Title: Any Normal Couple
Author: Baked Goldfish
Spoilers: Anything up to H.Con 172
Disclaimer: Look. I don't even know what I'm doing with this anymore. Suing me will just make it worse, all right?
Summary: "I swear, it was like some mean little seven year old girl got tired of microwaving her Barbies and decided to play with us instead."
Sequel to One Day.
Any Normal Couple by Baked Goldfish
I was waiting in this open-air restaurant for what seemed like an hour. Cliff was supposed to be here, Ainsley had said; and here I was, waiting for days, to see just what it is that Cliff knew and would give us. I checked my watch again, not really paying attention to the time, and drummed my fingers against the table in frustration. My coffee was already cold, and then I thought that maybe it wasn't too good an idea to be eating outside when it was something like forty degrees, and dropping. Sheepishly, I glanced around. Nobody was anywhere near me, so I got up, took my coffee with me, and walked inside the restaurant.
My cell rang as soon as I sat down, and I pulled it out and flipped it open. "Josh Lyman."
"Josh, Leo told me to tell you that the hearings have been postponed," Donna said.
I blinked. "Postponed?" Surprising, that's for sure. Well, not really; they hadn't officially offered censure yet, just kinda had the rumors out there for us to hear. My guess was they were holding off in order to give us time to accept or, if Leo had his way and could change the President's mind, reject the censure. He was still in denial about it, I think. I couldn't know for sure, because he hadn't talked to me since I said that stupid thing I'd said on the fourth.
"Apparently, Congressman Bruno's come down with laryngitis." Laryngitis my ass. He was fine yesterday on CNN. "They don't know when they're gonna reconvene."
"'Kay," I said, clicking my phone shut. One thing stood out from that conversation, and it wasn't that they were postponing the hearings; by the end of yesterday, when we realized they hadn't "officially" offered the censure yet, we knew that there was a good chance they'd hold off on the hearings until they'd told us about the offer for sure. They'd given us time to think about it by leaking it to certain circles - not the press, by any means - and Leo had already started trying to make the President just say no, but they hadn't actually come to us yet.
That's not what stuck out in my mind, though. The bit that stuck out was how Donna had said that Leo had told her to tell me. He knew my phone number, probably better than anyone else on staff, including Donna. Donna's pretty much my girl Friday, she knows almost everything about me. But Leo . . . now, Leo would be capable of calling me in his sleep if he needed to. And yet, he got Donna to make the call for him, instead of picking the phone up himself and telling me; I had no idea that he could hold a grudge this long. Yeah, I mean, I screwed up. Big time, really, really big time. But this was business, right? He doesn't mix business with pleasure - or not-so-pleasure, or whatever that was that I pulled.
I guess I was still on probation for it. Or worse.
That's when I spotted Cliff walk into the restaurant, and he must've spotted me, because he walked over. "May I sit down?"
"It's a free country," I said, taking a sip of my now cold coffee.
"Not if you Democrats have your way," he quipped. A waiter came over and took his order, and I glanced around, acting as relaxed as possible. As soon as the waiter left, he leaned in and said, "Take the censure, Josh."
"Not my call. Where'd you get those photos?"
"Can't tell you," he said. "We don't want 'em, though. Sunday evening, we're gonna sit down with Leo and his lawyer and put the censure on the table. It'll save everyone a whole lot of embarrassment if you guys take it."
"Yeah, but it'll look like the President did something wrong," I told him. "He doesn't take hits for his staff, Cliff, we take 'em for him."
"You can't honestly sit there and tell me you don't think he didn't do anything wrong," he said. "He hid from everyone, including you, that he has a debilitating disease-"
"A man's personal life is his own," I countered. The waiter came back with some coffee, and I stared at Cliff for a moment, to make sure I got my point across.
"It isn't when he's the President," he said. "But it is if he's the chief of staff. Or the deputy chief."
"I know what happened on October 30, 1998," he interrupted. That took me by surprise. I guess it shouldn't have, seeing as how he, Congressman Bruno, and Gibson had all come back together before ending the session, but it took me by surprise anyway. "Congressmen Bruno and Gibson know too. We're the only three who do, but if you don't take the censure, it's all gonna come out in the hearings. The photos, too."
"How would the photos come out in the hearings?"
"Congressman Rothbert has 'em," he answered. Rothbert was two after Gibson on the lineup, so it'd almost be two blows in a row for Leo. "He'd bring it up. Lack of workplace ethics and integrity, things like that. Nepotism. Amorality. He'd bring it up, Josh."
I toyed with the plastic cap thingy on my cup of coffee. This guy didn't know us. "Leo McGarry won't care. He'd resign before he let his personal affairs get in the way of the President's agenda. And, honestly, I'd resign too. So don't think you can blackmail us into admitting something that's not true." I put some money on the table, ready to leave.
He put his hand on mine, forceful and intent. "Listen to me, Josh. I don't want this to come out any more than you do-"
"Yeah, that's a little hard to believe there, Cliff."
"I don't want it to come out," he stated quietly. "It's not what this investigation is about. But I'm telling you, it's gonna come out. If you take the censure, it won't, at least not for a little while. It'll give you time to maybe put some things in motion, get some things done. It's not blackmail, it's the way it is." He took his hand off mine and leaned back. "And can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me that you think the President did nothing wrong?"
I pointedly ignored that last question. "It's blackmail, Cliff. Who gave the photos to Rothbert?"
"Senator Ellison, from Illinois," he answered quietly.
"He's got everything, the negatives and all copies," he went on.
Senator Ellison, from Illinois. Huh.
"I don't know where he got them from, though, but most of his buddies know about it - Rothbert, Isaacs, a few senators."
Senator Ellison, who'd been calling my office on and off for the past few weeks, and I still had no idea what he'd wanted. And newbie Isaacs only knew by chance and luck.
"Anyway, I've got to go." He stood up and laid down a few dollars on the table.
"Cliff - wait a second," I stuttered, still thinking about Ellison from Illinois. "Can I ask you a question?"
He sat back down. "Go ahead."
"Why do you care? I mean, what's in it for you, protecting Leo like this?"
He shrugged. "What does it matter?"
"I just wanna know." This was the guy who'd been able to save Leo when I'd failed; I needed to know what his motivation was.
He glanced away before leaning in closely again. "Look. I don't really approve of it. I don't think it's right, what you two are doing. Not job-wise, because I know of a lot of workplace relationships that work out fine. I just don't think it's right what you two do. But it's not my place to pass judgment on you, and I don't think it's anyone's right to display it publicly without your consent. No matter what I think of it, it's not my business, and it's no one else's business either, unless you two say so."
I clenched my jaw, and swallowed. I was glad that Donna dumped his ass, after that little speech. Good intentions aside, what he'd said made me burn. "Well, it's not like we're doing anything now, thanks to your buddies," I said.
"Let's get something straight," he began quietly. "They're not, nor will they ever be, my 'buddies.' Don't make me the bad guy in this, Josh, because I'm not." He got up and put his coat on. "I'm more like you than you think. You should take the censure."
"Tell Congressman Bruno I'm sorry about his laryngitis," I called after him.
He turned and looked at me, perplexed. "Laryngitis?" I shrugged, and he shrugged, and then he turned away again.
I watched him leave, drumming my fingers on the table. A moment later, I got up and went to work.
The staff meeting was, predictably, a little awkward for me and Leo. He still wasn't making eye contact, and he looked even more uncomfortable than when I'd done that dumb thing. When it was done, I waited for everyone to leave, including Leo, and turned to the President.
"Sir, I've got some news on the thing," I began.
He glared at me. "The thing?"
"You do realize, I'm the President, right?"
"Uh, yes sir?"
"I get a lot of things, Josh. Could you elaborate on what thing you're talking about, please?"
I rolled my shoulders back and said, "The photographs, sir. Congressman Rothbert's one of the ones who knows about them, and Senator Ellison's the one who has them."
"Ellison, from Illinois?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. He's got all copies and the negatives," I said. "I'll talk to him later today, see what he wants for them."
He sighed heavily, and moved to sit down at his desk. "Some days it feels like we're in the mob," he muttered. Louder, he asked, "What did Cliff have to say?"
"He can keep it quiet if we take the censure," I said. I still believed it was blackmail, and I made that known with my tone of voice. "You shouldn't take it, sir. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yeah," he muttered. He put on his glasses, and I wondered if he believed what I'd said. Margaret came in just then, and we both turned to look at her. "What is it, Margaret?"
"Leo would like to see Josh when you're finished with him, sir," she said.
He nodded. "I'm almost through with him, just give me a minute."
She nodded, and left. I turned back to the President. "Sir?"
"Lemme ask you a question," he began. "Why's Leo being a jackass to you?"
That was the way he saw it? Wow. I had no idea what Leo'd been telling him, if that's what he thought. "He's really not being a jackass to me, sir. It's - I said some things I shouldn't have."
In hindsight, it probably wasn't the smartest idea to have expanded on why Leo wasn't being a jackass to me. See, the President, he loves all of us. Thinks of all of us like his own children. But Leo? Leo holds a special place in his heart. You hurt Leo, you hurt him, and he goes just about ballistic.
I could've sworn stormclouds gathered and a lighting bolt struck outside the window of the office. At any rate, I felt about two inches tall under the President's gaze.
"Did you apologize yet?" he asked gravely.
"I - will," I said. Forget about excuses. Never mind that Leo had been avoiding me at all turns. I could've been bleeding from the head, and all the President would know is that I hadn't apologized yet. Okay, no, he'd be sensitive to the fact that I was bleeding. He'd get the first lady to fix me up, tell her I hadn't apologized, and then I'd be in doubly hot water.
"Go," he boomed. I went. Quickly. Because he was scaring me.
I had the feeling Leo would be scaring me more as I walked into his office. "You needed to see me, Leo?"
He closed the door behind me and sat down without looking at me. "You met with Cliff Calley this morning." It was a statement, not a question.
"He told me who had the photos."
"I don't want to know," he stated. "I don't want the President to know, either."
I cringed. "Too late."
He finally looked at me, his head snapping up from the work he'd been pretending to do. "Why the hell'd you go and do that?"
"Because yesterday he told me to find out who had the pictures, and find out how to get them," I said. Being angry with me for the stupid thing I'd said was one thing, but being angry with me for doing my job was completely uncalled for. "I was doing exactly what the President told me to, so I'm sorry if I'm doing what I was hired to do."
"Yeah," he muttered. "I'm done."
He was ignoring me. That was the perfect time. "You know, I'm sorry about yesterday." It came out a bit harsher than I'd wanted, but it still made him pause a little.
"Yeah," he said again. "Don't worry about it." He still wasn't looking at me.
"I didn't mean any of it," I went on. I had to get it through to him that it was just a big, stupid mistake, and that I was a big, stupid guy.
"No, but it's true," he said bitterly. "I pay you to tell the truth, you wouldn't've said it otherwise, right?"
"Forget it. It's done. You're making my head hurt, go away." He kept ignoring me, and I knew I wasn't gonna get through to him. He looked a hell of a lot more agitated than when I'd walked in, so I got up and left.
Donna was actually working when I got back to my office. I was passing by her desk, though, and she said, without even looking up, "You know, Margaret's pretty pissed off at you."
I stopped, and stared at her. "Huh?"
"For whatever you said to Leo yesterday." She got up and filed something. "You two were yelling pretty loud yesterday."
I damn near fainted. "You heard what we were saying?"
She shook her head. "Not really. But everyone saw how angry he was when he went into your office. And everyone saw him leave."
Needed change of subject. Looked at office. "Hey, thanks for getting the maintenance guys up here so fast to fix my door." Didn't really change subject, because the door was in direct correlation with the other thing.
"You know, she says he's been pretty weird all day," she went on. Which was weird, because usually when I thank her, she gets all fluttery and smiley.
"Yeah, he's probably gonna fire me," I muttered under my breath. I'd never seen him this agitated, and I was pretty sure he was gonna renege on that whole, "I got a job, you got a job," thing he said last year.
She looked up at me, oblivious. "Hmm?"
"Nothing," I said, walking into my office. "Listen - don't let anyone in for a little while, okay?"
"Sure," she said, sounding as perky as ever. I walked in and sat down at my desk. I'd screwed up with Leo, big time, and even though I was doing exactly what the President asked, I'd screwed up with him too. They might be nice to me, and just force me to resign. Then again, maybe not. All I knew was that Leo had never let his personal life and his work mix, and now he was; maybe it was because I was his deputy chief of staff, and so the two issues were inseparable, or maybe I hurt him a heluva lot more than I'd initially thought - and I'd initially thought I'd hurt him quite a bit.
It didn't really matter, though, because I'd come to the conclusion that I was gonna get fired. I leaned back and rubbed my eyes, wondering who they'd get to replace me, when the door to my office swung open again.
It was Donna, and, had I bothered to give her more than just a cursory glance, I would probably have noticed right off how frightened she looked. "Josh-"
"Donna, I thought I said-"
"No, Josh, it's Leo, he collapsed in his office." I felt myself pale as I looked at her; I couldn't have heard right. I'd just been in his office like five minutes before, and he'd been fine - angry, but fine. "They're taking him to the hospital right now."
I waited until the rest of the staff had filed out, and turned to the President. I say "the staff" because I would never, ever be able to bring myself to say "my staff" - this was, and always will be, Leo's staff. No matter what happens, no matter who's in charge, we're Leo's team, forever.
No, he's not dead.
Anyway, I turned to the President. I was still in a bit of a daze - I'd been in Leo's office right before it happened, and he'd seemed fine. A little angry, but fine. Then, out of the blue, we were in the Oval Office, hearing that he'd had a heart "incident" or something. Margaret was with him, in an ambulance and on their way to the hospital, and the President was telling us what to do - CJ would brief the press on what we knew, which was next to nothing, and the rest of us would have to carry on with our individual jobs. Right. Once upon a time, there were a bunch of people trying to keep Congress from throwing the President in jail; meanwhile, some photos concerning homosexual activity in the White House were getting around, and the chief of staff's heart was trying to strangle him. Not to mention, y'know, the fact that they also had other jobs to do, like keep wars from breaking out and-
Third time's the charm. I turned to the President. "Sir, there are a few things we're gonna have to discuss," I said. What I meant by that was that we were gonna have to look at how to spin what had just happened - for lack of better phrasing, how to get pity. Which the President wouldn't like, and Leo wouldn't like, but it had to be mentioned anyway.
"Hang on, Josh. Did you get to talk to him, earlier?"
He meant did I get to apologize. "Yes, sir," I answered. "I got to - yeah."
"Did he accept?"
"He told me it was done." I said it as ambiguously as I possibly could. "Sir, we need to talk about how to talk to the press about this."
He shook his head, and tried to do some work. "CJ's got it."
"We've got to talk about how to spin it." He looked up at me, and it was like a lightbulb clicked. A big, mean lightbulb that wanted to beat me over the head with a teakettle.
"What do you mean?" He glared at me. I got the feeling that, one day, someone would glare at me and I would stay two inches tall for the rest of my life.
"I mean, if the press and the public are sympathetic to us" - Leo - "the House would be less likely to hit Leo at the hearings."
"One: I already told you both I'm taking the censure-"
"Sir, you can't take a hit for your staff," I interrupted, wondering just when I'd gotten my balls back. "We've been over this, sir, you-"
"Two: we're not spinning him, we're not getting pity votes out of him." He'd kept on talking as if I hadn't even said anything. "What else do you have for me?"
I knew he'd drop the idea of spinning it; I had to bring it up, was all. "Well, all that's left are the photos."
He nodded, and said, "You're still meeting with Ellison later today?"
"Give him what he wants." I knew the meeting was over, and I started to walk out with a slight nod; I also knew that I wouldn't give Ellison what he wanted. I'd give him what he thought he wanted.
"Oh, and Josh?"
I turned back to him. "Yes sir?"
"When you're done, you can go see Leo."
I ended up giving Ellison what he wanted.
It took me a few hours, but that was okay because right before I'd left, Charlie had let Donna know who'd let me know that Leo was going in for some sort of surgery, and that it would take about an hour and a half, and then he wouldn't be able to take visitors after that for a little bit. I told the President about Ellison, and the President said he was okay with it, even though I knew he really wasn't, and then I got into my sturdy old Toyota - "buy American" my ass - and drove to GW Hospital. I got there in about five minutes flat, with many a car honking at me for cutting them off.
So I might have broken a few traffic laws. Sue me.
I walked to the nurse's station, trying to not look too anxious. You know, contrary to what a lot of my friends think, I'm not afraid of hospitals, or nurses. Actually, some of my best times in the past couple years were in hospitals - after I was shot, for instance, I hit on a lot of nurses. Sometimes, they responded, and that was fun. Also, they gave me a lot of ice cream, which is always cool. And then when I did that thing with my hand and the window, the doctor was kind of flirty with me, which, again, was fun, because he was kinda cute. So, I've had some good experiences with hospitals.
This wasn't one of 'em.
The nurses were taking a few seconds to notice me, so I leaned over the counter and, putting on my best smile, said, "Hi."
Immediately, a nurse came to me. "Hello, sir. How may I help you?"
"I'm looking for Leo McGarry, he's my boss," I said quickly. "Can he see me?"
She checked some things out for me, and nodded. "Room 214. But, there're a couple of ladies there already, so you might have to wait a little bit."
"A couple of ladies? Redheads, right?" She nodded: Margaret, and probably Mallory. Which could prove to be a little awkward, because Margaret was probably still pissed at me, and Mallory probably didn't know about her dad and me.
God that sounded weird. I'm never saying "her dad and me" ever again.
I walked down to room 214, and as I got nearer, I could hear Margaret giving instructions to someone:
"He likes green jello, but not red, and he's going to tell you that he wants to watch CNN, but don't let him. Don't let him watch C- Span, either, and don't let him watch Nickelodeon - but that's only because he doesn't care for Spongebob Square-"
"Margaret?" The male nurse she was talking to looked like he was about to keel over and die, and I figured I could probably save him by redirecting her attention.
She turned around and looked at me, and the nurse rushed off. "Josh." It sounded both pitying and cold all at the same time.
"How is he?"
Apparently, she must've seen how openly anxious I was, because her expression softened and she said, "He's just resting right now. They did an angioplasty."
For all the good times I've had in hospitals, I still had no idea what that was. "Which is . . . ?"
"They ran a tube up his arm and into his chest, blew up a little balloon thing in one of his arteries, and put this plastic mesh tubing in to keep it open," she explained. "He's okay, but he's resting."
"I won't bother him," I said. "Mallory's in there?"
"I apologized, you know."
"He told me," she admitted. "Go on in, I've got to get some things done at work."
I reached over and hugged her before walking into the hospital room. I very nearly toppled over when I got in the doorway; it was just about then that the enormity of it all hit me. It was barely one in the afternoon, and the last time I saw Leo, at eight, he was normal. Now, he was lying on some hospital bed, with that pulse checker thing on his finger and the ubiquitous nasal cannulae in his nose. There's just something about hospital beds that can make anyone look meek and sickly, no matter how strong they are in real life. As I looked at him, I wondered just what gods we'd angered lately. First the whole October thing, then the photos, and now this? I swear, it was like some mean little seven year old girl got tired of microwaving her Barbies and decided to play with us instead.
Mallory was on the far side of his bed, sitting down in a chair. She saw me come in, and must've seen how shocked I looked, because she got up. "Josh?"
"Yeah," I managed to say. I walked towards her, and she walked towards me, and we met in the middle and hugged. "How is he?" I asked quietly.
"He's being a cranky old bastard," she muttered.
"So he's fine?"
She nodded with a smirk. "I finally convinced him to sleep a little, though."
I frowned a bit, confused. "He wasn't asleep?"
"Not just now, no," she said. "C'mon, lets go outside so we don't wake him up."
I followed her outside and sat down on the waiting bench. "So what's up?"
"Dad told me about you two."
I was so not expecting that. "Uh, okay?" I smiled uncertainly, and waited for her response.
"I'm sorry you guys had to call it quits," she said, and I exhaled. "You guys would've been good together."
Back up a second. I practically grew up with this girl, and she was okay with me boffing her dad? "Huh? Wait, you mean you would've been okay with us together?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong. When he first told me, I wanted to kill the both of you." That's the Mallory I know. "But then I kind of warmed to it."
I scratched the back of my head, confused again. "So, wait-"
She wasn't done yet. She hit me on the arm. "And just when I'd gotten used to it, you guys called it quits."
"What's wrong with you people? Is everything politics to you? So what if they had dirt on you-"
"They don't anymore," I told her. I had to put a stop to her ramblings. She was making my head spin. "We traded something for it."
"Oh." Hah! She was confused now. I smiled at her, and looked back at the hospital room. "You wanna see him now, don't you?"
"I'm dyin' to," I told her. "You'd have really been okay with us?"
"Yeah." She smirked that famous McGarry smirk at me and added, "Better you than Sam."
"Why not Sam?"
"'Cuz then it would've been like a Jerry Springer episode." She gave me a quick hug and said, "I'm gonna go to the cafeteria and leave you two alone for a few minutes. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone, okay?"
"Me, do something stupid?" I quipped. She disappeared down the hall, and I stepped back into the hospital room. Again, my spirits diminished as I took in the utterly frightening atmosphere of it all. True, this was nothing compared to what I'd been in when I was shot, but it was still pretty frightening to see him lying there.
I went and sat down by his bed, and took his hand in both of mine. He looked to be asleep, or unconscious, or whatever, but I needed to fill the silence - it wasn't really silent, but the beeping of the machines was driving me mad, and I wanted to ignore it. "Hey, Leo," I began. He didn't wake up or anything, so I shrugged and went on. "I really am sorry about yesterday. I, uh, I didn't mean it, and it wasn't true. I only said it because - I don't know. I'm stupid like that."
I found myself unconsciously rubbing the back of his hand with my thumb, and stopped. "Listen, when you get back to work, I'll have found a replacement for me, one who isn't stupid, and I'll have my resignation on your desk, okay? I'm sorry, Leo." I was about to just get up and go, when I felt him squeeze my hand; I looked down at him, and saw him waking up.
"Josh, 'long as I got a job, you got a job, arright?" I blinked at him, and he scowled at me. "And I should hit you for waking me up like that. I was in the middle of a real sweet dream, and all of a sudden I hear your whiny voice telling me you're quitting-"
I kissed him on the mouth and cut him off. Or so I thought.
"-before I even get the chance to go back to work, which, by the way, I'll be doing tomorrow morning? You've got to be kidding me," he finished, undaunted.
I stared at him, dumbfounded. "You are not going back to work tomorrow morning . . . "
He growled, "I am going back, and you better not quit." Finally, it got through that pretty little head of his that I'd kissed him. "You kissed me."
"Yeah. I also got the photos." I grinned down at him, hoping that he wouldn't ask me just how I'd gotten the photos.
He gave me one of those eager half-smiles of his. "How'd you get 'em?"
"I traded some things to Senator Ellison for 'em."
The smile immediately vanished. "Traded what?"
"We promised to put the stem cell research initiative in the drawer 'til after the election," I said. Mumbled, really. And very quickly.
"You probably shouldn't raise your voice, Leo, you just got out of heart surgery and you-"
"You put it in a drawer? Should I kill you now, or wait until you're very far away from any hospital?"
I cringed. "Wait?" He was still seething, and that couldn't be healthy for him, so I said, "Seriously, Leo, calm down, okay?"
He realized I wasn't just trying to get out of punishment, and he took a few breaths and turned away. "Fine. What else've you got?"
I glanced around, making sure nobody was watching - and then hoped to high hell nobody had been watching when I'd kissed him. "Well, when're you getting out?"
"Tomorrow morning," he said glumly. I knew he'd have rather gotten out that night, but he had to settle, I guess.
I glanced away and said, "How about I stay with you for a bit? Or you stay with me?"
I wasn't really looking at him, but I knew his expression was one of astonishment and sadness. "Josh, you know we can't-"
"Come on, Leo, it's been done before," I wheedled, looking at him. "And you're gonna need someone to take care of you, and Margaret and Mallory are gonna be too busy for it!"
He sighed, and I knew he was breaking. "What - what if someone takes our picture again?"
"They won't," I assured him. One thing I hadn't told anyone was that, when I got the pictures from Ellison, I'd also gotten under-the- table assurances from Matt Skinner and Joseph Bruno that it'd never happen again. The Republicans hadn't wanted those photos taken any more than we had.
"Leo." I kissed him again, once on the lips and once on his cheek, before sitting up again. "Let's just do this, okay?"
He broke. "Okay."
"You really don't like Spongebob Squarepants?"
He shrugged. "It's a kitchen sponge, but it lives underwater and wears pants and a tie. Freaks me out."
"You're crazy. Go back to sleep."
It was Sunday, and he would've just gotten out of his meeting with Clifford The Big Red Majority Counsel. I was waiting for him at my apartment, with a store-bought salad and chicken meal thing on the table for him; I knew he wouldn't like it, but we talked with his doctor and he would have to go on a healthier diet from now on.
As soon as I'd dumped the food out of its container and onto a plate, I heard the door open and shut. Loudly. I walked out of the kitchen to see him, and he looked pissed.
"They offered the censure," he grumbled, shrugging out of his coat.
I took it from him and hung it up. "You knew they would, though." We all knew. It was only a matter of time.
"Yeah." He flopped down on the couch, and rubbed his forehead. "I just wanna go to bed now."
"Can't. You gotta eat." I sat down next to him and waited for him to look at me.
"You know what I could really go for?" he mused. "Duck."
I shook my head. "No duck."
His face fell. "No duck?"
"It's too fatty," I explained. "No duck. And no fried foods, no pizza-"
"I'm gonna be living off water and dry toast for the rest of my life," he groaned.
"No, you won't, I'll learn to cook healthy stuff," I told him, turning his head so he was looking at me.
He huffed and scowled. "You couldn't learn to cook if your life depended on it."
"I could learn if yours did."
He totally melted. Right there, on my couch, I had a Leo-puddle. He threw his arms around me and squeezed me so tight that breathing was becoming difficult. Finally, he let up on the squeezing only to start in with the kissing.
When it looked like he was taking it too far, I pushed him away - not that I didn't like it, mind you, but I had to look out for his health. "Leo, stop that."
"Why?" he asked, trying to maneuver for another kiss.
"'Cuz the doctor said no sex until he says so."
"So?" He kissed me again, and pushed me down on the couch.
"So, you could have another heart attack," I said. "You could - you could die!"
He finally stopped, and looked down at me. "Yeah, but what a way to go!"
I shoved him away and rolled onto the ground. Getting up and brushing myself off, I said, "You are a horny old man who needs to be kept away from the young and innocent."
"Wouldn't help you much," he quipped. "So what're you gonna try and feed me?"
"Salad." I walked into the kitchen, knowing he was grimacing behind me.
I got him to eat it, mostly, even though he complained the entire way. I even threw in some cruel and unusual punishment along with it - my own dinner consisted of fries, a big ol' cheeseburger, and Jolt Cola. I knew I'd get heartburn later, but the look on his face was absolutely worth it.
Okay, fine. So I felt a little guilty. Sue me. He looked so pitiful when he kept glancing at my fries that I let him have one.
After dinner, he was a little tired, and, frankly, so was I, so we just opted to go to bed right then and there. He finished before me because I'm a lazy bum and he's an efficiency freak, and so I got to be the outside spoon when I crawled into bed. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed the back of his head, and said, "You know, I was kinda hoping you would've had to have bypass surgery."
Not quite pillow talk, I know.
He turned around a little and said, "Eh?"
"You know." I passed my thumb over the center of his chest. "Then we would've had, like, matching scars."
He laughed and turned back around, covering my hand with his. "Tell you what. Why don't we just get monogrammed towels, like any normal couple?"
Any normal couple. "G'night, Leo." He muttered something back, but he was already halfway asleep. Soon enough, he was asleep all the way, but I was still awake, with his last words still ringing in my ears. Any normal couple. Nah, we could never be like any normal couple. I knew that. No matter how many monogrammed towels we got, or how often we went on dinner "dates," we'd never be normal, because I'd have to explain those initials off as something they weren't, and our dates would have to be in the company of other people just so they wouldn't seem like dates. No, we could never be like any normal couple.
But, in moments like this one, with both of us in bed and the rest of the world no longer existing, maybe we could pretend.