Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me; they belong to Aaron.
They were sitting cradled in opposite ends of her couch, each holding steaming cups of coffee and trying to pretend there wasn't hail and freezing rain pounding against the windows. Something - the lateness, the quiet, the storm, the intimacy of having his feet brushing hers under the blanket - gave her the courage to ask what had been on her mind for some time. "Sam," she began nervously, "have you . . . I mean . . . have there been a lot of . . . have you -"
"Six," he replied, taking pity on her. He held up that many fingers as if she needed the clarification.
"Six?" she repeated.
"Uh-huh." He sipped his coffee calmly.
He looked shocked over the rim of the cup. "Ainsley!"
"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "I just thought . . . so I know of three, right?"
"Two," he said after thinking for a moment. "I never slept with Mallory."
Against her will her fair skin flushed over. "So - your fiancee, and the, uh -"
"Laurie?" he supplied.
She blushed even more deeply. "Yeah."
He nodded, seemingly unperturbed. "Leslie Parkinson, once, summer after senior year - went away to Princeton and never saw her again. Two, in college - those were the wild days."
She raised an eyebrow, having somewhat recovered. "Two constitutes your 'wild days?'"
"Shut up," he said agreeably. "Then Christina in law school - turned out she wanted me for my money. When I left Dewey-Ballantine she left me. Then I met Lisa in Washington, and - the rest you know."
"That's something of a pattern for you, isn't it?" she asked softly.
He shrugged. "Well, I'm not working for a big firm now . . ."
"I don't want you for your money," she said, smiling.
"There then." He crooked his eyebrows suggestively in her direction.
"What?" she asked. Then she realized. "Oh." She wiggled two fingers at him, smiling self-deprecatingly.
"And you laughed at me?" he asked.
"I didn't laugh."
"That's all, huh?"
She tilted her head a little to the side. "Surprised?"
"You just don't seem to be the type who would have a hard time finding willing . . . whatever."
"Willing wasn't the problem," she said, tugging on the blanket that covered their legs.
"Well, first of all, I always said I'd never sleep with someone without being in a serious relationship. Most of my relationships crashed and burned long before they turned serious. Plus I think that until you're ready to say you love someone, you're not ready to sleep with him." She met his gaze frankly, knowing that her opinion could be taken as a judgement of his past. "I'm old-fashioned, I guess. And I haven't been in love that many times."
"And?" he asked, sensing something more.
She looked back at him without flinching, although he could tell she wanted to. "I dislike vulnerability," she said carefully.
He nodded, and she found that she didn't have to explain. "So," he said, "you've had at least two serious relationships?"
"I suppose," she replied, tracing the rim of her coffee cup with one fingertip. "The first one didn't last very long." Seeing the question in his eyes and figuring that he deserved the story after spilling his, she continued, "I didn't date in college, really - I was too busy worrying about my grades. Then when I got to law school it suddenly hit me that I was an adult, and I got scared. I thought I had to find it all, right away. I convinced myself pretty well that I was in love - Brian, his name was." She gave him another wry smile. "I didn't wait as long as I should have, but we were the type - you know, people expected us to get married right after graduation."
She laughed a little. "Well. What happened. Nothing, really. I slept with him - twice. And then I decided that it had to get better than that, and then the newness wore off and I realized I wasn't in love with him so much as with the idea of having a real life, you know - so we broke up."
"At least you knew what you wanted."
"Yeah, eventually." Her short laugh was still a bit derisive. "Then there was William. He was older, a Boston lawyer, very - distinguished."
"How much older?" Sam asked warily.
"Thirty-six," Ainsley replied. "I was twenty-three. It was my second year."
"Isn't that illegal?"
She laughed. "No. And we didn't - get together until a year later. Anyway, we were only thirteen years apart."
"That's a lifetime."
"That's how far apart in age Donna and Josh are," she pointed out.
Sam did the mental math. "Still, they're not . . ."
Ainsley raised an eyebrow. "Don't think so?"
He changed the subject quickly. "So what happened with William?"
"Well, I had learned my lesson with Brian, I thought," she continued, allowing herself to be diverted. "We were seeing each other for several months before I went home with him. After the first time, we were together for another four months."
She shrugged. "I was about to graduate, and he wanted me to stay in Boston with him. And I was ready to do it, I really was. I applied to the Boston DA's office and everything."
He nodded for her to continue.
"And then one night we were at a party, and it just hit me - I had been wondering all along why this successful, good-looking guy would be dating a twenty-four-year-old law student when he had female partners and whatnot throwing themselves at him. And I realized he liked playing the teacher - no, that's not some kind of kinky sex game, so get that smile off your face." She grabbed a throw pillow and bounced it off his head. "I mean he liked being older, knowing more than I did, feeling like he was guiding me through life or whatever - and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life being a student."
"Yeah, I don't see you putting up with thirty-odd years of condescension," he commented.
"No," she agreed emphatically. "So I grew up a little, I came down here for the interview with Dreifort's office without telling him, and once I had been offered the job I broke it off with him and moved here right after graduation."
"Good for you," he said with a smile. Then something hit him. "That was - four years ago?"
"Yes," she said with a nod. Her face reddened a little again as she said, "It's been a while."
"You haven't dated since you moved here?"
"Well, I've dated," she clarified. "But nothing serious."
Her brow crinkled in thought. "Maybe."
He only nodded thoughtfully, understanding one more piece of the puzzle. And that night as he lay curled neatly around her she said suddenly into the dark, "We never did this - Brian and I."
"No?" he asked noncommittally, his hand lingering in her long hair.
"Well, it was only twice, after all. But he always left and went back to his dorm."
"You didn't . . ."
"Sleep together without having sex? No, never." She was silent for a moment. "With William either, come to think of it."
"Ah," he said. He turned over halfway and adjusted them both so that her head rested on his shoulder. "Sometimes, this is the good part," he said quietly.
He barely heard her murmured assent but her arms tightened around him, and he thought he understood a little more. Feeling a twinge of guilt at being able to read her so well he said thoughtfully, "I think it was after Christina that I really learned to appreciate - this part."
"The sleeping part?" she asked drowsily.
"No, the - just the lying around part." He frowned into the dark. "We'd lie for hours, Christina and I, and she'd tell me she loved me and that she was proud of my work and - and then she left, and I found out she hadn't meant any of it." He sighed to himself. "I didn't feel that with Lisa, but I'm not sure I let myself." Something in him rebelled against baring his emotions like this, but he also felt it was necessary.
Suddenly Ainsley laughed beside him. "What?" he asked.
"William," she said, "used to give me play-by-play instructions."
"During?" he asked in disbelief.
"No, after. Like instant replay."
"Well, I was pretty inexperienced when I was with him." She laughed again, but with a vaguely different tone. "I'm pretty inexperienced now. But William - I don't know whether he was just picky, or . . ."
And he heard, again, what she didn't say, and he said carefully, "Well, there isn't like a hard and fast technique." He blushed furiously in the dark. "Sorry, bad choice of words."
She laughed outright and nestled closer to him. "Goodnight, Sam."
The next day the hail and freezing rain turned into actual snow - the biggest snowstorm DC had seen in decades. Government agencies closed down administrative functioning and everyone in the West Wing was sent home before nine in the evening. Roads were blocked and the Metro was packed and delayed, so between traveling and work she'd brought home it was eleven by the time Ainsley arrived at Sam's apartment.
"I was getting worried," he said as he opened the door. "I wish you'd let me come to your apartment instead."
"You coughed at me half of last night," she reminded him. "You'd have gotten sick." By then she was in the door and brushing what looked like several inches of piled snow from her coat.
"You walked?" he asked in disbelief.
"Just from the Metro stop." She unpinned her long hair and shook it out, watching snowflakes melt as they hit his foyer floor.
He smiled despite his worry at the picture she made with her hair dampened and disheveled to frame her face, snowflakes glistening on it like pearls. Her cheeks were a vivid red and he cupped them gently in his hands. "Your face is freezing," he said, leaning in to kiss her lips lightly and then press his warm cheek to her cold one. She pulled back and shrugged out of her coat, letting it drop to the tiled floor with her other wet things so that she could sink completely into his arms. "You're not still cold, are you?"
"Not anymore," she replied. She shifted her lower body away from him. "My legs are soaked, though. The snow is blowing exactly sideways."
"That's why your face is so red." He pulled away and looked down at the dark, wet, frozen patches on the fronts of her thighs. "You should get those off. I'll find you some sweatpants or something."
"I'd settle for a blanket," she said, following him back to the bedroom.
"Done," he agreed.
"Oh!" she exclaimed as they walked. "I can't believe I almost forgot."
He turned in the bedroom doorway. "What?"
With a triumphant grin she drew an envelope out of her pocket and held it out to him. "Look."
He wiped away the specks of dampness from the snow and carefully extracted the packet of papers from the already-opened envelope. His eyes widened and he looked up at Ainsley in joyful shock. "They're dropping it?"
"They're dropping it," she confirmed. "Lionel Tribbey's office received that this morning and he sent it along to me."
"Thank God," he exhaled in relief, delightedly embracing her. The cold dampness of her legs against his pants reminded him of his errand and he headed into the bedroom.
She lifted a hand to her mouth to cover a yawn. "Sorry. Yeah, I think they got a little scared by the Times retraction, to tell the truth." She shrugged with raised eyebrows. "Plus they had no case."
"So that's it? It's just over?"
"That's it," she confirmed. "Lionel was right, they did just really want to scare you, and the White House, and probably me. They've had their fun. No day in court for us."
"I won't miss it." He found a heavy extra blanket in his closet and turned around to find her slipping her pants off and carefully hanging them over a chair. The fronts of her thighs were the same angry red as her face and he quickly walked over and put his arms around her with the blanket. "Better?" She nodded and he huddled her back into the living room where it was slightly warmer. Within seconds he had them both comfortably settled on the couch, Ainsley partially in his lap, and his arms tightly holding the blanket to her. "This is nice," he commented, rubbing his cheek against her hair.
"This is unbelievably nice," she murmured, her voice partially muffled by his shirt.
He unwrapped the blanket enough to expose one thigh and felt it experimentally. "You're still cold."
"Getting better though." She was completely unwilling to move from his shoulder. Suddenly conscious that he was looking at her totally bare legs, he covered her up again and started to massage her thighs through the blanket. She sighed in pleasure and closed her eyes as feeling returned to her frozen limbs. His lips brushed gently over her temple as his hands stilled their movement and she sleepily raised her face to receive his kiss on her mouth. She let her head rest back against the crook of his arm and the kiss deepened a little unexpectedly, and suddenly everything was different and they were drifting in and out of a half-conscious state with their joined lips the only link to reality. He would never know what made this night different from any other, except that they were both weary physically and emotionally and it was so easy, so easy just to let it all melt together. He propped her against the arm of the couch to slip his arms inside the heavy blanket, and when his hands touched warm skin over her stomach he pulled back and opened his eyes. Her cheeks were still flushed, and overwarm now with the telltale signs of windburn. Her eyes opened languidly when she realized he had stopped, and they had gone a darker blue.
"You're tired," he whispered, his hands still burning against the skin at her waist.
"Not that tired," she whispered back. It was impossible to tell that she was blushing under the cold-redness.
"They dropped the suit," he said still in a whisper, pressing his forehead to hers.
Her hands came up to cradle the back of his head. "Yes, they did."
His face dropped into her shoulder and he had her trembling at the feeling of his kisses on her neck before he asked gently, "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," she breathed, covering his hands with her own.
He sat up then, serious, and stroked her hair back from her face. "I love you."
She nodded just as seriously. "I know. Otherwise . . ." She pushed herself up enough to press her lips to his and then whispered against his mouth, "I love you too."
He dragged himself from her arms and made the rounds of the living room, turning out the lights and checking the lock on the door. Then he returned and kissed her again, intensely, sweetly, and meaningfully, before lifting her easily into his arms and carrying her from the couch.
Ainsley had had two lovers before in her life: a boy who had tried not to be rough with her, and a man who had made her feel clumsy. She recognized the instant Sam's fingers started to fumble with her shirt buttons, the moment his hands reverently grazed her skin, that she had never known tenderness like this. He stretched out on the bed beside her and stroked gently until her stiffness drained away, and when he covered her body with his she sank into darkness and found she knew exactly how to respond without needing a guide. She slipped into an almost dreamlike state in which she knew nothing but the subtle scent of his cologne, the warmth of his weight, and the worshipful touch of his hands and mouth. She found a name and an explanation for the dull ache that had been running through her body - emptiness. And she recognized it only in its absence.
Sam would remember the night in glimpses, and in fleeting sensations that ran from every nerve ending in his body to an odd tightening in his chest and back again. He would remember her trembling, a tone of her voice he had never heard before, the taste of her skin, more than the awkward first-time mechanics and a nervous moment when they remembered to take care of protection. He would remember her warmth, that her arms held onto him tightly, that her breath caught in her throat because it had indeed been a while, that he whispered that he loved her and she cried. That holding onto him desperately afterwards she found the words to tell him it had never been like that before, and that he agreed with her. And the one word, the one abstract idea, that lingered in his mind as they lay beneath warmed blankets and he kissed the last tears from her drying eyes and felt her legs entwined with his in new intimacy, the one idea in his mind was permanence. He knew without a doubt that politics and squabbling had nothing to do with this, because this was forever.