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Without a Cape

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Susan has seen enough of the combined Barrish and Hammond personal lives to know that there is rarely a dull moment, but the simple fact is that those rare moments do exist, and specifically, they exist during transatlantic flights.

Elaine, who has somehow dropped both her maiden and married names in Susan's mental narration over the past six weeks of campaigning, typically uses the flights to strategize and theorize over her opponents. But this flight, which will take them overseas and casually remind the American people that Elaine Barrish's years of diplomatic experience endears her to the rest of the world far more than her opponent's record ever could, is longer than the others and Elaine has chosen to use it as a well-deserved rest.

Susan reviews the notes she's been taking during the trip, but the article needs excerpts from Elaine's speech and although Susan has seen the rough draft, she knows Elaine well enough by now to know that it will change from paper to presentation. Susan also checks her email and browses Georgia's old blog. She debates leaving a comment about a grammatically imperfect sentence, but she ultimately decides she doesn't want to be that person.

After all, the best revenge is living well, and one of them is on a plane with Elaine Barrish and one of them is not.

She's in the middle of closing that browser window when Elaine wakes up.

"That was a bit longer of a nap than I intended," Elaine confesses.

"Don't worry about it. Even a veritable Superwoman needs her rest, right?"

As Elaine pulls out her notes, she smiles at Susan. Elaine Barrish's smiles used to be both intimidating and challenging, but now they are something else that Susan is trying to carefully avoid thinking about.

Romances at work have a documented history of not working out for her and Susan actually likes this gig and would like to not taint it.

"There's not actually a Superwoman. There is only a Superman. You'd have to pick either Supergirl, something I hope you agree is inappropriate to call any woman past the age of puberty, or Wonder Woman." Elaine slips on her glasses and looks at Susan over the rim. "I'm not sure I could pull off the shorts at my age."

"I'm sure you could," Susan says, and who could blame her, really? It isn't as though the glasses thing doesn't hit each and every one of Susan's roleplay kinks, specifically but not exclusively the librarian one.

Sometimes she thinks about telling Elaine that - the roleplay kink part, not the part where she kind of wants Elaine to be a part of them. Partially she wants to tell Elaine to see her reaction, because she wonders just how far the liberal part of Elaine can stretch. But the other part of her wants to tell Elaine so that Susan can file that reaction away and use it as masturbation fodder.

So Susan doesn't mention it, because that is hardly fair, and kind of ridiculous.

"That's very kind of you to say, Susan. Though I'm not sure that the middle of a campaign is the right time to declare myself Wonder Woman or dress in the average female superhero's costume. The press would have a field day with both of those options, present company excluded, of course."

"No, I would have had a field day with both of those things, too," Susan admits. "I would have made sure to make several disparaging remarks about Wonder Woman not putting up with Bud Hammond, for starters."

"Though she certainly could have used the lasso of truth on him," Elaine admits, and Susan is glad to hear that there is only vague annoyance in that comment and not longing.

Because a lot has changed, but Susan's desire to see Elaine Barrish kick Bud Hammond to the curb never has.

"I have to admit that I'm surprised to hear that you have such a fountain of superhero knowledge," Susan says, and she takes it as a moment of maturity that she says that instead of taking the opening to bash Bud Hammond some more.

Not that he doesn't deserve it, of course, but he also doesn't deserve the right to take over this conversation.

"Are you going to ask me next if it comes from TJ or Doug's childhood exploits?"

"Why couldn't it have come from your childhood exploits?" Susan asks, because meeting Elaine's challenges are rapidly becoming her favorite part of the day.

Though she suspects if either of the Hammond children were reading superhero comics, it's far more likely to have been TJ. Doug isn't the one with the documented history of tying a cape around his neck and jumping off rooftops, metaphorically at least.

Elaine leans back in her seat and chuckles. "You are the very first person to suggest that."

"You must have conversations with some truly lousy people."

Elaine's chuckles grow to a full-fledged laugh. "And I have the great delight in campaigning against one of them."

It's an easy segue back into professional territory, and Susan fully expects Elaine to continue in that direction. But instead, Elaine asks, "What about your reading exploits, Susan? I don't think I've ever seen you read for pleasure."

"All my reading is a pleasure."

"Oh, Susan, I do hope you have better pleasure than The New York Times."

Susan ignores the way that Elaine's voice dips at the word pleasure, because clearly she is imagining things.

"I do," Susan concedes. "But what I read for pleasure are completely ridiculous things that should remain a secret until my dying day."

"Susan Berg." Elaine's smile disappears with what must be disappointment and Susan suddenly understands how crushing Doug's fear of disappointing his mother is. "I hope you realize that the entire notion that women should be ashamed of their leisure activities is a nonsense grounded entirely in the male desire to make us apologize for anything that we enjoy that doesn't require their presence."

"That's a good speech. Is it on the record?"

"Only if you tell me what it is that you read that you're so unduly ashamed of."

Well, Susan has always believed in suffering for her art, so she answers, "Romance novels."

She expects the comments about Susan's rampant hypocrisy, because Elaine Barrish and Bud Hammond had been a romance novel for years, and for years, Susan had taken great delight in ripping apart the unhealthy nature of that relationship. She still will engage in that conversation if asked to, because she had been right, and because fiction is not the same as real life.

But Elaine is nicer than she should be or maybe she doesn't want to admit that her ex makes Harlequin men look good, because all she says is, "Unexpected, but hardly the moral failing that you were making them out to be."

Alex doesn't agree with you, Susan thinks about saying, but then she doesn't, because Alex is an ex and exes don't belong in the present tense.

"But it's hardly something that you would read in your spare time," Susan points out.

"Mm. They were for a time, when I was a teenager," Elaine answers. "I actually think they are very useful for a developing sense of feminine sexuality, despite their problematic aspects. Well, heterosexual female sexuality."

"They're not always heterosexual now," Susan comments.

"A bodice ripper with two women?" Elaine does the look over the rim of her glasses thing again. "That is progress."

"Sometimes two women. Harlequin is even publishing the two men deal," Susan admits. "And they're not all bodice rippers. Here in the 21st century, our romance novels are allowed to feature enthusiastic consent."

"Now I definitely am not sure I believe you. You might be making it all up."

Susan opens up the lesbian romance bookmark from her Goodreads account and hands her iPad over to Elaine. "See? Actual, existing category of book. I mean, it's not perfect, and it would be nice if everything wasn't shoved into the 'lesbian' category just because it has two women in a relationship, because some of those books are actually about bisexual women, but you know. Bierasure. Except, I guess you wouldn't know, exactly, but ... "

Elaine looks up from Susan's iPad and frowns slightly. "It's unfortunate to automatically assume that a woman in a relationship with another woman is a lesbian, because it erases a good deal of women's sexualities," she says. "But assuming that a woman in a relationship with a man is heterosexual does the same thing."

"I wouldn't assume that."

"You just did."

It's Susan's turn to lean back into her seat, and for a moment that's all she can do. The reporter within her is intrigued by the comment, but she knows that nothing they're actually discussing can leave the plane. "I swear to you, if you are trying to come out to me, Elaine Barrish, it will stay completely off the record."

Elaine hands her back her iPad. "I've read the first six of the books you have bookmarked, and I only recommend the last two. I kissed my first girl in sixth grade, two years before I ever kissed a boy. After the boy, I found I rather still enjoyed kissing girls, so I kept doing so."

Okay, so why isn't there any record of that anywhere?

It's the first question that Susan wants to ask, but then her brain catches up with her, and she realizes that it's a ridiculous question, because Elaine Barrish is hardly the first closeted politician in the history of the world.

"I kissed my first boy in eighth grade, and I didn't kiss my first girl until college," Susan admits. "I am, once again, awestruck by your ability to know what you wanted far before I did."

"Being shy about what we want isn't something that runs in the Barrish family," Elaine answers.

Or the Hammonds, Susan thinks, and she wonders why, with multiple genders open to her, Elaine chose Bud Hammond to spend her life with.

"She was the president of my sorority," Susan confesses, because apparently this is the flight for them. "The first girl I kissed. Apparently I have a type."

Elaine doesn't say anything for a minute, she just tilts her head. "Are you trying to say that you have a kink for men and women in power, Susan?"

"More than you know," Susan says and she wonders when she forgot that she was not going to wander into this territory on the job again.

Well, Elaine casually discussing kinks is certainly not helping her resolve any, that's for sure.

Elaine takes off her glasses then and folds them carefully. "The first girl I kissed, I initiated it. The first boy I kissed, I initiated it. But you must know that there are all sorts of boundaries here that might be considered inappropriate between us, and that makes my ability to initiate anything rather compromised."

"Are you saying that - "

"I'm saying that if there is something you want, Susan, you need to make it a bit more clear."

"It was easier to do this when I had a nearly a full bottle of alcohol in me," Susan admits. Possibly, it is the opposite of classy to mention that fact to the mother of the man in question, but Elaine doesn't bat an eye.

"I will not be giving you alcohol beforehand, because that is the way of cowards and the only thing I despise as much as cowards are Republicans."

"As though there's a difference."

"True." Elaine smiles at her again and it's enough that all of Susan's resolve is gone.

But happily, her courage isn't so she sets her iPad down and leans over to kiss Elaine. For that first terrifying moment, all she can do is hear the pounding of her own heart in her ears and she thinks that maybe she's misunderstood something, because Elaine isn't kissing her back.

Then Elaine begins to return the kiss, and the only thing that Susan can focus on is the feel of Elaine's hands as they move to cup her face.

"As far as ways to spend a trip go, this beats sleeping on the plane any day," Elaine says, breaking the kiss.

"It really does," Susan agrees, before leaning in for another kiss, because there is still a lot more that she wants.