Disclaimer: They're not mine, they never will be. They're Aaron's.
Sam entered the office cautiously, knocking on the wall since the door was already open. "Hi?"
Ainsley had her back to him, bending over the desk reading something with a binder open in her hands. She turned and flashed him a brilliant smile. "Hey, Sam."
He waved the folder he was carrying. "Thought I'd save Donna a trip."
"The notes on the EPA?"
She looked at him skeptically as she took the folder. "You thought you'd save Donna a trip?"
"Yeah," he replied innocently, putting both hands in his pockets.
She fought laughter back. "Sam, yesterday you and Josh sent Donna all the way over to the OEOB for something a messenger had already brought, because she had made fun of your fire-lighting skills again."
"Who told you that?"
He looked completely unsurprised by this. "Ah."
"You thought you'd save Donna a trip?" she repeated, smiling.
"I thought I'd come say hello?" he tried again.
"Better." She grinned triumphantly over the open binder in her arms.
"And, you know, remind you once again that you're on our side on this. The fact that I'm here talking to you should in no way be taken to mean that I like talking to you. Because -"
"You don't?" she guessed, still smiling broadly.
"Not in the least." He was smiling now too, and blushing faintly.
"Okay," she replied. He didn't quite like her knowing smirk and turned with one last look to go back upstairs.
When she needed, an hour later, to return the EPA folder to Josh, she decided to follow Sam's example and take it up herself. "Just to save Rebecca a trip," she told herself laughingly. The bullpen was bustling as usual but none of the senior staff were in evidence; a peek in Josh's office turned up neither him nor Donna. She headed for the communications area, hoping they might be gathered there for some reason. When she heard Donna's voice she thought she'd hit the jackpot.
"Hours in the dark, Sam," Donna was complaining. "For hours he left me there with her."
"I thought you liked her," Sam replied.
'Her who?' Ainsley wondered. She lingered outside in the bullpen, not really meaning to eavesdrop but curious.
"I like her fine," Donna replied. "I just don't like being alone with her."
Sam sounded suitably confused. "Why not?"
Donna sighed loudly. "She's much easier to get along with when Josh is there and she's talking to him and not me."
Sam laughed at that. "I see. But you like her fine."
"Sure. When Josh is there."
Ainsley leaned forward just a tad and peered into the office, still keeping carefully out of their sight. They were sprawled comfortably in the chairs across from his desk, Donna's legs resting across Sam's lap. He was patting her ankles absently as they talked, almost as if he didn't realize he was doing it. He looked a little more rumpled than he had earlier, and his hair was tousled in a way that suggested he'd been running around outside - although Ainsley seriously doubted that he had. As she watched, he chuckled again and then rubbed Donna's leg more overtly. "I have to go see if Toby's back, get off me."
Donna, unperturbed, swung her legs down off his lap and got to her feet. "Josh is still in the Oval."
"Okay." As she passed him Sam grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Make sure he eats lunch today, would you?"
"I don't every day?" Donna asked, her brow wrinkling.
"I'm just saying, he's looking a little peaky today."
Her face relaxed into a little Mona Lisa smile. "Yeah." On a sudden impulse she bent and kissed Sam's cheek before heading for the door. As she bent down Sam reached up with one arm and snaked it around her, giving her shoulder an affectionate pat. Something she couldn't quite identify twinged in Ainsley's chest; she acknowledged to herself that Sam was - well. Sam.
Ainsley quickly made herself known before she got caught, by sticking her head in and knocking on the doorframe. "Hey."
"Hey," Sam said enthusiastically, sitting up straight, at the same time that Donna replied, "Hi, Ainsley. See you later."
"Bye," Ainsley replied absently as the other woman slipped from the room. She went over and dropped into the chair Donna had just vacated. "Where's Josh?"
Sam gave her an odd look. "He's in the Oval, but why didn't you just give that to Donna?"
Ainsley looked down sheepishly at the folder in her hands. "I should have done that, huh?"
"It might have been a thought," Sam replied. Ainsley seemed to inspire that edgy tone in him, even now that he'd admitted to himself that he liked her. Sort of. In the way he might like anyone, of course.
Then he realized she was giving him either a sentimental smile, or a measuring gaze, or both at once. "What?" he asked defensively.
"What?" she replied.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"How am I looking at you?" she replied.
"Like I just rescued a cat from a tree and you're trying to decide why."
She couldn't really argue with his metaphor. "You just - you really worry about Josh, don't you?" She nodded and acknowledged, "Both of you."
"You don't think we have the right?" Sam asked defensively. She could tell he was ready to get into another gun control debate with her and she didn't want that.
"No, of course you do. Just -"
"It's kind of sweet, that's all."
"Ainsley," he deadpanned, "I think I would be a happy man if you never used that word to describe me again."
"You don't want me to think you're sweet?" She gave him the most charming look she had in her arsenal.
"Sure, but -" He stopped abruptly as he realized his mistake.
Ainsley leaned back in her chair with a self-satisfied expression. "Yes?"
Suddenly he turned it back on her. "So you think I'm sweet?"
"I thought you didn't want me to use that word to describe you anymore."
"I'll allow you a parting shot," he replied smoothly.
She stopped, her face changing, and looked at him seriously for a moment. "I like that you worry about Josh. I like how you are with Donna. And I like that you're the kind of guy who would make friends with me."
"Ainsley," Sam said more quietly, "anyone would make friends with you."
"Even though I'm a blond Republican girl and nobody likes me?" she asked teasingly.
He looked a little worried, though. "You did know I was kidding, right?"
"Of course I did, Sam." She offered him a smile unlike the others, softer and more gentle.
"Okay," he replied, unconsciously mirroring her expression.
"You're wrong, though," she said after a moment.
She hesitated, deciding whether she wanted to discuss this or not. She really wanted to get it off her chest with someone, but Sam had that knight-in-shining-armor complex going and she didn't want him to freak out. She sighed finally. "Not *anyone* would make friends with me."
Oh, she'd been right. He immediately leaned forward in his chair, a dangerous glint coming into his eye. "What?"
"I didn't want to get into this, Sam, I just . . ."
She rubbed her forehead wearily. "Can we just talk for a minute, without you getting angry?"
"What would I have to get angry about?" he asked tightly.
"See, you're doing it."
He tried to sit back and relax. "I'm not going to get angry." He didn't tell her that even without hearing her story, even just suspecting that someone had treated her badly, he wasn't going to get angry - he was there already.
She sighed heavily again. "I had lunch the other day with an old friend - I mean, she was a friend before I, um, before I started working here."
Sam's eyes narrowed, but he only said, "Okay."
Ainsley took a deep breath and her next words came out all in a rush. "She said that most of the Republican party is talking about how convenient it was that I got to appear on Capitol Beat with you at just the right time and wondering exactly who it was among the White House staff that I slept with to obtain both that spot and my current position in the Counsel's office." She stopped and looked at him nervously.
Sam only said, "Go on," but it caused him considerable pain to say even that much because his jaw was so tightly clenched.
"And they're saying that me going on TV after the State of the Union is just evidence of how I've been tainted because I'm just another woman who lets sex get in the way of her political opinions."
"Ainsley," Sam said through his clenched jaw, "I am not getting angry."
"You'll excuse me if I don't believe that," she said with a flash of her usual humor.
"I'm really okay, Sam," she said, cutting him off before he could launch into an unstoppable tirade. "I just needed to get that off my chest." Seeing his skeptical expression she added, "Really, you know, I haven't been friends with any of those people - they pretty much all ditched me when I took this job. It shouldn't matter anymore."
"But it does." His tone had calmed and was now much more sad than angry. He breathed her name in a whisper. "Ainsley."
"See, now you feel bad for me," she said. "I think I'd rather have you angry."
"I could get angry again."
"Please don't." She stood and waved the folder a little. "I'm going to go give this to Donna."
The way he said her name stopped her cold. She couldn't quite identify the feeling behind it, but something . . . "Yes?"
He looked up at her from his chair. "Thank you for coming and talking to me."
She frowned in confusion. "You're thanking me?"
"For trusting me." He looked so earnest that she had to smile.
"Okay," she replied simply. "You're welcome."
When she heard someone coming down the stairs later that evening she didn't even think about who it might be - her assistant had left, and that left only one real possibility. Although, given the circumstances, she did pray it wasn't the President paying a surprise visit. She thought about locking the door, then changed her mind and decided that the President, on the off chance that it was him, would be enough of a gentleman to knock.
She breathed a quick sigh of relief. "Come on in, Sam."
He poked his head through the door, followed by the rest of him, and pushed it shut behind him. "I just came to ask if you had the -" He stopped in his tracks. "Ainsley, you're not wearing a shirt."
She looked down at her completely modest black camisole, feigning ignorance. "Sure I am."
"Not a big one," he protested, his eyes fixated on her face to keep them from wandering to the exposed skin of her collarbone and shoulders.
"I didn't realize you took such an interest in the size of my shirts, Sam," she teased.
"You know what I mean. An outside shirt. You're not wearing one."
He bit back a comment on that and said instead, "Anyone could have walked in."
"I thought of that. I figured the President would knock."
"You should really put a shirt on."
"Sam," she said, giving him a confused and somewhat exasperated look, "I'm not sure exactly why it is that you suddenly find my upper body objectionable, but -"
Sam, once again falling into the "sex kitten" trap, spoke without thinking. "I find your upper body thoroughly unobjectionable, which is why I would appreciate your keeping it covered while we're in the White House where we both work."
Ainsley was so stunned at this admission that he found her attractive that she simply replied, "Okay," with eyes wide.
His hand flew to cover his mouth. "Well, that was completely inappropriate," he managed to say.
"It's okay," she said, the shocked expression not leaving her face.
"It's not okay."
"I'm not going to sue you for harassment, Sam." She finally started to blush and reached for the back of her chair. "But I think I am going to put my shirt back on now."
"It's completely not okay for me to make you uncomfortable, Ainsley," he said, agonized.
"I'm not uncomfortable," she replied.
His eyebrows lifted. "You're not?"
She flashed him an enigmatic smile. Payback was hell. "No, I'm not. It just occurred to me that you have a point."
She struggled not to laugh at his stricken look. "I think sex in the White House would definitely be a bad idea."
He could only stare.
"For one thing," she continued, "it's not really neutral turf, is it?"
She finally burst out laughing as she buttoned her shirt. "Relax, Sam, I'm kidding."
His breath rushed out and his chest slumped. "You really shouldn't joke about that." He fixed her suddenly with a serious gaze. "Especially if -"
She followed his reasoning immediately. "Sam, if some idiot wants to decide that I got a job here because I slept with you in the Capitol Beat makeup room, then that's what he's going to think. And us avoiding each other is not going to change that - in fact, it would probably make it worse."
He nodded after a second. "Yeah."
"You're agreeing with me?"
"Take it while you can get it."
She grinned. "Sure."
He raised his eyebrows again, in questioning this time. "How does dinner sound, between two people who are not having sex in the White House?"
"Lovely," Ainsley replied warmly.
"Good." His eyes drifted downward. "Oh, for the love of God, Ainsley."
He gestured toward the little corner of camisole that was still showing at her open collar. "Would you button that, please?"
"What, afraid you'll be tempted?" she asked as she complied.
"Yeah, I don't think I'll be able to keep my hands off you in the Chinese food place." He held the door open for her and waited while she pulled it carefully shut.