Breaking Point
By Piper

Part 3

Sam was torn. He couldn't decide if he hated hospitals or loved them.

He had spent the last two hours distracting himself from Toby's surgery by trying to write that speech in his head. At some point CJ had shown up, and then Leo. Both of them had attempted to start a conversation and comfort him, and while he appreciated their efforts, he really just wanted to be left alone to think. Intellectualizing the situation kept him at an emotional arm's length and prevented him from breaking down. So he was doing what he did best-taking a topic and forming ideas in his head that could build a powerful speech.

On one hand, he loved hospitals. They did a lot of good and saved lives, and this particular one had given his best friend back to him. He certainly knew that hospitals were a great thing. But the other side of the argument was fueled by his feelings at that moment. And right then, he hated hospitals. He hated the sterile smell that made him nauseous. He hated the wrenching sounds of crying from loved ones in the hallways and waiting rooms. Most of all, he hated the waiting and the suffocating fear that went with it-not knowing if someone he cared about would make it or not. First Josh, and now Toby.

Sam realized at that point that his emotions were getting to him and abruptly abandoned the hospital topic in search of a new one. Josh might be interesting. He cast a sideways glance at his best friend, then quickly looked away when he met Josh's concerned gaze. The deputy chief of staff hadn't been more than three feet from Sam all night. Like he thought he was going to break or something.

Though they were best friends, Josh had a tendency to go into big brother mode sometimes and get rather overprotective. But tonight he wasn't pushing; he was simply being there for him. And while the concerned glances were getting to him a bit, Sam was actually quite grateful for the silent support. Josh knew what he needed. It made him realize how much he had missed Josh the last time he had dealt with a waiting room.

Okay...that topic was also too emotional. Maybe he should just think about the weather. That seemed safe.

So he spent the next fifteen minutes mentally mapping the last month in the weather of Washington D.C. It was rather boring, but at least he didn't feel like he was going to cry over a cloudy day.

When Dr. Burke finally entered the room, Sam felt like days had passed. He jumped to his feet along with the rest of his friends. They crowded around the doctor, anxiously awaiting what they hoped would be good news.

Dr. Burke didn't keep them waiting. "He made it through the surgery." There was a collective sigh of relief, along with several ecstatic smiles and hugs. Sam could almost feel a physical pressure lifting from him, and decided that perhaps he didn't hate hospitals as much as he thought.

Dr. Burke gave them a moment before continuing, "It went very well. He's in recovery now."

"So what happens next?" Leo asked.

"He'll have to remain still for the next few hours, and we will want to keep him for observation for a couple of days. We'll be moving him to a private room later today." Sam looked at the clock and realized that it was past midnight.

"When can we see him?" President Bartlet asked.

"He isn't conscious yet. Let's allow him some rest, and I'll keep close tabs on him. I'll let you know as soon as it is possible see him, Mr. President." Sam wondered if Dr. Burke would be so accommodating if he were talking to anyone else. There were definite advantages in working for the President.

So they got to wait again. Sam allowed himself to smile and accept the others' joyful hugs, feeling considerably better, but still needing to see Toby before he could totally believe it.

~*~

When Toby awoke to the bright lights, he wondered briefly if he was dead. That fear was erased when a rather un-angelic nurse came into his line of vision. "Please lie still, Mr. Ziegler," she said. "Do you know where you are?"

He looked around as best he could and fought with his uncooperative tongue for a few moments before croaking out, "Hospital?"

He watched as she nodded in confirmation, then heard a door open and her call out to the new arrival, "He's awake, doctor."

She stepped aside and another face appeared, this one a man in hospital scrubs. "Mr. Ziegler, I'm Dr. Burke. Do you remember what happened?"

Did he remember? His brain was pretty foggy...he recalled being in his office with Sam and not feeling well, then pain...oh yeah, he remembered. "I was having chest pains," he responded.

"Yes. You had a mild heart attack," the doctor replied gently. "We did an angioplasty to reopen your artery. You're in the recovery room now. The surgery went very well," he said. He looked at something the nurse handed him and nodded. "I need you to lie still. The insertion point from the catheter will be sore. I'll be back in a few minutes," he paused and gave Toby a smile. "I have the President of the United States in my waiting room, and I promised him prompt updates. You just relax and rest." He then spoke with the nurse for a moment before leaving.

Toby was soon alone with his thoughts. The fact that he had had a heart attack didn't register as much as he thought it should. But he shoved that aside and pondered the idea that the President was waiting for news on his health. That meant the entire staff was probably out there. Brilliant.

And knowing President Bartlet, he would bully the doctor into letting them see him. He wasn't really feeling up to visitors.

But as he thought back on what little he remembered, he decided that he did need to see Sam. He had scared him. He didn't like the expression of fear that had been being etched on his deputy's face. It was reminiscent of the look he'd worn when Josh had been shot. He was immensely glad that Sam had been there to help him, but he wished the young man hadn't been forced to go through it with him.

He let his mind wander. He found himself thinking of a conversation he'd had with CJ a few weeks earlier. He didn't even know what they had been talking about now, except that Sam had somehow factored in. But he recalled that at one point she had forgone a retort and instead given him an annoying smile. He had indignantly asked what was so funny, and she had responded, "Nothing, I just think it's sweet." To which he had growled, "I'm not sweet. What are you talking about?" She had simply smiled wider and said, "You're so protective. Like his big brother. It's sweet." He had rolled his eyes and changed the subject. But he had no retort-he knew it was true. He just saw no need to admit that to her.

Now he was lying here, he'd just had a heart attack, and he was worried about Sam. Granted, he'd had pain medication and was feeling next to nothing himself, but still. What had happened to his gruff, untouchable image?

~*~

Sam hadn't sat down since the doctor had left. He knew that he was now running on pure adrenaline and if he relaxed, he would crash. And he couldn't crash until he'd seen Toby.

No one had left. They were more talkative and the mood was considerably less somber, but they all wanted to wait until they confirmed for themselves that the communications director would be all right.

CJ came up to him as he was standing, staring up at the television that was broadcasting a 24-hour news channel. She slipped an arm around him, and he turned to give her a weak smile before turning back to the screen. "He's going to be fine, Sam," she whispered. She was silent a moment, then asked, "You were with him?"

He nodded, but still stared at the screen. Though he had been watching for a while, he had no idea what was being discussed. When he didn't respond, she continued, "Are you okay?"

"I'm not the one who had a heart attack," he snapped. She pulled back, and he realized with a start how harsh he had sounded. "CJ, I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, Sam."

"I'm just tired..."

She cut him off and gave him a sympathetic smile. "Really, Sam, it's okay. We're all worried."

He nodded and allowed her to hug him before she went back to her seat. Josh approached him then, but smartly avoided asking if he was all right. He simply squeezed his shoulder and stood beside him as they both turned to stare at the TV.

It was about ten minutes later that Dr. Burke reentered the room. They all crowded around him as they had earlier, and listened as he said, "He is awake. You can see him now if you like, but only for a moment. And only a couple of you," he threw in when they all started towards the door. "We don't want to overwhelm him, he's still a bit out of it."

They looked at each other. The President solved their dilemma by commanding softly, "Josh, take Sam." Sam cast him a grateful look as he and Josh turned to follow Dr. Burke.

Leo added, "Tell him we're all out here, rooting for him." Josh looked back at his boss and nodded, then took his place at Sam's side as he walked towards the recovery room.

~*~

Toby jerked awake when he heard the doctor approaching and realized that he must have drifted off. He turned his head slightly to see him, and gave a small smile when he saw that he wasn't alone. "Mr. Ziegler, I brought you some visitors. I know you aren't feeling well, so they won't stay long." Burke nodded to the two men behind him, then moved aside to give them some privacy.

Sam looked...relieved. Maybe a little pale. He gave Toby a tentative smile, but stopped a few feet from the bed. Josh, meanwhile, was beaming at him. He came right to him, circling the bed so Sam could have one side. He gently gripped Toby's hand. "How are you doing Toby? You scared us, you know."

"I'm okay," he said weakly. Then he focused on his deputy. "I'm not contagious, Sam, " he teased, then managed to raise his hand and reach out for him. Sam came at the silent invitation, as if he'd needed to feel welcome. He took Toby's other hand, squeezing lightly. "You look awful," he blurted, then blushed lightly and looked down, ashamed at his blunt comment.

Toby gave his hand a weak squeeze in return. "I don't doubt it. But the doctor says the surgery went well," he said quietly. He had a lot more that he wanted to say, but his dry mouth wasn't cooperating well with his brain, and he couldn't remember a time when simply talking had required so much energy. He swallowed a few times and gathered his strength before joking, "How did you two get in here before the President? I don't need to worry about him being the next patient do I?"

Josh laughed, and Sam managed a small smile. It was Josh who responded, "Everyone's still in one piece, we just happen to be very important and influential people," conveniently leaving out what Toby suspected was the real reason-President Bartlet knew Sam needed to go and that Josh was best suited to help him through it. Josh continued, "Everyone is out there. Leo wanted me to tell you that we're all here for you."

Toby gave him a weak smile. "Thanks."

Dr. Burke interrupted then, "I'm sorry gentlemen, but Mr. Ziegler needs to rest now. You can all visit later when he's moved to his own room."

Josh and Sam nodded and prepared to go. Before Sam could remove his hand from Toby's, the older man gave his too-quiet deputy another squeeze. Sam met his eyes in response and said seriously, "I'm glad you're okay, Toby. I'll come back later." But his smile didn't reach his eyes, and as they moved away, Toby called Josh back for a moment. Sam had moved out of earshot.

"Josh, is he..."

Josh cut him off and flashed him a knowing smile. "You just concentrate on getting well. I'll keep an eye on him." He patted Toby lightly on the arm before following Sam out, leaving Toby wondering, 'Am I really that easy to read?'

His next thoughts included wondering when the pain medication was going to wear off and exactly how bad that was going to be. He soon realized that while the emergency was over, he still had a ways to go before he had his life back to normal.

 

TBC

 

 

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