The President paused outside Toby's office and shot a look at his bodyguards.
« Haven't you heard something ? »
« Sir ? »
« Never mind. Must have been- »
« NOOOOOOOOOOOOO ! »
Jed, recognizing the voice, motioned his startled detail to stay put before going into the office.
In the dark he could barely make out a form sitting on the couch. He could hear the quick breathing of the other man in the room.
« Sam ? »
The young man jumped slightly and tried to stand.
« Sit down », Jed ordered quickly.
« Sir ? Is...Is there anything I can do for you ? »
Jed rolled his eyes.
« Sam, for christ' sake, it's 2 o'clock. Forget protocol for a second, will you? »
« Yes Sir ».
Jed smiled slightly. Knowing all too well he wouldn't change that side of the young man, he asked him if he was okay.
« Yes, thank you, Sir ».
« Then why the hell did you scream like that ? »
« I screamed ? » Sam asked in a small voice, and Jed was almost certain the speechwriter was blushing furiously.
Without answering, he asked : « Nightmare ? »
« I...I forgot. »
« Sam, for a lawyer, you're a pathetic liar. »
« So I've been told, Sir. More than once, actually ».
« Not surprising. And you didn't answer my question ».
« I was hoping you hadn't noticed, Sir ».
« You should know me better. »
« Yes Sir ».
« I won't make you talk, will I ? »
Sam smiled, knowing he'd won. Although sincerely concerned about his staff since the shooting, the President was still careful not to abuse his rank with them.
« Sorry, Sir ».
« As you should. Sam, go home. »
« Sir... »
« I want you to sleep for at least six hours in a row before you even consider come back here ».
Sam bit back a retort and just said « Yes Sir », as was expected of him
« I'm serious, here. And I've got the Secret Services with me. »
« Yes Sir »
« Goodnight, Sam »
« Thank you, Sir »
For the fifth time in as many days, Jed was unable to sleep and was walking the halls of the West Wing. Thinking about his wife, he gratefully thanked his stars that she wasn't there to see him. Then he sighed, realizing that she would hear about it. She had a remarquable instinct for such things. "Comes from practicing medicine, I'm sure".
Passing through the communications bullpen, he noticed that Toby's office was still lit. Going in, he shot a look to the couch, seeing Sam sound asleep, just like he expected. He wondered if the young man had been home once since the shooting. He decided not to wake him; he wasn't sleeping in a bed, but he was sleeping. After the traumatism of the shooting, after seeing his best friend rushed into a hospital with a bullet in his chest, he needed his rest.
He was about to leave when he heard Sam whimper. He turned back. Not two minutes ago, the speechwriter had looked completely relaxed. The President had even thought that he looked younger in his sleep, which he could have sworn was impossible. Now, his face was tense, and he was beginning to get agitated.
« Oh my God ».
« Sam ? »
« Oh no »
« Sam, wake up »
« Mike ? Mike ? »
« Sam ! », Jed said, louder this time. Sam didn't react. There was a pause and Jed thought that the young man had calmed down. Then he heard him whisper: "Blood?...Mike?"
Jed got closer to the couch and reached out to shake Sam. He froze in mid-movement when Sam talked again, his tone horrified. "Mike? MIKE?"
« For christ'sake, Sam, wake -»
« NOOOOOOOOOOOOO ! », Sam shouted, sitting so suddenly he barely avoided colliding with the President. Jed put a hand on his staffer' shoulder, making him jump.
« Sir ? What... ? ». He trailed off, realizing who he was, and who was standing in front of him. He tried to get up, but his boss ordered him tersely to sit back. Thinking Jed was angry at him for sleeping in Toby's office again, Sam was about to apologize, when the President asked him softly: " Who is Mike? And don't you dare telling me that you don't what I'm talking about, because I was there two minutes ago when you tried to wake up the neighbours".
There was a long pause. Sam was staring at the floor, unable to form a coherent sentence.
« Sam ? »
« My brother. Mike was my brother. »
« Was ? », the President repeated softly.
Sam turned to look at him. His eyes were too bright, but Jed knew he wouldn't cry. Not in front of him.
« 15 years ago. We were living in LA. »
Another pause. When Sam showed no sign of picking up the story, Jed asked him what he was thinking.
« I don't know what to say. »
« How did it happen? »
"He was two years older. We were walking - shopping, actually. He wanted me to help him pick a gift for his girlfriend. They were having a birthday-first time they had looked at each other, or something like that. Jo. Well, Josephine, actually, but she threatened to kill whoever would call her that. She became an architect. I wonder...". When Sam stopped talking again, Jed sat down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Sam lowered his eyes, sighed, and went on.
"There were lots of people on the street. Two cars went by. Gangs. They began shooting at each other".
Sam closed his eyes and shivered. Jed squeezed his shoulder briefly, and waited. Sam resumed talking, but the pauses between each sentence were getting longer, almost as if he had never told this story to anyone before and had to make an effort to translate it into words.
"Bullets were flying everywhere. Mike pushed me. Hard. Then he lied down on top of me. I...thought...he lied down. When the noise stopped, I tried to get up. And I saw the blood on the sidewalk. I don't even know how I got up. I tried to roll Mike on his back. He was heavy. Football player. There was blood everywhere, on my clothes, on the ground...on him. He had caught a bullet in the head. A bystander..."
His voice broke. He took two long breaths before continuing.
"He owned a store on the street. He tried...You know...to stop the bleeding. His name was John. John McCall. We hear from him from time to time. Someone great... He told me once he felt guilty not being able to make more. I answered...oh, whatever...There was nothing he could have done. When the EMT got there, he was dead. They tried. The medics, I mean. Because he was so young. And because of me, I think."
« Why didn't you tell us sooner ? »
« Sir ? »
« After Rosslyn. It was three weeks ago, Sam. You shouldn't have tried to go through that alone.»
Sam shrugged. "Everyone's so busy...It was long ago."
« And you consider Josh a brother »
« I should have seen he wasn't there »
Jed grimaced. He should have known the young speechwriter would blame himself for that.
« You were taking care of CJ »
« He's my best friend. And I didn't do anything. Again. »
« You saved her life. That's something. »
Sam looked at him, lost
« CJ told me ».
« Oh. » He shook his head. « All I did was panic ».
« All you did was push her to safety. She would be dead if you hadn't been there. »
« I know »
« But you'd feel better if it had been Josh »
Sam didn't answer. Of course he loved CJ, but she wasn't his best friend. Josh held that place. He had for years.
"Sam, you didn't lose him. He's still alive, and he'll need you in the next few months".
« Yes, Sir »
The quick capitulation didn't surprise Jed. These things took time. Time they would have, thankfully. Instead of pushing, he smiled at Sam. "I was going to the mess to look for apples and peanut butter. Join me?"
« Apples, Sir ? It's... »
« Ten past three », Jed supplied, helpfully. « I can't think of a better time. »
Sam had a brief smile and stood up. Jed got out of the office and turned back to Sam, whispering : "And we won't give any to the Secret Services".
« As you wish, Sir »
« Because I'm the one who makes the big decisions »
« Yes, Sir »
« That's why they made me President ».
The two men walked away, and the security detail followed, smiling. Things would get better. Sooner or later.