72 Hours in the Dark

By Nomad
January 2002

Spoilers: I'd say anything up to the end of season two is fair game. Which is not to say this ignores season three, but to a certain extent it could be set almost anywhen.
Disclaimer: Aaron Sorkin owns the West Wing and almost all of the people in this fic. As if that wasn't enough, he also owns the entire country of Qumar, but I'm borrowing it as an extremely handy place to set some turmoil without getting any nuclear missles pointed my way.


Josh sloped into the office, slurping coffee before it could overflow and burn his fingers. "What's eating Margaret?" he asked of no one in particular.

"Probably another muffin crisis," observed Toby, not looking up from his papers.

"Muffin crisis?" frowned Sam blankly.

"Calorie count," Toby elaborated. "The mess got it wrong. Support staff proceded to crash the entire US government e-mail system."

CJ peered at him over the top of her glasses. "The calorie count in the muffins is wrong?"


"Yeah; you wanna be careful with those wild accusations there, CJ," Josh advised. "You don't want that Pillsbury dough boy on your back."

Sam blinked. "Does the dough boy actually make, you know, muffins?"

"I don't think he does the actual baking himself, Sam," Josh pointed out.

"No," he agreed. "Those industrial strength ovens they have... probably doesn't want to get too close to those."

"Or those energy-beam thingies they have in Ghostbusters."

"That was the Staypuft Marshmallow man, Josh."

"Sometimes I get confused."

CJ sat up and frowned, glancing at the clock. "Where's Leo? It's not like him to be this late."

"He's not in with the President, is he?" frowned Sam.

"This early? The President? I doubt it." Josh shook his head. "Besides, there's nothing that urgent going down at the moment."

"That we knew of. Last night."

"And now you're bringing me down."

Margaret suddenly appeared in the doorway. Now they all took in the lines of worry, never fully absent from her face but today seeming stronger than ever. "Margaret, what's wrong?" asked CJ. "Where's Leo?"

"I don't know," she said, sounding flustered.

"You don't know what's wrong, or-"

"I don't know where Leo is. He didn't turn up for work this morning."

That unexpected statement pulled even Toby's nose out of his papers. The senior staff exchanged suddenly uneasy glances.

"Maybe he slept- and he's Leo, so no," Josh cut himself off. "Maybe he's sick. Did you try calling him at home?"

Margaret nodded urgently. "And his cell. And the fax. And-"

"Okay, okay," Josh calmed her. "He's probably just got the flu or something. Even Leo can catch the flu." But his crinkled forehead belied the casual tone. None of them could remember Leo ever taking a sick-day before. And all of them in the room were sharing the same secret thought, though most of them would have died before admitting it.

Did he go out and get drunk last night?

"Tell you what," said Josh, standing up. "I'll swing by his apartment, make sure he's okay. We can-"

"Josh," CJ chided him, interrupting.


"You can't go. We can't have both Chiefs of Staff missing in action. If Leo's sick, we need you here."

Josh seemed momentarily thrown off balance, knowing she was right but wanting to go anyway. "Um. Yeah. Okay, then-"

"I'll go," interjected Margaret quickly. Josh spun around, having half-forgotten her presence.

"Okay. Yeah. Good. Margaret can go. You know where he lives?" Margaret gave him a look she normally reserved only for Leo. As if Leo could do anything without Margaret being aware of it. Josh remained unflustered, being used to getting very similar looks from Donna. "Okay. Good."

Margaret exited quickly, and the four of them were left sitting around uselessly. "Uh... what now?" asked Josh vaguely.

CJ gave him a look. "I think you'll find you're in charge."

"I am? I am," he repeated firmly. "So. Um. CJ. What are you doing today?"

"Briefing the Press?" she said, raising an eyebrow pointedly. Josh nodded quickly.

"Good, uh, you do that. Sam?"

"Still working on the Goodman thing," he supplied quickly.

"Okay. And... Toby?"

"Praying for the speedy return of Leo, so we can get something done around here. Also writing."

"Okay. Senior staff over. Everybody go... do whatever the hell it is you do."

As they left the room, Sam clapped him reassuringly on the shoulder.

"You could hardly tell the difference," he smiled.

Margaret made her way hurriedly through the DC streets. She was used to speed-walking through the West Wing, but her shoes weren't really made for distance travel. It was quite a decent-length walk to Leo's new apartment, although she knew her boss made it every day - over her frequent protests.

Oh, God, he got hit by a car 'cause he was too tired to pay attention. He got mugged. He had a heart attack from all that walking. Sometimes she wished she could find a way to never let him out of her sight at all.

When Leo had finally taken an apartment, she hadn't been able to decide whether to be pleased or worried. Getting out of the hotel signified he'd moved on from the separation with Jenny, didn't it? But on the other hand, it meant he was all alone up there.

I should've called more. I should've got somebody to drive him home every night. I should've insisted he get a... maid or something.

Not that Leo would've listened to her. But she should've insisted anyway.

Leo McGarry was the White House Chief of Staff; common sense dictated that he'd be able to look after himself. Experience said otherwise. It wasn't that he was a goofball like Josh or hopelessly inept like Sam; it just never seemed to occur to him to factor his own needs into anything. Margaret was convinced he would never go home at all if she didn't guilt him into it.

Oh, this is all my fault. If I didn't push him into spending more time at home he would have fallen asleep at the office and nothing would have happened to him.

Margaret tried to force herself to breathe normally. Pay no attention to the panicking redhead. Just a slight case of guilt-overload. Nothing to see here. She was sure she was going to get to Leo's apartment and find him perfectly fine... except, well, he was Leo.

If Leo had a hundred and ten degree fever, he'd go to work. If he got locked inside his apartment, he'd climb out of the window and go to work. If Godzilla had landed on the US coast and started rampaging through Washington DC, he'd step around the giant footprints and fallen power lines, and then go to work. And then mutter to Margaret about 'goddamn giant lizards in the middle of the high street' as if it was her fault.

He was Leo McGarry, she was his secretary, and this was the way it worked.

In fact, she could only think of only two reasons why Leo wouldn't turn up to a six-thirty staff meeting, and she didn't like the taste of either.

He's had a heart-attack.

He's drunk.

As she hurried up the steps of his apartment building, Margaret wondered exactly how much guilt she should be feeling for half-hoping it was the former.

The tightness of fear grew in her chest as she left the elevator on Leo's floor and saw his door standing slightly ajar. Oh, God. He's staggered home last night, fumbled the door open, and collapsed on the floor-

-dead drunk.


With a strange blend of mortal terror and determination, Margaret moved over to the apartment door and pushed it open.

Then she screamed.

"Firstly, Joshua, I have no sympathy for you because it's entirely your own fault," said CJ pointedly. "Secondly, I have better things to do with my time than fix your little problems. And thirdly-" The phone at Carol's empty station started to ring. "-I have to answer my phone."

"Don't you have an assistant?" he asked petulantly. CJ rolled her eyes at him.

"Don't you have a job?" She turned her attention to her phone. Josh made to leave, then stopped abruptly as he saw her face go pale.

"Margaret? Margaret, slow down. What's wrong? What's happened?" Josh felt his heart suddenly hitch in his chest.

Oh, God, not Leo, don't let anything have happened to Leo, don't let him be drunk, don't let him be hurt, don't let him be dying, you took dad and Joanie and you nearly had me, you can't have Leo-

"Trashed? Totally? And is he-? Well, where-? Okay, Margaret, okay. Slow down. Did you call the police? Okay. Okay, stay calm. I'll send somebody right over. No, don't hang up, I'm not going." CJ momentarily covered the bottom of the handset and turned worried eyes on Josh. "It's Margaret. Leo's apartment's been totally trashed."

Josh felt his bones turn to ice water inside him. "Is he-?" he managed to croak.

"We don't know," said CJ. "He's not there. He's disappeared."