Title: Freefall
Author: Baked Goldfish
Rated: G
Category: Leo/Jed, UST
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, I'm not making money, please don't sue me, all you'll get are some books, some chapstick, and taped episodes of your own damned show.
Spoilers: Takes place at the very end of Manchester 2.
Archive: Sure, wherever. Just let me know.
Summary: He was waiting for freefall.

[-----]

Freefall by Baked Goldfish

He clapped as Bartlet walked out to the podium, mindful of the thick, black coils of wiring that snaked their way across the stage. There was a perfect photo opportunity, he thought, when the President kissed Abbey. He kept clapping through that, nodding in agreement with CJ's assessment that, yes, it *was* a perfect photo op.

"I'm so glad they finally made up," she mumbled to him, and he could tell she meant it as a friend and not a Press Secretary.

"Me too," he replied, hoping he sounded as sincere as she had.

He couldn't love him, he thought. Not with the crowd thundering like it was, and the high school band hollering in support. He clapped, along with the rest of his staff, as the President prepared to read the speech that they'd all miraculously agreed upon. A year ago, when Bartlet had lay bleeding on a hospital gurney, Leo couldn't love him. He was worried for a friend, yes, and scared. But the pull that this man exuded was nothing more than his natural inclination to suck people into his presence.

He was a comet, a bright, shining point, and Leo couldn't love him. Comets were much smaller than they seem to observers, and there was no room for Leo in Bartlet's already crowded gravitational field. He was loved by the masses, loved by his staff, loved by his family, and had no need for the type of love Leo had to offer. Forty years ago, when he'd first seen this handsome, energetic, driven boy smiling and joking and leading, Leo couldn't love him. He was pulled to him, admired him, but he couldn't love him. Not like that, and not then. Even if he could now, that love wouldn't be returned. Bartlet had his wife, his children, and other friends. Leo could not expect any further devotion from him; Bartlet had already given him everything he deserved. So Leo gave back the best that he could: a presidency. And then there were three-hundred million other people who took Bartlet into their hearts, whether they liked him or not, and Leo stood by the wayside, content to receive just the merest occasional brilliant flare of light from this man.

He couldn't have loved this man, nearly ten years ago now, when he'd appeared drunk on his doorstep asking for help. He hadn't had anywhere else to go that night, and he knew that their friendship would allow just this one last abuse before it broke. It wasn't a need for love that night that had drawn him to Bartlet's home; it was a need for survival. And it wasn't love that had made Bartlet help clean him up, either. It was responsibility. Because he was and still is a responsible man, who takes care of people in need. It's in his nature, and Leo took advantage of it. Bartlet owed him nothing, now. Definitely not love.

Leo couldn't love him, but he did. Here was this man, a comet dancing through space, sailing across the sky like nothing else mattered, and Leo was hanging on to the tail of that spark, waiting to be kicked off like the debris he was. He was waiting for freefall, that moment when Bartlet would realize just what that kiss in the middle of all that blood had actually meant to Leo, what those friendly embraces and smiles over their long history had actually done to him. He'd fall, twisting in the burning skies, reaching like a shooting star for that which had let him go, until he was no more than a vagrant memory to that comet, a burnt-out, shaking mess crashed into the dirt of the earth. He'd love him to his last days, even if Bartlet failed to love him back. There was nothing that could hold back this damning love he held, not his daughter, not his ex-wife. Not even Abbey, though he did feel rather guilty when he realized he'd almost, vaguely, in the dark recesses of his mind, sort of *wanted* their marital strife to drive Jed closer to him; Jed was happy in that marriage, and Abbey was a friend, and the last thing he could ever wish on them was unhappiness.

He would keep it all hidden, though. He would gladly burn up in the atmosphere, if Bartlet told him to, and take any pain prescribed him if it kept him in Bartlet's good humors. And he would love him, from a distance, because it was the only thing he knew to do. This was the President, and more importantly, this was a married man, and Leo couldn't love him the way he wanted to. Someday, though, Bartlet would find out, and they would spin away from each other until finally he would be tossed away from center mass and fall, blazing, through the airless sky. In the back of his mind, he was waiting for that painful moment with trepidation. He was waiting for freefall.

Freefall wasn't coming anytime soon, though, and in the meantime, he was content to act as if he wasn't waiting at all. The band had stopped playing, and the applause was tapering off, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets and continued to watch with his staff as Bartlet officially announced his campaign. It was only a decent speech, but Bartlet made it better, brighter than it actually was with his own natural luminescence. He danced across the words like it was the only thing in the world to do, and he reveled in the crowd's appreciation of him, turning occasionally to his wife with a vibrant grin on his face.

And behind him, Josh leaned towards Leo and mumbled, "Hell of a friend you got there, Leo."

Leo nodded, and said, "Yeah." Because he really was a hell of a friend, and as he watched Bartlet enthuse the crowd, he thought that maybe his being a hell of a friend would make his freefall a little easier to handle.

-end-

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