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Christmas 2018


"Ah'm so glad you're home." Rachel Cahill had had to look up to her eldest two daughters for the last few years now, one of the many challenges that the Lord sent her way in these trying times. She and Judith Claudia were sitting on Judith's bed, the one she'd given up after the Incident, and for a little while anyway it was like there weren't any Secret Service agents just outside their door and they weren't in the middle of the White House. "Ah missed you so much." She hugged Judith, and Judith hugged her back. She heard her own voice in her daughters' as she spoke; the pure West Virginia accents of the couple that had adopted and raised her after the violence of her childhood had taken her parents from her ringing clear as a bell. 


"Ah'm glad to be home, Mama," said Judy, tears in her eyes. "Ah was...Ah was worried Ah was gonna have to stay in that place, and not see everyone for Christmas!" There were other worries too, unspoken, worries about the power that had nearly taken her mother and her youngest sister from her, and worries about how the friends she'd made at Claremont would understand the life she lived here. 


"Now you know Ah would never let my baby girl go, and neither would your daddy." She smiled, then decided to address the elephant in the room.. "Ah know Ah told you this before, Judith Claudia, but Ah don't blame you for what happened." She squeezed her daughter tight. "You know that God tests us. He put that...that thing inside you," she missed Judy's hard swallow, "as a way of testing you, and me, and your daddy. And if we all work together, all doing our part to make His plan happen, that thing inside you is just going to be...something that's part of you, like the way your sister cuts her hair." She looked levelly at Judy, who felt her spine stiffen just a little. "What matters is that we stay strong, all of us. You've been staying strong at Claremont, haven't you?" 



"Breakin' rocks in the hot sun
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won
I needed money 'cause I had none
I fought the law and the law won
I fought the law and the law won"


It was Ashley's favorite kind of bar - the beer was cold, the music was loud, and most of her fellow patrons were involved in various sorts of law enforcement. She had her stupid pink-tipped hair tucked away under a US Government ballcap and her equipment belt on, and she'd had just enough beer that she was feeling ready for anything. "Okay, fine, here I go!" She threw her dart and it hit not in the bullseye but pretty damn close to it, enough that the section of the bar that was mostly Treasury Department people whooped and the section that was mostly Capitol Police booed. The champion of the latter, a slender guy with a swimmer's build named Craig, was decent enough to nod before he stepped up to throw his own dart - dammit! This time the Capitol Police guys cheered, and Ashley said something that wasn't very ladylike, but who the hell cared? 



"...Ah already know the boy's name," said Rachel, hands on her hips as she studied her daughter, having risen to her feet to address her directly. "Your bodyguard works for me and your daddy, remember?" Judy blinked at her mother's words, and suddenly realized that wasn't true. Rachel Cahill might have been reading her Secret Service files because she was her mother but Ashley worked for the US government, not for the First Lady and her husband. "Ah just want to know what you think you were doing." 


"Letting myself be courted by a sweet boy," said Judy firmly, "he's the one that asked me out, not the other way around! He's sweet, he's kind, he's - a Christian!" This too was a lie, even if she was reasonably sure Leroy would get there one of these days. "One date and a few dances does not mean Ah want to marry him!" 


"Why would you let yourself be courted by someone you didn't want to marry?" demanded Rachel. "Ah'm not some prude, honey, Ah don't object to you having friends who are boys, but why would you go out with someone you don't think you want to be with?" 



Craig and Ashley had lost the attention of most of the bar when the game had come back on, so they'd retreated to the pool table for some private competition. "I've been on assignment most of the year," admitted Ashley, which was all she was going to say in a bar to some guy she'd just met, even if he did have nice eyes and good hands. He'd won their dart game fair and square, even if he wasn't doing quite as well at pool. "and I'm only back in DC till the day after Christmas." After that she was going to deadhead a flight out to New Orleans, but really that wasn't Craig's business either. "And you?" 

"DC all the way," said Craig with a grin. "Thinking about switching over to DC PD next year, though. I get a little tired of watching the backs of fatcats and calling it policework." He took his shot and watched with satisfaction as he made the nine ball, then stepped back to let Ashley take her shot. 


"You have no idea," said Ashley drily. She considered Craig a moment, then without any preamble took off her jacket and set it on the chair near the pool table. The next time she took her shot, she leaned over the table to do it. She didn't mind throwing Craig off his game - in fact, to her delight, she did. 



Alone in her room, Judy closed her eyes and tried to shut down the din of radio and television that permeated the White House. She could hear her mother telling her father that Judith wasn't going to stay strong at Claremont if they weren't careful, she could hear her sister writing in her diary that she hoped Jaycee wouldn't vaporize them this year, she could hear everything, on and on, through the vast house. Some people were judging her, some people were afraid of her, some people were worried about her, but most people weren't talking about her at all.


Rising to her feet. she walked out into the center of her bedroom, body stiff with repressed emotion from her mother's talk about how it was her duty to keep herself pure, to keep herself strong, as a Cahill girl, as a Comanche, as a Christian. As if one date and a few kisses meant she was in danger of falling. As if her mother hadn't lied to her face to get her to tell the truth. 


"Ah am strong," she murmured to herself. "Ah am." She spread her hands wide and listened to other things besides the radio - the hum of power in the building's walls, the electricity that permeated the old structure, and suddenly opened her eyes to see something beautiful. A bright, arcing column of light had come from the power outlets in front of her and enveloped her hands like warm cotton, dueling rivers of light that made her room glow with an impossible blue-white beauty. "Ah'm fine!" she called out loud even as one of Ashley's backup agents hammered on her door to ask about the sparking light and noise from inside her room. "Ah'm - strong!" 



Craig made breakfast the next morning - the thoughtful end to what had been all in all an evening full of thoughtful gestures. If he was a little disappointed when Ashley reminded him that she was going to be on assignment and not in a position to call him after the holidays, well, that was just life in DC. Feeling quite pleased with herself, Ashley packed quickly for her flight to New Orleans and didn't so much as look backwards at the city below when the plane took off. For a little while, anyway - she was on vacation! 


When Judy called her the next day, she answered it anyway.


That was part of the job. 

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