For disclaimer and notes, please see part one.

Previously, on the West Wing: The band congregates in Toby's office for another meeting.

Leo looked at the door to her room. The last time he saw her, she was unconscious in the back of an ambulance. She passed out right before his eyes, in his arms almost. Sleep deprivation. Because of him. If he hadn't been afraid of losing her earlier in the morning, he would walk in there and kill her for what she did.

Ultimately, though, that would require entering the room, something he had yet to do.

He didn't know what was holding him back. His fears, his sadness... Something. Shaking his head, he finally turned the handle and poked his nose in. The room had been partitioned off by a thin blue curtain. Margaret was in the far bed and he approached her side of the room cautiously. He didn't want to be walking on eggshells. He kept picturing her flat, empty eyes rolling back in her head.

He had seen some scary stuff in his day, but that took the cake.

Peeking around the curtain, he saw his assistant in a white and blue hospital gown, her head turned toward the wall. He smiled in spite of himself, thinking she looked somewhat patriotic in an odd way, the red of her hair topping off her hospital ensemble. She was hooked up to a couple monitors and had an IV stuck in her arm. She was breathing, he could tell, seeing the rise and fall of her chest under the light blanket. Guessing she was sleeping, he wondered if he should turn around and go, or if he should pull the chair from near the door over to her side of the room.

He remained standing at the partition, watching her.

After a few moments, her fingers twitched, and he wondered if maybe she was undergoing yet another seizure. He wondered if maybe she was epileptic. Could epilepsy suddenly appear in a grown woman? He wasn't sure. He was ready to go find Dr. Chatham when Margaret inhaled deeply and turned her head from the wall towards him. He saw the dark circles Chatham had talked about; they were alarming against her pale skin. She frowned a little before opening her eyes.

Her eyes weren't dead looking anymore.

Her eyes widened when she saw him, letting him get a good look at the vibrant blues that had looked at him day in and day out for almost ten years. She had the urge to sit up upon seeing him, and he recognized that, so he held his hand up to stop her and took a few steps towards her.

"It's all right," he said. "Lie still."

"Leo--"

"Hi."

"Hi."

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine."

"Don't give me that crap, Margaret," he said. If he had told her that sentence on any other day, she would expect to hear a stinging undercurrent to his words. Instead, she only heard a pleading softness.

"My arm hurts," she said. "I don't like IVs."

"Yeah."

"They tell me I had a seizure."

"You don't know?"

"I remember talking to you and then I remember waking up in the ER." Her voice cracked on the end of the sentence. It had been upsetting, frightening waking up on a gurney with doctors and nurses in scrubs and face masks standing over her with all manner of medical instruments. "That's what I remember."

"Do you remember me waking you up at one o'clock this morning?" he asked. He had tried that question earlier and hoped this time he'd get a better answer.

She shook her head. "Yesterday's kinda blurry."

"You scared the shit out of me this morning," he said, standing next to her bed.

"I didn't mean to."

"I know. But you still did. They say this seizure was caused by sleep deprivation."

She nodded slowly.

"They say you wouldn't tell them anything about your not sleeping."

She continued to nod.

"Tell me."

"Leo, I--"

"Fogelberg, Margaret. Tell me."

She looked up at him, shocked.

"I know," he said. "I know their part of it. I know what they told me you've done. I want it straight from you. Pull no punches, you have to tell me."

"What I do on my off time is my business," she tried weakly.

"It interfered with work, Margaret. You've disrupted everything at the White House today. *Everything*. There's an absentee Chief of Staff who's wondering what the hell he did wrong and why he was so damned blind. C.J.'s spinning your story. There's press outside. Charlie's beside himself. The rest of your 'band' is blaming themselves. Why did you do it?"

"Because you needed me again," she said.

"I need you daily. What are you talking about?"

She shifted uncomfortably under the blankets. "The Labor Department."

"I'm not following you."

"I juggled your schedule so no one would ever know. No press, no officials, no party people. None. I hid your problems so you could remain the Labor Secretary. You needed me then. And you needed me earlier this week."

Leo tried not to let show how much her last statements hurt him. She was the reason he survived in the Cabinet until the time he could go away for rehab. She didn't do it because she was told; she did it because she did it, for her own reasons. Reasons he had never understood. He had to move on. "How long has it been since you slept?" he asked.

"I woke up a little while ago; they gave me lunch."

"At home, Margaret."

"At home? Weeks."

"Weeks!"

"I slept at the office. C.J.'s couch. Toby's couch. My desk."

"My couch."

"I just remember waking up there."

"God, Margaret."

"You needed me! You needed me..."

"I don't need you waking up and having *seizures in my office*!"

"I'm sorry. If you want my resignation, you can have it."

He was taken aback. "Who said anything about resignation?"

"The White House is focused on me now and not the running of the country. I crash the White House e-mail server."

"You offer to sign the president's signature so we wouldn't get into trouble."

"I was only trying to help."

"Margaret, my career isn't worth saving."

"Says who?" she asked, looking up at him. Her living blue eyes were under water. "Says you?"

"Yeah. I've had decades in the political arena. This is as high as I can go and when I'm done I'll find something else. Wherever and whenever it happens to be."

"You belong where you are," she said.

"Still, you shouldn't've."

"I had to; you needed me."

"You were kept out of the whole M.S. thing until the end. You were told that Wednesday morning. Why do you trust me? Why do you feel compelled to keep this up after that?"

"You have your secrets," she said. "I have mine."

"But mine don't include *dangerous* health risks."

"They used to."

"Damn it, Margaret!"

"They used to. I'd rearrange meetings, scared to death you were gonna *die* before you could make the rescheduled times. Leo, two *years* like that. I'm sorry I scared you; that truly wasn't my intention."

"Margaret, your eyes rolled back in your head. You had this spasm--your arms, legs, head... The last word you said was my name." He sighed a little. "You care so much about me and I couldn't tell you had been killing yourself. For me! I... I don't deserve the kind of thoughtfulness you give me. I yell at you. You have crummy hours, bad pay and have since you started working for me ten years ago. I have never met anyone so hell-bent on masochism as you."

It started as a giggle; she tried to hold it back, but that only made her laugh grow, slowly but surely.

"What?" asked Leo, perplexed.

"I grew up in Dover, Delaware. My mom was a housewife who sometimes helped out at a grocery store down the street when we needed extra money. My dad fixed cars in a shop in our garage. I deserve to work at the *White House*? I see the President *and* his Chief of Staff *daily*."

"I grew up in Boston. My father shot himself in the head in our garage. My mom busted her butt trying to provide for three kids. I survived Vietnam and addiction and sailed the choppy seas of divorce relatively unscathed. I've had more good fortune than any guy with my history should have had."

"History schmistory."

"Margaret--"

"You play the cards you're dealt."

Leo was silent for a moment. "That sounds familiar."

She smiled softly. "It should."

"I don't deserve you."

"You were dealt me," she said before adding quietly: "You can discard me if you want."

Leo shook his head slowly. "I don't want to."

"What *do* you want?"

"You better," he said.

"I'll be fine."

"You'll sleep?"

She nodded.

"Promise me."

"Leo--"

"Promise me, or, I swear to God, I'll come see to it myself personally that you're tucked in at night and that you fall asleep. Promise me; let me hear you say it."

"I promise."

"Good."

She nodded, muffling a yawn.

"Get some sleep, Margaret."

"You... You'll come back and see me later?"

"Margaret, I rode in the ambulance with you. I very nearly called for the Senior Staff's collective head today. I've talked to the hospital administration about getting you a private room so you wouldn't have a nosy neighbor... What do *you* think?"

"My own room?" she asked.

He nodded.

"I don't think the insurance I have covers that..."

"It doesn't, but you're going to get one anyway. As I understand it, you'll be moved before dinner."

"Leo--"

"Consider it having to do with business," he said. "I don't want to have to come in here and worry about the ears on the bed five feet behind me."

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"It's the very least I can do, considering it's my fault you're here."

"I think it's my own fault I'm here," she said.

"Margaret, you would've slept if I hadn't been in trouble."

"Leo, my actions aren't a reflection on you."

"The hell they aren't."

"You didn't ever say, 'Margaret, do this to make my life easier or my pain less.' I did it on my own."

"I gotta say, though, that spending the day in and out of here actually *increased* my pain."

"It shouldn't have."

"It did."

"Why?"

"Because I..." He drifted off.

"Because why?"

"Because I care about you, too."

She smiled sleepily.

"It's the least I can do, getting you your own room," he said. "I'll be back before you know it. Sleep well, Margaret."

She nodded, her eyes already closing, mostly against her will. Feeling warm fingertips brush against her cheek, she wanted to open her eyes again, to look up at Leo. She couldn't; she was much too exhausted to do even that.

Leo pulled his hand back from her face, glad she seemed to be sleeping already. Frowning a little, he quietly headed for the door, glancing at the patient in the room's other bed. The woman seemed to be resting as well. Leo hoped she had been for their entire meeting.

 

Chapter 6

 

 

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