Breaking Point
By Piper

Part 6

The night before he was finally cleared to go back to work, Toby sat in front of his television, watching the news and contemplating the last few weeks. It was Monday, and by all rights he should have been back at work that morning, but instead he'd spent the day convincing his doctor that he was up to returning on Tuesday.

He had never known two weeks to go more slowly. The stronger he felt, the more restless he got. And it annoyed him to no end that his strength frequently tricked him, giving out quickly and without warning. He was fairly certain that he hadn't taken this many naps since he was two years old.

Still, each morning he got up to look out the window and feel inexplicably blessed to see the sun shining. He began to notice the birds that sang outside his apartment. He managed, on separate visits, to render both Josh and CJ speechless with his praise of the wonders of the world around them. He knew that what he was feeling was the result of his heart attack, and that it would probably pass. But he resolved to enjoy it while it lasted.

He'd had plenty of time on his hands to think back on the attack. It was almost more frightening in hindsight, because at the time he had been detached from what was happening. He had just known that he was in pain. But now, he remembered seeing the fear on Sam, Ginger, and Josh's faces. He realized Sam had stayed calm for him, but he remembered the First Lady reassuring both of them, and Sam's protective, supporting arms trembling against him.

It had been bad. It could have been worse.

He refused to lose himself in that. The realization that this might have killed him had hit hard at first, but he had since focused on the fact that it hadn't. He had a second chance to appreciate life, and he fully intended to do just that. He would take care of himself.

And while he was at it, he would let the people important in his life know that he appreciated them. The senior staff had been particularly great through his recovery. He hadn't realized what important fixtures they had become in each other's lives until he needed them so much. And they had come through.

He missed work. He knew it could be a major source of stress and that he had to learn to handle that stress more efficiently, but he wouldn't be doing it in the first place if he didn't truly enjoy it. He was good at it. He wanted to be back at the office.

It wasn't that he had a problem trusting Sam to handle things, but it was a big job. They relied on each other to cope with everything, sometimes delegating it between them and often working together. Sam was fully capable and did a great job, and he wouldn't have survived past the first week with Toby if he didn't have the heart for the work. But Toby was worried about Sam's current state of mind; more concerned about how work was effecting Sam than how Sam might be taking care of the issues that came up.

Sam had come by a few times since he brought him home from the hospital. But those visits had been after work, pretty late, when they were both too tired to deal with any heavy conversation. But that was coming. They needed to talk.

He was sure he'd been right about what was eating at Sam when he had asked if he had really scared him. Sam, who'd kept his cool in the office, had probably been hit at some point between the White House and the hospital recovery room with the same realization that had later hit Toby-he could have died. That accounted for Sam's reactions in the recovery room; he had certainly been relieved, but he was also quiet and a little withdrawn. He had been recovering from the adrenaline rush that came with sudden and overwhelming fear. He was still trying to get over that fear-hence the yelling when Toby's little crash into the counter had brought those feelings abruptly back to the surface.

Sam was fiercely protective of people and things that he cared about. It was a character trait. Toby had probably been the object of that protectiveness before, but never to this extent. The level of Sam's response to his heart attack had the paradoxical effects of worrying him and warming his heart because it showed how much Sam cared.

He really hadn't meant to get attached to these people. He hadn't known anything was missing from his life until this big brother-little brother relationship with Sam had come up. He missed that relationship with David. But it was something that he hadn't had in a long time, and thought he was fine living without. David wasn't the type that tended to need a big brother much. But Sam...well, Sam was the type who could be the most competent adult you ever met one minute and looking at you with puppy-dog eyes after tripping over a rug the next. He was also the baby of the West Wing, and he had some quality that made everyone want to take care of him. When he was in pain, it tore at Toby's heart. When he was happy, he had a way of getting through Toby's worst moods. He'd wormed his way into Toby's life, and the Communications Director could no longer conceive of a life without him in it.

Maybe Sam was having trouble dealing with the same concept, with them in reverse roles.

They really had to talk tomorrow.

~*~

That same night found the object of Toby's thoughts working late, trying to get things in order so Toby wouldn't have an overwhelming first day back.

Sam was finally preparing to head home. He'd briefly entertained the idea of sleeping on the couch in the office, but decided he didn't want to deal with Josh, Leo, and CJ's reactions to that, not to mention the First Lady. They had all been hovering the past two weeks, taking some of the weight off of him and insisting that he eat and rest at regular intervals. They knew him too well-knew that he would work himself into the ground if they didn't physically place themselves between him and it. He appreciated it. Really, he did. But he wasn't the one who needed all their attention. Where they found time to visit Toby and still play mother hen to him was beyond him. They really did need more work to do.

There was a light knock on his open office door. He turned as Josh came on in, never one to wait for an invitation.

He quickly turned away from his friend to close his briefcase. He really wasn't in the mood to talk. "I'm on my way out, Josh."

"Good. Me too; I'll walk with you."

Sam sighed. Granted, he was the youngest member of the senior staff, but did everyone have to act like his mother all the time? Sam turned around again to give Josh a look that was meant to say 'stop babying me, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,' but his best friend simply smiled at him. Josh could be unflappable when he wanted to be. At the moment, Sam found it his most infuriating characteristic.

"Josh, just...it's been a long couple of weeks, okay? I really want to go home and get some sleep tonight."

"Did I say or do anything that suggested I was going to prevent that?"

Sam glared at him, but again, Josh was unaffected. Sam had the unfortunate trait of being unable to stay mad at his friend, and Josh knew it. Sam held the glare a bit longer, then gave up, letting his face crumble back into the tired features he'd been sporting lately. "I just don't really want to talk right now, okay?"

Josh nodded sympathetically. "I know."

So he did. Josh knew him better than anyone, and probably knew exactly what was bothering him. But since Sam had yet to face that, he certainly didn't want to talk about it. Josh always seemed to sense how far he could push before Sam would simply close off from him, and he rarely made the mistake of pushing too far.

Josh continued, "So long as you know-I'm here whenever you do. Want to talk, I mean."

Sam gave him a grateful look as they walked out the door. He turned out the light, and they headed down the hall. He knew that all of the protectiveness he'd been subjected to lately, as annoying as it might sometimes be, in reality showed that they all cared about him. "Josh?" His friend looked at him questioningly, and he in turn focused his eyes on the floor in front of them. "I know I've been kind of a pain these past few weeks...well, I just want to say thanks. For everything. I really do appreciate it."

He looked back up. Josh was watching him with a mixture of amusement and affection. "Sam, Sam, Sam." He slung a brotherly arm around his shoulders as they walked. "You don't have to thank me, you know. I'm your best friend. I'm here for you, always." He squeezed him closer for a second in a one-armed hug, then loosened his grip. "Although, it is nice to be appreciated. Maybe you want to get me a plaque or something. 'Best Friend of the Year.' I could hang it in my office; we could have a press briefing, the works. What do you say?"

Sam laughed, and Josh, reveling in his ability to cheer his friend, continued as they left the building, his voice echoing down the hall, "They could name a school after me. Josh Lyman Junior High. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Oh come on, it's not that funny. Hey, it could happen!"

 

TBC

 

 

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