On the surface the idea is presented that people want their political leaders to be saintly, wise, beyond reproach and of a moral compass that would lead them to martyrdom over self-preservation. Underneath, in the shadows of the gossip corners, the truth is that people want their politicians to come bearing scandal, nothing too vulgar or violent, certainly nothing beyond forgiveness, in fact ones who follow up their embarrassments with redemption are usually the most favoured. Scandals provide entertainment, they take away from the grimness of war and the fear of terrorism and they make people feel better about their own shortcomings. If a president can sin they why should the average man feel guilty for it. Scandals make a story. Mistakes can add character to people but they can also tear them down.
Trying to present yourself as a humble human and yet avoid ruination by committing mistakes you are seen to be too intelligent for is a fine line for the politician to walk. This was something many members of the current administration knew all too well. They were still navigating through the murky waters trying to avoid revealing the scandals that would sink their careers whilst seeking the vulnerabilities they might expose to earn points with the people as they tried to present themselves as relatable by being only human.
Chief of Staff Leo McGarry had already mastered the tightrope of one such scandal. His past as an alcoholic and pill addict during his term as United States Secretary of Labor had come tumbling out thanks to Congressman Lillienfield, an aggressive Republican who had illegally come by knowledge of Leo's addictions and tried to expose it. In the end, Leo had gone to the public and sought forgiveness. He had been fortunate, just as his staff saw the man he was now and didn't get stuck in the man he was, so too did the public and they respected him for the bravery in his confession.
Leo had weathered the storm and survived but now another storm had come and he wasn't quite sure if he could survive the baggage of infamy it brought with it.
Leo's twinkling azure eyes dropped down to his watch. It was just after three in the afternoon, a terribly awkward time for him to be where he was. Better to have gotten the business over with at the start of the day or have it waiting for him at the conclusion of it. He supposed that was the chaotic nature of his companion, to disturb him in the middle of the day when he should be halfway through half a dozen daily tasks and beginning half a dozen more.
Leo lowered his hand and looked carefully at his companion as he wondered at the overall timing of her arrival. The news of his separation from Jenny was old now and even the public confession of his dark dependencies was starting to lose its shine for more heinous tales in the media.
Cadence 'Cady' McGarry was looking ahead to the large building they were walking towards. She strode forward with an excited bounce to each step and the twitch of a grin to her mouth. Twenty-three years old, ever since the revelation of her appearance in her mother's womb, she had made being unexpected her signature move. She danced in and out of her family's lives on a whim, chasing ever changing ambitions whilst attempting to avoid the malignant corners her life often seemed to turn into.
Mallory, Leo's eldest, had his wisdom, his healthy ability to debate and a spark of her mother's forgotten feistiness. Cadence had inherited the rest of her mother's feistiness coupled with her father's bluntness and worse, she had inherited his weakness for giving into personal demons.
“It's really white,” Cadence commented chirpily.
“And the sky is blue and the grass is green. What an articulate daughter I have!” Leo retorted sardonically as he tried and failed to hide his annoyance. He tried to ignore the smirks of some of the Secret Service agents as he glanced over at his youngest. “Cady could you try and show something other than awe for the colour? You didn't come here for the décor.”
Leo was still trying to figure out why Cadence had come. Her mother Jenny and her sister Mallory hadn't been able to offer insight over it. Not that Leo had gotten much time to question them. It was in fact Mallory who had warned him just under twenty-four hours ago of Cadence's expected arrival. Apparently the only message had been 'tell dad I'm dropping by'.
What made Leo feel guilty was how he had never pried too much into Cadence's absence, he hadn't seen her in months and had kept little contact with her since the inauguration. The worst of it was that the distance hadn't been accidental.
With Bartlet's succession coming without a majority of the popular vote, it had been considered a reign to treat carefully, one crack and it could all shatter. One careless whisper of scandal amongst the staff and they could be fed to the public as weak, corrupt or incompetent if not all three.
Back then Leo couldn't afford for the press to suggest that if he couldn't maintain his own family he could hardly run the staff of the White House. Sure he didn't need such a suggestion now either but at least the Bartlet Administration had found its feet now and had a stronger standing with the public.
Cadence was meant to be the one who followed in her father's footsteps, showing a keen interest in history and politics as a young teenager but then the rebellion had begun.
Leo knew he had to shoulder his share of the blame for Cadence's fiery years, his addictions had gotten the better of him and he had dropped the ball in parenting. As the eldest Mallory had been fortunate, she had been gone from the family home before Leo's troubled dependencies had headed into unmanageable. It wasn't that he had been like some addicts- abusive or violent- Leo didn't have it in him but he had been ignorant and neglectful, hell he didn't need alcohol or pills for those flaws to dominate him. That was why Jenny had left him after all.
For her part, Cadence hadn't lashed out like most teenagers. There had been no drugs, underage drinking or parties. There had just been a smear campaign in school essays, a damnation of the political system, scorn for a false democracy and a sneer for the president Leo had served under as Secretary of Labor. Leo hadn't much liked that president either but that wasn't the point. It wasn't the usual rebellion but it was still damaging. The streak of self-harm Cadence had started that he had taken far too long to discover had been much worse.
Cadence's admission to therapy had been a bigger cover up than her father's voluntary entry to the Sierra-Tucson Rehab Institute. She owed her sister for that one. When Leo had dropped the ball and Jenny had been too busy trying to persuade him to seek help it had been Mallory who had discovered Cadence with the telltale ribbons of red down her arms.
Leo had thought they had gotten past it all when Cadence had hit adulthood and plunged straight into the dirty world of politics. She had taken up history and politics at university but wasn't satisfied to confine her studies to the classroom. She had sought field work and fallen in with the John Hoynes' campaign. It was yet another aspect of her life Leo had taken too long to discover given she had gone under her mother's maiden name of O'Brien. Leo had realised then that Cadence's rebellion was still in full throttle, she had just evolved her methods.
It was only after luring Josh Lyman to the Bartlet side that Leo had discovered his daughter's political field studies. At first he had tried fatherly praise and pride but she had been immune. When it had become clear that they needed Hoynes on their side for the south Leo had been ready to make another offer to his daughter but it had been too late.
The theme of Cadence's college thesis had come to light- a damning work about why the Electoral College was an antiquated and undemocratic system. It was an embarrassment. The Bartlet team couldn't have it and neither could Hoynes.
The papers, who had outed her as the Secretary of Labor's daughter, had enjoyed the story for a brief while but it had dried up quickly, downplayed as nothing more than the ambitious essay of a college student. Cadence had returned to university but the humiliation had been too much and she had dealt another blow to her father by dropping out.
With the Bartlet campaign gaining steam Leo had relied on Jenny and Mallory to keep an eye on his wayward daughter. They had been good at keeping him informed about her travels and studies but he knew they had kept things from him too, not wanting to worry him with a potential scandal.
“Well up close it is,” Cady murmured.
Her voice pulled Leo back to the present. He figured he had to be grateful that she was here now and he had a chance to reconnect with her.
“Imagine the White House being white,” Leo scorned. “This isn't your first visit to it.” He knew she was goading him, it was like a twitch with her, something she just couldn't seem to help.
“No but I don't remember the white being so bright, they must touch it up a lot,” Cadence continued to tease.
They walked quickly, entering the building and bypassing security personnel who had fast become familiar to Leo. A couple of the secret service agents gave Cadence a curious look but nothing more. They had all been briefed on her arrival despite the short notice of it.
Cadence glanced about with interest as they headed for the West Wing.
“Are you sure you want me heading this way?” she queried. “I mean I just wanted to call with you dad,” she added.
“The president made it clear he wanted to see you when you arrived,” Leo retorted, “and I think you should meet the team properly.”
Cadence glanced over at him with eyes full of the wild greys and blues of storm clouds at sea. She raised her tawny eyebrows slightly at this and tried to seek out the meaning in her father's words. The art of warfare was in all the McGarrys, they were all practised in a variety of techniques that meant they could spite people without them ever knowing it, play games to cause irritation as Leo so frequently did with Sam since he'd set eyes on Mal, or offer clever wordplay in arguments as Mal did both at work and at her father's work but as the oldest Leo was the master of it and even his own daughter couldn't always tell if he was being serious or sardonic.
Right now Cadence struggled to tell if Leo was purposely trying to invoke memories of her disastrous first encounter with the key players in the Bartlet Administration or if he was being sincere and trying to move past it and offer her a chance to start anew with them.
Leo spied the flare of nostrils and the wrinkle at the brow that let him know his daughter was frustrated and he guessed at her unvoiced thoughts.
“It was two years ago Cady,” Leo addressed her quietly, “and it's all been forgotten, we've had other things to think about. I want you to meet them properly, as my team and my friends, and you as my daughter, not some student doing work placement with a senator,” he added with a look of displeasure.
Cadence halted and her hands rose up as she folded her arms, mimicking the abrasive stance of her sister.
“Because your position is secure now?” she quipped bitingly. “So my uneducated opinions can't harm you.”
Leo stopped walking and looked at his daughter in exasperation and sighed. “Cady I'm not trying to argue, I've done enough of that with your mother and sister lately and I'm tired. Never mind all the people at work I have to quarrel with every day.”
“You brought it up,” Cadence pointed out.
Leo nodded. “And I'm beginning to regret that,” he confessed.
Leo gestured ahead to a corridor busy with staff. “Come on, I haven't seen you in ages, come see the president and we'll meet everyone and then have dinner and you can berate me like your sister. Then I can hear how you're doing, which is all I really want to do,” he added sincerely with a small, hopeful smile.
“You have time for that?” she quipped sardonically. The sting was gone from her voice and she was regarding him with a spark of humour in her eyes.
Leo glanced at his watch again. “No, probably not but we'll try it anyway.”
Cadence nodded. “Alright and I'm not going to berate you. I'm not taking sides, mom says it's gotten better over the past few months and Mal told me she's already apologised to you for getting angry. I told her things were complex, that she couldn't get angry until she'd done your job herself.”
Leo's smile warmed with gratitude. “Thanks Cady, nice to know someone in this family is trying to understand.”
Cadence smiled back. “You were expecting more hostility.”
“Well you do tend to give it,” Leo reminded her.
Cadence turned her gaze ahead and halted suddenly as she fixed a blank expression to her face.
Leo, puzzled, stopped beside her and glanced ahead as well. He resisted a frown at the sight of the Vice President leading his small entourage of staff. He moved much like a peacock strutting around with its harem, showing off its pride and yet barely concealing its unease of a predator coming along to present a threat.
Vice President John Hoynes should have felt right at home in the White House grounds given his status but he was no fool. There was an obvious hostility between him and the president, one which had spread down to the president's team making Hoynes' a wary target for them.
Despite the complicated relationship between John and Jed, Leo still respected the V.P. For all his defence mechanisms, Leo had found the vulnerability in John, the weakness for drink Leo had himself and one which John chose to share with him and offer him help for. As work colleagues they might be at odds but on a personal level there was a likeability between them, it wasn't friendship but it was something that would last.
Leo wondered as the V.P approached them if he even remembered the former student who had used his campaign for work experience before vanishing in the disgrace of an ill-written thesis. Leo doubted it. Although Josh had told him that Cadence certainly did more for John than simply file and pour the coffee there had been numerous figures on the Hoynes' campaign and then even more when he had joined up with Jed's campaign. What was one student who yes had potential but hadn't even delivered much in the end?
John halted as he spied the Chief of Staff. His cobalt eyes darted briefly to the young woman beside Leo.
“Good afternoon Mr Vice President,” Leo greeted cheerfully as he stepped forward, trying to make the distance between them less imposing.
John gave a single nod. “Good afternoon Leo,” he retorted politely.
“Mr Vice President may I introduce my daughter to you and your staff,” Leo said as he gestured to Cadence briskly with his left hand. “This is Cadence McGarry, my youngest.”
Cadence fixed a polite but meaningless smile to her face. Her ritual rebirth had begun.
“Cady, the one who compared the lofty white walls of the White House to a Roman palace, I remember,” John retorted with a faint smile.
Leo couldn't hide the surprise from his blue stare as he heard John address his daughter in such a familiar manner.
“We call our president commander-in-chief,” John spoke, addressing them clearly as he glanced back at his team to make sure they listened too. “The Romans too spoke of command, their unelected emperor Tiberius stated 'To have command is to have all the power you will ever need. To have all the power you will ever need, is to have the world in the palm of your hand.'”
Cadence smiled up at her father savagely. “And you said my essay was forgotten,” she remarked with false cheer. “Mr Vice President, I'm flattered that you can quote me,” she added as she turned her hostile smile on the deputy leader.
“And you said you didn't remember how white the walls were but that you remember,” Leo grumbled. He was looking at John with a hint of annoyance in his blue stare knowing that the vice president had mocked his daughter. Worse, he had de-evolved her, as if she couldn't have improved since her youth.
John gave a small grin before turning back to his team. “Cady is your predecessor,” he informed them, “she started out on work experience within my campaign team. Articulate and very opinionated as I recall.” He turned his attention back to the young woman and fixed a keen blue-grey gaze upon her. “What are you doing with yourself now?” he pried.
“Father-daughter day at work,” she retorted, still cheerful in tone although her manner was slightly dismissive.
There were a few brief chuckles from the small cluster of waiting men behind John. Just like him they had the look of power. They were tall, confident in their stance, cocky eyed and clad in the armour of politicians- a designer business suit. Despite there being a mingling of sameness about them in their dark attires and neat combed hairstyles, John stood out as the leader of the pack.
John was that little bit more assured than his followers and had an aggression to his cerulean stare, ready to devour any who threatened him. It was a strength he needed here having too many enemies to fall to.
“She's kidding,” Leo said swiftly.
Leo could feel the anger of the defensive parent rising in him and knew he had to quash it. “We're meeting the president and we have a tight time schedule. Mr Vice President it was good to see you and we won't delay you any longer,” Leo made it clear in his tone that he was making a dismissal instead of a farewell.
Leo raised a hand to his daughter's shoulder and pushed her forward gently.
“Bye Leo,” John retorted politely. “Bye Cady.” His piercing stare was still on her, as if he might decipher the answer to his question about her work from just a look.
“Bye...Mr Vice President,” Cadence retorted awkwardly, stumbling over the words as she did. She flashed a quick smile. “I got too used to saying senator,” she explained swiftly, “I guess it's still hard to believe the change,” she added pointedly.
Leo looked away to hide his smile. Sure he liked John but that didn't mean he didn't like seeing him humbled on the odd occasion and John certainly deserved it after mocking Cadence the way he had.
Cadence walked on, poised, head raised and shoulders back, showing almost the same elegance as her mother and sister.
John noticed the betraying scurry of her feet as his eyes drifted down to her legs. Her black court shoes moved almost in a blur as she moved in a power walk, just a pace away from a jog, barely constrained by her slim black skirt. He smiled again, amused that she was nervous despite her insult and felt a need to flee from it before he could respond.
Leo and Cadence headed for the Oval Office. They paused to greet Mrs. Landingham, the president's personal secretary.
The shrewd woman gave Cadence the subtle, barely exposed look she gave every newcomer to the office before offering her a disarming smile.
“Good afternoon Leo,” she greeted warmly, “and this is your youngest yes, Miss McGarry, good afternoon.”
Cadence, who had been staring round the pale gold and peach room with awe, returned her attention to the secretary and smiled back. “That's me, good afternoon.”
“Cadence this is Mrs. Landingham, Mrs. Landingham this is Cadence,” Leo introduced as he gestured from one to the other. “Is he free Mrs. Landingham?”
“Now Leo you know that's a silly question,” the woman scolded him in a dry tone, “the president is never truly free, is he?” She glanced from behind her large glasses to Cadence to reveal a sparkle of humour in her blue gaze.
Cadence's smile widened as she felt a little of her nerves slip away.
“Mrs. Landingham he is expecting us,” Leo retorted as he avoided rising to the debate.
The woman nodded. “You can go in, he's alone,” she permitted.
Leo smiled expectantly at his daughter. “Ready?”
She nodded, telling herself that the title might be president but the man was Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet, a man she had known before all this as a family friend.
When Leo opened the heavy wooden door and granted her entry to the Oval Office her sense of familiarity vanished.
Cadence was awestruck as she entered the room and looked to the man who was simultaneously two men in one- Jed Bartlet and Mr. President. She swallowed hard and felt her throat turn dry. A man she had disgraced almost as much as her father though neither men had come to know the truth of that. She hoped they never would but now as she crossed the threshold and entered a room strangely both hostile and friendly to her, she feared it was only a matter of time before they did.