Disclaimer: I own nothing. Except, you know, textbooks. The characters are Aaron's.
"Are they ready?"
President Bartlet looked up from his desk with a combination of amusement and pure excitement on his face to see his Deputy Chief of Staff come flying into the room. "They say five minutes," he replied. "Is everyone still around?"
Josh paused, hovering near the presidential seal on the carpet of the Oval Office. "C.J.'s in her office, Sam and Toby are locked up somewhere, Leo's -"
"Here," the Chief of Staff interrupted, coming into the room behind Josh. "I just got off the phone with NASA public relations. They say they're getting the networks on board and they'll be ready to broadcast in an hour."
"They said five minutes," the President corrected a little plaintively. "What's going to take an hour?"
"Five minutes till contact check," Leo clarified. "An hour till they can get everything hooked back up and get the footage out to the networks."
They all turned to see Margaret standing in the doorway. "Sam Donaldson on line one."
Leo strode purposefully out of the room after his assistant. Josh turned his attention back to President Bartlet with an enthusiastic smile on his face. "What can I do?" he asked.
"Brief C.J., tell her to give the press the heads up, but they can watch the broadcast in an hour in the press room. And find everybody else, get them in here in an hour."
"Yes sir." Josh practically ran from the room in his eagerness to find Sam. Jed Bartlet watched him go with a fond smile playing about his lips, pleased to see the younger man showing signs of life. He had been much better lately, but no one could tell his boss not to worry.
With a sigh the President pushed his chair back and stood. Since receiving the news he'd been flooded with a rush of energy and adrenaline. He wanted to be doing something, not just waiting around and letting others make the arrangements. He wanted to spread the news himself.
As he made his way out into the bullpen he saw Toby and C.J. huddled around Josh in a corner. Carol was hovering near her boss, taking notes and ready to run to the press room. The President caught sight of Ginger typing furiously at her desk and asked, "Where's Sam?" hoping to tell the youngest member of his staff the good news.
Ginger jumped to her feet. "He's down in the steam pipe trunk -"
"Distribution venue," the President finished with a tiny ironic smile. "I've been hearing that phrase a lot lately."
The corners of Ginger's mouth crooked upward a bit in reply. "I think they're working on a position paper, sir."
The President's eyebrow quirked upward in wry amusement. "He's working on a position paper with a Republican?"
Ginger shrugged. "She finds the holes so he can fix them."
"Do you want me to call down?" She moved to pick up the receiver.
"No, no. I want to get him myself this time." He flashed her another smile and headed for the stairs, barely noticing the mutterings of "Eagle's moving" that followed him.
He tried to keep his footsteps light as he descended the stairs, leaving his agents on the landing. The voices coming from the office below sounded weary, and he paused a bit behind the doorway to spy for a moment. His curiosity had been piqued about the Republican on his staff, and even more so about her relationship to his Deputy Communications Director.
Both of the young staffers were sitting on the floor of her office - someone (probably Ainsley herself, he supposed) had dragged in a carpet and they were sprawled in the midst of thick law books and piles of paper. It was extraordinarily hot in the office and Sam was jacketless and tieless with his sleeves rolled up over his arms. Ainsley was wearing black pants and a sedate dark-colored shirt with short sleeves - considerably more than she'd been wearing on the occasion of their first meeting. Her long blond hair was pulled into a ponytail and she was bending way over an open book with Sam sitting awkwardly cross-legged near her.
"I think I have - no, never mind," she said, brushing back an imaginary loose strand of hair and sighing irritably at the page in front of her. Even from far away he could tell the print was small and she was squinting a little. "That doesn't help."
Sam rose onto one knee and leaned over, trying to read upside down. "I thought you found the statute from -"
"I did," she interrupted, "but it doesn't say what we thought it said."
The President stood in the shadows outside her door, watching them work with considerable interest. He'd been not a little surprised by Sam's apparent concern for the Republican lawyer's comfort, and now he thought he understood. Listening to them debate whether an ancient statute from the days of Roosevelt (the first one) could be applied to a case of something-or-other, he came to the conclusion that Ainsley Hayes was a female Republican Sam. They argued the same way - by making sarcastic quips and repeating the same things over and over with different intonations; they thought along the same lines - their brainstorming session seemed less like Ainsley trying to catch the flaws in his thinking and more like a race to see which of them would reach the same conclusion first; and at the moment they were wearing very similar tired expressions. Despite this, he noted, his two younger staffers were both quite good-looking people. With a knowing grin he watched Sam reach comfortably over Ainsley for a stack of papers, watched her grab his arm as it went past to get his attention, and watched him lean practically into her lap to look at the page she had found while she explained something to him. A lot of things made a great deal of sense all of a sudden. Wiping the smile off his face, the President cleared his throat and stepped into the room.
Sam looked startled; Ainsley just looked pale and a little sick. They both jumped to their feet, Ainsley tugging nervously at the bottom of her shirt. "Mr. President," they said almost in unison.
"Sam." He nodded at her, trying to look not scary. "Miss Hayes."
"Sir," she replied, stunned.
He decided to cut her off before she could start rambling - Leo had warned him before the first time, but fortunately she'd been so horrified that she hadn't even been able to talk. "Sam," he said, addressing himself by habit and familiarity to his speechwriter, "this was so exciting I had to come down here and tell you myself. NASA's located Galileo V."
"The probe?" Ainsley asked at the same time that Sam asked, "How?" He glanced at her to make sure she was done. "After all this time?" he asked.
"It drifted back into range or something, Leo's getting the whole story," the President explained. "They're going to start broadcasting pictures right through to the networks in," he checked his watch, "thirty-five minutes. The staff is gathering in the Oval Office to watch, I want you up there." He turned and bestowed what he hoped was a friendly smile. "You too, Miss Hayes."
"Me?" Ainsley asked in disbelief, her voice rising to soprano tones and her eyebrows lifting practically to her hairline. "You want me to come and watch the satellite footage in the Oval Office?"
"Yes," he replied.
"In the Oval Office?"
"Yes," the President repeated, starting to smile again. He understood something else about Ainsley now that he suspected Leo and Sam had figured out long before - what often passed for arrogance was actually self-conscious shyness. As he had observed before they knew he was there, once she was comfortable with someone she seemed fine, but around important people she froze, giving the appearance of cold disdain. Now that he knew that, he began to understand what Leo found endearing about her.
"Are you sure?" she asked. The President tried to hide a smile as he saw Sam hit her.
"I'm sure," he replied. "My staff and their assistants are all coming in to watch it with me. You come along up with Sam."
"Yes, sir," she replied, shocked pleasure making her blush faintly.
The President nodded to both of them and turned to go. "Oh, Miss Hayes?" he called from the doorway.
She finally dared to correct him. "Ainsley," she said shakily.
"Ainsley," he repeated. He jerked his head toward Sam. "I didn't say you were a blond Republican sex kitten, he did." With that he turned and headed back up the stairs.
He found little to occupy himself for the next half-hour - as the leader of the free world he realized that should probably worry him, but it didn't. He stood pensively behind his desk, looking out the window at the dark Washington night and imagining he could see the prodigal satellite glowing out in space. He didn't notice how much time had passed until he heard the door open and close.
"How much time?" Toby asked, Bonnie right behind him.
The President looked at his watch. "Five minutes."
Toby turned and yelled at the closed door, "Ginger!"
"She's coming," Josh reported, flying in with Margaret on his heels. "Leo's getting off the phone now. Where's Sam?"
"On his way up, I would think," the President replied.
"From Ainsley's office," Ginger explained as she and Donna elbowed through the doors. "How much time?"
"Four minutes," Toby told her, pulling out a chair for her beside the one Bonnie had already taken. Josh dropped onto the couch, already muttering something only his assistant could hear. The door swung open again and admitted Leo, who then held it for Carol and Cathy. Charlie and C.J. followed closely, talking excitedly about moons or Mars or something - or rather, C.J. was talking excitedly and Charlie was listening with a smile. Sam slipped in a moment later, looking as though he'd actually had to drag Ainsley by her arm, and Mrs. Landingham followed the last of the staff into the Oval Office.
C.J. grabbed the TV remote and flipped it on, seating herself on a footrest and leaning near to the set. Charlie dropped to a squatting position on the floor beside her, directing her which channel to tune to.
As the network news broke in to the regular programming with, as C.J. had once put it, "a logo and theme music," the President looked around at his assembled staff with a satisfied expression. These were his people. C.J. was still leaning forward, her elbows resting on her knees, in the same posture he'd been seeing since she watched their first primary results come in. Charlie still knelt beside her, a hand resting on the stool to balance himself, his face absolutely rapt. Toby was standing between the chairs he'd pulled for his assistants, leaning on his arm over Ginger's chair. Cathy was on her other side, perched on the arm of the chair. Leo had seated himself on the end of the couch nearest Bonnie, with Margaret beside him and Carol leaning over his shoulder. As the anchor started to explain the news he turned to his best friend and smiled, as if to say, "We did it after all."
Josh was sprawled on the other couch, resting informally back on the cushions. Donna had prodded Mrs. Landingham onto the couch beside him and was sitting in front of them on the floor with her back lightly resting against Josh's knees. He seemed not to notice her, but as the President watched he noticed Josh shift his legs forward just a fraction so that he could better feel her there. No matter how cavalier Josh seemed about her, the President reflected, there were always little things like that - little signs that he was always checking to make sure Donna was there. And she always was, bless her. She sat in front of her boss, a reassuring presence even if he wasn't consciously aware of it, with a wide-eyed look to rival Charlie's on her schoolgirl-pretty face. Sam and Ainsley, almost the last to arrive, stood side by side behind the couch, Sam just a little behind Ainsley, close together but just barely not touching. Every now and then Ainsley would look away from the TV to glance nervously over her shoulder at the President. He was careful not to be watching her when she did.
Then the anchor was off, and the screen went black - and then the first transmitted picture from the lost and found Galileo V appeared. It showed a rough view of Mars's surface, not quite as reddish as expected and covered with a rugged terrain that looked like a topographical map of the ocean floor. Carol gasped aloud and C.J. turned to smile at her. Toby's hand dropped to Ginger's shoulder, and Charlie murmured aloud, "That's all the way out in space, right now." The picture changed to a shot of earth taken from the edge of Mars, and Bonnie cracked, "Hey, there we are." They all laughed quietly and Leo repeated reverently, "There we are." The earth glowed with moonlight in the crystal-clear satellite photos, land and water swirling together under wisps of cloud cover. Josh leaned forward a little and whispered something to Donna that no one else heard, except possibly Mrs. Landingham, who smiled gently.
As the President looked over, he saw Ainsley cross her arms over herself and sigh softly. Her expressive face looked completely overwhelmed, and he thought he understood. The rest of them had gotten used to happenings, if not quite this stellar (no pun intended), then at least pretty grand, but all this was new to her. She'd never experienced history like this before. Sam didn't look at her, and it was possible he didn't even realize what he was doing, but his arm reached out and slipped around Ainsley's waist, pulling her back against him. Without taking her eyes from the pictures on the television she leaned her head back against Sam's shoulder and covered his hand with both of her own. She forgot to check for the President's reaction, confirming his suspicion that Sam had a calming effect on her. The President leaned back in his chair feeling thoroughly satisfied. Asking Ainsley up here had been a good idea. Bringing her on board had been his idea and it was high time he remembered that she was part of the team. These people were his people. They were good people - smart, and idealistic, and full of wonder. The picture changed, Sam said something to Josh over Ainsley's shoulder, Donna turned to answer him, and C.J. leaned down to point something out to Charlie. The President nodded to himself, knowing that none of them could see him. For this one moment, all was right with the world.