Title: Crazy Old Grandfathers
Author: E. E. Beck
Summary: They need to talk about re-election, and there's that other thing, too. Post-ep to The Stackhouse Filibuster.
Crazy Old Grandfathers by E. E. Beck
Leo's hardly in the habit of contemplating happiness, his or anyone else's. It's too abstract, too indefinable, something other people throw around casually that he just doesn't really bother with. But it's on his mind as the warm spring air wraps around him on the short walk to the Residence-happiness and impossibilities and crazy old grandfathers.
The President is in the sitting room, feet propped on an antique coffee table, watching CSPAN. He's got his hands tucked behind his head and a perfectly satisfied look on his face as he watches Senator Jonstone working laboriously through what will probably be a two hour question for Senator Stackhouse, who is only now looking exhausted and threadbare, his hands visibly trembling as he sips water.
"Sir," Leo says from the doorway.
The President looks up, and the smile widens. "Leo, come in." Leo does, and the President gestures to the couch beside him. "It's going well," he says as Leo settles himself.
"They'll break soon," Leo says. "Josh thinks they'll go another half hour then break until Tuesday. It'll control the whole news cycle next week."
"It should," the President says. "It's not often we grandfathers get to take a stand, you know."
"And probably a good thing, too," Leo says dryly.
"Just you wait," The President says, smirking. "When Mallory has that first kid, you'll learn. A great transforming force will come down and wash through your soul and-"
"Sweep away all sanity and reason?"
"Well, yes. But that's the point, you see."
"Have you ever thought that maybe we're actually talking about senility?" Leo asks, because the very thought of Mallory having kids is making a muscle in his jaw jump hard. But then his words catch-up to him, and the little humor is sapped out of them. Jokes like that aren't funny anymore, not in this room, not with this man. "Mr. President," he says, "I was hoping we could continue our discussion from earlier."
Leo pauses, floundering a bit. It's not often the President satisfies himself with a single syllable, and Leo sort of prefers it when he's working in the range of thousands and giving Leo plenty of ins and outs to the conversation. He waits for anything else, then reaches for words when nothing appears forthcoming. "I just wanted to say that I don't honestly think Abbey can hold you to a bargain you made before you even took office."
"Before I even ran, actually," the President says mildly. "We settled it the night I decided to go for it."
Leo blinks, startled. "She was that sure of winning then?"
The President nods, studying the television screen. "She was. I thought she was crazy. Then again" - he casts Leo a quick, amused glance - "you were just as sure, and I still think you're crazy, so."
"Even more then," Leo says, trying to regain his direction. "She can't hold you to something you agreed on before either of you had any idea what you were getting into."
The President gives him another look, this one disbelieving. "Leo, you were married for twenty something years. Of course she can hold me to it."
Leo looks away, because yes, of course Abbey can. That's the difference between Abbey and Jenny, he thinks-Jenny got to a point when she just didn't care enough to hold him to anything anymore, while Abbey, no matter how angry she gets, will never back down, if only for the principle of the thing. But that's the path to a whole other conversation, a conversation he's been refusing to have, been refusing to even think about, since a single bizarre, disastrous, quite possibly senile kiss on this very couch three months ago.
"Abbey's not pissed about our thing, by the way," the President says casually, reading his mind with infuriating, effortless ease. Leo grits his teeth, feeling a prickle of heat on his face, and wants to ask when exactly the word "thing" got brought into the mix. It makes it sound like they're either hatching plans to conquer the pacific north rim, or having a torrid love affair. Those possibilities used to be equally ridiculous, and now…now they're both ridiculous, but it's not quite so equal anymore. He should have known this was coming tonight-did know, actually, from the moment the President tempted him back to the residence with promises of exquisite French cooking. It was an obvious ploy, especially as Abbey's been gone for nearly two weeks, and there's no way the staff would have thought she'd be dining with the President unless the President told them so. Leo knew when he came back after all the excitement that this conversation would happen, but he was hoping it would maybe take a little longer to surface.
"She's not up at Manchester because of it," the President continues.
Leo can believe that well enough. If she were truly mad about it she'd be right here, cutting his heart out with a grapefruit spoon. "Mr. President-"
"Jed. I refuse to have you calling me that when we're discussing this."
Leo's reply is cut off by a perfunctory knock and the entrance of one of the stewards. A good thing, too, as he has no idea what he could possibly say.
"Mr. President, Ms. Cregg would like to know if you have a moment."
"CJ? Sure, send her in." The President gives the television a curious look as CJ comes in, still elegant and perfectly put together this late on a Friday night.
"Evening sir, Leo," she says, glancing at the television herself. She looks a little nervous, and the beginnings of a headache tickle at Leo's temples.
"Claudia Jean," the President greets cheerfully. "What's on your mind?"
"Well, sir," she says, then takes a deep breath. "It seems that I may have…broken your cat."
The President blinks. "Did I have a cat?"
"A ceramic one, yes sir."
"And you broke it?"
"Were you playing baseball in the house again, CJ?"
CJ gives him a look, a masterful combination of amusement and respectful aggravation. Leo wonders when she got so good at that-it's something he has to continually work for. "I threw it in my suitcase after the gift officer handed it to me, and it appears now that not having it may cause an international…problem."
"With whom?" the President asks.
"Uh, Egypt. It was given to you, and, uh, me, on our trip to Cairo."
"Leo," the President says, turning to him, "how many nuclear weapons does Egypt currently possess?"
"Mr. President--"CJ starts.
"Oh, dear Lord, just buy another one from a dollar store," the President says, rolling his eyes. "They'll get over it, I promise."
"They might," CJ says, starting to grin, "but I may not. I'm cursed by Bast now, you know. Bad luck and calamity and doom."
""That explains so very much," Leo mutters.
CJ glares, and the President waves her out. "Tell the gift officer to just explain what happened…whatever it was…to whomever needs to know. It just so happens that telling the truth sometimes really works."
CJ blinks, as if the idea had never occurred to her. "Yes, sir. We'll do that. Good evening, Mr. President."
She sweeps out, and they grin at each other a moment. "The best and the brightest," the President mutters. "To think, this is how the world operates. Ceramic cat statues and international affairs."
Leo studies him a moment, memories stirring. "You want to run again," he says, an old conversation coming back to him. "Everything you do says so."
Jed looks back at him, his face for once revealing little. "You've said that before," he comments.
"It's true," Leo persists, knowing he's pushing where he probably shouldn't, knowing he could easily cross a line here, of friendship if not respect. But both those lines have already been crossed in this room, and he's taken with sudden recklessness. He worked so hard to get Jed here, to get him to even consider it because he'd known in his gut that this man could be a great leader. He'll be damned if he'll let Jed, of all people, get in the way of that. And that's why he came back here tonight, in spite of knowing the other conversation was coming. Because some things are more important. "You love this job," he continues. "You love it, and you're good at it, and you love that, too."
"No one is ever good at my job," Jed returns dryly. "You just get good at faking it."
"I suppose," Leo says, his lips twitching. He likes to think he knows the presidency very well by now, beyond the man who occupies it. He's learned things in the past few years that aren't in the textbooks or the histories, nuances of the office, the institution, the tradition and the dynamism. And Jed is good at it, so very good, but he's also excellent at making everyone around him believe that he never, ever doubts it.
"It's been a hard two years," Jed says softly. "For both of us. You had to admit you went to rehab on national television. I got shot. We lost soldiers and treaties and alliances."
"And you want to do it again," Leo says gently.
Jed shrugs. "Speaking of being crazy."
That's all he's getting on the subject, Leo can tell. Because no matter what Jed wants, no matter what he admits to wanting, there's still his children to consider. His children, and his wife, furious because she knows what Leo knows, that he loves this job, and it might kill him someday.
"He's really something," Jed says suddenly, gesturing at the TV, to where Stackhouse sits, silent and exhausted, but proud. "Old men can really bring it when we need to. Like you and I."
"Excuse me, sir, but I'm not a grandfather-"
"Just wait, you will be."
"-and I really don't think the designation of old can be applied until one of the grandchildren enters middle school," Leo finishes, feeling that twitch again. That man Mallory has been seeing…he doesn't like that man.
"Annie is in middle school," Jed observes mildly.
Leo lifts an eyebrow.
"You may think you're insulting me," Jed says, reaching for the remote and turning the TV off with a flick of fingers, "but you're not. I'll have you know that we old men are capable of some quite astonishing things. We're not nearly as set in our ways as many would have you believe." And suddenly he's turned to face Leo, and the conversation makes a sharp swerve to the left, to somewhere Leo hasn't let it go in the past three months, before or after Jed went off and told Abbey about their…thing, whatever the hell it is.
"Mr. President," he begins.
"Leo." The look is reproachful, but Leo won't let himself be swayed by it.
"No, sir. I think its best, for this particular conversation, that I remain your chief of staff and you remain the President." It's like the crack he made about homophobes at dinner, too easy to say, too necessary a reminder.
Jed studies him a moment, then shrugs. "Alright then," he says, and Leo is reminded why it can sometimes be unnerving to argue with this man. He never, ever backs down when he thinks he's right, and when it looks like he has it's only a clever trick. Leo knows he's walking into something here, but he honestly can't fathom what. They shouldn't be having this conversation, they shouldn't have had that kiss. He's right, and Jed's right, and he really needs to start obeying his own rule of address in his head.
"So I'll be the President for this conversation," Jed continues. "It's fitting enough, considering everything."
"How do you mean?" Leo asks warily.
"I was just thinking about that talk we had," the President says musingly. "When you completely kicked my ass. When you told me to stand up and fight for what I believe in on the FEC and everywhere else. And where, yes, I may perhaps have expressed a wish for a second term."
Leo nods, remembering it all very clearly. It was their first big oval office fight, to use Abbey's phrase. It had been terrifying and exhilarating, and the look in the President's eyes afterward had powered Leo for weeks, right up until a hail of bullets sent them all reeling. He'd believed from the very beginning that Jed would be an incomparable leader, but he hadn't really envisioned what it could be like until he'd dragged Jed there, kicking and screaming.
"That conversation was the first time I really let myself think about it," Jed says softly. Leo realizes with a start that he's moved close on the couch, and somehow Jed has taken his hand without him realizing it.
"Leo." His eyes are direct, frank, not a little frightened, but no less determined for it. "You've been avoiding this conversation for three months, and I think it's far past time we have it. I don't want to feel like this anymore. I want to speak now."
"We can't do this," Leo says lowly. "Jed, we can't for so many reasons that I don't need to repeat to you. Your wife and your family and the press and-"
"I thought you weren't going to repeat them," Jed says gently.
Leo breathes out hard and turns his head away. Somehow, he can't seem to withdraw his hand. "This is completely…I don't even know how to…" The sheer magnitude of it hits him then, because he's never allowed himself to think about it before for more than just a moment of blind panic. Here they are, a pair of aging politicians, one of them a grandfather for God's sake, and suddenly they're doing something, thinking something about each other they've never thought before. They've been living in each other's pockets for two years now, fighting and winning and losing, and something happened, something so simple its shaken Leo's world from the foundations up. He's never…with a man…with *this* man…
"I know it drives you crazy when I quote you back at yourself," Jed says at his ear. His breath is warm on Leo's cheek. He smells of fine, expensive wool, a whiff of cologne, the hint of an elicit cigarette. "But you wanted us to run into walls, not just walk into them. And that's just what I want to do."
"You can't be comparing that to this," Leo says, turning his head just a little so they can look at each other. "That was about the administration and-"
"And this isn't? Tell me, Leo, do you honestly believe any of that tripe about two different people? Jed and the President?"
Ah. There it is. Leo dips his head and sighs, because of course, he's right. Leo doesn't believe it for a second. He can no more separate his old, dear friend from the President than he can separate himself--Jed's friend Leo from the President's chief of staff. It's all inextricably bound up together, their lives and their jobs, which is, as Jed said, quite fitting, because it was partly the jobs that brought them to that kiss. They work so close together, spend so much time in each other's heads, and no, they can't separate it, they can't separate it at all. He made Jed into this man, this leader, but Jed has also been that all along, and it's just the part of him that Leo knows best.
"What about Abbey?" he asks finally, and he knows he's giving ground, that he's admitting something in the question.
"She's not angry," Jed says. "Not about this, anyway. She said, she said we should do what makes us happy." That's just so like Jed, all of this is. It's so very like him to take this thing that's been tying Leo in knots for months and just say okay and absorb it with a shrug and a smile. Leo's not sure whether this means Jed really is crazy, or if it's just that his heart and his mind are really that big.
"Well, I don't know what that is," Leo says. "I'm not really used to making decisions based on just that."
"Well," Jed says quietly, "it seems we both have a decision to make, then, don't we?"
Leo turns around all the way then. Their faces are just inches apart, and their voices are low, intimate.
"I need to decide if I want to run again, and you need to forget everything else, and decide whether you want to run into this wall with me." He smiles, leans forward, and kisses Leo slowly, carefully, the slide of his tongue a shock down Leo's spine, the rasp of their late evening stubble utterly unfamiliar and exciting. "We need to decide what will make us happy," Jed finishes, drawing away just the length of a breath.
"I'll think about it," Leo says.
"Me, too." Jed gazes at him for one more moment, then turns and picks up the remote. Stackhouse and the others are still there, and Leo has a strange, disconnected moment when he realizes that only about fifteen minutes have passed from the moment he walked in the door. He feels like he's surfacing from a long dive, like time was somehow extended and doubled back on itself in this room. They had the conversation, and now there are decisions to make.
Except there really aren't, Leo knows. Jed wants to run again. It's the right thing to do, and he's going to do it because that's just who he is, and because Leo told him that a man stands up. And if Jed runs again, it will make him happy. If Jed runs again…when Jed runs again, Leo's choice won't be much of a choice at all.
It's still scary, it's still crazy, it's still so mind-blowingly strange and unexpected. But Jed hasn't let go of his hand yet, and Leo finds himself not caring.
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