A/N: FINALLY. FIREWORKS. Thank you for the reviews on the last chapter!

Chapter Forty

Christmas Day in the White House was one of the quieter affairs for a First Couple in recent memory. There had been no great feast with a table great long table full of family members who had come from far and wide. The head chef had been given the day off and so had more of the staff. Only the occasional security guard crossed the halls or overlooked the lawn. It was a chilly day and an overcast day outside with the occasional drop of rain. There was a chance of snow but it was unlikely to stick. Very few people meandered the grounds of the National Mall as the wind appeared to have a biting chill that caused those walking to step faster as they pulled their perspective coats and jackets closer to their bodies. All the while, Christine saw no immediate need to do anything. She watched all of this play out from her window in between catching up on episodes of Orange Is The New Black and never even changed clothes from what she had been sleeping in.

The day came and went as few others had. It was unique from most other days as President Underwood was not called to meeting after meeting with his gaze otherwise being consumed by a screen or paper. He nonchalantly walked from one room to another with a cup of tea or brandy in his hand. Eventually, he settled himself with a book and allowed whatever he was reading to consume the rest of his afternoon. Neither he nor Christine seemed to seek one another out, but the feeling between them was not of conflict, rather, the feeling was of a mutual understanding of space and thoughtfulness. They were not entire strangers to each other that day and did pass a few times, but other than that, they both kept to themselves and seemed just fine doing so. However, by mid-afternoon, something seemed to change.

Erik noticed that Christine seemed to be leaving her room more to walk around. At first, he assumed she was seeking out some form of exercise but did not want to leave their private quarters to do so. That was understandable enough. He assumed that her task would not concern him and so he continued to read. Things changed when he noticed her continuing to look at him as she passed by. At first, she shied away and went back to her pacing. He assumed she had not meant to stare at him as she had been doing and was simply embarrassed over being caught. That was relatively normal behavior even as he had no inkling as to why she would do such a thing with him. As the behavior became more of a pattern, he cleared his throat to say something. There was a painful look in her eyes. Before he could speak, she shook her head and continued her strange rounds. Feeling that if she wanted to say something to him that she would just say it, he continued to give her space to pace until finally she suddenly decided to close in on him.

"We're still going to have a lesson today?" she said with a hint of worry in her pitch.

Erik looked at her strangely before answering, "I do not see why that would change."

"Can we have it early?" she asked quickly.

Before responding, Erik checked his watch. It was hardly three in the afternoon. He thought for a moment and decided that there was no reason not to start early. "Very well," he replied and closed his book.

Christine nodded quickly and waited for him to stand before she moved. She then looked back at the book as Erik make his way to the piano.

"It's not a problem, is it? I'm sorry - if you were reading something important I can wait. I didn't think -"

Erik placed himself on the piano bench, "There is time to read later. Come, Christine."

The young woman beamed and made her way over to the piano. Erik could tell that she was nervous about something. It was not difficult to hear the slight strain in her chords as she warmed up her instrument. He could tell that she knew what he was thinking as they made eye contact a few times. Rather than let him say anything about it, she jumped into asking what songs she should sing and even suggested a few ideas of her own. As Erik was unaccustomed to her calling the lesson and at so early a time, he allowed her nervous behavior to play out for a song or two. He made small notes but when he began to get to the biggest issue of all she asked if he would join her in a duet before he could get to his point. He sighed long and low and decided to give her one last chance to correct her voice.

Finally. Finally, she let go of whatever it was she was holding on to. He could tell how much she was allowing his voice to affect her and he found himself singing with what he would soon sculpt as his lyrical equal in music. The way she allowed herself to be moved would soon be an equal reaction on his part. Her voice was so close to truly making his soul ache and he soon realized just how grateful he was to her for suggesting to sing earlier in the day. They continued from piece to piece until hours had passed and the sun had long been gone from the horizon. In no time at all, they both sat nearby one another on the same sofa and looked out over the lawn where the enormous Christmas tree shined brightly into the night.

"You know," Christine humbly smiled to herself, "Despite everything, this has been the best Christmas I can remember."

"I hope you're not implying you enjoy having millions of people in our personal space at any given time," Erik said stiffly.

Christine snickered. She could tell it was his strange attempt at a joke. That was just him. "Today wasn't as bad as most of the others." Her eyes cast downward as she revealed a shred of honesty, "It's the first time since I remember feeling like…like I have a family." A shadow cast over her demeanor and she struggled for breath, "And it's kind of terrifying, I guess. Just because I…I feel like I have a really bad curse of losing what is close to me and I…"

She looked up at her husband-to-be and could see the light from the tree shining off of his white mask. There was a moment of strangeness that she couldn't shake, a sort of push and pull in the air as if she had been immersed into the ocean and Erik were the shore. They held each other's gaze until Erik finally received the opportunity to ask her what was wrong. Her response started with a sad laugh.

"Nothing. Nothing at all, really. Everything is…everything feels good. And I guess that's the problem. I don't…feeling happy isn't something I understand on this day. Before…before all I've been able to think about is what I've lost and today all I could think of was what I have and how far I've come…we've come. And…and when I think about all of it I can't help but be terrified that I could ever lose it."

Erik lowed himself to be eye-level with Christine and she felt his hand reach up to cup her cheek. He spoke evenly though very softly, "Are you concerned you'll lose me?"

Without thinking she put her hand over his at her cheek and whispered, "I'm terrified. It's always been what's happened on Christmas. And I can't stand the thought that after everything you could be gone-"

She was cut off when her face was pressed against his chest. His arms encased her and she held onto his shirt and let herself be rooted. Her thoughts threatened to choke her but not when he held her like this. The weight of his head fell above her own and she let herself release a small sigh of relief. Nothing could touch her with him like this and when he was so close she knew he was alive and well and not going to add to the list she had made over the years of her life.

"Your feelings are not without reason," he said softly and she shivered when his chest reverberated with the rich sound, "However, I consider myself beyond your expectations in this scenario. Better to not waste your energy. I assure you I have never been in better health and I've held far more dangerous occupations. If you'll pursue to have me, I shan't be going anywhere."

At that moment she wanted to believe him and a part of her knew better than to distrust him on the subject considering how it was he would ask her to marry him after all, but something was stirring in her that she couldn't shake. The dreadful 'what if' wrapped its way around her brain and went to her senses. If she were to lose him she did not want to live with the slightest thought she could have been any less than she was with him. There was something left undone, something that could be, and something that had never been touched between them.

The thought of many more days experiencing quiet times like what they had then was not as clear. She felt an urge to preserve whatever strange relationship they had in a way that would mean the most to her and make her feeling of happiness expressed. Her words were failing her and she couldn't wrap her point around them. There was something she had to do to let him know just what it meant for her to be with him and not be alone.

She leaned back and looked up into his slightly mismatched eyes again. The push and pull of the air and the feeling of being pressed and stirred by invisible waters influenced her senses. Her breath meshed with his and she read a curious wonder in his eyes. The urge to capture that wonder for herself was overwhelming and her mind quieted for the first time all day. Blissful thoughtlessness swam around her mind and new dizziness ensued that clouded any remaining judgement. Feeling the push of the waves and giving in, she leaned up just enough to press her lips to his.

At first, all is quiet, but then there was a sort of ringing somewhere in the room. The ringing grew closer and Christine realized it was coming from in between her ears. The volume grew and nothing happened. Erik was not responding, merely standing there, as if nothing were happening, as if she weren't expressing one of the deepest parts of her soul to him. The ringing got louder and with it came quick thoughts of fear. He was not responding. Not in the slightest. Something was wrong and she had caused it. She had let herself get lost in something that wasn't real, wasn't there.

Christine pulled away entirely as if shocked. Tears stung her eyes as she looked up at Erik who was motionless and appeared cold. Her fingers rose to her lips. What had she done? What had she done? Blinking back tears she slipped out a single word before retreating to her room and locking the door behind her.


He had broken her. He didn't know exactly when or how but he had. He must have broken her. Why? Why would she do that? The ghost of her lips had paralyzed him to his seat. They had always been a natural shade of light pink. Visible but not overbearing and never overdone as was the upcoming style. Simple and painful and powerful. Where she had once uttered cries from her years of trauma and fear, her lips had overcome their own potential for control and now were reducing him to the mess he had once found her in. Doubt crept into his subconscious. Was she trying to overturn their agreement? Perhaps she was out to manipulate him into weakness…but for what? And to what end?

Was it possible that her action had destroyed him inside and out and the very idea of her seeing him in the awful and embarrassing physically hard state he was in would mark him no more mature than that of a middle schooler? How could there be anything more powerful than her voice? He was certain that her ability to make him truly feel to truly ache for more would be confined to her musical quality. While there were small select times where he had to admit that there was more there and the somewhere, far, far away in the darkest parts of his mind he had dreamed of having her destroy him in such a way as she had just then.

His thoughts were running too quickly for him to sort through. The awful multi-colored lights from the tree she had accepted inside their personal living quarters were enough to drive him mad. Why would she do that? And why would she run away as if it was something he had done wrong? This was not an incident where she had accidentally walked towards him and seen too much. This was completely her doing. He would have never moved so close to her. He was certain that if she ever know of even the most minuscule of terrorizing thoughts he had locked away about her that she would destroy their bargain altogether.

She had to have been mad. Her fear must have rotted into her brain. There was no other explanation. Yes, she had admitted to caring about him. She even referred to him as a friend! How absurd! And tonight she had gone so far as to insinuate that he was family. How had this happened? How could he have let her go so far as to admit such things and then to dive further into madness by sealing them with a kiss? He should have scolded her. He should have pushed her away from him and told her of her impending insanity. It would have been better if he had sent her poor soul to a mental facility after all so that she would have been able to avoid being wrapped up with him at all. He had destroyed her.

And still… he wanted to believe that she was not insane. He wanted to wish that she was of sound mind and meant what she had done. He wanted to plead with the cruel fates of the universe for her action to have been legitimate and done from a place of honest feeling. Oh, how he wanted. He wanted her to come back. He wanted an explanation - no - damn the explanation. He just wanted her. He wanted time to replay itself so that he could stop her before she left. Hell! He wanted to be able to react to what she had done. He wanted to have not sat there like an idiot ass and to have been able to react to her how he had wanted to for so long and wouldn't allow. So many walls had been built on his own watch and dime and with so simple an act all of them were in rubble in his mind.

It crossed his mind that he could still carry out all of his wants. He could so easily cure the feeling of the exasperating sense of the unknown. All it would take would be to cross to the other side of the mansion and knock on her door. That was it. He would do it. He would live in such a state any longer. He had no idea how long he had sat idle. If anything, his pants were correctly fitting him again. That offered confidence to his cause. In no time at all he was before her door and ready to knock. If he was honest with himself he knew that knocking was not in his best interest. He wanted to plow through the door and demand answers from her. All of his resolve broke when he heard the muffled sounds of her sobs.

That wouldn't do. His anger with her would get no answers that night. Lamely, he stood at the door with his arm outstretched Despite it all, he wanted her to not be so upset. Even if she had turned out to be mad, he did not want her to sad. Even if that would be the only time that sort of exchange ever happened between them, it positively broke him that she would feel such anguish over it. Sure, he was feeling all sorts of outrageous emotions over what had happened, but the idea that she was suffering as she was and he could have been the root of it made him want to send himself far away from her. He never wanted to hurt her. But he also had great difficulty believing that she had truly meant what she had done. If he ever led on to how much he had wanted her to do that only for her to admit it was a mistake, he would never recover what they had.

Erik lowered his fist from Christine's door and somberly walked away.

On the other side of the door, Christine had managed to gather her courage enough to stand and wait. She had seen his shadow block the light from the crack beneath her door. She couldn't recall how long he had been there but she was sure to try and muffle her tears for his benefit. The idea that she could be making the situation worse crushed her to no end. It was unlike her panic attacks where she felt she could not breathe, rather, it felt as if there were an awful gripping pressure that closed in around her heart and she wondered if she might be able to relate to those who had ever been crushed by rocks.

After years and years doing all that she could to ignore the holiday, she finally acknowledged to herself that the day had gone entirely right…until it hadn't. And it had been all her fault. Every terrible event from her past had been done or happened outside of her control. Finally, she had taken control and in doing so lost the comfortable relationship she had so far maintained with the President. What a day to finally attempt being in control of her life.

What had she been thinking? She hadn't been thinking. Yes, the thought had crossed her mind before the event. How could it not? It was how she caught him staring at her when he thought she didn't know. She thought there had been something there. And then there was all that Meg was saying about him reflecting some sort of feeling for him. Meg. God, what would she have to say about this? The thought crossed her mind to call her best friend. She even picked up her phone to try and send a text. Then reality struck. It was still Christmas and her friend was likely surrounded by family. Granted, Christine felt that if she called her friend at such a time that Meg might just pick up to escape the traditional gathering. Still, there was something that was keeping her from actually unlocking her phone to send out any kind of message to her friend. Once again, on Christmas, she was very much alone.

Christine managed to get to a point where she tried to replay what had happened in her mind. They were certainly close enough. He seemed to be looking at her with a sense of compassion and care…and yet, she had apparently misread his intentions. She had described them as friends and even though he was no amused by the idea, she was right in doing so. She had clearly taken their "friendship" way too far based on a few looks and the occasional hug and polite kiss. Had he ever truly given any indication of wanting what she now felt she had forced on him? What if he was asexual? Was what she did some kind of assault? The idea made her want to vomit.

At the thought, her stomach growled. Her mind was not hungry but somehow her stomach had managed to butt into the complicated situation. How would she ever be able to face him again? Getting to the kitchen required making it from one wing of the floor to the other. She felt a kind of weakness at the thought of her only emerging to eat. Would she tell him to leave her alone so that she could grab something small then retreat to her wing? That seemed even worse. Her hurt feelings of being rejected by his lack of response were nothing compared to how he must be dealing with everything. The idea that she had assaulted the most powerful person she would ever truly know made her want to rot away. She had betrayed his trust and their agreement. The act was most certainly unforgivable.

It had been a few hours since the incident but it was not yet past midnight. She knew he would still be awake but was uncertain as to exactly where he would be. Oftentimes, he would hole up in his own quarters and only come out to either address her or play music. As she stood by her door, she wished that he would be in his room so that she could try and get something small to eat. She would have to be quick. Stealth was certainly not in her wheelhouse and her highly emotional state would not assist in that. After taking a much-needed breath, she slowly turned the knob and opened the door.

Crossing from the East Sitting Hall and through the Stair Landing had been easy enough. She looked out into the Center Hall three times before she ventured out into it. Rather than go straight and potentially have him notice she was outside his room, she took a lesser-used route through the North Hall, the unused West Room and through the Cosmetology Room. The next room to clear would be the Dining Room. It was unlikely he would be in there but she found it peculiar that the overhead light had been turned on. She held her breath as she dared to look around the corner.

He was not there. What she found was a plate of food in the place where she typically sat. It appeared to be a plate of imitation Orange Chicken, an imitation egg roll, and a can of Sprite. She smiled despite herself and almost started to cry anew. That was the same comforting meal he had purchased for her a year ago. Except for this time, the quality appeared to be many times better and it was vegan. Just in front of the plate was a folded piece of paper with his unmistakable penmanship scribbled neatly over it.

I promised you food this evening. No animal products were used. -E

Christine looked at the plate of food then back up to see if he were somewhere watching her. The idea was silly as she imagined he could not go through the trouble to write her a note if he had intended to trap her with food. It was a kind gesture on his part. The food did not appear hot but she did not want to chance going to the microwave to warm it up. Taking the plate into both hands and balancing a fork and knife between her fingers, she retraced the small trek back to her hideaway.

The time was closing in at midnight. Erik sat in his room wearing some looser clothing after having cooked Christine's dinner. He had managed to soil one part of his previous shirt with the orange sauce. Granted, he had not cooked all of it. Most of it had been prepackaged and required rewarming on the stove. Cooking was not one of his talents and he had never led her to believe as such. Regardless, a promise was a promise. He had told her that he would prepare dinner for them and so he had. Even if his stomach was churning, he didn't want her to feel any worse than she already was. Madness certainly was painful enough.

Feeling it was time to make his way out of his room, he first looked towards the Dining Room across the hall. The light was off. She had been there. Hopefully, she had eaten something and maybe even enjoyed some of it. He thought the meal would represent some kind of care. Of course, he still cared for her! He never wanted her to believe otherwise even if they were not to ever truly be honest with each other again. Not that he wanted that to happen…but he had already played out a few worst-case scenarios in their time away from one another. It was maybe twenty minutes to midnight. He knew this was her worst day of the year. Might as well see if it could either get worse or maybe not carry into the next day as well.

Realizing there was no chance at obtaining any peace without confronting her, he made the walk across the mansion to address her fully. He stood before the door as he had hours before with his fist raised. This time, he was able to bring himself to quietly knock two times. There was a pause. A long awful pause. Then soft padded footsteps from the other side of the door. He heard her trembling sigh from not even a foot away. When she did crack the door open her eyes were cast down. Christine had been crying. That much was clear. She wore her father's old shirt and pair of sleeping pants covered in penguins and the two patterns clashed obscenely. Her feet were covered in equally ridiculous plushy socks.

"Christine," he offered as he stood on the outside of her room, "I wanted to speak with you before midnight."

"Erik," she brokenly whimpered but said no more.

He looked over her to see her bed disheveled and the waste bin filled to the brim with used tissues. The idea that he had caused her this pain made him want to die. She admitted being happy and he managed to destroy that for her in a moment of uncertainness and utter shock. He shook his self-loathing away and pulled his eyes back to her, "May I come in?"

She retreated from the door but did not open it any wider, leaving him to push it open enough to properly enter. He followed her towards the two armchairs that sat in a position to overlook Pennsylvania Avenue before them. The lights from the holiday decorations from the front of the mansion lit the room and he hadn't realized how bright they were until then. A golden glow fell over them as only a single bedside lamp was on in the room. Christine stood behind the armchair as if it were a protective layer between them. After so long, he had managed to reduce her to the same terrified woman he met over a year before. The feeling of guilt threatened to suffocate him.

Rather than make requests of her to sit and give him some kind of openness to him, he went straight towards his question, "Have you ever wanted to do that before?"

The question clearly caught her off guard and her eyes widened, "What?"

"What happened. Have you ever wanted to do that before?"

"I…" She noticeably gulped, "Why are you asking this?"

"Because I need to know."

She retreated further towards the window with her arms across her chest. Her eyes were still wide and her jaw was tight. She looked like she was ready to flee but her words were as clear as ever, almost as if rehearsed. "I said I was sorry. And I am too. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…" Tears were forming in her already swollen eyes as her clear rehearsals were failing her, "To ruin things."

He took a step closer and she winced, "What do you mean?"

"It was stupid. I know that's not what-" she motioned from him and back to her, "What this is and I wasn't thinking. I just…wasn't thinking. I'm sorry. I didn't think of what could happen. I didn't mean to complicate things and I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. Can we just…" She painfully inhaled through her teeth as if struck, "Can you just forget it happened? I don't want to make things like-like this between us."

"I can't forget, Christine." He said with simplistic honesty bleeding from his being.

She looked up to him and he could so easily read the fear in her eyes. She mouthed, "I'm sorry."

He couldn't stand to hear her apologies any longer. For however many tears she shed both in front and behind him, he knew he felt inside. Not willing to cave to that side of him he snapped. "I don't want you to be apologetic! I want to know why. Why did you do that, Christine?"

"I wasn't thinking-"

"That doesn't answer the question."

"I can't answer I-"

"You can and you will." He took a step towards her. She shuddered and took another step back behind the chair that separated them. He stopped himself from moving any further even as the impulse to shake an answer out of her wasn't far from his mind. That wouldn't do. He wanted her mind more than her fear. He had to know the truth. "I recognize that I deserve little from you but I - at the bare minimum - am entitled to an explanation of why you did that."

"I was…" She was shaking so violently that her words were difficult to decipher, "I was afraid that if I somehow lost you…I don't know…I thought that if I had lost you and never…and never did anything…I would regret it because you mean a lot to me and I didn't know how to say it and I…" She buried her face in her hands, "I messed up. I shouldn't have done that. And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry-"

"Christine, stop." He put his hand up to her and winced, "Stop apologizing, please, I…" He lowered his hand into a fist by his side, "I don't want you to apologize."

"Don't you? I took an advantage that I shouldn't have and I ruined everything. I'm sor-"

"Stop!" He barked and heard his voice shoot around the room, "I want to talk to you but if you keep apologizing I swear I will not be able to stay calm."

Rather than answer again, she stayed quiet, her eyes still displaying fear before they cast downward to the carpeted floor.

"I understand that you were upset today." He said evenly as he tried to remove his emotions from his words, "I need to know if you have ever wanted to do that before today?"

She looked back at him as if he had spoken a language she did not know. "Why? Why does it matter if it was a mistake?"

His resolve broke.

"Because I don't want it to have been a mistake!"

The sound of his voice moved around the room until finally, all was silent. When his vision cleared again he found her eyes were meeting his in disbelief.

"What?" she whispered only loud enough for him to hear.

He continued quickly, "If what you did was a result of your mixed feelings over this holiday I need to know. If you didn't mean it I need to know. If you're trying to power-play me, I need to know! That's why you have to tell me if you have ever wanted to do that before and if your reasoning wasn't to destroy me in the process."

There was another silence before she answered. She appeared to be studying her own mind as carefully as she continued to study his words.

"I've…" She started, but as a redness began to paint her jaw and neck she looked back to the floor, "I've thought about it…if that's what you mean."

He was certain his eyes were deceiving him. He couldn't possibly assume she was acting bashful towards him. "Elaborate," he pressed.

"I've thought about…" Her fingers dug into the fabric over her arms and her posture seemed abnormally choked, "About kissing you…before."

"Why?" he snapped.

"Do I have to say it?" she pleaded.

"Yes! I need to know why you would…would ever want to…to…"

Christine took an audible breath and seemed to loosen her arms from themselves just a little. When nothing was said, she then took a step towards him and whispered with a sincerity he had never seen in her before, "Because you matter to me." In an afterthought, she slowly added, "I thought you understood that."

He immediately refuted her words and stepped towards her again, "But you don't need me. Not as I need you. What good am I to you? I've shaken your existence and forced you into marrying a monster."

"Erik, no," she finally unlaced her arms and made a move to take one of his hands, but she then pulled herself back. A look of pain crossed her features as she instead held her own hands in front of her, "I do need you. You're my family now and… I was afraid of what having family meant. I don't know what I would do without you. You mean a great deal to me and…that's why I did it."

He looked back at her and saw the sincerity in her eyes. For the first time in a very long time, he felt a desperateness, but he would not give in to it, not until he knew.

"And would you?" he said over the dryness in his throat.

"What?" she looked up to his eyes and he could see old streaks of tears shining on her cheeks. He made a move to remove them with his thumb and stopped short.

"If you… kissed me would you mean it?"

"Yes. I would mean it," she said breathlessly.

"You swear it."


At her answer, he had to look away, "I'm not one to do things without thought."

Her quick words returned, "I know and I should have said something first. I-"

"No, Christine," he cut her off sharply, "I'm not referring to…to the past. This wouldn't be a fling. Not to me."

"A…fling?" she repeated slowly before continuing, "No, I wouldn't, I couldn't do that."

He brought his hand up to the unmasked portion of his forehead and admitted a truth without meaning to. "I can't focus."

"What do you mean?"

"All evening I haven't been able to focus. I couldn't believe you would ever…ever want…not without having lost your senses."

She looked away, "I thought the same."

"How could you?" He looked back at her and she returned his gaze, "You're adored: a queen in a nation masquerading as a democracy! And you're trapped in a life I pressed on you for my own benefit. A life you never wanted and I pulled you in. And… I can't think! You're beautiful, Christine. Not just your exterior but everything. Everything! You care so deeply, you forgive and you are strong but kind. How could you ever mean what you did tonight?"

She smiled sadly, "That's how you see it?"

"That's not how I see it. That's how it is."

"No wonder you were so confused," she said quietly, "That's not how it is. Not for me. If you can't believe that then we really should just forget what happened."

The air in the room seemed to thicken uncomfortably. Once again, the silence was not enough. He needed more from her but he did not know how to even approach the idea of her offering him a second chance at not being a complete fool.

"What now?" he finally asked.

She looked up at him and the smile finally glistened a little in her eyes, "I don't know. You're usually the one with the answers."

Before continuing, he looked down to gather his words. When he was ready, he met her eyes again and said very quietly, "What if I meant it?"

"Meant it…?"

"What you did…" He nearly lost himself just thinking about the possibility only to somehow manage to bring himself back to continue what he needed to say, "If I responded how I should have..how I want to. It will matter to me."

Without missing a beat she whispered, "It would matter to me too."

"You never cease to unsettle everything I am."

"That's not what I want."

His eyes scanned hers for something he knew he would not receive if he did not take the necessary action. The same golden glow from the lights outside made her hair and eyes shine. The mismatched eyesore of an outfit was forgotten. There was just her standing vulnerable in feeling and yet strong in ability. Everything about her threatened to consume him and he stopped breathing to cut the oxygen from the flames.

"Erik?" she asked tentatively.

There was hardly a foot between them and he took the initiative to close the gap only halfway.

"Christine," he responded.

He watched as she mirrored his action by taking a step towards him. For some time, they only continued to breathe within each other's very close space. It took everything in his will not to move forward with the amount of will and passion that he had allowed to lay dormant since the first time he saw her. Still, there was something about her that kept him in his senses even if everything else in his body was yelling to be released. Her face tilted up towards him and her eyes were hooded. She looked at his mouth then back to his eyes. She was excruciatingly close but seemed to be waiting for his consent this time. He drew a hand up to her face and finally brushed her remaining tears away before putting his thumb just under her chin. Her eyes slowly closed at the contact and he could feel the trust radiating off of her.

His mind was running wild with self-doubt, but everything was silenced once he let his lips fall gently over hers.

CONSENT IS SEXY, YA'LL - this was an actual note in my plot points.

Also. Am I the only one crying over finally getting to this point? Just want to know….

So. Um. Not sure exactly how to say this buuuut….if you've read like any of my other story Madame Valerius is Dead you'll know that I'm not above some well-placed and plot-driven (clears throat) smut. It's smut. So. In an attempt to try and stay classy… should I include it when it does come? Like, is that of interest? Or should I divide out a Mature part of the chapter but be sure to leave enough plot around that section so that if you decide to skip it you won't miss much? Yeah uh…weigh in via review, thanks…..

I did want to address a specific review below. It was a looong review I received so if it wasn't you, feel free to skip leaving your thoughts via review, please and thank you!

Heyyy, so this goes out to a reviewer on the last chapter - I won't say who as I don't want to call them out - but I did want to respond to you personally. I tried to privately message you but was told the feature had been turned off on your end. A few things: 1) Thanks for your well-thought-out review. I could tell it came from a place of deep feeling and experience. To be frank: I genuinely hate that the USA does not have the qualified programs across the country to actually help more in terrifying situations to be able to seek real long-term help. 2) A reminder that I have a disclaimer at the beginning of the story that this story is coming from the perspective of a democrat (Erik). I'm not trying to push an agenda. I'm not a democrat. And if I'm being honest, both Democrat and Republican parties make me very angry a lot of the time and for varied reasons. 3) I clearly do not know everything about homelessness across the country but I can tell you something: I do know it's messed up and not being handled appropriately in most places! I think we can both agree on that? Regardless, this story is not being written in a style of an omniscient author. It's from the perspective of Erik and Christine who have their own experiences and bias and are in the present. A political drama is going to have some politics in it and Erik especially has never had kind things to say about Republicans. Over the year, that has started to rub off on Christine. And hey, wouldn't it be cool if homeless shelters actually offered safety, real long-term rehab and didn't split up families? There are cities where this is happening and there are models to follow but it is not being implemented on a national scale or even on a state-wide scale. It ought to be a moral choice where all people ought to be able to agree that helping those less fortunate both long-term and short-term is important. But remember, this particular story is written from the perspective of a democrat president and a woman just trying to do the right thing (which, in turn, is also bias). Such an insinuation as to refer to me as poorly researched and ignorant aims to disqualify my personal experience of being homeless in DC, living out of vehicles and hostel hopping for almost a year. Once I got on my feet, I started working with women's shelters and children's centers to try and do what small part I can to help those in need. No system is perfect. I'm aware of the issues you brought up. I am very, very aware. If anything, I wanted to bring attention to such systems that could and should be fixed. 4) I'd be happy to discuss this with you further as you made many valid points. Turn on ya private messaging if you would be interested in that. Thanks again for your review!