Shades of Grey
Part 13
Briefcase in one hand and coffee mug in the other, Bartlet nodded to the Marine who held the door open for him and stepped into the office of his Executive Secretary.

"Morning, Mr. President."

"Morning, Mrs. Landingham." He was grateful she had left out the 'good'. It wasn't a 'good' morning.

It hadn't been a good night, either. He hadn't slept at all.

"Mrs. Landingham, please clear my schedule of anything that is not mandatory, and tell Ron Butterfield I want him up here as soon as possible."

"Yes, Mr. President."

Bartlet stepped through the doorway into the Oval Office. Most mornings he felt a rush of energy the minute he stepped into the room. This was not one of those mornings. He set his briefcase on the desk and stepped over to the paned glass door to the Portico. He gazed out across the South Lawn, the steam from his coffee turning the glass opaque.

Somewhere out there, a bird shared its morning song. Somewhere out there, DC was coming to life with the hustle and bustle of a new day. Somewhere out there, two young men were praying to come home...

"Mr. President?"

Jed saw Leo's reflection in the glass. "You're up early."

"It doesn't constitute 'up early' if you never went to bed in the first place," his best friend commented.

"I hear you." He took a sip of coffee. "It's snowing."

"For about an hour now."

Jed turned to his Chief of Staff. Leo might have been up all night, but he had managed to change his suit. Any outsider wouldn't have noticed how tired he was, but Jed could. He could see it in the way Leo rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, the way his shoulders slumped just a little.

And yet, Leo was regarding him with great concern. Leo McGarry was indispensable.

"No news, I suppose." It wasn't a question; Jed knew there wasn't. He would have been notified immediately.

"No."

Jed took another sip of coffee. "This should never have happened to them, Leo. It should never have happened."

Leo stepped up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "The one thing we have going for us is that it's an old friend of Josh's."

"I don't like ifs and maybes," Jed retorted, setting his mug on his desk. He turned toward the door and bellowed, "Mrs. Landingham! Get Ron Butterfield up here now!"

 

 

 

Josh pushed himself into a sitting position and rubbed at his bleary eyes. There was light, and a silhouette. He couldn't focus.

God, did I actually fall asleep?

He blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. He needed to stay in control, to stay focused. A show of weakness would not be a good thing at this point. Josh stood up, swaying a little before getting his feet firmly beneath him.

Raj. The silhouette in the doorway was Raj. His old friend entered the room and walked up to him, studying him the entire way.

Josh didn't comment. The sight of Raj brought back the anger from the night before. Josh knew he would say something he would regret, so he kept quiet. For the moment.

Rashid stopped in front of him and held out an offering. Josh didn't need to see to know what it was. He could smell it. Coffee. Never in his life had he imagined coffee could smell so good. With only a slight hesitation, Josh accepted the cup.

The heat was almost searing, but he didn't care. It radiated up his arms, making him shiver and raising goose flesh. Josh allowed himself a sigh as some of his anger melted away. Maybe he had made some progress after all.

"Come on," Rashid said, nodding toward the door.

Josh followed Raj from the room, glancing briefly at the guard by the door. Not the friendly type, he decided. What the hell was Raj doing with these guys?

They turned the corner and Raj headed into the dining room. Josh stopped, his attention drawn to his left, to the stairs. His eyes followed a path up the steps. He could just see the corner of the door to the room where Sam was being held. He looked down at the coffee in his hand.

'Since you have an in with the head honcho, think you could get me my coat back? Or maybe a cup of coffee?'

'I'll see what I can do.'

"Raj, did you...can I...." Talk, Joshua! "I want to take this to Sam." He lifted the cup, watching Raj for a reaction.

One of Rashid's eyebrows arched slightly. His eyes narrowed as he considered the idea, then without a word, he brushed past Josh and headed up the stairs.

Taken aback by the wordless response, Josh hurried to follow, trying not to slosh the coffee as he took the stairs two at a time. He stopped short, balancing the cup, when he realized Rashid had paused at the top.

"Gabir," Raj called to Sam's guard, then jerked his head at the door.

Gabir. So Gun Guy's name was Gabir. Josh filed that information away for future use.

Gabir was not the friendly type either. Josh didn't miss the look of utter disgust on the younger terrorist's face when he saw Josh and the coffee. Gabir said something to Raj, whose retort was quiet but firm. His face scrunching into a sneer, Gabir fished a key from his pocket and opened the door.

Rashid swept an arm, inviting Josh to proceed. Josh nodded his thanks as he passed, and stepped into the room.

Sam was sitting in the corner across the room, his eyes wide, his gaze on the door. His hands were braced on the walls to either side as if in preparation to launch himself to his feet.

"Sam?"

Sam's arms dropped to his sides, his fingers hitting the floor with a soft rap. His chest flattened and his shoulders fell as he released the breath he'd been holding.

"Hey," Josh offered as he closed the distance between them and hunched down beside his friend.

"Hey," Sam replied, a relieved smile tugging at his lips. "Good to see you."

Josh grinned. "You too." He held out the cup. "Brought you something."

He watched Sam's smile broaden. There was the smile that belonged to his best friend: the one with the dimples that drove the women in the West Wing nuts. That was Sam Seaborn. Josh was glad his friend was still in there, behind the cold and the fear.

Sam took the cup in his hands, and his eyes drifted closed. A contented sigh followed.

"You're supposed to drink it," Josh tried to tease, but his voice seemed to squeak. Pangs of guilt were stabbing him in the gut. Sam's normally clean-shaven face was stubbled, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Josh knew he probably didn't look any better himself, but that didn't matter. Right now, all that mattered was Sam.

"I think I'll just hold it for a little while," Sam said.

Moving out of instinct, Josh brought his arms up, intent on hugging his friend. He thought better of the idea in mid-motion; they had an audience. He shifted the motion. His right arm hung awkwardly in midair for a moment before he let it fall, but his left hand settled on the side of Sam's head, over his ear.

Sam started at the touch. His eyes opened with a look that was almost...pleading. Josh tried not to wince as someone twisted the knife that was already making mincemeat of his gut.

"Hang in there, buddy," he said, giving Sam's head a pat. He started to get up, but Sam's voice stopped him.

"Josh?"

He turned back, his eyebrows raising in question.

"Thanks."

Josh offered the best smile he could before standing.

Leaving the room was one of the hardest things he had ever done.

Shades of Grey - 14

 

 

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