Sam/Ainsley. PG. Post-season 7, so spoiler-ridden in essence. I don't own the West Wing or any of these characters -- they're owned by Aaron Sorkin and all related companies, whom I will look up in the event that I write more of this stuff, none of which will infringe on the fact that Sorkin owns my soul. Et cetera.

by lostlikealice/thinkatory

It's 12:49 AM Zulu time, 8:49 PM in Beijing, 4:49 PM in Moscow, but it's only 8:49 AM in Washington DC and Sam Seaborn is drinking a glass of champagne in Josh's office. It's not actually Josh's office, it's his office, but it's Josh's office, from the slight stench of booze ('never on the clock, not once, not really,' Josh always says, casually defensive) to the ceiling that was never patched to perfection after it caved in on Josh's head.

It's been 110 days, that's right, they're past the first hundred days, the big 100. That long, and how long it's been since he'd been there, living the dream and forming the message, but still this is Josh's desk and Josh's office. And Josh's champagne.

"TO VINICK!" Josh shouts from his own office -- his real office, the Chief of Staff's office, Leo's office -- and Sam can already tell that he's probably just ecstatic or maybe just a little bit buzzed, and he'd love to be there to listen to Josh ramble pretentiously, but there's language to tweak.

Not his job, but they just beat this Kazakhstan thing -- Kazakhstan is over, he says to himself, and allows himself a satisfied look -- and they're out of the first hundred days. This news cycle won't be about the patient's bill of rights or the education plan, it'll be about Kazakhstan and defense, and he's still not sure on Lou and Otto.

Lou and Otto have Santos's voice down, there's no denying that, and they know the rhetoric, the ... the flavor of it all, but still, the language needs work. Between State Department language and Lou and Otto, it needs work.

Or maybe it's just ten to nine in Washington and he doesn't have anything to do but wait for the day's appointments and hope that Josh is just buzzed on victory and not champagne.

"Josh!" he calls, and sits up, sets aside the glass for a minute. "JOSH!"

Lou appears inside his doorway and he sits back, startled, as she tells him, "Some of us are trying to run a country here."

"Here. Language," he says, holding it out to her. "I just gave it a quick polish, thought that -- "

She stares at him, and he just holds it out, not about to be outstared by a greenhorn. "What?" she says.

"Just take a look," he says, and gives it an encouraging wave.

Lou walks into the office and snatches it from him, her hand drifting to her forehead as she reads. "Okay," she says to herself. "Okay."

"Okay," Sam agrees, and takes a drink of champagne in an attempt to finish it off.

There's a beat of silence before, somehow, Lou says, "But wait a second -- " just as Josh leans in the doorway and says, "What?"

Sam pauses, waiting for the silence to settle before he asks, "Why are you both in my office?"

"You shouted," they say, nearly in unison, and look at each other.

"O...kay," he says, giving up. "I'm... just going to get some coffee. Josh?"

"Who needs coffee, Kazakhstan's off the table, I have to get back to the briefing books, though. Big office for Chief of Staff, but they never mention it's all for the briefing books," Josh says, eyes Lou, and adds, "The language is fine, leave it," before he goes.

Lou glances at Josh as he goes, looks at the speech, then looks at Sam. "They're good suggestions," she says.

"Yes, they are," Sam says simply, and leans onto his desk. "GINGER!"

"There's a phone," Ginger calls back.

"Trying to govern," Lou says in a sing-song under her breath.

"Get used to it," Sam suggests, not unkindly, and picks up the phone. "You're right there," he says to Ginger. "Why shouldn't I shout, you can hear me."

"That office is turning you into Josh," Ginger informs him.

Sam looks at the champagne glass, then gestures Lou out and takes a drink. "Just warn me when my hairline starts receding. What's my nine o'clock?"

"Hi," Ainsley says brightly from his doorway.

"Ainsley Hayes, she scheduled herself in during the senior staff meeting," Ginger's saying into his ear. "I tried to -- "

"Thanks, Ginger." Sam sets down the receiver then thinks to speak. "Hi. I hope it's nothing important -- well, I'm not saying it's important, but -- "

"Congratulations on Kazakhstan. I didn't think it'd work out so well, but Vinick's got a gift." Ainsley looks reverently pleased as only a conservative can.

"The GOP membership card in his pocket, the gift that keeps on giving," Sam says wryly, but without malice. "And thanks. But it's your win, too, remember, you work here."

"Sometimes I forget, but then I find the M&Ms with the little presidential seals on them," she says. "Always good during an all-nighter!"

He lowers his glasses, pulls them off. "Really, Ainsley," he says. "That's a long walk for a congratulations."

"The congratulations is secondary, I came for something else." She's doing the thing where she shifts, like she can somehow shake off her nerves and awkwardness. "You're going up to the Hill, you want to talk to Wendt, Wilder and Wooden, right?"

"Right." Sam looks at the post-it note where he wrote that again. "Wendt, Wilder and Wooden," he repeats. "Really?"

Ainsley nods. "Wendt, Wilder and Wooden want the White House wound-up and withdrawn, willing to work with welfare reform."

He pauses, then looks up at her. "You just alliterated."

She pauses, and nods. "I did. Lunch on the Hill, let me come, I worked with Wilder, I know him. I can get this moving."

"Amy has this more than handled," Sam tells her.

"Then why are you going?"

"I have to do something every once in a while, or then the government's paying me to do nothing, and we only do that for poor people."

She smiles, though it's not actually funny. "Let me come with you. My lunch is free, I can actually get in an entire lunch break because President Santos isn't half the lawsuit magnet that President B -- "

"First of all, ... no, and secondly, don't jinx us," he says, even a little stern. "You worked with Wilder?"

"I worked with Wilder," she confirms. "And trust me, he's the brains behind this, and he would only do this if there was something he wanted."

"Is there really nothing else you're supposed to be doing right now?" It's not really surprising that all he's got is a call list, some Democratic Congressmen to abuse, and a lunch today, but she's White House Counsel.

Ainsley strides up to the desk. "Now you listen to me, Sam Seaborn," she says, with her own strange sort of stilted confidence. "You know I can help, you've seen me do it, so stop your little transformation into Josh Lyman and let me come along. All right?" She picks up the glass of champagne and downs it, setting it down. "Oh, that's good, where did you get that?"

She's left a lipstick stain on it. "I don't know, Josh keeps it in one of the closets in his huge office," he dismisses. "Get the details from Ginger, I'll meet you there."

"Okay," she agrees, all bright and friendly, nerves gone. "And don't tell Amy."

"Amy would be thrilled to have you on board. Go, work," Sam tries, gesturing her off.

Ainsley goes to the door but stops with her hand on his doorknob, and a glance back at him. "You're taking to this leadership role pretty well, Sam."

No he's not, but it's starting to sink in. "Thanks. GINGER!"

His intercom rings, and he answers it from habit. "Stop shouting," Ginger says evenly.

Ainsley flashes him a smile and trots out, and he shakes it off easily enough. "Amy's back, right?" he asks Ginger.

"She's been back for a week. I'll connect you."

A week? Really? It can't have been a week. Well, he only got two hours of sleep in the past couple of days, so who knows how long it's felt compared to how long it's really been...

"Tell me something good, Sam," Amy Gardner is saying into his phone.

"Your outfit makes you look ten years younger," Sam tries.

"Oh god," Amy sighs, and this is just the start of it. He slides the champagne glass off of his desk and into one of his desk drawers, settling back in his chair. Only 9:15 and he can already tell it's going to be one of those days.

Ainsley Hayes walks out of Wooden's office with her head held high and a muffin clenched victoriously in her hand, and Sam shuts the door behind her and quickly catches up. "That. That was astounding," he declares.

"Not even five minutes, I told you I had time for this," she says, the epitome of bright-eyed confidence.

"Of course there's going to be backlash," he reasons, and slows a little, lagging behind her. "We can't give Wilder the environmental cuts he's proposing, so they'll slow us down with the defense budget, but... well, we'll deal with that when it happens, I mean, that was still great -- "

Ainsley stops him, bodily stops him with her hand on his arm and everything, and looks up at him with disbelief. "You got a victory, Sam! Savor it. Savor the victory." She pats him on the arm.

"Don't get me wrong, Ainsley, thank you, thank you for your help," Sam says, solemn and sincere as anything, "it's just that I know the Republican Party, and I know they're not going to let us get away with -- what?"

She's smiling, but it's not a happy smile. He has the distinct feeling he's crammed his foot down his throat. What did he say again?

"You know the Republican Party," she repeats.

Oh. That.

"That's not what I meant," Sam says immediately, a little horrified. How many years in politics, and you'd think he would have been able to train himself out of this.

"I know the Republican Party, Sam, and they're not stupid. There's bigger fights to win than fighting against environmental pork-barrel spending, especially with President Santos waiting with his veto, and I know the Democratic Party, too, and the way you think that every movement by the GOP is an act of war. They're just Congressmen," she sighs. "They only want to be heard, just like anyone else in government. Here." She holds out the muffin. "Savor your victory. It's small, but this is a game of King of the Mountain -- not a war."

He reflects for the briefest moment on the absurdity of his life -- he is standing in an empty hallway with a muffin clutched in his hand being pleasantly told off by a tiny blonde Republican (who smells fantastic, he's close enough to notice, but that seems creepy so he stops thinking about it, or tries), but gets over it quick enough. This is Washington, after all. "We should go," he suggests.

She raises her eyebrows, and withdraws. "Okay. If you're not going to eat that, I wouldn't mind..."

He looks down at the muffin, having completely forgotten about it. He can't remember the last time he had a muffin. They seem to be more a decoration than a food in Washington. "Just..." As he nudges open the door for her, he takes a bite, and chews it. It's not bad at all. "Huh," he says, through the mouthful.

"Victory's sweet, isn't it?" Ainsley grins.

Sam swallows abruptly and tries to casually wipe his mouth. "Yeah, that's a lot better than I thought it was going to be."

"Good. We've all learned something today."

"We have?"

Ainsley looks at him. "You've learned about the Republicans, Wilder and his friends learned that we are a bipartisan White House, and I've learned something very important."

All right, now he's just confused. "And what is that?" he prompts.

"You're taking me out to dinner tonight."

Now he's really confused. "What?"

She looks up at him with pitying amusement. "Just go with it, Sam," she suggests.

He really shouldn't be as used to that look as he seems to be. "You're asking me out? ... Was this a ploy?"

"Yes, Sam, I called up three Republicans and asked them to attach a welfare reform rider to a bill so I would have an excuse to come see you and ask you out to dinner," Ainsley deadpans, walking ahead.

"...I'm going to take that as a no," Sam concludes.

"You can say no," she figures. "I know it's been a few months since, well..."

Right. The engagement. His engagement. He wasn't thinking about that until now, actually. "No, no -- I mean, yes, sure, of course. If you're serious," he adds.

"I am very serious, Sam. Very serious."

"...Okay then, that's settled," Sam concludes. "Tonight?"

"Tonight," Ainsley says. "Look sharp."

"I try."

"I like dinner and dancing," she adds.

"You are just the epitome of subtlety."

"I try."

Sam's lagging behind again because his brain has only really just caught on that he's got a date with Ainsley Hayes, and then her figure catches his eye, and then she finally turns around and he catches up again. "So. King of the Mountain, huh?"

"I have brothers."

"That explains a lot." He tosses the muffin into a nearby garbage can at a stoplight, and puts his hand on her back as they walk back. Victory is, indeed, sweet.