Disclaimers: None of the characters belong to me, even the ones I don't really want anyway.
Her buzzer didn't sound until nearly midnight, but then she hadn't really expected any earlier. She'd known it was going to be a long day for the folks upstairs, as she'd come jokingly to call them. She'd made it home herself by eight-thirty, made dinner, and then slept for two hours figuring he'd be late and not wanting to be yawning at him. As she crossed to the intercom and buzzed him in her hands ran nervously over her sweater and jeans - she knew he'd seen her in worse (much worse) but this was somehow different.
Footsteps in the hall alerted her to his presence and he knocked gently a second later. When she opened the door he offered her a tiny apologetic smile. "I didn't want to make too much noise in case you were asleep."
She shook her head, smiling back. "I was waiting for you." Too late she realized how that sounded and blushed furiously. "You know what I mean."
He gestured behind her a little awkwardly. "Can I come in?"
"Oh!" she said, startled. "Sure. Sorry." She stepped back and opened the door wider, allowing him to pass into the apartment.
He almost actually shuffled his feet, doing a wonderful imitation of a school kid about to be given detention. "I wasn't sure if I should come," he said, not really looking at her. "This late, I mean. I mean, I wasn't sure if there was a line somewhere -"
"I was waiting for you," she repeated, a touch of amusement creeping into her tone. He really was cute. "I would have been worried if you hadn't come."
"Yeah?" he asked, lifting his eyes to hers.
"Yeah," she confirmed, that blush returning just slightly.
"So," he said, and in that moment she saw clearly how very weary he was. His face was lined with exhaustion and something else she couldn't identify and he looked worn down and beaten. As he looked at her and held his arms out a bit, a little smile crept over his face again and at least partially replaced the weariness. "Hi."
"Hi," she replied, going to him willingly. He wrapped his arms tightly around her in a warm and enthusiastic embrace, but she could feel the little weight of his head on her shoulder and the almost unnoticeable way he'd begun to lean on her. "You're about to fall over," she murmured into his shoulder, turning her head to kiss his cheek. "Give me your coat and come sit down. Can I make you some tea or something? Not coffee, you need some sleep."
He shrugged out of his coat and let her take it to her small front closet. "Tea sounds wonderful, actually."
She prodded him onto the couch. "Sit. I'll be right back."
"Ainsley?" he asked almost hesitantly as she went to the kitchen. "There's something we should talk about."
"What's that?" she called back, reaching for a teapot.
"I'll wait till you come back."
Concerned, she hurried with the water and returned to the living room to find Sam leaning back against the couch cushions with his eyes closed. She settled in beside him and started gently stroking the hair off his forehead. He didn't open his eyes but reached up and took her hand, rubbing his fingers over it as he dropped both their hands to his lap. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked.
He sighed and opened his eyes. "I'm being sued."
"What?" she gasped.
"Well, me and the White House. But mostly me."
"What for?" she asked, squeezing the hand she still held.
"I'm pretty sure they're calling it slander, or unjust termination of employment, or something."
He sighed again and brought her hand up to cradle it against his chest. "Steve Joyce and Mark Brookline."
"Sam!" Her hand opened up reflexively and flattened out, palm pressed to him. Hundreds of questions rushed through her mind and, typically, the least important burst out. "How long have you known about this?"
"Just since this afternoon," he replied in a worrisome quiet tone. "I have an appointment to discuss it with you tomorrow morning."
She allowed herself a tiny smile at that piece of irony, but it was quickly replaced by concern. "They don't have a case."
"They're claiming I was unfairly biased by slanderous accusations when I fired them."
"Biased, by me?" she asked, her entire body tensing. "Sam . . ."
"So we say you never told me a thing," he said, his voice never changing. "It's true. You didn't."
"Sam . . ."
"Ainsley." His hand pressed warmly on hers over his heart. "You had, really, very little to do with this. With the actual firing, I mean. I need you to stop blaming yourself and be my lawyer."
His words hit home and she nodded. Her hand on his chest increased its pressure, then drifted up to cradle the side of his face. She leaned in and kissed him, short, hard, and sweet, then pulled back and stroked his cheek with a new look in her eyes. Sam recognized it as her fighting look. "I'll take care of it," she promised.
"See, when I said 'be my lawyer,' I didn't mean take on injustice all by yourself," he said.
She shook her head, but was secretly relieved that he could tease her. "Oh, I'll let you help."
"Great." He grinned comically at her until the moment was broken by the whistle of the teapot from the kitchen.
By the time she returned he had fallen lightly asleep in the corner of the couch. She hesitated before setting the mugs on the table and sitting beside him, shaking him carefully. "Sam," she said softly. "Wake up long enough to talk about this for a minute. Then you can go back to sleep."
"Here?" he asked facetiously, one eyebrow crooked at her over half-open eyes.
She threw him for a loop, hard. "Anywhere you want," she replied.
His eyes opened all the way. "Really?"
"After we discuss this," she replied primly, handing him a cup. "Drink."
"Ainsley," he said cautiously, taking the mug from her, "after we discuss this, I think I'm going to pass out cold."
It was her turn to raise an eyebrow questioningly. "What else did you think I had in mind?" she asked.
"Touche," he acknowledged with a grin. He held his arm out. "Can you come here without either of us getting third degree burns?"
"We can give it a shot." She arranged herself with great care in the circle of his arm, at the same time holding his tea hand to steady it. "There."
"A talented woman," he said, taking a slow sip of tea. "So."
He nodded, drinking again to give himself time. "You're not technically mentioned in the suit. It just says I fired them prejudicially and without cause and the White House backed me up."
"But how can they prove you were prejudiced without mentioning me?"
"Oh, they'll mention you." He rested the hot mug against his chin thoughtfully. "You're just not named in the suit."
"That's surprising," she commented.
"Yeah, it is. But it's good."
"Plus you couldn't represent me if you were named as a defendant," he added.
"Obviously." She craned her neck to look up at him. "We have other lawyers, you know."
"Yeah, I'm picturing myself explaining to Lionel Tribbey why I fired those two guys."
"Better get used to the idea, you're going to be explaining it to a lot more people." Something suddenly occurred to her and she pulled away so that she could face him. "Are you worried they'll ask about us?"
"Ainsley, they will ask about us."
She ran a hand absently through her hair. "I don't believe that wasn't the first thing I thought of."
He pulled her hand back into his. "I fire these two guys right after they harass a new, young, attractive staff member - first thing they're going to ask themselves is what stake did I have."
"I can't represent you."
He looked alarmed. "Why not?"
"Sam, you did practice law for a period of time, right? How does it look when your lawyer gets called to the stand and asked if she's sleeping with you?"
He winced. "This is going to get ugly, Ainsley."
"It was ugly when it started, Sam," she reminded him. "They really don't have a case. I'll help out; someone else will take it to court if it goes that far. It'll be fine."
"You're pretty confident, there," he commented, rubbing her shoulder.
"That's what you love about me."
"Yeah." He pulled her close and kissed her, lightly at first and then more intensely. As her fingers tangled in his hair he suddenly froze and pulled away just enough to whisper, "Ainsley."
"Yeah," she responded a little out of breath, licking swollen lips.
She pulled back further. "I don't know what you had in mind, but a minute ago you were ready to pass out."
"I didn't mean right now, obviously. I mean we just can't."
The mood thoroughly broken, she leaned her chin in her hand and tried to follow his reasoning. "We can say we didn't have a romantic relationship at the time of the incident . . ."
"And then they'll ask if we have one now . . ."
"And we have to say we're not sleeping together and we can't be lying," she finished.
"What about . . ."
He smiled then, entwining her fingers with his own. "Ainsley, they're not going to ask if we're going steady."
"They're going to define a prejudicial relationship with sex, not with emotional involvement. And if they do ask . . ."
"You cover," she said firmly. "You don't lie, but you find some way of saying 'I respect her as a colleague.'"
"Yeah. Shit." He scrubbed his face with his hands. "You know, if this hadn't happened . . ."
"Yeah, I know."
"I would want to tell everybody I knew."
"I might have sent Henry Shallick a personal note."
She smacked his arm. "I get the point."
"Do you?" He ran his fingers slowly through her hair. "I'm nothing but proud of us. But if it comes out in a lawsuit -"
"It's a scandal."
"And your career would not recover."
She laughed derisively. "That would be the career I have left after working for this White House?"
"Hey, we've got another six years."
"That's what you love about me."
"Yeah." She lifted his arm over her head and settled herself in against his chest. "So we're under wraps until this gets resolved."
"Under wraps, and abstinent." His hand rested familiarly on her hair. "Yeah."
Ainsley smacked him again. "I don't know about you, but I was planning on remaining abstinent a while longer as it is."
"I didn't mean this minute." He looked really concerned that she might have misunderstood him. "I mean, we're not all about -"
"I know." Suddenly she leaned way back and looked up at him. "Sam, this case could get tied up for years."
"I think we should settle now," he deadpanned.
"We can't do that."
"I was kidding."
"I know." She frowned. "We'll just have to do our best to get it thrown out."
"Yes," he repeated emphatically. "I don't want to be a secret for the next five years."
"You don't feel . . ." He stopped to collect his thoughts. "I mean, this thing on top of my little tantrum this morning - it's kind of pushing us into an awfully intense relationship faster than we would have gotten there otherwise."
"That's true," she acknowledged.
"I mean, without fighting this morning we'd still be on the 'are we calling this a date' level, and now we're working out how to stay together in the face of adversity and -"
"Sam, you sound like a Lifetime movie."
"Right." He took a deep breath. "I just don't want you to feel trapped."
"I don't." She shifted to make herself more comfortable on his chest. "I think what we have could be really good, and I'm willing to work for it regardless of how long it's been going on."
"Me too," he said, reminded once more of how much he liked her fighting look.
She squeezed his hand thoughtfully. "You about ready to collapse?"
"Oh yeah," he replied truthfully.
She untangled herself and stood, pulling him with her. "Come on then."
She tugged him all the way to his feet. "Nobody said we can't be friends, Sam. A friend wouldn't let you drive home like this."
He looked at her carefully. "Yeah, but are you offering me the couch, or . . ."
"They don't have cameras in my bedroom," she replied. "At least, I really hope not."
"But if they ask us -"
"If they ask whether we've slept together, they'll mean in the figurative sense and you won't be lying when you say no." She stopped momentarily. "This isn't . . ."
She exhaled uncomfortably. "Is asking you to stay but not to have sex . . . bad?"
"I think I can control myself."
"You know what I mean."
"I don't think you're in danger of being called a tease," he replied smoothly. "Now come on. It's been the day from hell and I think I've just been offered cuddling."
"You have," she returned, pulling him toward the bedroom.
The End, for now.