Disclaimer—Characters belong to Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement is intended. Any similarity to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Author's Notes—to the Sirens as always. Love you, gals. And, for the record, I am Southern and yet I have never eaten grits.

Spoilers—Um... Take out the Trash Day, Let Bartlet be Bartlet. Potentially The Portland Trip, but maybe not.

Archive—Sure. Let me know where.

Feedback—Always greatly appreciated.

Not a Southern Breakfast Food—Only in America...

Grits.

Grit your teeth.

Kiss my grits.

I saw a tee shirt once. GRITS: Girls Raised in the South.

That's not me. D.C. born and bred.

And apparently my name has been shortened from Margaret to just "GRIT!"

That's what it sounds like anyway. I'm sitting here, doing my job like I'm paid to do... And, at random intervals in the day, I hear "mar-GRIT!" Sometimes I don't hear the mar, I just hear the GRIT.

It's starting to get on my nerves. Who does this Leo McGarry guy think he is?

Well, that's a dumb question. He's the Secretary of Labor. He's in the President's Cabinet. He's so far up in the Democratic Party that...

"mar-GRIT!"

That he's the biggest jackass of them all.

Clearing my throat, I stand up and straighten my skirt as I walk from my office to his. "Yes?" I ask calmly, pleasantly.

Kill them with kindness.

"I need this faxed to the House Judiciary Committee."

"Ways and Means," I correct.

"No, Judiciary."

"Ways and Means."

"Judiciary!"

"Judiciary," I say. "Forgive me." The note on the top says 'fax to House Ways and Means.' Guess where I'm faxing it.

"That's better," he says, holding the file out to me. Stepping up to take it, he speaks again. "And bring me a sandwich, would you?"

Man alive... No wonder he's telling me this thing has to go to Judiciary... "You want some coffee, too?" I ask. Herculean strength... pitch black... day-old syrup of coffee... That's what he's getting.

"No, I'm fine."

"If I brought you a cup, would you drink it?"

"Don't think so."

'Because, Grit, I've got some Jack Daniel's in the bottom drawer.' I shouldn't be catty.

I nod and walk out, faxing the sheets while calling out for a sandwich.

God, how can he drink? How can he drink at a time like *this*? He's the Secretary of Labor. He should be... Sober. He should be sober.

I shouldn't be so upset that he's drunk. Well, I suppose the world would be pretty damned outraged. The man who runs the Labor Department... The man who says when working conditions are *bad* and when they're not. The guy who knows about social security benefits and workers' compensation... I've read some of the mind numbing, confusing information he has to know, has to be able to talk about with authority and conviction and, y'know, intelligence... Oh, only in America.

Shit.

I faxed the papers to Judiciary. Calling my friend Janice at Judiciary, I fax the papers again, to Ways and Means.

"Excuse me."

I turn and am face-to-face with a guy. He looks oddly familiar, but I can't place him. I should know him... Or, I think I should. "Can I help you?" I ask with a smile.

He nods. "I'm here to see Leo McGarry."

"What's your name?"

"Bartlet. Jed Bartlet."

That's kind of a strange name... "You're not on his schedule for today," I tell him.

"I need an appointment? I've known Leo since we were teenagers."

Ehh... I don't think I like this. "Sir, if you would kindly wait here. I'll see if Secretary McGarry can see you for a moment."

He nods. "Thanks."

Yeah... I enter Leo's office again, and am sure to close the door behind me. "Sir?"

"Hmph?"

"There's a man here to see you, he says he's known you for a while."

"What's'is name?"

"Jed Bartlet."

It's interesting, to see the expressions cross his face. There's a sudden shock... Then joy... and then... Dismay?

"Do you want me to send him away?" I ask.

"No," he says quietly, almost ashamedly. "Send him in."

I go outside to send this Bartlet guy inside. He looks at me knowingly, which, I gotta say, is unnerving. Sitting at my desk, Leo's sandwich arrives from the deli, but I'm not about to go in and interrupt their meeting. They're having a serious discussion. I catch bits and pieces of it as I type up a report.

"Look at what you're doing to Jenny!" says the Bartlet guy. "To Mallory!"

"I'm not doing anything to them!"

"That's part of the problem. You're Jenny's husband. You're Mallory's father. You're ignoring them. You go home and you dive into a whiskey bottle. Leo, please!"

"You deal with your own problems; I'll deal with mine."

"You're admitting you have a drinking problem?"

There's a long silence. And I do mean a long one. I sit very quietly, having stopped typing, to try and hear.

"I keep thinking that if I don't argue with Jenny, history won't repeat itself," I hear Leo say. I'm not sure what 'history' he's referring to, but it must be horrible, whatever it is.

"Rehabilitation facilities treat people anonymously."

"Rehab," says Leo, spitting out the word like it's some kind of venomous poison.

"Yeah. Rehab."

"No. No way."

"Leo--"

"No, damn it! If I quit, I can quit on my own. I don't need any of those damned twelve steps."

"What are you going to do then?"

"Cold turkey."

"You'll never make it."

Leo's voice is low, threatening. "You watch me."

A few minutes later, the Bartlet guy leaves, giving me this sad, backwards glance... He still looks familiar... And then I hear my new nickname.

"mar-GRIT!"

Grabbing his sandwich and a cup of coffee, I head into his office. "Your lunch came during your meeting," I tell him, setting the aluminum-foil wrapped sandwich in front of him. "I didn't think it best to disturb you."

"People in general disturb me," he mutters. "Would you bring me a cup of--"

"Coffee?" I ask, holding out the cup to him.

He looks up at me, through bloodshot eyes. "You're spooky sometimes."

I try.

"Do I have any other meetings the rest of the day?"

"Two. Do you want me to cancel them again?"

He nods. "Yeah."

Two weeks pass and he hasn't taken a single meeting. Jed Bartlet's called a couple times, and several people from the White House and Congress, but he makes me take all the phone calls. What, I'm the Labor Secretary now? I wasn't nominated by the President. I wasn't appointed by Congress. This is his job. He should do it.

"GRIT!"

My teeth. Grin and bear it. I enter his office. "Yes?"

"Margaret..."

He said my name. He said it right. How odd.

"Margaret, I need your help."

His bloodshot eyes are pleading with me. That's... Okay, this... Something's not right, I don't think. "What is it?" I ask, concerned.

"I need to be able to trust you. I need you to keep some secrets for me."

Like I don't already? "Like what?"

"Like... How much do you know about me?"

His life isn't secretive. Knowing about it should be. "Enough, I think."

"First thing I need you to do," he says, opening his bottom desk drawer, "is to get rid of this."

It's a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's. My hands are shaking as I take it. I don't drink. I don't like drinking. I don't like the taste. I don't. I'm not too fond of drunkards who can't pronounce my name right either. God only knows why I've worked for him for eight months already.

"I've been making some calls... I need you to get me some information, though, on a place in Arizona..."

"What kind of place?" I ask, looking at the bottle in my trembling hands.

"It's called Sierra Tucson," he says, his voice somewhat raspy and low... Like he's talking through cotton. "It's a rehabilitation facility."

I bobble the bottle but manage to keep a hold of it.

"This has to be done with the utmost quiet, Margaret."

I nod, almost reverently. He's going to get help... Finally...

"I mean it."

"I know."

"If I hear that this got out. If there's a newspaper with the story printed on it... You'll never work in this town again. Your life will be a living hell, you understand me?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll probably be out of town for several weeks... I need you to do what you've been doing," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I need you to somehow go on like I'm here but I'm passed out drunk in my office."

I nod.

"I have no right to ask you to do this."

"I won't hold a mistake over you," I tell him softly. "People screw up sometimes. And then they fix it."

He smiles a little--this funky, lopsided grin. His eyes actually look like they're smiling, too; that's new. "You're a good girl, Margaret."

~~~

When he came back, he was different. He still bellowed for me strangely, but you could tell (for the most part) that he was calling for Margaret, not a Southern breakfast food. It's pretty amazing, really... How people can change, how they can grow... Better themselves. I used to hate his guts. Really and truly. How he could drink and screw himself, his family, *and* the country all at once was just... despicable. What kind of man does that? A lost one, apparently.

Am I perfect? By no means. I'm still learning, I'm still trying... I only mess up the White House e-mail server occasionally... What right do I have to judge him? To make judgment calls on his actions? Well, from experience, from working for him for seven years. When he came back sober, I had such respect for him. To pick up and to right the wrongs he committed...

If only we could all be that way.

End.

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