Something Sweet to Look Forward To...by Glynnis
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, not mine. Just borrowing Aaron's creations for a little fun.
"I'll be here in the office when you're done."
Leo walks quickly, keeping ahead of me. As I follow him away from Toby's office my mind flashes back on Toby's statement and his words. Leo is not saying anything. Toby is waiting for me in his office. I suddenly break out in a cold sweat. Something really big is coming at me. I can feel it. As we pass people in the hallways they murmur greetings to both of us, some seem to pick up a feeling of tension from us. Some don't notice us. They all begin to blur together.
My thoughts turn to selfish concerns. Am I about to be fired? Should I have included that awful line in the speech after all? No. Certainly not. I was right. And Toby just found out and said he trusted me. And if anyone were going to fire me it would be Toby. ExceptŠ would Batman fire RobinŠ or have Alfred do it? I shake the bizarre thought violently out of my head. Batman would do it.
OK. I'm not about to be fired.
I'm on my way to the Oval Office. Leo is not speaking. Toby has been on the warpath for weeks now. And for the past week he has been in a much tighter, darker mode than usual. I haven't seen Josh much over the past few days. My thoughts race over my other coworkers. Their moods and actions have been off, somehow. And I'm about to find out why. Something wicked this way comesŠ My heartbeat quickens with dread. We arrive at the door to the office. Mrs. Landingham is not at her desk. Charlie nods to us and says he's waiting for us. I look at Charlie for a second longer than I normally would. His statement is unreadable.
The President is sitting, reading. When I enter the room he sets the papers aside and takes off his glasses. Leo points me to the sofa nearest President Bartlet and remains standing. President Bartlet clears his throat and says, "I'm looking over a draft of the SME speech. Well done, Sam."
I lick my dry lips and reply softly, "Thank you, sir. The ATJ and Progressive Caucus had some concerns about verbiage that I refused to includeŠ"
He waves his hand dismissively and says softly, "Sit down, Sam. I trust your words. I trust you." He looks at me so seriously that my heart begins pounding even faster. Toby said he trusts me, too. I realize that something is about to happen now and that it's not so much about me as it is about the President. And trust.
I know concern shows in my face. Unlike every other moment of my career, I don't try to hide it now.
He smiles slightly and takes a sip of his drink. "Would you like a drink, Sam?" I feel the blood drain from my face. The President doesn't offer me a drink as a habit. He treats me more like a son, not a peer. He sees my face and says, "Please, Sam. Calm down. IŠ Well, I need to tell you something. " He clears his throat and I see sorrow in his eyes. I feel a chill of fear cut through me.
Then I see something that is very familiar and usually comforting, but which offers me absolutely no comfort in this moment. He puts his 'Speech Face' on. A bead of sweat runs down my spine.
I write his speeches. I've written hundreds of them. For three years I've listened with joy and wonder, and sometimes sorrow, as he's brought my words to life. I know what he looks like when he's about to deliver words he's committed to his incredible memory. I nearly panic as I wonder what he is going to tell me that he has obviously said before, and obviously memorized. Sound seems muted. Time seems to slow.
And, once again, my world tumbles end over end. I have nothing to hold onto, nothing to look forward to but pain and heartache.
"See, about 10 years ago, for a period of a few months, I was feeling rundown and had a pain in my leg. They both subsided, but 8 years ago, the pain came back, as well as numbness. My vision would become blurry and I'd feel dizzy. During an eye exam, the doctor detected abnormal pupil responses and ordered a MRI. The radiologist found plaque on my brain and spine. I have a relapsing, remitting course of Multiple Sclerosis." The President holds my gaze as silence fills the room.
I break the gaze and look down at my hands. They are strangely still considering the way I feel they should be shaking. My stomach is tight. My mouth is dry. The hairs on my arms and neck stand on end. Another bead of sweat runs down my spine. But my body is strangely still.
The President has Multiple Sclerosis.
Without thinking, I ask, "How do you feel?" My voice sounds tight and strangely pitched. I feel a wave of heat flush up my neck. My emotions are definitely beyond me at this moment.
He smiles an ironic smile, almost bitter, almost surprised I would ask. He says, "Fine, thanks. I appreciate you asking. You?"
My head swims and I whisper, "Could I have some water?"
Leo pours some from a pitcher into a glass and brings it to me. I look up into his eyes and see him measuring me. They've done this before. Toby knows. Josh knows. CJ knows. Who else? Everybody in the White House? Everybody but me? How out of the loop am I? Why didn't I know sooner? I search for a logical reason to mollify my ego. The speech. They must have held off on telling me because of the speech. It's doneŠ and now that it's done, I know that the President has Multiple Sclerosis. I down the contents of the glass in one swallow.
As I set the glass down, the silence weighs on us all. I finally meet the President's gaze again. He looks as though he expects me to yell at him or something. I don't understand that. On some level I'm horrified as my eyes fill with tears. Seeing this, his eyes become moist. I pick up the glass again. I hold it up in a silent plea for more water. Leo obliges. When he hands back the glass I take a small sip and set it on the coffee table. I sit back and wipe the back of my left hand over each eye.
I take a deep breath. "Are you okay, Mr. President?" I choke out.
"Are youŠ is itŠ fatal?" I feel foolish as I ask. Unsure. Scared, like a child asking about the monsters in the dark. I don't know much about Multiple Sclerosis. Never needed to. Wish I wasn't about to learn. I usually hate not knowing about something, but for one moment I wish that I could remain ignorant of MS.
He shakes his head. "MS is not fatal. It can become physically debilitating and affect cognitive function, but it is not fatal." I feel my face twist and look down.
Debilitating. Cognitive function. No.
"Why are you telling me now?" I ask. "Why now if not before?"
He sits back and sighs. "I will announce it soon. Toby figured it out last week from 'clues' Hoynes gave him. It's time to tell the People. It's time."
Last week. Toby. Clues. Hoynes knows. Time.
I blink rapidly and nod. "Is there anything else, Sir?"
What will this mean for him? What will this mean for the Presidency? Is it all over for us? How will we overcome this? What about me? What will I do? I grow disgusted with myself for the selfish thoughts.
He shakes his head and then leans forward, obviously having changed his mind. "I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry I didn't tell you years ago. I believed I was doing what was best at the time. But now I'm sorry."
Again, I blink back tears. He's apologizing to me because he's facing a debilitating illness. "That's okay, Mr. President. I'm sorry you have it."
Debilitating. Cognitive function. Jed Bartlet unable to speak, unable to bring my words to life.
He licks his lips and looks down. "Thank you, Sam." Then he stands.
I stand, too, and now my body has caught up with my brain. My legs shake. I rasp, "Good evening, Mr. President."
He repeats, "Thank you, Sam." As I move toward the door, I hear him say to Leo, "I wish we'd gauged reaction with that one, Leo." Then he turns away and I swear I hear him choke back a sob. I don't look back. I can't.
Leo puts a hand on his shoulder and responds, "He's not the only one who will react that way, Mr. President." He says, "Sam, please get with Babish at 5:30 a.m. and then come by my office tomorrow afternoon. There are some things we need to get your help on. By the way, we've got room B-WW 280 set up as a 'war room' of sorts. You'll need to use the code word 'Sagittarius' to gain entry. Why don't you call it a night now?"
I nod and close the door behind me as I leave the Oval Office. I stare back at the door for a moment. I see Charlie look up at me. I look at him. Now I can read his statement. He knows. I nod and say, "Good night, Charlie."
He replies evenly, "Good night, Sam." I think about his quiet strength as I walk away.
I vaguely hear people speak as I pass. I don't speak in return. I look at their eyes as I pass. I do an unintentional survey. He doesn't know. She doesn't know. They don't know.
I pass Oliver Babish. He knows. Well, I guess he would. He IS the White House CounselŠ bet he's cursing Tribbey for leaving him the job now. I wonder why he was in the West WingŠ and where he's going.
My brain is whirring. What can I do to help? I guess Babish will let me know tomorrow what he has in mind, but what can I bring to the table? I bump into a door frame and mutter a curse. Actually I guess he'll be vetting me in the morning and then Leo will tell me what they want me to do. What can I bring to the table? Think.
He doesn't know. She doesn't know. He doesn't know. She doesn't know.
Donna. Big smile and then a curious look as I don't respond. Nope. Doesn't know. Ginger. No particular statement. Doesn't know.
I walk into Toby's office and close the door behind me. He's silent. I sit down on his sofa. He gives me a beer and sips his scotch. He definitely knows. He says, "You're gonna need to talk to the White House Counsel. Babish wants to see you at 5:30 tomorrow morning." I nod. He bounces a ball.
"Leo told me." I say, and then ask. "Is he representing the President?" Toby nods and bounces the ball. "What about us?" Somehow I know it's okay to bring up selfish concerns with Toby. He won't think less of me for it. He'll just help me sort it out.
Toby bounces the ball again and again and quietly says, "He's going to appoint someone from his office to review all the speeches we've written, all the commentaries we've done and all our appearances in the media. She'll let us know whether or not we need our own lawyers." He looks at me evenly.
I choke on my beer. "She?" Toby nods. "She?" I stand and pace to the other end of the office and stop, rooted there. I whirl back and look at Toby.
Toby looks at me very intently as he says, "Babish needs to use all of the resources we've got on this. He's going to want you to help with some vetting and other preparation, for example. He also decided to use all of the White House lawyers. He's informing them one at a time and giving them areas on which to focus. Ainsley Hayes is being told right now. He thinks that she's the best one to defend you and me."
I feel the color rise in my face. I'm suddenly furious. I know what this is about. Babish has decided to use Ainsley's and my friendship to keep her in check. He doesn't trust her political motives. The painful thing is that I know she'll understand that all too clearly, as well. It'll just be one more example of the millions of ways the Democrats in this White House have found to let her know she's the enemy no matter what she does. I flash back on the card in the dead flowers Brookline and Joyce left on her desk.
But this anger is more than even that and I know it. Much more.
Toby is still staring at me. He can see right through me and I really don't give a damn. My breathing comes faster. I want nothing more than to charge down to the basement and throw Babish up against a wall and beat him senseless. I want to protect her from learning about thisŠ scandal. I want to protect her from another slam against her integrity as a White House employee. Now my hands are shaking visibly. I clench fists. Without sound or statement, Toby tosses me the ball. I slam it into the glass of his office door so hard it cracks.
He winces and asks, "Feel better?" I shake my head. I don't feel better. I feel drained. I feel helpless. He's telling her right now. I pace back and forth in this cage.
Toby says, "I envy you, you know." I look at him in confusion. He envies me? Envies me what? "I envy that you didn't get angry until you got here." I tilt my head and look at Toby. I nod slowly. I can imagine what Toby's reaction must have been. I've seen him seething ever since. He's not just angry with the President and Leo. He's angry with himself, too.
I look away and say, "She'll surprise Babish, you know. She'll take the news like the pro that she is and dig into our defense the same way. And she would do that no matter what aspect of the case she was assigned."
Toby looks carefully says, "You have a lot of faith in her." He shrugs, looking uncomfortable. "You know her better than I do. She seems intelligent and capable, if a bit nervous. But I don't know her." His voice rises. "Of course, on some level I find it hysterical to think a Republican will be defending me against all that's coming our wayŠ"
I say, firmly, "She's more than that, Toby. She's the Associate White House Counsel. The President appointed her because she has a sense of duty."
He smiles slightly, "And because she kicked your ass on television."
I grin grimly and choose to ignore the dig. "A sense of dutyŠ like in Pinafore."
Toby bounces his ball and asks, idly, "Were you really President of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at Princeton?"
I shake my head. "Recording Secretary."
He chuckles darkly. "Yeah. You knowŠ your opinion has really changed since you yelled at Leo for sending her to clean up the mess with the Rockland memo. Then, you were suspicious that she would leak the problemŠ" He looks at me expressively as only Toby can.
I remember. I wince and look down. She knows about this by now and I can't do anything to stop it or to stop Babish from hurting her. And I can't do anything to cure the President. I'm stunned as the sense of helplessness hits me.
Why cognitive function? Why? Please, no.
Softly, Toby say, "I hope your faith in her is justified, Sam. I really do." Doubt shows in his eyes, and dread of the pain he sees ahead for me if his doubt proves justified.
I finish off the beer and crush the can viciously. I tell him, "It is, Batman. It is." He smiles slightly. I get up and say, "I'm going to call it a night. EarlyŠ and longŠ day tomorrow."
He nods and says, "Yeah. Good night, Sam." I reply in kind.
In my office, I hit save on the document that's up on my computer. I glance to see how many new emails I have. And then I just close the door and leave. But I don't go to my car. There's no question where I'm going now. I'm going to find some doughnuts.
------------------------------------------------- In the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution VenueŠ
"I thank you for this assignment, Mr. Babish. I will complete it with all due scrutiny and care, while also proceeding with all possible speed. You can count on meŠ and my discretionŠ completely, utterly and without fail." I stand here and, without any obvious display of emotion, calmly enunciate the pledge. If looks could kill, Oliver Babish would be dead on my floor.
He moves to the door. He turns back. "Do you do some sort of breathing exercises that keep you from needing air between sentences, Miss Hayes?"
I simply shake my head. I am not amused. He shrugs. "Well, good night. I'll expect you at 5:00."
I nod and reply, "Yes, sir."
The door closes behind Oliver Babish. Bastard.
Now that he's gone I allow my eyes to mist and the color to return to my cheeks. I sit down weakly. I'd like to kick and scream and throws things at Babish. I'd like toŠ I run my hand over the outline of speeches and tapes I need to unarchive for review. With my free hand I search my desk drawer for a snack.
I push thoughts of violence against Babish away. I pick up the outline and begin to guess at the volume of material I'll be reviewing. Judging from times I've helped to condense position memos down, I'm guessing I'll be sifting through several tractor-trailers worth of stuff.
Damn Babish! Even if I did have the traitorous tendencies he attributes to me, to Southerners, to Republicans, to blond woman lawyers in generalŠ he would prevent me from leaking this before they are ready by throwing Sam in the path of my potential treachery. Bastard.
And that's a good thing. He's smart and mean and observant. It makes me feel good about the President's chances of getting through this thing intact.
But then there's the Multiple Sclerosis. The opposition is nothing next to that. Dear God, why? I've only met President Bartlet a few timesŠ and one of those I try very hard to forget aboutŠ but I like him. It was his spirit and his integrity and his passion and his sense of duty and honor that called me to this job. Why him?
I can't do anything to help with that, but I can help immensely with the battles to come.
My first day here, Leo told me I was in their foxhole now. I wondered, at the time, if the war analogy was appropriate. I know now that it was. And it seems that even then he knew the truth of the situation, that this war was inevitable. A doubt creeps through my mind. Did they hire me only so they'd have a Republican as a part of their defense on the cover-up? I banish the thought. Jed Bartlet is a good man.
Now, Oliver Babish, on the other handŠ I try to resist grinding my teeth at the thought of him and fail. I stand and pace. I turn on my CD player. Chopin. Lovely. Relax. Relax. Grind. Relax. Sam.
I could go on and on to myself all night about duty and honor and integrity and spiritŠ but I'd only be hiding behind the words. Babish said they were telling Sam tonight. Said he was with the President and Leo as we spoke. I had an insane urge to run up there and pull him into my arms. Sam has that affect. And I've always been weak for that. A man in sincere distress. A strong, passionate, intelligent man in distress? My toes practically curl at the thought. And more that it's Sam. It's infuriating, liberal-minded, stubborn, opinionated, dear Sam.
I will decimate anyone who tries to hurt him. They want a war? Well, they'll get one.
One concern I have is to wonder how Babish could know how much I'd want to defend Sam. He thinks I have traitorous potential. What gave him the idea that Sam would be more important to me than the opportunity to make this secret public before the White House can control it? I would never betray this White House that way. I'm their lawyer. But more than that, I WILL protect Sam. I'm surprised at the intensity of my feelings, so how could Babish know more about them than I do?
I'll run right over anyone who tries to bring Sam down. To bring any of them down for that matter. But especially Sam. I think of that first day here and Brookline and Joyce. The cold reception I get whenever I'm around my former colleagues now. Sam including me on meetings and giving me advice. Sam, bringing me in on the speech for the Correspondents' dinner. Sam, reminding me to remember I'm on their side.
I realize now that he is, in fact, the only person who's been completely on MY side all these months. He understands what I'm doing here and has supported meŠ from the "Englishman" serenade on.
And tonight, for the second time in recent weeks, his world has been turned upside down. A man he reveres told him he'd lied to him. A man he loves told him he has a terrible disease. He was told that all he hopes to accomplish is in jeopardy.
There's a knock at the door. I straighten both my statement and my jacket and then call out, "It's open." I brace myself.
Oh, thank God! It's Sam and he's got doughnuts and coffee! Despite everything I smile broadly at him. He stops and stares. I temper my smile a bit and sniff the air appreciatively. "Are they actually warm?" I look in his eyes to see how he's doing.
He looks serious, "I heated the box up in the microwaveŠ and ran them down here."
I reply, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me, Sam. I could really use something sweet about now." He nods and peers at me sideways.
He asks, "You met with Babish tonight?"
I frown and pluck a doughnut out of the box. I take a big bite and just nod in reply. I'm not sure I trust myself to talk about Babish right now.
He hesitates and asks, "And he told youŠ?"
I swallow and murmur, "Sagittarius." Our eyes meet for a long second.
He takes a doughnut. I eat the rest of the first. He replies, "YeahŠ Sagittarius. I met with the President earlier tonight." He looks away. I feel a surge of desire to take him in my arms and sooth his pain. I suppress it, but not without difficulty.
I sip the coffee. He fixed it just like I like itŠ a bit too much cream compared to the average person, no sugar. I'm touched. He has quite a mind for details. And he really notices things. That worries me for him where the case is concerned. He'd be safer if he was dumber. I take another doughnut and say, "I was surprised you hadn't been told earlier." At his look I feel awful. I add, "I only meantŠ"
He holds up a hand and says, "Nothing to worry aboutŠ they wanted me to finish the SME speech before I became distracted." He sounds just a little bit defensive and I can't blame him. On closer look I wonder if he's been crying. Suddenly I feel like crying. After all that's just happened to him he brought me doughnuts and coffee.
I say, "Thank you for this." I munch the second doughnut. It's like a plain 'Krispy Kreme'Š the kind I grew up onŠ searching out their "Hot Doughnuts NOW!" signsŠ
He attempts to joke, "Gotta keep your strength up." He looks down, realizing there's really nothing funny about it.
I reply lightly, "Well, that is the least you can do to help me through my upcoming ordeal, Sam. Not only do I have to be in Babish's office with you before dawn tomorrow; but it seems that I am going to have to watch every television appearance you've ever done, read every word you've written and listen to every radio program you've ever been on. At the very least, a sugar high will be required in order to get me through it all."
He grins, "You could learn a lot, you know, from the MasterŠ"
I give an exaggerated sigh, "Only about the many ways in which you err."
He raises his eyebrows, "I sincerely hope that is not the case."
My eyes grow wide. I ask quietly, "Is there someplace I should start?" This is the closest I'll come to asking him if he's been involved in the cover up knowingly. I'm sure he hasn't.
He looks at me solemnly, "No." He holds my gaze for a long moment and then says, "I'm glad you're going to be evaluating Toby's and my position in this thing."
He's sincere. He believes in me. He's grateful for my help. I can't resist smiling at this.
He says, "Not that I'm encouraging you to call your father about it or anythingŠ"
I chuckle. "Perhaps I'll let you off the hook this once. I mean, you DID bring doughnuts and coffeeŠ"
He says, "I don't suppose you'd like to go grab a real dinner?" He is a study in looking casual as he says this. I blink in surprise. We've never deliberately gone to a restaurant together, just the two of us.
But I can see he doesn't want to be alone. And I understand. I say, "I'm always up for a meal, Sam. Especially when you're buying. Let's just promise not to talk about the thing and you're on."
He smiles. "Who says it's my treat? I wouldn't want to mortify your sensibilities with any macho assumptionsŠ"
I close my computer and turn off the lamp. "You know it is, Sam. Also, I think it is entirely possible that I may, in all actuality, be the more macho of the two of us."
He stops and frowns. "Are you referring to my support of the ERA or calling me girly?"
I laugh aloud, something I would not have thought possible a few minutes ago. I lightly touch his arm and say, "Either one, Sam. Either one."
He smiles mischievously at me and I just melt. He says, "I assure you that I am not at all girly."
I believe him.
To regain my balance, I recall something Donna mentioned earlier when I saw her in the cafeteria. "Whatever you say, Boy Wonder."
He groans and holds a hand against his head. We're standing pretty close, facing each other. He says, "And to think I thought I might feel betterŠ"
I smile at him sweetly, teasing, "You thought I'd make you feel better? How nice!"
He looks mock exasperated for a moment, but then his statement softens and becomes more serious. His eyes are so blue. My breath catches. I'd really like to make him feel better, I decide. But the timingŠ
He moves a bit closer and moves his hand to my cheek. He looks at me like I'm precious to him. He pulls me closer and we each put our arms around the other. He's quite a bit taller than I am. My arms are around his waist at first. Then I move one up around his neck and pull his head down to my shoulder. We hold each other close. I feel his breath catch and one of his hands stroking my hair. We take comfort in each other. We hold each other for a lovely, long moment. I can feel him tremble.
Then he pulls back a fraction and leans down. His lips touch mine so lightly, then more urgently. I'm nearly overwhelmed. He feels so good. I realize I've wanted this for a long time. I kiss him hungrily. We cling to each other, hands caressing. He murmurs, "You taste sweet."
I pull back, breathless. "That, my friend, would be the doughnut sugar." He smiles and leans in for another taste.
After a few more seconds I force myself to stop. Both of us are breathing fast and hard. Nearly whimpering, I push back from him. He groans. I say, "I think we should go eat nowŠ" I fear he'll take it as a rejection until I look up at him again and see that he's hanging his head. His eyes are closed and he's breathing deeply, regaining control. He nods. I continue, "SamŠ"
He opens his eyes at my tone and says, "Ainsley, don't. I realize that you have just been asked to evaluate my work of the past three years to determine whether or not I'm party to conspiracy to commit fraud in a Presidential election. I know that. I'm sorry for the awkwardness this will bring us now and realize I should have resisted the temptation I feel. I'm even more sorry that circumstances necessitate that we put this on hold for the time being." And he takes a step back.
I can see that he wants to resume kissing me as much as I want for him to do so. And he looks sad again. I tremble as he turns to open the door for me and can barely stand it. As he starts to open the door I push it closed again. He looks surprised as I push him against the door and pull his head down for another kiss. I kiss him long and hard. I run my hands over the muscles of his shoulders and chest. I let him know in no uncertain terms that he's not the only one who is tempted. We both savor the moment. Then I push myself back from against him, catch my breath and say, "NOW we can put it on hold." I straighten my jacket and look at him seriously.
He gasps and nods in reply, looking almost shell-shocked. Then he grins and chuckles.
I say, "Aren't you going to open the door for me?" with a wide-eyed, innocent look.
His grin becomes mischievous again and I hold my breath for a second. He says "I'd really rather wrestle you to the floor and do things with you that you'd never dare call your father about, but I'll wait."
I grin, "I'm a pretty good wrestler, by the way."
He groans and grins ruefully. "I believe you, macho woman. Now let's leave before I go completely insane here." He opens the door. He definitely looks happier than when he arrived.
I beam at him. Not only because he looks happier, but also because I love the thought of making him insane like that. And mostly because it's good for both of us to have something sweet to look forward toŠ