Author: Baked Goldfish
Disclaimer: I don't own this. Don't sue.
Summary: "You've been focusing on everything but the slow decay of this orbit." Written for the 1000 words of angst challenge on the Jed/Leo list.
Orbit by Baked Goldfish
You'd like to reach out to him, wouldn't you.
Your job description includes many things, and can change from day to day, but the one thing that remains constant is that you need to know what to do in any given situation. Right now, you can't figure what to call him.
You settle for, "Sir." He's staring up at the cloudy night sky, but he turns and looks at you when you speak. Inside his office, a usurper is talking to your staff - chide yourself for using that word. Glen Walken's only flaw is that he's not a member of your party.
But Walken's in there, and your president's out here, and touching him right now is everything you've ever wanted to do. The sand-dune landscape of his wrinkling shirt, the star-sliver of his face, the wind-shorn heath of his hair, and his melting glacier eyes. You'd like to reach down into the soil of him, into the soul of him, and smooth out all the puckers and scars. You've caused most of them, after all.
Instead, you say, "You should probably try and get some rest." You could cringe at that sentence, but you don't. "He's just sending them home right now, nothing's going on."
Those eyes pierce you like a plough to the earth. "You're gonna have to call him 'Mister President' some time, you know," he says, and now you do cringe. Nobody but Jed would notice the way your throat ripples, or the way your cheek twitches like a leaf on the branch, at least not in this darkness. "Don't know how long it's gonna be until-"
You almost do reach out to him now, when his voice cracks. You want nothing more than to press your lips to that skin that looks like sun through the clouds, run your hands down the smooth landscape of his back, and tug the earth the wrong way around the sun if that was how you could turn back time and end this mess. But you can't do any of those things. It seems like you've grown roots, fibrous strands pushing through the cement walk of the portico, cracking the foundation. You're five feet away from him, but it might as well be a mile's distance.
He turns away from you, looks back to the sky. "Do you think she can see the stars where she is?" he asks. "I was thinking - if she can see them, and I could-" He sighs, frustrated. It's cloudy out. Nobody in DC is seeing the stars right now.
You can hear helicopters in the distance. Behind you, you can hear the staff shuffling out of the Oval Office, telling Walken, "Goodnight, sir," and, "Goodnight, Mister President," and variations of the same. Nobody comes out to meet you or see what you're seeing. Oh, they know what you're seeing, but they don't want to actually witness it. The crumbling of a mountain, in fast-forward.
"Glen's a good guy," he says. "He's not - he's not power hungry, or disrespectful or anything. You'll bring the staff around."
"Yeah," you say. They're mostly brought around already, but you don't tell him that. No matter that they're only brought around because of the political necessity and not for some imagined lack of feeling; there's no need to push him into any more insecurity.
He finally looks away from the stars. "I'm gonna check on Abbey," he tells you, not meeting your eyes. "I need to - I need-"
He looks at you.
You can't stop the sharp intake of breath. You can't help but glance away to recuperate. Then you look him straight in the eyes, because you've never been one to shy away from anything, no matter how frightening. You look him straight in the eyes, and say, "You need to get some rest, sir."
He looks like he's about to take a step towards you, when the door opens. Walken - President Walken, you tell yourself, President - steps out, knowing he's intruding on something. You know it's a deliberate move. "Leo, sir," he says, and you're glad and slightly taken by that respect in his voice, even though you subconsciously knew it would be there. "I'll be heading back home now."
"You're not gonna stay here?" Jed asks, honestly confused.
Walken shrugs. "No need for any more hassles tonight. Goodnight, sir." You thank God above for handing you such a basically decent guy to fill the job of acting President, and then you look at Jed.
He's watching Walken leave, and you say, "Go be with Abbey, sir."
He fixes you with those eyes, and you feel like you're going to crumble like ash onto the ground. "Tell me it's gonna be okay, Leo," he says.
You swallow. And in that moment's hesitation, he looks away, then leaves. His shoes click loudly, almost like thunderclaps, and a few moments later you're effectively alone. You want to follow him up, tell him that if he can't see the stars, neither can Zoey, and that they might both be looking at the same clouds. You want to tell him that lie, even though you know he'd know it wasn't the truth.
Instead, you stand there, in the spotlights of the walkway, and listen to crickets and distant cars. The lights in the Oval are off now, and there'll be a changing of the guard pretty soon. You, and possibly Margaret, are the only people around right now. The staff are on their way home, the new acting-President is on his way home, and Zoey's god knows where, doing god knows what. It's late, and you try not to think about it too much. You've been focusing on the political, focusing on strategies and reasons. You've been focusing on everything but the slow decay of this orbit. Now, when you finally have the chance to remember how Jed looked when you told him, you freeze.
They were wrong. You don't know what to do.
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