When Sam drove in on Monday morning, Josh was waiting for him in the parking lot — and had been for a while if his pacing was any indication. Waving Sam into the spot he had effectively reserved for him, he barely waited until Sam braked before pulling open the door.

"Hey! You ready for this?" he asked, handing Sam the hard pass and ID he had left on his desk what seemed like months before.

Sam looked at the White House and nodded. "Yeah, I am."

Josh clapped him on the shoulder. "Good, let's go."

As they walked through the gate and along the sidewalk to the West Wing, Sam knew he had made the right choice. He could not imagine having this feeling walking into any other building. Josh was quiet, strolling with his hands in his pockets and watching Sam out of the corner of his eye.

In the lobby, Sam signed in at the security desk. "Hey, Mike," he greeted the guard.

"I'll see you at Senior Staff," Josh announced, heading for the Policy bullpen.

Sam stared after him, surprised. He would have bet Josh would not have let him out of his sight until he had been safely delivered to his office. Shrugging, he turned around and saw why Josh had disappeared so abruptly. Cathy stood right behind him, her arms crossed.

Thanks for the support, Josh.

"Don't you ever do anything that stupid again!" she hissed, greeting him with a hug, a hard punch in the arm and another hug.

"I'm not promising anything." When she did not laugh, he pulled her aside. "I wanted you to work for me wherever I went — or at least, give you the option. It was in the letter I sent you."

"That doesn't change anything. I want to work for you here."

He gave her a quick hug before continuing down the hall to Communications. "Then you're in luck because here I am."

"It's a dream come true," she muttered as she followed him.

"I heard th—" Sam stopped in the doorway of the bullpen, gaping at the assembled staffers. It looked as if most of Communications was there. He glanced back over his shoulder, wondering what they were waiting for.

"Welcome back, Sam!" Ginger and Bonnie chorused, and everyone applauded.

Sam felt himself blush. "Th-thanks. It's good to be back."

"And are we glad you're back!" someone called.

"I know you all have somewhere to be right now," Toby announced from the doorway of his office. "If you don't, feel free to stop by and see me."

The staffers disappeared with a speed Sam found astounding. Ginger hugged him as he passed her, and Bonnie kissed his cheek.

"We're really glad you're back," she told him, handing him a cup of coffee.

"Ginger!" Toby yelled from his office.

Ginger picked up the stack of messages from her desk. "Really, really glad," she whispered as she headed in to see Toby.

Sam smiled, taking a sip of coffee as he walked to his office. The door was open, and the lights were on. He put down his briefcase, slightly amazed that everything — the Navy Jack, his Newton's cradle, the Lakers' jersey — was exactly where he had left it. A pile of briefing books sat on the corner of the desk, and he started to open the top one.

"Sam!"

Sam opened his briefcase and grabbed his leather portfolio. Double-checking that he had his glasses and a pen, he took his coffee and walked next door.

Toby stood at his desk, looking down at the newspaper that lay open on it. As he continued scanning the articles, he asked, "You ready for this?"

"I'm ready."

Toby looked up at him then, studying him. Finally, he nodded. Opening his desk drawer, he reached in and withdrew a cell phone and a beeper. "Here."

Sam took them from him, automatically checking the power bars. Both were fully charged. He slid the cell phone into the pocket of his suit jacket and hooked the beeper onto his belt.

"Senior staff in five," Bonnie called.

Toby picked up a couple of folders. "After the meeting, I want to go over the schedule for next couple of weeks."

Sam nodded and followed him out of the office. People welcomed him back as they walked to the Oval Office, and a few asked how he was feeling. Surprised, he stammered an answer and hurried after Toby who had not slowed down.

"The President's just finishing a phone call," Charlie said as they walked in. "I'll tell him you're here."

"Good morning, Mrs. Landingham," Sam said.

She looked up and smiled. "Good morning, Sam. It's good to have you back. Would you like a cookie?" She opened the jar, and he took one.

"Thank you."

"How are your parents, dear? I'm sure they were glad to see you."

"They're both well, although Mom thinks Dad works too hard."

"Sam!" CJ cried as she walked in with Josh two steps behind her. "I'm sorry I missed the welcoming ceremonies."

Sam looked from her to Toby who shrugged. "I didn't think you wanted a big thing the moment you walked in. There is, however, the possibility of cake later on."

"Chocolate," CJ confirmed.

Charlie came out of the Oval. "The President is ready for you."

Sam stayed to the back of the group as they went in. Presidential hugs were becoming all too common, and with each one, he grew a little bit more uncomfortable. He simply wanted to slip back into his place among the senior staff.

The President met him with an outstretched hand. "Sam!"

"Good morning, sir." Sam took his hand and was immediately pulled into a hug. Over the President's shoulder, he saw Leo grin and Josh shake his head. Gently, he detached himself and stepped back.

"I see you've already earned a cookie this morning."

"Yes, sir."

The President looked at the rest of the senior staff. "Anyone else get a cookie, or was it only Sam?"

"Only Sam, Mr. President," Josh reported, sitting down next to CJ.

"That's fine, then. Sam, if you leave that behind, I'll make you an ambassador by the end of the day."

"Sir, I think Sam is happy where he is," Leo interjected.

"And we've worked damn hard to get him there," Toby mumbled.

The President nodded and walked to his desk to pick up his coffee cup and some briefing books. "Let's get started then."

Sam sat down beside Toby and opened his portfolio. Phone calls with Josh and Toby over the weekend had brought him up to date, and Margaret had emailed this morning's agenda. He had forgotten, though, how fast they covered each topic. His head was spinning, and his handwriting was indecipherable by the end of the meeting.

"You're doing great," Josh told him as they walked back to their offices. "You good for lunch today, or are you planning to go to the gym?"

"Lunch is good," Sam answered, nodding to a few people who welcomed him back. "What time?"

"I'm on the Hill until noon or so."

"One o'clock in the Mess?"

"Sounds good."

Donna caught up with them outside the Roosevelt Room. "Sam, welcome back! How are you feeling?"

Perplexed, he glanced at Josh whose expression clearly said Play along.

"I'm good."

"My younger brother had the same thing, so I know how painful it can be, even without flying." She smiled. "It's really great to have you back. Josh was —" She waved one hand in a weird figure-eight. "— while you were gone."

"Donna, I told you I was concerned! I wasn't —" He mimicked her gesture. "— whatever that means."

"He was," she confided to Sam. "Trust me."

"You coming by later for cake?" Sam asked, hoping to divert them from an argument that could easily last for days.

"You know about that?"

"It may have been mentioned."

"God, you just can't keep a secret around here, can you?" she complained. "Don't tell Cathy you know, okay?"

"I won't."

"Josh, you've got a meeting in your office with Bob Lansdowne in five minutes."

"I'm on my way."

"It's good to have you back, Sam."

"Thanks."

As she hurried away, Sam grabbed Josh's arm and dragged him into the Roosevelt Room.

"What the hell did you tell people?" he demanded. "Everyone keeps asking me how I'm feeling."

Josh smiled weakly and rolled up the folder he was carrying. "We needed a cover story to, you know, cover the fact you weren't here."

"Which was?"

"It wasn't my idea, believe me. I didn't think anybody would buy it, but Toby, CJ and Leo insisted."

"Josh!"

"Well, first you took a personal day, then you worked at home for like a week on policy stuff, and then you went to see your parents."

Sam folded his arms. "And then?"

"Ear infection."

"You mean like an ear ache? God, four of you and you couldn't come up with anything better than that? It sounds like I'm six years old!"

Josh shrugged. "We needed something that meant you couldn't fly. That was what we came up with." He grinned. "But you're fine now."

"That's a relief." Sam sighed. "You couldn't have tried something like, I don't know, a leave of absence?"

"Yeah, like anyone would've believed that!" Josh glanced at his watch. "Look, I've got to get to this meeting. I'll see you at one, right?"

"Yeah." Sam watched him leave, shaking his head.

Ginger poked her head in the door. "Sam, Toby's looking for you."

"On my way."


By twelve thirty, Sam was immersed in the routine of the West Wing. Toby had handed him the drafts of a number of speeches with the command to either fix them or burn them to the ground and start over. After reviewing them, Sam had set up meetings with a good portion of the speechwriting staff. He had also gone through the briefing books and put aside the important ones.

He dropped his glasses on his desk and rubbed his eyes, trying to remember when he had last been to the optometrist. It might be time to schedule an appointment.

"Hello, Sam. You look well," Abbey Bartlet said, leaning against the doorjamb of his office with her arms crossed.

He jumped to his feet. "Mrs. Bartlet! What can I do for you?"

She came in, shutting the door behind her before sitting down in one of his guest chairs. "I just stopped by to say welcome back..."

Sam sat slowly, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Thank you, ma'am."

"...And to tell you I've spoken to your mother."

Sam blinked. "My mother called you?"

Abbey chuckled softly. "No, no. I called her."

This can't be good. Sam took a careful breath. "With all due respect, ma'am, why did you do that?"

"Because I promised my husband that, when you came back to work, I'd call and give her my word that we won't let anything happen this time." She watched him for a moment before adding, "And it won't because I'm going to be keeping an eye on things."

Oh, my god. "That's not necessary!"

She frowned. "It is — for your mother's peace of mind and for mine. I told Kate that, if I see a hint of something going wrong, I'll step in so fast it will make your head spin."

"At this moment, it wouldn't take much," he muttered.

The First Lady stood up, and he did as well. "Now I'm off to have lunch with my husband." She walked to the door and turned back to face him. "I have my ways of finding out what's going on, Sam. Remember that."

"I don't think I'll be able to forget it, ma'am."

And I'll be by later for a piece of cake."

"Yes, ma'am."

He dropped into his chair, trying to digest this latest bit of news. The idea of Abbey Bartlet and his mother in communication... He shuddered.

"Sam!" Josh interrupted his thoughts. "You ready for lunch? Toby and CJ are waiting for us." He looked at Sam and frowned. "You okay?"

Sam stood up and followed him into the hall. "The First Lady just stopped by."

"Yeah, Cathy told me. You okay? A one-on-one with Abbey Bartlet your first day back." He shook his head. "Wow."

"You got that right. How was the meeting with Lansdowne?"

As Josh began recounting his morning, Sam smiled to himself. It was familiar and normal and part of what he missed. A few months before, he had thought his time in the White House had ended. Now he had come full circle with a better understanding of why he belonged here. It had been a rough transition from one place to the next, but one he did not regret making. In time, he might become used to being on the First Lady's radar — although, right now, the idea terrified him.

"Have you heard anything I've said?" Josh demanded.

Sam shook his head. "Not a word."

"Hey, if I didn't say it before, I'm glad you're back."

Sam's smile deepened. "I am too, Josh, I am too."


Thanks to all of you who hung in there with me while I wrote this, especially those who were kind enough to leave reviews. I appreciated every one of them. Extra special thanks to Ecri who was there from the very first chapter and encouraged me every chapter along the way!