Stalked Part Three
Meanwhile, in the Oval Office, Leo was bringing the President up to speed, "No sir, the Washington PD still hasn't caught the guy. He seems to have focussed his attention on pissing off Sam rather than finding Ainsley,"
"He thinks Sam's the boyfriend."
"Is he right?"
"With those two, who knows, sir?" Leo smiled. "It's got them both pretty wound up though."
"It's possible for Ainsley Hayes to be even more wound up?" the President dead panned.
Leo smiled. "Yes, sir. I'd like to see her and Sam decompress though. At this rate there's bound to be an explosion any time. Or one of them will get careless and try to see the other."
For a brief moment the President allowed himself to just be Jed. He had always had a soft spot for Sam. Jed respected Sam's talent and his drive but it was more than that. He genuinely liked the young man. A part of 'the President' still felt partly responsible for the break up of Sam's engagement during the campaign. Although Sam had never explained the reason for Lisa's departure in detail, Jed believed that Lisa had always been a poor choice for Sam. Jed thought she was a shallow young woman who preferred being on the arm of a 500 dollar an hour Wall Street Lawyer to supporting a politician who, according to the polls, was fighting an up hill battle. Had she bet on Sam, she would have been on his arm at State dinners and meeting world leaders. But she bailed. In the end, the Bartlett campaign hadn't exactly won by a landslide: but they won. "Too bad Lisa, you bet on the wrong team!"
Jed had only met Ainsley Hayes once, but he liked her. And he could always tell about these things. Jed liked how she challenged Sam, how she pushed him to be the best he could be, how she set him on fire. Jed knew it was exactly what Abbey did for him: Abbey was Jed's soul mate. Abbey was the one person who knew him. She knew that when the President of the United States closed the bed room door, he needed to be just plain, old Jed Bartlett. The President would bet the farm that Ainsley Hayes was the one person with whom Sam Seaborn could be Sam. Jed just wondered how long it would take Sam to realize it. "Get them both to Camp David Friday afternoon." President Bartlett was one of the few people on earth who could make an invitation a command performance. "What's next?"
Friday at lunch time, Ainsley followed the agents through the kitchen areas of the hotel into the waiting limo. Inside the car Sam was waiting for her. They both hesitated for a moment as she climbed in. "He looks tired." It was the first thing she noticed about him. Well, it was the second thing she noticed. The first thing was how kissable he looked.
"Camp David?" she asked.
"Camp David. The whole senior staff is going to be there for a policy making retreat. At least, that's what CJ announced at this morning's briefing."
"And is that true?"
"It's partly Committee to Reelect Stuff."
"Then why was I invited? I'm a Republican, remember?"
He pulled back slightly. He was amazed. "You wouldn't support the President's reelection campaign?"
"I didn't say that - I asked if you all forgot that I'm a Republican?"
"No, I just assumed you'd like to keep your job. You've said you respect President Bartlett." He hadn't expected, well, no, he hadn't thought even thought about her plans for the upcoming election. Maybe she would oppose Bartlett's reelection?
"Sam, I just want to know why I was invited?"
Sam took a deep breath and covered her hand with his. "The President respects people who disagree with him. It prepares him for public debate. When he's making up his mind about a policy, he wants the best people he can find around the table voicing opinions, quoting information, fuelling discussion, so when he decides where he stands he knows he's explored the whole thing from all sides. He considers you one of his people. And, he wants you to sit at that table with the rest of us."
"It would be an honour to sit at that table with all of you." She was stunned at how easily that came out. "Sam," she whispered. "President Bartlett is one of the finest men I have ever known and I want to help keep him in the White House."
"Ainsley, you may not fully understand how strongly I feel. I want to have the XXII nd amendment repealed. I could live the rest of my life quite happily if President Bartlett was the permanent resident of the White House."
"I know you could, Sam." Then she laughed. "And sorry Sam, but well, I would have a problem with doing that. I'd have to actively campaign against that. Only because the XXII nd amendment prevents America from accidentally becoming a monarchy. Even if I might concede that President Bartlett would make a decent monarch, it's not in the best interests of the ordinary people of any given country to be ruled by one." She was goading him.
"Yeah." He laughed. "Okay, I'll give you that one."
"Sam, I've missed you." She smiled at him. I felt so good to just be with him again.
"I missed you too." He wrapped an arm casually around her shoulder. He ached to kiss her but... Ainsley rested her head on his shoulder and snuggled in slightly. She turned to look back up at him. Their eyes met first and then their lips. Sam's lips were gentle but firm as they brushed against hers for the first time. Her arms wrapped around his neck as she allowed his searching tongue access to hers. Sam's tongue traced hers sensuously and his hands found her hair: it felt like silk. He thought as his fingers found the clip holding it back from her face. When they finally came up for air, Ainsley kept her head on his shoulder.
"Jed," Abbey Bartlett took her husband's hand. "You're matchmaking again, aren't you?"
"Well have I ever been wrong?" he replied.
She laughed out loud. "Well, let's see, you set up Lizzie with her husband. You said after knowing him for two weeks that Charlie was perfect for Zoe. And my sister is finally divorced from the jerk you and only you, begged her to dump before it was too late. Okay, so you do have a knack for this kind of thing."
"Thank you." As an afterthought he added, "Hey, how come you didn't mention you and me?" They stood before the stone fireplace at Camp David obeying their unspoken rule: while they were alone at Camp David their personal lives were their focus. Guests always travelled separately. Until their guests arrived: it was like the old days when Jed and Abbey slipped away to the cottage.
"Because I knew, you were the one for me, first. I just let you think it was all your idea."
"Bullshit. You were with that jock Mark What's-his-face and I snatched you away from a life of monotony with a moron - in the nick of time I might add."
"To give me a life of security guards, late night phone calls and a medical career on hold indefinitely?" She was joking.
He wasn't quite sure. "Has it been all bad?" He hoped it hadn't but Jed could be just as insecure as the next guy.
"Let me see. On the plus side I have three wonderful children, two grandchildren and a passionate loving husband. I think it balanced out to the positive quite nicely. But, back to Sam for a second, I thought you wanted to see him with Mallory?"
"She's still too bitter about Leo's career. She'd never be truly happy with a politician. Leo marriage to her mom ended before his tour in Vietnam, she hated his second wife, and her stepfather. She blames Leo for everything that's remotely wrong in her life. Sam would be so good to her but Mallory's got too much baggage to be good to him. And God knows, he deserves it. Those two, it's not the right fit. Now," he said rubbing his hands together, "Ainsley, she's the one for Sam!"
"Jed, stop and think for a minute. Politically, morally and philosophically, all your successful matches, including you and me, were always tightly meshed from the get go." She paused, "Sam and Ainsley?"
"Philosophically I think they do mesh. They're going to the same place, they're just taking different roads to get there. It will never be boring or smooth sailing but they're ging to make it. Give it time."
"Excuse me sir," Charlie said, passing POTUS a note. At the Presidents nod, Charlie left the room.
"Their car is at the gate. Before it reaches us, I need to ask you something, Abigail. Have I told you I love you today?"
"No, but you can show me exactly how much tonight!" She said kissing him gently.
Thanks to the motion and warmth of the car Ainsley had dozed off on the ride. Sam shifted his weight slightly to jostle her awake. "Hey sleepy head, we're almost there," he whispered softly.
"Ohmigosh Sam, when did I... I'm so sorry. You should have woken me up sooner... should I have been reading something... getting ready to do something?"
"No problem, now, take a deep breath, we're clearing Camp David security. Josh and Donna won't be along until later tonight - he was waiting for some numbers from central polling. Toby, CJ and Leo will arrive by chopper in the morning."
"So, how come we're the only ones coming up so early?"
"So you can meet President Bartlett and learn to relax around him a bit. Let's face it your previous introduction was full of the stuff legends are made of." She rolled her eyes. He continued before she could make a comment blaming him for that. It was his fault. He just didn't need to be reminded. "You need a chance to talk to him informally, to learn to see him as a person not just the office. And Ainsley, he wanted to give you a chance to be outside someplace where he could guarantee your safety. We all know you've had cabin fever lately."
"Sam, are you telling me tonight is purely social?"
"Pretty much, yeah. At least till Josh and Donna get here but yes it's just social."
"And you didn't tell me this sooner..."
"Because the President didn't tell me until this afternoon and you looked so peaceful while you were asleep just now I... "
"Sam, how long till we reach the end of this driveway?"
"Another five minutes, why?"
"Shut up Sam." She leaned up and kissed him deeply. They broke the kiss as the car slowed to pull in front of the entrance.
A short time later, once they were settled into adjacent guest rooms, Sam tapped on her door. For the first time in weeks, Ainsley was completely relaxed. She'd changed into jeans and a blouse, pulled her hair up into a ponytail and was looking forward to being with Sam. She opened the door to find that he too had donned jeans and a Duke University shirt. He looked incredibly sexy. "Ready for that walk?" he asked.
"Whenever you are." She smiled at him. "You've been here before I assume?"
"Yeah." He took her hand and kissed it. In the distance they saw the Bartletts also holding hands and going for a walk along the trails. The Secret Service detail followed at a discreet distance. "The Bartlett's usually spend Friday evenings alone when they come to Camp David. They decompress together. Walk, talk, laugh, just reconnect with one another. Leo says that as long as the President and the First Lady are in sync, all's right with the world."
"Sounds like my mom and dad." Ainsley said wistfully as they walked hand in hand in the opposite direction the Bartletts had taken. After a while, she asked very softly, "Sam, what do you want? I mean, the future, I know we both said we'd work on the reelection campaign but where do you see yourself past that. I mean, after President Bartlett's second term." Suddenly her voice changed in shock, "did I really just say that like it was a given? Three years ago I would have had to check into a mental hospital if I heard my voice saying that."
"Bartlett's second term?" he laughed. "You know, if on behalf of the whole Republican Party, you would like to just concede now, we could save the tax payer a bundle..."
"Sam, you're really scaring me today! First a monarchy, now a coup d'etat?" She turned and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Maybe you should kiss me again before you say another unconstitutionally crazy thing."
"I really do like the way you think sometimes Ainsley." He said softly leaning in to do just that.
They kept walking along the trails at Camp David, laughing, and talking. The fresh air felt wonderful as did the opportunity to unwind. They bickered and debated social issues but both knew the attacks weren't personal. Sam enjoyed the afternoon tremendously. She didn't change his mind about anything, although she did make him think. He loved that about her. "I promised Mrs. Bartlett we'd be back at sunset," Sam said as they reached a large rock by an artificial pond. "They're barbequing dinner," he said as they perched on top of the rock and his arm wound around her shoulder again. She cuddled in.
"The President and the First Lady are having us for a barbeque?"
"No, POTUS and FLOTUS aren't. Ainsley, think of it this way: you've been invited to dinner with our boss and his wife. Our boss likes to barbeque - but bear in mind that he can only cook steak one way: Well Done. Trust me on that." They both laughed. "Now does that sound so intimidating?"
"I guess not. I'll try to think about him that way tonight. I'll try." She knew it wouldn't be easy.
"Good, now, I'm amazed you let me get away with it." He observed playfully.
"Not answering your question earlier. I mean, hey, if you want me to get in the habit of dodging your most serious questions by kissing you, believe me, I'm more than willing..."
She gave him a gentle peck. "I figured I'd tie you down later..."
"That sounds intriguing... " he couldn't help himself - teasing her was just too much fun.
"Sam Seaborn you have a dirty mind!" She cut him off completely embarrassed by the direction the conversation had taken. He took her hand and pulled it up to meet his lips. He stood silently looking at her, drinking in the sight of her still perched on the large stone. "Sam, would you mind, seriously, answering my question?"
He took a deep breath. "I was building up to that: Ainsley, I'm not looking for a fling - I was never any good at the singles scene or bar hopping. Yeah, I've been involved with other people but, I was involved. I'm not a casual type of guy. I've always wanted a relationship with a future in it. And I want a life outside my job - if that's possible. I want somebody who'll understand that some days I won't have a life outside the job. Washington is insane. At best my current job security could be described as eighteen months with the American People having an option to renew for four more years. And it's going to be a fight to get them to renew. I also know that the Vice President may not have a lock on the nomination four years after that. Plus, to be honest, he thinks Toby and I are idiots. Toby especially, me, I think he's undecided about. So there's no guarantee I'll be working for him and I sincerely doubt that even if I was I'd be in the inner circle."
"The Vice President won't win, even if he's nominated." She said it without a moment's hesitation.
"Ainsley, how partisan of you?" he couldn't believe she'd just said that.
"Sam, that's not what I meant. The Vice President isn't, well, he's not President Bartlett. Look at his approval rating. I sincerely doubt he'd carry his home state after beating up the oil industry. That made him look two faced and like he can't be trusted by his friends giving a major boost to his opposition? But it's more than that, he's not the Real Thing and the American People know it."
"And the President is the real thing to you." It was a statement not a question.
"I disagree with his approach. I think he likes big government and he thinks that spending money is the answer to everything, but, he's the real thing. Once I knew that, I knew I had to work for him." She stood and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Sam, before we head back, there's one more question I need to ask you. It may matter someday, and this is awfully presumptuous, but, Sam, if we decided, we wanted to be the somebody each other was looking for, are you going to ask me to stop being Republican?"
"Are you going to ask me to stop being Democrat?" He tried to hide behind the same question.
"It not all you are Sam, but it's a big part. But honestly, no, I couldn't ask you to be somebody or something that you're not. Neither one of us would be happy then."
"I won't ask you to be somebody you're not either." He replied without hesitation. "I like who you are."
Ainsley decided not to mince words. This was important. "Is being with me going to impede your chances?"
"Sam, if you run, and don't doubt it, you're star candidate material Sam, you could be a player in your own right." She turned away from him, "Being with me may hurt your chances."
"Ainsley, that's the most ridiculous thing I've heard for a long time. I've learned a lot working for President Bartlett. Most of all," he reached for her and she looked up at him, "I've learned you can't do what it takes if you've got nothing to come home to at night." He paused and added ever so softly, "Thank you."
"For knowing it's out there and we have to talk about it. We have to keep talking about it. I want to be sure we can talk about everything. Anything. Anytime. Including the fact that the reverse would be true. You'd make a great candidate too." He held her quietly for a moment, content to feel her close, "I guess what it boils down to is: I'm looking for a real partner, Ainsley, and I'm not stupid. I know that to have the kind of a partner I want, I'll need to be the same kind of partner for her. Am I scaring you?"
"No. Well yes, maybe a little. I'm not use to thinking you're an insightful kind of guy. But that's what I'm looking for too - a real partner." She was glad they'd talked. If this, whatever this was, was going to have a chance, they'd have to continue to be honest with one another. He held her for a few minutes and then gave her a butterfly kiss.
"We have to head back." She said softly. "Sam, will the boss care if I like my steak medium rare?"
"Trust me, Ainsley, you just said well done."
"No, I didn't!"
"The boss is a lousy cook. It's going to come well done!"
"Oh, in that case, I'll ask for it rare then it will come medium."
"You catch on quick!"
"Ainsley, I've gotten used to the fact that you're very trying."
She playfully swatted him and then wrapped an arm around his waist. "Sam, slow down a second." She reached down and pulled off her sandals and walked barefoot in the grass. She sighed deeply feeling the earth beneath her feet. "I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever feel anything but carpet beneath my feet."
"She looks so young," he thought for moment seeing her like that. "Come on babe, the boss will be waiting."
"Okay, Sam, this has been a wonderful afternoon. Thank you."
"Ainsley," he pulled her back into his arms and up against him. He pulled the elastic from her hair letting it fall loosely around her shoulders and ran his fingers through it. Leaning in for a deep kiss, he whispered, "don't thank me. Just be with me."