Breaking Point
By Piper
Part 4

Sam had all new respect for Toby.

Three days had passed since the surgery, and Toby was recovering well and getting his strength back. He would be released from the hospital later that afternoon. Since it was Saturday, Sam had managed to arrange it so he could be the one to pick him up and take him home. He was looking forward to it; he had only been able to see Toby once since he and Josh had gone to the recovery room, and his boss had slept through that whole visit.

As for Sam, he was running on empty. Despite that it was the weekend, he was spending the morning at work, as there was still work that had to be done. His all-new respect for Toby came from his all-new respect for the incredible job Toby did. It was harder than he made it look. Or perhaps Sam was struggling with it so much because he was trying to do both of their jobs. Either way, the last three days had been exhausting. With the fact that what little sleep he had gotten had been restless and the worry he still felt for Toby added to the pressures at work, all his energy had been sapped.

He knew things would get better when Toby came back, but mostly because he wouldn't worry so much about his boss and could hopefully sleep better. He still had to take some of the weight of the job off of Toby. There was no way he was putting Toby at any risk for another heart attack if he could help prevent it.

He glanced at his watch and began packing up. He had thought he would be able to go home to shower, change, and eat something before heading to the hospital, but he would now be lucky to drive through a fast food place before was late. Mrs. Bartlet had come to speak with him that morning and thrown his schedule off. He didn't mind; he wanted to hear what she had to say about Toby's health and how he could help. She had told him that the doctor would be instructing Toby about diet, exercise, and medication, as well as handling stress and warning signs that he shouldn't ignore. When Sam had asked for details, she understood that he was asking what he could do and had told him the best thing was just to be there for him-offer to help and encourage him that he could come to Sam if he was feeling overwhelmed.

As he headed out the door trying to balance an overflowing briefcase, he thought of how she had been concerned about his health, as well. He had brushed it off, saying he was fine. She had looked doubtful, but had let it go after a few minutes. Josh had been hovering lately too, leading Sam to conclude that he must look as tired as he felt. But he was fine.

He had convinced himself of that, anyhow. He just needed some rest. And he needed to see Toby looking closer to his normal self, instead of lying in a hospital bed.

When he reached the car, he dumped his briefcase in the backseat, symbolically closing off thoughts of work for the rest of the day. Then he climbed behind the wheel and headed for the hospital.

~*~

Yesterday, Josh had joked to Toby that he knew he was getting well because the nurses had become wary of coming to his room. Toby smiled at the memory of the comment as his current nurse practically ran for the door, reminiscent of Ginger after her first day with him. He knew he should have been more patient with her, but it comforted him that he was still able to intimidate people.

He was going stir-crazy in that hospital room. He was more than ready to leave. He actually didn't feel all that bad, perhaps because he had expected it to be much worse. He was still tired and a bit weak, but he could cope with that. By far, the worst part of the experience had been the attack itself. As he had no desire for a repeat performance, he'd listened carefully to all his lectures from the doctor and the First Lady and had full intention of obeying.

Everyone else had put in their thoughts as well, from the President's athletic recommendations to Ginger's low-cholesterol recipes and everything in between. The only person who'd simply told him to get better and left it at that was Josh, whom he had thus felt comfortable laughing about the others with. For example, did he really want to take the advice of someone who ran his bicycle into a tree? And he couldn't cook anything edible before, so how would he manage to stomach something healthy that he tried to cook?

It was painfully obvious that one person was missing from his advice list. He had been told that Sam had been there one night when he was asleep, but he had yet to actually see him. He had grilled Josh about that for a full fifteen minutes. The deputy chief of staff insisted that his friend was fine, just very busy trying to run the communications department by himself. "I promised I'd look after him, didn't I?" Josh had said with a smile. "He's tired, but I think he'll be okay once things settle down. He wants to come and see you; he just hasn't been able to get away during the day. Helping run the country and all that."

He was happy to learn that Sam would be picking him up today. He missed the kid. And the last thing he wanted was an overworked and stressed out Sam. At least this way, he knew his deputy wouldn't just keep working and completely miss the weekend.

About a half-hour left before Sam was scheduled to come, he had begun dressing himself in the comfortable clothes that Josh had brought from his apartment so that he would be ready to go. It took considerably longer than normal, but he managed. Now he was standing by the window appreciating the sunny day, much to the chagrin of the poor nurse who had just left after attempting to warn him that he was going to be too tired to walk up to his apartment when he got home.

He crossed back to the bed and sat on the edge, flipping on the TV to check out the political happenings he had missed out on. He was about ten minutes in when the door opened.

His first glimpse of his deputy made him consider throttling Josh. Tired was an understatement-he had circles under his eyes, his clothes were actually rumpled, and he looked exhausted. Josh called this taking care of him?

But when Sam's eyes met his, his whole face lit up with his smile. Toby smiled back and rose to meet him. "Hey, Toby. You look great! Well, not great exactly, but a lot better..."

Toby cut him off with, "Sam, you're eventually going to learn to quit while you're ahead." He gave an exasperated sigh, but his smile betrayed his words. "I still have so much to teach you."

Sam sobered abruptly at that. "Yeah, you do," he said quietly, in all seriousness.

Toby was trying to figure out the sudden mood swing when a nurse appeared at the door with a wheelchair. He eyed it warily, then her. She looked a bit frightened. He wondered briefly if she had drawn a short straw, and then decided to take pity on both her and Sam and just get in the chair. She looked surprised and pleased; he looked shocked.

"Are you sure he's ready to go home?" Sam addressed the nurse. "Because that isn't exactly normal behavior..."

"Sam..." Toby cut in warningly. Sam flashed him another smile, and again, he couldn't help but smile back. "Let's just get out of here while you still have a job, okay?"

~*~

Sam had never actually been to Toby's apartment. He sincerely hoped there weren't too many stairs. Toby had shocked him by getting into the wheelchair without complaint, and while it probably had something to do with feeling sorry for the way he'd treated the nurses, Sam could see that he was also still weak and tired.

He was surprised that Toby hadn't asked about work. Personally, Sam was rather sick of it and happy not to think about it for the afternoon. But he had expected Toby to want an update and probably even criticize him for everything he had done wrong. Instead, his boss seemed content to look out the passenger window and enjoy the sun and sights. It was so out of character, Sam was a little unnerved.

"So..." Sam was unsure of what to say. His boss was in an unusually good mood, especially for someone who had spent the last three days confined to a hospital room. He didn't know if Toby would want to talk about the attack and surgery or not, and he didn't want to upset him. But now Toby was looking at him expectantly, so he had to say something. "...Uh...nice weather we're having, huh?" he finished lamely. Well, that was a great save, Seaborn, he thought sarcastically.

Toby raised his eyebrows and briefly gave him his 'are you sure your IQ was high enough for law school' look. But it lacked its usual annoyance; in fact, he looked rather amused. "Yes, Sam, it's a pretty day. And I have to say, I have an all-new appreciation for pretty days."

He paused to tell Sam which way to turn. As Sam waited out the traffic, he took a few moments to think about that comment, and was hit with a realization about his boss's behavior. Toby had had a frightening experience that had most likely brought him closer to death than he'd ever been. Those types of things tend to make a person reevaluate his life, and it looked like Toby's was making him appreciate the things around him that he had taken for granted. Sam couldn't help but smile at that thought-it ought to make life with Toby interesting for awhile. Maybe he'd even get a raise if Toby started to appreciate him more.

He pulled the car into a parking place near the apartment building Toby had directed him to, then looked over to him as he unbuckled his seatbelt. "You feel up to this?"

Toby gave him another smile, though this one held a bit of insecurity. "Sure. I'm fine."

But Sam could hear the doubt that crept into the words, and he hurried around to help him from the car. Toby accepted a hand to get out, but shrugged him off before they headed in. "I'm not an invalid, Sam. I can manage." Now that sounded like his Toby.

And he did manage most of the way. But there were a few stairs, and they took most of his energy. He was breathing hard by the time they reached the top. Sam stayed a step behind in case he faltered, and when he paused, Sam took gentle hold of his arm. Toby glanced at him, as if trying to decide whether to admit he needed help or not. Sam saved him the trouble and simply slipped a supportive arm around his back. "C'mon. We're almost there."

Toby met his eyes and studied him for a moment, then nodded. Sam helped him down the hall. He handed Sam his keys and let him unlock the door, and even let him help him to the couch, where he settled in.

Sam didn't know how much Toby would be able to do for himself and how much he would need help with. But he planned on staying until he was sure he would be all right.

"Do you need anything? Want me to fix you something to eat? Or--"

"Sam, I'm okay. I just need to rest." Sam nodded and remained standing awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Toby watched him for a moment, then nodded to a nearby chair and said, "Why don't you sit, Sam. You look like you could use some rest, too." When Sam began to shake his head, he added, "You can watch TV. Maybe later I'll be hungry enough to risk letting you cook."

Well, if Toby might need him later...it couldn't hurt to sit for a minute. Besides, there was a game on. He sat and turned the volume down low. Toby was soon asleep. Sam wondered how long it would be before he was back to his normal energy levels and temperament, if ever. He silently reaffirmed his promise to himself that he would do everything he could to help Toby get through this.

While he still had some cause to worry, he could at least see that Toby was starting to heal, and he didn't feel quite as much weighing on his mind. And while he had intended to stay awake in case he was needed, his exhaustion soon overcame him. So Sam slept as well, accomplishing a little healing of his own.

 

TBC

 

 

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