For notes and disclaimer, please see part one.

Previously, on the West Wing: Bartlet and Leo have a father-to-father talk about letting daughters grow up after the morning Senior Staff meeting where Sam, still miffed from the whole episode in the corridor, says they should call the trip what it is: a campaign stop.

Sam stood near the door, idly watching as C.J. introduced the President at the Wax Museum. Josh and Toby stood with him, glancing over at the younger man occasionally. He finally had enough.

"What is it?" asked Sam.

"Did you?" asked Josh.

"Did I what?"

"You and Mallory?" Toby asked.

"Oh, please," said Sam, shaking his head.

"It's just that, y'know, *everybody* knows about Laurie," said Josh.

"Guys, the President is about to give a speech."

"Give us an answer and we'll quit bugging you," said Josh.

"We had quite a lot of sex last night. Are you happy now?" asked a female voice from the door.

All three men turned to see Mallory standing, shaking her head.

"Well, that was certainly adequate enough for us to quit bothering you," said Josh, walking away and taking Toby with him.

"What is it with everyone's curiosity?" Sam asked her quietly as she slipped her hand around one of his.

"I don't know. But it is annoying, isn't it?"

"Very," said Sam with a nod.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked.

Sam looked at her quickly and could see an urgency in her eyes. He let her guide him out of the museum. "What is it?" he asked gently.

"I just wanted to tell you... Dad called me from your sea oats meeting."

"Okay," he said slowly.

"He apologized to me."

"That's good," he said, smiling at her.

"Did he apologize to you yet?"

"Apologize to me?"

"He said he was going to."

"Honestly, I haven't talked to him since the Senior Staff meeting this morning."

"Then let me apologize for him."

Mallory watched as her father exited the museum and stood, listening to Sam, who had already launched into an answer.

"I work for him, Mal. I've worked with him since the campaign. He... He is one of the greatest men I've ever had the honor to work for and with. You know I'd defend him against anything. He doesn't have to apologize to me and you don't have to apologize for him."

"Why?"

"Because we were both upset this morning. His anger was a perfectly normal reaction to the situation, just as my indignation was. It's... It's the natural order of things. Like the way the tides change. High tide to low—emotions running high to emotions calming down. It's... I understand. He doesn't have to say he's sorry and neither do you. And if you even tried to apologize for him, I wouldn't accept it."

"Hey, Sam," she said, glancing past him.

Sam closed his eyes. "He's behind me, isn't he?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah," Sam breathed as he turned. "Leo—"

"I'd feel bad if I didn't say anything."

"Then just say... Say I should get back to work," Sam said, offering him a faint hint of an amused smile.

A lopsided grin grew on Leo's face. "Get in there," he said with a light laugh, nodding to the museum.

"Okay," said Sam. He cast one last longing glance at Mallory before taking a step towards the door.

"Sam," said Leo.

"Yeah?"

"Thank you."

Sam shook his head. "Not necessary, Leo."

"You're not going to hurt her, are you?"

"Not if I can help it," he said.

"Then you're forgetting something," said Leo.

"What's that?" asked Sam.

Leo took his daughter's hand and guided her to Sam, placing her hand in his. Sam looked down at his hand intertwined with Mallory's before looking up at Leo. Sam started to say something.

"Don't," he said. "Just go," he said, nodding.

Sam looked at Mallory then led her into the museum.

~~~

Bartlet led his troupe onto the moving sidewalk through the large tank at Ripley's Aquarium. "Can anyone tell me about sharks?" he asked.

Toby groaned lightly.

"Toby! Thanks for volunteering."

Sam and Mallory were bringing up the rear of the Presidential group. They, as everyone else, watched wide-eyed as they cruised slowly through the tank. "It's amazing, isn't it?" asked Sam.

"It's certainly something," Mallory said.

"Look up," he said.

Mallory followed his gaze only to cringe as a shark swam directly over her head. "That's... creepy," she said, grabbing a hold of his arm tightly.

Sam eased her in front of him and put his arms around her. "It's not like they can hurt you."

"Oh, I know," she said. "It's just... being underneath something that... deadly..."

"Tell me about it," he whispered, resting his head against hers. For a moment, he allowed himself to go back to a place he rarely, if ever, traveled. He went back to Rosslyn in his mind.

He heard the screams and the gunshots. He remembered the heavy fall when he pushed C.J. down. After the shots came the eerie few seconds of complete and total silence. The what-happened stage. The it's-over-but-it's-just-starting stage. He saw that C.J. was still breathing and still conscious before getting to his feet, still crouching behind the police car. That's when he saw the glinting of C.J.'s gold crucifix on the ground and picked it up for safekeeping.

He squeezed Mallory, holding her closer to him. She glanced over her shoulder a little, enough to see that his eyes were closed. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she didn't feel she could get the truth out of him while they were surrounded. So, instead of talking, she placed her hands on top of his, hoping that, somehow, he'd be okay until they could slip away from the group and discuss whatever was running through his mind.

~~~

After the moving sidewalk came the visit to Stingray Bay, where there was a shallow, open tank and people could pet the stingrays. "Want to?" Sam asked Mallory.

"I don't know," she said hesitantly. "I mean, I eat seafood; I don't want to be friendly with them."

"Yeah, but normally you don't eat stingray," he said.

"C.J., you have to come try this," Bartlet said, petting the slimy stingray.

"Oh, sir, how about I take your word for it?" asked C.J.

"This is amazing, really," said the President.

"Well," she said slowly, "all right." She cautiously walked up to the tank as the President moved back, allowing her to use his space to pet a stingray. "This is... ew..."

"It's 'ew'?" asked Danny Concannon from the other side of the tank. "Can I quote you on that for my article?"

"I would think you'd have better things to use those precious column inches for," C.J. said, looking up at him. As she looked up, she lost her balance and wound up splashing down into the shallow tank.

Toby chuckled warmly. "C.J., what is it that attracts you to the water? Your pool back before you signed onto the campaign, Posner's place *during* the campaign—you and Roberto Benigni, I'll never forget that as *long* as I live—and now this. You and stingrays," said Toby.

"Are you going to help me up?" she asked.

"Do you want my help?"

"I'd like to have *someone* help me up before somebody snaps this picture and I make the front page of a newspaper above the fold like the President and his biking accident."

Sam and Josh both stepped up to help C.J. out of Stingray Bay. Sam even offered her his suit jacket, which she promptly accepted and put on.

"I'm going to take a cab," she said quietly to Leo. "I'll meet all of you back at the hotel after I get over this painful embarrassment."

Sam couldn't help but laugh a little as he rejoined Mallory. "And you want me to try petting one of those rays? After C.J. falls in? What if I fall in? You gave her your jacket."

"You won't fall in," he said confidently.

"If I do?"

"I'll get the negatives from Danny."

She narrowed her eyes playfully at him. "And enlarge the pictures to full-size? I think not, Skipper."

"C'mon," he said gently, holding his hand out to her. "I won't let you fall."

She couldn't resist that—the way he spoke softly, his words like whispers. She placed her hand in his and allowed him to guide her to the side of the tank. They both sat down on the fake rocks lining Stingray Bay and watched them for a moment before reaching out to touch one. Sam went first.

"What's it like?" she asked, watching his expression.

"Slippery."

"Better or worse than an 'ew'?" she asked.

Sam grinned. "Better. It's... They're a little slimy, sure, and kinda cold but... Very neat. You have to try this."

"You promise I won't fall?"

"Promise."

She looked into his confident, comforting blue eyes. Steadying herself with one hand on Sam, she reached down as one of the creatures flitted right under her fingertips. She pulled back instantly, laughing.

"Well?" asked Sam.

"It's strange," she said, reaching down again.

Sam smiled, watching Mallory's expression contort from surprise to relief—he guessed because she wasn't falling into the tank and because the experience wasn't as bad as she thought it was going to be.

Leo had wandered away from Stingray Bay but looked back when he heard Mallory's melodious laughter. He hadn't been able to make her—his own daughter—laugh like that in a while. And yet, there she sat with Sam, obviously having a wonderful time. Bartlet joined him silently, watching the happenings at Stingray Bay as well, before turning to look at Leo. He expected to see a look of either anger or possibly shock. Instead, he saw a sadness.

"Leo?"

"Mr. President?" asked Leo, finally taking his eyes away from his daughter.

"You all right?"

Leo smiled. "I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"Yes, sir."

Bartlet nodded. "Okay."

~~~

After Broadway at the Beach, the President and his entourage returned to the hotel with the White House Press Corps in tow. The staffers (including a now dry C.J.) congregated in one hallway, waiting for the inevitable last-minute cancellation of their free time.

"You mean you're actually going to let Sam live?" Toby asked Leo in amazement.

"Oh, grow up, Toby."

Bartlet caught Leo's eye and smiled.

"All right, listen up," Leo said, gaining everyone's attention. "You've got two and a half hours. Be back here by six. We're leaving for dinner at seven."

"And I'm issuing a decree... Or, rather, I suppose, an executive order—"

"You're getting good at those," commented Leo.

"Why, thank you, Leo. For the next two and a half hours, no one works. Go, enjoy your mini-vacations." The staffers instantly scattered, leaving Leo and Bartlet in the hall. "You did good, my friend," Bartlet said. "I was worried, but you came around."

"He's a good kid," said Leo.

"So's Mallory."

"Thank you," said Leo.

"I think more credit goes to Jenny."

"Don't start with me again," warned Leo laughingly.

Stay tuned...

~ Lines from the next installment:

Her heart started racing, almost like it was pounding to get out of her chest. She got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Chapter 10

 

 

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