Disclaimer: None of them are mine. At all. Aaron's, every one.
It took her a while to place the obscene, tinny, shrieking sound puncturing her eardrums, and then it took her a while - until, in fact, her hand was actually on the receiver - to remember not to answer the phone. She rolled over and nudged the motionless body beside her. "Sam!" she whispered urgently. "Phone!"
He grumbled something inarticulate and buried his face in Ainsley's shoulder, effectively trapping her to the bed. "Sam!" she said louder, remembering that since she hadn't picked up the phone, the person on the other end really couldn't hear her, "Phone! Now!"
Suddenly he sat bolt upright, nearly digging his elbow into her ribs in a frantic effort to dive over her for the phone. "Hello? Okay. Okay. Yeah. On my way."
Ainsley lay patiently under the shadow of his arm, waiting for him to finish the conversation. "Leo?" she asked when he had safely hung up.
"Yeah," he sighed, lying back down beside her and resting his head familiarly on her stomach. "Some oil thing, he wasn't all that explicit."
"Okay," she replied serenely, lifting her fingers to tangle them in his hair.
"I have to go," he said, not moving from her.
"Sure." Without even looking he could hear the smile in her voice. "How about you hop in the shower and I'll make coffee?" she suggested.
"Can you find it, in my kitchen?" he asked, twisting around to see her.
"You have a coffeemaker, right?" She sat up and bent over to press a kiss to his upturned forehead. "I think I'll figure it out."
"Okay." He got up, forcing her to lie down again to get out of his way, and he advanced on her momentarily and kissed her as she sank back into the pillows. "Right back."
Had she known how the rest of her day was going to go, she would have lain there longer before getting up to hunt for coffee.
As Sam was standing to leave the first staff meeting of the morning with the others, Leo called him back and motioned him into his office. Hoping nothing was wrong - and praying Leo wasn't about to ream him out over the Brookline/Joyce lawsuit - Sam reluctantly followed.
"Something's been worrying me ever since yesterday, Sam," Leo said without prelude.
"Okay," was all that Sam could manage in reply. He was still confused.
"Yesterday evening," Leo continued, "you know, we had that meeting about the missile defense shield."
"It's still not working?" Sam put in. He was relieved this didn't seem to be about his problem, although he was still lost as to why Leo wanted to discuss it with him.
"No, it's not working," Leo sighed. "It will. But not if we stop funding the testing and development."
"If you say so," Sam replied neutrally.
"Try telling him that," Leo replied, jerking his head toward the Oval Office.
"I'd rather not."
Leo smiled humorlessly. "Yeah. Anyway, last night after we had that meeting I was a little - I don't know. Upset. Confused. Worried. Angry."
A horrifying picture suddenly flashed into Sam's head and he found himself looking for the words to ask if Leo had . . .
"I didn't drink, if that's what you're wondering," Leo said, his eyes probing Sam's face.
Sam exhaled in sharp relief. "I didn't mean to -"
"Yeah, I know," Leo replied. "No, that road is closed. But I needed to work off some steam, think things out. I took a walk."
"That always helps me," Sam offered.
"Yeah. I was just - wandering around, looking at things, picturing what would happen if - well. No sense worrying about what we can't control."
"You don't think we can control nuclear warfare?"
"I don't think anyone can control nuclear warfare, Sam. We can only be good neighbors and pray nobody uses it - and think of ways to protect our people if it comes."
"So I went walking, and it started me thinking, and - Sam? What are you going to do about reelection?"
"I'm sorry?" Sam asked, completely taken aback.
"What are you going to do when reelection time comes around?"
"Work here and on the campaign," Sam said slowly.
Leo removed his reading glasses and fixed Sam with a stern look. "Sam, my wife left me because I spent too much time with this job and not enough time with her. Josh and Mandy got together and then broke up because the stress of campaigning got to be too much at the end. Your fiancee left you when you joined the campaign and I remember you telling me in a hotel room one night that it took you two weeks to miss her because you were so caught up in the campaign."
"Yeah?" Sam said, still unclear as to where this had come from or where it was going.
Leo bit his lip for a moment in thought. "What I'm asking you to consider is that relationships fall apart under campaign pressure when both people involved are on the same side. Are you going to be able to stand having a relationship in a campaign year with someone who may not be on your side?"
"Leo -" Sam started, all of a sudden having an awful suspicion of what this conversation was really about.
"She's been more loyal than we could possibly have expected of her," Leo cut him off. "But we never asked her to change the way she thinks, and you can't either. What's going to happen when you're running for reelection and she wants the other guy to win?"
Sam fought hard to keep the blush from spreading across his face. "Leo, I don't know what you think is going on here . . ."
"Sam, I went walking along the Reflecting Pool last night," Leo said.
It took Sam a moment to remember that they hadn't actually done anything by the Reflecting Pool. "We were talking," he said. "That's all. We weren't -"
"You were talking about something so top secret that you couldn't meet your lawyer in her office, which is, by the way, in the same building as yours, but you had to meet her instead in the dark outside in February?"
"Sam." The older man's tone brooked no interruptions. "I'm not telling you don't do it. I'm not yelling about dating people at work. You don't work together, I don't care. I'm not even telling you to watch your step with this lawsuit thing, because you know it and she knows it. And I like this a hell of a lot better than you and my daughter. But I like Ainsley too, Sam. I'm just asking you to consider what's going to happen. I don't want to see the two of you build up a relationship that's doomed from the start."
Sam stared wordlessly as Leo replaced his glasses. "Get out," the Chief of Staff ordered not unkindly, and Sam got.
He probably should have waited, but when ten minutes had passed and he still couldn't get Leo's words out of his mind Sam got up and headed for the basement. Ainsley responded to his knock with a distracted "come in" and he pushed the door open slowly and peered around it.
She looked up from her desk and her eyes lit up when she saw him. For some reason the expression on her face sent a piercing jolt of guilt straight through his body.
"Sam? Are you okay?" she asked, and he realized he hadn't spoken yet.
"Yeah, sure," he replied uncertainly. "I just, uh, came down to see if you'd heard anything."
"Nothing," she answered, shaking her head. She pushed back from the desk and rubbed both hands over her face as she continued, "I mean, we can't really expect them to make up their minds that quickly. And I have a feeling even if they do drop the suit they're going to want to make us squirm for a while first." For so early in the day she already looked incredibly tired. He felt another stab of guilt, couldn't identify exactly why, and got angry at himself for not knowing his own mind.
"Okay," he replied. He only knew that he had to get out of there for now. "I'll see you later."
"Sam!" Her voice stopped him in the doorway. "If we don't get out of here till late, will you come over tonight?" She dropped her voice carefully in case anyone should be in the hall.
"Sure," he replied without thinking. Just as well, they would need to talk. Whatever he decided.
Whatever he decided? He strode up the stairs almost violently. What was there to decide? He liked Ainsley. He wasn't going to break it off with her because Leo had made him afraid they might hate each other come election time.
They might, though. A picture came unbidden to his mind of Josh and Mandy screaming at each other behind mostly closed doors in campaign headquarters. He remembered himself falling into bed at nights, completely exhausted but staying on the phone with C.J. because he couldn't stand to stop gloating over a jump in the polls just yet. Could he really handle not being able to talk about the campaign with someone he was dating?
And worse, could he handle throwing his heart and soul into something she openly didn't believe in?
Their last staff meeting went late - Leo hadn't been lying, there really had been an oil crisis. It was eleven when he finally left, and midnight when he finally got up the nerve to leave his apartment and go to hers. He rang her buzzer, waited patiently, tried to control the nervous pounding of his heart when she buzzed him in, walked slowly up to her apartment, and knocked very gently on the door.
"It's open," she called quietly from inside.
He walked into her apartment as cautiously as he'd entered her office earlier, this time pushing the door shut behind him. She was sitting on the couch, knees drawn up to her chest, still in her work clothes but with her shoes and stockings off and her hair let down loose.
"Hey," he said softly.
"What's wrong?" she asked without looking at him.
"Nothing," he said, draping his coat over a chair and coming around to sit facing her on the couch. "Just - Leo knows."
Her face paled. "Leo knows?" she repeated in an unnaturally high tone. "How did he -"
"He saw us, last night."
"I knew someone would," she groaned.
"Yeah, you were right there." He sat back uncomfortably. "He asked me - um -"
"What?" she asked suspiciously.
"Ainsley, what are we going to do about reelection?" he blurted out.
"Reelection?" she repeated.
"You mean if we both have different jobs in two years? What?"
"I mean if you want us to have different jobs in two years."
Ainsley frowned. "If I want us to have different jobs? Why would I . . ." She trailed off as she picked up his thinking. "You mean, if I want him to lose."
"Well . . ."
"You're worried I might want him to lose?"
"Ainsley, it's hard to hold together any relationship during a campaign. If we're on different sides I don't know how we'd make it." His chest ached with saying this to her, but it had been eating at him all day.
"We're on the same side now," she said quietly, and he could hear some of the old hurt, the feeling that he didn't trust her, creeping back into her voice and manner.
"You're a Republican."
"Yes, and it's not coded in my genes!" she finally exploded. "I am capable of having thoughts that don't run along party lines."
"I know that," he replied. "I know that. But we can't - I can't ask you to have different opinions because you work with us, or because we're dating. We've had that out before."
"Yes, we have," she replied. "I thought we also decided that you would want to be with me even if I didn't agree with you." She couldn't look at him anymore; her eyes were on her feet curled up on the couch.
"I'm afraid I'll hurt you," he breathed so quietly that she almost missed it.
"By leaving me once the campaign gets started?"
"I don't know."
She fixed him with a steady gaze then, one he could not look away from. "You're not afraid of me hurting you?"
"Yes, I am," he replied.
She was silent for a long, long time - so long that he had begun to contemplate getting up and leaving by the time she finally spoke. "I'm a Republican," she said calmly. "He's - not. But he's not just a Democrat president. I've seen what he does. I've agreed with some of what he's done. I've seen his staff. I've seen them - you - turn around on something because you decided I was right. That's incredible to me." She paused for a while before continuing. "I might not intellectually want the Democratic candidate to win in the next election. Intellectually I might want to see a Republican in the White House. But on a personal, emotional level - I would never want Jed Bartlet to lose." She stopped and licked her lips thoughtfully. "I like him. I like his people. I think his heart is in the right place, and I'm grateful for what he's done for me, and I couldn't stand to see him defeated." Her tone indicated that she was finished, but she didn't look at him. She simply got up and went back into the bedroom. After a moment of sitting alone in the quiet, he got up and followed her.
She was undressing, which was in itself unusual. They'd spent two nights together now, but they'd always been rather modest about being clothed at all times. He watched from the doorway, feeling in part like a voyeur and part not because she wouldn't have done it if she minded. In the semidark, without turning on the lights, he watched as she slipped out of her jacket and then, back turned to him, unbuttoned her blouse and stripped it off. She reached around behind herself and snapped the clasp of her bra open before pulling it off and leaning down to get a nightshirt from a drawer, showing him just the side curve of her breast pure white in the moonlight. She pulled the shirt over her head and then quickly unzipped her skirt and slipped out of it. Without ever giving him a glance she walked over to the window, her bare feet making no sound on the carpet. The light from the moon and the streetlamps gave her an aura and made the edges of her hair glow.
"You look . . ."
"What?" she asked, a sad note in her voice.
He couldn't see her face, but he could picture her wry expression. "Luminescent?"
"Shining. Transcendent. Glowing. Like being underwater at night with the moon reflecting onto it. Divine. Above trivial earthly concerns."
"We should be," she replied without irony. "Above trivial concerns."
"Yes, we should." His feet didn't make a sound either, and she gasped in surprise when his hand touched her waist. He stood a little behind her, touching her only with the palm of his hand. "I didn't mean to doubt you," he said finally. "I just - I know you have your opinions, and I have mine."
"But we had decided that was all right, Sam," she said softly. "We decided that was the way it was going to be, and that it was fine. Now you're saying we should break it off because disagreeing about Bartlet's reelection would be too big."
"I'm not saying that," he said almost desperately. "I just - I thought we should talk about it. About what happens."
"What happens," she said without turning around, "is that if we both want this, we just try. Breaking up now because we're afraid we'll break up in two years is stupid - unless you need an excuse to end it now. I don't want to end it - I . . ." She pulled just out of the reach of his touch. "I'm tired, Sam. I'm going to bed."
"Okay," he whispered. Completely without regard for his presence she folded down the blankets on the bed and crawled under them, curling up on her side with her back to him. He stood watching her, not knowing whether he should let himself out, try to make her talk, apologize . . . finally he turned and went back out to the living room and started turning off lights.
Ainsley lay still, listening to the heavy pounding of her heart and trying to keep back the tears that were threatening her eyes. There was no way she should be crying over this. She hadn't even known him for that long, and he was - Sam. Arrogant, condescending Sam Seaborn that she had wanted to kill numerous times in the past three months. Except for the times when he was holding her, reassuring her, kissing her, lying in bed with her just that morning. She took a deep breath, listening to him moving around quietly in the living room, and closed her eyes, praying for him to come to her.
She heard sounds coming closer and knew he was in the room. With her eyes squeezed tightly shut she heard rustling, twin little thumps, the muffled sound of a zipper drawn down very slowly. She felt a cold draft as the covers were lifted off her back and the bed shifted beside her. After a fraction of a second his warmth surrounded her, cradling her body against his.
He wrapped both arms tightly around her, feeling her shiver and hoping it was only from the chill. His face settled in close to her shoulder, breathing in the gentle perfume of her hair and the lingering traces of soap-scent on her skin. With every breath he felt her move against his chest. He didn't want to break up with her. Screw reelection. He hadn't had this in a long time. This felt like home. His hand reaching up to stroke her face encountered dampness on her cheek. He wanted to apologize again. He wanted to tell her not to cry, that he trusted her, that he wanted her, that he wouldn't leave her when it got hard. He wanted desperately to remind her of how good they'd been just the night before, celebrating their victory over Brookline and Joyce and finally sinking into bed heavy with exhaustion, tangled in each other's arms. He wanted to impart to her his sense of wonder that this could have happened in the first place, to the two most unlikely people. Instead, as he buried his face deeper into her shoulder, almost to her neck, what came out was a whispered, "I love you."
She stirred in his arms and pulled away and his heart jumped into his throat with thinking he'd messed up. But she didn't leave. She adjusted herself in the bed, still without meeting his eyes, but turned over so that she could rest her head on his chest and slip her arms around him in return. She never said a word, but her hand came to rest on his hip, her legs entwined with his, and he knew he was forgiven. He wiped the tears from her face again and lay awake until she'd fallen asleep.