Diving to Be Deeperby Allison
Disclaimers: None of the characters are mine. "Diving to Be Deeper" is a song by Sinead Lohan, who you should look up if you like, for example, Sarah McLachlan.
Word spread through the West Wing like wildfire - everywhere except the office of the Deputy Communications Director. Nobody wanted to be the one to tell him, and so the task fell to Cathy to slip it into a memo mixed with the rest of his notes. She told Ginger nervously, and Ginger told Toby, what she had done, and so the rest of the senior staff waited quietly for the news to break.
For a while after Sam reached his office that morning the usual sounds reigned: the beep of his voicemail, the clacking of his computer keys, the creaking of his chair - the rustling of papers as he flipped through his memos. Then dead, utter silence.
C.J. was walking past his office when the silence fell, and Cathy signaled madly for her to stay. Understanding immediately, C.J. froze by Cathy's desk and waited for the thunder.
Sam's door swung all the way open very slowly. His eyes fixed immediately on C.J. with a glare that made her blood run cold. "How long?" he asked, his voice tight with anger.
"How long?" he repeated, the muscles in his jaw visibly taut.
"We found out yesterday," C.J. confessed. "Sam -"
"Why didn't you tell me yesterday?" he exploded. All the way across the bullpen Ginger jumped and nearly dropped a stack of papers. Sam glared in her direction and she ducked into Toby's office for cover.
"It was late," C.J. pleaded with him. "There was nothing anyone could do last night, and we didn't want to worry you."
"So I'm the last one to hear?"
"I'm the last one to hear," he repeated furiously, "that the Senate Republicans have banded together to table a bill that I spent seven months researching? You didn't think this was something I should be told?" His voice rose to painfully high levels and C.J. had to fight the urge to cover her ears.
"Sam," she said again, trying to adopt a calming tone.
"Don't patronize me," he said angrily.
"I'm not patronizing you."
"There's more," he declared.
"I can see it in your face. There's more."
C.J. sighed heavily. "Shallick told the Post that the bill lost critical Republican votes because the committee members weren't satisfied with the way you handled meetings with them."
Sam's jaw clenched and unclenched for a frightening moment before he spoke. "Shallick's saying the bill didn't pass because of me?"
"Yes." She couldn't say more than that.
He looked at her hard and then turned and went into his office, slamming the door behind him. Loud pounding noises ensued and the door rattled on its hinges while C.J. watched in helpless sympathy and fury at the man who had caused this mess.
By the time Ginger had sufficiently frightened Toby, Josh had come along of his own accord. The three older senior staff members stood clustered beside Cathy's desk staring at Sam's door, trying to decide what to do.
"We should get Leo," Josh maintained.
"That's the last thing we need," C.J. said firmly.
"He didn't do anything wrong, C.J.!"
"Sometimes that doesn't matter."
"Is something wrong?"
The three senior staff and Cathy pivoted slowly to find Ainsley standing behind them with her coat still on, a curious expression on her pale face. As Josh opened his mouth to deny any problem, C.J. burst out with, "Shallick's interview -"
"With the Post," Ainsley finished. "I saw it this morning." Her eyes went to Sam's closed door. "He's upset?"
As she spoke a thud louder than the previous ones rocked the office door.
"I guess so," Ainsley answered her own question. She looked at the other four with slightly lifted eyebrows. "What are you all doing out here?"
C.J. jerked her head toward another thump. "Nobody really wants to go in there."
"Toby," Josh began.
"No way," the other man interrupted hastily. "He's still mad at me."
"Oh, for pity's sake," Ainsley muttered. She pushed her way past them and headed for Sam's office.
"Ainsley, you really don't want to do that," Josh warned.
"What's he going to do?" she asked, her hands spread in supplication. "Hit me?"
"Yell a lot," Josh said lamely.
"I can handle that." *I hope,* she silently finished as she pushed the door open. She slipped through the smallest opening possible and pulled it shut immediately behind her.
Sam had his back to her and was busy stabbing his fist viciously into the wall. He was making enough noise not to notice her presence until she called quietly, "Sam."
He whirled around, cradling his hand in the other. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
She drew back an inch, momentarily stung. "Why wouldn't I be here?"
"Have you seen the -"
"Yeah, I saw it." She stood for a few seconds unsure what to say. "It's absolute bullshit, Sam."
"They were going to table that bill no matter what, Sam, because they didn't like it. It wouldn't matter who sent it to the Hill, whether it was you, or the President, or Jesse Jackson, they were not going to pass that bill. They're using you as an excuse so their constituents can think it was because of the nasty Democrats in the White House."
"What did you think of it?"
She was taken aback. "Sorry?"
"What did you think of the bill?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Why don't you ask what you really mean, Sam?"
"I asked you -"
"Ask me, Sam," she repeated firmly, her voice rising.
"I asked if you thought we were right," he said, crossing his arms.
"Yeah, but you wanted to ask if I was going to side with Shallick, didn't you?"
The words hung between them in complete silence for several moments. Finally Sam said more quietly, "I didn't say that."
"You were thinking it."
"How the hell do you know what I was thinking?" he challenged, his volume increasing again.
"Because I could tell, Sam!"
"You can't possibly be right all the time!" he shouted in response.
"Was I right about this?"
He couldn't answer her. She shook her head and turned for the door, but he stopped her quickly. "Ainsley, it doesn't work that way."
"What doesn't work that way?" she asked tensely. "Us? Is there some magic way that it does work? Because if you're going to stop trusting me every time you have a problem with a Republican, we're not going to last a week."
"Is there an us?" he asked quietly.
She took a deep breath. "The other night I thought there was."
"So did I," he replied.
"Then how could you think I would -"
"How could you think I would take sides against you?"
"I didn't think you would publicly take sides against me," he replied. "But I didn't know what you would be thinking."
"You didn't know what I would be thinking?" She stood with her feet planted firmly apart as if expecting a fight. "You can't be with me unless I agree with you? Because I say again, Sam, you and I have never agreed and we're not likely to start now just because -"
"I don't expect us to agree."
"Then what the hell, Sam?" Her eyes blazed at him, all thoughts of comforting him gone in the face of larger issues.
"I -" He pounded one fist onto his desk, his voice coming out as an angry shout even though the emotion he was feeling was not anger. "I need to know that you'll be there even if you don't agree with me!"
She took a step back in surprise. "What do you think I'm doing here in the first place?"
"Picking a fight?"
"That's not fair."
"Isn't it?" he asked.
"Then why did you even bring up -"
"Because you asked me what I was doing here!" she reminded him. "Because you were upset and all of a sudden I wasn't sure you would want to see me!
"Because of Shallick?" he asked, confused.
"Ainsley." He clenched both hands at his sides to keep from hitting something again. This had already interfered with his work, he'd be damned if it was going to interfere with his personal life. "I was upset."
"I was upset," he repeated. "Ainsley, if we're going to be an us -"
"I have to live with you getting pissed at me for belonging to the wrong party?"
"No!" he shouted so vehemently that she jumped. He advanced on her in a rather startling way. "You have to understand that politics has nothing to do with it - when I'm upset I'm going to want you!"
Another pin-drop silence ensued while Ainsley processed this. "So you're saying you can be furious at ten senators just for being Republicans and want to come home to me?"
She frowned up at him. "Does that work both ways?"
At her words he caught her around the waist with a suddenness that made her gasp, crushing her fiercely against him. He bent almost completely over, burying his face in her shoulder and her hair and trying to hold her as close as humanly possible. Something in his chest released when he felt her arms go around him and he nearly collapsed on her, letting her hold them both up. After a long while he lifted his head from her shoulder, pressed a hard kiss to her forehead, and said quietly, "I'm sorry."
"So am I."
He pulled back enough to look at her, keeping his hands on her upper arms. "I'm surprised you're not running for the hills yet."
"We've had one date, Ainsley. This is a hell of a way to start getting involved with someone."
She raised an eyebrow at him in that elegant way that she and C.J. both had. "Sam, when we started hanging out, did you ever once say to me, 'Ainsley, would you be my friend if I promise never to have bad days?'"
"No," he said, giving her a tiny, puzzled smile.
"There you go, then," she replied. "Not once did you ever promise you'd be easy."
"You're not exactly a piece of cake yourself."
"I certainly am not," she said calmly. "See?"
His smile turned intimate and, completely in spite of the angry words they'd exchanged, made her stomach twist into knots. "Okay."
She smiled back, knowing without a doubt that he was about to kiss her. She'd been waiting ever since their date two nights before, but they hadn't had much chance to be alone. But now . . . before she could remember that they were in his office at the White House his lips were on hers, in a completely different kind of kiss than the one they'd shared outside her apartment. This one was needy, desperate, hungry. Any plans either might have had for taking it slow had been banished by the intense experience of having their first knock-down, drag-out fight almost immediately following the first date. This was about reassurance, and there was no way she could break it off.
"We have to stop," Sam whispered several moments later in between kisses.
"The entire senior staff is outside," she informed him, all the while pulling him back down to her.
"Everybody needs a hobby," he muttered, kissing her neck. She giggled and then clamped her mouth shut hard, hoping no one had heard.
"Ainsley, if they heard that I'm pretty sure they heard everything else," Sam murmured into her skin. "Which would leave very little doubt as to the present situation."
"Oh, God," she groaned.
"Don't say that too loud," he warned. That really made her burst out laughing, and he pulled away from her, looking insulted. "Okay, now I'm just worried."
She pulled him back into her arms, hugging him hard as they both laughed, and then stepped back and ran her fingers through her hair. "Do I look disheveled?" she asked.
He tugged on her jacket, pulling it straight, and then ran his hands gently over her shoulders. "You look fine."
"Not like . . ."
"Not like we just had sex in my office, no."
"Good." She took a deep breath and smiled gently at him. "Sam, after work - would you like to come over?"
"We're being honest here?"
He nodded. "In that case - it's going to be a long, very bad day, and by the time it's over I'm really going to want your company."
She nodded back, her smile growing. "Okay."
As she turned to leave his voice stopped her. "Ainsley."
He took a deep breath before asking, "We're in this pretty deep, aren't we?"
"Yes," she replied unequivocally.
"Good," he said simply.
With one last fond look she exited his office, walking without a word past the curious eyes of their colleagues.