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State of Longing

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“I have something I want you to read.”

Hillary looked up from her desk and saw her husband standing before her, holding his iPad.

“What is it?” She asked him. “Is it more ridiculous garbage about us from Fox News?” Bill shook his head.

“Nope. It’s something I wrote.” He explained. “It’s a fanfiction that I posted on my AO3 account.” Hillary raised her brows at this. She knew that Bill spent a lot of time on a website called Archive of Our Own, or AO3 as it was known colloquially. He liked to go on it to read fanfictions about books, shows, and movies that he was interested in. He also got a kick out of reading real person fiction about American politics, and the fanfictions that he read within this genre were more often than not about the two of them. Hillary thought that he’d only made an account so he could bookmark and leave comments on stories that he especially enjoyed, but apparently he was using it to publish his own writing too.

“Is it about us?” She inquired. “Is it porn?” She hoped that Bill wasn’t posting erotica about the two of them, and hoped that, if he was posting it, he wasn’t using real details about their sex life in it…

“No, it’s not porn!” Bill assured her. “And it’s not about us either. It’s a fanfiction based off of State of Terror, and I want to hear your thoughts on it.” Hillary was both intrigued and flattered that Bill had liked her book so much that he’d felt inspired to write his own fanfiction about it. She was curious to see how he’d expanded upon the story that she and Louise had penned together.

“Okay. I’ll give it a read.” Bill handed her the iPad and leaned against the desk, watching eagerly as Hillary clicked on the work title. Immediately, she was drawn to Bill’s username. On AO3 he was calling himself WJC_69.

“Very mature, putting sixty-nine in your username.” She remarked dryly.

“I only put it there because I made my account back in 2015, when I was sixty-nine!” Bill defended himself. “That’s when everybody was starting to write crack fanfiction about the election, and I wanted to have an account so I could bookmark my favorite ones. I couldn’t think of a clever username, so I ended up just putting my initials and my age at the time. If you don’t believe me you can click on my profile and verify when I created my account. Anyways, that’s not important. My fanfiction’s important. Read it and let me know what you think.” Ignoring his potentially suggestive username, Hillary scrolled down on the page and began reading.

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If, a few months ago, you had asked Secretary of State Ellen Adams and President Doug Williams if they would ever enjoy a lunch together at the White House, both parties would’ve given you a resounding “No!”

Now it was mid-June of 2021, just over three months since the president and secretary of state had found themselves in an uneasy truce to combat a state of terror together, and as unexpected as it had been to the both of them and to the American public, who had seen their mutual hatred on full display, the two had become genuine friends. Though she had sworn to never forgive him for the turmoil he had put her through when her son had been kidnapped, Ellen found her feelings towards Doug softening as she spent more and more time in his presence.

Once things in DC had settled down a little, the president had invited her to the White House for dinner for the very first time. Ever since that night, they had been enjoying meals together there at least once a week. Today Doug had called her up asking if she was free and if she would like to join him for lunch, and she had gladly accepted his invitation. They were seated in the dining room now, being served lemonade in chilled glasses, since it was a very muggy afternoon in the nation’s capital. The president informed one of the butlers that he and the secretary of state were ready to eat, and the butler hurried off to alert the chefs. As she sipped her drink and listened to Doug telling her about the latest scandal that Prime Minister Bellington had gotten himself into, Ellen found her gaze drawn to the flower arrangement on their table. It was a collection of familiar fragrant pink and white blooms, accented with tiny sprigs of baby’s breath.

“Are those sweet peas?” She asked, and Doug beamed at her. He seemed delighted that she had noticed the flowers.

“I was talking with Charles the other day and he mentioned that you liked them.” He explained. “I thought that I’d have the florists bring some up here for you since I was expecting you for lunch.” Ellen smiled appreciatively at his thoughtful gesture, though Doug could see some sadness behind her eyes. He watched her reach out to caress one of the delicate blossoms, watched her smile slip slightly as she cast her gaze down towards the table and ran her thumb over the flower’s soft petals, and he wondered why something so beautiful had caused her to look so somber.

“Sweet pea is my favorite flower.” She said softly. “It reminds me of Quinn. He used to send bouquets of sweet peas to me.” Doug’s eyes went wide at this revelation, and he felt horrible for bringing a reminder of Ellen’s departed husband to their lunch. He mentally cursed Charles for leaving out such an important detail.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry!” He apologized. “I didn’t know!”

“Don’t worry! It’s fine!” Ellen assured him. “Thank you for having these brought up for me. It was very sweet of you. I’m sad that Quinn’s gone, but I’ll always treasure any reminder of him and his kindness.” Doug visibly relaxed upon hearing this, and he mumbled an awkward ‘you’re welcome’. Ellen almost swore that she could see a blush tinting his cheeks.

“You know, my wife used to give me flowers too.” He revealed. Ellen raised her brows at this. It was common knowledge that Doug was widowed; her own papers and channels had reported on his wife’s tragic death in a car accident all those years ago during his first senate campaign, but the president seldom talked about what she’d been like in life. Maybe he desired privacy when it came to this subject, maybe it was just too painful for him to talk about, but Ellen sensed that this was information that Doug only trusted to a select few confidants. Evidently, she was now one of those confidants. She couldn’t help but find some amusement in how quickly things had changed between them. Mere months ago, they had hated each other’s guts, and Doug was doing his best to get rid of her. Now they were sharing lunches and he was comfortable enough around her to disclose something so personal about his life.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Doug, but you don’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d like getting bouquets.” She said. Doug chuckled at this.

“They were boutonnieres, actually. Not bouquets.” He clarified. “Although I would’ve liked getting bouquets too. I loved carnations, and when I started my political career as a state senator I would always wear one in my lapel. Each morning before we both went off to work, unless the two of us were in a rush, my wife and I would kiss each other goodbye and she’d slip a carnation into my lapel. I know that a lot of men find boutonnieres old fashioned, but I loved the look of them, and they also helped me to stand out from the crowd. In a sea of men dressed in the same black and blue and gray suits as you, a little pop of color from a flower does wonders to help you make an impression.”

“I never knew that. I’ve never seen you wearing a boutonniere.” Ellen noted. “Not even at your inaugural ball.” Even at formal events, the president never wore anything in his lapel. She thought of the story that her DC paper had run on Tim Beecham’s bow ties, and she tried to recall if they had ever run one on Doug’s boutonnieres, or lack thereof. No such story came to mind.

“Oh, I don’t wear them anymore.” Said Doug. “Not since she passed.”

“She was from Canada, right?” Ellen asked. “How’d you come to be married to a Canadian, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“During my sophomore year of college I studied abroad at Bishop’s University in Quebec for a semester, and that’s where I met Miss Aimée Aubert, a beautiful, brainy chemistry major who, unknown to either of us at the time, would eventually become Mrs. Aimée Aubert-Williams.” Doug reminisced. “She was French-Canadian, from Montreal. She had such a nice voice, especially when she was speaking in French. When I came to Canada I barely knew enough French to ask where the bathroom was, and given that I was going to school in a heavily French-speaking part of the country, I figured that it would do me well to learn the language. My roommate told me that he knew a girl in his chemistry class who was working part time as a French tutor to make some extra money, and soon enough I was spending my Saturdays practicing my French with Aimée.”

“And at some point you became both interested in French and interested in her?” Ellen asked, smiling a knowing smile. Doug nodded.

“We got to know each other more and more with each lesson, and we started spending time together outside of the lessons.” He said, breaking into a wistful smile at the memory of those wonderful first few months in Canada. “By the end of the semester I was smitten with her, and she was smitten with me, but I was going to have to head home to Virginia soon. I was worried that being so far away from each other might pose a challenge to our relationship, but we managed to overcome it. We’d write letters to each other all the time, we’d go and visit each other’s countries whenever our schedules and finances allowed, and we fell deeper and deeper in love. During the summer after we’d graduated, our families met up for a joint vacation in Niagara Falls so that her parents could meet mine. And then, that first evening there, while our parents chatted in the hotel and the two of us were alone on the Rainbow Bridge looking out at the falls, I asked Aimée, ‘Veux-tu m'épouser?’”

“My French is a little rusty, but that’s ‘will you marry me’, right?” Ellen guessed.

“It is.” Doug confirmed. “And she said ‘oui’. Even before we were engaged she and I were discussing where we might want to live one day, since one of us was going to have to move countries if we were going to be together. Ultimately, we decided to live in the United States, so we applied for a K-1 visa for Aimée. She knew that I had an interest in going into politics, and she thought that it would be easier for me to get started in my political career in the country I’d spent my whole life in, in the country I was most familiar with.”

“I think that you could’ve done pretty well for yourself in Canada, too.” Said Ellen. “Maybe you could’ve even become the Prime Minister, since there’s no law prohibiting Canadian citizens who were born elsewhere from achieving that office.”

“Aimée and I talked about that. I loved Canada and loved her and I told her that I would gladly move if she preferred to stay in her home country, but she was insistent on coming to America.” Doug explained. “Besides, the wife of Canada’s prime minister doesn’t get any special title, so she’d often joke about how she’d rather be the president’s First Lady instead of just the prime minister’s wife. I wish that she was here to actually hold that title.” He was smiling that wistful smile again, thinking of all that could have been, all that never would be.

“I’m sorry that she can’t be here with you, but, for what it’s worth, Lucienne is doing a wonderful job.” Ellen tried to provide some encouragement. “She’s such a bright, charming young lady, and I’m sure that, as much as they like to needle each other, she’d enjoy coordinating dinners with Laurent if he ever decided to take a job in the White House.” Like other unmarried presidents before him, Doug was having a close female relative of his fill in as his First Lady: Lucienne Williams, his daughter. Lucienne didn’t use the title of First Lady for herself, but she took on the role of White House hostess that came with it. She often joked that ‘doctor’ was a more prestigious title than ‘First Lady’, and she was balancing her White House duties with finishing up her postdoc so that she could pursue her career in pharmacology. Her twin brother, Laurent Williams, worked as a sous chef in Georgetown and had jokingly talked about being brought on as one of the White House chefs, so that way they’d have the entire family living and working there. Doug grinned, thinking of his children.

“I’m very proud of my kids. And I’m sure that, wherever their mother is right now, she’s proud of them too.” He said. “As good as Lucienne is in the role, I think we’d both prefer Aimée to be here to fill it instead. God, sometimes I think of what a scandal the Republicans would’ve spun if she’d lived to become my First Lady. They didn’t bat an eye at Eric Dunn’s Slovenian wife, but God forbid that I should be married to a Canadian! That entire party would’ve been brutal with her. She would’ve been slammed by them for everything-for her nationality, for using both her maiden name and my name, for continuing with her career as a chemist after we welcomed our twins-but I know that she would’ve given as good as she got. She was such a spirited woman, and that was one of the many reasons I loved her.”

“I bet that she would’ve been nice to talk to over a glass of Chardonnay.” Mused Ellen. “I wish that I could’ve met her.”

“She actually didn’t care much for white wines.” Said Doug. “She preferred reds. But I’m sure that she would’ve loved to meet you, and would’ve loved to have some Chardonnay with you.”

“And I bet that I would’ve loved to have some Pinot Noir with her.” Ellen replied, smiling. Doug smiled back, though his smile faded after a moment, as did Ellen’s. He didn’t have to say anything for her to know how he was feeling; his expression told her what his words did not. She knew that look all too well, that torturous mix of joy and sorrow that came with remembering a departed loved one. Doug touched his fingers to the empty buttonhole in his lapel; his other hand rested on the tabletop, clenched tightly into a fist. He blinked away the tears that were pricking at his eyes, threatening to roll down his cheeks. Ellen rested her hand atop his fist, providing a small gesture of comfort. She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb, and slowly, she felt the tension leave his body. He unclenched his fist, and she drew her hand back, watching him as he sniffled a bit and wiped at his eyes.

“Thank you…” He mumbled, color coming to his cheeks. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve last talked about her. I don’t even talk about her with the twins that much anymore. They miss their mother, but nothing can bring her back, and I think it’s hard for them to talk about her. Hell, it’s hard for me to talk about her.”

“You don’t have to keep talking about her, if it’s too painful.” Ellen told him. “I’m sorry that I asked about her.”

“No, no, don’t apologize!” Doug insisted. “I brought her up first. And even though it’s hard, I’m glad that I’m talking about her, and glad that I have someone as thoughtful as you here to listen.” The way he said that, so earnest and appreciative, made her blush.

“Well, I’m glad that I can be here.” She replied. “Having someone to listen to you can help a lot. It’s certainly helped me to have you listening when I’ve talked about Quinn.” She thought back to the weekend after they and the White House had narrowly evaded being blown to smithereens, to that first dinner that Doug had invited her to. They had been discussing Bashir Shah, and Ellen had told Doug of her suspicion that Shah had poisoned Quinn, despite a toxicology exam showing nothing abnormal. Doug hadn’t judged her at all, hadn’t called her crazy. He had expressed his condolences, had told her that he was sorry she had lost her husband in such a horrible way, had acknowledged that it was indeed possible-and likely-that Shah was responsible for his passing. And, most crucially, Doug had disclosed that, during his time on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he had been briefed on several poisons currently utilized by terrorist organizations, poisons that would not show up upon autopsy. He thought that it was entirely possible that Shah could’ve recruited someone to administer one of those poisons to Quinn, though Doug wasn’t sure how any of them were administered, or how exactly they worked. He had promised Ellen that he would consult his daughter about it, given her expertise in pharmacology, and by their next dinner together he was ready to tell her everything that Lucienne had told him. Lucienne thought that the likely culprit was potassium chloride, a drug commonly used in capital punishment, a drug that could cause cardiac arrest in a matter of minutes when injected, a drug that would be undetectable in an autopsy due to the natural presence of potassium in the body. Doug had asked Ellen if there was any way that Quinn could’ve been injected with the poison, and her face had gone white as a sheet.

Quinn had suffered from diabetes, but exercised and ate well to help manage it. He had been fit and healthy, and his yearly physicals showed no signs of heart disease. Quinn did, however, need to regularly give himself injections of insulin to control his blood sugar levels. It was such a mundane thing to both him and Ellen that neither of them had really made a note of it, but now Ellen’s mind was racing, wondering if Quinn had given himself an injection before he’d suffered his heart attack, wondering if Shah’s people could’ve broken into their house while they were out, could’ve swapped Quinn’s insulin with potassium chloride. She felt absolutely violated at the thought of the enemy invading her home. Shah definitely wasn’t going to talk, and she hadn’t thought to have Quinn’s insulin tested after his death. There was no way that she could confirm that this was indeed what had killed her husband, but it seemed to be the most likely possibility. It was painful, but she was grateful to Doug for listening, grateful that he had helped to provide her some small sense of closure. In looking at Doug now, Ellen got the feeling that he needed some closure of his own.

“I keep thinking about how it should have been me who’d died, not her.” He said, absentmindedly tracing his finger along the rim of his glass of lemonade. Beads of condensation were beginning to form on it from the heat. “I’m sure that you know this, given your background in media, but none of the news outlets that reported on what happened that night really went into the details. Every headline was just ‘Wife of Senate Candidate Killed in Car Wreck’, and ‘Senate Candidate Injured in Crash that Killed Wife’. Every article said the same thing, worded in slightly different ways. We were hit by another car, I lived, she died.” Ellen recalled her own papers reporting that exact information. Brief, to the point. What was a mere footnote in the daily news for most people was something that haunted Doug to this very day.

“Do you want to talk about the details?” Ellen asked gently. He nodded. She leaned in, ready to listen as he took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.

“It doesn’t feel like it was fifteen years ago. It still feels so fresh. I was just a state senator at the time. It was evening, around ten at night. We were coming back from a rally, right after I’d learned that I was going to be Virginia’s Democratic nominee for the senate that year.” Doug recounted. “Our chauffer was up front driving us, I was sitting in the middle row with Aimée, and the twins were in the back. The two of them had fallen asleep, and Aimée and I were whispering about what we were thinking of getting them for their birthday the following month. They were going to turn fourteen, and they were excited about starting high school. We were stopped at an intersection, and our light had just turned green. We were starting to cross, and we got T-boned by a drunk driver that ran the red light. He hit the side Aimée was sitting on, head on. The impact flipped our car.”

“Oh, no.”

“The other driver kept going until he crashed into a tree. The paramedics told me later that he’d likely died on impact. We rolled a few times before coming to a rest, the windows had shattered and there were shards of broken glass everywhere. We all had our seatbelts on, but the force of the collision and the force of the car flipping threw me against the door, and my ribs were fractured on that side of my body. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear the kids crying out for me and Aimée, and I was terrified that they were hurt.”

“Were they?” Ellen asked. Thoughts of her own children were flooding her mind, thoughts of young Gil and young Katherine trapped in the mangled remains of a car, bloody and battered and wailing for her to free them.

“They had some cuts from the glass, and they were bruised from being thrown around while the car was rolling, but nothing serious, thank God. I think it’s because they were asleep. They didn’t tense up when we were hit like Aimée and I did since they didn’t see it coming, so they absorbed the force of the impact better. I was lying up against the door on my side of the car-that was the side that the car had come to rest on. It hurt to move, it hurt to even breathe, every time I inhaled I felt this horrible, stabbing pain. I struggled to lift myself up so I could check on Lucienne and Laurent, and I felt something dripping onto me, onto my face and chest. It was warm, and as I reached up to wipe it away and brought my hand in front of my eyes, I saw that it was red. It was blood.”

“Your blood?” Doug shook his head.

“It was Aimée’s. I’d been so worried about the kids I hadn’t realized that Aimée wasn’t saying anything. I glanced up at her, and when I saw her, when I saw the shape that she was in, I screamed her name. She was limp. She was dangling from her seat, bent at an unsettling angle, with only the seatbelt offering her support. Some of the broken glass from the window on her side had cut her, and she was bleeding, bleeding on to me. I thought that she’d just been knocked out, that she was just a little scraped up but she’d be okay. I never thought that she… I couldn’t believe that she would…” He was getting choked up, and the tears were pricking at his eyes again. This time he couldn’t blink them away; he averted his gaze down towards the table and let the tears fall. He remembered that night, visceral as ever. He remembered how much it hurt to breathe, how much it hurt to scream, the pain from his broken ribs, the pain from his broken heart as he realized his wife wasn’t going to wake up. He felt Ellen’s hand clasping his again, bringing him back to the present. He lifted his head to face her, and he saw that she was crying too.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

“Somehow I got her seatbelt undone, and she fell into my arms. I held her close to me, begging her to open her eyes, to say something. I felt her breathing growing slower and more ragged. I couldn’t pull myself out of the car, and our chauffer had a concussion so he couldn’t do much either, but the kids had managed to crawl out of the back seats and climb out of the shattered window on Aimée’s side of the car. They went to get help.” Doug continued. “An older lady who lived on that street was taking the trash out, since the next day was garbage day, and she saw Lucienne and Laurent come running down the sidewalk. They told her what had happened, and she brought them inside and called 911. The paramedics pulled the rest of us out of our car, pulled the other driver out of his, and we were all taken to the hospital. Aimée stopped breathing in the ambulance on the way there. The paramedics did everything in their power to try and get her breathing again, but they couldn’t save her. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. The doctors told me that she’d died from internal bleeding in her chest and a traumatic brain injury. I cried and cried. Every sob sent this excruciating pain coursing through my side from my broken ribs, but I couldn’t stop. I made some preliminary funeral arrangements and the doctors discharged me, since my injuries were minor enough that I could recover at home. I called my brother to come pick me up and get the kids. Telling Lucienne and Laurent that their mother was gone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We all cried together. My brother dropped us off at our house, and I tucked the kids into bed. I went to lay down on the couch-it felt wrong to me to lie in my bed without Aimée lying next to me-but I don’t think that any of us slept that night. And then, first thing in the morning, the press was at my door hounding me for comments about the accident.” Ellen grimaced in disgust at this. She took pride in the media empire that she had built, but she knew all too well just how predatory some news outlets and journalists could be.

“Jesus, they’re like vultures!” She complained. “They shouldn’t have done that to you. They should’ve given you space, let you grieve, waited for you to reach out to them instead of trying to pressure you for a statement.”

“I didn’t give them the details. I was too exhausted and too heartbroken. I gave them just enough to satisfy their appetite for some sort of news, and they mercifully left me alone after that.” Said Doug. “After they’d left, I fixed breakfast for the kids, although neither of them were very hungry. While they were picking at their food I went to do the laundry, and I found the suit I’d been wearing the night before. The boutonniere was still in my jacket, a white carnation that Aimée had slipped into my lapel right before the rally. It was starting to wilt and was flecked with dried blood, Aimée’s blood. I couldn’t look at it. It reminded me of how she looked that night, limp and bleeding in her seat. I ripped it out of my buttonhole and threw it in the garbage. I was so despondent that I even considered backing out of the senate race.”

“But you didn’t.”

“I couldn’t. Aimée had given up so much to help me along in my career. She’d packed up and left Canada, the country she’d known all her life, to live here with me. She came with me to all of my events, she knocked on doors for me, she hyped up the crowds for me at my rallies, she was my biggest supporter. We had both worked hard for this, we had both made sacrifices for this, and I knew that she wouldn’t have wanted to see me throw it all away in my grief.” Doug explained. “So, I ran. And I won. And I found a way to make it work, commuting to DC in the mornings and then commuting home at night to be with Lucienne and Laurent. They were still so young and they’d just lost their mom, so I needed to be there as their dad more than ever. I was lucky that we lived in Virginia so I was able to go back and forth without too much trouble.”

“Good thing you didn’t live in Hawaii or Alaska.” Ellen joked in an attempt to lift the president’s spirits. It seemed to work; he cracked a smile at her.

“Oh, yes! That would’ve been a nightmare!” He chuckled. “We lived in Richmond, so I would drive the two hours to DC every morning, and then drive the two hours back to Richmond every night.”

“Long drive.” Ellen noted.

“It was. And gas isn’t cheap, even on a senator’s salary. But it was worth every minute on the road, worth every penny, to be able to be there for my son and daughter.” Said Doug. “I’d cook meals in the evenings while I was home and put them in the fridge so that Lucienne and Laurent could heat them up whenever they got hungry. I usually got back too late during the week for us to eat dinner together, but I always tried to eat with them on the weekends when congress wasn’t in session. After about a year of this they started asking me to teach them how to cook for themselves. Lucienne learned enough to be able to take care of herself, but she wasn’t as interested in cooking as Laurent was. Laurent loved it. I’m no Michelin star chef, but he really enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with me, and it sparked his passion for the culinary arts.”

“You’re a good father, Doug.” Ellen praised him. “I bet that the twins feel very lucky to have you.”

“I tried my best.” He replied modestly. “I just wish that their mother was still here. I wish that we hadn’t lost her in such an awful way. Every memory I have of Aimée is so painful now, every good memory’s been tainted by how she died. When I look at carnations now, I no longer think of her pinning them into my lapels in the mornings and giving me kisses. I just think of how she looked that night.” He touched his fingertips to his buttonhole again, and Ellen regarded him silently, thinking back to the days when she and the president were still at each other’s throats. She thought back to all of those times that she had belittled him with her media empire, called him incompetent, manipulative, unready, a coward. After his refusal to negotiate for her son’s release, she had thought he’d had no regard for human life, for the safety and wellbeing of others. She had thought he was heartless. In their mutual animosity, they had misjudged each other, had refused to truly get to know one another. But as they faced that state of terror together those few months ago, Doug had gotten to know and admire the real Ellen, and Ellen had gotten to know and admire the real Doug. And the real Doug was accomplished, trusting, and courageous. The real Doug cared deeply for his fellow man, the real Doug would do anything for his children. And the real Doug had a heart, a heart that was tender, but broken. He missed his wife just as much as Ellen missed her husband.

“You know, Doug, back when I flew to Oman, Bashir Shah sent me an arrangement of sweet peas to try and torment me.” Ellen told him. “I thought of throwing them out, but I kept them. He had my husband killed, and the pain that comes with that is never going to go away, but I’m not letting it ruin something that brought me joy, something that reminds me of how gentle and kind Quinn was. I can’t tell you how to grieve, and I can’t tell you that the hurt that you’re feeling is going to go away, because I know that it won’t, but you shouldn’t let it ruin your memories of all of the good times that you had with Aimée. Try and think of carnations as a reminder of how much she loved you, not as a reminder of that night.” Doug considered her words carefully. He admired her courage, admired her determination to not let Shah’s actions destroy her happiness. If Ellen was still able to love bouquets of sweet peas after everything she’d been through, then perhaps Doug could learn to love carnations again.

“I guess it couldn’t hurt to try.” He decided. “I do miss wearing my boutonnieres. It might be nice to start wearing them again. Maybe I’ll ask the florists if they can put some together for me.” Ellen eyed the arrangement of sweet peas, and she was struck with an idea. She snapped one of the blossoms off of its stem and removed a couple sprigs of baby’s breath from the vase. Doug raised an eyebrow at this, not quite sure what she was up to, but he humored her and did as she asked when she requested that he get up from the table. She got up as well, stood before him, and reached up to slide her fingers underneath his lapel, lifting it away from his suit. Carefully, she slipped the stems of the flowers into his buttonhole, and she stepped back to admire her handiwork.

“It’s not a carnation, but it’ll do for now.” She said. “What do you think?” Doug reached up to caress the sweet pea’s delicate petals, and Ellen noticed that he was blushing again, his face as pink as the flower. She felt her cheeks burn as the president turned his gaze upon her, a gaze full of immense gratitude, and she figured that she must be looking pretty pink herself.

“This color goes horrible with my suit.” Doug smirked.

“Well, you make horrible look good.” Ellen replied.

“Thank you, Ellen.” Doug murmured softly. “Thank you for everything.” She smiled.

“You’re very welcome.” Two butlers entered the dining room, each carrying a plate of food for Ellen and Doug. “Let’s enjoy our meal.”

When their lunch was finished, the secretary of state thanked the president for inviting her, he thanked her for coming, and he escorted her to the door. As he watched her leaving from the porch of the North Portico, he touched his fingers to the sweet pea in his lapel again. It was then that Doug Williams realized, in an exhilarating mix of delight and terror, that he had grown hopelessly besotted with Ellen Adams.

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“So, what did you think?” Bill prodded Hillary as she set the iPad down on the desk. “Did you like it?”

“I did. You’re a good writer, honey.” She complimented him, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “It was a sweet little story, and I liked that you really showed the genuine friendship that Doug and Ellen developed after the events of the book. And it seems that, judging by the ending, there’s something more than friendship forming between them.” Bill beamed at her and nodded.

“I think that Doug and Ellen would make a nice couple. They have that classic enemies to lovers element about them that people like to read about, and I wanted to write a story about the two of them growing closer over their shared grief and about Doug realizing that he’d grown to love Ellen.” He explained. “I feel like there are a couple things that they’ll need to work out before they get into a relationship, but I’m gonna try and resolve all of that in my next fanfiction.”

“Next fanfiction?” Hillary repeated. “How many are you planning on writing?” Bill shrugged.

“However many I feel like, but so far I’ve got three planned out.” He said. “Will you read them if I show them to you?”

“Sure.” Hillary agreed. “This one was good, and I bet the next one will be even better. Maybe I’ll make an AO3 account for myself so I can leave kudos on it. I should call it HRC_69, so that way we’re matching.” Bill chuckled at this, and she couldn’t help but giggle as well. She was looking forward to reading the next installment.

The End