Only Human: 1. Chapter One


“Sir?” Ron Butterfield poked his head around the door to the Oval Office. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”


“Yeah, sure…come in, Ron…I won’t be long.” Jed waved his hand in Ron’s direction while he continued on the phone. “They’ve got me on hold,” he explained to Ron. “I don’t know, there was a time when being the leader of the free world actually *meant* something but now I guess I’m just another person to be lured and inveigled into the telephonic abyss that is the options menu.”


“Don’t you normally have someone to make the call for you, sir?” Ron asked. “So that you’re through to whoever you need to talk to at the start of the call?”


“Well, yeah,” Jed said with a shrug. “But I didn’t want *her* knowing about this call so I made it myself – well, with Charlie’s help.”


“Her, sir?” Ron frowned.


“Debbie – Rosa Kleb – Fidderer. She’s already got me organized every which way and a man has to have *some* freedoms, don’t you think?”


“I suppose that depends on who you’re calling and how important it is,” Ron commented. “Seems to me like it’s a huge waste of presidential time if you don’t mind me saying so, sir.”


“Oh, what the hell. It doesn’t matter,” Jed sighed, throwing down the phone in disgust. “You’re right, Ron. It is a waste of my time and I have a meeting in…” he glanced at his watch, “about 4 minutes so that’s how long you’ve got, my friend.”


“I wanted to speak to you on a somewhat delicate matter, sir,” Ron said. Jed gazed at him keenly, but Ron didn’t so much as flush – his sturdy features remaining perfectly in position, giving nothing away.


“Remind me not to play poker with you, Ron,” Jed said, getting up and walking over to the couch. “Do I need a drink before you get started?”


“I don’t think it’s *that* delicate, sir,” Ron deadpanned. Jed gazed at him again – he had never yet been able to tell when Ron was making a joke.


“Okay, fire away.” Jed nodded.


“It’s about your visits to Leo McGarry’s hotel room, sir,” Ron said. Jed glanced up sharply – Ron’s features still remained completely urbane but Jed was sure as hell that *he* was flushing bright red now. His face felt as if it was lit up like a Neon sign.


“Yeah?” He said, in what he hoped was a non-committal tone, wondering what the hell was coming next and not sure he was ready for it, whatever it was. “Is there a problem?”


“No, sir – just…I know you like to keep it low key, sir, but I’ve been concerned about it for some time. The level of security we can put in there isn’t adequate for your protection.”


“Isn’t adequate?” Jed raised an eyebrow. “A couple of guys stand outside the door, Ron. How much protection do I need? I’m usually only there for a couple of hours.”


“I know – and at first it wasn’t so much of a problem, sir, but your trips to visit Mr. McGarry have become more and more frequent and sometimes you stay the entire night.” Again, there wasn’t so much as a note of innuendo in Ron’s voice but Jed felt like a salmon wriggling on a hook all the same. This was, he thought, possibly the most uncomfortable conversation he’d ever had in his entire life and he’d had quite a few.


“I know you like to keep your security informal, and you know I’ve tried to accommodate you on that, but I don’t think we could keep you safe if there was a determined effort on your life, Mr. President,” Ron finished. “That’s the bottom line. So I was wondering – on those occasions when you need to talk to Mr. McGarry privately, would it be possible for a car to bring him to the White House?”


Jed made a face. “Aw, Ron, you know, I don’t like to inconvenience Leo like this. Most of the time I feel bad enough intruding on his privacy at all hours as it is at all – he’s kind enough to indulge me but if I were to make him come and see me whenever I wanted to mull something over, well, that’d be an imposition.” He wondered whether Ron was buying any of this or whether his agents had overheard some of his more vocal love-making sessions with Leo over the past 4 years. He had no idea whether Ron knew what the nature of his relationship with Leo was, but it was freaking him out.


“I can see that, sir – but, there are plenty of bedrooms in the Residence. Maybe if Mr. McGarry was assigned one he could use on those occasions when you needed his…advice? Maybe he wouldn’t mind so much then?”


Jed wondered if Ron hadn’t given a split second hesitation before he had said the word ‘advice’ but suspected it might just have been his own paranoia.


“A bedroom?” He mused.


“Yes, sir. That’s if the First Lady wouldn’t mind,” Ron added diplomatically. Jed gazed at him again, wondering if they were having a conversation on two levels here; if Ron knew, or at least suspected the nature of his relationship with Leo, then he might well be wondering if the First Lady minded – and Jed wasn’t about to enlighten him to the fact that not only did Abbey not mind, she hadn’t minded for the past 35 or so years.


“I’m sure the First Lady wouldn’t have any objections,” he murmured, privately thinking it would make everyone’s life a good deal easier. The only problem he could foresee would be convincing Leo of the good sense of the arrangement; Leo had some strange and rather firm convictions on certain subjects, and the office of the President of the United States was one of them. Luckily, Jed thought to himself, Leo didn’t have any such qualms about the *person* of the President of the United States, or he suspected their sex life would have taken a nose-dive the moment he had been elected the first time around, and that, for someone as tactile as Jed, would have been beyond endurance. Now, with another election under his belt and four years of discreetly intimate meetings with Leo behind him, Jed wondered whether they hadn’t grown a little careless. Ron was right – he had been visiting Leo a lot more recently than he had in the beginning. They had been much more worried about being found out to begin with but over time their quick sex sessions in Leo’s hotel room had often turned into nightly stopovers – it still wasn’t all that frequent but it happened much more often than it once had. Besides, Jed liked the idea of having Leo just down the corridor – they could still keep it discreet, and Leo would only stay over when Abbey was away; it wouldn’t be fair to any of them to conduct their relationship in any other way, and they had always striven to be scrupulously fair about their unusual lifestyle choice.


“Thank you for raising this with me, Ron,” Jed said, getting up and shaking the other man’s hand, relieved that the topic of conversation had only turned out to be half way embarrassing and not completely and utterly mortifying. “I’ll think it over, run it by Leo and get back to you.”


Thank you, Mr. President, I’d appreciate that.” Ron nodded, and left the room. Jed gazed after him, pondering the conversation. If Ron did know about his relationship with Leo then he sure as hell wasn’t giving anything away; he had been the soul of discretion, as always.


“No.” Leo shook his head vigorously. “Absolutely not.”


“Why not?” Jed gazed at his friend, exasperated. It was late, and, apart from Jed’s Secret Service agents they were probably the only people left in the West Wing. Leo’s office doors were firmly closed and Jed was sitting on his friend’s couch with his legs up on the coffee table.


“Because I don’t like it, that’s why,” Leo replied, turning his attention back to the papers he had been reading when Jed had interrupted him.


“Oh come on, Leo; that’s in the ‘because I said so’ league of bad answers. Ron has a good point and, you might note, *I* was the one who had to sit through the exceedingly embarrassing meeting during which he made it. Not you. Me. I had to sit there and wonder what exactly he knows about our relationship and my stopovers at your hotel room.”


“What does it matter? He and his agents are paid to be discreet. That’s why it’s called the *Secret* Service,” Leo snapped back irritably. “For god’s sake, during JFK’s time they were pimping for their president – all we’re asking them to do is stand outside a lousy door and they do that anyway.”


“They were ‘pimping’ girls,” Jed pointed out. “This is different. On the one hand they’ve got a happily married president with a beautiful, sexy, loving wife of over 30 years by his side and then on the other hand they’ve got a grumpy old guy in a hotel room who I seem to prefer spending my nights with on occasion. Go figure – I expect that’s what they’re trying to do.”


“So, it’s okay if the president is screwing around with women but not if he’s humping his *male* chief of staff?” Leo raised an eyebrow. “We’re expecting the Secret Service to make some kind of value judgment on this? Like they’ll only guard you and respect your privacy if you do stuff they personally agree with? It doesn’t work that way, sir.”


“Oh for god’s sake don’t call me ‘sir’ when we’re having this kind of conversation. It feels ridiculous,” Jed snapped.


“I always call you ‘sir’ in the West Wing,” Leo replied, glancing back down at his papers again. He frowned, lifted his glasses as if he was having trouble focusing, and rubbed his eyes wearily.


“Well it’s absurd when we’re talking about this,” Jed groused.


“Why? Surely it’s the exact same thing we’re talking about in respect of the bedroom,” Leo replied. “There are certain contexts wherein our personal relationship feels inappropriate – and me taking up residence in the White House like the president’s rent boy is one of them.”


“You won’t be taking up residence and you are way too old and ugly to be a rent boy,” Jed growled.


“How many more times are you going to insult me in one evening?” Leo growled back. “Not only am I not beautiful, sexy, or loving but I’m also grumpy, old and ugly. You’re really selling me on the whole wanting to be closer to you thing.”


“You want me to tell you you’re beautiful?” Jed grinned.


“No, because that would just be plain ridiculous but…oh for god’s sake I think I’ve forgotten what we were even talking about.”


“We were talking about a bedroom. I had no idea it was going to be such a big deal but suddenly you’re throwing JFK and rent boys at me and it’s all gotten out of hand.”


“Hah – I heard a story about JFK, which is very probably apocryphal,” Leo said, taking off his glasses and grinning at Jed.


“Well – tell me.” Jed sat forward on the couch.


“Nah – I probably shouldn’t. It probably *is* apocryphal,” Leo replied, putting his glasses back on and picking up his papers again.


“Oh for god’s sake, Leo, tell me – and that’s a presidential order!” Jed commanded.


“All right.” Leo sat back in his chair. “I heard that JFK occasionally liked to be, uh, serviced by a friend of his father’s – a male friend.”


“I think that *is* apocryphal,” Jed said, shaking his head. “The man was a great president but he had so many women – including a very beautiful wife – that…”


“Oh, you think it’s not possible for a president to be happily married and also enjoy sex with a trusted male confidant?” Leo raised a dangerous eyebrow.


“We’re talking about JFK here not me!” Jed protested. “And I object to your use of the word ‘serviced’. You don’t know that JFK and this mystery friend of his father weren’t in a loving, committed relationship wherein…”


“Oh god give me strength – a minute ago you were saying the whole thing was apocryphal and now you’re turning them into a gay love story?” Leo snorted. “What next? They were about to get married in the Rose Garden with JFK wearing flowers in his hair when their forbidden love was tragically cut short in a hail of gunfire in Dallas?”


“You are impossible to talk to this evening,” Jed glowered at him.


“You’re impossible to talk to most of the time. I’m just getting my own back,” Leo snapped. “Now if you’ll excuse me I really do have to work. Sir.”


Jed sat back on the couch, winded. Leo had always had a grumpy streak and Jed was wondering whether he had just gotten used to his friend being deferential to him these past few years. He didn’t think he’d seen Leo this argumentative and plain ornery since he’d been elected the first time around and he *knew* Leo hadn’t talked to him like this in years. He sat back and gazed at his friend speculatively, and, for the first time, noticed how incredibly tired Leo was looking. He had dark shadows under his eyes and his firm, jutting jaw looked much more tense and stiff than it usually did. His eyes were red rimmed and his shoulders hunched and defensive.


“Leo,” Jed said softly, their former argument completely forgotten in his concern. “When did you last take a vacation?”


“What?” Leo looked at him with a glare that would have felled a lesser man.


“I asked when you last took a vacation. I mean, I know I’m president 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but I have occasionally had a week off here or there at Manchester or Camp David. When did you last take any time off?”


“I have no idea,” Leo snapped. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said again, in a pointed tone.


“No. I won’t,” Jed replied, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees as he surveyed his friend thoughtfully.
“Are you feeling okay, Leo? Because you’re looking kind of tired.”


“Oh, and I expect any minute now you’re going to offer me the use of one of the bedrooms in the Residence,” Leo replied. “That way you get to have me on hand to *service* the presidential needs whenever you’re in the mood.”


Jed winced at Leo’s pointed use of the word ‘service’ but didn’t rise to the bait.


“Leo, have you taken any vacation time in the past 4 years?” He asked softly. Leo blinked, brought up short by Jed’s lack of response to his argumentative tone.


“I really don’t remember,” he replied with less bite in his voice.


“Sure you do. You just don’t want to tell me,” Jed said. “You haven’t taken one single vacation day outside of national holidays, have you?”


“Vacations are vastly over-rated,” Leo growled.


“You work most weekends and you spend all day and most of the night here,” Jed observed. “No wonder you’re such a bad tempered, mean spirited, grumpy old man.”


“Again with the insults,” Leo said, taking off his glasses and glowering at his friend.


“Well you are! I noticed Josh slinking out of here with a mournful look on his face earlier, so I’m guessing you yelled at him. Margaret’s been scuttling around the hallways looking petrified all week, and even Toby looked mildly perturbed after meeting with you yesterday.”


“Nobody uses the word ‘perturbed’ in normal conversation,” Leo pointed out.


“Don’t change the subject,” Jed chided. “Leo – are you feeling okay?”


“I’m fine,” Leo snapped, waving his hands around in an agitated way. “Is all this because I don’t want to move in and become your concubine?”


“Nobody uses the word ‘concubine’ in normal conversation either,” Jed replied. “And for the last time, you would *not* be moving in! Ron just thinks it’s a security risk for me to keep coming to the hotel. It’d only be when Abbey’s away and it’d only be when we’re both in the mood. There’s no question that I’d keep you down the hallway on standby in case I wanted…a-ha! That nearly worked. You nearly had me then, my friend, but no. We were talking about *you* and the fact that you don’t look well. Leo, you don’t have the flu that’s been going around the building, do you?”


“No,” Leo snapped. “I do not have the flu, I do not need a vacation and I do not want a bedroom in the Residence. Is that all, sir?”


“I think you have the flu, Leo,” Jed continued, ignoring him. “I think you’ve had the flu for a few days and it’s only your legendary iron willpower that’s keeping you upright at the moment. I think that not only do you have the flu but you have a depleted immune system as a result of spending too long in darkened offices reading complex legal documents and…”


“…and handling a difficult, temperamental, and *opinionated* president,” Leo continued. “I think you could be right, sir. What? You think you’re the only one who can do insults?”


“No,” Jed commented mildly. “I just don’t think you’d be slinging them around if you weren’t trying to distract me from something, my friend. Okay, Leo, have it your own way.” He got up with a tired sigh. “I can’t make you admit that you’re ill and I know from experience that making you admit to any kind of personal frailty is like drawing teeth anyway. Literally,” he added for effect, enjoying watching the barb go home as Leo winced. He was referring to the time, several years before, when Leo had knocked out one of his teeth in an argument over his friend’s drinking. Leo didn’t like being fussed over, didn’t like being confronted over his health, and most of all didn’t like admitting that he had a problem he couldn’t solve – and it seemed to Jed that he did have a problem right now. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you,” Jed warned. He crossed the room to Leo’s side, and put a hand on his shoulder. “You may be a grumpy, cantankerous, grouchy old man, but you’re *my* grumpy, cantankerous, grouchy old man.”


“You just said three words that mean the same thing,” Leo said, but Jed noticed that he didn’t jerk away from the hand he had placed on his shoulder.


“A *watchful* eye,” Jed repeated meaningfully. He squeezed Leo’s shoulder firmly and then returned to the Oval Office.


“Abbey, you wouldn’t have any objection to Leo staying over here occasionally would you?” Jed asked, wandering into their en suite bathroom and finding his wife applying face cream an hour or so after his conversation with Leo.


“What? Here?” Abbey asked. “Is the bed big enough for three, sweetie?” She gave him a beatific smile and he rolled his eyes.


“I mean down the hallway in one of the many guest bedrooms this place has,” Jed told her, putting his hands on her shoulders and gazing at her in the mirror.


“Ah, shame – I thought you were suggesting a threesome.” Abbey grinned at him, and patted his hand. “No, dear. I don’t mind if Leo stays over.”


“It’d only be when you’re not here,” Jed told her. “I’m not – I don’t want to be insensitive about this, Abbey, so if you’re uncomfortable with it please just say so.”


“I’m not.” She rubbed her hands together to absorb the last of the cream.


“I wouldn’t like you to think I was being insensitive. I don’t want you to feel left out or as if I’m not as committed to our marriage as I should be,” Jed told her. Abbey sighed.


“Jed, you and Leo have been having occasional trysts for over 40 years so I’m kind of used to that whole thing now, honey,” she told him sweetly. “And in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve always been fine with it – well, once I realized you were pathologically incapable of cheating on me *or* him with anyone else of either gender I was fine with it. You know I’m happy to share you with Leo – it’s a relief being able to offload you onto him every now and again to be honest.” She gave him a beaming smile and stood up. He gazed at her, his eyes narrowing.


“Pathologically incapable?” He questioned.


“Ah, I wondered which would annoy you more – that comment or the one about offloading you.”


“I was annoyed about that one too – I was just getting around to expressing my outrage,” Jed told her.


“Hmm.” She patted his jaw with her hand. “You’re very sweet to worry about my feelings, Jed, but honestly, I never knew why you made such a big deal about sleeping with Leo in the White House anyway. It’s not like it’s *never* happened,” she pointed out.


“Well that’s what I think!” Jed sighed. “But Leo won’t have any of it.”


“Why not?” Abbey looked surprised.


“I don’t know. Something to do with JFK and concubines,” Jed said, following her back into the bedroom.


“What?” Abbey frowned, slipping into bed and picking up a medical journal from the nightstand.


“That and me keeping him here as some kind of rent boy so I could impose on him at my convenience,” Jed grumbled, sitting down on the bed beside her.


“Well, you know I never interfere in what you two boys get up to,” Abbey told him with a smile, perching her glasses on her nose and opening her journal. “Although it sounds to me as if Leo is feeling a little unappreciated and taken for granted.”


“What do you mean?” Jed frowned.


“I mean, that you are the President of the United States. He works with you all day, which at least I don’t have to do, thank god, and then occasionally you charge over to his hotel room and spend the night with him as well. He must think there’s no getting away from you sometimes. Maybe he just wants a break from you – and maybe he doesn’t like the thought of you being able to summon him to come over and spend the night with him whenever you want. Maybe he likes having the sanctuary of his hotel room to retreat into. It’s his space, his place, where he can be in control. If he came here, he wouldn’t be so relaxed – it’s your home, not his, and from his point of view he must think you get to have everything your own way. Which you do.” She peered at him over the top of her glasses.


“I do?” Jed frowned.


“Honey, Leo puts up with far more from you than I do,” Abbey told him. “I’m your wife – I can put you in your place whenever I like – in fact it’s my god given duty to do so.” She grinned at him wickedly. “He’s…well, let’s just say that his role isn’t so well defined, is it? It’s harder for him to turn you down or put you down than it is for me to do it.”


“Oh that’s ridiculous. I’ve known the man for 40 years.”


“As a friend and as a lover – but not as President and Chief of Staff,” Abbey told him gently.


“You make it sound like I’m sexually harassing him or something!” Jed complained.


Abbey shook her head. “Jed, he loves you, but the boundaries have become blurred these past 4 years, haven’t they? He used to be the one with the big political career and you were kind of the country cousin – and now all that’s changed. He spends every single hour of every single day making sure things run smoothly for you in your capacity as President. I’m just saying that privately he might enjoy having some time for himself. His marriage broke up after all and…”


“And you’re going to say that was because of me,” Jed interrupted.


“No, honey, it wasn’t,” Abbey sighed. “But despite the fact you two have had this ‘thing’ going for 40 years, you both of you still enjoy the company of women. Yes, Leo still has you, but he must miss Jenny. Now he’s started dating again and Jordan’s a lovely woman and very good for him but it isn’t easy starting a new relationship – especially when you’ve got a very demanding lover already standing in the wings – a lover you also work with every day and who happens to be the President. I’m just saying that it must be pretty complicated for Leo right now. I know you don’t mean to be selfish, Jed, but sometimes you don’t always put yourself in other people’s shoes and think how it must be for them. Leo’s given his whole life over to you these past few years – maybe he just needs to have one tiny part of his life that he can call his own. I know it’s just a question of semantics – after all what does it really matter if he sleeps over here or you go and sleep over there – but the fact he’s arguing the point so vehemently makes me think there’s more going on here than just an argument about a bedroom.” She smiled at him, and caressed his cheek lightly with her hand.


“You think he feels taken for granted?” Jed asked, dumb-struck.


“Well, you told me he mentioned concubines and rent boys so I’d say he definitely thinks you’ve got some kind of Droit de Seigneur thing going on,” Abbey said with a smile.


“That’s ridiculous. I mean…this is *Leo* we’re talking about,” Jed protested.


“I know. All that quiet good sense and dry humour hidden under that crusty, no-nonsense exterior,” Abbey nodded. “Who’d imagine he might actually have feelings too?”


“That’s not what I…” Jed trailed off. “Abbey, I’m worried about him,” he confided. “Not just about this – he was looking really ill earlier. I’m worried that maybe I *have* been taking him for granted – in so many different ways. Did you know he’s never taken a vacation since I was elected – the first time around? That’s four years without so much as a day off. He’s never had any time off for sickness either.” Jed sighed. “I’m worried he’s pushed himself too much, Abbey. He takes so much on himself. I have this great life – largely because of him – while his marriage broke up and he’s living in a hotel. I wish I could make things up to him somehow.”


Abbey put her journal to one side and gazed at him thoughtfully. “Let’s give it some thought,” she told him. “Come to bed and I promise we’ll think about it.”


“Really?” Jed could feel himself brightening at her offer of help.


“Sure. Leo means a lot to me too, Jed,” she told him softly. “I don’t know what our marriage would have been like without him sort of hovering around the edges but what we have has worked very well – and I think that’s partly due to the role Leo’s played in your life. In both our lives I guess. I feel as if I owe him too – and you know I’m very fond of him.”


“Yeah.” Jed nodded, smiling at her. “Yeah.”


“Another thing…” Abbey mused, peering at him over the top of her glasses. “If we can convince him to have a bedroom here, then it’ll look a bit suspicious if he only uses it when I’m away. I’m really fine if occasionally he stays over just when you two have been working late, you know. That should allay anyone’s suspicions. Leo’s always welcome to stay and always has been anyway. You know that.”


Jed leaned forward and kissed her gently on the mouth. “Yes, I do. Thank you, Abbey,” he whispered.


“You only love me for my devious mind,” she teased mischievously.


Jed grinned a wicked grin. “Ah, that’s just one of the *many* things I love you for, my evil little pumpkin,” he replied.


Leo still didn’t look so good the following day in Jed’s opinion – in fact he looked even worse. His face had taken on a grayish hue, and he had a coughing fit during their afternoon meeting with the senior staff. Jed glared at his friend meaningfully as Leo tried his hardest to stifle what sounded like pretty racking coughs to Jed’s ears. Leo manfully refused to meet his eye – there was clearly no way he was going to allow Jed to know he had been right in his diagnosis of flu the previous day. Instead, Leo got up and poured himself a glass of water, which he sipped down while concentrating hard on something Josh was saying. Jed glanced at him, distracted from the meeting by his very real concern over his friend’s health. It was then that he noticed that Leo was swaying and he got to his feet and was just about to say something when Leo collapsed. In fact, Jed thought, Leo’s fall was a hundred times more graceful and less dramatic than his own had been in this office a few years before when he’d broken an expensive crystal pitcher with a resounding crash that had drawn everyone’s attention. No, in keeping with his personality Leo succumbed to a combination of illness, stress and exhaustion with the most discreet of collapses. He put his glass down, a glazed, confused look in his eyes, muttered ‘excuse me’ to the occupants of the room, and then swayed, almost in slow motion, in the general direction of the floor. Jed was by Leo’s side almost before Leo hit the ground, overturning a small table and sending a lamp flying in the process. He managed to cradle his friend’s head to stop it from hitting the floor, and was shocked by how cold and clammy his skin felt. Leo looked so pale that for a split second Jed was worried he’d had a heart attack and might be dead. In that moment their entire history together flashed before his eyes and he felt the most desolate, overwhelming, mind-numbing sense of loss.


“Is he okay? Is he okay?” He heard someone shouting in a hoarse tone of voice, and a second or two later he realized the voice was his own.


“He’s got a pulse,” Toby told him, his fingers pressed into Leo’s neck. “It’s all right, sir – he’s still with us.”


“Get a doctor!” Jed ordered, pushing Toby’s fingers away and checking for Leo’s pulse himself, just to make sure. CJ scuttled away to get the doctor, pushing past Josh who just stood there, looking pretty much the same as he had when he’d lost his father a few years before, his face pale and his eyes dark with concern.


“We need to move him onto the couch,” Jed said, taking charge as effortlessly as usual, wondering how the hell he could sound so calm when it was the last thing he felt like right now.


“Can you stand back, sir? Josh and I will lift him,” Toby told him.


“No – I’ll help,” Jed said in a peremptory tone. He couldn’t explain to them that this was his job, that he couldn’t let go of Leo, not now, not when Leo needed him. Leo never behaved as if he needed anyone and Jed wasn’t about to screw up the one time he did need someone.


“Okay,” Toby said. “We’ll lift him together…but you need to let go of him, sir.”


Jed realized he was still cradling Leo’s head in his lap and he nodded, blearily, and put his hands under Leo’s shoulders. Josh took one side and Toby the other and between the three of them they managed to get Leo onto the couch.


“For god’s sake where the hell is that doctor?” Jed snapped, kneeling down beside the couch.


“He’s on his way, sir,” Josh replied nervously. “CJ only just left. He’ll be here in a second.”


“Okay.” Jed nodded to himself, a myriad of thoughts whizzing through his head; logically he knew that Leo probably just had the flu, but he couldn’t help wondering whether his collapse might be related to some more serious condition, like a stroke, or a cerebral haemorrhage. Leo interrupted him from that unpleasant train of thought by giving a low moan and Jed reached out and stroked his friend’s hair absently, not even aware of what he was doing or what it must look like to the senior staff.


“It’s okay, Leo,” he murmured, lost in his worries about his friend. Josh went to the door and opened it, looking out anxiously for CJ’s return, while Toby hovered at the end of the couch, pulling on his beard fiercely. Leo’s eyelids fluttered and he moaned softly.


“You just collapsed but you’re going to be okay, Leo,” Jed reassured him. Leo’s eyes opened and he gazed at Jed for a moment, as if trying to figure out who he was. Jed continued gently stroking Leo’s hair and Leo gave a little grimace.


“You know I hate that,” he mumbled, moving his head slightly. Jed gave a little guffaw of relieved laughter and then glanced up, realizing that Toby had been close enough to overhear that comment. Toby gave him one of his intense but inscrutable looks and Jed moved his hand away awkwardly, wondering what, if anything, Toby was thinking, both about him stroking Leo’s hair and Leo’s reaction to the caress.


Leo came to, his blue eyes finally registering where he was.


“Please don’t tell me I have MS,” he said, with the faintest ghost of a grin. Jed gave another little laugh.


“No. You have the flu,” he said in a firm, scolding tone of voice. “The same flu that you denied you had yesterday, Leo McGarry.”


“Yeah.” Leo didn’t even bother arguing – the evidence was all too clearly in front of them. At that moment CJ returned with the doctor and an EMS crew complete with equipment in tow. Jed saw Leo’s eyes flash as he realized that he was the centre of attention and his hand flicked out tersely; Jed knew that it was excruciating for his friend to be seen like this.


“I think you should all leave,” he said to the staff. “I’ll stay with him. He’ll be fine now.”


“Okay.” Toby nodded, gazing at Jed keenly.


“You’ll call us if he needs anything?” Josh asked anxiously. Jed nodded. CJ flashed a worried little smile at Jed and then put her arm around Josh’s shoulders and ushered him out of the door. Toby stood there for a second, his dark, intuitive eyes searching as they raked over the President and his stricken Chief of Staff. Jed didn’t say anything – he just waited Toby out. Finally, Toby gave a curt little nod, and then he followed the others out of the room.


Leo vaguely recalled being helped to his feet and being half carried, half escorted to the Residence and he was sure that someone injected him with something because he fell fast asleep and next thing he knew he was waking up in the Lincoln Bedroom and it was dark outside and there was a lamp on over the other side of the room. He sat up, feeling unbelievably groggy, with a pounding headache, and within seconds both Jed and Abbey Bartlet were at his side.


“Oh god. I thought I was alone,” he grumbled.


“We were sitting over there – reading.” Jed pointed at the couch while Abbey plumped up his pillows behind him. Leo levered himself up some more, wishing that his head didn’t hurt so much.


“I see you got me into the damn bedroom anyway despite all my protests,” Leo growled in Jed’s general direction. Jed gave him an annoyingly pleasant smile in response.


“Well, I like to get my own way, Leo. You know that. Even if it did mean infecting you with the influenza virus and then making you collapse in the Oval Office in order to get you here,” he commented. Leo began to roll his eyes but that hurt so he stopped. He glanced down.


“I seem to be wearing pyjamas,” he commented.


“You are,” Abbey told him. “They’re Jed’s. Luckily you two are a similar size.”


“What Abbey is really trying to say is that we’re both very short,” Jed supplied helpfully.


“She can talk,” Leo muttered crabbily. “She’s tiny.” Abbey gave a little snort.


“See, I said he was especially grumpy and argumentative,” Jed told her.


“He’s ill, Jed. He’s entitled,” Abbey replied. “I never take any notice of my patients’ bad moods, Leo, and I’m not about to start now.”


“You’re not my doctor,” Leo pointed out.


“Now you’re just quibbling,” Abbey replied, sitting down on the bed beside him and taking his hand in her own. “Listen, Leo, I’ve personally nursed the worst patient in the world, so there’s nothing you can do that will shock, faze or otherwise upset me. I’m immune to it all.” She cast a meaningful glance in Jed’s direction.


“There see, you’ve ruined being a bad patient for the rest of us,” Leo chided his friend. Jed gave a snort of laughter and sat down on the other side of the bed beside Leo.


“How are you feeling? You gave us quite a scare back there.”


“I’m fine. I can go home now,” Leo said, in the certain knowledge that wasn’t going to happen.


“Yeah. Good try, Leo,” Jed chuckled shaking his head. “Doctor Bartlet – that’s her not me because you wouldn’t want a medical opinion from someone with a doctorate in economics – says that you have to stay here, in this bed, for at least 2 days.”


“Could I have a second opinion?” Leo asked.


“Of course, honey,” Abbey smiled, patting his hand cheerfully.




“No. Don’t be silly.” She shook her head.


“So, I’m trapped here, at the mercy of the Bartlets,” Leo sighed.


“You make it sound like an Agatha Christie novel,” Jed commented, with another of those absurdly cheerful smiles. Then his smile faded. “Seriously, Leo. We were worried about you. When you went down…” He trailed off and even in the dimly lit room Leo could see the concern in his eyes. “You were so pale that I thought for a split second you’d had a heart attack.”


“You didn’t do or say anything stupid did you?” Leo asked, gazing at Jed keenly.


“I might have expressed concern,” Jed said, with a tight little smile.


“Anything I need worry about?” Leo asked.


“Leo, there’s nothing you need to worry about right now except getting better,” Abbey put in. Leo didn’t take his eyes off his friend.


“Sir?” He asked. Jed shrugged.


“Toby might be in the middle of making one of those creepy intuitive leaps of his, but no, I didn’t say anything.”


“Okay. We can handle Toby if it happens,” Leo sighed. “Although he’s not the easiest of people to handle but we can do it. We’ll…”


“You won’t do anything,” Abbey told him sternly. “You’re ill, Leo. I don’t even want you thinking about any of this until you’re better.”


“And on that subject…” Jed stood up and looked down at him. “Abbey and I have been talking and she was as shocked as I was to find out that you haven’t taken a vacation since I became president. So, we decided that when you’re well enough to travel you’re going to Manchester.”


“Oh god.” Leo put his head back on the pillow. “Do I have any say in this?”


“No.” Jed smiled cheerfully.


“What the hell am I going to do in Manchester?” Leo demanded. “It’s in the middle of nowhere and there are cows.”


“You’ll take long walks, eat good food, get some fresh air, and generally recharge that depleted immune system of yours,” Abbey told him firmly. “What you will not do is take phone calls or work on any kind of official documentation. If you’re lucky we’ll let you have a newspaper.”


“Why Manchester?” Leo grumbled. “You could send me to the coast to do all those things.”


“We could, but we decided on Manchester because Ron’s guys already know it and can keep it secure,” Jed told him.


“And why would it need to be secure?” Leo asked ominously. “I’m not a mental patient – or, I hope, a prisoner – I’m not going to abscond.”


“Hmm, well, that’s a moot point,” Jed said, “but it’s got nothing to do with that. We can’t just send you off somewhere on your own so I’m going with you.”


“Oh, dear god no,” Leo sighed. “Sir, this is absurd – I’m going to be well again in a couple of days, and then I’ll come back to work. I’ll even go to Manchester if you want me to – I’m sure a couple of days sitting on your porch reading won’t kill me, but there’s no earthly reason why you should come too. One of us should be here.”


“You’re *not* going alone,” Jed said firmly in that tone of voice that Leo knew from experience it was pointless arguing with. “It’s either me or Florence Nightingale here,” he said, with a nod in his wife’s direction. “And since she’ll take your temperature every five minutes and insist you get at least 2 hearty walks a day, I think you’re better off taking your chances with me.”


“You have a schedule!” Leo protested. “You can’t possibly clear it to nurse maid me in Manchester.”


“It’s not a very busy schedule at the moment – I got Debbie to take a look at the feasibility of shifting it all around and she said it could be done very easily. In fact she looked as if she positively relished the prospect of reorganizing everything. If there’s one thing she likes more than organizing me, it’s *re*organizing me. I’ll still be contactable by phone, I’ll still be the President, and I’ll only be a short flight away from DC if I should be needed for anything really important which I doubt. Josh, Toby, CJ and Hoynes can hold the fort while we’re gone. I’m coming with you, Leo, so you’d better get used to the idea.”


“No. No. No,” Leo said firmly. Jed smiled at him indulgently.


“Yes, yes, yes. It’s all been settled. You’re stuck with me,” he said brightly. “Now, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of the doctor here while I go back and reassure Josh that you’re going to live. At one point I wasn’t sure who was paler – you or him.”


“Josh was concerned?” Leo asked, surprised.


“Leo – he hero worships you, of course he was concerned – and you did look pretty ill when you collapsed. You shouldn’t have neglected your health for so long you know,” he chided. Leo snorted.


“Because you have such a good record on the whole health thing, right?” He growled. Abbey patted his hand.


“That’s enough talking, Leo. You’re tired. I’m going to get Charlie to bring you some soup and then you should get some more sleep.”


“Since when does Charlie bring me soup?” Leo complained. “I’m not the President, Abbey.”


“No, but right now you’re testing the President’s patience severely,” Jed told him in a hard, flat voice. “I know you’re not very good at being looked after, Leo, but I’m afraid you have absolutely no choice in the matter so you might as well give in. It’ll be less painful for all of us that way. Charlie *wants* to help – nobody’s making him do anything, and you have a whole legion of adoring fans in the West Wing who feel exactly the same way. If you’re good and do as Abbey says then I’ll think about letting you have visitors tomorrow, but if not…” He crossed his arms firmly over his chest and shrugged. Leo gazed at him warily; his friend could be difficult, mercurial, dramatic and high strung but Jed had an innate authority about him that he could use with devastating effect when he needed. Leo was used to ‘handling’ Jed in a myriad of little ways, but they both knew that when Jed came out all guns blazing like this, he was, most definitely, in charge. Leo had come up against this Jed a few times during their long relationship and he knew from experience that he was outmatched. He glanced at Abbey in mute pleading but she just shook her head and gave a throaty chuckle.


“Oh, Leo, don’t look at me like that,” she said. “I’m with him on this. I’m afraid you really are going to have to let us take care of you for awhile.”


Leo sighed and rested his head back on the pillow.


“All right,” he conceded at last. “But only because I’m too tired and too damn ill to argue with both you *and* him at the same time.”


“Good.” Jed leaned over and bestowed a kiss on his forehead. “Get some rest, Leo,” he said softly, his hand smoothing Leo’s hair gently. “I really was very worried about you,” he added in a quiet little voice. Then he straightened up and left the room. Leo watched him go, glumly, and then turned to Abbey.


“I don’t need…” He began. She held up her hand.


“You know, I really think he meant it about the visitors, Leo,” she told him. “He doesn’t often go all lord and master but when he does…” She shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to cross him right now.”


“No.” Leo sighed again. He recalled Jed, in his mid twenties, taking absolutely no shit from him one June night when he’d been behaving badly whilst on leave from Vietnam; recalled a much older Jed calling him on his drinking and not allowing Leo to leave until he’d confronted the problem. Jed had the strongest personality of anyone he’d ever met, and while he wasn’t always clear sighted about his own personal problems, where the people he loved were concerned he could be absolutely resolute – even if it meant kicking ass in the process.


“You’re really not very well, Leo,” Abbey said, squeezing his hand gently in her own. “Let us care for you, honey.”


Leo closed his eyes, feeling utterly weary. “Okay,” he said at last, in a low, tired voice. And then, a few seconds later, in a voice so quiet as to be almost a whisper. “Thank you.”


As it turned out Leo didn’t have any visitors from the West Wing the following day – or, in fact for the next 3 days – not because he hadn’t been a good patient, but because he felt so ill he wasn’t in any mood to see anyone. As he lay in bed, with a pounding headache, a sensitivity to light and an aching in his joints that set his teeth on edge he began to wonder, for the first time, whether Jed might not have been right about both his illness and his refusal to take a vacation. Not that he intended to let Jed know that he was right of course.


Jed and Abbey hired a nurse to sit with him day and night, on hand to bring him a drink if he wanted one and to administer medication and the White House doctor visited him once a day to check on his progress as well. Abbey and Charlie both dropped in whenever they had a free moment in their schedules and, of course, Jed visited at regular intervals; ill though he was, Leo noticed how concerned his friend was about his condition. Jed seemed to tone his ebullient personality down several notches the moment he walked through the door. He lowered his voice and kept his movements much slower, for which Leo was grateful; sudden movements and loud noises set his nerves on edge. Jed was a tower of strength; he helped Leo to the bathroom, his sturdy arms keeping Leo upright as he clung onto his friend’s solid shoulders when the room swam around him. He was endlessly patient and whenever he had a spare minute he came and sat with Leo. Even if he didn’t do more than sit by the bed, Leo found his presence somehow intrinsically comforting; Jed refused to talk about work, despite Leo’s repeated enquiries, but Jed, being Jed, always had *something* to talk about, and Leo found he wasn’t required to participate in the conversation – it was nice just being able to lie back and listen to Jed’s warm, deep, mellifluous tones washing over him, soothing him. He lost count of the number of times he’d be listening to Jed talk, watching from half closed eyes as his friend rambled from one subject to another, and the next thing he knew he was waking up to find that hours had passed and Jed was long since gone.


His illness turned out to be more severe than any of them had anticipated and Leo was dimly aware that he was getting that second opinion after all as the President’s official physician, a man in a Naval uniform with white hair whose name Leo couldn’t recall in his current befuddled state, took a look at him. There followed a whispered discussion between Abbey, Jed and the doctor, after which the two doctors left the room and Jed came and sat down beside him.


“What’s going on?” Leo muttered.


“We were just talking about whether you need to go to the hospital,” Jed said gently, taking one of Leo’s hands in his.


“Oh god. Maybe I *do* have MS after all,” Leo said with a faded grin.


“Nah – but you’re taking longer than you should to shake off the flu,” Jed told him. “I personally don’t think you should be moved although my opinion counts for nothing of course – I can barely get a word in edgeways when those two are talking. They speak in a kind of code – every other word is some kind of acronym or the name of a drug or a series of numbers that I believe relates to your blood or your lungs or something. Anyway, I think you’re better off here, just resting. Abbey is a first rate doctor and you’re getting all the medication you need. However…” Jed shook his head. “I should warn you that she isn’t impressed by your general state of health. Leo – you were just waiting for something like this to come along and knock you off your feet. You’ve been neglecting yourself for far too long – that’s why this has hit you so hard. I feel…” Jed hesitated and then continued. “I feel I’m partly to blame. No, Leo, don’t interrupt me,” he said as Leo opened his mouth to refute that statement. “I *am*. You’ve taken far more on yourself than you should and I’ve let you do it. I knew how hard you were working but I didn’t say anything because I know that’s just how you are – and I’m not so different myself. I know we both thrive on hard work, but I made the mistake of not seeing the difference between that and driving yourself into the ground. I forgot that in the old days you had Jenny to rein you back in when you got all tunnel-visioned and burrowed in workaholic mode. I’ve got Abbey to do that – and she does – but you don’t have anyone and I should have noticed. You may be grumpy, cantankerous and grouchy but you mean far too much to me for me to allow anything to happen to you. I’d be lost without you, Leo.” Jed’s voice was hoarse as he said that and Leo felt a lump rise in his own throat. He couldn’t remember when or even whether he’d last told Jed he loved him – they didn’t usually have those kinds of conversations, and maybe they had gotten into a rut of taking each other for granted lately. The last four years of their lives had been so abnormal, so different from anything that had gone before – and they hadn’t stopped and taken stock of those changes. Everything had happened so quickly and they’d adjusted remarkably easily in the circumstances, taking to their new roles of President and Chief of Staff like ducks to water, but somewhere along the way maybe it was inevitable that something in their personal lives had to give.


“And I miss you, damnit,” Jed said, in a low voice.


“You see me every single day,” Leo reminded him.


“Yeah, but I miss just spending time with you outside the job. We don’t really do that any more, Leo – not the way I do with Abbey. There are plenty of times when we’re not President and First Lady but how often when I’m with you are we just Jed and Leo?” He shook his head. “I know you want to keep the boundaries owing to the office, and I respect your decision to address me as ‘Mr. President’ or ‘sir’ in all but the most personal of situations however irritating it is to me on occasion, but this illness is a wake up call, Leo. You need to slow down, and *we* need to have some time out from the job.”


“I don’t agree,” Leo said softly. “We can’t make allowances for ourselves, Jed. We chose this way of life and we chose for you to run as President. That’s our priority – we have 4 more years to make a difference and if that means putting aspects of our personal lives on hold for that time then we have to.” He shrugged.


“Well, I disagree – nothing is so important that it should cost either one of us our health or, worst case scenario, our lives.” Jed shook his head.


“I’m not dead yet and neither are you,” Leo protested.


“No – but we’ve had some near misses along the way,” Jed reminded him softly.


“What are you suggesting? That you resign and we go and live out our days in a cottage with roses over the door?” Leo growled tiredly.


“No.” Jed gave a little chuckle. “No – I don’t think that would suit either of us. I’m just saying that you’re going to be getting some regularly scheduled breaks from now on and *I* am going to personally make sure that happens. Also…I’ve only met Jordan in the office – probably out of some misguided notion about giving you some space to get this relationship going – but if she’s going to be an important part of your life then I’d like to get to know her better so I think you and she should visit Abbey and me for dinner every so often. Leo…” He paused, and gave a little sigh before continuing. “Leo, I know you never wanted to make me your entire life – neither of us wanted that and we knew that even when we were 17 years old. You like women as much as I do and we both wanted wives and families. Somehow along the way though, I *did* become your entire life; I let you make that sacrifice for me – and you never called me on it.”


“I came to you and asked you to run for President. I pushed to get you here – I was hardly going to turn my back on you once it happened,” Leo whispered, feeling way too tired to be having a conversation this intense.


“I know. I know,” Jed said softly, reaching out to stroke Leo’s hair gently. Leo was too weary and felt too ill to even brush his lover’s hand away. Besides, and he wouldn’t even admit this to himself, let alone Jed, but he liked it. “I’m sorry – you’re not well enough to talk about all this. I just wanted to explain. Things are going to change around here, Leo. We’ll start with a week in Manchester – but first you have to get well enough to make the journey.”


“A week cooped up with you on that farm in the middle of nowhere? How could I not want to get better for *that*,” Leo commented sarcastically. Jed gave a little bark of laughter.


“Hey, you’re talking to the guy who just managed to talk the people in white coats *out* of whisking you off to the hospital,” he chided. “I think some gratitude is in order.”


“Yeah.” Leo grinned at him. “Thanks for that. I hate hospitals.”


“I told ’em that – I also said you stood a much better chance of getting well here than stuck in some hospital room with a bunch of people you don’t know taking care of you so you have to get better, Leo, if only to prove me right.”


“You’re always right, Jed. You can’t stand for it to be any other way,” Leo pointed out. Jed chuckled again.


“Yeah. So, do we have a deal? You get better and then we decamp to Manchester to recharge your batteries? Just you and me. None of this Mr. President stuff either – just Jed and Leo again?”


“Okay.” Leo sighed. In truth, he had started to come around to the idea. He was a little shocked himself by how ill he’d been and it was impossible not to concede that Jed was talking a lot of sense – at least about going to Manchester and recuperating there. Leo really didn’t feel as if he’d make a good political decision now if he tried. His head started to hurt again even thinking about politics.


“Good.” Jed leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “We’ll have a minimum of staff – nobody in the house except the necessary people. I’ll do all the cooking.”


“Oh god. Now he tells me,” Leo groused, but he was grinning all the same. Jed laughed.


“There will be long, restorative walks, and, if you’re in the mood, more, uh, recreational activities – but that’s up to you.” He gave a bashful smile. “Abbey thinks you’re under the impression I have some kind of Droit de Seigneur thing going.”


Leo frowned. “As I recall Droit de Seigneur was some 13th century thing where the Lord of the Manor got to deflower girls on the wedding nights before their new husbands slept with them. I’m really not sure what Abbey is getting at there but I’m not a virgin and you are not a 13th century Lord of the Manor – although I’m suspecting that’s the kind of job title that appeals to you, my megalomaniacal history buff.”


“You know me far too well,” Jed replied with a wide grin, waving his hand around airily. Leo winced at the sudden movement. “And I’ve kept you far too long,” Jed said gently, pausing to drop another kiss on Leo’s forehead. “Get some rest, old friend.”


Leo turned a corner later that day and by the following day his temperature was down and he was feeling much better – if completely weak and washed out. He was well enough the day after that to have visitors – and Josh arrived first, with that worried, distant look in his eyes that Leo was familiar with. He slunk around the walls of the room, as if not entirely sure he should be there.


“You look…weird,” Josh commented.


“I’ve been ill,” Leo snapped.


“I know. That’s what I mean,” Josh replied. “I’ve never seen you ill before, Leo. It’s weird.”


“Well, I’ve seen you on an operating table with your chest cut open so I guess we’re even now,” Leo commented grumpily. Josh gave a wry grin and suddenly his long body relaxed.


“I’d forgotten about that,” he said, sitting down and helping himself to a handful of Leo’s grapes from the fruit bowl on the nightstand. “We were all pretty worried about you, you know,” he said.


“I do know that, yes, because everyone keeps telling me – as if I collapsed deliberately for the very purpose of worrying you,” Leo said.


“It’s just because you’re the guy who’s always there,” Josh said with a shrug. “You’re the one who’s always okay, Leo. You’re always at your desk and you’re always just available in case anything goes wrong. Even if you’re at a function or something you’re always at the other end of the phone.”


Leo sighed. “That, apparently, is the problem,” he said obliquely. Josh frowned at him.


“It’s been pretty strange handling things without you,” he said. “I’ve, you know…kind of missed you.”


Leo rolled his eyes slightly, but Josh was already looking embarrassed enough without him adding to it. “So what’s going on?” He asked, to cover the awkward moment. “What’s happening down there?”


“Uh-uh.” Josh waggled his finger. “No, Leo. The President told me that I was not, under any circumstances, to discuss work with you.”


“Oh for heaven’s sake! I’m fine. He’s fussing. What’s going on?” Leo asked again. Josh gazed at him thoughtfully, as if weighing it up, and then shook his head. “Josh!” Leo ground out in exasperated tones.


“It’s no use, Leo – the way he insisted I wasn’t to talk shop – well, he was kinda loud about it, and, not to put too fine a point on it, scary. I think there was talk of decapitation at the very least as a penalty for telling you anything about what’s going on in the West Wing.”


“Josh,” Leo said in a low, dangerous tone. “In a few days I’m going to be fine and then I’m going to be coming back to the office and, trust me, I’m gonna remember this conversation.”


Josh gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Leo,” he said, finishing the last of the grapes. “But he was way scarier than you.”


“You’re kidding!” Leo said, in disbelief.


“No. Really – and he has the whole, you know, being President thing going for him too which makes a direct order from him pretty hard to disobey.”


“Okay,” Leo sighed, somewhat impressed despite himself. Whatever it was Jed had said to Josh had clearly put the fear of god into his deputy. “So what the hell *am* I supposed to talk to you about?” He grumbled, suddenly realizing that so much of his life was centred around politics that he really didn’t have many other topics of conversation.


“I don’t know,” Josh mused, glancing around the room as if looking for inspiration. “Gardening?” He suggested brightly. Leo sighed.


Toby wasn’t a much better visitor. He munched his way through two of the apples in Leo’s fruit bowl while making comments about the weather and he kept giving Leo speculative sideways glances that made Leo profoundly uncomfortable. He wanted to cut to the chase and ask Toby what he knew – or thought he knew – about the nature of his relationship with the President but he didn’t do that because he knew that even broaching the subject would be as good as admitting it. They discussed sports for half an hour and then, thankfully, Toby left.


CJ was a much more amenable visitor. She didn’t touch his fruit and she had a relaxed, easy-going air to her. She also didn’t seem to find the sight of Leo in his pyjamas an awkward proposition at all, and kissed him firmly on the cheek by way of greeting – which took him slightly by surprise. She had plenty to talk about, and Leo found himself genuinely enjoying her company to the point of being disappointed when she finally took her leave.


Mallory dropped by and was her usual affectionate, feisty self. She rattled on about her latest boyfriend and her job and gave him an update on what Jenny was up to which Leo couldn’t help but be interested in, despite himself. He still carried a little flame for Jenny in his heart and he thought he always would. Their marriage had ended sadly rather than badly and he was grateful to her for giving him Mallory if nothing else. His daughter was the apple of his eye and he adored her – a feeling that was, luckily, entirely mutual. He’d always gotten along well with Mallory, even when she’d been going through her awkward teenage years. She and Jenny had gone head to head with each other on just about every aspect of Mallory’s teenage life, but she had always seen Leo as an ally and to a certain extent he had been – when Jenny wasn’t looking at least.


“I’m glad you’re going to be okay, Dad,” Mallory said, squeezing his hand. “I’ve never seen Uncle Jed look so worried – and Aunt Abbey wouldn’t even let me see you until today.”


“I know. I was just – to be honest, Mall, I was just too ill to want to see anyone,” Leo sighed. “Abbey was doing the right thing in the circumstances.”


Jordan was away on business, for which fact Leo was grateful. It was hard enough having to endure the sympathetic attentions of all his colleagues but the last thing he wanted was for the woman he had spent the past few months trying to, for want of a better word, woo, seeing him looking so pathetic.


By the day after that he was well enough to get out of bed and join Jed and Abbey in the dining room, and the next day he was able to get dressed and wander around the Rose Garden and the White House lawns with Mallory – and the day after that, Abbey decreed that he was well enough to travel. Leo wished he could share Jed’s enthusiasm for their ‘vacation’ but he didn’t. As the President’s Chief of Staff he felt the whole event was a mistake, and as Leo he found all this fussing over him almost unbearable. He wasn’t a man who enjoyed being the centre of attention, unlike Jed; he just wanted to get back to the office and start working again but that, it seemed, was not an option, so he resigned himself to a week of fresh air, strange smells, farm animals and Jed’s seemingly relentless good humour. Jed sent for some of his clothes from the hotel and then they set off for Manchester on Marine One.


“It’ll be like that film,” Jed said to him excitedly as they took off.


“What film?” Leo frowned.


“That film with the silly name – Ellie used to go on about it all the time a few years back – ‘John or Frank or Bill or someone and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ – or something. Only this will be ‘Leo and Jed’s Excellent Adventure’.”


“Okay – but could it be without the adventure bit?” Leo commented grumpily. “Because we’re going to Manchester so the only adventure I can possibly see happening would involve a cow or a horse or something and I don’t see how that kind of adventure could possibly be excellent.”


“Leo! Don’t sulk,” Jed admonished.


“I wasn’t. You said this was supposed to be a Jed and Leo vacation and I’m being myself. You’ve just forgotten how incredibly dull and irritable I can be.”


“I’ve known you for 40 years and I haven’t forgotten anything, my friend,” Jed told him, his annoyingly good spirits still sounding in his voice.


“Yeah, you have. I’ve been nice to you for 4 years because of the job,” Leo muttered, looking out of the window.
“You’d have more fun if you took your Chief of Staff on vacation but no, you won’t let me be in work mode, so you’ll have to put up with just *me*.”


“Nice try, Leo, but we’re still going to Manchester,” Jed said. Leo sighed. Jed smiled at him indulgently, then leaned forward and patted his knee. “You know what, old friend? I think you’re just scared.”


Leo raised an eyebrow. “Of all those horses and snakes? You’re right,” he agreed. “Offices are much safer and I prefer them. It’s not too late to turn the helicopter around.”


“No, Leo, you’re scared of not having politics or your job to distract you. You’re an addict, Leo – you’re addicted to the adrenalin rush of your job. You have absolutely no idea how you’ll function without having politics to hide behind. You’ve forgotten how to just *be*.”


“You’ve been spending too much time with Stanley,” Leo commented sourly. “Now you think you’re a shrink.”


“I remember a time when we used to talk about books and life and I dunno – just stuff,” Jed told him, with that same insufferably smug air. “We can do that again. I have faith in you, Leo.”


“Oh god give me strength,” Leo sighed, leaning back in his seat and gazing glumly out of the window again.


They arrived at Manchester far too quickly for Leo’s liking. He was surprised by how much the journey tired him and he felt so weak that he almost fell over getting out of the helicopter. Jed put a hand under his arm and Leo was grateful to be able to lean on his friend for the short walk up to the house.


The house was pretty much deserted – the security staff took their stations and Jed checked that the fridge had been fully stocked with all the items he’d requested; judging by his beaming smile Leo assumed it had. Then Jed escorted him up the stairs and opened the door to a bright, airy bedroom with a large double bed.


“This one has the best view in the house,” Jed told him, waving his hand in the direction of the window. “It’s South East facing and if you get up early you can see the sun rising over the farm. It’s beautiful.” He dumped Leo’s case on the bed, and then went to the door. “I’ll be sleeping down the hallway,” he said. “Why don’t you unpack and then take a nap and I’ll cook us some dinner when you get up?”


Leo gazed at him in surprise. “You’re not sleeping in here?” He asked.


“Nope.” Jed shook his head. “I’ll wait for an invite, Leo. If it doesn’t come that’s fine; this is your vacation.” He smiled, and then left the room. Leo stood there for a moment, mulling this over. In truth, he enjoyed sleeping beside Jed, and the idea of having his friend beside him all night was an appealing one as it didn’t happen very often. However, he also felt extremely weary right now and it was a relief to know that he had his own space in which to just slump. Nobody was relying on him for anything, and Leo was surprised to find just how good that felt. He was so tired that he pushed his bag onto the floor, got into the bed, and fell instantly asleep.


Jed was busy cooking dinner by the time Leo emerged three hours later. He glanced up at his friend with a welcoming smile; Leo was wearing a pair of jeans and a blue plaid shirt over a tee shirt – and there were boots on his feet. He still looked tired and pale but his appearance had improved from before he had taken his nap, when his skin had been positively grayish in hue.


“Hey, you’re looking a bit better than you did earlier,” Jed commented, pleased.


“Yeah. I was feeling better too until I looked at the clothes you packed for me,” Leo grumbled. “Would it have killed you to have gotten them to pack anything for me that wasn’t jeans and plaid shirts or sweats?” He asked with a glare.


“Yes, I do believe it would,” Jed replied sweetly. “You’re off duty, Leo. Get used to it.”


“Like I have a choice,” Leo muttered under his breath. “And another thing – my cell phone.”


“Aw – did I forget to pack that?” Jed asked in a tone of feigned surprise, smacking his forehead dramatically.


Leo sighed. “So, I’m trapped out here in the middle of nowhere with a President who is trying to pretend it’s even remotely possible to have a quiet vacation alone with his Chief of Staff, and he’s taken away my cell phone so I can’t even make a call to the nearest lunatic asylum to ask them to come and cart either you or me off depending on which of us cracks first,” he lamented.


“I’m enjoying myself too,” Jed said brightly, ignoring Leo’s litany of complaints. “I have a fully stocked fridge and a ton of new recipes to try out – the chef refuses to let me cook at the Residence unless I kick up the most vocal of protests so I’ve had to save up all these recipes.” He pointed at a scrapbook that was positively bursting with recipes that looked as if they’d been cut out of women’s magazines, as they had, although Jed wasn’t going to draw attention to that fact.


“You’re insane, you know that?” Leo said, with a look of disbelief on his face.


“I like cooking. That’s not insane. It’s not insane to have a hobby, Leo. You should have a hobby – it would make you less cantankerous,” Jed told him briskly.


“I did have a hobby once,” Leo shot back. “It was called bicycling and then I don’t know what happened…no, wait, I do…some klutz borrowed my $4000 state of the art titanium touring bike and rode it into a tree.”


“Ouch.” Jed made a face. “I did say I was sorry about that – I swear that tree *moved*, and that bike was weird anyway, Leo. It was so light it felt like I was sitting on air – it was impossible to get a feel for the thing.”


“$4000.” Leo shook his head sadly.


“I would have bought you another one!” Jed told him heatedly. “I offered to but you wouldn’t choose a replacement and then…” He sighed. “And then we were both so busy and time just passed and cycling was one more thing you used to enjoy that got swallowed up by my presidency.”


They were silent for a moment – Leo stood there, just staring at him, and then, after a few seconds, he sat down at the kitchen table with a sigh.


“What the hell did you say to them?”


“Who?” Jed enquired, measuring some butter into a pan and turning on the stove.


“The staff, the Secret Service, the entire nation.” Leo waved his hand. “What possible excuse could you give for taking a vacation with me that doesn’t sound like…well, exactly like it *is* because I’m betting that you didn’t tell them *that*.”


“What? That my old friend Leo, who, by the way, I’ve been sleeping with for 40 years, got taken very ill and needed some time away from the stresses of his job and I was so worried about him and so concerned not only for his physical but also for his mental wellbeing that I moved heaven and earth to be able to spend a few quiet days with him in the country?” Jed said, all in one continuous stream of words.


“Yeah. Right. You told them that did you? No wonder you aren’t letting me see the news then,” Leo muttered.


“I took care of it, Leo. It’s nothing you need to worry about. I swung it,” Jed told him firmly.


“We can’t afford to be this careless, Jed!” Leo snapped. Jed turned sharply.


“This wasn’t being careless, Leo,” he said in a hard tone of voice. “This took a great deal of care – most of it for you, so don’t throw it back at me like this. Do you think people really care if the President and his Chief of Staff decamp to Manchester to talk over the direction of their administration and the policy issues they want to concentrate on for the next 4 years? We just won an election for god’s sake – a bit of taking stock isn’t so very surprising right now.”


“And the staff? They didn’t buy that,” Leo grunted.


“No – they didn’t need to. They saw how ill you were and they know what a workaholic you are. I told them that this was the only way I could get you to rest and personally make sure you didn’t return to the office too soon – and they understood. They know we’re friends, Leo – they know we’re close friends. They didn’t think it was strange.”


“And Toby?” Leo asked quietly. “Did he understand or did he put 2 and 2 together and make a perfectly accurate 4?”


“I don’t care about Toby,” Jed snapped. “Whatever he’s thinking or whatever he imagines he knows, it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to call us on it.”


“He’s called you on other personal stuff before,” Leo pointed out. “He called you on the thing with your Dad and that was pretty close to home too. He called you on your MS.”


“Well, it’d take more nerve than I suspect even Toby possesses to come knocking on the door of the Oval Office and say; ‘Mr. President, are you and Leo having sex?’” Jed pointed out, throwing the pan with the butter onto the stove with a resounding crash. Leo winced and Jed paused, and got control of his temper. “Leo, I took care of it,” he said softly. “There’s no need for you to worry about it. I’m completely in contact – it’s just you who isn’t. I’ll be taking calls every morning and I can be reached day or night if anything big happens. It’s a simple matter to get Marine One to take me back to DC if anything should blow up. I’m often away from the Oval Office and the country doesn’t grind to a halt – there’s no reason it will this time. I might be important but I’m not *that* important – and neither, my friend, are you.” He sat down across the table from Leo and looked at him with a wry smile. “Can’t you at least try and enjoy this week?” He asked softly. “It’s been years since we got to spend any time alone like this.”


Leo looked at him and Jed thought he detected a softening of his friend’s features.


“Jed.” Leo leaned forward conspiratorially.


“Mmm?” he replied, leaning forward himself so their foreheads were almost touching.


“Your butter’s burning.”


“Damnit!” Jed got up and raced over to the stove where the butter was sizzling explosively in the pan. He threw the pan and its contents into the sink, burning his thumb in the process, and then hopped around the kitchen for a couple of seconds with his thumb in his mouth. When he looked at Leo he found his friend grinning at him and he decided that it had been worth the minor burn to have coaxed the first thing approaching a proper smile out of Leo that he had seen in weeks – maybe even months. He grinned back, in between some determined cursing, and Leo laughed out loud – and it was only then that Jed relaxed, and thought that maybe, just maybe, this vacation might actually work out okay after all.


Jed rescued the dinner and proceeded to cook a delicious meal for them both, which Leo enjoyed to the extent of actually managing to finish it all – he’d been picking at his food since he got ill and at the worst of his illness had been unable to keep anything down at all, so Jed judged that his meal must have appealed to Leo’s jaded palate. Afterwards Jed surveyed the empty plates with a satisfied smile and gestured with his head towards the lounge.


“Why don’t you go and rest in the other room. I’ll do the clearing away,” he said. Leo gave him a look of surprise and then broke into a wry smile. “What?” Jed demanded, getting up and taking both their plates over to the sink.


“Nothing – it’s just…when did you – or I – last wash up anything?” Leo asked with a chuckle. “I live in a hotel and you don’t even have to ring for room service – everything is done for you.”


“It *is* kind of weird,” Jed acknowledged, filling the sink with water. “But never let it be said that the leader of the free world doesn’t mind getting his hands dir…uh, clean,” he grinned as he plunged his hands into the water. Leo crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the fridge, a ridiculously amused smirk on his face, and then proceeded to watch Jed washing up as if it were a spectator sport. Jed endured it for the duration of the two plates he was washing and then snapped.


“Oh for god’s sake – you’re enjoying this far too much. And if you’re not going to sit down and rest then I don’t think it’ll tax you too much to dry up.” And so saying, he grabbed a cloth from the counter and flung it at his friend, hitting him square on the chest. Leo burst out laughing, but readily picked up a plate and began drying.


There was something oddly domesticated about the scenario Jed thought to himself as he washed the saucepans he had used during cooking. The strangest thing of all was that this had never been part of his relationship with Leo – cosy domestication hadn’t featured in their lives. They’d never lived together in the relationship sense of the word; their relationship had been conducted, over the years, in a series of hotel rooms and the occasional weekend spent at the house of one or other of them when their respective wives had been away. He found himself wondering whether their relationship could have withstood this kind of humdrum, every day kind of existence, and had no answer to that question – but he did know that as a once in a blue moon vacation it was very nice.


“You’re humming,” Leo said in an accusing tone of voice.


“I am!” Jed agreed happily. “I’m feeling…content.” He turned and grinned at Leo. “There, see, Leo – we should take vacations together more often. We shouldn’t wait until you’re at death’s door in order to grab a few days’ away together.”


“I wasn’t at death’s door,” Leo objected. “I just had the flu.”


“Did you know that the great influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than were killed in the whole of the First World War?” Jed said, revelling in being able to brandish one of the pieces of trivia that had been lying around uselessly in his brain waiting for this very moment. “So, it isn’t *just* the flu, Leo. It can be serious. And fatal. No, my friend, you had a lucky escape from the clutches of the grim reaper.”


“Yeah. Whatever.” Leo rolled his eyes. “Tell me, will your tendency to over-dramatise get better or worse whilst on vacation? I’m thinking worse, because normally we’re able to distract you with international crises and problems with Congress but out here, in the middle of nowhere, you’ll have to make up your own dramas.” He glanced out of the window at the dark, alien world outside mournfully. “Why is it so *dark* in the country?” He lamented.


“Leo!” Jed protested. “My god – you don’t have any idea how all that light pollution in the city has been destroying your view of this galaxy we live in, do you? Come with me.” He withdrew his hands from the soapy water, dried them, and grabbed Leo by the arm, drawing him towards the kitchen door. He opened it, led Leo outside, marched him around the porch to get the best view, and then pointed up. “See, Leo!” He said in an awe-struck voice. Leo glanced up at the night sky, and Jed could see the look of grudging appreciation in his eyes as he did so. The stars covered the blackness of the sky like a sparkling, twinkling net, far brighter than anything that would have been visible in Washington. “Sometimes,” Jed breathed softly, “I come out here, wrap myself up in a blanket, and just sit, gazing at the sky. The stars seem so *close* and I feel…kind of connected to them, to the planet…and I’m overwhelmed by my sheer unimportance in the grand scheme of things.”


Leo turned his head and gave Jed a little grin. “It is very beautiful, Jed – I can see why you find it so humbling,” he murmured and then he gave a little shiver.


“I’m sorry – you’re not well and it’s cold out here.” Jed began walking back inside and it wasn’t until he got there that it occurred to him that Leo’s shiver might have had more to do with the awesome beauty of the night sky and the sentiments it evoked than the chill in the air.


“So…what do we do now?” Leo asked when they returned to the house, glancing around a little helplessly. Jed grinned.


“Now, we chill out, Leo. My god it’s been far too long since you took a vacation, old friend.”


Leo gave a little chuckle and shook his head wryly. “To be honest, old friend, I’m not sure I was ever that good at vacations,” he sighed. “What *do* we do? Talk? Read?”


“Sure.” Jed nodded. “Or – how about we play a game?”


“Hmm.” Leo looked dubious. “What kind of game? Not chess – my eyes hurt at the thought.”


“Okay, not chess. How about Scrabble? Or Trivial Pursuit?”


“Oh no – you are not getting me on that one, Jed,” Leo snorted. “I might be ill but I’m not completely addled.”


“What did I say?” Jed spread his arms out and adopted a look of innocence.


“Trivial Pursuit – if a bunch of people had sat around a table with the specific aim of inventing *the* perfect game for Jed Bartlet, they’d have come up with Trivial Pursuit,” Leo told him. “As you well know. You might be able to inveigle unsuspecting members of your senior staff or innocent visitors who don’t *know* you that well into playing with you, but I have no intention of putting myself through what I’m sure would be a ritual humiliation. Are there *any* questions in the damn game that you don’t know the answers to?”


“Possibly.” Jed shrugged. “One or two anyway.” He gave a broad grin. “Okay, Leo, Scrabble it is then – although I could point out that as you’re the crossword buff Scrabble is to you what Trivial Pursuit is to me but I’ll let that pass.”


They played Scrabble for a couple of hours, amid many accusations of making up words and a minor squabble over a triple word score. Jed won, but Leo reminded him that was simply because he wasn’t in good health, and he demanded a rematch when he was well. It had actually been a very tight match and Jed felt himself relaxing even more and just enjoying Leo’s company – there were few people who could give him a good run for his money at Scrabble, and Leo, even when ill, was definitely one of them which was exhilarating to Jed – although Leo was starting to look a little worn out by the events of the evening.


“Want to go to bed?” Jed offered as he cleared away the game.


“No…I spent most of the afternoon sleeping,” Leo replied.


“Why don’t we watch some TV then?” Jed suggested, turning on the TV and sitting down on the sofa. Leo sat down beside him with a sigh.


“I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down and watched anything other than the news,” he commented with a little grin. “Jenny used to watch these drama shows – not the soaps, but other stuff, better stuff – at least I think it was better – all about people with complicated professional lives and suppressed workplace attraction…hmm, maybe they *were* soaps after all,” he pondered.


Jed shook his head. “Nah – in the soaps the workplace attraction isn’t suppressed. They have sex all over the place, invariably get caught, get divorced every week and marry someone else just as unnaturally perfect looking the week after.”


“How do you know?” Leo raised an eyebrow.


“I saw one once when I was ill a few years back. I figure they’re all the same.” Jed waved his hand around airily.


“I miss those shows,” Leo said suddenly. “Jenny’s shows. I miss them. I used to make fun of ’em all the time when she was watching them but you know…I really do think I miss them.”


“Yeah.” Jed shook his head. “Leo, we never really talked that much about your divorce. I was thinking…y’know – and don’t tell anyone this because my reputation as Commander in Chief is at stake – but Abbey sometimes cuts out these recipes from magazines that she thinks I’ll enjoy and stuffs them all into a folder for me to look at when I have the time. It’s the stupid little stuff like that that I’d miss if she wasn’t in my life. Stuff like Jenny’s shows…after all those years of living with someone you kind of get to know the shorthand.”


“Yeah.” Leo nodded.


“Leo – you and I – we have shorthand. Maybe it’s a different kind, but we have that,” Jed said softly. “I know what you’re thinking sometimes before you say it. I know how you’re feeling just by the way you move your head. I don’t think I could have done this job without you sitting in that office next door.”


“Yeah. You could.” Leo shrugged.


“Well, I’m glad I don’t have to.” Jed gave his friend a little smile.


“Yeah.” Leo returned it. “Jed, we don’t have to talk about my divorce, do we? I mean, it was a couple of years ago now and…”


“I don’t think we ever talked enough about the personal stuff. We should have,” Jed said. “We just assumed everything was going to carry on the way it has for 40 years but things changed. I became President for god’s sake! You got divorced! These past 4 years have been a rollercoaster ride, Leo. Nothing that went before could ever have prepared us for it. I guess we were just lucky that the foundations of our admittedly unconventional relationship were so strong – and we just got on with it and coped.”


“Yeah.” Leo nodded. “I guess…but can we do this another time?” He was looking pale again, and Jed knew he was more tired than he was letting on. His blue eyes had sunk into his skin and there were weary lines etched around them.


“Okay.” Jed nodded. “Sure. Hey let me see if I can find one of Jenny’s shows…” He flicked the remote control at the TV a few times until he found something that looked like the kind of thing Leo had been talking about…only to find, when he glanced back at his friend, that Leo had fallen asleep. Jed grinned, and, reaching out, put an arm around Leo’s shoulders and pulled him close. Leo came, mumbling something as he did so, and settled happily in the crook of Jed’s arm, his head on Jed’s shoulder. This wasn’t something they ever did either, Jed thought to himself, which was a shame, because he was really enjoying it. His lips brushed Leo’s hair and he gazed, absently, at the TV. Leo so rarely allowed himself to be vulnerable – he was always the one taking care of everyone else, in that low key, capable way he had. It felt good being able to do the taking care for a change.


Leo woke an hour later, and blinked, looking around blearily.


“Hey.” Jed grinned at him.


“I fell asleep?” Leo asked in a bemused tone of voice.


“Yeah. You’re still pretty ill, Leo. It’ll take awhile before you can get through the day without taking a nap or two along the way. Why don’t I help you up to bed?”


“I can do it.” Leo sat forward, started to get up, and then sat back down again. “Jed, the room is moving,” he muttered.


“Yeah,” Jed chuckled. “So let me help you and get used to the idea, Leo. You’re ill. You can lean on me – that’s what I’m here for.” Leo turned to look at him for a second, and then he gave a sigh, and, Jed thought, he looked as if he was finally accepting the inevitability of needing that help.


“Okay,” he said at last. Jed got up and helped his friend to stand and then escorted the gently swaying Leo up to his bedroom.


“Guess it’s just been a long day,” Leo grumbled, although Jed could see that he was shaken by how feeble he was right now. It was as if he had decided in his head that he was better and he couldn’t understand why his body didn’t seem to agree.


“You just get tired easily. Abbey said it would be like this,” Jed told him, fishing out Leo’s pyjamas and handing them to him.


“Yeah, but I thought she was just saying that to scare me into taking it easy,” Leo growled. “I didn’t know she meant it. I don’t need your help getting undressed, thank you!” He batted Jed’s hands away.


“Okay.” Jed stood back and watched, a resigned expression on his face, as Leo made a determined effort to unbutton his shirt; his friend’s hands had a tendency to shake when he was under stress – a legacy, Jed supposed, of Leo’s long battle with alcoholism and the valium he had been prescribed to help him deal with the pain of the back injury he’d sustained in Vietnam. Now Leo was so tired he wasn’t able to control the shaking and his hands let him down. Finally, he gave up the struggle to undo his shirt with a growl of frustration.


“Oh for god’s sake – all right,” he muttered, putting his hands back on the bed and glaring at Jed.


“Hey.” Jed knelt down in front of his friend and undid Leo’s shirt. “Why can’t you just enjoy being taken care, Leo? It won’t be for long. Why can’t you give in gracefully? I always do.”


Leo snorted. “Hmm, well that must be some new definition of ‘giving in gracefully’ of which I’m not aware,” he muttered.


“Leo – I’ve bawled in your arms like a kid and not so long ago either,” Jed reminded him. “It’s *you* so I don’t feel embarrassed about it. You shouldn’t either. It’s just me.”


“You don’t mind being…” Leo paused and struggled for the words. “I don’t know…you don’t mind being the object of someone else’s focus, Jed – the centre of attention. I…I’m uncomfortable with it.”


“Yeah. I know.” Jed shook his head, chuckling, as he helped Leo remove his shirt and the tee shirt underneath it. “I guess that you’ll just have to tolerate it for now though.” He helped Leo out of the rest of his clothes and into his pyjamas and then Leo slid into bed.


“Don’t tell me you’re going to tuck me in as well,” Leo sighed.


“Yup. Hey, don’t knock it,” Jed grinned. “Not everyone gets to enjoy the personal nursemaid services of the President of the United States.”


“I’ll consider myself honoured,” Leo commented grumpily. Jed grinned and bent over to deposit a kiss on Leo’s forehead. Leo grunted by way of goodnight and Jed couldn’t resist stroking his friend’s hair softly.


“You do know that when I get better that has to stop don’t you?” Leo told him. “I’m only putting up with it because I’m too tired to stop you.”


“I know – and I’m taking advantage of you shamelessly,” Jed grinned. “Hell, you’ve been stroking my hair for 40 years, Leo – it’s about time I got my own back. Payback is such a bitch isn’t it?”


He wasn’t sure he heard Leo’s reply correctly, which was a good thing as he suspected it hadn’t been very polite.


Jed emerged from his study the following day after taking presidential phone calls for most of the morning, to find Leo sitting in the lounge with a blanket over his legs, flicking through a book.


“Reading anything good?” Jed plunked himself down beside his friend and gazed at him.


“It depends on your definition of ‘good’.” Leo held up the book. “I appear to be thumbing my way through a selection of ancient Greek plays. It was either that or a whole series of books about the adventures of a teenage nurse.” He gestured with his head in the direction of the bookcase.


“Ah!” Jed grinned. “Ellie and I are the big readers in the family, so that would explain the, uh, somewhat specialised range of book titles.”


“Ellie’s 27,” Leo pointed out reproachfully.


“I know – but these are left over from when she was growing up. I made her read the classics as well of course but she’d sneak in those godawful nurse books when I wasn’t looking.” Jed grinned. “I’m not surprised you opted for the Greek tragedies.”


“I didn’t,” Leo said. “I read an entire nurse novel in one sitting this morning and then moved on to this for a change of pace. That nurse was amazingly resourceful. I had no idea nurses were required to winch down mountainsides and rescue dogs stuck on ledges. The ancient Greek people seem to be mainly obsessed with killing their loved ones so they’re easier to empathise with.” He smiled sweetly at Jed.


“You’re feeling better. I can tell,” Jed said, gazing at his friend with an assessing look.


“I am. I do have to admit to feeling very relaxed,” Leo replied in a slightly stunned tone of voice. “I had no idea this whole leisure thing could be so good. I may have to resign as your Chief of Staff just so I can have the time to read through the other 176 novels in the nurse series.”


“Okay, okay.” Jed shook his head. “I’m sure we can find you *some* other kind of reading material around the place.”


“How about a newspaper?” Leo said, a note of longing in his voice. “Or maybe you could fill me in on what’s going on back at the West Wing? Is everything okay?”


“Everything’s fine.” Jed got up, and ruffled Leo’s hair casually as he passed him, ignoring Leo’s click of annoyance and enjoying the fact that he had Leo at his mercy and could muss up his hair with impunity right now.


“You’d tell me if it wasn’t, right?” Leo asked.


“Of course.” Jed nodded.


“You’re lying aren’t you?” Leo sighed.


“Yes I am.” Jed treated his friend to his most annoyingly smug smile. “Leo, the West Wing doesn’t fall apart when you’re not there. It doesn’t even fall apart when *I’m* not there.”


“Well it wouldn’t,” Leo snorted.


“I’ll ignore that,” Jed said with a wave of his hand. “Leo, it’s a sunny day – do you feel up to a walk?”


“Oh god yes. Anything to get away from plucky nurses and patricidal Greek kings,” Leo said in heartfelt tones.



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