Title: One in a Thousand
Pairing: Jed/Leo. Slash implied, but it's mostly friendship.
Rating: PG, I guess? Although it actually seems a bit excessive. This is fluff, people, sheer cotton candy fluff. It's damn near subtext. How brave do you think I am?
Summary: Leo finds that even having a cold can have its nicer moments.
Spoilers: Nothing specific. But somewhere after the hearings and the censure, I guess.
Feedback: I'm flattered the thought would even cross your mind: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This is for Xanthe, because I promised I would, and because her Jed/Leo rocks my world. Honourable mention to Priya as well, because she was the first writer to suck me into Jed/Leo, and because a livejournal plea a couple of months back for some Jed/Leo fluff first made me wonder if I might dare to try. Plus, 'Desecration' STILL gives me a happy. ;) To say nothing of a whole host of other stories. Kathleen too of course, for being all nice and encouraging about letting me out to play on my own. <G> For beta'ing as well. This story is a first - my first totally solo piece and also my first attempt at anything even vaguely shipper in nature. I wrote it in about two days because if I'd spent any longer over it, I would have lost my nerve. Deep and complex it isn't, but for better or worse, here it is.
One in a Thousand by Anne
Running the White House is a taxing job. Not many people would argue with this assessment. Leo McGarry, insofar as he gave any thought to it at all, would certainly have conceded as much. Most of the time his heavy workload didn't bother him, his native calmness handling cranky Congressmen, beleaguered assistants, hysterical Senior Staff and even the not-so-occasional presidential tantrum with relative ease.
Most of the time.
Those times did not usually include an oppressive headache, a nose that dripped to distraction and a miserable, chilly ache that seemed intent on permeating his entire body.
Leo blew his nose and wearily turned his attention back to the pair before him. It seemed that Josh and Toby had more or less forgotten his presence, their voices rising steadily as they grew ever more heated. He had some time ago passed the point where he could summon the will to care about whatever his Deputy and the Communications Director had seen fit to butt heads over this time.
"I don't care." Toby was being at his uncooperative best. "No - Josh! Listen. I don't care if we need Baines' vote on this, or if the cost of the rider will be negligible. It's a stupid rider!"
"And God forbid that Toby Ziegler should ever been seen to connive at stupidity?" Josh's frustration levels were visibly growing.
"It's a good bill, Toby."
"No, it was a good bill. Now it's a good bill with a stupid rider which, I guarantee you, will garner more publicity than all the central provisions combined. It's stupid, and it's probably unconstitutional as well."
"Geez, Toby! Don't start acting as if you're the only one around here who gives a damn about the Constitution!" Josh's voice pitched up a good two octaves as his exasperation peaked.
Leo winced, as the young man's voice seemed to drive a spike right through the centre of his throbbing skull. "HEY!"
His two companions turned, startled then chagrined as they realised where they were.
The Chief of Staff glared at them. "You two can argue the ideology of this as much as you want on your own time. Right now, we have votes to win within the next four days if this bill is to pass in any form. So, get together on this, examine the attachment, talk to Baines and see if we can't open up any more options. Now, get on with it."
"Yeah. Sorry, Leo." Abashed, Josh gathered up his files and beat a retreat. "Feel better, okay?"
Toby glowered for a second, as if contemplating joining battle with a new opponent, but Leo's sudden scrabble for and liberal use of his handkerchief caused the Communications Director to draw back hastily, file held protectively across his lower face. Finding himself caught in Leo's baleful and slightly watery gaze, Toby mumbled something even more indistinctly than usual through his makeshift mask and withdrew, standing aside to allow Margaret to pass him in the doorway.
Leo sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as his assistant deposited a mug and a folder on his blotter. "What's this?"
"The latest memo from the NSA's office."
"The President received a copy yet?" Leo flipped open the folder while absently raising the mug to his lips, missing the expectant expression on Margaret's face. Seconds later the neatly typed briefing notes were covered in a fine mist as he spewed the contents of his mug. "What the hell... ? Margaret?!"
His assistant's features mingled apprehension and determination in equal measure. "It's good for you."
"What is it?"
"Nothing special." Margaret quailed slightly before her boss's thunderous expression. "It's just hot lemon sweetened with honey."
"Sweetened?" Leo peered disgustedly into his mug, resisting the urge to scrub his tongue with his much-abused handkerchief. "You sure? Where's my coffee?"
"This is better for you."
"It's got lots of Vitamin C and the honey gives you energy. Just what you need to help fight off a cold. You know, you should probably go home and - "
She jumped slightly, then fixed him with one of those one part annoyed to three parts reproachful Margaret looks that always drove him crazy. A familiar need to apologise warred with an equally familiar irritation, and he fell back on his usual response, an exasperated growl. "I'm fine." As the look persisted, now tinged with disbelief, his irritation won out. "Go!"
A quick sniff, a curt bob of the head, and his assistant was gone. The straight lines of her back somehow managed to convey intense disapproval all the way out of the office.
The Chief of Staff sighed again and gingerly patted at the damp notes in front of him, wondering if this day, or the sensation that someone had poured liquid cement into his sinuses, would ever end. He was damned if he was going home though. It was only a cold, for God's sake. He just needed a chance to regroup, just a few minutes' peace and quiet...
"Leo!" The connecting door to the Oval Office crashed open, effectively muffling Leo's low moan as a presidential whirlwind blew into the room. "Have you seen this memo from Nancy?"
"Just got it." Leo half-raised the folder from his blotter for emphasis.
"What the hell happened to it?" Jed Bartlet squinted curiously at the rumpled paper. However, his mind had already danced ahead in the time it took Leo to open his mouth in reply. "Can you credit it? The projected military figures bear only a passing resemblance to the ones the Pentagon sent over. Miles Hutchinson seems convinced the U.S. Army is his personal property. Are you sure I can't fire him, preferably out of one of his precious tanks? I swear, if he trots out that 'Well, speaking as one who has served, Mr. President' line one more time... "
Leo propped his chin on his hand and watched blearily as his old friend paced and gestured with characteristic animation. His eyes dropped to stare blankly at the smudged print before him and he felt his thoughts begin to drift...
He jumped violently as a hand suddenly waved itself before his vision and he looked up to meet the half-annoyed, half-concerned gaze of the President.
"You okay, Leo?"
"I'm sorry, sir. Yes, I'm fine." To his intense annoyance, Leo heard his voice croak slightly on the last word and he hastily cleared his throat. Too late. Jed's eyes had already lit up in realisation.
"Leo, you have a cold!" he accused, making it sound like a revelation.
"I do not!" Leo snapped back, irrationally irritated.
Jed tilted his head to one side and considered him for a moment, then whirled and bellowed in the direction of the outer office, "MARGARET! Does Leo -?"
"He has a cold, Mr. President," she replied promptly, reappearing in the doorway. "He's been sneezing all day. I told him he should go home, but -"
"Don't listen at the door," her boss snarled.
"It was open."
"Leo, you should go home and lie down," the President said solicitously, allowing Margaret to make a strategic withdrawal from under Leo's incandescent glare.
"For God's sake, it's just a cold, sir! I'm fi... aishoooo!"
Jed jerked back instinctively. "So I see," he said dryly. He came forward and perched on the edge of the desk, causing Leo to lean away from him.
"You should keep back, sir. You might catch this thing."
"Nah," Jed waved his hand confidently. "I never catch colds."
"Oh, no?" Leo was annoyed.
"No." Jed leaned forward and rested his hand on his friend's upper arm. "Leo," he said gently. "Go home. If you get a good night's rest, you'll feel a lot better tomorrow. You know you will."
"I'll be fine," Leo said obstinately.
Jed regarded him with exasperation. "You are the most stubborn man... " He huffed out a breath. "Do you promise to go home early and go to bed?"
The President cocked his head and glared. "You're lying to me."
"Would I do that?" Leo deadpanned.
"Okay, have it your way." Jed slid off the edge of the desk. He paused suddenly and brightened. "We're meeting later to go over the economic report, right?"
Leo flipped through his desk diary. "Yeah, at 6pm."
"Okay!" The President scooted back to the Oval Office with an enthusiasm that left his old friend gazing after him suspiciously.
The Chief of Staff shrugged to himself. Heaven only knew what impulsive idea had just seized on Jed's fancy. He'd probably find out soon enough. He glanced at his office clock and groaned. Only 4:30pm. Hours before he could contemplate returning to his hotel and crawling into bed for a few hours. He wearily pulled the next file from the pile at his elbow and tried to ignore the gentle buzzing in his ears.
By 6pm, Leo was beginning to heartily regret having rejected Jed's advice. His nasal passages felt as if they had been stuffed with cotton, and his voice was clogged. The only mercy was that Jed had not reappeared to say, I told you so. Of course, he'd be getting an opportunity to do exactly that in their meeting. Leo gathered up his files and trailed to the outer office.
"Margaret, I'm going in to the President now. I have Mike Brace at 6:30pm. Apologise to him in advance for my being late, will you? Tell him he can assume I've been hijacked by yet another of the President's tangential lectures on microeconomics or supply and demand or something."
"Yes." Margaret nodded briskly. She paused. "Only... no."
Leo turned back. "No?"
"No. You don't have Mike Brace at 6:30."
"The President had me take him off your schedule." Margaret took one look at her boss's darkening expression and picked up speed. "The President had me clear your schedule for the rest of the evening after your meeting with him, and cancel everything before ten tomorrow," she practically gabbled.
"Oh, he did, did he?" Leo started grimly towards the Oval Office.
"What?!" He gritted through clenched teeth.
"The President has gone over to the Residence. He told me that he would take your meeting there."
Leo stood and breathed heavily for a few seconds, then got a grip on himself. "Okay, okay." He glanced back into his own office, then gave up. "Why don't you shut up here and go home? I'm sure by the time I'm done with the President, it'll be too late for anything else anyway."
Margaret brightened and jumped up, scurrying into his office, as if afraid he'd change his mind. "Have a good night, Leo," she called back.
"Yeah," he grunted, collecting his coat and a wedge of files. Jed had summoned him for a meeting and a meeting was what the President was damn well going to get. He might have won this round, but Leo McGarry didn't go down without a fight.
Jed flung open the door with a wide smile that barely slipped at the sight of Leo's glare. "Leo! Glad you could make it." He snagged his friend's sleeve and drew him into the room. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," Leo said mulishly.
"Yeah, and that Marlene Dietrich impression will go down a blast at the Christmas party, too." Jed tugged off Leo's coat. "Honestly, you ornery Irishman, why can't you just admit you feel like crap? I told - "
"Sir, if you finish that sentence, I will have no recourse but to hurt you."
The President grinned unrepentantly. "I think I and the Secret Service could take you. C'mon." He steered the Chief of Staff over to the sofa beside a leaping fire.
Leo sank back gratefully into the soft cushions, luxuriating in the glow of the flames for a second. Then he leaned forward and dropped the files onto the coffee table. "I've made notes on tables 23 and 32 of the listed growth projections... "
"Leo!" The President's voice was disappointed. "I didn't bring you over here to talk about work!"
"I suspected as much when I found you'd cleared my schedule," Leo said dryly.
"You've done the same to me often enough."
"But I'm a busy man! Sir," Leo cut off Bartlet's indignant splutter. "I'm grateful for the chance to spend some time with you, but I'm afraid I'm really not in the mood tonight. I'm tired and I admit you were right. I feel like crap."
"I didn't want you here for that!" Jed protested. "Oh, don't get me wrong, I always want you, Leo." He flashed a wide grin at his companion and Leo couldn't help it, he felt his irritation and mulishness melting away. Jed's smiles always had that effect on him. And not just the ones that he knew were for him alone. "But not tonight. I knew you wouldn't feel like it."
"Then why am I here?" Leo didn't mean it, the cold and weariness getting the better of him, as his words emerged sulkily.
Jed's whole body drooped for a moment at that tone and the smile dimmed. Leo mentally cursed himself, and Jed too for that bouncy enthusiasm that could make you feel as if you'd kicked a puppy when you punctured it.
"That isn't the only reason I ask you over here, Leo," Jed said reproachfully. "I mean, sure I like it, but it's not just that. I like having you here with me. You looked so miserable earlier and I knew you wouldn't take care of yourself or even go back to that cold hotel room at a reasonable hour, and... " He mumbled something that sounded to Leo suspiciously like "I just wanted to take care of you" before windmilling to his feet in mixed anger and frustration. "Oh, what's the point! I'm sorry for altering your schedule. Or for giving you the idea that I only ever want your company for one reason."
"Hey," Leo said softly. He caught his friend's hand and pulled Jed down beside him on the sofa. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, and I certainly never think that you think of me only in those terms." He reached out and brushed the back of his hand against Jed's cheek. "How could I? When I see the same emotions I feel every time I look at you reflected back in your eyes when I'm with you?" He grinned self-deprecatingly. "Guess this cold has really screwed with my mood, huh?"
Jed face lit up and Leo marvelled once again at the power that his words had to make his friend fairly radiate with happiness. It was an exhilarating and a humbling sensation, and one he never tired of. He loved Jed, heart and soul, and knew that, despite his own reserved nature, the other man understood that beyond question. But he was always awed anew by these signs that his affection was so treasured and so deeply returned.
Jed reached forward and hugged Leo impulsively. "Nah, it's not the cold," he said, his voice muffled against Leo's neck. He pulled back and grinned impishly at his friend. "You're always this grumpy."
Leo gave him a good-natured push. "Seriously, what did you have planned when you hauled me all the way over here?"
Jed brightened and jumped to his feet. "Some TLC," he said enthusiastically.
"Yeah. You've got a cold, Leo, and we're going to make you feel better. I called Abbey... "
"Oh, God," Leo sighed.
"... and she said the best things were rest, food and warmth," Jed continued undeterred. "So, you're going to take a hot bath and change for bed while I call the kitchen and have Marcel send up some hot soup. Then you're getting into bed and getting a good night's sleep. TLC, the only worthwhile treatment for a cold. And this is the only way I can be sure you take proper care of yourself."
"Jed, I can't!" Leo protested as his friend hauled him to his feet. "It's far too early yet, I have too much to do. And it's only a cold!"
"You've been singing that song all day, my friend and guess what? You still look and sound like something the cat dragged in after playing with it first." Jed propelled Leo firmly in the direction of the bathroom and gave him a determined push. "Look," as his friend showed every sign of attempting to dig his heels into the carpet. "Do you want to tell Abbey that you didn't follow her advice? Now, go."
Leo grumbled, but went.
A couple of hours later, he admitted to himself that he was feeling better. A lengthy soak in the warm bath that Jed had run for him had dispelled the worst of the chills and stiffness, and the hot soup had taken care of the rest. Now, he found himself being firmly tucked into the President's bed by the man himself, despite his protests. Jed was really throwing himself into the role of nursemaid, Leo reflected. At least he'd been allowed to feed himself. He secretly admitted that all the fussing had been nice, but that stubborn streak just had to keep on pushing.
"I'm really not at all sleepy."
"That's okay." Jed had changed into his own pyjamas and robe before supper and now he came over, face still bright with enjoyment at being able to fuss over his friend in this way. "I'm going to read to you until you fall asleep."
"Well, that should do it all right." Leo grunted slightly as Jed practically bounced onto the bed, stretching out full length on the covers beside him. "Aren't you overdoing this whole nursemaid thing a bit?"
"No, I like doing things for you, Leo," Jed replied simply.
Taken aback by the straightforward frankness of that reply, Leo sought to fill the silence. "So, what are you going to read?" He squinted at the book in Jed's hand. "Poetry?"
"Kipling?" Leo groaned. "Oh geesh, Jed."
"I like him." The President was unrepentant. "He's wonderful to read aloud. Besides, what do you care? You're going to sleep."
"Much sooner than I thought," Leo groused, although he didn't really mind that much. He loved listening to his friend read aloud. Jed's emotional reactions always coloured his words, and Leo sank back onto the pillows, allowing the ebb and flow of his friend's voice to wash around and soothe him. He closed his eyes and began to drift gently as he listened to the Roman Centurion's plea to be allowed to remain in his adopted land, Jed's voice filled with an empathic longing as he read.
He must have dozed briefly at some point. He came gently back to consciousness, aware that Jed was still reading, but quietly, as if to himself. Phrases drifted into his sleep-drugged hearing...
"... Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you."
Leo lay quietly listening, his eyes closed. Jed's voice was low and soft with affection. His rich tones caressed the words as if they held special meaning for him.
"... But if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water."
Leo felt Jed stir beside him and sensed his eyes upon him. He held still, overcome by a sense of emotion and a feeling that to show Jed he was awake would be to shatter an oddly private moment. Jed continued to read softly.
"... Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot--and after!"
There was silence for a moment, then a slight rustle and sway as Jed closed the book and turned to rest on one elbow, gazing down at his friend. His voice was barely above a whisper, Leo having to strain to make out the words.
"One man in a thousand will stick more close than a brother." Leo felt the President's hand reach out to gently stroke his hair. "I wonder if you know how much I love you? And how sorry I am for the hearings and the MS and the whole mess this last year? I am sorry, Leo. Sorry for having let you down, and so very, very grateful to you. You stood by me through it all, and even fought against my taking the censure. You're my Thousandth Man, Leo McGarry, and I thank God for you." Leo felt Jed's hand cup his cheek and his lips press gently against his forehead, then softly and lovingly brush his lips. "Get well, my friend. I can't do without you."
Leo remained silent, swallowing around the lump in his throat as he heard his friend remove his robe and slide under the covers, curling up to his back and sliding an arm around him affectionately. He felt himself pressing back against the other man, longing for the contact. "I can't believe you think that you're the lucky one, Jed Bartlet," he thought. "Love cuts two ways. Maybe that's our real blessing right there, to have both friendship and love. But I'm very glad you're in my life." He lay there until Jed's even breathing told him that the President slept, then he too succumbed, enjoying the soul-satisfying comfort of a night spent wrapped in his friend's arms.
By the following afternoon, Leo was feeling completely re-energised. To be sure, he still sounded like hell, as Josh had helpfully pointed out, but the weariness and the leaden sensation in his head had eased, and he felt rested for the first time in days. He continued to hug to himself as well the warmth of the memory of the previous evening, and Jed's quiet declaration. So, it was with a decided spring in his step that he entered the Oval Office.
"Hey, Leo." Jed smiled at him uneasily, from the chair behind his desk.
"Afternoon, sir." Leo paused and asked warily. "What?"
"What's going on? You look positively shifty." Leo scanned the President suspiciously.
"Leo! I don't know what you mean - ugh!" Jed winced perceptibly as he attempted to straighten in his chair, and shot an alarmed glance at his companion.
"Are you all right, sir?" Suspicion gave way to concern.
"I'm fine!" Jed glowered, then wilted slightly under Leo's steady gaze. "Well, I think, it's just possible that... Imayhavecaughtachill." The words tumbled out in a breathless rush.
"What was that, sir?" Leo felt the corners of his mouth turning up.
"I said, I seem to have caught your cold, damnit!"
"I thought you never caught a cold."
"Well, I should have known that any germ capable of overcoming the great Leo McGarry would be the exception to the rule," Jed grumped.
"You don't sound that bad," his friend said dubiously.
"That's because this particular chill seems to have gone elsewhere." The President shifted and grimaced again.
Leo took in the awkward posture of his friend and diagnosed, "It's settled into the muscles of your back, hasn't it?
"Thank you, Doctor McGarry." Jed was in a foul mood. He loathed it whenever his notoriously weak back played up on him.
"You're welcome." Leo grinned. "Have you called Abbey yet?"
"Oh, God. Must I, Leo? She'll make me take my back pills, and you know how goofy those make me."
"I know." Leo rolled his eyes in memory. "I'll have Charlie cancel your appointments for the rest of the day. You, my friend, are taking that back of yours to bed."
The President glared. "You're loving this, aren't you?" he accused. "Bet you never thought you'd win pay back for yesterday so soon."
"Turnabout is fair play," Leo said placidly. "Now it's your turn to put up with a little fussing." He smiled at his friend. "Trust me, it's not so bad."
Jed gave him a small smile. "Really?"
"Really." Leo extended a hand to help his friend from his chair. "Actually, it's very nice."
"Glad to hear it." The President took his Chief of Staff's hand and hauled himself painfully to his feet. "Thanks, Leo. I don't know what I'd do without you. You always stand by me."
"In season or out of season," Leo said seriously, slipping his arm around Jed's shoulders. "Your wrong's my wrong, and your right's my right." His friend's startled, wide-eyed expression told him he had caught the reference. "Jed," he said softly. "Has it ever occurred to you that the Thousandth Man had his own Thousandth Man, and that was what helped make him what he was?"
Jed's eyes shone with emotion and he smiled at his friend, slipping his arm around the other man's waist for support, and something else besides.
Leo squeezed his shoulders affectionately, and pressed a quick kiss to his friend's temple. "C'mon," he said gruffly. "Let's get you into bed."
THE THOUSANDTH MAN
Rudyard Kipling [1865-1936]
One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it's worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.
'Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for 'ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.
You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all,
Because you can show him your feelings.
His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men's sight--
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot--and after!