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I Cannot Tell a Lie

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"That's half the speech," Chris protests, hurrying to keep up—and get Zach's attention. At least three other people are vying for the same thing, but Chris is persistent; stays close to his side. "Senator, if you could just give me three minutes—"

And that gets him exactly what he wants. Zach looks over at him, amusement shifting his sour expression. Senator? he mouths, eyebrows peaking, but Chris ignores his own urge to smile at that—even if it is the first break in Zach's scowl all day—and says, "All I need is three minutes."

Zach halts, as does the entire procession around him. "Three minutes," he agrees. He turns into the empty office to his left, and Chris, a little surprised at that, follows him anyway. Zach closes the door behind them, leaving the rest of his staff grumbling in the hallway.

"Okay, so," Chris begins, but is interrupted as Zach kisses him. His surprise is lost between their lips, the protest as well when Zach takes the papers from his hands and tugs him in by his tie. "Zach," he tries again, but it's Zach's persistence that wins out—it always wins out. Chris gives up and sinks into the kiss.

Zach's hands are working at his own belt, and Chris should probably protest that as well, but he doesn't. Doesn't do a damn thing other than obeying the weight of Zach's hand on his shoulder. Once he's kneeling, he kisses the head of Zach's dick, bracing hands on either side of the wall behind them. He opens wide and enjoys the muffled sigh as Zach pushes in.

It's quick, no time for finesse or teasing, just Zach fucking his mouth. There isn't even time for his jaw to start aching before Zach is coming, hips erratic until Chris cups his ass and encourages him to push in deeper.

Zach is careful as he pulls out, letting Chris lick him so he can tuck back in without a mess. It's one of their standard modes of stress relief, although it wasn't what Chris had in mind when he followed Zach in.

No complaints though. He smiles as he straightens and dusts off his knees. "Blowjobs in the oval office," he says, "So cliché."

"This isn't the oval office," Zach points out, his own relaxed expression well worth the creak in Chris' knees. Especially when Zach holds out a hand and winds their fingers together, bringing him in for a slow kiss. "Not yet."

Chris combs through his hair, brushing the dark strands away from his forehead, frowning a little at the perpetual shadows under his eyes.

"Thanks," Zach sighs, leaning into the touch. Smiling, Chris traces over his dark eyebrow.

"My pleasure." It's been a long day—days. Endless weeks stretching into months on the campaign trail. "It's not why I came in here, though…"

Zach smiles. "Hey, if you don't want your face fucked, don't address me as Senator."

"You know," Chris says, raising pointed eyebrows, "all of your staff—not to mention your constituency—call you Senator. Exactly how many people are you fucking in here?"

"Do you want an accurate headcount, or just a projection—"

"You know what," Chris growls, poking him square in the chest. Grinning, Zach catches his finger.

"It's a pretty easy headcount," he says, nuzzling at his neck.

"That count better be exactly one," Chris grumbles, but he tilts his head to allow him access and Zach hums in appreciation. He reaches for Chris' belt buckle, but Chris says, "They're going to start pounding on the door in a minute."

"Don't care."

"You will," Chris assures him. It's always inevitable. "And I actually do need to talk to you about that speech."

Zach sighs, and lifts his head. He keeps his hands where they are though; his version of a compromise. "We have to cut it."

"We don't have to cut it. It's budget stuff, and every time we poll—"

"We covered all of it in last night's town hall meeting."

"And we need to cover it again tonight," Chris insists, moving right over into speech writer mode. "Different town, different people. Different voters, Zach. We've gone over this."

"I have exactly one hour to make them want to vote for me—"

"And what do you think the average voter cares about?"

"I don't need you to quote numbers at me—"

"Then let Zoe do it." Chris pulls away and opens the door, gesturing for Anton and the other intern, the only two left in the hall and calling out, "Zoe! We need numbers!"

She comes in with two more people, all ready with polls and proof of exactly what Chris is trying to say. Zach shakes his head—with resignation, Chris is glad to see. "Show me what you have, then." He's already taking off his jacket, hands going to his hips as Chris and Zoe land on either side of him, eagerly opening folders and plunking them down on the desk.

-o-

"Why the hell wasn't I prepped for that?" Zach demands, yanking at his tie as he moves away from the podium.

"We can't screen every question," Chris attempts to forestall the tirade, but it's a miscalculation because Zach turns the glare on him, instead of the hapless intern who deserves some of it, at least.

"That's exactly what you're supposed to be doing. So I'm not blindsided out there."

"You did fine—"

"I'm not looking for fine," Zach snaps. "We've got three weeks until election day."

"Your numbers won't be affected," Zoe tries to soothe, but Zach, at the end of a very long week—and his tether—isn't appeased. Apparently, the morning's blowjob wasn't entirely successful.

"You have projections for my staff failing to do their jobs?" he demands.

"Um, actually, yes, I do—"

"That wasn't a serious question," Chris tells her, insinuating himself between them so he's getting the full brunt of Zach's irritation. "Listen, it was just one question—"

"A question that should have been screened," Zach retorts, "so that I wouldn't stumble all over myself. I sounded like an idiot. And this is exactly the kind of error Weller's people love."

"We'll get it next time—"

"Next time?" Zach echoes. "Absolutely," he agrees caustically. "In fact, we can use that as our slogan. Don't feel like giving us your vote? Don't worry, we'll catch you next time."

"I just meant—"

"How about we try this?" Zach cuts him off. "Get it right on the first try, or don't bother at all!" And with that, he veers out the doors leading outside, his security moving swiftly with him.

Chris lets him go, running a frustrated hand through his hair and blowing out a breath as Zach is swallowed up by the darkness.

"He's in a mood," Zoe mutters.

"It's been a long week."

"For all of us."

Chris sighs. "I know." He turns back to her. "And that wasn't your fault. It was mine."

"Oh, I know," she says, smiling. "But I'll end up cleaning up the mess."

And Chris will be right there with her. "Come on," he says, trying to sound cheerful about it. Team spirit and all. "Let's get started. Where's Anton?"

"Here?" comes the tentative reply. It's technically more his fault than Chris', but he lets that opinion go unsaid and rounds up the rest of the team so they can conference back at the hotel.

It's late by the time they're finished—with no sign of Zach. Which is unusual, especially after a mishap; minor though it turned out to be. A temper flare like that one is rare though, and Chris wonders if it's a sign of a larger unraveling about to happen.

It's about time for it, he supposes. Right on schedule with a similar one Zach had right before he was elected to the Senate five years ago. Public persona Zach, charismatic and confident; thoughtful and polished is not always the same man Chris is allowed to see.

He's always been grateful for that privilege—to be the one Zach trusts enough to be vulnerable with. But it also means it's up to him to put him back together when he falls apart.

Not often, but it's due.

They have adjoining rooms—and have on every campaign trail since Zach's first more than a decade ago—all of them so far successful. Chris goes into his own room first, tosses his jacket over the bed and crosses the door separating their rooms. It's unlocked, which it has been since they checked in.

The room—which is actually part of a suite—on the other side is dim, illuminated only by a single lamp and the moonlight creeping around the edges of the curtains. Zach is sitting in one of the plush chairs, palm curled around a tumbler—with whiskey, no doubt; a cigarette in his other hand. It's cliché; all of it.

He looks up when Chris comes in, eyes tracking his progress as he crosses the living room. Chris smiles at him.

He pulls the cigarette from his fingers and stubs it out. "You're not supposed to be smoking," he chides, but gets no response. Sighing, Chris lifts the glass away too, downs a gulp himself and then makes a face; always too strong. Zach's still watching him, his head tilted back.

Keeping his gaze, Chris sets the drink aside and straddles his lap. He takes Zach's face between his hands and kisses him gently; for a long time until he starts to relax. Until his hands slide up Chris' thighs and over his ass.

Eventually whispering, "I'm sorry."

Chris presses another kiss to his lips and sets their foreheads together. "You're stressed," he says quietly. "It's okay to let off some steam."

"Not at you." There's a vehemence there, and Chris smiles a little to hear it.

"Once we win this thing," he says, kissing the furrow between his eyes, "it won't matter how stressed we were. It'll be worth it.

Zach doesn't immediately respond, but Chris can feel his chest moving as he exhales. "What if I can't win it?"

And that's it; the doubt creeping its way in, and probably has been for awhile now. Less stressed himself, Chris might have noticed it. He keeps his tone easy, even though it might not help yet. "Then you'll finish out your term as senator."

"And then what?"

"And then we'll run again in four years."

"That never takes," Zach says quietly, not with self-reproach or pity. Just a statement of fact. Chris doesn't contradict him; it wouldn't be honest. He leans in for another kiss, hands busy with Zach's tie, pulling the knot fully free and opening his collar to run fingertips along the sharp bones. He's not eating enough; another way in which Chris is failing him.

"What if I can't do it, Chris?" Zach asks, voice wavering slightly.

Anxiety twists at Chris' stomach, but only for a second. Because he knows Zach can do it. Chris has devoted the last fifteen years to making sure of that. "You can," he says, pulling back to look him in the eye. "I know you can. You're giving it everything you have. And if the voters don't turn out, it won't be because you weren't good enough."

Zach swallows, the words penetrating slowly, Chris can see. "We're going to do this," he promises. "Me and you, just like we talked about."

All those years ago when they were just kids. Not even out of college yet; with stars in their eyes and dreams as far as their hearts could reach.

President, Chris, that's what I'm going to be someday. Really make a difference.

If I write your speeches, you might even win.

Zach had looked over at him, dark eyes sparkling in the light from the setting sun. He kissed Chris for the first time then, in the shadows where they were protected. Where their relationship still resides, where it has to stay for now.

It's another thing Chris has sacrificed. They both have.

"Come to bed," Chris says quietly.

They kiss for a few minutes, just like that, before they move along to the bed.

Doesn't matter that it's technically assigned to Zach alone. Nothing matters once they're naked and Chris is fucking himself slowly on Zach's cock, curling over him so that Zach can pet his back, one hand firm on his hip.

Chris watches him, enjoying the pleasure as it transforms his face. He keeps it up as long as he can, and when Zach comes, he's grateful all over again for all the pieces that belong to him alone. This one especially, the Zach that clutches at him, dragging him down to kiss him hungrily; like it's the first time all over again.

Like it is just the two of them. Just Chris and Zach, and in those moments, it truly is as though nothing else exists.

-o-

"I have the newest numbers!" Zoe's enthusiasm is immediately catching—good news, obviously. She hands off the printed sheets, grinning broadly while staff members converge from all corners of the room.

"These are the highest so far," Chris murmurs, trying and failing to keep the excitement from his voice. He's been through this enough times to know the approval can fall just as quickly as it rockets.

"They love him," Zoe's says happily, even though she knows better too. "All of this just from the debate."

"He destroyed Weller," Anton chirps, his face blotchy with excitement. And he's right, but Chris keeps his triumph inside.

"Let's get on the projections," he says calmly. "The Senator will be back soon, and he'll want all the data."

"We'll have it as soon as he gets here," Zoe promises. She moves away with Anton at her heels, leaving Chris with the charts.

This is what they've been working for, only weeks away now from having everything.

Zach comes in a few minutes later, flanked by two of his aides, their heads bent together. He looks up though, as if he can sense the air of excitement around him; eyes immediately going to Chris, who smiles. Zach's eyebrows tic up.

"The post-debate numbers?" he asks, that buzz of adrenaline propelling him forward, already reaching for the charts in Chris' hands. He breathes out slowly. "Wow."

"Better than we expected," Chris says, the understatement of the year.

"They didn't expect you to resonate with voters," Zoe says, joining them again. "Not like this. They'll be looking for anything to trip you up now."

Zach glances over at Chris, just a quick glance before telling her confidently, "There's nothing to find." Even though all of three of them know there is.

"Famous last words," Zoe says under her breath.

-o-

"She's right, you know," Zach says while he forks through the take-out from the Italian place down the street. They're still at headquarters, papers and tablets spread out in front of them.

Most of the staffers have gone home, and those that habitually remain are scattered around the offices, picking at leftovers or tapping away at keyboards. Zach and Chris are by themselves, in Zach's office, although the door is open.

Chris can see Zoe berating Anton down the hall. He turns his attention to Zach, knowing her words have stayed with him all evening—they've been eating away at him as well. "They won't find anything," he says, trying to sound reassuring, but he doesn't think he's successful; judging by the hard line of Zach's mouth as he pushes away the vegetarian lasagna. "We're always careful."

Zach sighs, massages his forehead. "I wasn't always careful."

"I know, but if they haven't found anything yet—"

"I've never run for President before," Zach reminds him. Chris pauses with his fork halfway to his mouth, eyes narrowing in sudden scrutiny.

"Is there something you know about?" he asks. "Because if there is, we need to move on it before—"

"Chris, come on, I know better than that."

Chris lets his breath out slowly, along with the hitch of anxiety. "I know. Sorry."

Zach's head is tilted, his eyes curious now. "You're worried about this." Surprised, not curious.

Chris shakes his head, wishing they were actually alone, as he has the urge to kiss that surprise away. "We're going to be fine." He nudges Zach's leg beneath the desk. "I'm not even sure a picture of you in drag could put a dent in those numbers."

Zach laughs. "I'm pretty sure it would."

"Then make sure you burn the evidence."

"It was once," Zach says with a hint of acerbity. "And there was no one there but that guy… I think his name was—"

"Don't need to know," Chris interjects crisply, only half kidding. "As far as I'm concerned, you were celibate until you met me."

"I think they call that a virgin these days, and I wasn't."

Chris makes a face at him. "Just let me have that one fantasy."

"Fine," Zach says agreeably, smiling now; his eyes soft with amusement. "I was absolutely a virgin until I met you. Hell, I didn't even know I was gay."

"You know," Chris says seriously, "if this office is bugged, we're screwed."

Before Zach can retort, Zoe calls from down the hallway, "Chris, you're going to want to see this!"

They both stand, Chris shaking out a sleepy foot and falling in step behind Zach. The dwindling staffers are gathered around the flatscreen. Zoe turns up the volume and they listen to the political analyst projecting a bright future for Senator Quinto.

Zach is smiling, looking so pleased with himself; with everything. His staffers are gathered around him, talking with excitement; congratulating him. But it's Chris' face that he seeks out, to share his smile. Smiling back, Chris grips his arm. A kiss would be better. And later, they'll have that too.

-o-

"You would think I would have figured out how to do this by now," Zach sighs as he tugs uselessly at his bowtie. They're back in Washington for the moment, a stopover before the last leg of the campaign. And actually in their own apartment—owned by Zach, of course, while Chris rents an unused studio in a more modest neighborhood.

Zach's getting ready for a charity gala designed to gather last-minute votes.

"Here," Chris murmurs, moving to stand in front of him, "let me."

Zach gives up the ends of the tie, and lifts his chin. "What do you have planned for tonight?" he asks.

"Oh, big plans. There's strategizing with Zoe, maybe some number-crunching too if we're feeling crazy. We might even send Anton out for pizza."

Zach smiles a little. "Don't have too much fun without me."

That, Chris thinks, is not even close to possible. It's one of the worst parts of keeping their relationship private. What he wouldn't give to just once attend one of these stupid dinners with Zach as his partner. "What about you?" he asks, mostly to fill the silence as he straightens the fabric; not at all because he needs reassurance. "Looking forward to dinner?"

Zach runs the backs of his fingers beneath Chris' jaw and it makes the ache flare for a second. Zach nudges his chin gently and Chris obligingly lifts his face; to find the dark eyes, soft and reassuring anyway. "I would rather stay here with you." Smiling despite himself, Chris leans in and Zach meets him for a slow kiss.

"I'll be back by midnight," he promises. Chris nods, even though it's a promise he probably won't keep. Not his fault. It's just a part of their lives, inevitable like the interrupted moments. They have this one though, just a short one but they make the best of it, Chris being careful not to wrinkle his suit; although Zach makes no such concessions with Chris', even running fingers through his hair because he can. Because Chris doesn't have to be impeccable and charming and perfect.

Zach frames his face, keeping him there for another second, kisses his nose before pulling away. "See you later…"

Chris watches the door close behind him, feeling unnecessary and hating that that particular adjective crosses his mind at all.

He has an actual job—that he gets paid for, by the way. And he's damn good at it and always has been. He doesn't need to be Zach's arm candy.

He stops sulking, and goes to find Zoe and Anton.

He's in bed by the time Zach gets back—well past midnight. Close to two o'clock, actually and even though Chris only stumbled in himself a half hour ago, he frowns in the darkness. Watching Zach's outline as he strips out of his suit and folds everything over the back of a chair.

He slides into the bed carefully behind Chris, his hand coming around to rest over his heart, but then he must realise, or else he just knows instinctively, that Chris is awake because he kisses the back of his neck. "Did I wake you up?"

Chris shakes his head. "Did you have fun?"

"No." A hint of teeth in the kisses now, his dick pressing up against Chris' ass as Zach pulls him close. Energised after a night out—like he always is. And it's silly to resent that it happens even when Chris isn't there.

Zach's doing his job too.

Chris rolls onto his back because Zach is lifting up, hovering over him. He smiles as he settles back down, on top of Chris now and moving in to kiss him. "I missed you," he says, muffled as he sucks at Chris' tongue.

"How much?"

"As much as you missed me."

"I didn't say I missed you." He can feel Zach smiling against his lips.

"So you'd rather spend your nights with Zoe and Anton than with me?"

"Don't forget the pizza."

Zach bites lightly at his lower lip. "I never could compete with food."

"It was really good pizza."

"I'm sure it was. Now, be quiet and let me concentrate."

"You need to concentrate on kissing me?"

Zach traps his wrists over his head, pulls back to eye him with amusement. "You're very snarky tonight." He cuts off Chris' retort with another kiss; until Chris is breathless. "Is it because I was late?"

"You're always late."

Another kiss, this one serving only to leave Chris hard and gasping. Zach smiles down at him and then leans in to kiss gently at his cheek. "I'm sorry I was late. If it helps, I had a terrible time."

"No, you didn't." He can hear how sulky he sounds, but Zach just smiles and kisses over each of his eyelids.

"I would have been happier if you were with me."

Chris closes his eyes, lets Zach soothe him with his lips. "I did miss you," he says eventually and feels slightly guilty at the soft exhale.

But all Zach says is, "I missed you too."

They have many more nights like this one ahead of them; if Zach wins the election. At least four more years. More dinners, more time spent apart than they've ever managed before. Zach, living in the White House instead of the apartment near Capitol Hill where they've spent the last five years unnoticed.

Chris doesn't want to think about it.

He flexes his wrists in Zach's grip; testing the strength of his hold. "Fuck me?" he asks quietly.

In answer, Zach kisses him.

-o-

They're woken up too early by the phone. "Jesus Christ," Zach mutters. "Whoever that is is getting fired."

Chris squeezes his eyes shut and silently agrees.

"It's yours," Zach mutters, kicking at his calf. And he's right.

"And if someone wants me, you're next," Chris points out, grumbling, but he's already fumbling at the nightstand, finally managing to answer with a gruff, "Hello?"

"We have a problem."

It's Zoe. Chris immediately sits up.

"Famous last words?" he asks with a calm he absolutely does not feel.

His heart picks up its pace at her exhaled, "Yes."

Beside him, Zach is sitting up too. Reflexive, Chris' free hand finds his knee, thumb soothing over his cap. "Damage?"

"No photographic evidence, just someone claiming to be a former boyfriend. It sounds authentic."

It might sound it, but Chris knows it's not. A virgin, Zach absolutely was not. He wasn't anyone's boyfriend either, being more a fan of glory holes and the random one-off in dingy clubs.

"Name?"

"Not yet," Zoe answers, not at all relieved. Chris nods, his mind tripping ahead even as he watches Zach's face, those dark eyes sharp with similar calculations—and creeping fear that he won't give in to.

Neither of them can.

"Get everyone out of bed," he says to Zoe. "I'll break the news to the Senator."

"Who was it?" Zach asks as soon as soon as the call is ended. He's not panicked yet either, but the question is tense.

"No name yet," Chris tells him. "It's someone claiming to be a former boyfriend—while you were an undergrad."

Zach frowns. "But—"

"Even if he wasn't technically a boyfriend," Chris interjects, "we can't assume they made it up. Especially since you are gay."

"But who could it even be? We met junior year."

"And you weren't exactly a paragon of celibacy before that." He regrets the acerbity the minute it comes out, especially considering how quickly Zach wipes the offense from his face.

"I didn't think any of them knew my name though," he says with a wry smile.

Chris kisses his cheek, but it doesn't soothe his guilt. "It doesn't matter. Come on, we need to get dressed and meet everyone." He gets up, but Zach is moving slowly. Chris leans in on one knee and kisses him; it takes a second for him to respond. "It's going to be fine," he promises.

Zach doesn't look like he believes it. Which makes two of them.

-o-

"More will come out of the woodwork," One of Zach's aides, Ted, says sagely. Besides Zoe, he's the only other one in on it. "They always do."

"You'll have to answer the charges," Zoe adds.

Zach looks sharply over at her. "The charges? It isn't a crime."

"No," she says calmly, unflappable even now. "But you'll have to answer for it anyway."

"And they'll want to know why you've been hiding it," Ted agrees. He does flinch as Zach's ire is directed at him. "Not hiding it, Senator, but—"

"It's okay," Chris sighs. "We know what you mean. And you're right." He massages his temples, keeping Zach's gaze for a minute, holding on to the tent poles for another minute before it all crumbles down around their ears. "They're calling for a statement."

"And you think a simple statement will work?" Zach asks.

"No. A press conference is really your only choice." And if he's honest, it's all just a formality—the beginning of the end. But honesty is not Chris' job right now. "All the voters need is reassurance." Reassurance that you're not a flaming homosexual. "There's no proof, no photographs. Slander, a greedy bartender down on his luck, trying to sell lies for profit."

Zach's starting to look uncomfortable, but that's not what's needed right now. "Zoe," Chris orders, "you get on the numbers, see how this affects the Senator at the polls."

"A denial?" she asks, already moving out of the office and toward the computers.

"Denial, suspected homosexuality, all of it."

She nods, and Chris steps out of the office to snap out orders to the rest of the gawking staffers; most of whom have no idea that there are actually truths to keep hidden.

"We won't be able to screen for questions this time," Chris says to Anton—and the two other staffers who remain. "But we'll do our best to prep the Senator. Work out all possible questions and the Senator's responses. We have two hours."

"Chris…"

He shoos Anton and the others off, and makes a quick pivot back into Zach's office. They don't close the door, so Chris keeps his voice low, both of them on the visitor's side of the desk. "I don't see any other options."

There's banked panic in Zach's eyes, but that's where it stays. "I don't want to lie."

"I know, but we've always known this was a possibility."

"So close to the end though? Chris, this isn't—"

"Zach—" Chris blows out a breath, presses his lips together and tries again, keeps a rein on his emotions. Later, all of that for later. "Senator," he says in the voice he trots out for outsiders, "we have less than two weeks left. We need to go on with our original plan. And right now, it's hearsay and slander."

Zach gazes at him, just a tiny furrow between his eyes, and then very deliberately—and with eerie calm, he sidesteps and closes the door. "Chris," he says slowly, "if I tell them I'm not gay, then that's it. That's the lie told and I can't take it back. I can't win my second term and finally come out and public opinion be damned."

"You won't even get to a first term if you come out now."

Zach doesn't even try to refute that. "I don't want to lie," he says again, but Chris has learned to hear capitulation beneath the stubbornness.

"You don't need to lie," he agrees. "You're an expert at avoiding truth."

"If they ask me point blank, I won't be able to."

"We can control almost every pen in that room," Chris points out.

"Not for this," Zach counters. "You know we can't."

Chris opens his mouth to argue, but Zach steps into his space, takes his biceps gently. "Like you said," he says quietly. "We've always known this was a possibility."

"And we've worked too hard to let it stop us now."

"And what if they do have pictures? Proof somehow?"

"How would they?" Chris asks, but there's a cold frisson of fear lapping at his belly. A lie could unravel faster than the public's approval rating.

"I don't know, Chris, but I don't want to lie about this."

"So you're just…" Chris swallows down the sudden wave of hysteria and says calmly, like it's a perfectly reasonable statement from manager to candidate, "It's still illegal to get married in more than half the states, not to mention the lack of legal protections—"

"I know."

"Okay," Chris keeps up the pretense of calm, the mantle of advisor. "Your own constituency has denied both marriage rights and legal protections to its people on the last two ballots. It's unlikely they'll support you after you come out. You know as well as I do, Senator, that if your home state won't support you, your chance of winning the presidency plummets. Only three candidates to date have managed it."

Zach studies him for a long minute, finally dropping his hands from Chris' arms. He turns away only to pace back again after a few steps. "You're right."

Ignoring the faint unease—it's always there and has been from the day they began strategizing Zach's first campaign—and the relief, Chris nods. "We'll prep you as well as we can, but you'll be fine up there. You're good at this, and our numbers are high enough that it might not matter. You'll take a hit, but not as much as you might have before the debate."

"Good." Zach's smile, though, is strained. Enough to make Chris switch back to partner mode.

He leans in to kiss him softly. "I know," he answers Zach's unspoken worries. "It'll be okay."

Zach closes his eyes, letting his forehead rest against Chris' for a moment. Just for a moment.

-o-

Chris watches from the wings, where he always watches; behind the heavy curtains, watching reactions, watching Zach. Usually, his mind is whirring with calculations and plans. But not tonight. Tonight his stomach is tangled in knots as he waits for Zach to deny he's gay.

Of course he has to. There's no other choice. It was always the plan.

In theory, it was a great plan.

As it turns out, waiting for Zach to deny even the possibility of a shared life with him is the most painful moment of Chris' life.

The unavoidable question comes only two minutes in.

From an exasperated reporter, who demands, "Are you gay, Senator? Yes or no?"

Zach's campaign smile doesn't falter; because he's an actor as much as anything else. It's what makes him a good politician. And it's without panic or distress when he answers, "Yes."

Chris stops breathing.

He's convinced he does because Zoe nudges him hard in his side and only then, with a sharp gasp, does the world go back into motion.

The makeshift pressroom is in an uproar; the staff around Chris as well. Except Zoe, who is in the process of telling all of them to shut up. Chris adds his terse command to that and they fall silent.

The shouted questions from the reporters meld together so that Zach has no chance of detangling. He waits patiently, holding up his hand for silence and eventually the furor dies down.

"Look," he says calmly, "I know there are going to be questions, but I'm not going to stand up here and act as though there's anything to be ashamed of. I'm gay, and if that loses me the presidency, then so be it."

"That's very noble," one of the reporters drawls, his voice rising above the uproar. He's dripping with irony. "But if you're so proud of who you are, why were you keeping it a secret?"

"I'm not married," Zach is choosing his words carefully—not actually answering the question. "All of my fellow presidential candidates were assumed to be straight based on their choice of spouse. A clarification from those men and women was never requested."

"Is there a boyfriend?"

"Yes," Zach answers without hesitation.

The ensuing clamour takes time to die down. Chris can't hear anything beyond the roaring in his ears. But the general consensus seems to be: "Can we have his name?"

"It's not mine to give."

Preoccupied with the sound of his own heartbeat, Chris loses track of some of the next questions, not tuning back in until someone asks his opinion on marriage equality.

"It's on the ballot in your own state again," the reporter points out.

"I've supported marriage equality since my tenure as Senator began," Zach answers, a stock answer, but he's not allowed to steer away from the personal.

"And if it passes?" one of the reporters asks, a man that Chris knows very well is gay—and just as closeted as Zach was until a few minutes ago. "Now that you're out. Will you marry him?"

Zach's lips tug up at the corners—and for a second, he's Zach. Chris' Zach, as he gazes out at the waiting media. "If he'll have me."

Zach leaves the podium soon after that, once Zoe comes in and calls for questions to be directed her way instead.

Half in a daze, Chris follows after him. He's pretty sure Anton, and some of the others are there as well, but all he can focus on is the back of Zach's head.

Zach goes into the conference room they've had reserved since they got here, and Chris goes in after, having enough brain cells to tell Anton and the others to wait. He even manages to lock the door.

Zach is just turning to face him.

And all Chris can do is breathe, "That was amazing."

Zach looks dazed. "Was it?"

Chris moves forward, and Zach meets him so that they're hugging in the middle of the empty conference room. And then Zach is kissing all over his face. He's laughing Chris realises, but Chris doesn't know whether or not it's from panic.

"What did I just do?" he says, shakily, between kisses. "I don't know what I just did."

"You just became the first openly gay presidential candidate." Chris is just as breathless, and his is definitely panic.

"Did I?"

"Yes. And I think you proposed."

"Oh my god," Zach breathes, still suckling at his face, still holding his face so that he can't get away. "Are you mad?"

"About which one?"

"Either. Both?"

Chris takes Zach's face, stops the nervous kisses; turns his face so that Zach is looking at him. His eyes are bright as they look him over; as he waits. Chris has to swallow to get the words out, "I am so proud of you."

He smiles as he watches the surprise and confusion crumple Zach's face. "You are?"

"That was the stupidest thing you've ever done," Chris says, laughing a little now too. "And the bravest."

Tears shine in Zach's eyes and with a shuddery inhale, he pulls Chris' forward and kisses him. It's messy and wet and before Chris can even kiss him back, Zach is hugging him, mumbling against his ear, "We're going to lose the election, you know."

Chris just hugs him tighter.

-o-

The initial reaction doesn't support Zach's pessimism. Although it does lose them three staffers, one a volunteer who is strangely apologetic about it to Chris as he backs out of the conference room.

Zach is listening to Zoe boost his confidence so he doesn't hear it. He doesn't need to.

"We're not in the clear, by any means," she warns them. "But I think it helped that you were honest about it."

"More than it would have if you would have been honest from the beginning," another staffer adds; one who just found out and seems unfazed. "Wise move, Senator."

Zach lets that go, and Chris steers their conversation back to strategy.

It's late by the time they've fielded calls, and answered more questions—decided on a firm course of action, the top of which is no one needs to know who the mysterious boyfriend is.

No one working on the campaign except Zoe and Zach's aide, Ted, know. Both of them have been with them nearly as long as they've been together—and since the first campaign.

"I think you might actually have a chance here, Senator," Zoe says, smiling to herself, on her way out. She's the last one to go—even beating out Anton, who is, by far, the most dedicated intern Chris has ever known. A distinction that doesn't seem to have changed after the big reveal.

Small favors.

"I still can't believe this," Zach says as they go upstairs to their rooms. "I'm not quite as optimistic as Zoe… not even close, but we only fell by five points, Chris. Can you believe that?"

"I feel like I should have been able to anticipate it," Chris says honestly. He's used to the adulation that follows Zach. Has used it to their advantage since the beginning.

"Even you couldn't have anticipated this." Zach's grinning, full of excitement. They have to separate to go into their own rooms, but Zach is through the shared door a second later, already stripped of his tie and moving forward to do the same for Chris.

Chris surrenders to his euphoria happily. He can't remember the last time Zach was quite so enthusiastic in bed. Of course they can't be loud, but he makes up for it with sheer glee, pulls Chris' legs over his shoulders and fucks him eagerly.

They're both smiling as they collapse together. Zach rolls to the side and pulls Chris with him, kissing him eagerly and tangling their legs together. "What if we actually pull this off?"

"Then you'll be President." And god, is that a beautiful sentence.

"I know," Zach says between kisses, so eager still that Chris wonders if there's a second round in his immediate future. "But if they vote for me—if they want me knowing I'm gay, then marriage equality will come with it. Don't you think? It has to."

"Probably—"

Zach rolls them again so that he's on top once more; kisses him deeply. "If it does, we can be together in the White House," he says, words uneven with either arousal or excitement; maybe both. "That was the worst part of all of this, thinking about not living together like we have been. But if it passes and we win…"

Chris kisses him. There are no more words for awhile.

-o-

"They're calling for the boyfriend to be revealed," Zoe tells them as soon as they step onto Zach's private plane to New York in the morning.

That halts Zach in his tracks. "What?"

Even Chris is surprised by that one, but he switches over to campaign manager and asks, "What do we have?"

She hands over several printouts while a flight attendant takes Zach's coat and ushers all of them to their seats. Anton is hovering nearby with newspapers, which he dutifully settles on the table when Zoe asks.

She's sitting across from them, waiting with her mouth pinched while they read. "Difficult to argue with this," Zach eventually murmurs, but Chris is stuck on the fact that the voting public apparently wants to know who they might be taking on as their 'certainly we can't call him our first lady—perhaps first partner would be more appropriate'.

The article has a vaguely offensive tone. And it's a strange feeling, to be offended at all about any of this. He's been offended on Zach's behalf many times—several of those just since yesterday—but never on his own.

This has always been about Zach.

"It is a fair question," Zoe agrees; carefully, Chris notices. Also carefully not looking at him.

"It's only fair if the Senator were actually married," he finally answers, and gets confusion from Zach and something bordering on amusement from her. "I'm not sure the American public has a right to approve every significant other that might cross a candidate's path."

"The Senator did imply that a marriage may be imminent," Zoe points out.

"If the marriage equality bill passes in his home state."

"But if it does—and it seems likely if his constituency votes for him—the American people do have a right to know who the Senator will share the White House with. The Office of the First Lady is a branch of the Executive Office."

"I'm not sure how that figures into our discussion," Chris counters, with more bite than he actually means, "since anyone who marries the Senator won't be the First Lady."

"The title would change to accommodate his gender," Zoe says equitably. "But he would have the same responsibilities as his predecessors."

The same responsibilities.

The words echo in Chris' head… images of past First Ladies tumbling along with it. Tea parties and floral arrangements, seeing to the annual Christmas card and organizing china patterns.

None of which Chris ever planned to take part.

The job was supposed to go to one of Zach's cousins; that's the tradition when a President is single. Someone to not only officially watch over the White House, but to watch over Zach as well.

Unofficially, of course, that's always been Chris' job.

"Do we have an official response?" Zoe asks, looking between them. Chris swallows, avoids looking at Zach.

"I don't think we need one right now. Let's focus on making sure we have these swing states. Most of them are pro-gay rights, so let's see what we can do to keep them on our side."

He can feel Zach's eyes on him, but he asks Anton for water—and the latest numbers so he can focus on the day's work.

-o-

They're on the plane again before dinner, toward their next destination. Anton and Zoe are flying separately, along with the rest of the staffers, although that was a last minute change, which Chris hadn't known about until five minutes before boarding.

Zach shakes his head when the flight attendant asks him if he wants dinner or a drink and says over his shoulder, "I'm going to lie down."

He goes to the back of the plane, to the private living area, without another word.

"And you, Mr. Pine? Can I get you anything?"

Chris pulls his attention from Zach's retreating back and says, "Just water, please." He's not in the mood for food either. Hasn't been all day, which is probably the reason for the headache he's been fighting with for the last few hours.

He watches the back of the plane once he gets his water but Zach doesn't emerge. He's been quiet most of the day, playing his part when it came time to kiss babies and make speeches—he even had a great photo op with a rural farmer and his giant pumpkin.

Chris knows he's thinking about the refusal to out himself—to make an announcement that he's the one Zach wants to propose to. The subject came up more than once while he was campaigning today.

And both times, Zach played it off, in that expert way he has.

But Chris knows very well it won't last. The refusal of the boyfriend to be known could end the whole thing.

"Can I get you anything else, Mr. Pine?"

Chris almost says no to the helpful attendant, but changes his mind and says instead, "Could you make a plate for the senator? I'll take it back to him."

"Of course."

"And water and two packets of aspirin as well," he adds. "He's not feeling well." Chris is the one with a headache, but he knows Zach hasn't eaten either so it's a fair bet he might need them as well.

"It will be just a moment, sir."

She goes off into the galley and comes back with a full tray; everything Chris asked for. "Thanks."

She nods and returns to her post up front. He wonders briefly if she suspects he's the boyfriend, but decides it doesn't really matter. He is the boyfriend, whether or not he's ready to admit it.

And doesn't that make him sounds like an asshole?

Propelled by the guilt—and if he's honest, a bit of unreasonable annoyance that Zach obviously doesn't know why he's upset—Chris crosses the plush carpet and knocks on the door. It's not locked. But Zach isn't in the small room with its cozy leather couch and television set.

Chris is about to go into the bedroom beyond, but the bathroom door opens and Zach comes out, free of his tie, shirt half unbuttoned. His face is pinched, the shadows pronounced under his eyes. He looks awful.

"Hey," he says dully when he sees Chris, his eyes flicking over the tray. "I'm not hungry."

"You need to eat."

Zach sighs as he sits on the couch. "Fine." He rubs at his face, leaning back into the cushions. "Look," he mumbles into his palm, "I know this wasn't what you expected, and I shouldn't have—"

"It's not that I don't want to be out with you," Chris interrupts, setting the tray down and sitting next to him. Zach looks up, tired eyes conflicted. "It's not." The anger has drained, leaving just the guilt for being the one to make Zach look like that. He leans in and kisses him softly. "I just… I didn't really think about what it would mean to be married, I guess."

Zach nods stiffly. "It's different. We never discussed it."

"It's not about getting married either. I mean, what have we been fighting for, otherwise?"

"I know," Zach murmurs. "But not every gay couple has to get married. It's not a rule or anything."

Chris is shifting close as he talks, and Zach accommodates him, moves so that Chris can snuggle into his side while Zach combs through his hair.

"We don't have to do anything you don't want to do," he assures him quietly. And if Chris could choose one example to explain why he loves Zach so much this would be it. He can hear how much it hurts to say those words, but Zach says them anyway.

Chris slips his fingers beneath his open shirt to caress the hair on his chest. "I just don't think I can pull off a very convincing First Lady."

"What?"

"Well, come on," Chris says, trying to smile. "Can you really picture me choosing plates for the China room, or posing you and Noah for the perfect Christmas card?"

"You have done that," Zach says, sounding confused. "The Christmas card, anyway. And you decorated our apartment."

"Yeah, but the first lady is the hostess of the White House, in charge of flowers and social gatherings."

"Okay, but—"

"I don't want to be the school lunch program cheerleader," Chris says, pushing off Zach's chest and feeling panicky, but it doesn't help. "There's an Office of the First Lady—"

"I know—"

"And officially, she's the Chief Floral Designer, and there's a collection in the Smithsonian and I'd have to read books to children in schools. They do that, you know, and talk about fitness and are fashion icons—"

"Chris..." Zach is smiling slowly. "You're freaking out."

Chris stares at him, heart still pounding while he frowns. "So?"

"You never freak out," Zach says. "Come here." He takes Chris' face in his hands and kisses him, but Chris is still frowning. "You know you don't have to just arrange flowers and wear pretty clothes, right? You can do anything you want to do."

"No, I can't—"

"Why not? There are no rules against it. And I still need you to write my speeches and tell me when I'm being an idiot."

"Zoe can do that. Even Anton—"

"No, they can't. You're the reason we've made it this far. Just like every other candidate's spouse, by the way—"

Chris opens his mouth to protest that he's not Zach's spouse, but it's just a technicality. "Have you even thought about this though?"

"About you being the official tea server? Not really, no."

"Zach."

"Okay, I'm sorry, but let me bask in this for a minute. I never get to convince you everything's going to work out. That's usually your job."

"You're not making me feel better," Chris grumbles, but he lets Zach twist him back around so he's curled into his side again. And he does feel a little bit better.

"That's not a bad thing, you know," Zach says quietly. "You've spent the last fifteen years taking care of me. This is no different. Is it because you would be taking a position traditionally held by a woman?"

"I don't know." It's partially that, although Chris doesn't like to admit he feels emasculated. It's ridiculous and petty, especially considering everything they've been working for. Plus, he knows he would enjoy most of it. Which makes him feel even more ridiculous. "I'm being stupid."

"You're not." Zach hugs him closer. "It's something we never thought would happen, so we never talked about it. And yes," he adds after a second, "I have thought about it. This is you by my side. Officially. And all the rest, the flowers and serving dishes, you can do all of that too. If you want. And if you don't, then don't. I just want you with me."

Chris curls his fingers over Zach's heart. Zach is his to protect. First and foremost. That's what he's here for. It's what he's always wanted. The rest he can figure out. "Me too," he agrees quietly. "Officially." He settles more comfortably against Zach, smiling as Zach kisses the top of his head. "You're going to have to tell your cousin she's out of a job."

-o-

They make their first public appearance as a couple in their home state—at the capitol; to a roaring crowd. It's better than any of them could have hoped for. They haven't gained back their five points yet, but they're on their way.

And even though it shouldn't matter, it seems Chris' looks are factoring into that. "The women can't get over you," Zoe is telling him as they exit the hotel on their way back to the airport where they're meeting Zach after a long day of appearances and meetings a few days later. "And it's the way you look together, the Senator so dark, which has always been a huge selling point and now you—"

"Okay," he interrupts, flustered and unaccustomed to compliments. Especially in front of the other staffers. "We're back to Washington for the morning, and then less than a week before election day."

"Which has worked in our favor so far. Does the Senator—"

Chris never hears the rest of her question. He's knocked to the ground, his head connecting with the concrete. There's a man on top of him, screaming, "Faggot! Fucking faggot!" over and over. Shaking him. He tries to twist away, but everything is fuzzy—dark. He feels like he's moving through a thick fog.

Everything comes into focus for a second as pain blooms along the side of his neck. He gasps and then nothing.

When he's next aware, it's too bright. He blinks, realizing after a few seconds that the groan he's hearing is his own. He tries to stop, swallowing hard.

"Mr. Pine?"

He closes his eyes but it doesn't make the pounding in his head go away.

"Zoe, he's awake!"

Anton, chirpy, even in times of catastrophe. He opens his eyes again and it's better; a little bit. Zoe only swims a little in front of his face. "What happened?" he croaks, and that just sets off the headache again.

"You were attacked. How do you feel?"

"Like I want to throw up…"

She smiles a little. "Dr. Greenwood said you would. Here. He's right here."

Bruce is standing in front of him—Chris finally realises he's back in the hotel room they were supposed to have checked out of by now. Lying on the couch. He pushes himself up and Bruce doesn't object, but reaches out to assist. "What happened?"

"You're concussed," Bruce answers. "And I've had to give you five stitches. Your assailant pulled a knife on you. Can you remember any of it?" He's peering into Chris' eyes with a light.

"Yes… Vaguely. What did he want? Did he get my wallet?"

Bruce exchanges glances with Zoe and doesn't answer.

"Where is he?"

Zach's voice, voice unnaturally deep—that register he tends to hit when he's terrified; which has been exactly once in the entire time Chris has known him.

"Senator, I assure you—"

"I don't want your assurances. I want to see him."

Chris pulls away from Bruce's light and croaks, "Zach…" There are too many people standing around them, but he says anyway, "I'm right here…"

Zach shoves through the wall of bodies, completely removed from his political persona, his hair dishelved, finally free from its gelled cage, his eyes wide with panic. He drops to his knees, hands reaching for Chris' face. "Chris…"

"I'm okay," he tries to reassure, but it's too scratchy. "I'm okay."

"What happened?" That's a demand for Bruce—and possibly Zoe, who cringes.

"Someone attacked him. He's in custody," she says hastily. "And no one has the story—"

"What do you mean someone attacked him? Where were you?"

"Senator, I think it might be best to wait with questions," Bruce intervenes. "He's concussed. He was attacked with a knife as well—"

"What?" Zach's hands are gentle on his skin. Chris can feel his pulse racing. He's staring at Chris' neck, and details are slowly starting to fill themselves in. The man screaming faggot at him; trying to hit him. Maybe he did. Chris can't really remember.

"But he's okay, right?" Zach asks shakily, as his thumbs brush tenderly over Chris' cheeks. His eyes are too bright.

"I'm okay," Chris tries to tell him again. He touches Zach's face, and it seems to help; at least it makes him blink. He takes a deep breath, only shaking a little. "Give us a minute," he says to the room in general. And in general, Zach is obeyed. This is no different; the room empties. Except for the bodyguards, who confer at the door and then one of them stays behind, eyes trained away from them.

"You're supposed to be giving your speech," Chris says quietly, because that's simpler than trying to explain what happened.

Zach frowns at him, incredulous. "I left. I left as soon as Zoe told me you were hurt. Are you really okay?"

"I'm fine."

Carefully, Zach straightens and sits beside him on the couch; winds their fingers together. "What happened?"

"I'm not really sure," Chris tells him. "It was just some guy… he was yelling at me about being a faggot, or something—"

"What?"

Chris studies Zach's horror-stricken face, feeling confused but shrugging. "It's sort of blurry, I don't know."

Zach closes his mouth slowly, swallows a few times. Very carefully, he traces near the stitches on Chris' neck; not close enough to hurt. "He had a knife."

Chris remembers the sharp screech of pain.

"Was it about you coming out?" Zach asks tightly, eyes glued to the wound. "It had to be."

"I don't know."

"We should have anticipated this. Had security for you—"

"You couldn't have known… Zach." Chris touches his face, again; caressing gently and Zach swallows and brings his eyes up. "I'm okay, I promise."

Zach shakes his head. "But you might not have been. He had a knife—" He swallows hard, grips Chris' hand tighter. "There were protestors this morning," he says quietly. "There has been ever since I came out, at almost every speech. We tightened security for me. Damn it, I'm sorry, Chris—"

"It's not your fault…" Chris leans in to kiss him. Zach's breathing is uneven, and he doesn't really kiss back. His jaw is too busy clenching.

"That's it, then," he says lowly.

"What's it?"

"I'm not going to put you at risk. Subject you to this bullshit—"

"Zach, it was just one guy—"

"And it was enough. Weller can have the White House—"

Alarmed, Chris straightens and it jars his head, but he says anyway, hoarse, "You're not pulling out of the race."

"I don't care about the race. This is our life, Chris."

"I know. Our life. The one we've been planning for; for fifteen years. Both of us working for this. And not so you could pull out at the last minute. Just because some guy tried to hurt me—"

"He tried to kill you." And that's the root of the panic; the manic eyes and reckless pronouncements.

Chris slides forward, carefully, and takes both of Zach's hands, flexes their fingers together. "He didn't, though. I'm fine, and we can take precautions. Hire security for me. Whatever we need to do, okay? I'll have to get used to it, anyway; once we win this thing. Because we're not pulling out and you are going to win. We have less than a week now."

He can see the conflict in Zach's eyes. "I need you to be safe," he says quietly, strain in every word.

"I know," Chris says softly. "I will be."

Zach's throat jerks, but he doesn't say anything. Just caresses Chris' cheek, and leans in to press a kiss to his forehead.

"You're not going anywhere without security," he says, the tone leaving no room for argument. Not that Chris feels inclined to argue. "I mean it."

He could make a joke about visitors in the bathroom, but refrains. "I won't."

Zach nods just once. He exhales shakily against Chris' skin. "Jesus Christ, Chris," he breathes. "I have never been so fucking scared in my life…"

It's not his fault, but Chris finds himself apologizing anyway. Zach shakes his head, tilts Chris' face back a bit so he can kiss him softly and then he rearranges them, so carefully as though he's convinced Chris is made of glass, and they sit there in their hotel room, the campaign, the staffers—everything—on hold.

-o-

Chris' security comes in the form of a two-person team, John and Alice, both dedicated to their work. No one on the staff seems to find anything odd about the two new additions even if it's difficult for Chris to get used to his two shadows.

But if his optimism holds, they might just be permanent fixtures.

Public persona Zach is charismatic as ever, smiling in all the right places, frowning thoughtfully when that's called for as well. But private Zach is a different animal altogether, hovering and careful, asking him every other second how he feels, if he needs anything. Stressed to the point of exhaustion, worried.

Which is silly, because Chris feels fine. And it's Zach that needs care. He's stretched to his limit, only hours away from the biggest day of his life.

They're on the plane, on their way back home; to watch the election results come in. Zach's wound up tight, but instead of relaxing, he's pacing, re-reading the speech he's had memorized for days; and interrupting himself every five minutes to ask Chris if he needs anything.

And by the fourth time, Chris puts his own papers aside and stands up.

They're alone in the back of the plane, but Zach still looks surprised when his speech is taken from his hands and Chris kneels in front of him.

"What are you doing?"

"It's not obvious?" Chris asks, smiling as he finishes opening his belt and pulls his zipper down as well. Zach's cock is soft, but he knows how to take care of that. Zach inhales sharply as Chris takes it in his mouth, again as he hums in appreciation. He likes the feel of it so soft on his tongue, and filling out right here in his mouth.

"Chris…"

"Let me take care of you," Chris mumbles, and has no idea if Zach can even understand him, but he stops protesting at least. He threads his fingers carefully through Chris' hair and lets Chris blow him.

He listens to Zach's ragged breaths, likes the way Zach cradles the back of his head. He obeys the pressure when Zach urges him forward, and lets his jaw slacken when the natural instinct takes over and Zach starts pushing in.

He comes soon after, pulsing down Chris' throat, sighing gustily as he lets his head fall back against the wall. "I fucking love you," he mutters, and Chris smiles around his dick. And then carefully cleans him up with his tongue and tucks him back in.

"Feel better?" he asks, tilting his head back to smile up at him as he buckles the belt neatly. Zach smiles too, palm urging him up at the back of his skull and so Chris straightens, lets Zach pull him in for a long kiss.

The captain's voice comes over the loudspeaker then, asking all passengers to return to their seats. Zach sighs against his mouth. "Why are we always interrupted?"

But Chris doesn't mind.

"You can fuck me tonight," he promises. "After you win the Presidency."

Zach smiles, thumb tracing Chris' cheekbone. "Thank you. For everything, Chris. No matter what happens, thank you."

His throat suddenly tight, Chris can only nod. Fifteen years in the making. Fifteen years and it all comes down to the whim of the American people.

To whether or not they can accept an openly gay man as their president. For fifteen years they kept his secret.

For fifteen years Zach pretended to be something he wasn't. Never offering that part of himself; of his life.

But when they asked him, he didn't deny it.

And that's what wins him the Presidency.

Epilogue

"You don't think it's too much?" Chris asks as he adjusts his cuffs for the fifteenth time.

"It's too late if it is," Zoe tells him, smiling and elegant in her ball gown.

He's waiting to be called to the floor for the first dance of the Inaugural Ball. And actually, it will qualify as their first as a married couple too.

They've only been married for two months, for as long as it's been legal in their state. They joined the hundreds of other couples at city hall that first morning, celebrated with strangers moments afterward; as happy as either of them has ever been.

There are only a handful of states holding out now—only a handful still unwilling to protect people based on their sexual orientation.

It's progress, and it feels good to be part of a positive change. Better than Chris ever expected. And now, he's standing backstage, listening to Zach talk to his new constituency—millions of Americans at their televisions as well, waiting to be called to the stage.

"Here we go," Zoe whispers, nudging him; having kept pace with the speech. Chris pulls in a slow breath, fingers flexing, thinking it would be easier if he could see Zach through the heavy curtains.

His voice, though, resonates throughout the ballroom, "Ladies and gentlemen, my better half… and my dancing partner…"

Chris can barely hear his name over the cheering, but he lets his breath out and moves forward, relaxing with a smile as soon as he sees Zach waiting for him at the bottom of the short staircase, hand outstretched.

He looks gorgeous, presidential and perfect.

Chris takes his hand, the eyes of the world watching, as the first openly gay United States President leads his husband onto the dance floor.