Ok, don't be getting used to getting this much fic at a time from me, but here's the third story in my series that started with Endings.

There's some mild language but that's just because Toby can't behave himself and doesn't like censoring his thoughts.

This should be somewhat of a break from the previous sadness.

By Red

Disclaimer: The West Wing gang don't belong to me, sorry. I'm just borrowing them. I promise to have them back in time for dinner, and none of them will be worst for the wear... well, except for Sam. Author's Note: This takes place a few days after "Just the Beginning" and is in Toby's POV, as several of you have asked for.

I'm not good at this. Andrea always said that my skills are better suited for making people cry - not making it all better. I have no clue what's expected of me. Oh, I know that Sam doesn't expect anything, but the others definitely do. They've made that clear since the funeral. Somehow at some point I became the captain to this little task force whose mission is repair Sam's broken heart.

How the hell I'm actually supposed to do that is beyond me. No one bothered to explain this part to me when they decided that it would be best if I were the one who gave Sam a shoulder to cry on. Josh professed that he was too close to the situation - that he would just be digging up memories better left buried for the time being. Leo says that he's too distant, that it would be awkward coming from him (like it's not from me?). It would be inappropriate for the President to show up at his door with some beer and cheery smiles. And CJ is sure that what Sam needs right now is another man to reassure him; he might not want to be very close to any other women right now.

That's all well and good, even if I do happen to think they're all pushing this on me because they're too damn cowardly to do it themselves, but what am I supposed to do? Is there some kind of manual for this? Of course, even if there were, I'm not sure it would apply here. Sam's not like other men. What might work for the average guy certainly wouldn't work with this complex, child-like, ethereal creature.

With a sigh I stand and look around the apartment. It really is a nice place; I'm glad I convinced Sam not to move into that other little hole that he had been considering. For some reason that I can't quite grasp, Sam seems to think that most things are too good for him and that he doesn't deserve the nicest of comforts. That rat-trap on the bad side of town would have suited him just fine. But I knew if I let him live there he'd just wallow in that dark little cave and wouldn't think to take care of himself. At least here with the sun pouring into the large windows looking over the sparkling city, he can't hide from the world.

I glance at the clock that I painstakingly hung on the wall. I nearly broke my neck for that piece of crap. Sam's been gone for too long, I decide. I know I told myself that he needed some space and time for himself, but right now I don't trust him to not do something stupid. He's not stable enough to be thinking clearly.

Squaring my shoulders resolutely and deciding that I can't do too bad if I play it by ear and just go with my instincts, I cross the room, walk down the hallway, and push open the door to the master bedroom. I shake my head and lean on the doorframe.

Sam's sitting on his brand-new bed surrounded by
boxes he was supposed to be unpacking. In his hands is a framed photograph and even though I can't see what the picture is of, I can tell from his expression that it must be of her.

"Sam?" I ask quietly, suddenly quite nervous. I'm not the right one for this job. I might say something tragically wrong. Why couldn't this have been a group thing?

I watch with trepidation as his head slowly raises and he looks at me with those hollow eyes. A slight shiver travels through my body. "I don't want to... forget her... or try to hide her away, but..." he shakes his head and drops his gaze back to the picture. "I'm not sure I'm ready to see pictures of her around the house every day. It'll..." he draws in a deep, shuddering breath, "it'll be too much of a reminder."

My anxiety forgotten in the face of his turmoil, I enter the room and take a seat on the bed next to him. The photograph in his hands makes my breath catch in my throat. I'd seem them together on several occasions, but never until now had I noticed how stunning a couple they were. In the picture she's standing in his arms, leaning her back against his chest as they look out over some distant horizon. I think some family member or friend had to have taken this, because the love in this picture couldn't have been posed.

"Don't you *want* to remember her?" I ask quietly, my gaze still locked on the beauty of the picture. I can't help but wonder if they were made for each other. They both have that thick, chestnut hair, those twinkling blue eyes, the delicate faces... God, their children would have been so beautiful.

Sam's hands tremble as he sets the frame down and reaches into the box at his feet to draw out another one. It's of their high school graduation and as my eyes travel over their grinning faces, I'm reminded of how long they were together. Even before they realized they were in love, they were best friends. I can better understand what Josh meant when he said Sam was more lost than he would ever be in his life. He had grown up with this woman and now she was gone forever.

"I couldn't ever *not* remember her," he corrects me absently, running a finger slowly over her beautiful face. "But... it hurts so much to look at her and realize that this is the only way I'll ever be able to see her, or hold her ever again. Photos are so cold..."

I hear the hitch in his voice and I wonder if he might finally cry again. I don't want to see him in pain but I know that the dam has to break sometime. If it doesn't he might explode.

His eyes remain dry and once again I'm in awe of his self-control.

I wring my hands in my lap and wonder what in God's name possessed the others to think I was the one for this. Sam and my relationship so far has consisted of constant bickering, criticism, and rivalry. Sure we spend more time together than with anyone else, but that's just to write and review speeches. It's not like we pal around like Sam and Josh or Leo and the President do. But I seemed to have reached him on some level that the others couldn't this past week that night when she died, and at the funeral.

"Sam..." I begin uneasily. "Maybe you should stop looking at the photos as reminders of what you'll never have again. Right now you've made these pictures into something ugly, something haunting and evil. Whenever you look at them you should be cherishing these and thinking of the peace and love that you had in those days. These pictures aren't the enemy Sam." It sounds pathetically lame to me but it's not like I have a script or anything.

To my surprise, Sam's actually nodding with somewhat of a thoughtful expression on his face as if what I said really meant something to him. "You're right Toby," he whispers, further astonishing me. His brows furrow determinedly and he stands slowly and crosses to the bedside table. His hands are steady now as he sets the picture on the tabletop and steps back to look at it.

He turns back to me and I feel my stomach drop. I had thought for a moment there that I had made a large break-through - that he really was starting to heal. I should have remembered not to be so uncharacteristically optimistic. I should have remembered that expectations only lead to let downs because Sam's face is as pale and expressionless as ever and his eyes still seem to be void of all that I had come to associate with my young deputy.

He shivers briefly and I eye the simple tee-shirt he's wearing. It's not cold in the apartment, but I think he's coming down with something after standing in that downpour for hours after the funeral. I stand and move to a large box sitting by the empty dresser. Opening it, I dig past more tee-shirts, flannels, and nice sweaters. At the bottom I find a grey hooded sweatshirt and I pull it out.

I toss it to him and he eyes me in confusion. "Put it on," I order without preamble. "You're shivering."

He hesitates for a moment, staring at me, debating whether or not he'll let me mother him like I am. Then with a sigh he submits and pulls the sweatshirt over his head. I laugh. "What?" he grumbles, annoyed.

I gesture towards the large Notre Dame logo emblazoned on the front. "A gift from the President?" I ask wryly.

A fleeting smile passes over his features but it disappears quickly and he shakes his head. "No, it used to be my dad's. He went there." He looks down at the sweatshirt. "He gave it to me and at the time I never knew it would come in handy. But at one of the late-night poll-monitoring sessions I got cold and threw this on. It definitely scored points with the President."

I laugh again and cross my arms over my chest, glad we can talk about something safe now. "I think CJ could use some of those points. She doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut about these things."

Sam shakes his head again and rolls his eyes. "My dad always said that west-coaster's never could truly appreciate the value of a great school like Notre Dame." Another smile tugs at his lips fleetingly. "I think he and the President would have gotten along great. If there's anything more boring than being an economics professor, it's being a priest."

My eyes widen. "Your father was a priest?"

Sam nods slowly and I watch with dread as all the levity seems to fade from his face and his eyes become more downcast. "Yeah he was. God I wish he were here..." he whispers brokenly. His shoulders twitch a little and he drops down onto the bed and buries his face in his hands. "Why am I so alone?" he demands of me in a muffled, child-like voice.

My own eyes filling with the tears that he refuses to shed, I walk to him and kneel at his side. "Sam, you're not alone..." I start and trail off as he takes his hands away and stares at me accusingly with those horribly dry, dark eyes.

"How the hell can you say that, Toby? Does it look like I have anyone to turn to?" he snarls, his haggard face twisting into something dangerously angry and pained.

I stare back at him for a minute and I finally get it. Sam doesn't need best friends or co-workers. He needs family. He needs a mother to baby and pamper him. He needs a brother or a sister to sit by his side and hold his hand. He needs a father to be strong for him and protect him from the ugly world.

And something clicks inside me and I make my decision. Slowly so as not to alarm him, approaching him as I would an injured animal, I rise and take a seat on the bed again. I make sure that I'm invading his space, that our hips our brushing. He doesn't need hesitance. And it's just like how it was that night in his office, and on that rainy morning at her funeral. Suddenly nothing seems more right or natural than being here for him.

And as I wrap my arms around him and let him curl up against me, I decide that here, in the safety of his new home, away from misunderstandings and prying eyes, I can be his family. The both of us are alone in the world, me by choice, him by tragedy, but here while he clutches me tightly and cries against my chest like a little boy, and as I stroke his hair and pull him tighter against me, we will be each other's family.

The End.



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