Josh swivelled his chair around and looked out of his window. The sun had made a bold declaration of its intention to shine this morning and had not wavered from it. The first buds of blossom were beginning to appear. Winter finally seemed a long way off again. He returned to his desk and looked at the day's schedule. A brass band was playing all morning in the lobby. He circled that line; Sam wouldn't cope with that. Josh was pretty certain he wouldn't cope with that. It was going to be a long day ending with a State Dinner. He sighed and let his head drop onto his desk. He felt the waft of air and heard the thump as Donna threw some folders down on the desk. He raised his head. "I don't have my tux."
"I know." She picked up a file from his desk and returned it to the shelf. "Do you know where it is?"
"It's at my place. Wait, no…where is it?" He realised Donna had left the room and followed her out. "Where is it?"
"I'm withholding that information."
"Why?" Josh's hurt, confused tone had no effect on her.
"Because I can, Josh."
Sam appeared and announced he was looking forward to the state dinner before adding that he didn't have his tux.
"I know," Donna told him.
"You know where it is?"
"Georgetown Valet, Pennsylvania Avenue. They're dropping it off after four and they said to tell you it's on them and welcome back to work."
Sam smiled broadly. "Well, isn't that nice. Isn't that a grand gesture to make to a man who, let's face it, has paid his fair share of tux cleaning bills."
"It is, Sam. I'll bring it over to you when it gets here."
"Thanks, Donna." Sam looked at Josh. "You're not sharing the moment?"
"Donna's withholding…never mind." He gestured to his office and sent a glare in Donna's direction but she had already returned to her desk.
Josh fetched two bottles of water and threw one at Sam. "Don't go near the…how you feeling?"
"Okay, don't go near the lobby there's brass in there."
"Musical brass. You okay with the State Dinner tonight?"
"Yeah, I mean, I hope so," Sam shrugged, "it's hard to know what I'm okay with."
"Do you want to look at the list?"
Sam's negative response was vehement. Since Sam had returned to work, Josh had been compiling a list of all the situations that Sam had found it hard to cope with. On one level Sam was grateful for his friend's concern but on another he found the constant reminders that he couldn't cope maddening. He took a long swig from his bottle and sighed. "Can we just have one day where we pretend the crash never happened?"
"Yeah," Josh said softly. "Donna is withholding my tux!"
"What did you do?"
"Nothing…why would you assume I did anything? I haven't done a thing. I don't think I have," he paused, "I made a joke about Minnesota."
"That would do it." Sam rose and walked to the door. This felt normal, as much as any day in the West Wing could be termed normal. He returned to his office and threw himself into his work until Toby came and told him to stop for lunch.
"No, I'm good, I had a doughnut earlier."
"Man cannot live on doughnuts alone."
"Yeah, anyway…" Toby clearly wasn't going to leave. "You could get me a tuna salad or something."
"I could, or you could come with."
Sam shook his head and repeated his earlier lie of not being hungry. When Toby tried again to persuade him he snapped. "Look, you know I can't cope with the Mess. Keep trying to get me to go there won't help. I can live without going to the Mess. Stop forcing the issue."
Toby was now as used to Sam's unstable emotions as Josh. Like Josh, he no longer reacted to them. "I'm not sure you can live without going to the Mess as it's our main source of food."
"Where do you think I got the doughnut?"
Sam frowned. "I thought I'd been stealthy."
An hour later Sam had finished the tuna salad that Toby had given him and was watching Donna brush indiscernible pieces of fluff from his tux. She had dumped Josh's on his desk earlier. She stopped her unnecessary task and sat down. "Do you want me to put the brakes on Josh?" Sam frowned and sent a confused smile in Donna's direction. "I mean, specifically on his lists, prognosis updates and general freaky Dr Lyman behaviour."
Sam rolled his eyes and laughed. "No, I mean yes, his behaviour is driving me to distraction but no, I don't want you to put the brakes on. He…what you have to understand is he…" Sam frowned again but this time at his inability to find the words. He took a deep breath. "This is just his way of trying to sue the Klu Klux Klan." Donna immediately knew what Sam was referring to.
She stood and walked over to him and pulled him up from his seat. "I know we're meant to be behaving normally around you but I think you need a hug." Sam smiled into Donna's neck as she wrapped her arms around him. They were interrupted by Toby who coughed unsubtly to announce his presence.
"Have you finished the CLG comments?"
"Yeah." Sam broke away from Donna, whispering his thanks. He turned his attention to Toby and handed him what he had written. "It's not going well. It's got all the points you wanted but it's not…it's not my best work, is what I'm saying. I mean, I know it's just the knuckleheaded stuff I'm doing right now but-"
"It's not knuckleheaded. Don't say that."
"Come on, Toby. I remember what my job was." Sam walked back to his desk and sat down. "Remember that time you came to visit me and I asked you to promise something?"
"I remember. I promised I wouldn't let you come back to work just because I felt sorry for you. I haven't and I don't."
Sam nodded. "It's just…it feels a little like that sometimes."
"Sam, what you have to…" Toby stopped and walked over to close the door. "What you have to understand is that you have one of the greatest minds of your generation. Now, I spent a considerable amount of time training and moulding that mind, perfecting its use of punctuation, introducing it to verbs. Do you really think I'm going to let all that work go to waste now?"
Sam couldn't help smiling at Toby's words. "You're retraining me?"
"I'm getting you back to where you were."
Sam nodded slowly. He tipped his head to one side and smiled, "Well, okay then. Are you going to be giving me stuff that the President might read at some point?"
Toby frowned and sat down in the chair opposite Sam's desk. "Sam, the President reads everything you write now." He continued despite Sam's astonished expression. "You feel like you're being kept away from him?" Sam nodded. "There's not a thing you do here at the moment that the President doesn't know about. Josh isn't the only one who has an almost freaky obsession with your recovery." Toby realised he was perched forward in his seat and relaxed back. "I'm sitting opposite the one man in this building who doesn't think Sam Seaborn is going to be exactly who he was again."
Sam was going to make a smartass response about Toby talking about him in the third person. Instead he looked down at his hands unable to find the words to express what he wanted to say. He looked up at Toby's soft command to do so and shrugged helplessly at his lack of words and sudden moisture in his eyes. Toby nodded once and left the room.
Josh surveyed the scene as he pulled awkwardly at his bowtie. The music was soothing, the guests were chattering quietly and the atmosphere was relaxed. He took a sip of champagne. Perfect conditions for Sam's first big event at the White House, he decided. CJ appeared beside him and took a glass from a tray as it floated by.
"Senator Grayson wants to talk to you but he wants you to approach him."
"This is because of the admissions rider."
"I would think so. Are you okay with that?"
"Yeah, I'll saunter up to him later with my usual suave charm."
"You're about as suave as a-" Josh never got to find out what he was as suave as because Sam and Toby had appeared in the doorway and CJ was calling them over.
Sam looked as good as he always did in a tux and Toby looked as uncomfortable in his as always. "Later on, Josh is going to approach Senator Grayson with his usual suave charm," CJ told them.
"What's wrong with the old arrogant, charmless approach?" Toby asked.
Josh ignored him and peered round him to Sam. "How you doing?"
"Good," Sam nodded overenthusiastically. He caught sight of a waiter with a tray of drinks and eagerly reached for one.
Toby groaned and Josh joined him at the sight of Senator Greeson approaching them. "Toby, good to see you." He held his hand out to Toby and nodded to CJ and Josh. "It must be great having Sam back at work. How's he getting along?"
Toby frowned and turned towards Sam. "Well, he's standing right here why don't you ask him yourself."
Greeson laughed uncomfortably. "Of course. Sam, it's good to see you back at work. How are you coping?" He spoke slowly, as if to a child.
"I'm fine, thank you. Could I get another glass of wine?"
Toby tried to swallow his grin behind a sip of his wine.
"Oh, well, I'm not a waiter. I'm Harold Greeson we've met a number of times…"
Sam shook his head. "Sorry, Harold, I'm coming up blank."
Greeson smiled awkwardly and, pretending to call out to someone on the other side of the room, darted away.
"Jackass," Sam stated, downing the rest of his drink. The Marines Band started to play Hail to the Chief as the President and First Lady appeared with the visiting French President. Sam pulled at his bowtie running a ring around his shirt collar to loosen it. The French National Anthem was next, followed by the Star Spangled Banner. As the guests applauded and took their seats for the Presidents' speeches, Sam followed his friends to their table. The speeches were short and apart from Toby's occasional grimace at Bartlet's delivery of a line, the four friends sat quietly while more applause, handshakes and photo opportunities took place.
Sam had unconsciously already planned his escape route from the room. The table was near a door and so he would not have far to go. After the annoyance of Senator Greeson's tactlessness and the mild feeling of panic he had experienced listening to the Marine Band, Sam had relaxed and was enjoying listening to his friends' banter. Josh had been talking animatedly to CJ when he stopped midsentence and cocked his head at the strange sound coming from outside. The doors were swung open and four accordion players entered the room playing I love Paris, much to the delight of the French President's wife.
The sound was quite something. The four musicians stopped right beside Sam's table. Applause and laughter filled the room as the tune merged into the Can-Can. CJ was clapping along, Josh who always found accordions amusing was laughing and even Toby seemed to be enjoying the entertainment.
The music was getting faster, CJ was clapping. The way to the door was blocked. The music was getting faster. CJ leant over to Toby and said something that made him smile. Getting faster. Sam pulled at his bowtie and placed his foot on the floor to stop the shaking. One of the accordionists looked at him and grinned. Faster. A waiter dashed behind the table a blur of black and white. Sam rubbed at his face and swallowed against the sour taste in his mouth. CJ stopped clapping. She reached over the table and lifted Sam's hand away from his shattered champagne glass. Toby cursed and grabbed a napkin, wrapping it around Sam's hand, he told him to sit tight. Sam stared at the mess on the table which Donna was covering with another napkin. His leg was still shaking, tapping against his chair. He wanted to bolt but Toby had a tight hold on his hand.
As one, the accordionists started to move. They appeared to perform a magic trick for as they walked in front of the table its occupants took the opportunity to leave the room. When the last accordionist filed by, four senior staffers had vanished.
Outside the room Sam insisted he was fine. Josh snorted unhelpfully and CJ sighed at the pair of them. Telling CJ and Josh to go back to the dinner, Toby led Sam to the men's room. He carefully unwrapped the napkin and held Sam's hand under the water. Sam watched in fascination as a few pieces of glass were washed away in the rivulets of bloodied water. He let Toby inspect the cuts carefully and with a gentleness that surprised him, pat his hand dry with towels. Sam thanked him.
"No problem. How you feeling?"
"Fine. You're not worried about anyone seeing that are you?"
Toby nodded, "I could do without any headlines involving your return to work at the moment."
"I don't think the notion that being confronted by a band of accordionists could tip a man over the edge is going to be breaking news."
"I would think there'd be quite the number of people who would find that an unnerving experience."
A smile flashed across Toby's face. Sam saw it's reflection in the mirror.
"Okay, well, you ready to go back?"
Sam was ready. He took his seat again looking pale but calm. He leaned towards Josh. "Have you got your list?"
Josh patted at his pocket and shook his head. "Do I need it?"
"You should probably add accordion players to it. Just so we know for the next time. I'm not saying a solo accordionist would cause a problem but if we ever encounter a group of them well…forewarned is forearmed."
"Okay, it's in my office." Josh stood and started to leave before turning back to the table to look at his friend. "Oh, I get it, very good. That's very funny, Sam. You were mocking me."
Sam nodded happily and CJ finally let her laughter escape.
"I'll have you know the First Lady told me that not many men have the sort of brain that would allow them to keep such a detailed, beneficial record of another man's recovery."
CJ's laughter increased and was joined by Toby's. "Oh…she was mocking me too wasn't she?"
Sam smiled at his friend while patting his arm. "Never mind, Josh, I appreciate your detailed, beneficial record of my recovery and I think, when this is all over, you should think about getting it published."
"Maybe somewhere like the New England Journal of Medicine?"
"Well I was thinking more like Mad Magazine but you go right ahead; dream big."
Josh shook his head sadly. "Again, they mock." He held up his glass and toasted accordionists and lists. The clinking of glasses and laughter caught Leo's attention. He smiled as he watched them.