TITLE: "I Loved You, God, How I Loved You" (2/2)
NOTES: See part one.
* * *
The small blue car pulled into a space in the crowded hospital parking lot. Sam stepped out into the sunlight and stretched. "So we're here."
Talia locked up the car, watching her brother. "We could get coffee or something--"
"No. I really think I should go right up."
"Deirdre talks about you all the time, you know." Talia smiled wistfully. "She tapes every talk show you're on; she has the doctors all impressed--"
"Since when did you call her Deirdre?" Sam interrupted.
She shrugged. "I suppose I just got into the habit."
"It sounds weird. She's our mother."
"You don't have to tell me that," Talia said pointedly. Sam frowned and started to say something. She held a hand up. "I know you're busy; I know you try to keep in touch--"
"I do try."
"Sammy, the last time you called was after the shooting, and that was months ago. And you didn't talk to -- to Mom, then."
"I couldn't," he reminded her, in a defensive tone. "She couldn't find out I was there."
She leaned against the car and sighed. "Yeah. Even though I drove her up to Dad's for the week, it wasn't easy trying to keep her away from the news until things settled down."
"I haven't been out to the ranch in about a year now," Sam said ruefully. "How's Dad doing?"
"He's pretty good. He's done some restorations; the place is really beautiful."
"It always has been," Sam reflected. "It's funny, after all these years, he never got married again."
"It is funny," Talia agreed. "Then again, neither did you."
"No. Neither did you."
"Hey," she said, with mock frustration. "You changed the subject!"
"I'm good at that," he acknowledged.
"I know. Look, here's the thing." She looked at the ground. "Dr. Glass thinks she should be getting round-the-clock treatment."
Sam stepped closer to her. "You mean--"
"Well, you're not going to consider that, are you?" He stared at her. She avoided his gaze. "Talia!"
"Of course I'm considering it, Sam." She faced him seriously. "Maybe that's what she needs. It's not as if she's getting better, you know."
"You can't...." Sam was aghast and angry. "You *can't* just leave her in some kind of institution, with strangers, like you don't care."
"I don't care? Do you know how many days I had to take off work this year?" she demanded, her voice shaky. "Days when she doesn't know where we live, or how to use the gas stove without burning the house down, or days when she just cries for hours because she misses her family? You're not out here, you don't see how it is sometimes. Remember when we were kids, and she'd come by the house all confused, and I'd call Dad to come home while you'd try to calm her down?"
Talia paused as Sam winced at the memory. "I'm not nine years old anymore," she said, haltingly. "Now I'm the adult, and I'm there by myself. I'm the one who has to deal with her every day. I'm the one who had to call the doctor in the middle of the night; I'm the one who had to clean her blood up off my bathroom floor--"
Her voice caught and she couldn't go on. She covered her face and started to cry softly into her hands. Sam was stunned for a few seconds, then moved forward quickly and pulled her into his arms. He held her while she sobbed, and his own eyes blurred.
"I'm sorry, Tails," he murmured into her hair. "God, I'm so sorry. I didn't think."
She tried to catch her breath. "It's okay."
He sniffled. "I just hate the idea--"
"I do too." She looked up at him tearfully. "I just get so tired."
"I know," Sam said, regretfully. "I'm really sorry I don't come out more."
Talia shook her head. "It's not your fault. You do know that, Sam? It's not your fault."
"Sure," he said, though he was unconvinced.
"I mean it." She wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand. "You're doing important work, wonderful work. I shouldn't have made it sound like I think it's unfair. You do what you can, but obviously, it's bad right now, and I'm so damn tired. I just think we should at least think about what the doctor said."
He nodded sadly and glanced up at the tall hospital building. "I guess we should go in now."
"Yeah." Talia straightened up. "She'll be glad to see you."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm all right."
They began to cross the parking lot. Sam touched his sister's arm. "Hey. Mom doesn't watch 'Capitol Beat', does she?"
She smiled, a familiar teasing grin. "Every time you're on, buddy. And I do mean every time."
"Oh." He rolled his eyes playfully. "Great."
* * *
Toby sat behind his desk, furiously crossing out what he had just written on a yellow legal pad. He did not look up when C.J. entered cautiously. "What?"
"I just thought I'd check in with you on the budget meetings," she said, uncomfortably. "There's a lot of arguing today about defense spending versus arts and education spending, and it's getting heated."
"Let me guess," Toby muttered sardonically. "We're going to raise taxes and bankrupt the military in order to fund the placement of pornography in elementary school libraries?"
"Something like that," C.J. confirmed. "At least, if you're listening to Stauber and his minions. So I'm thinking maybe it's time to change our approach with the press. We shouldn't exactly keep downplaying the disagreements, but I also don't want to be the first one to make it personal."
"Start hinting that the conflict is due to an obstinate, uncooperative Congress, perversely more interested in attacking the White House than working towards a compromise. Just don't say it like that. Put it nicely."
"Call them perverse in a nice way? I can do that."
"Yes." He looked tired. "Anything else?"
"Not really. I guess Sam's out of town."
"Personal time. Taken, I might add, inconveniently, in the middle of our busiest time of year."
C.J. was taken aback. "It's not his fault."
"When are we not busy?"
He picked up his legal pad and studied it darkly. She hesitated, then closed the door, keeping a hand on the doorknob to steady herself. "We have to talk about it," she told him, bluntly.
Toby glowered at the paper. "We're at work."
"Toby...." He set the pad down, put a hand to his forehead and looked up at her grimly, waiting for her to say more.
"We have to be mature about this. Pretending it never happened is a bad idea; it's like the elephant in the middle of the room. You can't ignore it." C.J. wished desperately that he'd interrupt her. He didn't, so she continued, "I'm saying, we're both committed to our jobs more than we are to our social lives. We spend a lot of time around each other; maybe that's why... I don't know. We're intelligent people. There's no reason we can't work this out in a way that won't ruin things."
His expression hadn't changed, but his voice was oddly quiet. "Yes. And?"
"Last night doesn't have to mean anything."
She looked at him expectantly. He seemed to change his posture, to withdraw, almost imperceptibly. She knew she was imagining it. "You're right," Toby said, calmly. "It doesn't. We're adults. Mistakes happen, and people get on with life."
"They do," she agreed. If she failed to keep a tinge of disappointment out of her voice, he did not react to it. "And now that we've talked about it, it won't be hanging over our heads."
He picked up his pen. "We're done?"
She nodded deliberately. "How's the victims' rights thing coming?"
"It won't be done until Thursday," he admitted. "I ought to wait for Sam's input anyway."
C.J. sighed. "Personal problems don't wait for when it's convenient."
Toby's attention was already back on his writing. C.J. lingered, ambivalent and awkward, then turned decisively. She left the door ajar as she hurried away. When she was gone, Toby slouched slightly in his chair, with what a casual observer would have taken for relief. His demeanor seemed only a trifle more weary and bleak than usual. After a short while passed, he pulled himself up and went back to work.
* * *
The hallways smelled the same. The scent took Sam back to the last time he'd visited his mother here. Images that Sam hadn't thought of in years flashed through his mind. They made him simultaneously hate himself for forgetting and pray that he would never remember again.
He'd left Talia in the cafeteria, wearily sipping a cup of coffee. His sister had literally been awake for days, and she needed to rest. Moreover, Sam needed to see his mother on his own.
With what felt like all the energy he had, Sam slowly opened Deirdre's door. As he entered, the first thing he noticed was the scent of stargazer lilies. Scanning the room, he saw a large bouquet of them across from Deirdre's bed. He knew, without reading the card, that his father had sent them. Sam walked to the flowers and inhaled deeply, letting his fingers linger on the soft petals and letting his mind wander back to those occasions when his mother seemed sound.
Sam turned from the flowers and looked at her sleeping form. He was startled to see how old she looked. The skin of her face was still smooth and her dark hair was free of gray, but something about her was different. All at once, it struck him: she didn't look old. Rather, she looked fragile.
Sam eased into a chair at his mother's side. He took her hand gently, fearful he would hurt her. Several minutes passed as Sam lightly rubbed her hand and watched her sleep.
He also watched as she began to stir. Her legs kicked under the blankets and her breathing grew quicker, but her hand never pulled away from Sam's grasp. Deirdre moaned softly, her head lolling on the pillow, and her eyes began to flutter open. Sam desperately hoped that when she woke, it wouldn't be like the last time. He hoped she wouldn't be afraid.
"Hi, Mom," Sam tightened his grip on her hand.
With a wide smile, Deirdre reached up with her left hand and placed it on Sam's cheek. "My sweet boy." Her smile disappeared when she noticed her bandages. "Oh, no. Oh, Sammy." Deirdre's large, dark eyes filled with tears. "I did this?"
"You'll be fine," he whispered, his voice thick. Quickly, he cleared his throat and changed the subject. "It's good to see you."
"Did Daddy send those flowers?"
"I knew he did." Deirdre smiled again, proudly. "I'm lucky to have such a husband, such a family."
Sam winced at her words; he didn't have the heart to remind her that she and Barry Seaborn had been divorced for twenty-seven years.
"Sweetheart, how about we go get some ice cream? Would you like some ice cream?"
"Not right now, Mom. You need to rest." Sam's eyes stung as he watched his mother's face fall.
"You don't want to go?"
"Mom, you're in the hospital." Sam measured his words carefully. "You need to rest right now, okay? We can go later."
Deirdre's eyes flickered between the flowers and her son, and she chuckled ruefully. "I'll bet your sister's really mad at me, huh?"
"She's -- concerned."
"Oh, Sammy, please. I'm sure she's furious."
Sam sighed. "Yes. Talia is mad. But she worries about you, Mom."
Deirdre studied her hands. "This isn't what I thought my life would be like." She suddenly grabbed Sam's arm and looked at him with pleading eyes. "Get married, Sammy. Have children and tell them you love them."
"Mom, I know you love me--"
Deirdre kept talking. "You were so little when you were born. So little. And they took you away and cleaned you, and I could see. I could see how beautiful you were. You cried and cried, and then they brought you to me and you stopped crying. I looked at your beautiful face and your little shock of hair, and I loved you, God, how I loved you. You were my sweet boy." She looked at her son and touched his cheek again. "Still are."
Sam swallowed against the lump in his throat; he wouldn't cry here. "Mom..."
She sighed sadly. "You live so far away." Her voice changed, became strong and lucid. "But that's okay. I forgive you." Deirdre's eyes, suddenly clear, scanned Sam's face with desperation, and he knew what she was asking of him.
"Thank you," he said softly. "It means a lot to know that." He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "You need to rest."
"I do," she agreed. "Will you come back?"
"And we can go for ice cream?"
Sam tried to smile. "You bet." He went to the door and, casting another glance at the flowers, quietly closed it behind him.
* * *
Sam wandered the hall until he found a spot where he was sure he wouldn't disturb anyone. Pulling out his cell phone, he dialed Josh's number and Donna quickly put him through.
Josh noticed Donna lingering in his doorway. He glared at her, and she disappeared. "Are you okay?"
Sam sighed. "Yeah. It's just - she's fine sometimes. She has these moments, and she's fine. But...."
He cleared his throat. "So yeah, I'm staying out here through the end of the week. Tell Leo I'll be back on Monday."
"Leo says to take as much time as you need."
"Tell Leo I'll be back on Monday."
Josh spied C.J. in the hallway. "Hang on," he said into the phone, cupping the mouthpiece with his hand. "Claudia Jean!"
She walked into his office. "You rang?"
"Sam's having a bad day, and I think it would really cheer him up to hear...you know."
"You cried at 'Evita'."
"Just a thought." Turning his attention back to the phone, he said, "Sorry about that."
"Did I hear C.J.?" Sam rubbed his eyes.
"Uh, no. Listen, give my love to Talia."
Josh doodled on his legal pad. "You know you can--"
Sam shut off his phone and slid it back into his jacket pocket. As he walked past Deirdre's room, he saw that she was still asleep. He paused briefly at her door, then continued down the hall.
* * *