Author's Notes: Originally written for the LJ community, twwminis. The prompt I was given asked for a Sam/Leo fic (in a fatherly way) that referenced "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail." Spoilers up through the first part of Season three. Set some time after "Two Cathedrals" but before "H. Con-172."
Disclaimer: I don't own it. If I did, I'd totally make an Allison Janney/ Timothy Busfield spin-off, hehe.
A Night Without Stars
By Duckie Nicks
They sat there quietly, the abnormal silence between them saying everything. And Leo wondered then if the speechwriter had ever realized the power of having no words, of being seemingly unable to talk your way out of something.
The question undulated in his mind, but as he opened his mouth to speak, a different query filled the air.
"You remember Big Block of Cheese Day?" Sam asked. His voice held the usual amount of thinly veiled contempt and exhaustion associated with Leo's pet project. Maybe a little more than the normal amount, the older man thought.
The chief of staff nodded his head twice, each movement precise. "Yeah."
Silence invaded the air once more. And then, whether to re-break the ice or to head off any discussion over the merits of enforcing Andrew Jackson, Leo added –
"We're not getting rid of it."
"I wasn't suggesting…"
"Good," Leo interrupted. "Because it is the one day ordinary Americans can come to the White House and have their grievances heard."
"Yeah." Not even Andrew Jackson, Leo realized, had the power to pull Sam out of this sullen mood. "I just brought it up," the younger man continued, "because…" His voice trailed off, his body hunching over uncharacteristically in his seat.
"Because," Leo started for him.
"Because it was three days after I learned my father had… a mistress." His voice was timid, each word filled with regret, and it wasn't until that moment that Leo realized how much sadness Sam had been carrying around.
The older man had understood intuitively that the sorrow was there, festering behind the displayed anger. Had known it was there, but even then – not until now had he been privy to see it. And to be in plain view of it now, it wasn't the kind of thing he could easily dismiss.
Leo was not one to hug, to wantonly express himself, but if he were... If he were that way, and if there hadn't been so much said in the last few months, Leo thought that he might hug Sam. There was the urge, but he did not move, instead settled for:
"And I remember thinking that if he could carry that secret for twenty-eight years – that if he could lie all this time, and the NSC had broken old Soviet codes without admitting to it…"
The thought momentarily went unfinished as Ginger knocked on the door and came in.
"Toby wants you in with the speechwriters."
"Yeah," Sam said. The redhead looked around, perhaps understanding that she had intruded upon something. "Yeah," Sam repeated, the dismissal uttered with a warmness and yet a definite finality. "I'll be there in a minute." The Chief of Staff did not look to see that she had left, his eyes fixated on the man before him.
Sitting there, he waited for the deputy to continue.
It was enough to jump start the conversation one more time. "Anyway, I remember asking myself then, 'If they're lying to me, then who else is too?'"
Not for the first time, Leo wished he had never heard the letters, M.S., that he had never learned about the disease. Even within the White House, the news had infiltrated every relationship, and the camaraderie that had been so prevalent before now seemed non-existent. The before and after was stark in its contrast. Everyone looked at one another differently, maybe even suspiciously. Looked at him differently, and viewed the President with a mixture of sadness and disgust.
There was before and after, and now instead of measuring importance with feet from the Oval, it was when you'd been told and who'd done it. And worst of all, the disease was attacking his best friend and the nation's greatest mind. Not that the state of his mind mattered much now because also in the "after" category was the fact that the President's agenda was going to come to a screeching halt.
When he heard the sound of rustling papers, Leo turned his attention back to Sam.
"Sam, would you still have voted for him if you'd known about the disease?"
Conviction stirred in the younger man's blue eyes. "I thought I wouldn't but… if he'd been honest, if we'd done it the right way, yes."
"Would you have still wanted to work for him?"
The answer again was fast, insistent. "Yes."
"I just wish we could have done it without lying." The lamentable quality to Sam's California accent was unmistakable.
Perhaps they were now at an impasse; maybe this conversation was the best they could do under these circumstances. Leo had originally believed that the senior staff would deal with their emotions quickly, privately. Not easily, perhaps, but out of necessity, they would, he had thought, set aside their feelings of betrayal.
But… with each day that seemed more and more like a pipe dream made him feel increasingly like Don Quixote tilting at the thing. Because as much as they all loved the President, he had lied to them, and that was hard to accept – the Chief of Staff understood.
"You weren't mad when you found out?" Sam asked eventually.
The older man mulled the question over in his mind before taking a deep breath to answer.
"Not so much. What you have to remember is – your feelings are nothing compared to the fact that this is happening to him." It wasn't said in anger or condescension. "I wanted to be mad, but… this disease is attacking him. And I wanted to be mad so I could scream about how stupid he was."
"Why didn't you?"
"I remembered that there have been times where he easily could have said the same thing to me and didn't."
Ginger entered the office one more time, the preceding knock short. She opened her mouth to speak, but Sam interrupted her – "Tell Toby I'll be there in five minutes."
The assistant glanced around the room, but left.
"Sam, the President doesn't have many friends. He's not immediately easy to like – with the trivia and the Latin. With that mind of his. And in return, he's not quick to trust."
"You're not telling me anything I didn't learn by the third day of the campaign," the younger man responded.
"I'm saying the President was afraid we'd all leave the moment he told us," Leo said. "I hoped you wouldn't prove him right – I still do. He spends enough time being right as it is."
Sam stood up. "I've gotta… the thing with Toby."
"Yeah." Leo watched as the dark-haired man collected his steno pads and walked towards the door. The conversation was over, Leo knew. He'd had the same conversation with them all these past few weeks. They almost always ended the same way. Though so far, no one had wanted a lifeboat; no one had been that mad, and that was something.
"You'll let me know if you're jumping ship, right?"
But there was no answer, only the click of Sam's door behind him. And once more, Leo was left with the silence as his only companion.
Not for the first time, he wondered how they were ever going to get past this. If getting past this was even possible now because it didn't seem like it was. Would they be able to forgive the President for lying? Would they ever forgive Leo for not telling them when he found out?
Or were the Presidency and all of the relationships in the building going to be punctuated, ended, with the lie?
After all they'd been through, he thought… after the shooting, Josh's father, and Mrs. Landingham – after Toby's brother and the call girl and Mary Marsh – after everything, Leo had hoped, and still did, that they wouldn't be finished by this disease. By this one lie.
He didn't consider himself an optimist, but he needed to believe, needed to know, that this makeshift family had been made with something other than a deck of cards. It was why he had been eager to arrange job interviews for them all; the President hadn't been the only one who needed a grand gesture to see what the rest of the staff was thinking. And so far, no one had run for the proffered escape hatch.
Maybe, Leo thought, that meant with some more time, they could move on or go back to the way they were. He wanted to believe that could happen to the point of near desperation, to the point where he could almost ignore the angry and tired looks on everyone's faces. But the truth was… Leo no longer knew if that was possible. He wanted to believe it, but… he just didn't know anymore. And though he sat in Sam's barely lit office, Leo thought he could see the house of cards shudder, all but ready to fall.