Title: Mr. Seaborn's Wild Ride
Author: Beth
Series: Wild Ride
Category: J/S
Rating: CHILD/PG (depending upon how sensitive you are about the very occasional curse)
Summary: "She's my daughter. She's almost two. She's going to be living with me."
Spoilers: Not a one.
Disclaimer: Well, I still haven't turned into Aaron Sorkin and I'm fully aware that most of these folks aren't mine, and the few that are wouldn't exist without Sorkin's existing first. I needed to borrow them in order to tell the story I want to tell. I promise to return them to their regularly scheduled madness no worse for wear.
Archive: Sure, just tell me where
Feedback: I'm always interested to hear what people think. elatshaw@earthlink.net
Notes: Let's just say I'm heavily indebted to Julian for myriad reasons and
I think I now owe her a pony, but I'm not sure.

Mr. Seaborn's Wild Ride by Beth

***** 2003

This had been the longest week of Sam's life. No crisis at work could ever match what he had been through since he had grabbed the red-eye to California the previous Monday, and nothing could prepare him for the challenges he was about to face as he returned to the office. As he trudged through the airport carrying more equipment than he would have thought humanly possible, he shifted the toddler from one hip to the other.

The little girl started to fuss, and Sam sighed and said, "I know I'm not good at this - just give me some time and I promise I'll do better, okay?" Although the little girl didn't understand the words, she understood his tone and quieted down, resting her head on his shoulder.

In a few short days, Sam had gained a whole new respect for parents everywhere. He was supposed to be in a meeting in an hour, and he knew he had to be there - Carrie or no Carrie. As he approached his car, he offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the person who invented keyless entry. He threw the bags he'd been toting into the back, and then pulled the car seat off the trolley and positioned it in the back seat. He nestled the little girl into the car seat, did all the straps, double-checked everything and then -- just in case -- checked it again. He got the rest of the stuff in the car and headed for work.

After parking, Sam debated what he would actually need to bring in with him. He finally settled on Carrie's bag, his briefcase, and Carrie. By the time he made it to the security checkpoint, Carrie was squirming to get down.

"Looks like you have your hands full there, Mr. Seaborn," the guard observed as he grabbed the bags to run them through the scanner.

"Yeah, she's definitely a handful," Sam grinned ruefully, "but if I put her down, she'll be off to the races."

"We need to sign the little lady in, Mr. Seaborn."

"This is Caroline O'Neal Seaborn - that's o-apostrophe-n-e-a-l. I'll just carry her through the metal detector, if that's okay."

"That'll be fine, Mr. Seaborn. It's been a pleasure to meet you, Miss -"

"Seaborn, but she's not particularly formal yet, you can call her Carrie."

As Sam walked away, he whispered, "Well, little one, are you ready to go meet your new aunt and uncles?"

Carrie looked up at Sam with trusting blue eyes and nodded solemnly. She then ruined the moment by trying to wiggle her way out of Sam's grasp as she demanded, "Down - want down now."

Sam chuckled and tightened his grip on her. "No way, kiddo. Try that one on Josh. He's a sucker for big, blue eyes. Now, let's go see the President."

****

The staff meeting had already started as Sam was making his way from the last checkpoint to the Oval office. He figured there would be a search party sent out by the time he finally made it to the meeting. As he rounded the last corner he saw Charlie waiting outside the door.

"Hey Charlie. They still in there?" Sam figured if he didn't act like anything was out of the ordinary, no one else would either. He was wrong.

"Hey S --, who the hell is that?" Charlie's eyes were wide as he took in the picture before him. Sam's shirt was rumpled, his tie had been abandoned, and he was carrying a red-headed little girl who was now staring at Charlie with wide blue eyes.

"This is Carrie. Carrie, this is your Uncle Charlie. Can you say Charlie, sweetie?"

"Chawie. My Chawie." She looked back and forth between Sam and Charlie for confirmation. Both men nodded at her and she relaxed back onto Sam's shoulder.

"You want me to take her while you're in there, man?" Charlie offered.

"Nah, I should probably get this over with. It all happened so fast, I didn 't get a chance to tell anyone about her - let alone that I brought her back with me. Besides, she only looks harmless - she screams bloody murder if she's separated from me."

"Okay, don't want any part of that. You should go on in."

The meeting was already going full-tilt. Toby and Josh were yelling at each other, Leo was trying to get a word in edge-wise, and CJ and the President were simply watching. The President noticed Sam first, his eyes widening in shock as he took in the image of his deputy communications director holding a small child.

Before Sam could say anything, Carrie said imperiously, "Down Daddy - want down now."

Sam glanced at the President, who nodded, so Sam set Carrie down but stood ready to grab her at the first sign of trouble. All the other occupants of the office had gone silent staring between Sam, Carrie, and Josh. Carrie was walking, somewhat unsteadily, toward the group but kept looking back at Sam to make sure he hadn't left. She made it to Toby first and put a chubby hand on his leg while she looked back at Sam.

"Daddy, who this?" She looked up at Sam expectantly.

He had done this drill with Carrie before; she would work her way around the room asking for each person's name, and then attempt to say it. He figured he should offer a warning. "She's not quite two, and she can't say J- words. You can either introduce yourselves or I'll do it, but she won't let this go until she's met everyone here. She's like her mother that way."

"WHO THIS?" Carrie shouted when Sam didn't respond to her quickly enough.

"Uncle Toby." Sam was realizing that this had not been the best way to introduce his daughter to his friends, but there was very little he could do about it now.

"Toby," Carrie parroted back at Sam and waited for his nod. Once he nodded, she moved to Leo, who was sitting next to Toby. "Who this?"

"I'm Leo, Uncle Leo." Leo was trying to take in the fact that this little imp was calling Sam daddy. "And who are you?"

Carrie screwed up her face in concentration as tried to wrap her tongue around Leo's name, "We-o," as she pointed at him. She then pointed to herself and said, "Cawie."

Sam sighed, "Apparently r's and l's need some work too. Her name is Carrie."

Satisfied that she knew this person, Carrie moved on to the President. She put a hand on his leg and said, "Daddy, who this?"

The President leaned over and picked up the little girl. "I'm your Grandpa Jed. Can you say Grandpa?"

"Gwampa," Carrie said as she patted the President's cheek.

As the President set Carrie back down, he glanced over to Sam and said, "I haven't been an uncle to someone this small in years - I don't mind Grandpa if you don't." At Sam's shrug, he continued, "And I'm going to call over and ask Abbey to come get her - again if you don't mind, so you can give us some idea of what's happening here." Sam nodded, so the President picked up the phone while Carrie continued to work her way around the room.

Carrie approached CJ next and looked at Sam expectantly, "Who this, Daddy?"

"I'm your Auntie CJ, and I'm very pleased to meet you." CJ smiled at the little girl.

"An C?"

"Close enough, kiddo," Sam laughed, and waited for her to move on to his best friend and lover. Sam wished again that he had had the opportunity to let Josh know at least some of what was going on. Abbey slipped into the room just as Carrie made it to Josh.

Carrie put a hand on Josh's knee and looked to Sam. "Daddy, who this?"

Josh looked down at the little girl, and as he stared into her eyes he could feel any anger or confusion he had slipping away. He gingerly lifted her up into his lap and said, "I'm your Uncle Josh. Can you say Josh?"

"Osh," she said confidently as she settled herself in against Josh's chest. She smiled at Sam as she made herself comfortable.

"Oh no you don't, young lady. You are going to go with your Aunt Abbey right now. Daddy needs to talk to your Grandpa without you here to distract him or any of his friends." Sam lifted Carrie off of Josh's lap and handed her to Abbey. "She'll probably cry, but she should be about ready for a nap, so she'll fall asleep soon."

Abbey nodded and slipped out of the room with the little girl. As soon as Sam was out of sight, they could all hear Carrie start to wail. It took all of Sam's self-control not to go after her, but he stayed and tried to prepare himself for the questions he knew he was going to be asked.

CJ glanced at the men in the room, who were all staring at their shoes. She 'd never seen them all so reluctant to pick on Sam. She decided to open the floor for him, saying, "So Spanky, anything you'd like to share with the class?"

Sam's face had gone blank and his tone was curiously flat as he said, "There isn't much to tell. She's my daughter. She's almost two. She's going to be living with me. There's no story - nothing to spin."

Toby studied Sam for a moment and said, "Sam, there seems to be someone missing from this equation. Does your daughter have a mother? And if so, where is that mother? Will that become a story?"

Josh studied Sam's face - he could see the pain and sorrow etched in deep and the exhaustion that seemed to be dragging him down. Whatever had happened in California had taken just about everything Sam had to give, and he appeared to be close to his breaking point. Josh knew which question to ask, and though he wished he didn't have an audience, he asked it anyway. "Where's Kel, Sam?"

The room went silent as the senior staff watched Sam crumple. His eyes were swimming with unshed tears as his gaze locked on Josh. They could barely hear him as he whispered, "She's gone."

Those words snapped Josh out of whatever fog he was in and into full-on protective mode. "Right. Sam -- time to go. Let's go find Carrie and get out of here." He pulled Sam up out of the chair he was collapsed in and propelled him out of the Oval before anyone could protest.

***

Instead of going to fetch Carrie, however, Josh directed Sam past Donna and into his office - locking the door behind them as they entered.

"Gone? What do you mean, gone? Start from the beginning." Josh tried to keep the rising panic out of his voice. He had so many questions - he didn't know where to start. He had never expected Sam to walk in the Oval carrying Kelly's child. And when he saw those eyes - he knew, suddenly, why he had never seen the little girl except in pictures. This was the secret Sam had been keeping, but now wasn't the time to bring that up. Sam was barely holding on and any sign that Josh was upset would render him useless, and Josh wouldn't let that happen until he got more information.

Sam grabbed hold of Josh's hand and held on for dear life as he began to explain. "I, uh, I'm not even sure how this started anymore. I was at home - waiting for you - and Mom called, she told me I needed to get to California, so I, uh, caught the red-eye and was out there by the morning. God, Josh, it all happened so fast." Sam let go of Josh and allowed his head fall into his hands as he tried to collect his thoughts, so he could explain it to Josh - then maybe he could understand it himself.

Josh put a supportive hand on Sam's back and said, "Sam, I'm right here. I' m gonna help you with this - just tell me what's happening."

"There was an accident. Kelly and Sarah were coming back from an opening - Mom had Carrie - and somehow Kelly missed a turn and they went over the cliff. I still don't understand how she missed the turn; she's been driving that same damn stretch of road for years. She loved that house because it was so dramatic - the narrow, windy road leading up to the house - the perfect artist's hideaway. That's what she always called it." Sam let his mind drift to happier times for a minute, but then his mind returned to why he was telling this to Josh. "Sarah died instantly. Kel was technically still alive when I got there, but everything that made her Kelly was gone. She couldn't even breathe on her own, Josh. They finally convinced me on Saturday that she wasn't coming back. We took her off life support and she was gone."

Josh could read in Sam's face the fact that he was not only reliving Kelly's death, but also Josh's near-death experience. He pulled Sam into his arms and whispered, "It's going to be okay - we're going to get through this. I love you; I'm here; and even the two year old tyrant isn't going to scare me away."

"She's really mine, you know," Sam said and Josh heard the mix of sorrow, regret, and pride in his voice.

"Yeah, love, I know - those eyes are a dead give away. And that hair, and the temper; she's Kelly all over."

"So, after - I - I'm sorry, I just can't talk about some of it yet. I made sure all the custody stuff was perfectly clear and legal, packed up Carrie's stuff and headed back here. I should have called -"

"You were overwhelmed. It's okay." Josh held onto Sam for a while until Sam seemed calmer. "So, shall we go retrieve your daughter and head home?"

"Are you sure you're going to be okay with this? We're going to have to make a lot of changes for her."

"I think we are starting off on a grand adventure," Josh said, as he grabbed Sam's hand and headed off to find Carrie. "Now, let's go find the little blue-eyed cutie and take her home, okay?"

Sam laughed at Josh's confidence, knowing how quickly Carrie had broken every rule he thought he had, but maybe with two of them they would stand a chance. "Okay, Josh. You keep thinking grand adventure; I'm going with wild ride. Let's find our girl and go home."

END

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