On This Day
Leo opened the door to go back to his office but paused mid-step when he saw Josh leaning against his desk. The President noticed his hesitation.
"Was there something else, Leo?"
He turned to face the President, attempting to mask whatever emotions he might be displaying. Two choices. Stay in the safety of the Oval Office or face Josh. Much as he would have liked to say that option one was the better of the two, Leo knew that going that route would have to involve either coming up with a legitimate reason to stay or confessing to the President his sudden aversion to his office. Well, he was crazy enough as it was, so the only real harm could come with staying...not that he was unwilling to give it a try. "No, sir. Unless you have anything further?"
"No, no. I've kept you from running my country long enough. I'm not quite inspired to give you a history of the use of the campaign button in American politics right now...that one's only for special occasions, and Toby already got it today."
Leo grimaced. "I believe I've heard that one before, sir. Several times."
"Well then, I guess we're done for now."
"Thank you, Mr. President." Leo retreated quickly and shut the door. He looked at Josh, who was unsuccessfully trying to hide the smirk on his face.
"At least that one's not in Latin."
"I think I'd almost prefer it that way."
"That good? I wonder what Toby did to deserve such punishment."
Leo sat down, sighing deeply. "He yelled at...yeah. He yelled."
"Oh. It was deserved, you know. God knows the wrath of Toby is to be feared, but this was deserved."
"It probably was."
"I'll bet Toby didn't even mind the lecture. He thought it was worth it."
"I don't doubt it...but it doesn't exactly help staff relations now, does it?"
"Well I'd be surprised if things got much worse."
Leo nodded absently, thinking about his resolution to talk to the senior staffers tonight.
"Has Sam fixed my bill yet?"
"He's working on it...it wasn't exactly hard to convince him of the strategy's merits, now he just has to play it right. He should be fine. As long as others don't go screwing around where they don't belong."
"It's my bill."
"I want Sam to do it. I want this victory. We need this."
"Don't you think I know that!" Leo had raised his voice, but immediately regretted it. "Josh...I have more important things to do than "
"Leo?" It was Margaret, standing in the open doorway.
"Well, I...what do you need?"
"Need? Right now, I *need* all of you to leave me alone so I can get some work done!"
"And shut the door on your way out."
She did. Leo leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed, trying to release his sudden frustration before he took it out on someone less inclined to put up with him. When he looked up a few minutes later Josh was still there, watching him. "I said I wanted to be alone."
"It doesn't quite work that way, Leo."
"Why the hell not?"
"Are you going to talk to them?"
"Tonight. But I would feel much better about trying to help them if I wasn't so screwed up myself."
Leo stared at him. He had known Josh his whole life, and he knew all too well the seriousness with which those words had been said.
"If you want, I'll...leave. Really leave. Do you want me to?"
"No. Yes. No. Josh..."
"It's going to be okay, Leo. I keep telling you that one of these times you have to believe me. And once you do, it won't take nearly as much as you think for things to get better."
"Sometimes, I really don't see how."
Josh smiled. "That's because you don't believe me. Haven't you been listening?"
"I have. That's the problem. I shouldn't be listening to you, you shouldn't even be here right now. I should have fired my Deputy Chief of Staff about two weeks ago."
Josh's voice was guarded, quiet. "You could always still do that."
"But you don't want me to."
"No, I don't."
Leo sighed. What had the President said the other day? "Trust and respect, Josh. What will it take for me to get that?"
"Talk to them."
"I don't know what to say."
"And you're looking to me for advice?"
"I told you that I lost my mind. I just...I don't know how to help them get past this. Professionally, they remain civil. But just barely, and not always. Personally...?"
"It hurts to see them hide behind their jobs. And not just them, it's you and the President, too. Don't you remember what happened when I tried to do that? I was so wrapped up in fulfilling my duty; in putting everyone else first, last, and in-between; in ignoring the fact that I considered two straight hours a good night's sleep and got blessedly few of those, anyway; in allowing myself to drown because it hurt too much to tread water; in pushing away anything and everything that made me feel...I put my hand through a window, Leo. A window. And I didn't feel a thing."
"We aren't about to "
"Aren't you? This is eating you up inside. Have you noticed Margaret lately? She is completely paranoid. More paranoid. Whatever." Josh came closer, leaning in over the desk, eyes level with Leo's. "You want a drink. I know you do."
"I don't "
"I do." Leo sighed. "I do because of you. And I won't. Because of you."
"Do you want me to leave now?"
Leo could see the hurt in Josh's eyes, the guilt, the pain, but also the relief brought by Leo's statement made true and binding by the act of being spoken aloud. Or maybe Leo was just as deluded as he was tempted to believe, and he saw only a reflection of himself.
He wasn't sure what answer to give to Josh's question, so he ignored it. "I'll talk to them tonight...and things will get better."
Strangely enough, at that moment he was inclined to believe his words.
Leo leaned back in his chair, removing his glasses to rub his aching eyes. With a sigh he tossed them to the desk and stood, suddenly impatient, agitated. He paced.
There was a soft knock at the door and Margaret entered, closing the door behind her. He didn't notice. She stood there for several minutes, watching him as long as she could stand. "Leo?"
He stopped abruptly, wheeling around to face her. He saw concern in her eyes, but surprise was quickly added to it as well.
"Who else were you expecting?"
His brow furrowed in confusion. "What *are* you talking about, Margaret?"
"Well, you certainly looked surprised to find me here. I assume you were muttering to yourself and not to your invisible "
He hadn't spoken harshly, or at least he hadn't meant to, but Margaret was looking concerned again, in her you're-just-saying-that-to-make-me-leave-but-I-won't way. He sighed, resigned, knowing that there was no possible way to avoid a scolding at this point. Besides that, he couldn't exactly tell her who he had been expecting to see.
"You look awful, Leo, really. When's the last time you ate? Forget that, when's the last time you slept?"
"Don't give me that. There's a difference between going home and sleeping and I know the last time you ate, because I essentially shoved the food down your throat this morning. I'm worried, Leo."
"No, you're not okay."
"Well, then "
"You're not fine, either."
Despite himself, Leo had to smile. That she knew him so well was a bit troublesome. "Do I get to defend myself at all or should we skip right to the scolding?"
"You have no defense."
"So that's a no?"
"That's a "
She stopped as a knock at the door interrupted them, moving quickly over to the door and opening it. It was Toby. Margaret stepped out of his way and turned to face Leo. "Toby's here to see you, but don't think you can avoid me forever I control your appointment book."
Leo rolled his eyes, waving a confused Toby into the room. "What do you need?"
Toby hesitated, then said, "I'm not going to apologize for yelling at him today, I won't. He deserved it and he knew it, and while I will take my 'punishment' from the President I know that he wasn't really concerned or he would have admonished me directly, which he didn't. Instead, I got some lecture about how the use of "
Leo waved him off. "Yeah, I heard. What's your point Toby?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to say..." He sighed. "Nothing. It's just...he's...I'm not used to...never mind, Leo. It's nothing."
Leo stared at him for a moment, surprised at Toby's inability or possibly just unwillingness to express himself. Unsure of where to direct the conversation, he turned instead to safe ground. "Do you have the new numbers for me yet?"
Twenty minutes later, Toby was on his way out. "You'll have the speech in a few hours, Sam is just checking it over again and then we're all set. I'll give CJ the go-ahead on the thing, it should be in the evening briefing. Oh, and I'll have Ginger set up the meeting with Williams and Spencer."
"Yeah. Hey, Toby?"
He paused in the doorway.
"Maybe it's time we stop punishing him for something that he had no control over, maybe we shouldn't blame him for doing his job."
Leo watched as Toby's back straightened and his head bowed slightly. He did not look directly at Leo, but stood there silently for a moment, face impassive, before turning and leaving the room.
"Oh, Josh," Leo sighed, "I hope that this is the right thing. I don't want to lose all of you."