Title: The Dragon's Rubies (1/3)

Category: Not who you think, so I'd love to know what you think.

Rating; R

Summary: When you learn the price of what you lost, can you bear its cost?

Author: Elliott Silver (elliottsilver@hotmail.com)

Timeline: "Posse Comitatus" now occurs in early January.

Author's Notes: This isn't the story I sat down to write, the nice little 5 pager one. But this is the story that came from the Muse. So please, please, please, let me know what you think, even if it's just to write "you're an idiot" in the subject line.

She came to him at 10:53 Thursday night.

He had Vivaldi on, the violin concerto "La Primavera". He was fighting a migraine and trying to write the President's speech about the new energy bill for tomorrow. He hadn't gotten past sentence 3, and he didn't much like the three sentences he had.

When he heard her, she was knocking for the second time. He'd left the office around seven, when Toby had ranted at him for the second time and Sam wasn't about to wait for a third. Writer's egos were fragile things, and his boss expressing in no uncertain terms that he had the writing skills and style of a Republican third-grader made him seethe to write a new tell-all book about the Bartlet presidency that cut through all the shit they had been dealing with lately. Josh had been off doing whatever it was he did when he was trying not to let his femi-Nazi girlfriend destroy him and his career, and Leo was still down in the Sit Room with Fitz and the rest trying to figure out where they'd gone wrong in assassinating the Qumari defense minister. CJ was out dealing with the international fiasco that had been caused as well as the death of Simon Donovan. He could understand the harsh words she inflicted, with the press gouging at her about Abdul Shareef and her former remarks about the treatment of Qumari women. And all of them, even Charlie, were trying to stay away from the President, who was still in a bitter rage since The War of the Roses.

That was when he had ripped for his coat and a stack of papers on his desk that seemed somewhat important in a vague sort of way and told Mr. Ziegler he was going to fax the speech to him later that night. Mr. Ziegler said to email him instead.

He remembered seeing her on the way out, a wisp in a blue silk shirt the color of the sea when he sailed far enough away from shore that he seemed the one thing alive. She had been running towards Josh's office with a stack of papers and phone messages, even though he wasn't there.

And now she was here.

He stood against the door he hadn't bothered to lock. If anyone wanted to climb up the four flights of stairs to his apartment in hopes of stealing his valuables or murdering him in some grisly spree, then Sam was more than willing to comply with the migraine he felt pressing in with daggers at the corners of his tired brain.

"Donna," he said as she stared back at him, her cheeks primrose pink with early January cold. "What are you doing here?"

She handed him a folder of papers. "These are the revised figures for the energy speech."

He took the folder from her gloved hand. They were those little cotton gloves with the nubbies on one side that were supposed to help you grip though he didn't quite see how.

"Josh forgot to give them to you earlier."

"Yes," he answered. No one had said a word to him about revised figures, but it was just like Josh to let a detail like that slip in the grand scheme of things and in his current state of mind, he could have been quoting energy usage from 1963. "Thank you."

She gave him a corner of what he imagined would have been a smile. She had dark circles under her eyes that even her pale Clinique foundation couldn't cover up and she looked too tired to make it down those four flights of stairs again. It had been a rough week for anyone in the White House and it was far from over.

"Hey, you want to come in and warm up for a minute?"

Donna looked like she was going to refuse and then she just nodded and stepped in. "The heater broke in my apartment building," she said by way of thanks.

"So Josh sent you out?" he asked, heading towards the kitchen and the thermostat. She looked positively frozen, huddled in her black trenchcoat and the same blue shirt and grey pants he'd seen her in earlier.

"You know Josh," she said vaguely as she looked around at his apartment. It was a big, airy place painted in deep shades of navy and maroon with his sailing pictures up on the tall walls. Only he didn't have the requisite ship in a bottle.

"Do you want tea or coffee?" He was happy to see her; outside of frenzied scurryings in the hallways, he rarely got a chance to say more than two words – usually "look out!" – to Donnatella Moss. He'd always liked her, from the gutsy way she showed up in Manchester, New Hampshire with all her belongings packed into her nondescript little car, to her sashaying blonde hair that always seemed to stay the same flyaway length, and her amusing, endearing quirks, like her penchant for alpine skiing that had lasted all of three and a half weeks.

Vivaldi was still playing and she stood outside his jumbled pentagram of papers on the floor as if he could, by some secret ceremony, voodoo his way to the speech.

"You're writing, I should go," she told him, gesturing at her intrusion into his bolthole sanctum. Her eyes looked grey against the bright blue of her shirt.

"No, look – really – " He, Samuel Norman Seaborn, was being about as articulate as a Republican third grader and Donna Moss was staring at him as if she thought the same thing. "I'm stuck with writer's block," he admitted. "I'd welcome a break."

"Are you sure?" she asked, consternation crinkling tectonically on her forehead. Her gloved hands were tucked up in balled firsts in the sleeves of her coat.

"Yeah," he reassured her. "Tea or coffee?"
"Coffee would be wonderful," she admitted, deftly maneuvering her way through his rhumbs of paper to the couch where he'd been sitting.

"I was drinking tea," he said drolly.

"Oh, that's fine too."

"I was kidding." He wasn't but it didn't matter. He bumped the thermostat up to 85 and as he notched the temperature, suddenly knew his introduction to the speech. He dumped the Earl Grey bag from his mug and started the coffee machine he never used. When he came back out, she was still wearing the trenchcoat but at least she had shed the gloves. Vivaldi had switched to "The Cello Suites" by Bach.

"I love Yo-Yo Ma," she confessed as she took the Duke mug gratefully, wrapping her fingers around its sweet warmth. She looked as if she needed the Colombian blend spiked, but she seemed tired enough already and he didn't want her out on the roads feeling a Jack Daniels kick, especially in this weather.

"Yeah?" He had never thought of her that way, as liking serious classical music, but he remembered from the Christmas party that year how she had been so ecstatic to hear the renowned cellist.

"Yeah," she answered. She looked like she was going to tell him something else, but then stopped herself. She took a sip of the coffee.

"I guess the cello really isn't Josh's style, huh," he said. It had been the "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major" that had crushed him that seasonal night. It had been one of Sam's favorite pieces until Josh had said post-traumatic stress disorder to him.

"No, it really isn't," Donna said with half a laugh. "Right now, he's into Van Morrison." She said it with no trace of hurt but she also didn't say a word about Amy Gardner either. From the look on her face, she didn't have to.

"It's supposed to go down into the teens, tonight," Sam mentioned as he sat down on the couch next to her, dropping his notepad to the floor with the rest of the miscellany. He didn't know what else to say about that and decided nothing was best. She looked grateful for his change of subject.

"Brrrrrrrr," she trilled, the sound half like she was blowing a raspberry and half like she was really chattering her teeth. "It feels about zero degrees out there now."

"Let me get you something warmer," he said despite her protests and came back from his bedroom with the Princeton sweatshirt he'd gotten for some academic honor as a freshman. It was the only one he had left, so well-worn the paint was peeling off the letters just a little. It was the only one he had small enough not to eat her up.

"Sam – "

"Donna, you're not going back out there like a – like a Donnasicle."

She unbelted the trenchcoat and slipped on the sweatshirt over her blue silk shirt. It still swallowed her up and made her look so much like a college sophomore that Sam felt ancient and world-weary beside her. Only her face told the same story as his.

"So how's the speech coming?"

"It's coming," he answered noncommittally. Talking about writing was equivalent to jinxing it.

"Well, how about I sit here really quiet and don't disturb you, and you can finish it?"

He wanted to tell her he hadn't even gotten a start on it yet. But he imagined how her forehead would crinkle with that, and how she'd grab at her coat and slip out into the zero-degree weather before he could stop her.

"Ok," he agreed and picked up his pad and pen. He scribbled out the first sentence that had been mulling around in his head. It led to a second, and a third, and a fourth, and before he knew it, a fifth and sixth. When he finished the first page, he flipped over the tablet and looked over at Josh's secretary.

Her head had fallen back against the couch and she was breathing deep, easy rhythms like waves. Sam rose and taking the cashmere throw his aunt had given him for Christmas two years ago, he tucked it around Donnatella Moss.

Then he brewed himself another cup of Earl Grey, turned off most of the lights, scribbled out a second and third pages to the speech, and started typing them into his laptop.

"Sam?" Her voice was rough with sleep and it made him think of honeycombs. "What time is it?"

He rolled his wrist. "3:43."

She had pulled the navy throw around her like an Indian blanket. "Go back to sleep, Donnatella. It's too cold to go home."

"But – "

"I'll take you to work tomorrow."

She breathed a little sigh that seemed almost half a groan or grunt and kicked off her shoes, snuggling up on the couch next to him. Within a few sentences, her breathing returned to its elastic slumber and just as he was emailing the speech via attachment to Toby, her head slipped to his shoulder. He clicked 'send', shut off the laptop, and stayed where he was.

He was brushing his teeth when she woke.

"Hey."

"Good morning," he said, or rather it sounded something like "ogg orrin" with a mouthful of Crest.

She stood in his doorway like a Michealangelo statue or a pre-Raphealite painting with their sensuous lines and warm colors, with her hair tussled like the silk on budding corn and her blue shirt wrinkled so that each movement shimmered like ripples in a pond. Sam had been roasting all night but he hadn't been about to turn down the heat.

He rinsed his mouth. "How did you sleep?"

"Really well," she said with more than a corner of a smile. "Thanks for letting me stay."

"I don't want you turning into a Donnasicle," he said. "Josh would kill me."

Donna shook her head thoughtfully as if she was contemplating Josh's world reaction to her loss. "And then where would the world be without Josh coming to the rescue?" It sounded bitterly sarcastic.

Sam shook his head. "You want a shower or anything?"

She shook her head too.

"You sure? I've even got clean towels."

"You definitely know how to win a woman's heart, Sam Seaborn," she said, still standing in the doorway.

But in all the years that he'd known her, talking to her when sober and hitting on her when drunk, he'd always wondered why he couldn't win hers.
"Sam."

"Yeah?"

She pointed to the corner of his jaw. He wiped a finger there.

"Better?"

She came to him and ran a finger under the corner of his bottom lip.

"Where would the world be without you, Sam Seaborn?" she asked rhetorically as she wiped a smudge of Crest on the white towel around his neck.

The world would be where it had always been, he thought, with her still obstinately in love with the man who sent her out into 16 degree whether while he fooled around with Amy Gardner.

"Thanks," he said.

"Yeah, you owe me a coffee."

And she liked Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, he discovered, when she kept him to it. He bought her the foamed milk and espresso and took her to work, still wearing his Princeton shirt. He didn't know when exactly she changed, but sometime that afternoon when she passed him in the hall, she was wearing a black knit sweater and a pair of khaki pants, the outfit she kept in her bottom drawer for such emergencies. Then Josh was calling him and telling him that the energy speech was one of his best.

"Sam," Josh's voice was monotone calm, which was never a good sign with him, who got bent out of shape with the little things and neglected the big ones. "I need to talk to Jack."

"Why?" Sam asked, nonplussed, looking up from his reading on urban sprawl and crimes increases. Jackson Jay Walker IV was an old friend of the Seaborn family. His great-grandfather Jackson had started a publishing company in Boston that his grandfather Jay had built on and his father J.J. had diversified and expanded. Jack had taken the Walker conglomeration into the 21st century and was tops among the media moguls in the world. Sam remembered him as the distinguished gentleman with the whisky voice that could throw a gentle curve ball, although the Seaborn family remembered the Walkers back to clambakes on the Maine shore, both families with the same luck: no one knew how to bake clams right.

"The Wallace Memorandum is short," Josh conceded, looking uncomfortable but not guilty.

Sam looked at him clearly, though his memory on the Wallace piece extended only to its involvement with the military and he thought the one of Jack's umbrella companies was the one airing the military ads on TV. "I was under the impression that we didn't want the Wallace piece to go through before election."

"We don't."

"Because we want to pass better legislation after the election, right?"

"Yeah," Josh answered, running a staggered hand through his bristling hair.

"So why do you need to talk to Jack?"

"Because we lost some votes," Josh admitted carefully.

"How many?"

"Enough," Josh replied easily, but Josh was always calm in the worst sorts of desperation. "Can you arrange it?"

"I'll call him," Sam said, but he didn't promise anything. He didn't have to say that Jack was an old friend of the family or that Jack was the reason he had gotten into Princeton and Duke when it hadn't looked so good, or that his first Montblanc had been a gift from Jack, with the traditional 4810 inscribed on the nib. Josh swung out of his chair and ambled into the hallway with his swinging cowboy walk, calling for Donna from across the room the way he always did. Sam didn't say anything because the way Josh talked and walked made it seem like a last ditch effort and after the President's harsh words, meeting with Jack might be all that stood between Josh and being fired.

Sam pulled his black book full of phone numbers and names and scraps of hieroglyphic paper from his lower desk drawer. It was so crammed with notes that he had resorted to rubberbanding it together, but Jack's number was only on the second page, where Sam kept his computer password and blood type, and when Marjorie answered the phone with her cheery good morning, guilt washed up on him for losing touch.

Jack answered right away, delighted to hear from him, and agreeing to the meeting without ever asking what it was about. As it turned out, he had been flying down on Friday for a formal media dinner and could meet Josh before that.

Then Toby came in and Sam forgot all about Jack in the commotion.

She of all people knew Josh was back with a vengeance. Even CJ came out of her silent fugue the next day to tell him to quiet down unless he wanted to shout her briefing from his office. Ever since the president had royally bitched him out about almost losing the votes on the welfare bill, Josh had been riding through the West Wing like a Valkyrie and no one had seen fit to do a thing about it. Josh was fifteen kinds of stressed like the rest of them; the only difference was he had Donna to take it out on.

"You know," Sam said to Josh as he idly chewed the Subway Chicken Teriyaki sandwich that Donna had gotten for lunch, "you've been a little hard on Donna lately."

"I don't like Chicken Teriyaki," Josh protested when he was three-quarters of the way through the sandwich. He took another three bites and threw the rest in the trash. "I gotta go find Alverson and Michaels. Bruno wants to talk to me."

"Donna!" One of the other secretaries informed him that he had sent her to get an analysis from Foggy Bottom. One day he was sending her to North Dakota, the next he was sending her to Sam Seaborn's house, and the next to the State Department.

She came back just as he was calling her name again. She handed him the report from Foggy Bottom and told him he had a meeting with the Smithsonian Museum people 10 minutes ago.

"I thought I was meeting with Alverson and Michaels. And Bruno."

"Alverson and Michaels were yesterday, Josh. And Bruno wants to see you at 3:30."

"You were supposed to tell me this!"

"I did!"

"'Cause you know, this is what I pay you for."

"I did tell you, Josh!" If Sam had been Josh, he would have stopped pushing her about 5 seconds before, but then again, he didn't want to think he would have ever put her in that kind of position to begin with.

"Josh, take it easy," he said and still felt like he wasn't doing enough.

Josh ran his hands through his hair. "Alright, call Alverson and Michaels and reschedule. It's only about the election in November, nothing too important."

"Go meet with your museum people, Josh," she said, sitting down at her desk. "And don't forget Bruno at 3:30."

"Ok," Josh headed down the hallway. "And Donna, I don't like Chicken Teriyaki."

"Donna?" Toby came across the room. "Did I just hear that Josh forgot to meet with Alverson and Michaels?"
"Yes," she said, phone to her ear. "I'm rescheduling."

Toby made some sort of exasperating grunt. "You people are running this place to hell!" he growled and came towards Sam.

"We've got another speech to write," he said by way of introduction as he corralled Sam back into his office and Sam sat down at his desk under his flag where stacks of material he was reading on the Everglades were piled up.

"Did you know that the Everglades contain 16 endangered species and 6 threatened species found nowhere else in the world?"

"No," Toby said, sprawling on his couch, "But if you find something remotely related to writing about gun control in there, I'm all ears."

"We're writing about gun control?" Sam asked.

"Not we, you." Toby sat up and stalked out. "I've got more important things to do."

The last Sam saw of Donna she was wearing a white sweater and scheduling a meeting for Tuesday at 2 with Congressman Alverson before Toby swung shut his door and he started thinking about what to say about gun control when their President made comments about their rival in the vein of ".22 caliber mind in a .357 world" that didn't make them look hypocritical or idiotic.

But he was thinking about Josh's secretary.

Things in the West Wing whirled on, as they always did. They were hurrying to outmaneuver Ritchie, make nuclear policy gains with China, and stop the spread of AIDs. He saw Donna out of the corner of his eye, but that was all, the way Josh was running things. When he caught a glimpse of her face a few days later, the bones under her cheeks seemed more elongated than he remembered, the skin stretched over them a little tighter and paler the stringent way all the Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden models looked. She looked a little thinner maybe, though with women he'd always found it hard to tell and best to say nothing. And she seemed to be continually running, up and down and through the East and West wings, always carrying stacks and shuffles of papers and binders and books.

He had just left the Oval Office from a meeting on Cuban diplomacy when he heard Josh. He wasn't quite yelling, but another half decibel and he would be.

"I needed the stats on the Millovich thing, Donna! And I needed twenty copies of the 10-10 case, not ten copies of the NASA 20 report!" He blew air through his teeth. "Jesus! What's wrong with you?"

When she went to answer, he waved her off.

"Whatever it is, get over it and get with it, will you?"

Sam saw her slip down the stairs and he followed her to get some papers from Babish's office. He wasn't very surprised at Josh's harsh words lately with all that was going wrong, but he had never seen him be so brutal when it wasn't called for. As he walked on, he was always surprised how empty the lower levels seemed compared to the bullpen and briefing room.

She came careening through the doorway, not altogether steady in her heels. She and CJ wore such insensible shoes, though it was CJ mostly, who towered over all of them in bare feet and still insisted on wearing 3 and a half inch Manolo Blahnik heels.

"Hey," he said as she ricocheted.

When she didn't say anything and didn't look at him, he reached for her arm.

She stopped reluctantly and when she raised her watery eyes to him, he knew if he hadn't stopped her, she wouldn't have cried.

She looked at him and he knew suddenly why people had once called the moon the watery star. Two tears rolled silently from her reddened eyes as she looked at him. She was the one person that still looked at him that way.

And then she thumped her head down on his shoulder, her blonde hair falling against his white shirt in waves. Sam put his arms around her and drew her closer, resting one hand on the back of her head and the other around her thin waist. The copies in her hands were still warm against his back as she leaned into him and he tilted his head against hers.

After a minute, she pulled back, wiping angrily at her face, the copies fanning in her hand. Asking her if she was all right was stupid but he wished there was something he could do or say to make up for the great jackass their deputy chief of staff could be.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice breaking. "I shouldn't be so emotional."

"There's nothing wrong with emotion," he told her.

"Well, I guess that depends on who you're talking to," she answered, wiping at her wet face with the back of her hand.

"You're talking to me," he said. She looked at him with her deep eyes; her lashes blinked wetly. She was such a tough, fragile, beautiful creature.

"Thank you," she said with dignity that made Jackie Kennedy look frumpy.

Sam nodded and didn't say a word as she jogged the steps back to the office where Josh was waiting.

"We got it by five," Josh proclaimed, flopping down into the chair opposite of his desk with something that was too crawly to be relief.

Sam got up so that the flag on his wall mirrored him – Don't Tread on Me – and closed the door to his office so quietly Josh looked up at him.

"I heard," Sam managed. He felt like he was grinding his teeth to chaff.

Josh babbled on.

"Goddamnit Josh!" By the unmoved expression on Josh's face, he knew the anger was starting to leak out of his voice.

"I thought you wanted to talk to Jack about the media promotion behind the bill, not because he was sleeping with Amy's new boss!" Now Sam was angry, more angry than after Jack's irate phone call when he knew the friendship was seriously damaged, if not unsalvageable. He'd lost his teacher, mentor, and the man who'd always come to Thanksgiving dinner at the Seaborns house bringing a bottle of bourbon, an adamant dislike to cranberry relish, and a deep, booming laugh, all because Amy Gardner and her suckerhold on Josh.

"You didn't know," Josh said obviously, looking only slightly rebuked and not yet contrite. It sounded to Sam more like "you didn't need to know" and he wished he'd told Josh outright that he only arranged the meeting out of faith on their friendship because Jack went way back with the Seaborn family, back to clambakes and childhood and his first awful taste of aged Scotch.

Sam had known when Josh had had Amy fired the first time that his promises that she couldn't cause any more trouble were empty as paper hyperventilation bags. They all should have known, and while a bitching out by the President of the United States would have straightened out most of the world, Josh was not one of those people.

Lane Chenault had published her new book on feminism and the government through one of Jack's print houses and somewhere along the line, they'd been introduced. It had been innocent at first, as all introductions were really, but it was only after they swapped their names and backgrounds that they found more in common, their intellectual passions for fine literature, jazz music, Oysters Rockefeller, and 18 year-old Macallan Scotch. That's all it had been at first, rousing debates at The Kipling Club with oysters and drinks and Jack using frequent flyer miles on the weekends. Sex came later, as did Jack laying down the law to her according to Amy Gardner's suggestions. Loss of an agent, publishing house, free press, and government ties wouldn't have swayed Laney on an ordinary basis; in fact, what Sam knew of her, she probably would have laughed, being the powerful, beautiful, intelligent leader she was. It was Jack that had swayed her.

Josh just watched him, his fingers laced together as if he was fascinated with the way flesh and bone contorted under pressure. Sam felt that way now.

"It's over, you know," he said and Josh barely looked up. Of course, Josh knew, as he had when he had walked into Sam's office and asked for the meeting, knowing Sam wouldn't ask why, because they were friends and that was what friends did. Any anger from Jack had diluted into cold loss; Marjorie and he had been at best acquaintances for several years now, sharing the same bank account and houses, but running different lives. Putting pressure on Lane to drop Amy's suggestions about the Wallace Memorandum - the one about women and image advertising in the military - so it would fail now only for Bartlet to pass it later had cost him his relationship with her, at the price of good politics, if there was such a thing.

"What's next, Josh? We declare war on Canada, or Paraguay, or Nepal because Amy wants you to?"

"This – " But Sam was on a full tilt rant. It wasn't so much because of Jack, because friendships that went back that far were hard to kill, but also because of the unjustified attitude Josh had been taking out on them all lately and especially Donna because of his idiotic cling to Amy.

"Why can't you just find a nice girl? Someone who doesn't run this country to rack and ruin?"

"Nice girl?" Josh sounded outraged. "There are no nice girls in Washington! Certainly no one I want, for Christ's sake."

Josh ranted on about the lack of good women, but Sam didn't really hear what he was saying. After a minute, Josh stopped, clearly surprised when he didn't rally back, but the truth was, Sam didn't dare rally back, didn't dare show Josh the extraordinary nice girl not five feet from them, didn't dare give up this sudden precious gift he had never expected, the dragon's ruby.

Josh swung out his door quickly and Sam followed him, standing in the archway, feeling peculiarly dizzy. Donna was typing up notes on her computer, fingers clattering over keys. He stood there until she looked up. Then he waited until she looked up and held his gaze; he felt her trying to figure it out, her mind spinning as dizzily as his. Only then did he walk back to his office and wait for hope.

She came a day later.

"I wanted to bring this back," she said, handing him the folded Princeton sweatshirt as he held open the door to his apartment. It smelled of Downy dryer sheets.

"You washed it," he noticed and he felt about as brilliant as Shakespeare in his powers of observation.

"Yeah," she said and looked at him oddly.

"You didn't have to."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I had to do laundry anyway." She gave him half a smile again. "I had some free time since Josh is in California lobbying for the election," she said, and then added, "Amy's with him."

And that was the way things went. Josh left Donna to do his job in wind chill weather while he cavorted off to the Pacific coast with his killer girlfriend. Sam wanted to tell Donna that it didn't matter, that the Atlantic was prettier than the Pacific anyday, that the water under the bow carried you so far the color of the sky was the color of your dreams, and when you reached down and touched the water, it felt like a kiss.

But he didn't and they just stood there, silent.

"Anyway, I just wanted to bring back your sweatshirt." He tucked the sweatshirt under his arm and she stepped back like she was leaving.

"I'm sorry," Sam said quickly. "I should have invited you in."

She looked at him and her eyes were serious, the color of the sea when it mirrored the sky and you knew you should turn around and head towards the shore before you were drowned.

Sam wanted to be drowned.

She came in.

"Did they fix the heat in your apartment yet?" he asked as he closed the door behind them.

"No," she answered him taking a seat on the couch now that it was free from his clutter. "It's going to be a week before they can get the part they need. They're backordering it from Idaho or Iowa or Italy or something."

"Well, you're welcome to stay here," Sam offered, suddenly rushing on before she thought he sounded lecherous. "I don't want you to freeze to death."

"Thanks," she said with a trace of a smile. "But it's alright. I could stay with friends if I needed to. Or I could go to Josh's apartment if I had to. I've got the key and he's never there."

There was so much more in those words than he expected to understand. She could be a million places, but the fact was, she was here.

"What's it like to sail, Sam?" she asked when he didn't say anything.

"It's amazing," he answered simply. "It's like living a dream where nothing goes wrong and you don't wake up. It's like being free."

She nodded looked at the sailing pictures on his walls, where he was smiling and holding the ropes that spun him out over the sea. "It sounds wonderful."

"I'll take you," he offered and he wasn't just saying it.

"Sam – "

"Donna – "

She grinned at him, a little self-consciously, and then took a deep breath. He wanted to be noble for her and he wanted her, if not in his bedroom than at least on his couch.

"Josh?" she asked, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear in a gesture that made her seem young where her perceptiveness gave her age.

He nodded just slightly. "I don't want you doing this because of Josh, or the way – "

She stopped him with her hand on his. "I never was," she told him. "Were you?"

Sam shook his head. He wanted her for many reasons, but Josh Lyman never entered one of them. When she touched him, he felt her certainty and yet he needed to believe it was more than just a certainty of the moment.

"Donna, I don't want a one-night stand," he said, trying to keep his tone level when each syllable felt like he was mashing gears.

"Neither do I," she answered clearly. In all that followed, he would remember her in that moment, how she looked with her cheeks flushed and her heart pounding through her shirt, the way she smelled like softness and warmth, and the grace as she ran her fingers over his hand, wound them together, and hoped with eyes the color of storm.

"You know Washington won't tolerate more."

"I know," she answered and she kissed him and he kissed her back, at first lightly, and then her tongue and his twisted and he shivered when she ran the tip across the roof of his mouth. Everything slowed maddeningly adagio as they shed their clothes and fell into the thin dimness of his bedroom and the depths of his dark bed. He kissed her all over as her hands smoothed over his skin as if she was working clay and he swore he could feel every indent and ridge of her fingerprints. He marveled at the way her bones contorted and shifted under her flesh as she slid against him and they shed their underwear so that there was nothing between them but this sudden slick sweat.

When he turned to his nighttable and fumbled through the drawer, nearly falling off the bed, she laughed. It sounded like sunflowers in the wind and he laughed with her, fishing out a condom and rolling himself back into the bed.

"Been a while?" Donna asked, leaning on one arm and arching a tawny eyebrow at him.

And he nodded as he tore open the packet and she reached for him. She held him by the muscles of his upper arm as he sank into her and suddenly if felt like they were moored to each other by the thick spun-strand ropes that held ship into port. And every rock away of his body from hers felt like the pull of the waves and sea against land, and every reel back into her felt like the high tide sweeping over the shore. Everything black sank away into blue shadows of her eyes and when she tensed into him, he moved with her and she came in a shiver, calling his name into his mouth as he kissed her. And then he came too, and it felt like hitting the surface of the ocean after diving and holding his breath.

They lay into each other deeply, blood whistling in their heads and breath in the chests, so that he could feel the ball of her hip pushing into him and the soft curves of her breasts, warm, on his chest. He moved off her slowly and she held him still.

He traced the line of her cheek, the peach fuzz hair there damp with sweat.

She looked up at him with her eyes the color of lupines at full, iridescent bloom, the kind he had seen scattered across New England as a child. Purple was the color of nobility, of magic, of battle-worn hearts.

"Do you regret it?" she asked into the silence and he felt the whole world hinge on one answer now that the sex was done and real things like consequences took over again.

"Yes," he answered her as gently as he could. "There's no such thing as no regrets," he explained as she rolled up on one arm to look at him. "I regret not kissing you sooner, I regret not having the courage to love you before this, and I regret not fighting for you."

"Donna?" he asked as she faced him. "What I said about the one night stand? I meant it."

"Sam?" she asked as he faced her. "What I said about Josh? I meant it too."

He leaned down around her as she wrapped herself around him and she was more than halfway towards him when he kissed her. He hadn't been sure the first time she had said it, because the misdirection that followed had been a classic Josh Lyman trick, and because he wanted her so badly and ignobly that he wanted her no matter how short the time was. But when she curled around him and held him, her tawny form sprawled into his and her eyes trusting and honest, he believed her. Sam closed his own eyes and when he woke that way with her, he remembered his dreams had been of lupines in great swathes of fields with children running and laughing and tumbling and he hadn't dreamt in such a long time.

 

   Part 2