Shades of Grey
It was nearly midnight. Toby didn't really want to leave Sam, but he wanted to go home.
It wasn't as if he hadn't dropped hints. He'd tried. At first Sam seemed oblivious to them. But when he'd finally caught on, the look of anxiety on his face had sent Toby back to his own office for another hour of worrying and another pot of coffee.
He was running out of ideas.
The younger man was putting up a brave front. Toby knew it was a front. Under the shrouds of 'I'm fine' and 'I'm okay', Sam was hurting.
Once again, Toby wondered what hell his friend had been put through. The thought made him shudder.
A noise caught his attention and he glanced up from staring at his desk. Sam was rummaging through the papers on Cathy's desk. Toby sighed.
"Inactivity, Sam," he called for the umpteenth time.
"I know," came the standard reply, "I was just"
He watched his deputy march back to his office.
Toby stood. He needed help on this one.
"Where are you going?" he heard as he passed Sam's door.
"Leo's still here. I need to talk to him. You'll be okay?"
"Yeah. Sure. Fine." Sam nodded a little too quickly.
"I'll be right down the hall."
With a nod, Toby headed for Leo's office. He half-expected Sam to come jogging up beside him with some question or idea. It bothered him that it didn't happen, and he resisted the urge to glance back.
Toby gave himself a mental shake. Maybe he was making too much of this. Maybe he should just go home. Maybe
Pulled from his thoughts, Toby looked up to find Leo walking towards him from the direction of the hallway, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand.
"Needed to refuel," Leo told him, stepping through the doorway to his office.
"I hear you."
"So what's up?" The Chief of Staff set his mug on the desk blotter and looked at him expectantly. "Why are you still here?"
"Sam?" Leo's eyebrows rose. "What about him? Is he all right?"
"He won't go home." Toby ran a hand over his beard and sighed.
"He won't. He's here? What the hell is he doing here?"
Toby could only shrug.
"What's he doing?"
Leo groaned, rubbing his forehead. Toby was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea when his boss suddenly looked up. Toby could almost see the light bulb over his head.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Leo said.
"Time to call in the heavy artillery."
Leo picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Hey, it's me," he said when he got an answer. "Sorry to be calling so late, but I need you to do me a favor..."
He could type with two hands, so why couldn't he type with one? Sam sat back with a frustrated sigh and winced when his shoulder came in contact with the back of the chair.
One day. It had only been one day, and he was already sick of the stupid sling. 'Shoulder Immobilizer', the doctor had called it. 'Pain in the ass' was a more fitting pseudonym.
He couldn't even wear his Princeton sweatshirt. Well, he could if he only put his right arm in the sleeve. It gave a whole new meaning to the term 'pullover'. For the next four weeks he would have to wear button down shirts. He didn't have to raise his arm to put them on.
Stifling a yawn, he leaned forward again and typed a few more words. 'Hunt-and-peck' was getting old really fast. The strap held his arm firmly in place, and he wasn't supposed to move it, but if he could just
"Ow! Damn it!"
That was intelligent, Seaborn.
He leaned back again, closed his eyes, and waited for the pain to subside. But in the darkness behind his eyes lurked images he didn't want to remember.
Okay. Lesson one: Don't move your arm. Lesson two: Don't close your eyes.
There was a soft rap on the doorframe.
"Mallory." He stood too fast, causing the room to dip sideways. He grabbed the edge of his desk with his right hand.
Maybe she wouldn't notice.
"Hey!" She hurried to his side, and then placed a steadying hand on his back and one on his arm.
"I'm okay," he told her. "Just moved a little too fast." He saw the worry in her eyes. "Mal, what are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing. Dad told me what happened." Mindful of his sling, she slid her arm around his waist. "God, I'm so sorry."
Sam pulled her close with his right arm. She felt good. "I'm fine."
She took a step back and looked up at him. "Okay, I will ask you the same thing: Sam, what are you doing here?"
"Don't do that."
"Don't do what?"
"Ask me 'what'. You heard me. You're just stalling until you can think up a good enough answer."
"No, that's not it, I"
"Dad told you to take a few days off. Why aren't you home resting?"
"IIhad work to catch up on."
"That's ridiculous." She took his hand and pulled him toward the door. "Come on."
"Wait." Sam tried to resist, but it hurt too much. His arm hurt. His side hurt. His stomach hurt. Why did his stomach hurt?
It was where Gun Guy had punched him.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
She didn't answer as she led him down the hallway toward the Oval Office. He spotted Toby heading their way, his gaze fixed on an open portfolio in his hands.
"Toby!" he called.
"Hey, Sam." His boss didn't even look up. Toby, who had checked up on him every five minutes since he'd arrived, didn't even look up.
It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't seen Toby in the last forty-five minutes.
Something was up.
"Toby, could you please"
"Have a good night, Sam."
It was a conspiracy, and he had just passed guilty party number one.
Mallory pulled him right up to the door of her father's office. "Dad?" she called.
"Hey, baby," Leo said. He was sitting behind his desk, his arms folded across his chest.
"Dad, I'm taking Sam home."
Okay? Okay?! Guilty party number two, right there.
"See you Tuesday, Sam."
Guilty party number three turned and pulled him toward the lobby.
Sam fitted the key into the lock, briefly considering the fact that he was lucky he had use of his right arm.
He had more pressing matters to consider. The prospect of entering his apartment with Mallory was putting him on emotional overload. Not that hadn't envisioned this moment...
Just, not now. Not like this.
He pushed open the door and froze, daunted by the darkness inside. He hadn't been afraid of the dark since he was a boy, yet suddenly those feelings were bubbling to the surface.
He took a step back.
"Yeah." As soon as I can get my legs to move...
Mallory slipped past him and flipped the light switch inside the door. She turned back to him and smiled, holding out her hand.
His face flushed with embarrassment, he crossed the threshold and moved past her to the couch. He kept his back to her, but could see her reflection in the TV screen as she closed the door.
Stepping farther into the room, she said, "Nice."
"Thanks." Suddenly he felt very awkward.
Okay, so now I've left boyhood and moved into my teenage years. Oh, joy.
Why was it he could remember those days so clearly, but he couldn't remember what had happened yesterday...or was it two days ago now?
Sam whirled on her. "You're not leaving" He caught himself, cleared his throat, then asked calmly, "Are you?"
She didn't try to mask her concern. "I'll stay as long as you need me to."
He breathed a sigh of relief, and then tried to cover it with a nervous laugh. "Although, I can't imagine why you'd want to. I mean, look at me. I'm a wreck. I haven't showered inGod! I'm sorry."
That brought a smile to her lips. "Sam..."
"I haven't showered and I can't wash my hair and there's...there's..." He reached up and scratched through the hair around his right ear. "There's blood in my hair."
Mallory crossed to him. "Look, do you have any soup?"
"I think so."
"All right. I'll make you some soup. Why don't you go take a shower?"
She placed two fingers over his lips to shush him.
"Take a shower, but don't get your head wet. Think you can handle that?"
"We'll take care of your hair later. Okay?"
He nodded again.
Her palm brushed lightly over his cheek. "Go on."
And right into manhood. Please do that again.
Her thumb glided over his jaw as she drew her hand away. "Kitchen?"
Why was she laughing?
Mallory pointed to the right. "That way?"
Oh. Right. "Uh-huh."
She offered him another smile and left the room. The spell broken, Sam headed for the shower.
* * * * *
The water felt good. It felt incredibly good, especially after the pain he had endured taking off the sling and getting undressed. Even lathering up and rinsing off had been a chore.
Four more weeks of this?
Sam leaned back against the cold tile and let the hot water cascade over his aching shoulder. Afraid to close his eyes, he watched the steam rise toward the ceiling.
He remembered smoke. Acrid, grey smoke that burned his eyes, nose and lips.
Damn it. Why couldn't he remember? Maybe he should ask Josh.
Nausea assaulted his stomach at the thought. No. No, he couldn't ask Josh. Josh was...Josh was...Oh God.
'Jesus Christ, Josh, shut up!'
He remembered thinking that. What the hell did it mean?
He turned against the wall so his right shoulder was against the tile. The spray from the showerhead hit the back of his injured shoulder and he moaned softly.
The hot water was running out. He had already turned off all the cold. He should get out of the shower anyway. His soup was probably long done, and Mallory would be worried.
He turned off the water and stepped out of the tub, grabbing his towel from the rack as he passed. Drying off was another chore. Maybe he should just drip dry...
And he couldn't wrap the stupid towel around his waist.
Sam took a deep, calming breath. Getting upset was only making it worse.
He used his hand to swipe at the fogged mirror over the sink, then wished he hadn't. No wonder everyone looked at his cheek before looking him in the eye; the bruise was black and purple...
...His reflection disappeared, replaced by a face he didn't recognize. His cheek throbbed as if he could actually feel the impact of the fist....
Sam blinked and it was gone. He shivered, focusing on the battered image before his eyes.
His hair fell over the bandage on his forehead, so that wasn't as noticeable, thank goodness. He ran a hand over his jaw. He needed a shave.
I can't believe I went to work looking like this....
A knock on the door startled him.
"Sam? You okay?"
He stared at his reflection a moment longer before answering.
Am I okay?
"Yeah," he answered.