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She felt her bag slipping.

Before she could react, it fell from her shoulder, neatly and predictably slipping down the crutch and to the floor.  If she were a little more athletic, she could have maybe, possibly, used the crutch to bring her bag back up, grab the strap with her teeth or something.  As it was, she had to content herself with dragging the bag along the ground.  She was almost there, anyway.

“Hey!  Let me help you.”

“I got it,” she said, automatically, even as she heard Sam jog over and felt him grab the metal frame of her support.

“You’re going to mess up your perfectly … nice …”  His voice trailed off as he extracted the purse and got a good look.  It wasn’t her usual work bag, bigger and sturdier to hold everything she had to bring into the office.  It had gotten her through college and law school and if it was a little worse for wear from years of use, being dragged across the floor to the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue wasn’t really going to do any damage.

“Whatever it is you need, Leo wants my opinion on Shipman v. Dunn on his desk on Monday and apparently CJ is already getting questions about it.”

He seemed to ignore her, walking ahead with her bag in one hand and a paper in the other.  She couldn’t make out much as he waved the paper around, but based on the red scribbles all over it, she assumed it was the position paper he asked her to summarize.  Again.

“You reversed my position.”

“I improved it.”

Again!

“You seemed okay with it last time,” she said calmly as she followed him, her crutches making muted thumps on the floor.  When they reached her office, he gently set her bag in a chair and then tossed the paper onto her desk with so much force that the pages slid off onto the floor.  Sam sighed and walked around it, picking them up and placing them carefully on top of her files, somewhat negating the initial gesture.  “And I didn’t reverse it.”

“I knew this was a bad idea.” 

“Then why did you ask me?”  Ainsley didn’t even try to keep the irritation out of her voice.  She had been back from vacation for less than four hours when Josh crashed into her in the bullpen.  The rest of her day had been wasted in the ER with unnecessary X-rays and waiting around for results and going to pick up painkillers and her crutches for a painful and annoying sprained ankle.

Some of the papers on her desk had been pushed aside to make way for a garish vase holding a bouquet of obviously store-bought flowers.  A brief submitted to her for review was warped on the corner, from where water must have spilled on it.  They were already starting to wilt; a few yellow petals had fallen onto her cup, floating on top of long-cold coffee.

“Josh is really sorry,” Sam said as he started to pace.

“There’s really no need for you guys to walk so quickly, you know.”

“If the person you’re talking with knows you have a deadline – like the office at the end of the hallway – they condense their argument down to just the salient points.  Most people.  Donna, not so much.”

“What if Josh had run into someone important?” she countered.

That got him to stop.  “You are important.  Wait … is someone making you feel like you’re not?”

“No.”  She felt her face grow warm.  “I just mean, someone like a foreign dignitary, something that could cause an international incident.  Or an angry politician looking for an excuse to slam us in the press again.”

His frown morphed into a small smile.  “‘Us?’”

“Excuse me?”

“You said ‘us.’  Not ‘you.’”

Her flush had to be getting worse.  “Well, I am your lawyer.”  She glanced down at her desk, the crumpled papers reminding her why he had come down here in the first place.  “And you should listen to me.  I didn’t reverse your position.”

Just like that, his expression went cold.  He exhaled loudly, his jaw tight and his fists clenched at his sides.  “I should have known better than to ask you.  I never should have told Josh I would –”

“The way you have it written now, nobody is going to listen to you.  All anybody is going to hear is ‘Bartlet is going to take our guns’ and –”

“I do want to take their guns.  All of them.”  Sam’s voice steadily rose, until she was sure they could hear him all the way in the Oval Office.  “After what happened to the President, after Josh, after Phoenix, after Harrisburg, after –”

“Could you not interrupt me?”

“You interrupted me first!  You interrupted me just now!”

“Could you also not yell?”  Ainsley snapped.  With those last two exclamations, he had come around the desk so he was mere inches away, his breath heavy on her face.  Her foot throbbed and she wanted to sit so she could prop it up, but refused to back down from him in any way.  “I’m on your side, Sam, no matter what you want to believe.”

“I … I don’t want to be reading about more shootings in America in ten or fifteen years, knowing we could have done something about it now.”  He seemed to deflate, slumping slightly and stepping back.  It took some of the wind out of her sails.

“Nobody wants that,” she said softly.  “But your piece made it sound like you want to repeal the Second Amendment.”

“Maybe I do.  After Alger, with those kids … maybe I do.”

The familiar defense of one of the least-respected parts of the Bill of Rights was on the tip of her tongue, but she managed to hold it back.  It wasn’t what he wanted or needed to hear.  And with him sitting against the edge of her desk, his eyes unfocused and his hands trembling slightly, he looked defeated already.

“You packaged up really good ideas – ideas you could get actual support for – in angry rhetoric and blatant prejudice against anyone who has even thought about owning a gun.  If you attack the people you’re trying to persuade, you’re not going to get anywhere.  Didn’t you ever hear the expression about catching more flies with honey?”

“I never understood that one.  Why would anyone want to catch flies, unless you’re planning on killing them?”

His gaze was cast down, and when she followed it, she noticed she had taken his hand at some point. Not completely; her fingers were holding on to the side of his hand, squeezing just enough to be reassuring. 

“Look, my foot is –”

“Oh, right.  You came in to catch up on work, I know.”  Sam slipped out of her grasp, taking her version of his paper off her desk.  So at least, he intended to look it over again.  Maybe think about what she said.  He paused at the door for a moment, turning his head but not quite looking at her.  “Josh really is sorry.”

“I know.”

“The Shipman v. Dunn ruling was a classic case of judicial overreach.”

“I know.”

“The appellate court should have laughed in Tull’s face when he made that argument.”

“I know.”

“It’s borderline unconstitutional, and I can’t even see Dreifort allowing it to stand.”

“Oh, no, I’m sure he’s already working on his dissent.  But he’ll be the only one.”

At that, he finally made eye contact again.  “How could you work for that guy?”

“It was a job.”  She shrugged.  “He’s passionate about his beliefs, if nothing else.”

There was a long pause, making her acutely aware of how much her ankle ached. 

“This is a better job,” Sam finally said.

“It is.”

“We’re lucky to have you.” 

And with that, he left.  Ainsley tried to arrange herself in her chair as best as she could; she finally ended up pulling a drawer out of her desk, emptying it, and turning it upside down to rest her foot upon, which made it feel somewhat better.  As she started to review the ruling, another yellow petal fell onto the paper.

Daisies, she realized.  She supposed they were a pretty common thing to sell in supermarkets.  The vase was filled with nothing but daisies, though.  Josh didn’t know they were her favorite flower.

But she had mentioned it to Sam, once.  She hadn’t even thought he was listening.

Ignoring the pain, she got up to hobble down the hall to get some water.  She had aspirin in her desk.  She could get them to perk up a little, maybe even last through the upcoming week.

 

(fin.)