Unexpected Havenby Allison
Disclaimer: I didn't create them and Aaron Sorkin's already married, so I'm guessing that means I'll just be borrowing for a while.
The West Wing was unusually active for a Saturday morning. Even most of the administrative assistants had been called in - with the exception of Donna, who'd been sent on a fact-finding safari to the Library of Congress. As Sam passed Ginger's desk he noticed that she was rubbing her temples tiredly as she spoke on the phone. He paused for a moment to listen in.
"Sure, I can do that," she said wearily into the receiver. "Tell her it'll be there in about a half-hour." She hung up and noticed Sam hovering over her desk. "Do you need something?" she asked, trying noticeably to banish the tiredness from her face.
"Who was that?" he asked solicitously.
"Rebecca from downstairs. Apparently Ms. Hayes called and asked if someone could bring over the testimony from the hearings last night, and Rebecca's busy so she asked me - I was going to send Susan but I just remembered she's not here -"
"Ginger," Sam interrupted before she got much further, "wasn't Ainsley going to come in and go over the testimony with Peter here?"
"She's not coming in," Ginger replied. "Rebecca didn't say why. So can you spare me to run to her apartment?"
Sam frowned. Toby's assistant - and frequently his by extension - looked completely exhausted. "Are you okay?" he asked her gently.
She waved off his concern. "Just a headache. I haven't been sleeping well."
"Are you sure you're not getting sick?"
She shrugged. "I might be. I don't get sick very often though."
He made a snap decision. "I'm not being at all useful here today. You stay and finish up so you can go home and rest, and I'll run the testimony over to Ainsley's." Besides, he thought, that way he could yell at her for stressing his already busy staff running her errands.
"I can't let you do that," Ginger protested. "You have work."
"I haven't worked in two hours," Sam pointed out. "I've been stalking Josh and annoying Toby. He'll thank you for getting rid of me."
She wavered. "Well - if you really want to."
"I do." He grinned at her charmingly. "Now get some rest. I want you gone by the time I get back."
She managed a little, flattered smile in return. "Okay."
By the time Sam reached Ainsley's apartment with a crate of recorded testimony in his arms, it was almost one in the afternoon. He set the crate down and rapped sharply on her door, having slipped in with another tenant and not able to find a bell.
She answered the door in loose-fitting flannel pants and a t-shirt, with her long hair pulled back into a ponytail less neat than usual. "Sam!" she exclaimed in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
He motioned to the crate still sitting on the floor in the hall. "Rebecca was busy so she was going to send Ginger, but Ginger wasn't feeling well and I didn't want her running unnecessary errands." His tone sounded hostile even to him - even though he and Ainsley had formed a tentative truce and he'd forgiven her for her political affiliation, he hadn't quite let go of his resentment toward her for showing him up at every opportunity.
"I'm sorry about that," she said, sounding strained. "I was going to come in, but I couldn't."
He opened his mouth to comment, but stopped himself when he saw her face. It was pinched with either tension or pain, he couldn't tell which, her fair skin was even paler than usual and her lips were bloodless, she had dark bluish smudges under her eyes - which were glassy and shining - and she was biting furiously at the inside of her mouth. He took in her state of dress, her slightly disheveled hair, and the way she was clutching at the doorframe for support. His entire tone and demeanor changed. "Are you sick?"
"No," she said, but she had to gasp the word out. He bent down to get the crate of papers and lifted them carefully past her and into the apartment.
"You don't sound good," he said, turning to face her again in concern. "What's wrong?"
"I'll be fine," she insisted, but he saw her grip tighten on the doorframe until her knuckles whitened, and her posture had shifted so that she was slightly bent over. His eyes darting quickly around the room made several hasty observations - blanket and pillow on the couch, cup of probably tea on the endtable, hot water bottle on the couch near the rumpled blanket - and Ainsley, pale and nearly gasping now with the effort of keeping herself upright.
*I'm a jerk.* Quickly he crossed to her side and wrapped an arm around her waist. "I'm keeping you standing like an insensitive idiot," he rambled as he led her to the couch. "But what do you want, I'm a guy."
"I'm really fine," she insisted as he lowered her onto the couch.
"Sure." He fussed for a moment with the blanket, pulling it up over her legs. "Ainsley, I'm a guy, but I'm not stupid. And this will surprise you to hear, but I did have a fiancee once."
"You did?" She still sounded tight and forced, and he reached out absently and felt her forehead as he talked. It was cold and clammy, as he had expected.
"Yes," he replied. "She was never quite this bad, but close." He felt the hot water bottle. "This is cold, you want me to warm it up?"
A blush spread over her face, not combating the pallor but rather giving her a feverish consumptive look. "Sam, you really don't have to -"
"I know," he said casually. "But I was being a jerk." He patted her legs under the blanket. "Let me make you some more tea and I'll sit down and go over the testimony with you. It'll get done faster that way."
"Don't you have to go back to work?" As she spoke she was obviously gripped by another wave of pain. The muscles of her face contracted and one hand squeezed into a fist.
"I'm useless there right now," he replied cheerfully. "But I can be very useful to you. I like being useful. And I have my cell phone if they need me." He got to his feet, taking her cup with him. "I'll do some tea and - have you taken anything?"
"Motrin," she replied.
"Does it usually work?"
"It'll kick in eventually." She was still blushing from the embarrassment of discussing her cramps with, of all people, Sam Seaborn, but he seemed completely unfazed.
He frowned worriedly. "Okay. I'll be right back."
"Sam?" she called after a moment from the couch. Now that he couldn't see her she was biting her knuckles against the pain in her abdomen. "What happened with your fiancee?" There was a pause and she said hurriedly, "I am so sorry - that was a completely inappropriate question for me to ask you while you're trying to be nice to me."
"No, it's okay." He returned with a steaming cup of tea and set it on the table. "Don't drink that yet, it's too hot." He lifted her legs and, ignoring her blush at the intimacy of the gesture, sat down at the other end of the couch and settled her feet again in his lap. "Lisa liked the idea of being married to a partner at Gage Whitney with a house in midtown. She didn't like the idea of being married to a speechwriter on a government salary."
"She's an idiot," Ainsley replied before she thought. Her hand flew up to cover her mouth. "Oh God. I keep saying these things . . ."
"It's okay," he assured her. "In hindsight I agree with you."
"So you took the job at the White House knowing she would leave you?" Ainsley asked.
"No, I took the job on the campaign knowing she would leave me." He reached for the top folder in the crate. "I came to the conclusion that if she really loved me it wouldn't matter what my job was."
"You were right."
He looked into her eyes, searching there for something besides pain. He didn't find it. "Yeah, I hope so."
She winced suddenly and his forehead wrinkled. He tossed the folders aside. "Okay, screw the testimony." He got up and behind his back she bit down hard on the side of a finger. She thought he was leaving. She thought she had upset him.
She was wrong. He came over to her end of the couch. "Scoot over," he instructed. When she moved, giving him a puzzled look, he sat down in her corner of the couch and laid the pillow on his lap. "Come here," he said in a completely businesslike tone, patting the pillow and simultaneously pulling down on her shoulder. Over her little noises of protest he settled her head and shoulders in his lap and waited for her to stretch her legs out. "Now, please believe me when I promise I am not hitting on you," he said still in that same crisp tone. He was trying both to set aside his own awkwardness and to make her feel safer - which to him meant more clinical. "I did this for Lisa all the time," he added. He found the small roundness of her abdomen - hers was considerably flatter than Lisa's had been, and he felt hipbones more prominently - and began gently to rub the offending area. She stiffened in his lap, but he'd had a lot of practice with Lisa and as his fingers hit all the right places and relieved the intensity of the cramps she relaxed and let him work. He watched her face carefully - the lines of pain smoothed out and then returned as the cramps came in waves. The tightening around her eyes worried him, but when they began to glisten with unshed tears he found a lump in his throat. Animosity and awkwardness were equally forgotten in the face of her obviously extreme pain, and his kind instincts took over. He stopped rubbing her stomach and caressed her pale face with both hands. "How long ago did you take the Motrin?" he asked gently.
"Two hours," she gasped.
"Are you allergic to any other painkillers?"
She frowned even more deeply in confusion. "No."
He patted her ribs and lifted her shoulders to extract himself. "I take acetaminophen with codeine for my headaches sometimes. There's a bottle in my car. It should stop the pain in minutes. Don't move, I'll be right back."
She was delirious enough with pain that she barely noticed the length of his absence. He shook a white pill into his palm from a bottle and handed it to her. "Don't take it yet," he warned. "I'm getting you some milk, otherwise it'll make you sick."
It was a prescription bottle. "That's illegal," she protested feebly.
"And you're in pain." He returned from the kitchen with a glass of milk and knelt in front of her while she drank it with the pill. When she set the glass aside he reached up and stroked her hair. Her teary eyes met his with confusion and something like gratitude, and he smiled tenderly at her. "Okay." He settled himself back on the couch and pulled her and the pillow onto his lap again. He resumed his careful massaging of her abdomen and talked to her quietly. "It'll take effect in a couple minutes. The pain'll stop, but it'll hit your head too, like being drunk. You want to go to sleep and just let it work. Close your eyes." He brushed one hand softly over her forehead, smoothing her hair back. "I'm going to put the TV on. You just go to sleep. Don't worry about anything."
"Sam," she began to protest weakly without opening her eyes.
"Sleep," he commanded. "I have nowhere I'm supposed to be. I'll stay right here." Seeing the lines of pain even out and a relaxed expression begin to come over her face, he let both hands come up to her hair and stroke softly. "When you wake up we'll see if you can eat something, and then if you're feeling up to it we'll tackle the testimony together. You just rest now."
Her eyes fluttered open for a second and he saw that she was starting to cry. "What?" he asked anxiously. "Does it still hurt?"
She shook her head. No. His arm settled across her waist and she held it there with both of hers. "Just - thank you," she whispered.
He understood. To someone used to being alone a simple, unexpected act of kindness could be overwhelming. He swallowed hard and smiled down at her. "You're welcome. Sleep."
Her fingers laced through his and she slept.
A little stirring against his thigh first alerted him that she was waking up. He smiled down into much clearer blue eyes as they opened. "Hey."
She offered him a tiny smile. "Hey."
"How do you feel?"
She thought about that for a moment, one hand resting cautiously over her stomach. "Okay. It's not back yet."
"Good." She made no move to get up, and he made no move to take his arm from her waist. "It's three-thirty - have you eaten all day?"
"Not since breakfast," she replied.
"Sounds perfect." She started to rise. "I have some in the cabinet -"
"Down," he ordered, pushing her back to the couch as he slipped out from under her. "I can heat soup."
She frowned at the unexpected feeling of loss. "I feel bad, Sam, you've been so unbelievably nice . . ."
He grinned at her peering over the back of the couch, some color returning to her face. "Honey, if this happened to me every month I'd want somebody to be nice to me. I don't know how women stand it."
*Honey?* She shook that off. "Not very well, as you can see. I am sorry - I usually fall apart in private."
"Hey." He set down the pot he was holding and looked sternly back at her. "Stop it. You are so brave - I couldn't go through this all the time. Speaking of which," he turned away and poured soup into the pot, "you really should talk to your doctor about this."
"It's not always this bad," she protested. A wry grin twisted at her face. "My mama says it'll get better after I have a baby."
"How soon will that be?" he asked, smiling back.
"Well, the father should probably come first," she laughed.
"No potential dads?" he asked, stirring the soup carefully.
She laughed again, but shortly and harshly this time. "No. For a while I thought - no."
"What?" At her silence he teased, "I told you about mine . . ."
"Oh, all right." She sighed and adjusted the blanket over her legs. "There was this guy from work I thought might be interested - I mean, he was kind of arrogant, but -"
"An arrogant Republican?" Sam teased. "You're kidding."
"Sorry." He gave her a conciliatory smile. "Go on."
"Anyway," she sighed, "When I came to work for the White House he said some things - about Leo and everybody and I kind of lost my temper . . ."
"Ainsley!" he exclaimed. "You ditched a guy for us?"
"I'm touched." He clutched the ladle to his breast, carefully keeping the soupy end off his shirt. "Really."
"Sam," she chastised again, but she was laughing now.
"Seriously," he said, pointing at her with the ladle, "you deserve better than a guy you know is arrogant."
Her eyebrows lifted. "Yeah."
"Come tell me if this is hot enough."
She disentangled herself from the couch and padded in her bare feet to the kitchen stove, where he held out the ladle for her to taste from. "Fine," she said, still leaning close to avoid dripping. She looked up and their eyes caught and held. The moment lasted just barely too long to be casual. He set the ladle down carefully, then rubbed one hand up and down her forearm comfortably and bent down to kiss her forehead. "Ainsley," he said quietly, "this is working pretty well - for whatever bizarre reason - but you just took major drugs and I think we should get a bit of a grip here for a while."
Her eyes clouded over and she backed away a step. "Of course. I wasn't -"
"Hey." He halted her escape with a hand clasped firmly on her bicep. "I'm not saying - all I'm saying is this is really nice, but what I think we need to do right now is feed you, let the drugs wear off, work on the testimony, maybe watch a bad TV movie and bond a little, and revisit this again when you're feeling better." He scrutinized her face carefully. "Yes?"
She nodded finally. "Yes."
"Okay." He slid his arm around her shoulders and prodded her toward the table. As he pushed her into a chair, their eyes met again. Not sure of exactly what was going on, he gave in to a sudden impulse and bent close, this time touching his forehead and nose to hers and closing his eyes for a second. He straightened up and noted her blush with pleasure. Reaching out to brush back the stray wisps of her hair, he said softly, "Be right back." She nodded with a brilliant smile.
When they had settled themselves at adjoining sides of her table with bowls of soup, he looked at her with softening eyes and pulled her feet into his lap. Her mouth opened but she found herself unable to say anything and only sighed quietly. He rubbed her cold feet and said firmly, "Eat." He thought the word she murmured might have been "bossy," but the sweet, contented look on her still-white face made it sound like a caress. He heaved a deep sigh of his own and lifted his spoon with a prayer of gratitude for unexpected detours.