Author's Note: Back when I was doing my Eight Days of Holiday Fluff, I believe I mentioned one day where I got halfway through a story before realizing that, despite some Christmas trappings, it was neither Christmassy nor particularly fluffy and tossed it on the shelf. I finally managed to get back and finish it, despite three days of flu in my household. Hope you enjoy, feedback and other Gail headcanons are welcome!
"So what's going on in here?"
Carol jumped at the sudden voice from behind her, water slopping over her fingers as she tightened her grip on the glass bowl. She turned to glare at the interloper, now leaning in the doorway as though he had not a care in the world. "You're not supposed to be back here, Danny," she accused. "Margaret's going to eat you for breakfast."
"Hey, ease back there, Galatea," Danny implored, raising his empty hands. "I've got a note from the boss, I swear. We're meeting for lunch."
Carol looked at him skeptically. "Galatea?" she repeated. "Like the statue?"
"No, no, no," he insisted. "Like the sea goddess. You know, with the fish, and the shooting lightning from your eyes at me... never mind. The name of the statue came from the name of the goddess."
"You are way too educated, Danny," she told him flatly, turning back to her work. "She's in the sit room, I don't know if she's going to make it back anytime soon. You might be stuck with the Mess today."
"I can deal," Danny replied easily. "You're a little outside your stomping grounds as well, aren't you? Last I heard you were pretty much running things in the press office."
"I'm a woman of many talents." Carol set a doily down on the polished mahogany desk, then carefully placed the fishbowl down on top of it, right next to the other one.
"You're messing with my fish," Danny observed. "Or with one of them. Why are there two fish?"
"Because I'm changing out the bowl," she explained. The bowl on the right contained royal blue gravel, a little plaster menorah, and a goldfish. The bowl on the left contained red and green gravel, a little plaster Christmas tree with plaster presents beneath it, and a goldfish. Carol pulled a folded length of gold ribbon from her pocket and secured it around the rim of the Christmas bowl, tying a puffy bow.
"I always wondered who changed the decorations," Danny admitted. "But that doesn't really answer the question at hand. Which one of those is my fish?"
"Neither of them are yours," Carol replied immediately, volunteering no further information. She was a pro at dealing with troublesome members of the press corps, and Danny Concannon definitely counted after all the trouble he'd caused last time he'd come to town. Nobody got to make CJ that happy, then that sad, then that aggravated, then up and leave again, thereby ushering in the godforsaken Era of Ben without making it onto Carol's semi-permanent shit list. He could stay there as far as she was concerned.
Danny rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine. Which one is CJ's?" He obviously read the answer she was about to give on her face. "...Both of them are CJ's. Right. Which one is the one I gave her? The original?"
Carol bent to look into the bowls with a critical eye. "Neither of them," she decided after a moment. "This is Gail Two and Gail Five. Gail One's in the tank."
His eyes widened a little. "Five? Is this some kind of illicit goldfish-smuggling operation? And me without my notebook."
She gave him a withering look. "You gave CJ a goldfish in a bowl without so much as a piece of gravel in it. You know what the life expectancy for a fish like that is, in an environment like the White House? I've had headaches that lasted longer. But CJ likes her, and she reduces the workplace stress around here. And somebody has to keep the bowl clean and decorated anyway, so we got a system going."
"Who's we?" Danny asked, looking fascinated almost in spite of himself.
"Me and Henry at first, and some of the interns. Jack actually knew something about fish, so he set up the little aquarium downstairs in the supply closet back of the Press Office." Carol smiled dryly. "We told him being assistant deputy would require a wide skill set."
She shrugged. "Being the fish on CJ's desk is a stressful gig. They each have a week or so at a time, then get four weeks off to recover. Works pretty well, we've only lost one Gail in six and a half years. And the original is still doing fine," she assured him.
Danny approached the desk, looking slightly awestruck. "A true White House conspiracy right under my nose, and I never suspected a thing," he mused. "I should just turn in my credentials now." Carol smirked, but refrained from making any helpful remarks. "Does CJ know?"
"No, and don't tell her, either!" Carol insisted, stepping closer to the desk."She needs Gail more than ever, so you just leave well enough alone, Danny Concannon. Anything that reduces her stress level is good. And if you're sneaking in here again because you've got some kind of story to drop on her head or there's something you want to get from her-"
"Hey, hey," he protested, taking a couple quick steps back. "I've got no ulterior motives here! I'm trying to take an attractive and interesting woman who I have strong feelings for out to a nice lunch, and the fact that she happens to be one of the most powerful people in the world is less a perk and more something we have to work around."
Carol just glared at him, letting her expression say clearly what she thought of his assurances. There'd been a time, years really, when she'd liked Danny very much. He'd started following the campaign right about the time she'd come on staff, and she'd liked his deadpan humor, the words he used to describe their days that made them more vibrant than actually living them, and the way he flustered and exasperated and amused and bewildered CJ. They hadn't had much time for entertainment on the campaign, and it had been a lot more fun for her and Margaret and Donna to gossip about CJ and Danny than about Leo's slowly disintegrating marriage or the never-ending vale of tears that was Josh and Mandy. When they got to the White House, he ingratiated himself with little bribes, enough that Carol found them charming, nothing to make her feel cheap, and she felt fine about it because he wrote stories that were fair and secretly CJ wanted to see him. Even when CJ was punishing him, Carol was usually on his side, just a little bit.
Then there was that horrible night at Rosslyn, when CJ had come back to the White House injured and shaken down to her very bones, and all Danny could talk about was the 25th Amendment. Carol had wanted him to help her take care of CJ, but he'd only made things worse because that was his job. It occurred to her for the first time that maybe his job really was the obstacle CJ and everyone else said it was. He could've moved up, taken a promotion, become an editor, and been much freer to be with CJ, but then he hadn't done that, either. (Carol hadn't known about that for another full year, not till the sad, arid days after Simon Donovan, when she'd finally taken CJ out and gotten her drunk enough to talk about her love life.) The last straw had come when Danny had staged his Christmas comeback, when Carol had bought into the romance and excitement enough to help sneak him into the White House dressed as Santa Claus so he could surprise CJ. Surprise her with a bombshell of a story he was working on, more like, and give her nothing but more headaches and sleepless nights. As far as Carol was concerned, as far as she hoped CJ was concerned, Danny and his lack of ulterior motives could go pound sand.
Danny seemed to grow a bit uncomfortable with the glaring after a moment, though he was professionally immune to people who were annoyed with him. He turned his attention back to the fish. "So, um, what happened to the one Gail that didn't make it?"
"Turkey-related mishap," Carol replied shortly.
"Ah." There was another moment of silence. "So, I think I'll just stop by later when CJ's back in her office. Nice to see you, Carol."
Carol waited till he was almost at the door to the hallway. "Hey, Danny." He turned back to look at her. "You be good to her, okay? No more games, no more stories." She cradled the Hanukkah bowl and Gail Two a little closer. "If you hurt her again, nobody's ever going to find your body."
Danny's eyebrows went up as he studied her. He seemed to understand how much she meant every word of that, to judge by the way he shifted his weight and ran one hand nervously through his hair. "Right, gotcha. And I'm just not gonna ask what kind of fish food you're using down in the press office these days."
She gave him a thin smile, letting him make his escape into the hallway. Once he was safely gone, Carol lifted Gail Two's bowl to face height, peeking in at its golden occupant. "Men are totally not worth it, Gail," she announced with great feeling. "If you want somebody to keep you company, you're better off with a fish." Tucking the bowl back into the crook of her arm, she headed back for the press office, leaving Gail Five swimming lazy circles in her Christmas bowl.