Pax in Bello (Peace in the Midst of War)
Jed stood at the window in the Oval Office, watching the sunlight die. Some days it was an inspiring sight; today, it just made him all the more aware of the encroaching gloom. He sipped at the herbal concoction Abbey had forced on him, and grimaced. He could take tea - proper tea - as a substitute for coffee when he had to, but this stuff was like perfumed hot water.
He didn't turn at the sound of the gentle knock, but simply called out a quiet, "Hey." There was only one person it could be.
He shifted slightly as Leo approached, and gave him a subdued smile. "Hey. I thought you'd gone home?"
"Just finishing up, Mr. President." Leo paused halfway across the carpet, and wrinkled his nose. "Whoa. What are you drinking?"
Jed eyed his mug dubiously. "I don't know, but I have a suspicion a flower arrangement died that it might live."
Leo sniffed the air curiously. "Smells like... jasmine."
Jed raised an eyebrow. "You can identify floral scents at twenty paces?"
"It's one of my lesser-known skills."
He wandered further into the room, and Jed turned his gaze back to the window. "Abbey's making me drink it," he explained, after a moment. "It's supposed to be soothing."
"I'd heard that."
He tried another sip, and regretted it. "Personally, I have my doubts," he said, wincing.
He was aware of Leo's presence at his shoulder, in the same comfortable way you were aware of your own shadow, or a coat you hadn't quite shrugged off. Something separate, which nonetheless belonged. Neither of them spoke for a long time.
"You did good today," Leo said finally, with a faint rustle the only betrayal of the fact he had shifted his feet. Jed's gaze stayed in the bottom of his mug.
"It wasn't enough." Every journey might begin with a single step, but what good was that when you knew you were never going to get to take the ones that followed?
"You made a difference."
"It made no difference." He waved the platitude away irritably. "What possible difference could it have made?"
"The difference it makes is that... you did good."
Jed quirked an eyebrow his way. "Virtue is its own reward?" he queried cynically.
"Virtue is its own virtue." Leo shrugged. "That isn't enough?"
"Yeah." The silence hung on for a beat. "I really thought I was going to change the world, Leo," he said quietly.
"You think you haven't?"
"Six feet of it right here would disagree with you."
Jed couldn't help but turn and break into an incredulous smirk at that.
"I was rounding up!" Leo said defensively.
"That's quite a lot of up," he noted.
"You of all people want to start in with the height cracks?"
Jed chuckled, but the smile gradually faded out as he took another sip of jasmine tea. He stared out into the dimming world beyond the White House.
"You did good today," Leo repeated.
He shook his head. "It was a drop in the ocean."
"He who saves a single life..."
"...Saves the world entire." Jed turned to face him full on. "So what does that make the guy who lets a life slip through his fingers?"
"It makes him a freakishly freakish control freak who's under the impression it's his job to fix the world," Leo said matter-of-factly.
"You know, if this office wasn't an oval, there's no way you could fit that head in."
He lifted a hand to stave off the issues of ego. That wasn't what this was about. "That's what you brought me here to do?" he demanded. "I save one life, and that's enough to make it worth... all this?" He gestured, encompassing the Oval, the West Wing... the world.
"No." Leo was quiet for a moment. "That's not what I brought you here to do. That's why I brought you here." He smiled wryly. "Four AM on my face in a cheap motel parking lot? That was my world entire."
Jed shook his head. "You never needed anyone to save you, Leo. You saved yourself. I had nothing to do with it."
"You can't take a helping hand 'til someone holds it out to you," he refuted, holding Jed's gaze. "You gave me a whole lifetime for me to return the favour... and no matter how long that is, it'll never be enough."
"Nothing's ever enough." Jed turned back to the window, unable to meet his sincerity head on. "This morning... that was a good moment," he conceded. He sighed softly. "But who's going to remember that, when it all ends in grief?"
"Everything, everywhere, always ends in grief," Leo said fiercely. "Ending is grief, and sooner or later, it's gonna come for all of us." He let that hang for a couple of seconds, then smiled warmly. "Me? I'll take the moments."
And finally, as Leo stepped forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with him, Jed felt the tension begin to bleed out of him. He breathed in jasmine tea, and looked at the world outside his window.
"And when the moments stop coming?" he asked softly.
"Doesn't matter." Leo gave him that pure, brilliant, Leo smile, the one that lit up the world and everyone in it. "I've had all the ones I really need. Everything else is just gravy."
Side by side, they stood and watched the sun disappear. And - just for a moment - before it did, everything was golden.
In memory of John Spencer.