Title: 'Crash & Burn' (1/2)
Author: Anna Rousseau annadelamico@yahoo.co.uk
Fandom: The West Wing
Genre: Drama/Angst (Hurt/Comfort)
Category: SS/MOB/LMG
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Through S1. Minor for 'Galileo' and 'Someone's Going to Emergency, Someone's Going to Jail'.
Last Eppy Seen: 'Galileo'
Archive: Please, just tell me where.
Summary: It's late at night in DC and the person Sam least expects turns up on his doorstep in the least expected circumstances.

Disclaimer: The West Wing and its characters belong to Aaron Sorkin as they are the product of his genius. However, I am borrowing them for a while and I promise to return them more or less in tact.

Notes: This is my fourth WW fic, and I'm still trying to get into the swing of things and find my bearings, so any constructive criticism is appreciated and feedback is gladly accepted. I'm trying to hold back from the hurt-comfort clich├ęs and keep the characterisation right, and I'm winging it slightly as I live in the UK and have only seen S1 so far, but I think I got Sam down OK. I'm returning to the old ER/XF genre of Hurt-Comfort for this story, I hope you enjoy it.

Hair Notes: I think, for this story to be enjoyed to its full potential, you have to think that since Galileo Sam got a hair cut, I'm not talking Super-Short, more 'Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics'-ish because I'm sure there are some people who were (like me) deeply hurt by Galileo-hair...it's just not 'Sam'.





"CRASH & BURN - PART I"
======================


There was a sharp series of knocks on the door, pulling Sam out of his weary slumber like a pneumatic drill.

The past few nights he had slept a couple of hours at the most. He had been working, he tried to convince himself, working very hard. But Sam knew that someday he would have to stop agonising himself over Mallory. He would have to stop being infuriated by the very thought of her with that hockey player, that Richard with whom she was having a lot of sex with. He would have to stop wondering about 'what ifs' and wanting to turn back time to a day months ago when he could have picked up the phone and resolved something that would have meant that maybe now he would not be alone in his apartment with only the TV turned down low on C-SPAN to keep him company. He would have to start getting some sleep.

He would have to forget about her, forget about how he missed her.

Sam Seaborn lifted his head from where it was resting uncomfortably on the keyboard of his laptop, which was lit only by the hazy glow of the streetlight flooding through his window and a small desk-top lamp. At first he was relieved to find that he had finally been to sleep for the first time in God-knows-when, this feeling soon turned to anger when he realised he had been awoken in the early hours of the morning. Frustration and fury, however masked all previous feelings when he found that his head had been resting on the backspace key. The speech draft he had been toiling over for hours last night was no-where to be seen.

Cursing under his breath, Sam rubbed his eyes and got up from his desk, pulling off his glasses which had been pushed up on top of his head when he had drifted off.

The knocking had not stopped. This time it became more insistent and a urgent and muffled 'Sam' accompanied it.

Sam's heart skipped a beat as he heard her voice. He had been expecting Josh or maybe Toby to be there at his door, demanding why he hadn't answered a page and explaining that the president of some country with an obscure name had been kidnapped by terrorists who were threatening to spread smallpox unless the United States released some convicted felons. But to hear her voice, Sam expected something even worse. An angry woman who had probably decided that now she did want an explanation and had come over to rub the fact she was not single any more in his face. She wasn't going to stomp on his heart in her big high-heeled shoes any more. He had be dealt out his fair share of rejection and he didn't deserve this, oh no-

He adopted his sternest business-like demeanour and unlocked the door, prepared to take a page out of Josh's book and tell her where she could-

The door flew open.

"Mallory?"

There she was in his doorway, as he had expected.

"Sam!"

Her hair was tousled, her face scratched, her jacket's lapel ripped, one arm cradling the other hand. Blood dripped down her temple steadily.

"My God, Mallory!" Sam's shock prevented him from doing anything for a moment. He couldn't quite come to terms with her appearing in the middle of the night at his apartment, and the sight of her there, glassy eyes glistening with tears, face as pale as on overcast morning in DC, her clothes rain splattered and muddy was even more to take in.

Mallory's voice broke as Sam put his arm around her and and led her into the apartment, "Sam, I...I-"

"What happened Mal?" Sam asked, trying to get her downcast eyes to look at him.

Her eyes fixed on the floor, Mallory's voice was more of a whisper as she pushed her damp hair out of her eyes and accidentally smeared blood from a cut on her forehead across her temple. "I was walking," she took a shallow breath, "I was walking home and...and there were these, these two guys..."

Fresh tears welled in her eyes and she looked into Sam's blue irises, her voice even less audible than before. "Sam, they took my money, my phone..." Mallory wiped her eyes with her sleeve, continuing so quietly that her mouth opened and no noticeable sound was emitted, "They, they pushed me over...I thought they were...were gonna..."

Mallory collapsed forwards and Sam swiftly caught her, stumbling backwards under her weight. Wrapping his arms around her as she started to sob softly, Sam could feel the tears spilling out of her and cascading onto his shirt and she cried into his chest. "Oh God, Mallory," Sam rubbed her back slowly, his voice nearly as subdued as hers. "It's okay, you're okay."

Her voice was muffled as her tears continued to dampen his shirt, "Sam, it was..." Mallory trailed off, clinging closer to him, her good arm tightening around his neck whilst the other hung limply at her side. Her body was cold and damp next to his dry clothes and Sam could feel her shiver intermittently.

Sam glanced down at her torn skirt and crumpled jacket, his mind now having the time to process the events of her evening. At that moment he forgot about last week, about that night at the Kennedy Center and instead found himself feeling how he did a year before when what he and Mallory had still resembled a potential friendship. Sam hesitantly placed one hand on her head and smoothed her hair away from her face, "Are you hurt?"

There was a sniffle and Mallory pressed her cheek against his neck, apparently she had also forgotten that she was supposed to be deeply maddened by Sam. "They threw me...on the ground...took, took my stuff, they hit...hit me, I-"

Mallory suddenly stopped and broke away from him, breathing deeply, the shock overwhelming her for a moment. From the glance she cast at Sam he could tell she had remembered about the less than amiable state of their relationship, and she began to pull herself together. Although they had not parted as enemies after their last meeting, they were still a not very close to being friends. Biting back the tears, Mallory looked up at Sam.

"I need to call Dad," she said softly. "I didn't have any money for a pay phone, I remembered that you lived here from when we went to lunch and-"

Mallory broke off, not wanting to bring their relationship up tonight. Sam was partially relieved that she had no intention of going down that path and interrogating him.

"Sorry, you were asleep, weren't you," Mallory apologised, looking uncomfortable.

Sam held up a hand. "Don't be, I was working anyway."

He looked at her as she nodded wearily. "So can I call-"

Sam nodded guiding her into the sitting area, "First, you sit down and I'll get you a cocoa and some ice for your arm, then I'll run you a bath and you can get some sleep."

"I need to call Dad," Mallory insisted as she hovered over the couch.

"I'll do it. You need to sit," Sam replied, giving her a gentle but firm push which made her give into the deep cushions of Sam's brushed leather furniture.

"I can't stay here tonight, Sam," Mallory said, her voice protesting weakly. She closed her eyes against the soft light in the room and relaxed into the cushions beneath her back.

Sam bent down in front of her. "I'm not asking you to stay the night, I just want you to get some rest before your father comes over. You'll feel better after it, I promise."

Mallory looked back at Sam with watery eyes. "I saw your light on, Sam. I didn't know what to do."

He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "You did the right thing, Mallory."

Mallory did not look entirely convinced. She bowed her head and gave a frustrated sigh. "What am I doing here?"

Sam dragged Mallory to her feet and took off her jacket, folding it over his arm before she had a chance to think things over. "My bedroom's over there. Let me run you a bath, Mal."

Mallory was rubbing her head cautiously. She hadn't enough strength to put up a fight; her pale face looked as exhausted as her tired eyes. Caving in, Mallory moved with Sam as he started to lead her into his bedroom. "Okay. But don't be mean with the bath foam."

"Would I ever do that to you?" Sam said with a small smile as he opened the door for her.

Mallory didn't say anything, she just took a deep breath and sat on his bed, kicking off her black court shoes.

Sam turned towards the en suite after pulling some towels out of his cupboards.

"Sam."

He twirled on his heel and turned to Mallory, who was pulling off her laddered panty-hose. "Yeah?"

"Thanks."

Sam nodded and replied truthfully. "Anytime."

He shut the door behind him and knelt on the bathroom tiles as he started to fill the bath with warm water, adding a generous amount of a Crabtree & Evelyn bubble bath that his aunt had left in the cupboard last time she stayed with him. Sam hung onto everything, and whilst he was searching in the cupboard for a fresh bar of soap he pulled out a handkerchief which was smeared with a burgandy stain. Looking at it with regret, Sam pocketed the material and briefly thought back to a night, a year ago when Mallory had kissed him and Josh had only informed him an hour later that he still had lipstick all over his mouth. Sam had thought his relationship with Mallory had been confusing then, but it was nothing compared to the state it was in now.

Swishing his hand around in the frothy water, Sam turned the faucets off and began to tidy around the bathroom to make it slightly more presentable. He wanted to make things a little more relaxing in there, but the bright fluoresant lights didn't really permit that, and he wasn't the sort of guy who kept candles around the place, contrary to what Toby thought.

With a regretful sigh, Sam knocked on his bedroom door. "Bath's ready, Mallory."

He heard a muffled reply. "Thank you."

Sam pressed his head against the door. "I'll go ring your dad."

Mallory didn't answer for a while. "Tell him I'm fine. Please, don't get him worried, the number's in my purse-"

Sam could hear Mallory give out a sigh then choke back a sob. He wanted nothing more than to sit next to her and envelope her in his arms. But that wasn't an option now. Maybe if he had played his cards right a few months ago...

"I know the number." Sam managed to reply. He heard the ruffling of her clothes as they fell to the floor. "Mallory, are you okay?"

"Yeah," she replied hesitantly. "Thanks, Sam."

Sam raked a hand through his hair and turned away from the door, heading for the phone on his desk after he closed the bathroom door quietly.

He dialled the White House's number carefully and put the receiver to his ear, rubbing his forehead. As usual the White House phone exchange operators were prompt and he only had to wait a few seconds. "Hey Helen, it's Sam Seaborn. Could you put me through to Leo McGarry's office please?"

***

Margaret twirled a strand of her copper hair around her index finger. "He's not in, Sam. He went off to meet the Vice-President a few minutes ago." She gritted her teeth as she tried to copy some files onto a floppy disk. This was her last task of the day, and she wanted to get it done sometime before midnight, preferably.

She listened to Sam. "Yeah, try his cell phone, he always has it on." Margaret cursed, then turned a deep shade of red. "No, I didn't mean you, Sam. I meant the damn computer... no, I'm not trying to hack into the Pentagon... are you okay, you sound... alrighty then, bye."

Margaret turned her full attention to the computer and hit the monitor with the palm of her hand. "Behave!" she scolded as she stuck her tongue between her teeth and dragged some icons across the desktop.

There was a ring. Margaret picked up the phone. "Leo McGarry's off-." She was greeted by the dial tone as the ringing continued loud and clear. It seemed to be coming from the Chief of Staff's office.


Margaret got up and tip-toed into the office, where Leo had left his cell phone on the desk. She became hot and flustered as she picked it up to answer, uncertain of what to say. "Leo McGarry's cell phone, how may I-"

***

Sam looked puzzled. "Margaret?"

"Yeah?" The voice replied hesitantly. "Sam?"

"I thought this was Leo's phone." He shook his head to clear it and rubbed his forehead vigorously. "Okay, I need you to page Leo. Tell him to come to my place, Mallory's here and he needs to come over straight away... I can't say right now... No we're not going out... Okay... Yeah, he has the address. Thanks, Margaret. Bye."

Sam breathed in deeply and placed the receiver back into its cradle, rubbing his neck as he went to the kitchen to make Mallory a hot chocolate. Once he'd made it, Sam slipped into his bedroom and placed it on a coaster on top of his bedside table, then scooping up her clothes from the chair in the corner and and picking her shoes up from the floor.

Once he was in the kitchen, Sam examined Mallory's clothes. They were spotted with mud, and blood, in places. There were a few small rips, and one large tear. Shaking his head, Sam fell to the floor and buried his face in the fabric. How had this happened. Why had this happened. The questions floated back and forth in his head, repeating themselves relentlessly.

But there was another question, one that Sam tried to ignore, yet could not.

Picking himself up from the ground, Sam opened up his washing machine's door and gently pushed Mallory's damp clothes into the drum. In went a jacket, a skirt and a blouse. Sam stared blankly at the remaining undergarments he was holding and felt a flash of heat across his face. Folding them up, Sam put the clothing to one side and set off the washing machine. Sam settled back onto the floor, crossed his legs and pulled a shoe box from under his kitchen sink and picked up one of Mallory's black shoes. He took a brush and a tin of polish from box and started to work on the leather.


As he brushed her shoes, Sam found it harder to push one question to the back of his mind. The words repeated themselves again and again and again.

Why had Mallory ended up at his apartment when he knew that Richard's apartment was just as near. Why him? The guy who rarely said the right thing to her and had the tendency to make her go ballistic at any available opportunity. Why not Richard, the hockey player with whom she had such intellectually stimulating conversations with; he was a 'terribly bright guy', after all. Quite a lot of sex *and* deep and meaningful discussions. Like hell they did, Sam thought bitterly. But then again, if Richard and Mallory did have something to talk about, what chance did he have against an intelligent sports-star. Sam was just a speechwriter, and though Richard was only a second rate hockey player, sports-stars were always more attractive to women.

Sam looked at his hands in astonishment as they began to brush at the shoes a little too vigorously.

He had to stop thinking about them. About Mallory and Richard. This was getting ridiculous.

***

Mallory sighed as she slipped into the water, the temperature was perfect. The warmth penetrated her skin, soaking into her bones like sandy beaches drink up the surf. Why had she come here, walking in a daze as if on auto pilot, finding herself at Sam's door when she knew that she should be at Richard's. Mallory could almost cry at the confusion that was now overloading her exhausted mind, the confusion that had assailed her when she had seen Sam the other week at the concert just when she had thought that she had sorted her feelings out once and for all.

Rubbing the bar of soap over her legs, Mallory guarded her injured arm, letting it rest on the side of the tub. From the bath she could hear Sam moving around the apartment, shuffling around in his bedroom then closing the door behind him. She had somehow expected Sam's apartment to look like this; neat and tastefully decorated, stylish yet not too cold. Mallory had been here once before, when her father had picked him up for a fundraiser that she was also attending. That had been a few days before the photo.


Mallory hadn't enough energy to think about being angry about Sam at that moment. After all he had just let her in at an ungodly hour and practically done so without complaint. There was a little voice at the back of her mind, though, that was asking her 'why Sam?' over and over again. Mallory somehow had known that she didn't want to face Richard. Of course she liked him, they had enjoyed some good times together.

Then again, there was something she felt when she was with Sam that she didn't feel when she was with anyone else. That sense of purpose that he exuded which was as heady as the subtle fragrance of his cologne when she leant in too close to him whilst they were talking. How irresistible he looked when he was writing, his glasses reflecting back the glare of his lap top. The way he became defensive around her at the Kennedy Center and how he tried to take control of things but failed miserably. Mallory knew she shouldn't have come here because all Sam would have to do is look at her or brush her arm and she would let her guard down, her sensibilities overwhelmed by her intense desire to make a rash, impulsive gesture of her love for him.

Mallory threw her head back and slapped the water angrily with the palm of her hand. She couldn't believe she had let herself think of Sam like that, virtually admitting she loved him. Mallory had told herself time and again that it would pass, but every day her feelings for Sam became more overpowering. She had spent most of the evening at the concert last week watching Sam from the opposite corner of the Presidential box, hanging on every word he said to CJ, longing to move next to him and straighten his bow tie. Even the weak insults that Sam had made about Richard did not bother her at all. That was what worried her; she had fallen for a politician, and that could never end well.

Curling up in the bath, Mallory rested her head on her knees and thought about how she was going to have to break up with Richard. She wasn't surprised to realise that the thought did not bother her in the slightest. In fact, it left her feeling somewhat enlightened.


Picking the bar of soap up from where it had sunk to the bottom of the tub, Mallory ran it over her shoulders. She wanted to scrub away every last grain of dirt, every last memory of the attack. She had been walking back home after visiting a friend, a friend with whom she'd gone to college with, when it had happened. Mallory hadn't expected that such a thing could have occur in that neighbourhood. It was hardly downtown, after all. She'd been walking only a few minutes when the blow had struck her head and her purse had been grabbed as she was pushed to the ground, right outside the front door of someone's house. Nobody had answered her cries of distress, not a single soul had stopped the two men from beating her mercilessly. Mallory's fist clenched around the bar of soap as she began to feel increasingly infuriated by what had happened, and before she could release her grasp, the soap popped out of her hand and flew across the room, landing somewhere on the tiled floor.

Looking down at her skin, Mallory was shocked to find that it was raw and red, angrily rubbed until it stung.

She looked across the bathroom, trying her best to locate the soap. There it was, by the basin on the marble tiles. Mallory sighed, he muscles and bones aching and screaming out in pain. She could hear Sam moving around in the bedroom. Resigning herself to incapacitation, Mallory called out to the other room.

"Sam?" Her voice was slightly raw and hoarse from her crying.

The door opened slightly. "Yeah?"

"I lost the soap," Mallory said slowly, each sound she made aggravating her throat. "It kinda flew across there. Could you get it?"

"Sure," Sam replied, edging into the bathroom, his eyes shielded by his hand. "I'm averting my eyes, by the way."

Mallory submerged herself fully so only her shoulders and her knees were jutting out of the sudsy water. "I'm not that repulsive," Mallory managed to joke, Sam somehow managing to make her smile. "You can stop that now, there's nothing to see."

Sam let his hand drop and gave her a small smile. He was brandishing a small first aid kit and an ice pack. "I brought provisions." He placed the items on the bath stand and then placed his hands on his hips. "So where's this soap, Ma-a-a-a-l-"

"Just there," Mallory laughed, in spite of her mood, as Sam's foot connected with the soap and sent his skidding across the room. Finally he landed on the floor alongside the bath on his back, a large thud resounding in the small room.

Mallory leant over to check on Sam after waiting a few seconds for a cry of pain that never manifested itself. "Are you okay, Sam?"

Sam sat up at exactly that moment, the bar of soap in his hand. "I think I found it."

Drawing her knees to her chest, Mallory smiled weakly at him as he offered her the soap. She took it from him and he reciprocated the smile. "Thank you."

Sam looked at her for a while and Mallory couldn't decipher what he was thinking. Silently, he knelt forwards and picked up the washcloth from the side of the bath. He rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt and dipped the flannel into the bath water. Sam started to squeeze water down Mallory's back, wiping away spots of mud which had penetrated her clothing.

"How's your head, Mallory?" Sam asked, running the cloth over her shoulders.

Why was she letting him do this, why was she torturing herself. This had the potential to be a *moment*, but it just could never be anything more than a guy and his boss's daughter. Turning her mind away from the warmth Sam's motions were bathing her in, Mallory met his eyes. "Hurts a lot. I hit it on the ground when I fell."

"Where?" Sam asked, sitting back on his heels.

"I'd just come out of my friend Ellen's house and I was walking-"

Sam interjected, "Where about on your head, I meant."

Mallory ran a hand over her skull. "Here."

"May I?" Sam raised his hand to her head.

Mallory nodded and winced as Sam ran his hand though hair, soon finding the lump that was angrily forming.

"Does it hurt all the time? Do you get dizzy, nauseous? Is it a dull pain, a sharp pain, a stabbing pain?"

"You talk too fast," Mallory complained as he bombarded her with questions.

"It's the caffeine," Sam joked. "So are you dizzy?"

"Intermittently," Mallory replied. Sam reached for the ice pack and leant over to where Mallory's slightly swollen arm rested on the side of the tub. Mallory winced as he pressed the cool plastic to her arm and wrist.

"I'm getting a doctor for you. Your father's been paged," Sam informed Mallory as he picked up the flannel and started to clean the mud and dried blood away from the wound on her forehead.


"You don't have to get a doctor," Mallory assured him, glad to feel the warmth of his touch once again as he lifted her hair out of the way. "I'll be fine, Sam."

Sam nodded and looked straight into her eyes which were still watery and red. "I know, but it'd make me feel better." His tone was soft but undeniably insistent.

"You're stubborn, Seaborn," Mallory replied, absentmindedly flicking water into Sam's face.

"Very," Sam agreed with a small nod. "And I refuse to rise to your bait."

"What'd I do?" said Mallory innocently.

"You flicked water at me," Sam replied nonchalantly.

"It was a gesture of apology," Mallory said, trying to make amends.

"Apology for what?"

"The other night. I acted in a very petty manner before the concert, I wouldn't let you explain yourself, I got mad about you not calling." Mallory looked at him with a small smile. "I would have rung you, but you were the one who was supposed to be doing the controlling, remember."

"Well, I admit, that was my fault," Sam replied, pressing a piece of sterile gauze from the first aid kit against Mallory's lacerated forehead. "I didn't know what to say, I chickened out. I'm a coward."

"I wasn't gonna bite your head off," Mallory assured him, trying to not think about how much her forehead stung. Sam raised his eyebrow and she cut him off before he could respond. "Well, I did go through that stage of despising you and everything you stood for... again."

Sam's lips turned upwards slightly as he applied another band aid to Mallory's cut, "There you go."

"Thanks," Mallory whispered. "I'm gonna get out now."

Sam nodded. "Okay, I should probably go away then."

Mallory shook her head slightly, but was cautious not to amplify the throbbing pain in her temples. "It's okay, just hand me the towel and then you can do the averting of the eyes thing." Mallory took the ice pack from where it lay on her injured arm and clasped it in her right hand.

Sam held out the towel between his hands as Mallory stood up in the bath before hopping out, his eyes screwed shut. As Mallory stepped into his arms he drew her into a hug as he wrapped the towel around her. "Feel better?"

Mallory turned to face him, still within the circle of his arms, her knees grazing against the denim of his jeans. She gazed into Sam's eyes and saw a certain amount of concern. "Yeah," Mallory's voice caught in her throat, her head pounding and limbs aching as a result of the evening's events. "But my arm still hurts."

Sam nodded as she held it out. He took it and looked at the swollen wrist thoughtfully, "Well, I don't really know a thing about medicine, so we'll have to wait till the doctor gets here."

He took the ice pack from Mallory's right hand and placed it back against her left arm. "I'll go get dressed," Mallory murmured as the coolness assaulted her inflamed skin.

Sam nodded, releasing her from his arms and pushing the door open. Mallory saw a pair of pyjamas laid out on the bed. "Your clothes are in the wash."

"You didn't have to-"

"'S okay," Sam said, cutting her short.

Mallory nodded and fingered the pyjamas: the soft material made her eyebrows raise in surprise, "Silk, Sam?"

"Christmas present from Mom. Very thoughtful, but I'm not one for pyjamas," Sam explained, heading for the door.

Mallory couldn't help blurting out: "I won't ask what you sleep in."

Sam rubbed his neck and threw her a small smile, "I usually end up crashing on the sofa in my suit." He looked embarrassed at this confession.

She shook her head. "You remind me of my dad, he-"

Ominous silence filled the room.

"Mal?"

Mallory rubbed her forehead as she sat down on the bed. It would always come down to that, the fact that Sam and her father had one common love: this presidency. Everything would be forgotten for its sake. Sam was just as committed to this idealistic cause as her father had been, her father who had abandoned her and her mother when she had been growing up. Her memories and experiences of political operatives so far had been so negative, Mallory could never envisage having a future with someone who was more in love with an idea, the idea of the American Dream, than they were with her.

That's what she was afraid of. She was scared of being second on Sam's lists of priorities, she was scared of being left alone, she was scared of committing herself to more than just a person, committing herself to a life of sacrifice and resentment.

She never wanted to resent Sam. Never. And if that meant keeping away from him and making herself not fall for him by getting involved with another man, a hockey player none the less, then that was what she would do.

Mallory wasn't going to be neglected again. That had happened to her too many times in the past.

She looked up to see Sam standing over her, "Are you alright, Mallory. I mean, apart from the obvious-"

"I'm fine, Sam," Mallory said, cutting his concerns short. Mallory looked into Sam's clear blue eyes and a comforting warmth enveloped her. She could do this. Sam wasn't her father. At least she thought not.

She gave him a reassuring smile as he nodded and slowly backed out of the door. "Try and get some rest, I'm gonna try and get through to your father again."

Her head snapped up. "Don't get him worried, Sam."

Sam shook his head, "I'd imagine that if you'd given yourself a paper cut, Leo'd be sick with distress. He loves you a lot, Mal."

"I know," Mallory whispered. She tried to make herself believe that, though sometimes, most times actually, that didn't seem to be the case. There was always something that her father was more involved with, more enamoured with than his family. Sometimes she forgot what it was like to really be loved, to be loved conditionally and devotedly. Maybe she had become cynical through her years, but things sometimes seemed this way to her. Looking back at Sam, Mallory heaved a sigh and spoke truthfully. "I guess the divorce is getting to me, y'know."

Sam walked back to the bed and sat down again, sighing as he rubbed his forehead. "You know, your father may work hard, put other stuff above his family, but he really does love you. My dad's like that, he was always away from home, days and sometimes weeks at a time. My mom would be terribly lonely, he was always at work and we never really saw much of our Dad... but he loved us and that's what counted." Sam touched Mallory's arm, "I know they haven't been divorced, but I know what it's like not to have your dad around, being second fiddle to a job. Believe me Mallory, if Leo could have done it any other way, he would. He had a calling and a commitment. He got a good, decent man into office and without your dad I'm sure Bartlet would still be running for governor. I can't say that Dad did something great like that... but I can identify with it. Your dad's helping shape America, Mallory. We have to leave the world a better place than we received it, otherwise we're not doing things right. If that means some sacrifices and forfeits, y'know... it's something you just have to do."

Mallory looked up at Sam and was overwhelmed by how perceptive he could be if he put his mind to it. She didn't really know where this next sentence came from, however it popped out of her mouth spontaneously, "That's what counts, after all."

Sam gazed back at into Mallory's tired eyes and whispered, "Yes."

Mallory squeezed Sam's hand and smiled though her head was spinning. "Thanks for that."

There was a pause and Sam just sat there next to Mallory, holding her hand. "I've missed you," Sam said, his voice low and soft.

She looked back into his eyes and nodded slightly, "I missed you too." Mallory caught herself before she said anything commitent and picked up the pyjamas, "I'll get dressed now."

He nodded. "You call if you need anything," Sam reminded her as he stood up from the bed and released her hand gently.

"Mmm," Mallory acknowledged as Sam crossed to the door and closed it softly behind him.

Silently, she dried herself and pulled on Sam's blue silk pyjamas, settling into their warmth. A warmth that reminded her of how his arms had held her while she had cried earlier, his touch strong but gentle, comforting but unfamiliar all at the same time. A touch she wanted to be accustomed to, one that would hold her no matter what.

Mallory mentally chastened herself. She had to stop thinking like this. There was no question about it, nothing could ever work out for the best between her and Sam. He was a politican, he was like her father. It was an act of Fate which she would just have to resign herself too.

She climbed under the sheets of Sam's bed and took a sip of the steamy, milky mug of cocoa which had been left for her. Settling it back down, next to an old family photograph on the beech nightstand, Mallory shifted under the warm duvet, laying her left arm protectively to one side.

Mallory then tried terribly hard not to think about Sam. Richard. Richard. Richard. He was the man she was with, the man she slept with, the man who took her out to dinner and kissed her goodnight.

She had to ask herself why, then, was she now laying in Sam's bed, wearing Sam's pyjamas and wishing she was still in Sam's arms. Mallory's chest heaved upwards in a heavy sigh as she lay on her back and tried desperately not to imagine Sam laying next to her. However, this was a titanic feat when she was surrounded by his sheets, the fabric of his clothes and the comforting warmth of his bed. The only thing amiss was that his body was not pressed close to hers.

If I fall along the way
Pick me up and dust me off
If I get too tired to make it
Be my breath so I can walk

If I need some other love again
Give me more than I can stand
When my smile gets old and faded
Wait around I'll smile again

Shouldn't be so complicated
Just hold me and then
Just hold me again

Can you help me I'm bent
I'm so scared that I'll never
Get put back together
Keep breaking me in
And this is how we will end
With you and me bent

'Bent' - Matchbox 20

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To be continued

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