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Hunting/Gathering

by: Abigale

Category: Drama/Romance, Sam/CJ

Characters: Sam & CJ

Rating: ADULT

Author's Note: This is the first in the 'Tangled Up In Blue' Series.

It was humid, but she shivered. She was chilled, but a thin veil of sweat glistened above her lip. CJ swiped at it with a quick flip of her tongue, and tried to focus her gaze back on the roomful of press in front of her. Another gin and tonic would be lovely right now, she mused. But that would make three, and she was here to clarify some things the President had mentioned in his speech. Which she unfortunately couldn't give a rat's ass about. So she forced her focus back on the reporter who was speaking and allowed the shimmering vision of clinking ice and floating lime wedges to swim away from her.

And then, in an instant, the vision was back and she gave up. Just like that, as if someone had reached out and slapped off a switch.

"Sam Seaborn will take that, and any further questions from you tonight."

She tossed a quick apologetic glance Sam's way, and quickly darted off the make-shift podium at the back of the hotel ballroom. As she briskly glided out the double doors, CJ heard Sam stumble a bit over his answer, his voice fading away behind her.

The bar was dark. She was so grateful she almost said a prayer of thanks. And no reporters. Keep talking, Sam. Sipping her drink, it wasn't until she felt the slight buzzing at the back of her brain that CJ began to unwind. So that's why they call it that. She marveled at the epiphany.

Numb hands finally relaxing around her wet glass, CJ glanced at the watch on her delicate wrist. The President had careened through his remarks to the Economic Club of Detroit, still slightly miffed about the level of resistance Sam had shown regarding the agenda for the following day.

Senator Armando Santo had died, a close friend and, more significantly, long-time supporter of the President. His seat would be filled by his wife Marilyn, a capable, strong, deliberate woman, who during her briefing CJ had learned was also highly intelligent, outspoken and ambitious. She wanted desperately to run for the seat in the next special election, and had let her friends in the Democratic Party know she was more than up for the fight. A few carefully chosen, supportive words from the President of the United States uttered directly following the memorial service would go a long way towards bringing her to the public's attention. And Sam was indignant. Good grief she was tired of Sam's shit.

If she had to tell the truth, CJ was also somewhat perturbed at President Bartlet for starting the whole thing tonight. He knew damn well how Sam felt, that it was opportunistic to use this personal tragedy so politically. They'd been over it all when Marilyn Santo had offered to delay the service four days until the President was scheduled to be in Detroit anyway for the Economics speech. Sam had fumed quietly about it for days, the same way he'd been doing for months, until sitting there on Air Force One the President just *had* to look over at him and say "Do you have an opinion on what color tie I should wear, Sam?"

Then there had been stomping, and glaring and swearing, though the last only from the President. Bartlet wouldn't let Sam leave the room, made him sit like an errant schoolboy until the cloud had eventually dissipated, and Sam had been tamed, and CJ was so tempted to ask for tips on how to do that. Instead she'd said to Sam "That's quite a look you're sporting. The brooding disheveled thing really works for you."

Then she'd kept her head down, making notes, feeling only somewhat satisfied by the dressing down. Not as much as she would have thought. But somebody had to do it, Sam had been such a pain in the ass, and Toby wasn't here. As if he'd have said anything to Sam.

She wasn't sure if Toby knew Sam had won; through the simple act of no longer reacting in any way to his boss, Sam had diffused that relationship in a month. CJ snickered a little to herself, then caught the eye of the pale, dark haired busboy who was wiping down the closest table. "Inside joke," CJ offered as explanation.

Of course, no one had won anything. There was no prize, no title to go with it. Just an uneasy truce, a laying down of arms. And sitting here right now with nothing else to do, her duties discharged for the night, CJ had to admit: she felt a little disquieted.

The weeks after the President had called them all one by one into the Oval Office to pitch them into uncertainty had been grueling. They were all living on nerves and speculation and intravenous infusions of coffee. No one was immune, and no one escaped the whole fiasco unscathed. But when things started to sort themselves out, as they were still in the process of doing, people returned to their former selves, a little gun shy and a little bitter, but generally intact. Except Sam.

Grabbing a hunk of ice between her teeth, CJ sucked furiously. She didn't notice it at first, and it wasn't out of selfishness, but really, she was just trying to keep her head above water *and* do her job. If she'd ever had the luxury of two minutes to think about it, she would have noticed the playfulness was gone. But who had time to play anyway? And they were all tired, so that was understandable.

No, the big clue was the silence. It was the day Toby had been working himself into a lather over the wording of a five minute address to the Bar Association, and was grasping for another word for 'priority.' Suddenly there was a rush of silence, which all at once everyone in the room - 7 or 8 people - realized Sam was expected to fill. Only he didn't. Fourteen pairs of eyes were resting on the bowed head of Sam, and he didn't even notice.

"HEY! PRINCETON!" The sound of Toby's bellow rippled the air. "Another word for 'priority.' "

Sam, slowly looking up. "Was that a question?" CJ widened her eyes at the memory. The incredulous look on Toby's face. The nervous glances of the other staffers. Josh's Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

That's when they all noticed it. Then, when Sam had deliberately risen from his seat at the table and gone to the shelf for a thesaurus, actually began reading off the entries as if this was what Toby had been asking for, the moment dragged on and on, hanging in the air until CJ thought she would swoon from the lack of oxygen.

After that it was pretty obvious. It was almost like a rule. Speak only when spoken to, offer your opinion when asked, but only once. Don't elaborate on or expand your remarks. Use email instead of dropping by. No more inanely geeky observations while sitting in the Oval Office waiting for the President; like the time he was examining a band aid on his finger and said "Imagine being the inventor of paper, then being the *very* first person *ever* to get a paper cut."

It was more exhausting than Old Sam had been, slightly nervous, always having something to add, even when it wasn't welcome. Then the constant backtracking to clarify what was already clear. Or not. Sometimes he made CJ dizzy. In more ways than one.

But that was before he just pissed her off. And she wasn't going to think about that, how Old Sam could be so anxious and overachieving and then she'd suddenly catch a glimpse of something sexual and primal in his eyes. She found it a very powerful juxtaposition.

But she wasn't going to think about that. Even though there he was, walking towards her now. "Sorry about that, throwing you out there without any warning." And she really was sorry, it wasn't very professional of her.

"It's fine, I wrote the thing." Out of thin air the mildly overweight waitress appeared at Sam's side and CJ noticed she carried the extra pounds in her face and hips, and she wasn't without appeal. Gesturing at the empty seat across the matchbox sized table, Sam's eyes were asking permission to join CJ. "Beer. Whatever you've got in a bottle. And, if the lady would like another...?"

After settling into the club chair Sam clawed at his tie and opened the first button of his shirt. Things had been better the last month. Much, much better. CJ figured Josh was working overtime to bring Sam back from whatever edge he'd been skirting, because for a long time she never saw them together, and now they were practically holding hands.

When the waitress dropped off their order, Sam shot her a hurried smile, but there was no gratitude in it. And CJ noticed his eyes linger a little as she sashayed away. Sitting there wordlessly, sipping at their drinks, CJ felt the disquiet lap at her again. She stole a glance at Sam, chin up but eyes downcast, blinking slowly as he fingered the sweating bottle in his hand.

Now he was starting to irritate her again. "So."

"Hmm?" The blue of his eyes barely visible here in the dark bar.

"I was going to say, that was a pretty decent speech. God knows I usually don't stay awake through those things, but this one. You guys really nailed the pace, and the anecdotes were very spiffy." Why she felt she had to throw him a compliment was beyond her, but she guessed it was out of guilt for her glibness at the President's cutting him off earlier. "I think I may have learned a thing or two about modernizing the financial architecture to facilitate trade and investment."

"Everything I know about economics I learned from my President."

He drained his beer and, CJ noticed with amusement, the curvy waitress was back before he could even find her in the dark. With another beer. Without having been asked.

CJ uncrossed her long legs and smoothed out the pleats of her pants before recrossing them. Her drink sat in a puddle of condensation, and she fished out the piece of lime, scraping her teeth across the flesh. She didn't want to talk about the speech, and she didn't want to talk about the weather, and she felt an ache now that she may not ever be able to talk to Sam about anything else again.

"Talk to me, Sam," CJ sighed. She sat back further in her chair and leveled her eyes on him, hoping it didn't seem too challenging. Flirting a little around the edges.

It was slightly discomforting to CJ that he didn't react to that. Maybe she was losing her touch, or maybe he really was that clueless about women. But some kind of reaction would be nice, something to pass the time, dammit.

His aloofness was maddening. She fleetingly wondered if it was really Sam that was getting to her, or exhaustion, or maybe just being away from the office that made her skin feel this way. Tight and itchy. Looking away from Sam a moment, CJ took in a couple sitting at the bar. The man was scowling into his drink, perfectly still, his shoulders hunched a little, but otherwise fairly attractive. The woman was tall and thin, like CJ, and looked a couple years older than the man. She was chattering away seemingly oblivious to her partner's stupor.

Well, shit.

About two weeks ago, coming back from running a personal errand, CJ was outside the White House when she saw two Secret Service agents by the door grinning and shaking their heads a little, like they were sharing a joke. It was by sheer chance that she was looking at them when one nodded his head off towards the left of some hedges across the driveway.

Following the path of the nod, CJ saw Sam and Josh facing one another, Sam's head down, arms folded across his chest, one hand up to his mouth. Josh was gesturing wildly, throwing his hands straight above his head, then letting them drop down between them. It looked like he was erasing some giant image in front of himself, or signaling a safe call, or something CJ couldn't figure out. She assumed he was berating Sam about some transgression or another, until she focused back on Sam and realized he was laughing. Laughing so hard he couldn't bring himself to look at Josh, but kept trying to anyway. Laughing so hard he seemed to have trouble breathing, really was struggling to stay on his feet now.

And CJ had wished that someone else would come along to see this, that she could share this with anybody other than the two anonymous agents who probably thought of Josh and Sam as lunatics. And she wished more than that, that she could've shared a moment like this with Sam, but she'd given up too easily.

The rest of the day she had sat in her office trying to imagine what the hell Josh could have been saying to get that kind of reaction. It would have been so easy to just get up, find Josh and ask. But she didn't feel comfortable telling him she'd been watching, and after about 4 hours, she decided the truth would probably not be nearly as funny to her, so she let the matter drop. But she'd wished she'd had a moment like that with Sam to get their relationship back on track.

The waitress was back. This time Sam was ordering vodka on the rocks and, ignoring her half full glass, asked if CJ would like another gin and tonic. Obviously to Sam it was half empty. CJ remembered he had skipped dinner, claiming he wanted to go over the speech one more time, but she figured that was an excuse not to be in the same room as anyone else for awhile. So she asked the waitress to bring him some pretzels, and declined another drink because she was still working on her fourth. And Sam declined the pretzels politely. Always so goddamn polite.

The couple at the bar left, and CJ was relieved because she and Sam weren't a couple, and she didn't like looking at her life through other people.

Sam's head swiveled up and down the corridor, his brow furrowed a bit.

"Forget where you left your room?" CJ asked.

"No. Just turned around a little. I'm, um, right down here." She expected him to brighten a little at that, because it was the little things that used to keep him going, but the furrow was still firmly in place. She, personally thought it was miraculous that he knew where anything was. He'd seemed so far away and detached recently. Sometimes she'd find him walking the halls of the West Wing, head down, hands in his pockets. If anyone spoke to him - for awhile there no one did - he'd mumble something in return, but never make eye contact.

"Isn't your room down that way?" A hand swept past her face gesturing in the opposite direction.

Even CJ was impressed by the sigh that exploded past her lips. It felt dramatic and wasteful. It came from somewhere she hadn't known was there. "I don't want to go to my room, Sam." Now she was very pleased, the furrow was gone. "I want to go to yours."

She'd thought, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she would enjoy a little power play, messing with Sam's head a little. She'd been so angry at him for being angry at the world. But when she said the words, and looked into his shockingly clear eyes, she saw no sign of the torture she'd expected. How had the anger melted away so quickly? Where had it gone, and would it be back?

Sam broke eye contact first, a small smile playing across his lips. Gone in a second. Replaced by the bitterness again. So. That answered one of her questions. He hung his head a little lower, shifted his notebook under his arm, and plunged his right hand into his pocket.

"Oh stop that!" It took a moment for CJ to realize she'd said that out loud, and that it sounded less slurred than it'd been in her head. "For Christ's sake Sam."

His sigh wasn't nearly as impressive as hers had been. His was weary, and soft. She felt her temper flare a little at the thought that he couldn't even be bothered to make a proper effort to sigh. What would it take these days, she wondered. To get Sam to care about something again? To defend himself?

CJ wasn't sure if she was hungry for the fight, or the kiss, and maybe she thought she could get both. So she cocked her head, and dipped in. He was already against the wall, or she may have thrown him up against it. His eyes were already closed, so he didn't see it coming. And he tasted like vodka, so she wouldn't be needing another drink.

And now... he was kissing her back.

"This is good." CJ mumbled, still pressed against his lips. He chuckled, just a little, and she wasn't altogether certain he wasn't making fun of her. But when they broke away a little breathless, and she looked back into those damned eyes she saw not a trace of humor there. None. If this had been a game, it had gone too far. And if she'd wanted to make a point, it was made.

"You can't be serious." If she'd been any more sober it would have felt like a slap.

"Sam, let there be no mistake about it. There will never be anything serious about this."

He had her wrist in his hand now, and she was aware that he was dragging her towards his door, aware that she was trying to keep up because she didn't want to be left behind.

In CJ's mind, if she had ever for a moment in her life considered all of this happening, she would have imagined Sam's hand quaking a little, fumbling with the keycard. Or hesitating inside the door, uncomfortable and questioning. But none of it happened that way. He wasn't unsure. He didn't ask her if this was all right. He allowed her to take control, then he took a little back, and when she moaned in response they did that again. And it felt so amazing, deep down inside.

Later, afterwards, running her tongue across the top of her lip she tasted him, mingled with her.

"You can't be regretting this already." His voice was low, a rumble that ran through her too. "I think a *little* basking is in order here. Maybe some afterglow?"

She sat up a little. Then a lot, holding the sheet just above her dusky nipples. If she thought she was being modest, it was lost on Sam, who'd always found a scantily clad woman far sexier than a nude one. CJ stared across the dim room, the light leaking from the partially closed bathroom the only illumination. She felt the corners of her mouth curling up, just a little, just a hint of a smile playing there.

"CJ? You look like... like you're waiting for something." Sam cocked an eyebrow at her, his own smile slowly spreading to his dazzling eyes.

"Hmm? I'm, I'm waiting for the headache." She shot a glance his way, half smirk, half warning. "Honestly, I'm surprised it hasn't started already."

Sam scooted into a sitting position, leaning his smooth back against the hard headboard. He shifted again, bringing a pillow up behind himself. "Maybe you won't get a headache. Maybe you didn't drink as much as you hoped you did." The second verb was not lost on her.

He said it so quietly, she had to look at him to catch every word. It was manipulative, speaking so softly people had to look at you, lean in to you, concentrate on you to hear what you were saying. Only Sam wasn't manipulative and she knew it, and it quelled her annoyance. He was just being Sincere Sam, Intense Sam, and she turned and extended her right leg over his so she could study This Sam. The Sam that was in bed with her.

"That was good for me." She heard the condescension as the words left her mouth, and that wasn't how she intended it at all. "I mean, yeah," she backtracked a little. "It was great. What I meant was, doing this was good. What I needed." She knew she was never as good at damage control in her personal life as she was at work. And that was the problem. You don't do 'damage control' in relationships.

"Yeah." The smile was gone, a look of profound resignation in its place. "Me too. It's one of the things I do best." Well, *that* wasn't what he'd meant at all, it was written all over his face. And that made CJ laugh. "The one-night-stand thing," he clarified, clipping his words. She stopped laughing. "I tend to bury my frustrations in anonymous sex sometimes." Her eyes grew wider. "But I'm, you know, trying to not do that anymore?" So she laughed again, and kissed him.

CJ believed he was trying, but wasn't entirely convinced he was succeeding. And it explained the condoms from his shaving kit.

"Sam," she chuckled, that sound she made that caused men to start thinking of CJ Cregg as more than just a whip-smart, quick witted, ball buster. "Any more secrets?"

"You're probably one of the people who knows me better than anyone else." And he hoped she didn't.

"Well, I don't think that's true, Sam." She knew it wasn't. In fact, she felt as if she didn't know Sam at all.

"Oh come on, CJ. I'm an open book. You know all my faults and weaknesses."

She considered that for a moment, hitching herself over a little closer to him, wrapping the leg a little tighter. "No, Sam, I really don't think so. I think you're a master at misdirection. I think the incessant chattering forces us to focus on something more banal than what's really going on with you." A conversation she had with Leo had come back to her. When Sam had found out about his father, and Leo discovered he'd been sleeping on Toby's sofa. Leo told her Sam had danced around the subject for a full 5 minutes, never really allowing him to approach it, until Leo finally told Sam he knew what had happened. A couple of times since she'd heard about that CJ wondered if there was more going on deeper within Sam than he let *anyone* know. Now she was certain of it, wondered if she'd ever sleep again, going over and over all the times he'd stumbled around a sensitive area, preferring to be annoying than disclose anything.

"There's nothing going on with me." It was definitive. And such a colossal understatement, even Sam had to acknowledge it. A crooked smile appeared, and he sank back a little more into the pillow, absently catching one of CJ's hands in his. Drawing his thumb across her palm over and over again made her shudder. When the sheet dropped she made no move to cover herself.

"I know that you're the smartest guy in the room, that you're patient, supremely confident, and have a really great body. But I have no clue about who you *are.*" It made CJ a little sad now. Sam was so appealing, used to be a comfortable and comforting presence, she couldn't understand why she'd never been bothered to get to know him.

"You think I'm confident?" How could he make that sound incredulous? Of course Sam was confident. Overly, obnoxiously so. She told him that.

He was quiet a long time, moving his eyes up to meet hers only once, then staring at their hands again. "I'm not all that confident CJ." She knew a confession when she heard one.

"Sam, I've never seen you back down from an argument." Until recently, but she didn't say it. "You're the very picture of righteous indignation. I've heard you argue with the President in the Oval Office. In a roomful of people, you never used to sit quietly if you had an opinion." It was really amazing to think he expected her to find him lacking in this department.

Sam finally dragged his eyes up to hers and held them there. "That's different, CJ. It's a roomful of people. And those are just discussions. You spew them out and they evaporate in seconds. Nobody expects to remember what you've said 10 minutes later. Writing's different. It's committing to something. Everything you ever do or say or write again can be held up to, and measured against it."

"You're insecure about your writing?" It was her turn to sound incredulous, and she felt like an idiot for saying it. Of course he was. God, she really hadn't been paying attention at all, had she? It floored her to think of this glorious man, brimming with ideas, and intellect and sincerity, full of dread about everyone judging him over and over again, with every word he wrote. CJ leaned into him, resting her forehead against his, caught between wanting to comfort him and her desire to fuck him again.

"Oh, Sammy."

She actually felt the groan escape his lips, and when she drew back to look at him she saw such intense pain there it took her breath away.

"Please don't call me that," he whispered hoarsely.

"I'm sorry. Of course. Your mother probably called you that, huh?" And she definitely didn't want him thinking about his mother right now.

"No. My father." Well, that was a whole lot worse. For being such an accomplished, capable woman CJ was beginning to wonder if she'd ever get anything right after tonight.

The hand that wasn't holding CJ's snaked its way behind Sam's neck and pinched at the muscles there.

"Let me. Turn around." It was a simple thing she could do for him, and she was a little taken aback when he demurred. He said it was okay. A lie. She wondered why he thought it was easier to lie to her. She preferred to save her lies for big things, not waste them on something as banal as denying you needed someone to rub your neck. She felt the sadness tug at her again, and literally shook herself in hopes of banishing it.

It was astonishing to her. One of the few things CJ could say she knew definitively about Sam was that he didn't lie. Neither did Josh, but he always believed he could, and never stopped trying. Sam never even bothered. It was one of his greatest liabilities.

"Can I...?" She couldn't believe she was asking. Not knowing or caring what she was referring to, Sam nodded his acquiescence. CJ brushed a light kiss across his pursed lips, and flopped onto her side, squirming until she was wrapped around him like a vine. She drew her palm across his chest, then retraced the trail with the back of her hand. This earned her a kiss on the top of her head.

She listened to Sam's steady beating heart, curious whether she could will hers to beat in sync. She imagined them working a building away from each other, knowing their hearts were pounding out the same rhythm.

Slowly, infinitesimally, she allowed her hand to stray further down Sam's body. The plane of his stomach felt as smooth as liquid, frictionless. Unreasonably afraid she was going to spook him, CJ sneaked a look up at his face. His eyes were closed, dark lashes against flawless skin. And his mouth had relaxed now, which she felt a little triumphant about. Well, at least she could do *something* to make him feel better. When her hand dipped under the sheet she knew she'd done a lot more than help him relax.

"Please don't start something you're not prepared to finish." That whisper again. It gave her shivers. She'd have to remember to warn him never to use that voice at work. His 'bedroom voice.' The phrase make her bark out a jolt of laughter. Sam cracked one eye open, amusement playing across his face. "Was that an 'okay, Sam' ?"

"Okay, Sam."

CJ returned from the minibar, totally naked, with two very expensive bottles of water. She didn't stop to ponder her lack of self-consciousness, but reveled in it nonetheless. This man did something to her.

"How's your headache?"

"What headache?" She was pleased it sounded so lighthearted. She hadn't been going for that, necessarily.

After a long tug at his bottle, Sam set it on the bedside table and resumed his prone position. "Mmmmm..." he growled contentedly.

"What?" CJ considered the idea that a thoroughly satiated Sam was a more receptive Sam.

"Mmmm..."

Maybe not. "Hey, Sam?"

"Mmmm?"

"HEY SAM!"

"Jesus, CJ!" Sam rolled onto his side and propped himself up on an elbow.

His face was still a bit flushed, and his lips were swollen, and she marveled at the thought of him with her.

And here she was about to slam the whole thing into a wall. "We should talk about this." It seemed to her like the kind of thing Sam would say. She imagined him having a conversation like this with the other women, when the time came to tell them that was all there was.

He gave a snort, and he didn't make it sound unkind. "We don't need to talk about it, Ceej."

She would have been happy not to have this particular discussion. But a reaction like that, dismissive and blithe just pushed her buttons. He could always do that to her, she realized suddenly.

"I think we do." It probably wasn't a good thing that it sounded as if she was chiding him. There was a growing twinge of dread growing in the pit of her stomach, and she didn't know where it was coming from or where it was going. Sam's comment about regretting this so soon flashed through her head, and she knew he'd gotten it wrong.

Sam allowed his arm to give out, his head landing with a thud on the pillow. He was so tempted to say something like 'so talk,' but managed to censor himself, knowing it would sound catty. Instead, he turned his eyes towards her. Taking in the smudged mascara, slight crow's feet, and tousled hair, Sam was stunned by how beautiful she was. "So talk." Damn.

CJ was sitting cross-legged facing the top of the bed, a section of sheet crumpled in her lap, the only concession to modesty she'd shown so far that night. She had to admit, she knew he was going to say that. It helped soften the effect a little. Enough that she swooped down and affectionately bit at his ear. That elicited a small yelp from Sam, which made her feel all the more playful.

Playing with a naked Sam Seaborn in bed. Hmmm. Maybe they didn't have to talk about this. Maybe she didn't really want to say the things she had been expecting them to say. Was it possible this wasn't just 'one of those things,' a slip between co-workers? She was certain she could admit now that she hadn't been drunk. There, that wasn't so hard. So she wasn't drunk. Did that change the nature of what this was?

"I wasn't drunk."

"I didn't think you were." Well, he'd come back much too fast for her to have a pithy line ready, so she slurped at her water and looked around the room.

Her eyes found their clothing scattered on the floor like confetti after a parade. She remembered thinking, somewhere far back in the evening, that she wanted to put everything in one place to facilitate the quick getaway she'd been anticipating. It was 2 and a half hours later, and she felt no desire to move, except to a reclining position, draped across Sam's tawny body. Oh god, somebody say something.

"Hey." She knew she could do better, and suddenly wanted to very much. "Sam, I wasn't drunk. And I don't regret it. And I... If I made a mistake, it was before. It was the way I thought of you as somehow..." She couldn't say it, not with him looking at her with an expression of such calm acceptance. She couldn't tell him that she'd never have done this with Josh, because he was her friend. Or with Toby, because in her head she considered that many years from now when they were all doing other things and living healthier lives, the potential was there. But she did it with Sam because he was pretty and disposable. Only now he didn't seem disposable anymore. She simply couldn't tell him.

"Swear to god CJ if the word 'brother' comes out of your mouth." There was something behind those words, something she sensed was dangerous.

"Can I start again?" She felt things shifting around her, and moved closer to him, hoping it would enable her to gain purchase. "I'm trying to tell you -" Trying to tell herself, let herself believe.... "That even though this came out of nowhere, I'm not entirely convinced that's where I want it to go."

"Convinced. It's my job now to convince you." Dead in the water. She'd expected a dialogue, and this didn't feel like one.

Sam wasn't entirely dense when it came to women. He could sense CJ's growing frustration with him, and wished that was a script in the drawer instead of a bible. This would have been a lot easier if he'd picked up someone in the bar. But he hadn't lied to CJ, he really was trying not to be that guy anymore. He always knew it was destructive, and reckless, and stupid above all else. He'd never thought of it as a compulsion, just a weakness, and after the fallout from the last time, he had found it easier than he'd imagined to keep his pants on and swallow his disappointments without choking so much. But he thought CJ was intoxicating tonight.

And he was starting to see himself through her eyes. "I know sometimes you think I'm whiny and petulant," he began.

Well yes, actually she did, sometimes. "But I'm not thinking that now. I'm thinking that you're doing what you do. Maybe," she was guessing here, going on an instinct she'd gained about Sam in the last few hours. "You don't know how to..." His words came back to her, the words that had made her suddenly stop and reassess everything she had thought about him before. "Commit to it."

And she gulped, and closed her eyes briefly, praying for sure this time that he knew what she was talking about, what part of their conversation she was referring to. Knew she wasn't necessarily talking about 'Commitment.'

He understood. And most of him agreed. But, like everything else in his life these days he was having trouble following this conversation, it was taking a lot more effort than he was capable of. But this was CJ, a woman far superior to him in so many ways, and she wanted to have this conversation, and he felt so defenseless right now, and it didn't feel half as frightening as it did with everyone else, except Josh.

"I'm sorry." The idea of starting again sounded good. "I'm not sure what you want me to say CJ. Just... what I'm thinking? Feeling? Is that ok?" It was more than a question. There was hope there, and a request for some guidance. And CJ was inordinately thrilled that she was learning how to read him. Like she'd just received her secret decoder book on Sam.

So, she'd finish it. "However we, whatever we decide we want from this," waving her hand over their entwined bodies. "I think we have to consider how it'll be working in the West Wing everyday with someone we've screwed." This sounded reasonable to her.

"It's not like I haven't done that before." Well, you little slut. This brought her out of his arms and back into a sitting position. And he was going to make her ask. "CJ, I'm not going to tell you that." Did he think that sounded admirable?

She'd gone to Berkley for Christ's sake. She was a 40 something woman of some considerable experience, growing more comfortable with her body by the year, and yet she sat there in all her enlightened glory and stared dumbly at her lover. You little slut. "Ooookay... So, you can handle it pretty well, huh?"

"Oh yeah, 'cause I'm such a stable guy." He wasn't looking at her anymore, there was no more challenge in his voice, and she sat back a little to get a full view. Which she definitely got when he stood up and moved into the bathroom. Listening to the water run, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. Even with the lights on, she thought she'd still feel utterly in the dark here. Who the hell was this man?

This man that was now walking out of the bathroom, his shadow exaggerated across the bed, moving with more grace than she'd seen him show in the halls of the White House. Climbing onto the bed, searching her eyes, smoothing his hand over her hair, claiming her lips, making her feel this way.

"You're more than a little unstable aren't you Spanky?" Most men would have stopped the kissing then, or at least pulled their hands away from where they were lightly tracing her nipples. But Sam nuzzled her a little lower, and kept stroking, and she was dizzy, gulping for air. "And more than a little scary at the moment."

This from a woman not easily scared. "So, does that mean you don't want to do this again?" It was a mumble against her neck. "'Cause a moment ago I thought I heard you say something about this going somewhere."

CJ trembled at his touch, at his hands and his voice and the idea that she could feel this again, whenever she wanted. If she wanted. She'd always thought of him as funny and sometimes a little sexy and, now she realized, more than a bit impressive. But not for her. Pretty and disposable.

Kissing him bought her some time to think, though truth be told, she was having trouble focusing on anything besides the taste of him, the heat.

She wanted some control back. "Okay Sam? We were gonna talk?" His response was muffled, but she was pretty sure it was in the affirmative. "So, you can't talk with you mouth around my..." Oh my.

Sam's head snapped up, and she was baffled by the look of amusement there. It'd been missing for awhile now, and it allowed her to think maybe this hadn't been going as badly as she'd thought.

"I believe it was your turn to speak," he stated casually. His hands had stopped when his mouth had, and she was suddenly cold in all the places he'd been.

Gathering the pungent sheet around her body, CJ cleared her throat in what he had to know was another delaying tactic. "This certainly isn't turning out the way I'd imagined. And I'd be lying through my teeth if I said that, I would indeed have objections to this happening again, and I am in fact a completely inarticulate dolt and have no idea what I'm saying here." Breathe. "I think I've mentioned before that I was open to the idea. But you, Sam, you keep turning the question back at me, and that's gotten my attention, ya know? Why can't you tell me what you want?" Why can't he tell me what he wants. Another epiphany. Damn, she was getting very good at this. Her timing was still a micron slow, but she was putting the pieces into place. "You just can't tell anyone what you want, can you? What, would that be the end of the world?"

Well, that *was* an accusation, and she saw it hit it's mark, coloring his face with a coolness she'd started noticing since the first days after the President's disclosure in May. CJ was ashamed that she had ever felt a need to hurt this man. But there it was, and here they were, and her head was swimming with the pain she had obviously just caused him.

"I." His hands gripped a fistful of his hair, tugged it briefly, then dropped into his lap. "I." He pressed the heels of his hands into shinning eyes, then crossed his arms over his chest. Like that would protect him. "What if I don't know what I want?" Chest rising and falling rapidly. "How can I ask for something that's so abstract to me it might as well be hanging in the fucking Museum of Modern Art?" Sam's voice dropped to a low rumble. "Do you know how to do that, CJ? 'Cause I've been trying my whole life to figure it out. And in the meantime I'm just thankful that I've - I've been lucky enough to have people around me who seem to have some idea what I'm supposed to be doing. My parents pushed me in the direction of law school. My girlfriend pointed me towards New York. Josh... Josh snatched me away and set me on the track to the White House. And everyone of them assumed that they were just... facilitating my dreams, my goals. But there was never a plan." His voice rising again with a touch of agitation. "Never a plan except to *not* disappoint. That's really the only thing I can do, but, you know, not even that, very well. Not well at all. I know this because I disappoint myself each and every day, so it's gotta be -what?- 10 times worse for the people who actually *expected* something from me. What do I want? WHAT DO I WANT, CJ?! I want it to fucking STOP!"

Boom. There it was. The end of the world.

Oh god, he just died on her. One minute he was licking at her breasts, filling her with desire and warmth and dare she admit it, a tiny smidgen of hope, and the next thing she knew he was sprawled out, shredded on the bed, pain radiating from him like heatwaves off the space shuttle during lift off. He was broken and bloody, and she had no idea, none at all, what to do for him.

She craved something spicy that would sear her mouth the way Sam's tongue had earlier. She needed something to fortify herself, and Sam, if he was still breathing. Scooting back off the bed, eyes never leaving his quietly trembling form, she felt her way back to the minibar. The feel of the tiny bottles were so cold against her fiery fingers her head snapped around in shock. That's good, maybe it'd work on Sam.

Grabbing 7 icy bottles, CJ cradled them against her stomach as she quickly darted into the bathroom for glasses. Dumping her bounty on the bed, she cautiously climbed towards Sam, as though picking her way across barbed wire. Sitting back on her heels, she stopped for a few seconds, remembering the electric cold of the bottles against her fingers, and rolled one between her palms. Feeling the bite grow softer, she tossed the liquor aside and bent over Sam, bent a little lower until her hair brushed against his shoulder and she could see his face. Dry-eyed. She could have sworn he was crying, but no, he was just blinking furiously, and when she smoothed her cool hands over his feverish face he sighed and closed his eyes and she honest to god was grateful he hadn't really died.

"We need a drink." Her voice sounded old, and scratchy, as if she'd been the one doing the yelling. It never occurred to her to check the contents of the collection of bottles clinking around her on the bed. She opened them all and poured equal amounts into the tumblers, pitching each to the floor when they were empty. She wanted to drink hers so badly, never wanted a drink this badly in her life. But she felt an inexplicable need to have Sam with her, so she waited. Sitting on her heels, naked, two hotel glasses in her hands, she waited while Sam slowly, imperceptibly drew the shattered pieces of himself back together, and it took a long time.

When he was sitting back against the headboard she leaned in a little to nudge his hand with a glass, suddenly overcome with the feeling of blood rushing back into her folded legs.

She forgot her legs the moment he spoke. "You're still here." If it had been a question, as in 'you're still here after all that?' she may have been a little kinder. But that's not what he said. He said 'you're still here,' as in he'd forgotten she was even in the room, the room that smelled of her sweat and his, their lust and her curiosity and his pain. Like she would have gone somewhere else?

"What the hell's wrong with you?!" Above all, the stupidest thing she had ever said in her life. "Where would I go Sam?"

"To your own room." How come he never hesitated before saying these things? She was amazed and slightly impressed that he'd said anything at all, he sounded as if his vocal cords had been removed, flattened with a truck and then replaced in his throat. Swallowing the contents of his glass, CJ was amused to see his eyes go a little wider as he glanced down at it.

"You don't want to know," answering his unasked question.

When he drew in a deep breath, filling his chest with sex-laden air, CJ consciously did the same, and held it as long as he did. It was a small gesture. Of support, of solidarity, and when they exhaled together he noticed, and she noticed, and while their breath mingled between them he smiled at her, even his eyes.

People thought that because of how he looked, Sam must have a way with women. Because in school if he'd wanted a date he could get one, and since he was smart and successful he must have everything else figured out too. If they'd known he was plagued by self-doubt in so many areas of his life, they wouldn't have been the least bit astonished by his complete lack of finesse in this too. "You must be pretty masochistic to still be sitting there. That has got to be the single most humiliating thing that's ever happened to me in a *long* line of humiliating things. I can't believe I'm still alive."

"Me neither." She meant it. Sipping at her drink had given her the courage to do this. "And I want you to know Sam, you don't have to have sex with me in order to talk to me."

It got her another lopsided smile. She was on a roll. She could do this. While she'd sat there watching him gather himself back together, she had come to the decision that she wanted to. "So now you can confide in me."

Only he knew he wouldn't. That if anything, things might be worse now.

"Yes you can, Sam."

Wait, he hadn't said anything. This was so hard. So hard he couldn't even imagine saying it again to anyone else in his life except Josh. "Please forgive me CJ." Sam had always found it easy to apologize. He had no hang-ups about being wrong, or losing an argument. He tried not to intentionally hurt people, but when he did, he was secure enough to say he was sorry. But he'd only asked someone for forgiveness twice in his life, and somehow this felt huge to him.

It felt huge to CJ, too, even if she didn't fully understand why. "Forgive you for being honest with me? For losing control? For what, Sam? It's not like I didn't suspect you were really human under all that earnest idealism." Why did her every attempt at humor seem to cause him more pain? And now, to her complete horror, that caused her pain as well.

"I'm really gonna just, throw myself under the wheels of Air Force One in the morning." But the pain was gone again, replaced once more by that shy grin, and she could see what this was costing him.

She really didn't want him doing that, even saying it as a joke. Josh made these comments all the time, and she knew they were supposed to diffuse the tension, but it made her uncomfortable and somehow antsy. "Please tell me what I can do to help you." It came out plaintive, even a little needy. She needed to help him.

God *damn* he was tired. A lifetime of tired, of struggling against being That Guy. He said so to CJ, which made her snort indelicately.

"Ok, that's something I never understood. You and Josh and being That Guy. It's never been adequately defined for me what That Guy is. Or, who he is." And this had always bugged her, because she felt excluded from it.

Was Sam actually laughing? Where the hell did this come from? "CJ, first of all, it's an ever-evolving definition. It's never the same Guy twice. And secondly, he's not a good Guy. He's never That Guy who took a hit for the cause, or gave up his comfortable if predictable life for it. He's always That Guy who compromised his principles, or who did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons..." Speaking of gestures, Sam's wiggling his glass in front of her, clearly looking for something to put in it.

CJ's still got half her drink left, so she simply hands it off to Sam and pries his fingers away from the empty one. "Or That Guy that threw himself under Air Force One?" She felt it was important to stay on topic here, a problem Sam has always had.

"Um, no. I don't think that's... I mean, that would be an example of a 'that guy' without the capitalization." This seemed perfectly logical to him. He downed her drink too, and handed her the glass.

"What am I, the busboy?" CJ pointedly handed both glasses back to a startled Sam, and tilted her head towards the bedside table near his shoulder.

"Oh."

"Yeah."

Sam settled deeper into the pillow at his head, hands resting in his lap. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to be in someone's arms, but as cathartic as this whole fiasco was beginning to feel, he couldn't bring himself to ask for that. So instead he reached out his right arm to CJ, hoping it conveyed the invitation to join him.

Wrapping herself around him this time felt different than before. CJ remembered listening to Sam's heart beating, wondering if they'd still be somehow connected days from now, toiling away at their jobs. And they still hadn't finished talking about that. Something more important had come up.

"I'm not really gonna throw myself -"

"I know, Sam."

"I'm just gonna be depressed and anxious and uncomfortable around you for awhile, and go cry into Josh's sofa."

Oh, okay. Wait. "Josh knows about this?" She wasn't sure which 'this' she was even referring to; the insecurity, the lack of direction, the destructive behavior...

"Why I'm a basketcase sometimes? Who the hell do you think keeps me sane?" Made sense.

"I always kind of thought *you* were the one keeping *him* sane." That made a lot more sense. He leaned away from her a little so he could look at her face.

"He doesn't know everything... I've never told him about the... He understands there are some things I just don't" - be honest Sam, she's seen it and she's still here - "*won't* talk about. Sometimes because I can't get it out, and sometimes because with Josh, it's like he already knows. And he's a smart man, he grasps a lot." It never failed to comfort him to know this. "Frankly, CJ, this is just the tip of the neurotic iceberg. My mom jokes that I'm so tense it's a wonder I don't shatter whenever I fall down." He was actually blushing, CJ could feel it against the hand she'd brought up to trace his cheek.

"You, um, cover well Sam." She had no idea why, but this made her grin.

The silence was comfortable, so they let it stretch out for a long time. Sam was relaxing further and further by the minute, he was as aware of it as CJ, who maintained a firm grasp around his waist. This felt good, and not at all as weird as it should, and she wondered for the 12th time tonight what the hell was going on.

What the hell was going on? Now it was a question, and much as she tried to slap it away, it kept coming back to claw at her. So, okay, she'd take this quiet moment and take inventory.

She'd unexpectedly found herself gloomy and lonely and had fallen into bed with a convenient co-worker. Scratch that. She'd deliberately taken a co-worker to bed because he'd been inexplicably irritating her- Strike that too. There had to be a way for this to make sense. Even if it meant shaving some corners off the square peg to fit into the circle.

She'd found herself gloomy and lonely. She couldn't bear the thought of starting from scratch with someone who'd be incapable of understanding the complexities of her depression. She'd seen Sam moving towards her across the bar. Ambling really, no brave swagger *there.* She'd noticed the other women looking, appraising, and had felt a little proprietary. Was it really that simple? She wanted to prove something to people?

That was wrong, all wrong, and she was sure of it the minute the thought formed in her head. Because no one was ever going to know about this, so that must mean she did it for herself, to prove something to herself. Or prove something to Sam.

Bingo. She stirred a little in his arms, and for a moment she thought he was asleep, until he absently stroked her shoulder, and she realized Sam probably had a shitload on his own mind right now. And look what she'd gone and done.

Oh, what the hell. Sam was cute. Never denied that, even did a little drunken speculating with some of the women while campaigning. They did it about all the men, but while the remarks about Josh could sometimes get downright filthy, there was an aura around Sam-talk that always managed to keep it just this side of nasty. So yeah, she'd found him quite seductive at times. CJ sniggered a little. Before she'd gotten to know him.

He'd warned her earlier about the 'brother' remark, which she hadn't intended to make anyway. But it was true, and it wasn't just her. The only affection Toby would ever admit feeling towards his puppy-like Deputy was one of brotherly concern. It killed her sometimes to know how much Toby respected and admired Sam, that it was far easier for him to confide that to her than to him. And it had crossed her mind more than once that sometimes Sam and Josh's relationship bordered on the incestuous.

CJ didn't want a brother. She had brothers. And CJ didn't really want a boyfriend. Not with all the work that would involve. When the hell had she chosen her job over companionship? She'd never thought of herself as pathetic, but she was skating pretty close tonight.

She liked making love with Sam. That was easy to concede now. Oh. God. Making love with Sam. It was so titillating to think, she felt positively adolescent.

She felt him take a slight intake of air, so she knew he was about to speak, and she wished to god he wouldn't.

"What exactly is going on in that breathlessly complex head of yours CJ?" Who's calling who complex? She'd never say it out loud, because, one, it would sound slightly bitchy, and two, she knew he'd be unable to help himself from correcting her grammar and Jesus she wasn't up for that.

"Shut up, I'm thinking." That worked.

"I gotta..." Sam rolled a little onto his right side, facing her, sinking even lower into the bed. It had the effect of bringing more of their bodies into contact, and as distracted as she was, CJ took full advantage of it. She liked snuggling with Sam. There, she'd done it again.

If there was so much to like, why was her head still muddled by the idea of this becoming a regular thing, she had to wonder? She'd only been thinking of the positives here, hadn't even approached the negatives, all the reasons this was the worst idea since all the bad ideas through history.

She'd wanted to prove something to Sam. It sounded ugly, and mean, and she was almost absolutely certain she hadn't intended it to be. But Sam had been so combative, before he'd given up completely. He'd been surly and short tempered, and for some reason most of it had been directed at her. She'd taken a lot of hits, been under considerable stress, and she had snapped back. Looking at it now, she saw clearly that the two of them had somehow isolated themselves from everyone else, and the sniping had turned into a kind of bond. And then it had stopped. Sam had stopped.

Leo had asked her once, what the hell happened to Sam? Like you don't know, she'd scoffed. Like anything else had to *happen* that isn't already happening? Yes, she'd recognized the question had more to do with his sudden silence, his brand-fucking-new factory sealed passivity. It was such a marked change from the stubborn, argumentative Sam. Who didn't notice the day, the hour it happened? But she had no earthly idea why, and had nothing to share with Leo except her relief that the battle was over and they could all just get back to the war. She'd told him to ask Josh. And he told her, duh, didn't she think he'd be the first person he'd ask, but since he said Sam had stopped talking about stuff with him weeks ago he'd thought it was worth a shot coming to her. Everyone was snarling at everyone, and Leo's outburst didn't faze her in the least. She'd traded far worse with Sam, but, she reminded herself, that was over.

And man, was it ever over now! This was her arm around Sam, her cheek against his bare chest, a chest she had grown uncommonly fond of. A chest she was urgently tempted to kiss right now, so she did. And she felt so unimaginably invincible, he tasted so sublime, damned if she didn't do it again. Slower, longer, and with her tongue.

Could it get any clearer than this? She felt empowered. Doing this, being here, feeling all these sensations she hadn't allowed in soo long, this is what she wanted to show Sam. To prove to him that she took as much shit from him and the press and the President, when it was her turn to handle him, as anyone had. And she was still CJ Cregg.

She was still a vital woman with a breakneck sense of humor and gorgeous legs and an inferno of a temper. And charm out the ass, and a brain equal to any of them, yes, even Sam. If she'd been speaking aloud she'd be breathless, but it was all in her head, would stay in her head, because Sam didn't actually need to hear all this. It was enough that she'd figured it out.

While her mouth had been occupied exploring his nipples, and her head had been careening towards this Ultimate Truth, somehow CJ's hand had found its way under the sheets again. "You can't be serious?" Hadn't he said that once before?

"You never told me if you would forgive me."

"I forgive it all Sam." The window behind the curtains was beginning to lighten, which CJ felt was sublimely befitting, seeing how she'd felt a lightening of her own mind a few hours ago. And Sam. He looked absolutely beatific.

He was batting his eyelashes at her. Or blinking. Hell, everything he did was sexy now. She still felt slightly intoxicated from the sex, and the idea of getting out of this bed, ever, was a reality she was simply unwilling to contemplate.

Reading her mind, Sam broke the silence. "Don't you have a funeral to go to this morning?" Way to go, Romeo.

"Don't *you* have a funeral to go to this morning?"

Breezy now, not the Sam of 6 hours ago. "Um, no, did I forget to tell you?"

"The guy isn't dead?" Well, of course he was, but she didn't know what the hell Sam was talking about.

"The President is just supposed to make some candid, off the cuff remarks about Senator Santo, and supporting his dear friend's wife's taking over his seat."

"Yeah, laying the groundwork for her official candidacy for the special election, because while Senator Santo was a great patriot and a true and fast friend to President Bartlet, bla bla bla. What does that have to do with your not having to go to this tasteless thing?"

"How candid and off the cuff is it going to look with a speechwriter standin' right next to him?"

Oh god. She'd been had. "Good save there, Spanky." His smile was triumphant, and it irked her to no end. "I feel as if I didn't get *any* sleep. Oh, maybe because I didn't."

"I feel like I've slept for days. Best sleep in years." She'd missed his ingenuousness. He mumbled something under his breath she didn't catch, and she was about to ask about it when he threw off the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

The thought crashed into CJ's head at the same instant it entered his. She saw it, felt it, heard it. "This is over now."

She'd done all the soul-searching she was prepared for. Inch by inch the fatigue was finding its way through her, devouring every molecule of energy she'd thought she'd stored up. And now she had to meet the President, and accompany him to a funeral, of all things, to mourn this politician she'd never met. The overly dramatic image of her standing over a grave containing her and Sam's naked writhing bodies flittered across her mind. Jesus Christ. What was she, 14?

"CJ." That didn't sound good. Two hours earlier she'd had the romantic notion that anything Sam said sounded good, and she'd made him recite passages from the Bill of Rights to prove it, giggling and teasing him for nearly 30 minutes. But this, this just blew that all to hell and back.

"We don't have to. Really Sam, I'd rather we not." How could her mouth be moving when she was this tired?

"You'd... rather we not." It was good to know he could still irritate her, at least they hadn't lost that. "You'd rather we what, instead, exactly?" He was standing to face her now, and thank god he'd wrapped the sodden sheet around himself, or no kidding...

"Are you free for dinner?" Huh? Had she said that or did he?

Either way, she was going to answer it. "I'm free for dinner." Looking at his face she realized he'd said it, had asked it, and was now inordinately pleased with her answer. As was she.

He was still standing there, grinning like an idiot. A charming, fully functioning, though ever so slightly unstable idiot, the Old Sam. And even though she was maddeningly fascinated by the damaged, defeated Sam, she figured the point was to have them both occupying the same space.

Sequel - Certain Places

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