TITLE: Second Chances

AUTHOR: Karen T

DISCLAIMERS: Not mine, any of them.

SPOILERS: 100,000 Airplanes

ARCHIVE: I'd be honored. Just let me know where so I can visit.

FEEDBACK: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

It was so easy to do. A simple click of the left mouse button, a swift right and then downward sweep of the hand, and a light tap against the backspace key. That's all it took to erase an hour and a half of painstaking but beautiful work.

Sam stared at the now blank Word document on his screen, unsure of how he felt. He'd probably be panicked or on the brink of becoming so if he wasn't aware of the fact that, despite deleting the words that had been on his screen, they were still safely stored in a file named "02SotU cancer 011002." They were gone and not gone, all at the same time, which, somehow, depressed the hell out of him. It was kind of like taking that first step forward in an attempt to move on with your life only to find out that it doesn't matter how many steps forward you take because you're being swallowed alive by quicksand. Sam raised an eyebrow and wondered where that disturbing thought had come from. He could almost feel the quicksand groping his calves and then moving upward past his knees to his thighs as it left his skin feeling clammy. The sensation felt so real to him. Was that because he really did feel like he was sinking?

"Hey," a feminine voice beckoned from his door, "that's some party you guys are having. Something important happen tonight?"

Sam glanced over the top of his computer screen and saw Ainsley leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, which was held in place with a black ribbon, and she was wearing a charcoal gray suit and a burgundy shirt. With the top three buttons of her shirt unfastened (which allowed the black camisole she was wearing underneath to peek through) and the smirk she was sporting on her face, Sam at first thought C.J. had shrunk and gone blonde. But after blinking several times, he came to the conclusion that Ainsley was indeed the one who was blocking his doorway. God, he really wasn't in the mood for one of their spurring matches.

"What are you doing up here?" he mumbled as he refocused his attention on the blank screen.

"Well, I am allowed to leave the basement every once in awhile so I can work on my tan and mingle with the normal folk," Ainsley retorted gleefully.

Unimpressed with her attempt at banter, Sam flatly responded, "And thanks for stopping by. It was nice seeing you again."

Ainsley, however, wouldn't allow herself to be so easily dismissed. She strode into Sam's office and didn't stop until only the front edge of his desk separated her from him. "That was a good address the President gave tonight," she stated in a soft voice. "I was really impressed. Of course, I never had any doubt that I would be."

She waited patiently for Sam's stiff "Thank you" before continuing on. "I especially liked that bit about stomping out all terrorism, regardless of where it hides. I bet there was a nice spike in the lines after that part." Sam nodded his head absently as his eyes remained glued to the computer screen. "Yeah, that whole thing on terrorism got high marks…but not as high as a cure for cancer would have earned."

At the mention of cancer, Sam finally looked up to stare at Ainsley in disbelief. "How did you…?"

"I hear things down there in my office," she replied with a shrug. "So, the cancer thing got axed, huh?"

"Yeah," Sam muttered.

"Before or after you spent time writing a blurb for it?"

"After. There wasn't enough time to investigate whether it's even plausible to say we can find a cure for cancer by the end of the decade. But it doesn't matter anymore because it's gone now."

"What?" Now it was Ainsley's turn to stare at Sam in disbelief. "What do you mean 'it's gone'?"

"I just deleted it."

"Why? Because you couldn't get it to work in tonight's speech?"

"Well…yeah. There didn't seem to be much of a point in keeping it around. The State of the Union's over. It's time to move on."

Ainsley snorted and shook her head. "Since the President couldn't mention a cure for cancer in this year's State of the Union, that automatically means he can't mention it in next year's? Sure, he might not get reelected for another term, but we both know that's not why you deleted it. If the President was serious about wanting to find a cure for cancer in ten years – if he was doing more than just paying lip service to the idea in hopes of diverting the public's attention away from his censure and the hearings that preceded it – then hang on to that blurb you wrote and see if it can be said next year or the year after that. Do the research to find out if a cure for cancer is even possible. Do more than merely chat with some oncologists who just happen to be in the building for dinner. Go to Sloan-Kettering. Go to Dana-Farber. Go to the Cleveland Clinic. Talk to the people who are, right now, on the forefront of cancer research and find out what it would take to get us that cure. Don't dismiss this simply because you and the President couldn't arrive at this year's State of the Union astride your optimistic white horses. A promise for a cure for cancer by 2013 or 2014 is just as good as a promise for one by 2012. Just because you guys couldn't make that promise tonight doesn't mean it can never be made."

The quicksand was slipping away from his legs and Sam could feel himself escaping from the muck.

His gaze fell back down to his computer as the starkness of the screen suddenly hurt his eyes. When he looked up again, Ainsley was happy to see a smile on his lips. "So, Ainsley…why did you really come up here?"

She laughed and confessed, "I'm dying for some cake. Preferably chocolate."

"Well, I don't know about cake, but you might be able to score some pie."

"That'll do," she chirped as she reached down and grabbed his left hand. "C'mon. Lead me to the pie and then introduce me to that ex-fiancée of yours."

Sam's mouth fell open in astonishment. "How did you…?"

"I told you, I hear things."

"Like those voices in your head?" he teased.

"Ha-ha. Very funny."

As Sam allowed himself to be pulled out of his chair and half-dragged to the door, he caught a glimpse of the future. There was Jed, looking very presidential as he earnestly proclaimed, "And as I stand before you tonight, I promise, that in this age of grand technology and wisdom, we will find a cure for cancer!" While a deafening applause erupted, red, blue, and green lines climbed heavenward.

*~*

The end.