"The Burn"
Category: Sam/Ainsley, Series
Rating: PG
Spoilers: "In This White House," "Bartlet's Third State of the Union," "17 People," teeny ones for "SGTE, SGTJ"
Disclaimers: Not mine, Sorkin's. I'm just borrowing them, and matchbox twenty's wonderful, insightful music. Please don't sue, this is done out of love.
Summary: Sam on life, love and Republicans. (Mad Season #9)
Timeline: Three months after "Stop."

Thought about singin'
But I couldn't remember all of the words
Breakin' but I couldn't get the pieces apart
Laughin' never knowing what the joke was about
Now I'm down...

Josh once told me he'd beat the hell out of me if I ever dated a Republican. I value his opinion more than anyone's, probably, except my mother's. And yet I'm about to flout that opinion by doing precisely that.

Ainsley Hayes is exasperating, cocky, intrusive and amazingly intractable. On good days she's awkward and occasionally annoying; on bad days she makes me want to throw either her or myself out a plate-glass window. But for some reason she's held an iron grip on my thoughts lately.

It sounds so strange to me now to say that it all started with that night on Capitol Beat. I distinctly remember driving to the studio that night and thinking about small things. Do I have enough paper in my printer? Is the heat on too high? Tell me that my life would literally change in a microsecond and I'd have called you nuts.

And yet my life's big changes have happened in microseconds. Josh's face against the Gage Whitney glass. Lisa walking out. My father's admission.

Meeting Ainsley.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I'm, like, turning conservative or something. The day I register with the Republican party is the day President Bartlet goes to the mosh pit at a Korn concert. But if nothing else she's helped me be a little more open-minded. Like the many times she's reversed my position on something. Or when she wanted to meet the President and wound up dancing in her bathrobe to "Blame it on the Bossa Nova." I blame that on adrenaline and a Pink Squirrel. Or also, when she was helping us "bring the funny" and we got into that long debate about the ERA. I was so exasperated by the end of that night, but at least I saw her position on the debate. Which is, I think, all she wanted.

But as for now. This is a far more difficult decision than it even appears, because in addition to Josh and/or my mother, there's the candidate to think of. During a campaign is not a good time for love affairs, especially with someone you work with. And we've already got this thing between C.J. and Josh. They tried to keep it secret for the longest time, and they did a pretty good job: Josh told me it's been about three months, and the staff just found out about two weeks ago. But my point is, we don't need more romance side issues to detract from getting the candidate, President Bartlet, re-elected.

And we've done a good job of that! I really think that if he has a prayer at all, we've given it to him. And we did it through good, simple work. Campaigning on the issues and not the scandals. Or scandal, singular, depending on how you choose to look at it. The first speeches were so depressing. It was horrible. One hundred people would show up. And this is the incumbent President of the United States, for God's sake! It was Nashua all over again. But perversely, we actually had *less* of a chance at the start of this campaign.

Now, though, we're starting to show an improvement. We've only got a ten point deficit as opposed to twenty-three. But what's important is that we're winning them over. The average Black and White People that so bedeviled Toby, Josh and me. Just the other day at a rally a man spoke to me and said, "I gotta tell you. Bartlet's not perfect. But you all sure as hell try."

That's right, I wanted to say. We try. And that's all people can ever do.

Whoa. Tangent. Where was I?

Oh, yes. Ainsley.

I want to ask her out, but two things are keeping me back. And neither of them are named Josh or Mom. Firstly, I worry that I just won't have the time to devote to a relationship during the campaign. It wouldn't be fair to Ainsley or any woman I might date to say we're a couple, then never spend time with them. It would be Lisa all over again. And I have no wish whatsoever to inflict that on any woman.

Secondly, and this is obviously on a more fundamental level: what if she says no? I know it sounds like a gangly little kid, but I'm scared. I'd never be able to look her in the eye if she says no. And we've got at least another two months of campaigning. If we're lucky as hell, we have another year.

That is an unacceptable amount of time for any woman to wait for any man, let alone *me.*

I have no opinion one way or the other regardingthe political differences. She's with us. Even if she's a Republican, she's with us.

It's strange. I really don't think that I've ever felt this way before. Oh, I've been in love. Lisa, remember? Aborted engagement? But that love was comforting. It was safe and cozy. Sweet, even. This... well, I don't know if it's love, but it's darker. More exciting. And a bit frightening. It's a sort of burn. I wonder why I've never gotten this burn before. I certainly think it's interesting.

Still, for the reasons I've elaborated, I can't try. I just can't.

But if I don't try... well, I'll never really know, will I?

My legs are acting on their own. They take each step as though the floor is radioactive, and I reflect that my brain seems to have severed these connections. Maybe that's a good thing.

Suddenly I'm at the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue. The door's open. What the hell.

Ainsley. How nice to see you.

Yes, you may have this muffin.

Listen. Do you have any plans for tomorrow night?

Really. Well... would you like to have dinner?

Great. Pick you up at eight.

And I wonder how I never got the burn
And if I'm ever gonna learn
How lonely people make a life
One strain at a time...



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