Our Kindby Allison
Disclaimer: I definitely still don't own them. If I did, the President would never interrupt things he shouldn't.
"I hope you don't mind - I told Donna. She's now feeling much better about giving a reporter her underwear."
Ainsley's head snapped up off the desk on which she had been laying it for an indeterminate amount of time. "I can't believe you told Donna - wait. Did you just say she gave a reporter her underwear?"
Sam's grin spread even further across his face. "I'm trying to make you feel better here. You honestly didn't hear about that?"
"Sam!" She gestured irritably around her office. "Do I look like I hear anything?"
"Point taken." He shoved her door closed, saying as he did so, "Just in case you're seized with the urge -"
"Sorry." He looked not at all apologetic as he slid into a chair across from her. "It was all Leo's fault. He made fun of Karen Cahill's shoes -"
"New York Times Karen Cahill? 'This White House seems determined to make a mockery of standard English grammar and idiom' Karen Cahill? The one who said the AFL-CIO speech was -"
"Yes, that Karen Cahill!" he exploded.
"She makes you and Josh look like complete idiots and then Leo makes fun of her shoes?" she asked incredulously.
He gave her a hurt look. "Have you forgotten that you just danced drunkenly in a bathrobe for the President of the United States?"
Her forehead hit the desk again. "I thought you were trying to make me feel better."
"I got sidetracked when you started insulting me. Do you want to hear about Donna or not?"
She lifted her head and eyed him cautiously. "Is it going to make me feel less stupid?"
"Leo insulted her shoes, so I had to go and apologize for him, only I -" He stopped abruptly, unwilling to share his mistake. "Um - I -"
"You said there were nuclear weapons in a shepherd's hut on the side of a hill," Ainsley muttered, rubbing her temples.
"I thought you didn't hear about -"
"Lionel Tribbey told me about you being stupid, but I don't remember anything about Donna's underwear." She stopped rubbing and frowned. "What did you have to do with Donna's underwear, anyway?"
"Nothing." His face flushed over. "I sent Donna to talk to Karen, only while she was talking to Karen apparently she somehow dropped her underwear."
Ainsley registered disbelief. "How in the name of God did she manage that?"
"Not the underwear she was currently wearing. Stowaway underwear from the previous day."
"She dropped her underwear in front of Karen Cahill?" She raised her eyebrows, looking at him for the first time head-on since he'd come into the room. "Pretty embarrassing, I'll give you that."
A smile threatened the corners of his mouth again. "Not nearly as embarrassing as when Karen sent the underwear to the White House through the mail . . ."
"She mailed it to Donna at the White House?" Ainsley gasped in horror.
Sam fought valiantly to keep from laughing. "No, she sent it to Josh at the White House."
Ainsley was rendered completely speechless. She opened and closed her mouth several times before managing to stammer, "That bitch!"
Sam's laughter ceased abruptly. "What, she can mock me in a national newspaper and you think it's funny, but she plays a joke on Donna and you call her a bitch?" He looked actually offended. "Way to defend my honor there, Ainsley."
"Speaking as the man who set me up -"
"And how did I not know that you'd never met the President before? How did this never come up?"
"Yeah, because you handled it so well when it did come up."
"Hey, I could not have foreseen your state of either drunkenness or undress."
"Did Ginger not tell you I couldn't come up because I couldn't wear my pants?"
He paused, caught. "I wasn't thinking."
"I mean, C.J. went on Capitol Beat without pants on."
Ainsley narrowed her eyes at him. "C.J. can get away with that kind of thing. Plus Mark was flirting with her."
Sam stopped his next remark before it began, momentarily distracted. "What?"
"Please, Sam." She leaned back and put her feet up on the desk. "A blind man could have seen that."
"I see you found some pants," he commented.
"I called you a sex kitten."
Ainsley had to reach behind her and grab onto her file cabinet to keep from flipping over backwards. "You what?"
Sam's face turned a deep shade of crimson. "When I was talking to the President about you. He asked what I wanted him to say to you, and I said -"
"You told the President of the United States to tell me that I wasn't hired because I was a blond Republican sex kitten?" Her feet came off the desk and hit the floor with a thud as she stared at him in utter disbelief.
"I was joking around!" he defended. "I didn't think he'd repeat it verbatim."
"Sam, I'd never met the man and I could have told you he'd repeat that verbatim. He's easily amused."
"He probably wouldn't have said it if you'd been dressed and acting like a professional," he pointed out. "It wouldn't have occurred to him to treat you with anything other than respect - except I imagine you forfeited that by -"
"Can we stop now, please?" Ainsley begged, burying her face in her hands. "Because you're doing a pretty bad job of making me feel better."
His expression sobered immediately as he realized his mistake. "Ainsley, that isn't what I meant."
She looked up at him between fingers. "Isn't it?"
"No." He watched her anxiously, unable to think of anything else to say.
Her hands slid slowly down her face to her neck and she looked him in the eye, a strikingly anguished expression on her face. "The President of the United States, the man who had me hired because he thought I was smart enough to make up for being a Republican, has lost professional respect for me. Isn't that what you meant?"
"It came out without thinking, Ainsley . . ."
"But it's not untrue?" He didn't answer right away and she nodded. "Thought so."
He got up and came around the desk, sitting on it right in front of her so that he towered over her bowed head and she had to look up to see him. "Look," he said as he settled himself, "he was in a bad mood, he had a lot on his mind - we were about to attack Colombia, he was at odds with the First Lady, we were waiting on the polling numbers -" She looked away and he reached down and took her chin in his hand, lifting her face and forcing her to look at him. "He was facetious with you because of his mood and he'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow."
"I doubt he's going to forget that," she said.
Sam released her and looked off to her side, thinking for a moment. "If he really hated you, or didn't respect you, or thought of you as an outsider," he said finally, "he would have ignored the bathrobe thing, been stiff, cold, and polite, and excused himself. Instead he did what he did when Donna wanted him to call Karen Cahill for her, when C.J. announced in the Oval Office that she's good in bed, and when Josh met Joey Lucas hungover and wearing my rubber hipwaders." Ignoring the combination confused/horrified expression on Ainsley's face, he continued, "He teased you. He doesn't tease people he doesn't like, and he doesn't tease people he doesn't trust." He started to blush again. "Plus . .."
"What?" she asked suspiciously, glad of the diversion. The tears that had been threatening to come all night had started pricking at her eyes afresh.
"Nothing," he said too quickly.
"Sam," she drawled, sensing a story. "What?"
He met her curious look, trying to sound as casual as possible. "I think the President thinks there's . . ."
She frowned. "What?"
"I think he thinks there's something - between us," he managed to say without stammering.
Ainsley looked back at him incredulously. "The President thinks there's something between us?"
"I think so."
"I've never even met the -"
"You have now."
She ignored this. "He thinks there's something between us?"
"Did you tell him there was something between us?"
"Ainsley!" he exclaimed. "Of course not."
"Then why would he -"
"Well, for starters, probably the fact that he walked in on us in your office, with you in your state of - disarray - telling me to dance with you . . ."
She dropped her head into her hands again. "Oh God."
He felt bad and decided to take one for the team, so to speak. He rested a hand on the top of her head and added, "But I think he started to suspect something when I asked him to introduce himself and be nice to you. He looked at me funny."
"He looked at you funny?" she repeated, her voice muffled by her hands. "That's what you're giving me?"
"He seemed to be insinuating that I was taking an unusual amount of interest in your welfare."
"He seemed to be insinuating . . ."
He shrugged, even though she couldn't see him. "Or else I'm just paranoid."
She tried to drop her head onto the desk, but he was in the way and she wound up with her forehead resting on his knee instead. "This is really not helping."
He kept his hand on her hair, stroking gently as he spoke. "Sorry. I'm not very good at helping."
"You're not that bad," she mumbled grudgingly.
"You're better," he acknowledged.
She lifted her head to give him a puzzled look. "What?"
"You're better at helping. When I needed somebody to talk to, you were really good." He nodded at her thoughtfully. "I wanted you to know that I'm trying, even though it's not working very well."
A little smile, though not a cheerful one, lifted the corners of her mouth. "It's working okay."
"I didn't mean to say the wrong thing."
She tilted her head to the side, considering. "If you'd meant to say it, it wouldn't be the wrong thing, would it?"
He smiled back, some of his tension alleviated. "I guess not."
"Hmm," she said.
He leaned down toward her a little. "Will you let me return the favor?"
She matched his posture by resting her arms on his lap and leaning on them. "What favor?"
"Let me take you for a drink."
She raised an eyebrow. "You don't think -"
"Ainsley, no way you're still feeling one drink you had that long ago," he said, smiling. "Not even Josh is that much of a lightweight."
"Fair point," she conceded. "Why?"
He remembered asking the same question. "Because you could use the company," he replied.
"And you?" she asked a little more quietly.
He met her gaze steadily. "After the Colombia thing - yeah, I could use some company too."
"Okay," she replied simply.
For a long moment they sat there looking at each other, him sprawled casually on her desk, her still leaning on his knees. He'd taken his tie and jacket off upstairs and his shirt was partially unbuttoned, the sleeves rolled up and his white undershirt showing at the open neck. He suddenly felt sloppy next to her, even though she'd just changed into dark jeans and a sweater someone had fetched from her apartment. He looked down at himself ruefully. "I'll even button my shirt for you," he said jokingly.
She smiled. She had a very sweet smile. He couldn't get out of his mind the look on her face when he'd come to the Capitol Beat filming, how very pleased she'd been to see him. He felt that he might do a lot to merit that face from her again, and that this might be a dangerous thing.
She was almost to the door before he slid off the desk to follow her. In the light from the hall she looked like a Botticelli or something, her long fair hair falling loosely over her shoulders, gleaming against the dark of her sweater, her pale skin - alabaster, he thought with a laugh and a mental nod for Donna - white in the shadowy office. She was looking back at him expectantly, waiting for him to join her. As she flipped the lights off his hand rested on her back, and as they headed up the stairs it fell comfortably to her waist. She looked up at him with a wicked smile. "You told the President I was a sex kitten?"
Red flooded into his cheeks. "Not exactly in that context . . ."
"I'm flattered, Sam. Really." He would have been happier to note the return of her normal, teasing tone if it wasn't being directed at him.
"If you thought I was seriously hinting that you were hired as a sex object you'd hurt me," he pointed out.
"I know you weren't serious."
"You called me 'my friend,'" he said suddenly.
"When you were - in your office. When I asked if there was alcohol in your drink you answered and you called me 'my friend.'"
"Okay," Ainsley replied a little nervously, not sure where he was taking this.
"Am I?" He held his office door open for her and reached for the chair where he'd draped his jacket.
"Are you what?"
"Are we friends?" he asked quietly.
"I -" She stopped as if she'd never considered it before. "I guess I kind of thought by now it went without saying."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." He paused in front of her. "I guess I was wondering if . . ."
"Yeah." She met his eyes a little shakily. "I don't know."
"Neither do I," he almost whispered.
She stepped back out the door suddenly, breaking the moment. "In terms of the heart attack it's got to give a few people on the Hill, friends might be enough for now."
He matched her smile, understanding her need to avoid the issue for a while longer. "Very true."
She hesitated outside in the bullpen. "Do you really believe what you said before?"
"What did I say?"
"That the President would have acted differently if he didn't trust me?"
Sam nodded sincerely. "You know how he is with C.J., and Donna, and Margaret, and -"
"No, I don't," she reminded him.
Sam squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. "He has three daughters and a granddaughter, and Zoe's the only one he sees often. So instead he has C.J. and to a lesser extent the other women who work here. It's like when you said we were all Leo's surrogate family. What I saw was him treating you exactly the way he treats Margaret and Donna every day."
"He makes fun of them?"
"He loves them," Sam said honestly. "He's giving you a chance, Ainsley. He wants to like you."
The tears returned and started to burn at her eyes and she had a hard time speaking. "Why?"
He smiled and shrugged. "You're a Republican, and you just went on national TV and defended him."
"That's my job."
"How many people would have done it?"
There was a long silence. "I don't know," she admitted.
He smiled. "You know, you think you don't fit in here, but you do. We may not share your politics, but you're our kind."
She took a deep breath. "Sam, that's really sweet."
"It's still really sweet."
"Yeah, I know." She laughed and smacked him and he added, "Just returning the favor."
She nodded to show that they understood each other. He held out his arm and she wrapped hers comfortably around it, ignoring the looks on several stunned faces as they strode out of the West Wing.