Soft Places

by Puck and Zillah

Spoilers: All the way up to Two Cathedrals. This exists in the same universe as Namesakes [Josh/Donna], so you might be kind of confused if you haven't read that.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Not mine. Not Zillah's. We've accepted this and moved on. (I am, however, forming a plan to steal Rob Lowe and keep him as a love slave. Anyone interested in helping, contact me.) Rebecca Ann Hayes is ours, though. You probably wouldn't want her anyway. We still have proud ownership of Noah Josiah Moss.

Part 9

Two weeks after their return from Russia and twelve days before the election Sam appeared in Ainsley's office after hours. She had a stack of envelopes she was stuffing with campaign fliers. She glanced up at him. "If you're looking for slave labor you're too late."

"Please? I have to mail thank you notes. Cathy has the flu."

"Do you see the pile in front of me, Sam? I have my job already."

He lifted an eyebrow. "What if I promise to make it up to you."

"That's not going to work Sam, I can go home when I finish these."

He leaned on her desk and got eye level. "Please."

She kissed his nose. "Go away. It's bad enough I'm aiding the enemy."

"Since when am I the enemy?"

"Not you. The Democratic party as a whole." She gestured with one of the fliers before sticking it in an envelope.

"You do work here."

She nodded. "I know, I know." She tossed the envelope onto the "done" stack.

"Are you actually going to vote for Howell?"

She glanced up. "I'm a Republican. They'll take away my little card if I don't."

"He's a shit, Ainsley."

"Yeah but he writes a cute little R after his name." She bent her head to hide a smile.

"He's still a shit."

"I can vote for whoever I want, Sam."

"I know that. I just didn't think. . ."

"I'd have my own opinion?"

"I didn't think you were that blindly loyal to the Republican party."

She looked up at him. "I'm not. I'm just insulted you think I am."

"Then why are you voting for him?"

"I never said I was. It's none of your business who I'm voting for."

"Because it's Howell."

"It will never be any of your business who I vote for."

"Why not? I can see you naked, but this is private?"

"It's a secret ballot, Sam."

He waved a hand. "Fine. Maybe you shouldn't be helping with this then." He started collecting his envelopes. "Wouldn't want them to take away your card."

"Sam, you knew I was a Republican when we started. . . met."

"So that's why? Just becasue he's a Republican?"

"He has the same political beliefs I do. No matter what I think of him as a person that's important. Besides. . ." she pressed her lips together.


"I'm just. . . concerned. Are you sure he's up for another term?"

Sam lifted his head. "What?"

"I'm just. . . I know how personal he takes everything. Can he really handle another four years?"

"He handled the first four just fine."

"He's going to be under more pressure in this term. Everyone's going to be watching him very closely."

"Is this about the MS?"

She pressed her lips together again. "If he wins everything is going to be about the MS."

"It already is about the MS. I deal with this crap every day, I didn't expect it from you."

"I deal with it everyday too, Sam. Read my little desk sign. I'm Associate Council. I've been to a hell of a lot more meetings then you and I know more about MS then I ever wanted to." She got to her feet. "I deal with it and I'm going to keep dealing with it so forgive me if I take it into account on election day."

"You won't have a god-damned job if he loses!"

"You want me to vote for the president of the United States based on my job security?"

"No, but I was hoping you'd have a little faith in him."

"I do have faith with him. I like President Bartlet, I really do. And I don't want him to have gone through all that he has only to be miserable."

"So he should lose? That'll be great. 'Cause we'll have a nice new president who can gut medicare just in time for him to get sick."

She came around the desk at him. "I don't know if losing would be better or not. I just wonder if anyone has thought if he's up to four more years. He's been amazingly lucky so far. There's no gaurantees that will keep up."

"He's the smartest man I've ever met, and he's married to a doctor. If he says he's up to it, he is."

"I can still be concerned!"

"Fine, be concerned. Crawl back into your cold little Republican shell and vote for the world's biggest asshole, but don't insult my intelligence and make it sound like you're trying to do Bartlet a favor."

Something undefinable crossed her face and her jaw tightened. "If that's what you think of me then you get the hell out of my office because I never want you to touch me again."

"Fine. I have a campaign to run." He went out, slamming the door behind him.

She leaned against the desk, stunned. She buried her face in her hands.

She was still at her desk, staring at her papers, when he came back down an hour later. He hung in the doorway. "Ainsley."

She looked up, then down again. "Yes?" she said quietly.

"I. . .I'm sorry."

She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. "Me too."

"I. . .that was uncalled for. I didn't mean to bring up our political differnces. I didn't mean to call you cold. I just. . .I'm under so much pressure and I. . .we're all turning on each other."

"I know," she said softly.

He stood there, and the silence stretched.

She flattened her palms on her desk. "Is there anything else? Because I'm very tired and I want to finish this so I can go home." He voice broke on the last word.

His throat worked. "No," he said softly, looking at the floor. "I guess not."

"You hurt my feelings," she whispered. "You've never done that before."

"I'm sorry."

"I know." She got up and went over to him. She leaned her forehead on him."You're forgiven."

His arms came around her. "Really?"

She shrugged. "It's that or stay mad at you and I didn't like how I felt when I was mad at you."

"Sometimes I'm an asshole, Ainsley."

"I noticed that." She stepped away from him, leaning her butt on her desk. "I'm not tough. I don't have killer instinct. Even when I'm arguing. . . one of these days I'm going to find someone to trump me and I'm going to cry in the middle of a congressional meeting or something." She offered him a weak smile. "My dad told me once if I ever make it anywhere in politics it will be on raw persistance and being cute."

He grinned. "You're sexy when you argue, you know."

She blushed. "So are you."

"Can I touch you again?" he asked softly.

She bit her lip. "Yeah." She pushed off her desk. "But not tonight."


She sighed, going around her desk to gather up her coat and purse. "I'm very tired and stressed. I have a headache. All I want to do is go home and go to sleep." She started walking for the door, forcing him to back up.

He spread his hands. "Maybe I could come with you and give you a back rub. You just have to wait a little-"

She clicked the lights off and looked up at him. "Sam. It has nothing to do with you. I just. . . don't feel sexy right now."

"You look sexy."

She closed her door, locking it. "Thank you." She kissed the corner of his mouth. "Goodnight Sam."

"Night, Ainsley." He watched her walk upstairs, then followed, going back to his office.


The Friday before the election the tension in the west wing had reached an almost palpable level. Ainsley was trying to relax as she worked, dancing around her office with Jimmy Buffet on the CD player.

"Honestly, Ainse, you'd think you'd learn."

She jumped and looked up to see her sister in the doorway, in her work clothes, which somehow managed to look ready for a protest rally. Or maybe a rave. "Becca? How'd you get in here?"

"I slept with one of the guards."

"No one noticed that?"

Becca grinned, stepping into the office and moving to the music. "Not today. When I first got here. He remembered me and let me in." She waved her guest badge. She danced over to Ainsley. "Why are we dancing?"

"I'm dancing to relieve stress. You may be drunk."

She stuck her tounge out at her. "I'm celebrating. I got a raise."

Ainsley grinned. "Congratulations."

"Thank you." She tugged her hands to make her dance again. "I'm taking you out to lunch to celebrate."

"I don't think I have time, Becca."

"You have time to visit Margaritaville but you can't go get some food with your baby sister?"

"Have you noticed there's an election coming up?"

Becca rolled her eyes. "No, I missed the three thousand ads on TV." She gave a wiggle. "Come on, Ainse, one hour. The world will continue to go on without you."

She sighed. "Okay."

"Great. Let's ask Sam too."

Ainsley froze. "No way."

"Come on. You haven't talked to him since your fight. You need a buffer person. Someone to fill in the awkward silences. Something I'm very talented at." Ainsley frowned. Becca started dancing towards the door. "I'm going to ask him. If you don't come with to show me how to get there I'm going to be forced to wander the halls, gibbering and confused."

"Okay, okay." Ainsley hit the off button on her CD player and grabbed her coat. "But we're making it clear this is all your idea."

"As all good ideas are."

Ainsley brought her upstairs and into the communications bullpen. She poked her head around Sam's door. He had his phone pinned to his ear with his shoulder and was reading something. He glanced up at her. "Ainsley?"

She waved a hand. "You're busy, nevermind."

Becca poked her head over Ainsley's. "I didn't know you wore glasses." She walked into the office. "Oh, trophies." She peered at the shelves lining his wall.

Ainsley sighed and stepped inside. Sam wound up his conversation and looked at them. "What's up?"

Becca looked over. "I got a raise and I'm taking Ainsley out to lunch. Wanna come with?"

He looked at Ainsley, who was studying a spot on his wall. "I. . . don't know. I have a lot of stuff to do."

Becca pouted. "Come on. Just one hour. I found a Thai food place that's to die for. You'll love it."

"Becca I--" He was interrupted by the President appearing in his doorway, flanked by security. He jumped to his feet.

Bartlet waved a hand. "How's the speech coming?"

"Fine, sir. On schedule."

"Good. I'd like a draft by tomorrow?"

"I think I'll have something by then."

Ainsley had been hiding in the corner. Becca had been studying him with that calculating look she gave all men. Finally she spoke up. "You're taller then you look on television."

He looked at her. "Thank you. Who are you?"

Sam and Ainsley both opened their mouths to introduce her. Becca beat them to it, sticking her hand out. "Rebecca Hayes, Ainsley's sister."

He shook her hand and odd smile started playing on his mouth. "Nice to meet you." He studied her the way she had him. He arched a brow. "You're Ainsley's sister?"

"Also known as Sam's twenty one year old. Though we really didn't do anything that would qualify me as his."

Sam and Ainsley both made choking noises. Barlet was grinning. "Are you sure you're Robert Hayes' daughter?"

"Only liberal in the family, sir," Becca said proudly. "We think I may be a changeling."

"Interesting. What are you doing here?"

"Here in DC or here in Sam's office?"


"I'm staying with Ainsley while I try to decide what I'm going to do with myself. I'm here in Sam's office because I just got a raise and wanted to take him and my sister to lunch. But Sam's making excuses." She offered him a charming grin. "Would you like to go out to lunch, sir?" Ainsley made that choking noise again.

Barlet let out a little amused bark and grinned at her. "I'd love to, but they'd have to block off the street." He looked up. "Sam!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Let her take you out to lunch. Don't worry about the speech. You can show me something on Monday." Bartlet looked at Becca again. "Have fun."

She beamed. "Thank you, sir."

"Anytime." He took her hand again. "It was nice to meet you Rebecca."

"Call me Becca."

"Becca." He nodded at Sam as he turned, then noticed Ainsley. "Miss. Hayes. Keep up the good work."

"Thank you, sir," she said faintly. He smiled and strode out.

Becca grinned at the other two. "What a nice guy. Ainsley, he's gone. Exhale."

"Guess I'm having lunch with you."

Ainsley gaped at Becca. "How do you do that?"

Becca shrugged. "He's just a guy, Ainse." She looked at Sam. "Come on."

Sam shrugged and walked around his desk.

"He's not just a guy," Ainsley hissed. "He's the President."

"Yeah, but he wasn't always the President." They started walking down the hall. "Before he was the President he was Governer Bartlet. And before that he was Congressman Bartlet. And before that he was Mr. Bartlet. And before that he was just Jed and he was my age and would have been asking me out to lunch."

Ainsley shook her head. "And you would have gone, too."

"Heck yeah, I bet he was cute. Reminds me of that guy in Apocolypse Now."

"Can we move along? I'm hungry and on a deadline."

"Sure. I have to go give back my little badge. I'll meet you at the car." Becca ran off to the check in.

Ainsley and Sam continued out to the parking lot. "I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. She flirts with everything."

"The president likes everyone."

She nodded, then looked up at him. He looked so tired. She reached out and rubbed small circles on his back. "How are you doing?"

"Oh, just great. I'm writing the concession speech."

She slid her arm around his waist and squeeze. "I'm sorry."

"Numbers are still pretty even, but we have to have speeches ready for either outcome. Toby pulled rank."

"Yeah." She smiled. "I guess this is the first time you're hoping no one will hear what you wrote."

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah."

She reached up and rubbed his neck, then his temples. "You want a hug?" she asked softly.

He wrapped his arms around her, pressing her tight too him. To hell with the fact that they were in the the White House parking lot. He was headed for the hardest weekend of his life.

She kissed his cheek and held him tightly. "Everything else aside," she said softly. "I wish you all the luck in the world. And, to be honest, I don't think you need it."

He touched her hair, and then reluctantly let her go. "Thanks."


Becca came up to them. "Hey. Ready to go?"

Ainsley looked up at him, then nodded. "Yeah, we're good."

* * * * *

Part 10

Ainsley lifted her feet so Becca could sit on the couch with her. She took the bowl of chips she handed her and pointed to the TV. "I hate biased commentators."

Becca rolled a bottle of nail polish between her hands and unscrewed the cap. "Aren't they all biased in this city?"

"Fine, I hate Democratically biased commentators."

Becca lifted her sister's feet into her lap and started painting her toenails. "I've been wondering something?"


"Who did you vote for?"

Ainsley gaped at her. "Becca, I can't tell you that! It's a private ballot, a sacred trust a-" She frowned. "What color is that?"

Becca peered at the label. "Gash."


"Yes, Gash. It's a dark red. Who did you vote for?"

"Why do you care?"

Becca smiled. "I'm interested. On the one hand, you're a lifelong Republican. But on the other hand, you work for Bartlet. He loses, you lose a job." She looked back down at her painting. "And I wanna know if Sam's going to have to kill you or not."

Ainsley watched her paint a moment, then looked at the television again. "Who did you vote for?"

"I'll refrain from doing the 'I asked you first' thing in the interest of speeding this up. Bartlet."

Ainsley sighed. "Me too."

Becca grinned at her. "Good for you." She lifted the her sister's foot and peered at it. "The color is nice. I like it."

Ainsley waved a hand at her. "Shh, they're calling it." She bent forward wishing suddenly she was with Sam. Or at the very least knew what he was doing.


Someone kicked his calf with a burst of pain that jerked Sam out of sleep. He'd fallen asleep on election night, in the residence. He'd fallen asleep in a wing chair. There was no time to ponder this, because they were talking on the television. ". . .Michigan's eighteen electoral votes to Bartlet. We are therefore now prepared to call the election in favor of President Bartlet."

"Yeah!" Sam flew out of his chair. Around him the room errupted in cheers. They all screamed, they all hugged each other. Sam hugged Donna and Josh at once. It was the most amazing feeling of elation he's ever felt. They'd won. They'd done this.

Bartlet took his concession call, told his jubilant senior staff they were all lunatics, and broke out the champagne.

After many congratulatory phone calls, the President went down and gave his acceptance speech, thanking everyone for their continued support. For having faith in him. They stood in a row, in the back, not a dry eye among them.

Then they retreated back upstairs. There was only one bottle of champagne left, but the President had scotch, Toby found a bottle of wine in his office and Josh offered a ridiculously expensive bottle of brandy someone had sent him as a gift.

CJ waved her glass of brandy at Josh. "This is obscenely good."

"Some woman sent it to me."

Donna made a noise.

"A toast," Josh said. "To us. Because right now, we are all masters of the universe."

Bartlet lifted his glass. "To the American people. For being more compassionate and intelligant than any of us gave them credit for."

Sam leaned over and clinkned­ well, thunked­ his glass against the chipped Bartlet for New Hampshire mug Leo was drinking coffee out of. "And to the state of Michigan, for not taking until December to count their votes."

They laughed. Sam understood why the President had wanted them to be in the residence, and just the senior staff. Good news or bad, it would always come down to just them. He was glad they could share this moment of triumph without disctractions.

He looked around the room. The First Lady sat in a chair beside her husband, lightly rubbing his neck. Charlie had this dazed grin on his face. Even Toby was smiling. Josh was laying down on the couch, his head in Donna's lap. They drank in silence, they talked, they laughed. More self congratuations abounded.

"It is two o'clock in the morning." President Bartlet said. "I want to thank you all for all your hard work. You are the best staff and the best friends any man could ask for. I'm looking forward to the next four years." He tossed back the last of his scotch. "Now get out of my house."

Toby was in the middle of his 82nd phone call of the night. "I can finish this downstairs," he said.

Josh tried to stand up and fell. Twice. Donna slipped and arm around his waist. "Come on, let's get you into a cab."

"We won the election, Donna."

"Yes, I know, Josh. I'm never letting you drink again."

"You started it."

Sam laughed at them as she helped Josh stumble into the hall way. Leo was standing over his chair. "You're on my way home, you want a ride?"

"That would be great." Sam had only a little trouble standing. Leo just shook his head and looked at CJ. "You need a lift, too?"

"No, I'm thinking of sleeping this off on my office couch."

"All right. See everyone bright and early tommorow?"

There were grumbles.


Ainsley and Becca had toasted Ainsley's continued employment, played a few games of Gin Rummy and went to bed. At two thirty in the morning the phone rang. Ainsley rolled over in bed and fumbled the phone to her ear. "Hello?" she mumbled.

"Ainsley, we won!"

She rubbed her eyes. "I know, Sam. I watched the election coverage too."

She heard pots crashing in the background. "Ooops," he muttered. "I just wanted to call you."

She sat up. "Celebrated pretty hard, huh?"

"Oh yeah. We won, Ainsley."

She smiled. She could just picture his little boy smile. "Congratulations. I'm very happy for you."

"I can't believe we won. We did it. We did the impos--" There was a thump, followed by a crash and the sound of the phone skittering across the floor.

Ainsley rubbed her forehead, getting out of bed. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and slid into shoes. She heard him get the phone again. "Sam?"

She heard him laugh. "I think I'm having more balance issues. Somebody moved my chairs around."

"Would you like me to come over and help get you to bed?"

He grinned, rolling onto his back in the middle of his livingroom floor. "I would love that."

"Okay. I'll be there soon. Try not to kill yourself before I get there."

"I think I'll stay right here."

She chuckled. "Good idea." She hung up and went out to the living room, shrugging into her coat. Becca blinked at her blearily from the couch. Ainsley waved at her. "Go back to sleep. It was just Sam."

"Where you going?"

"Over to his place to put him to bed."

Becca snorted. "He called you for sex?"

"No. Just to tell me we won."

"And now you're going over there?"


Becca rolled over. "Booty call."

Ainsley didn't dignify that with a response, grabbing her keys and leaving. She made it to Sam's place in ten minutes. She parked, went inside and up to his apartment, knocking lightly.

"Come in!" He shouted, way too loudly for 2:30 in the morning.

She shook her head and pushed the door open. She found him sprawled in the middle of the floor. She tossed her purse on a chair, unbuttoning her coat. "Hi, Sam."

"Hello, Ainsley. Did you know you're my favorite Republican?"

She smiled. "I am? You're my favorite Democrat." She tossed her coat on the same chair as her purse and stood over him in sweatpants and a silk camisole. "Is the floor comfortable?"

"That doesn't match, but it's very sexy. You're not wearing a bra, are you?"

"I usually don't wear a bra to bed, Sam."

He held up a hand. "Come here?"

She took his hand and kneeled on the floor next to him. "I thought I was here to get you to bed."

"Will you come to bed with me?"

She smiled and felt her nipples tighten at his expression. "Yeah," she whispered.

He saw it, too. He reached up and stroked one with his fingertip. She shivered. "Are you very drunk?" she asked.

He grinned. "Not too drunk."

She smiled. "Because we have your bed. And all night."

"Do you think that this will violate the agreement? Not that I really give a damn at this point, but I do struggle to break treaties as little as possible."

She bent and kissed him. "This doesn't count. It's election night." She got to her feet and tugged on him to get up. She kissed him deeply, then put an arm around his waist, leading him to the bed room.

"I have a very big bed, you know."

"I've seen it. When I came to help you with Noah." She pushed his door open. "I'd love to try it out."

"So would I. I have all these dreams about you."

She smiled. She had to get him drunk more often. "What are your dreams about?"

"You," he repeated. "I just told you that." He sounded a bit confused.

She pushed him onto the bed and kneeled to take his shoes off. "What was I doing?"

He grinned. "Anything. You're always naked. Well, once you were in one of my shirts. Sometimes in my office."

She glanced up at him through her lashes. "You'd like to have sex in your office?"

"Oh, yeah."

She got up on her knees and started unbuttoning his shirt. "I have dreams about you, too, you know."

"Are they like my dreams?"

"Yeah. You're naked in them." She took his shirt off and tossed it aside, the pulled his undershirt over his head. "A lot of them are kinda like memories. But there's others. . . I guess you could call them fantasies."

"And what are your fantasies about?"

She blushed. "Usual stuff, I guess."

"Anything I can make true?"

She smiled, leaning up to kiss him. "Maybe," she murmured. She was still blushing.

"Anything you want. As long as you take your clothes off first."

She got to her feet and pulled her camisole off, twirling it around her finger and tossing it away. She untied the drawstring of her sweats and they fell off her hips in a puddle on the floor so she was naked. She cocked one hip and gave him a sexy look.

He stood up, unzipping his pants and pushing them and his boxers off. "Now that we're both unclothed. . .requests?"

She blushed harder, the color spreading down over her breasts. "Well. . . you haven't. . . you did this thing the first time. . ." She made a gesture south of the border.

"Come here, then," he said with a grin. He tugged on her hand, and both of them got thier feet tangled in the pants they'd left around thier ankles, and they crashed onto the bed in an undignified heap.

She started to giggle, rolling off him to push her pants off. She kissed his mouth gently. "We're gonna kill each other one of these days."

"It'll be a good death." He kissed her, sucking on her lower lip.

She nipped the tip of his nose. "Won't even know when we make it to heaven."

He laughed. "Did you just bite my nose? There might be retaliation for that."

"Dear God, I hope so."

He grinned, and he chose her left nipple. She squeaked, jumping a little. She weaved her fingers into his hair, rolling onto her back. He bit her other nipple lightly. "Revenge is a wonderful game."

"Yeah. You know what else is a good game?"

He kissed her stomach. "What?"

"Find the spot."

"If you had any freckles, I'd kiss them all, but you don't."

"I mean the spot that, like, makes you groan just by touching it."

He found her clit with the tip of his fingers. "This spot?"

She sighed softly. "That's one of them."

He resumed his path down her stomach. "A good one?"

She smiled. "Very good. You could spend some time there."

He kissed her hipbone. "I'll think about it."

She made an unhappy noise. "That's mean."

The other hipbone. "I'm not allowed to think about it? Anticipation is half the fun."

She sighed. "Bet that's not what you were saying earlier tonight."

Sam pushed her legs apart, gently nibbling his way along her inner thigh. "Touche."

She stroked his hair gently, sinking into the bed. "Not that I'm not enjoying the attention."

"I'll just bet." He kissed her center.

She moaned softly, eyes drifting shut. "Well. . . we hardly ever have time. . . for foreplay."

"We have all night. Well, all morning."

She sighed, making a happy noise. "All the time in the world."

He licked her clit slowly. She made that sweet little mewling noise and twisted on the sheets. Heat slowly pooled deep in her belly, warming her whole body.

He adored her noises. He grazed his teeth over her gently. She gasped. "Sam." She moved her hips, trying to get closer to him. "Keep doing that."

She heard him chuckle, but he didn't stop, which was all that really mattered to her. She licked her lips. "You said. . . you liked. . . when I was bossy."


She mewled again. She was getting very close, very tight. "Sam. . . the first time. . . you talked." She pressed close to him. "Felt really good."

He slid two fingers inside her. "I want you to feel good."

Her hips bucked up. "Yeah." She closed her eyes and reached above her head, grabbing his head board. "Just a little more. . ." He curved up his fingers inside her, finding her other spot.

She let out a thin cry and arched, shuddering. "Sam," she breathed as she climaxed, lithe muscles spasming around his fingers. He groaned a little, resting his head on her stomach. She stroked his hair, then moved her hand down to rub his neck. She was panting a little, staring at the ceiling.

"Mmm, thanks," he said.

"Thank *you*."

He kissed a path back up her body. "How do you feel?"

She grinned. "Warm and fuzzy." She rubbed a hand over his chest, the hair tickling her palm.

"I'm very glad."

She found herself interested in his chest hair. It was soft, silky. She wondered, given how much time he obviously spent on the hair on his head, if he conditioned it. She giggled at the mental image that called to mind.


She shook her head. "Nothing," she choked out.


"I was just thinking. . . how nice your chest hair is."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Okay. Thanks."

She kissed his mouth, then dipped her head the suck on one of his nipples. Sam sucked in a breath. She focused on his nipples, one hand sliding between them. She found his shaft with her hand and wrapped her fingers around it.

He groaned. "Ainsley."

"Yes?" she asked innocently. She rubbed her thumb over the broad tip.

"That feels good. Thought I should tell you that."

She grinned. "Do you have any requests?"

"Anything you could do to me would be good."

She gave him a little shove to roll off her and started kissing his stomach, still stroking him with her fingers.

"Mmmm, you know what, come back up here. I think I'd rather be inside you." He sounded so matter of fact when he said that it was almost funny.

She licked his navel. "Can I be on the bottom?" she asked.

"You can be anywhere you want."

She bit his hip. "I wanna be beneath you."

He shuddered, gripping her arms and pulling her up him. She kissed his mouth softly, tenderly, working her arms around his neck. He lifted her hips, shifting her until he slid inside. Then he rolled over, trapping her beneath him.

She sighed, eyes fluttering shut. "Yes," she murmured. She was saying yes to everything. To him. To this. To them. They were right together. This was right. He moved slowy, in and out, taking his time. He kissed the corner of her mouth, her cheek, her eyelids. She smiled, kissing him back. It was nice to be slow for once. She wound her legs around his waist, changing the angle slightly so he stroked different places. She moved her hands over him slowly, memorizing him.

"Mmm. We should do this more often."

"Yeah." She kissed him. "I like it this way."

He lifted his head and looked down into her eyes, holding them as he thrust a little harder, a little faster. She looked up at him, never breaking the eye contact. She rocked her hips with his, teeth digging into her lower lip as pleasure began to tighten within her. He watched her, wanting to see it in her eyes when she came. She kept moving with him. Her eyes started to darken and glaze and he knew she was close. Her nails dug into his back. "Sam. . ." She arched. "God."

He braced himself on one arm so he could reach down and touch her where they joined. She mewled and her eyes fluttered. She forced them to stay open, locked on his as she started to tremble, then shake. Her body moved around him, spasming as pleasure filled her. She whispered his name over and over as she shook.

"Oh, dear God," he growled, moving in time with her orgasm, until finally his washed over him, and collapsed on top of her.

She stroked his back, rubbing the muscles gently. She rained kisses on the side of his face.


"I think so."

That made him chuckle. He rolled off of her. "No more agreement."

She nodded. "Agreed."

He pulled her close to him. "This is a many-timed thing."

"Numerous times. Multiple times. Sometimes within the same time."

"I've never been this happy. Literally. Never in my life has there been a time where I was happier than I am right now."

She rested her head on his shoulder, fingertips stroking over his chest. "Me neither. We fit together so perfectly." She kissed his throat. "In so many ways."

He closed his eyes, feeling all the tension and exhaustion of the last few weeks-- the last few days-- draining out of him. "Mmmm."

She settled into him. "Goodnight, Sam."

"G'night. Ainsley."

She nuzzled herself close to him, drifting off.

* * * * *

Part 11

When Sam got in, Josh was standing in the doorway to Donna's office, staring at her empty desk. "She's gone?"

He sighed, shoulders slumped. "Yeah. Packed up and left."

He squeezed Josh's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

He shrugged, turning to go into his office. "I get to date her now though. Take her out and show her a great time. So it's an even trade. I guess."

Sam fell into one of Josh's chairs and grinned at him. Only then did Josh noticed exactly which particular grin Sam was wearing today. He frowned at him as he closed his door. "And how did Ainsley take the news?"

The grin widened. "Particularly well. She's happy to have continued employment."

"I thought Leo took you home last night."

"I called her when I got home."

"And she came over and had sex with you."

"Sorry, but you're not the only one who got some last night."

"So you booty called Ainsley Hayes."

He blinked. "It wasn't a booty call."

"You called her, drunk, in the middle of the night, for the sole purpose of having her come over and sleep with you. That's a booty call, my friend."

"I didn't call her to get her to come over. I called her to share my joy."

"Because, as a Republican, you knew she'd be thrilled to be awakened at two am by a smug Democrat."

He made a face. "We're friends."

"Who booty call each other."

"It was not a booty call!"

"Then what was it?"

"A phone call that happened to end in sex. There's a difference."

Josh smirked. "I haven't mocked you about this because I know it's important to you, and I don't want to hurt your feelings. But Sam, that was a booty call."

He absolutely would not accept this. He stood up, going next door into CJ's office, Josh trailing behind him. "CJ, what constitutes a booty call?"

She didn't look up. "Calling someone late at night so they'll come over and have sex with you."

"But what if you call them just to talk and then they end up coming over?"

She considered that. "Did you have any intention of getting them over to your place when you called?"

"No. Too drunk to think that far ahead."

"Oh well if your drunk it's automatically a booty call."

Josh had been leaning in the doorway, enjoying this, when he noticed something odd sticking out of the cushions of her couch. He went over and pulled out a dark blue necktie. He arched a brow at CJ.

"Why is it a booty call if you're drunk?" Sam demanded, glaring at her. Then he frowned. "Hey, CJ, not that I'm staring at your chest, but you missed a button this morning."

Josh's other eyebrow went up.

"It's automatically a booty call when your drunk because you're never calling someone just to talk when you're drunk. You want something. If it's your ex it's to tell them you don't need them. And if it's your current it's to get some." She stood and came around her desk. "And that button fell off. I slept here last night and was too hungover to go home and change. Don't look at me like that, Josh. We aren't all having secret affairs." She look at Sam, who sat on the couch beside Josh. "Who'd you booty call, anyway? Not the 21 year old?"

"You don't know her," Josh answered for him. He dangled the tie out for her. "What is this?"

She took it from him. "It's a tie, Josh. You know, that thing you can't seem to put on straight without Donna's help." She leaned back against her open door.

His brow furrowed but he moved on. "So what's on the agenda today? Do we get a day of victory?"

"We got a morning of victory. I noticed all of you rolling in well past mid-morning. It's eleven, Sam, where have you been?"

Josh looked at him. "Meditiating?"

Sam gave him a look. "I over slept. I had a late night."

"With mystery woman. Definitly not the 21 year old?"


"I'm just saying. . .it would look really bad. It's not anyone else inappropriate?"

"It's fine. Just one of Sam's indiscretions."

"She's not an indescretion!" Sam said indignantly.

Josh tossed his hands up. "Fine then you make the excuses. I'm only trying to help."

Sam turned red.

"What's going on?" CJ demanded.

"Just tell her, she won't tell anyone. It only makes her life harder if it gets out."

Sam sighed. "Ainsley Hayes."

"Ainsley. . .Ainsley Hayes the Republican?" The level of CJ¹s voice rose a little. "I thought you couldn't stand her?"

"We're at each other's throat's a lot, but it's a good thing."

Josh made a choking noise. "They have porn movie sex."

"I don't want that mental image." She waved her hands around. "What is wrong with all of you? Is there something in the water here I'm not aware of that is making everyone insane?"

Like some sort of strange punctuation to her outburst, Toby appeared in the doorway. From the door you couldn't see Sam and Josh on the couch. He took the tie CJ was waving out of her hand. "There that is."

Josh and Sam looked at each other, then swiveled their heads to stare at CJ. She turned around and went back to her desk. "Everybody out of my office."

"What were you saying about the water?" Josh choked out.

"Out!" she commanded.

Josh and Sam both jumped up. "So you don't get to mock us anymore?"

"I'm not saying anything except get out."

Josh grinned at Sam as they left. "Okay, first thing we do is test the cooler water, then the coffee."

From inside her office, they heard CJ call. "Try your damn brandy."

"We were sleeping with ours way before last night."

"Did I say I wasn't?" She called back. She was just as competitive as the guys.

Leo was coming down the hall. "Must we shout about this in the hallways?"

"She threw us out of her office," Josh said petulantly.

"When she does that, it's usually with good reason, isn't it?"

The door opened. "I'm not embarassed. Get out of my hallway."

"This isn't your hallway and yes you are."

"No I'm not."

"What, are we in the seventh grade, now? Everyone go back to work," Leo said.

Josh and CJ glared at each other a moment before he went back to his office, Sam trailing behind.

"It would appear that Leo's the one person in the is office who didn't get any last night."

"Poor guy." He flopped into his chair. "Maybe we should get him a girl."

"I know where to get a hooker." Sam grinned. "And you know what else?"


"I'm never sitting on CJ's couch again."

Josh's eyes got wide. "Dear God. You're right."

"And it wasn't a booty call."

"Hey, whatever lets you sleep at night."

He made a noise and walked out. "I'm going to get to work."

"There's a concept."

The door between CJ and Josh's office opened and she came through. "Okay, so how are we handling the you and Donna going public thing?"

He looked up at her. "What, you mean like a press conference or something?"

"I don't want to make an issue out of it. Are you just going to behave like a normal couple now?"

"That was the plan, yeah."

"And what's the party line on your relationship prior to her quitting?"

"Friendly but professional. We did nothing to jeporadize the integrity of this office or our working relationship."

She nodded. "Sounds good."

"Thank you."



"You're not goign to say anything. . ."

"Oh no. I'm going to hoard this information away until it best suits my purposes."

She leaned against the doorway, and she looked tired. "Josh."

"Hey, I took a hell of a lot of shit for Donna. It's my turn."

"And I'm the one covering your ass with the press."

He frowned. "Can I mock Toby?"

She turned red. "No!"

"Can I have any fun?"

"You and Donna are funny becasue it's you and Donna. You were inevitable. You adore each other. You have a relationship. I celebrated winning the election a little too much. And it's not something I want to answer questions about in the cafeteria."

"So it didn't start before last night?"

"No, I just didn't want you to have the last word."

He grinned. "Okay, okay. I won't say anything."

She blew out a breath. "Thanks."


She disappeared back into her office.

He went back to work, smiling to himself. He was still getting over the night before. They'd won.

CJ went out her other office door, down the hall. She tiptoed past Sam's door and opened the door next to it. "If you don't stop leaving clothing in my office. . ."


"I swear Becca, it's like I'm addicted."

Becca glanced up from the display case and looked at her sister. "Ainsley, is this a conversation we should be having in the Smithsonian?"

"I'm serious. It's like an addiction. God, do you think I'm a nymphomaniac?"

"Usually that's many different guys, not just one." They started walking to another room. "And I don't think it suddenly appears one day in your twenties."

"You're probably right."

"Hey, when it comes to sex, I know." They turned a corner and stepped onto the escalator. "Do you give him lots of blow jobs? 'Cause I read this think on the web where this girl became addicted to sperm so she had to keep-"

"Becca, was this one of those websites you have to pay $29.95 before you can read it?"

She gave her a look. "It was a thirty day trial period."


They went down to the bottom floor and Becca steered her into Palm Court, the restaurant. "Come on, they have the best desserts here."

They got a booth and ordered sundaes. Ainsley put her head in her hands. "I don't know what to do, Becca. I used to hate him. We used to spend our time arguing with each other. Now he calls me at two in the morning and I run over to have sex with him."

A twisted relationship, but adorable none the less."

Ainsley groaned and dropped her head to the table. "I think I'm falling in love with him."

Becca squeaked. "Really?"

"Yeah. I just. . . I want to do things with him that we haven't done. That aren't part of the agreement."

"Theres things you haven't done?"

I mean. . . couple stuff. Like, I don't know, watch rentals in our sweats with pop corn. Or go to the ballet. Or sit on the lawn at the Mall and cuddle and read. Things that couples do. I don't get any of that. Sex. . . it's not enough."

"You really have a backwards relationship, don't you?"

"Yeah." She lifted her head. "There was this thing, in Moscow. We napped together. And we just talked, about everything and nothing. It was nice. Then I got to sleep in his arms."

Her sister squeaked again. "That's so sweet."

Ainsley smiled. "Yeah." She groaned. "But oh, the sex."

"What are you looking for here, Ainse? You want me to admonish you? Rationalize why it's a good idea?"

She frowned. "The rationalizing thing."

"You owe it to sex to continue this relationship."


"You and Sam have great sex. Sex most people dream about. It would be a crime against the sex gods to not keep having it."

Ainsley considered that. "I'm desperate enough to accept that."

"Good girl."

* * * * *

Part 12

Sam and Ainsley spent the next month sort of dating, sort of hiding in it and definetly having lots of sex. It put them in a murky area that neither of them could really define, nor did they want to discuss. They were happy and didn't want to ruin it by talking.

Josh appeared in Sam's office one afternoon early in December. "Hey, are you doing anything this Saturday?"

"Saturday. . .No, why?"

"I'm going house shopping, I want a second opinion."

"You're buying a house?"

"Yeah. For Donna. The real estate agent gave me four or five addresses and I gotta pick one this weekend."

"You're buying *Donna* a house?"

"Well, it's for us. I'm giving it to her for Christmas."

"That's an insane gift."

"I think it's a very good gift."

"Josh. . .does Donna have any idea this is coming?"

He shrugged. "I think she knows I'm serious about her."

"She has a baby. I think the whole let's-move-in-together thing is a little inappropriate."

"Well, we'd be married."

Sam blinked. "Have you proposed?"

He shrugged. "No."

"Well. . .you have too. You can't just buy a house and figure she'll assume."

"She'll figure it out, won't she?"

"No, she won't. You have to actually ask her to marry you."

Josh frowned. "You're probably right."

"With a ring and everything."

His brow furrowed, then smoothed. "I can get my mom to send the family one. I better have her send it to Leo, or Donna might find it."

Sam grinned. "Wow. You're really gonna do this."

"Well, of course."

"That's just really amazing. You getting married. Can I be your best man?"

"Of course."

He grinned. "So, house hunting, huh?"

"Yeah. Saturday."

"I'd be glad to help you."

"Thanks. I'll pick you up around ten."


Josh pulled up in front of Sam's building and leaned on his horn at ten o'clock Saturday morning. There was no response, so Josh honked some more. One of the windows opened and a blonde head popped out. "Quiet! He'll be right down."

A moment later Sam came out the front door. He blew a kiss at Ainsley and then got in Josh's car. Josh arched a brow at him. "Not a morning person, is she?"

"Oh, we were awake."

He made a noise, pulling out to the street. "Ah, to be young again."

Sam reached down to the floor of Josh's car and came back with a tiny sock, a stuffed cat and a plastic spoon. "And this is what your life has been reduced to. Seriously, are you starting a Cheerios farm down there?"

"Sometimes I just need a snack."

"When did you become so domestic, Josh?"

He shrugged. "Fell in love with a woman with a kid. Just kinda happened."

"I remember a time when you used to run from women with kids. Run from women who *wanted* kids."

"I matured late."

"I always wanted kids."

"I know." He pulled out a piece of paper and peered at it as he stopped at a light. "Kay, the first two are in Bethesda." He took a right, heading up Wisconsin. "Any women in your mental image of wedded bliss?"

He lifted a shoulder. "Ask me in six months."

He arched a brow. "That long?"

"I think I'm in love with her."

Josh braked hard at a stop light and looked over at his friend. "Really?"

"Yes. Maybe. I think so."

"Well as long as you're sure."

"Well, I was wrong the last time I thought I was in love."

Josh nodded. "Yeah. I don't blame you for being careful." He snorted. "Hell, I'm the last person to lecture anyone on love."

"You seem to be doing okay."

"Yeah, took me long enough, though."

"That's just cause you're dumber than me."

"At least the first half of my relationship didn't involve figuring out reasons I wasn't in a relationship."

"No, you just spent fours years in all-encompasing denial. At least I was getting some."

Josh smirked. "Now what are you?"

"It's a many-timed-thing. I think we're dating."

"Have you like, gone out to dinner? Or the movies? Or the theater? The ballet?"

"We get lunch a lot."

"No real dates?"

"The last time I got dinner reservations she wore this amazing red dress and told me as we sat down she hadn't worn underwear. We left before the menus arrived."

Josh laughed, turning onto a side street. "So basically it's sex with no stipulations?"

"No!" Sam sounded very offended by that.

"Then what is it? It's dating with no dates. It's just sex but more then that. Do you just not want to deal with it so you ignore it?"

"It's complicated."

"I'm sure." He pulled up in front of a brownstone style house surrounded by others that looked exactly like it. Josh frowned at it. "I don't like it."

Sam peered out the window. "You need a yard, Josh."

"Yeah. Donna strikes me as someone who'd want pets, doesn't she?"

"You have children. They need to be able to run through sprinklers and make mud pies."

Josh nodded. "Yeah." He crossed the address off the list and started out for the next one. "This one'll probably be just as bad. There's no room in Bethesda anymore."

He took the paper from Josh. "They're in Virginia."

"Yeah. Longer commute, though." Even as he said it he started heading south.

"Hey, Josh, not for nothing, but these are half million dollar houses."

"I know."

"Didn't you empty your investment accounts to pay the medical bills?"

"Yeah. My, uh, mom's gonna buy it for me. The down payment anyway. Then when I sell my condo I'm going to pay her back."

Sam laughed out loud. "This could entertain me for years."

"Shut up, Sam. It's just a loan. People do it all the time."

"Yeah, but privileges at the Bank o' Mom usually expire after college. Though Donna will find it cute." He scanned the paper again. "Really, though? Do you need such a big house? What are you going to do with four bedrooms?"

"Have more kids. I intend to repopulate the world."

"My God. More of you."

Josh grinned. "They can run around with all the little yous Ainsley spits out. Take over the country."

He looked startled. Having children with Ainsley. He'd never really thought about that before. A little person who would be part of both of them. It was a heady feeling, one he didn't know what to do with. "Yeah."

"Just blew your mind, didn't I?"

he stared out the window. "Yeah."

"Sorry. Takes some getting used to. When I first started thinking about it with Donna I started having dreams about babies with my head."

"I hadn't been thinking. I never even considered. . ." He shook his head. "You're contagious, Josh, that's what you are."

"Sorry," he said again, though he sounded anything but.

Sam made a noise.

"I just want everyone to be as happy as me."

"Don't push me, huh?"

"Okay, okay. I'll drop it."


Becca picked Ainsley up at Sam's half an hour or so after he left with Josh. They spent Saturday at the mall in Crystal City looking for Christmas gifts. They were driving home when Becca's pocket started to ring. With a frown she pulled out a cell phone. Ainsley looked at her. "Where did you get a cell phone?"

"I dated a guy who worked at Wireless World." She winked and answered it. "Hello?" Her eyes widened. "Mom?" Ainsley's brows arched. Becca waved a hand at her. "No, I'm fine, just surprised to hear from you. Yeah. Really? No. . . Mom I don't want to know that." She made a face at Ainsley. "Okay. Well, maybe Spring Break or something. Sure. I talked to Ainsley the other day. Fine. No. Maybe. I can't tell you. Ask *her*. Mom. *Mom.* Okay. You too. Kiss Daddy for me. Bye." She snapped the phone shut.

"What was all that?" Ainsley asked.

"Mom. We aren't going home for Christmas this year."

"Why not?"

"Mom and Daddy are going on a cruise for two weeks over Christmas. It's Daddy's gift to her." She gave a wry smile. "We aren't invited."

"What that what you didn't want to know?"

"Yeah, mom was slipping into 'I'm my daughter's friend' mode. Which is fine unless she's talking about getting some."

Ainsley made a disgusted noise. "So we're on our own for Christmas?"

"Looks like." She grinned. "Hey, we did Thanksgiving okay."

"Maybe Sam would like to do something," Ainsley mused. "God, I don't know what to get him."

Becca looked at her. "You're really getting serious aren't you?"

"I wouldn't say that."

"You're planning on spending Christmas with him. That's serious. That's a holiday."

"It doesn't mean anything."

Becca smiled. "Yeah, Ainse, it does. Whether you admit it or not. You and Sam got a thing going on."

She was silent a moment. "He won't admit it either."

"So that's the problem."

"Would it kill him to introduce me as his girlfriend?"

"Do you introduce him as your boyfriend?"

"No, but only because he hasn't introduced me as his girlfriend."

Becca snorted. "Wow. I really can't wait to have a mature, adult relationship like yours."

"Shut up."

"I'm assuming you haven't exchanged I love yous either."


"Maybe that could be your Christmas gift to him."

Ainsley looked at her, then grinned. "I like that."

"I'm a writer, I'm full of good ideas."

They were silent a moment before Ainsley spoke up. "So were you talking about me to Mom?"

"Yeah." She grinned at her. "She wanted to know if you were seeing anyone."

"What did you say?"

"That she'd have to ask you." She put a hand to her forehead. "I see a prodding message on your machine when we get home."

Ainsley shook her head. "When are you going to tell them you failed out?"

"Um, I'm thinking never."

"They're going to find out eventually."

"I intend to be a bestselling author laying outside my villa on the French Riviera by then."

"At least you have realistic goals." She looked at her. "They're not as bad as you think, Becca. Yeah, they're probably going to yell and act disappointed, but in the end it'll be okay."

Becca shrugged, looking out the window. "We'll see."

Ainsley sighed but didn't push it as they drove the rest of the way in silence.

* * * * *

Part 13

One would never know it was Christmas time from the temperature in Ainsley's office. It had to be a hundred degrees in her little cell. She had five fans going, all aimed at her. Her suit jacket was tossed over the back of her chair and she worked in a silk shell that stuck to her back. She missed summer. It had been cooler in here then.

Sam appeared in her doorway. "Hello."

She smiled at him, looking a little wilted. "Hi."

"I brought you something. Close your eyes."

She sighed but closed her eyes obediantly. She heard some rustling of papers. "Where's there a plug?"

She frowned. "There's a surge protector on the side of my desk. I think there's a spare plug on it."

More rustling. "Okay, open your eyes."

On top of one of her filing cabinets was a multi-colored fiber optic Christmas Tree. She stared at it a moment, then made a squeaking noise. "Oh, Sam." She got up and went to look at it. "This is so sweet."

"I thought you needed some Christmas cheer down here." He shut her door and then went around the desk to sit in her chair. "It's unbearable down here." He shrugged out of his jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

She leaned a hip on her desk, looking at him. "Really? I hadn't noticed."

He grinned. "That shirt is almost indescent." He glanced down at her desk. She had been in the middle of reading and taking notes on one impossibly thick case file. "Is this what you do all day?"

"Pretty much, yeah. The other Associates and I draw lots for the more interesting cases. Sometimes Mr. Babish assigns one directly to us." She took the clip out of her hair and fluffed it, then started to twist it up again.

He watched the way her breasts pressed against her shirt when she lifted her arms. "Leave it down," he said softly.

She gave him a look. "Sam, do you know how hot my hair is on my neck?"

"Leave it down and I'll rub the kinks out of your shoulders."

She smiled. "Was that a compromise?" she murmured, moving closer to him.

"It was." He stood up, pushing her chair back. "Come here."

She went over to him, offering him her back.

He kneaded her shoulders gently. "You are so tense."

"Am not," she said, leaning back into him.

"Either that or you sit with bad posture."

"Probably that. Mmmm," she purred when he rubbed a particularyly nice spot. He didn't think about what he was doing. Cause if he did he'd have stopped himself. His hands slid over her shoulders and down to cup her breasts.

She sucked in a sharp breath, letting her back rest against his chest. It was the heat, she thought. It made things that weren't good ideas seem like *very* good ideas. Slowly, back and forth, he stroked his fingers over her nipples, through her shirt and bra. She moaned softly, hands flattening on his thighs. They moved around to cup his rear, pulling him close to her. She could feel his growing erection against her back.

One of his hands slid down her abdomen, pulling the thin shell out of her skirt and bushing his fingertips over her stomach. The muscles twitched at his touch. She tipped her head back and kissed his chin.

"How often do people come down here?"

"You're the only one. Except for the occasional janitor."

"Good." Both hands glided down her body, over her thighs to the edge of her skirt. He pushed it up until it was bunched around her hips.

"Sam." The word was somewhere between a question, a protest and encouragment.

"Thigh highs, Ainsley? Are they for the heat or for me?"

"Both," she said, eyes twinkling.

He slid a finger beneath the edge of her panties, stroking her gently. "Good."

Her eyes fluttered shut and she shifted her legs into a slightly wider stance. This was so wrong. So dangerous. It made her want it even more. He pressed against her clit, making small circles.

She whimpered, legs wobbling. "Sam. . . I don't know if I can stand. . ."

"You can stand," he told her. He slid an arm around her waist. "I got you."

She held onto his arm, leaning on him as her body started to tighten. She moaned his name. He kissed her bare shoulder, stroking her a little faster. She rocked her hips, then let out a cry, climaxing. She went limp, sagging against his arm as she shook. He held onto her. "You okay?"

She swallowed hard and nodded, panting.

He brushed her hair off her neck and kissed her there. "Should we stop?"

She leaned back on him and felt a very hard bulge on her back. "I think you'd be very mad if I told you to stop."

"I survived Air Force One," he said, attempting to sound nonchalant.

"But I felt ever so bad about that." She felt steady enough to step away from him, turning and hopping on her desk. She grinned at him, then crooked a finger at him.

She saw a shudder pass through him, and then he kissed her, hard and rough. She kissed him back, undoing his belt and fly as she devoured him. He didn't even pull her panties down, just pushed them out of the way as he thrust into her.

She mewled, arms wrapping around his neck. She leaned back, tugging on him. Her back flattened on the desk, scattering papers and a cup of pens onto the floor. he caught his hand under one of her knees, lifting her leg higher. She groaned, eyes fluttering shut. She linked her ankles behind his back.

Something else crashed to the floor. He straightened, pulling her up with him. "This is going to be a problem." She made a frustrated little noise when he slid out of her and tugged her off the desk. "Turn around," he said.

Her eyes widened and she turned slowly. He pushed her skirt up to her waist and dragged her panties down. He put his hands over hers and placed them flat down on the desk as he thrust back into her. "I'd hate for crashing things to attract attention."

She let out a surprised cry, shuddering. "No. . . that would. . ." She sucked in a breath. "Jesus, Sam. . . I've never. . ."

"We really shouldn't be doing this, you know," he whispered. "We could get caught."

"Could've gotten caught. . . on Air Force One."

He thrust harder. "Coulda hid that. Now. . .your door's right there."

Her throat worked and she bent forward, changing the angle. She moaned, hurtling towards her peak. "Could be the new. . . scandal."

He groaned. "Maybe we should. . .stop. . .or. . .something. . ."

"No," she breathed, then jerked, body clenching. She shuddered around him, tiny muscles rippling around him.

"Oh, God," he hissed, rocking into her once, so hard he nearly lifted her off her feet. He groaned as he spilled inside her.

Her arms trembled, then her elbows locked and she managed to stay upright, leaning on the desk. She sighed. "Oh, Sam."

He rested his head against her shoulderblades. "Yeah."

Her knees gave a little and she leaned heavily on the desk, breathing hard. "I've never had anyone. . . that deep," she whispered.

He slid out of her carefully, and refastened his pants. He sat down in her chair. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

She pulled her panties up, then straightened her skirt out. "I don't think so." She sat in his lap, resting against him.

He held her close. "I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet, you wanna come on Saturday?"

She smiled. "I'd love to. I have a few more things I need to get, too."

"We should both get back to work."

"Yeah." She stirred and got to her feet. "Thank you for the tree."

He stood slowly and smiled. "Merry Christmas."

She kissed him. "Merry Christmas, Sam."

He scooped up his suit jacket. "I'll call you tonight."

"Okay." She crouched down and started picking up her fallen papers. "Try not too smile that much when you get upstairs."

"I'll try," he said, and then he left. From her position on the floor she had an excellent view of his ass. With her own secret smile on her face, she got back to work.


Ainsley handed her bags to Sam as she pulled her keys out to open the door. "I've never been shopping with a man before. You really don't know how to do it right, do you?"

"I'm efficient. Women are so slow."

"Shopping is not a death sport. It's a journey. You must gather your purchases." She shoved the door open. "You must contrast and compare and never, ever buy something unless you know it's the best deal you can get."

"Hey, at least I still by my own clothes, which is more than I can say for some of my co-workers."

"Who buys Josh's clothes?" She took her bags from him and dropped them on the living room floor.


"I'm not even a little bit surprised." She picked a note off of the kitchen counter. "Becca's out for the night. With someone named Glen."

"Glen. That's a wussy name." He wandered into Ainsley's bedroom.

"Becca's an equal opportunity whore." She put the note down. "You want coffee or anything?"

"What I want is for you to come in here. As soon as I find the light-- Ow!" There was a crash.

She sighed and went to the bedroom door. "What did you do?"

"I knocked over your poupori oil thing. What is it with women and all this smelly stuff?" He tried to wipe his hands off. "Do you have any tissues?" He yanked open her nightstand drawer, and then he was deadly still. "Ainsley."

"There's tissues in the bathroom." She looked at him. "What's wrong?"

"Turn the damn light on," he snapped, a tone of voice she'd never heard directed at her.

She reached behind her and hit the overhead light switch. "What is it?"

He reached down into the drawer and pulled up something. He turned around and dull steel reflected a muted spot of light. Her handgun. She felt something go out of her. The part that had been anticipating the night. She sighed and crossed her arms. "Be careful, there's no safety."

Something crossed his face. "Oh, of course not. Safeties are a violation of the second ammendmant. It's yours? And you keep it loaded in your nightstand? I've been sleeping with a loaded gun a foot from my head?"

"It has no safety because it's a .38 Special, which is a wheel gun which aren't, in general, made with safeties. It's mine. Yes. And usually you sleep on the other side so it's more like four feet."

"Jesus Christ." He put it back in the drawer carefully, like he was afraid it would go off. Then he stalked into the livingroom.

She took a moment to rub her forehead, then followed him. "It's just for protection, Sam."

"Protection from what?"

"Robbers, rapists, I don't know. Have you noticed the area in which I live isn't exactly the safest in the city? My dad got it for me when I was at Harvard."

"Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? Your gun is more likely to be used to hurt you than to protect you."

"It's not ridiculous. It's a security blanket, I sleep better knowing it's there."

"It's not a security blanket, it's a loaded weapon! You could get carjacked, mugged on the street. Why don't you carry it in your purse?"

"I have mace in my purse. Besides, I'd give up my purse or my car before getting into a fight with an armed man. I'm not getting raped without a fight."

"Last month a woman got raped in Union Station. It happens in parking decks all the time."

"Well gee, I guess you'll just get to say I told you so, won't you?"

"Damnit Ainsley! You know what I'm trying to say. Is this the way it should be? We should all arm ourselves to the teeth? That's no way to live."

She pressed her finger tips to her temples. "Listen, Sam, I know how important gun control is to you. I understand that. But I'm not breaking any laws here. I waited the three days. I have the registration. My fingerprints are on file. I'll go you one better and tell you I've had training in firearms since I was twelve. I'm 5'3" 110 pounds, I live alone, two blocks from Southwest and want protection. Last time I checked that wasn't against the law."

"It should be!"

"Well it's *not*."

"But it should be. This isn't the ERA or taxes or school funding or anythign else we argue and agree to disagree. My *best friend* was almost shot to death by a couple of nice, 'law-abiding' guys under the nose of fifty guards with automatic weapons. And you think you can stop someone who wants to hurt you?"

"I think I can try. I think having a gun makes it more likely I'll be able to. Studies indicate that burglars are less likely to go into occupied dwellings for fear of getting shot. Burglaries of occupied dwellings account for only 13% of all burglaries in this country. It's 45% or more in countries with low gun ownership."

"Do you have any idea what thier death rates are to ours? We have almost 300% more gun deaths."

"Yes and the vast majority of those are suicides."

"Find me a mother of a thirteen year old boy who blew his head off and ask her if she's not sorry there was a gun in the house."

"Do you see any children in this apartment, Sam? I know how to use a gun and so does Becca."

"You can't make coffee without hurting yourself. You have a loaded handgun, no safety, sitting in your drawer. You don't think you could accidentally shoot yourself? I don't--" his voice dropped, soft and sad. "I don't want that phone call, Ainsley."

She crossed her arms over his stomach. "I don't take it out and play with it, Sam."

"Ever bump into your nightstand? Ever knock it over? Ever spill oil on yourself in the dark and reach blindly into the damn drawer?" He was shouting again.

"Yeah but I haven't picked up the heavy, metal, gun shaped thing and pointed it at myself, then pulled the little trigger. Gun's don't have minds of their own, it's not the movies, you have to do something to make it go off."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It didn't seem like something I needed to tell you."

A muscle in his jaw worked. "I can see that."

"I don't see it as a big deal, Sam! It's not up there with veneral disease and dating history. I don't even think about it."

"You didn't think *I* would think it was a big deal? You know how I feel about guns."

"Okay, fine, I didn't know how to bring it up. Or when to bring it up. Only a month ago we were thinking of excuses why this wasn't really a relationship."

He stared at her, and then he said. "Well, it isn't Ainsley. This is a deal breaker."

She sucked in a breath. "This is it then? You or the gun? That's it?"

He spoke evenly, precicely. The politician voice. Because he was afraid other wise his voice was going to break. "No. I never said me or the gun. I don't like ultimatums. Besides, it's not like it would change your mind." He picked up his coat.

"So you're leaving. That's fine. That's great." She tightened her lips. "This isn't about changing my mind. It's about my safety. Whether you believe it or not that gun makes me feel safe. And that's obviously not important to you so, you know what? You should leave. Just get the hell out. Because even if you don't say it, it is an ultimatum. You can't deal with me so you storm out."

"I can't deal with my girlfriend having a loaded gun next to her bed. Most people wouldn't find that too unreasonable."

A little place deep in her brain did a dance that he called her girlfriend. The rest was not amused. "They should."

"Maybe in your world. Not in mine. And *that*, Ainsley, is why I'm leaving."

"Fine." She strode past him towards the door. "I've said it before and I'll say it again. You know I was a Republican when we started this." She wrenched the door open. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but didn't. So he put on his jacket and left.

She slammed the door behind him. Then she leaned against it and started to cry.

* * * * *

Part 14

It was the day before Christmas, but most of them were working at least half a day. Around nine, CJ appeared in the doorway of Josh's office. "Hey, Josh?"

He didn't look up. He needed to get this stuff done so he could get home and plan for tonight. "What's up?"

"What's wrong with Sam?"

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"He hasn't gone home since he got in on Monday. He's been sleeping on Toby's couch and sending Cathy back to his place for clothes. The last time he did that was when he found out about his father."

Josh rubbed a hand over his eyes. "This is about Ainsley." He got to his feet. "Somehow, this is about Ainsley." He walked out of his office. "I'll talk to him." He went down the hall and into Sam's office. He closed the door and sat in one of the chairs. He tilted his head at Sam. "So, what's wrong?"

He had a pile of stuff on his desk. Uncharacteristically disorganized. In fact, his whole office was a mess. Josh thought it was starting to look like his own. "Nothing, I'm just busy. Like I told CJ."

"Sam. This is Josh you're talking to. What happened?"

He rubbed his eyes tiredly with both hands. "Will you settle for an I don't want to talk about it?"

"It's about Ainsley, isn't it?"


"You broke up?"



"Our political differences got the best of us."

"Jesus, Sam." He shook his head. "You were so happy."

"Yeah. Life's pretty shitty, isn't it?"

"What was it? I mean. . . you guys fight all the time. You always seem to settle it."

"It was a deal breaker."

Josh studied him. "What?" he asked softly.

He fiddled with his pen, not looking up. "She keeps a loaded Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver in her nightstand drawer."

Josh's eyes opened wide. "Oh. . . wow." His brow furrowed. "That's. . . so incongruous."


"Well. . . she's this little blonde sex kitten. And now I'm picturing her with a gun. And it just doesn't fit."

"She's a Republican from the South. It was a gift from her father. She says it makes her feel safe."

Josh shook his head. "I'm guessing this was a big, messy fight."

"Yeah it was. I stormed out. Or she threw me out. Couldn't really tell."

"So that's it, huh? No getting around it."

"Does it sound like something we could get around?"

"It does sound like a line in the sand." He sighed. "I just don't like seeing you so unhappy."

He lifted a shoulder. "Hey. . . just another one of Sam's indiscretions."

"I know she was more then that, Sam," he said softly.

He swallowed. "Doesn't matter much now, does it?"

Josh shifted. "Anything I can do?"

He was silent, and it took Josh a moment to realize it was because he couldn't get any words out. Finally said. "Yeah, I was. . .I was gonna spend Christmas with Ainsley. . ."

He looked down. "I'm. . . I'm proposing to Donna tonight. But I think we'd both be happy to have you for Christmas."

"Thank you." Sam looked up, and his eyes shone a little. "Good luck, Josh."

"Thanks." He got to his feet and came around the desk. He stood awkwardly a moment then put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry Sam."

He blew out a breath. "So am I. I just. . .I. . .all that stuff we were talking about last week. I can't live in a house with a gun. I can't have *children* in a house with a gun."

"I know, I know. I couldn't either."

"I really thought she and I could meet in the middle, you know?"

"So did I. I mean, I didn't at first. But you two were so happy. I thought you'd do it."

He rubbed his eyes again. "Why didn't I just become an accountant like my dad wanted?"

"There's no drama in that." He squeezed his shoulder. "It'll be okay, Sam."

"No," he said quietly. "It won't."

Josh swallowed. "I'm sorry," he said again.

"Yeah. Don't worry about me. Get your work done so you can go home to Donna."

He hesitated. "Take care of yourself."

"I will." He looked up. "You got the ring, Josh?"

He grinned, he couldn't help it. "Yeah, mom sent it to Leo, He gave it to me the other day."

That made Sam smile too. "Remember to ask her. Make sure it's a question. Don't just hand her the ring and stare at her nervously until she figures it out. Before you give her the house."

"I'm taking her to the house to ask."

Sam nodded. "Sounds good."

"Thanks. I thought it was a big romantic gesture that would make her make that squeaking noise."

"I'm sure it will."

Josh nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow, then? Come by whenever."

"Yeah. I'll bring dessert. I had my mother send me her recipe for this chocolate--" He stopped talking suddenly, looking down.

Josh put a hand on Sam's head, silent.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said finally.

"Yeah." He patted his back gently, then left.


Ainsley and Becca spent the Sunday after New Years on the couch with ice cream and Cary Grant movies. Ainsley curled up, with her head on Becca's lap, crying at every happy ending. Becca wasn't sure what to do. She turned the TV off at the end of Arsenic and Old Lace. "You wanna go get drunk and have rebound sex?" she asked her brightly.

"Not really."

"Ainse, you're worrying me. You haven't moved from this sofa except to sleep and go to work. You gotta snap out of this."

"You're allowed to mourn half the length of your relationship. We were together four months. I'm allowed another six weeks."

"I think I'll kill you before that, honey."

"My heart is broken, Becca! I need to be a pathetic mass of goo for a while so it can heal properly."

Becca put her arms around her, resting her head on hers. "I love you, Ainse, I just want you to cheer up."

"I know."

The phone began to ring and Becca sat up. "Maybe that's Sam wanting to apologize with roses and chocolate." She picked it up. "Hello?" Her eyes got huge suddenly. "D-Daddy?"

Ainsley sat up right immediately, staring at her sister. Becca had gone white. "You did call Ainsley, Daddy," she said softly. There was a long silence. "Yes. She is." She met Ainsley's eyes and something hardened in them suddenly. "But I think first you should talk to me." She got to her feet and took the phone into the living room.

Ainsley stared at the closed door a moment, then lay back down. The whole word was going to hell.


Sometime around midnight the "in use" light blinked off the phone. Ainsley counted to twenty then went into the bedroom. Becca was sitting in the center of the bed, cross-legged, staring down at the phone. Ainsley sat next to her. "Hey."

Becca smiled. "Hey."

"So what happened?"

"He didn't yell," she said softly. "He was. . . upset. Hurt."


"He said he was sorry I'd been afraid to tell them. That he'd always hoped if one of us was in trouble we could think of home as a soft place to fall." She lifted her head and Ainsley could she'd been crying. "He said I could come home."

"Are you going to?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I'm almost done with my book. Maybe he could help me edit it or something."

"Daddy's always been a ruthless critic."

Becca chuckled. "Yeah." She rubbed at her eyes. "I told him I'd think about it. That I appreciate the offer, no matter what I decide. He told me he loved me no matter what. Then went into a long winded story about his great uncle who never finished high school and was one of the smartest men he knew. Which I think was to make me feel better about not finishing college."

"Daddy's rambling tales usually have a practical moral of some sort." She hugged her. "We're a mess, you know that, right?"

"The Hayes sisters, a hurricane of misery. All in our path must fear us." She looked at Ainsley. "You know, the two of us together are a pretty perfect person. I mean, my charm and your intelligence. . . we could be president."

Ainsley grinned. "That's definitely an option we could explore."

Becca flopped back on the bed. "Do you really love Sam?"

Ainsley lay down with her. "Yeah, I really do. The idea of not being with him anymore. . . it's like there's a hole inside me now."

"You need to work it out."

"I don't know how. It's not even about the gun, really. I could get rid of it but next week it would be another issue. One that doesn't have a simple answer. And, honestly, I don't want to get rid of it. It does make me feel safe. And I don't think it's fair of him to make me get rid of it. I'd never ask something like that of him." She closed her eyes. "He's not right, Becca. But he's not really wrong either."

"That's the worst kind of argument."

"If I did get rid of it. . . that's not a compromise, Becca. Is that how all our fights end? I give in and do whatever he says? Sooner or later he's going to have to respect my beliefs."

"It's not gonna be about this issue, Ainse, you know that. This is too close to his heart."

Ainsley looked at her. "Yeah. But I thought I had a place there, too."


It took Becca until Friday to make her decision. Ainsley came home to find her sister in the living room, packing. A printer sat on the kitchen table, attached to her laptop, shaking a little with it's printing. Ainsley watched a moment. "So you're going, huh?"

Becca looked up, rocking back on her heels. "Yeah. I called Daddy. He got me a train ticket for Wednesday. I'm leaving you the Mustang because I think you look cuter in it then me."

"Thanks. Why are you waiting until Wednesday?"

"So I have time to pack and say goodbye to everyone and help you get a dress for the Inaugural Ball."

Ainsley made a face, flopping onto the sofa. "Oh. That."

"Yes, that. And I'm not taking no for an answer. You're going and you're wearing a dress that will make Sam unable to spell gun."

"I don't care what Sam thinks."

"Yes you do." Becca got up and went to the kitchen table to check the printing. "I finished my book," she said, apparently changing the subject.

"You did? Great. And you're happy with it?"

"Yeah. I had some trouble with the end. A way to bring it all together. But I think I got it."

"What did you do?"

"Well, actually, I kind of have Daddy to thank for it. What he said about home being a soft place to fall." She rifled through the printed pages and pulled one out. "Here, tell me what you think of this. 'The thing about soft places is they're places outside of the real world. You can hide in them when reality gets too much to bear. In them you can pretend that the real world is merely a dream and that this, this soft place is the waking world. But eventually the place changes. Reality seeps in. And once again you must face what scares you. You must deal with whatever you were hiding from. And when that happens you have to decide which is better. Fooling yourself into thinking that hiding is the answer. Or accepting the challenge reality offers and deal with it. It's a choice we all have to make. And we don't get to chose when.'" She stopped and looked at her.

Ainsley shook her head. "Becca that's great. That's really amazing. I loved it."

Becca grinned. "Thanks. I'm leaving you a copy."

"Really? Well, thank you."

Becca looked at her. "Sam was your soft place, you know."

"Becca. . ."

"He was, Ainse. And now reality has seeped in on the two of you and you have a choice to make."

"Well, I think we've made it."

"Then it's the wrong one. You're miserable. I bet you anything in the world he's miserable, too. There's got to be another answer here."

Ainsley put her head down. "I don't know what it could be."

Becca put and arm around her. "Well, we'll think of something. But our first step is a to die for dress."

She chuckled. "Okay," she finally said softly.

* * * * *

Part 15

Thursday and Friday Becca slowly packed her life in DC into the two suitcases she'd brought and a few boxes Ainsley was going to ship down after Becca left. On Saturday Ainsley left work at two and met Becca to shop for her Inaugural Ball gown. She complained the whole time, trying to keep up appearances, but in her heart she was having fun.

They found the perfect dress at the Neiman Marcus in Friendship Heights. Becca found it on the clearance rack, hidden amongst lime green and puce monstrosities. It was ice blue, Vera Wang, strapless with no back. It was a few sizes too big for Ainsley but Becca convinced her they could take it in until it was perfect. Ainsley loved it so much she agreed. It was only $250.

On Sunday Becca left Ainsley to her sewing and went to Sam's, a manilla envelope under one arm. She knocked on his door, just a bit uncertain to how he was going to react to her. She hadn't seen him since the fight.

"Who is it?" called out a voice-- she thought it was his-- from inside.

"It's Becca. I come in peace."

A moment later the door was wrenched open. He was wearing mismatched sweats. The front of his sweatshirt had the word Duke on it. "Hey."

"Hi. You went to Duke?"

He looked down at his shirt. "Yeah. Law School. Come on in." He backed into the livingroom. It was a mess.

She followed him in and looked around. She refrained from comment and looked up at him. "I came to say goodbye. I'm going home. To North Carolina."

"You are?"

"Yeah. I got caught, answered the phone when my dad called. We talked and he told me I could come home if I wanted."

"And you want to?"

"Yeah. I think it would be good for me. Give myself some time to relax, not worry about anything." She grinned. "Remind myself why I left in the first place."

"I wish you luck, Becca."

She smiled. "Thank you." She held out the envelope. "This is, uh, my book. I thought maybe you might like to look at it. If you don't want to it's okay, I understand."

He smiled, and she sensed he hadn't done so in a while. "I'd love to read your book."

"Thank you." She put the envelope on a table then looked up at him again. "We're a lot alike, you know."

"You and I?"

"Yeah. I figure, you've got fifteen years to grow up a little, but basically, we're alike." She stopped and looked at him a moment, deciding whether or not to go on. "It's not about politics," she said softly. "It's the two of you. It just happens to fall on party lines."

"I know that."

"You have to give her options, Sam. You have to compromise. That's what it's all about. She backs down on this one, lets you have your way, how are you going to respect her when the next argument comes around?"

"There isn't going to be a next argument."

"There could be if you'd compromise."

He shook his head. "We're too different."

"No, you're too alike. You're stubborn and proud and always think you're right. Sometimes you're both right. Sometimes you're both wrong."

"There's no way around this."

She shook her head. "There's a way if you think about it. You're two of the most intelligent people I know. You're both lawyers. You should be able to find a mutually acceptable solution in minutes."

"Not to this one, Becca. I'm serious. There isn't room to move."

She sighed and she looked tired. She'd been having this argument with Ainsley for the last week. "Okay, fine. Everyone gets to make their own choices in life. And their mistakes." She looked at him. "I'll miss you."

He reached out and hugged her. "I'll miss you too, Becca. Keep in touch. If you need any legal help, with the book contract or what. . ."

She hugged him. "I'll keep in touch. I have your e-mail." She kissed his cheek. "You're a good guy Sam. Whoever gets you in the end is going to be a lucky girl."

He nodded. "Have a safe drive."

"I'm taking the train, actually, on Wednesday. Ainsley looks better in the Mustang."

He blinked. "That car gets left on her street long enough it's gonna get stolen."

Becca shrugged. "It was free."

"Yeah," he said. "Take care, okay?"

"I will. Bye, Sam." She gave him a smile, then left. Sam's mind was turning. About Ainsley and stolen cars. Ainsley and crime. Ainsley feeling safe. He leapt off his couch with more energy than he'd had in a while. He scooped up the phone.


Ainsley took Wednesday morning off to drive Becca to Union Station. They picked her ticket up and took seats by her gate, watching the screen with the departures listed on it, watching the train 79 rotate up to the top. They didn't talk.

They called for the train to board and they stood. Ainsley hugged her sister tightly. "I'm going to miss you, so much."

Becca stroked her hair. "You'll be okay. You're stronger then you know."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." She pulled back and looked at Ainsley. "Go to the Ball. Look beautiful. And talk to Sam. Talk about the weather, something innocuous. It'll make you feel better, I swear."


"Trust me, Ainse. I know about these things. It'll be awkward and weird and you'll run away as soon as possible but later, looking back, you'll be glad you did it."

Ainsley smiled. "Would be a shame to waste that dress."

"That's my girl." She hugged her tight. "I gotta go. I'll call you."

"You'd better."

Becca let her go and picked up her duffel bag. "I just want you to know. . . I'm really glad I came here. That we got to know each other."

Ainsley smiled. "Me too."

"I consider you a friend now. I never did before."

"Thank you." Ainsley sniffed. "Now go before I cry."

Becca grinned, grabbed the handle of her suitcase and went through the double doors that led to the platform. Ainsley waited a few minutes, then turned and went to her car.


Ainsley did a twirl in front of the mirror to look at her dress one last time. Becca had been right, a little stitching and the dress was perfect. It fit to her like a second skin. She'd found shoes and a purse at a second hand store that matched the color perfectly. Her hair was curled, and pulled up into an elegant bun. She thought she looked a little like a princess.

The valet grinned a little when she handed him the keys to her Mustang. She felt good as she walked into the ballroom. She was beautiful, confident. She could talk to Sam. Just talk to him. Maybe Becca was right about that, too. Maybe talking to him would help. She scanned the room, looking for him.

"God, it looks gorgeous in here. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to come."

Sam smiled at Jillian, Donna's old roommate. She'd been desperate to come to the Inaugural Ball, just to see, and Donna had volunteered Sam. Josh thought maybe it would be a good idea for him to have some non-threataning company. A date to appease the questions. She hadn't stopped talking, though, enamored by all the things that no longer impressed Sam. She drifted over to Donna, asking her something.

"Hey, Josh?" Sam asked.

"Yes, young Samuel?"

Sam gave him a look. "How long do I have to stay?"

He shrugged. "Work the room a couple times, make sure you say hello to everyone who'd be offended if you didn't."

"Right. Then I can go?"

CJ appeared beside them, in a ball gown only she could pull off. "Get drunk, Sam. You'll feel better."

"Yes, then you can go. And I agree with CJ." Josh looked past him a stopped. "Oh. Dear."

"What?" He turned his head to look.

"I think you should start getting drunk now." But he was too late. Sam had already spotted Ainsley, pausing at the entrance as she looked around the room. Her dress was icy blue, a very flattering color on her. She smiled a little to herself before she started moving into the crowd.

He stared at her. She looked beautiful. He couldn't move.

"Sam? Alcohol? Come on."

Jillian and Donna appeared. Jillian held a glass out to Sam. "I brought you champagne."

He took it. "Thanks." He downed it in one gulp. "Is there more?"

She blinked and handed him hers. "Here you go."

"Thanks." He drank that too. He was feeling a little better. He wasn't staring at Ainsley anymore.

Jillian smiled. "Would you like more?"

"I think I'm okay now."

She grinned. "Okay."

Ainsley had been stopped by a few people, mainly from the Counselor's office. She chatted, her mood rising the whole while. It was going to be a good night. She deserved a good night. She kept moving across the floor. She'd spotted Sam when she came in, she knew where he was. She was a few feet away when the crowd parted and she got a clear line of sight to him. He was with someone. A very pretty someone. Who was smiling and talking to him.

As she watched he reached over and scooped up her shawl, half of which had fallen off her arm. Josh said something to him. Sam turned to look at Josh, possibly saying something, but she couldn't see his face anymore. Then he and the pretty brunette went out onto the dance floor.

Oh, this- this was not a good night. This was a horrible night. She felt that hole in her, the one that had appeared when Sam walked out, gape even wider. She turned away, one hand on her stomach, and started to walk very slowly for the exit.

Josh and Donna were dancing. CJ was trying to find an excuse *not* to dance with Senator Pulaski from Indiana because he was three hundred pounds and, reportedly, no Fred Astaire. She saw Ainsley disappear through the French doors and made a decision. For her own sanity as much as anyone else. "Excuse me," she told Pulaski.

Ainsley sagged against a wall in the lobby, breathing deeply. She could make it to the car. That's all she had to do. If she got to the car she could sit there and cry until she shriveled up from dehydration. Because that's all she really wanted to do right now.


She looked up. "Hi, CJ."

"Are you okay?"

"No," she said honestly.

"Neither is Sam," she said after a moment.

"He looked better then me."

"They all feel obligated to bring dates to these things. And men. . .they handle things different. But believe me when I tell you he's not okay. I work with him every day."

She nodded, rubbing her hands over his face, putting to ruin almost an hour of makeup application. "Thanks."

"It took a week to get him to go home. He spent three nights sleeping in Toby's office and another four on Josh's couch."

Ainsley looked up, eyes shining. "He did?"

"Apparently he was rambling to Toby about putting his boat back in the water, so he was either very sleep deprived or into my wine stash because it's, you know, January."

"He goes sailing. . ." She broke off, because thinking about their day on the boat would definitely make her cry and she didn't think CJ would appreciate that.

CJ was quiet for a moment. "You want me to call you a cab, Ainsley?"

"I have my car. I can drive."

"You're okay to drive?"

She nodded. "I like driving. I find it soothing."

"Take care then. He wouldn't survive something happening to you."

She smiled a little. "Thank you, CJ."

"You're welcome," she said, then she went back to the ball.

Ainsley took one last, long look at the ball then turned and went to get her car. They brought it to her and she got control of herself enough to get home. She was stripping her dress off as soon as the front door closed behind her. The stitches she'd done to make it fit tore and she tossed it aside. She didn't think she'd ever want to look at it again, let alone wear it. She strode into her bedroom and pulled out a pair of old jeans and reached into her closet for a shirt. Her fingers brushed something soft and she pulled out a one of the shirts he'd left and never gotten around to taking back, the blue one she liked so much. She let out a whimpering noise, holding it against her cheek. Her fingers traced over the SNS monogrammed one the pocket. She slid it on and buttoned it up. It felt so nice against her skin, reminded her of all those mornings waking up next to him.

She went out to the living room and turned the TV on. Three sitcoms, a game show and news coverage of the state dinner she'd just left like some Cinderella with no happy ending. She turned the TV off and toss the remote aside. It was so quiet here without Becca. Ainsley'd never thought about being alone before Becca had been here. Without her chatter the apartment seemed to echo with silence.

She had to get out of here. She slid her feet into shoes, grabbed her keys and went out to the Mustang. She'd drive for a while. She'd work off her nervous energy and come home. Just a quick drive. Maybe she'd get some food or something.


At eight am the next morning Leo came out of his office and stopped at Margaret's desk. "Where's Ainsley Hayes?"

She looked at him. "She had an appointment with you at seven thirty."

"I know. But she's not here. Find her."

"Is this my new priority?" she asked as the phone started to ring.

"Yes." He stopped when she picked up the phone.

"Leo McGarry's office." She listened a moment then held the phone out to him. "Found her."

He took it from her. "Where are you?"

"Claremont, New Hampshire."

"You're in New Hampshire?"


"Why are you in New Hampshire?"

Ainsley plucked at the bedspread of the hotel bed she was sitting on. "Well, last night I was kind of. . . agitated. So I decided to go for a quick drive, just to release so tension, you understand. So I got in my car and started to drive. And I didn't stop until the sun came up. And by then I was here."

"In Claremont, New Hampshire?"

"Yes. Well, actually at sunrise I was in Bellows Falls, Vermont. But I thought I might get fired if I spent a day in Vermont so I kept driving until I hit New Hampshire. So I don't think I'll be in today. I'm at a hotel and I'm going to try to get a few hours of sleep. I'll drive back this afternoon and be in tomorrow bright and early. I already talked to Mr. Babish, but I had that meeting with you this morning so I wanted to tell you, too."

Leo put a hand on his forehead. "That's all right, just get some sleep and get back here tomorrow."


"I've never heard this excuse before, Ainsley, I'm impressed."

"It's the truth!"

"Yeah, yeah. Next time don't drink so much." She gave an infuriated shriek as he hung up.


The next morning when Leo came in there was a jar of New Hampshire maple syrup on his desk. He frowned at it a minute, then came back out of his office. "Margaret, why-"

"It's from Ainsley. She brought them for everyone. To prove she was there, she said." She pulled a jar out of her purse. "See?"

"She bought them for everyone?"


"The president?"

"Yep. I hear he was very enamored with her for it."

"The assistants?"


"The aides?"

"Yep. She even left a basket in the press room for the reporters."

"Did she give one to Sam?"

Margaret looked towards the communications bullpen. "Yep. Raspberry flavored."

Leo looked skyward. "Lord. Get me Ainsley on the phone." He strode into his office and picked up the handset. "You were actually in Claremont, New Hampshire?"


"What is that, like, 500 miles?"

"471, according to my odometer."

"How long did it take?"

"Little over eight hours."

"That's your idea of a stress relieving drive?"

"I lost track of time."

He was silent. "Thanks for the syrup."

"Any time."

* * * * *

Part 16

All day Ainsley got visitors and calls thanking her for the syrup. If nothing else she'd made some new friends. There was really only one person she wanted to hear from, though.

Sam appeared in her doorway that afternoon. "Thanks for the syrup."

She looked up in surprise. She just looked at him for a long moment, then smiled. "You're welcome."

"I, um, I did some thinking. About how you don't feel safe where you live. Contrary to what you said, I do care if you feel safe. I care if you are safe. I care very much. And I believe what I said, about that gun not being able to protect you if someone wants to hurt you. I thought about what that meant. So I. . .I called a few friends." He handed her a piece of paper. "It's a studio, I don't know if you can deal with that. But it's in a nicer area, by the zoo. And it has a doorman. No parking but I guess you could keep the Mustang on the street. The doorman's there 24 hours a day and there's security cameras in the laundry room-- CJ keeps quoting be statistics about women getting raped in laundry rooms, so that's important. I know the guy who owns the building and he said he's hold it till Friday for you to come look at it. Because I don't. . .I don't want that phone call," he finished quietly, done with the tide of words.

She bit her lip and stood, taking the paper from him. She looked down at the address. "Thank you," she whispered.

"I want you to be safe," he said softly.

She looked up at him and he could see tears in her eyes. "I appreciate that."

"Ainsley," he said softly.

She came around her desk, stopping directly in front of him. "I miss you," she said softly.

She watched longing pass over his face. "I miss you too."

She looked down at the paper again. "I'll go look at this today. Maybe. . . you could help me pack up? Or. . . or move?"

He smiled, and he looked so young right then. "You like it?"

She smiled, looking almost shy. "I've been meaning to find a better place. But it's so hard to find anything good unless you know someone. All I got was dead ends."

"I have friends. I was the one who found Donna a two bedroom apartment off Dupont Circle she could afford on what Josh paid her."

"I think a studio would be good for me, too. My place seems so empty now that Becca's gone."

"My whole life is empty," he whispered.

Her mouth trembled. "I feel like there's this hole in me."

He reached out, hesitant and unsure, and put his arms around her. She made a quiet noise and stepped forward, slipping her arms around him, pressing her face into his chest.

"I love you, Ainsley. I don't think there's anything that matters more than that."

She squeezed her eyes shut and tears spilled over. "I love you, too."

"But I'll never be able to live in a house with a gun."

She nodded. "I understand. I'll- I'll take it to the police station when I move. I won't need it then."

"I didn't do this because of the gun, Ainsley. I want you to be safe. I *need* you to be safe. Or I may never get a good night sleep again."

She looked up at him. "I love you," she whispered.

"I'm sorry I hurt you."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."

He touched her hair. "It's over now."

She leaned her head into his touch. "I never wanted to hurt you, either. I just. . ." She shook her head slightly, reaching up to cover his hand with hers. "No more secrets."

"I promise," he whispered.

She went up on her toes and kissed him, just the barest brush of lips. A shudder passed through him, and his mouth came down on hers. She whimpered, hands sliding up him until her arms wrapped around his neck. She kissed him deeply.

He just enjoyed the taste and feel of her for a long moment. Then he lifted his head. "Come over tonight?"

She smiled. "I'd like that."

He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. "I need to get back to work. We'll talk about all this tonight."

She nodded. "I'll come by around eight? Do you think you'll be done by then?"

"I'll be done," he said with great conviction.

"I can't wait, then."


Ainsley went right from work to the address Sam had given her to see the apartment. She loved it. It was just the right size and even had a bit of a view. The landlord was very nice to her and told her he'd write up a lease and get it to her by Friday. She could move in at the beginning of the month.

By the time she got to Sam's it was actually a little after eight. She was tired and her suit was looking a bit rumpled, but she was very happy.

He opened the door and grinned. "Hey."

"I went to see the apartment. It's just perfect."

He stepped back. "Come in, please." She stepped past him, taking the clip out of her hair to let it fall. He watched her. "At the inaugural ball you looked fantastic."

She looked up at him. "Thank you."

"I mean, absolutely fantastic."

A smile touched her mouth. "I did it for you."

He reached out, shifting his fingers through his hair. "I don't know if I've ever told you how beautiful I think you are."

"I don't think you ever have." She closed her eyes. "Sam? Who did you bring to the Inaugural Ball?"

"Donna's former roommate. She begged Donna to get her into one of the balls, I was dateless. . . she volunteered me."

"So she didn't mean anything?"

"Of course not."

She smiled and kissed him. "Good." He returned the kiss, deeper this time. She sighed, arms winding around him.

"I missed you," he whispered. "I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too. Your touch. I dreamed about you."

He kissed his way to her ear. "One day you're going to have to tell me about all these dreams of yours."

She shivered. "You'll laugh."

"I'd never laugh."

"Well. . . a lot of them involve food."

He lifted his head. "Oh, really?"

She blushed. "You know me and food. Combine it with sex. . ." She waved a hand vaguely.

"It's funny because I have this jar of raspberry syrup someone gave me.""

She ran the tip of her tongue over her lower lip. "I like raspberry."

"Mmm, so do I." He pushed her suit jacket off her shoulders.

She let it fall, putting her hands on his waist, then stroking up to undo his buttons. Sam pulled up her silk shell. "I think about you sitting in your office in just this."

She smiled. "All hot and sweaty?"

He grinned. "Yeah." He unzipped her skirt and dropped it down. She stood in her underwear. She had on thigh highs. Ainsley gave him a wicked little grin, pushing his shirt off and kissing his chest. He took her hand, pulling her towards his kitchen. "Come on."

She grinned, following him, still in her heels. She looked like a Victoria's Secret model. He stared at her. And she was his to stare at all night if he wanted. He opened one cabinet and took out the jar of raspberry syrup.

She blushed at the expression on his face, then hopped on his kitchen table. "Who gets to nibble first?"

He set the jar down on the table beside her. He lifted up one of her ankles and slipped off her shoe. He reached up to her thigh and began to slowly peel down her stocking. Her eyelids fluttered a little, toes curling in anticipation. He repeated the motion with her other leg, taking the time to stroke her leg as his hands moved down over it.

She sighed softly. "You have the nicest hands."

"And you have the nicest legs." He took a step closer and reached to unhook her bra. "And the nicest breasts."

She kissed his chin. "They're a little small."

"But perfectly formed." He kissed one nipple. "They look like the breasts on the Venus de Milo."

She beamed. "Thank you."

He caught the edge of her panties, and she lifted her hips so he could drag them down. "This, however, is my favorite outfit." Sam picked up the jaw and unscrewed it.

She watched him, perfectly willing to let him do whatever he wanted to her. She was just so glad she was his again.

"Actually. . ." he set the jar down again and undid his belt. "Getting maple syrup on half of a very expensive suit might be a bad idea."

"Mmm, good thinking." She dipped a finger into the syrup, then stuck it in her mouth, sucking it clean.

He froze, mouth falling open as he watched. She raised her eyebrows at him. The finger dipped in the jar again and she trailed it over her breasts, leaving a sticky red trail.

It took him a moment to regain his motor skills, quickly shedding his pants and going back to the table. She ignored him, busy covering her nipple with the syrup.

"How does it taste?" he whispered.

"Yummy. Not as yummy as you. . ." She grinned, dribbling some over her stomach. "But good."

He leaned forward, licking the syrup of one of her nipples. She sighed, eyes drifting shut. "See?"

"Oh yeah." He sucked off every drop.

She made that quiet mewling noise, tracing her still sticky finger over his shoulder. She bent forward and licked him.

"Mmm, this is quite good." He licked the syrup off her other breast, then started down her stomach.

She leaned back so he could lick her. She studied his ceiling, then closed her eyes, all but purring at the attention. Sam picked up the jar and began to drizzle syrup along her thighs.

She squeaked at the chill. Then giggled a little. "Your tongue is ticklish."

"The point of this is not to tickle you, you know." He kissed the inside of her thigh.

"Tickling¹s another one of my dreams."

"Doesn't sound terribly erotic." His mouth moved higher.

"Mmm. Think about it. Big bed. Feathers. Silk scarves. My hair."

"I adore your hair." He kissed her center. He didn't dribble any syrup there. He liked the way she tasted. She mewled, hips rising off the table. He circled his tongue around her clit, gently sliding a finger inside her.

She sighed, shivering. "God, I missed you."


She weaved her fingers into his hair, relaxing into the sensations. He slid his other hand up to stroke her breasts. She wiggled. "Sam. . . come up here."

He lifted his head. "But we have so much raspberry flavored New Hampshire maple syrup left," he said with a grin.

She made a cranky noise and frowned at him. "Sam."

He kissed her mouth. "Tell me what you want, Ainsley."

She ran her hands over his shoulders. "I want you. Inside me. It's been so long."

He eased slowly inside her. "Like this?"

She shuddered, nails digging into his back. "Yes." He pulled out and sank back in, dipping his head down to kiss away a small drop of dark red liquid from her collarbone that he must have missed. She sighed, holding him tightly. This was the way it was meant to be. Just the two of them, with nothing in between. Really, nothing else mattered. As long as they had this they would always be in complete agreement. He slipped his hand between them, stroking her with the pad of his thumb.

Ainsley's eyes drifted shut and she just let her body move, arching up to his and she grew tighter and hotter. She was achingly close. She speared her fingers through his hair, dragging his mouth to hers. He kissed her, sliding his arm around her back and holding her close.

She whispered his name and started to quake. She pressed her face into his shoulder as her climax rolled over her, tightening her around him, locking him deep inside. Her fingernails dug into his back and she held him like she'd never let him go again. She felt the tremor that passed through his body before he thrust deeper into her. "I love you," he whispered as he came.

She kissed all over his face. "I love you."

"We have a lot to talk about," he said softly. "You know that, right?"

She sighed. "I know." She stroked his cheek gently. "I know."

"I think we can make this work, Ainsley."

She smiled. "Me too. We can do anything we want. And I want this."

He grinned. "But I'm thinking first we should shower."

"I am rather sticky." He scooped her up and carried her into his bathroom. She leaned against him. "I'm sort of impressed we didn't break your table."

"Was that part of your dream?"

"No. It just seems like something that would happen to us."

He set her down and turned on the shower. "I would love to break a table with you."

She slid her arms around him from behind, kissing his shoulder. "Maybe someday."

"Any day."

She smiled, then slid past him, into the spray of water. After a moment he followed her.


Ainsley woke up in the middle of the night, suddenly, uncertain what had startled her. She looked down at Sam sprawled peacefully over his half of the bed. Well, he was taking up a bit more then half. She leaned over to kiss him and her stomach growled. Food first. Sex later. Maybe with some food.

She went out into the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards, finally coming out with a bag of chips. She retrieved some dip from the fridge and hopped on the counter to munch. She looked at the clock over the microwave. Two thirty in the morning. She'd still be awake.

Ainsley hopped off the counter and grabbed the phone and dialed.

"Hello?" Ainsley could hear noise in the background.


"Ainse? What's up?"

"Where are you?"

"Just a little party, hang on." There was some fumbling noises and the roar dimmed. "Okay, I'm in the bathroom. What's up?"

"Everything's okay."

"You mean-?"

"Back in my soft place. And this time we're not hiding."

Ainsley could almost hear her sister grinned. "Congratulations, Ainsley. Don't fuck it up."

"I won't." She polished off the chips and tossed the bag away. "I should get back to bed. I just wanted to tell you."

"I'm glad you did. Talk to you soon."

"Bye." Ainsley hung up and walked through the living room on her way to the bedroom. She stopped at the window. It had started to snow and the fine white flakes danced in the street light outside. She leaned on the wall, watching them, feeling an odd sense of peace. She watched until the tree outside the window glimmered with frost, then turned away, going back to the bedroom.

Sam was blinking sleepily as she climbed back in with him. She put her head on his shoulder and his arms came around her immediately. "Where'd you go?" he murmured.

"Getting a snack. It's snowing."


"Mmm." She kissed his throat and closed her eyes. "Warm in here, though." She felt him smile against her hair as they drifted back to sleep.


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