Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me; they all belong to Aaron.
"So what have you heard?"
Sam looked nervously from C.J. to Ainsley and back to C.J., deciding that this one was his to answer. "We haven't heard anything about the lawsuit yet. We think they're going to drop it."
"You think?" she repeated, looking at him skeptically.
"Lionel Tribbey thinks so," Ainsley chimed in.
"Okay," C.J. said. "Good. So if you haven't heard anything, what did you -"
"We need to give you a heads up about something," Sam said.
"I'm really beginning to hate that sentence," C.J. complained.
"If it's about the Times article, I already kicked their asses around the press room for a while. They're printing the retraction tomorrow - front page."
"That's great," Sam replied, glancing back at Ainsley, "but that's not it."
C.J., bent over her desk flipping through a memo, peered up at him over the rims of her glasses. "Please tell me you two didn't get drunk last night."
"No," he said hastily.
"C.J.," Ainsley interrupted before he made things worse, "we need you to be ready to answer questions about me and Sam being seen in public together."
"Why?" C.J. asked in the voice that usually made people tremble.
"Because we're going to be seen in public together," Ainsley said, managing to remain calm.
"Why?" C.J. repeated.
"Because we think people need to see that we have a friendly relationship that we're not keeping a secret. They already know we have some kind of connection, and if they never see us together they're going to think we're sneaking around or hiding something."
C.J. considered this for a moment. "Are you?"
"For the time being," Ainsley replied bravely, "yes."
"This is not happening to me," the press secretary groaned, sinking into her chair.
"There is nothing scandalous about this whatsoever," Sam put in. "Ainsley and I started seeing each other socially about a month ago. We don't really work together, neither of us is involved in anything illegal -" C.J. raised an eyebrow at his tacit acknowledgement of the whole Laurie fiasco "- and if it hadn't been for this lawsuit accusing us of misconduct the whole thing would have been completely uninteresting. But this happened right as we were starting our relationship officially, and we thought that we'd better keep things under wraps until it's taken care of."
"And we thought that seeing our friendly relationship - our non-romantic relationship - in public now would make it less interesting later when it gets out that we're . . ." Ainsley lost her words and gestured at C.J. "Us."
"That's you and Sam, not you and me, right?" C.J. asked, amused. She shook her head. "Relax, Ainsley, I'm not going to murder you." She turned a bit toward Sam so that she was facing them both squarely. "As much as I would really love to yell at you, this is nobody's fault. We all applauded Sam for sacking Brookline and Joyce, and this relationship thing is just a spectacular example of bad timing." She sighed. "Who else knows?"
"Just Leo," Sam replied.
"And my brother," Ainsley added.
C.J. looked at them in shock. "Leo knows?"
Sam nodded. "He found out a couple days ago. He said he wasn't going to tell me not to do it, just that we should be careful and know what we were getting into." He decided to keep Leo's advice on love and relationships to himself.
"Well, if that went smoothly then we probably don't have a lot to worry about," C.J. said. "And I think the idea to be seen in public is a good one."
"It was Ainsley's," Sam said.
C.J. looked highly entertained, which made him blush. "Okay," she said. "I'm saying she's right. Seeing you friendly and unembarrassed together but *non-romantic* will go a long way toward dispelling any rumors that you're having a clandestine relationship."
"That was the idea," Ainsley said.
"Good." C.J. smiled at Sam in a decidedly predatory manner. "Can I tell Josh?"
"You can tell Toby, I get to tell Josh," Sam replied.
C.J. held out her hand to him and he shook it. "Done." She turned to Ainsley and offered her a slightly less frightening smile. "It'll be okay. And congratulations."
"Thanks," Ainsley accepted almost timidly.
"Oh, Ainsley, Sam?" C.J. turned around in her doorway. "If I had heard about this after the fact from someone else, I would have murdered you." Sam could have sworn she was laughing as she left the office.
He turned to Ainsley as soon as the door had closed behind C.J. and held out his hands. She came nearer and took them. "That went okay," he commented.
"Yeah," she replied a little nervously.
"Ready for Josh?" he asked.
"You know, he's your friend, maybe you should tell Josh by yourself," she said.
"No, we're going together," he replied firmly, tightening his grip on her fingers.
"I'm saying, he might feel uncomfortable with me there and not tell you what he really thinks. I think you should tell him alone." She lifted one hand to his chest and rested it over his heart. "I'll see him later. We'll see him together later. But he's your friend, and I think he deserves to hear it from you rather than have it announced."
"Maybe you're right."
"It's not because I think he won't be happy about it . . ."
"I know." She raised up on her toes and kissed him. "Go on and talk to him. I'll be downstairs."
He entered Josh's office nervously. Josh and Donna were facing each other over his desk, having some kind of argument over the numbers for - something. Donna looked up and beamed at him. "Hey, Sam."
"Hey, Donna." He managed to dredge up a smile for her. "Could you excuse us for a second?"
She was already on her feet and gathering some folders into a little pile. "Is anything wrong?" she asked worriedly.
"No," he reassured her. "I just need to talk to Josh."
"Okay." She turned to her boss. "If you need me . . ."
"Yeah," Josh replied distractedly. After she was gone he asked Sam, "What's the matter?"
"Nothing's the matter," Sam answered, sitting in the chair Donna had just vacated. "I just need to tell you about something that needs to be kept a secret."
Josh paled. "Is this something C.J.'s going to want to kill me over, because I think you should -"
"C.J. knows," Sam told him hastily. "We just told her."
"We?" Josh asked.
"Ainsley and I."
"Is this about the lawsuit?" Josh asked, growing suddenly serious. "Do you need something from me?"
"No, it's - well, it's not really about the lawsuit, but it's because of the lawsuit that it needs to be kept secret for a while." Sam took a deep breath. "You know how the lawsuit accuses me of firing Steve and Mark because Ainsley and I were involved?"
"Sure," Josh laughed. "It's completely ridiculous."
"Yeah, it's not that ridiculous." He watched Josh start to turn pale again and added hurriedly, "I mean, it's ridiculous that we would be involved sexually after knowing each other for three days. Ainsley and I were not having a romantic relationship when I fired Steve and Mark."
"Of course not," Josh said. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because Ainsley and I are having a romantic relationship now."
Josh practically choked. "Are you kidding me?"
"You and Ainsley?"
"You and Ainsley?"
"Josh," Sam reproved, "it's not that weird."
"It is slightly funny," Josh replied, grinning. "You dating the woman who kicked your ass on national TV is slightly funny."
"No, it's not, because she's not just the woman who kicked my ass on national TV."
Seeing the expression on Sam's face, Josh sobered. "You're right. Of course she's not. You know I like Ainsley."
"Yeah, I know."
"You're just a pretty unexpected couple."
Sam finally started to smile. "Oh, I know that."
"How the hell did it -"
"I'm not actually sure," Sam replied. "I don't think she's sure. One day we just started talking - not about work, because we fight when we talk about work - and then we started going for dinner sometimes, and it just - it started before we even realized it was starting."
"You really like her, don't you?" Josh was smiling again, but it was a sincere, happy for his friend smile.
"Yes, I do."
"Is it serious?"
"It's not an office fling, Josh."
"Is it serious?" Josh repeated more quietly.
Sam looked up from the floor. "Yeah, it is."
"Good." Josh came over and patted his shoulder. "You haven't had that in a while."
"No, I haven't."
"She really makes you happy," Josh observed, his smile widening so that his dimples showed.
"Yeah," Sam said, grinning back.
"I'm glad," his friend replied. "I mean, I never saw it coming, but I'm glad."
"Thank you," Sam said seriously.
"So what are you going to do about the lawsuit?" Josh asked.
Sam shrugged unhappily. "Hide, for a while. We're going to let people catch us in public together, just being friends - Ainsley thought that might lessen the impact later."
"You mean if two friends just start dating, rather than the White House staffers being accused of having sex actually, you know, having sex?" Josh asked. "Yeah, she's right."
"We're not," Sam said suddenly.
He actually blushed. "We're not having sex."
Josh raised both hands in a gesture of defense. "Hey, buddy, I don't need to know that."
"I'm just saying. We decided it was a bad idea until the lawsuit was cleared up." Sam smiled a little to himself, still reddening. "We've spent practically every night together, though."
"Again," Josh said, "something I don't need to know." Then his curiosity got the better of him. "If you're afraid of being caught . . ."
"We're not afraid of being caught," Sam said. "We're afraid they'll ask us on the stand if we've ever had sex -"
"- And you want to be able to say no and not be lying," Josh finished. "Got it." He grinned broadly. "So you're going to?"
Sam had turned the color of an apple. "Josh!"
"I'm just - wow. You and Ainsley."
"Cut it out."
"You know," Josh said, ignoring his plea, "when you think about it, there has been some pretty interesting chemistry between you two all along."
"You mean when she was kicking my ass?"
"You know you liked it," Josh teased, and they both burst out laughing. "Can I tell Donna?" he asked.
"Donna!" Josh yelled.
"Josh!" Sam hissed.
Donna swung through the door. "Yeah?"
"Can you keep a secret?"
"No!" Sam replied at the same time that Donna said "Yes" and then glared at him.
"Sam and Ainsley are dating," Josh said triumphantly.
Donna rolled her eyes. "Please. We've seen that coming since January." She smiled at Sam. "Congratulations."
"Thanks," he replied, somewhat stunned.
When a knock sounded on Ainsley's office door later, she called, "Come in?" expecting either her assistant or Sam. She was surprised to see the Deputy Chief of Staff instead. "Josh."
"Hey." He slipped in and closed the door after him. "I talked to Sam a while ago . . ."
"Yeah," Ainsley said uncomfortably.
"Yeah," he repeated. He wandered over to her desk nervously as she stood up. "I just wanted to say, you know, that you don't have to worry about us telling anyone, and that we'll back you up, and everything, and . . ." He came to a stop almsot right in front of her, his fingers fidgeting lightly on top of her desk. "Just, um - you and I don't agree a lot."
"No, we don't," she replied, getting scared again.
"But you know I appreciate your helping us out when we need it."
"Yeah," she said uncertainly.
"I just want to say . . ." He looked her in the eye and started over. "It's been a while for Sam, and I'm glad he's found something with you that makes him happy, and I want to say . . . that I know you'll take care of him." Taking her completely by surprise, Josh leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "That's all."
A slow, pleased smile grew on Ainsley's lips. "Thank you," she said softly.
He smiled back at her. "And also - Sam and I have been friends for a long time, you know, and when you have friends like that people that you're dating kind of - well - I wanted you to know that I think of you as a friend, and that you should feel comfortable with us all hanging out. 'Cause I would like that."
She met his shy look with a gentle touch on his hand. "That's really sweet, Josh. Thank you."
He nodded. "Yeah." His head jerked toward the door. "I should get back upstairs before Donna calls the National Guard."
She grinned knowingly. "Okay."
"Okay," she replied innocently.
He pointed a finger at her from her doorway. "You know, the fact that I called you a friend does not mean you can tease me."
"Bye, Josh," she called, laughing. He gave her another grin before escaping up the stairs.