Cookies and a Warm Embraceby Ginny K.
Disclaimer: They're not mine and I'll put them back unharmed when I'm done.
It was answer B.
The President had made his decision.
The senior staff dragged themselves out of the Oval Office in a collective daze. Leo stayed behind with the President, CJ and Toby went to his office, Donna met Josh in the hall and led him back to his office with a gentle hand on his shoulder. Sam stood in the hallway for a minute, utterly alone.
He turned into his office and dropped into his chair. He propped his feet up on the windowsill and stared out at the rain for almost half an hour. He sighed and glanced over at the window between the two offices, Toby had closed the blinds. He dragged himself up out of the chair and went to see how Josh was doing.
Donna wasn't at her desk; he stopped just outside Josh's door. It wasn't quite closed all the way and he peeked his head in. Josh and Donna were on the couch. She was at one end with her feet up on a chair. Josh was stretched out, his head in Donna's lap, shoes and tie missing. He was asleep but Sam guessed by his tear stained face that he hadn't been sleeping long.
Donna looked up and caught Sam's eye and waved him in. He hesitated in the doorway for a second, not wanting to interrupt what looked like a private moment.
"Come in" whispered Donna.
"He OK?" he asked pointing at Josh.
Donna shook her head as Sam entered the room and sat down on the floor in front of the couch.
"He's exhausted. Everything just caught up with him at once. I think he went through half a box of tissues. I'm going to just let him sleep for a while" she said as she ran her left hand through Josh's unruly hair. "How are you" she asked Sam.
"I'm OK" he lied.
Donna just looked at him and shook her head. She handed him the box of tissues as the tears he had been trying to hold back began to fall.
Sam dropped his head to the couch next to Josh. Donna reached over to smooth back his hair. The three of them stayed like that for a while. Eventually Sam decided to leave when he was sure Donna had also fallen asleep. Before standing he gave Josh's shoulder a squeeze and kissed his forehead. He kissed Donna's cheek too, before turning out the light and leaving them alone.
He though about going back to his office for a while but really didn't want to be alone. He wandered the halls for a while until he found himself on a familiar path, one that led to the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue.
Ainsley's door was open. She was sitting on the floor in front of her desk, surrounded by books, files and chocolate chip cookies.
He just stood silently in the doorway until his presence broke through her concentration.
"Hey, Sam" she smiled.
"Hi. I, uh, you look busy; I'll just leave you to work. I'll see you..."
He backed out of the doorway and headed towards the stairs.
"Samuel Seaborn, stop" she called as he reached the steps.
Ainsley climbed over the books and went out in the hall.
"Sam, would you please come back in" she said quietly as she held out her hand to him.
He hesitated for just a moment before tucking his hand into hers and allowing her to lead him back to her office. She picked up some papers off of a chair and gently pushed him into it. She perched on the edge of her desk waiting for him to speak.
He just couldn't get any words out. He wanted to share everything with her but he didn't know how much, if anything, she already knew. He wasn't sure if she should tell her anything about the President's MS. He knew it would become public in a few hours but still he wasn't sure.
She saw the confusion and pain in his eyes. Slipping off the desk she stood in front of him. His head was still bowed so she tipped up his chin so their blue eyes could meet.
"Sagittarius" she whispered.
Without a word Sam leaned forward wrapping his arms around her waist, pressing his face into the soft cotton of her shirt. She rubbed his back with one hand and ran the fingers of the other through his dark hair.
After crying in Josh's office he didn't expect he would even have any tears left. He was wrong. Ainsley held him tight as more tears made tracks down his cheeks. When the sobbing ended and the tears stopped Sam slowly lifted his head. He smiled sadly at Ainsley as he slumped back in his seat. She handed him a box of tissues and sat on the floor in front of him, her hand resting softly on his knee.
He looked at her with bloodshot eyes and a tear streaked face as he reached down to push a strand of hair behind her ear.
"When did you find out?" he asked in a soft voice. His throat was sore from crying and a dull ache was forming behind his eyes.
"Oliver told me about an hour ago. In fact I was starting some research when you came down" she said motioning to the piles of books and papers littering the floor.
"Oh" whispered Sam. "Need some help?"
"Yeah I do, but right now I think you need to get some rest. Why don't you go home for a couple of hours, relax, take a shower, and eat a decent meal for a change"?
"I can't, I mean, I don't want to be..." his voice trailed off as he leaned forward to put his head in his hands.
"Alone?" she asked quietly.
Sam nodded with his head still in his hands. Looking at him was breaking Ainsley's heart. Despite their rocky start they had become good friends. She leaned over to kiss the top of his head.
"OK, how about this. You help me get some stuff together and we'll go over to the room that Donna set up with the couches. I can still work, you can get some rest and neither one of us will have to be alone."
"Sounds good, thanks"
They gathered up Ainsley's books, notepad and the bag of cookies. The room was empty when they got there. Ainsley set up her things on the floor in front of one of the couches. Sam sat down heavily, put his head back and stared at the ceiling. After a few minutes of watching him Ainsley moved to in front of him and slipped off his shoes. She sat down next to him, pulled his tie loose, took him by the shoulders and laid him down. Ainsley grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch and covered him up. He curled up on his side, scooting back enough to give her room to sit on the edge of the couch.
"You need anything, Sam?" she whispered as she brushed the hair out of his eyes and caressed his cheek.
"No, I'm good, thanks"
"You're welcome, now would you please just shut your eyes and sleep for a little while."
"Wake me in an hour and a half" he said as he closed his eyes and gave in to his exhaustion.
She stayed next to him until she was sure he was asleep.
Settling down on the floor, she spread out her work and opened the bag of cookies. The room was very quiet. Every now and then Sam would roll over or snore softly. She worked for an hour, making notes and marking pages that might be of some use to the President in the coming weeks. After an hour she got up and stretched. A soft knock sounded at the door followed by Toby's voice. She got up and opened the door, and let Toby in.
Toby was about to say something when he glanced down and saw his deputy sound asleep. He sighed as a look of genuine concern came over his face. For all of the grumbling he did about Sam it was clear to all who knew them that Toby had a soft spot in his heart for him.
"Is he OK?" he asked softly, turning towards Ainsley.
"Not exactly, but I am hoping a nap will help" said Ainsley.
"I hope so" said Toby as he turned to leave. "Wake him in half an hour"
Ainsley gathered her stuff together to take it back to her office. Twenty minutes later she knelt down to try and wake Sam. She shook his shoulder slightly.
"Sam...Sam, time to get up" she said quietly.
Nothing, he didn't move, he didn't say a word.
"Sam" she said a little louder, while shaking him a little harder.
"I'm up, I'm up" he moaned as he struggled to sit up.
Ainsley smiled at him as she reached for his shoes. He wiped his eyes in an attempt to fully awaken.
"Toby stopped by a few moments ago"
"Great, let me guess, he yelled at you for letting me sleep"
"No Sam, not at all. He took one look at you, smiled and went back upstairs."
"OK, that was just weird. Look, uh, thanks for...you know, coming down here with me..."
"Sam, you're welcome. It was no big deal. It's not like I did anything for you, I worked while you slept"
"Ainsley, you did more for me than you will ever know." he said as he looked at her with those big blue eyes. "Don't forget that"
"I won't" said Ainsley as she sat up on the couch next to him. "Where are you going to watch the interview?"
"CJ's office, I think. Do you want to watch with us?"
"No, Sam. I mean, I would like it very much but I don't think I should. You and the rest of the senior staff have this...this bond that holds you together. I'm not a part of that, I don't want to intrude. Can you understand that?"
"Sure I can. Uh, I have to go to the press conference after the interview. Do you want to...I mean can I call...Would it be ok if I..." Sam's voice trailed off as he put his head into his hands. He knew exactly what he wanted to say but the words just weren't coming out correctly and he felt like he was making a fool out of himself.
Ainsley smiled at him as she scooted closer on the couch and reached out to place a comforting hand on his back.
"Sam" she whispered as she tipped his chin up towards her face. "After you get back from the press conference come down to my office. I'll be working."
"OK" he sighed with a forced smile. "I'd better go upstairs, do you need help with your stuff?"
"No, I'll be fine" she assured him.
The stood up and turned to face each other, a little awkwardly. Without a word, Ainsley reached up and put her arms around Sam. She felt his head drop to her shoulder and his arms come up around her back. For the first time in months Sam felt safe and secure, like somehow everything would work out for the best. Ainsley gave him one last squeeze and unwrapped her arms as she kissed his cheek.
"Thank you" whispered Sam. "You have no idea what that meant to me"
"Sam, you are mistaken, I do have a very good idea of what that meant to you, because it meant the same thing to me. Now, here, take the rest of the cookies. I'll see you in a few hours, ok?"
And with a quick kiss to her cheek Sam was gone from the room. A huge smile came across Ainsley's face as she gathered her things together and went back to her office. She spread out her work and turned on the TV.
* * * * *
Ainsley watched the interview with her feet on her desk and a notebook in her lap. She took a few notes but mostly sat and watched. She was completely struck by the obvious love that the first couple had for each other. She had heard rumors of them fighting over the past few months. But what she saw in front of her was genuine, there was no way people could fake devotion like that. Ainsley smiled to herself as she realized more than anything, she wanted to have what they have, the unconditional love of another.
As the interview ended Ainsley got up to find the box of tissues to wipe away the tears that she just couldn't stop from falling. She imagined that all over the White House, and the nation, people were joining her in the search for tissues. Such was certainly the case in CJ's office.
The senior staff sat uncharacteristically speechless for a few minutes after the interview ended. CJ was in her chair with her feet up on the bookcase. Toby sat on her desk, a little behind her, his hand resting gently on her shoulder. Josh and Donna were on the couch; he was perched on the very edge, in danger of falling on the floor. She sat halfway next to him, halfway behind him, one hand absently running through the curls at the back of his neck. Sam sat in CJ's visitor's chair, his feet propped up on the desk. Once again he was, more or less, alone.
Donna was the first one to let out an audible cry. Josh fished out his handkerchief and handed it to her as he sat up straight and put his arm around her. Toby handed CJ the box of tissues off of the desk, after taking some for himself. CJ tossed the box over the desk to Sam, who tossed it to Josh.
Ten minutes and a box of tissues later they had pulled themselves together. Donna went over to meet with the President about the storm. Josh went back to his office; Sam and Toby went to Toby's office and CJ stayed to watch the tape of the interview again.
As Sam sat in Toby's office, trying hopelessly to listen to what Toby was saying, he found himself thinking about Ainsley. Part of him wanted to run down to the basement but the sensible part of him knew that if he went down it would just be too hard to leave. He only had a while until they had to leave for the press conference. He smiled weakly at Toby, who knew he wasn't really listening.
"Go. Pull yourself together. We leave in 20 minutes" said Toby as he motioned for Sam to leave.
Sam went to his office and sat down. He looked around at the growing pile of things that had taken over his desk in the past few days. His gaze landed on the white bag of cookies. He pulled one out of the bag as he put one hand on the phone. He took a large bite of the cookie and decided that calling her would be just as hard as going down to see her. He finished the cookie, straightened his tie, combed his hair and grabbed his raincoat.
He walked through the halls of the West Wing as if pulled by some unseen force. He passed by Josh's office as Josh was pulled on his own coat. They were joined by more and more bodies until they stepped outside into the storm. Sam laughed to himself at the irony of the weather before climbing into the car with Josh.
They walked into the press conference they same way they had walked out of the White House, as an army of men, of brothers. Sam and Josh watched as Jed Bartlet called on Sandy instead of Lawrence Altman.
They stood side, cold, wet, and shaking from both the rain and the sheer emotion of the moment. As the President stuffed his hands in his pockets, glanced to the side and smiled, they held their breath.
And in an instant it was over. Answer B had changed to answer A. Pandemonium broke out. It was several minutes before the President could continue speaking. As the enormity of the moment finally hit him, all Sam could think about was leaving, he wanted to see Ainsley.
They arrived back the White House a little over an hour later. Sam emerged from the limo and just stood in the rain. He ignored Josh's pleas to *get his butt inside and have a drink*. Josh just shook his head at his best friend and went inside with the others. Ten minutes later Sam hauled his soaking wet body down the stairs to the Steam Pipe Distribution Venue.
* * * * *
Sam stood in the doorway for a moment, the water from his dripping wet suit making a puddle on the concrete floor. Ainsley was at her desk, bent over a stack of books and a cup of coffee. His attempt to hold back a sneeze alerted her to his presence.
"Sam" she said softly as she rose to greet him. "Umbrella broke?"
"Something like that. So, I guess you watched it?"
"Of course. I can't believe it."
Sam smiled and then stood in front of Ainsley with the lost puppy look on his face. She ignored the fact that he was soaking wet and she threw her arms around him and held him tight.
"Ainsley, you'll get all wet"
"Sam, I can assure you, I won't melt"
She held him tighter as she felt him shivering.
"OK, you have to get out of these wet things. Do you have any clothes in your office?"
"I don't think so. Why don't we just go, uh, to my place" he said into her shoulder.
"That sounds fine, let me get my things together." said Ainsley as she reluctantly let him go.
"I'll get my stuff out of my office, meet me there when you're ready to go"
Sam walked up the stairs slowly. He was past the point of exhaustion. All he wanted was to get into some dry sweats and fall asleep, preferably with Ainsley next to him. But he knew that was taking things a bit quicker than he should. They were still just friends, very good friends, ones who are on the verge of becoming more but tonight wasn't the time. He was tired beyond belief and was in desperate need of some comforting.
The drive to his place was quick. Ainsley had insisted on driving his car and he was in no mood to argue, or drive for that matter. They climbed the front steps and motioned for her to follow him.
"Sorry, it's a little messy. I haven't had time to..."
"Sam, it's OK. You haven't had much time to do anything lately." she said as she closed the door behind her and took off her coat. She hung it over one of the chairs in the kitchen and turned to help him take his off.
"You want some tea or something" asked Sam, suddenly remembering some of the manners his mother had drilled into his head at an early age.
"Sure, I will get it, just point me in the right direction"
"Cups are, uh, next to the sink, tea bags are over the, uh, stove" yelled Sam as he stood in the middle of the living room, shivering and not quite awake.
Ainsley set the tea kettle on the stove and went back into the living room. Sam was just where she had left him. She smiled and decided to give him a hand. He had managed to get his suit jacket off but not much else. She tipped his chin up and worked the wet tie loose. Her hands went to work on the small white buttons of his dress shirt. Sam shrugged out of it and stepped out of his shoes, nearly falling over in the process.
"Sam" said Ainsley quietly. No response.
"Sam" she tried a little louder. He turned in the direction of her voice but she still wasn't quite sure he had heard her.
"Which one is the bathroom?" she asked pointing down the hallway.
"First one on the, uh, left" he said.
"Good, I'll go start the shower. You just, uh, try not to fall over" she said with a smile.
She started the shower, put out a towel and went out to get Sam. He was out in the hall, still standing, although he was leaning against the wall.
Ainsley took him by the hand and led him into the bathroom. She steered him towards the shower and went to make some tea.
By the time Sam warmed up the hot water was starting to disappear. He turned off the spray and reached for the towel on the counter. Throwing it around his waist he peeked out into the hall to see where Ainsley was. He could hear the TV on in the living room.
Ten minutes later Sam headed back to the living room to join Ainsley. He stopped in the doorway to watch her for a few minutes. She was sitting on the couch, her legs tucked up underneath her, drinking tea and eating cookies.
"Hey" he said, throwing himself on the couch wearily.
He sat all the way back with his feet propped up on the coffee table. Ainsley turned herself to face him. He looked utterly exhausted. He was wearing an old Bartlet for America shirt and a pair of sweatpants. He hadn't bothered to comb his hair after his shower. She tentatively reached over to brush the hair out of his eyes. A small smile came across his face as he looked at her.
"You need anything, tea, cookies?"
"I have cookies?" he asked.
"Well, no. I always carry some in my bag" she said somewhat embarrassed.
"For cookie emergencies"
"Exactly. Now do you want some?"
"No, I don't feel like eating"
"Do you want tea?"
"Please, I'm freezing"
"Sam, it's not cold in here." she said as she leaned over to press her lips to his forehead. He was running quite a fever. She pulled back blushing as she realized what she had just done.
"I'm sorry. My mother always did that to see if we were running a fever. Anyway, you are. So where's your Advil?" she said as she hopped off the couch.
"In the kitchen, on top of the fridge"
She put the kettle back on the burner, got the Advil and a glass of water. Sam had stretched out on the couch. He took the pills while Ainsley grabbed the afghan off of the recliner. She covered him up and sat on the coffee table for a minute.
"So, it is quite obvious you didn't start running a fever because you spent time in the rain this evening. So how long have you been sick?" asked Ainsley.
"I don't know. Couple of days. Haven't really had time to keep track"
Ainsley just sighed and shook her head.
"Please, no lectures" groaned Sam.
"OK" she whispered as she reached over to pat his shoulder.
"Ainsley, there's a pair of sweats on the bed if you want to change, I mean...if you want to stay" he said in a tired voice "I think I'll pass on the tea...I'm pretty tired" he said, his voice barely audible.
"Thanks. I'm staying, I'm not going anywhere." she whispered as she kissed his cheek.
She got up to turn the kettle off and turn out the lights. The thought of changing into a pair of Sam's sweats was something that appealed to her greatly. Five minutes later she grabbed a pillow off the couch and sat down on the recliner. Sam was, she assumed, fast asleep.
"You wanna come share the couch?" he mumbled sleepily.
"I'd like that very much Sam"
He sat up enough for Ainsley to settle herself down in the corner of the couch with her feet on the coffee table. Sam tossed his pillow in her lap and put his head down. She ran one hand through his damp hair and rested the other on his chest. He reached up to cover her hand with his.
"This is nice" he sighed as he closed his eyes once more.
"Sleep Sam" she whispered.
He did and so did she, within 20 minutes they were both sound asleep. The feeling of Sam sitting up suddenly woke Ainsley a few hours later.
"Sam, what's wrong" she asked as she turned on the lamp and reached out for him.
He was sitting at the other end of the couch with his head in his hands, shaking and breathing heavily. She reached out to pull him towards her. Brushing back his hair and kissing his forehead she tried to offer some comfort.
"Nightmare. I'm ok" he said very unconvincingly.
"You want a drink of water"
She got up off the couch and returned with a glass of water a minute later. He drank it and then stood.
"I'm just going to, uh, use the bathroom."
"OK, then why don't you get in bed. You'll be more comfortable. I'll stay until you fall asleep, ok?"
Sam just nodded. Ainsley went into his bedroom and took a good look around. She hadn't bothered to look around when she had changed; she had been too tired to care. It was what she expected. Book strewn everywhere, an immaculately neat closet, pictures of his family and friends on the dresser. She smiled as she turned back the comforter. She could hear Sam's heavy footsteps in the hall. He entered the room, mumbled something and threw himself face first on the bed.
Ainsley just giggled and sat on the bed next to where he was curled up. A kiss to his forehead told her his fever had gone down a little. She rubbed his back for a few minutes, until her own eyes grew heavy and she started to nod off. Without hesitation she climbed under the covers and wrapped herself around Sam's sleeping form. He snuggled deeper into her embrace with a sigh.
Sleep came to both of them in an instant.
In the morning Ainsley had expected things to be awkward. She woke up first, around 5, but just couldn't seem to convince herself to get out of bed. Sam was stretched out on his back next to her. His fever was down and he hadn't had any more nightmares. Tracing a finger along his jaw line caused him to start to stir in his sleep. A few minutes later his baby blues focused on the beautiful blond next to him.
"Hey" he whispered, his voice hoarse.
"Good morning, feeling better?" she asked as she propped herself up on her elbow.
"A little. Thanks for staying last night. I just didn't want to be alone and I uh, wanted to be with you" he stammered with a shy smile.
"I know. I wanted to be here too"
"So anytime I need cookies and a hug I can come to you?" teased Sam as he leaned up to kiss the tip of her nose.
"Exactly" she giggled. "Now, we have to get up. I don't think today would be a very good day to get to work late. I think we're going to be a bit busy"
"Yeah. Hey speaking of cookies, are there any left or did you eat all of them?" asked Sam as he climbed out of bed.
"I saved a few for you" smiled Ainsley.
"Good, I'll have them for breakfast"
"With a hug?" teased Ainsley as she held her arms open.
"Oh yeah" said Sam as she pulled him closer.
They stood that way for a few minutes until the shrill beeping of Sam's alarm brought them back to reality. But they knew, part of that reality was, that without doing much of anything, they had crossed a line and in each of their minds, there was no turning back.