Sons and Daughters
Spoilers: Let's say the first three seasons, just to be safe.
Disclaimer: The characters and concepts used within belong to Aaron Sorkin; I'm just borrowing for non-profit purposes.
We're all someone's daughter
We're all someone's son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?
- You're the Voice, John Farnham
Leo looked across at his old friend with concern. Now that he knew, it was all too easy to see things in a different light. That momentary wince as muscles tensed, the way he would blink and struggle to focus on a document, moments when he took the time to sigh heavily or lay his head back and rest an instant... Things that could so easily be ascribed to tiredness suddenly took on a much more sinister aspect.
I think my MS may be progressing.
Funny, how few words it took for the foundations of the world to disappear from under you.
Jed had shared that quiet revelation with him Sunday night, moments before the two of them had stepped back inside to rejoin the cheerful buzz of Charlie and Zoey's engagement party. Leo had found it almost unbearably painful to look at their young, smiling faces, and those of the senior staff around them, united in the belief that for now, the worst was over.
The worst wasn't over. The worst hadn't started. The public relations disasters of the last two weeks now seemed laughably small in the scheme of things - a lost bill, Josh's PTSD, the First Daughter's secret engagement... what did it matter?
What did any of it matter, with the unthinkable looming on the horizon?
The president looked up, and smiled softly when he registered Leo's eyes on him. He sat up straighter. "Abbey's made arrangements."
"You're seeing a doctor?"
"I'm having some tests done. Tomorrow," he confirmed.
"Who's the doctor?" he asked. His mind preferring to focus on unimportant things, administrative things, the meaningless issues of appearances and legal ramifications.
I think my MS may be progressing.
"Dr. Keeble," Jed told him.
"You know him?"
The two of them had known each other long enough to communicate in shorthand and silences, saying things without needing words. These past two days, however, they'd been wordlessly not saying things.
Not saying what this could mean if it was true.
Not making assurances that it was nothing for fear of how hollow they might ring.
Not saying how they could feel the spectre of "we told you so" looming large on the horizon.
"Leo." Jed met his eyes. "This could be nothing."
Not saying 'I know you better than that, old friend'. Not saying 'you wouldn't be doing this if you believed that'. Not saying 'why didn't you tell me?'
Jed shifted in his chair, and gave a heavy sigh. "This time, I'm learning from past mistakes," he said, and Leo gave him a questioning look. "I need you to gather the senior staff," he elaborated. "This may be nothing. It may not be. But either way, they need to know."
Leo nodded heavily. He was right.
That wasn't going to make the upcoming conversations any easier, however.
Toby stopped in CJ's office doorway and hesitated. She was talking on the phone with her back to him, and he could see from the tense set of her shoulders that it was far from a pleasant call.
Respect for privacy stopped him from stepping inside; concern stopped him from backing away. Either CJ's usually flawless sensor for his presence was malfunctioning, or she had more weighty matters pushing for her attention.
"Peter... just, just tell me, okay?" Toby watched her run a tired hand through her hair, recognised the gesture for what it was. "Is he- do you need me to- okay. Okay. Yeah, I've gotta- yeah. Call me if he- Thank you. Bye."
She put the phone back in its cradle, and sighed so lightly that someone other than Toby Ziegler might have thought they'd imagined it. He stepped inside the room, knowing she would know who it was. She didn't turn, but he could tell from the set of her spine that she knew he was there.
"Your brother?" he said softly. Not truly a question; the name and the strained quality to CJ's voice had been enough.
Her father was worsening again.
CJ spun in her chair, and gave him an almost-smile. She didn't say anything; what was there to say? Her father had Alzheimer's; he'd recently had a stroke. He was slipping away, and she knew it, and she wanted to be there, but she couldn't.
Toby was a wordsmith, but some things there weren't words for. He gave her a quiet, almost shy smile of his own.
"Coming to senior staff?"
CJ's expression brightened into a proper grin, and she straightened up and followed him out.
In the scheme of things, walking somebody to their next meeting was hardly a grand gesture of friendship and support.
But it worked for them.
The staff filtered into Leo's office. Josh and Sam jostled through the doorway together, laughing over something completely unimportant. Leo would have been relieved to see them bouncing back so well from the blows the administration had suffered lately, if it wasn't for the weight of the secret pressing down on him. Those cheerful expressions were going to be wiped away all too soon.
It would be a return to the siege mentality that followed the revelation of the president's MS - only worse. Even that uphill battle he'd been able to face with the absolute conviction that his best friend was fit to be president, that his condition was completely inconsequential.
Now, he was scared. As scared as he'd been that day over three years ago when Abbey had first put a name to the president's inner demons.
He has multiple sclerosis, Leo.
I think my MS may be progressing.
He looked down at his hands, laid flat against the desktop, and was amazed to see that they weren't even shaking. He'd been carrying this secret around inside him for two days like a poison, and yet no one on the outside could even see it.
It was almost a relief to see the more subdued demeanour of the other half of the senior staff, except that there was something about the tightness of CJ's expression he didn't like. He almost hoped that she had some inkling of the president's condition; better that than the thought that there might be something else going on as well.
But meanwhile, he was supposed to be chairing this meeting, and it certainly wasn't his place to tell them anything before the president had a chance to do it. He cleared his throat.
"Okay, Sam, Toby. What's going on with Sex-Ed?"
The Deputy Communications Director grinned brightly. "Toby lit a fire under some people," he said happily. "We've actually made some progress, and it looks might we might be able to swing a pilot scheme in one, possibly two states."
"It's not enough," scowled Toby, looking frustrated.
"It's two states further than we ever expected it to go," Leo pointed out. "Josh? The Peterson thing?"
"We're working the crowd," Josh agreed with a shrug. Leo had been glad to see that the dent left by the recent loss of an important healthcare bill hadn't been fatal to his deputy's confidence. "It's looking good."
"Good. What about the new amendment to the Commerce Bill?"
"I'm meeting with the committee tomorrow."
Leo nodded. "Okay. Now-"
"Hate crimes," spoke up Toby quickly.
"Yeah," Leo said, with the edge of a sigh. Toby Ziegler all fired-up wasn't the worst thing in the world when it came to shoving legislation down the throats of recalcitrant Congressmen, but it always pushed him into the uncomfortable position of being the one to reign him back in.
"Our stance on this is weak, Leo," Toby said warningly.
"He's right," Sam agreed with a nod.
"This is our chance to completely reshape our position on hate crimes," he continued relentlessly. "We've been sitting on the fence for too long; it's time to send a message that this White House has zero tolerance for prejudice and segregationist tactics."
The others were nodding in agreement, and this new spirit of determination was too fragile for Leo to strike down with a "we can't do this now" - not least because that would mean explaining why they couldn't do it now. He nodded, feeling like some kind of traitor.
"Put some stuff together on this for me," he agreed, and shuffled papers. "Okay, that's everything for now." Liar. Liar. Liar. "The president wants to see you all later today."
Even tossed off casually like that, it raised some worried eyebrows. "Leo," CJ began warily. "Is there something-?"
Leo met her eyes, and hated how easy it was to pretend he didn't have any secrets. "He'll tell you when he sees you. Everybody, get back to work."