Innocence and Dim Timeby Puck and Zillah
April 1, 2011
It was 92 out.
In all his years living in other parts of the country, Sam had forgotten that it could be August any day of the year in Los Angeles.
He stepped out into the street, sweating in less than a second and thankful that, at least, it wasn't humid like DC. Well, since it was April it was probably gorgeous in DC. He could be sitting at his desk on the Hill right now, eating lunch with the windows open and the cool air blowing in. He could probably do that every April first for decades if he played his cards right, if he took the safe road.
Damn Josh for knowing how to push his buttons.
He answered his now ringing cell phone with a curt "Yeah?"
"How'd the meeting go?" Chirped a familiar female voice.
"You know my feeling on Hollywood types."
"Ah, but they have a lot of money to throw around, and they like democrats." He could hear her flipping through something. "Sam I need another word for implacable."
"You called me for this?"
"No, I called you for something else, which I will get to in a minute. I'm defending my dissertation tomorrow, damnit, and I need another word for implacable. Well, sort of. Implacable is the wrong word."
"I'm talking about conservative viewpoints. Their inability to bend. There's a word. . ."
"Yes! Thank you!"
"Donna, are you going to tell me why you called now?"
"Yeah. Josh wants you to come back to San Francisco."
"I don't know. Just come back. I moved your flight to this afternoon from tomorrow morning."
"How's the weather up there."
"Did you know that mail is going to come to my house addressed to Dr. and Mr. Lyman? I find that really entertaining."
He grinned. "Me too. I'll see you tonight."
* * * * *
"Have a seat, dinner's almost ready."
Josh was cooking, so the edibility of dinner would probably be negotiable at best. Donna, her laptop, papers and literally hundreds of index cards had taken over the livingroom. She lifted a hand in greeting to him but didn't look up. Sam made his way into the kitchen. "Soon you will be addressing her as Doctor."
"And soon I will be addressing you as Governor." He poked the boiling pasta with a spoon. "You think it's done?"
"Aren't you supposed to throw it against the wall or something?" He looked around. "Where are the kids?"
"Dolores Joan Lyman put that down this instant!"
"My guess would be bothering Donna," Josh offered, before going into the livingroom and coming back with one wriggling five year old under his arm. He plopped her in a chair. "Sit a second."
"Hi, Uncle Sam."
"Did you see my picture? I made it in school. I go to school now, you know. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. Not daycare, real school." She took him by the hand and dragged him over to the fridge. "See?"
"It's very pretty."
"I wanted to help Mommy, but she got upset."
"Mommies do that," Sam told her.
"Jed's upstairs asleep," Josh said. "But bear in mind my daughter's little ears when I tell you what I'm about to."
"I was wondering when you'd get to that."
"Perez just got himself a new bulldog."
"Yeah, Sam. . .It's Ainsley Hayes."
He was dead still. "Okay. Now would be a great time for you to say April Fools."
* * * * *
Ainsley looked down at the top of her new desk. She felt like she was in a bit of a daze. Two days ago she'd been helping a senator in Kentucky win an election he had no chance of losing. Now she was sitting in a hot little office north of LA, trying to get a Republican voted the next governor of California. She could still vaguely recall a time when her life had been predictable.
She glanced up at Georgia, her assistant. She'd drug her through the last three campaigns and still wasn't one hundred percent sure of her last name. One day she was going to have to find someone she could be friends with as well as boss. That seemed to work best. "Yes, Georgia?"
"Mr. Perez wants to speak with you."
Her candidate. She'd met him before, at least she assumed she had. In the last ten years she was pretty sure she'd met every up-and-coming political force in her party. Whether or not she'd remember him, that was a completely different story. She got to her feet. "Okay, where is he?"
"Right here." A tall, lanky Hispanic man appeared in the doorway behind Georgia. She stepped out of the way and he strode in, hand extended to shake Ainsley's. "Ms. Hayes. Good to see you. We've met before, I believe. At Senator Hasting's victory party two years ago."
"If you say so." She shook his hand and studied him. He was charming, she could see that from a mile away. A good memory for names and faces. Good looking, trustworthy, all the things you looked for in a successful candidate. Over the years she'd gotten very good at picking the winners from the losers, usually in a matter of minutes. She had a good feeling about Roloando Perez. "It's nice to meet you again, at any rate."
He grinned at her. "Someone up high must like me to send you my way. I hear you can get anyone elected."
She smiled. "I'm just the background noise, Mr. Perez. You're the one who has to sell it."
"Modest too. A rare quality in our line of work." He nodded. "It's nice to have you on board, Ms. Hayes."
"You can call me Ainsley. Ms. Hayes makes me sound old."
He inclined his head. "Ainsley, then." He rubbed his hands together. "Well, I'll let you get back to work. Just wanted to say hello." He nodded to Georgia on his way out.
"Do you need anything, Ms. Hayes?" Georgia asked as Ainsley sank back into her chair.
Ainsley blinked at her, wondering for a moment why she'd never gotten the 'call me Ainsley' speech. "Uh, yes. Gather whatever we have by way of staff and tell them I want to have a meeting in half an hour."
"And bring me a Fresca, if you can find one."
"Yes." Georgia left, shutting the door behind her.
Ainsley looked up at the ceiling, studying the pattern of dots on the foam tiles. Someone in the party did like Perez. Ainsley was considered big guns in the Republican party. You called her when you wanted it to happen and you didn't care how. Not that she was underhanded. She was just. . . determined. She wasn't a good loser. It was a reputation she'd worked hard to earn and even harder to maintain. It was a reputation she was damn proud of. But this time. . . just this one time couldn't they have picked someone else?
She was going up against him. Against all of them, actually. She was trying to get a relatively unknown Republican elected in a traditionally liberal state. And she was going to do it against Samuel Seaborn and a large chunk of the old Bartlet senior staff.
Ainsley felt her jaw tighten. And, Godammit, she was going to win.
* * * * *
April 30, 2001
"The all-night pastry chef? You were just kidding about that, right?"
She shoved the tray into his chest, causing coffee to slosh. "Hey!" he said, putting the tray. "Madame Grinch."
She turned around, hands on hips. "What?" she said in a voice that warned him to tread carefully. He looked at her and grinned, but it wasn't a smug smile. It was the smile of a man the first time he saw you in a sexy dress. Her expression faltered a little. "What" she repeated, sounding a little wary now.
"Seeing you're against laws that protect women, I suppose I can tell you how sexy I think an appetite on a woman is."
She frowned. "Then why do you always tease me about it?"
"It's affectionate teasing."
"And I am not against law that protect women, just unnecessary laws that don't need to protect women."
"So I should stop sexually harassing you, huh?"
She made a noise. Then she paused. "It's only sexual harassment if I tell you to stop."
He lifted an eyebrow and came towards her. "Is that right?"
"Yes. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted advances or comments."
He grinned. "So this would be a wanted advance or comment?"
"One could define it as such."
He was only a few inches from her now. "You owe me a dance you know."
Her gaze flickered from his chest to his mouth then his eyes. "There's no music."
"But you can sing very well."
She blushed. "You might want to stop reminding me of the most embarrassing moment of my life."
"Too bad. It was a good night for me. I had dreams about what was under that bathrobe."
She sucked in a breath, then stepped closer to him. "Sam?" she drawled softly.
"Yeah?" he breathed.
She grinned. "I saw you watching my ass."
He returned the grin. "Will you dance with me, Ainsley?"
He kissed her then, hands coming up to cup the back of her head, digging into her hair. She arched, going up on her toes to get closer to him. It was a hell of a first kiss, full of seven months of pent up sexual tension. He pressed his body against her, backing her into the edge of one of the counters. She put her hands on the counter and hopped up on it, never breaking the kiss. She dug her fingers into his hair, holding him to her. His mouth followed a trail across her cheek to her ear, and he sucked the lobe between his teeth.
"Sam?" she whispered softly, fingers running through his hair and down his neck to rub the muscles in his shoulders.
"Is this. . ." She kissed his cheek. "Really. . ." Her hands skimmed down him and cupped his rear. "A good. . ." She squeezed. "Idea?"
He shuddered. "I think it's a great idea in a really bad place. And possibly a really bad time." He slid his hands under her sweatshirt to touch the smooth skin of her back. She hooked her ankles behind his knees and tugged him closer. She kissed his throat, then licked him, tasting his skin.
Okay. He had to stop or he was going to go back upstairs holding a notebook over his lap like some bad flashback from junior high. He pulled back. "They might come looking for their coffee."
She made a cranky noise and pouted at him. Her mouth was swollen from their kisses. "I guess," she said.
"Come home with me tonight," he said softly.
"Okay. But I have to leave early tomorrow morning."
"Oh. . .your thing."
She shoved him back, holding him at arms length. "My thing?"
"You don't really need to be there, do you? You're not going convince any one at Smith-- or anyone at the women's studies department of anywhere-- that the ERA is unnecessary."
"It is important to have both sides of an argument adequately represented." She hopped off the counter.
He sighed, picking up the tray. "I hate when I agree with you."
She smiled. "Too bad though."
"Will you still come over tonight?"
"Sure. You said you agreed with me."
He grinned and walked out of the cafeteria. "Just on the opposition point. Not on the ERA."
"That will take time."
* * * * *
July 15, 2011
"What do you mean it's a bipartisan dinner?"
"That's what it says, Ms. Hayes."
Ainsley snatched the invitation out of Georgia's hand and scanned it. "The guy can't pick a party? He has to do them both at once?"
"I guess not."
"I'll bet you anything in the world he's hoping to see a fight of some sort break out."
"Should we decline the invitation?"
Ainsley sank into her seat and covered her eyes with a hand. "No. Accept it. We need to shake some hands in his crowd."
"And clear me a couple hours one day this week so I can go dress shopping."
"Yes, Ms. Hayes."
"Thanks Georgia." The brunette left and Ainsley looked at the invitation again. He probably was just looking for a fight to put his party in the papers. Unfortunately she had a pretty good idea who was going to pick it.
* * * * *
"Sam, exactly how long is this tantrum going to last?"
"What is wrong with this guy? How can you not know what party you're for?"
Josh sighed the sigh of a man who has many crosses to bear. "I'm sure he knows which party he's for. He wants to know which party can kiss his ass the best."
"Why can't he meet us separately?"
"Because holding a bipartisan dinner gets his name in the papers."
"Can I skip it?"
"No, you cannot. We could really use this money, Sam. This is an ass that needs our kisses."
"What do you think the odds are she won't be there?"
"I think they're very slim, Sam. I'll try to keep you apart, though."
Sam flopped into a chair. "It's not fair."
"I know." Josh paused. "Just don't get drunk."
"I can't drink!?"
"You may have one drink. Two at most. If you get drunk you're going to get all maudlin and cause a scene at I don't need that right now."
"I'll have you know I'm a happy drunk."
"Not if you start out depressed."
"I'm not depressed. I'm annoyed. Why would you think I'd be depressed? Because I'm not."
Josh gave him a look. "Look on the bright side. Maybe she's ugly now."
He sighed. "No. I've seen her on TV." He watched for her on TV. When he knew she was doing a spot on some political show, he made a point to watch. As CNN ran in the background at his office, he kept and eye out for blonde heads at Republican events. And he always read her op-ed pieces. Not that Josh knew this. There were some things he couldn't bear to be teased about.
"Well, I'll still try to keep you apart. There's no reason the two of you should have to talk if you make an effort not to."
"Yeah," Josh muttered, leaving Sam with his thoughts. "No problem at all."
* * * * *
July 25, 2010
Ainsley had come to hate events. Especially fund raisers. At first they had been fun. Then a necessity. Now they were an annoyance. And it had nothing to do with the dark haired man who'd just walked into the room. Nothing at all. She didn't even notice the lines around his eyes or the silver hinting at his temples. Her heart didn't squeeze at the fact he still walked the same and his smile when Josh said something was the same smile he used to wear when she said something silly. Her bad mood had nothing to do with Samuel Seaborn.
She grabbed a champagne flute off a nearby tray.
Not one damn thing.
Josh had a firm hold on Sam's arm as they steered their way through the crowd. He'd spotted Ainsley the moment they entered and had to admit, Sam had been right. She was still pretty. Her hair was shorter now, shoulder length and layered. Maybe she wanted to look more professional, tone down the innocent farm girl look. From everything he'd heard she had a killer instinct to rival himself, not a compliment he gave out lightly. She was a worthy opponent and he had no illusions that if she wanted to see Sam tonight she would, no matter what he did to separate them.
He could only hope that despite the killer instinct the farm girl still controlled her emotions.
"I need a drink."
"One. It has to last the whole night." They went to the bar.
"You said I could have two."
"There'll be wine with dinner."
Sam clipped a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, and Josh took it immediately out of his hand. Sam blinked. "Hey. When did you turn into Donna?"
"When you had to go to a political fundraiser crawling with media with your ex-girlfriend."
"I am a happy drunk!" He said, a little too loudly, and grabbed his champagne back.
Josh glared at him and took it back. "Fine maybe I don't want you getting happy with an equally drunk Ainsley in the coat closet."
His face changed. "Thanks, Josh."
Josh let out a long calming breath and offered him the champagne back. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I just. . . seeing her is going to hurt you and I don't want you to do or say anything you'll regret tomorrow."
"I promise I'll behave."
"Okay." He handed him his glass. "I'm going to go schmooze with our host. Try to look like you're having a good time."
He gave Josh a weak smile, then put on his politician face and went to mingle.
Ainsley's face hurt by the time dinner was finished. She could only smile so long. The alcohol was helping. She'd managed to find a bartender who knew what a Pink Squirrel was and made it without laughing. She was on her fourth. Fifth? And two glasses of champagne. And wine with dinner. She closed her eyes and her head spun. Perhaps it was time to get some fresh air.
She wound her way through the crowd, smiling and making excuses. She stepped onto the verandah and took some deep breaths. It helped. Her head definitely felt clearer.
Then she saw him, sitting on a bench with a glass of champagne. She faltered a little. She could go back inside. He hadn't seen her yet. She could just go back inside, see how Perez was doing, say some good-byes and leave. Simple.
Then he lifted his head and their eyes met. They looked at each other a long, long moment and before Ainsley knew what was happening she was walking towards him.
"Hey," he said softly.
She swallowed. "Hi, Sam."
He scooted over. "Have a seat."
She sat next to him. "I didn't feel well," she told him, wanting to make it clear she hadn't been looking for him or anything. "So I got some fresh air. I drank too much. I shouldn't have." Because maybe if she'd watched herself she wouldn't be sitting on a stone bench next to the one man who'd ever broken her heart wanting more then anything in the world to touch him and have him touch her.
"Yeah. Me too. It's one of those nights."
"Yeah." Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Just a little touch. They were grown ups. They could touch each other. If anyone caught them they could say she fell and he'd caught her. Or he was helping her up.
Or they were groping each other on a stone bench outside a major political party. Ainsley shuddered a little, hugging herself.
"Cold?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Someone walked over my grave."
He touched the back of her hand with just one fingertip. "I'm sorry."
She shuddered again. "Don't worry about it."
He took his hand back. "Is he a good guy, Ainsley?"
"Perez? Yeah, he is. He wants to do good." She glanced up at him. "He's a match for you."
He sighed. "I'd almost rather run against an asshole. Lets me feel self-righteous. Lets Josh work himself into a tizzy."
"Josh would do that if you were running against Joan of Arc."
"True. He's mellower now, though. Dr. Donna and the kids have taken the edge off."
Sam grinned. "Donna just got her Ph.D. and I enjoy calling her Dr. Donna to annoy Josh."
Ainsley smiled. "Good for her. Tell her I said congratulations."
"I will." He looked down at her, studying her face, looking for what was the same and what was different, up this close. There were lines around her eyes now, that didn't show up on TV. And there was a hardness to the set of her mouth and in her eyes that had never been there. But her smile was the same, wide and inviting. And her hair was still thick, despite the shorter cut and the layers. She smelled the same, too. In ten years she hadn't changed her perfume or her shampoo.
But the biggest difference was she didn't look away. There was no self conscious blush and ducking of the head. She looked straight into his eyes, daring him to find a fault. He didn't, not with her, only with the decade that had passed by and left them like this, two half-stangers on the opposite ends of a contest.
She bent over finally and leaned on him, just briefly, before sitting up again. "You look good," she told him.
"So do you."
She touched his temple where a few gray hairs were starting to give him that distinguished look. "I like this."
"I hate it. Josh isn't graying yet and he's older than me."
"I like it. You no longer look like you made a deal with the devil to be eternally youthful."
"Reminds me of all the time that has passed."
She looked away. "Yeah."
"I missed you," he said, so quietly she barely heard it.
She sucked in a sharp breath. "I missed you too." She looked down, hair falling forward to shield her face. "You broke my heart."
He blinked at that. "I'm sorry," he said.
She shrugged, regretting the words already. She was going to hate herself in the morning. "You couldn't have known." She looked back at the lights of the party. "I should get back in there."
"Yeah. Me too."
She got to her feet. "It was nice to see you, Sam. It's been too long."
"Yeah, good luck with the campaign."
"You too. May the best man win." She headed back for the party.
"Or the best woman," he whispered, but she was already gone.
* * * * *
April 30/May1, 2001
They kept writing the speech for another two hours until Toby finally said it was fine. They'd never actually made him laugh, but he'd seemed distracted. Ainsley had never seen him laugh and didn't think there was much chance of it happening at three in the morning when he had other things on his mind.
Everyone went back to their offices to gather up their things and get home. On the way to her office Ainsley heard Donna quipping something to Josh she didn't hear. They seemed to have gotten over the flower thing.
Ainsley got her stuff in her office, including her notes for her thing at Smith the next morning. When she turned to leave Sam was standing in her doorway, looking expectant. She grinned at him. "I think I should follow you. So I can just leave when we're done."
"Good." She followed him out to the parking lot, then drove behind him to his apartment. She left her stuff in the car and followed him up to his place. He lived in a nice part of the city, in a high-rise with an underground garage. She parked beside him and they went up in an elevator. This all felt very strange to her. She'd never been a girl to sleep with someone on a first date. And this wasn't even a date. This was a make out session in the cafeteria that was being continued. Probably the beginning of something more. She watched his ass on the way down the hall to his door.
Oh yeah. Definitely the start of something more.
He unlocked the door and she stepped in past him. She walked through the living room and down the hall to find the bedroom, not waiting for him to show her the way. They were in a bit of a time crunch. He followed her. "Ainsley?"
She pushed a door open and found the bedroom. She made a little triumphant noise. "Yes, Sam?"
"You want some wine or something?"
She arched her brows. "I'm already going to sleep with you. You don't need to get me drunk."
He looked at her. "I don't want to get you drunk. I want it to not feel like it's just sex."
"Oh." She went over to him. "Can we have a talk about adrenaline? Because I'm feeling it right now." She stood in front of him, head tipped back to look at him. "Because the entire time we were writing that speech all I could think about was your hands on my back and you kissing me. I almost had a nutty. So I really don't think giving me alcohol is a good idea." She paused a beat. "And this isn't just sex."
That made him smile, and he kissed her. She moaned and kissed him back, wrapping her arms around his neck to pull him close. He backed her slowly towards the doorway of his bedroom. They moved together, anticipating each other's movements until they got through the doorway and into the room. Ainsley had his shirt off and he had discovered, by virtue of her nipples pushing against her sweatshirt, that she wasn't wearing a bra. He yanked the sweatshirt over her head. "You do this often?"
"Go without a bra?" she asked innocently.
"No. I can't under my work clothes." She ran her hands over his chest. "But under the sweatshirt I don't have to. Because they're so small."
He cupped them in his palm. "They're perfect."
She smiled like she knew he was lying but though it was sweet he felt he should. "I know they're small." She went on her toes and back. "They don't even bounce."
"I know. I like small breasts." He brushed his thumbs over her nipples.
She grinned, eyes fluttering shut. "Really?"
"Yeah. They're very well shaped." He bent his head to kiss each tip. She moaned softly, digging her fingers in his hair. She held him to her, body rocking as he started to suck.
Sam wrapped his arms around her waist, straightening and lifting her off the ground. He carried her back to his bed and set her gently on the mattress. She was trembling a little, still trying to hold him to her breast. No one ever paid any attention to them. She kissed his temple, his cheek, bending over him.
His mouth finally began working its way downward, across her stomach. Ainsley whimpered as the night air touch her now damp nipples. She was dimly aware of his progress down her body and felt a curl of anticipation at what she hoped came next. He started to pull her sweats down and she shuddered, lifting her hips to help him. She turned her head and pressed her face into his pillow, inhaling his scent clinging to the bedclothes. He tossed her sweats to the floor along with her underwear, and pushed her legs apart.
She was incredibly wet, her soft folds swollen and hot to the touch. He heard her whimper again and her hips rolled in a silent plea for attention. He took his time, kissing each hipbone, the tops of each thigh. She twisted restlessly beneath him and her fingers speared into his hair, trying to tug him to her. "Sam, please. *Please.*"
He grinned at her, and she realized he was enjoying this. He stroked one finger across her center slowly. She shuddered and tried to glare at him, but the arousal darkening her eyes ruined the effect. "Mean," she told him, voice thick.
"But you like it."
He felt her shudder again. "Yeah," she whispered. "I like everything you're doing." He slid the finger inside her and found her clit with the tip of his tongue. She moaned and pressed her face into the pillow again. "Especially that," she breathed.
He lifted her legs up and pushed them over his shoulders. He teased her slowly, deliberately, until she began to rock against him. It was such heavenly torture. She forced her eyes open to look at him and felt almost stunned at the sight of his dark head buried between her legs. This was Sam Seaborn causing all these sensations. The same Sam Seaborn who had been making increasingly frequent cameo appearances in her dreams in the seven months since she'd kicked his ass on television.
Her dreams had nothing on reality.
She pushed herself closer to him, feeling him slide a hand beneath her rear to hold her close. A wailing noise emanated from her and her head tipped back, almost at her peak.
And then he stopped. He just. . .stopped. He wasn't touching her at all anymore. She made a noise and opened her eyes, quivering. "Sam?"
He grinned at her. "Hang on."
"No," she said petulantly.
"Yeah," he whispered. "Trust me. It'll be better."
She shook her head, looking up at the ceiling. She was in pain. She was actually in pain. She was going to die if he didn't do something. She reached out for him. "Sam."
He caught both of her hands and pinned them back to the bed. Then he leaned down and blew on her nipples. That was all he did. She let out a desperate noise, struggling against him. "Please. Please. I'm begging you."
He kissed her mouth, biting her lower lip lightly. Then she felt two of his fingers sink back inside her as his thumb brushed against her clit. Ainsley screamed, back arching. She shook, clenching around him with a mindnumbing orgasm. She went limp, still shaking uncontrollably as echoes and aftershocks rocked her.
He kissed her closed eyelids gently. "See?"
She nodded, kissing his mouth hard. "Thank you," she breathed.
He grinned. "You are very welcome."
She smiled a little stupidly. "I don't think I can move."
"That could be a problem."
"It's all your fault." She managed to move one hand and run it down his length, eventually encountering the chinos he still wore. Her eyes twinkled a little as she simply tugged down his zipper and slid her hand inside. She found his shaft easily and wrapped her fingers around it, then began to stroke him, up and down, rubbing her thumb over the broad head. He saw her grin when she felt the moisture there. He groaned, pushing himself into her hand.
Her hand kept pumping him, while her other hand undid the rest of his fly and pushed his pants and boxers down. She tugged him, forcing him to move up, and shifted. She placed him so just the tip of him parted her drenched folds, then kept moving her hand on him. Up and down, ever so slow.
"Ainsley," he gasped. "Are you. . ."
"I had a boyfriend in law school. I never got off the pill." She allowed him a little farther in, tightening herself around him then releasing. "I kind of liked the three day periods." She shifted again, moving him out of her to rub him over her clit. She shuddered. "I'm very glad now."
"Yeah. . .uh. . .I. . ." Ah, to hell with it. He couldn't talk.
She smiled, taking a moment to relish her power, then placed him at her opening, then released him to wrap her arms around his neck. She kissed him. She could feel the strain in him. "You can be rough, if you want," she whispered. "I like it."
He slammed into her, all the way, so hard she slid back on the bed a little. She bit her lip, legs wrapping around him. She breathed hard, amazed a moment at the feel of him buried inside her, flesh on flesh. She kissed his cheek, then bit his ear. "Yes," she breathed. He pulled out and sunk back, not slowing his pace.
Ainsley let her head tip back on the pillow, clinging to him, taking what he had to give. Everything was hot and slick and desperate. She whispered his name, lifting her hips to him. Her hands moved, stroking his back, cupping his rear. Her body grew tight again and her motions became more sure, reaching for her goal.
Whatever little bit of patience and control Sam had left disappeared and he pushed her knees back to get deeper. She made a noise that bordered on pain and her hips snapped up to him. She felt the spasms begin and jerked. He felt her teeth sink into his shoulder at the same instant her body clamped around it. He felt himself let go just then, right with her, something that had never happened before.
She went limp beneath him, breathing hard. She felt the heat of him spread inside her and smiled. She kissed his shoulder where she'd bit him, then let her head fall back. One hand lifted to brush his damp hair off his face.
He smiled at her. "Oh, we should make a regular thing out of this."
"Oh yeah," she whispered. She shifted. "Now I know I can't move."
He rolled off her, and somehow managed to maneuver them under the covers. She looked at his clock, groaned, and rolled over the snuggle against him. "You think it would be bad form to be late to my thing?"
"Mmm, probably. You should skip."
"Wouldn't that be worse form?"
"You're a bad influence on me." She kissed his shoulder. "I'll get up in a little while."
She smiled and closed her eyes, one arm wrapped around his chest. Deep in her heart she knew this was definitely the beginning of something real.
* * * * *
July 26, 2011
"So how was the party last night?"
Ainsley groaned and looked at Haydon Sikes, one of their speech writers and media go between. He was smiling, looking way too chipper for this early in the morning. Not that it was all that early. It just felt early.
She put her head down on the desk again. "There was alcohol there."
Haydon snorted, leaning a hip on her desk. "You got drunk?"
"Yeah. I didn't make a scene or anything, though. Managed to get home before throwing up." She rubbed her face and started looking for Tylenol in her desk. "Perez did good, though. He made a lot of connections. I'm expecting some calls today." Her phone rang and she smiled. "See?"
Georgia picked it up in the outer office and spoke a moment. Then she appeared in Ainsley's doorway. "Sam Seaborn is on the phone for you."
Ainsley faltered. "You mean his office."
"You mean his campaign manager, Josh Lyman."
Georgia shook her head. "No. It's Sam Seaborn."
Ainsley stared at her a moment, then looked at Haydon, who arched his brows and left, hustling Georgia out, too. Ainsley stared at the blinking light on her phone a moment before picking it up. "Ainsley Hayes."
"Hi," he said softly.
She let out a breath. "It really is you."
"I. . .would you have lunch with me?"
She started pulling drawers open again. She had to have Tylenol somewhere. Advil. A brick to knock her unconscious with. Anything. "Is this a request for a meeting? Because I have a real busy week coming up and if there's anyway to discuss it over the phone-"
"No. I don't want to talk about it over the phone."
Her head was going to explode. It really and truly was. "So I'm safe in assuming this isn't a business meeting."
"Sam, this really isn't a good idea."
"It's an incredibly bad idea."
"We should not been seen together in public."
"I know but. . .last night, Ainsley. . ."
Her mouth worked. "We were drunk. Whatever was said. . ." She closed her eyes. "It's been ten years, Sam."
"We never talked Ainsley. You obviously have made about as much peace with it as I have. Just. . .it's only lunch."
She sighed. "Okay." She flipped through her appointment book. "I'm going to be in San Jose in two days. How about then? Like one."
She wrote it in her book 1:00. Lunch, S. "I'll meet you. . . where?"
"Should I drive down to San Jose?"
"That might be best. People might be suspicious to see me in San Francisco. You know anywhere? Preferably low key."
"I am rarely in San Jose. But Donna will. I'll have her find something and I'll call you tomorrow."
"Okay." She rubbed her forehead. "I'll see you then."
* * * * *
May 21, 2001
Sam didn't know she was here. She sat awkwardly in Leo's guest chair, looking at a blank spot on the wall while he had a whispered meeting with the president on the other side of the door. If he didn't get in here soon she was going to lose her nerve.
The door opened and Leo came in. "Sorry about that, Ainsley."
"It's okay, sir." She waited until he took a seat across from her. She took a deep breath. "I wanted to talk to you about my resignation."
He paused, taking this in. "Ainsley, you know we would never ask you to-"
"I know you wouldn't ask me, Mr. McGarry. That's why I'm offering. I can't in good conscience defend the president at the grand jury hearings. I can't promise you my best work and if I can't do that it's not worth my working on it."
"As a lawyer, surely you're used to defending clients you feel are in the wrong or-"
She interrupted him again. "Whether or not I believe the president did wrong is irrelevant. I've been under pressure from my party since taking this position. Now I'm under even more." She swallowed. "I'm not going to be a help to you. I might even be a liability. I'm the weak link in the chain and everybody's going to know it. I like President Bartlet. I want to make sure he has the best defense possible. The best chance of winning. And I think the only way he'll get that is if I'm not on his team."
Leo studied her and she saw something in his eyes. He was impressed with her, she thought. He looked down, then nodded. "We need to do this quietly."
"I know," she said softly.
"Have you talked to Sam about this?"
She looked up in surprise, then realized she shouldn't have been. Everybody knew everything in this place. "No, sir. I haven't."
"Do you intend to?"
"I think he's going to find out eventually."
"I mean are you going to tell him beforehand."
Ainsley faltered. "Are you insinuating I shouldn't, sir?"
It was Leo's turn to falter. "Let me talk to Josh and the president about this. Then we'll decide where we go."
"All right." She got to her feet and he stood too.
She looked up. "Yes, sir?"
"Have you had any offers from the other side?"
She swallowed hard. "You've heard about that?"
"There are no secrets in DC, Ainsley."
She looked down then up. "I told Governor Robards I had a job and wasn't interested in another."
He looked like he wanted to say something more, but didn't. "I'll be in touch." She nodded and left.
* * * * *
July 28, 2011
Ainsley walked into the dimly lit Mexican restaurant and pulled her sunglasses off. She scanned the room and waved away the hostess when she spotted Sam. She strode over the back booth he'd claimed and sat across from him. She glanced at the waiter who came over. "Iced tea." He nodded, handed her a menu and left. She looked at Sam. "I hate techies."
She waved a hand. "People who own tech companies. I spent two hours convincing them that Perez has their best interests at heart. They act like they've never seen a woman. It was almost as much fun as dealing with the tobacco lobby. Only these people act like chess club members instead of frat boys."
"You won't get 'em, you know. They're too young, too idealistic. Republicans may be good for their pocket books but they're dorky college kids at heart."
"Doesn't mean I can't bat my little blue eyes at them and try." The waiter brought her iced tea and she pulled sugar packets out of the tray, whipping them against her fingers a few times before tearing off the ends and dumping them into the liquid. She stirred and took a sip. "Have you ordered?"
"No, I was waiting for you."
She smiled. "Thank you." She looked up at their waiter. "Nachos grande with extra sour cream and a stack of tortillas."
Sam grinned at her and ordered his chicken fajita. "Still Ainsley."
"My appetite has only increased." She swirled her straw. "Everyone's telling me the party was a success. Though I'm not sure for who."
"I guess we'll find out."
She sipped her tea, played with her straw wrapper, then folded and refolded her napkin. Finally she looked up at him. "What did you want to talk about?"
"You told me I broke your heart."
She sighed deeply. "Yeah, I did say that, didn't I?"
"Ainsley. . .you were the one that left."
"I know that. But when I did you wouldn't even hear me out. You didn't try to understand."
"You know how hard it was on me, then. I was falling apart. I wanted to walk away too, but I had some sense of loyalty. Of friendship. But you. . .you got to get out of the fire. And I was angry."
Anger flared in her eyes. "You thought that of me and you wonder why you broke my heart?"
"I never got a better explanation." The waitress arrived with the food, and he forced himself to smile until she left.
Ainsley stared down at her food. "You never let me give you a better explanation," she hissed. "You had me all figured out before I'd finished telling you. You needed to find a bad guy and I was perfect."
"I needed you, and you were leaving. There wouldn't have been a good explanation."
Her mouth tightened. "I was there for you, Sam. I didn't have to work at the White House to be there." She looked up at him. "I was always there for you."
"Yeah, 'cause in a White House under investigation the Deputy Communications Director could definitely be dating someone working for the opposition."
"I wasn't working for the opposition!"
"I heard you were going to. That that was why you left."
She shook her head. "That wasn't it. They knew that. I gave them no reason to think that."
She waved a hand and took a bite of her food. "Leo and Josh. I told them I wasn't taking the offer." She took another bite and he knew she was really upset. "Not that they had any reason to believe me, I suppose."
Sam stared at her. "They told me--" He looked suddenly like someone had hit him. He reached down into his pocket and yanked out his wallet. He threw money on the table. "I. . .I have to go."
She looked at him in surprise. "Sam? Are you okay?"
"No. No, I'm not." He stumbled up, white as a sheet. She stared after him, open mouthed, as he left the restaurant.
* * * * *
May 7/8, 2001
"Sam? Are you okay?" Ainsley stared at the man on the other side of her apartment door. It was two in the morning, she'd barely been asleep a few hours when the banging had started. She'd gotten up, holding a vase as her only defense, only to find Sam on the other side, looking a mess.
"I. . .can I come in?"
"Of course." She held the door open for him, putting the vase on a table. She closed the door behind him, taking his coat. "What's wrong?"
"I can't tell you," he whispered, his voice rasping. "But I couldn't go home."
She faltered a moment, then wrapped her arms around him. "I'm here." He shuddered, holding her close. Then he tipped up her chin and kissed her roughly. She made a quiet noise in her throat, kissing him back. She ran her hands over his back soothingly. She felt something in him, and undercurrent of emotions, like he was about to crack into a million pieces and was using her to hold himself together. It frightened her a little, but she pulled him close, one hand lifting to stroke his hair back. He released her mouth and she looked up at him. "Do you want to stay tonight?"
"Yes," he whispered. "I want to stay with you."
"Okay." She took his hand and led him back to the bedroom. She stopped in front of the bed and turned to him. She unbuttoned his shirt and put it on her vanity chair to avoid wrinkles. His undershirt followed and she turned him so he'd sit on the bed, then kneeled down to take his shoes and socks off. He reached down and grabbed the fabric of her tank top, yanking it over her head.
She left him to her clothes, wanting to take care of him first. She put his shoes and socks to the side and went up on her knees to undo his belt, then his fly. She pushed him a little and pulled the pants off, getting up to drape them over the chair as well. He bent over, bracing his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands. Like it had gotten to him all of a sudden.
Ainsley faltered, then went back to the bed. She tugged him, moving him easily. He was alarmingly apathetic about what she did with him. She got him to lay down on his side and curled up in front of him. She pulled the blankets around them and wrapped him in her arms, holding his head to her chest so he could hide his face. She felt his arms tighten, and his shoulders begin to shake slightly. Ainsley's heart tore and she held him tightly, stroking his hair. "What can I do, Sam?" she whispered. "Tell me how to help you."
He lifted his head and kissed her hard, pushing her onto her back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tight, kissing him back. She could do this. She could do this to help him. He skimmed his hands over her body, down to her waist where he pushed her pajama pants down. She arched up to him so he could get them off. She kissed him again and again, holding him tightly.
He cupped her breasts in his hands, rolling her nipples between his fingers. That earned him a moan. She tugged his boxers away so there was nothing between them. His hand pushed her legs apart, one finger stroking over her clit. Usually he was a very patient and considerate lover, but she could sense too much desperation in him tonight. She kissed him deeply, tugging on his shoulders gently. "It's okay," she whispered. "I'm ready." She was actually a little embarrassed at how aroused she was, with him in such pain. But being needed the way he obviously needed her was a powerful aphrodisiac.
He groaned, cupping her hips and thrusting into her. She gasped, gripping his shoulders tightly. She kissed his mouth and held him as he moved, murmuring nonsense she hoped was comforting, encouraging. He didn't want it to be like this. But he just wasn't sure what was inside him anymore to give. He lifted his head, looking down into her eyes. "Ainsley," he whispered.
She met his gaze, stroking his cheek gently. He saw a world of emotion in her eyes. Acceptance, compassion, lust. There was fear there, too, though whether it was of him or whatever it was causing him pain he couldn't tell. "It's okay," she told him softly. "It's still us." She wrapped him in her arms. "It'll always be us." She felt a shudder pass through him, and he kissed her tenderly. She sighed and kissed him back, wrapping her legs over his hips. She moved with him, keeping up the pace he set, trying to be with him every step of the way. His hand slid down to touch her where they joined, to bring her with him. He had to.
Ainsley shuddered, responding immediately. She wanted to tell him he didn't have to. That she didn't mind if this was about him. But she sensed this was important to him. He didn't want to feel he was using her. She whispered his name, holding him tightly as pleasure gathered and exploded inside her.
He finally let go, the orgasm ripping through him, taking some of the pain with it. She held him tight to her, afraid now that it was over he'd pull away, be embarrassed. She kissed his face, hugging him close.
He didn't. When he rolled over onto his side, he took her with him, keeping his grip tight. "Thank you," he whispered into her hair.
She felt tears in her eyes and wasn't sure why. "You're welcome."
His eyes closed, and his body began to relax. She held him, staying awake until his breathing evened out and she saw he was asleep. Only then did she close her eyes and allow herself to join him.
* * * * *
July 29, 2011
Sam crashed into the offices he'd rented for his campaign headquarters. Josh was in a meeting with someone, but he didn't so much as knock when he stormed into Josh's office. "So, do you really think I can govern this state by myself or am I going to need you supervising me and screening what news I hear?"
Josh blinked at him. "What?"
Sam looked down at the junior staffer. "Excuse us, will you." He waited for the woman to leave, then said. "I had lunch with Ainsley Hayes today."
"You did what?! Are you insane?"
"You told me she left the White House because she had a job offer on the other side."
"She did," he said, sounding evasive even to his own ears.
"She never wanted the job. She said she told you and Leo that."
Josh rubbed a hand over his eyes. "It was ten years ago."
"Yeah, so I'm asking, am I an adult now yet?"
"It was a very precarious time, Sam. We didn't know what was going to happen. We thought. . . you deal with anger better then hurt."
"Why would I have been hurt? If we'd straightened it out maybe we would have-" He stared at him. "Oh my God," he said softly.
Josh looked uncomfortable. "It was a very precarious time," he repeated, voice hoarse. "We weren't thinking clearly and any hint of-" He sighed. "I'm sorry Sam."
"You and Leo sat down and decided that my dating a Republican while we were under scrutiny would be a bad idea. Fair point, perhaps, but I bet you thought if you explained it to me I'd argue. Actually have an opinion or feelings. So you just proceeded ahead without me. Right?"
"We didn't know she was that important to you. For Christsakes you'd only been dating a couple of weeks. If I'd known how much-" He waved a hand. "I thought she'd tell you on her own. The two of you would work it out. When you didn't, when you got so angry. . . it was too late."
Sam stared at him a minute. His throat worked as he swallowed. "Yeah." Then he walked out and slammed the door behind him.
* * * * *
May 7/8, 2001
Ainsley only slept a handful of hours before something woke her up. She realized the other half of her bed was cold and Sam was gone. She sat up and looked around, spotting him in the armchair in the corner of her bedroom. "Sam?" she said softly.
She saw him wipe his eyes. "Go back to sleep."
She knew that wasn't an option so she climbed out of bed and went over to him. She perched on the arm of the chair and put her arms around him. "Come back to bed."
"Ainsley I'm sorry about tonight. I didn't intend to come here."
She kissed the top of his head. "Don't apologize."
"I don't even know why I'm so angry. It's not like he's the only person who's ever lied."
She was confused but she knew she couldn't press him. He probably wasn't supposed to be telling her that much. She pressed her face into his hair. "Shh."
"As a matter of fact. I come from a long line of liars. Did you know that my father had a mistress? He took up with her when I was seven years old. And didn't get caught until like a month and a half ago."
"You're not like that."
He chuckled humorlessly. "Oh, but I am. I was engaged once, you know. Before I went to work for Bartlet. She didn't like that I worked in the campaign. That I left the law firm. She was miserable and she made me miserable. So one night I got a little too drunk with one of the Bartlet staffers. I used to think it was just a lapse but it would appear that it's just hereditary."
Ainsley stroked his hair. She'd been confused by the desperate man who'd shown up on her doorstep. She didn't know what to do with the one sitting in her bedroom. "That was just one time. Everyone makes mistakes. Things like that aren't hereditary."
"I can't trust anything anymore."
She kissed his temple. "I trust you," she whispered.
"You wouldn't hurt me."
He sighed. "I think I'll break your heart."
* * * * *
July 29, 2011
Josh came into Sam's office and pulled the door closed behind him. He took a deep breath, as if steadying himself for battle, then spoke. "What were you doing having lunch with Ainsley Hayes yesterday?"
"I'm busy, Josh."
"Yeah. I know you're mad at me and that's fine. And I know you're probably thinking of firing me and that's fine too. But until then I'm still your campaign manager and you're going to tell me why you had lunch with your opponent's pit bull."
"She told me I broke her heart."
"Jesus. When? At the bipartisan party?"
"Yeah. I had to talk to her, Josh. I had to."
Josh studied him. "It's not done, is it? You still have to talk to her. You have to beat this into the ground until it makes sense to you."
"I was too mad at you and Leo to finish the conversation. I stormed out." He reached over and picked up his phone. "Speaking of. . ."
³You're going to go down to LA and, like, accost her outside of her condo, aren't you?²
"I will ask her out to lunch like a normal person." He began rifling though his rolodex.
Josh sat in the chair across the desk from him. "Honestly Sam, why does it matter? This is your friend talking now? One girl, ten years ago? You honestly think she's the only one in your slightly spotty past you hurt?"
Sam gave him a glare.
Josh ignored it. "I'm serious. Look at me. I'm not stopping you. I'm not yelling. I just want your reason. I want to know why you're jeopardizing your career over a woman you don't even know anymore."
"I'm forty-five, Josh. I'm the one who everyone always pictured having a houseful of kids. The one who'd settle down. Funny how I'm the only one of us left without kids. How I never even date."
"You're saying that's because of her?"
"I'm saying I want to find the last time I was really happy."
Josh stared at him. Donna had softened him over the years, to the point where other people made fun of him. And he honestly didn't care. Because he liked himself better now. He got to his feet. "Anyone gets a picture of you two together, you don't have to fire me, I quit."
"Okay." He turned and walked out, closing the door behind him.
* * * * *
May 10, 2001
Ainsley felt sick. She couldn't even make it to her office, she sat down on the steps leading to the basement and put her head between her knees. This was it. This was the end of the world. The end of it all.
How was she supposed to do her job? How was she supposed to fight for the president in front of a grand jury when she didn't even know if she thought what he did was right?
Tears flooded her eyes and she let them come, sobbing in the stair well. She didn't think anyone finding her would blame her. She'd bet her college tuition that there'd been a lot of crying in a lot of stairwells in the last few weeks.
"They told you, didn't they?" said a soft voice from above her, and then he sat on the steps beside her, arms going around her.
She nodded. "Mr. Babish told us so we could start preparing for the hearings." She sniffled. There was going to be so many meetings and hearings. For all of them. "This is what you were upset about the other night, isn't it? What you couldn't tell me?"
He rocked her. "Yes."
She leaned into him, arms going around him. "Did I help you?" she asked in a small voice.
"Yes, you did," he whispered fiercely. He tipped up her face. "Can I help you?"
She nodded, looking afraid and so very lost. "I hope so."
He held on to her tight, helping her stand. "Come on. Where do you want to go?"
She pressed her face into his shoulder and he could feel her trembling, like she was cold. "Your place," she whispered. He kissed the top of her head and guided her up the stairs. She didn't speak as he drove her back to his apartment. He hadn't even given her the option of following in her car. She was in no shape to drive. A few times when he looked over her saw fresh tears spilling down her cheeks, but she didn't make a sound. He brought her upstairs, then lifted her up and carried her into his bedroom. With the same care and tenderness she's used on him, he sat down on the floor and carefully removed her shoes.
She offered him a watery smile and reached out to undo the buttons on his shirt, fingers shaking.
"Stand up, honey," he whispered. She got to her feet obediently, realizing this is what he must have felt that night. A bizarre detached apathy broken by moments of stark clarity, when the entire weight of what she'd learned came into focus. He took off all the pieces of her suit, then her stockings and her underwear.
Ainsley realized she was standing in front of him completely naked while he was fully clothed. A rather hysterical laugh bubbled out of her throat but it sounded more like a sob. She lurched forward, face buried in his chest, hands clutching the fabric of his shirt.
"Shh," he whispered, arms coming around her. "Shh, it's okay."
"It's not okay. It's not going to be okay." She tilted her face up and kissed him. The desperation was the same as it had been three nights ago but instead of feeling like she was going to pieces Ainsley felt like she was lost in a dark room and he was her only land mark.
He lifted her up again, tucking her into her bed. He took off his clothes and climbed in with her. She whimpered and curled up close to him, pressing her face into his shoulder. Sam rocked her slowly. "I'm here."
She sniffed. "Just hold me. I don't know if I can. . ." She closed her eyes. "Just hold me."
"All right," he whispered. "Anything you need."
"Thank you. For being here."
He stroked her hair rhythmically, massaging her scalp. They stayed that way the whole night. Sometimes she cried, sometimes she just lay still in his arms. Eventually she fell asleep, exhausted. But even then she clung to him like she was afraid someone would tear him away from her.
* * * * *
August 2, 2011
Ainsley sat in the back booth of the slightly upscale restaurant she'd told Sam to meet her at. She couldn't believe she'd agreed to another meeting. She should have told him anything he had to say to her could be said through Josh and he should focus on his damn campaign. But somehow he'd talked her into dinner, agreeing to come down to LA this time.
She sipped her white wine and looked at the door, watching for him. In truth, she wanted to see him again. She saw him come in through the door, dark suit jacket draped over his arms. Even from the distance she could see he was still having his shirts monogrammed with his initials in the wrong order. Some things never changed. She felt herself smile a little and raised a hand to get his attention. He headed over to her and she had the pleasure of watching him move.
"Hey," he said, sliding into the booth.
"Hi," she said quietly. "I didn't know what you were drinking."
"I'm sorry I walked out."
"No problem. I had a very nice lunch."
"I was just so angry. . ."
"You had to yell at someone immediately." She signaled for the waitress, who sauntered over. "Another white wine, please."
"And a Manhattan," Sam added. He looked back at her. "They told me. . .they thought it was best if I was angry at you."
"Well, it worked."
"If I'd known the truth I would have been nicer." He looked up at her. "Why did you leave?"
"Because I was a liability. To the president and his chances of winning. A part of me would have been worried what my party was going to think of my actions. Whether or not my part in the hearing would effect my future career. I couldn't promise my best work, which they deserved, so I left."
"Why didn't you talk to me about it?"
"You were so upset. I talked to Leo about it and he asked me not to talk to you until a decision had been made. By the time it was they'd told you already." The waitress came by and delivered their drinks. Ainsley waited until she was gone and sipped her drink. "And then you weren't interested in anything I had to say."
"I thought I knew what you were going to say and I didn't want to hear it."
"You should have." She looked down. "I didn't even think it would effect us, that it might even make things easier. Hurt a lot when I found out I was wrong."
He touched her hand across the table. "I'm sorry."
She looked at their hands, then up at him. "It's in the past. Can't be helped now."
* * * * *
May 26, 2001
Sam looked up when she appeared in his doorway. "All packed?" he asked acidly.
She faltered. "They. . . they told you?"
"Yes, they did."
"I just. . . you have to see it's for the best."
"Oh, I'm sure it is."
She looked hurt. "Why are you angry?"
"Why wouldn't I be angry? Did you actually think this would make me happy?"
"Well. . . not happy, maybe. But I don't see why this changes anything. I mean, it will be easier for us now, with me working somewhere else."
"No, it wont. In fact, it will pretty much make us impossible. We don't need some kind of bipartisan sex scandal right now." He crumpled up the paper he was writing on and hurled it violently at the waste basket. "I really appreciating finding out you were quitting from Josh."
"I was going to tell you today. I had to wait until everything was settled and official. I'm sorry, I wanted to tell you sooner."
"Yeah, well, I know."
Ainsley had shrunk in on herself, looking wounded and confused. "I just. . . came up to tell you. I'm going to be gone by the end of the day." She faltered. "But I didn't know. . . is this goodbye?"
He didn't look at her. "Yeah."
"Oh," she said softly. She took a step back. "Goodbye, then, Sam."
He swallowed hard. "Goodbye."
Her mouth trembled and she turned away and strode down the hall, head down, not looking at anyone. Coming out of his office Josh saw her and opened his mouth to say something, until he caught a glimpse of the tear stains on her cheeks. He stepped back to let he pass, watching her go. When she'd disappeared around the corner he looked back at the direction she'd come and locked eyes with Leo. He saw regret in those eyes.
Josh headed for Sam's office, ready to tell all and fix this. Leo grabbed his arm on the way and shook his head. They stared at each other a moment, then Josh backed down, looking a little helplessly at Sam's office door. Then he turned and trudged back to his desk.