Down Homeby Allison
Disclaimers: These characters belong to Aaron and not me.
"C.J., can you confirm rumors that Sam Seaborn is involved in a romantic relationship with Associate Counsel Ainsley Hayes?"
C.J. pushed her glasses up on her nose. "Chris, the White House doesn't comment on the personal lives of its staff members as long as they stay within the bounds of the law."
"So, what's the White House position on the photo that appeared in the Inquirer this morning?"
"The White House has no official position. My personal position is that it's a great picture. Next question? Arthur?"
"C.J., what is the White House's position on this matter in light of the lawsuit that was recently dropped against Sam Seaborn, which cited his relationship with Ms. Hayes as a reason for the illegal firing of two White House employees?"
In Sam's office he and Ainsley both held their breath, glued to C.J.'s image on the TV. On the little screen she calmly brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.
"Arthur, the lawsuit against Sam Seaborn was dropped because it had no basis in reality. No illegal action took place. I can also tell you unequivocally that Mr. Seaborn and Ms. Hayes were not involved in a relationship at the time of that incident, whatever their status may be now. Next?"
"C.J., on Thursday the Vice-President spoke on the importance of maintaining the National Endowment for the Arts . . ."
Ainsley exhaled sharply in relief. "Think that's it?"
"No," Sam said, shaking his head firmly. "They'll run it tomorrow, and people will start talking about the suit. Hopefully C.J.'s explanation will fly."
"Either way they can't bring the suit again," Ainsley pointed out. "They still have no evidence."
"The publicity could get pretty bad, though."
"Worse than when you slept with a call girl?" Ainsley asked. "If you didn't get fired over that, I don't think we need to worry, since we're not breaking any laws or doing anything wrong." She held up a hand to stop his comment. "I'm not saying you did anything wrong that time either, but it looked that way. This can't possibly be construed as illegal."
"No," Sam said again, taking a deep breath. He frowned at Ainsley. "You'd better call your parents, now. If they haven't heard already . . ."
"Sam, my parents don't read the Philadelphia paper. We have till tomorrow."
"Assuming it doesn't make the televised news," Sam pointed out. "Or one of the late shows, or a random comment on CNN. I'm pretty sure Leno reads the Philadelphia paper. You better call them."
She sighed. "I guess."
"Want me to come down with you?"
She shook her head. "No, I better go solo on this one. I'll come up later and tell you how it went."
He looked concerned, but only nodded.
In the privacy of her office with the door closed, Ainsley dialed the North Carolina number and waited with heart pounding.
"Hi, mama." She prayed her voice wasn't trembling.
"Ainsley!" Nora's voice changed almost immediately. "How are you?" Suddenly Ainsley could hear her mother's frown all the way over the phone lines. "It's eight-thirty on a Friday morning, aren't you at work?"
"Yes," Ainsley replied, trying not to sound nervous. "Hasn't Daddy fixed the caller ID yet?"
"Oh, nobody knows how to use those things," Nora fretted. "So what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Ainsley replied a little too quickly. "I just wanted to . . ."
"You're calling me from work at eight-thirty in the morning and you say nothing's wrong?"
"I just wanted to tell you before you - um - did you see the Times? The retraction?"
"That was ages ago, Ainsley," her mother said impatiently. "In fact, we've talked about it since then."
"Right," Ainsley said. "You know, they dropped the lawsuit against Sam. We won't have to go to court."
"Well, that's good," her mother replied, sounding confused.
"I just - you know, Sam is a really nice guy."
"Good for Sam," Nora drawled drily.
"He is - I think you'd really like him."
"I don't know when I'd be meeting him, but if you say so. So those Democrats aren't giving you any more trouble?" Ainsley knew her mother was half kidding when she referred to "those Democrats." A lifetime married to Jeff Hayes had taught her to have a sense of humor about politics, as a defense against going completely crazy. Unfortunately for her children, that sense of humor didn't apply to her own reputation or the reputation of the family.
"No, not at all. They're all being really nice. In fact - um - there's something I should tell you, and I would really appreciate it if you would just listen for a minute, and reserve any commentary that you might have, which of course I am interested in hearing, for after I've finished telling you what -"
"Ainsley," Nora said, drumming her fingers audibly on the other end, "You really need to work on that, dear. I thought you were getting better."
"Not really," she muttered miserably.
"What did you want to tell me?"
"It's about Sam," Ainsley began.
"Ainsley Hayes, am I going to have to -"
"Please?" Ainsley begged. She took a deep breath and started over. "Sam - has actually been really nice to me since I started working here, after the kind of rough beginning. He really did fire those two guys because of something they did to me, even though the part about Sam and I having a relationship was wrong. And we've kind of become friends since then, and um, we're - we've been dating, now. Sam and me. For a little while."
There was a long silence. When her mother finally broke it she asked, "Are you stupid?"
"I don't think so," Ainsley replied.
"Ainsley Moira . . ." That was never a good sign. "You have a career and a reputation to worry about. How does it look for you to start dating a man - a man from the other party, for Godsakes - right after you swear up and down in a legal case that you're not dating him?"
"We know," Ainsley replied, her tone subdued. "But C.J. Cregg - the press secretary - she knows everything and she's taking care of the press for us."
"But Ainsley, when you need another job -"
"Hopefully by the time I need another job, I'll have the recommendation of the former President, and I'll still be with Sam, so it's not like they'll have to worry about me hitting on my coworkers."
There was another long silence, during which Ainsley pondered what she could have said wrong.
Nora finally said very slowly, "You'll still be with Sam?"
Oh. Ainsley could feel herself starting to blush. "Well, hopefully."
Another tense pause ensued. "So. This isn't just a casual dating thing we're talking about, is that what you're telling me?"
Ainsley took a very deep breath and bit the bullet. "No, it's pretty serious."
She could hear her mother breathing on the other end. "Ainsley, tell me - tell me you're not letting him manipulate you for - tell me he isn't taking advantage of your position -"
"Nobody's taking advantage of anybody," Ainsley said hastily. "Sam and I became friends because we were both having a rough spot, and he's been nothing but supportive of me. We didn't get into a relationship until we were totally sure it was what we both wanted, and we went really slowly. And he doesn't want me to give up my politics, or anything like that."
"You have feelings for him?"
The way it was said was harsh-sounding, and Ainsley winced, but she answered, "Yes."
"And you think he has real feelings for you?"
"I know he does."
Nora paused. "I still think this is a bad idea."
"I know," her daughter replied softly. "But it was happening before we knew it, and now . . ."
"I'm not going to give him up because of the press, or politics, or anything that has nothing to do with us," Ainsley said firmly.
After another break her mother said, "Ainsley Moira, please don't ever read 'Pride and Prejudice' again, all right?"
Ainsley stifled a nervous laugh. "So - okay?"
Nora sighed. "Not that there's anything I can do about it. Is he the right kind of man?"
Ainsley grinned broadly. Once a debutante . . . "Yes, mama."
"Where did he go to school?"
"Princeton and Duke." She'd resigned herself to the inquisition.
"Where is he from?"
"Are you sleeping with him?"
"Mama!" Ainsley protested.
"It's a reasonable question."
"Not really," her daughter replied.
Ainsley sighed. "I'm not going to get my picture splashed across the National Enquirer naked or have an illegitimate love child. I swear."
"That's what -"
"I'm not telling you anything else." She held her breath, waiting for the explosion.
"Okay?" she repeated, shocked.
"Ainsley, you're almost thirty years old. Do what you want."
Ainsley suspected she heard a bit of the guilt trip creeping in, but she ignored it. "You'll tell Daddy?"
"About Sam Seaborn? I can imagine you wouldn't want to do that yourself."
"It's not that, I just have to get back to work."
Her mother sighed. "I'll tell him. I can't promise he won't call and yell later."
"Yeah," Ainsley agreed.
"Yes," she automatically corrected.
"You know, you work at the White House now."
"Yes," she agreed.
"So when do we meet him?"
"Sam?" Ainsley asked, her voice rising an octave.
"No, the President."
"I could arrange that, too," she joked half-heartedly.
"Um . . . you could come visit."
"You can't bring him down home?"
"It's pretty hard for him to get away," Ainsley explained. "There are always emergencies and . . . things."
"But he has time to see you?"
Ainsley blushed again, furiously, glad her mother couldn't see. "We find time."
"I'll bet," Nora replied suggestively. Before Ainsley could protest she said, "Well, we'll just have to come up there sometime soon and see you both."
"Sure," Ainsley replied, her mouth dry.
"You get back to work now. Take care."
"Sure," she repeated, a little stunned.
A bomb exploded in an embassy somewhere in the Middle East, and she didn't have a chance to relate this conversation to Sam until they were lying in bed later that night. He thought for a long moment before asking, "Ainsley? Why did you decide we should come out in the press?"
She rolled onto her side a little more so that her arm could wrap over his chest and her leg settle between his. "Because I wanted to put the rumors to rest."
"You wanted to put the rumors to rest?" he repeated incredulously. "You started the rumors going."
"No," she replied firmly. "Now they know we're together. That's better than the rumors."
One hand sought his in the dark and their fingers tangled together. "I was tired of the rumors saying I slept with you for political reasons, or that you forced me to sleep with you, or that we were secretly planning a bipartisan overthrow, or that one of us was being used by the other. I wanted people to know that I love you and that this is good," she finished simply.
"Oh, this is definitely good," he replied wickedly, breaking the tension.
Ainsley smacked his chest. "Pervert."
"You started it."
"I started it? I seem to recall something involving the kitchen counter . . ."
"Now who's twisting words?" he asked, laughing. "You knew what I meant."
"Are you blushing?" she asked, amused, feeling his face with one hand.
"Speaking of which . . ." he started in his dangerous tone. "I never asked - where did you ever learn to -"
"I played the trombone," she replied primly.
Sam burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. By the time it had died down he had rolled partly on top of her, making her laugh as well. He bent and kissed her deeply, lifting his head an inch to whisper, "Do I tell you that I love you often enough?"
"Yes," she replied without hesitation.
"Good." He slipped down in the bed and laid his head on her chest. "I'm not crushing you?"
Her hand came up to stroke his hair. "No, perfect."
"So when do I meet the family?"
"They're threatening to visit."
He chuckled, making his hair brush against her skin. "At least your dad hasn't called to yell yet."
"Yet," she stressed. "He's probably preparing a speech in advance."
"Is he really going to hate me?" Sam asked quietly.
"No," she said reassuringly, stroking his hair again and moving down to rub his shoulder. "He's just, you know - a father."
"It's just I'm wondering . . ."
"If I had a daughter, would I want her to be dating a guy like me?"
"Why don't you ask a father?" Ainsley suggested, rather than placating him. "Ask the president."
"If . . ."
"If he would want you dating one of his daughters - assuming she was an appropriate age."
"I don't know if I want to know the answer," Sam confessed.
"If I had a daughter, I would want her to date a guy like you," Ainsley confirmed.
"Considering that you're dating me yourself, I don't know how convinced I am by that."
She hugged him closer and kissed the top of his head. "It'll be fine. Go to sleep."
"Yeah." He rolled over a bit so that he could wrap his arms around her. "I love you."
"I love you too. Sleep."