Another Detourby Allison
Disclaimer: No, I'm still just borrowing them. Really.
It was always easy to tell when someone was coming. Steps echoed on the stairwell from all the way at the top landing. Only occasionally there were sounds and no one came in - and then she started picturing large rodents and overzealous Democrat spies, in pretty much equal numbers, hovering outside the door. This sounded more like someone on the stairs than little somethings scurrying in the walls, but the corner of her eye sought out the large broom she kept in the corner just in case. "Hello?" she called uncertainly. She didn't think many people should be left in the building at this hour. "Rebecca? I thought you went home."
The door opened about a crack and the voice preceded the person through it. "I think she did go home."
Ainsley looked up just as Sam peered through the door. "Sam!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing down here?"
"Working on my tan," he joked, shrugging out of his suit jacket. "It's a little warm down here."
She lifted an eyebrow at him. "It's tropical down here."
"How long has it been this way?"
"Since before Thanksgiving." She closed the file she'd been working on and pushed her chair back from the desk. Sam hadn't been down here since she'd moved into the "office" - he sometimes sent for her to come up, but he'd never actively come seeking her - so she figured something must be going on. "Did you need something?"
He came further into the room and perched on the chair across from her. "I have to need something to want to come and see you?"
She fought the blush that threatened to spread over her face, hoping that if she failed he would attribute her high color to the heat. Several days had passed since Sam had unexpectedly shown up at her apartment and stayed to help her through her cramps. They hadn't seen each other since then except to pass in the hall - she didn't know what he was thinking but for her part she was a little embarrassed. She had never quite gotten over the awkwardness of discussing her uterus with Sam of all people, nearly a stranger and one who had (at least until recently) hated her, and added to that was - well - everything that had happened. They'd gotten along well, very well, and had even become rather close physically. He'd held her while she slept on the couch, kissed her forehead, and at one point - well. She could't decide how she felt about that. There'd been a moment where she thought Sam was about to kiss her, by her stove. She hadn't been able to decide whether she wanted him to or not, but before it became an issue he backed off, saying he didn't think they should make any hasty decisions until she was better. Or something like that. He'd been very affectionate with her after that, and had squeezed her hand before leaving, but she still didn't know whether he'd really felt some kind of attraction between them or was just being nice because he thought she felt one. She also wasn't sure whether she felt one or not. It would certainly be strange. Her attracted to a Democrat. Well nigh impossible.
On the other hand, it would be pretty strange for the Democrat who she'd humiliated in front of his coworkers to sit and hold her for hours while she had cramps - but that had happened. Maybe she could just chalk that up to Sam being a nice guy.
*Oh God. Did I just - I think Sam is a nice guy?*
*Sam is a nice guy. I can admit that. Sam is definitely a nice guy. He fired people for me. He made me soup. And the one time he really yelled at me, he was defending Josh. I can understand that. Sort of.*
She realized Sam had been sitting there in silence for some time. "Sam?" she asked, trying again not to blush at having been caught in a reverie. "Something wrong?"
He frowned. "No."
She peered at him, cautious amusement in her look and tone. "Sam?"
"What?" he asked, distractedly.
"Yes." He sat for a moment tapping his foot against the chair leg.
He still looked surprised that she was speaking to him. "Yeah?"
She decided to go out on a limb. "The drop-in?"
His foot stopped its motion. "You heard?"
"Rebecca talked to Ginger," she admitted. She hesitated, not wanting to go beyond her bounds, before adding, "She thought you looked pretty upset."
"Rebecca thought I looked upset?"
"Oh." He looked down at his hands folded neatly in his lap. "I guess I probably did."
"You probably did look upset, or you were upset?"
He focused on her then, and their eyes held over her desk. She wasn't aware of leaning forward, but he matched her posture and leaned in toward her. "Why would I be upset?" he said finally, backing down.
She took a deep breath. If he was going to be mad at her, so be it. "Because Toby didn't warn you?"
"You knew about that?" Before she could open her mouth he said, "Yeah, I know, Ginger." He sighed. "C.J. knew," he said, looking down at the desktop.
"And Leo and Josh," she added gently.
"He didn't trust me."
"Why not?" she asked, her voice dropping even lower. Sam had never heard such a soft, kind tone from her and it surprised him into meeting her eyes again.
"I don't know," he said, the words seeming to be wrenched out of him. "I mean, I talked to him, but - I think he was mad at me for making the speech decision without him."
"So he made a decision without you?"
"Is this how you people make decisions all the time?" she asked, her normal voice returning.
He almost smiled. "Ainsley . . ."
"No, seriously. Next time Leo does something you don't like, are you and Josh going to get together and bomb something?"
"Ainsley . . ."
"Because I personally would just like a warning. I don't think this part of the building is very structurally sound." She met his eyes and they both laughed quietly.
"I know you're right," he said finally. Catching her look he added, "Not about Democrats being crazy, but about Toby. It's silly and childish and we should all get over it."
"You're not over it, are you?"
He exhaled. "No."
"Sam . . ." A sudden urge came over her to go around the desk and hug him. A deep frown creased her brow as she wondered where that had come from and clamped her hands to the arms of her chair to keep herself from doing it. "Have you ever done this to someone?" she asked. "Purposely left them out? Have they done it before? Because I really doubt it's just you."
After a long moment he concurred. "C.J. We've done it to C.J."
"You thought they did it to you because they don't take you seriously -"
"And C.J. thought we did it to her because she was a woman."
"Did you?" Ainsley asked.
"We thought - Leo thought she was too friendly with the press. He didn't think she'd be able to keep things from them."
"I don't see that as being one of her problems," Ainsley commented dryly. "I've seen her briefings."
Sam smiled. "I know. We were - I don't know what we were thinking."
He pointed at her. "That's what we were thinking."
"I heard she -"
"She proved us wrong." He sighed. "Probably to the great detriment of her personal life."
"Ah." She shifted in her chair. "So."
He nodded. "You're right. I'm not the first."
"It still sucks."
She smiled. "Yeah."
"You just - you don't know what it's like. I've been the youngest around here since we started, and it just feels like -"
"Sam?" she interrupted with an amused look on her face. "Are you accusing me of not knowing what it's like to feel left out?"
He looked at her for a moment, the wind taken out of his sails. "Okay, point taken."
She smiled. "Hey, you don't want to be the baby - bring me up there once in a while."
His eyes narrowed. "How old are you?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm a little younger than you are," she hedged.
"I was right."
His jaw practically dropped. "You're kidding."
"No." She met his gaze evenly.
"Wow." He allowed his face to show the faintest hint of how impressed he was.
She shrugged. "I graduated law school when I was twenty-four, worked for four and a half years for Dreifort, then got hired here. It's not all that unusual."
"Well, yes, it is," he said, still somewhat shocked. "They hired you here because the President saw how good you were. Most people aren't that good at your age."
"At my age?" She looked amused again. "Sam, you had a pretty good career before you joined the campaign and you can only have been a year older then than I am now."
It took him a moment to sort that out. When he did, he grinned sheepishly. "Math isn't my strong suit."
"I can see that."
She laughed and he laughed with her. "So," she said again, "did you need anything, or did you just come down to . . ."
"I just - came down to talk." He looked a little embarrassed. "To be perfectly honest I looked for Donna first, but she was trying to get a date with an earl." Seeing Ainsley's face he added, "Don't ask."
"So, you and Donna are pretty good friends?" she asked, ignoring the completely irrational knot in her stomach.
He smiled and shrugged. "You've met Donna. Do you think anyone could help it?"
The generic approach he took toward their friendship made the knot relax just a little. "She's a sweet girl." And she was - insecure and nervous, perhaps, but Ainsley had observed that Donna's insecurities came out more with other women than around her boss. And she was definitely a good-hearted person who took careful care of Josh and had gone to some pains to make Ainsley feel welcome.
Sam nodded. "She is. And she - it sounds awful to say, but she's a helpful ego-booster - except with Josh, of course, who has never needed one." Ainsley laughed at that, but she suspected Donna had in fact done a bit of ego-boosting - to put it superficially - in recent weeks when Josh was . . . the details had been carefully kept within senior staff, but everyone could see something was wrong.
"So Donna was - busy - and you came looking for me?" she asked cautiously.
He blushed. Sam Seaborn actually blushed. "I wasn't sure you'd want to . . ." He finished the sentence by gesturing aimlessly with one hand.
"Sam." How could he think that, after he'd been so kind to her? *And he's cute when he blushes. Oh God.* She smiled, trying not to be uncomfortable. "I don't think the apocalypse will be upon us if you and I are friends." *But it might be if we're more.*
He only smiled back. "That depends on how comparable you perceive the apocalypse and Lionel Tribbey as being."
She laughed outright at that before saying, "Hey, I think he likes me. He won't admit it, but -"
"No, you're right, he does like you. He stood up for me with -" He stopped abruptly, not wanting to brag.
"With Joyce and Brookline?" She smiled gently. "I heard about that, but I didn't hear he was there." She paused. "I never thanked you."
He shook his head and only added, "Leo likes you too."
"He does, and I can't imagine why!" she exclaimed.
"Because he's Leo. He's -" He shook his head. "I can't explain it."
She nodded thoughtfully. "You really don't have to. I think I get it."
"Yeah." He sank into another thoughtful silence and Ainsley could see him leaning toward upset again. She took a deep breath, arming herself for the possibility that she could crash and burn here.
*I can do this.* "Have you had dinner?"
"No," he replied, confused.
"Would you like to?"
He gave her what might have been the traces of a flirtatious look. "Are you asking if I'm hungry, or if I'd like to have dinner with you?"
Her chest lifted with her breath. She didn't notice that this distracted him momentarily - which was good, because it would only have made her more nervous. "Because you look like you need some company, and I'm starving."
"Why does that not surprise me?" Before she could throw something at him he added, "I'd love to. Thank you."
She was inexplicably surprised by this. "Okay," she said, somewhat caught off-guard.
They left the White House a little awkwardly, after stopping by his office so he could gather his things. After he'd held the front gate open for her and then closed it behind them, they started walking down the street and his free hand naturally went to the small of her back. It took him several steps even to notice he had done this, but he decided to leave it there. For her part, she felt the slight warmth immediately and looked away quickly so that he wouldn't see her expression of guilty pleasure. Her heart pounded loudly in her chest, and she stared at the pavement in utter confusion. *There is no way I have a thing for Sam Seaborn. No way. It must just be that I haven't been around a good-looking man my own age in a while. That's it.* In her inattention she nearly walked into a Washington Post vending machine and Sam had to pull on her waist to get her out of the way. When she looked up at him, startled, he dropped his hand from her back and tried to smile casually through his embarrassment. The slight blush and the little-boy smile went straight through her in a way they definitely should not have. *Oh, hell.* She slipped her hand through his arm and smiled back at him. His face relaxed, and they both nearly walked into a man with a dog while they looked at each other.
After the man had safely extracted himself and his Shih-Tzu, Ainsley and Sam looked at each other and suddenly burst into tension-reducing laughter. "Ainsley, I hope you won't be offended by this," Sam began.
He grinned. "We are both such nerds."
She smacked him but laughed. "Okay, you're right."
He took her arm again, holding it firmly this time. "Friends go to dinner together all the time. I think we can safely stop being weird now."
She nodded up at him. "Agreed."
"You know," he said as he pulled her a little closer to his side and they continued walking, "I'm enjoying that a lot."
"Enjoying what?" she asked, puzzled.
"Not having you tower over me."
She frowned in confusion until she remembered that he spent his days with C.J. and Donna. "I can see that."
"I mean, I don't have a problem with tall women, but I'm not used to having men be that much taller than I am, either."
"I'm very used to it," she said without irony.
He looked down and grinned again. "Ainsley, you're short."
She hit him again. He laughed.
Halfway through dinner they fell into a companionable silence - which wasn't the first of the night, but this time Ainsley caught Sam staring off at an indeterminate speck toward the side of her plate. A pensive, unhappy expression had come over his face.
"Sam?" she asked gently. "You in there?"
He looked up at her and shook himself. "Sorry."
She tilted her head to the side. "Anything you want to talk about?"
"Do I get mad too easily?" he asked suddenly.
"I'm sorry?" she asked, having lost him entirely.
"Do I get mad too easily?" he repeated. "I mean, I got completely pissed at you just for coming to work, and then I flew off the handle with Joyce and Brookline, and I yelled at Toby, and I almost went in and yelled in the Oval Office, which when Josh did it they sent him -" He cut himself off quickly. "Um . . ."
"It's okay," she said, gesturing with her fork. "I know there was something with Josh you're only telling senior staff. It's fine."
He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, anyway - do you think I -"
"Sam," she said thoughtfully, "I think you get all kinds of emotions quickly. I think you get angry quickly, and you get repentant quickly, and you get very happy quickly - and you usually control it, and for some reason lately you haven't been."
"I don't suppose you know what that reason is?" he asked hopefully.
She smiled and shook her head. "Sorry, psychology isn't my strong suit."
He began to say, "We used to be . . ."
"Yes?" she prompted.
He sighed. "We used to be a family, you know? All of us - especially when Josh was recovering. But lately - it seems like all we do is bicker. I feel like we're falling apart, and I can't do anything to stop it."
"You can," she said softly. Before he could ask her to elaborate, the waiter appeared over them. "Would you like your check now, sir?"
Sam tore his eyes away from Ainsley's and said distractedly, "Yes, thank you."
They haggled over the check for a while, setting aside their conversation. Ainsley insisted dinner had been at her invitation.
"I make more than you do," Sam protested.
"You do not, you're just being a guy."
"I am just being a guy, but I also make more than you do."
She finally talked him down to splitting it with her - with the qualification that next time was on him, which made her shiver with some unexplained emotion - and they made it out to the lobby. As he reached around her shoulders to help her on with her coat, he asked, "What did you mean before?"
"What did I mean when?"
They had reached the street and were walking slowly back toward the White House and their parked cars. "When you said I could help keep us from falling apart."
"Oh." She paused for a moment, thinking of how best to phrase the random thought that had come into her mind. "Sam - I've watched you with the rest of the staff. You're - you're like Leo's nephew, you know. Josh is the son, you're the kind of eccentric nephew. Only to Josh you're the brother he never had. You two are such kindred spirits that I frankly find it terrifying, Sam. And then there's you and C.J. - she sees you and Josh both as a little crazy, but she -" She broke off, unable to decide how sentimental she wanted to get. Finally she decided to go for the gold. "She loves you so much. And Toby - Toby wants to see you grow up. He's probably the most unwilling mentor I could think of, but he really does want to be that for you." She stopped walking and made him face her. His eyes were glistening with unshed tears and she felt an answering burn starting in her own throat. "That's how you can help. It might feel like you're falling apart, but they all love you and I'm pretty sure they all love each other too. If you can remind them of that -" She stopped to regroup. "You just being Sam should be able to remind them how they feel about each other. Talk to them. I think you have a special position with them, and I think you're the one who can do it."
Sam looked at her for a long time, his face working to keep the tears back. "Ainsley," he said quietly, "I don't think anyone's ever said something like that to me before."
"Bet you didn't expect it from me, did you?" she teased, trying to lighten the mood again.
"Why?" he asked simply.
She knew what he was asking. "Because it's the truth."
"And because you were a friend when I needed one, and I didn't expect that either."
He nodded a little stiffly.
"I thought you were going to yell at me for harassing your staff," she confessed.
He smiled guiltily. "I was."
"You didn't, though."
"I'm a good guy."
She nodded up at him, all trace of teasing gone from her voice and demeanor. "Yes, you are." She reached out and rubbed his arm in what she hoped was a comforting manner - then chickened out and stopped, saying with a smile, "I bet you didn't expect to hear that from me, either."
"Hey, I know you're human." He smiled a little. "And that's becoming less of a shock each time."
"Thanks, I think," she said wryly.
"Seriously, Ainsley . . ." He waited until she was looking at him again. "I'm going home feeling much better. Thank you."
"You're welcome." They stood in anticipatory silence for a while before he bent over and wrapped his arms around her, suddenly tightening them and holding her so close against him that he almost lifted her off the ground. When he loosened his grip he did so without releasing her, and she slipped her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his chest. She didn't really think about what she was doing - in fact she wasn't thinking at all, only enjoying the all-too-rare feeling of being held. She felt his chest lift with a thoughtful sigh and he bent down to rest his head against hers. One hand drifted to the back of her head and stroked her hair very lightly before settling under it against her neck, his thumb making little circles on the exposed skin. They both inhaled heavily at the same time, feeling their bodies move together, and stood like that for a long while. When he finally pulled back just enough to look at her, he rested his forehead against hers and said quietly, "Who knew?"
They shared ironic smiles and she said just as softly, "Yeah."
"We better go before a photographer finds us." At the mere thought they both jumped away from each other and looked around compulsively.
"Oh God, we are nerds," Ainsley groaned when she caught his eye again.
He laughed and jerked his head toward the White House. "Cars."
"Right." They walked arm-in-arm the rest of the way. Ainsley couldn't decide what had just happened - it still seemed ridiculous and somehow impossible that she should make a connection with one of these people at all, and furthermore with this person - but on the other hand when they weren't talking politics they got along perfectly, they seemed to understand each other, and she could think of no way to explain the feeling of warmth and safety that she had in his arms. Just the memory of his gentle hands on her when she was ill made her melt, and that coupled with the sensory memory of his embrace and tiny caresses was enough to make her weak at the knees. Something was definitely starting here, and it only remained to be seen what direction it would take.
When they arrived at her parked car Sam started to reach for her, then drew back reflexively. Ainsley gave him an entertained look as his eyes combed the street. "Hey, I've been bitten before," he pointed out.
"Well I haven't, and I was thinking the same thing," she admitted. "What does that make me?"
"You're a nerd," he joked. She smacked his arm again and he responded by sweeping her into his arms, effectively trapping her hands against his body. They embraced tightly and then drew back, their eyes meeting. He started to lean in, but she instinctively pulled away just enough that he noticed and stopped. "Not yet," he commented.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't -"
"No, you're right." He cupped the side of her head with one hand and stroked her cheek with his thumb. "Sometime when neither of us is distraught, right?"
"Right," she agreed, a little relieved. She was ready to admit she wanted Sam to kiss her, but she didn't know if she was ready for all the numerous places that might lead, or all the things it might mean. She wasn't sure it wouldn't just be physical, which she didn't want. She covered his hand with her own and added, "This time it was your turn."
"Yeah." He dropped his hand and said, "Thank you again for - everything."
She nodded, smiling gently. "Yeah."
"Well." He leaned down and kissed her cheek lightly. "Goodnight, Ainsley."
"Goodnight." He closed her car door for her and waited until she had pulled away to walk around the block to his own car.