Disclaimer: Aaron owns them. I do not. I just play with his toys.
Special Thanks to Lesa for beta reading. She was wonderful and I really appreciate her support.
CRUNCH! The sound of her rumpling rear fender was the last thing Ainsley Hayes needed at 10:30 p.m. that Friday night. "Oh FOR?!" She was furious. Ainsley stepped out of the car to inspect the damage and to berate the driver of the other sedan.
"Ainsley?" It was Sam Seaborn. "I don't suppose you when you learned to drive back on the magnolia plantation that you were taught to look behind you before backing out?" That was a cheap shot but Sam was pissed. He had to get to the airport in 30 minutes or he'd miss his flight to the Coast.
"Me? Look? Sam! You must have been going 50 on a parking lot? Your air bag blew for crying out loud." That's when Ainsley realized that Sam looked more upset than circumstances would normally dictate. She closed the distance between them. "Sam, are you all right? Were you hurt? I'll call a tow truck - maybe you should see a doctor."
"I don't have time for this, look, Ainsley. I'll cover the damage to your car. But, I need to get to San Diego tonight my fa..." His voice shook.
"Ohmigod, your family?" she looked concerned. She was concerned. Compassion took over. "Look, hop in, my car's drive able. You can tell me everything on the way the airport."
Sam was having a hard time controlling his nerves. Over the past fifteen minutes his life had been flipped on its ear. As soon as his mom called, he grabbed his suit jacket. He had dialled the airline on his way out of the White House staff entrance. "It's my father. A car accident. Mom doesn't know if he'll... " Sam couldn't finish the sentence. He had to believe his dad would make it. He had to make it.
"I'm so sorry." Ainsley set her right hand on his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "What airline?" She asked as she pulled up to the drop off zone. He told her and she let him out at the right door. "Call me. Let me know how he is."
Sam shut the car door behind him. He couldn't hide the haunted look in his eyes. "Ainsley - thank you."
"Go," she said softly. Ainsley watched him hesitate, he seemed about to ask her something but then stepped back from the car. She heard the blare of horns around her. "Damn," she muttered and then she did something that she couldn't explain. Acting on instinct she pulled into the parking garage and got out of her car. She ran to the ticket desk and pulled out her American Express Card. "I need a seat on Flight 417 to San Diego."
"You just made it, Miss, it's on final boarding." The agent told her.
"Please, a friend of mine, Sam Seaborn is on that flight - it would have been a last minute reservation too. Is there any way I can have the seat next to him?"
Sam stared out the window praying that he wouldn't have a chatty seat mate. He didn't want to have to make small talk for the next six hours. Maybe if he pretended to be trying to sleep? Maybe the seat would remain vacant. He just wanted to be alone. Well, he didn't want to be with a stranger.
Ainsley was the last person to board the plane. The crew was about to close the door as she ran up. She made her way to her seat. As Ainsley touched his shoulder ever so gently, he looked up at her with a combination of confusion and gratitude. She set her purse down on the floor underneath her seat and strapped herself in. He took her hand. "You didn't look like a guy who should be alone right now."
"Thank you." He was strangely relieved to see her. For a split second he'd wanted to ask her to come, but San Diego was so far, and it would have presumed she had no plans for the weekend. God, he was glad to see her.
"You're welcome." She smiled reassuringly.
Sam awoke with a start to feel Ainsley leaning over him to do up his seat belt. "We're on final approach," she said softly. "The warning light just came on."
"How long was I... ?" he was groggy.
"Your eyes glazed over while we were discussing education reform but you didn't actually doze off until we were over the Grand Canyon."
"I should call the hospital." He mumbled reaching for his cell. She held it out to him. "You picked my pocket?"
"My battery was dead." She said. "I found your mom's number on the speed dial. Your dad is still in surgery. I told her we'd meet her at the hospital in under an hour."
"You're welcome. Sam?"
"Quit thanking me, Sam. It's getting embarrassing."
They practically ran into the hospital. "These waiting rooms are all the same," Ainsley thought as she and Sam found it. The generic art prints on the walls and the artificial plants did nothing to relieve the grey mood or the stench of apprehension everywhere. He absently reached for her hand as he saw his mother staring blankly out the window.
"Mom?" Sam called.
The woman turned and rushed over to him. "Thank God you're here. Sam, SHE's here. In the cafeteria. She was with him when it... "
"You know HER. She was with him when he... " She burst into tears. "Oh, Sammy?" his mom said softly. He pulled her into his arms for a hug. Elizabeth Seaborn finally noticed the young blonde at Sam's side and wiped her tears. "You must be Ashley?"
"Ainsley." She corrected her softly. She reached out and squeezed the other woman's hand. "Sam, I'm going to grab you some coffee." Her voice was soft and reassuring.
Ainsley looked at Sam and raised her eyebrows. He shook his head as if to say "I can't help it" She touched the side of his arm. "I'll be right back, Sam."
"Excuse me, miss?" a soft voice spoke as Ainsley stood in the line with the tray of disposable coffee cups. "You're with the Seaborn family." It was a statement not a question. Ainsley turned to face a beautiful Hispanic woman in her late fifties.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"I saw you come in with Sam... . " the woman was upset but not as openly distraught as Elizabeth Seaborn had been. "My name is Paloma Rodriguez." .
"Ainsley Hayes." Ainsley Hayes was many things. Stupid not among them. "You must be."
"Yes. I am." The woman was calm. She expected some kind of hostile reaction and was genuinely surprised when she received none. "Please, is there any word yet?"
"Not yet. " Ainsley was uncomfortable but then sensed Ms. Rodriguez probably felt worse. " Um. Ms Rodriguez, are you all right?" Ainsley said simply. She wasn't sure what the woman would want from her.
"I use a seatbelt - Jason never would. I... I'm going home. Now that Sam's here, I can leave. I'm the last person Elizabeth Seaborn ever wants to see again... but, I wanted to give you this and ask you..." she held out a piece of paper with her telephone number on it and her voice trembled.
"I'll call as soon as I hear something." Ainsley took the slip and put it in her pocket. "As soon as I hear anything. I promise. I'll call." Ainsley hesitated. "Is there anything I can do for you?..."
"You're very gracious, dear. Thank you. My daughter Theresa, is at UCLA. I'll call her when we know how her dad is. " The woman turned to go. "Ainsley? Do you know if, did Sam forgive Jason? I mean... for me."
"I um, Paloma, I really don't know, but, well, Sam's a good man. He'll do the right thing eventually: he just needs a little time. He's a good man." Ainsley knew Sam was still wrestling with Paloma's existence. And she would lay odds that he had no idea he had a half sister.
"So is his father," Paloma said slowly.
Ainsley nodded understandingly. "I think Sam is learning that, um, we don't always chose who we fall in love with. Or, when it happens."
"Jason is a good man." Paloma said again.
Ainsley gently set the coffee tray on a nearby table. She reached out to Paloma and hugged her. "I'm sure he is. I know his son and if Sam's any indication, I'm sure he is."
Paloma left the room with tears streaming down her face. Ainsley returned to the waiting room and watched Sam for a second from the doorway. He'd obviously been arguing with his mother. He looked at her with a stunned look on his face. He was completely lost. Caressing his face she said softly, "Let's go take care of your Mom."
The waiting was excruciating. Sam had never been so frustrated. As he paced the room, Ainsley sat calmly beside his mom. The two women talked about everything and nothing. Fashion, shoes, art. It turned out they were members of the same Sorority so that meant Ainsley was among the privileged few who got to call Elizabeth Seaborn 'Bizzy'.
"Only my Sorority sisters call me that, you understand. And I think I got it because they thought I was going to be a busy body. I'm really not Ainsley." Bizzy rambled. "Ainsley dear, have you ever had a nickname?""
"Some one called me a kitten once. I wasn't all that impressed." She looked up at Sam. He ran his hands through his hair, then decided silence was a good thing. He plopped in a chair and pretended to read a copy of a six month old Time Magazine. "Bizzy, you know what I think? Well, formal people like you and I, may intimidate other people sometimes. Some other people may even mistake manners for being cold. I think some times people think I'm cold just because I'm not one of those blondes who runs around hugging everybody in sight. I work with one of those, I adore her, but I'm nothing like her. She's lucky - she works for somebody who needs that kind of person around him. Keeps him grounded. I could never do that. I keep people on edge - they wonder what I'm thinking."
"I've never thought about it that way... " Bizzy pondered.
"I'm also better at doing things to show somebody I care. I'd rather fetch coffee, write a brief for somebody, or..."
"Arrange a dinner party?" Bizzy supplied.
"Exactly. I may not be demonstratively affectionate - but I do care. I also talk too much - makes me look dumb. When really, I'm just as scared, if not more so, than everybody else."
"When I get scared, I push people away... When I had my mastectomy, years ago, I pushed Jason away." Bizzy's voice sounded so far away. "He wanted to be there for me. I wouldn't let him. Sammy was so young. He probably doesn't remember those days."
Ainsley looked over at Sam and saw the magazine quiver. She would guarantee he remembered those days. Probably better than he wanted to remember.
"My aunt had a double mastectomy in 1978." Ainsley said quietly. "Back then, that was the only treatment. The radiation and chemo were... ugly." Ainsley squeezed the other woman's hand. "The treatment killed her. You must be very brave - I don't think I could."
"I hope you never have to," Bizzy whispered. She turned her eyes away for a moment.
Ainsley got up and went into the kitchenette where she plugged in a kettle making herself and Bizzy a cup of herbal tea. As she walked past Sam she handed him a more current magazine. Ainsley kept Bizzy's mind occupied, kept her chatting, kept her calm. Sam spent his time thanking God Ainsley was doing that. It meant that he didn't have to 'talk' to his Mom - he didn't know what to say. He was a speech writer for the President of the United States, why was it so hard to talk to his Mom? Ainsley met his eye several times. She nodded to him as if she was caressing him with her eyes. He was so glad she was here.
The doctor appeared in the doorway. "Mrs. Seaborn?" Elizabeth stood. "He's stabilized."
"May we see him?"
"As soon as he's out of the recovery room. Mrs Seaborn, your husband's condition is very serious." The doctor went on to explain that during surgery to repair his internal injuries, Mr. Seaborn had suffered a heart attack that obviously had not been his first. They were able to resuscitate him, but he was on a respirator and the prognosis was still very guarded.
"Thank you, Doctor," Sam said as his mother wiped tears from her eyes. Ainsley excused herself and made the phone call to Paloma as promised.
When she returned to the waiting area, a nurse told her Sam and Elizabeth were with Jason. "Miss Hayes," a nurse said, "there is a telephone call for Mr. Seaborn. "It's the White House."
"I'll take it, thank you," Ainsley replied. "Hi, Josh. Sam's in with his dad."
"Ainsley?" the President was surprised to hear her voice. "It's Jed Bartlett. How's Sam's dad?"
"Mr. President." Ainsley got nervous. She took a cleansing breath. "Sam and his mom are with him now. There were extensive internal injuries and his dad had a heart attack during surgery. But, they say he's stable. The next 48 hours will be crucial."
"Ainsley, Leo McGary - has the Highway Patrol contacted you at all?"
"Briefly, when we first arrived. Mr. Seaborn had been seen drinking at the fund raiser. I asked the CHiP to fax their report to the White House. Only I gave them my office fax number. It was the only number I"d memorized and Sam didn't have a card in his wallet. He'd used the last one to bump somebody from the rental car agency. I hope that's okay about the fax." She was beginning to ramble.
Abbey Bartlett sensed the nervousness in her voice and decided to jump in. "Ainsley, I'm sure that's fine. Somebody will watch for it. Please, ask the doctor to call me personally? If I speak to them directly, I can get a good handle on what's happened."
"Yes, ma'am. I will. I'm sure Sam will be relieved to know you're following his Dad's case too."
Everyone could sense Ainsley had relaxed substantially speaking to the First Lady. They silently agreed to let Abbey control the conversation. "Ainsley, we're all here. Josh, Toby, CJ, and Donna." Abbey continued. "How's Sam holding up? We're all worried about him."
"He's doing pretty well, all things considered. I'm trying to run as much interference for him as I can. But let's face it: his Dad is a high-ranking party official who, on his to the home of his mistress of many years, was involved in a potentially fatal accident. Jason had been at a Party fund raiser where he'd been seen drinking scotch. It's a feeding frenzy downstairs. Cameras everywhere. We had to run a gantlet to get in. Someone will have to make a statement soon."
"I'm sure you're doing a great job keeping the family insulated. After all, the senior staff has been trying to reach you for hours. Only the Commander in Chief could get through"
"I'm sorry, ma'am. We both had to turn off pagers and cells when we came in. I didn't think about Sam's other friends trying to reach him."
"Don't worry about it Ainsley. My husband needs to feel useful once in a while. We heard that Sam's mom was in the car?" Abbey reassured her.
"No. Mrs Bartlett, Um, it was definitely NOT his Mom in the car. Sam's dad's mistress was in the car. She had minor injuries - treated and released. She went home a few hours ago - it was her idea. I promised I'd call her with news. I don't know whether we're going to be able to keep her identity under wraps."
"Damn," Josh muttered under his breath. "How did Mrs. Seaborn react to that?"
"She's holding up pretty well I think. Again, all things considered I think Bizzy is doing remarkably well." Ainsley was getting flustered again.
The President spoke next. "Is there anything you two need?"
"No, not really." She hesitated. "Actually yes, sir. With the vultures circling downstairs, it would help if... Sam's going to have to face them sooner or later and he'd probably do a better job of it if he looked like the White House Deputy Communications Director again... He could use a change of clothes, a razor, a toothbrush. We didn't pack we just ran to the airport. Ohmigod, I'm parked at a meter! I think Sam should clean up before he faces them. We just got on a plane and got here... "
The President nodded to Charlie who got right on it. "Ainsley, Charlie's on it. There will be a change of clothes for both of you at the hospital in under an hour and your car will be at your apartment when you get back. Anything else."
"No sir. Thank you, Mr. President." She was sounding nervous again. The President squeezed the First Lady's Hand. Abbey took over.
"Ainsley," Abbey spoke again, "I'm glad Sam's got you with him. Tell him all our thoughts and prayers are with you. Call us soon. Day or night. We're all here for him. And you. Good bye, Ainsley."
"Thank you, Mrs. Bartlett. I'll be sure to tell him." Ainsley hung up the phone.
Sam appeared in the doorway. She walked over to him and he held her close for a moment. Sam gently absently stroked her hair and was content to draw strength from her.
"How's your Dad?"
"On a respirator. He's not conscious. It doesn't look good. He's stable but... " Sam's voice was raspy.
"I spoke with the President." Ainsley said softly. "The First Lady wants to talk to your Dad's doctors and she wanted you to know their thoughts and prayers are with you."
"Thank you. What about the official stuff... "
"The Highway Patrol will fax the White House the accident report. I told them about Paloma... "
Sam was confused. "Paloma? Oh, HER."
"That's her name, Sam." Ainsley said patiently. "I also called her and I told her your dad was out of surgery. She needed to know... "
"I didn't even know her name til now... "
"I'm sorry. Sam, this isn't going to be any easier. But, well you should also probably know she has a daughter at UCLA." Sam closed his eyes for a second soaking in that piece of information - he hadn't asked his dad if he and 'Paloma' had children together. He hadn't been ready to think about it. He wasn't ready now really. But he also knew that hearing it from Ainsley was better than from a reporter at a press conference. "Where's your MOM?" Ainsley asked. She wanted to bring his focus back to the present.
"I told her we'd stay here. She went home - the Doctor gave her a sedative. A limo was coming for her."
"Sam, why don't you lie down for a few minutes?"
"I wouldn't sleep."
"I know, but just stretch out on the couch. I'll wait with you. Stand look out. I know what these last few days have been like for you. You and I were working on the Middle East Speech in Washington for fifteen hours. Even if we forget the time zone for a minute, you haven't slept in three days. Just, please stretch out for half an hour."
"I can't. It's too short."
"Yes, you can. Just curl up a little."
"I can?" he looked so lost.
"Sam!" She put two fingers on his lips and guided him to the couch. "Let me put this in terms you can understand. I'm going to formalize our Peace Treaty unilaterally. In Washington, you can bicker with me, debate me, argue with me and thank me whenever you like. You're usually wrong in Washington - so you should thank me when I show you the light. You can thank me as a matter of public record in Washington: I'll even call the Washington Post and New York Times so that you can do it right." He chuckled softly and she continued. "But here, in California, you just shut up and let me 'handle' you okay."
"Both Josh and I hate to be handled." He was relieved. He could relate to her like this.
"I know you hate being handled. Donna told me. But everybody needs to be handled from time to time. This is one of those times."
Yes, he could relate to her like this. She always talked to him like that. But the stranger who had calmed his mother and had a coffee maker installed in the waiting room was, well somebody he could spend the rest of his life getting to know better. Where had that thought come from?
Forty five minutes after she hung up with the White House, a package arrived with new clothes from a local store for both of them. Ainsley gently rubbed his shoulder hating to wake him. "Sam, we can't put the press off any longer. I've been watching CNN - the speculation is starting to get ugly. But you need to shower and change first.'
"Into what?" He looked up at her confused. She was holding a garment bag out to him.
"A courier dropped these things off for us. The nurse says you can use a shower down the hall."
"I talked to the President remember?"
"The President sent them."
"Yeah. He sent them."
"Because you thought of it."
"Yeah, but he sent them."
Sam placed his hands on her cheeks and leaned in for a very tender kiss. His lips gently caressed hers and she felt herself pressing closer to him. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she deepened the kiss.
"Sam, what are you doing?" She asked huskily.
"Something I should have done weeks ago." He kissed her again. "Something I wanted to do the minute I laid eyes on you."
Ainsley rested her head on his shoulder when the kiss broke, then suddenly jerked away. This was wrong. He couldn't want her. He just wanted someone. And she was there. She didn't want to be the person who had just 'been there'. Ainsley covered her confusion with anger. It was much easier to be angry with Sam than to risk being truly intimate with him and tell him he was scaring her. "Bull. You did not want to kiss me senseless the first time you saw me. The first time you saw me, you thought that I was some dumb tight ass Republican that you were going to enjoy mopping the floor with." She was slightly breathless.
His temper flared in response to hers. "So I shouldn't have kissed you just now? Forgive me if I got the impression before you stopped to over analyse it that you were enjoying it, and kissing me back. "
"You are so full of yourself you know that? You need me to massage your ego for you, don't you. It must be the size of the Washington monument? So what, you're a good kisser Sam. Do you need me to give you a letter grade or will a score out of 10 do?"
"Now I know you want me to kiss you again, Ainsley. Freud would have a field day with your offer to massage the National Phallic Symbol for ME? Lady, from minute one you've arrogantly assumed you could just crawl inside my head and read my mind." He took a deep breath. "Well surprise, Surprise!, I kissed you because I wanted to!" She looked like she was about to interrupt but he waved her off. "Now, I'm going to read your mind lady. See how you like it. You wanted me to kiss you and what's more you want me to do it again. Just now, you pulled away because it scares you to believe that I might be able to see for myself that my timing sucks. You NEED to feel superior and handle me because you feel SAFE that way. And by kissing you, I just levelled the playing field. Believe it or not, I know what I'm doing, all by myself, without your holier than thou attitude getting in my way." He was angry. And tired. He had to stop yelling at her. "Forget it. Just forget it happened. TODAY. But just know this Ainsley, I sure as hell intend to do it again. AND SOON." He stopped to stare out the window for a moment. "Excuse me, I need to shower and face the press."
Sam grabbed the garment bag from her and he could have sworn her heard her whisper, "I'm sorry," as he left the room.
Ainsley waited at the back of the make shift press room while Sam gave a brief statement and took questions. CNN carried it live and his friends gathered to watch in the Oval office. "Yes, my father is out of surgery. Yes, there were complications, he did suffer a heart attack during surgery. No, I'm not prepared to comment on the accident. I don't have enough information yet" He looked haggard but the change of clothes, a shower and a shave had made him look like the Deputy White House Communications Director. He wrapped up and was on his way out the door when a Los Angeles Times reporter recognized her.
"Miss Hayes, you're a member of the White House Counsel's office. Is your presence an indication that we should expect charges to be laid?"
Ainsley replied crisply. "Sam Seaborn and I are colleagues. We were working together when he received the news about his father. I travelled with him to liaise with White House Staff so he could focus on his family. That's all."
They closed the door behind them. "Ainsley," Sam whispered softly. "I'm sorry You've been wonderful and I had no right to yell at you like that."
She reached up and she kissed him tenderly. "You've never been afraid to admit when I'm right and you're wrong. I owe you at least that much. I'm sorry. I had no right to tell you what your feelings are. I was wrong."
They walked back to 'their' waiting room outside the ICU. "Your turn," he said pointing to the couch. 'I insist. I caught a cat nap on the plane and earlier. You've been up for three days too."
"It's not my father," she said softly but the couch did look inviting.
"No, but, it's definitely your turn. I'll wake you if I need you. If I need you for more than I do right this second anyway... "
"Okay." She stretched out on the couch quite comfortably. He smiled thinking that being short had some advantages once in a while.
She dozed almost immediately. Several minutes later, he knew she'd reached REM sleep. The way her eyelids were fluttering he knew she was dreaming. He wondered what she would be dreaming about. He watched her, realizing how much he'd needed her over the past few days. She'd gotten him through this nightmare - just by being at his side. He noticed her shiver slightly. Sam dropped his jacket gently around her shoulders. He'd ask a nurse for a blanket the next time one came in, but it would help a bit for now. Ainsley smiled in her sleep and tugged the jacket's arms tighter around her. "I love you, Sam" she whispered snuggling even deeper into the jacket.
Stunned, Sam caressed her hair, "I love you, too," he whispered softly. "Sleep Ainsley." He knew she was dreaming and hadn't heard him. But that didn't change how he felt. He had fallen in love with her. Weeks ago. Probably when she made an ass out of him on Capital Beat. Actually, she would say he made an ass out of himself that morning and she was just fortunate enough to be there at the time. She never took credit for some one else's handiwork.
Two hours later, Ainsley felt Sam shake her gently. He motioned toward a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee. "The highway patrol's on their way up. I know you told the press you were here personally, but the family probably should have temporary representation... "
She placed a hand on his cheek, "we're both lawyers, Sam. We'll get through it." Sam was beginning to think he could get through anything if she was with him.
The first thing the police confirmed was that the toxicologist's report was in. Sam's dad's blood alcohol level was less than half of the legal limit and there was evidence that he'd suffered a coronary at the wheel. That information was consistent with the statement made by his companion in the vehicle. They were interrupted by a woman yelling in the hallway. "I insist on seeing Jason Seaborn immediately!" Sam started to stand but Ainsley covered his hand. He dropped his head into his hands. Sam wasn't prepared to face a half sibling yet. She left the room quickly.
"May I help you?" she asked a young woman she guessed to be about 20.
"Who the hell are you? And why can't I see my father? Where is my mother?" the woman's eyes were flashing. Ainsley couldn't help thinking she looked like Sam.
"Miss Rodriguez, please, of course you can see Mr Seaborn. Your mother was treated for minor cuts and bruises and released."
"So you know who I am. Let me guess. You had her tucked away in a corner somewhere ... Just like my father would have."
"Miss Rodriguez, I did no such thing. Your mother left me her telephone number and slipped away quietly on her own. She wanted to respect Mrs Seaborn and Sam."
"Yeah right. I want to see my Dad."
Ainsley nodded to a nurse who led them both down the hall. Theresa pulled up a chair beside his bed. "I take it, you belong to my 'brother', " Theresa said unable to hide the contempt in her voice.
"Sam and I are friends. We work together at the White House. Miss Rodriguez,"
"Call me Theresa. For God's sake, I don't even know your name."
"Ainsley. Ainsley Hayes. Theresa, please, you obviously knew about Sam, but, he only found out about your mother three weeks ago - he had no idea until today that you even existed."
"Ainsley, please don't expect me to feel sorry for Golden Boy right now. Because I really don't give a damn. My father missed everything to be with him. Dance Recitals, school plays. Everything. He missed my highschool graduation to attend some Washington Party Sam pulled strings to get him invited to... "
Ainsley could barely control her temper. "Theresa, I'm sorry if you've had a miserable life because of choices your parents made. And, believe it or not I'm VERY sorry your father is ill and I wish we could have met under any other circumstances. Let me assure you, again, no member of the Seaborn family asked your mother to leave - in fact she chose to wait here long enough to see Sam arrive safely, then, rather than speak to HIM herself, she handed me this note in the cafeteria." Ainsley pulled the slip of paper from her pocket. "If you resent your father's treatment of your mother, that's an issue for the three of you to work out. Frankly it's none of my business. I'm here because the man I love needs me here. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you alone with your father." Ainsley fled the room. She paused in the hallway to collect herself before going back to see Sam.
Ainsley leaned on the wall for support feeling herself torn in a thousand directions. She wanted to hate Jason Seaborn for being a cheating lying sonovabitch who ruined the lives of both his families neither of whom did anything to deserve the hell they were living in. But she couldn't. Why NOT? Because Sam obviously loved his father. Bizzy obviously loved her husband. Then there was Paloma. Paloma swore he was a good man and despite her justifiable anger toward Jason's other family, the furious young stranger, who had as much of a right to be here as Sam did, obviously loved her father too. So, Jason couldn't be all bad? She wished it could be black and white. But it wasn't. For a moment she thought about her feelings for Sam. Oh, he was an idiot sometimes. But he was always an adorable idiot. He could be ornery and self righteous. But he always had the best intentions. She loved him in spite of all that. Or maybe because of it. What if Jason had just found himself in a situations beyond his control... in love with two women at the same time?
She was doing it again. Over analysing things. Sam was right when he accused her of it earlier. Sam. She just wanted to hold onto Sam for a minute. Maybe it would make sense if she was with him. Maybe, if she was with Sam, it wouldn't have to make sense. Maybe if she was at Sam's side again, she would be content to just let it BE and sort it out rationally later.
The Highway Patrol had left. He was staring out the window when she walked back into the waiting room. When she joined him at his side, he wrapped his arm around her waist. "I should have seen that one coming... You did."
"Yeah." Ainsley put her head on his shoulder.
"I want to sit with him for a while," Sam said softly. "Even if she's still there, I want him to know I'm here too."
"Then let's go."
Theresa was on a chair holding her father's hand. He was still unconscious. She thought she was alone. "I guess I shouldn't have flipped on her like that? Who'd have thought a pretty boy like Sam would have ended up with somebody so spunky? She told me, huh? Papa, I'm sorry, I know you and Mama made all your decisions together. I shouldn't - Oh Papa." She wept softly.
"He won't be mad for long, if he's mad at you at all." Sam said softly placing a hand on the young woman's shoulder. "It's not his style."
Theresa nodded in agreement and Ainsley gave her a weak smile trying to convey that despite their hostile words she didn't hold a grudge. Sam walked to the other side of the bed and pulled up another chair. He offered it to Ainsley but she shook her head. Ainsley kissed his cheek and rubbed his neck. It felt good. He patted her hands.
An hour passed in silence. "Sam, Theresa, it's late, you should both check on your mothers?" Ainsley asked quietly. "The hospital will page us if there's any change."
The press had broken camp once they learned that Jason Seaborn's accident, while tragic, had not been criminal. Sam pulled into the driveway of his childhood home. "What did you say her mother's name was?"
"Paloma Rodriguez." Ainsley replied. She was fighting not to doze off.
"My mom had to spend a winter at Betty Ford. The cancer, after her cancer she got hooked on booze and the painkillers after the surgery. After her mastectomy she was so distant... Our housekeeper, back then, her name was Paloma Rodriguez. She just took over. She took care of me. She took care of my dad. She... fell in love with my father." Understanding dawned. "She left us when Mom came back from Betty Ford. Ohmigod, my mother recognized her. That's why she broke down like that. Ainsley, I'll probably know her to see her. What do I say, what, oh shit."
"Sam, I don't think this is the time to talk about it. You're in shock. Give yourself some time to let this sink in."
"I never knew."
"Stay with me tonight?" He whispered very softly.
"Sam, I'm not going anywhere."
"Thank... " He shook his head and stopped himself before she could smack him with a back hand. "Ainsley, please, I want to hold you tonight."
"Sam, you're really vulnerable right now. I don't think... "
Sam kissed her gently. "I don't want to do anything but hold you. Ainsley, to be honest, as appealing as the thought is, and trust me, it's a very appealing thought, I don't think, anything else could happen."
"Good. Because nothing else would have." They climbed the stairs to his childhood room. He passed her an old T-shirt and they climbed in bed together. Sam curled up on his side holding her in a spoon position. Exhaustion claimed them both.
Ainsley left Sam at around 6 a.m. to find the kitchen. She had wanted to stay with him but the sight of him asleep, so rumpled and vulnerable made her heart ache. She wanted to kiss away the worry lines around his eyes. She wanted to take all his pain away. She couldn't stay beside him like that. She showered quickly and left his room. Ainsley called the hospital and learned there was no change; she called Josh to relay that information and to ask him to have someone check Sam's apartment. She also called Lionel Tribbey who assured her he had redistributed her work for as long as she was needed in California. The First Lady had already spoken to him the night before.
Sam's mother appeared in the kitchen. "Ainsley - I've asked my housekeeper to pick you up some more clothing but she'll need sizes." Bizzy placed a hand on Ainsley's shoulder. "About yesterday, I don't usually fall apart like that..."
"Bizzy," Ainsley turned and gave the older woman an understanding smile, "what are sisters for?" She made light of everything. "I don't suppose there's any grapefruit in the fridge?"
Sam awoke reaching for her. She wasn't there. He rolled over and saw the clock. Shit. It was nearly 10 a.m. He flew into the shower and pulled on some jeans and a casual shirt. He looked up at the doorway to see her holding a coffee cup. She was also casually dressed.
"There's no change, Josh will feed your fish. Toby found the latest revision of the speech and is emailing it to us with comments. It's downloading on the library computer now. Your mom's already left for the hospital and is going to sit with your dad until about 12:30 when we'll arrive. I'm going to take her for a bite of lunch because she didn't even finish her grapefruit this morning. Your aunt Margaret is flying in this afternoon from Cisco, I'll drive your mom to the airport to meet her. Then, I'll come back to the hospital - I told Paloma and Theresa they could see Jason around 2. I thought you might like some time alone with him before they got there. I also didn't want your Mom to run into..."
Sam took the coffee cup from her hand and placed it on a nearby dresser. He gathered her into his arms and kissed her tenderly. "You weren't here when I woke up?"
"You snore?" she tried lamely. "I'm still in the eastern time zone. I also scanned the papers on the web - nothing damaging. They picked up that he wasn't drunk and described Paloma as a passenger in the vehicle..." He kissed her again.
"Would you stop doing that just to shut me up."
"Is that why you think I'm doing it? I thought we'd already settle that?" He gave her a thousand watt smile. "It does shut you up quite nicely though." He kissed her again. "You've taken care of everything - done everything I would have and more. Ainsley, about my mother . . "
"Sam, watch it. I like your mother."
"What?" he was puzzled. He brushed a stray hair off her face. She had gathered it into a pony tail and her face was make up free. He'd never seen her look prettier.
"She's Phi Beta Capa - it's a Greek letter thing... a loyalty thing... " Ainsley gasped his name as he kissed the sensitive spot at the base of her neck.
"Why weren't you here when I woke up? The truth this time." he continued to trail kisses under her chin and behind her ear as she rolled her neck giving him better access. His hand wandered to cup her derriere, she felt his need for her.
"Because I was afraid I'd seduce you when you woke up." She whispered huskily.
"Ainsley, I'm awake." he whispered hopefully.
"Sam, I'm here for you. I'm honestly here for you, but you were right - I'm scared." Her voice sounded like it had in the hallway at the White House before he fired those two idiots.
He pulled back and looked at her face. She tried not to meet his gaze and he gently guided her face back to meet his eye. His touch was so tender, so gentle, so encouraging. "Scared. Of me."
"Of US. Sam, I've never needed to be with someone like I need to be here for you now. I can't explain why it's so important to me to be here for you. And I like to be able to explain things. I know there's sexual tension between us, there has been from minute one, I can understand that. But it's more for me, and right now, the more is scaring me to death...don't do that," she whispered softly as he lowered his lips to hers.
"I can't help myself." he whispered just as softly as he tenderly kissed her again. When the kiss broke he rested her head against his chest and cradled her against him. "Ainsley, I don't want casual sex either. And I know you're not a hug everybody in sight blonde - but..."
"Sam, I can't make myself leave you or your mom. I'm in too deep here. For as long as you need me I'll be here." Sam lifted her and carried her to his bed. He set her down lovingly and then stretched out resting his head on her breasts. She silently ran her fingers through his hair and just held him. A short time later he looked up and noticed tears in her eyes.
"Ainsley?" He rolled over gathering her into his arms. "Tell me. What's wrong."
"Honey, tell me..."
"Sam, as wrong as everything is in your life right now. Nothing has ever felt as right to me as lying here holding you does."
He tightened his grip and placed a butterfly kiss on the top of her head and whispered. "Me neither."
They left for the hospital a short time later. Ainsley took Bizzy to a nearby coffee shop that one of the nurses recommended for a quick lunch then drove her to the airport to meet Sam's aunt. Once Aunt Margaret assured Ainsley that Bizzy would be all right, Ainsley returned to the hospital. She found Sam sitting beside his dad's bed - she doubted he'd moved since she left with his mom two hours before. Her heart got stuck in her throat when she saw him. He was taking this so hard.
"Sam, can I get you anything?"
"Just you," he said softly. Ainsley took him in her arms and gently rocked him. "He's not going to come out of this, Ainsley. I can't shake this feeling, that he's, gone already. Ainsley I don't think I ever really knew him? He kept his secret for decades, why? You've met them. What are, what are they like?"
"Sam, how do I answer that? Sam, please don't ask me to..."
"Ainsley, I trust you. I wouldn't ask if I didn't need to know. Please, just first impressions. Please." He was begging. She couldn't bring herself to deny him anything.
"Oh, Sam. I don't know what to say. I mean, Paloma was so... gentle. And strong. And had such a quiet dignity. She didn't want to leave your dad's side but somehow, I got the feeling that she wanted to spare you and your mom any more pain. She wanted to honor him and protect him but I got the feeling walking out of here was killing her inch by the inch."
He nodded understandingly. "And my, my sister?" he asked.
"Sam she has every right to be angry. Her mother made the choice to be number two and she's always felt that way. Your dad has a great deal to answer for when it comes to her."
"And that's different from me? How I feel now?"
Ainsley fell quiet for a moment. "Sam, tell me about growing up. How life was when you were a kid. Your favourite memories. Holidays, family traditions. Happy things. Come on, let's get comfy so we can talk..."
He thought she just needed to change the subject and so he let her get away with it. She looked tired. He led her to the waiting area and they sat down on the couch. He wrapped an arm around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. "Okay. Well, from the time I could walk we went skiing at Aspen at Christmas. My dad loved to ski, he liked the thrill of the toughest runs. He liked to challenge himself. We'd be out for hours together - the whole Christmas vacation. I had his undivided attention back then."
"It sounds like a wonderful memory Sam. When I was a kid, my sister and I would meet in the hallway Christmas morning then run in and jump on Mom and Dad's bed. Then we'd all run downstairs and open stockings, go to church together, sing."
"I can sing. Sort of."
"I'll sing you a lullaby some time."
"Promise?" he said and kissed her gently. He swung her legs up so she was cuddled on his lap.
"Guarantee." She kissed him back. "So, were you typical California surfing dudes in the summer?"
"We'd surf on Big Sur - yes Dad bought me my first board. It was a Fourth of July and I was maybe eight. That was the first time we skipped the family reunion picnic. We showed up in time for fireworks though." He paused lost in the past for a moment, then continued. "They were cool, I always think that's the best part of the Fourth, don't you?"
"The first time I remember seeing Fireworks Sam, was my third birthday."
"Born on the Fourth of July, I didn't know that about you?"
"Yeah, me and George Cohen. Do you want to hear my story or not?"
"I'll shut up. What's the story?" He gave her a gentle peck on the nose.
"I was scared of the noise. I had dozed off waiting for them. Then the first one went off and the bang scared me. I screamed and started to cry. Daddy picked me up in those giant football player arms of his and carried me to a lawn chair where we cuddled and he kept me distracted with the lights and the colours. He held me so close and covered my ears when the bangs came. I've never felt that safe again. Ever. Now, every time I see fireworks anywhere, I remember my Daddy loves me." There was a tear in the corner of her eye. He wiped it away and kissed her tenderly.
"I thought you weren't the sentimental type?"
"I'm not the hug everybody in sight type. I get plenty sentimental." Her voice had dropped to a whisper and she snuggled into Sam's arms on the couch. She didn't want to do this: he was feeling better. It was cruel in a way but it might make him understand, maybe just a little. In her best lawyer voice she said, "Sam, Theresa never saw her father at Christmas growing up. He was skiing in Aspen with you. Theresa probably wrote to Santa asking him to bring her Daddy on Christmas morning not a surf board. And if he was at a Seaborn family reunion on the Fourth and he was teaching you how to surf, then her Papa could never have cuddled away the loud noises for her like my daddy did for me."
He pushed himself off the couch tumbling her from his lap. "You'd have made one hell of a trial lawyer, Lady." He yelled at her. "Lull the witness into a secure state and nail the coffin shut?"
"I'm sorry." She whispered.
"You should be. That wasn't fair. And my whole childhood was all a lie damnit."
"At least you had a lie. She didn't. When you were a teen she still believed in Santa Claus. You were busy skiing in Aspen and surfing Big Sur while the kids at school were making cruel jokes about whether her dad would show up this year or not."
"It WAS A LIE."
"But you didn't know it at the time. You were happy, Sam. You were secure in that lie. She," Ainsley was afraid she'd pushed him too far.
"I don't have to listen to this!" Sam stormed out of the room slamming the door behind him. "I thought you were on my side. You can be such a bitch!" He walked past his father's room in disgust. THEY would be arriving any minute and he sure as hell didn't want to bump into them. He thought he'd dealt with all this in DC. He was angry that first few days. His dad had betrayed his mother, his values, and HIM. Sam's heart had frozen over for a while. But, it had started to thaw. Yeah, his dad was a jackass but he was still his dad. And he'd been there for him whenever he needed him. He remembered getting caught in the girls dorm at Princeton. He could have been expelled. His dad had flown in and helped him. He remembered a lot. His dad had been there. And it hadn't been a lie. His dad loved him. He'd grown up secure in that. He'd taken it for granted. Sam was good at taking things for granted. There would be fruit and muffins at work everyday. He had excellent support staff, he had a bank balance, Ainsley would be there when he fell asleep tonight... Ainsley!!! He ran back into the hospital and took the stairs up two at a time. He flew into the waiting area. And she was gone. He checked the room. She was standing by the bed with her back to the door.
"Yes, Mr. Seaborn, I guess I am a bitch. I set him up. But I wanted him to understand her. Even just a little before she got here today. You hurt her so much over the years but Sam didn't. He didn't even know. He's the innocent in all this. What kind of a person does that make me - I hurt him proving a point. This is all your fault! And now, you've hurt me by dragging me into a position where I had to hurt Sam... I want you to understand something, right here and right now. I want you to get better. But when you do, you'd better be careful around me because I'm liable to tear a strip off you the size of Big Sur."
"Get in line," Sam whispered. "Ainsley, thank God you're still here." He wrapped his arms tenderly around her.
"I was wr..."
"No, honey. Sometimes when I need a kick in the ass, I get mad at the person who kicks me." He couldn't believe how much he loved her at that moment. Kissing the top of her hair he said, "you stayed. I was so afraid you'd have left and I would have deserved it. Hell, I'd probably be on the next flight by now. Ainsley, I am such an ass sometimes." They stood there like that for a moment just holding one another.
"Sam, I need a Fresca. You're buying." He looked deeply into her eyes and leaned in for a tender kiss.
"You haven't disagreed with me?"
"I know you're an ass, Sam. But hey, if you won't hold being a bitch against me, then we're even."
He slipped into the waiting room when Paloma and Theresa arrived. He couldn't talk to them yet. He just couldn't. So she did. "Paloma, Theresa, Sam and I are in the waiting room. Please, if there's any change, will you come for us?"
"Of course." Paloma replied.
Theresa followed her out to the hall. "Yesterday...I said some pretty hateful things to you . . "
Ainsley took a deep breath. "Yesterday is done. But just so you know, I really do understand your anger. And I think Sam will in time. " She paused thinking for a second of how confused and angry Sam still was. About everything. "However, that man in there, he has a heart of gold." she said pointing to the waiting room, "HE didn't DO anything to you. JASON did. If you need to go another round with me, fine, name the time and place. Blast me all you like but leave Sam out of the line of fire for now. You two will have a lot to say to one another someday. Just not today."
"Tell me something, do you honestly believe my mother and I would have been allowed in here if you hadn't arranged it?" There was a twinge of anger in her voice.
"Sam would have." Ainsley said. Then noticing the incredulous look she was getting she continued, "YES, Sam would have arranged it, if I hadn't! You don't get it do you? Theresa, he's not ashamed of you - that's not why he can't face you. Is THAT what you think?" Ainsley shook her head emphatically. "God NO!! He's ashamed of how Jason treated you. All of you. Including Mrs Seaborn and himself. He feels guilty that he can't bring himself to hate the dad he's loved his whole life because Jason was a sonvabitch who screwed all the people he claims to love. I told your mom yesterday, that Sam does the right thing eventually. I know it's hard for you to believe, but give Sam the benefit of the doubt. For your dad's sake, if for no other reason." She turned to join Sam in the waiting room.
"Ainsley, Golden Boy, he's lucky you're here. And, so are Mama and I."
"Thank you. I think. Excuse me, Theresa, I need to be with Sam."
The rest of the day passed as she had planned it. Whenever he reached for her hand it was there. Whenever he needed to think about something other than his father on that bed with those machines hooked up to him, there was the speech and they worked on it together. She bantered ideas with him, teased him about his position, goaded him along. When Sam looked at the clock it was 8 p.m. local time but it still felt like after midnight to them. They left the hospital and drove back to his mother's home.
"Any news?" Bizzy asked meeting them in the foyer.
"No change, Mom." Sam said reaching out to hug her.
"Ainsley dear, I put your things in Sam's room."
"Thanks, Bizzy. I'm going to freshen up."
Sam followed her up the stairs and collapsed on his bed. She got out of the shower and came into the room wearing a towel. " Sam, I need to do something physical."
He looked at her up and down. "I can think of something."
"Very funny." She smiled at him. "I meant - how about a swim?"
"Can't blame a guy for trying?"
At around midnight they decided to try to catch some sleep. They called the hospital to find Jason's condition remained unchanged. Ainsley cuddled into Sam and listened to his breathing slow and felt him fall asleep. "When did I fall in love with you, Sam? And what am I going to do about it?" she found herself whisper before she too fell into a light slumber. Ainsley awoke at four a.m. to the sound of his pager. She shook him gently, "The hospital."
He dialled the number - it wasn't good news. "I'll wake my mother," he said simply. "Dad coded. They'll try to keep him alive till we get there but... "
"Do you want me to call Paloma and Theresa?"
"My mom won't want to see them... "
"Sam, go wake your mom. I'll take care of it."
"I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here."
"You won't have to find out."
When they arrived at the hospital, Sam and his mother rushed to Jason's side. Ainsley held back so she could call the Rodriguez family without Sam's mother overhearing. Paloma and Theresa both answered the phone on the first ring. Ainsley told them as gently as possible - there was a DNR order and it was only a matter of time now. They thanked her for calling and then she made her way to the ICU. Sam stood with his hand on his Mom's shoulder and when she appeared in the doorway he held his other hand out to her. She stood beside him without saying a word. Sam's arm wrapped around Ainsley's waist and he kissed the top of her head. She nuzzled in gently rubbing his back. Sam was still holding Ainsley like that when his father slipped away peacefully half an hour later.
The next three days were a nightmare. The chore of orchestrating the funeral fell to Sam. Ainsley was able to arrange a private gathering at the funeral home for the Rodriguez family and their friends. Jason Seaborn's double life remained a private matter until Elizabeth Seaborn shocked everyone by inviting Paloma and Theresa to sit beside her at the funeral. The First Lady flew in with Toby, Josh, CJ and Donna but the President and the Chief of Staff had to send their regrets. Sam kept Ainsley glued to his side during a seemingly endless receiving line.
As they were preparing to leave, Bizzy pulled Ainsley aside. "My dear, I can't thank you enough for all you've done. Promise me, you'll come back, and give me a chance to get to know you as well as you know me."
"I'd like that." Ainsley replied. "I want you to know, I really am sorry we met like this. Is there any way you could come to Washington sometime soon?"
"Maybe I will. I'd like to see Sam in his natural habitat. Ainsley take care of my Sammy. He's not as tough as he likes people to think."
"Ma'am, I know that. But, well I think you should know something." There was a twinkle in her eye. "Sam isn't as smart as he likes people to think, either!"
Bizzy laughed. "Good bye, dear."
" What's so funny?" Sam asked as he looked at the two women.
"You are, Sammy dear." Bizzy replied. She kissed Ainsley's cheek and hugged her son.
"I love you, Mom." Sam said.
"I love you too, dear."
"Ainsley, are you ready yet. I don't like to keep the US Air Force waiting." He guided her to the car.
"We're going on an Air Force?"
"Ainsley - we're just hitching a ride with Mrs. Bartlett."
"Much better. That sounds much more fiscally responsible."
"Ainsley, I really do want to thank..."
"We're still in California, Sam. Our treaty is still in effect. Watch your mouth."
"My mother thinks I should marry you."
"What can I say? Your mother is a wise woman."
"She just has son who is a bit clued out about blondes." He finished the thought for her.
"Um hmm. And I think your mother has class. Inviting Paloma and Theresa to sit with family at the funeral took class. Even if you don't always understand her, Sam, you can't argue she's got class."
"Ainsley, oh, forget it. But by the way, when we get back to Washington, I intend to renegotiate that Peace Treaty."
"We can talk about it in Washington, Sam. I intend to enjoy my first ride on an Air Force."
"The terms I want to discuss can't wait till Washington. I already know I can say thank you in Washington. What I want to know IS, can I kiss you in Washington."
"I'll get you a copy of the treaty. But it says you can kiss me in any of the 50 states. And the District of Columbia. Actually, you can kiss me pretty much anywhere."
Sam pulled her into his arms and kissed her all the way to the airport. He ran his fingers through her hair. They mounted the steps of the Air Force plane. "This could get complicated." He said. "But please, tell me we can hold onto this. To US. Ainsley, I don't want to lose what I found with you here in California, I couldn't have done this without you."
"I don't want to lose US either Sam. I do care for you. But you need to know, just because I care for you doesn't mean I won't argue with you, berate you, and poke fun at you!"
"That's the woman I fell in love with."
"Beg pardon? Sam, say that again."
"I love you, Ainsley Hayes. I love that you never let up, I love that you're passionate about what you believe in, I love how you were with Theresa and Paloma, how you and Mom are with one another."
"Sam, People are staring at us. I think they want us to board so they can take off."
"Then let's give them something to look at." Sam grabbed her and pulled her close for an earth shattering kiss.
"There's going to be TALK, Sam, " she said when he broke the kiss.
"Do you care?"
"Let's give them something to talk about." Ainsley grabbed his tie and pulled him in for another tender kiss. Eventually, they boarded the plane to thunderous applause.