XXIII

The meal seemed to end far sooner than she wanted it to. She would have liked to linger over drinks and dessert, but she knew they had to think about how it might look. They left the restaurant together, but called for separate cabs.

It was still raining, and they took shelter close to the building while they waited. Danny gave her a sad smile.

"I missed you," CJ told him quietly.

He sighed, a soft breath of sound almost lost amidst traffic and dripping water. "I missed you too."

They shared a brief kiss, in the relative privacy of darkness and falling rain. As they pulled back, she rested her hand on his arm, and looked him in the eye.

"Danny... you know that if it was three years later, this would be a different conversation."

He gave her a slight smile. "Yeah."

For a moment, they were silent, watching the rain. A car pulled into the restaurant parking lot, blazing headlights disturbing the shadows. Danny pushed away from the wall.

"That's probably my cab."

"Okay." She wanted to say something else, but there really wasn't anything else that needed to be put into words. "Goodnight, Danny."

"See you tomorrow," he said with a smile. And he would... but she knew, they both knew, that everything would be right back the way it had always been. He was a journalist, and she was the White House Press Secretary... and that was the way it was.

CJ watched him walk away. "Danny!" she suddenly called, when he was halfway out across the parking lot. He turned, lit from the side by the neon light of the nearest sign. She folded her arms across her chest. "I read your book, but I never figured it out. Which one of the characters was based on me?"

She could only just make out the shape of a smile in the darkness. "They all were," he said. "Ever since I met you, I never see anybody else."

He turned away from her, and walked over to get in his cab. She stood out in the rain, and waited.


"Hey." Charlie came in, shrugging out of his soaked raincoat as he entered the front room.

"You look tired," Zoey noted neutrally, still remembering the brush-off he'd given her last night, and the curt, almost non-existent conversation over breakfast this morning.

"Yeah." He came over and sat beside her on the couch, and gave her a slight smile that looked like a peace offering. "I wanted to apologise for not talking to you last night."

"That's okay," she said leadenly, shaking her head. Suddenly she was feeling pretty tired, too.

"No." He sat up, briefly pressing his hands together. "It's not okay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have shut you out like that."

It was funny how she'd been so annoyed at him, and now it had all melted away into not wanting him to beat himself up over it. "You were angry, Charlie. It's perfectly understandable."

"Yeah." He looked sideways at her. "But you're my wife, and I don't get to shut you out of things just because I don't want to talk about them."

"I just- I hate that it hurts you so much, and I can't do anything about it," she burst out. "It's terrible, but it's not your fault, Charlie, and it shouldn't be down to you try and fix it. It's not your fault that you can't fix it."

He sighed and looked down at the floor. "I feel like it is my fault, Zoey. And it's not because of anything I did, but just because of who I am, and because you love me."

She shook her head, beginning to get tearful despite herself. "You can't think like that, Charlie, you can't let them make you think like that."

He smiled sadly at her. "They're after our baby because of me," he reminded her softly.

"They're after our baby 'cause they're bigoted assholes, and they were always going to be- Charlie, you can't just try to claim responsibility for the fact that people hate you when they hate you for no reason."

"If you hadn't married me-"

"If I hadn't married you, I wouldn't be married to you. And there would be no baby. There would be no baby, Charlie! You think the fact that some people out there don't want us to have this baby could ever cancel out how wonderful it is that we are?" She moved closer to rest her arms around his neck. "I love you. I wasn't afraid to marry you, and I'm not afraid to have a family with you. And I don't care if ten people don't like it, or a hundred people don't like it, or a hundred thousand million people don't like it. They don't count. You do."

He smiled at her, a genuine smile at last, and wrapped strong arms around her waist. "I'm worth a hundred thousand million people?" he teased.

"Don't push it, mister." She rested her head against his shoulder, and listened to him chuckle faintly.

"I'm sorry, Zoey," he said quietly, after a few moments. "I'm sorry that it has to be like this."

"Yeah." She closed her eyes. "But we're gonna have a kid, and he's gonna grow up in a world where it's less like this. And maybe for his kids, or their kids, or somewhere someday along the line, it's not gonna be like this at all."

He sighed. "Maybe," he said softly. "Yeah, maybe."

She snuggled closer against his shoulder, content for now just to be in the peaceful warmth he provided. They stayed that way for a good long time.


Abbey poured herself a glass of wine, and put down the last of the paperwork she'd been reading over. It was late now, and her vision was beginning to slip into fuzziness as tiredness took its toll.

She wandered through into the bedroom, and watched her husband sleeping. He looked peaceful enough, although his breathing was still ragged. She wanted to smooth his hair back into place, but was afraid she'd wake him. He never got enough sleep.

Abbey sighed quietly to herself. She fought not to show it when she was with him, knowing how much he hated it, but... she worried. He was so fragile now, more fragile than he had been in all the time she'd known him. The MS might be in remission, but the wounds it had done to his general health were not so easily banished into nothingness.

The last few months had been horribly hard on him, much as he didn't want to show it. His father's ghost still hung heavily over him, even this many years on, and dredging all those painful memories to the surface for a hungry media had led to too much stress and too many sleepless nights. He paid for every one of them, in aches and pains he tried to hide, and the heartbreaking, breathtaking weariness.

Her inner doctor taunted her, cruelly mocking her inability to smooth it all away with a magic touch. She did everything she could think of to make it easier on him... but she couldn't be there all the time, and he pushed himself too hard whether she was there or not. A cold was just a cold... but it was also a precursor of things to come, and she was afraid.

There was no way of knowing what the future would hold. She clung to the hope that the end of his presidency would lift the burden from his shoulders, but she also dreaded its approach. What would happen once he lost the drive that propelled him through his days? Would he at last be able to find some peace... or would he fade away into a pale shadow of his former vibrant self?

There were no answers to her questions; no reassurances to be had. All she could do was wait, and watch, and hope, and pray.

His chest rose and fell in sleep. She lay down on the bed and pressed close against him, listening to her husband's heartbeat; slow, and regular, and strong.


Leo sat staring up at his shell-shocked seeming deputy. His promise to Margaret to finish up and go home was forgotten; suddenly, he didn't feel remotely tired.

"Josh, if there's any chance this is-" he began warningly.

"It's for real," Josh said simply. He rubbed his forehead, looking pale.

"How could he be that stupid?" Leo demanded angrily.

"I don't know." He looked down at his feet, as if it was his own shameful secret he was forced into revealing.

"And this kid who told you this-"

"Ashley Bowers," Josh supplied.

"He's Wells' secretary."

"Yeah."

"Then how the hell can he possibly know-?"

"McGann trusts Wells. And she obviously trusts him."

"And yet he's shooting his mouth off to you at the earliest opportunity?" Leo knew what he was doing; it wasn't any mistrust of Josh's instincts, just the desire to attack the evidence of something he really didn't want to believe.

Josh offered no relief. "He obviously thought it was important enough to spill to the White House," he said softly. "The kid's perfectly serious, Leo. He's even talking about giving up his job for telling me what he knew. This is real."

He took a slow, steady breath, and met his deputy's eyes.

"Then we'd better get ready," he said shortly.

To Be Continued