"You can say it."
Leo looked up and let his eyes meet the President's. "What?"
Bartlet shrugged. "Whatever's going on in your head."
"I'm not talking about the airports. I'm talking about the thing. You can say it, Leo."
Leo sat down on the couch. He took a breath and looked around the Oval Office. "Toby was right."
Bartlet placed his palms on his desk and leaned forward. "He wasn't--
"He was." Leo frowned. "When a dozen people in the Situation Room are looking at my face instead of Hoynes' -- right at that moment, you can't tell me they didn't know who was in charge."
"Nobody broke the law," the President said.
"Nobody voted for me, either."
He absorbed this for a moment. "So say it."
"We could have prevented this situation."
"We could have," Leo agreed.
"And we handled it the wrong way."
"Yeah, we did that."
Bartlet sighed. "And right now you're probably wishing you'd never talked me into running."
"No," Leo said seriously. "Nothing's ever going to make me wish that, Mr. President."
* * *
"Can I just say one thing?"
"Sure," Sam said to the speakerphone.
"I hate you and everything you stand for," C.J. replied.
Sam glanced at Ainsley. "Who? Me or her?"
"Who had the wonderful idea of calling me at two A.M. to participate in this ridiculous conversation?"
"That would be Sam," Ainsley told her helpfully.
C.J.'s sigh crackled through the speaker. "Sam?"
"You're going to be first against the wall when the revolution comes."
Sam raised his eyebrows. "Okay, but right now, can you help me explain why the ERA isn't a redundant law?"
"He can't seem to do it himself," Ainsley added.
C.J. groaned. "Why, why, oh, *why* do you insist on picking these fights with each other when you know you're not going to change each other's minds?"
"Because it's there," Sam said.
"I hate you."
"You've mentioned that."
"Good. Bear in mind that before you called, I was in the middle of the first decent sleep I've had in a month." C.J.'s voice was resigned. "Ainsley, as long as there are inequities in the wages and treatment of minority groups, no law that shores up equality can be considered redundant. Discrimination is present at every level of the system and in every aspect of society, and we should be doing everything in our power to combat that. We need a consistent and explicit constitutional basis to enforce the laws we've got on the books."
"That's what I was trying to say," Sam told Ainsley.
"And if you want an example of persistent inequality, here's a good one," C.J. continued. "I really doubt that anyone could argue that my job is easier than Sam's, and I get paid noticeably less."
Ainsley stared at Sam. Sam stared at the phone. "Hmm," he managed, after a moment.
"Did that bolster your argument there, buddy?"
"Yeah, thanks for that."
"You should ask Toby for a raise," Ainsley suggested.
"Is he there?"
"He left ten minutes ago," Sam said. "I don't think he thought my 'non-communicative Communications Director' jokes were very funny."
"Imagine that." C.J. yawned. "I'm hanging up on you now."
"'Night," Sam said, and switched off the phone.
"She really does work every bit as hard as you do," Ainsley said.
* * *
"Well, there's one thing I can say," Bartlet declared, circling around to the front of his desk.
"At least we got tonight over with."
"It was a big step."
"It was the first step," Leo contradicted him. "We're going to have to tell all of them, soon enough."
"Sam, Josh, C.J...."
"And the rest of the country."
"The next few months are really going to be a pleasure," he muttered. "Hopefully the rest of the staff will respond more gracefully than--"
"It could've been worse," Leo interrupted.
"Not by much."
He shook his head. "By a lot, sir. Toby went out there and sat down and went back to work, in a room ten yards away from this one. He left the conversation in here and went back to doing his job."
Bartlet looked at him steadily, then nodded. "We could have lost him."
"We could lose any of them on this one," Leo said.
"They're good people. That won't happen."
"I'd like to definitively agree with you, but--"
"We won't lose them, Leo. Call me a crazy idealist."
"Anyway, it's something we have to take into account. We could lose our people with this. And we could lose the country."
"I can't tell you I've made up my mind yet. About next year."
"I know that. I'm saying, one way or another." Leo stood up. "There are a lot of possibilities to think about here. We can't -- we can't rule anything out."
"Someone's going to have to talk to Hoynes," Bartlet mused.
"Yeah." He crossed the room, picked up his jacket, and shrugged into it. "Let's just see how long we can put that off, shall we? I'm going to bed."
Bartlet shot him a warning look. "I don't think--"
"Call her," Leo repeated, walking to a different door. "Goodnight, sir."
The President held up a hand by way of reply, and walked out. Leo trudged into his own office, running a hand over his face.
"Check this out," a voice said suddenly.
Leo jumped as he discovered Josh sitting on the couch. "What is it with you people?" he demanded.
Josh shrugged. "Can I try this joke for the Dinner out on you?"
"If you must." Leo sat down in his chair.
"Here goes." Josh squared his shoulders and attempted to speak with a nasal twang. "My administration has been called victims of political correctness. I don't really think that's fair. I prefer to think of us as 'differently offensive'." He looked at Leo expectantly. "Not funny?"
"It's fairly funny, but what's the voice?"
"That's me doing the President."
"Don't let it happen again."
"Right. Can I ask you something?"
"As long as it isn't a knock-knock joke."
"The last couple of months, has there been--" Josh looked down at his hands. "Have I been doing less than my share here?"
Leo studied his face. "Not as far as I know."
"It seems like maybe you guys have been... I don't know. Making sure I'm taking it a little lighter than normal. Since Christmas, I mean. The thing is, I don't want you feeling like you can't rely on me."
"Of course not. Why would you say that?"
"Despite Donna's assertions to the contrary, I can read a calendar, Leo. This is where we should start talking about running again. And if I'm out of the loop because you don't think I can handle it...."
Leo's own words echoed back to him. *We're going to have to tell all of them, soon enough.* Aloud, he said, "I don't think that."
"Okay," Josh said, relaxing a little. "So, what's going on tonight?"
"He ordered heightened security at the airports."
"That's good. The last thing I need right now is some kind of coup."
Leo stared at him.
"I'd have to come up with a whole new set of jokes," Josh finished. "Not funny?"
"Josh, you couldn't see funny from there with a telescope on a clear night."
"Sorry." He got to his feet. "So. We'll talk."
"Another night." Leo frowned to himself. "Yes, we will."
As Josh disappeared into the hall, Leo stood up. He gathered a few files and his coat, and started to leave, playing the night back in his mind. Abruptly, he turned back to his desk, picked up a piece of notepaper and a pen, and jotted a note to himself.
'April 5th, 2001,' he wrote. '12:47 A.M.'
He stuffed the scrap of paper into his pocket, switched off the lamp, and closed the door behind him.
* * *
End. Feedback is a wonderful thing.