"Malaise"

 

A West Wing Story

 

By Dani L.

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication: I would like to dedicated this story to Doug, a dear friend of mine, who also happens to remind me of Sam, in terms of being a workaholic, devoted and a real sweetie pie. Doug went through an experience similar to the events in this story and scared the living daylights out of us all!!! He's better now and has learned his lesson and WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN! WON'T YOU, DOUG? Hmm... Sorry, had to make sure he heard me! <VBG>

 

Disclaimer: The West Wing and its wonderful characters, especially Sam <G>, belong to the genius mind of Mr. Aaron Sorkin.

 

 

 

 

 

The meeting had only started about 5 minutes ago, yet it seemed like an eternity, and he longed for the solitude and quiet of his office. He mentally slapped himself back to reality and focused on his surroundings. 'You're in the Oval Office, for crying out loud. Buck up!' he chastised himself. He wasn't really paying attention, but realized that he should before he was dragged into the conversation. He didn't want to attract attention to himself, so he forced himself to sit up straight and put an air of interest on his face.

"...we can't let these people just go ahead and change the rules of the game just because it doesn't work in their favor anymore," he heard, as he turned his attention to the staff meeting.

'Why the hell does Toby have to talk so loud?' he asked himself as he internally winced. Toby's voice had only 2 settings: loud and mumble, and right now it was definitely on loud considering that the Communications Director's voice was ricocheting within his skull. He silently took in a long breath of air, hoping that would help him concentrate on the matter at hand. Unfortunately, that idea didn't get the desired effect, for a dull pain suddenly flamed up in his chest. Every muscle and joint in his body ached and obviously his chest wasn't being spared. Slowly and discretely, he relaxed his chest muscles and exhaled. He decided to stick to breathing normally for the next while.

He was so glad that he had sat at the far end of the sofa. Not only did that mean that he had one person sitting beside him, but it also provided him with the support of the arm of the sofa to lean against. Trying to find comfortable positions for his aching body had become a regular activity during the last week and he was reaching the definite conclusion that they didn't exist.

"...so, we're going to need a series of possible Q and A's?" asked Leo.

"Definitely. Any kind of heads-up we can get, we better take," replied Josh.

"I agree. Sam?" He heard his name. He had been listening, somewhat, but his name being uttered took him off guard. Instinctively, he simply looked at Leo; pretty sure he was the person speaking to him.

"Yes," he said, hoping that it would be a sufficient answer.

"The Q and A's. And CJ, I want you to work with him on this. Every aspect of this has to be covered. We can't slip on this matter." CJ glanced at Sam, a nod and a smile shortly following. He looked back at Leo.

"Okay," Sam replied. Now, obviously, he was going to have to put the thinking cap on and pray for a miracle. He was hoping that he wouldn't have to do any coherent writing, or thinking for that matter, until he felt better, which he seriously doubted would ever happen again. His luck just kicked him in the rear, roared in laughter and told him: "You're on your own, Sammy Boy!'

"And we're going to need it before tonight's briefing," added Leo, pouring salt on the already throbbing, open wound. Sam simply nodded, not sure what else to do. He quickly looked at his watch. 8:10 am, which gave him about 8 hours to work on it before the briefing. But then he realized that Leo will probably want to go over it and then probably the President and...... He decided to stop thinking about it since it was doing little more then aggravating this headache.

"What's next?" asked the President, ready to get on with the day, and from the looks of it, it was going to be a full one.

"That's it for now, Mr. President." Everyone stood and made their way out of the Oval Office, each one thanking the President for his time. Sam quickly made his way through the busy halls, finally being able to take refuge in his office. Before he even made it to the bullpen though, he could hear CJ calling his name.

"Where's the fire there, pal?" she asked, her hand on his shoulder.

"Sorry about that," he replied, slowing his pace.

"Listen, I have a few things I have to take care of, but I'll meet you in your office in about an hour."

"I'll be waiting." He gave her a forced smile as they parted ways. A few seconds later, he finally reached his destination. Before entering, he approached Cathy, who was busy typing away.

"I have a few important phone calls to make, so could you just take messages for about the next 30 to 40 minutes."

"Sure," she answered without taking her eyes off the computer monitor. Sam quickly entered his office and closed the door behind him. He threw his portfolio on the couch and approached his desk. After slowly lowering himself in his chair, he opened his top drawer and grabbed what had become his closest friend over the last 2 weeks. The bottle of Tylenol was almost empty and he made a mental note to pick up another one on his way home tonight.

He quickly opened the bottle and dropped two capsules into his hand. He placed them in his mouth and jerked his head back, swallowing them dry. Sighing heavily, he let his head rest against the back of his chair. He had the nagging feeling that he was forgetting something. As if on cue, he grabbed his phone receiver and placed it on his desk. Seeing the open line, Cathy would think that he was now on the phone and hopefully wouldn't bother him. He hated having to deceive everyone, but he didn't want anyone to know how he was feeling. There was too much to do and everyone had more important things to deal with at the moment. And besides, all he needed was a few minutes to rest his eyes and clear his head.

Since the beginning of the new year 2 weeks ago, everything had been going to hell in a hand basket. Peace treaties in the Middle East were falling apart, intense snow storms were wiping across the Mid-West, with several states declaring a 'state of emergency' and to top it all off, Lillianfield was up to no good again.

Throughout the White House, everyone was running around like a bunch of headless chickens. Except, of course, for Sam, who tried as much as possible to hide out in his office and be inconspicuous. The last 3 weeks had been like a carpet ride from hell for the Deputy Communications Director.

Since late November, his insomnia had arisen to a new, unrelenting high, rendering his mind numb and slow. It aggravated him that he was awake for a better part of the time, but was unable to put those extra hours to good use.

The fact that he was tired and couldn't sleep also started playing games with his body. His muscles and joints cried out to him as the days went by.

He could feel a cold coming on, but it was taking its good old time to show itself. He thought things couldn't get any worse, but Sam was never that lucky. And then, the proverbial dodo hit the fan. Reality finally caught up with Josh and he realized that he had been shot and almost died. All the time following the shooting, Josh had seemed to be okay, coping with that had happened, not giving any signs that there was a problem. Sam, along with everyone else, was horrified that he hadn't seen it coming and angry with himself for not paying attention to all the signs. They were there, but of course, hindsight is 20/20.

The scene in the Oval Office would forever remain in Sam's mind. Seeing Josh exploding in the President's face, actually yelling at him, was a memory he wished he could erase. During those few intense moments, he had tried to get Josh's attention, somehow reason with him, but he quickly realized that Josh wasn't really with them. Suddenly, in that moment, an incredible amount of anger materialized within him, not directed at Josh for what he was doing, no, but directed at himself. For in that moment, he came to the realization that he had failed his best friend. He could have prevented it if he had paid more attention, but he went on the assumption that everything was fine and dandy in Joshland. Letting his best friend down like that was something that he would never forgive himself for. Josh had decided to pretty much isolate himself after that incident and Sam couldn't blame him. He tried to respect his decision, but that didn't stop him from spending countless nights thinking of what he could have done differently to prevent this and making a mental list of all the signs that he ignored.

When Leo informed them that Josh was going to be meeting with Dr. Stanley Keyworth from the American Trauma Victims Association, everyone was hopeful that he would be able to get through to the Deputy Chief of Staff. And apparently he had. Josh hadn't yet spoken a word of what was discussed in that room that day, but whatever was said, he was now giving everyone the impression that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With all the events surrounding Josh and the usual brouhaha of the White House, a tug of war was going on in Sam's head. His annual Christmas trip to Bermuda was coming up, and although he didn't feel right leaving with Josh in the state he was, his body was screaming for him to go. He would probably sleep during his whole time there, but he would be thousands of miles away from Washington and at that time, that suited him nicely. Unfortunately, a decision was rendered for him and he ended up spending his trip to Bermuda in the comfort, or in this case, the discomfort of his bed in his apartment. The day before his impending departure, the cold that had been standing outside his door for the last few weeks finally broke in and invaded without remorse. Sam was a wreck. His head, chest and nose were beyond congested, a hacking cough kept him awake at all times and nothing seemed to help.

His moment of salvation came on Christmas day, day 2 of what Sam referred to as his "impending death", when there was a knock on his door. Upon answering it to shoo off whoever it was, he found Josh standing in front of him. Sam was completely taken by surprise and let him in without saying a word. They hadn't really spoken since the incident in the Oval Office and Sam was afraid that their friendship had taken a blow because of it, but apparently Josh didn't share those feelings. In fact, he acted as if nothing had occurred. Sam didn't bring up the meeting with the psychiatrist and nor did Josh. All San did was ask him if he was okay. Josh simply looked straight into Sam's eyes, a smile growing on his face. He nodded and gave his friend a definite "yeah, but you're not". From the looks of it, Sam had his good old Josh back, but he would nonetheless be on his guard and very vigilant for any signs of a relapse. He was certain that Josh would open up to him when he was ready.

They spent the day in the living room, Sam lay on the sofa, surrounded by blankets and pillows, trying to keep warm as his temperature fluctuated and Josh sat in the armchair, keeping a watchful eye on his friend. Josh became a little worried when Sam's temperature hit 102.8. He tried to convince the younger man to go to the hospital, but Sam wouldn't hear anything about it. Josh knew just how stubborn his best friend could be. Actually, he knew exactly how stubborn he was, because in terms of stubbornness, they were cut from the same cloth. Therefore, he knew he couldn't win. He spent the night watching over Sam until he was sure that his fever had broken.

If it hadn't been for Leo calling Josh in to work the following morning, the Deputy Chief of Staff would have probably moved in until his 'patient' was completely back on his feet. He wanted to stay, but after everything that happened during the last week, he felt obligated to Leo and reluctantly left. He promised that he'd be back in the evening with some hot soup.

'Josh is going to make a great father someday', thought Sam, based on the way he constantly obsessed over him. And the sooner the better, because Sam was getting a little tired of being treated like a child or in this case, an invalid. But deep down, he was extremely grateful, unbelievably grateful in fact.

Sam returned to work on January 2nd. He still wasn't feeling well, but his congestion and coughing had pretty much dissipated, so he saw no excuse to stay home. He couldn't stand being cooped up in his apartment anymore, but as soon as he arrived at the White House, he didn't want to be there either. His mind was going one way and then the other, his body simply trying to catch up and it had been doing so for the last 2 weeks. His aching muscles and joints from his cold were still haunting him, his insomnia wasn't as bad as it was, but he still had trouble sleeping despite the fact that he was exhausted, and that gave him headaches like the one he had now.

He wasn't sure how he was managing to function without anyone having any doubts about his health. Every night when he looked in the mirror, he would stare at a serving of death warmed over. He didn't know for how long he would be able to continue like this, but the thought that he had work to do and for whom he was doing it got him out of bed every morning. Beside, he thought, how long can a cold last?

The fact that Josh was pretty much back to his old self also made him push forward. 'If Josh can do it, so can I,' he repeated to himself.

<Knock> <Knock>

Sam was suddenly jarred back to reality as he remembered where he was, quickly straightened himself in his chair and grabbed the receiver, replacing it on the phone. The sudden movements caused his head to pound a little harder, and he realized that the Tylenol wasn't helping again.

"Come in," he yelled, looking up at the door.

"Hey," said CJ as she swung the door open, not bothering to close it behind her. "Were you busy? Cathy wasn't at her desk, so I took a chance," she said with a smile, sitting on his couch.

"No. I just had a few phone calls to make. So, you want to get started on this?" he asked, trying to change the subject and getting directly to the point, also realizing that 45 minutes had gone by. The sooner he finished this, the sooner he could crawl back into his hole.

"Sure," she answered as she made herself more comfortable on the couch, knowing that they were going to probably be at it for a few hours. Her gaze suddenly stopped on her friend's face and she frowned.

"Sam, are you okay?" she asked, her frown deepening. 'Oh, Uh', thought Sam, feeling caught. He quickly looked up and met her inquiring eyes.

"Of course I'm okay, why do you ask?" he asked with a laugh and trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

"You look a little pale," she explained, still staring.

"Well, that's because at this time of the year, you're use to seeing me with a tan," he said with a sarcastic tone and a grin, hoping that would divert the conversation. She now looked at him with sympathetic eyes.

"Still peeved about Bermuda, are ya? I'm sorry you weren't able to go. I know how much you were looking forward to it." He smiled back at her.

"You and me both, CJ." Nonetheless, she continued to study him carefully.

"You still look a little pale though. You're sure you're feeling all right?"

"I just didn't get much sleep last night. Don't worry about it," he half lied. He had to tell her something or else she would have just continued with the questions and knowing himself and how persistent his friend could be, he would have probably broken down and spilled his guts. He looked away from her and started going through the papers on his desk, trying desperately to avert her look. It seemed to work, because she nodded and started going through her notes as well.

 

****

 

They worked for 4 hours straight before they finally took a break so CJ could prepare for the afternoon briefing and get a bite to eat. Sam was relieved that things were going well. He was extremely grateful that CJ was there to help. Not only did she have some great input, but she kept him focused on the task at hand.

His headache was still lingering and he grabbed for the bottle of Tylenol as soon as CJ left his office. He only had 4 pills left to do him the day. It will have to do, he told himself. His stomach was a little unsettled, as it had been for a while now, so he decided to get himself a bottle of water, needing something to wash the pills down with. As soon as he got to his feet though, his office started to spin. He realized what was happening and quickly sat back down before he completely lost his balance and ended up on the floor. He closed his eyes and slowly breathed in and out, trying to will away the nauseous feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. Cautiously, he opened his tired blue eyes to discover that his office was no longer tilting.

"Okay, that can't be good," he whispered to himself. Leaning his sore body against the back of his chair, he glanced towards the bullpen, making sure that the scene had gone unnoticed. As far as he could tell, he was still in the clear.

Sitting there, he started reassessing the whole situation, suddenly realizing how ridiculous he was being. He considered himself to be a smart person, but right now, he was being utterly stupid and reckless. 'How did it get this far?' he asked himself, wondering what he was thinking when he had decided to ignore the SOS signals his body had been sending him over the last couple of weeks.

He had to do something about it. One thing was for sure, he didn't want to tell anyone. The rest of the staff had too much to deal with as it was and the last thing Sam wanted to be was a burden. Memories of Josh hovering over him at Christmas suddenly invaded his mind. He loved his best friend and knew he just wanted to help, but Josh's 'mother hen' side was a little too much to bear with right now and he didn't want to put too much on Josh's shoulders as it was. He decided that he would finish up his day, head home and take a personal day tomorrow. He was sure all he needed was a decent day of sleep and if that wasn't enough, he'd make an appointment with his doctor. Resolved, he slowly lifted himself onto his feet and left his office in search of a bottle of water. Even though he felt a little better about finally making a decision regarding his out of control situation, the pounding in his head was still claiming his full attention.

 

****

 

Later that afternoon, as Sam and CJ were going over their last notes regarding the Q and A's, Josh poked his head in Sam' office with an urgent look on his face.

"Staff meeting. Oval Office. Now!" he said and was gone as quickly as he had come. Sam and CJ simply looked at each other, and without saying a word, put their papers aside and headed towards the Oval Office.

On their way there, Sam became aware that the pounding in his head was now being accompanied by another beat. It took him a moment to realize that his heart was beating so hard that it was resonating in his ears. He slowed his pace, trying to regulate his breathing which had also picked up in speed. After a few long breathes, his breathing started to regulate itself, but his heart was still beating too fast and too loud. Next thing he knew, he was standing in the Oval Office. 'Okay, Sam. Just relax. I know I'm not having a heart attack. Just relax and pay attention to what's going on," he ordered himself. He tried to concentrate on what was being said, but he couldn't focus. He could see the President talking to them, moving his mouth, but he couldn't grab onto the words. His head suddenly became very heavy, the pain in his skull increased and the room started to tilt left and right. He needed something to hold on to, to keep him upright, something he could lean on for a minute or two while it passed. He tried to convince himself that was all he needed, but it soon became apparent that he was in a little more trouble then he first thought. Next thing he knew, his legs were getting weaker and weaker, almost to the point of not being able to hold him up. He panicked when he realized what was bound to happen next. 'No, not here! Not with everyone in the room!' he begged himself. All that encompassed the last few weeks: the pain, the suffering, the hiding, the exhaustion and the fear of being a burden were on a speeding crash course with him as target and with no intention of slowing down.

Instinctively, he grabbed onto the closest thing to him: Toby.

With all the activity in the room, all the comings and goings from the staff and military personal bringing the President information regarding the impending total breakdown of the Peace Treaty, no one realized that the Deputy Communications Director was in serious trouble.

Toby suddenly felt a hand abruptly grab his arm. Completely taken by surprise, he turned his head and found himself looking into the lost and ashen expression of his Deputy. Sam's face looked like it had been drained of all blood and his eyes were pleading for help.

"Sam?" Toby asked, his voice thick with worry, baffled as to what was going on. Sam just looked back at him, his expression unchanged.

"Sam? What's wrong?" Toby asked, this time, grabbing Sam's arm, realizing that he was becoming more and more unsteady. Toby's last outcry to his Deputy attracted the attention of all those in the room. The President was a little perplexed by the scene playing out in front of him.

"Toby? What is it?" he asked, taking a step forward, realizing something was amiss. Josh and CJ, their attention also diverted towards the 2 men, only now noticed Sam's sudden paleness and swaying balance and both started making their way over to their friend.

"I don't...." Before Toby could finish his reply, Sam's eyes suddenly rolled upwards into his head and he started falling backwards. Toby tried to maintain his hold on the young man, but lost his grip, and the young man fell to the floor with a thud, the back of his head impacting with the carpeted floor. Everyone rushed over to their fallen co-worker, their faces filled with fear and concern.

"What happened?" asked Josh, as he fell to his knees beside his best friend, fear engulfing his features.

"I don't know.... Will someone get a doctor! Call 911! Something!" Toby yelled, his voice a mixture of fear and anger.

"Charlie, get my wife and call an ambulance," the President ordered anxiously as he approached the small group surrounding Sam, grateful that his wife was within the building. CJ, also on her knees beside Sam, placed her hand on his neck, checking his pulse. She quickly looked up at Josh, panic threatening to invade her body and soul.

"His pulse is like a speeding freight train," she said as she gently loosened the fallen man's tie and unbuttoned the first 2 buttons of his dress shirt. Toby stood up frantically, desperate to do anything to help his friend.

"Here, use this to elevate his legs," said Leo, as he handed Toby a pillow from one of the sofas. He quickly grabbed it and got back on his knees, gently holding up Sam's feet, placing the pillow underneath. He then rapidly took off his suit jacket and placed it over Sam's upper body, hoping it would keep him warm, considering he wasn't wearing his.

"Sam, can you hear me? Come on, Sam, wake up!" begged Josh, his face hovering over his best friend's, praying for a reaction. Unfortunately, Josh wasn't rewarded, as all he could detect on Sam's face was fear and panic that had invaded him before he passed out and that were now etched on his pale skin.

The President stared intently at the small group of worried people surrounding his Deputy Communications Director. He wanted to be beside them, to know what was wrong with Sam, but unfortunately, a matter he couldn't put aside was beating at his door. The military liaisons were still standing there, with information regarding the explosive situation in the Middle East and were also captivated by the scene playing out in front of them. He looked over at Leo and pointed his head in the direction of the Chief of Staff's office. Leo simply nodded. He could tell the President didn't want to leave, but was faced with no other choice.

"Gentlemen, we can continue this in my office," announced Leo solemnly. The 3 military officers quickly came to attention and followed the Chief of Staff into his office. At that same moment, Abbey Bartlett, her black medical bag in hand, came running into the room through Mrs. Landingham's office.

"What happened?" she asked, as CJ moved over and made place for the First Lady to examine Sam.

"He was just standing there........ and then..... he grabbed by arm and the next thing I know, his eyes are rolling into his head and he's falling backwards, ," explained Toby, still a little frantic. Abbey rummaged through her bag and withdrew her stethoscope. She listened to Sam's heart attentively.

"Did he mention that he wasn't feeling well?"

"Abbey, Sam could be on his deathbed and he would still come to work saying that he's fine, let alone tell us if he wasn't feeling well!" CJ answered.

"I wonder where he gets that from?" she exclaimed, eyeing the 3 senior staff members disapprovingly.

"He did look a little pale this morning. He said that he didn't get much sleep last night," CJ added.

"Did he eat anything for lunch?" The 3 friends looked at each other, hoping that one of them knew the answer to that question. They all shrugged their ignorance. She placed her hand on his forehead, giving her an indication of his temperature and was surprised by the clamminess and coldness of his skin.

"When he fell, did he hit his head?" the First Lady asked as she leaned over Sam and opened his eye lids, shining a pen light into his blue orbs, noticing their sluggish reaction to the light.

"I tried to catch him, but..... I think he might have, yes. He fell pretty hard," Toby said, catching himself, realizing that he sounded a little hysterical.

"Is he going to be okay?" asked Josh, speaking for the first time since Mrs. Bartlett's entrance. Abbey glanced at the Deputy Chief of Staff. He looked so worried. She was aware of what he had gone through in the last month or two and the last thing he needed was to overly worry himself about the well being of his friend. She decided to use the reassuring approach in answering him.

"His heart's a little fast, but it's slowly regulating itself, so is his breathing. I think he may have rattled his head a little when he fell."

"But why did he pass out?"

"I don't know." Abbey wished he could give them a better answer, but she didn't even have one for herself.

"Mrs. Bartlett, the ambulance is here," announced Charlie, sticking his head through the door frame.

"Thanks, Charlie. Bring them in." As she said that, a low mumble emanated from Sam. Everyone around him suddenly tensed.

"Sam, can you hear me? Wake up now. Come on, let's see those baby blues of yours," Abbey said, her hand on the young man's cheek, encouraging him to break through the thick haze separating him from his friends.

Sam's eyes were dancing frantically under his eyelids, his mind slowly rebooting after its shut down. On the edge of consciousness, he tried to assess the situation. He was aware that he was lying on the floor and that the back of his head was throbbing in pain, but couldn't remember how he got in this predicament. Almost as an echo, he could hear a voice calling his name. He tried to process it, determine to whom it belonged, but his mind wasn't working at that speed yet.

 

As Sam was trying to make his comeback to the land of the conscious, 2 paramedics equipped with a stretcher entered the Oval Office. Dr. Bartlett hurriedly gave them a summary of what had happened and Sam's vitals. She quickly turned her attention back to Sam as his mumbling increased.

"Sam! Wake up, Sam!" she said, this time, a little louder, knowing that he just needed a little push to finally break through to her.

Slowly and hesitantly, he opened his eyes. His sight was hazy, but he could discern a woman's face hovering over him, calling his name.

"Sam? Hey there. Welcome back. Sam, listen to me, okay? Do you know where you are?" she asked, looking down at him with a relieved smile. He thought about it for moment. His memory was still in disarray, but he took a chance.

"White House," he said, his voice barely a whisper and his tone sounding more like a question.

"Sam, that's a good guess, considering you spend 99% of your time here, " Abbey said sarcastically, well aware that he was taking a guess by the confused expression on his face. "Listen, I'm going to place this over your mouth and nose," she said, showing him the oxygen mask that the paramedic had passed to her. "Just breathe normally, okay? Everything's going to be fine." Her calm and reassuring voice was now reaching his ears clearly and that relaxed him. It bothered him that he couldn't remember what happened, but at the moment, all he wanted to do was close his eyes and go to sleep. He must have drifted off, because he could hear the voice again, beckoning him back to awareness.

"Sam, stay with me!" she ordered. Opening his eyes and coming back to his senses, he finally associated the voice that had been coaching him back to awareness with the person in front of him.

"Mrs. Bartlett?" he asked softly, his voice muffled by the mask. That brought a large smile to the First Lady's face. Sam slowly looked to his right and finally noticed the 3 people at his side, their faces engraved with worry. He instantly recognized his closest friends, but seeing them like that cause a wave of guilt to flow through his body.

"Hey, Sam," said Josh. Sam's guilt increased ten-fold upon focusing on his best friend. Somehow he needed to comfort Josh, to erase that look from his face. Sam slowly raised his arm and placed his hand on Josh knee and patted it.

"I'm okay," Sam said, hoping that would appease Josh's worries. CJ gasped.

"See what I mean?" she exclaimed to the First Lady, pointing at the man lying on the floor, exasperated. Abbey could only shake her head and grin. While the paramedics placed a c-collar around Sam's neck, as a precaution, before placing him on the stretcher, Abbey explained to him that they were going to head to the hospital and run a few tests and that he'd better behave. Sam wasn't too happy about being taken to the hospital, but was too tired right now to do anything about it. So he decided to simply let whatever was going to happen happen and deal with the outcome later, but right now, he just wanted to sleep. And that's what he did.

 

****

 

Having to wait in a hospital waiting room had to be one of the worst experiences a person can go through. Knowing that someone you are close to, a friend, a family member, a loved one was somewhere in the building, wondering what is wrong with them and hoping that whatever it is can be cured with a little pill and a pat on the head, while they are being poked and probed, examined and re-examined. That was exactly what Toby, CJ and Josh were going through. They had been waiting for about 30 minutes, drinking awful coffee and pacing through the halls for what seemed an eternity. The 3 White House Senior Staff members were becoming extremely impatient. The Secret Service agents standing around were eyeing the small group sympathetically. The First Lady had insisted on accompanying Sam to the hospital. She had even less patience than the 3 advisors combined and went in search of answers and Sam's doctor.

"How is he?" asked Josh, seeing Abbey walking towards the waiting room. She put her arm around Josh's shoulder and made him sit down, along with CJ and Toby.

"He's going to be okay." The 3 friends let out loud sighs of relief, but Josh kept an eye on Abbey, her expression telling him that there was a 'but' on the horizon.

"Can we see him?" asked CJ.

"No," Abbey said, shaking her head. "He's sleeping, and believe me, that is something he's going to be doing a lot of for the next while."

"What do you mean? What's wrong with him?" asked Toby, his sense of relief diminishing.

"Sam has iron deficiency anemia." They all looked at her, Toby and Josh not really sure what she was talking about, but CJ was obviously aware of what she was referring to.

"But isn't that just a lack of iron in the blood?" she asked, not understanding why that would cause Sam to pass out.

"Yes, but in Sam's case, it's a little more complicated then that. The anemia was compounded by the fact that his blood pressure is elevated, he's obviously lost weight, his blood sugar is low and the list goes on and I know that he had a bad cold during the holidays which didn't help. In the condition he's in, that should have wiped him out, but he obviously kept fighting it. All these are signs that he hasn't been eating properly or at all, not sleeping and I can only imagine his stress level. The bottom line is, he's physically exhausted and obviously has been for sometime."

The 3 staff members were speechless. How could they have missed all this? For Toby and CJ, only one answer came to mind: the same way they missed all the signs regarding Josh. As for Josh, he didn't know what to think. "Today, everything just came to a head and his body just couldn't take it anymore. And to get that message across, it went to extremes and shut down. He has obviously been ignoring all the other signs for a while now, and I'm sure there were many of them. He also suffered a slight concussion when he hit his head on the floor. I just hope that will knock some sense into him." Abbey's anger and worry were palpable. She cared for these people as much as her husband did, but when they did careless things like this, it only made her blood boil.

"But, he's going to be okay," ventured Toby, not sure if the question was valid considering the somewhat angry disposition of the First Lady.

"Yes. That 's if he survives the scolding of his life he's going to get from me when he wakes up," Abbey answered, her sarcasm hiding her obvious concern.

"I still can't believe we didn't see it. I mean, he looked tired, but........I never thought it was anything more than that," said CJ, trying to rationalize the situation.

"You all play the game, CJ. You're all overly committed and that's a trait I highly admire in you, but you can't always put the job first. It shouldn't be that way. We all know now that Sam's very good at hiding the obvious, but why? Why did he do it? Why didn't he tell anyone that he wasn't feeling well? You know the answers to those questions because you've all been in the same shoes at one point or another. But the question that I would like answered is why he let if go this far? He's put his health at risk. For whatever reason he has, it's unacceptable." She eyed them carefully, sending each of them a silent warning. Her features softened a little when her eyes meet Josh's. He replied to her by simply nodding. An orchestra of beeps suddenly broke the silence. The 3 staffers reached for their pagers and read the message rapidly. Toby finished reading it first and sighed heavily.

"What is it?" asked Abbey.

"The Peace Treaty. We have to get back to the White House," Toby replied unhappily. He stood and looked down at CJ and Josh. They were all resigned to the fact that they had to go back, but that didn't mean that they had to be happy about it. Their sad faces reflected that feeling and Abbey decided to try and appease it.

"I'll stay here. Besides, Sam and I need to have a little talk anyway. They'll probably keep him overnight and release him tomorrow. And like I told you, he' s going to be fine as long as he starts taking care of himself - and I'm going to make sure that he does." She gave them a mischievous grin. Toby, CJ and Josh only wished they could be flies on the wall in that room to hear that conversation. They all nodded in agreement and started making their way out of the waiting room. Josh suddenly turned around and faced the First Lady. He eyed her seriously, his mouth set, his eyes still reflecting a certain element of grimness.

"Thank you," he finally managed to say. Returning his serious gaze, she tried to put herself in Josh's place, but found it hard to assess was going on in his head.

He had gone through so much in the last months and was finally on the right track and this had to happen. She could only hope that this wouldn't derail his healing process. Post traumatic stress disorder could be very tricky and unpredictable and so could the reactions from those suffering from it, but a little voice in the back of her mind told her that Josh was strong enough to get through his, with help from his friends of course, for he knew that he didn't have to keep everything bottled up anymore. He knew he had nothing to hide. Now, if only she could get that message through to his best friend.

"Don't worry about him, Josh. He's going to be all right," she said reassuringly.

"I can't help myself," he said as he turned and made his way down the hall and back to the White House.

 

****

 

The First Lady made a few phone calls, one to her husband, giving him the news about his Deputy Communications Director.

 

He was grateful that she was staying with Sam considering he had requested the presence of the 3 Senior Staff members back at the White House. He hated having to do it, but it couldn't be avoided. She detected the stress and anger in his voice that things weren't going very well regarding the Peace Treaty. She remembered the numerous days and nights he spent going over and over it, making sure that it was foolproof.

Unfortunately, not everything was made to last, especially when you're dealing with people who are simply not interested in settling old scores. She dismissed the thought from her mind, as it only seemed to depress her. She made her way to the main desk and asked to be advised as soon as Sam woke up. Upon returning to the waiting room, she grabbed herself of cup of the awful coffee and sat down on the sofa, in silent reflection, her Secret Service agents watching her carefully.

 

****

 

3 hours after Toby, CJ and Josh left the hospital, Sam finally woke up. His doctor had left the room just a few minutes ago, having explained to his patient what had happened. He informed him that he explained his condition to him and what that involved and that he also had all the signs of exhaustion. Needless to say, the doctor was none too pleased and made it clear to Sam that he was going to have to change his ways.

Upon entering the room, Abbey was told that Sam was still a little groggy, but that was to be expected. As she approached his bed, she couldn't help but focus her gaze on his face. He looked like a little boy, a sick little boy, but nonetheless his features radiated youth and innocence. His face was still pale, but not the dead white of before.. From the etched lines on his face to large dark circles around his eyes, the exhaustion he was suffering from was now unmistakable and so evident.

She was angry with him for not speaking out about this, but knew that anger wasn't the path to follow. Being angry with this young man wasn't the way to get through to him. Sam was a smart guy, therefore, smart tactics had to be used. Sensing someone beside him, Sam slowly opened his eyes and turned his head.

"Mrs. Bartlett?" he said, obviously perplexed by her presence.

"Hey there. How are you feeling?" she asked softy. Sam merely rolled his eyes.

"Embarrassed," he replied. Abbey shook her head.

"That's not what I meant. How do you feel?"

"To be honest with you and please excuse my language, but I feel like shit," he said, closing his eyes and sighing heavily. With his mind working in very slow mode, that was the only answer he could come up that summarized the way he felt. What little of his mind that was functioning was still processing what his doctor had told him a few minutes ago.

"I'm sorry you feel like *shit*, but I'm glad that you're in an honest mood, because, Samuel, you and I are going to have a little chat." Her smile disappeared and she was all business. Judging by the fact that she used his full name, the tone of her voice and the look on her face, Sam immediately became aware that this wasn't going to be a very pleasant conversation.

He wished that he could hide under his sheets, but he knew that he was going to have to talk to someone about this eventually. He was resigned to the fact that he himself, had dug the hole he was trapped in and he wanted to get out, but he was going to need help though.

 

****

 

As Sam lay on his couch, he suddenly realized that he was reading the same page for the third time. Upon that realization, he threw his book down in utter frustration.

He had been out of the hospital for 3 days and was now locked down in his apartment. He wasn't allowed to do any office work, to leave his apartment or overexert himself. Though, even if he wanted to do anything physical, his muscles were still too weak for him to do very much, other then walk around his home. The news of his collapse had found its way to the press. Sam had to laugh at all the fuss they were making over him. CJ obviously didn't release all the information regarding his condition, because there was not word about the exhaustion, the anemia or that he had overworked himself. The cause of his collapse was blamed on the fact that his cold from the holidays had ran him down and that he had returned to work too soon. It was a half-truth, but he was glad that the bulk of the information was kept within the confines of his group of friends.

On that day though, Sam's main concern was that fact that he was getting tired of being alone. He had been left all by himself since his release and it was getting to him. He spent most of the day sleeping, which is something that actually came to him easily now and for that, he was truly grateful. It had actually dawned on him that he spent more time sleeping then awake. Before, he had wanted nothing more than to be left alone, although that had been to conceal the fact that he wasn't well, but now that the cat was out of the bag, he found himself longing for company.

Staring at the ceiling, he thought of the office and wondered what was going on there. He had spoken to CJ on the phone the previous day and she informed him that they were busy and that they might still be able to resolve the Peace Treaty, but things were still tense. He also spoke with Toby, but made the mistake of asking him if he was swamped with the extra work caused by his absence. Toby actually growled at him and quickly changed the subject. Sam was glad that they had called him, and understood that they were given orders not to bother him for a few days. He wanted to talk to Josh, but he was in the middle of an overextended meeting. He hadn't spoken to Josh since his release. Josh hadn't called and the few times Sam had called in, Donna told him that he was in meetings.

He knew that they were really busy, but Josh's silence was starting to scare him. And not only from the last few days, but from the last 3 weeks as well. They were all told that Josh was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and that he would need time to come to terms with everything that had happened since the shooting.

Again, Sam told himself that he would simply have to be patient. He only hoped that their friendship wouldn't suffer because of it. Sam knew that their relationship was stronger than steel, they were the best of friends, but all these events and Josh's silence started to create doubts in his mind. Maybe their friendship wasn't as strong as Sam had thought. He quickly shook that thought out of his mind, realizing that his tired mind was going to extremes, taking his thoughts and turning them into plausible realities.

 

****

 

A knocking sound coming from an unknown source suddenly jerked Sam back to awareness. He realized that he must have fallen asleep again. As he gained his bearings, he discovered that the knocking was coming from his door. Dragging himself off his couch, he slowly made his way down the entrance hall. His mind still half-asleep, he simply unlocked and opened the door without looking through the peephole.

"Josh," he said, in utter surprise, his foggy and tired mind suddenly clearing up.

"Hey, buddy. It's good to see you vertical again," Josh replied, giving him one of his renowned grins. Sam wasn't sure how to react to that, so he simply smiled and let his friend in. Once inside, Josh took at good look at Sam and noticed he looked a little haggard.

"Were you sleeping?"

"Don't worry about it. That's pretty much all I've been doing in the last 3 days," Sam assured him, disregarding the question with a wave of his hand. "Can I get you something?"

"No, I'm fine, thanks," Josh answered as he removed his coat and let himself drop into the armchair in the living room, while Sam made himself comfortable on the couch, having moved the pillows and the blanket.

 

"How are you feeling?" Josh finally asked, breaking the silence that had started to grow between them.

"Tired and achy, and except for the bump on the back on the back of my head, better,' he answered with a grin, gently rubbing the bump in question. Josh returned the grin, obviously preoccupied by something.

"Why does this feel so awkward? I don't get it!" Josh suddenly asked in frustration. "I mean, we've known each other for years, we're best friends, we never had problems telling each other things before, so why did we feel that we couldn't confine in each other?"

"I don't know, Josh," Sam answered, unable to meet his friend's eyes.

"Sam, you're doing it again. Stop hiding your feelings from me. Mrs. Bartlett came to see me yesterday and she told me about the talk you had in the hospital. She didn't tell me everything, but she did tell me enough to know that we have to get a few things out in the open. Both of us do." Sam had been waiting for this moment for some time now, but now that it had arrived, he didn't know what to say. Seeing that Sam was still silent, Josh decided to get the ball rolling.

"It was a window," he said solemnly. Sam just looked up at him, finally meeting his gaze, not understanding what he was talking about.

"What window? What do you mean?"

"My hand, I didn't cut it on a broken glass. I put my hand through my living room window," he said as he stared down at his now healing appendage.

"What? Why?" asked Sam, totally shocked by his statement.

"Because I thought for a split second it would stop the sirens and flashbacks in my head, but it didn't. It just hurt my hand." Sam didn't know what to say. He never thought that Josh would go as far as deliberately hurt himself in such a violent manner. The simple thought of Josh feeling that he had to hurt himself to stop that pain made Sam want to cry. Not sure if it was the fact that he was tired or he was letting his emotions get the better of him, but Sam had this irresistible urge to cry, but he managed to control it to some degree.

"You were hearing sirens?"

"Yeah. I've been associating the music that had been playing the White House with the sirens from the shooting without making the connection and everything else from that night just followed. I don't remember much of that night, but I have these flashes of people hovering over me, of people screaming, the hospital and...... the sirens. I kinda knew what was happening, but I ignored it, because I didn't want to face it. I didn't want to acknowledge the fact that I was having a problem. That I was shot. That I almost died. Everyone else had gotten over the whole incident, so I told myself to get over it too, but my mind refused to let it go." Sam stared at his hands for a few moments, realizing how hard all this must have been on Josh, and how hard it must be for him now to talk about it. The sense of guilt that Sam had been feeling ever since that day in the Oval Office suddenly resurfaced with a vengeance. His eyes now brimming with tears, he was no longer able to contain the urge growing within in.

"Josh, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize what you were going through. I didn't see it. I'm so sorry," he suddenly exclaimed, crying and his tears now flowing freely down his cheeks. The outburst was so sudden, Josh was totally overwhelmed.

"Sam, it's okay. No one did because I didn't want anyone to know. I wasn't really aware of it myself for a while, but when I was, I ignored it - or at least I tried to." Josh got up from the chair and sat down beside his friend on the couch. Sam was shaking his head frantically.

"No, it's not okay, Josh. I should have seen it. You're my best friend and I let you down," replied, his voice filled with anger directed at himself.

"Sam, don't you see what' s going on here? Listen to me! I want you to tell me what you told Mrs. Bartlett, why you didn't tell anyone you were sick?"

"Josh...", the younger man said, wiping the tears away with the back of his hand, obviously not wanting to discuss that part of the equation, his mind still dwelling on his friend's situation.

"Sam, tell me why you didn't tell anyone how you were feeling? Tell me why you thought you would have been a burden if you did?" Sam looked at his friend, his crying now under control and wondering what else the First Lady had told Josh. They had had a very frank conversation, Sam having pretty much told her everything that had gone threw his head since the whole thing started. Closing his eyes, Sam breathed in a long breath of air.

"I didn't think it was anything at first. You know, we all work long hours, get little sleep. There was so much going on around the office that I really didn't have time to think about it. I just kept pushing myself, thinking that everyone goes through those periods. No one else complains, so why should I? After the holidays, that's when things started getting a little.....out of hand, and I know that now. I was mad at myself for not realizing that you were in trouble, that you needed help. In the Oval Office when you...... I felt so... .. " He turned and faced Josh. "I let you down, and I don't know if I can forgive myself for that." Josh wanted to intervene at this point, but saw that Sam wasn't finished, and he knew that if he interrupted Sam now, he might never get him talking again.

"The reason why I didn't tell anyone I was still sick...... I knew how you would react and that having me to worry about was something you didn't need on your shoulders. You had enough to think about, I didn't want to add to that. Ever since I've known you, you've always fussed over me. Look what happened at Christmas! Don't get me wrong, I am extremely grateful, but you could have caught my cold. You needed time for yourself, but you didn't care, you came anyway." Sam sighed heavily before continuing. "I wasn't really thinking straight, because my anger towards myself somehow took over. By remaining quiet about it, I was punishing myself and in some sick way, it felt right. I know now how stupid and reckless I was, but back then, it seemed like the right thing to do. I'm sorry if I scared you, that was far from being my intention. Actually, that morning, I had actually realized what I was doing was stupid and was going to take the next day off. I guess I finally woke up, but a few days short." Sam simply stared at his friend, a few tears still making their way down his cheeks. Josh was already aware of everything Sam had just told him, since Mrs. Bartlett had told him almost everything Sam had told her. She hadn't done it to break Sam's confidence in her, but she thought it would be better for Josh to know exactly what state of mind Sam had been in at the time he decided to play this charade. But Josh wanted to hear Sam himself say it. He needed to make sure that it was true, because to him, it sounded unbelievable that his friend would put his health in jeopardy for him.

"You want to know why I haven't called you since you got released? When we found out that you had probably been feeling like crap for the last month or so, I was mad at you. I was. Mad because you put yourself at risk due to the fact that you're too proud to admit that you're sick and that you're afraid that might make you look weak. Sam, you don't have to prove yourself to us. To anyone for that matter. You don't always have to be the strong one. Think about it, Sam. You're one of the Senior Advisors to the President of the United States. You put words in the mouth of one of the most powerful men in the world. Those kinds of responsibilities aren't just passed on to anyone. You've already proven to everyone what you're capable of doing. That makes me angry that you don't see that." Josh eyed Sam seriously, making sure that he got his message across loud and clear.

"But after speaking with Mrs. Bartlett last night, I came to a realization. I'm as guilty as you are. I also failed my best friend. I didn't notice that you weren't feeling well before you really got sick and I didn't notice that you were still sick when you came back. I didn't see the dark circles around your eyes, the fact that you were always cooped up in your office or how quiet you had become. I only realized those things and put two and two together after everything was laid out for me. We both got so entangled with our own insecurities and worries that we ignored what was important to us. Each other. You and I played the same game, used the same techniques and we both got burned. You're like a brother to me Sam, and when you hurt, I hurt. That just the way it works, no matter what you do, nothing will ever change that." Josh then placed his arm around his best friend's shoulders, squeezing him gently. Josh words played around in Sam's mind, before finally seeing the logic within them.

"We'll take this one day at a time. You get back into shape and listen to your doctor and I'll try and sort out the sounds in my head and listen to my doctor. Oh, and by the way, Mrs. Bartlett now knows that we're pretty good at hiding things from everyone, and she's told the President, so we better not pull anything else like this again," Josh added to lighten the moment. Sam laughed softly at the remark. Having extracted himself from the load he had been carrying and certain that his friendship with Josh was intact and remained strong, if not stronger, Sam suddenly felt so tired, but he could tell it was a good kind of tired.

"You know Josh, I'm starting to feel better all ready."

"So am I, buddy. So am I."

 

 

The End

 

 

Home        What's New        Author Listings        Title Listings