AUTHOR: Suki
TITLE: Revelations (sequel to The Dinner Party)
PAIRING: CJ/OFC, Ellie/OFC, Ellie/CJ(but not really)
RATING: NC-17 for mature themes, sexual situations and colorful language
FEEDBACK: Welcome at suki@ashesofoldlovers.net
SPOILERS: Let's say end of Season Two to be safe, but we are AU and post censure or hearings here, but pre re-election.
DISCLAIMERS: For what it's worth....The West Wing and it's characters are the property of Aaron B. Sorkin, Warner Brothers, NBC et al. No copyright infringement for profit is intended. If you recognize them from TV, they are not mine. Everyone else, especially Kira, Sarah, and Britt are figments of my imagination and I am very possessive about them. Please do not use them without asking my permission.
ARCHIVE: Please ask first. And, as always, this and my other pieces will be archived at http://www.ashesofoldlovers.net
SERIES: Worlds Collide:
Worlds Collide
Dancing
Love Means Never Having to Say You're Hungry
Dream Houses
Bright Star
Troublesome Questions
The Dinner Party
NOTES: Sorry for the delay on this installment, real life and a little writers' block got in the way.
TEASER: Maybe the Ellie he has carried in his head has borne so little resemblance to the girl that she was that there was no chance she could resemble the woman she has become.

~ for kt~

******************************

Revelations by Suki

"Mmmmm," Britt hums, sliding her fingers into Ellie's hair as she stretches her back, arching toward Ellie's face resting against Britt's hip. "Come here," she says, tugging gently on Ellie's hair, smiling as Ellie moves with deliberate slowness, dropping random kisses along Britt's abdomen and ribs and the valley between her breasts before finally pressing a hard, closed mouth kiss against Britt's lips. "Come here," Britt says again, her voice a little more insistent, as Ellie begins to pull away, her smile brighter as she pulls Ellie close and kisses her deeply, sliding her tongue into Ellie's mouth and wrapping her arms around Ellie's back to pull her more fully on top of her.

"I take it you liked that?" Ellie laughs as she rests her head on Britt's shoulder, shifting to get comfortable against her, knowing already that Britt will not let her roll back over to her side just yet.

Britt leans her head back and laughs heartily at Ellie's question before answering. "El, that was *very* impressive. My God, you are a very talented woman, Eleanore Lillia Bartlet," Britt says, continuing to stroke Ellie's hair.

"I think you like saying my full name when we're naked as a power trip. I think it makes you feel all-powerful," Ellie mock-accuses, as Britt just laughs smugly. "And I told you I was a quick study," Ellie says, leaning up and dropping a soft kiss on Britt's lips.

"Lucky me," Britt says huskily, pushing Ellie over onto her back and rolling to follow her.

Ellie smiles up at Britt, wrapping her arms around Britt's neck, sliding one hand into her hair as Britt leans down, teasing at her lips again. They kiss slowly and deeply, with velvet strokes of tongues and lips, pulling back every so often for air, swallowing each other's moans and whispers. When the kisses become impossibly wet and desperate, Ellie begins to arch up and shift against Britt, her hands sliding down to Britt's hips and forcing her closer. Britt laughs at Ellie's impatience as she slides her mouth down to Ellie's neck and sucks roughly, almost painfully at the skin at the confluence of her shoulder and neck. Ellie groans in the back of her throat, almost overwhelmed at the feel, sound and sense of Britt's insistent mouth against her neck and Britt's thigh pressing higher between hers.

"Mmmm, you feel so good," Ellie whispers roughly against Britt's ear, her hands caressing and pushing against Britt's ass as she feels Britt push her thigh higher, coaxing her legs further apart and allowing Britt better contact with her slick folds.

Britt's hand slides down her side and hip, gently shifting her and easing Ellie into the position she desires. As Britt rocks back, she slides her hand between her leg and Ellie's body, slipping her fingers against Ellie's clit and increasing the pressure and friction on each rock against her. Ellie grips Britt's hips and presses higher, trying to increase the rhythm and heat of their dance, whimpering when she feels Britt's fingers slip inside her and the heel of Britt's palm grind against her clitoris as Britt presses down as they move together.

"God, Britt," Ellie rasps, her hips arching up off the bed and then pressing down as Britt rocks forward over her, each wave feeling faster and bringing her closer to release. "Harder," she whispers, "please, Britt... yeah, mmm... harder."

Britt's breathing grows shallow and harsh against Ellie's shoulder and neck as their tempo and cadence increase, and Ellie almost smiles at the dizzying realization that they are almost breathing together, both taking short, desperate breaths as they rock, forcing Britt's fingers deeper inside Ellie's body as Ellie's muscles grip them, her body spiraling toward climax. Ellie pulls Britt higher, gasping and pushing her shoulders and head back on the pillow, pulling Britt over her as the first waves of her orgasm rush through her. And she moans Britt's name over and over like an invocation as Britt keeps up the rhythm of her fingers inside Ellie, pushing her into another orgasm as the first crests and begins to retreat, following Ellie into climax as she thrusts her own slick sex against Ellie's thigh. Ellie breathes deep, trying to slow her pulse and catch her breath, her hands stroking Britt's back as Britt lays limp on top her.

They lay almost motionless against each other while their hearts slow and their bodies cool, and then Britt rolls to the side and pulls Ellie with her, nestling the younger woman against her sweat damp skin. Ellie lifts her face, patiently waiting for Britt's kiss in benediction. After a moment, Britt opens her eyes and glances at Ellie's expectant face, moving a fraction to meet those waiting lips in a soft, sweet kiss.

"I am so glad you came over last night," Ellie says as she rests her head against Britt's shoulder again.

"Me, too," Britt sighs, snuggling lower and leaning slightly toward Ellie. "So, the dinner was good?"

"Yeah, dinner itself was really good, and it was a good mix, and it was fun seeing people meet CJ for the first time. I never have to worry about being recognized when CJ's in the room: and to think I used to worry she'd actually give me away."

"What do you say when people ask how you know her?" Britt asks a she runs her fingers through Ellie's hair.

"I'm vague, and emphasize how I know Kira. That is usually enough. How did everything go last night?"

"Fine," Britt sighs. "The new girl should be fine with a little practice."

"And the band? How were they?" Ellie prompts as she draws random patterns on Britt's stomach with her fingertips.

"Good," she nods. "Surprisingly good in fact. They started out a little slow, but once they were warmed up, they were really a hit. Played an interesting mix. I asked them back for a couple more nights and we'll see if they can stay fresh."

"Good," Ellie says. "What time do you have to go in today?" She asks hesitantly.

"I don't need to be at the bar until about 2pm," Britt says, stretching before she pulls Ellie closer and slides her hand up to cup her breast. "I love Sundays."

"Mmmm, so do I," Ellie laughs, kissing Britt's shoulder. "Come on, let's go take a shower and then I'll make you breakfast," Ellie says, leaning up and beginning to untangle her legs from the sheets.

"What will you make me?" Britt asks teasingly as she grabs Ellie's arm, keeping her from getting up from the bed.

"You'll have to wait and see," Ellie says, kissing her soundly and then pulling her across the bed as she gets up. "Now, come on. It's cold in here and I want a nice hot shower."

"I need coffee, Sweetheart," Britt moans, lying sprawled face down across the bed.

"Ok, ok, if you start the shower, I'll make coffee," Ellie says, shaking her head as she pulls on her robe.

"Excellent," Britt says, turning her head and watching Ellie walk down the hall.

She pulls herself out of bed, laughing softly at the tangled mess of the bed and their clothes strewn across the floor. She looks at herself in the mirror over Ellie's dresser and smiles as she allows her fingers to stroke the rich, smooth wood, and then the small gold cross lying on top of the dresser. It is a little unsettling how quickly she has come to crave Ellie: her touch, her smile, the sound of her voice.

She spent all day yesterday telling herself that she wouldn't call Ellie, wouldn't show up at her door after work like a love struck novice, wouldn't let her know that she doesn't want to fall asleep without her. She turns on the water and adjusts the temperature, waiting for the shower to reach full pressure and heat so she can ensure it's not too hot. As the streams of water slide over her hand and wrist, Britt smiles at the remembered sound of Ellie's sleepy voice in her ear last night when Britt called her just before last call. In the instant she heard the intake of breath after the groggy hello, Britt felt the tell tale fluttering in her stomach and slight throb between her thighs, and knew that she would kiss Ellie hard and fast as soon as she saw her. Ellie answered the door in a robe and Britt felt her heart skip a beat and her face flush at the thought that she was probably almost nude underneath the thin, mostly- blue cotton. Ellie smiled softly as she locked the door and then laughed in surprise as Britt pressed her against the closed door and kissed her soundly, all thoughts of nonchalance and cool leaving Britt's mind on the first sight of her sleep-rumpled girlfriend. Britt smiles as she remembers Ellie's soft moans as Britt untied the robe and slide her hands under the tank top hiding underneath to gently stroke Ellie's breast as they kissed. If it hadn't been for the thought of Sarah potentially coming home, she would have taken Ellie right there, pressed against the front door.

Shaking herself from reverie, Britt turns toward the sink and brushes her teeth with the extra toothbrush Ellie handed her with a blushing grin early this morning, wiping the gathering steam from the mirror as she studies her reflection and waits for Ellie. Britt can smell the coffee and hear Ellie's bare feet padding up the stairs, and smiles, wondering what it would be like to have this every morning.

"Ok, my special blend, light, one sugar, in an extra-special mug," Ellie says, and Britt almost chokes on her toothpaste as she starts to laugh at the sight of the Seal of the President on her coffee.

Britt presses a soft kiss against Ellie's mouth, tasting a hint of the coffee on her lips before she takes the first sip of her own coffee. "Excellent," Britt says, grinning and taking another large sip as Ellie unties her robe and hangs it on the hook near the shower. She smiles as she watches Ellie reach up to move the shower head into the position she prefers, and then leans over to test the water. Britt muses that she moves like a dancer, her calve and thigh muscles elongated and firm, her shoulders straight, arm extended. The lines of her back flow smoothly and deftly down to her hips and the delicate, pale skin of her ass. Britt reaches out and traces a finger down her spine, watching Ellie's muscles react as her fingers pass by, smiling softly at the indulgent look Ellie allows over her shoulder. In these moments Britt can almost see the child Ellie was before she realized she was different, before she thought she was wrong, before she discovered she could hide in ambivalence in a house full of swans. Britt watches her body move with ease and wonders when Ellie will learn to move with comfort in front of others.

Under the steaming water, Britt closes her eyes and leans back, allowing the shower to massage her scalp as the water rushes over her shoulders and down over her back and breasts. She smells a stronger version of the scent that usually lingers on Ellie's skin and then feels Ellie's soap-slick hands on her stomach and ribs and breasts, leaning towards the gentle touch. When she opens her eyes, she smiles at the look of amusement on Ellie's face and the steam rising off both their skin in the space between them. She pulls Ellie closer and turns her into the flow of the shower as she lathers her own hands with the cool shower gel. Ellie tips her head back into the water and her face becomes obscured and abstract under the small ripples that wash over her. Britt gently and methodically washes the younger woman's limbs and the hills and valleys she has come to know, even in the obscurity of darkness. They kiss softly under the hot water as the shampoo rinses from Britt's hair, and she resists the urge to take it farther, not wanting to break the spell that has woven around them in the steam: part growing familiarity, part intimacy, part tenderness, part something close to love. Once dressed and mostly dry, they wander down to the kitchen hand in hand, empty coffee cups swinging distractedly, both smiling like children in their first friendships.

In a dyslexic version of mornings at Britt's apartment, Ellie makes breakfast as Britt reads the paper, reading her excerpts and commenting on the editorial page, intentionally ignoring any article which may mention Ellie's father or the White House. They chat about the week to come and get quiet for a moment, blushing, when Sarah walks in the front door and into the kitchen, smiling and teasing them. Britt kisses her good bye at the door, touching her hair and her face like she won't see Ellie that night.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, what did you say?" CJ asks, placing the plates on the coffee table as Kira lounges back against the couch, rubbing her forehead.

"What is there to say? She has the hardest choice she is ever going to have to make looming before her, and there is nothing I can say to make it easier," Kira says, the stress of the day showing in her posture and voice.

"Kira, what choice does she have? She has to fight, right?" CJ says, refilling Kira's wine glass and actually placing it in her hand.

"I don't know," Kira sighs tiredly, taking a sip of the dark wine. "Twelve months is something of a long shot anyway, but if she doesn't start treatment immediately, it's unlikely she'll make it to six months. And the pregnancy will compromise her system and make the cancer progress faster, assuming she can even carry past the first trimester, and then the chance of getting the pregnancy to the third trimester if she progresses fast...I just don't know."

"Ace, you did advise her to terminate the pregnancy and fight like hell, right?" CJ asks quietly, ignoring the food on the table.

Kira looks up and stares at CJ, after a moment she shakes her head slowly. "That's not my role. I advised her of the options and relative risks. I wouldn't dream of--"

"--Kira, how could you not--"

"-because it's not my place, CJ," Kira says harshly, leaning back further into the cushions after taking a large gulp of her wine. "It's not my place to lead her to make this decision, yet alone make it for her. I advised her of the risks, and gave my prognosis, but she has to make this decision herself."

"She probably needed someone to. She probably needed you to tell her that it was ok to want to live," CJ says gently.

"Oh, CJ, she knows that. She needed someone to tell her it was her choice. She needed someone to tell her that it's ok to be realistic, it was ok to know she was going to die. CJ, she *is* going to die. It's unlikely she will see a year from now. And I will not tell her to terminate this pregnancy for a few extra months. Just like I won't tell her not to...for a few extra months," Kira says, her voice getting slower and softer with each word. "It's her choice, CJ. It's her choice," Kira says, getting up off the couch and walking into the kitchen.

CJ follows her and stands silent in the doorway of the kitchen watching Kira pour herself a double shot of scotch. She waits until Kira has swallowed half before she speaks. "Kira, I didn't mean to--"

"-it's ok," Kira says without turning around, her shoulders slumping forward. "I know you didn't. It's fine."

CJ watches as Kira's shoulders begin to shake. She takes a deep breath as she crosses the kitchen and pulls Kira around and into her arms. Kira's breath rushes out of her body in a gasping sob, and her fingers dig into CJ's shoulders as she holds on, crying harder and trembling. "Oh, Kira, it's ok, Honey. Let it out. It's ok." CJ strokes her back as she holds her, leaning back against the kitchen sink, whispering reassurances and kissing her temple. "It's ok."

"There are days that make absolutely no sense," Kira whispers roughly once her tears begin to subside.

"I know," CJ says, using her thumbs to wipe away the remaining tears. "God, do I know," she says, half-smiling ruefully. "Come on, let's go sit down."

Kira just nods her agreement, grabbing her glass as CJ grabs the bottle of scotch and another glass. Once settled back on the couch, CJ sits quietly, waiting for Kira to begin again. Kira watches her and then sighs, shaking her head. "I forget sometimes that there are going to be these days, where nothing goes right and nothing I can do will make anything any easier or any better. So many days..." she trails off shaking her head. "Everyday I deal with people who are dying, or at least trying to prolong the time until they die. I talk about death everyday," she says, continuing to talk quietly between sips of scotch. "And I can do that. I can sit in that office and tell people about the really horrible things they are going to have to put themselves through to try and live for an extra year or two, sometimes for almost no chance to see another Christmas or Summer or birthday. And I am good at it. I can use words like metastasis and radiation and survival and mortality rates. And I can make it manageable. But today," Kira takes a deep breath and pushes her hair our of her eyes, "today I had to tell a thirty-one year old woman that she can have a year, maybe, or at least the chance for a year, and the very slim chance for more, or she can have a child: a child she may never know, but a child nonetheless. But if she decides to continue the pregnancy, she will die, and maybe she will die before she ever gets to hold the baby." CJ nods, concentrating on breathing calmly, holding back her tears. "And she just stared at me, unmoving, unflinching. Yesterday she had cancer, today she has a child, CJ. And whatever she chooses, I will do everything in my power to help her have the best life she can in what is left of hers. But on days like these, well, on days like these..."

"You feel helpless?" CJ asks quietly.

"Yeah," Kira says, shaking her head, her voice almost surprised.

"Well, Ace, I have news for you. You're not God, and you can't make everything better all the time," CJ says, reaching over and stroking Kira's arm.

"I know," Kira says softly. "I know, but it doesn't make it any easier. Because they expect me to make it better."

"Come here," CJ whispers pulling Kira across the couch and onto her lap. Kira tucks her face into the soft, warm valley between CJ's neck and shoulder and takes a deep breath, breathing in her smell. "Do you have to go in tomorrow?" CJ asks, resting her cheek against Kira's temple.

"I'm supposed to have tomorrow off," Kira says, her voice slightly muffled against CJ's neck, "but if she calls, the one from today, I'll meet her."

"I know," CJ says, smiling. "I have to go in, but there is no reason why you can't sleep in and take a morning for yourself, Honey."

"Maybe," Kira sighs. "CJ?" She asks after a long silence.

"Yes?"

"I'm hungry, but I don't want you to have to cook again," Kira says apologetically.

"Pizza ok?" CJ asks, smiling, knowing that Kira is already feeling better if she's hungry.

"Mushrooms and sausage?" Kira asks hesitantly.

"Fine," CJ says with a sigh, grabbing the phone and calling in the order as Kira stretches out, sliding her hand under CJ's sweater to rest on her stomach, not moving really, just touching her skin.

"How was your day?" Kira asks, looking up at CJ.

"Huh, don't ask," CJ laughs sardonically closing her eyes, leaning her head back against the couch, sliding her fingers into Kira's hair. "Let's just lie here, and then eat our pizza, and then go into the other room and make each other forget that the world is for shit sometimes."

"How long until the pizza gets here?" Kira asks as her hand slides up to stroke the underside of CJ's breast.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Don't stop. I am so close, just... God, don't stop," CJ chants, sinking her fingers into Kira's hair and pushing her hips higher, gasping for air as her body takes over, heading the insistent teasing of Kira's tongue, hearing the wet slippery noises of Kira's fingers inside her even as she feels their relentless movements. "Don't stop, don't stop, don't stop... don't ...stop... don't...stop," she shouts before she loses her ability to speak. She rides the waves, feeling her thighs tense and then tremble against Kira's shoulders, her fingers still gripping her scalp. "God, Kira," she groans as her breathing begins to even out and she releases Kira's hair, her body becoming almost boneless as she collapses back on the bed. She feels Kira's hands one her, her tongue still stroking along the inner folds of her sex, teasing her clit so gently, and she takes a deep breath and exhales as she lets go of the last little bit of tension in her body. "Oh, God, I can't move," CJ moans, laughing as she covers her eyes with the hand that is near her head on the pillow.

"Good, then I can tell the truth when I call you in sick. Paralysis should definitely warrant at least one day off, even from the White House," Kira says as she drops damp kisses along CJ's collarbone and breasts before sliding fully on top of her and kissing her mouth.

CJ opens her mouth without opening her eyes and pushes the hand at her eyes to the back of Kira's neck, holding her to her as they kiss. She can taste herself on Kira's lips and tongue and tilts her head to capture more of her lips, her other hand wrapping around Kira's waist. They continue to kiss, CJ feeling Kira's hands sliding up and down her sides, her hips shifting against CJ's hip and thigh. She slides her hand at Kira's waist down over Kira's ass and pulls her lower, sliding her thigh and hand between Kira's thighs, her thigh against the inside of Kira's leg and the lower part of her sex, her fingers sliding against Kira's clit. She swallows Kira's moans of excitement and anticipation and begins to move them both, her fingers swirling around Kira's clit and inner lips, her thigh pushing higher, increasing the friction and pace. She concentrates on the slick, smooth feel of Kira's sex against her and the gasping breath rushing against her shoulder and increases the pace and the pressure of her fingers, holding Kira close as she begins to tremble, knowing that she will try to hold off her release as long as possible.

"I love feeling you on top of me," CJ whispers against Kira's ear, knowing that the words and the touch of her lips and breath to Kira's ear will drive her crazy.

"Claudia, oh, God, I'm...I'm...oh, Claudia," Kira groans, pressing closer and thrusting down against CJ's fingers.

"That's it, Ace, let it go. You are so hot. I want to hear and feel you come," CJ says, finally brushing her tongue along Kira's earlobe and holding her tighter as Kira's orgasm slams her into CJ, gripping her shoulders as she chants her name and trembles over her. "God, you're amazing," CJ whispers laughingly, stroking her back with gentle hands and brushing her damp hair off Kira's forehead.

"Do you have to go to work?" Kira almost whines against CJ's shoulder.

"Yes, Ace, I do. But if I can, I'll try to get out at a reasonable hour, and we can have a quiet dinner tonight."

"Ok," Kira sighs sleepily, shifting on top of CJ so that her face rests just above CJ's breasts.

"Um, Ace? Let me get up before you fall back to sleep. I need to go get ready for work," CJ says, smiling and indulgently stroking the back of Kira's neck, knowing that Kira is already half asleep again.

"Five minutes, 'k?" Kira murmurs softly.

"Ok," CJ sighs, even as she is shifting slowly out from underneath the half asleep woman against her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

CJ rubs her hand over her eyes, once again distracted from the memo in front of her by the sound of Kira's words in her head. Since Monday, when Kira once again met with her pregnant patient and spent three hours helping her and her husband come to terms with the understanding that they would continue the pregnancy and hope for the best, she has been agitated and withdrawn. She has spent the last two days practically living in her office, researching and calling every colleague she knew with experimental therapies, focused on finding a plan of treatment to give her patient the best chance of holding her child, smacking up against the implications for the child at every turn.

Last night she arrived at CJ's apartment tired and spoiling for a fight, unfortunately finding CJ almost as worn out and irritable. They had fought, largely because they were both tired and stressed, and the bickering and sniping had once again devolved into an argument about whether Kira would move to the District and whether CJ would commit to staying in Baltimore after the Administration, and then to the inevitable issues of security, privacy and children. They had lain in bed last night, barely touching, both hurting, and when Kira left this morning, CJ had to grab her arm and hold her for a moment to press a quick kiss against her lips.

All morning, CJ had found herself reliving the argument in her head, hearing Kira's accusations about CJ's insecurities and fears, and her hurtled allegations regarding Kira's continued refusal to hear her misgivings about co-parenting, and the fight became explosive and hurtful when CJ once again raised the issue of Kira's unwillingness to even consider altering her schedule or taking security seriously in preparation for eventually moving in together.

"Carol, do we have the updated numbers yet?" CJ asks, pushing her hair off her face and searching for her glasses under the files on her desk.

"Not yet, but I'll call for an update in ten minutes if we don't have them," Carol says, leaning into the doorway from her desk, and then moving quickly away to grab the ringing phone.

"Well, if you don't get it in ten minutes, give up and go for the wires. I'm going to... and I am talking to myself," CJ says, looking up and waving her glasses at herself, then sighing, sitting back into her chair and pulling her briefing book toward her, black pen in hand.

"CJ," Carol's voice comes over the intercom, "Eleanore's on line two and Hank from the Times is on four."

"Ok, ask Hank if I can call him back in fifteen, then get me the updated numbers, I don't care what you have to do," CJ says, getting up and closing her office door before picking up the phone. "Ellie?"

"Hey, CJ, I'm not catching you at a bad time, am I?" Ellie's voice comes over the line.

"No, I have about ten minutes. Carol is trying to get me numbers on something and I brief in forty. What's up?"

"Are you going to be around tomorrow?" Ellie asks hesitantly.

"Yeah, I think so. Why?"

"Well, I am done with exams tomorrow morning, and I think I am going to come down and have a little chat with my parents. I was hoping you would be around. I might need some moral support," Ellie says, laughing a little on the last part.

"Yeah, I'll make sure I am around. When are you heading down?" CJ asks as Carol steps into the office and hands her a file as she taps her watch.

"In the afternoon sometime."

"Ok, well, I'll try to keep my schedule free in case you need to talk outside the Residence."

"Thanks, CJ. I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you've--"

"--don't even say it. No need."

"Can I ask you something, and please forgive me if I am intruding but..." Ellie says hesitantly.

"Go ahead," CJ says with trepidation.

"Is everything ok with you and Kira?"

CJ takes a deep breath and lets it out, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes before answering, hearing the previous evening's knock-down-drag-out fight in her mind and remembering Kira's cold departure this morning.

Before she can answer, Ellie continues. "Because I saw Kira this morning and she seemed a little off. When I asked if she would be around this week or over the weekend, she was non-committal and I don't know, something just didn't seem--"

"--Yeah, well, she's had a tough week with a patient, and--"

"--CJ," Ellie prompts, "this didn't look like work."

"Don't worry about it, Ellie," CJ says tiredly.

"She seemed pretty upset," Ellie says, prodding like a little sister.

"I know," CJ says softly. "I know. And we'll work it out."

"Is it the moving in with each other thing?" Ellie asks.

"No, well, in part, yes. She doesn't want to deal with the protection issues, and it sort of flares up every so often. We sort of got into it last night about her routine and schedule, and a couple other things. But we'll work it out," CJ finishes with a confidence she doesn't feel.

"Well, you do know that you both are better together than apart, right?" Ellie asks.

"Oh, yeah, because in your brief history of dating women you now know all--"

"--CJ, I've known you for four years and Kira for almost two. Don't blow this."

"Thanks, oh wise one," CJ says sarcastically. "Listen, I have to run, but if you are feeling a little nervous before you talk to your parents, come on by and chat for a few minutes."

"Ok, talk to you later, CJ."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, do you know what you are going to say?" Zoey asks over the phone as Ellie tosses a sweater out of her weekend bag and then starts unbuttoning her shirt.

"No, not really. I have thought about it and thought about it and I just don't know. I sort of know what I am going to say once it's out there, but how to bring it up? No, I have no idea," Ellie sighs.

"Well, do you want me to come over? I have a study group in a few minutes, but I could come by later?"

"Thanks, Zo, but it's ok. Dad is tied up downstairs, so I'll have dinner with Mom, and see how it goes, and maybe I'll tell her first."

"That might actually be a better idea anyway. And if you need me later, just call, ok?"

"Thanks, Zoey." Ellie says with a loving smile, even though her little sister can't see her.

"Ok, well, call me later and tell me everything, El," Zoey says just before she hangs up. "Love you."

Ellie hangs up the phone and tosses it onto the bed, still smiling about Zoey's unfailing support. She pulls the pale green sweater over her head and then adjusts her hair and clothes in the mirror. As she is brushing her hair, her phone rings again and she grabs it, unsure who it could be.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Sweetheart," Britt's velvet voice says.

"Hey, I thought you were tied up with the staff this afternoon?" Ellie says in surprise.

"I am. We are on a dinner break. So I thought I would check in and see how you are doing. Have you seen your parents yet?"

"I said a quick hello to my Dad, but he is tied up with something. Mom is due back any minute, then we'll have dinner."

"I know you're nervous, Ellie, but know that I am thinking about you, and wish I could be there when you are done."

"I know. And I am nervous, but I'm ready," Ellie says, her voice quavering only slightly.

"I need to get back, but you'll call me later?"

"Better believe it, Baby," Britt says with a half smile.

"Eleanore?" Her mother's voice drifts down the hall.

"In here," she calls out, tossing her phone onto the bed again and smoothing down her hair.

"Hello, Honey, when did you get in?" Abbey asks, crossing to Ellie and pulling her into a hug.

"Just a little while ago," Ellie says, smiling indulgently as Abbey smooths down the hair Ellie just smoothed down herself and then gives her a once over before looking intently at her face. Ellie can feel Abbey's stare and concentrates on not shifting under her study.

"Did you say hello to your dad?" Abbey asks, glancing at Ellie's bag on the bed and then back at Ellie, her eyes once again seemingly trying to bore into Ellie's soul.

"I stopped in and said a quick hello. He was heading into the Situation Room," Ellie says while nodding yes.

"So, I guess it's just you and me for dinner. How does spicy pasta with chicken sound?" Abbey asks, wrapping her arm around Ellie's shoulders.

"Great," Ellie says with a smile, leaning into Abbey's half-embrace.

"Great, I need to get out of these clothes. Come with me and we can talk. How were your exams?"

"Ok. They were hard, and I studied my ass off, but I think they went ok," Ellie says, shrugging her shoulders.

"Well, that sounds about right," her mother laughs as she starts unbuttoning her jacket, kicking her heels off as soon as she crosses into her bedroom. "And how's everything else? We haven't really had a chance to talk much lately," Abbey says, dropping her suit jacket onto the chair in the corner and stepping out of her skirt.

They continue to chat about school and Zoey and Liz and both their weeks as Abbey changes into jeans and a sweatshirt, washes her face and clips her hair back. Ellie smiles to herself, listening to her mom talk as she transforms herself from the First Lady. When she steps out of the bathroom, barefoot and tucking her hair back, Ellie covers her mouth so not to chuckle at how different she looks, how much younger and more relaxed she looks like this.

They wander over to the small private study where the staff has set a small table for dinner. Abbey pours them each a glass of wine and they settle onto the couch to talk. Ellie finds herself babbling about school and classes, and then trying to engage her mother in conversation about her latest speaking events, anything to keep from just blurting out what is foremost on her mind. She knows her mother knows something is up from the way Abbey keeps studying her between bites and refilling her wine glass and shaking her head as Ellie catapults from one topic to the next. She knows she is giving herself away by this display, by her talkativeness, and suspects eventually her mother will ask outright what is going on, and she wonders if that is exactly what she will need to get up the courage.

Once they are seated on the couch, the dim light of the room surrounding them as they sip their coffee, her mother tilts her head to the side and purses her lips slightly as she puts her cup down on the table.

"So, you're seeing someone new?" Abbey asks casually, making every hair on Ellie's arms and neck stand on end.

"What?" She sputters on her own coffee, quickly putting the cup down on the coffee table.

"Well, I assume you're not back with Bill: he never made you glow like this," Abbey says, saying her last boyfriend's name distastefully, waving her hand along Ellie's space, making Ellie look down at herself quizzically. "And I know you are definitely seeing someone. So, I am wondering who?"

Ellie just stares at her mother, knowing that she should take the opportunity to plunge in, but wondering instead what gave her away.

"Eleanore," Abbey laughs softly, "you've been all lit up and a little walking mass of sexual energy here," Abbey says as Ellie feels her cheeks blush, fighting not to touch her face to see if it is warm. "And the clothes and hair, not to mention the lovebite you *almost* kept covered last weekend," Abbey says with a raised eyebrow as Ellie reaches for her neck, touching exactly the spot that was marked last week by Britt's mouth. "I know something, or should I say someone, is new. So, spill it."

Ellie feels herself blushing deeper under Abbey's scrutiny and concentrates on breathing calmly as she tries to remember what she practiced to say.

"Eleanore?" Abbey says again, this time with a wide smile. "This is serious, isn't it? Well, now I am intrigued because--"

"--Yes," Ellie blurts out.

"Yes?" Abbey prompts, touching Ellie's arm.

"Yes, I am seeing someone," Ellie says, shaking her head and taking a deep breath.

"Ok, well, who?" Abbey asks amused.

Ellie looks at her for a long moment and then takes another deep breath, leaning slightly toward her mother, willing the words to come, wishing she knew how to make this right. And as she is staring at her, her mother's eyes narrow, then her face tenses and then softens, and she leans closer as she speaks. "It's ok," Abbey says softly, and Ellie believes for a moment that she already knows.

Ellie nods and exhales as she shakes her head and speaks softly. "Her name is Britt, and I've been seeing her for a few weeks now." Ellie watches her mother's eyes and waits for any sign of reaction. When Abbey doesn't speak, yet alone move, Ellie continues. "I didn't know how to say it. I'm sorry," she whispers, looking down at her hands, her hair falling in her face.

"It's ok," Abbey finally barely breathes out, gently tucking Ellie's hair behind her ear. "It's ok," she says again, with slightly more assurance, her voice quavering slightly. Ellie looks up and takes a quick breath, willing herself not to cry. Abbey clears her throat and looks down at her hands for a moment before once again making eye contact with Ellie and taking a calming breath. "How long have you, have you always felt, is this new?" Abbey asks, stumbling over her questions, touching Ellie's hand and bending her head to keep eye contact with Ellie.

Ellie shakes her head and clears her throat, feeling on firmer ground talking about the facts. "It's not new, just the acceptance is new," Ellie says. "Britt's my first girlfriend, but I've had plenty of crushes before."

"Are you... gay or...do you like..." Abbey asks, clearing her own throat in between phrases.

Ellie smiles and nods her head, beginning to breathe easier. "Yes, I'm gay, mom," she says, surprised at how easy and light the words are on her lips.

"What about the boys you've dated?" Abbey asks gently, swallowing deliberately, still obviously taking it in, and Ellie can tell she is straining to seem calm despite how unnerved she may be.

"I wanted to be normal, wanted it to be easy, but there was nothing really there," Ellie says, shrugging slightly and leaning closer still towards her mother.

"Are you sure?" Abbey asks, her voice clearer and eyes narrowing, and Ellie takes a quick breath, a moment's hesitation and fear creeping in at the question. Abbey shakes her head at Ellie, as if she can hear her sudden doubts, and raises her hand as she shakes her head and continues. "I mean, if you are still working through this, then--"

"Yes, Mom, I am--"

"-- if you need to talk to someone, someone who can help you deal with these issues--"

"-sure. I have a good support system, and the name of a good therapist if I need it, but I am sure, Mom. I tried, I tried really hard to be straight, but I'm not," Ellie says, her voice quivering slightly, shaking her head.

"Are you ok?" Abbey asks gently, her face relaxing into an almost-smile.

"Better than I have been in a very long time," Ellie says, smiling softly and relaxing her shoulders.

"The hair, the clothes, your manner and carriage," Abbey says smiling slightly, "I knew something was up, and wondered, but..." She trails off, shaking her head again.

"Yeah, well, I guess I didn't want the attention when I wasn't sure," Ellie says.

"And what's different now?" Abbey asks, taking her hand and crinkling her eyes in interest as she strokes Ellie's hand like she did when Ellie was a child.

Ellie shrugs and looks down at her hand in her mother's before looking up and continuing. "I have always sort of known something was... different. I didn't feel the way I was supposed to, the way Liz and Zoey and everyone else seemed to feel. And I think I started to realize what was different senior year of high school, but...I didn't really know what to do about it. Then I got to college, and I knew something was there, but I just buried it and studied, telling myself I was too busy with school to have a social life," Ellie says, shrugging again and looking up at her mother. "I'd date sometimes, and try each time to make it feel right. I thought maybe it was just not the right guy yet, but, I think after Michael I realized it wasn't them, it was me."

When Abbey nods her encouragement, Ellie continues in a stronger voice. "And then it all started bubbling to the surface junior year of college. I had this horrible crush on one of my TA's and I was trying to work up the nerve to do something about it. But I came home for break, and Uncle Leo was there, and you and Dad announced that he was going to run for President. You both seemed so concerned about the attention and process. And then there was the campaign and the talk of national coverage and it was all just sort of happening so fast, and, so, I just tried not to think about this," she says, watching as her mother takes a calming breath and closes her eyes for a moment, still nodding along. "But Sarah's always been there, always knew, and she was really great about never pushing, one way or the other, but letting me see her life, and what it could be like."

Abbey smiles and Ellie smiles with her at the thought of Sarah, in-your-face-this-is-life-Sarah, allowing Ellie the chance to observe her fulfillments and follies. Ellie laughs softly at the scene she can imagine her mother is seeing in her head and continues. "Well, over the last eighteen months I have put myself through a little test: started hanging out more with Sarah and her friends. I mean, I always had somewhat, but now I was more than a spectator, a hanger-on. I treated it like research: went to a couple parties and events, asked questions. I read all the books, and watched," Ellie says, smiling once again at her mother's mouthed "research" with a laughing shake of her head.

"Then a few months ago I went to a party and met someone who told me it was ok, that I owed it to myself to stop hiding and let myself live," Ellie says softly, smiling again at her mother's slightly damp eyes but open expression.

"I'd like to meet her sometime," Abbey says, squeezing Ellie's hand.

Ellie laughs softly, so much like her mother's laughter, and shakes her head. "Maybe that could be arranged," Ellie says, her eyes twinkling in humor.

As Ellie rubs her slightly flushed cheeks with one hand, Abbey squeezes the other hand again. "Ellie, Honey, are you really ok? Do you need to talk about...anything? If not with me, with someone who will just help you sort out what you are feeling? Not about who you are, but about how others are going to react to it? Do you need anything ? I mean..." Abbey trails off, flustered, rubbing her own forehead. "I'm not saying this right. I guess what I am trying to say is," she continues, moving closer and touching Ellie's leg as well, "I love you, and your Dad loves you, and nothing will change that."

"Mom," Ellie starts, her eyes tearing as she shakes her head.

"No, Honey, you've been so much more present and comfortable with yourself these last few months, and I noticed that, and knew something was different, and while I didn't really think about this, I understand now," Abbey says, tucking Ellie's hair behind her ear. Ellie nods as her mother's face seems to cloud over and then she touches Ellie's cheek and her eye show her concern. "I am worried about you, and how much harder some things are going to be for you, and how you could be hurt, but I love you. And I'll always be here for you," Abbey says, her face serious as she leans over and wipes away Ellie's tears before pulling her into a hug, rubbing her back. Ellie relaxes into her mother's embrace, wrapping her arms around her mother as she rests her face on her shoulder and allows herself to release the tension through tears. Once she is calm, she turns her face and feels her mother's lips kissing her hair and temple like she did when Ellie was a child.

When she pulls back, Abbey holds her face for a moment, brushing away Ellie's tears, and Ellie reaches up and brushes away Abbey's as they both laugh softly and finally move away from each other. Abbey keeps Ellie close by continuing to hold her hand and lower arm, causing Ellie to sit closer to her side on the couch.

Abbey nods and smiles, and then laughs as she leans back and picks up her coffee cup again, pausing with the cup below her mouth as she inclines her head and twists her mouth like she does when she is about to ask something embarrassing, and Ellie bites the inside of her lip at the look. "What's she like?" Abbey asks, taking a sip.

Ellie sighs and inclines her head, feeling her cheeks flush as she thinks about Britt. "Amazing: smart, beautiful, confident, funny. She's just amazing."

Abbey sighs and closes her eyes for a moment before continuing, all the tension gone from her frame. "You know your dad is going to have a hard time hearing this, right? He'll come around, Ellie, because he loves you, but he is going to have a hard time accepting it at first, or maybe even comprehending what you are saying. You need to be gentle," Abbey says, taking Ellie's hand. "And you need to tell him soon. Once he gets over the initial shock, he's going to focus on the fact that you told me first."

Ellie sighs, sitting back slightly and letting her hair fall forward into her face. "I know," she sighs again. "And I'm going to tell him as soon as he's free."

"Ellie, with your Dad, sometimes you have to just dive in when you get a clear moment. Obviously, tonight, he needs to be down there and focused, but tomorrow, if things are calmer, you need to find the time and talk to him. I'll be right there, but you need to tell him."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Eleanore?" Her father says as he strides into the sitting room in the Residence the next afternoon.

"Hi, Dad," Ellie says, standing as he enters, rubbing her hands together.

"I'm sorry I haven't been able to spend much time with you since you got here. There's been a lot going on," he says, waving toward the corridor.

"It's fine, Dad," Ellie says, already feeling the tension and distance, and wondering how she is going to say this.

"So, Mom said you had dinner together last night?" He says, walking over toward the bar and pouring himself a glass of soda. "Had some time to talk?"

"Yes, it was nice to get to spend a quiet night for a change and hang out with Mom," Ellie says, watching him drink his drink, trying to find an opening and worrying about causing him to choke if he's drinking when she blurts this out, seeing the agents rush in, and the production of it all, rubbing her forehead in anxiety.

"Eleanore, what is it? You've been hanging around all morning and now that I have a few minutes, you are just staring at me. What's going on?" Her father says, walking toward her. Ellie motions towards the sofa and waits until he sits before she sits on the edge of the opposite end of the cushion.

"There was something I wanted to talk to you about, but if this isn't a good time, then..."

"It's fine. I may not get another chance this afternoon, so...Eleanore, whatever it is you want to say, you should just say it. I can't read your mind," he says, looking at her intently. When Ellie takes a deep breath and looks up at him, he closes his eyes for a moment and then puts down his drink. "Ok, now you're starting to worry me. Are you ok? Is it school?" He asks and Ellie leans forward, taking a calming breath as she looks at her hands. "Eleanore, I can't see your face when you hang your head like that because your hair falls in your face. Now sit up and talk to me," he says almost harshly.

Ellie resists the urge to cry or yell, and purposefully lifts her face and tucks her hair behind her ears as she takes a deep breath. "Dad, I wanted to tell you something, and I'm not sure how easy it will be to hear. And I want you to try and understand what I am saying before you fly off the handle, ok?"

"For God's sake, Eleanore, what is it? I mean... are you...pregnant?" He says, his voice breaking slightly on the last word.

"No, Dad, no I am certainly *not* pregnant," Ellie says, laughing slightly and then rubbing her eyes.

"You've seemed different lately, but I just assumed you were enjoying school. Is school ok?" He asks, waving his hand toward her.

"Yes, Dad, school's great."

"Then what? Are you dating a new guy? Is that what you are so nervous about telling me?"

"God, Dad, I just, Dad, you're sort of right. I have been seeing someone new, and it may be kind of serious and, well," she stumbles, trying to lead into it gently as her mother warned. "Dad, *her* name is Britt, and I've been seeing her for a few weeks," Ellie says, taking a breath as she watches his reaction, waiting for signs of recognition.

He stares at her for a moment, unmoving, and then his eyes bulge and his jaw seems to snap shut. "Her?" He asks quietly after a moment, his hand sort of stuttering in front of him as he stares at her intently.

"Yes, Dad, *her*," Ellie says, forcing a smile and leaning closer to her father. When he still doesn't seem to move and fails to speak, she tilts her head closer and continues. "Dad, do you understand what I am trying to tell you?" She asks gently.

Her father stares at her still, seeming not to comprehend for almost a minute and then seems to shudder back to reality, downing the rest of his soda in one gulp before speaking. "Eleanore," he begins before standing up and pacing away and then back. "I thought maybe you were seeing the jerk, Bill, again, but ... I'm sorry, I'm just a little..." he trails off again and then stops moving to look at her.

Her father just stands there for several seconds and then resumes his pacing. Once across the room, he leans on the mantle of the fireplace, and she watches him, unsure of whether she should speak or wait, having no idea what he is thinking or feeling. When he turns again, his shoulder relax but his stance is the one she has learned to understand signifies his disappointment in her.

She stands up and steps away from the sofa, shaking her head and tucking her hair behind her ears. "Dad, I'm gay," she says again softly, needing to say the words. When he still stands almost motionless she wraps her arms around her waist and takes a deep breath for courage. "Dad, say something, please," she almost pleads.

Her father stands straight and quiet, appraising her, and they both hold the stare and the stance, waiting for the other to bend or blink. "Did you talk to Mom about this last night?" He asks without seeming to move.

"Yes, I told her after dinner. I would have told you, too, if you had been there. It wasn't like I was trying to tell her first or that I didn't think you could--"

"-- it's fine," he says, waving off her explanation, even though his body language demonstrates to her that it is anything but fine.

"Excuse me, Mr. President?" Charlie says from the doorway as Ellie turns away from him and takes several calming breaths. "Leo says they're ready."

"I'll be right down, Charlie," the President says, sighing loudly as the door closes and he looks at Ellie.

"Dad" she says quietly, trying to gain his attention for even a few more minutes.

"I'm sorry, Eleanore, but I have to go."

"Mr. President?" Charlie says again, clearly uncomfortable.

When the door closes behind him, leaving Ellie alone in the room once again, she takes a deep breath and holds it, trying to quell her tears. He said nothing to her, nothing at all. And the thought surfaces quickly that maybe this will be the way it is between them now, actual silence and distance to follow the perceived ones that they have been living for the last few years. Before she can make herself move from the room, the door opens again and she braces for the voice she knows will follow the soft footfalls.

"Ellie?" Abbey says hesitantly, her footsteps stopping after a few feet. Ellie shakes her head, quickly wiping at her eyes, trying to regain control. "Honey, please, talk to me," her mother continues, walking across the room now. When Abbey's hand touches her arm, Ellie tenses and turns her face away, taking several deep breaths as her mother circles until she is facing her. "Oh, Honey, come here," Abbey says, pulling her close. "Should I have been here? You said you wanted to talk to your father on your own, but maybe I should have insisted," Abbey says sighing.

When Ellie pulls out of her mother's arms she shakes her head and smiles ruefully, still wiping at her eyes. "I'm ok," she half whispers, not sure whether she is trying to convince herself or her mother.

"Really," her mother says, disbelieving her. "Listen, we'll sit down once he is free and we'll talk about this, all three of us, together," Abbey says, tucking Ellie's hair behind her ears.

"Ok," Ellie says, her shoulders slumping again.

"Have you had any lunch yet? We could have something and wait for your father and--"

"-no, thanks, Mom. I am going to...I'm not hungry and Dad'll be tied up for a while. Call me when he's available," Ellie says, walking past her mother and out of the room.

Abbey sighs, rubbing her forehead, cursing her husband and wishing her most sensitive daughter could have it easy for once in her life.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I'm sorry, El," Zoey says, nudging her sister's shoulder as they sit on her bed.

"It's ok, Zo," Ellie sighs. "I knew it wouldn't be easy, but...the silence was hard. He didn't say anything," Ellie says almost brokenly.

"Want me to sit in on the next family meeting?" Zoey asks.

"No. I don't think that would be a very good idea," Ellie laughs, rubbing her eyes.

"Have you talked to Britt?" Zoey asks grinning.

"Yeah, I talked to her before," Ellie sighs.

"And?" Zoey asks, frustrated.

"And, and... I cried, like a child, and it was horrible," Ellie says, laughing at herself and leaning back. "And then she was so sweet, and told me he just needs some time to absorb it, and that he loves me and that's all that matters. She was so sweet."

"She sounds so great, El," Zoey says, leaning her head against Ellie's shoulder. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Ellie answers with trepidation.

"What's it like? Being with a woman?" Zoey asks quietly.

Ellie laughs and closes her eyes. "Zoey, I am not going to discuss this with you."

"You explained about guys to me. Why not this?" Zoey asks, tilting her head to look at Ellie.

"I didn't tell you details, just what to expect, so you wouldn't be surprised," Ellie says, nudging her back.

"Not specifics, just, is it different? Gentler? I mean, I've heard women are more in tune with each other and instinctively know what the other likes, so..."

Ellie looks at Zoey doing her 'pretty please big sister' face and laughs as she shakes her head. "Well, I can't speak for all women, Zoey, but what makes this special for me is that I really like her. I mean, I could love her. And I never felt that with any of the guys I've dated. Yes, I feel connected to her, but I don't think it's because we're gentler or because of some innate understanding. I mean, yes, we know a little more about the feelings, it's just...her. Even kissing her is just so much more intense. She can make me absolutely melt by just touching my hand."

"Cool," Zoey says, and Ellie smiles, nudging her up.

"I need to go see Mom, see if she's heard from Dad. I'm not going to be able to sleep until I at least know when I'll be able to talk with him," Ellie says, scooting off the bed. "Why don't you go ahead out with Charlie. I appreciate your hanging out with me, but I am either going to be talking with Mom and Dad, or asleep."

"You sure? I mean, I could stay here. We could do an old fashioned sleep over," Zoey says.

"Thanks, Zo, and you know I love you, but, go have fun. I'm going to be fine."

"Ok," Zoey relents, hugging Ellie on the way out. "But if it heats up and you need back up, call me."

After Zoey leaves, Ellie checks in with Charlie, learning her father is still in meetings, and then she calls Britt. She keeps her tears in check as dials and listens to the phone ring, and smiles ruefully as they slip down her cheeks when Britt calls her 'Sweetheart' and says she'll meet her at home whenever she calls if she wants to see her tonight. Britt tells her she wishes she could hold her tonight, and Ellie almost aches to feel her hands and breath, the sound of Britt's heartbeat under her cheek as she drifts off to sleep. As Britt talks, Ellie makes her decision, and tells her she'll call from the road when they are close to Baltimore, laughing along with Britt's warm laughter at Ellie's husky voice and quick acceptance of Britt's offer. She needs Britt tonight, the reassurance of her hands and mouth, and pushes aside the fear of that need.

Once she is dressed again, and has called the agents to arrange transportation back to Baltimore, she walks back down the hall to her parents' room to let her mother know about her plans.

"Hey, Honey, your dad is still tied up downstairs," her mother says, putting aside her briefing book and taking off her reading glasses.

"I know. I just talked to Charlie and he's going to be tied up for most of the night," she says as she steps fully into the room. "I was just coming by to let you know I am heading back to Baltimore for the night," Ellie says.

"You're heading back?" Her mother says, confusion and concern etched on her face.

"Just for the night. I'll be back sometime mid morning. Ok?" Ellie says, shifting her bag on her shoulder.

"Ellie, I know that you would have preferred your dad--"

"-- Mom, this isn't about punishing anyone. I'll be back in the morning," Ellie says a little more forcefully.

"Well, ok," Abbey sighs.

"Goodnight, Mom," Ellie says, feeling like she should kiss her goodbye or say something meaningful, but at a loss for what it is. As she turns toward the door, her father enters, almost knocking her off her feet as she quickly steps back.

"Ellie?" He says, looking at the bag and then to Abbey.

"Charlie said you would be tied up until tomorrow," Ellie says, stepping back another step and tucking her hair behind her ear.

"Yeah, I just came up to change," he says, looking at Abbey again.

"Jed," Abbey says, looking hard at her husband. "Do you need to go right back--"

"-yes, I'm sorry. They're waiting for me now," he says, moving toward the bathroom after looking once again at Ellie's bag without commenting.

Ellie hangs her head for a moment and then laughs ruefully before hiking the bag higher on her shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mom," Ellie says, beginning to turn toward the door, purposefully ignoring her father.

"Honey, if it looks like your father's morning is clear, I'll call you so--"

"--Sure, but call my cell phone, Mom. Because I won't be at my apartment," Ellie says, ignoring her mother's smirk and looking pointedly at her father.

"Eleanore, please, don't do anything you'll regret until we can all talk this through. Once in public you'll have to live with it," her father warns, his eyebrows furrowed.

"I'll have to live with it either way, Dad," Ellie says calmly before nodding toward her mother and leaving.

As Ellie glances back at her parents as she opens the door, her mother sighs, leaning her head back against the headboard. Her father stands still, partially turned away from her, watching her leave silently.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Do you want me to take the day off?" Britt asks, touching Ellie's hair as she pours her more coffee.

Ellie cradles the hot mug between her hands and shakes her head no. "No, I'm going to head back in a while anyway. I just really needed to see you," Ellie says smiling and shrugging slightly. "Making him aware of it was a power play. I wanted him to know that I'm not a child. And that I was coming to you."

"Yeah, I figured," Britt says, sitting back down with her own cup. "And not that I didn't enjoy your enthusiasm last night to prove just how big a dyke you really are," Britt says, tapping Ellie's arm as Ellie flushes and looks at her cup, smiling a Cheshire-cat grin at Britt's reference to her prowess in bed, "but I don't want to be a pawn in this war with your father, Ellie."

"I know," Ellie sighs, "and I won't use you like that. But last night, I just needed to see you, and I couldn't help flaunting that," Ellie says with a grin.

"Yeah, well, I know," Britt says, lacing her fingers through Ellie's and then pulling their joined hands over so she can kiss Ellie's knuckles. Ellie blushes and ducks her chin, feeling her body heat as Britt continues to softly kiss her hand in increasingly wet strokes of lips. "What time do you need to be back?" Britt asks, barely looking up from Ellie's hand in hers.

"Whenever," Ellie says in an almost sing-song voice, turning her hand over and then reaching over and touching Britt's hair. "What about you?"

"Advantage of being the boss, I'll get there when I get there," Britt says, smiling and pushing her chair back, tugging Ellie up with her. Ellie leans into Britt's embrace and sighs contentedly as their lips meet, a soft tugging kiss quickly becoming heated as Britt moves her toward the bedroom.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Ellie strolls back into the Residence, her overnight bag over her shoulder, her detail down in the command center. She has been grinning since she left Britt's apartment, still seeing Britt's face and feeling her soulful kiss goodbye. Her mother called sometime after she and Britt crawled back into bed but before their shower, and she ignored the sound. In the car, she listened to her mother's message and smiled, pleased that her father had to wait for her this morning. She knows her mother is upset to be caught in the middle, but for now, it can't be helped.

She drops her bag in her room and hangs up her jacket, feeling her stomach tighten slightly as she anticipates the coming clash with her father, and maybe her mother. As she walks back down the hall, intending to find her mother in her office, her mother rounds the corner and walks purposefully toward her, eyes flashing and lips tight.

"Eleanore," she says, her tongue sharp.

"Good morning, Mom," Ellie says swallowing her smile.

"Barely," her mother says, walking into her bedroom and unbuttoning her suit jacket. "Can I ask what happened to mid morning at the latest?" Abbey asks, tossing her jacket on the bed.

"Well, Mom, funny thing. I hadn't heard from you, so I decided not to rush back just to wait around for something that isn't going to happen," Ellie says, her irritation showing.

"And how did you know that--"

"-- I watched the morning news, saw CJ's briefing. Then I checked Dad's schedule with Charlie. I knew there was no chance he would have more than fifteen minutes and this isn't a fifteen minute conversation," Ellie says defiantly.

"Well, my dear, I arranged for him to have an open half hour, which you just missed, and now I don't think he'll be able to get free again until tonight," Abbey says, her own anger beginning to show. "I called. Where were you?" Abbey asks.

Ellie feels her cheeks flush as she refuses to answer her mother's question, and when she looks up, her mother nods in apparent understanding. "Well, great," she says, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Eleanore, what do you want right now?" She asks, shaking her head. "I mean, I can talk to you, and I can talk to your father, and we can keep playing this game of telephone, or we can sit down and talk about this like adults. But you both will actually have to act like adults for this to work."

"Will he?" Ellie asks timidly.

"Will he what?" Abbey asks.

"Act like an adult, and actually talk to me instead of just staring at me, mute," Ellie says, her voice becoming brittle with emotion.

"Honey, he's a little shocked by this, and you have to give him some time to absorb it, and come to terms with everything," her mother says. "He loves you, and last night he was up most of the night pacing, because he knows that yesterday did not go well."

"Has he said anything, I mean, about me?" Ellie asks cautiously.

Abbey stares at her for a moment and then takes a quick breath. "Not yet, Honey. He hasn't really said anything at all, except that he's going to need some time."

Ellie nods and turns away when her mother walks over to her, trying to keep her emotions under control. She walks out of the room without looking back, afraid of what she'll say to her mother if she continues to defend her father.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So you haven't even spoken with him at all since you got back?" Britt asks over the phone, the sound of crunching coming through as well, and Ellie smiles, knowing she is calling her on her dinner break.

"No, he has been in and out of meetings since mid yesterday and I refuse to go looking for him. I went looking for him last night, twice. It's his turn," Ellie says, leaning back on the bed. She can hear Britt sigh on her end of the phone and closes her eyes, trying to picture her there in her office. "We pass in the halls and he barely looks at me. I hate this."

"Well, I assume you are staying there again tonight?" Britt asks.

"Yeah, I am having lunch with my mother and Zoey tomorrow so it's just easier, but I was thinking maybe I would come up tomorrow night?" Ellie says hesitantly, knowing Britt will be at the bar late tomorrow night with the new band playing again.

"Yeah? Well, why don't you come on by, catch the second set, and then we can go home together?" Britt says with what Ellie knows is intentional nonchalance.

Ellie hasn't been back to Fool's Gold since they started dating, afraid of outing herself and Britt, and not wanting to complicate Britt's work life. But she has been waiting for an invitation back, wanting Britt to want her there. "Are you sure?" Ellie asks, needing the reassurance.

"Yes, Ellie, I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want you there. If you aren't comfortable yet, that's fine, and we could just meet back at the apartment but--"

"-- No, Britt, I want to come by. I just wasn't sure how you would feel about my hanging around."

"First of all, you would not be just hanging around. And second of all, I want you there. Maybe I'll even find some time to dance with you," Britt teases.

"Well, just so you promise to drag me into a dark corner and suck on my neck," Ellie teases back.

"That's not all I'll suck on. I do have an office there, El," Britt says in a husky voice, and Ellie grins on her end, feeling her cheeks flush and pulse quicken.

A knock at the door draws Ellie's attention and she misses what Britt says next as she calls out a welcome. Her mother steps in, looking decidedly uncomfortable and she looks sadly down at Ellie. "Um, I have to go. Can I call you later?"

"Sure, Sweetheart, I'll talk to you later," Britt says.

"Ok, bye," Ellie says, hanging up the phone and dropping it onto the bed as she sits up straighter.

"I am sorry to interrupt, but I was hoping we could talk. I was hoping you would stop in this afternoon," she trails off. "Your father is still in meetings, but I have asked Charlie to clear an hour as soon as possible," she says.

"Well, Mom, won't that be fun," Ellie says.

"Ellie," she sighs, sitting down next to her on the bed. "Look, I know you are probably not real happy with your father right now, and that's fine, but he needs some time," she says, holding up her hand when Ellie springs into defensive mode. "You come home and just spring this on him, and when he doesn't say the right things you take off, making a point of the fact that you will *not* be sleeping at home," she says, tapping Ellie's leg. "You are just going to have to give him some time, to understand this. Then I feel strongly that we should sit down, you, me and Dad, and talk about this, and what you may need, from us," she says, clearly uncomfortable.

"Well, I am having lunch with you and Zoey tomorrow and then I am heading back to Baltimore. If he can find the time between now and then, fine," Ellie says, dropping her hands to her sides with an audible slap. "After that, well, after that I guess you'll just have to call."

She nods, sighing tiredly. "Ellie, I know you are an adult and can do whatever you want, but I would hate to see this continue between you and your father without resolution.

Ellie takes a deep breath and shakes her head. "Mom, this is who I am. And while I am not going to be marching in any parades in the near future, I am done hiding. I have been hiding who I am for a while now, and I'm done. Dad is going to have to get used to that. I have a life, and part of that life, is a girlfriend."

Her mother gently strokes her hair and pulls her closer, lowering her head onto her shoulder, sighing, no further words needed to let Ellie know she is worried about her. She leaves a few minutes later after extracting a promise to join her for dinner, and Ellie tosses herself down on the bed. Dinner is tense, as both women continually look toward the closed door of the study, waiting for her father to appear. When he doesn't, despite it being close to ten in the evening, Ellie sighs and goes to bed. She lies awake, wishing she were with Britt and that no one else mattered.

Ellie awakens early the next morning, dresses and has breakfast with her mother, waiting patiently for her father, wanting him to find the time, wanting him to think this is important enough to find the time. She is quiet during lunch with her mother and Zoey, and she packs her few things slowly, delaying her leaving until there is nothing left to do but leave.

"Do you really have to head back?" Her mother asks, moving her hair out from under her coat collar.

"Yes, Mom, I have plans tonight, and things I'd like to do with my break besides waiting around for Dad to decide he wants to talk to me," Ellie says a little too harshly. "Sorry," she mumbles when her mother looks at her concerned. "I know he's busy. It's fine," she says, very much her father's daughter in her stubbornness.

"Honey, he has had a lot going on, and he can't just drop everything and--"

"- Mom, I am not trying to put you in the middle here, but, please, give it a rest. At the moment, I really don't care."

"Of course you do, and it's normal to care, but you have to give--"

"-him some time, yes, I know," Ellie says, shaking her head and picking up her bag. "I have to go. I love you."

"I love you, too, Honey. And I'll give you a call later, ok?" Her mother asks, patting her back through her coat.

Ellie walks out of the Residence and down to the car, wondering how long it will take before her father can look at her with anything less than confusion and disappointment.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Ooo, she's cute," Katherine says from her perch on the bar stool next to Sarah, and Ellie grins, watching Katherine ogle yet another 'sweet young thing'.

"Watch out, Katherine, that one looks like she could snap you in two," Jill warns, motioning to the dark-haired bartender for another round. "Well, I've got to hand it to you, Ellie. When you hooked up with the bartender, I was the first one to shake my head at you, but this is seriously good for our service."

"Yeah, well, that's exactly why I'm sleeping with her, Jill: so that you don't have to wait for drinks," Ellie quips, taking a long sip of her own drink as her eyes flit over Britt, talking with the band in the corner.

"Ok, little girl, so, let's get down to it: how is everything with the lovely Ms. McClure?" Stacy asks, tapping on Ellie's thigh and drawing her attention away from Britt and back to the small group of women watching her intently.

"Yeah, Ellie, considering you have now gone where no one else we know has been, spill," Katherine's friend Deb says.

Ellie flushes under their scrutiny and teasing, and shakes her head. "I am not discussing the details of my sex life," Ellie says, laughing and shaking her head.

"Come on, Ellie, you at least owe us some little tidbit," Katherine says.

"Other than saying she's great, I am not having this conversation," Ellie says, waving off their protests.

"Well, I want to dance. Anyone else?" Stacy asks.

"Absolutely," Ellie says, hopping off her stool and following Stacy onto the dance floor.

They dance for several songs and then stay out there as the band begins to play, quickly finding the new beat and dancing once again. When they play a slow song, Jill and Stacy dance, as Ellie wanders back over to the bar, wiping her forehead and the back of her neck as she goes. Once at the bar, she leans forward, looking around for her friends. Katherine is chatting up the previously scoped-out prey in the corner, Leah and Sarah seem to be having a serious conversation at a back table, and Deb is dancing with another of her and Katherine's friends. Ellie leans back toward the bar, fanning herself with her hand, looking for a bartender.

"Looking for a drink or Britt?" Sandy, the dark-haired bartender asks as she hurries past to deliver some drinks to the group sitting partway down the bar.

"A bottle of water, but only when you get a chance," Ellie says, smiling appreciatively.

As she leans there, she feels a hand slide past her hip to rest on the bar, and she turns to see a tall woman leaning toward her. "Haven't seen you around here," she says, leaning closer and looking up and down Ellie's body.

Ellie smiles and moves a step over and turns her attention back to the bartender, making a point of shaking her head slightly to wave away Beth's worried stare and tense posture, knowing Beth will also wave off Kim, who is probably already crossing the room. The agents have been uptight all night: first irritated by being here where Ellie could be recognized, then by the crowd and noise. "Well, I don't come in here much."

"I would have noticed," the woman says, stepping closer again and this time trailing her fingers down Ellie's arm. "You seem to know the staff real well, though, for someone who doesn't come in much. I'm Lisa. Can I buy you a drink?"

"No thanks, I've already got one coming," Ellie says, trying to end the conversation by proximity.

"I bet you do," the woman says, her tone decidedly suggestive.

"Here you go," Sandy says, tossing the bottle of water to Ellie as she moves down the bar again.

"Nice talking to you," Ellie says as she walks away, uncapping the water and drinking half the bottle in one long swallow as she walks. As she is wiping her forehead with a cocktail napkin, she feels the woman next to her again.

"So, if no drink, how about a dance?" she asks, moving between Ellie and the path to the tables.

"No, thank you," Ellie says. "I think I am going to rejoin my friends."

"Come on, just one dance?" She says, tilting her head and touching Ellie's arm again.

"Really, no. Excuse me," Ellie says walking around her and toward the table where now Katherine has joined Sarah and Leah.

"Make a new friend?" Leah asks sarcastically.

"She still looking this way?" Ellie asks, and Leah and Katherine both nod. "Great, just what I need. I tried to be polite, but I don't think she heard me."

"Oh, no, kid, she is decidedly still interested," Katherine says, watching the woman.

"Well, I'll just ignore her," Ellie says with a sigh.

"Yeah, that'll work," Leah drawls sarcastically as Sarah smiles.

As the band takes the stage for the second set, Ellie and Sarah join Jill and Stacy on the dance floor, leaving Katherine and Leah chatting at the table. As the band slows in the set, Sarah grabs Ellie for a dance, nodding toward the woman hovering near the bar. As she dances with Sarah, Ellie looks for Britt, and finally makes eye contact with her behind the bar, smiling and knowing her face is flushing under Britt's returned smile. As she drags her eyes away, she sees the woman hovering over another customer, who looks little more than a teenager really, leaning against the bar. She watches intently, noticing Lisa's touching her and trying to get her to dance while the girl looks around the room a little frantically. After a few minutes, the girl's friends come and rescue her, but Lisa stands at the bar, watching her openly, with an almost predatory stare, while she dances with someone else.

After Leah and Sarah have left, and Katherine, Jill and Stacy have commandeered a table and are trading shots, Ellie grabs the corner stool at the bar and chats with Sandy and Laurie, the other bartender, while Britt talks with the band about upcoming performances. She nurses a cider and watches the couples and groups begin to wind down for the night, amused by the new couples and the old friends. She smiles and bites her lip at the two necking hard in the corner, and absently touches the place on her neck where Britt's mouth seems destined to draw.

"Yeah, I remember another chick who got herself thoroughly kissed in that corner," Sandy says, and Ellie blushes and shrugs her shoulders, a little pleased at their teasing.

"Hey, Ellie, you want another?" Laurie asks, and Ellie smiles her thank you as she drains the almost empty cider and accepts a cold one from the cooler.

"Thanks, Laurie," she says, pushing her sweat damp hair off her neck and up onto the top of her head.

"Hey," Britt says, sliding next to Ellie at the bar. "You doing ok?" She asks, dropping a light kiss on the side of Ellie's neck as she touches the back exposed by Ellie's holding her hair out of the way.

"Hot and sweaty, but other than that I'm fine," Ellie says, smiling and leaning into Britt's body for a gentle kiss on her lips.

"Get a room," Laurie says with mock harshness.

"Or at least a dim corner," Sandy adds, laughing as Britt and Ellie both break the kiss laughing, their foreheads pressed together.

"You're both fired," Britt says as she leans back.

"Promises, promises," Sandy muses, moving down the bar toward the other patrons looking for last call drinks.

"I'm sorry we haven't gotten to at least dance, but it's just crazy in here tonight. I can't believe how packed we still are at last call," Britt says, looking around the room.

"I know," Ellie says grinning at the still partially full bar. "Is it the band?"

"The band, the schools being on break, a couple of parties, including that one which is getting a little out of hand," Britt says, looking from the packed table in the corner surrounded by about eight women to the bouncers, inclining her head slightly once she has the bouncers' attention. "Anyway, you ok to hang out a while longer? I want to finish up with the band and then I have a couple things I have to do. If not, you could go back to my place and I'll meet you there," Britt says, stroking Ellie's neck.

"Nope, I'm good," Ellie says.

"Ok, I'll check back," Britt says, moving quickly to hop over the bar and move through to the other side and back, as Ellie smiles at how easily she moves.

After the second cider, Ellie slides off her stool and walks toward the bathroom. As she passes the rowdy table Britt was concerned about, she notices a commotion. Lisa getting into it with two members of the rowdy party, apparently friends of the girl Lisa had been cruising all night. Before Ellie can move past the table, Lisa and the two she is arguing with move toward the bar, and Lisa steps up and into the face of the taller of her two adversaries and they begin to argue louder. As the argument escalates, a crowd of spectators forms near the end of the bar and one of the bouncers steps between the two. As the bouncer begins to move the three who are arguing and their friends out of the bar, both groups start protesting and soon both bouncers are in the thick of it, trying to move both parties to the door. As Ellie stands there, waiting for the group to move out of the way so she can get past, a second commotion, a lover's quarrel, erupts at the other side of the bar, and then someone drops a tray of glasses behind the bar. Before she can register what is happening, Kim and Beth are at her side, badges drawn, identifying themselves loudly as Federal Agents and rushing her out the door.

All Ellie sees is the side of Kim's coat and the blur of passing as she is propelled out of the bar and into a waiting car, which pulls away before she has even caught her breath. What everyone else in the bar sees is four armed Federal Agents swooping in and wrestling a woman in the commotion out of the bar, elbowing two customers, knocking over two stools and dragging the woman out, apparently against her will.

In the car, Ellie looks behind her, expecting to see the bar and instead seeing a street she doesn't recognize as the car continues to move away quickly, Kim breathing hard beside her as she checks her over, moving her arms and body, touching her head and back. "Dancer, is fine," Kim efficiently says into her wrist microphone, and Ellie shivers as the cold of the outside finally registers to her coatless-body. "I repeat, Dancer is fine, heading home."

"I am not fine," Ellie says, the anger and humiliation finally building to a breaking point. "What the hell was that?" She asks harshly.

"We'll talk when you're home and calm," Kim says, shaking her head. "I need to report in."

"Where are we?" Ellie says through clenched teeth.

"Two blocks from Atlantis," Phil says from the front seat, referring to her apartment by code name.

Once inside Ellie moves straight to the phone, shaking off Kim and Phil as they follow her. She calls the number for the bar and stands there, tapping her foot, waiting. When Sandy answers she turns her back on the agents.

"Sandy, it's Ellie. Is everything ok there?"

"Yeah, pretty much, but what the hell was that?" Sandy asks angrily.

"I'll explain later. Is Britt there?" Ellie asks nervously.

"She's soothing the band. Can I have her call you?"

"Yeah, I'm at home," Ellie says, leaning her head against the door frame.

She turns and looks at Kim and Phil hovering nearby: Kim standing defiant as she talks to the office on her phone, Phil looking slightly less confident, Beth and the one of the other agents on the front porch.

Ellie crosses her arms and waits for Kim to finish reporting in.

"Yeah, we're secure now, and in for the night," Kim says.

"Like hell," Ellie scoffs shaking her head as she moves toward the closet.

"Ellie," Phil sighs as Kim hangs up the phone.

"Ellie, there are procedures to be followed when any kind of threatening situation arises with respect to--" Kim starts and Ellie turns on her fast, throwing her off balance.

"- and what threatening situation arose here? A rowdy crowd of women arguing about last call? Some breaking glass?" Ellie rants. "Real dangerous," she taunts.

"Ellie, we couldn't see you. You moved out of sight range, and then the situation became uncontrollable. We wanted you out of there hours ago. We held off when the fight started, but once the second one started and then the glass...We had to act fast once it sounded like all hell was breaking loose. For all we knew it was diversion of some kind so that--"

"- wait a minute. Are you telling me that you honestly thought that maybe that little fight was staged so that someone could grab me?" Ellie asks incredulous.

"Ellie, we have to act on instinct, and no one could locate you, and it became an uncontrollable situation," Phil continues.

"Please," Ellie huffs sarcastically. "I was fine."

Yeah, but we didn't know that," Kim says, her jaw tight with the effort to keep herself under control.

"And drawing your weapons and para-trooping in was the only option?" Ellie yells.

The phone rings before Kim can answer and Ellie holds up her hand to silence whatever response was supposed to follow. "Hello?" She asks, her voice showing her agitation.

"Hi," Britt says, her voice tight.

"I am so sorry," Ellie whispers. "Is everything ok there?"

"No, not really," Britt says tiredly. "And I'm going to be here for a while."

"I was thinking that I could just head over to your apartment and wait for you there," Ellie says timidly.

"Ellie, I don't know when I'm going to get home, if at all tonight. There's a lot to deal with here, and... I need to take care of it myself. I'll just call you tomorrow," Britt says.

"Can I do anything?" Ellie asks softly.

"No, I'll talk to you tomorrow," Britt says just before Ellie hears the click of disconnection in her ear.

She stands there in the kitchen for a moment, leaning against the wall as she blindly hangs up the receiver.

"Ellie," Kim says softly.

"Leave," Ellie says.

"Excuse me?" Kim says.

"Please, just leave," Ellie says, looking up, her eyes already wet with tears.

"We need to secure the upstairs: procedure," Phil says apologetically.

"I'll take my chances," Ellie says, moving past them and toward the stairs.

"Ellie," Kim says again.

"Just leave. I'll see you tomorrow," Ellie says, already walking dejectedly up the stairs.

She stares at herself in the bathroom mirror, wanting to curl up and forget that this night ever happened. She should take a shower, but the thought of crawling into bed in the dark, alone, is almost more than she can take. She stands there, feeling her stomach churn, wondering if she just lost her first girlfriend, allowing herself to hate her father, hate him without guilt for the first time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Yeah, she hasn't even gotten up yet," Kim says into the phone.

"How do you know?" Gina asks, munching on her bagel in the command center.

"Well, no lights yet, and the papers are still on the doorstep," Kim says. "Why?"

"Look, all I'm saying is, if you all made a fool out of *me* in *my* girlfriend's bar, and then she wouldn't see me, well, I probably wouldn't wait around for her to call. But that's just me," Gina says, as there is laughter in the command meeting, causing Beth and Kim to both cover their eyes wearily.

"Well, she's a creature of habit. In three years, she has never left the house without reading the papers except for when there is an emergency, and then she takes them with her."

"And you don't think this is an emergency in her mind?" Gina asks. "And isn't this the daughter who has made a habit of losing you all when you piss her off?

"Toscano--" Kim groans.

"Ok, well, I assume you have all the exits covered," Ron says, breaking in.

"Yeah, we do," Phil says. "After we regrouped and checked in, we set up a perimeter."

"Ok, well, we'll be recapping this later, folks," Ron says. "Once you trade posts, Kim, Beth, Phil, I want you all in for a debrief."

"Yes, sir," they all say together.

"So, we just going to wait for her to get up?" Phil asks.

"You want to wake her up after she's been crying her eyes out all night?" Beth asks, shaking her head in disbelief.

"This is so much harder than I ever expected it to be. Why did we think Ellie was the easy one? I mean, the oldest one never goes anywhere," Phil says.

"And Zoey has never ditched her detail," Kim says.

"Because Ellie is the most of both her parents," Beth says quietly, looking away from Kim's and Phil's looks. "And she understands that we can't keep her."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Hi," Britt says, stopping on the landing, leaning against the wall above Ellie, who is leaning against her front door.

"Hi," Ellie says softly, looking up at her.

"How long have you been here?" Britt asks.

"Since about a half hour after we talked last night," Ellie says, unfolding her limbs and cautiously standing up.

"I didn't see the sedan out front," Britt says, reaching out to help her up. Once Ellie is standing, she leans toward Britt, and then tries hard not to flinch when Britt lets her go and moves toward the door.

"Well, that's because the sedan is probably sitting in front of *my* apartment," Ellie says as Britt unlocks the door.

"They dropped you off and left?" Britt asks.

"No, I would guess they are sitting there staring at the front porch right now, thinking I am still in bed."

"Excuse me?" Britt says, putting her bag down on the table and looking at Ellie.

"Well, I wasn't going to wait around for you to call," Ellie says, flopping down onto the couch, rubbing her neck, "and I didn't want to deal with them."

"So, you ditched them?" Britt asks, almost amused, just watching her.

"So, I ditched them," Ellie says shrugging.

"How?" Britt asks incredulous.

"It's really not hard. They think they know me. They don't," Ellie says, her voice flat and cold. "So while they were getting back into the cars and arranging the perimeter, I left through the basement door, walked down a block, and then called Sarah from my cell and had her come get me. Because I do know them, and I know their procedures, and I knew it would take them a few minutes to be in place."

Britt shakes her head and walks into the kitchen. "Want some coffee?" She asks over her shoulder.

"That'd be good," Ellie says, following her, trying to act normal despite her quickly beating heart and uneasy stomach. "Is everything ok at the bar?" She asks timidly.

"It's fine," Britt says, grinding the beans, betraying by her tone and manner that it isn't, but she doesn't want to talk about it.

Ellie watches her for a moment and then crosses her arms across her chest to warm her hands. "So, we're not going to talk about this?" Ellie asks, leaning against the counter.

"Ellie, you really don't want to do this now," Britt sighs.

"Britt," Ellie persists, walking over to her and gently touching her arm.

"Do you know what they are saying right now? What the rumors are?" Britt asks, turning slightly toward Ellie, her face tired and tense. Ellie merely shakes her head and Britt turns fully toward her. "They are saying we had a raid, that there was a drug bust," Britt says.

"They?" Ellie asks softly.

"They, people, I've already had calls from at least a dozen people asking what happened last night: including my banker, my attorney, and my former boss and the head of the Association. All I need now is for this to get to the State authorities and trigger an alcohol license review," Britt says clearly drained, as if this new horror has just occurred to her. "This is a small community, Ellie, when it comes to this kind of business. And right now, everyone thinks we had a federal drug bust last night following a fight."

"I'm sorry," Ellie says quietly.

"And I can't set them straight, and neither can my employees, and neither will most of the patrons, so, there are going to be rumors and crap floating around for a while," Britt says, moving out of the kitchen. "Besides keeping customers away, it's going to attract some of the wrong kind. This kind of thing can kill a bar," she says emphatically, pacing now.

"Sorry," Ellie whispers, leaning forward, her hair in her face and body tense.

"I have worked very hard to build up a reputation and a select customer base, and there are many who are going to stay away now, whether because they don't understand or they are afraid of getting outed or caught up in the next raid. Ellie, this is my life. It's all I have. I can't--"

"I'm sorry," Ellie says louder, miserable and sick to her stomach.

"I know you are," Britt says, deflating and finally sitting down across from Ellie. "I know you are, but..." Britt trails off sadly and then walks into the kitchen. She returns a few minutes later and hands Ellie a mug of coffee, fixed just the way Ellie likes, and she smiles slightly at the gesture.

"You do know that I didn't signal or set this in motion. They didn't know where I was and reacted to the--"

"-- I know, Ellie," Britt says regretfully. "But it happened, and I can't ignore that," she says, putting down her mug and leaning forward in her chair. "Ellie, this place if my life. Everything I have is wrapped up in it. I can't afford the fallout this could cause."

"So, I'll stay away from the bar?" Ellie asks softly.

"I can't do this right now," Britt says sadly after a pause. "I'm sorry. I guess I just didn't think through the complications, or the risks, and I guess I just need some time to figure out how I...we can make this work" Britt says tiredly. Ellie can feel her stomach turning, and concentrates on taking slow breaths so she won't get sick, or cry. And when she doesn't verbally respond, Britt continues, obviously upset as well. "Ellie, what happens if people figure this out and we end up in the press? I don't want Fool's Gold to turn into a side show. God, this is so hard," Britt says loudly as she rubs her face roughly and then gets up and starts pacing again.

Ellie flinches as she watches Britt pace, and understands that this isn't fair to Britt, who didn't ask for this.

"Ellie," Britt says softly, sitting down beside her and touching her hand with tentative fingers. "You know that I care about you and--"

"--You're right," Ellie says softly, staring at Britt's fingers.

"What?" Britt asks gently.

"You're right. This is unfair to you. I'm, sorry," Ellie says, standing up and reaching for her jacket which she tossed onto the chair before she sat down.

"Ellie," Britt says, standing still, obviously confused.

Ellie shrugs on her jacket and then turns back to look at Britt. She stares at her for a moment, breathing slowly and just looking at her. She turns to leave and her eyes lock on the painting on the wall, the one of Britt as a child, looking angelic and beautiful, and she feels her heart constrict and her head spin as she realizes she has lost her.

"Why don't we just take a few days, let everything calm down, and then we can talk. There's just so much more at stake, and I don't know how to--," Britt says.

"--I am so sorry," Ellie says again, her hands shaking slightly, knowing she has to leave if she is going to do so without crying.

"Ellie," Britt says brokenly.

"I'll miss you," Ellie says softly, losing the battle with her tears and leaving quickly, leaving Britt to grieve on her own.

Ellie steps outside and stands there, looking in both directions, staring at the empty street, wondering what to do. Her chest aches and her limbs feel numb, but it is mid morning, and she is free. For the first time in three years, no one knows where she is, no one is containing her, and if she left right now, she could disappear.

She starts walking toward the bar and gets only half a block before she has to sit down and take a few deep breaths, her stomach rolling and her head pounding. She knows it is more than seven miles to her apartment, and she doesn't have the energy to walk all the way home, or really anywhere. She pulls out her phone, staring down at the battery warning, and makes her decision.

"Hey, Sarah," she says into the phone. "No, not really... Can you come get me...I'll be at the diner down the street from the bar... Yeah, thanks, Sarah."

Sarah has know her for a long time, and may know her better than anyone, and she allows them to ride in silence. Ellie reminds herself to thank Sarah someday for never letting her completely implode. When the car pulls up outside their apartment, they both climb out and Ellie walks wearily across the street, not even glancing at the government issue sedan.

"Ellie!" Kim says in disbelief as she scrambles out of the car and catches up to her.

"Go away," Ellie says. "Literally, go away."

"How, when, where have you been?" Phil asks, his exasperation showing in his stuttered questions.

"Doesn't matter," Ellie says, drained. As Sarah unlocks the door, the agents follow them in, and Sarah gently touches Ellie's back and asks if she needs anything before walking upstairs, leaving Ellie alone with the agents.

"Ellie," Kim begins.

"Don't," Ellie says, turning and looking at the five agents standing in her living room, three of whom were a part of the night before. "Just, don't. I don't care."

"We need to talk about it. We need to discuss parameters, and now this," Kim says, motioning between Ellie and the door. "This is not working," she says wearily, and Ellie nods emphatically.

"You're right. It's not," Ellie says, and after a moment and a deep breath she looks from one to the other before speaking. "I thank you for your efforts on my behalf these last few years, and for putting up with my crap, and for the monumental mess that I am sure you all are going to have to deal with in a little bit, but this is over. I can't live like this anymore," Ellie says. "Now, I'd like you all to leave, please."

"Excuse me?" Kim says as Phil and Beth share a look.

"I'm done. Please get out of my apartment," Ellie says a little more harshly.

"Ellie, if you don't want to talk about this now, that's fine. But you need to understand that at some point--"

"--No, Kim, you need to understand that I am done with this," Ellie says emphatically.

Beth tries to intervene, stepping forward to speak. "Ellie we can't just--"

"--Yes, you can and you will *just*," Ellie says. "I am not doing *this* anymore," Ellie says waving her hands at all of them. When they just stand staring at her, Ellie throws her hands in the air in exasperation. "What, you need the magic words? Ok," She says, walking over to the phone. "What's the number for the command center?"

"Ellie," Kim tries again.

"What is the number?" She asks again, slowly, shifting from her father's bluster to her mother's steel, the twin sides of her personality meshing for strength.

Once Steve utters the number, Ellie dials, watching the agents stand motionless as she listens to it ring. When the assistant picks up, she asks for Ron and then turns her back on the agents in her living room.

"Ellie?" Ron says on the other side of the line. "I understand that you are likely very--"

"--Yeah, Ron, I hereby decline secret service protection," Ellie says, noting that two of the agents flinch on her words in the reflection in the mirror.

"Ellie, listen, we can--"

"--No, you listen. I am an adult. Under the regulations, you can not compel my cooperation absent a protective or executive order. You have neither. So when I kick these folks out into the street in two minutes and they call you to ask for direction, please be sure to remind them that after I hang up they'll be trespassing, and I don't care who they are, I will call the police if they set foot on my property," Ellie says, hanging up without waiting for a response from Ron. Once the receiver is replaced, she turns and stares at the agents. "Now, folks, thank you, but get the hell out of my apartment before I call the police," Ellie says sweetly.

The five agents walk outside and then stand on the front porch, staring at each other, none knowing what to do. All at once, three of their phones ring, and Kim answers hers first.

"Sands," Kim says into her phone.

"Told you," Gina says before Kim snaps her phone shut.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, what you are saying is that you lost her, again?" Ron shouts, as Kim and Phil cringe on their end of the phone.

"Yes, Sir," Kim says, regretting the day she signed up for this detail.

"Where?" He bellows.

"Campus," Kim says. "We think maybe she took off in a borrowed car," Kim says tiredly.

"Any idea who's?" Ron asks.

"We're working on it," Kim says, sighing.

"Well, do it quietly. We've been lucky so far: it's Sunday and no one has picked up on the fact that the federal agents who were involved last night are service. Right now it's a non-story. We do not need to announce that Eleanore Bartlett has declined her protection and taken off right now. So, find her. I will have to go upstairs and inform the President and First Lady in ten minutes unless you can tell me for a fact that she is gone of her own accord. So, find her now," Ron says, slamming the phone down.

"Want me to call over to the detail and see if Zoey has heard from her?" Gina asks.

"Go over there. Zoey may tell you," Ron says.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"This had better be good," CJ mock shouts as she walks across her living room, wrapping her robe around herself as she goes. She peeks out the peep whole and then groans to herself as she quickly unlocks the several locks and pulls the door open. "Ellie?"

"Hi," Ellie says, leaning slightly against the hall wall.

"Well, you look like hell. Get in here," CJ says, pulling Ellie in and closing the door.

"I'm not interrupting anything, am I? I was going to call, but the phone died and then...I didn't know where else to go," she says, dropping the hand she was motioning with, not making any effort to take off her jacket or move further into the apartment.

"What happened?" CJ asks calmly as she guides Ellie into the living room, carefully appraising her appearance and manner, noting the red-rimmed eyes, pale, almost green-tinged skin, tangled hair, and wrinkled clothes.

Ellie just laughs wryly and shakes her head, still standing with her jacket on.

"Ellie," CJ says, moving so that her face is right in front of Ellie's. "What?" Ellie just shakes her head again and then her eyes water and her expression crumples as she turns away and frantically wipes at her eyes. "Come here," CJ says gently, turning her around and pulling her into her arms, holding her close with one hand at the back of her neck and the other on her back.

After a moment Ellie relaxes into the embrace and wraps her arms around CJ, tightly gripping her back and taking a deep shuddering breath as she begins to sob. When it becomes apparent that she is not calming down, CJ moves them to the couch, tugging Ellie's jacket off and sitting her down as she grabs a box of tissues and a glass of water. When she sits down beside Ellie, she pulls her close again, stroking her back and hair as she cries. As the tears slow, Ellie is able to tell her about being pulled out of the bar, and the fight with the agents, and Britt. She cries harder again after telling CJ she thinks Britt just broke up with her, and curls into a ball on CJ's couch when CJ gets up to refill her water glass. After CJ has forced Ellie to drink the second glass of water, Ellie slumps over again still half crying silently.

"Honey, did you sleep at all last night?" CJ asks, pushing Ellie's hair out of her eyes.

"No," Ellie says almost inaudibly as she rubs her eyes. "I should just go home I guess," Ellie says, looking around her and then at CJ.

"To the Residence?" CJ asks mildly.

Ellie shakes her head vigorously and tightens her grip on the pillow she has been clutching to her chest. "No, I am not going there."

"Well, then why don't you stay here for a while. Maybe take a hot shower and change into something warm, for a start?" CJ asks, rubbing her back soothingly.

"Ok, if it's ok," Ellie says softly, leaning her head back against the couch.

CJ walks Ellie down the hall and into the bathroom. She comes back a few minutes later with a soft cotton tee shirt and a pair of flannel pants. "Well, these will be huge on you, but they're clean, dry and soft. Towels are in the linen closet, shampoo and such in the shower, or in the basket of travel samples I've collected over there. Use whatever you'd like. Do you need anything else?" CJ asks as she reaches in and starts the shower.

"No," Ellie sighs. "Thanks, CJ. I really appreciate this."

"No fuss, and I'll just be in the living room if you need anything, ok?"

While Ellie is in the shower, CJ changes into a pair of jeans and a button down shirt, and is paged before she can even think about what to do about the woman crying in her shower. She sits on her couch, picking at her nail, staring at her pager and phone. She won't call in until she can talk to Ellie, make sure she understands that CJ will have to tell them she is here if they tell her Ellie is missing. Ellie wanders back down the hall fifteen minutes later, dressed in CJ's clothes, looking like a lost child, her skin still pale and eyes puffy and red from crying and lack of sleep.

"Hey, feel better?" CJ asks, patting the couch next to her.

"A little," Ellie responds, sitting down and leaning back against the arm of the couch so she is almost facing CJ.

"Good. Now, how about something to eat?" CJ asks, patting her leg.

"I'm really not hungry, CJ," Ellie says, yawning.

"You should try to eat something. Maybe some toast?"

"No, really, I think I'd just like to sleep for a little while if that's ok?" Ellie asks, rubbing her eyes.

"Of course it's alright, but first we need to talk.," CJ says, turning a little toward Ellie and waiting until she has her full attention. "I got paged while you were in the shower. I need to call in. Two guesses about what it might be?" CJ says, raising an eyebrow in an attempt at levity.

"I don't want to see anyone," Ellie says clearly, sitting up and regaining some of her age.

"That's up to you, but if they tell me you are missing and call me in, I'm going to have to tell them I know where you are," CJ says.

"And will you wait to call until I leave, so that you don't know where I am?" Ellie asks, crossing her arms across her chest.

"Honey, I don't think that is a good idea. Why don't you call your mom, tell her you're ok, that you're here, and that you'll come over tomorrow?" CJ asks hesitantly, hoping Ellie will agree.

"And if my father orders you to bring me there now? Or has the agents come here?" Ellie asks angrily.

"Well, I am not going to drag you across town kicking and screaming, Ellie. And if you are firm and

clear, and they know you are safe, then maybe they'll be patient."

Ellie seems to mull it over as CJ watches her, her body tense and stronger, her eyes clear and determined. Finally she nods and reaches for the phone. "Should I try to keep you out of this? Tell them I'm at a friend's?" Ellie asks before dialing and CJ shakes her head, a small smile emerging at Ellie's thoughts to protect her.

"Nah, I'd tell them anyway, and the number will show up as from here, so just tell them. I'll go in the other room and call in on my cell phone. Take your time," CJ says, rubbing her arm and then walking into the other room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

CJ walks into the West Wing forty-five minutes later, after having tucked Ellie into the guest room and changed into more presentable clothes. When she enters her office, Josh and Sam materialize as if from thin air, and both stare at her before tentatively stepping in and perching on the edge of her couch and chair.

"She ok?" Sam finally asks after a lengthy staring contest.

"No, not really," CJ says. "Physically, she's fine, but she's heartbroken and exhausted and was crying herself to sleep when I left," CJ says, sighing and sitting down behind her desk.

"And she really lost her whole detail, twice, in the last fourteen hours?" Josh asks, seemingly more impressed than concerned.

CJ smiles crookedly at his focus and mischievous look, but is interrupted by Toby before she can answer his question.

"Get out," he says to Josh and Sam without preamble, holding the door until they exit and then firmly closing it, just short of a slam, behind them.

He paces for one and a half laps of her office before turning and firmly planting his hands on his hips and taking a quick breath and then erupting. "I told you-"

"- Toby-"

"--I told you. I stood right here and I told you not to try and handle this alone," Toby says, slapping his thigh. "And you stood right *there*," he says, pointing at her, "and promised that if you found yourself in over your head or something was going to break, you'd come to me."

"Toby, it's been under control. This was not foreseeable," CJ says, standing and dropping her pen onto her desk.

"Not foreseeable? CJ, she is involved with a woman, and has been seen with her, in public, at a lesbian bar, that said woman owns. How do you think this could be any *less* under control or foreseeable?" Toby rants.

"Toby you didn't need to know," CJ says calmly, rubbing her forehead.

"Like hell--"

"- Toby," CJ says in warning, striding around her desk and standing directly in front of him, "you did not need to know. There is nothing you could do except feel torn about not telling Leo or the President. I was already feeling that but I knew I would keep her secret. So why should I have told you?"

"Because I told you too?" He responds sarcastically.

CJ pulls up to her full height and leans toward him. "Toby, I am going to get this from Leo, and then probably from the President, and maybe even from the First Lady, and that's all before we have the inevitable fight about her not coming in right now, so I certainly don't need it from you," CJ says loudly, advancing on him several steps, forcing him to move as she speaks. "What I need from you, Tobas, is for you to stand beside me down there and nod along, or stay typically quiet and dour in what usually passes as acceptance in your world if you prefer, when I say that nothing was compromised by my keeping her confidence." CJ says emphatically.

Toby stares at her for a moment and then says only, "Done," before turning and walking away. "By the way, harboring a fugitive is a federal offense," he adds over his shoulder as he passes through her door and down the hall.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"What were you thinking?" Leo rants at her, getting right in her face, a tough act for a man several inches shorter than her. CJ just holds his stare, refusing to flinch or back down, her feet planted on the ground and her hands clenched, waiting for him to get the rage out of his system. "You don't tell me this? How do you not tell me this? I mean, Christ, CJ, I need to know everything that happens in this building and out of it that could affect the President in any way," Leo says, starting to pace again. "Well?" He asks once he has stopped pacing.

"Are you done yelling?" CJ asks, resisting the urge to back up when his eyes bulge and he steps closer.

"Not by a long shot," Leo says, shaking his head but moving back toward his desk.

"Leo, I had it under control," CJ says, ignoring his last answer.

"Had it under control? How, may I ask, do you think Ellie Bartlet kissing her girlfriend in a lesbian bar without any of us knowing that this is looming is having it under control?" Leo asks.

"Would you have preferred that I calmly explained that while we claim to be into changing the world, we would prefer she continue hiding and obliterating her self worth and self image so that we don't have to deal with some pesky press issues? Maybe take up some really destructive habits to cope?" CJ asks sarcastically. "Leo, this is your God-daughter, and she has been hiding for four years so that we wouldn't have to deal with this. Enough is enough. She needed someone she could trust, and because of circumstances and experience, that was me. I couldn't break her confidence, even for the President."

"You should have told me," he says more quietly, "at least so I could have been prepared when she told her father," Leo says meaningfully.

CJ looks at her hands and then back up to Leo, shaking her hair out of her eyes. "Yeah, I wanted to, Leo. But, I just couldn't betray her trust. I knew, and if the story had come at me, I would have handled it. Could you have kept it from him? Could you have *not* told him about this?" CJ asks, walking over toward the desk and leaning on it.

Leo shakes his head after a minute. "I honestly don't know," he sighs.

"Yeah," CJ says, nodding and sitting down. "Now, you've known from the President for ___ days, why didn't *you* tell me?" CJ asks, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, as far as you knew, I didn't know, and it was a potential story. Why wasn't I told?" CJ asks, turning the tables on him.

"We had more pressing things to focus on," Leo says, but CJ stares at him until he drops his glasses and rubs his eyes. "He didn't want anyone else to know, at least until he and Abbey had a chance to discuss it with her more, and there never seemed to be the time to have this discussion quietly and without anyone around," Leo says.

"Is he absorbing it at all?" CJ asks cautiously.

"I think he has, on some level, but he just doesn't know yet what to do with it," Leo says, sighing. "But when she was missing this morning, and he heard about last night, he was worried sick. Now, well, now he's livid."

"At?" CJ asks cautiously.

"Her, the agents, the world, Abbey, you," Leo says, his mouth tightening on the last word.

"Yeah, I figured," CJ sighs. "Cold shoulder pissed, lecture pissed, or ranting uncontrollably pissed?" CJ asks.

"CJ, I considered telling you not to come in until he calmed down he's so angry that you have known this for months and not told us," Leo says, both his eyebrows arching up. "But we need you, and so does he, even if he hasn't figured that out yet in this situation," Leo says, almost smiling.

"Ok," CJ says, exhaling loudly. "Should I go up and--"

"-- No, I'd give it a day. He has other fish to fry right now, and nothing will be served by having you both in a room at the moment."

"Ok," she says, turning and moving toward the door.

"CJ?" He says before she can leave.

"Yes?"

"How is she?" He asks, the business facade gone.

"Heartbroken, hurt, angry, sad, tired. Leo, her world fell apart last night, but what happened this morning is almost more dangerous. For years she's been slowly making herself invisible, until a couple months ago. But this morning she figured out that she could literally disappear if she wanted to, and *that* scares the hell out of me," CJ says with emphasis.

"Do we need to get her some help, CJ?" Leo asks, showing his God-father face for the first time.

"I don't think so, at least not immediately, but Leo, we need to give her some space, and then some support. And, with all due respect of course, it wouldn't hurt if her father would get his head out of his ass," CJ says, walking out of the office, not waiting for Leo's disapproving look at her inappropriate comments.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Honey, I'm home," CJ says in parody as she walks in the front door of her apartment, carrying her briefcase and two bags of groceries.

"Hey," Ellie says from the couch, a photo album open on her lap, a nearly empty glass in her hand. CJ looks at her pointedly and then shakes her head, hiding her smile, as she lugs the groceries into the kitchen.

"I picked up some food and talked to Kira. She's going to come by as soon as she is done and we'll have dinner. Have you eaten anything at all or did you go straight to alcohol?" CJ says loudly after seeing the open scotch bottle on the counter, listening to Ellie's footfalls move toward the kitchen.

"I had some toast and a yogurt a little while ago. And I hope you don't mind about the scotch. I assumed you wouldn't considering you said to help myself to whatever," Ellie says with a small smile, motioning toward the bottle on the counter. "I just really needed a drink after I talked to Liz," Ellie says.

"Liz, as in your sister Liz?" CJ asks curiously.

"Yup, talking to her was not a good idea today," Ellie says with a shrug that doesn't cover her pain.

"What'd she say?" CJ says, turning and looking at Ellie, crossing her arms across her chest.

"Well, let's just say that Liz, despite appearances, is very much my dad," Ellie says with a rueful smile. "She went off for about twenty minutes about how this was just another way for me to get at Dad, and didn't I know the stress wasn't good for him, and the publicity would be worse. I almost hung up on her when she said she doesn't understand why I had to tell them, why I couldn't just keep it to myself if this is really what I want, and that she would prefer I not tell my niece. I actually did hang up on her shortly after, so I missed the rest, but I think she was heading toward this is a faze I'll outgrow and the right man would change my mind," Ellie says, snorting in disbelief. "It was everything I could not to tell her that I wasn't going to ask her to compare notes, but considering she has only ever slept with Steven, how did she deign to speak on the subject of sex."

CJ laughs at the last part despite the sadness and anger aroused by the early part of the described conversation. She then reaches over and tucks Ellie's hair behind her ear, opening her arms wider when Ellie moves toward her and hugs her. After a few minutes, CJ tugs gently on Ellie's hair and eases away from the embrace. "Come on, let me put these few things away and then we'll go have a drink together," CJ says. "I could sure use one."

CJ settles onto the couch with a glass and flips though the photo album Ellie had been looking at. "Wow, look at us," CJ says, her fingers dancing over the pictures of her from college, Anna and Kira from medical school. She sips at her drink as she tells Ellie stories about them, and laughs as she remembers some of their adventures.

"Look at your hair?" Ellie squeals for the third time.

"Yes, Ellie, it was long, really long, I was there," CJ says laughing.

"And look at Kira? God, was she always so confident?" Ellie asks, slightly awed.

"Yeah," CJ says, smiling as she remembers the day the photo was taken. "Yeah, she really was. I had only known her for a couple weeks here, and we hadn't even kissed yet, but she had a way about her. She was so sure of everything and everyone. I remember listening to her debate feminist theory with one of my professors. And she was this med student, hardly considered an intellectual, and yet she would just dive right in, debating with these people who I was just in awe of," CJ says a little wistfully.

"How long did you know her before you got together?" Ellie asks, leaning a little closer.

CJ thinks for a moment and then smiles, tapping on the picture. "Not long after this was taken. I am behind the camera, and I think I took two more pictures of her that night. About a week later we were both at a pot luck dinner. God, avoid those like the plague," CJ says, shuddering in exaggeration. "And we were both trying so hard to keep straight faces at the conversation, and when it turned to teaching feminist theory in mainstream classes, I must have rolled my eyes because Kira was smirking at me when I glanced at her, and I couldn't look away. So, when she went into the kitchen a few minutes later, I followed her, and she was just standing there, like she was waiting for me, which she probably was. I was so nervous and she was so amused. The next thing I knew, I was kissing her. And then she was kissing me, hard, and somewhere right before my legs gave out, she whispered that we should go somewhere where we could get a real drink. I assumed she meant a bar, but she took me home with her. I didn't leave for three days," CJ says, blushing, but stroking the picture reverently. "I fell so hard for her."

"What happened?" Ellie asks softly.

"We moved in together after a year and a half and It was so great for about four years, and then it got complicated. I was getting ready to graduate grad school and was interviewing for mainstream PR jobs. Kira was constantly fried from the hours of on-call and her family obligations. I got a job three hours away. And then one night it was like nothing was right between us anymore. So I left," CJ says, almost surprised with herself. "When her sister got sick I came back, switched jobs, and we got back together, but it got tough again after about two years. I was working in politics and worried about being outed, she was looking longingly at babies and mourning her sister. I thought we were working it out, but she went through a rough couple months, and then just sort of broke up with me and moved to the East Coast to take the job at Johns Hopkins overnight. I was devastated."

"And now?" Ellie asks hesitantly.

"And now," CJ sighs. "And now, we're both in high stress, draining jobs, living almost an hour apart, and the history between us is there, and we have a lot of serious things to work out. Sometimes she just makes me crazy," CJ says, trailing off as she seems to drift away from the present conversation.

CJ isn't sure how long she has been simply staring into space, thinking about Kira and how they can make things right, when she feels Ellie's head against her shoulder. She glances down, and smiles at Ellie's wistful look. "Thinking about Britt?" CJ asks gently.

"Yeah," Ellie sighs melodramatically.

"Have you talked to her?" CJ asks, nudging her leg.

"No," Ellie says sadly. "She hasn't called and I just can't, at least not yet."

"Ellie, I know this is hard, but--"

"-I know," Ellie sighs. "I'll be ok," she says unconvincingly. "It just hurts," she says, starting to cry.

CJ pulls her a little closer and hugs her, stroking Ellie's hair as she cries. After her tears begin to subside, CJ lessens her grip and eases Ellie slightly back, still stroking her arms, but putting some distance between their bodies. "You will be ok, you know that, right?" CJ asks, smiling softly. Ellie merely nods but her eyes still tear. "Is it Britt, or the idea of Britt?" CJ asks, her face serious.

Ellie sighs and leans back slightly. "I don't know. I think it's her, but how can I really know? I mean, as you have pointed out, it hasn't been very long," Ellie sighs.

"Well, El, I guess that's something you should figure out."

"Yeah," Ellie says, looking introspective and maudlin again.

"I think I need another drink. You?" CJ asks, holding out her hand.

"Might as well," Ellie says, smiling sadly.

Several drinks later, they are both leaning back against the couch with their legs propped on the coffee table. "I mean, why can't he just be my dad for five minutes?" Ellie asks, gesturing with her left hand, her right holding her drink against her leg. "He just stood there, and said nothing," she says sadly.

"I know, Honey. But you have to let him work through it, as hard as it may be," CJ says.

"What did he say when you told him?" Ellie asks, turning to look at CJ and leaning closer.

"Nothing," CJ says simply.

"Nothing?" Ellie asks, almost incredulous.

"Yeah, nothing. I think he and your mom had an idea, I'm almost sure Leo told them, or at least implied it," CJ says, tilting her head and squinting. "He sort of just stared at me and your mother spoke for both of them. He barely nodded as she spoke. And then he never brought it up again. I asked Leo if he was really ok with it a few days later, and Leo said he was fine, so I dropped it," CJ says. "When he told me to bring Kira around last week, that was the first time he had discussed it at all with me in over four years."

"I just wanted him to say it was ok, that he understood, that it didn't change anything," Ellie says, leaning her head on CJ's shoulder. "I would have settled for 'I need some time, but I love you' you know? Just something so that I know he is at least trying to understand," Ellie says, snuggling closer.

"I know," CJ sighs, stroking Ellie's arm and letting her cry. "You do know he loves you, right? Even if he isn't ready to deal with it yet," CJ says, shaking her head. She closes her eyes and continues to gently stroke Ellie's arm, feeling her cry softly, with nothing left to say to comfort her. She thinks about her own father in California, and the momentary hurt in his eyes when she told him. CJ can still feel the way he hugged her, the way his fingers dug into her back as he crushed her too him, unable yet to say anything, but letting CJ know he loved her. Her mother said the right things, but she always watched her like she wondered where she went wrong. Given a choice between the two, CJ prefers her father's reaction: silent and obviously worried, but warm, fierce and protective. They loved Kira, still do, almost as much as they love her she thinks, and she suspects they like Kira a lot more. She always did understand those subtleties of human kindness that so elude CJ.

CJ is thinking of her own family, of the confusion but quick teasing to diffuse the tension of her brothers, of the way her father always tried to talk to Kira when it was obvious he didn't know what topic was safe, about her mother and the glances. She is once again thinking about Kira, as she was then, young and invincible, when she feels Ellie shift beside her, as if in some distant part of her hazy brain. She doesn't comprehend the movement until she feels warm, damp lips against her own, and she opens her mouth to speak before opening her eyes, and in the moment Ellie deepens the kiss, slipping her tongue against CJ's parted lips.

Her eyes fly open and her free hand grips Ellie's shoulder as if for leverage and distance, her left arm still tangled behind Ellie, who is quickly pushing CJ onto her back. She knows she should protest, to push her away, at least to close her mouth, but her brain feels hazy and Ellie is stronger than she looks. She feels Ellie's tongue in her mouth and marvels that she tastes so familiar, her tongue tangling with CJ's as if they have always done this, and CJ feels herself relenting, if not participating, in the kiss. When Ellie's hand cups her breast, her palm grinding against her budding nipple, CJ lurches forward, and pushes Ellie away, finally breaking the kiss.

"Ellie," she gasps, from shock, embarrassment and loss of breath. "What, why, what the hell?" She stutters, staring wide-eyed at Ellie and then catapulting off the couch, pulling her shirt away from her body.

"God, CJ, I'm sorry," Ellie says, flying off the couch and across the room away from CJ. "God, I'm sorry, I just...you looked...and I've wanted...and shit, I'm sorry," Ellie says, moving farther across the room and covering her flushed face.

"No, it's ok. I mean, it's not ok to do it again, but," CJ stumbles, reaching out as if to steady her but not approaching. "Ellie, it's fine, but--"

"-- I know. I promise. I won't--"

"-it's ok. Let's just...forget that happened, ok?" CJ says, shaking her head, finally realizing how buzzed they both must be. "I think we need to eat. I'm going to make dinner and we'll...talk," CJ says, still feeling light headed and shocked. "Not about this, about something else."

Ellie nods her agreement from across the room, even as she touches her own lips and CJ is rooted in place, unable to move. Before she can turn and move toward the kitchen, keys jingle in the front door, and CJ stares at it, knowing it is Kira, knowing she should go into the kitchen, but still feeling hazy and confused. Ellie's eyes widen and she pales when Kira walks into the living room, and CJ closes her eyes, hoping Ellie doesn't throw up on her carpet.

"Hi," Kira says, smiling but obviously picking up on the dynamic in the room.

"Hey," CJ says, wincing as her voice comes out at half strength.

"Hey," Kira says, laughing softly, leaning over to kiss CJ's cheek and then looking back toward Ellie. "Ellie, how are you doing? CJ filled me in a little," Kira says kindly, still looking between the two and now giving CJ an inquisitive look. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I was just going to start making dinner," CJ says, regaining her calm and shaking herself mentally to regain control.

"Ok," Kira says, her inflection telling CJ she will be in the kitchen waiting for an explanation to the insanity she senses and it better be good. "I'm going to go change. I'll meet you in the kitchen."

CJ rolls her eyes at Ellie when she slumps down into the chair shaking her head. "I should just leave," Ellie whispers gripping her hands so tightly together her knuckles are turning white.

"Absolutely not," CJ says, shaking her head. "Listen, relax, it's ok. Just, Ellie, chill would you?" CJ says, going into the kitchen.

CJ pulls the chicken out of the refrigerator, dumping it into the sink and running hot water over it as she quickly grabs the other things she intends to make. As she is unwrapping the chicken, Kira steps into the kitchen and leans against the counter right next to CJ, facing her.

"What the hell did I walk in on?" Kira asks, laughing but obviously intent on finding out. "I just passed Ellie in the hall and she practically dove into the guest room. What is up?"

"Trust me, Ace, you really don't want to know," CJ says, placing the chicken in a baking dish and pouring the marinade over the top.

"Oh, now I really want to know," Kira says, reaching around CJ for the bottle of wine and pouring them each a glass. "I can smell the scotch, so I am assuming you're both a little buzzed, but what was that across the room from each other thing? Were you fighting? Because CJ, she's had a rough couple days. Fighting with her probably isn't going to help."

"Oh, Ace, I was definitely not fighting with her. It's really nothing, a misunderstanding," CJ says, shrugging with intentional nonchalance.

"Ok, Claudia, look at me," Kira says, putting down her glass and tugging CJ toward her. "We agreed on honesty after the other day: good, bad, whatever, but always up font. Now tell me what is going on," Kira orders her, wrapping her arms around CJ's waist.

"Oh, yeah, because we should definitely make a big deal out of this," CJ groans.

"Star," Kira warns.

"She kissed me," CJ blurts out.

"Excuse me?" Kira asks, tightening her grip around CJ's waist.

"It was totally an accident and not a big deal but--"

"An accident?" Kira asks raising an eyebrow. "How exactly did her lips accidentally fuse with yours, and I assume their was tongue involved to fluster you both this much, so talk to me now," Kira says, her tone neutral despite her flashing eyes and tense jaw.

"I don't know," CJ groans. "We were sitting there, she was crying, I was comforting her--"

"-- by sticking your tongue in her mouth?" Kira asks harshly.

"For the record," CJ says, leaning back slightly and looking Kira squarely in the face, "she put her tongue in my mouth, and I did not reciprocate," CJ says, trying for levity and breathing easier when Kira's expression softens and approaches amusement. "Anyway, we were sitting there, she was upset about her dad and I was thinking about my parents' reactions, and the next thing I knew she was kissing me," CJ says, trying to keep her voice down and glance around the counter every so often so Ellie doesn't walk in on this discussion.

"And why didn't you just turn your face when you saw her approaching?" Kira asks, not ready to let this go.

"My eyes were closed," CJ says. "And then I did open them, and I broke the kiss and moved away from her. And then we both freaked out a little, and then you walked in," CJ says.

"Anything else?" Kira asks, her eyes focused on CJ and her arms still wrapped around her waist.

CJ begins to shake her head but remembers her promise of total honesty and closes her eye to finish this in a rush. "I didn't kiss her back, but I didn't end it immediately either, and she touched my breast," CJ says, opening one eye to look at Kira.

"So let me get this straight, she kissed you and felt you up, and I'm not supposed to think this is any big deal?" Kira asks, her tone unreadable despite their history.

"Kira, I know you are probably pissed, and I don't blame you, but know that it wasn't like I--"

"-- I understand, and I won't make a big deal tonight," Kira says, pressing her fingers over CJ's lips. "But understand, Ms. Bartlet and I will be having a conversation in the near future about what will happen if she puts her tongue in your mouth again."

"Ok," CJ breathes out, relaxing into her. "So, we're ok?" CJ asks, leaning closer and waiting for permission to kiss her.

Kira holds back for a moment and then smiles and leans closer, brushing her lips against CJ's. The first kiss is tender and chaste, but as CJ begins to pull away, Kira plunges her hand hard into her hair and tilts her mouth, forcing CJ's lips to part, kissing her hard and demanding her submission. She thrusts her tongue deep into CJ's mouth and only gentles the strokes when CJ whimpers and clutches her. CJ is completely lost in the kiss, moving against Kira, trying to get closer as her head spins, and her body reacts.

When her hands stroke down Kira's back to pull her closer, Kira pulls her mouth away and tilts CJ's face up to her. "I couldn't very well leave you unkissed after that," she says, laughing appreciatively as CJ clings to her. "Later, I will make sure you understand how much you belong to me."

CJ whimpers and leans closer, flushed and a little more than turned on. "Ace," CJ whispers.

"Later," Kira says, just as she slides her hand up to CJ's ribs. "Right or Left?" Kira asks.

"What?" CJ asks, confused.

"Which breast, right or left?" Kira asks.

"God, Kira," CJ groans.

"Right or--"

"-Right," CJ says softly.

Kira maintains her eye contact as she moves her hand up and firmly cups her right breast, lifting the weight in her hand, allowing her fingers to stroke CJ's flesh, her nipple hardening against Kira's palm, drawing a strangled moan from the back of CJ's throat. "God, Kira," she breathes as Kira continues to massage her breast, smiling smugly as CJ pushes against her hand, her nipple growing harder still.

"Mine," Kira whispers with a predatory smile before releasing her breast and reaching for her wine. "And don't you forget it."

"You are incorrigible," CJ groans.

"I love you," she whispers as she leans close once again and kisses CJ gently.

"I love you, too," CJ says softly.

"CJ," Ellie says from the living room as she approaches the kitchen, probably to make sure it was safe to enter. "I'm sorry, for everything," Ellie says, hovering in the doorway, "but I think I should probably go. I'll just go," she says again, looking at CJ. "Sorry."

"Nonsense," Kira says, smiling. "There is no reason for you to leave," she says smiling reassuringly.

"Really, I should just--"

"-Ellie, it's ok," CJ sighs, moving away from Kira.

"Ellie, why don't we go hang out and chat while CJ gets dinner ready," Kira says, smiling as both CJ and Ellie takes a quick breath.

CJ smiles a crooked smile as Kira puts her arm around Ellie's shoulders and walks her into the livingroom, Ellie looking at her over her shoulder in abject terror. CJ trusts Kira not to come down too hard on Ellie, and knows she can't interfere.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, has your dad said anything?" Kira asks, motioning toward the couch.

"No, not really," Ellie sighs. She looks at Kira for a moment, and then ducks her head. "So, CJ told you," Ellie says barely looking at her.

"That you kissed her?" Kira asks, not waiting for Ellie's response. "Yes, she did. We're going for this total honesty thing. Although, after this, I am rethinking whether *total* honesty is really good for anyone. But yes, she told me."

"I'm sorry. It was all me. She didn't do anything," Ellie says, gaining confidence as Kira merely nods and remains calm. "I didn't intend to, didn't even really think about it," Ellie says, waiving her hand. "She just looked so beautiful and, I don't know, serene, and she's been so great to me, and I was thinking I should thank her and the next thing I knew I was kissing her," Ellie sighs. She looks up and watches Kira for a moment. "Anyway, I just wanted to say I'm sorry, and if you want to be mad at anyone, be mad at me. It was all me."

Kira allows the silence to lengthen for a moment and then she nods her acceptance of the apology and smiles. "Ellie, I'm not going to say it's ok, because it's not, and this is twice now that you have kissed her," she says, pointing at Ellie and looking down on her. "But, I appreciate your apology and your trying to make sure it wasn't an issue between us," Kira says, motioning toward the kitchen and catching a glimpse of CJ hovering and eavesdropping. She smiles as she continues. "Ellie, I know things are tough right now, and I can't blame you for having a little crush on CJ, because she's amazing," Kira says smiling and almost laughing at Ellie's blush. " And she's beautiful, and funny, and smart, and generous, and if she cares about you, she will give you anything she can. And I know that is very attractive," Kira says, leaning toward Ellie and lowering her voice so that CJ can't hear her. "But Ellie, understand something, I have loved her since she was nineteen years old," Kira says seriously. "We may have our problems, but I love her. And while I like you a lot, if you kiss her again, you will meet my scary side," she says, inclining her head and nodding her completion.

Ellie takes a deep breath and let's it out, finally relaxing her hands on her lap. "This isn't your scary side?" Ellie says, rubbing her forehead.

"Oh, no, little girl, this is still my personable side," Kira laughs.

"We ok?" Ellie asks timidly after a moment.

"Yeah, we're fine, just stop hitting on my girlfriend, would ya'?" she asks sarcastically.

"Everything ok?" CJ asks from the doorway of the kitchen.

"Yeah, fine," Ellie says, smiling. "Need any help with dinner?"

"No, it's almost ready," CJ says, smiling and walking over to the sofa, perching on the edge of the arm, and touching Kira's hair.

"Great, I'm starving," Kira says, leaning toward her.

They eat slowly and companionably and it is late by the time dinner is done and cleared away. Kira checks in on a patient while CJ and Ellie clear the table. As CJ cleans up, Ellie sits at the counter, and they talk through what the last two days have been like and what will happen the next.

"Well, I am going to get ready for bed," Kira says, walking into the kitchen where CJ is loading the dishwasher, nodding as Ellie talks about Liz and Annie. Kira smiles at Ellie, and then leans over and drops a soft kiss on CJ's lips as she hands her the last empty wineglass. "Don't be long," she whispers softly, just loud enough for CJ to hear, and CJ feels her face flush with heat at Kira's tone and her remembered words from earlier.

"I won't," CJ says softly, smiling, feeling her body already reacting to the gleam in Kira's eyes.

"Goodnight, Ellie. I'll probably already be up and gone by the time you get up tomorrow, so good luck with everything, and call if you need to talk, ok?" Kira says, quickly hugging Ellie.

"Thanks, Kira," Ellie says, her cheeks slightly pink and CJ wonders if she could have heard Kira's words or simply interpreted their meaning from CJ's reactions.

CJ watches Kira walk out of the room and feels herself shiver slightly at the thrill running through her body, knowing Kira took earlier's incident as a challenge, and her promise in the kitchen of proving her possession of CJ will necessarily translate into CJ's total submission to her in a few minutes. She drags her eyes back to the dishwasher, already feeling slightly breathless and slick, and hopes that she can calm herself before walking down the hall, not wanting to surrender so easily.

"Why don't you let me finish these," Ellie says and CJ smiles, feeling herself blush harder at Ellie's knowing look. "It's the least I can do."

"Ok," CJ says, accepting her offer and drying her hands. "Need anything else tonight?" CJ asks.

"No, I'm all set. Goodnight, CJ," Ellie says reaching to the remaining items on the counter.

"Goodnight," CJ says, her voice already sounding a little affected and her heart pounding. She stops to turn down the heat and check to make sure the front door is locked, before walking toward her bedroom. She can hear music, an aria, and the sound of water running in the en suite bathroom, and shivers again, knowing Kira will be unpredictable and predatory, and the combination will be combustible.

She closes her bedroom door behind her and immediately turns off the overhead light, leaving the bed bathed in the glow of the bedside lamp.

"Ellie tucked in for the night?" Kira asks, leaning out of the bathroom, her face still wet from being washed.

"She's still up, but won't be needing anything," CJ says, knowing instinctively that Kira is grinning at the slight discomfort CJ has been unable to hide with the thought of Ellie being down the hall as Kira makes love to her.

"She better not," Kira says, only partially teasing as she steps out of the bathroom, still dressed in her camisole and underwear. "You still dressed?" She asks in challenge.

CJ bites her lip at Kira's continued annoyance and walks toward her, unbuttoning her blouse and tossing it and her shell onto the chair as she goes, leaving her dressed in her slacks and bra. "Kira, you know you don't have anything to worry about with Ellie, right? I mean, all kidding aside--"

"-- All kidding aside, Star, she kissed you, and she touched you, and while I know you didn't encourage her, I am sure you also didn't slap her into next week," Kira says seriously pulling CJ roughly to her, quickly divesting CJ of her bra and cupping her breasts in her hands, stroking her already tight nipples with her thumbs as she talks. "You like to pretend she's like your little sister, but she's really not, and this just proves it. She's kissed you twice now: the first time you kissed her back, and now, I am sure you didn't sufficiently scare her from trying to again the next time she is in need of reassurance. I hope I have, but in the meantime, while I believe I have been phenomenally restrained in my reaction, understand that I have no intention of letting her think that any such behavior in the future will be forgiven so easily," Kira says, raising an eyebrow.

"Kira, I told her in no uncertain terms that--"

"-Claudia," Kira almost purrs, increasing the pressure against CJ's nipples, "I don't want to talk about her anymore tonight."

"What do you want?" CJ asks without thinking, her mind getting hazy as her body continues to warm up under Kira's touch and heated looks.

"You," Kira says, smiling and lightly pinching CJ's right nipple, walking her back toward the bed. "I want you completely mine, repeatedly," Kira says, her smiling widening.

"Ace," CJ groans as Kira eases her back onto the bed, following her down onto the bed, her body partially covering CJ's.

"The only question I have is how many times you will call my name before I let you sleep," Kira says, lowering her mouth to CJ's breast and swirling her tongue around CJ's right nipple, causing her to arch towards her mouth, whimpering under her touch. "That's it, Star, start whimpering now and you will be begging me at the top of you lungs before I let you come, and you will beg, Claudia," Kira says moving her mouth to CJ's other breast.

CJ gasps and digs her fingers into Kira's arms, moaning her name when Kira drags her tongue across her skin and down toward her slacks. With one hand, Kira begins unbuttoning CJ's pants as she leans back and looks up at CJ. CJ knows that tonight is about control, and she allows Kira to set the pace and move her, easing her pants and underwear over her hips and down her legs. With soft kisses and teasing touches, she shifts CJ up the bed until her head is resting on the pillows and she is stretched out naked before her. She raises CJ's arms above her head as she kisses her and when she pulls away, Kira leans over her, smiling wickedly. "Do I need to tie them or will you keep your hands above your head," Kira asks, her eyes flashing, licking her lips.

"Oh, God, Kira," CJ groans, feeling her heart pound, her clit throbbing, needing Kira's touch, knowing she will make her beg. "Please," she whispers as Kira trails her fingers down CJ's arms, over her shoulders, over her breasts and down to her thighs.

"I know, Star. I know you've been wet since the kitchen earlier. I know you want it fast. But I am going to take my time, taste every inch of you," she whispers roughly and CJ nearly cries in anticipation.

Kira sucks roughly at the top of CJ's hip, and then drags her tongue down and sucks at the inside of her thigh, and CJ pushes off the bed, feeling Kira's fingers trail along her outer folds and then away from her aching sex. "Kira, please," CJ pants, unable to articulate more, feeling Kira's mouth travel over her body. "Please, please."

"Tell me what you want, Claudia," Kira says, resting stretched out between CJ's spread thighs, her fingers lightly stroking CJ's sex, her breasts against the inside of CJ's thighs.

"Oh, God, please, Kira, please," she moans, spreading her legs further and feeling Kira slip her hands under her ass, opening her wider and lifting her toward Kira's mouth.

CJ can feel Kira's breath on her slick sex when she talks. "Tell me, Claudia. Tell me what--"

"-- You, please, Kira, please make me come, make me yours. I need you inside me and your mouth on --"

Her words trail off into a loud but unintelligible exclamation as Kira finally lowers her face to CJ's sex and thrusts her tongue deep inside her, moving it forcefully and deeply, making CJ tense and lift her hips higher against Kira's face. She can feel Kira's tongue dance over her inner folds and then move deliberately and intensely over her clit. Before she can catch her breath, Kira thrusts two of her fingers deep inside her, hard and demanding, thrusting for several strokes and then methodically stroking CJ's upper wall, making CJ near dizzy with sensation. Just as she is close to orgasm, Kira backs off, kissing her hip and slowing her fingers, and CJ groans, almost crying in frustration.

"Kira, God, please, I promise, never, I promise," CJ chants, needing release, needing Kira.

"I know, Star. I just wanted to build it a little more. I want to feel you come apart completely when you let go. Just let my fingers stroke you, and in a minute--"

"-- please," CJ chants. "Oh, God, please, Kira."

Kira chuckles against her thigh. "Ok, Star," she says as she lowers her mouth to CJ's clit once again, sucking it into her mouth and sucking hard as she strokes her fingers inside her. CJ comes hard, calling out her name, and before she can come down completely from orgasm, Kira slides up her body, keeping her fingers inside her stroking gently. Kira slides her tongue over CJ's still tight and sensitive nipples and then slides further up, brushing her lips against CJ's still panting mouth.

"Kira, God, I love you," CJ pants, eyes still closed, hands gripping the pillow above her head.

"I know, Claudia," Kira says gently, kissing her shallowly, allowing her tongue to tangle tenderly with CJ's as her fingers begin to thrust gently inside her again, her thumb stroking CJ's clit.

"Kira," CJ whimpers, feeling her body already clenching around Kira's nimble fingers again. "I can't, God, just wait, not yet, too much," CJ drifts into incomprehension as Kira strokes her.

"I love you," Kira whispers softly, brushing her lips against CJ's again. "Let yourself come again, Star. I want to feel you come for me."

CJ groans and arches toward Kira's hand, instinctively clenching her muscles and spreading her thighs, concentrating on the sensations. She feels Kira's lips against her neck and ear, and the sound of her words, and moans her name, feeling the first tremors wash over her again.

"I love you," CJ whispers, turning her face to Kira's, accepting her deep and consuming kiss as her climax rushes through her and leaves her limp and panting beneath Kira.

"You are so beautiful," Kira whispers, kissing her neck. "And all mine," she says louder, as CJ feels her hands sliding up her body to cup her breasts.

"Yes," CJ affirms, sliding her hands into Kira's hair and tugging her lips up to hers so she can kiss her. "And you are mine," she says, tugging at Kira's lips with her own, shifting to her side and sliding her hand between Kira's trembling legs, deepening the kiss as her fingers slip inside and begin to tease Kira's climax from her.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"I can't believe they have been watching your apartment and are now following us in," Ellie sighs, referring to the black sedans following them.

"Are you really surprised?" CJ laughs "Did you really think they were going to give this up so easily?"

"Tell me again why I couldn't just jump a plane to somewhere warm and deal with this all later?" Ellie asks from the passenger seat of CJ's car.

"Because it's time to be an adult, and this is the adult thing to do," CJ says, passing through the security checkpoint. "Listen, I thought I'd drop you off around the other side, but I'm running late and--"

"-I don't mind walking in through the West Wing," Ellie says, unhooking her seatbelt as the pull into CJ's parking spot.

"Good, ready?" She asks as she hoists her briefcase over her shoulder.

"I guess," Ellie sighs.

They walk through the staff entrance and down the main hall toward the communication's bullpen, and Ellie breathes a sigh of relief when she realizes the agents have gone directly to the command center.

"I have to get to staff in a few minutes, but if you need refuge later, come on back down and hide in here," CJ says as she nods to Carol and heads into her office.

"Thanks, CJ, for everything. And I'm sorry again about--"

"- don't worry about it. Now go. Call me later."

Ellie walks through the West Wing and over to the Residence, relaxing as she reaches the private areas that she won't have to discuss any of this with anyone before she sees her mother and father. She noticed that her father wasn't in his office as she passed by, but she could hear Leo yelling at Margaret, and she imagines that both her parents are waiting upstairs for her.

She knocks on her parents' bedroom door and steps in, confirming that for once, he is waiting for her.

"Hi," Ellie says, surprised at how young and scared her voice sounds, clearing her throat and trying again. "Hi."

Abbey crosses to her and pulls her close, touching her hair and shoulders and back, as if looking for injuries. "Thank God," she says, continuing to stroke Ellie and holds her close.

Ellie sees her father hovering, anger radiating off him, as she looks over her mother's shoulder. After several seconds eye contact, he nods with barely contained fury. After her mother lets her go, she steps away, as if to allow her father to approach. He remains motionless, as does Ellie, and the silence and tension swirling around them are deafening.

"Are you ok? Abbey asks, hovering between them.

"Yeah," Ellie breathes out, still locking eyes with her father.

"Eleanore," he says.

"Dad," she says, matching his tone.

"Enjoy your little excursion?" He asks, causing Ellie to flinch in response. "I hope you did, because your protection just doubled, and I am seriously considering a tracking device, which Ron tells me is possible."

"I am an adult and you can not--"

"-- you are *not* an adult, obviously, and it's either protection or house arrest, you decide."

"It's killing you, isn't it," Ellie says, taking a step toward him and away from her mother. "You can't control me, and you never could."

"Ellie," her mother hisses.

"I'm not Zoey, and I'm not Liz, and you can't bully me into doing what you want. I am not going to live like that anymore," Ellie says forcefully, hiding the trembling of her fingers in her clenched hands.

Her father takes a quick breath and seems to inflate with anger even more before he speaks. "If you think I am kidding when--"

"-- and if you think I am then you are seriously mistaken," Ellie says defiantly. "I have been trying to tell you this wasn't working for more than a year. You don't listen to me. And when you don't like what I have to say you don't talk to me either. Fine. But don't expect me to play by your rules if you can't even be bothered to acknowledge me or take the time to talk to me," Ellie says, her chest heaving as her voice rises.

"Ok, let's all take a breath and discuss this calmly, like adults," Abbey says, grabbing Ellie's arm as she starts to move away toward the door.

Her father is fuming, his face flushed and eyes hard. "I am your father and you will respect my--"

"-Dad, I am not your employee. You can't order me to respect you," Ellie spits back and Abbey grabs her arm more firmly and moves her over to the sofa, using her eyes and manner to compel the President to move toward the sitting area.

"I am not going to keep doing this," Abbey says through gritted teeth, looking from one to the other. "I will not keep acting as an ambassador for you two."

Ellie looks away from both of them, fighting the urge to look at her father for fear of crying. She can feel his disapproval radiating like heat and wonders whether it's more for declining her agents or because of her girlfriend.

"Eleanore," her mother says, breaking her reverie. Ellie drags her eyes back to her mother, beginning to hate the sound of her own name. "Are you here?"

Ellie nods but keeps her face turned so that she can only see her father in her peripheral vision. He is looking at the ground, hands thrust in his pockets, breathing like he does when he is trying not to completely implode.

"Jed," her mother says, and when he doesn't move, she repeats it more harshly. "Jed."

"Abigail," he sighs, "what do you want from me? Can you honestly tell me that you are not furious with her? And her antics?" He asks sarcastically. "For God's sake, Abbey. You were worried sick yesterday. We had no way of knowing whether she was safe. We didn't know that this was just a stunt," he says, waving his hand wildly toward Ellie.

"I'm sorry," Ellie whispers, looking at her mother first. "But it wasn't a stunt. I am not doing that again, be followed around like that. I'm done," Ellie says, looking finally at her father.

"Eleanore, so help me God, if I have to order you handcuffed to an Agent every day, you are going back under secret service protection," he almost shouts, his face turning a deeper shade of red as his voice rises. "Discussion over."

Ellie crosses her arms and looks away, almost laughing at how little he knows her. She could have walked away yesterday morning, to almost anywhere, and been free, at least for a little while.

"Jed," Abbey whispers, her voice pleading, and Ellie can see her mother motioning toward her in the reflection in the glass of the painting across the room. Her father understands her mother's intent that he sit next to her, talk to her, and Ellie can tell from the tightening of his lips and clench of his jaw that he is refusing, as he fails to move toward the sofa or even look in her direction.

Ellie shakes her head, her anger overtaking her hurt. She can hear the mantle clock ticking in the silence, and when she counts twenty-two ticks, she abruptly stands up and moves toward the door without looking at either of her parents.

"Eleanore," they both say: one in frustration, one in anger.

She turns slowly and looks first at her father, noting his tension and flush, knowing he is infuriated with her, and maybe because of more than the last two days. She then looks to her mother, and is almost shocked at the sight of her mother, staring with open fury at her father.

"Josiah," her mother almost growls. "Sit down, take a deep breath, and then talk, dammit."

The phone rings, the internal light lit and blinking, and her mother shakes her head, warning him not to answer it. Ellie watches as he holds his ground, looking toward the phone and then back to her mother. "Abigail, I should have been back down there ten minutes ago and--"

"-- and nothing. This is going to happen now. I don't care what else is happening, and I swear, if you walk out of this room now, either of you," Abbey continues swinging her gaze to Ellie, "I am washing my hands of both of you. Now, sit."

Ellie stands watching him, unwilling to take even one step toward the sofa until her father has, and he stands staring at her mother, and Ellie suspects he is trying to find a way out of the room without drawing any more of her fury.

Before either of them can move, there is a knock at the door and then Charlie steps in, apparently noting the tension in the room and looking away. "I am sorry to interrupt but--"

"-- not now," Abbey says, holding up her hand.

"Dr. Bartlet, I--"

"Charlie, not now. We are--" her mother says, only to be cut off by her father.

"-Charlie, what is it?" Her father asks firmly, reminding Charlie of the balance of power in the room.

"Bombing, Israel, at a wedding," Charlie says succinctly.

"Leo getting everyone together?" he asks.

"Already has, they are waiting for you, Mr. President. I tried calling," Charlie finishes lamely glancing at the First Lady apologetically and in fear.

"I am on my way. Just give me a moment, Charlie," he says calmly, not even looking at either his wife or his daughter. Once Charlie has left the room, he turns toward Abbey and relaxes his shoulders, dropping his hands to his sides, gently hitting his thighs. "What do you want me to do? I have to go down there," he says almost plaintively.

"Like another half hour would upset the world balance," Abbey says bitterly. "It would only take ten minutes if you said what you should," Abbey says raising her eyebrow.

"Abbey," he sighs, rubbing his eyes. "What do you want from me?" he asks again.

"I want you to say what you are feeling," Abbey shouts.

"What I am feeling?" He rants, his reserve finally cracking. "You want to know what I am feeling?" He asks again, turning to face his wife fully. "I am furious, enraged, livid. I am so angry I could throw things. I am so angry I feel like screaming, or hitting something," he says, and then reigns himself in on the expression of violence. "The perfect mind set you want the President in during a crisis," he says bitterly.

"Oh, there's always a crisis," Abbey scoffs dismissively.

"I haven't had a moment to breathe in days, yet alone sleep," he continues, ignoring her mother's comment. "My daughter shows up, announces she has turned into someone I don't even know anymore, and I think maybe she is doing it just to spite me, and my wife is pissed at me because I have to go prevent an international incident from escalating instead of sitting here in silence while she yells at me? Oh, and oh, yeah, the world has gone crazy and everyone expects me to fix it. Abbey, I can not do this right now," he shouts.

"It's fine," Ellie breathes out, surprising even herself, and drawing her mother's surprised look. "Go," she says, just before she turns and rushes out of the room. When she reaches her room, she stumbles into the bathroom and drops to her knees, gripping the cold porcelain as she heaves, feeling her tears drip down onto her hands and the cold white surface. She hears her mother's footsteps, but when she bends down and touches Ellie's back, Ellie lurches forward again and shakes her free. She shakes her head, hoping her mother understands that she doesn't want her right now, doesn't want her to watch her cry. She breathes deep, her face pressed against the porcelain as she hears his words in her mind, 'someone he doesn't even know.'

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Will it get picked up?" Josh asks, his voice calm, but obviously avoiding looking at the President as he speaks, as they all are doing.

"Can never know for sure," CJ says, shrugging, "but it probably would have broken already if it was going to."

"And if you get the question?" Leo asks, rubbing his forehead.

"I'll say nothing at this point, reminding them that we will no be commenting on the personal lives of the First Daughters. I'll be as firm as I can without drawing more attention, and then, later, I think we need to take our cures from Ellie."

"CJ, what if this breaks and you are confronted with art?" Sam asks worriedly.

"First, I really think if anyone had a picture we'd know by now. Second, unless and until Ellie is ready, I will be as scary as I can, use whatever capital I have to deflect and bury. We may eventually have to promise away some coverage, but at least then we can control the cycle. I think the worst case scenario for Ellie and for us would be a feeding frenzy. If and when she is ready, she'll be able to handle it if we can control the major outlets," CJ adds, nodding at her own assessment for emphasis and staring directly at the President.

"What about the other?" Toby asks quietly.

"Protection?" Leo asks.

"Yeah," Toby says softly.

"CJ?" Leo says, inclining his head to allow her to take the lead again.

CJ takes a deep breath, watching the President grip the edge of the desk, his knuckles turning white, his face turned slightly away and contorted by anger. "I don't know. She's pretty raw right now. She has been feeling rather caged in and they restrict her movements and her life, and her--"

"-Tough," The President says harshly, causing everyone in the room to turn and stare at him.

"Sir?" Leo says with trepidation.

"Tough, she is going back under detail, and a larger, more serious detail at that," he says spitefully. "This is not up for discussion. I have explained to my wayward daughter that it's protection or house arrest, end of discussion," he says dismissively, moving back around his desk.

"Sir," Josh says tiredly.

"Eleanore *will* cooperate, and I want no leaks, not one. Do you understand me?" He says harshly. "My daughter is not going to become a poster girl for...a target for," he says, tossing his pen onto his desk. "CJ, you deflect and deny and do whatever you have to in order to keep this out of the press. Now, what's next?" He says, ending the conversation, his face flushed with agitation and anger.

"Ok," Leo says, looking at each meaningfully, "that's all," he says calmly. "We are going to be tied up most of the afternoon with the Israeli Prime Minister and Security Council. CJ, State will brief on casualties and leads, but soften it up with the preliminary reports and be ready to run with it if this escalates. We will likely have a briefing from Nancy later, I may want you there. I'll call Carol."

They begin to disburse but CJ hangs back taking down the last notes from Leo and then freezing in place as she looks at the President, noting his stare, his eyes almost holding her in place. When she finally nods and turns to leave, he holds up his hand, motioning for her to stay. CJ can feel the blood pounding in her ears and Leo's uncertainty.

"Leave us, Leo," The President says, and when Leo hesitates, mentioning the Sit Room, the President nods toward the door to Leo's office and then looks back intently to CJ.

"I am told that you have known about this for several months?" He asks after a moment, obviously concentrating on keeping his voice calm.

"Yes, Sir," CJ says, hoping her voice isn't quavering with her nerves.

"Did you...Have you... Are you and she..." he stumbles over his words, whether from discomfort or fear she isn't sure.

"No, Sir," CJ says, feeling her face flush and her body tense. "I am not going to discuss my relationship with Ellie, except to say that we are not romantically involved." CJ watches him, and detects a slight lessening of his anger for a moment, before he looks up and moves to the next uncomfortable question.

"Did you encourage her?" He asks coldly.

"Excuse me?" She says, her back rigid in anger.

"Did you encourage her to pursue this, as opposed to seeking help or discussing it with her family?" He asks slowly and accusingly.

"Well, of course, Sir. It is plank number three in the lesbian agenda: indoctrinate as many into the fold as possible, especially sensitive young women who will suffer because of it," CJ says sarcastically and then shrinks in on herself as her own anger dissipates. "I'm sorry, Mr. President. That was uncalled for."

"Yes, it was," He says coldly. "I love my daughter," he says after a moment, his voice rough and tone almost caustic.

"I know you do, Sir, but she needs you to support her and accept her, as well. And right now she is really hurting, and she needs to know that you accept who she is, even if you aren't yet ready to embrace it," CJ says gently, her voice full of concern.

"I don't need you to tell me what my daughter needs," he says quietly through gritted teeth. "In fact, I am beginning to wonder if you aren't enjoying this a little bit. I mean, such a visible face would do wonders for your cause, wouldn't it?" he asks harshly, and CJ flinches, just short of throwing her briefing book at him.

Her breath is coming harshly as she takes two calming breaths and then moves two steps towards the desk. "With all do respect, Mr. President, if we weren't in this room..." she says, waving her briefing book toward the curved walls of the Oval Office as she tries to calm herself. Once the roar of anger dims in her head, she straightens her spine and stares down at the President. "If that is honestly what you think, then we shouldn't even be having this conversation. Now if you will excuse me," she says, taking three steps away from the desk and toward the door after his curt nod of dismissal. "And for the record," CJ says, turning back to face him, "I have tried to be a friend to her, to give her a safety net, something I didn't really have. And I can not believe you would think that I would take advantage of her in any way, Mr. President: personal, political or professional," CJ says, pointing with the briefing book for emphasis, her voice rising in hurt.

She takes a deep breath and watches him, his shoulders sagging slightly, his eyes round under hooded lids as he slowly matches her look, and her shoulders droop as well as she moves closer to him again, knowing she is so far over the line she might as well continue. "She's a remarkable woman, Mr. President. And I think you would be proud of who she has become, if you would just take the time to listen to her. She didn't come to this decision lightly," CJ says incredulously. "She was a mess when she realized she'd just outed herself to me, and making herself sick over whether you all could survive who she is," CJ says gently, moving closer still when he flinches on the phrasing. "And I did encourage her. I encouraged her to allow herself to live, instead of slowly destroying herself, and largely because I wasn't sure how much more she could take," she says, nodding when he looks up at her with concern and fear. "She was trying to make herself invisible, and eventually she would have run out of benign ways to do so. I told her that she owed it to herself to live, and I assured her that you and Abbey would be fine, because you love her, and because you're good people. I told her you accepted me, and even though I knew it would be different with your own daughter, I knew you would eventually accept it with her. She's hurting right now, and if I thought you could have made her stop hurting, I would have dragged her here myself yesterday," CJ says sadly. "But if you look at her like you are looking at me right now, and make her feel ashamed, and make her feel like she has to be what you want her to be to gain your love, you will lose her."

The President swallows hard, absorbing CJ's words, and she worries for a moment that he will crack under the stress. He seems almost as lost as Ellie and it's possible he's hurting almost as much, and the stubborn streak that runs through both of them will cause friction and further hurt before they resolve this. When he straightens up and looks her fully in the eye, she nods and then turns and walks toward the door. On the other side she sags against Charlie's desk and wipes at her eyes, breathing hard to banish the stray tears. She always believed that her sexuality was just a character trait to the President, like any other facet of her being, but now she understands he may have always pitied her and seen it as a flaw.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"No, I am going to get out of here in a few minutes," CJ sighs into the phone cradled against her neck. "No, Josh, I'm done. We can talk about it tomorrow. Goodnight." She drops the receiver onto the base and leans her face against her hands, absently rubbing her temples.

"CJ, do you have a minute?" Abbey asks from the doorway, her face hesitant and intentionally blank as she quickly steps in and closes the door, standing with her hands clasped, looking intently at CJ.

"If you are here to lecture or rant, or in anyway pump me for information, just do it fast, OK?" CJ says, closing her eyes against the tension headache. Abbey looks almost hurt when CJ opens her eyes again, and she shrugs her mumbled apology, "Sorry."

"No, CJ, it's fine," she says, moving to sit down in one of the chairs in front of her desk, shaking off the shroud of worry and sitting back to talk. "I suspect you've had enough of talking for one day. You don't have to say anything. I just wanted you to know that I was relieved when she called and said she was with you. I suspect she has a little crush on you," Abbey says with a conspiratorial grin and holds up her hand when CJ begins to protest. "CJ, I can't say that I blame her, but I also know that you would never hurt or take advantage of her," Abbey says, smiling indulgently, and CJ looks down at her hands at the words so antithetical from the ones the President used. "I am so thankful she's had you in all this," Abbey says warmly, tapping the desk when CJ continues to stare at her hands, and nodding reassuringly when she has her attention. Abbey is studying her, smiling slightly, her eyes warm and gentle.

"How is he?" CJ asks quietly, her voice almost creaking.

Abbey sighs loudly and rubs her own forehead. "Ah, CJ, he's upset and confused and angry at the world. He's withdrawn into himself, working through whatever it is you said to him this afternoon that made him almost sick," Abbey says mildly. CJ cringes and shakes her head, her own stomach churning slightly. "He'll come around, CJ. I know he will. Don't worry about whatever it is that is making you look slightly sick now."

"I may have stepped over the line," CJ says wearily.

"He'll get over it," Abbey shrugs. "Once he makes peace with this, he'll get over it. Just stay clear for now."

"Thanks, Abbey," CJ says as the older woman stands to leave.

"No, CJ," Abbey says seriously, "thank you."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"So, if you didn't settle anything yesterday or this morning, and there seems no end in sight, when do you think you'll be back?" Sarah asks over the phone.

"I don't know," Ellie sighs. "I haven't actually tested the threat of 'house arrest' yet but I wouldn't be put it past him. So, if I can't make him understand in the next few days, I just don't know."

"Britt called again," Sarah says.

"What did she say?" Ellie asks, trying to sound only slightly interested as Sarah laughs at her over the phone.

"She wanted to know if you were ok. The agents showed up looking for you when you were missing, and she called all upset and worried, and then called every hour until I told her your were fine. And when I told her about the blow-up and your going AWOL, I think she felt guilty."

"She was upset?" Ellie prods.

"Yes, she was upset, Ellie. She was worried about you, and upset that you left the way you did. You should call her," Sarah says.

"I don't think so," Ellie says sadly. "It'd just be too hard," she sighs.

"Are you really ok?" Sarah asks.

Ellie laughs, shaking her head even though Sarah can't see her. "I am 25 years old and my father has grounded me, with the help of armed guards," Ellie says incredulously. "He won't let me leave and can't stand the sight of me right now, my sister Liz is repulsed, my girlfriend just broke up with me, I have hurt her business, I am about to get outed maybe, and my life is a mess. Oh, and I kissed CJ last night, just before Kira walked into her apartment, and then had to deal with a pretty scary Kira. I can't imagine there is any level of humiliation I haven't experienced in the last few days. No, I am definitely not ok."

"You kissed CJ again?" Sarah asks.

"Sarah, can we focus on the important parts? Please?"

"Sorry. What about your dad?" She asks gently.

"He's not really talking to me, but what I could get through his talking to my mother right in front of me is that he is beyond pissed. The words he used were 'doesn't even know me' and 'I am doing it for spite.' He and mom aren't really talking either now. It's pretty much a mess."

"I'm sorry, El," Sarah says. "Let me know if you need anything, ok?"

"Thanks, Sarah. I may send someone by to pick up a few things if it looks like I'm going to be here for a while."

"Sure, just email me with what you need and I'll get it together for you."

"Thanks, I owe you about a hundred now I am sure, but thanks."

Once they have hung up, she takes a shower, dresses in her most comforting sweater and jeans, and wanders down to the kitchen in search of a snack. When she gets back upstairs after a walk through the West Wing and along the back portico, she settles onto the bed to read, quickly losing herself in the book she hasn't had time to read in weeks. She is startled back to reality by the ringing of the phone and she notes it's an internal line before she picks it up. Charlie quickly tells her that her father has a free fifteen minutes and would like her to come down, hanging up before she can decline the invitation.

She walks slowly down to the West Wing, noting Charlie's look of relief tinged with concern when she walks by his desk. He ushers her immediately into the Oval Office and she takes a deep breath, steeling herself for the inevitable fight when she refuses to let him control the conversation by choosing this room: his harbor. She knows that this room allows him distance and retreat because he's told her it does, even though he probably doesn't remember doing so. He has told her that he does the hard things in this room, because in this room he is the President, and the office allows him emotional cover. He calls in condolences and makes the really gut-wrenching decisions in this room. She won't allow him to hide from this conversation, even by environment.

"Eleanore, one minute. Take a seat," he orders, hanging on the phone, and she swallows her smirk as she wanders around the room, really looking at the art and decorations, glancing at some of the photos on the side tables. She hears him disconnect the call and continues to peruse her surroundings, her back to him. "Eleanore," he says again, and she confirms that she really is beginning to hate the sound of her name.

"Dad," she says, turning to face him, and eventually walking over to the proffered seat.

She can see he is still uncomfortable, maybe even anxious, and he has still not looked her in the eye. "If I get called away, know that it isn't that I don't want--"

"-- Dad, you don't really want to talk about this in your office, do you?" Ellie asks.

"Excuse me?" He says, his irritation showing again.

"You once told me," she says, stopping and taking a deep breath when he looks at his watch, irritated. "After the execution, the one where you wanted to commute the sentence but knew you couldn't, you told me that in this room you are the President, and the distinction allows you to do the things that Jed Bartlet couldn't stomach," Ellie says. He looks at her, almost stunned, and she wonders if he is shocked by the memory or by her knowledge of it or simply confused as to why she is bringing it up now. When he continues to simply stare at her, she gets frustrated herself at the silence and stands up, moving away from the sofa.

"Eleanore," he says again.

"I swear, Dad, if you say my name, and nothing else, one more time, I am going to scream," Ellie says, shaking her head and hoping he understands that in this she is serious.

"What is the point of bringing up--"

"-- The point is, I don't want to have this conversation in the room you use to do things Jed Bartlet needs protection from. I want my father to be present for it, and he is not in this room," Ellie says harshly. "I'm sorry, but I won't discuss this in here. In the Residence, fine, out on the portico or lawn, ok, despite the cold, in here, no," she says, her breath coming faster as she realizes he isn't understanding. She starts to move toward the door to leave, wanting him to stop her, wanting him to follow her, wanting this to be important to her father, as opposed to the President.

"I haven't told you this conversation is done," he says, with far less irritation than she expected, and when she turns, she can almost detect a smile lurking somewhere below the surface.

"Yeah," she says, refusing to smile, "well, I'm not an employee or a subject. If you want me, I'll be in the Residence," she says as she leaves.

He stands looking at the door she just exited through and feels the conflict within him. She's so much stronger and feistier than he has ever given her credit for: standing in the Oval Office and defying him. And she remembered that story, some little blip on the screen, understanding the facets of this job and his survival despite some of the things he is forced to do, something Abbey doesn't always see clearly. As irritated as he is with her continued stubbornness and her apparent self-destruction, he has to admit that he underestimated her. The part of him that is furious with her escapades over the last few days is also proud of her spirit and her focus. The part of him that is so very worried about what she is reinventing herself to be, has to admit that she is the only of his daughters who seems to understand the emotional toll and trade-offs of the job.

He's torn: he wants back the girl who would write him letters and read the paper with him, the one who was always a step beyond his reach but there nonetheless. But he also wants to get to know the one who instinctively outsmarted the best trained agents in the service, who stood in this office and defied him calmly, who understands his fractured world. He has to admit, below the terror and fury is an amusement: he would never have thought Ellie would have been the one who would have the temperament and insight to evade them. And he has to admire her spirit, fighting for what she wants, even if the fight infuriates them. He thinks about his anger at the transformation that has taken her even further away from his sphere of understanding and comfort, and wonders if maybe she has been growing away from him since she could walk and he just refused to see it. Maybe the Ellie he has carried in his head has borne so little resemblance to the girl that she was that there was no chance she could resemble the woman she has become.

CJ's words have been rattling around his head as well, challenging him, taunting him. He has always loved Ellie, maybe it's time he understood her. She has been distant from him since she was a child, and maybe Abbey is right, maybe that distance was her way of surviving, fearing she might disappoint him. And maybe it was her subconscious knowing he wouldn't easily understand this. If Abbey is right, and Ellie has had at least an inkling of this since high school, and maybe even younger, then maybe the distance was fear, and why couldn't he or Abbey see that. Why couldn't they see that she was slowly obliterating herself, like CJ did.

And CJ, he thinks as he slumps back in a chair. He accused her of ulterior motives and insulted her for having the audacity to watch out for the daughter he and Abbey were incapable of helping, and if he understood CJ's meaning, maybe even saving. He can hardly think about the pain his little girl must have been in to want to disappear, to become invisible, and whether she would have had it easier if he had remained a New England Governor. She has been more present in the last few months, Abbey is right, and can he really be upset about anything that can make her complete again, especially if his lack of understanding all these years caused the fractures in her to begin with. He shakes his head, wondering how to reconcile this with what he wants for and from his daughter, and whether he will have to choose between what he believes to be right and what is right for her.

He walks over to the outer office and opens the door, looking for Charlie. "Charlie?"

"Yes, Mr. President, did you need something?" Charlie asks, standing up behind his desk.

"Yes, call down and see if CJ is available. I'd like to see her," he says nodding his head. "And if she is, call everyone and push back staff a half hour."

Eight minutes later, CJ steps into the office, obviously cautious, and he can't blame her. "CJ, come on in," he says, his hands clasped in front of him, hoping to convey he is in a better frame of mind since last they spoke. "Please, sit down," he says, motioning toward the sofa.

CJ sits down on the edge of the seat, hands clasped in her lap, back tense, and he understands she is ready for another fight.

"Mr. President," she says softly.

"CJ, I didn't handle yesterday well," he says, watching her cautiously, and when she remains still and silent, he continues. "I just wasn't prepared for this, for what it would mean, and..." he stumbles, rubbing his forehead and leaning froward. "Ah, hell, CJ, I never thought I had to worry about *you* being staff member one of my daughters had a crush on, and not that I am saying that would necessarily be a bad thing, it's just too much for my brain to comprehend all at once without warning."

"Are you saying I'm not good enough for your daughter, Mr. President?" She asks, her face serious but tone light.

The President flushes in embarrassment and smiles in relief. "Oh, CJ, no one is ever good enough for your little girl," he says warmly. "And considering this still feels a little surreal, I am hoping we can put this behind us now, and never speak of these conversations again, to anyone," he says.

"Of course, Mr. President," CJ says formerly but with a smile.

"CJ," he says again, more softly, his voice filled with concern, "it was a shock, and it was Ellie, and ...this is all a little hard to take in. And I'm worried about her, because of who she is, and because she's my twenty-five year-old daughter, but I have never thought less of you or defined you by, or, ah, I'm not saying this right," he trails off sighing.

"You said it fine, Sir," she says softly, shaking her head and smiling.

"And I'm still waiting to meet Dr. Lloyd," he says with mock sternness, switching back to his usual bravado.

"Yes, Sir," she says, smiling and blushing slightly.

"Ok, well, let's see if everyone else is ready for staff . Charlie?" he calls out, as he walks toward the outer office.

Staff is a quick formality, as it is abundantly clear to all of them that the President is barely listening to the conversation around him. They swiftly run through the closing issues for the final briefing and the schedule for the rest of the week, but eventually, a silence descends as Leo asks the President a question and he fails to respond after several seconds.

"Mr. President?" Leo says again, breaking the President's reverie. The President looks toward Leo and then to the waiting faces and rubs his face. "Ok, folks, let's pick this up in the morning," Leo says, nodding to the rest of the staff.

"Thanks, all," the President says. "Leo, if you need me I'll be in the Residence," he says, " but try not to need me, ok?" He asks, and nods as Leo swallows his smile. The President accepts his bag from Charlie and waves him off for the night. He walks along the Portico to the Residence, trailed by agents, and looks toward the stars, thinking about his daughter and praying for guidance.

"Jed?" Abbey says incredulously, and he turns to realize he is already in their bedroom, as if has been moving on autopilot.

"Sorry, Abbey, I wasn't paying attention," he says, almost confused.

"Where were you just now?" She asks, smiling softly.

"I don't know," he says, waving her off. "Have you seen Ellie tonight?" He asks cautiously, trying to chart her reaction in his peripheral vision so as to keep his face away from her appraising eyes.

"Yes, I had dinner with her and Zoey," Abbey says. "She's in her room, but I don't think she's asleep yet," Abbey says and he can hear the hope in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm going to walk down and see if she's still awake," he says, laying his suit coat and tie over the chair.

"Do you want me to come with you?" She asks gently.

"No," he sighs. " If you're there we'll let you do the talking," he says.

"I'll wait up," she says, her tone husky, and he understands she is proud of him, and the knowledge calms his nerves. If she believe he can do this, maybe he can.

He knocks softly, not wanting to wake her if she is asleep, and maybe hoping for one more night's reprieve. He hears her voice and takes a deep breath before entering, saying another quick prayer for guidance, calm and strength.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She isn't sure how many times she has ready the same page, but the paragraph at the top is beginning to seem familiar, and yet, she still couldn't tell you what any of the jumbled phrases mean. Ellie lays the book on her lap and reaches up to rub her eyes. She leans her cheek against the cool glass and tilts her face so that she can see down toward the grounds. The night is clear and she can see the lights of the city glittering around her in the distance, and she wonders what Britt is doing. Probably at the bar, Ellie thinks, and she can close her eyes and picture her: black tee shirt, faded jeans, boots, hair tucked behind her ears as she oversees the bar, or maybe head leaning on her hand as she reviews something in her cramped, dim office. Ellie knows she's only torturing herself with this visualization exercise, but what became clear to her this afternoon, as she laid on her bed feeling sorry for herself, is that she won't be able to have a normal relationship while her father is the President. She'll always be under scrutiny and cover, and inflicting this on someone else just isn't fair.

Over dinner, her mother had tried to engage her in conversation about any topic that wasn't her father, but every subject seemed to lead to the inevitable questions of when she would be released to carry on with her life. She knows they both will fight her on the security issues, and maybe what she needs to do is concentrate on a compromise. Because as much as she is an adult, he is the President, and if she refuses, he'll just order them to follow her without her cooperation, and that could be even worse. Maybe Ron and her father would agree to a smaller detail that stays closer. Maybe one or two agents she feels more comfortable with. A knock at the door makes her jump in her seat, and she calls out her welcome, assuming it is her mother saying goodnight.

"Hi," he says, standing there, and she resists the urge to pull her knees to her chin like she did when she was little and he came to lecture her on some transgression. She would eventually zone away from the lecture, and he would lose his patience and yell, and then give up the lecture all together when his guilt over yelling caught up with him. Zoey and Liz would yell back, argue, cry, and they never won. She learned early to deal with her father with detachment.

"Hi," she says in the same cautious tone, and when he smiles slightly at her mirrored tone, she feels her shoulders relax and her hands unclench. She watches him shifting almost unperceptively as he seemingly attempts to figure out what to say. She won't help him with this. She has made every attempt up until this afternoon. He has met the first challenge, coming to her, here, where he can't deny who they are. She drags her finger along the edge of her book, feeling the slightly rough texture, almost afraid to hope that this time will be different. That this time won't be about accusation or silence.

"I'm not quite sure where to start," he says finally, shifting his hands in his pockets, and she feels her heart constrict at the admission, a very good place to start.

"Ok," she says, moving off the window seat and laying her book face down behind her before crossing the room and sitting down in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. He nods slightly and then settles into the other, clasping his hands between his legs as he leans forward, his head tilted down, studying his shoes.

She can't see his face and has no idea what he is thinking, and the continued silence is beginning to fester. He always criticizes her harshly for obscuring her face from his view, but he doesn't even realize that he does the same thing. Whenever he doesn't want to deal with something, and he is trying to muster the courage, he looks away or down, and retreats within the silence until he understands how to proceed. "You know, Dad, you're always on me about not looking at you when you talk. I can't see *your* face either when you sit like that, and that makes it real hard for me to know what you are thinking," Ellie says, her voice hesitant and not at all teasing.

He smiles and looks up at her, making a point of holding his face level with hers. "I am trying to decide how to start," he says.

"Dad, as long as you talk to me, it'd be an improvement," she says softly, wishing he would just say whatever is foremost on his mind.

"Can I just start with a question?" he asks, and when she nods, bracing herself for all the painful subjects he could raise, he takes a deep breath and looks her directly in the eyes as he opens his mouth to speak, hesitating just one more moment in silence. "What were the boy friends? I mean, you had quite a few I knew about, Ellie, and Bill, what was Bill?" He asks, referring to the last one, the 'Jerk', as Zoey told her he took to calling Bill.

Ellie lets out her breath, this is a subject she can discuss. She nods and then answers as simply as she can. "One last ditch effort at normalcy," she says, shaking her head, hoping he understands this, and when he nods slightly, indicating he is paying attention, she continues. "I had tried the sweet ones, the smart ones, the jocks, and the artists, so I figured the only kind I hadn't tried were the bad boys. And Bill was hanging around, and so I said what the hell and tried it out," she says shrugging and laughing softly, her cheeks blushing despite her bravado, because the ease with which she slept with Bill just to make a point embarrasses her. When her father smiles slightly, probably at her blush, she decides to press ahead. "Dad, it's not that I am inexperienced or haven't dated. I've dated. I just never really felt there, in the relationships. It was never something I wanted to do," she says, and his face is a mask of confusion, making her fumble for an explanation he can understand for what her forced social activities felt like. She shakes her head, still searching before her head clears. "It felt like homework, Dad. Like something I had to do, for everyone else, because it was expected."

She can see his furrowed brow and squinting eyes, knowing he is concentrating hard on what she is saying, probably analyzing each word for hidden meaning, and it makes her work all the harder to make him understand. She needs him to remain calm and willing to have this conversation, because if he walks away form her again, she may not be able to do this again.

"And why didn't you ever say anything?" He asks after a moment, and his words make her flinch, as she imagines trying to tell her straight-laced, fiercely-Catholic, almost was priest, New England Governor of a father that she was confused, because at the Senior Prom, she'd have much rather kissed Heather than her date. He rolls his eyes and smiles, and she realizes her horror must be showing on her face. "Ok, not to me, but why not your mom?" he asks.

She shakes her head and straightens up, a little shocked that he doesn't realize why she could never talk about this when she was younger. "Dad, when? When you were dealing with Liz and Stephen eloping, Liz getting pregnant? While I was getting ready to go off to college and Zoey was finding boys, all the while Mom was working like crazy to teach and work and make sure we were all getting enough attention? Or maybe I should have brought it up when you were running for re-election in New Hampshire and Mom was working and teaching full time under fellowship? Or maybe when you were running for President and Mom was trying to arrange a sabbatical and come to terms with your running, and you both warned us at least once a week about the media scrutiny? I couldn't, I just couldn't, Dad," she says, feeling her heart pounding and knowing she is ranting and her face is flushed. She finally takes a breath and looks at him, his face showing his own confusion and pain

"Hey, hey, I didn't mean, I mean, Ellie, I am just trying to understand," he says, his voice cracking slightly. "This isn't new for you. But it is a hell of a surprise to me, and I am just trying to understand. And I have been trying to decide how I missed it, all those years, how did I miss that you were unhappy? How did your Mom?" he asks, waving his hand erratically and beginning to lose the desperate control he has been clinging to. His voice is showing his fear and his guilt, and while the intensity is frightening, the fact that he is talking without thinking it through first, analyzing it for insecurity, is hopeful.

"Dad, you couldn't have known. I didn't really know, not completely, not consciously, not until college. And then I worked very hard so that no one else would know," she says, knowing her voice is still rising with emotion and hoping she won't scare him into retreat.

"Ellie, was there, did something...happen..." He asks in fragments and she feels her stomach turn, having known instinctively since she told him that this would be at the root of his anger and betrayal and panic, this fear that he, or someone else, did something to her to make her this way. "Do you need more than we can give you? Now? Do you need to talk, about this, or about us, or..." He continues, hopeful and calmer, and she realizes that he probably hopes she will accept his offer, because if he could hire the shrink, and arrange the treatment, and nod his head consolingly as he pats her hand, he can be doing something to feel useful without having to endure the discussions. "We can get you someone really great, to help you sort out your feelings and maybe even--"

"--Dad, I don't need a therapist," She finally says, leaning closer to him, watching his shoulders and jaw tense again as she does.

"There's no shame in asking for help, Eleanore. No shame in working through--"

"--Dad, I am not confused", she says, calmly and firmly. "And I'm not in need of treatment. I'm gay. That's not going to change and you need to accept it. I know it's hard, but you need to understand-"

"--I am. I do," he says and then smiles and rubs the back of his head when she raises an eyebrow in challenge. "Well, I am trying. I just...I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about you, and confused about what this all means, and I just want to make sure I don't miss any other signs that you need us, and if not us, someone else," he says, opening his hands in front of him. "I'm trying."

"I know," she says, and her voice quavers with the knowledge that he is more concerned about what he has missed and what he failed to give her, than whatever fallout may occur, at least for now. She breathes deeply, trying to reign in her emotions, not wanting to cry and risk sending him further into caution and politeness, knowing he won't understand that each layer he reveals, albeit unconsciously, allows her to understand a little better what made him ignore her for days.

"Eleanore, I know that...I have handled this... in a phenomenally bad way. And while I am still completely floored, I realize that I need to find a way through here... to find a way for you and I to--"

"-Dad, trying is all I ask," she says quietly, touching his hand, "at least for now." His outlet breath feels like a relief to her system, and she can see the multitude of unasked questions flooding his mind, but for now, trying, and talking is enough.

He turns his hand over and their palms touch, and for a moment he just studies her hand, tracing her palm and her fingers, almost as if looking for the answers to the unasked questions there, and she smiles at the tender touch and concentration in his eyes.

"Dad?" Ellie says after a moment, and she realizes that he was somewhere else, with someone else's hand. She watches him, resisting the urge to reclaim her hand, as he looks down once again and then up, his eyes pained and worried now, more than scared.

"I was thinking tonight about how much you loved the stars when you were little. You were maybe four or five, and fascinated with the stars, and I can remember lying in the grass with you, wrapped tightly in blankets, staring at the night sky. You would ask so many questions, and I would run out of information before you ran out of curiosity. I found myself studying books on the planets, constellations, comets, and solar system, and wondering what in the knowledge I was learning would make you nod solemnly with your innocent eyes fixed on the sky," he says, and she feels her own eyes misting as his face relaxes in memory. She can remember the smell of the grass, mingling with the smell of the fabric softener in the blankets and his cigarettes, and smiles as well at the reminiscence. She looks at his face, and watches the hardness of the present chase away the joy. "And then one day you abruptly lost interest. You were in about the first grade and I can remember coming home from the library with new books in hand, all excited to show you what I had found. That first time you walked away with a shrug was almost more painful than when you left home for college. I loved sharing that with you," he says, his voice animated with emotion.

"I did, too, Dad," she says, her voice quavering as she struggles not to cry. He tilts his head to the side and glances at his shoes before looking back at her face.

"I sometimes wondered if you lost interest or stopped loving that closeness with me because of something I did, or didn't do, or something else that happened to you," he says, serious and concerned, and she squeezes his hand in reassurance. She can feel her heart constrict on the knowledge that she probably hurt him deeply without even knowing she could. And the truth is, they haven't shared anything so nearly perfect since. Those nights, snuggled in the dark, listening to his voice and hearing his enthusiasm was the safest she has ever remembered feeling. And she hears his concern, probably buried for years but festering, that there was something sinister behind her abrupt shift away from contact.

"Dad, you know it's not always about you, right?" She asks, needing to make so much more broader a point in his concern. "I loved the stars because they were magical to me, and one day I realized that so much about them could be explained, and I lost interest. I loved the magic, and I outgrew that, not you," Ellie says, smiling as he exhales, smiling slightly himself. "And this," Ellie says, her hand open in the space between them, "this isn't about you either. You didn't do anything, no body did anything to make me feel this way," she says, and she feels his body relax one more notch at the answer he obviously needed to hear even if he didn't know how to ask for it. When he nods, letting out a long-held breath, she smiles, pleased and almost moved by his relief.

"Ellie, if you have children you'll understand," he says, his face taking on some of the careless bravado and animation again. "When they are born they are your whole world, and then you are their's, and the feeling is incredible. Then one day your daughter comes home and you are no longer the center of her world, and the absence is a little shocking," he says, shaking his head. "And then you feel it a little each time you have to let her go again: first day of school, first sleep-overs, sleep away camp, dating, driving, college," he continues, and then his face turns more serious again. "And then one day, your daughter tells you something that makes you doubt that you know her at all, and it's a little like losing her completely," he says quietly, and then holds up his hand to ward off her interruption, obviously seeing that her instinct was to reassure him that he isn't losing her. "No, let me finish. I felt like I was losing you, and the only thing I could think to do was hold on for dear life, because I'm not ready to lose you, but I didn't know how," he says softly.

She feels his pain and confusion, and understands maybe for the first time that the silence was about loss and despair at not knowing so much. "Dad, this doesn't mean I love you any less. You're not losing me. I just needed to be honest with you, however painful that might be, about who I am. I don't want to lie to you, and it felt like lying."

He nods, and leans forward again, his hands clasped in font of him, his brow furrowed in concentration once more. "Ellie, did I...were you afraid to tell me because of something...did I make you feel ashamed?" He asks, and she almost cries at the break in his voice.

"No, Dad, no," she says, feeling her eyes water. "I knew you were confused and angry, and I was really scared you wouldn't be able to accept this, but I wasn't ashamed, just upset," she says, wiping at her tears as they begin to hover on her lashes. "I just want you to know me, and love me for who I am, not who I can't be," she says, her tears spilling over. "I'm not Zoey or Liz, and I never will be."

"Oh, Eleanore, I have loved you since before you were even born and I always will," he says, pulling her close and wrapping his arms around her, holding her tighter when she wraps her arms around his waist and begins to cry harder, the emotions withheld and restrained for the last several days, and in some cases, years, releasing. "Even when you confuse the hell out of me and when I want to wring your neck, I love you," he says, and she can feel him smiling into her hair, his hands gentle on her back.

As he continues to rock her tenderly, letting her cry, rubbing her back, Ellie sighs, thinking about all the years she has wanted to feel completely accepted by him, and how long she has waited to know that he loved her as much as her sisters. She thinks about the way her parents have always been so connected and obviously, passionately in love with each other, and about her sister Liz and her husband Steven, together since they were children, and she hears her father's words echoing through her mind.

"What?" he asks, leaning away, and she realizes she must have uttered the long forgotten phrase out loud.

"I said emotion so deep it's physical," she says clearer and watches him search his mind for meaning.

"Who said that?" he asks, puzzled, the scholar needing an answer.

"You did," Ellie says, laughing softly at first and then a little harder at his disbelieving expression.

"When?" He says, his voice incredulous at not remembering his own words.

"You were talking to Liz, about Steven," she says, and he grimaces, waving his hand, obviously no longer wanting to hear the explanation or why Ellie remembers such a ridiculous phrase. "You were trying to explain that sex wasn't enough. That the act itself wasn't enough and she shouldn't settle. And you told her that love is an emotion so deep it's physical and it makes everything deeper, even the hurt," Ellie says, seeing the scene form her perch on the steps, defiant, headstrong Elizabeth sulking on the couch as he tried to reason with her love-addled sixteen year-old mind in the voice he reserved for God and for love.

"Ah, she didn't listen," he growls, waving dismissively with his hand again.

"She did, Dad. That's what you've never understood. She and Steven, they already had that, even then," Ellie says, and he stares at her, obviously confused with where she is going with this. "Of all the things I've ever been jealous of Liz for, Steven may have been the biggest," Ellie says with a self-deprecating smile, knowing that he will be shocked by the statement, knowing her grave dislike for her brother-in-law.

"Steven? But I thought you don't even like Steven," he says, clearly confused and almost agitated.

"No, not Steven, but what he is, to Liz," She says rubbing her arms. She looks down at the floor before continuing. "That thing that you talked about in your heaven voice, that connection that would mean you were always home, Liz had that, then, at sixteen. For all their other stuff, they have had that, since they were sixteen. And I remember thinking that's what I want, someone who loves me so much that they would defy even you," Ellie says seriously, and she smiles at his smirk at her measurement of strength. "The thing is, Dad, up until recently, I had resigned myself to never having that," Ellie says softly, knowing, unlike her child-like self, that the admissions to follow will hurt him. His stare tells her he is attempting to understand what she is saying, and she cringes inside at the guilt she knows he will feel. "I thought I would never find that, or the tenderness and sweet moments and complete security Mom talked about when she talked to Liz. I just assumed I wasn't made for that kind of thing," she says, shrugging, trying to keep the moment light.

His face pales before her eyes and he starts twice before he is actually able to speak. "Eleanore, how could you think that you were incapable of love?" He asks, his voice strained and scared.

Ellie leans closer to him, and looks away, not wanting to see his eyes as she talks about surviving the denial. "Liz, Zoey, they understood," Ellie says, allowing her arms to wrap around her knees and draw them to her chest, hugging herself. "They felt it then, Dad, with you and Mom, they felt it then. I never have," she says, knowing her voice is near breaking despite her efforts to keep it calm, waving off his attempts to interrupt her. "No, Dad, it was me, it was mostly me. I have never felt right. I think I have always known this about myself, and suppressing it was hard, and took suppressing all of it, suppressing everything. I have been holding my breath for fourteen years, waiting to feel normal. So, I didn't think I'd ever find that, that thing you talked about like it was everything."

He lets his held breath out slowly, unable to meet her eyes yet, and she wonders what is going on inside his head and his heart, wondering if her admissions will just push him away from her instead of bringing him closer. She can see the moment when he has stumbled over the meaning in her admission. "Wait, past tense?" He asks, and his face regains a little color when she nods slowly, smiling softly.

"Dad, the first time you kissed a girl you liked, what did you feel?" Ellie asks, and nods for him to answer it when he tries to shake off the seemingly strange question.

"Invincible and terrified and just incredible," he says, shrugging.

"And you were how old?" she asks.

"Thirteen," he says, smiling at the memory.

"Yeah, well, Dad, I have just found that. I'm twenty-five years old, and I have only just kissed someone I really *wanted* to kiss," she says, smiling, bobbing her head to get his attention. "The point is, I never thought I'd feel loved, like that, and it was killing me," she admits, letting her tears slide down her cheeks without attention as she smiles through them. "Now, well, whatever happens, I believe I could be. And that is the point," she says emphatically, finally wiping her eyes. "I can't hide from this, I have to live it. I want to find my way home," Ellie says softly, her voice almost a whisper in the quiet room.

"Aw, Eleanore, how didn't we know?" He asks, groaning and rubbing his forehead.

"I got good at hiding, Dad," she says honestly, surprising herself with the admission.

"We should have known," he says, harshly, clearly angry now, and she wonders if he is only angry with himself. "I should have know, and you mother definitely should have known."

Ellie shakes her head and touches her hand. "Dad, this isn't what I need. I don't need apologies about you not knowing something I didn't even understand. I need your support," she says, unable to bring herself to beg for his love as well.

"I'm trying," he says, holding up his hands at her scolding look. "I just didn't expect this," he sighs.

"Well, I didn't expect you to run for President," she says ruefully.

He nods at her, and then holds out his arms again. She moves quickly into his embrace and sighs at the quiet this time as he hugs her and she hugs back, the sound of his heart slower and calmer this time under her ear. "Are you ok?" he asks softly against her temple.

She can feel herself smiling, and knows he can as well when he smiles against her hair with a short snort of reaction. "Now, that's a hard question," she laughs before shaking her head. "The last few days have not been my best, but, yeah, I am better than I have been in a very long time."

When she leans back into her own chair he sits back in his, he seems to study her, allowing his eyes to trail over her and then he smiles and titles his head, his hand beneath his chin. "Mom says you have a friend," he says, smiling wider until the tentative shake of her head confuses him.

"I had a girlfriend, had being the operative word. She was pretty upset last we talked, and I don't think I do anymore," Ellie says, fighting valiantly to hold the facade in place. She can't yet deal with the raw wounds that Britt left or the pity she fears she would see in his eyes.

"Eleanore, I'm sorry if all this has made it harder for you" he says, waving his hand to encompass the room and the building. "I guess if I had asked you, you would have told me not to run," he says, wearing a self-deprecating smirk.

Ellie shakes her head and he smiles wider as she smiles at him. "Never, I would have never told you not to go for this," she says firmly.

"But you were so angry and withdrawn," he says, obviously befuddled again.

"I was confused and scared," she says.

"Scared?" He says, his eyes squinting in question.

Ellie nods, "I didn't want to be your *gay* daughter," she says softly, hoping he understands she means publically and privately.

He closes his eyes, breathing forcefully, his face contorted slightly in pain, and she worries for a moment that Liz was right, that this would cause a relapse and Ellie would always know she killed her father. "I am so sorry," he whispers, and she flinches at the raw pain in his words. "I would never feel that way," he says, nodding meaningfully, and she understands he means as the President and the father.

She nods and tilts her head, twisting the ring on her finger, needing him to understand that she understands his confusion without undermining what they have finally accomplished. "Dad, it's ok if this is hard for you, if you are confused, I understand. But just talk to me," she says, almost plaintively. "All you have to do is talk to me, and maybe sometimes listen when you would rather walk away."

"Ellie, this is...I still don't... I am going to piss you off sometimes, and you need to remember that it's not because I don't love you," he says, continuing to nod his head, his face calmer and manner more confident than when he walked into the room. "This is hard for me. I'm worried about you,

and it's all a little much right now, but I love you."

She nods again, smiling, and inclines her head, touching her face as she realizes they have actually discussed this like adults, and he is still seated before her, still willing to try. "I know, and I love you, too."

After a few minutes, he braces his hands on his knees and she understands the discussion is over, because the President just arrived, and he has other objectives to meet, and she sits back, waiting for the mandate. "Ellie, about the security issues," he starts, and then sits even straighter, and she can see him practicing his declaration.

"Am I still under house arrest?" She asks sarcastically, breaking the moment, and she breathes easier when he smiles and points his finger at her.

"Don't push it, young lady," he says. "I am still your father and the President of the United States. And I have no intention of allowing you to decline protection," he says, and she sees him relax on her nod of agreement, and feels her lips turn up into a smile.

"Would you consider a compromise?" She asks, keeping her face intentionally blank.

"Such as?" He asks, eyebrows rising in curiosity.

"I don't know," she sighs, "but less of an entourage, less conspicuous. Maybe less agents, but one that stays closer, someone I feel more comfortable with?" Ellie asks, continuing when he seems to consider the idea. "This way I don't feel like I am constantly under surveillance and you know I am protected."

"I'll talk to Ron, ask him to work up some proposals, but only if we get an agreement from you that there will be no more unaccompanied excursions," her father says, wagging a finger at her. "Ellie, we need to be able to trust you, too. And right now, you scare the hell out of us."

"Good," Ellie says with a smile. "At least I've got your attention."

"Yeah, you've got my attention alright," he says, smiling but rubbing his forehead.

"Seriously, Dad? I just can't keep feeling like I have no control and no privacy. I need to be able to live my life or it really isn't worth the security."

"I'll talk to Ron, and we'll see. Ok?" He asks, standing and walking toward the door. He turns right before the door and looks at her, pushing his hands into his pockets. "Goodnight, Eleanore. I love you."

"I love you, too, Dad," she says with a smile, her voice soft and almost childlike.

After he leaves, she curls back up on her window seat, and looks at the stars. She remembers the nights in new Hampshire when she was little, and the feeling of his arms around her, and how everything was perfect and magical. She glances once more at the door and then draws her knees up to her chest, resting her cheek there, looking at the empty room. She always thought of the silence between her and her father as a wall of glass, allowing glimpses and the illusion of proximity, but without the heat or touch of actual closeness, deadening their interactions. And she always thought of its yearned for destruction as a deafening shattering, hoping she wouldn't get cut by the shards. Now she believes maybe it is made of ice, allowed to grow in their mutual coldness and fear, and that the implicit variations and imperfections distorted their images, making their movements toward each other hazy and awkward. And if she is correct, then it cannot be shattered, but must simply be allowed to melt, in time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Series TBC

suki@ashesofoldlovers.net

Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page