Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me and no copyright infringement is intended.

Spoilers: "In This White House"

Archive: Sure, just let me know.

Summary: Ainsley Hayes, while working late, discovers that the White House is haunted by some frightening things.

Haunted House

Ainsley wished she had a real desk, in a real office, but that wouldn't happen until all the paperwork for her hire was completed. She had asked Leo McGarry and gotten permission to look over some files and past requests so she could familiarize herself with the job. She did not get where she was at her age without being diligent about her responsibilities.

She found herself sitting in the bullpen of the West Wing senior staff area, at a desk which looked as if it had been recently vacated. She found the desk drawers empty, except for a man's picture, with his face blacked out by indelible marker and the words "Cretin boy" written across the front. Obviously the ex boyfriend of the last occupant of the desk.

She also wished she hadn't decided to do this tonight. She was cursed with a vivid imagination and an inconvenient memory for the ghost stories of her childhood. Perhaps this wasn't the best place to be right now.

It was late and she was alone. The lack of bustle was a little eerie, but she wasn't going to let that stop her from reading over the files. All of the staff, as far as she knew, had gone home. Even the cleaners had been by. The single lamp made shadows in the room, but she bent her head to the files, reading over the past year's worth of information requests made to the White House counsel's office.

And what an odd bunch of requests they were, too. Anything and everything from current personal financial disclosure rules to the International Court of Justice's ruling on the Middle East peace accords to the precedents involving the Enclosures Act in England. This was a hodgepodge of legal jurisdictions and rulings that taxed her brains more than she expected. Was she really expected to research cases that went back centuries?

As it turned out, she was. Whatever legal advice the President or his staff asked for, they were legally obligated to provide. At least her job was to provide legal counsel, not to find out how to make the laws involved palatable to the American public.

Larry and the other guys in the Republican Party thought she was a little loopy to take the job, but she was content. The opportunity to learn law in its rawest form, as well as be there for the inner workings of government was invaluable. She was a little hurt at the accusations of betrayal from some of the party faithful, but she felt that her input would make the country a better place and that was what mattered. She couldn't care less who got the credit, so long as she had some hand in getting the country back on track. Party loyalty was all well and good, but creating and sustaining the America she loved was more important.

She rubbed her eyes tiredly, putting the file down. This was worse than the bar exam.

She thought she heard a noise and jumped. Then she slowly made herself relax.

"Ainsley, even if it is only three weeks after Hallowe'en, there's no need to get spooked." She told herself softly. "There's cleaners here." Not quite reassured, she scolded herself on being overly fanciful.

She went back to her file, telling herself that there was no earthly reason for the hairs on the back of her neck to stand up. Okay, she was pretty much alone in this big, quiet building. The security people were on the outside, not in. And weren't there stories of the White House being haunted?

She ignored the ghostly light in her peripheral vision, telling herself that it wasn't there. Still, the sense of the light bothered her. She wasn't about to look, though. Her mama and grandmama had told her stories of ha'nts and she wasn't about to get caught by some spooky apparition in the middle of the night. Not a good way to start a new job.

An eerie whistle made her jump and scream, papers flying out of her hand. She got to her feet and backed against the door, glad to have something solid to lean against.

"Are you all right?" A deep voice asked her quietly and Ainsley closed her eyes tight.

"This isn't happening to me. This isn't happening to me." She repeated under her breath, trying to get her hammering heart under control.

"Miss Hayes?"

There is was again. A male voice. An unfamiliar male voice. She cautiously opened one eye and peeked at the voices owner, half hoping, half dreading that she was just imagining things.

Standing by the desk was a balding, bearded man, rumpled and tired looking. He was holding a cup in one hand and dunking a tea bag up and down with the other.

"You scared me half to death." Ainsley put one hand to her breast and sighed. "I thought I was here all alone. I was trying to read up on the past requests, just so I would know what sorts of things I'd be researching...."

"Miss Hayes." The man's voice went stern, the tone sardonic. "Take a breath between sentences. You'll sound more coherent."

"Well, you did scare the life half out of me." She retorted swiftly. "Creeping up on me like that. Where I come from, no gentleman would scare a lady like that."

"Where I come from, there are no gentlemen." The man returned swiftly. "There's hot water if you want some coffee or tea or something." He turned to go and Ainsley found herself reaching out a hand.

"Wait a minute. You know who I am, but you are...?"

"Toby Ziegler." The man told her.

"Oh, so you're Toby Ziegler. I've heard of you." Ainsley said impulsively, then bit her lip. What could she possibly say to him? She had been warned not to cross swords with him; he was probably the living example of everything she disagreed with about the Democratic Party, as well as being awesomely well informed about everything.

"Yes, I see you have." Toby responded, with a small smile. "Don't worry. I don't turn into a werewolf until Saturday sundown, so you're safe for another few hours."

"What are you doing here so late?" She asked curiously.

"Same thing you are. Working." Toby replied. "I thought you didn't start until Monday."

"I don't. I just thought I could get a leg up on the job. I was reading the past few months of requests, so I could cut short the learning curve and do a good job sooner."

"Working yourself to death won't impress anybody, you know."

"No?"

"No. I do it and nobody notices." Toby said dryly. "If you want coffee or anything, there's some of those instant flavoured coffees on Bonnie's desk."

"Won't she mind?"

"She'll blame me." Toby shrugged and turned to go.

"Mr. Ziegler?"

"Yes?"

"I know that most people here aren't happy with me being here, but I wanted to assure you that I am going to do my job." Ainsley said earnestly. "I am not going to keep my opinions to myself, nor am I going to pretend that I approve of this White House, but I am a loyal citizen who is willing to serve the President in any way I can. Furthermore..."

"Miss Hayes." Toby interrupted her. "It's nearly two in the morning and I have a speech to finish. I will barely have time to go home and change before I have to be at temple, so spare me the long speeches. Your motives are of no interest to me. If you don't do your job, I expect Leo to fire you. And if you keep me here any longer chattering inanities, I will save him the bother and strangle you myself."

"Temple...?" Ainsley echoed weakly.

"I go to religious services, Miss Hayes, as I expect you do as well." Toby said impatiently. "I would normally have gone home and finished the damned speech tomorrow morning, but that would have meant missing the service."

"You're Jewish."

"With a name like Ziegler, did you expect that I was Presbyterian?" Toby asked, slightly amused. "Are you really as much of an idiot as you sound right now?"

Ainsley straightened her spine and her temper flared.

"I do not require your approval of my conversational style. Furthermore, how dare you judge my intelligence in one conversation? Are aware how condescending and rude you are right now?"

"Yes." Toby replied promptly. "I didn't say you were an idiot, I said you sounded like one. If you actually listened to what people say to you instead of rehearsing what you are going to say next, you might find more people willing to take you seriously."

"Like you?"

"No, Miss Hayes, I won't take you seriously until such time as you start talking sense instead of slogans." Toby retorted. "There may be merit in your arguments, but it gets lost in the rhetoric. I've read your articles and I'm afraid they don't go into enough depth for me to judge whether you really believe the rhetoric or whether you're just chanting what you learned at your daddy's knee."

"You doubt my sincerity?" Ainsley challenged.

"Sincerity, no. Maturity of your opinions, yes." Toby said promptly. "And before you start disputing me with more verbiage, I remind you it is two in the morning and we both have work to do. You'll have plenty of opportunities to fight with me later."

"Wait a minute. You called me immature." Ainsley shouted after him.

"I called your opinions immature. I made no comments on you. You don't listen very well, do you?" Toby replied, not coming back. "And shouting after me in a dark corridor doesn't impress me with the righteousness of your argument."

Ainsley sat down in the desk chair in frustration. She wasn't going to run after him; she suspected he was laughing at her. She was not chanting slogans. She had thought carefully and fully her positions on many issues and she was willing to change her position when confronted with a contradiction. She wasn't some narrow minded redneck.

It took nearly ten minutes for her hands to stop shaking long enough to pick up the folder in front of her and nearly that long to get her concentration back.

She read for a while, telling herself that the shadow she saw out of the corner of her eye was nothing. She saw it move several times before it annoyed her long enough to get up and look. She saw something near the wastebasket and moved it to get a better look. Something furry with whiskers scurried across the floor and she screamed, fleeing in terror.

By chance, she ran down the hall toward the only other source of light; Toby's office.

She practically fell into Toby's arms, meeting him as he got up to investigate the screams.

"Miss Hayes, are you all right?" He asked, as she clung to him.

"A rat." She gasped out. "I saw a rat. In the outer offices..."

"Damn." Toby looked resigned. He led her into his office and shut the door. Depositing her on the couch, he perched on the edge of his desk and picked up the phone, punching in some numbers.

"This is Toby Ziegler in the West Wing. We have a rat. Again." Toby said into the phone a few moments later. "I know it's two thirty.... Get someone up here and find the damn thing and where it's getting into the offices... We have millions of dollars of computer equipment with chewable wires, so yes, it's a priority.... Do you really want to deal with Margaret on Monday?... How do you think she'll find out about it? I'll tell her.... Yes. Yes, the offices will be vacated."

"They're going to come up now?"

"Last time we found a rat, Margaret had conniptions. It was not a pretty sight." Toby said, with a reminiscent smile. "Pack up your files, Miss Hayes. They need us out of here so they can get rid of out furry interloper."

"You've had rats here before?" Ainsley looked shocked.

"It's an old building and it's built on a swamp. Of course it has rats." Toby replied. "Get your stuff. I'll walk you out."

Ainsley retreated to the doorway, unwilling to go back there with that furry... thing... running loose. Rats made her skin crawl.

Toby said nothing to her, just packed up his files, stuffed them and his laptop into his briefcase and took his coat off the coat rack.

Ainsley felt a great deal safer with him standing there as she hurriedly shoved her files into her case nilly willy. She'd straighten them out when she got home.

"Mr. Ziegler, I am not normally so..."

"Squeamish?" Toby actually grinned. "Don't worry, I've seen worse. Sam's afraid of spiders and Ginger gets wigged out by centipedes."

"And what are you afraid of?" Ainsley challenged.

"Republicans. You guys scare the hell out of me." Toby said idly. "Do you need a ride anywhere?"

"No. I have my car."

They walked in silence through the quiet corridors and out the door toward the parking area. Ainsley went to her car, feeling Toby's eyes on her until she got in and closed the door. She started up and waited for the car to warm a little before putting it in gear. She saw Toby pull out, heading out of the parking area and put her own car in motion.

"Rats." She said to herself as she turned onto the street. "I work in a place that has rats." She shivered, a little ashamed of showing weakness in front of one of them. Of all the people who had to see her at a moment of weakness, it had to be Toby Ziegler. It was well known that Leo McGarry did not suffer fools gladly, and that Toby Ziegler did not suffer them at all. She felt like a fool.

Still, he had been rather nice about it all. He hadn't made fun of her for being frightened.

He had, however, called her opinions immature and criticised her nervous habit of talking too fast when anxious. Well, she didn't need his critique of her verbal skills; his sardonic insults were every bit as bad. Nor did she need his condescending attitude towards her beliefs. Smug, arrogant and patronising, the lot of them. And he was the worst. She would do a good job, she vowed. She would show him. She'd be intelligent, well prepared, polite, calm and ladylike, but show him she would.

END

-- Adrienne             ar895@freenet.carleton.ca

 

 

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