A/N: To all of you who despise unusual pairings... Come on, you know you want to read this. Admit it. I'll tell you what. For every person who is opposed to unusual pairings who reads this, and sends feedback, I'll read a CJ/Danny story. Those who know me know how painful a concession that is.
Disclaimer: Look at the name on the story. I'm not Aaron.
A/N 2: Yes, I know I said that I'd have this out sooner. I'm sorry. (That is, if anyone noticed or cared)
Feedback: Is much appreciated.
Archive: Anyone who all ready has my stuff. Everyone else, go ahead, but I wouldn't mind knowing where.
Thanks to: AJ, for beta'ing.
I don't understand what it is about death that makes people want to go stand in the rain. I've always found that just because I'm miserable on the inside, it doesn't mean that I need to make myself physically miserable.
I found her soaking wet, leaning against the fence that surrounds the White House. God only knows how long she'd been standing there. I don't know how long I was standing there, watching her. The rain had plastered her red hair to her head. The hat she was wearing at the funeral lies on the ground, a few feet to her left. She's hurting so much. I just want to take her into my arms and tell her that it's all right, but I can't. She asked me to give her time, and I'm going to respect that.
We all deal with grief in our own ways. I want to throw things, or punish the people responsible for my pain. I want someone to hurt like I'm hurting.
Margaret holds it inside, keeps it from those around her. She won't go as far as to take it out on herself, but she doesn't stop other people from taking it out on her. I think about Ted, and I wish that I'd given him more than a concussion and a few cracked ribs.
She should have been a pallbearer at Mrs. Landingham's funeral. She and Ginger and Bonnie and Kathy and Nancy and Charlie and Donna. They were the ones that spent all day with her, knew her best. They're the ones who are most affected by her death. They're going to feel the brunt of her work fall on them. They're the ones who won't be eating lunch with her, won't be able to use her experience to help them through the day.
But it's always about us. It's always about how we're dealing with the shit as it hits the fan.
Donna gets the attention the others don't, though. Josh has brought her in. It's like she's more than she is, that she's more important than the others that do the same sort of work.
I don't hold it against her.
I don't blame her for it.
But it's the way that it is.
She's allowed to have crisises. She's allowed to be vulnerable at work. She can break down crying, and we all come running to her side, she can question the very core of what we do. Working with Josh, she's got it pretty easy. Not that his ego isn't a force to contend with in and of itself, but he's a good guy.
I wonder what it would be like to be Margaret, to work for Leo through the alcohol and the pills. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like, trying to push him through the day.
It was hell, she says, still looking at the ground. How long was I talking out loud? He'd come into work hung over or drunk or high, and I'd have to figure out how to arrange his meetings so that no one would notice, so that he'd be conscious for them. Talk about a scheduling nightmare. She pauses, and I wonder what she's thinking. You've never been with him when he was really out of it. I don't think that even the President has. I think that he saved the worst of it for work, so that Jenny wouldn't have to see him like that. She stops again, and the pain written across her face taunts me.
To be so close, yet able to do nothing to help kills me.
She looks up at me, catches my eyes. I have three degrees, did you know that? I actually have more education than some people in the more important positions. I have a Masters in English, and in Linear Mathematics. The Administrative Assistant one was just a condition on my tuition. My parents weren't paying anything unless I got that one first. I've been playing the harp since I was little. My teacher thought it was a travesty that I wasn't going on to further studies. When my parents pulled me out of lessons, she called them up, wanted to ask them why they'd taken away my chance at being great. You know what they said? They told her that I could be what ever I wanted to be, but first I had to have something to fall back on. They thought that my practicing was starting to cut back on the time that I had for my homework, never mind that I barely ever had any homework to speak of.
She stops again, and I put a hand on her shoulder, hesitantly. She doesn't shake it off, just stands there with her arms crossed, face tilted towards the sky, rivulets of rain dripping down her skin.
The first April Fool's day that we were in the White House, I wrote up all of Leo's reports and schedules in French.
I remember that. He came into the meeting fuming about people who write nonsense. I didn't know until now that it hadn't been gobbledygook, but actually French.
It was a good joke. It's just too bad that Leo didn't get it.
Maybe he wouldn't have been so mad if he'd known that it was in a real language.
I bet that you didn't know that either, she says with her eyes closed. That I was fluent in French.
There's really nothing that I can say to that, so we just stand in the rain. I'm cold. She must be freezing by now. She's been out here a lot longer than I have.
I had a job lined up right out of college, she whispers. The National Geographic hired me on as a reporter, starting in October. One of their correspondents was retiring then. But I had to have something to live on until then, so when I found an add looking for a secretary for a politician, I thought that it would be perfect. It was good short term work, nothing in which I'd start to get promoted up the ladder and feel obligated to stay in. So I went in for the interview, and I ended up getting the job. I started work for Mr. McGarry right away, and I could tell right off the bat why his last assistant had quit. But I told myself to hold on for a few more months, and then I'd be out of there. That was what got me through, thinking that it was only a few more months. But when the time came to leave, I just couldn't. He needed me, Sam. He needed me. So I called up the National Geo and told them sorry, something's come up. I figured as soon as Leo cleaned up his act I could go get a job that I really wanted. But he didn't, and he didn't, and when he finally did, he just replaced the booze with pills. I couldn't leave him like that. When he finally dumped that habit, he was under too much pressure, what with the campaign. He still needed me.
I can't tell if some of the water dripping down her face is actually tears. I think that it is. No matter what, her voice holds steady. I get the feeling that there's something deeper in her words, even though this is already pretty far down. The cars driving by on the street mere feet away have no idea what's going, how the noise of their motors is soothing against the patter of the rain, and the dripping of water off of the bushes. They don't know how carefully I listen to them as I stand there in the rain with Margaret, neither of us speaking.
Mrs. Landingham always used to ask me why I was still hanging around here, she finally says. She'd tell me that if I worked for her, she'd fire me in a second, while I still had enough time to make something of myself. She meant it, too. I think that if she'd seen it as her place, she would have gone to Leo, or even to the President. When I'd try to turn it around on her, ask her why she wasn't retired, she'd tell me that she was a secretary, always had been, always would be. It was what she did and she loved it, and she'd bore herself to death if she retired. According to her, this wasn't what I was meant for. She was very big on people's paths, and working as a secretary wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn't supposed to be in someone's shadow, do someone else's work. I always... I always felt like I was letting her down somehow.
Now I'm sure that there are tears mixed in the rain on her face. She pushes away from the fence, takes a few steps into the open. Her arms out, her face to the sky, she just stands there and lets the rain wash over her.
I don't understand this woman. I don't need to. Margaret is Margaret, and my understanding her won't change that. I'd love to be in her mind, but I'm satisfied watching her from the outside.
Finally, she takes one deep, shuddering breath, and stands up straight. When she looks at me, I can tell that's she's not crying any more.
You must be freezing, she says mildly. I shake my head. She smiles knowingly. Your lips are blue, she tells me as she bends over to pick up her hat. She brushes the grass off of it, and plops it back on her head. Come on, let's go inside and dry off before the conference. Nothing is more miserable than sitting through a press conference soaking wet. Don't ask me how I know that, just take my word on it.
How different she seems, even from a few minutes ago. She really does have a talent for appearing as others expect her to be. She starts back towards the White House, stopping seconds later when she sees that I'm not following her. she asks, raising an eyebrow. It really is quite cute with that hat. I nod, my teeth chattering. When I still don't move, she takes a few steps back towards me and holds her hand out. I stare at it as if I've never seen a hand before. I look up at her and she smiles.
So I take her hand, and as she turns back towards the White House, she mutters something under her breath that sounds suspiciously like Damn, you're adorable when you're soaking wet.'
It's a fact that I store for future reference.
She drops my hand right before we actually get inside, but we're still walking close together. She turns off at the Women's room, claiming that they have a few hair driers in there that will help her dry off faster. But I know that there aren't any in the Men's room, so I just head back to my office, hoping that I have another suit in there somewhere. I almost make it there without being stopped, when I hear my name called from behind me.
I turn around to see a very confused President with his head sticking out the door of Leo's office.
Yes sir? I ask.
Is there a reason that you're soaking wet?
I was out in the rain, sir.
Does being in the rain help you think,Samuel?
No sir, but it does help some people. I take off again, my shoes squishing and squeaking loudly. I pause, and turn to face him again. The rain, it washes away some people's pain.
Very well, Samuel. He looks like he has something else to to say though, so I don't leave quite yet. I can't remember ever seeing him look this tired. The last few days have been incredibly hard on him. Sam, could you step in here for a few seconds?
So I walk into Leo's office, being careful to stay along the edges of the carpet. The President leans against his Chief of Staff's desk, looking very old. I wonder how long he's been in this office. Is the Oval Office something that he's not up to facing, after the interview? Bartlet starts to speak, his eyes focussed at a point somewhere by the window. Mrs. Landingham came to me a couple of days ago. I think that this was something that she'd been thinking about for awhile, because she was very concise, and it had the feel of a meeting that had been practiced again and again. She seemed to think that it was time to let Margaret go. She said some things about how we were holding her back. I didn't understand then how working in the White House could be holding someone back. I don't understand now, but I think that this was something important to her. He pauses. Sam, you're a smart man. What do you think that Delores meant? She wouldn't have brought it up if she didn't feel strongly about it.
I pause, wondering what I should say, how much I should reveal, what Bartlet's reaction will be to what I have to say. I think that she meant that Margaret is fluent in at least two languages, and that Margaret holds masters degrees in English and Linear Mathematics. I think that she meant Margaret gave up a well paying job at the National Geographic because the secretary job that she took to kill time until her contract started happened to be for a man who turned out to being going through a very bad patch. I think she meant that Margaret stayed with that man because he started to need her, even though that same man still can't see all that she does for him, and that the Margarets of the world don't flourish in the shade.
He's still just staring at something only he can see. I think you're wrong, he finally says. About the Margarets of the world. There is only one Margaret.
He appears lost in thought again, so I slip out the door, returning to my quest for a dry suit. Margaret meets me outside the door, looking as if she'd never left the building. She drops her hat, which is looking decidedly worse for the wear, onto her desk. Apparently women's hats are much less weather resistant than the ones my father used to wear. He's in there? she asks me. I nod, not quite able to meet her eyes. How would she take my conversation with the President? How will she take it, if he acts on Mrs. Landingham's suggestion? She starts to ask me something, and I hope that she doesn't want to know what I'm thinking, what I was talking about with POTUS, because I won't lie to her. I don't think that I can.
Hey guys. What's going on? I jump a bit at Donna's voice, but right now it seems just about the sweetest sound I've ever heard.
Nothing much, I say, doing my best to keep my tone flippant. Just working on my time machine so that I can go back and keep this day from happening. You?
She points at the folder in her arms. I have some information for the President. He wanted it right away, so I'm not going to waste time trying to figure out why you're soaking wet. You don't happen to know where he is, by any chance?
Margaret's all ready cracked the door to Leo's office open. Mr President, Donna's here. She said you wanted to see her.
Donna slips inside, and I hope that Margaret isn't going to return to the path our conversation was taking before. Instead, she waves a hand at me as she starts flipping through files. You should probably go find some dry clothes. You wouldn't want to catch cold.
I am freezing, and incredibly uncomfortable, so I squish my way towards the hall. I stop before I leave the room though, standing with my hand on the door. Thank you, I say.
She looks up, confused. Thank you for what?
For caring whether or not I caught a cold. I slip out, catching a glimpse of her smile.
I manage to reach my office without being stopped too many times by people asking who it was that threw me in the pool. Luckily, I have a suit in my office. I remember the last time that I had to borrow one from Toby.
Let's just say that my height doesn't make up for the fact that he's the teensiest bit wider.
By the time I'm dried off and changed, it's almost time for us to leave. Leo starts getting snarky when it takes them awhile to find the President. By the time Charlie gets him into the car, we're running about fifteen minutes behind schedule.
When we get to the conference, it's as if time slows down. I can see CJ's face as the President calls on Sally. I can see him watching Margaret at the back of the room with the other secretaries.
The President said it was option B.
But the way he was talking about Margaret suggests otherwise. It seemed as if he was working with an unlimited time period.
Standing here, watching the press conference as if from outside myself, I can see something that none of the reporters clamouring for answers can. They claim to have the entire story, but this is one thing that they're missing in the search for their truth. I can see in Margaret's eyes as her gaze meets mine that she sees it too.
In this one instant, this isn't about whether or not Bartlet thinks that he can win, having lied to the people about having a degenerative illness. This isn't about the Democratic party's strategies.
It's about whether or not he thinks that he can do a good job. It's about whether or not he thinks that he'd do the best job. It's about whether or not he thinks that he's done the best job that he could have.
And as he tucks his hands into his pockets, he smiles, and I wonder where his principles have led him.