This is the third of four stories in the O, Canada series.
Spoilers: DIW, AISTTC, WC
Disclaimer: Not mine. Wish they were.
O, Canada: Right to Privacy
A West Wing Story
The young man lifted his head and stared blurry-eyed at the figure before him. At first, he wondered what on earth Leo McGarry was doing at his house this time of night. Then, his heart kicked the inside of his chest when he realized that if Leo had come to his house, whatever information he had must be critical. It must be a stupendous crisis or tragedy. Oh, God. Please don’t let it be the President.
"Sir?" he managed, and tried to slip from his bed without falling. Something didn’t work right. What was Leo doing in his bedroom, anyway? Who had let him in? Where was Deena?
"What are you doing here?"
"Huh?" Wasn’t that his line? He blinked once, then again, until his eyes managed to focus, although not without some difficulty. Things began to make a lot more sense. He wasn’t at home at all. Instead of resting comfortably in his own bed, he was slumped over his desk outside the Oval Office. He noted ruefully that a little puddle of drool had formed on the polished wooden surface.
Leo stepped closer. "I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ The party’s over. Why didn’t you go home?"
"Umm." The party? Oh yes. The First Lady’s birthday party. Was that last night? Was it still night? Balancing the fuzz of sleep with the sharp pain of consciousness, Charlie straightened his stiff back and pushed up to stand. He was a bit surprised that he managed it.
"Charlie," Leo said again, "it’s three in the morning. You should be home."
Three in the morning? "Yeah." A glance at the rest of his desk reminded him why he wasn’t home. "Deena’s visiting her grandparents for a few days," he explained, using the time to try to clear his brain. "I took the opportunity to use some of the President’s references for a paper I had to write. It’s due day after tomorrow, and, well…I haven’t had much time." He placed his hands against the muscles on both sides of his lower spine and arched backwards, listening with satisfaction to the popping of vertebrae that resulted.
"Okay." Leo stared at him thoughtfully for a second or two, then Charlie took note of the gleam that suddenly appeared in the Chief of Staff’s eye and became instantly suspicious that he was about to wish he had gone home long ago.
"Since you’re here, I need to you to do something for me."
"Okay." The word was drawn out a little longer than normal.
"I need the President."
"No. You know where he is. Last time he was where he is, I was the one who had to interrupt." Now his brain was painfully alert. "It’s someone else’s opportunity to ruin his…family time."
He thought Leo almost smiled, but the Chief of Staff remained persistent. "He expects it. He’s the President. There are always interruptions. He won’t be mad."
Charlie stared at his boss’s friend and adviser. Leo was either deranged or evil; he wasn’t sure which. "Won’t be mad? Last time this happened, the First Lady had been away for a week. One hour after she got back, Ms. McNally made me go get him over an explosion near the embassy in Congo. It turned out to be an accident, which only made it worse for me."
"He didn’t blame you."
"No? Then why did I get a forty-five minute lecture on the Right to Privacy Act, which, by the way, doesn’t really have anything to do with interrupting a man while he’s…well…anyway, it wasn’t really relevant."
"I need the President. Security matter."
"He doesn’t believe in the phrase, ‘Don’t kill the messenger.’ The messenger is just the first in a long line of people he wants to kill. I’ll simply start the carnage."
"I need the President."
"There was also that time outside the Oval, when I was simply delivering the message that the First Lady couldn’t…that she had to leave early and wouldn’t… He threatened to send me to the Yukon!"
"I need the President, Charlie. Get him for me."
"Damn." He didn’t dare ask why Leo just didn’t get him himself. He knew exactly why.
Wiping his face with the back of a rumpled sleeve, the President’s bodyman gritted his teeth. In his mind, Tennyson vied with Star Trek for an appropriate quote: All in the valley of death rode the six hundred… or the one… Leo seemed perfectly content to wait for him there.
For a moment, as he trudged slowly toward the residence, he really felt more sorry for the President than he did for himself. He knew how rare it was for Jed Bartlet to find private moments with his wife, and he knew that the First Lady also looked forward to their time alone. He had witnessed more than his share of blatantly sexual teasing between them, and had also been privy to moments of frustration when planned rendezvous collapsed under the weight of duty and responsibility. But then he envisioned what the President’s reaction would be when he was forced to stop his…activity…and answer the knocks on his bedroom door. Okay, he was back to feeling sorry for himself.
Truthfully, he had never seen a relationship like the President and Mrs. Bartlet had. In three years he had realized that they were rather amazing people: both attractive, both ambitious, both funny, both aware of their power but careful not to abuse it, both very smart. When they were together, their conversation seemed to soar above the normal plane most couples communicate on. They discussed theology and philosophy, yet they could also relate on baser levels, deftly holding lively conversations on just about any topic.
Not that their relationship was always rosy. On the contrary, it was sometimes tumultuous, wild, and downright loud. Charlie grimaced at the memory of some of the words that had snapped between them. Their fights were passionate, but so was everything else. He had heard the President called "jackass" as many times as he had heard him called "pumpkin." And he was amazed at the nicknames that Jed Bartlet had for his wife.
In fact, Charlie heard much more than he ever wanted to hear. The President seemed to be comfortable enough with him to say just about anything in front of him. He thought about that morning several weeks ago when the President and First Lady returned from church. As Charlie was enjoying their stimulating debate about the homily on Ephesians 5:21, the President made a comment that indicated if Mrs. Bartlet wanted to be washed with water, he was up for it. Whoa. Charlie wasn’t sure if the pun was intended or not. Fortunately, the First Lady had moved on and not paid any attention to him at all. Of course, she was certainly not completely innocent, herself.
His most vivid memory occurred over a year ago. Charlie still felt the blood rush to his cheeks as he recalled the First Lady strolling up to him outside the Oval Office and reeling off a series of statistics on the President’s health three months after Rosslyn. She ended, smugly, with the casual comment, "So we can have sex now." After almost dropping his notepad, he had managed, to his own surprise, to make a witty comment, which she seemed to appreciate. The rumors and innuendos that had been sprouting on the grapevine about the First Couple’s active sex life had just reached full bloom.
Later that same day, even though he found the incident amusing, Charlie had totally sympathized with the devastation evident on the President’s face and body when he had to inform him that Mrs. Bartlet had already left for her speech and there would be no "special meeting of the government," at least not at that time. Bartlet had looked so pained that Charlie almost did not enjoy the moment. Not that he wanted the President to be frustrated, not at all. But it was funny, even though his boss didn’t seem to hold the same opinion. He could tell the next day, however, that sometime that evening or the next morning, a very productive meeting had taken place. He got a reprieve from his assignment to the Yukon.
Recently, the President had taken to singing, sometimes to someone, sometimes to no one in particular. And he wasn’t bad, Charlie noted, except that he frequently disregarded the lyricists’ creations and made up his own words. He was particularly fond of songs that spoke of love or making love. Maybe it was just subconscious, but he consistently chose them.
And tonight, Charlie could tell something was up. He wasn’t sure exactly what, although he had heard enough to have an idea, but he had watched the President watch her. He had listened while his boss struggled over just the right toast to make, had heard the simple answer to his question about whether he loved his wife: "Very deeply." After the toast and the singing, they had disappeared for a while, but Charlie knew where they were, knew that Howard was standing guard, knew that they needed that time alone, that it was precious to them. He knew when they made their hasty good nights where they were headed, and now he dreaded his role in marring their evening – almost as much as he dreaded the probable pain the President was going to inflict on his body when he –
Charlie realized with a start that he was almost to the doors of the bedroom. Please, he thought, please just be asleep. That would be bad enough. He had borne his share of waking the President, no mean feat. But there were certainly worse fates, and as he neared the doors, the proximity of the secret service agents told him he was about to meet one. They had moved away from the door that led directly into the bedroom. Not a good sign.
"Hi, guys," he greeted, hopefully in a casual manner.
They nodded curtly, but otherwise did not comment.
"Um, you think the President is…busy?"
The guard on the right broke his stern expression only for a moment. Charlie saw a distinct smirk flash across his face before the mask reasserted itself. The agent to the left stared straight ahead, but the eyes definitely twinkled. Oh hell.
Mustering what little courage he could find, he approached the carved door and prepared to knock, tightening his eyes instantly when he heard what he had expected, but been afraid to hear. Definite rhythmic squeaks from the poster bed created a backdrop for the muted voices. The words were indiscernible, but their tones were unmistakable. He could hear the President groan softly and Abbey’s voice answer with a drawn out gasp.
Oh man, why didn’t I just go home?
The beat increased steadily. Now the voices followed in volume, and Charlie tried to decide whether he should step back, go ahead and knock, or wait until they finished, then knock. Depended on how long-- Oh man! The First Lady’s voice was now way too easy to hear, along with what she was encouraging the President to do. Charlie wiped the sweat from his upper lip as her cries of pleasure rose above all other sounds. Obviously, the President was doing his job well. Again, Charlie fought for a decision. Before he was forced to make a choice, however, the dilemma was solved for him. He heard the President gasp out his wife’s name; then the bumping slowed and eventually stopped, and their voices grew quiet, gentle.
Okay. Thank you. He’d just wait a minute to give them a chance to…catch their breaths.
Counting mentally to 180, he braced himself and stepped forward, lightly rapping his knuckles on the door. No sounds came from the room. Damn. He knocked again, more forcefully. Still only silence. Desperate that he not be the one to open the door, he knocked once more, calling for the President at the same time. This time, he easily heard the fierce curse from inside and tried not to grimace too much as the door was jerked open.
"What the hell do you want?"
President Josiah Bartlet stood in the doorway, dressed only in loose pajama bottoms, chest flushed and damp, hair falling into eyes that flashed fury at whoever had been idiotic enough to interrupt him. Charlie would have been only mildly surprised to watch him burst into flames at that very moment. Despite himself, the aide flinched, avoiding a backwards step only through concentrated effort. Catching an inadvertent glimpse of the First Lady in the background, snuggling hastily under the bed covers, Charlie cleared his throat and attempted to fulfill his sacrificial mission. I only regret that I have but one life to lose…
Okay. Breathe. Be calm. Deliver the message and retreat with all due haste.
"Mister President?" Somehow his voice managed not to break too much.
Bartlet just stared at him.
"Sir, Mister McGarry needs you."
"There’s a…situation, and Mister McGarry sent me to get you."
By now, those fiery eyes had completely burned twin holes right through the middle of Charlie’s forehead.
"I heard you." The words were spoken with such unexpected softness that Charlie didn’t realize for a second or two that a response had been given. Finally, the President sighed and lifted his chin so that his eyes looked at the ceiling above them. "Where is he?"
Thank you, God. Thank you. "Oval."
Now, he looked back at Charlie and rubbed at his eyes. "What time is it?"
"It’s 3:23 a.m., Mister President." Charlie answered with more confidence, now relatively certain of his survival.
Some of the indignation had dropped away and Bartlet let his shoulders slump in resignation. "Holy Mother," he muttered. "Okay. Tell Leo I’ll be there in…" He glanced back quickly -- ruefully, Charlie thought -- at the figure in his bed. "…ten minutes."
The younger man heard a muffled response from within the chamber, and, although he could not distinguish the words, he easily comprehended the sentiment. He didn’t blame the First Lady, either. It seemed that she and her husband were being interrupted with irritating frequency lately. At least they got to finish this time. Or he hoped so. He really did.
He turned away from the scene of intrusion, relief flooding him that his orders had been carried out with minimal loss of life and limb. Clear sky stretched in front of him in the form of the hallway. Just about there. One more step--
Oh God. He had almost made it. Just another few seconds and he would have been free. "Sir?" Turning, he saw that the President had apparently poked his head back out the door as the question occurred to him.
"What the hell are you still doing here?"
Should he go into the whole complicated story, or just say he stayed late at the party? Which would get him out of there faster? As he opened his mouth, however, the President frowned at him and stopped his attempt to explain.
"I don’t want to see you before ten a.m. tomorrow. Do you understand?"
Now, Charlie smiled, finally, and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, Mister President." Their eyes met for a moment and Charlie felt again the swell of affection he had for Jed Bartlet, a man who came as close to being a father to him as he had ever really known.
"I’ll tell Mister McGarry you’ll be there in…twenty minutes." He grinned, first at the surprise that crossed the President’s face, then at the sheepish gratitude he saw there. Bartlet acknowledged their small conspiracy with a nod before he eased the door shut, and Charlie hoped that Leo’s situation could wait a little longer. Hurrying past the secret service guards, he tried to put as much distance between himself and the door before he was an auditory witness to any other activities in the Presidential bedroom that night.
When he strolled back into the office area outside the Oval, Charlie met Leo, who greeted him rather anxiously.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Sure," Charlie assured him. "He’s on his way. Well, in about twenty minutes, anyway."
"I tried, sir, but that’s the best I could do." Better to let the President take the wrap on that one. He hadn’t seemed to mind the ten-minute gift, after all.
Leo sighed. "Okay. That’ll be okay." He stared a little longer at Charlie, as if searching for battle scars and seemed almost disappointed when he found no evidence of physical injury. Finally, he gave up and ordered Charlie home. "And don’t come back before ten tomorrow."
Grinning, Charlie nodded as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. "Good night, Mister McGarry," he said, passing Leo, the lateness of the evening beginning to weigh down on his brain again.
"Night, Charlie. Oh, Charlie?"
"The President. He knows it’s not your fault."
"Right." As he slipped through the White House gates toward his car, Charlie still figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bone up on the Right to Privacy Act, just to defend himself.