Entering the West Wing had never been quite as interesting as it was that next morning. Everyone had a smile for Toby, welcoming him back and asking how he was doing, even people whose names he couldn't remember. And he smiled back at everyone, thanked them for their concern, and responded that he was great.
Of course, by the time he reached his office, he needed to sit down. He considered it a small price to pay for that welcome. Besides, he was still going to be low on energy for awhile, it was to be expected. He just needed to sit for a few minutes and allow his body to catch up to his mind.
Unfortunately for Toby, that was how Sam found him a few moments later-seated on his couch and sipping from a bottle of water. He hadn't bothered to close his door. Sam raised his hand to knock, but then saw his boss and promptly dropped the hand to rush to his side. "Are you okay?" he asked anxiously as he knelt beside him.
Toby considered rolling his eyes, but dropped that idea as he studied Sam's honestly worried face. He couldn't help but wonder how he was going to get any work done with his deputy being this overprotective. "I'm fine, Sam. And I mean it this time," he threw in before Sam could protest. "Dr. Burke told me I'd be a little tired for the first few days back at work." He conveniently left out that Dr. Burke had said it would likely be a few more weeks before he was back to relatively normal energy levels. No need to worry the kid more.
"So, it seems like people missed me around here," he continued, giving Sam an impish smile. "You forgot to yell at them didn't you? They don't feel that they're in their normal, comfortable work environment if nobody's yelling."
Sam returned his smile. "It can't be that, because I did yell. You know, just to be sure everyone was comfortable. No...they must have actually missed you." He stood then, and Toby reached a hand out to him, allowing Sam to help him to his feet. Sam pulled him up and held onto him for a minute as he made sure Toby was all right. Toby nodded to him, and Sam released him, but stayed close in case he was needed for support as he continued, "There's nothing big hanging over our heads right now; just the speech for next week's conference, but I've already started drafting it. If anything comes up, you can get me. Or if you need me for anything, just ask. And I do mean anything. I swore to Mrs. Bartlet that I would make sure you take it easy, and I have no intention of getting into trouble with the First Lady." He paused for a moment, and Toby met the suddenly solemn blue eyes. "Seriously, Toby, we missed you."
Toby reached out to squeeze his deputy's shoulder. He opened his mouth to respond, but a knock on the door interrupted him. Ginger tentatively stuck her head in. "Toby, Sam, I'm sorry to interrupt."
"It's okay, Ginger. It's good to see you. Go ahead," Toby responded, giving her a warm smile.
She returned the smile, obviously happy to see her boss back in one relatively healthy piece. "The President was hoping to have breakfast with you."
He nodded and thanked her, and she headed back to her desk. He turned his attention back to Sam. "See, even the President missed me. I had no idea I was so popular." He headed for the door. "Come on, let's go have breakfast."
"Toby, I've got a lot of work to do..."
Toby looked at him suspiciously. "You just said there was nothing pressing."
"Uh, well...I wasn't invited."
Just then, Ginger called from her desk, "I almost forgot, Sam, you're invited to breakfast, too."
Toby looked at him triumphantly, daring him to try to weasel out of it. "Sorry, Sam, but between the President's stories and trivia and Mrs. Bartlet's 20 questions about my health, there's no way I'm going in there without backup."
Sam groaned, but followed obediently. As they headed down the hall, Toby asked, "Since when are you so wary of meals with the President?"
Sam glanced at him. "Since you're not the only one who gets a health check every time you see the First Lady."
Toby felt his own protective instincts flare. "Are you feeling okay?"
Sam gave an exasperated sigh. "I'm fine!"
They stopped and looked at each other in amusement before bursting into laughter. There was certainly some irony in the fact that Sam had been asking that question and him giving the patent answer for weeks, and now they'd reversed their roles. Maybe it was true-now that things were getting back to normal, they should both be fine.
Breakfast was...interesting. It was probably the healthiest meal either of them had eaten in a long time. Sam doubted there was more than an ounce of fat or cholesterol on the whole table. He couldn't imagine being forced to give up butter, fried foods, eggs...the list seemed to go on and on. And President Bartlet seemed intent on enlightening them to each and every one of them. Apparently he and Mrs. Bartlet had spent a considerable amount of time talking about the subject.
Breakfast ended and they went on with their day. Toby looked well and seemed almost thrilled to be back at work. Sam was happy to see his boss so happy.
He was working in his office later that day on the draft of the speech he had mentioned to Toby when he heard the familiar thump on the window between their offices. He glanced up from his work, remembering how indignant he had gotten when Toby had first started using the red bouncing ball to summon him. He couldn't help but smile at the irony as he realized he had really missed it lately.
He went around his desk and traveled the short distance out his office and to Toby's door. "You called?" he asked, sticking his head into his boss's office.
Toby smiled and tossed the ball to Sam, who caught it with only a little fumbling. Toby nodded approvingly, and Sam suddenly realized that that had been a test. If he had been too overtired he would likely have dropped the ball or missed it altogether, as exhaustion tended to amplify his clumsiness. Sam narrowed his eyes and shook his head, letting Toby know he was on to him. The Communications Director only smiled wider. He was enjoying this far too much.
"Did you need something, or are you just testing my reflexes?" Sam asked, tossing the ball back as he spoke. Toby caught it easily, but that didn't tell Sam if he was tired or not. Toby had so much experience with it; he could probably catch that thing with his eyes closed.
Toby chuckled. "Bring the speech in here, we can work on it together."
Sam nodded, rolled his eyes, and headed back to his office for the draft. But as he headed back to Toby, speech in hand, he was hit with a sense of déjà vu that stopped him cold. The last time he'd gone into Toby's office to work on a speech...
Don't even go there, Sam, he told himself. But it was too late-in his mind, he was already reliving Toby's heart attack.
The ball thumped against the window again; Toby obviously wondered what was taking so long. He had to force himself to walk back into the other office.
Toby was still smiling, bouncing the ball off the opposite wall repeatedly, when he started wondering how long it could possibly take to walk into Sam's office and retrieve some papers off the desk. He changed his aim and hit the window once before aiming back at the other wall in one smooth motion. He knew it would be enough to get Sam's attention.
Sure enough, Sam reappeared a few moments later. Toby glanced up at his deputy and missed the returning ball, which hit the side of the bookcase and dropped to the ground to roll under his desk, temporarily forgotten.
Sam had only been out of his sight for a few minutes. But something must have happened in that time, because he looked a little ill. His face had drained of color. The speech was in his hand, wrinkling in a grip that was so tight, Sam's knuckles were white.
Toby quickly rose to his feet. "Sam, what's wrong?"
Sam simply looked at him, then attempted a weak smile. "Nothing, why?"
Toby made his way around the desk to get to his deputy. "You look like you're about to pass out on my floor, that's why. Here, sit down." He gently gripped Sam's arm and steered him to the couch, where he lightly pushed him down before sitting beside him.
He reached out a hand to softly rub Sam's back. "Just breathe. Take it easy." Sam took a moment to do as he was told, and Toby was gratified to see the color slowly return to his cheeks.
After a moment Sam glanced up at him, embarrassed. "I'm okay. I'm sorry."
Toby shrugged off his apology; it wasn't necessary. He reached over to remove the papers from Sam's hand, where they were still in danger of being strangled by his death grip. "What happened, Sam? Are you sure you're feeling okay?" He reached out a hand to his deputy's forehead to check for a fever. Sam swatted it away, but not before Toby was satisfied that his temperature felt normal.
"I'm just tired, that's all."
Well, there was no way Toby was buying that. After all, he caught the ball. "Sam," he said warningly. "Don't lie to me."
Sam, face now tinged pink with embarrassment, studied him, apparently trying to decide whether to tell him or not. Toby simply looked back at him sternly. Of course, his stern look had long ago lost its effect on Sam, but his deputy usually humored him anyhow. It was the way they communicated.
Sam sighed after a moment and looked away. He muttered something that sounded like, "I ws jst remeberin lst tme..."
Toby stared at him. "Uh, it would probably be better if we did this in a language we both understand."
The younger man shot him a look of annoyance, but he looked back down before he said again, still quietly but intelligible this time, "I was just remembering the last time I came in here to work on a speech." He didn't explain any further, but Toby could fill in the blanks. He drew in a deep breath. He'd been preparing for this conversation for two weeks, but suddenly he had no idea what to say.
"Sam..." he began, searching for the right words, "I know it was frightening for you guys. It was pretty frightening on my end, too."
Sam glanced up and met his gaze. "What do you remember?" he asked softly.
Toby looked at Sam's sad eyes then answered honestly, "Pain, mostly. I remember working on the speech, feeling sick, falling off the chair...I know Ginger, Josh, and Mrs. Bartlet were there. And you, of course." He put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "What am I missing?"
"Well, I caught you when you fell. I knew we needed an ambulance, but I couldn't reach the phone so I called for Ginger. She called 911, then called Josh and went to find the First Lady. In that time before Josh showed up...it could only have been a few minutes, but it felt like hours...I didn't know what to do Toby. I didn't know how to help you and I was so afraid..." he trailed off, shaking his head.
Toby broke in then, needing to get rid of whatever guilt Sam was harboring. "There was nothing else you could do. Medically, I mean. But what you did, supporting me and holding onto me; I knew you were there, Sam, and that helped. Knowing I wasn't alone helped. And if you hadn't been in here with me, I wouldn't have gotten help as fast as I did, and it could have been worse. So you saved me, okay?" He gave his deputy a smile and squeezed his shoulder. "I haven't thanked you for that, or for everything you've done since. So, thank you."
Sam was staring at him, looking a little dazed. He was obviously surprised to be receiving thanks for something he'd perceived as inadequate only minutes before.
Toby decided to plunge on as long as he was on a roll. He dropped his voice to a quiet tone as he continued, "I'm sorry I scared you, kid. It was frightening for me, too-to realize that I could have died." Sam flinched. "But you know what? I think it was good for me. Because I get a second chance, I have a whole new outlook. I get to appreciate everything I have that I took for granted before. I'm going to take better care of myself, I'm not going to yell..." Sam looked at him doubtfully, and he amended, "I'm not going to yell as much..." which earned him a small smile. "Seriously, Sam. We're all going to die sometime. I realize that's kind of harsh, but...you can't focus on that. You have to make the most of the time you have."
Sam responded with a teasing, "Careful, Toby. I think you've been thinking too hard; you're starting to sound like a psychologist. Or maybe a priest."
"Hey, I'm not exactly Catholic," he fired back.
Then Sam grew serious again. "What you're saying makes sense. I guess I just need some time to process it. I mean...it really did scare me. Almost losing you." He looked down shyly. "Just try not to die on me anytime soon, okay?"
Sam looked and sounded like a little boy waiting for reassurance from his big brother. It broke Toby's heart, and made him want more than anything to provide that reassurance. He impulsively reached out for Sam, pulling him into a hug. "I'm going to try my hardest," he said softly.
Sam's initial reaction was to stiffen in surprise. "Toby, you're hugging me," he said incredulously.
Toby laughed affectionately, but didn't loosen his embrace. "Chalk it up to the emotional aftereffects of the heart attack."
Sam laughed softly, relaxing and bringing his arms up to return the hug. Neither of them moved to break it for a few minutes, needing the contact to remind them that they'd both made it through this.
Eventually, Sam said, "Hey, Toby? A few minutes ago, did you call me 'kid'?"
Toby laughed again, releasing Sam. "What, you don't like it?"
Sam pulled back as well. "Oh, it's fine. You're not going to start calling me that on a regular basis are you? Or in front of people?"
"I don't know, I kind of like it." Toby smirked at the look Sam shot him. "Let's work on this speech, huh?"
Fifteen minutes later, Josh, CJ, and Leo ran into each other in the Communications Bullpen. They all had found an excuse to be there, but they really had only one purpose. They were spying; trying to find out if their friends were all right.
From within Toby's office, they heard, "Hey, Sam, I'd like you to meet Mr. Comma. The comma is our friend. When you leave him out, he feels neglected. So let's use him, okay?" Sam was laughing too hard to respond.
The three of them looked at each other and smiled. Everything would be fine.