Disclaimers: None of the characters belong to me; they all belong to Aaron. Except the Hayeses.
Nothing was easy. She really should have remembered that, but somehow it had escaped her. So when her phone rang at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning that she had not planned to work she answered it blithely, expecting maybe her assistant or even Lionel Tribbey's assistant.
"Hello?" she said somewhat sleepily.
"Ainsley Moira Hayes, do you want to explain to me what I read in the newspaper this morning?"
She winced away from the receiver. "Hi, mama. What did you read in the newspaper this morning?"
"A story about how my daughter is sleeping with a senior White House aide, is what! New York Times, section A, page eleven!"
Ainsley actually began to feel lightheaded. "They printed an entire story about that?" she asked, immediately realizing that she should have denied it before she asked questions.
Nora Hayes had not been a politician's wife for nothing. "Are you telling me it's true?" she shrieked into the phone.
"No, mama," Ainsley corrected quickly. A glance at Sam still miraculously asleep beside her gave her a touch of guilt, but after all she wasn't exactly sleeping with him in the figurative sense. "I meant that we had disproved that accusation, I thought, and that it wasn't the main story anyway, and I'm surprised they printed it, that's all."
"You want to tell your mother what the hell is going on there?"
Ainsley sighed and adjusted herself against the pillows. "Sam - Sam Seaborn - fired these two guys a couple months ago, and they're suing him for it. They're claiming he fired them because they harassed me - which, actually, they did, and that is why he fired them - but they're claiming it was because he and I were involved, which we were not, in any kind of inappropriate relationship whatsoever." Ainsley's unfortunate habit of rambling when she was nervous had been developed early in life.
"Isn't Sam Seaborn the guy who hates you?"
She blushed faintly, and a little smile crept across her face as she watched him sleep. "He doesn't hate me. We're kind of friends now."
"Ainsley, this article says he fired two staffers in exchange for -"
"I know," she said, wincing again. "I got tipped about that before it was printed. From a reporter whose paper didn't carry it, by the way, because he knows us and knew it wasn't true."
"And you didn't think to warn your family?"
"I honestly didn't think anyone would print it," she said defensively. "I thought we had scared the two fired guys enough." Suddenly the word "family" sank in. "Oh God, mama - who else saw it?"
As if in answer to her question there was a little scuffle on the other line and a deep voice boomed out, "Is that Seaborn bothering you?"
Her head dropped into her hands. "No. Hi. What are you doing there?"
"Mama called and said I should come over because you were being harassed by some White House guy."
"He's not harassing me, Patrick." She shifted the phone to her other ear. "We're friends. We're both being slandered in the press by the same two guys because they're trying to get Sam fired."
"You're sure? I could come and take care of it for you."
She laughed helplessly. "That won't be necessary, Patrick, thank you."
"I could - oh wait, hang on." There was another scuffle, and another male voice said hesitantly, "Ainsley?"
Oh God. "Hey, Ryan. They called you too?"
"Yeah. Mama was pretty mad."
There was a pause on the other end. "Ains? You're okay, right?"
She smiled a little. "Fine, really."
"Dad said it was that Seaborn guy from TV? He's not still giving you trouble, is he?"
She smiled wider. Brothers. All the same. "He's not giving me trouble at all, Ryan. He's helping."
"He didn't seem like the friendly type."
She twisted the phone cord around her finger as Sam rolled over in his sleep. "He's actually really nice."
Ryan had always been closer to Ainsley than their older brother, and he caught in her voice what her mother and Patrick hadn't. "Are you dating him?" he stage whispered in horrified delight.
"Ryan . . ."
"Oh my God, you are." She could practically hear him turning colors. "Ainsley, mama and dad'll flip."
"Which is why you're not going to tell them," she hissed into the receiver.
"If it's serious you're going to have to tell them at some point."
"They can't hear you, can they?" she asked.
She relaxed. "I know I'll have to tell them eventually. But I was hoping they wouldn't hear about this trial mess. Now I really have to wait till it blows over, or they'll murder Sam."
"So it is serious?" Ryan asked quietly.
Ainsley couldn't help herself anymore and reached out to stroke Sam's hair, lightly enough not to wake him. "I think so. I also think I'd better make sure before I expose him to you all."
After another little pause Ryan asked, "So he's a good guy, right?"
"He is," she replied, and then the siblings chorused together, "for a Democrat." She laughed and added, "Really, I think you'd like him."
"Should I come up there?"
"No," she said, puzzled. "Why?"
"Just, you know. I know Paddy and mama would drive you crazy and dad would try to kill people, but if you need some moral support through this whole trial thing . . ."
"You just want to meet Sam," she accused.
"You never want to meet Suse's boyfriends."
"Suse has a new boyfriend every week. You, never."
"Well, not serious ones."
"I'll give you that." Sam had begun to stir; he rolled over and looked up at her and she pressed a finger to her lips to tell him to be quiet. "Look, Ryan, I'm going to go, okay? I have work to do. Tell mama and dad that the Times will be printing a retraction, soon."
"You going to beat up the editor?" She smiled affectionately, at her brother and at Sam who was quietly kissing her fingers. "I have to go, Ryan."
"Okay," he said reluctantly. "You call if you need me."
"Love you, Ains."
"I love you too." She hung up and settled down into Sam's arms.
"You have a brother?" he asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing, it's just I never thought to ask. Are you closer to one than the other?"
"Yeah, that one. Ryan. The older one, Patrick, is - well, he's one of those Southern guys you hate."
"Oh, no." He laughed and pulled her closer. "Does he have a gun?"
"Does Lionel Tribbey know this?"
"It's probably in my damned FBI file."
"Does he want to kill me?"
She frowned. "Lionel Tribbey? No more than usual."
"Not anymore. I think I got you covered."
"Good." He thought for a moment. "Do you have sisters, too?"
"What's her name?"
"Susannah. She's twenty-six."
"So you're not the baby."
"Both brothers older though?"
"Yeah - thirty-two and thirty-five." She turned a little so that she could drop a light kiss on his lips. "Hey - good morning."
"Good morning." He started rubbing the space between her shoulder blades and she suddenly pulled away a bit.
"Why did you ask if Patrick wanted to kill you?"
"I heard you mention the Times, and I figured they went ahead with the . . ."
"Yeah, they say you fired Brookline and Joyce in exchange for me sleeping with you." She sighed and rested back down on his chest. "Can we let C.J. kill them?"
Something occurred to her then. "Sam, she's going to kill us first!"
"No, she's not," he reassured her. "I already talked to her about it." Seeing Ainsley's face he added quickly, "Not about us. About the suit and the leak to the press. She's ready for it."
"Okay," she replied, still sounding nervous.
He reached up and started slowly running his fingers through her hair. "Your family saw the article?"
"Yeah, that's why they called."
His chest lifted with his sigh. "Ainsley, I'm sorry."
"Hey, I'm in this too." She hugged him tighter for a brief moment. "It'll pass."
"And then we can come out."
She laughed. "So to speak. I had an idea about that, actually."
"I think we should just start hanging out together in public - not romantically - and let C.J. tell people we've become friends."
"And what, sneak around after hours?"
"No, listen." She swatted him playfully. "After a little while, we'll just casually start spending more and more time in public together and let people gather subtly that we're involved. It'll be so much less sensational if two friends start a deeper relationship than if the Republican and the senior aide just start dating."
He pondered that for a while. "I think you're brilliant."
"You knew that already."
"I did, but this is - this is - diabolical." He kissed the top of her head delightedly. "I think you're right. That'll make it so much less scandalous."
"So - wait till after the lawsuit gets resolved, or start now?"
He laced his fingers through hers and said regretfully, "We should give C.J. the heads up pretty soon."
"Yeah." She pulled out of his arms and slid upward in the bed to lean close to his face. "Are you ready?"
"For everyone at work to find out."
"Leo knows already," he reminded her.
"Yeah, and that went well."
"It really did, actually," he said. "He didn't tell me not to go out with you. He just said to think about what we were getting into - both of us. He said he likes you."
"He did?" She sounded so pleased that he grinned and kissed her.
"You're cute. Yes, he did."
She frowned. "But Josh, and Toby . . ."
"Josh and Toby - will laugh at the irony, which you have to admit is pretty funny, but they like you too. It'll be fine." A worried expression came over his face as he brushed her hair back. "You're not still worried about the other night, are you?"
"No." When he gave her a look she amended, "A little."
"You were right, that night," he said, still stroking her hair. "We'll be okay."
In response she asked, "You're not going to work, right?"
"No, this is a Saturday that I am taking off," he replied proudly.
"Can we just stay here for a while?"
He pulled her close again, as close as he could manage, and settled her comfortably half on top of him. "That was the idea."