said hello and thanked the Secretary for her support with the amendments on the fair farming bill before repeating the nod but more urgently. Leo vaguely wondered if Bartlet had developed a nervous twitch since the morning’s staff meeting.
Leo smiled patiently at his guest and then walked calmly into the next room. “Okay, what’s got you in-” on seeing Sam, Leo stopped talking and walked quickly towards him. Sam wasn’t making a sound but he was clutching at his head, his face buried behind his arms. If he’d simply stood up and walked out of the Oval Office when the attack had started he would have been able to go to his office and find his drugs but now the pain had begun and it was already making him incapable of thinking of anything but the shredding sensation as it travelled from behind his ear and towards his eye. He knew Josh had, or would be able to find, his drugs. But he was also aware that the President seemed to have turned into a gibbering wreck who was offering no help at all. He could tell someone else was sitting beside him but couldn’t work out whom.
“Where are they, Sam?” Leo knew that Sam had found drugs to control his attacks and quickly reasoned that for some reason he hadn’t been able to take them.
Sam felt relieved on hearing Leo’s commanding tone. “Josh,” he replied and Leo patted his back before standing up.
“He needs his drugs.”
“Josh has them or probably knows where to get them.”
“Okay,” Bartlet replied again and started walking quickly from the room. Leo realised his intention too late. “Charlie!”
Two agents walked into the room before Charlie, summoned by the noise and the abrupt departure of the President. “It’s okay guys,” Leo said before turning to Charlie. “Tell Josh, Sam needs his drugs.” Charlie nodded and headed for the door but Leo stopped him. “Oh, and if you happen to see the President can you bring him back here.”
Josh didn’t think much of Frank. B. Hulme. He hadn’t thought much of him at college and he didn’t think much of him now. He sat back, one eye on the door hoping Donna would interrupt them, and waited for Frank’s reply to the very scanty argument that he had just presented to him.
“Gee, Josh, I’m sorry to be taking up so much of your time. You obviously have far better things you could be doing! What are you going to do next, arrange for the President to burst in here and tell you you’re needed in the Oval office?”
It was difficult to say who looked the most astonished when, swiftly following Frank’s words, the door was swung wide open to reveal the President.
“Josh, you’re needed in the Oval Office.”
“Wait a minute,” Josh spluttered, “That was…wow…I mean that was like…” Josh’s surprise at the President’s foretold appearance was quelled as he realised that something serious must be happening for Bartlet to appear like this. He stood up and walked past the President who lingered in the doorway.
“Frank Hulme,” Bartlet said as he held out his hand, “I appreciate you coming here to meet with Josh about the…”
“Senate Democratic Caucus,” Frank supplied.
“Yes, that, well it’s been good. Now I have to go…do this thing…in the Oval Office.”
The President rushed away and Frank was left standing, completely bemused, in the middle of Josh’s office. He collected himself before collected his bag and coat and walked quickly out of the room.
Josh had been met by Charlie who had told him what the problem was. As much as he wanted to go to Sam, Josh knew it was useless unless he found his drugs first. He went straight to Sam’s office and searched the coat that was hanging on the coat stand.
“What’s up?” Toby asked from the doorway as he watched Josh and Charlie frantically searching Sam’s desk and drawers.
“Sam’s having an attack and he hasn’t got his drugs.”
“Where is he?” Toby asked and then made the link between Charlie’s presence and Sam’s whereabouts. “Please don’t tell me he’s in the Oval Office.”
“He’s in the Oval Office,” Josh’s muffled reply came from beneath Sam’s desk. “Got it!” Josh emerged triumphantly holding the injector pen.
Toby sighed with relief and followed Josh and Charlie from the room.
“I’ve got it, Sam. I’m here,” Josh cried as he entered the room.
“He’s got it, Sam. He’s here,” Bartlet repeated helpfully. Leo glanced at his agitated friend and rolled his eyes as Josh expertly administered the drugs and told him calmly what he was doing.
Charlie looked at the President before deciding it was probably best to let Leo deal with him and returned to his desk. Silence, except for the sound of Sam’s breathing, followed his exit. Eventually Sam’s frantic breaths slowed and a small smile crossed his face. Josh asked him if it was gone and Sam’s smile widened and he nodded wearily. Both men knew that Sam would soon be dead to the world and Josh wanted to get Sam out before that happened but was pretty sure that short of carrying Sam through the West Wing, removing him from the Oval was no longer an option.
“Would you like to take some time and just sit here for a while?” Leo asked.
“No, I think I’ll be okay now,” Bartlet answered.
“Well that’s good to know, Sir, but I was actually talking to Sam.”
“Ah, okay, well I think I’ll just go back over to my desk and err…you know…”
Leo and Josh exchanged a brief grin as Leo walked over to the sofa. “What happens now?”
“Sam likes to flake out.” Josh shrugged helplessly. “We could move him. I don’t what he’d hate more, being carried through the West Wing or sleeping on a sofa in here.”
“Put him in my room,” Leo decided for him.
Two agents, Josh and Leo carried Sam into Leo’s office. Toby arrived shortly after on the pretence of speaking to Leo. He returned a few moments later with a blanket which he handed to Margaret wordlessly. When Sam woke two hours later he felt no embarrassment at finding himself on Leo’s sofa. He didn’t feel fussed over when Margaret brought him a cup of tea or Ginger appeared with a pastry to go with it. He felt no shame at letting Leo help him to a standing position, holding onto his arm until he had his bearings. Sam simply felt relieved. The worst had happened, his worst fear had been realised and he had coped. “It really wasn’t that bad at all,” he said to Leo.
“Having an attack in front of the President, loosing control in front of everyone.”
“Forget about it,” Leo waved his hand dismissively. “You were ill; your friends got you through it, what’s to fear about that. I’ll tell you what though; the President went a little crazy there for a while. That had me more worried.”
Sam didn’t remember much of what had happened but he remembered the President’s agitated state. He knew he’d enjoy listening to Josh tell him about it later that night. He returned to his office and wondered when assuming that Josh would come over if he asked became a natural assumption.
Josh groaned as Donna called his name and knocked on the door. “What’s up? I said I don’t want to be interrupted.”
“Leo needs to see you in ten.”
“Okay. Now I really need to get back in there,” he said, “I’m meeting with Matt Skinner”
Donna nodded, already absorbed in her typing.
“We’re talking about some pretty important stuff, you know, government stuff. Big decisions are being made in that room, decisions that will affect the lives of many.”
“Yeah, well you better get back in there then because you only have ten minutes to make them.”
Josh pulled a face to show Donna that he wasn’t impressed with the sass but she wasn’t looking at him so he turned and went back to his meeting.
Matt looked up as Josh entered the room and knowing that he had been interrupted, waited for him to continue what he had been saying.
“So, the thing is…what was I…yeah, the thing is, if I just go for broke and tell Sam how I feel then I risk pushing him or assuming too much, both of which he’ll resent.”
Matt nodded slowly and stretched out in the chair. He was one of the few people in Washington who knew about Sam and Josh. They’d had no choice in letting him know; he’d introduced them in the first place. “It seems to me, having listened to all your points and considered from what I know of Sam how he may be feeling, it seems to me you should get your act together and tell him. Push him, assume too much, give him an ultimatum otherwise we’re going to be having these meetings until the end of this administration. Tell him, Josh, force him to make a decision. You’re both crazy about each other, you’re a perfect fit, God, it’s not like you’ll find anyone else who will put up with you like Sam does!”
Josh couldn’t help but smile at Matt’s frank reply. “Right, I get it and you’re right. No more procrastination, no more dodging the issue. Tonight I’m going to have the discussion with Sam and that’s final.”
“No turning back.”
“No running away.”
“Good for you!”
“Maybe I should just pave the way tonight, you know, a little groundwork.”
“Okay, okay,” Josh held his hands up and smiled. “Message received, like I’d want to offend Cupid himself.”
“Whatever, just get yourself back with Sam. If you knew the work it took to get you two together in the first place you wouldn’t be so quick to make fun.”
Josh laughed as he shook Matt’s hand warmly. “I’ll let you know how it goes and I promise you, procrastinating Josh is a thing of the past.”
“Yeah, well just make sure Sam and Josh aren’t.”
Josh smiled as he watched Matt walk away. He caught Donna staring at him. “What?” he asked but she just turned back to her computer and smiled knowingly.
Josh sat in his car even though he had cut the engine five minutes ago. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt as nervous as this but was pretty sure that whenever it was, his nerves had been more likely due to politics than his love life. He picked up the bottle of wine from the passenger seat, checked his appearance in the rear view mirror, got out of the car and made his way up to Sam’s apartment.
He took the stairs instead of the elevator and walked slowly along the hallway before knocking on Sam’s door.
“Just a minute,” was called from inside and a few seconds later the door was opened to reveal a red faced, dripping Sam. “I was taking a shower,” Sam said as he finished pulling his sweatshirt on.
“Oh,” Josh replied and glanced around the room in an attempt to look at anything but Sam. “I brought this.” Josh held up the bottle of wine and hurried off into the kitchen.
He realised with disbelief that his fingers were shaking as he tried to peel the foil away from the bottle’s neck and mumbled at himself to get a grip.
“What did you say?” Sam asked appearing in the doorway and leaning against the frame.
“I said would you like a sip?”
Sam walked back into the living room and Josh followed with two glasses, one of which he had already drained and refilled.
“So, tell me about the President. Leo said he was in a state.”
Josh relaxed as he started to tell Sam how Bartlet had reacted to his attack and Sam made sympathetic noises while trying not to laugh at Josh’s recount. He finally collapsed when Josh demonstrated the look on Frank Hulme’s and then Bartlet’s face following the farcical scene that had played out in his office.
The sound of their laughter filled the room and after the tension of the day it sounded wonderful to both men’s ears. Eventually Sam wiped at his eyes, sat up straighter and let out a huge sigh before reaching for his drink. “All this time I’ve been scared to death of having an attack in the Oval office and turns out there’s going to be someone more scared of it than me.”
“You should use that! Next time we’re in there and losing an argument you should grab at your head and moan.”
“You think he’d leave the room.”
“I think he’d run for the Residence!”
Sam laughed quietly again and then a silence filled the room that was made all the more noticeable by the absence of the laughter it had followed. “It’s funny isn’t it that the things that scare you most never turn out to be as bad as you think.”
Josh turned to Sam. If ever there was a cue for him to say what he wanted to it was now. “Sam…”
Sam looked at him and waited.
Sam nodded encouragingly and his gaze followed Josh as he stood up and walked away from the sofa.
“I’ve been…the thing is…I’ve been thinking a lot…no, hang on that’s not…I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and…okay, hold on because this sounded really good in the car.”
“Josh?” Sam’s perplexed expression caused Josh to take a deep breath and start again.
“Okay, the thing is, I know I treated you like crap and I know you haven’t really forgiven me yet-”
“It’s not a case of-”
“Sam, please, let me say this now or I never will.” Josh stared at Sam for a moment before returning to the sofa. “Whatever you think about what I’m about to say, I don’t want it to be that I’m saying this because I feel sorry for you or I think that you can’t cope with what’s been happening to you, because I’m not and I don’t.”
“When we split up the second time, I knew it was wrong. I knew it was a mistake as surely as I knew that I’d pushed us into having no choice but to split up. I’m not going to sit here and analyse it or try to justify how I felt then because that’s in the past but you need to know, what I’m trying to make you see, is that I’ve felt like this for a long time. Do you believe me?” Sam nodded and so Josh continued. “I felt like it when I was ignoring you because of Kevin Kahn. I felt like it when I was avoiding you because of the MS revelation and I felt like it when I heard you shout my name when they were wheeling me through the ER.” Josh reached out and tentatively took hold of Sam’s hand. “What I’m saying is that I never stopped loving you and when these attacks started I wanted to be there for you. I wanted to be the one you needed and I wasn’t. I was jealous of Toby, can you believe that! When you stayed at his place or went to him when you were in pain, I was jealous.” Josh shook his head and smiled. “Toby thinks I should be telling you this by the way.” He laughed at Sam’s shocked expression. “Yeah, I know, it frightened me too.” Josh tightened his hold on Sam’s hand. “Sam, please give us another chance, just one more chance. We deserve it don’t you think? I love you, Sam. I never stopped and I don’t want to have to live with regretting not being able to show it anymore.”
Sam didn’t reply. He removed his hand from Josh’s and stood up but after a few moments he sat back down. “I don’t think I can. I’m not sure I want to.” He looked at Josh and held his gaze. “I know that I can’t go through breaking up with you again. And, we need to be practical. We broke up because the job was more important and so what’s the point of risking all that again when we-”
“To me, it was more important to me! I was the one that finished it, what I did made it impossible for us not to finish. You’re not listening to what I’m saying!” Josh jumped up and walked to the other side of the room. “I don’t care about the job. I swear to God, if you tell me right here and now that you think being together means one of us leaving the White House I’ll be clearing my office tonight. I get it now, I know what I’ve lost, and I’m willing to do anything to get it back.”
Sam walked over to Josh, his expression was unreadable. “You’d do it too, wouldn’t you?” Josh nodded. “I’d never ask that of you but I’m glad you said it.” Sam reached for Josh and pulled him back to the sofa. “These past few weeks you’ve been…I don’t know what I would have done without you and I know you’ve been trying to show me that I can trust you, that you deserve another chance and I know I can trust you and I think that we should try again but what I don’t trust is us. No matter whose fault it is we always manage to fuck it up. Seriously, I can’t go through that again.”
“You won’t need to. It won’t happen.” Josh was almost afraid to say anything more. He had delivered his speech and didn’t want to tempt fate by adding to it.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because if you want me back there’s no way on this earth I’ll ever leave again.”
The silence that followed was filled only by the sound of their breathing although Josh was sure Sam would be able to hear his heart it was pumping so furiously. He watched as Sam studied him, giving nothing away in his expression. Finally Sam visibly relaxed and smiled. He leant forward and kissed Josh’s forehead before whispering, “Great speech, Josh, but you know, I was sold in the broom cupboard.”
Sam felt the warmth on his face as Josh’s held breath was released in laughter. They stood like that for a while; foreheads touching, breath mingling. It was Josh who made the first move but Sam soon followed. He followed Josh’s kisses with his own. He followed Josh’s gentle yet urgent caresses with similar actions. He followed Josh into the bedroom.
“He’s over there.”
“Standing by the door.”
“On his own.”
“Sam, I’m standing right next to you, I can see Adler as well!” Josh took another sip of his drink. “I’m waiting for the right moment.”
“The right moment was two weeks ago!” Sam pointed out.
“And I seem to remember I chose you over political gain. A truer declaration of love the world has never-”
“He’s coming this way.”
“Okay, here I go. We should charge people to watch this stuff!”
Sam smiled and shook his head as he watched Josh saunter off towards Adler. He knew without any doubt that Josh would salvage the situation, save the bill and not stop going on about it for weeks. He smiled again and walked towards the edge of the room where he could watch discretely.
It took Josh eighteen minutes to talk Adler round and then another four to find Sam who was talking to Toby.
“It’s done?” Toby asked as Josh joined them.
“It’s done and with the usual Lyman guile and savvy. Years from now this moment will be written about in someone’s memoirs and they’ll talk of the political strategist who single-handedly saved the bill from the clutches of Adler’s coup. It’ll probably get its own chapter, maybe two. The great Lyman seals yet another deal and those around him can only marvel at his ability to move and shake the seemingly unmovable and…unshakable.”
“Is that what the chapter will be called?” Sam asked. “I’m just saying, it’s a little wordy.”
“That would be the in the intro. The title would be ‘Moving and Shaking the Lyman Way.”
“He’s going to drive us to distraction and then round the corner to despair,” Toby groaned.
Sam smiled and nodded in agreement just as Leo joined the group. “It’s done?”
“Yeah, and it was an example of guile and savvy being put to-”
“I’d say ‘good job’ but I should have been saying that two weeks ago. It was a good save though; The President would have been pissed as all hell if you’d not got that bill back on track.”
“I’m not getting the warm fuzzies from you, Leo,” Josh complained.
“Yeah, Josh, it’s this thing I do when I’m trying to save someone from his own ego.”
“Too late for that,” Sam pointed out.
CJ appeared after finally escaping from the clutches of the French Ambassador. “Do I look like a gal who knows her cheese?” she asked cryptically and Sam appeared to be seriously considering the question when Toby changed the subject.
“So now that we’ve taken care of business-”
“We?” Josh objected.
“Yes, it was a team thing, you were just the conduit. So now that it’s done, does anyone object if I go smoke this ridiculously expensive cigar that I’ve been saving for the last two weeks? You remember that, Josh? The dinner two weeks ago at which you were meant to do what you’ve just done now saving us all a lot of time and energy.”
“Yes, Toby, I remember that and does anyone here remember why I did it?”
Sam’s eyebrows shot up and for a moment he returned to another dinner at the White House, a dinner where Josh had gone out of his way to prove that he and Sam were friends and nothing more. He glanced at Josh and swore he saw the flicker of the same memory play across his face.
“I did it because I chose a selfless act of love over political gain,” he whispered “An act, I might point out that has been largely ignored by my so called friends and when they’re done writing the story of my political career they’ll write another one and it will chronicle my selfless act of devotion and you, my friends, will be largely ignored.” Josh reached out and grabbed Sam’s arm. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go be somewhere with Sam.”
Toby shook his head as he watched Josh lead a dumbstruck Sam from the room. Leo’s gaze also followed them and he smiled inwardly at the trust and respect that existed between the colleagues that he viewed as family. CJ watched them too but her attention soon turned back to the Ambassador that had been troubling her earlier. “I mean, I like Brie, I can always make room for Gouda but really, is there anything about me that would make a total stranger suspect that I ‘know my cheese’?”
CJ’s question had gone unanswered. Leo and Toby had exchanged a glance and then made their excuses and left her to ponder the question alone. She had talked to a few of the guests before returning to her office. She loved the West Wing at night and even more so when there was a dinner or some other event. She loved walking from a room filled with atmosphere into the empty Bullpen which seemed to have its own atmosphere of sadness at being suddenly deserted by the men and women who had bustled through it during the day. She threw her wrap onto the desk and lay down on the sofa, carefully avoiding rumpling her dress. She closed her eyes and listened to the muted sounds of the dance band and chatter drifting into her office. It was times like this that she actually slowed down enough to appreciate where she worked and what she had made of her life.
“He may have thought you were French.” Toby’s arrival and nonsensical statement brought her reverie to an abrupt end. “It’s possible the Ambassador who thought you knew your cheese might have mistaken you for a French person.”
“French people know cheese?”
“Not all of them, some of them, it’s possible some French people have a better grasp of cheese than your average American press secretary.”
CJ smiled and rose from the sofa, “You need me?”
“Margaret does. The White House photographer’s been asked to get a shot of us all in Leo’s office. Where’re Josh and Sam?”
CJ shrugged and Toby followed her out of the office and towards Leo’s.
Sam and Josh could also hear the music from where they were. They couldn’t really distinguish the tune but the gentle, steady rhythm was clear enough for them to be able to move in time to it. They stood, arms around each other, not dancing but rather swaying to the distant melody drifting in to them from the East Room. Sam’s head rested on Josh’s shoulder and Josh’s eyes were closed as he moved almost imperceptibly from side to side.
“I love you.”
The words were quietly spoken, too quietly for anyone outside the room to hear. CJ didn’t need to hear them to know what Josh had said. She had returned from Leo’s office to search for Sam and Josh and had almost given up when a crack of light spilling from the Green Room had caught her eye.
She rested her head against the door jam and smiled at the sight of her two friends. She had seen Josh’s lips move and even though the words were whispered she had known from his expression and the way Sam’s arms wrapped closer around him that he had just told Sam that he loved him. She didn’t need to be able to see Sam’s face to know that he had repeated the same to Josh. She knew that she was invading their privacy but after the past few weeks it was just too comforting to see her friends looking so happy and peaceful for her to turn away. She wrapped her arms around her waist as she watched Josh gently lift Sam’s head towards his own. The two men locked eyes and then Josh cupped Sam’s face and reverently kissed the space above his eye where the headaches always struck. Slowly he placed kisses across Sam’s forehead and down towards his ear, following the route that the pain always took. Eventually Sam’s head returned to Josh’s shoulder, Josh’s hand gently stroking the back of it. CJ couldn’t help the sigh that escaped as she silently turned away from the scene.
“You find them?” For the second time that evening, Toby appeared from nowhere causing CJ to jump. She pulled the door to, careful not to disturb the men inside the room or alert Toby to their presence in it. “No, can’t find them anywhere. They must be back in the East Room let’s go check there.”
Behind the closed door Josh and Sam remained in their embrace. Unaware of CJ’s observation of them or Toby’s near interruption, they continued to sway effortlessly to the distant rhythm and it was coming as no great revelation to either man that rediscovering their own rhythm was proving to be just as easy.
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