She was sitting behind the plain wooden desk, glasses tossed carelessly aside as she cradled her forehead in her palms and tried to suppress the shaking in her shoulders. When he spoke she lifted drenched blue-grey eyes to his, swiping futilely at the few gritty, sticky sweat-tracks still tracing their way down her cheeks.
"Ethan." Her voice was world-weary, centuries older than it had been that morning. The sun was fading to the west, ribbons of crimson and gold and tangerine spreading their way across the darkening sky. She hadn't slept for thirty-six hours, and her entire body showed it - shoulders bowed and trembling, forehead creased tight and pale, her dehydration obvious.
He crossed swiftly to her, touching her shoulder softly, and finally the heartache and exhaustion caught up with her. She pushed herself to her feet, and then the next minute she had her arms wrapped tight around him and her face buried against his neck as she let go with a flood of wrenching sobs.
He held her as best he could, cradling her shaking body, knowing that the best thing he could offer now was an anchor in the storm of emotional turmoil she had finally been forced to unleash. Even as he held her he could feel her choking back her sobs, reluctant to let go, still unable to believe the nightmare was over, and he knew her - to give in to this now was too soon. Let it go, dearest, he thought, murmuring soothing nonsense into her ear and stroking her hair as the worst of it forced its way through her system and she clutched helplessly at the back of his jacket like he was the only thing left she had in the world - which, he remembered as he held her, he was. He knew there would be more tears later, more tears and self-recriminations and what-ifs and how-could-I's. But that was later, and now, with her tears finally slowing, maybe Allison could find a moment of peace.
She extricated herself from his arms, and as she met his gaze he could see that the steel was back in her eyes. But even as she squared her shoulders and picked up her glasses, she reached for his hand and said simply, "Thank you."
He squeezed her hand tight, wordless for once in his life as a thousand things passed between them, I-hopes and maybe-somedays and we'll-see's and, blazing bright, I want this too.
"Welcome back, Madam President," he managed finally.
And as she straightened her spine and walked out of the room, tossing her trademark grin back over her shoulder, he couldn't help but dream.