Sam had stopped moving. He had stopped breathing. He couldn't talk, not yet.
And he was hearing * him * again.
"If you ever, ever tell anyone, I'll take care of your brother."
He thought irrationally, "I can't tell Toby, Franck - " before the rational part of his mind pointed out that decades had passed, that * he * was dead, that Franck had survived.
Part of him was sincerely trying to answer Toby (who hadn't moved at all either) but he was petrified.
Never, not in a million years, had he thought that Toby would be the one to ask. The one to suspect.
Josh, sure, maybe CJ, but Toby?
The question hung in the air and he was sure he had already heard it before, or a variation of it.
Then it came back. His roommate at Princeton, who had dragged him to a therapist. When a long time after that, he'd asked how he'd known, his friend had simply answered, "That look you get sometimes... each time someone is standing too close to you... I see it sometimes. In the mirror." He'd cried at that.
Toby was still looking at him, and still not moving. "Sam?" he asked tentatively.
Another memory came to the surface. His father, sitting him down on his bed one bright morning in July, saying carefully, "Sam, honey, I'm afraid your godfather passed away." He'd cried, and his parents had thought that he was sad, but it was relief that made him stay in bed all day.
He was paid for his words.
Yet he'd never been able to form the right words for that. It had taken him two years of therapy before being able to describe what had been done to him. But the way it had destroyed him, what he had felt when his godfather entered his room, when the mattress shifted as he sat on it, putting his hand directly on his ass, the mind-numbing, paralysing terror because he knew what was coming and he couldn't do anything to stop it... he'd never found the right words to express that.
He looked at Toby, wondering how he could explain all that to him wanting to tell him that he would have liked to answer his question, but that he didn't know the words to explain it and his friend asked again, almost fearfully, "Did it?"
And the only word he could think of to sum it up, the only one within his reach, was "Yes".
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The silence stretched on for a while, then Toby whispered, "Sam?"
"Go away," he sighed.
"Toby..." Seemingly at a loss for words, Sam just gestured vaguely.
"I'm not leaving now," Toby stated, his tone even. No way was he leaving Sam like that, after what he'd just said. No way was he leaving Sam here to wonder what Toby thought of him now.
"Toby," Sam said, pleadingly this time.
"No. I... God, I don't know what to say, Sam, but... Look, you have every right to be - "
"Right?" Sam repeated, a little stunned. "You... you... Do you have any idea how much time it took for me to forget the way he touched me? The contact of his hands on... It's been... It's been years, decades, and sometimes I still can't sleep without a light in the room, Toby."
Toby thought back of all these nights when Sam insisted on sleeping with the TV on. The way he joked that he was "scared without his Mom", in that self depreciating manner Sam used to make fun of himself sometimes.
"That son of a bitch tied me up to the bed and you tell me I have rights?" His voice had gone from loud to painfully loud and Toby noticed, slightly panicked, that he seemed to have a hard time breathing. Before he could think about it, Sam grabbed the corner of the kitchen table to hold himself up.
Toby took a step forward and eased his deputy on the floor as his legs gave out, before sitting next to him, his hand on his shoulder.
Sam fought a few minutes before calming down a little. He had put his face in his hands, and Toby could only hear his muffled voice when he began to talk again. "I asked him... I begged him to stop. Every single time. And he... he kept telling me that it was all my fault. That I was sending him signals. I was seven the first time, and I didn't even know what kind of signals... And I know that, I know that Toby, but part of me is still convinced that I really did something wrong, because how could something like that happen to me if I hadn't done anything to deserve it?"
Toby, who had wanted to know so much, didn't know what to do or what to say anymore. So he just sat there, his hand squeezing his deputy's shoulder a little more forcefully.
"And he just kept coming, and I didn't dare to go to sleep when I was staying at his place, because I just * knew * the door would open, and he would come, come in, and God it hurt so much when he came."
Toby remembered his rabbi telling him that vengeance was not Jewish, and he thought that if the man who'd done that to Sam was in the room right now, he would kill him himself.
Sam, who seemed to have forgotten he was there, went on "He kept coming, again, and again, and I couldn't stop him. I never wanted him to do that, Toby, I swear I didn't, but I couldn't stop him."
Toby didn't know what to say. He put words in the mouth of the President and right now, it seemed like the most futile thing in the world, because his deputy his friend was asking for his help and he had no idea what to say.
And when Sam finally stopped talking, all he could think of was "Sam."
"Go away now," Sam breathed.
"Why?" Sam asked almost plaintively.
Toby grimaced. He was a successful speechwriter, for God's sake. He was supposed to be able to do better that that.
"Very eloquent, Toby..." Sam said weakly, closing his eyes. "Look, I'm sorry."
"No. You will NOT apologize for something that's not your fault. I ..." Toby stopped rambling and asked "Who did it ?"
"What does it matter?" Sam shrugged.
"What does it..." Toby repeated incredulously before saying "Sam, it does."
"No. He's dead. He died years ago."
"Who?" Toby asked, his tone brooking no argument.
"My godfather." He should have been relieved when Sam answered him, but the tone of his voice, the defeatism... "A high school friend of my mother. She ... she always admired the way he was getting along with me."
Sam chuckled bitterly at the irony, but Toby suddenly had a disturbing thought and he asked before thinking of the potential consequences "Did she know?"
"NO!" Sam exclaimed. "Toby, she... she... as far as I know, she can go to her grave not knowing, okay?"
He didn't know how to ask that in a non-accusatory manner, but Sam understood anyway, and shrugged out of his touch, clearly on the defensive. "He said... he said he'd do the same to my brother. Franck. He said that Franck too sent signals, he said that the only reason he didn't was that I - "
Sam abruptly stopped talking but Toby already had quite a vivid picture of what had probably happened.
"It's only when Franck tried to... kill... himself, ten years ago, it's later, at the hospital, that I learned that he'd done it anyway."
"Oh God," Toby muttered. The only thing that came to his mind right now.
"I doubt I sincerely hope He had nothing to do with that," Sam said bitterly.
There was an awkward pause, and Toby looked for a way to bring the conversation back on track.
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Sam could tell from the way Toby was looking at him what the next question was going to be.
"What about him?" Sam asked, suddenly decided not to make Toby's life easier.
Sam sighed and went on with the story. "When my brother woke up, at the hospital, he told us everything."
At the hospital. His brother, lying in his blood. The red blood everywhere. It was what he remembered the most. He had been the one to find his brother, and he suddenly wondered what Toby saw when he found him the previous night. And for that, because Toby had found him, he decided to answer the next question he'd ask.
"He didn't - "
Sam could still remember the hand on his shoulder.
"Sam, please, tell me that it's not true, what your brother said."
The feeling he had, like he'd lost everything. He hadn't told, the five years it went on or after, it was the only thing he thought he'd managed to do well, protect his brother, and it was only then that he realized that it was just another illusion, and his world shattered around him and the only thing holding him to this world, anchoring him, was his father's hand, and his voice, asking softly, "Sam? Son?"
Like Toby who kept repeating his name over and over again, because he couldn't find anything else to say, his father had said his name, several times, until Sam could finally bring himself to look up from the floor and focus on the wall instead.
His father had grabbed his chin to try to make Sam look at him, and when he finally gathered enough strength to look at his father's face, and realised he couldn't find an ounce of judgement in his eyes, and he managed to mutter, "It's true," before looking down again.
Because he'd always had a doubt, he asked, "Did you - ", and his father didn't even let him finish his sentence.
"Sam, if I had known, friend of the family or not, I would have bought a weapon, I would have found him and I would have killed him myself."
Sam had burst out in tears at that, in the hospital hallway, and his father had hugged him hard, a bone crashing hug, while his mother watched over the younger brother he hadn't been able to protect.
He looked at Toby and whispered, "No. He knows now. But he didn't know then."
He knew that his father had committed other sins and part of him would forever wonder if all that would have happened had his father been more present in his life. However, there was no longer any doubt about it in his mind : his father hadn't known. He knew he had hurt his father that night, simply by asking him, but he didn't doubt anymore, and a sudden surge of hate ran trough him when he realised that the monster who had taken so much away from him had made him doubt his father.
To Toby, who was still looking at him, he said again "He didn't know."
With the uncanny ability he seemed to have to read his boss' mind that night, Sam knew what his suggestion was going to be even before Toby actually said it.
"Sam, maybe you should - "
"I already see a therapist, Toby. Occasionally."
He didn't add that he hadn't seen her since the early days of the administration, that he hadn't felt the need to until the day he'd begun to work on this bill.
He always felt that whenever the words "sexual abuse" were spoken, they were directed at him personally. And he always felt vaguely guilty about that.
"Call him," Toby ordered.
"Her," Sam corrected. "Yeah, I know."
"Is there anything - "
"No. You... you've done enough."
He didn't mean it to sound like an accusation but Toby seemed to take it that way all the same.
"Toby, this law - "
"Sam... I think... I know we need better protections but - "
"One step at a time, yeah, so I've been told."
And he didn't care if that sounded bitter. He thought back about his struggle to grow up, to just survive until the next day, and the next, and the next, the insomnia, the hours spent crying, and he didn't think any punishment could ever be severe enough for these kind of crimes. And when he thought about it, he had to make a conscious effort to remind himself that he was against the death penalty.
"Sam?" Toby asked and suddenly he couldn't bear to hear his name.
"Could you... Please, could you just stop saying my name? I know, I know you don't know what to say, and to be honest, I have no idea what to do next, but please, just please, stop saying my name."
"I - "
Suddenly, it dawned on him. Toby still hadn't asked him about last night, but he probably hadn't thought about anything else all day. "Toby," Sam began, "I wasn't trying to kill myself. I pretty much got over that the night my brother...God..." He took a breath and began again. "I was just trying to get to sleep. I took those pills because I was so drunk I didn't even remember I was drunk. I'm sorry I scared you, I am, believe me, I found Franck, and I'm sorry. But I' wasn't trying... I'm living with it, okay?"
Somewhere during his speech, Toby's hand had found its way to his shoulder again, and was squeezing. "What you wrote..."
"Was for me only. I do that sometimes. Because... it helps."
He wanted to say "Because I'm a writer, and I have that in my blood, and that's probably the only thing he didn't take away from me". But he didn't say it, he didn't need to, not really, because it was Toby, and Toby exorcised his own demons in his writing every day. Toby knew.
Toby, who had come here tonight and didn't look at him in judgement. Toby, who was looking at him straight in the eyes, without pity, just a touch of sadness and compassion, and something else he couldn't quite define.
They didn't say another word as Toby helped him up, helped him to his room, helped him into his bed once again.
Toby then switched off the lights, but left the door slightly open and Sam drifted to sleep hearing his boss his friend getting settled on the couch.
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