Thirty Seconds
Mulderzkid (Ali Cherry)
Characters: Bartlet, Sam
Summary: In the aftermath of the GDC Drop-in, Sam makes a choice and Jed must learn how to make him change his mind.

Who could have imagined that thirty seconds could totally destroy something that was so amazing? I don't mean my Presidency, because that has taken an enormous boost in the past few weeks. No, I mean the loss of everything that worked in the Senior Staff.

Sam hasn't talked to me in a week. I ask him questions; he answers in an intelligent manner and then says, "Thank you, Mr. President."

I get the speeches that Toby and Charlie bring me, and I read nothing of the defeat I see in Sam's eyes at Senior Staff meetings, which have become tense discussions of this move and that move. I watch them, my protectors, my family, argue and I see a lack of appreciation that I never saw before. They treat Sam as if what he has to say has nothing to do with what they are arguing about.

Sam used to be my conscience. He was the one who always told me, this is the way to go. I remember the passion, when he told me to put Harrison on a bus. He was right. What has changed since those days when his passion overrode his mouth?

At this particular meeting, I'm just a bi-stander, like Sam. They have finally decided on a path for whatever they were arguing about. Leo has noticed my inattention, has he noticed Sam's as well? I watch, as Sam fingers a folder in his lap. He stopped paying attention to whatever they're arguing about. Toby snaps his fingers in front of Sam's face.

"I need you to get me . . . " Toby begins to be cut off by Sam.

"I can't, Toby." I wonder at the steady quality of Sam's voice. But then again, Sam is the only one who comes out unflustered in an argument with Toby. Josh groans and slumps back against the couch. CJ sighs and does the same thing. Sam looks at them, waiting for an outburst.

"What do you mean, you can't?" Leo is looking suspicious. Has he detected the same change in the Senior Staff?

Sam stands up, his back straight and his shoulders back. He hands me the folder he was playing with just a minute ago. "I'm tendering my resignation effective immediately. I'll be out by the end of the day." His eyes connect with mine, and he gives me a smile. "It was a pleasure serving for you, Sir." He walks out of the meeting, and I notice that CJ and Josh are no longer slumped on the couch. They are in fact sitting up straight, looking as shell-shocked as Leo and Toby. Did they think that he would stay and take all their frustration?

I decide to twist the knife a little more. "Toby? Do you have any one you'd like as your Deputy Communications Director?"

He shoots me a glare; he knows exactly what I meant. He's never imagined anyone as his Deputy, but Sam.

"You and Leo should probably start looking for someone."

"Mr. President, you aren't actually going to accept that, are you?" Josh is up now and pacing closer to the door. He runs his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. "He didn't mean it, sir."

"He gave me his resignation. What else did he mean, Josh?"

"He writes a significant portion of your speeches."

"Yes, he did."

"No one else writes you as well as he does."

"I believe that I can write—"

"NO!" Leo, Toby and CJ are on their feet now.

I sigh now. "Sam is an adult. He resigned and there is nothing I can do about it." I look at the folder in my hand. "We have things to do, so what's next?"

Leo looks at the people gathered around the room in different stages of shock. "I think we're done, Mr. President."

"All right. Then lets get back to work people." I get up and move behind my desk. As soon as they're gone from the room, I call in Charlie.

"Yes, Sir."

"Would you catch Sam before he leaves and tell him I would like to see him in the residence."

"Is something wrong, Mr. President?"

"I just want to say goodbye properly, Charlie."


"He resigned, Charlie."

Charlie gives me a hurt look and then moves toward door. "Is that all, Mr. President?"

"What's next?"

"You have a meeting with the Labor Secretary about the proposed minimum wage increase."

"Show the Secretary in."

"Yes, sir."

"And Charlie, you'll take care of that thing?"

"Yes, sir."


"Charlie?" I call out to him, hoping he'll hear me, despite the door. Damn intercom. I get up and walk to the door and open it. Mrs. Landingham looks up at me.

"Can I help you, sir?" How the hell does that woman make 'sir' sound like 'ruffian?'

"Where's Charlie?" I ask, hoping to get out of a conversation that is more than surely going to come up in a second.

"He's gone to get his lunch, sir. Speaking of which—"

"Yes, I'm eating my rabbit food, you old hag."

"That's not a very Presidential thing—"

"Yes, yes. I've heard this all before. Will you please tell Charlie I would like to see him when he gets back?"

"Couldn't use the intercom, sir?" She says sadly. I can use the intercom. Okay I can't use the intercom, but I can shoot nuclear missiles at countries not on my Christmas List.

"No." I say spitefully and close the door in her face. Ha. Showed her. I sit back down and stare at the salad before me. I would kill for some bacon bits. I get halfway through my salad before Charlie appears.

"You needed to see me, sir?" Charlie looks a little worried. Too often I have sent him out to deal with Mrs. Landingham over the issue of my vegetable intake.

"Is Sam still here?" I ask putting down my fork and wiping my mouth.

"He and Bonnie have almost finished with the files, sir." Charlie looks upset, and I don't blame him. I don't want to loose Sam, and I'm not sure how to keep him. I don't know how to tell him that his voice is important to me.

I don't know how to fix the problems of the Senior Staff. I'm not even sure what the problem is.

"And you've talked to him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Tell him I'll meet him in the Residence at six tonight. That way he can go home and change, relax that kind of thing."


"Yes, Charlie?" I ask.

"You have the benefit concert tonight."

"I know, but Abbey will be there to keep him company and this way he can't skip out to his sister's place in Bermuda til I get a long talk with him." I have a plan. Charlie doesn't like this plan, but then again he's young. I'm not even going to let Leo in on this plan, cause I think that Leo's part of the problem.

There are times when we fail to listen to the innocent among us, and that is when we have lost our humanity. Thirty seconds to destroy, and no time to fix this. I have my work cut out for me.


When I walk into the residence, I am more then surprised to see Sam holding the remote up and away from Zoey. He has a smile on his face and is taunting her. I don't think I've ever seen Sam playful. He's always so serious around me, which I'm guessing comes with the title.

Sam slacks off a bit as he sees me, and Zoey grabs the remote taking off, expecting to be caught.

"Good evening, Mr. President."

"Hey Sam." Can he tell I'm nervous about this conversation? I tried to talk with Charlie about it, but he has never responded to me the way Sam has. Another problem is, I don't really know Sam.

I know his name is Sam. I know he can survive Toby and Josh, I know he has a sister in Bermuda. And Leo and the gang always mention something about falling off a boat. Oh and I know that he slept with, and was friends with, a Call Girl. I'm thinking that the last one isn't going to help me much.

"Hey, Daddy."

"Hey, Zoey."

"I'm gonna go now, kay?"


Zoey comes up and kisses me, I want so much to beg her to stay and help me with this Sam. The one I don't know. The one whom I don't employ anymore. He was here out of a sense of duty and honor, and some time in the past week, that stopped being enough. Where do I go from here?

"Why don't we sit down?" I struggle out of my bow tie, and slip off my shoes. I eye his jeans and sweater longingly. What I wouldn't give to be in my own worn jeans and sweatshirt. "Sam, I'd like you to reconsider your resignation."

To the point, I'm too tired to be folksy and charming, beside Sam has seen me at my worst. There was the time during the campaign when everything he wrote was 'crap,' I believe I called it. There was the time when I called him Toby. Although I'm not sure I did it, so much as Leo assures me that I did.

He's hesitating, trying to formulate an excuse that doesn't sound petty. There are a lot of them, but none that get to the heart of the problem. He settles for, "I'm not sure that it would be in the best interest of this Administration if I came back, sir."

Was that just a politician answer? "Bullshit." I think that that comment doesn't need explanation.

"Sir, you need a Deputy Communications director that has a voice on the Senior Staff. I—the rest of the staff—we're having problems communicating. I'm not being included in decisions, and in order to do my job effectively, I have to have all the information. It's best that they find someone they can work with better. You're coming up on re-election, sir."

"Fair enough." I say, what can I say? He just diplomatically told me he's being put in the box. Does either of us know what for? "But I don't want you to go."

Sam sighs and slumps back against the couch. "You guys can't just keep me around to be your little brother." I think that's as close to a shout as Sam gets. He must have had this conversation before. "I have more pride than that." He gives me a hurt look. "If I can't do my job, then I shouldn't be in the job."

"I know that, Sam. But I still don't think that they're going to find what you think they will." I have his attention now, not just his respect. "Do you think that anyone they hire is going to let Josh get away with blaming a fire on them and then sending them to Ben and Sally's. Is anyone going to deal with Toby on one of his crusades without breaking a sweat? Who else is going to challenge CJ about the Press room?"

"There are thousands of people that would put up with a lot, just to be your advisor, sir."

A compliment, and he doesn't even work for me. What did I do, to strike this man as worthy?

"Why don't we agree on a Leave of Absence?" I ask, desperate to keep some hold on him. This is selfish; I think, to try to keep him here, to want his innocence, his passion at my calling.

"Sir." Sam is looking at me with those eyes. They say so much and yet they say nothing.

"Please, Sam. Let me make this better. Two months. You can hole up in Bermuda, Toby and Josh can stop thinking you aren't as important as you are. Two months."

Sam hangs his head down. "I'm tired, Mr. President."

"I know how you feel, Sam." I move over to the couch where Sam is slumped and pat his leg gently. We sit quietly for a while, just being too tired to make any moves.

"Two months, Sam."

Sam sighs softly. "Yes, sir."

I slump back as well. Sam isn't the only one infinitely tired.


"Charlie!" I shout at the slightly opened door. I wait a second, something I'm not used to doing since taking the oath of office. "Charlie!" Where is he? Oh, wait. "Nancy!"

"Yes, Sir?" She pops her head into the office and smiles at me.

"Do you know when Charlie will be back?" I ask with ill-disguised impatience.

"He said to tell you, that departure is at one."

"Thank you. Would you tell Mrs. Landingham that I want a different—" I stop as I see Josh leading some guy into Mrs. Landingham's office space, pointing out the various staff members. "Never mind." I tell Nancy and move to walk towards Josh and the new guy.

Man, this guy certainly let himself go. He's all balding, bearded and he could use some time at the gym. Come to think of it, this guy looks a lot like— Naw, Toby wouldn't hire his mirror image, would he? Please God; tell me Toby didn't fall in love with a double of himself. Well I guess the fireworks could be fun, but nothing would ever get done with two of them.

I swing the door open wider. "JOSH! How are you doing? And who's this you've got there?" I smile wider. The bigger the smile the easier it is to steal their candy. My first Campaign manager told me that. I fired him right after that, but well the saying has stuck.

"Mr. President. Good afternoon." Josh smiles nervously. "This is the new guy, Samuel."

Oh dear, looks like Toby, has Sam's name. Is Toby psychotic? I smile widely and stick out my hand.

"It's good to meet you, Sam. Do you mind if I call you Sam? Where were you before?" I pull him into the Oval Office and shut the door in Josh's face. If I'm going to terrorize this poor soul, Josh can't be here to save him.

"I prefer Samuel, actually, Mr. President." He stands stiffly rocking on his feet. Is it me, or did he just sound like a Political Science Professor with a stick up his butt?

"And where were you before?"

"I taught History and Political Science at University of Las Vegas."

Score one for the Prez. "You must play a mean game of poker. We'll have to have a game soon."

"I don't play poker." He tells me in a bored tone.

"That will be good for me, the better to take your money." I smile again. Doesn't this man ever show any interest?


I fling open the door between Leo and the Oval Office. "LEO!" I shout.

"Yes, Mr. President?" He asks looking up from his conversation with Fitz.

"I just fired the new guy. Find a new one." I turn to Fitz. "Sam resigned."

"I was sorry to hear that Mr. President. He was a fine man."

"Damn good speech writer."

"Yes, sir." Fitz is quick to agree with me.

"Really believed in the issues." What I want to say is, he really believed in me. With thirty seconds, I let him down. Thirty seconds. God, half a minute. I am more than a little disgusted with myself. I'm terribly upset with the rest of the Senior Staff as well.

"Yes, sir." What the heck? Oh he was answering my statement.

"He just upped and quit one day. Damnedest thing, Fitz. Just told Toby no, and then left."

"Yes, sir."

"I wonder what could have made him do that?" I don't look at Leo, but I know him. He's fidgeting right now. As well he should. Not that I think that Sam quit because of Leo, but I think there should be limits as to what a man should sacrifice for his country. Life, certainly. Principles, never. The State should never ask a man to sacrifice his principles for the glory of whatever it is they think deserves glory.

That's just wrong.

Sam, Toby, Josh, hell even Leo, they all joined my campaign because I was willing to tell the truth. Because I didn't want to play the political bullshit game. Why should that change now? Honesty, integrity these are principles we should run our White House and our Re-election campaign by. These are truths that should be acknowledged in this White House. Here and Now.

"Well anyway. Find a new guy, Leo. The other guy had a bigger stick up his butt then me."

Leo glares at me a bit. "Was there anything wrong with him, besides that, Mr. President."

"He favors bans on homosexuals."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. He thinks they should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot. I told him to get the hell out of my White House."

Leo purses his lips together and sighs. "Yes, Sir."

I turn to leave, but really I have to give some limits to this new guy search. When I get to the door, I turn back to Leo. He knew this was coming cause he's staring at me expectantly. "For goodness sake, Leo. Next time, don't just hire him because he looks like Toby. Make sure he actually, you know, can write or something." I turn and close the door to Leo's office, happy to see Charlie standing in the oval office, with an envelope in his hand.

"Is it taken care of?" I ask.

He smiles slightly. "Yes, sir. Sam's flight took off forty-five minutes ago. He asked me to give you this." Charlie hands me the envelope. I take it in my hand and look at it cautiously. What if he decided that he didn't want to wait two months? What if he decided that he couldn't come back? That his life was more than being low man in the Senior Staff. What if—

"I believe that it's his contact information, in case you need anything, Mr. President." Charlie tells me. I open it up and look inside. Sure enough, there's an address, a phone number and an e-mail address. I sigh to myself. I could still loose him, but I'm not going to let him go without a fight. I wonder if Charlie will show me how to use the e-mail thingy on his desk; that computer thing. Or better yet, Zoey will help me without Mrs. Landingham knowing.


It has been four days since IDSam, that's what I've taken to calling the day Sam declared his independence. Four days and three replacements. The Senior Staff has never looked so worn down. CJ is trying to hold off the press until a new replacement can make it more than twenty-four hours. Danny, who likes Sam, isn't making it easy. Of course, I guess a few words from Charlie as Danny was walking out to his car probably tipped him off.

Toby is still in the pissed off gear that he has been in for a few weeks. Sam's departure only deepened it. He's slowly moving on to resignation though. I think it's starting to sink in; Sam isn't coming back anytime soon. Josh is still bouncing mad, sending me dirty looks every time he thinks I'm not looking and when he gets a chance, he contradicts me. He misses Sam. Well he should have thought about that a week ago. But he never considered that Sam would leave or that I would let him. He was wrong. Well about Sam anyway.

Leo and I talked about Sam's leaving. It consisted of, "Did you have to let him go?"

"I think he needed to leave while he still could."

"Toby just got him trained."

"He isn't a dog."

"Mr. President—"

He gave me that look then, the I'm-very-disappointed-in-you look. I sent him the same look. I have three children and help from Abby. I won. I sigh; this is probably going to take the whole two months.

Charlie knocks on the Oval Office door. "Mr. President?"

"Yeah. Come on in, Charlie." I wave him in and put aside the briefing memo I was reading.

"There was an e-mail today." He puts a blue folder on my desk, and I smile. A letter from Sam. Well E-mail. Speaking of which, I'll have to get Zoey to teach me how to do that. "And the Senior Staff is waiting for a minute of your time."

"Send them in, Charlie." I run my hand over the folder wanting to open it. "Say Charlie?" He looks back at me.

"Do they have a new, new guy with them?"

Charlie grins at me. "Yes, sir. I think you'll enjoy her, Mr. President."

Well wasn't that cryptic. I nod at him and move out behind my desk. Leo and CJ come in first, CJ is talking quietly to him, nothing I can hear. CJ shuts up when she notices my scrutiny.

"Good Afternoon, Mr. President." Leo nods at me with a slight smile.

Josh comes in, leading a very boring looking female. Her hair is scrapped back in a bun, her glasses are six times too big for her face, and she's having trouble walking in her heels. Overall not spectacular. Toby comes in behind her, rolling his eyes.

I've noticed that all the people that they've hired over the past few days have been nothing like Sam. Sam was always calm, with an undercurrent of excitement. He was young, he was poised, and he was exceedingly fashionable. This girl only makes the young category. I hope she didn't write my speech to the New York designer's luncheon.

"Good Afternoon, Mr. President." Josh and Toby say together. The new girl just grabs her mouth and takes off out of the room. She didn't even say hello. How rude.

"Oh great, Leo. You made her sick." Josh rams his hands through his hair.

"What did he do?" I ask them ready to be amused.

"He told a story about the boating trip he took yesterday. Made her sea sick." Toby explains.

"How do you expect her to hold herself when we have to do something unpleasant like go to war? She gets sea sick from a story." CJ is remarkably unrestrained; Her voice carries scorn and contempt with a hint of exasperation. "For god sakes, you three, swallow your pride and go ask Sam to come back."

Josh looks down with a huge sigh; Toby crosses his arms. Leo looks at her like she's grown another head.

"What?" She asks.

"We've tried." Toby tells her softly, walking to the other side of the room and stopping there.


"We've tried. He's gone to Bermuda and Donna and Ginger won't give us the number." Josh explains.

"I'm not entirely sure we need him. I'm sure that the next few people we look at will have everything that we need." Leo's confidence in the qualities of the candidates he's going to be looking at astounds me. Especially since Dorothy in Personnel is sending the worst of the worst. "Plus I have some calls in to a few people."

Damn, new avenue opening for them. I'll have to sick Margaret on this. She can slow them down.

"So what's next?" I ask. Josh looks up with a glare and then looks back at his feet.


It is past midnight, and time for me to leave this humble place. I'm tired, and I'm cross because Leo almost hired David Rosen for Sam's position, and there are just so many things on my desk. But now I can crawl in bed next to Abby and read Sam's e-mail. I pick up the blue folder and slide it into the briefcase. There is a knock from the door to Leo's office. He peeks his head in.

"What do you need, Leo?"

"Mr. President. I was wondering if I could have a few minutes of your time."

"Come on in." I set the briefcase on the desk and move around so that Leo and I can sit in the chairs.

We settle in comfortably before he drops his bomb. "How long are we going to have to put up with crappy seconds before we get Sam back?"

"I don't know what you mean, Leo. According to Sam, he's never coming back."

"Crap, Mr. President. I know that you and he had a long conversation the night before Charlie took him the airport."

I fold. Leo has always known my tricks. It aggravates me to some extent. "Two months."

Leo sighs and settles back.

"All it took was thirty seconds, Leo. Thirty seconds and our staff flew apart at the seams."

"With all due respect, Mr. President. It wasn't just the thirty seconds. It was the careful planning of the thirty seconds without Sam's knowledge. It was every conversation that we failed to have with him because we didn't think he should be angry with us. It was the blame for something he had no control over."

I look at my shoes. "You're right." I think about the week preceding IDSam. There were seven days that I could have intervened. There were seven days that I could have used to reaffirm his place, his voice in this administration. It was the seven days that killed us.

One thing I've learned is that Sam's a forgiving guy. When he left, it wasn't out of bitterness or anger, just a resignation, and an acceptance of the way things were shaping up.

"I told him, two months, that I needed two months." I sigh. "He was tired, Leo, more tired than I've ever seen him. He sat there and told me politely that he had lost his voice on the Senior Staff, and it was like he was telling me that his family disowned him.

"I know all the reasons why I should let him walk away, but none of them made a dent in the one reason why I shouldn't. He's Sam; he belongs here with us, arguing with Toby, taking the blame for Josh, frustrating CJ, and generally tripping over his own feet."

"Yeah." Leo looks at me, and I can tell he's wants to ask something, but is hesitant. We sit quietly for a few minutes. You know, I've never noticed how loud that grandfather clock is. It just keeps ticking, there's ten ticks, twenty. There is the thirty. Here in this office thirty ticks are amazingly quick, on the stage it took forever. I wonder if it was longer than thirty seconds. Then I remember that those thirty seconds lasted seven days for Sam.

Please Sam, forgive us our sins.

"Have you heard from him?" Leo asks shifting slightly, his voice husky. Did his mind wander a path similar to mine? Did he feel the guilt of those thirty seconds, those seven days in these thirty ticks of a large and overly loud grandfather clock?

"Charlie gave me an e-mail. I was just about to read it."

"Can I see it when you're through?" He sounds so hopeful that I know the next bit of conversation is going to be fun.


"Why not?"

"Because it's mine."

"What are we, in second grade?"

"Oh alright, I'll read it out loud. Will that satisfy you?"


I get up and pull the blue folder out of my briefcase and grab my reading glasses. I sit back down and push the frames on to the tip of my nose, where I'm sure they look presidential.

"Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to let you know that I arrived in Bermuda safe and sound. I may not return to Washington, though. My sister may have killed me by the time my leave of absence is over, either that or I may have killed my brother-in-law. I'm not sure who will die first. Rest assured that I'm being told what a stupid idiot I am every day. It almost feels like the office. G " I look up from where I'm reading. "What does a 'G' in brackets, mean?"

"It means he's grinning. It was a joke, Mr. President."

Oh. Well that looked nothing like a grin to me. "Whatever.

"Is everything all right there? Did Toby find that speech I left for the EPA conference? And did Josh get those folders I left for him? Would you make sure that Kathy gets her letter still? Bonnie has it. Also if she doesn't like the new guy, could you please make sure she's somewhere where she's happy? That's all; I have to go to lunch where I'll be treated to a pompous conversation on the ills of the Bartlet administration. I hate my Brother-in-law. Sam."

"Well." Leo smiles at me.

"We have ills, Leo?"

"Excuse me?"

"It just says 'the ills of the Bartlet administration.' So I'm wondering, what ills are they talking about?"

Leo waves his hand at me. "Don't worry about it, Mr. President. Sam's brother in law is a conceited, self-serving republican fascist with a lot of money."

"How do you—?"

"Mr. President."

"No, I'm saying, how do you know this about Sam?"

"Oh. The FBI was worried that Sam might be killed by the Brother-in-law to keep the family secret."

"What family secret?"

"Do you really want to know?" This is the point in the conversation where I usually say no. After all, I'm the President, what do I care about my staff's personal life. But I still feel guilty.


Leo looks surprised. I think I'm surprised as well. Better not think too much about it.

"Sam is the only democrat in the family, although Sam says that his sister votes democrat."

"That's the family secret?"

"Well, to be honest, that is the brother-in-law's family secret. I imagine when you're Jeffery Radcliff it isn't good to have married into a bleeding heart liberal democratic family."

"Jeffery Radcliff?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sam's related to Jeffery Radcliff?"

"Only by marriage, sir."

"Now that's a family secret."

"Yes, sir."

"Well I should go check in with Abby." I sigh. Wow. Jeffery Radcliff. A more pompous jerk there never was. Poor Sam.

"Yeah. I've got resumes to go through."

"See you tomorrow, Leo." I pick up my briefcase and head out the door leaving Leo to walk back to his own office.


This has gotten old, rather quickly. I wonder if I called someone in Bermuda, would they go and retrieve my wayward Deputy. Three weeks without Sam has turned into an eternity in Damnation. Toby has been this crotchety old hermit. Coming out only to have secret meetings with people and to yell at me for messing up his speeches. CJ has been hitting every member of the Senior Staff with abandon. And Josh has been seen crawling on the floor after Donna trying to beg Sam's number off her. What I would pay to see that.

At least Josh stopped glaring at me. Now he just looks tired. As tired as Sam, the night he left. Let them stew for a little while longer. At least Leo didn't spill my secret. The world, besides Charlie, Abby, Zoey, Leo and Dorothy (from personnel) believes that Sam resigned and that he's holed up somewhere licking the wounds of battle. Only Charlie and I know that Sam is sunning himself in Bermuda, getting plenty of sleep, is teaching his niece and nephew to sail and fish and watches CNN and MSNBC with a fervor. He sends notes to Charlie to pass along to the rest of the Senior Staff. Charlie passes them on to me.

Mrs. Landingham knocks on my door. "Excuse me, Mr. President. You have a phone call on Line 1." I look up from the position paper I am reading.

"Who is it?" I'm in no mood today to deal with any number of issues. The new guy is a pompous idiot. I don't like him, but Leo says a few more days. My administration is going to fall apart around my ears in the next five weeks; I can feel it. Thirty Seconds, Seven days, five weeks. It's all time; time to hurt, time to heal, time in which apathy kills compassion and duty.

"It's Sam."

"Why the hell didn't you say so?" I yank up the phone and smile grandly, shooing Mrs. Landingham out of the office. "Hello Sam!"

"Hello, Mr. President." He sounds down, and I wonder what torture Jeffery Radcliff has designed for him.

"How are you doing? Is the weather beautiful?"

"The weather is gorgeous, warm with a slight breeze." In the background I can hear the small crash of waves, the sound the water makes as it filters through the wet sand.

"You surviving your brother in law?"

"Yes, sir. It's easy to do when you know he has no clue what he's talking about."

I laugh. I miss Sam.

"Sir, the reason I was calling was because I was watching CSPAN last night."

"You should be going out, having fun."

"I have been, I just-- anyway you really need to fire who ever wrote that speech."

"Don't worry, I will. He's just there for torture sake."

"Sir, if you need a recommendation."

"We don't need a recommendation, Sam. We can hire people on our own."

There is silence and I wonder for a moment if my tone was too sharp. "Of course, Sir."

I hate that submissive tone. I didn't marry a trophy wife; I've hired people who have the balls to disagree with me, why do people think I like that tone? There is a deep breath on the other end.

"There's a guy on the communications staff, Aaron Minot. He's young, but good. He won't be able to do meetings, but at least he won't, you know, screw up horribly."

There's my Sam. Say yes, sir, and then do whatever you want. You have to love it.

"All right, I'll look into it."

"Yes, sir."

"You never said how you are."

There's a hesitation. "I'm fine."

"No, you're not!" That voice is distinctly feminine. And also distinctly angry.

Sam's voice lowers and he pulls the phone away from his ear. "Would you be quiet? I'm on the phone." I smile, Sam sounds like a twelve-year-old boy. I guess, no matter how old you are; the way you speak to your sister is always the same. I listen with amusement, as there is a scuffle on the other end of the phone. The sound of shouts and laughter remind me of Elizabeth and Eleanor fighting for the phone during their teenage years. I hear the slam of door and pounding on a door. What the heck?

"Hello, and to whom am I speaking?" The feminine voice is back, this time husky in my ear.

"This is the President of the United States, and I assume you are Sam's sister."



"My brother isn't all right."


"How could you fire him?"

"I didn't. He resigned."

"Yeah right, like you didn't ask for his resignation." The tone has calmed to belligerent tones. Wow. She must have inherited all the overt emotions. And has she never heard of respect for the leader of the free world.

"I didn't. In fact, I asked him to reconsider. To take a two month leave so he could reconsider."

"Okay. He got his heart trampled yesterday."

Do I really want to hear about Sam's love life? I'm pretty sure that it's a long and tedious list of having his heart trampled. He has never been successful in having a long and committed relationship…has he?

"Isn't that par for the course with Sam?"

"Yes. But it never makes the hurt go away."

"Of course not." I really don't want to hear about Sam's bad luck with women.

"What do you know about this girl Mallory?"

"Excuse me?"

"The only girl he ever mentioned besides the hooker was some woman named Mallory. So I was wondering if she could be bought?"

"Mallory is the Chief of Staff's daughter. And I think she's dating someone else right now."

I can tell she's pulled the phone away and cushioned it against something. But I can still hear, "The Chief of Staff's DAUGHTER? Are you insane? Are you trying to be hurt?"


"Watch your mouth, Samuel." I can hear the door swing open with a clang on the other end. "Mr. President, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Sam and I will be up in Washington by the end of the week." Oh God. I'm not sure that Washington will survive the Seaborn siblings. I rub my head in weariness.

I hear the exchange of the phone. "I'm sorry about that, Mr. President. We won't be in Washington anytime soon. I'm going to go now. Aaron Minot, sir. He's in the communication staff."

"All right, Sam. I'll talk to you later."

"Thank you, Mr. President."

Before Sam disconnects the call though I hear Sarah's voice calling out. "We are so going to Washington you big idiot." I hear the beep and then just silence.

I think that Washington is about to get a lot more interesting. Should I warn Leo and Mallory? Naw. . . Serves him right for knowing about my plan to keep every one in the dark about Sam's leave of absence. I wonder how much Sarah will offer Mallory to date her brother. This could be amusing.


"Charlie!" I call, getting up from my desk and throwing the papers I was reading on the desk. I toss off my glasses. It's been three days since that call from Sam, and we haven't heard a peep from him yet. And speaking of Sam there's something I have to do.

"Yes, Mr. President."

"Did you get the map?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you scope out the guy we want?" I don't want to yank the wrong guy. This is going to look pretty odd without me having to take back who ever I pull out.

"Yes, sir. I talked to Kathy this morning and she pointed him out to me. I even said hello, so that I knew who we were getting."

"Good. Let's go."

Charlie leads the way out into the outer office where Mrs. Landingham has a firm, but suspicious face on. I wave at her as Charlie and I go off down the hallway.

I don't often get out during the week so every one stops to say hello. I try to get their names right, but I can tell from the smile on Charlie's face that I'm largely failing. "Hey there, Margaret." I wave at Leo's secretary. See I got one name right. We descend the stairs and walk into a large bullpen type area.

Small and cramped, the people buzz around the office faster than bees, and it almost reminds me of the campaign trail, except there's no Sam here directing these people. No Mandy looking to kill Sam, who is directing these people and we aren't looking for Sam to find this or that, or to yell about some one's incompetence.

I guess I had forgotten everything Sam did during that time. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll ever know, because I stayed away from the Campaign as much as possible. To be honest, I didn't want to run really until Chicago. They all knew it too. Sam was the only one who never sighed in impatience at my reluctance to do this or that. I didn't remember that until now. Toby would rub his face and growl. CJ would get those bug eyes and start lecturing, Josh would jump up and begin to pace. Sam would stand there patiently, waiting for me to catch up.

It's amazing the things you forget over time.

Charlie silently leads me over to a desk with Aaron Minot's name on it. The boy behind the desk is everything I need, without being Sam. He's very young, but so is Sam. His suit is business like with out the stylish cut of Sam's and he has a soft face, without the laugh lines like Sam. He is the inferior of Sam without the need to prove himself. So far so good.

"Hello." I say to him and he looks up from where he is on the phone. The boy's eyes go wide. Sometimes that reaction just kills me. I love to scare the crap out of young politicians.

"I'll call you back." The boy hangs up and stands, his eyes round. "Good Afternoon, sir."

"You're Aaron, right?"

"Yes, sir." His voice is quaking now, and I know Charlie's just cracking up.

"Grab your stuff, Aaron. You're moving." I motion to Charlie, who hands Aaron a box. I know the kid has to be scared but he takes it without a word, only a frightened glance at the room in standstill behind us.

It doesn't take him long to clean out his desk, and then I motion him to follow me. We walk up the stairs and down the corridor into the Communications Bullpen. Aaron looks terrified now. I wink at Kathy who smiles nicely at Aaron. Then I open the door to the Deputy's office.

I knock once hard on Toby's door before shoving Aaron into Sam's old office. Toby opens his door with a swoosh. "Can I help you, Mr. President?" He asks with a growlish sigh.

"Toby, I'd like for you to meet Aaron, your new Communications Deputy. Don't kill him." I pat Aaron on the back and walk away leaving the assistants in the area as open-mouthed as Aaron and Toby. "Oh, and Toby?" I turn back at the doorway. "This is the last one. He's staying."

God, I love my job.

I think I'm going to like this Aaron. He's not bad, but he's no Sam. And the Senior Staff knows it. They all file in to the Oval Office, and I note with some amount of amusement that Kathy is following Aaron with his folders as he tries to do something else. His "Good Morning, Mr. President." Is somewhat weak, but we'll work on it.

Josh on the other hand is hopping on the tips of his toes and is annoying the hell out of Toby, which always amuses CJ and me greatly.

"And what has you so hyper this morning, Joshua?" I ask, sitting down in my chair.

He gives me this huge smile. "Sam's back in Washington."

The least he could have done was warn me.

"You talked to him?" Toby asks with excitement.

"No, not really. Donna saw a thing in the society page and told me."

"What the hell is Sam doing on the society page?" CJ asks still munching on the cookie Mrs. Landingham gave her.

"Well when his big sister shows up in Washington it's kind of a big deal. When she's toting her daughter and Sam, it's a very big deal."

CJ's eyes do the bug eye thing for a second and she visibly swallows the cookie in her mouth. "Who is Sam's sister?" She asks slowly. Leo and I look at each other. The fireworks are going to be spectacular.

"Sarah Radcliff." Josh says without a beat, not noticing the trouble looming on the horizon.

"Excuse me, sir." CJ looks in my direction. I nod at her and smile. She turns back to Josh. "WHAT?"

Aaron just looks as amused as me, watching Josh be reamed by CJ. Oh I think I like this kid a lot.


"So what do you think of the new guy. Check." I look across the chessboard at Toby, who is studying the board in consternation. He meets my eyes and sighs, his index finger coming to rub at some imaginary pain on his forehead.

"He's young."

"So was Sam." I watch as Toby's hand lingers over a piece. Come on, do it, Ziegler. Let me put you out of your misery. His hand draws away.

"He needs seasoning." Toby sighs again, moving the board to get a different view. "He's not Sam." Toby looks at the board again.

"Are you going to move?" I ask.

"I'm thinking."

"Thinking isn't going to make loosing any easier."

"Are you taunting me, Mr. President?"

"Just making an observation, Toby." Usually Toby and I are even in the game of Chess, but tonight he's distracted by my pointed questions. This huge intelligence of mine is a gift at times. "So has anyone talked to Sam?"

Toby snatches his hand back from the rook he was thinking of moving. His eyes glare at my hands where they are clutched between my knees. "No. We can't get through. He's staying with his sister at the hotel."

I got through; it's amazing the power Mrs. Landingham yields. Sam is good, if a little perturbed with his sister. I got the impression she's here to put his life back on track, like he's some little boy that can't do it himself. I want to gloat, but I'm doing good just asking stupid questions and winning at Chess.

Toby finally makes his move and I move my Queen to take his King. "Checkmate." I lean back and look hopefully at the glass of scotch in Toby's hand. He takes a huge swallow of it.

Do you miss Sam? I want to ask the question, but it hangs in the air between us, not needing to be said.

"I should tell you, Mr. President, at the risk of inflating your opinion of yourself, that you were right."

I pick up my cigar and take a puff. Thank god Abby is on a trip somewhere. "I'm usually right."

"That could be debated, sir. I was talking about the situation with Sam."

I nod.

"You were right, I should have told him. It undermined his authority to leave him out of the loop."

"Yep." I wish I had a recorder right now, so that I can make Sam hear this.

"I should have apologized right away, instead of justifying my actions."

"You never apologized, Toby?"

Toby takes another swallow of his drink and starts to reset the chessboard. "It just didn't seem like it needed to be said."

"You're the White House Communication Director. You should have known it needed to be said."

"Yeah." He meets my eyes again, and there is sadness there. "I would like the chance to apologize."

"So go track him down and apologize."

"Mrs. Landingham is the only one who can get through." He gives me this look. I think I've been found out. This one though isn't going to be as easy as Leo.

"What would you like me to do?"

"Invite Sam and his sister to the benefit, as your guests."

"I think we've seen enough fireworks over the Radcliff's—"

"I'll talk to CJ. We can sell it as the spirit of bipartisan cooperation; invite a few other Republicans." Toby waves a hand vaguely with a quirked up mouth.

"And why should we do this?"

"Because as good as Aaron is, he isn't ready for Deputy Communications Director. Because he's terrified of meeting with Congressmen. Because all he does at Senior Staff is laugh at CJ and Josh."

"And you." I point out.

Toby sighs. "Yeah." Toby picks up his unlit cigar and fingers it. "We need Sam back. I need Sam back. My writing's been flat. Everyone at the State of the Union noticed." He snips the tip off the cigar and lights it suddenly. The familiar actions fail to comfort Toby, I can tell from the way he stares at the cigar. "Invite Sam and whatever her name is."


"Yeah whatever. So her husband is a rich ignorant idiot. I don't see the point of getting all worked up over it."

"Jeffery Radcliff bought most of the republicans their seats, Toby. She's a big deal here and in New York."


"So I invite them to the party?"

"Yeah, and a couple of others, Matt Skinner, Mike Brace."

"Okay, send it through the social director."

"Yeah." Toby stands up and pulls on his coat, his cigar clinched between his teeth.


Toby looks at me without saying a word.

"Seven days, Toby. Seven days for an I'm sorry."


"Let me hear you say it."

"Excuse me?"

"I want to hear you say it. Say, 'Sam, I'm sorry for leaving you out of the decision for the drop-in. Sam, I'm sorry that I didn't talk to you for a week.' That's what it's going to take, Toby."

Toby sighs and looks at me. "Mr. President—"

"Say it, Ziegler. Remember I just beat you at Chess."

"Something I'm sure you'll remind me of for years to come."


"Sam, I'm sorry that I didn't talk to you for a week. I'm sorry for leaving you out of the decision for the drop-in." Toby says in a rush like a little boy hurrying to finish his chores so he can play.

"Work on that. It definitely needs work."

"Yes, sir."


The sky is darkening outside the windows and I take a second to admire the beauty of twilight time. Along the horizon, a river of red pierces the night, the last ray of hope before darkness falls. I turn at the knock on my door to see Charlie stick his head in.

"Mr. President?"

"Charlie, come take a look at this sunset."

"I've seen it sir. There is someone who wants a minute of your time."

I really wish I could say no way in hell, but that's just not an option. "Yeah. Send him on in." I hope my tone conveys how much I really don't want to see another person today. That is until Sam guides a five-year-old girl through the door.

I swear she is the spitting image of Sam with the exception of her hair, which is slightly redder than his and curly. But the eyes and features are the same. She is adorable.

"Mr. President. I want you to meet your competition. Kathryn Radcliff." Sam leads the little girl closer to my desk, and I move to shake her hand. "Katie, this is the President of the United States, Josiah Bartlet."

"Well, hello there, Katie." I bend down so that we're near eye level and I can tell I'm being sized up.

"Only Uncle Sammie calls me Katie. You may call me Kathryn. And it's a pleasure to meet you, sir." She holds out her hand. Above her Sam is trying not to smile, so I assume that this royalty act is a show. I take her hand and bring it up to my mouth, and give her a giant raspberry.

"Look at that, not even a laugh." I tell Sam who is really trying not to laugh at my amazed tone. Sam crouches down next to the little girl and gives her a big sloppy kiss, which reduces her to giggles. Here is a reason never to come back to Washington. The ability to reduce a child to giggles. Of course he could get married, have a few of his own.

"This is President Bartlet, remember I told you that I work for him."

"I heard mommy say you got fired." This is one smart kid, she's on the ball and there is a bit of a flush creeping up Sam's face.

"I wasn't fired, I'm just taking a long vacation."

"Then how come—"

"Don't you want to say something nice to President Bartlet?" Sam asks, changing the subject rather unskillfully. Don't mind me, I'm just watching you get your ass kicked by a little republican girl.

Katie looks at me and I see something calculating behind those clear blue eyes. I see six questions fly by and be discarded. I can see something her father say take a seat, only to have a look by Uncle Sammie dissuade it from coming out of her mouth. She finally settles on. "Why did you want to be President?"

Maybe I should sit down. She would ask me the question that I haven't been able to answer.

"That's a very good question, Katie. I think I wanted to be President because I wanted to be able to help people. I wanted to say that's not fair, let's fix it, and be able to fix it. Do you understand?"

"No. Explain it to me." She moves to the couch and sits down, waiting expectantly for Sam and I to follow. Sam walks over and picks her up off the couch, he whispers something in her ear and she blushes. "I'm sorry." She points to the chair and waits expectantly for me to move to it and sit down. Which, god help me, I do. Sam's mouth is thinning a bit in a line, she probably should have been scolded long ago, but he's waiting for me to do it.

There is a throat cleared from Leo's office and I see him standing there, looking at Sam holding his niece and then me, with happiness.

"Come on in, Leo. You have got to meet the newest ambassador from Bermuda." Sam's face is blazing, and Katie has stopped paying attention to me to draw white lines through the red on his cheeks.

"Sam it's good to see you." Leo walks in and moves straight to Sam. Letting Katie slide down his hip to the floor, Sam reaches out to shake Leo's hand only to find himself in a hug. Katie meanwhile has decided that my lap looks comfortable and has climbed up with a look of askance.

Leo's blabbering about something so I turn to the little girl in my lap. "Did Mrs. Landingham give you a cookie?" I ask.

"No, but Uncle Sammie took one for after dinner. And she said I could have some on Friday cause she's gonna watch me. Uncle Sammie and Mommy are going to a fancy party and they said I couldn't come and we didn't bring Louisa so they were asking who they could get to watch me and the nice old lady with the cookies said that I could help her make cookies."

Does this child know how to breathe during a sentence? I settle for a, "really."

"Yep. I live in Bermuda, where do you live?"

"I live here, but I used to live in New Hampshire. That's north of New York."

"The Capital of New Hampshire is Concord. And that's on the Merrimack River." Yes it is.

"Did you learn that on Sesame Street?" I ask.

"That's for babies. I'm five."

"SAM!" I look up then at the pound on the door, only to see Joshua flying across the room at Sam. I watch amazed as he vaults over the edge of the couch and pulls Sam into a bear hug. "Oh God you're back. Don't go anywhere. Please. I'm sorry. I'll never snicker at your problems. I won't laugh when you get your ass kicked by a girl. I will understand completely when you complain about Ainsley. Just don't go anywhere."

I laugh as Sam tries to extract himself from Josh's grip. Only to have Josh's octopus arms get a better grip on him. "Josh, let go. I'm—"

"I'm so sorry, Sam." Josh is still trying to hold Sam. By now Katie has started to giggle loudly in my arms.

"He looks like the orangutan we saw at the zoo!"

I think Sam would be laughing if he weren't so panicked by Josh's arms. I watch as Leo's face goes from amused to concerned.

"Joshua. I think it's safe to let him go."

Josh looks back at us and realizes with clarity where he is. Katie is still in giggles. Sam tries to take a step back only to have Josh latch a hand on his wrist. Sam moves to shake it off only to have a gentle shake from Leo's head stop him. Instead he grasps Josh's hand in his and gives it a gentle squeeze. Josh relaxes and slaps a hand on Sam's back.

"I'm glad you're home, Sam."

"I was only in Bermuda, Josh. You have the number and I've been back in Washington for a few days now."

Josh looks shamefaced. He mumbles something, and Sam's face creases in a smile. "What was that Josh?" He asks innocently. Oh yeah, I've missed Sam.

"Donna hid it from me." Josh blurts out. "And the hotel wouldn't put me through to your sister's room."

"And why did Donna hide the phone number from you?" I ask, smiling as Charlie opens the door for Abby to walk in. She waves her hand and I smile. Katie waves back.

"Good evening, Ma'am." Sam stands up straighter and holds out his hand only to be hugged by my wife, who also kisses his cheek.

"It's good to see you home, Sam."

"Yes, ma'am."

"You aren't allowed to leave the Washington vicinity for a month again."

"Yes, ma'am."

"That's a nice tan you have there, Sam."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Did you use sun block?"

Sam smiles. "Yes, ma'am. SPF 50."

Abby smacks his cheek. "Good." She turns to me and smiles at Katie. "And who are you?"

"I'm Kathryn Radcliff. You can call me Katie."

"And who said you could sit in my husband's lap?" Katie looks at Sam uncertainly. He smiles encouragingly at her.

"Uncle Sammie." She gets down off my lap and dives for Sam's arms. Leo, Abby and I are amused but Josh looks as if he's been kicked. My guess is he never saw Sam as a father figure. I'm pretty sure that Sam never saw himself as one either. This past month has been good for him. He's more confident, more open. It's barely noticeable, but I see it.

Abby laughs, and touches her back. "I'm not mad, sweetie. Do you know who I am?" She asks. Katie pulls her head out of Sam's arm enough to look at her seriously.

"You're Abigail Bartlet. Mommy says you're cool, and Daddy says you're a feminista bitch and then Mommy hits him." I pretty sure that Jeffery Radcliff would not like to be quoted as insulting the First Lady, but that's the beauty of children. They don't know the social rules yet.

"That's right. I'm Abby." Good one Abby, ignore the commentary.

I look up as CJ enters the Oval Office and smiles at Sam. Toby who is just behind her back peddles as soon as he sees Sam.

I watch in disappointment as Sam's face falls a bit, the smile wavering a bit at the corner. CJ looks back at Toby curiously. Before she has time to say anything though, Aaron comes through the door and sighs, "Oh thank god. You're back." Everyone in the room stands back as Aaron wraps his arms around Sam.

"It's nice to see you too . . . Aaron, isn't it?" Sam's trying to extract himself from Aaron's grip but is largely unsuccessful.

"Tell me I can go back to the Communications bullpen, Sam. I don't want to be Deputy Communications Director anymore." Aaron moves back slowly. His large earnest eyes on Sam. "I don't want to work with Toby anymore. He scares me."

Toby comes into the room then and flings papers at Sam, who catches them. I admit that had to take a lot of practice. I can't imagine of all the times that Sam had to pick up the papers. All the times that Toby probably yelled him for not paying attention.

"Good catch, Princeton. Aaron, you're demoted. Sam you're rehired."

"Ah, Toby." I start.

"With all due respect sir. Shut up. I want Sam."

"What's this?" Sam looks at the papers he caught and started to flip through the pages.

"It's your apology."

"What? I'm supposed to sign it?" Sam is still flipping through it. "Do you think it was wise to use idiosyncratic that way?"

Toby sighs and crosses his arms over his chest. "No. It's my apology to you."

Sam looks up surprised then. "Toby, this is ten pages long."

"I know—it's a little short-"

"Toby a simple 'I'm sorry' would have done it."

"Your too easy, Sammie." A voice, a very familiar voice calls from the doorway. I see a very smartly dressed woman, who looks like a twin of Sam in the doorway. "I'm sorry, your aide said to go right in."

"It's all right. It's nice to meet the famous Sarah in person." I stand up and hold my hand out. She shakes it firmly but delicately.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. President." Unlike Sam's face, which is held in check with huge amounts of self-control, Sarah's face flashes through the range of emotions, and I see a similarity between her and her daughter.

We make the round of introductions. When she shakes Leo's hand there is something sinister in her look and she asks casually, "You're Mallory's father."

Sam obviously sees trouble on the horizon because he clamps his hand down on his sister's arm and pulls her away with an, "For gods sake, Sarah behave. I have to work with these people."

Around the room, there is a huge sigh of relief as Sam confirms his place on the Senior Staff. Sam looks around curiously, I wonder if he's thinking about the other reasons they might want to sigh. Is he thinking they don't want him, after all that?

"You still have three weeks left on your leave, Sam." I tell him.

Aaron is the only one to respond right away. "Three weeks?" He squeaks. I really like that kid. I'm going to miss him. Maybe we could move him upstairs or something.

"So we have three weeks to find you a wife." Sarah tells Sam. Well that was blunt.

And now my wife the wonderful Abigail opens her mouth. I can only say, Oh no.

"Do you need help?" She asks. I can't believe that she just asked that.

"Abigail." I warn her. Sam has always been open with Abby about things, but I'm pretty sure that he won't want her in on this.

"No one is finding me a wife." Sam's sounding very adamant, but then again, he sounded adamant when he said they wouldn't be in Washington any time soon, too. I wonder when the wedding will be. "It was nice seeing you. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule, sir." Sam has gathered up Katie and has a hand on his sister's back. "We'll see you on Friday." Sam nods at us, and I wave goodbye to them as Sam hustles them out of the room.

I wait counting to ten, before the door opens and Sarah sticks her head in and says, "I'll be in touch, Dr. Bartlet.

Oh God, please save Sam from older sisters and my wife who is looking rather evilly at Leo. Oh God, poor Sam and poor Mallory.

Leo's going to have a conniption if they start dating.

Then again, maybe he'll help Mallory spend the dowry that Sarah's willing to pay. I'm glad I'm here to watch this, 'cause those Soap Operas have nothing on this drama. Speaking of drama.

"You gave him a Leave Of ABSENSE?" Toby's voice increases in volume as he comes to look at me. "You made me say that ridiculous apology in the residence?"

"Toby, look at the seal on the floor and then look back at me."

He does so reluctantly. He glares at me, but says nothing more. Thank god for the Seal, I'd have to call the Secret Service to save me from a very upset Senior Staff. And ut oh. The new kid is listing a little. "Three weeks?" There go the eyes. And he's down for the count. CJ just rolls her eyes and flounces onto a nearby couch.

"Thank God Sam is coming back."

But where's the fun in that Claudia Jean.

"What's next?" I ask the staff.

"We need to talk about the House Resolution." Leo tells me. And takes a seat. Abby's still checking on the new kid, but his eyes are fluttering so I know he'll be with us any minute now.


"Sam is certainly in the mood to dance." Leo comes up beside me with a glass of ginger ale in his hand. Sam has been on the dance floor since he and his sister arrived. I've notice Sarah slipping around to different women and pointing out her brother. I'm guessing she's filling up his dance card. And considering he's been on the floor for three hours now, I imagine his feet hurt.

"Do you think we should send CJ out to rescue him?" I ask looking toward CJ where she is bored listening to another person ramble about something. Maybe I should go liven up that conversation. The national parks trivia would work nicely here.

Leo sees the gleam in my eyes and leans down to hiss, "Don't even think about it, Mr. President."

"What?" I ask innocently. I can make good conversation. CJ is on the dance floor in Sam's arms, and I can't tell who rescued whom, although Sam is taking this opportunity to shake his feet. CJ laughs at something he says and the whole ballroom looks at them. They ignore the attention, focusing on their conversation.

I bet he's saying, "Pretend your talking to me, and don't let someone else cut in."

She'll say, "I am talking to you and what? You don't like your fan club?"

"I swear to god my sister is paying all of them. She's priming the pump so she can buy me a wife. She has been corrupted. Corrupted by my Brother-in-law and his money."

"How much money are we talking about, here, Spanky. Cause I'll marry you if it's enough."

He'll growl at her, but pull her closer, the better to step on her feet. There he goes, pulling her closer, I see them stumble as he steps on her toes. I'm so good.

"She hasn't hit Mallory yet." Leo nods at me.

"Maybe she's saving her for last." I sneak a sly glance at him. His face is carefully watching Sarah maneuver away from Mallory.

"One can only hope, not, sir." Leo's mouth quirks up in a smile, as Mallory's eyes narrow on a conversation near her. She turns around, and ut oh. I know that look. Maybe I'll just go hide in the bathroom. I don't want to be around when Mt. Mallory blows. "I think I'll go rescue my daughter." Leo walks around the room as Mallory starts talking with what I'm sure is that royal distain that she obviously inherited from her mother, because I know Leo can't do it. He can go from annoyed to frustrated to Boston Irish mad.

"Wait, Leo." I pull him back to me, and watch as Sam finally figures out there is a problem in Pleasantville. He wastes valuable time though, haggling with CJ before he cuts through the dancers to the outskirts where his sister and Mallory have almost abandoned civility.

I'm sure that Charlie, Josh and Toby are a bit upset by the fact that the catfight is being broken up. Some hair pulling maybe a few claws would have certainly made this dull as toast gathering more interesting. I wonder if they have more of those New England crab puffs that Sam was eyeing before.

Sam's voice raises enough to carry over the music and I really wonder what's going on. "Ron? Do you have anyone by the fight?" I look at the discreet secret service agent.

"Yes, sir." Ron doesn't move his eyes from scanning the crowd.

"Well, man! What are they saying?"

"Mr. President. If you want to know, go over and listen." Leo's itching to go save his daughter from Sam and his sister, but oops, my hand still holds his arm.

"Let's go. Discreetly. I want to hear the yelling, not break it up."

"You've been watching too many soap operas, sir."

Charlie's been telling on me. I'm going to have a talk with that young man. He's not supposed to tell on me like I'm a six year old. For heaven's sake I'm the President of the United States. If I want to have a guilty pleasure like a soap opera well that's my business.

"I can still fire you, my friend." I let Ron clear the way in front of me, and I touch him to let him know that's close enough.

"One can only hope, Mr. President." Leo hisses at me, before trying to see over Ron's shoulder to where Sam, Sarah, CJ and Mallory stand.

"You can't pimp him off like he's some kind of street walker. I don't care who you are." That would be Mallory's voice. That girl can spit fire when she wants too. I suspect she inherited that from her father.

"A street walker has more sense when it comes to the opposite sex."

"Hey." Sam sounds indignant, and his face is screwed up like a five year olds. He is so young sometimes; I forget that. There are sometimes when I can't forget it. But the past few weeks. . . I know Sam now. At least I hope I do. I know CJ as well, which is why I know that the hand to her lips is probably to stop the laughter from spilling out. Even Leo's trying not to laugh, but his smile is spreading across his face.

"You do, dear." Sarah pats his arm like a dog. Hey. That's my deputy you're demoralizing.

"You really do, Sam." CJ snorts this out as she strives to keep from laughing.

"I'll give you that." Mallory says with a smile.

"THAT'S ENOUGH." Wow. I honestly didn't know Sam had the ability to stop a party, but look at that, he did. Sam grabs his sister arm and pulls her away from prying eyes, but actually closer to where we're watching and listening. "I've had enough of your telling me what to do. I'm five years younger; it doesn't mean I'm stupid. No I haven't found the woman of my dreams yet, but you know what? I don't care. I would rather wait for eternity than to marry someone you picked out. Or don't you remember Lisa."

"You are not going to blame Lisa on me."

"Yeah I am. Because you did the same thing you're doing now. You throw a whole bunch of women at me, and wait to see which one has the longest claws to sink in and stick. I asked her to marry me, not because I loved her, but because she was acceptable to you. But not this time. I like who I am. I like what I do. And I'll love whomever I marry. Be happy that I have two out of three."

Who the hell is Lisa? Never mind I don't really care.

Sarah's voice dips and I lean around Ron to see that she and Sam are close enough to be hugging, but her arms are crossed in front of hers, and so is Sam's. But from here I can see their foreheads touch, and some whispered words. Damn I wish I were superman. That bastard could hear everything.

Sam touches Sarah's cheek, and the moment is so sweet. I've never had tender moments with my sister. We've never been close, really. But this is, this is. . . It is more than words. I guess it's love. A moment marked only with its timelessness.

Leo touches my shoulder and I look away as we move to the other side of the room. Some things are not meant to be seen.



Today is the day. Sam is home. Charlie told me that Sam was in early, that Kathy was catching him up on what was going on. That Aaron hugged him repeatedly. Donna brought him coffee, which is something of a big thing; just don't ask me why. I couldn't care less about my staff's personal life. I really couldn't.

Charlie peeks his head in the office and I look up perturbed. "And what fate of the nation must I decide on this very second that I can't finish this briefing report, Charlie."

Charlie gives me his shut up Mr. President look. We're really going to have to talk about respect and. . . stuff for the leader of the Free World. "Mr. President, the Senior Staff needs a moment of your time."

"Fine, whatever. It's not like I was deciding to bomb Baghdad."

Charlie gives me another look and opens the door for the senior staff, which comes in not surprisingly in the middle of an argument. Josh and Sam are about to come to blows when Toby's soft voice stops Sam with just his name.

"Finally." Josh sighs.

"Good Afternoon, Mr. President." They all say quietly. Then Toby turns back to Josh and gives him a look.

"Sam's right, Josh."

"You're ganging up on me?" He slams onto the couch and I look amused. "I can't believe you're ganging up on me."

"He's right, Josh. You would know that if you hadn't slept through Law School."

"But still you're ganging up on me." I had better end this before Josh really starts to mope.

"So what's up folks?" I ask them as I stand and move around the desk; Josh stands up quickly.

"We have a slight problem, sir." Leo tells me and then looks at Josh. Oh dear, what has Josh done today. But at least we'll fight it together. Thirty seconds isn't so destructive after all. There is nothing we can't handle together, and nothing is going to stop us again.

The End.