Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine, and I'm not making any money here.
There was light coming from his study down the hall when Sam entered the apartment, so he dropped his coat over the couch and headed that way. Ainsley had her feet tucked up under her in his armchair, that day's Washington Post front section open in her hands. She smiled and folded down the paper when she saw him and lifted her face for his kiss; he traveled slowly down her jaw and buried his face in her neck for a moment before straightening. "Hi."
"Hi," she replied, running her hands over his jacket. "Wow, you're cold."
"Yeah," he said softly. He patted her thigh. "Get up for a second." After she'd stood he slipped past her into the chair and tugged her down onto his lap. "That's better."
"Speak for yourself, your pants are cold." She was still wearing her skirt and her legs were bare.
"Sorry." He rubbed her legs and waited while she settled into his embrace. "So."
"So." With one hand she tugged his tie loose and worked open the top button of his shirt. "Meetings went long, huh?"
He didn't really want to think about it. With his face buried in her hair he murmured, "Mmm-hmm."
"Yeah." He patted her knee. "He and Leo had a long talk around noon, and he was really fine for most of the day." Ever since the President had accepted the Congressional censure Leo had been quiet and moody, and Josh had been worried about him. Sam had struggled with wanting to talk to Ainsley about it, worried about his friend but not sure whether he should discuss the goings-on upstairs. As it turned out, Donna had talked to Ainsley and she knew already that something was wrong.
Ainsley twisted slightly on his lap. "You said remind you to ask me something tonight."
"Oh, yeah." His hand came up to tangle in her hair. "What would you think of going out tomorrow night?"
"To dinner." He stroked her hair back from her face. "You know - just us. Somewhere nice. Actually leave work on time."
She looked up and smiled. "Sounds good. Any special reason?"
He messed briefly with the idea of saying they'd had some trouble lately, and decided against it. "No, no reason. We've both been working so hard, I thought it might be nice."
"Okay." She closed her eyes and leaned against him. He peered down, taking the opportunity to study her face. She'd been tired and pale lately, but the circles under her eyes were fading and she was looking less tense. He glanced briefly at his watch and kissed the crown of her head. "It's almost eleven. What do you say we head in and catch Greenfield in bed this time?"
She grinned without opening her eyes. "I don't know how he'd feel about that."
He laughed and hugged her tighter. "Come on."
"Come to think of it, I don't know how *I'd* feel about that."
Still laughing, he got to his feet, taking her with him. "Let's go."
Conversation had gotten easy again, and he'd almost stopped holding her too close at night for fear she would somehow get away from him. For a few nights things had been fairly bad, worse than the Brookline/Joyce lawsuit, worse than telling C.J., worse than their early fights over political affiliation and dating. The first night, when she told him what she suspected, had actually been fine. He'd sat down beside her, rubbed her back, asked if she was okay, pulled all the details out of her, told her they'd be fine, promised to be with her whatever happened, apologized for not noticing her distraction. He'd kissed her deeply and tugged her into the bedroom, curling himself protectively around her and somehow doing everything right.
Sam and Ainsley had never done anything the normal way. Their problems had started when he came home from work and she told him she *wasn't* pregnant.
He hadn't yet taken off his coat or put down his briefcase; she met him at the door. At first he only said, "Okay," put his things down, and sat on the couch. After a long moment he held out his hand to her and she joined him. He wrapped an arm tightly around her shoulders and whispered, "You took the test."
"Yeah," she whispered back.
"Are you sure it was right?"
She laughed a little. "I took three."
"Three different brands."
That time he almost managed a laugh. "That was smart."
"I thought so."
"So, you're . . . ?"
She shrugged, raising both eyebrows. "Just late, I guess." There was a long, long silence before she whispered, "Sorry."
He pulled away a little, surprised. "For what?"
She cleared her throat. "For scaring you. For jumping to conclusions. I should have taken the test first."
He held her close to him again, sensing that this was the best idea. "You didn't scare me," he said soothingly. "And you absolutely should not have taken the test first -"
"I worried you for no reason."
"No, no." His hands ran through her long hair as she buried her face in his shoulder. "You were worried. I wouldn't want you to deal with all of that without telling me."
After a while she pulled away, her forehead wrinkling. "What do you mean, I didn't scare you?"
Her tone was definitely scaring him, but he swallowed and said, "No, you didn't."
"I tell you I might be pregnant and that doesn't scare you?"
"Well, no." He reached for her hand, trying to keep her closer. "I mean, I was worried because you were, but I wasn't full-scale panicking."
At this point he couldn't decide whether to be scared or just a little frustrated. "Well, because the idea of us having a baby, accidentally or otherwise, is not like the worst thing that could ever happen to me."
She held his gaze for a moment, then turned away and shook her head. "Sorry. Just - sorry."
He reached out and rubbed her knee. "I know you were worried. I know it - wouldn't be a great thing, for you."
She still wasn't looking at him. "It's not - it's not you, you know."
"No, I know I wouldn't be the one who had to . . ."
"No, not that." She patted the hand covering her knee. "I mean, I wasn't - I wasn't upset because it was yours, or anything like that. I just - it was the timing."
"You weren't upset because it was mine?" She looked up then and he said, "I really didn't think you were."
Her eyes widened. "Sam, I didn't mean to put it that way. The thought never entered my head, I swear to God. If I was going to have a baby with anyone . . ."
He shook it off. "I know."
"No one else, Sam."
He frowned. "Really?"
She matched his expression. "What do you think we've been doing all this - oh, never mind."
"Ainsley." Somehow this had all gone dreadfully downhill. "I know you wouldn't be . . ." He stopped and licked his lips nervously. "I just - I have a hard time being sure, you know."
"You have a hard time being sure?"
"Not of you. Of me. I mean I have a hard time being sure that you're sure."
She shook her head. "I get it. Okay."
"I just mean that you saying that - it's a big deal."
Something softened in her expression and she nodded. "I mean it."
"I know." He'd leaned over and kissed her, then pled quietly, "Come to bed now. Come on."
That crisis averted, they'd made it through the next day being just a little too cautious and a little too awkward. It was that day he'd dropped into Josh's office and told him the whole pregnancy scare story, ending with their slightly dangerous conversation when the tests came back negative. That night he'd been waiting in bed, paging through her Newsweek, when she slipped out of the bathroom and said, "Well, I am officially, really not pregnant."
"Good." Off her look he added, "I mean, you know. As long as you're not pregnant it's good that everything's - working - okay."
She laughed shortly. "Oh, it's all working just fine. Must have been stress, or something. I really am sorry."
"Stop apologizing." He held back the covers, ridiculously nervous that she might not get in, and wrapped his arms gently around her when she did. The trouble came when she asked very, very quietly, "Are you disappointed?"
"Disappointed?" He looked down. "That you're not pregnant, you mean?"
"Why would I be . . ." Seeing her very serious expression he kissed her shoulder and said, "Well, maybe, a little."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Why." She didn't really phrase it as a question.
"Well. Like I said, it wouldn't be the worst . . ."
"Sam." Her tone was pleading.
He started over. "Seriously. I . . . want kids. I do. I always have. This would have been bad because of the timing for you, and your career, and what people would say about us not being married, but - the baby part would have been good."
"Do you - you don't completely believe me, do you?"
She paused. "I do." Through another long silence she twisted her fingers around his. "So you wouldn't have wanted me to, you know, not have it?"
"Ainsley, no." He cupped his free hand around the back of her head and held her tighter. "I mean, I would have wanted you to make that decision, and if you really didn't want to have it, then I wouldn't want to make you, but - if you were pregnant, and you decided not to have it, I would be upset. About that."
She nodded into his chest. "Yeah. Okay."
"Would you have wanted to have it?"
She inhaled deeply. "It would have been awful, you know, my job, my parents, but I don't think I could ever - I just couldn't do it. I mean, I'm not giving you a morals lecture here, I just couldn't do it."
She sounded upset, and he kissed her forehead and murmured in what he hoped was a soothing tone, "Okay. Okay. I know. I'm not gearing up for a policy fight with you. I know." She closed her eyes and subsided, but she wasn't asleep. After a few minutes he whispered, "Are you disappointed?"
Without opening her eyes she said, "My parents would have killed me."
"I know this is easier. But - are you disappointed?"
She breathed deeply against him. "Yes," she said simply. "Yes, a little."
He smiled in the dark. "We would have been okay, you know."
"I know." When she spoke again her voice was trembling. "Sam? What would we have done?"
His heart leapt into his throat. This was exactly what he'd been worried about, what he'd told Josh about. He couldn't say "we'd get married" because then when he actually asked her, she would think he'd been scared into it. But he knew it would hurt her that he didn't bring up marriage. So he squeezed his eyes shut, knowing this would be bad either way, and said, "We'd have handled it. Don't worry now. We don't have anything to worry about. Go to sleep now."
She hadn't said another word, which worried him more than anything she could have said.
He'd been worried the next morning, when her smile was too cheerful, worried when she answered his questions in a tone that sounded forced, and especially worried when she got sick the next day - same as every month, not at all unusual - except that she didn't tell him. She simply curled up in a chair where he wasn't quite facing her, and an hour into their nightly CNN ritual he glanced over and noticed her white face and tight expression. He'd actually carried her to bed, lain down and rubbed her stomach like always, but she was too quiet.
But they were a little better the next day, and better the next - and then on the fourth day he said something, and she laughed honestly, and the lump in his throat started to dissolve. And he started checking compulsively again on the ring box in his drawer, and working out how to convince her that it wouldn't be about the pregnancy, how to convince her that it wasn't because he was afraid it might be for real next time.
He'd made reservations at the restaurant where they had their first technical date, back on Valentine's Day. It would be four days before Christmas, and if all went well they could brave telling her family over the holidays. They managed to leave work on time, together - she turned up in his office with a bright, real smile and collected him from a trashcan basketball game with Josh.
"So this is what they use the big offices for," she laughed from the doorway, and only Josh looked flushed. Sam reached over and kissed her cheek, exchanged significant looks with Josh, and followed her out.
She remembered the significance of the restaurant immediately, which earned him another glowing smile. He'd planned dinner carefully - certain conversations had to take place, or the post-dinner portion of the evening might not go smoothly at all.
"You're wearing the good suit," she commented as they walked to their table.
"Yeah," he grinned. She'd taken off her jacket and was wearing a fairly un-Ainsley camisole instead of a blouse. He fingered one of the straps and said, "I like this. I missed it at work."
She laughed. "I work in a different hemisphere."
"I saw you though. You had your jacket on."
"I'm not in the habit of flashing my bosses." The maitre'd pulled out her chair and she smiled at him. "Thank you."
"How did I miss this when you got dressed in the morning?"
"I may have changed during the course of the day," she said innocently.
"Cute." He brushed a finger across her collarbone. "You look great."
"Thank you." He marveled at her blush, but they had more serious things to talk about - subtly.
"So, I was thinking," he began.
She looked up from her menu. "Yeah?"
He took a deep breath. "I was thinking it's probably about time you actually met my family."
"Are they coming to visit?"
He rolled his eyes. "Well, certainly not together."
"It's okay. No, they're not coming, I just thought - maybe we should invite them. I mean, I haven't really talked to my family much lately - about anything - and we haven't really had a long, detailed conversation about us."
She nodded. "Okay. Do you think they'll have a problem with it?"
"Of course not!" he laughed nervously. "I mean, it's not like you, like a daughter, where you're talking about her safety and all. I just think it's time they met you, that's all." He reached over the table and took her hand. This was the important part, and as stupid as he might feel, it had to be said *now*. "Because this is serious - I mean, this isn't dating anymore, this is my life - our lives - and I want them to know that." He exhaled sharply, watching her face.
She squeezed his hand with a gentle smile. "Okay. We'll invite them." Her brow furrowed slightly and she gave him an amused look. "It's nothing to be nervous about."
"I know. Of course not." He tried to shake off his tenseness, knowing that he couldn't make her suspicious. "I'm just . . . it's hard for me to tell them things. Especially my father."
"I know." She released his hand. "It'll be fine."
Good save, he thought as the waiter arrived with a bottle of wine. Vulnerability works every time.
As they walked from the restaurant after dinner he mentally catalogued the preparations he'd made back at his apartment that afternoon: flowers, candles - unlit, of course - more wine and glasses. He slipped one arm around her waist, holding her against the warmth of his body, while the other hand felt for the box in his pocket. So far everything was going according to plan - he only prayed he could say the right thing.