blue flamingos

Mother-Daughter

Fandom: The West Wing

Category/Rated: Gen, PG

Year/Length: 2010/~2644 words

Characters: Ellie, Abbey, Ellie's daughter

Spoilers: Post-series

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Ellie hasn't been back to New Hampshire in years – not since before Laura was born – but when she walks out of the lawyer's office, Laura's hand in hers, there's nowhere else she wants to be

Author's Notes: Written for the Stay Up Late challenge at queerlygen

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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Ellie hasn't been back to New Hampshire in years – not since before Laura was born – but when she walks out of the lawyer's office, Laura's hand in hers, there's nowhere else she wants to be. She buckles Laura into the backseat, then pulls out her cell, leans against the car to dial the lab.

She gets Maggie, the receptionist, who says, "Sweetheart, of course you need some time off," when Ellie explains why she's calling. "Don't worry about Dr Lumsden, I'll sort it with him. A week?"

"Not that long," Ellie says quickly. "Just a few days, I'll be back on Monday."

Maggie makes the doubtful sound that Ellie's very used to – Maggie's youngest daughter is Ellie's age and living in London, and so Maggie's taken on Ellie, the only other woman in their small lab, as a surrogate daughter – but says, "Whatever you think best, dear. Give my love to your little girl."

"Thanks, Maggie."

Laura’s quiet as Ellie maneuvers through the downtown traffic, until they get onto I-95 heading north, and Ellie puts her foot down, blasting past an eighteen wheeler in her little town car. “Are we going to see Aunt Zoey?” she asks.

“No, Aunt Zoey’s gone to Italy with Uncle Charlie, remember?” Ellie says. She pulls back into the inside lane and drops back to the speed limit. She really doesn’t want to get stopped and give herself the chance to change her mind.

“Oh yeah.” Laura looks out of the window for a minute then catches Ellie's eye in the rear view mirror. “Where are we going?”

"To see Grandma and Grandpa," Ellie says, so she can't change her mind. "We could stay for the weekend."

“Really?” Laura asks. She bounces a little in her seat and Ellie takes her eyes off the road long enough to look at her excited face. It makes something in her chest hurt; Vic was a huge mistake, marrying him even more so than sleeping with him, but she can’t regret it with her daughter next to her. “To their house?”

“That’s right. You’ve never been there.” She flicks on her turn signal and passes an RV.

“No. What’s their house like?”

There’s a photo of her, Liz and Zoey outside the house, taken the year before Laura was born, on the mantelpiece in Ellie and Laura’s new apartment. Ellie tells Laura about the horses instead.

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They stop for dinner at a tiny roadside diner, where Ellie blends right in, in her jeans and sweater, and Laura pouts when Ellie refuses to let her have extra ice cream; then Ellie gets lost coming off the interstate in New Hampshire, so it’s nearly eleven when she finally turns into her parents’ driveway.

“Are we here?” Laura asks, waking up from her doze against the back window.

“Yep,” Ellie says, slowing carefully. There’s a light on in the front room, and as she turns off the ignition, another one comes on. “You ready to say hi to Grandma and Grandpa?”

“Yes!” Laura says.

The front door opens as Ellie closes Laura’s door behind her, and her mother is standing there, barefoot in jeans and one of her father’s shirts. “Ellie?”

“Yeah, Mom. Laura’s here too.”

“Hi Grandma!” Laura throws herself into her grandma’s arms. “We drove all the way here from New York.”

“Really?” her mom asks, looking at Ellie over Laura’s head. Ellie smiles, and kind of wishes she was young enough to be hugged like that. “You must be tired.”

"A little bit," Laura says, peering over her grandma's shoulder. "Is Grandpa here?"

"He had to go to bed early," Abbey says, catching Ellie's eye again. MS attack – he's been in a bad spell for a while now. "But he'll be happy to see you in the morning."

“Are we staying?” Laura asks. “We didn’t bring anything to sleep in.”

“That’s all right,” Ellie’s mom says. “We can find you something.”

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Laura dozes off in Ellie's lap, only waking up enough to wrap her arms around Ellie's neck as she stands up with her. "Your old room," her mom says, watching her over her mug of tea. "There are night clothes in the dresser. Top drawer."

"Thank you," Ellie says softly.

The door to her parents' room is closed tightly, but she tiptoes by anyway, half-expecting her father's voice. Not that she was ever the one sneaking home late – that was always Liz.

The last time she was here – the night of President Santos' inauguration – her room was still her room, old toys and books she'd left behind on her way to college, her old single bed, and she and Vic had slept in one of the guest rooms. Or he'd slept. She'd lain awake, feeling her daughter move inside her, thinking, Everything's going to be okay. He's a nice man. He'll love our daughter as much as I do.

This time, when she opens the door, the room's been repainted, warm yellow, the curtains replaced with thick, dark orange. Her old bed's gone, replaced with a child's bed, a deep red comforter and a teddy bear that Ellie doesn't recognize. The rest of the furniture is changed as well – all child-size, pale pine, and Ellie has to swallow past the lump in her throat, because of course there are rooms for Annie and Gus, but they visit, all the time, and she's never brought her own daughter home.

"Where are we?" Laura asks, stirring against Ellie's neck and blinking at the room.

"It's okay," Ellie says. "Time for bed. You can see Grandpa in the morning."

"Grandpa's house," Laura says, already closing her eyes.

Ellie finds a pair of purple pajamas in the dresser, manhandles Laura's lax limbs into them, and tucks her under the covers, with the bear. She curls up immediately around it, tiny hands clutching at it, her blonde hair falling over her face. Ellie worried, the first night they moved into her new apartment, that Laura would have trouble sleeping, but she just curled up in her new bed like it was nothing.

There's a rocking chair tucked in the corner, perfect position to watch Laura, and Ellie settles into it, tucks her sock feet under her. She feels more tired than can reasonably be explained by the time, and in the dim light of a butterfly shaped nightlight, she thinks she could fall asleep where she's sitting.

She's not sure how long she sits there before there's a tap at the door and her mom easing it open, two steaming mugs in one hand. "I thought I might find you here," she says quietly, handing over one mug. Ellie wraps her hands around it, soaking up the warmth, and buries her face in the steam. "Do you want me to leave you two alone?"

Ellie shakes her head. "It's okay. I'll come down."

They settle again in the den, her mom in the arm chair, Ellie on the edge of the couch nearest to her. The curtains are open, and she can see their reflections in the dark glass, instead of the fields she knows are out there. It feels cozy, but not claustrophobic, like she'd sometimes get in the house, home for vacations from college.

"I assume you signed the papers today," her mom says after a while, her tone carefully neutral.

Ellie nods, looking down into her mug again, hoping her mom won't ask what she's doing there, since she doesn't have a good answer.

"And the two of you made a decision about Laura?"

"Vic's taking a job in the UK," Ellie says. "Laura's going to spend a few weeks there, about three times a year, and we'll figure it out again when she starts school."

"England?" her mom presses.

"It's a good job," Ellie protests, and it is, but he's not the one who wanted to get divorced. He's the one who wanted to get married, wanted to marry her, when she went to him and said, Something's happened, we need to decide what to do. There's a reason she hasn’t asked if he took the job because it meant being a long way away from her, when she doesn't want to hear that she broke his heart.

"I'm sure it is," Abbey says. "And will you go with Laura?"

"Maybe," Ellie says. She thinks, in the end, that they'll be friends. Vic will meet a nice woman, and maybe so will she, and they'll be an inter-continental family. Maybe it will be one of the perks of being the daughter that most people ignored – the press doesn't even seem to have noticed that she's gotten divorced, and she hopes it stays that way.

"All right," Abbey says briskly, standing up. "I think I'll go off to bed, unless you need anything?"

"Could I borrow something to sleep in?" Ellie asks. "I – didn't exactly plan ahead."

Her mom smiles. "I think we can find you something as well," she says.

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Even though she has a double bed in her apartment, lying in the one she last slept in next to Vic, Ellie feels lost in too much empty space. When she closes her eyes, the familiar sound of cars outside is absent; when she opens them, the shadows aren't right, and she feels wide awake, anxious with the heavy bedroom doors between her and Laura, when at home it's just light sliding screens.

She rolls over, presses her face into the pillow and remembers the last time Vic tried to have sex with her, how she'd lain there, unresponsive, until he stopped and said, "What's the matter?" She was thinking about being a little drunk the first time, too careless, about the times in between when she wanted to, and the times when she did it because he wanted to, and all the times she knows he wanted to and didn't ask, because he loved her and she... didn't, quite.

"I can't do this," she said, then, and, before he could say anything, "I can't keep doing this, I'm sorry."

He'd said, after the first time, "I always thought you were a lesbian," and Ellie had shrugged and said, "Maybe bisexual," and he hadn't said anything more about it.

"Was I right?" he'd asked, once, after she moved out, before they signed divorce papers, and she'd known what he was referring to immediately. "I don't know," she'd said, trying to be honest, even though she had loved him, had been in love with him, or at least fooled herself into it.

She sighs, sits up and turns on the light. She has a couple of journals in her shoulder bag, amongst the coloring pencils, Laura's favorite book, a folding umbrella and a small bag of dried fruit. Liz warned her, when she found out Ellie was pregnant - you wait and see. Your purse is the first thing to go, and then you start forgetting what it was like when you just had your own stuff to worry about. I can't remember the last time I went out with just a lipstick - and it's true.

Leaning back against the headboard, pen in one hand, journal folded open on her drawn-up knees, Ellie's reminded suddenly of going into her parents' room, early one morning when she was a bit older than Laura is now, both of them sitting up in bed with mugs of coffee and their journals. She tried that with Vic once, but he got upset, said she shouldn't be bringing work into their marriage bed. Even after she explained, he kept looking at her strangely, said that normal couples didn't do that, his parents hadn't.

"Maybe I'm not normal," Ellie had said quietly, and gotten up to check on Laura.

She reads the interesting articles first, then the ones with relevance to her work, in decreasing order, waiting to get tired enough to fall asleep, watching the clock tick round the hours. It doesn't happen, and she starts on the articles that are neither relevant nor interesting, hoping those will finally help her to nod off, the sky lightening on the other side of the curtains.

Instead, she's pulled all the way back by the familiar sound of Laura, words indistinguishable through the doors, but her worried, anxious tone clear. Ellie tosses her journal aside and crosses the hall, navigating half by touch in the dim light.

Laura's sitting up in the middle of the bed, both arms wrapped around the bear, her hair a tangled mess, her eyes wide. She crawls down the bed as soon as Ellie opens the door, and climbs into Ellie's lap before Ellie's quite finished sitting down.

"I woke up," she says, snuggling into Ellie's body and tucking her face against the Notre Dame logo on the t-shirt Abbey loaned her. "And I couldn't remember where I was, and you weren't there."

"I know," Ellie says, stroking her hair. "I'm here now. I was only on the other side of the door."

"I didn't want to get up," Laura says. "I thought I'd get lost."

"Maybe we can ask Grandma if we can put something on my door in the morning," Ellie suggests. "So you'll know where I am next time."

"Okay," Laura says. She cuddles closer, lets Ellie wrap the foot of the comforter around her. "Stay here?"

"Okay," Ellie echoes. "Let's get in bed though."

Laura falls asleep again almost the moment her head hits the pillow, still pressed close to Ellie, and it doesn't take much longer before Ellie's own eyes are closing as well.

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She wakes up, disoriented, to voices, and Laura missing from her side. When she blinks her eyes open, Laura's sitting on the stool in front of the vanity table, watching in the mirror as Abbey brushes her hair.

"Good morning," Abbey says, catching Ellie's eye in the mirror.

Ellie pushes her own hair back from her face. "What time is it?"

"Still early," Abbey says. "But Grandpa woke up early, and wanted to show Laura the horses."

For the first time, Ellie notices that her daughter is dressed, same pants as yesterday and a child's bright green Harvard Medical School t-shirt. "Mom," she starts.

"It's fine," Abbey says briskly. "It's only a short walk, it's good for him." She pats Laura's shoulder. "All done."

"Thank you," Laura says, twisting to hug her grandmother quickly, then climbing up onto the bed to hug Ellie. "Are you coming with us, Mommy?"

"Your mom's going to get some more sleep, and you can tell her all about your walk when you come back," Abbey says. "Go on down and find your shoes, I'll be right there. Make sure Grandpa doesn't start without me."

Laura looks over at Ellie, waiting for her nod, then tumbles off the bed and out of the door.

When Ellie looks up, her mom is watching her, her expression unreadable. "Are you sure you don't want me to get up as well?" she asks.

"I think we can handle one three year old," Abbey says. She comes over to the bed, sits on the edge and nudges Ellie into lying down. "You look tired." She strokes one hand over Ellie's hair, and maybe that's what does it, or maybe Ellie's just had too many years of trying to be normal.

Whatever it is, when she opens her mouth, what comes out is, "I think I'm a lesbian. That's why we got divorced."

Abbey's hand doesn’t hesitate. "I know," she says. Ellie closes her eyes, but all that happens is her mom kissing her forehead, like she did when Ellie was a little kid, afraid of the dark. "Go back to sleep, sweetheart. We'll talk after breakfast."

"With Dad?" Ellie asks.

"Yes, with Dad," her mom agrees, sounding amused, and stays there, stroking Ellie's hair, until Ellie falls asleep again.


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