For disclaimer and notes, please see part one.

Previously, on the West Wing: Leo talks to Bartlet about everything that's been going on while Mallory visits Margaret in the hospital.

Mallory tapped on Sam's office door. "Yeah?" he called from within. She opened the door and entered, making sure to close the door behind her. "Mal. Hi."

"Hey," she said. "I just got back from the hospital."

"She's okay?"

"She's fine," Mallory said with a nod. "She doesn't look well, but she's mostly fine. I think she's still really tired. They've got her on some kind of medication that helps her sleep, so she was kind of dozing off towards the end of my visit. If you guys are planning on visiting her, I suggest going in a group and staying only for a little while. I was able to speak with a doctor about her, and he said it would be common for her to kind of fade in and out between sleeping and staying awake, and that she shouldn't have a whole lot of visitors."

"Maybe we should stay out of there for her family," Sam said, leaning back in his chair.

"Which is precisely why you should go," Mallory said.

"I'm not following you," he said, looking at her curiously.

"We're her family. She's not close with her biological one, so she's sort of made a surrogate one--the two of us, Dad, the rest of the staff..."

Sam smiled a little, almost bitterly. "I know how that goes."

"You aren't close with your family?" she asked.

"They're all in California. I'm over here..."

"Physical distance aside," she said, leaning against the side of his desk.

"They wanted me to stay in California to go to school, to be close," Sam said quietly, staring blankly at his computer screen. "I applied to colleges over here, all along the eastern seaboard. I was accepted to Princeton and left much to my parents' dismay. I wanted to get away," he said, glancing at Mallory. "I guess I really shouldn't have been so surprised at the phone call I received earlier in the year from my mom, saying Dad had been cheating on her for pretty much my entire lifetime... I always knew something was off; I just didn't... I didn't ever stop to think on it, to figure it out. I wanted to get past it, I suppose. So... Yeah, I guess I know what Margaret means, relying on everyone here more than actual, y'know, family." He sighed a little. "I guess you wouldn't know about that as much. I mean, you're still really close with both your parents..."

"Considering I was afraid he had gone back to drinking this morning, yeah... I really know what goes on with my father."

Sam looked at her curiously.

She waved her hand, trying to make light of it off. "I mistook sadness for drunkenness."

"Oh," he said quietly.

"Parents," she said with a sigh, trying to smile.

Sam smiled back at her, and reached out for her hand. He was somewhat surprised when she didn't pull back from him. "Everything'll be okay," he said. "We survived Leo's testimony. Margaret's surviving... Soon, everything will be back to normal."

"Does 'back to normal' include the two of us being mad at each other?" she asked softly.

"Do you want it to?" Sam asked, still holding onto her hand.

"Not really."

"Me either."

"Life's too short to be upset with someone forever."

"Mistakes are made to be learned from..."

Mallory smiled softly, squeezing his hand. "Yeah."

~~~

The door to Margaret's room was wordlessly opened. Four suited men entered. Margaret, who was starting to stir awake, feared she was in a nightmare. "Room secured," said one of the men.

She struggled to sit up, to see what was going on.

That's when the President of the United States walked in.

"M-Mr. President," she said, utterly shocked at his sudden appearance.

"Oh, don't sit up," he said as he entered. "It's all right."

Charlie followed on the President's heels with a large bouquet of Mylar balloons and a glass vase filled with pale pink roses. "Hey, Margaret."

She smiled. "Charlie..."

"The roses are from the First Family," Bartlet said. "You can read the card later if you want."

"Thank you, sir," she said quietly.

"How are you feeling?" asked Bartlet.

"Fine, sir," she said, watching as Charlie put the roses on the table by her bed.

"Are you lying?" continued the President.

"No, sir."

"You're sure?"

She nodded. "Yes, sir."

Bartlet seemed somewhat satisfied.

"It's not the same without you in the White House," Charlie told her quietly.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Hey, Charlie, could you give us a minute?" asked Bartlet suddenly.

Margaret's eyes widened a little: the President wanted to talk to her alone?

"Yes, sir. Get well soon, Margaret," he said before leaving.

She managed a smile as Charlie left, but it faded quickly as she turned to the President. "Sir?"

"And you're all right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Leo arranged for the private room?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good."

"Um, sir?"

"Yes?"

"How is he?"

"Leo?"

"Yes, sir."

"He's relatively fine."

"I didn't mean for this to happen..."

"I know."

"It was..."

"We've discussed it, believe me," Bartlet said.

"Oh," she said quietly.

"I'm sure your ears must've been burning all day long."

"I've kinda been sleeping off and on, so--"

"That's good, though."

"The medication makes me *really* drowsy, sir."

"You need your rest, considering you haven't had much at all in such a long time."

She nodded a little.

"Leo blames himself, y'know."

"It's not his fault."

"He doesn't believe it's all yours either."

"More mine than his."

"Just... You won't do this again, right?"

"No, sir."

"I know you want to protect him. That's admirable, really."

"Just don't kill myself in the process?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Yes, sir."

"And this," Bartlet said, gesturing around the room. "This was much too close. Especially for Leo."

She looked down. It was hard to mask shame in a hospital room with nowhere to go and stuck in front of the President.

"Margaret," he said.

"Sir?" she asked, trying her best to meet his eyes.

"It'll be all right," he said, smiling a little. "We're nothing if not forgiving."

She managed a very small smile. "Yes, sir."

~~~

Between naps, Margaret was greeted with deliveries--flowers from the Communications assistants, balloons from her friends at Political Liaison, a gift basket from Lynette with the President's Counsel on Physical Fitness to name a few--as well as visits from staffers, mostly from the Senior Staff, and those visits lasted the longest.

C.J. came first with pajamas. "I got some for Josh, too, when he was here. He liked them." She was also careful to make sure she had a size that would fit, or would mostly fit.

Toby was second and came bearing the picture. She was so shocked to see it, but grateful all the same. "Apparently, the Vice President had come from a meeting in the Cabinet Room," Toby told her. "There were a couple White House photographers at the meeting; they caught sight of us in the Roosevelt Room..."

Josh came with a selection of snacks. "Trust me, the food here gets pretty bland," he said knowingly.

Sam was the last one in before the end of visiting hours. Margaret was glad to see him, but a little saddened that Leo didn't come back. Sam stayed with her the longest, filling her in on what had happened during the day while she ate a late dinner. Before he left, he gave her a gift: a book on political strategy as well as a newspaper--some things to keep her mind sharp while she spent some time away from work. "Just don't let Leo see the book," he said. "He probably wouldn't want to know that we're still... sort of... banded..."

He gave her a hug before leaving, telling her he'd be back to see her the next day.

Margaret read the newspaper first, wanting to see what the news of the day had been. Thankfully, there was nothing at all about her unconscious spell. It would probably be in the paper tomorrow, though, and was probably on TV that night. She didn't want to know what they were saying about her. She'd start reading the book the next day, to keep herself from watching the television news and to not read anything in another newspaper. Maybe Zoey would come by with a copy of the Georgetown Hoya instead of Sam's copy of the New York Times.

She smiled when she found the crossword puzzle.

~~~

Leo looked in the room. It wasn't like going to see her earlier. Besides the fact that she was alone, there were flowers lining the windowsill and table by her bed. Two large balloon bouquets were in the corner. Leo was glad he got the stuffed white tiger dressed in a tie and vest instead of the roses down in the gift shop even if he had felt silly carrying the large critter up to her room. He noticed, too, that she was no longer in the hospital gown, but rather blue satin pajamas with silver stars on them. Still patriotic, he thought to himself.

She was asleep and he didn't want to wake her, but he still wanted to talk to her. He hated feeling like that--torn. He knew, though, that her health was more important than anything he could say. He sat the stuffed animal in the chair by her bed and started to leave when he saw a newspaper on her lap, an ink pen held loosely in her hand. She had done the New York Times Crossword puzzle. In the hectic rush that had been his day, he didn't even skim any of the day's newspapers and there sat a copy of the Times with the crossword completely filled out. In ink. There were no mistakes, he was shocked--pleasantly shocked considering all the other shocks he had had during the day, but shocked nonetheless.

A nurse suddenly bustled into the room, stopping abruptly after entering. "It's after visiting hours; you can't be here," she said.

"I was going to go anyway," he said.

Margaret started to stir, unbeknownst to either of the others in the room.

"You could be the President of the United States himself and you can't stay past visiting hours," said the nurse.

"The President was here earlier," Margaret mumbled.

Leo turned to her quickly, smiling a little. "Hey."

She smiled back. "Hi."

"President Bartlet was here?" asked Leo.

Margaret nodded. "And Charlie, C.J., Toby, Sam, Josh..."

The nurse looked at them strangely for a moment. "Oh, you're the White House people."

"I'm the Chief of Staff, yeah," Leo said.

The young woman in scrubs seemed to be puzzling over something. Glancing at her watch, she said, "Let me check her vitals and the IV and you be gone by midnight."

Leo looked at his own watch: twenty minutes. He nodded.

The nurse set about checking Margaret's pulse and blood pressure as well as the amount of fluid in her IV. She couldn't help but notice Leo and Margaret were conspicuously quiet. Leo was looking at the floor and Margaret, the ceiling. As she left, Leo watched her go, and didn't speak until the door was closed.

"You did the crossword puzzle," he commented.

Margaret lifted the ink pen, looking at it as though it had magically appeared in her hand somehow, and then set it on the table. "Yeah."

"In ink, too," he said, looking at the table as she set the pen down. She set it right in front of the Dan Fogelberg Tribute Cover Band photograph. He examined the photo, shook his head, and lifted the tiger to sit down.

"I got bored today," said Margaret as she rubbed her tired eyes before looking at Leo. Deadpanning, she asked, "Is that a tiger in your lap or are you happy to see me?"

Leo frowned. "Yeah, he's for you," he said unceremoniously, holding it out to her.

She took it, smiling gratefully. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. It, uh... it reminded me of you."

"I normally wear neckties?" she asked.

"No, it has a sneaky look about it."

"It's a he."

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

"Okay."

"And I have a sneaky look about me?" she asked.

"Considering what's been going on for the past couple weeks, I'd say so, yeah."

Margaret's faint smile faded. "Yeah."

Leo, not wanting to end his twenty minutes tonight on a sour note, decided to strike up a happier conversation. She seemed to be smiling the most with the tiger. "What are you going to name it?"

"I'm going to name *him* Band-Aid."

"Band-Aid?" he asked, unsure he had heard her properly.

She nodded. "Band-Aid."

"I understand, you're in the hospital, there are various things here... You could name it--"

"Him," corrected Margaret.

"--Neosporin," he said, continuing. "Or Tongue Depressor. Stethoscope. Dr. Tiger."

"No, he's like... BooBoo's long lost cousin... twice removed."

Leo raised an eyebrow. "BooBoo?"

Margaret laughed a little at his skeptical pronunciation. "Haven't you ever seen Yogi the Bear?"

"Yogi Berra? The baseball guy?"

"No," she said. "Yogi Bear. The bear that lives in Jellystone National Park?"

"You mean Yellowstone National Park?"

"No, I mean Jellystone National Park, with Ranger Smith and BooBoo... They steal pick-a-nick baskets?"

"Picnic baskets?"

Margaret hid behind Band-Aid. "Didn't Mallory ever watch cartoons?"

"I'm sure she did but that doesn't mean I'm up-to-date on cartoon vernacular."

"Do you know *any* cartoons at all?"

"I know in Peanuts, there's a dog... and somehow something about a football and the boy and the girl is satirical for me and the missile defense shield..."

"Charlie Brown and Lucy!"

Leo shook his head and lifted his hands a little, as if to tell her he really didn't know.

"And the dog's name is Snoopy."

"Not to be confused with Creepy, which is what you are with your perfect crossword and cartoon trivia knowledge..." And black eyes, he added to himself.

"I can tell you *all* about Scooby-Doo. Velma was my favorite..."

"Velma?"

She nodded and started to eagerly launch into a diatribe about the cartoon when she stopped abruptly. "Vice President Hoynes and I had a long conversation once about Johnny Quest," she said quietly instead, examining Band-Aid's tie.

"You aren't going to tell me about Velcro?"

"Velma and no."

"Why not?"

"You don't want to hear it."

"Says who?" he asked. "And what about Hoynes and Johnny West?"

"Johnny *Quest*."

"Tell me about Vellum and Jimmy Mess."

"You're saying their names wrong on purpose."

"That's because I want you to correct me and tell me who on earth we're talkin' about."

"Why?"

"I want to hear you talk."

"You didn't want to hear me talk about my e-mail disaster."

"I was in the middle of changing the nature of democracy then but I'm not right now. Tell me about Vendetta and Jonesy Question."

"Velma and Johnny Quest."

"I was close..." He could see Margaret playfully roll her eyes and that caused him to grin just a little. "So, Johnny Quest and Velma were on this show called Scoopy-Moo..."

He really didn't pay much attention to her actual words. He just liked watching the way she became animated when she talked to him. Her eyes weren't rolling back in her head. She wasn't going into convulsions. Her 'zombie eyes' from the morning were gone completely. Her eyes were very much alive and sparkling, even in the dimly lit room. Remembering the black day of Mrs. Landingham's funeral, he realized then just how dark the West Wing would be if he had lost Margaret. He didn't want to admit he was scared of anything, but he was beginning to think he was becoming afraid of the dark. About fifty years later than most.

End.

 

 

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