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These Crackpots and These Women (Or, Five Things That May or May Not Have Happened This Inauguration Day)

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Barack and Michelle Obama: At Last

Michelle is sure any minute now, she's going to wake up.

She pinched herself as soon as she awoke this morning, and again at the quick breakfast they had with the girls before leaving for St. John's. Barack had seen her out of the corner of his eye, and winked at her - yeah, babe, it's real, he laughs as they leave Blair House for the last time. It's ridiculous; he's the one getting sworn in today, and she's the one who can't believe it.

The girls have started pestering the Secret Service to let them have a sleepover tonight, while she and Barack go to all ten inaugural balls. Barack had said yes - like he always does - but she'd raised an eyebrow and told them it was their new details they had to convince. Sasha's charmed her agent, but Malia's is unhappy about the number of girls (she'd capped it at 15) they want to have. Barack is joking with Reggie, needling him about keeping up with them at all the balls they're going to be attending, and dammit, there she goes again. It still hurts, which means it's still real.

She steps out of the church - they're on their way to the White House (oh god, the White House), for the swearing-in ceremony, and suddenly, everything's happening at a million miles an hour. In the limo, out of the limo, filing onto the platform, listening to the prayer, standing up to hold the Bible as her husband - her husband - takes the oath of office, sitting to listen to Barack's speech, walking with the Bushes for the transfer of power, standing with the Bidens to see Executive One off, being whisked up to the Lincoln Bedroom to get ready for the luncheon, dressing, in the limo, out of the limo, and toasting at the Capitol Hill luncheon.

God, she wishes she could enjoy this - it's a good time, her and Barack, Joe and Jill, Nancy and Rahm, Axelrod and Valerie, Hoyer and Clyburn and the other House brass. Jill is telling a hysterical story about one of her students and Joe is charming Mona Sutphen and Rahm is pestering Axe and Valerie is poking fun at Hoyer's tie and Barack is all over the place, smiling and laughing and happy.

But she's back in the limo, then in the Lincoln, zipping up the white dress for the balls. Telling the girls to behave for the Secret Service and refusing to allow them any more people at the first official White House sleepover. Back in the goddamned limo again, dinner at the first ball, and then, it's time for the first dance.

This is insane - she feels like she hasn't caught a breath since she awoke this morning, and she's almost ready to tell Barack "ten balls? Are you out of your mind?", but the opening chords to the song he'd picked and wouldn't tell her about echo, and Beyonce takes the stage. Michelle steps into her husband's arms, and oh.

At last, my love has come along . . .

Barack is looking at her the way he always does - the way he looked at her at the altar in Chicago Baptist the day of their wedding, the way he smiled down at her the day each of their girls were born - and his fingers squeeze hers tightly. Pinching. Her eyes widen, and she smiles - this is happening. This is really, after two years of campaigning and wishing and hoping, happening to them.

She can breathe again. She's finally woken up.


Joe and Jill Biden: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Her husband is certifiable.

Oh, everyone thinks he's harmless - there goes Biden again, foot in mouth, or that wacky Biden, he's a strange one - but Jill would bet her doctorate that Joe's got more than one screw loose. Honestly, what nutcase wakes his wife up at 4 am to dance in their pajamas on the balcony of the Naval Observatory?

Her nutcase, apparently. He'd thrown a thick flannel robe and slippers at her, buttoned his coat over his pajamas, and dragged her out the glass doors to waltz in the pre-dawn light. She throws a sheepish look at the agent guarding the balcony, and she swears he's stifling giggles as he repositions himself to give them some privacy.

Joe pulls her close, sliding one hand around her left elbow and kissing the palm of her right. She smiles, wrinkling her nose at her goofball of a husband, and stepping backward as he pushes off. He's a charming, gorgeous man, but he's got two left feet and is fairly tone-deaf. He steps on her foot twice and turns her the wrong way a few times until he gives up and lets her lead, and it takes her a moment to realize what he's been humming.

Here I am baby, you got the future in your hands . . .

"Joe, really? Of all the songs you could have picked?"

He throws back his head and laughs, twirling her twice in a row just because he can. "You had your pick of the ones we're actually doing at the balls, dollface. I get this one."

"It's not a waltz."

"I don't want to hear it," he insists, almost backing her into the railing and looking slightly guilty about it. "I just need the practice."

"You need the- oh, Joe."

She's exhausted, nervous about the upcoming inauguration, and freezing her tail off on a balcony in the wee small hours of the morning because her husband wants to practice his dancing . . . and she's never loved him more. He's going to be amazing as Vice President; he's got charisma and drive and a good heart and a level head most of the time. But she gets him like this: awkward and uncertain and so excited he can't sleep.

She wouldn't trade him for the world.

Not even later, at the Commander-in-Chief Ball, where he steps on her foot during "Lady in Red" (which he'd insisted on, the rat bastard, after seeing her dress), "accidentally" spills a gin-and-tonic onto Mitch McConnell, and spends a little too much time with those three blonde Marines. She may occasionally want to beat him about the head and shoulders with her own purse, but it wouldn't be a party if he didn't do something dumb. He's Joe.

But she does wish he'd show a little sense once in a while. She's not going to be able to bail him out of a diplomatic faux-pas in China or rescue him from Ann Coulter if he decides to call her "that prissy piece of fundie tail" where reporters can hear him.

This is why she already has the White House Counsel on speed-dial.


Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule: Fly Me to the Moon

Some days, she could kill her husband. It's barely twenty minutes after the ceremony, and he's already screaming into his Blackberry at Tom.

They haven't even left the White House; Leah is wailing into her cell about how mortified she is to have pictures of her father making faces at the crowd plastered all over the Internet, Ilana has wandered over to Nancy and Paul and is surveying the crowd from Paul's shoulders while Nancy keeps the press at bay (there are days when Amy hates the Speaker of the House, and there are days when she could cheerfully kiss the woman - today is one of the latter), and Zach is pulling at her sleeve and saying he's freezing.

She taps Rahm on the shoulder, making their usual "can we go?" shorthand, and he holds up a hand, nodding, but still on the phone: " . . . fucking listen to me, Tommy! I don't give two fucks if everyone in Washington is hung over tomorrow. Not only are we fucking having Senior Staff at eleven, we're doing a meeting at Justice at eight-thirty. And anyone missing will fucking have hell to pay, do you hear me? I will fucking end them!"

Oh, come the hell on. She snatches the Blackberry out of his hands, and puts it to her ear. "Tom, it's Amy. Don't put any more calls through. It's Inauguration Day and you deserve the day off. He'll see you tomorrow."

She clicks it off with a satisfied huff, and ignores her currently-fuming husband (what the fuck, Amy? Do I interfere with your business calls?) to take Zach's hand and motion to Leah to finish up her conversation. Luckily, their daughter hasn't inherited Rahm's borderline-neurotic attachment to cell phones, and hangs up right away.

"Ilana!" Zach yells, turning to his sister. "We're going!"

Ilana hugs Nancy goodbye and waves to Sasha and Malia before skipping back. "Daddy, Daddy! Guess what guess what guess what?! Aunt Nancy told me that Sasha and Malia were having a sleepover tonight and I asked if I could come, and Mrs. Michelle said it was okay with her if it was okay with you and Mommy and if Leah comes too, so can we go?"

Leah shrieks - "omigod, we're gonna have a sleepover in the White House!" - and Amy bites her lip and looks at Rahm. He shrugs, then nods. The girls start shrieking, and they beeline for the car that's waiting to take them back to the hotel to pack.

Rahm grumbles about his Blackberry the entire ride to the Capitol, and whines about it all during the luncheon. She wants to chuck it at his head, the idiot, but one Emanuel making the tabloids is enough for today. At the Hometown Ball - the one all the staff, even those not from Chicago, were invited to - he's tucked away in a corner table, talking energy policy with Axe and Val and ignoring her.

Amy, being completely unburdened by her husband's aversion to socializing at formal events (thermonuclear war takes less effort than getting Rahm into black tie), ends up dancing with three senators, a bunch of DCCC members, and Jon Favreau, whom she's delighted to assist in winning a bet he's got going with Reggie to see who can dance with the most Cabinet spouses.

They've barely finished the song when a pair of familiar hands settles onto her shoulders.

"Fuck off, sunshine. Ask Hillary for this one - my wife is taken."

Jon takes off and she fixes her husband with a raised eyebrow. "Holy shit. I thought you'd forgotten my existence."

He snickers, looping his arms behind her waist and pulling her close. "In that dress? Please."

It is a pretty spectacular dress - tight, blue-and-silver, and floor-length, not to mention sleeveless - but he's still not forgiven, and he knows it. Luckily, he's picked a Sinatra song (one of her favorites) to dance to, and makes it up to her by singing softly into her ear.

In other words, I love you . . .


Nancy and Paul Pelosi: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

It shouldn't be possible, but she's more of a wreck today than she was two years ago, upon becoming Speaker.

Her husband laughs his head off at her in the car on the way to the ceremony - nobody's making you President, Nance. All you have to do is stand there and look gorgeous, which you always do - and she'd smack him, but he's right. She's being silly, the way her hands are shaking and she feels like she's got an entire beehive in her stomach. Nothing's going to go wrong.

But she can't help thinking that this is too good. Too much. That once everyone gathers for the oath of office and Barack puts his hand on the Lincoln Bible, something will happen. What, she can't say, but she's just got this hideous feeling that it's all going to come crashing down around them, this castle they've built.

"Hey," Paul says, reaching for her hand, folding his fingers around hers and pulling her to lean against his shoulder. "He did it. It's going to happen. Today is the day you finally stop having to fight tooth and nail for every single thing you want to do in Congress."

He's right. She's knows he's right. But tell that to her stomach and shaky hands.

Somehow, she gets through the ceremony. It might have something to do with the thousands upon thousands of people lining the parade route and gathering in front of the White House - not even she can worry in the face of such support. She'd thought she'd heard support the night Barack won the nomination at the DNC, or during his speech at Grant Park the night he was elected. They seem like a dull echo compared to the sheer waves of happiness and hope coming from the crowds.

She says goodbye to Paul when it's time for the Capitol Hill luncheon. Of course he's invited, but he says he hates the inevitable fights that come up when someone starts on his stock portfolio and various investments. It's also an official luncheon - first bill signing, and she really has to hand it to Rahm, his timing is impeccable - and Paul hates being the trophy husband. He's good-natured about it today, just kisses her and tells her that he'd better see her before the three balls they're attending tonight or he'll dump her for Beyonce.

The luncheon and signing go well, though Rahm's in a hideous mood, and she'd tell him to snap out of it except it's not really her job anymore. And she supposes Barack's a little busy right now being the newest President of the United States to smack his Chief of Staff upside the head.

"Brooding in a corner, Madame Speaker? Not like you," a bemused voice says from behind her.

Turning around, she comes face to face with President Obama - god, she's still going to think of him as "Barack" or "Senator", no matter how long he's President.

"Tell me you're taking out a hit on Roberts for the flub this morning," she says, leaning against the wall and sipping her coffee. "I'll cheer up."

He laughs, and fires back a parting shot before being dragged away for a photo-op. "Talk to your boy over there. That's his job now."

She supposes the cracks will stop, now that Rahm doesn't work for her any longer. "Pelosi's lap dog", "Speaker's pet", "Congressional attack dog", etc. He'll be "Obama's attack dog", and that's a good thing, because he needs one. She can tell her detractors to go fuck themselves sideways if she wants; Barack cannot, and probably would not.

Presidents don't hold grudges - that's what Congress and Senior Staff are for.

The rest of the luncheon goes as scheduled, and she returns home to change for the ball. She's just putting the finishing touches on her outfit - violet ball gown, the silver pearls, and a clip for her hair - when Paul walks in, fussing with his bow tie and humming (lately I've not slept a wink since this half-pint invitation put me on the brink). Thirty years in the business sector, and the man's still stumped by a piece of silk.

He sits down opposite her - she'll never reach standing up, and that's one thing she doesn't mind about Rahm or Xavier or Paul Jr., she doesn't need a stepladder to fix their ties - and she begins creasing and folding it properly. Makes sure to tuck the ends underneath the knot and ignores the way he squirms and winces as she tugs. It takes hardly any time at all, and she brushes invisible lint from the shoulders of his jacket, smiling over at him.

Tugging at a strand of her hair, he kisses her warmly in thanks. "Perfect. As are you, sweetheart. I told you that dress was the one."

Perfect? Their marriage is the closest thing she can think of to it. And tonight, she gets to forget about the 435 congressmen and women whom she's been refereeing for the past two years, and focus on celebrating one more step in making the country's union more perfect.


Hillary and Bill Clinton: A Little Less Conversation

The Secret Service and red dresses have ruined inaugural balls for Hillary.

She almost doesn't remember a time when there weren't Secret Service agents watching her and Bill's every move. It started back in '92, and it's continued ever since. If she weren't allowed to change her codename and sneak out by herself every once in a while, she'd have gone completely insane. There are times she's grateful for the protection - and this morning, with a million people lining the National Mall, was one of those times - and there are times like now, where she could cheerfully shoot the next guy-in-a-suit-and-earpiece-carrying-a-Sig-Sauer.

They're new. That's the only reason she hasn't gone completely ballistic when they keep interrupting her and Bill. The Commander-in-Chief Ball is supposed to be her-and-Bill time, and with all the assorted security, not to mention the hundreds of military personnel in the room, you'd think they'd back off a little. But no, they're crowding the table she's sitting at, impeding her attempts to have a conversation with Condi, and only back off when she threatens to call DOD on them.

Condi laughs. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I mean, I dealt with Secret Service for most of my trips, and had a detail here in DC, but nothing like what you've been putting up with."

"Eighteen years," she grits out. "I think I'd convinced myself while I was campaigning that I'd just dissolve the Secret Service. And when I lost, I figured that'd be the end of it."

"Sorry the job crashed your party. I just assumed you'd be used to it."

"You never get used to four to ten armed ex-linebackers following you and your family everywhere. I told Barack he's going to have to be careful with the girls and their detail. Chelsea just couldn't deal with the pressure, and she was older than Sasha and Malia."

Condi offers conciliatory nods and murmurs, then gets called away by a friend, leaving Hillary alone and surrounded by six agents. She can't so much as get a glass of punch without her detail crowding her, and Bill's disappeared after the first cute intern in a red cocktail dress he'd seen. Her husband, as she well knows, is a sucker for brunettes in short dresses - and red is his favorite color. She'd even worn a red dress tonight in a blatant ploy to keep a modicum of his attention, but it doesn't look like it's happening.

Bill is Bill. She's known this for years - doesn't expect him to change, but the slightest bit of courtesy at a public function might be nice. And while she's been called weak and spineless and a cold fish, she forgives him a lot of it. It's the way their marriage works - he is allowed certain indiscretions, she is allowed hers, and they work as a team in everything they do.

She catches a flash of red chased by a suit jacket, and turns around to snap at her husband, only to find the new Vice President apologizing profusely to his plainly-irritated wife. Hmm, looked like she had a kindred spirit in Jill, who was rolling her eyes at her husband and pointing to a cute little marine attempting to dissolve into the wallpaper from embarrassment.

She catches up with Jill in the ladies' room, where she's ducked into to cool down and Hillary's ducked into to escape her detail. Elvis is booming over the speakers - a little more action, please - and Hillary has to raise her voice to be heard.

"You'd think they'd learn," she offers, sitting down next to Jill on one of the unoccupied benches.

Jill startles, then smiles. "You would, wouldn't you?"

She hasn't seen Jill since their joint appearance at that town hall meeting in Harlem. Jill had been running late, ducking into the green room in jeans and an oversized baseball jersey, carrying her lesson plans under one arm. She's always been impressed by Jill - not many people can teach community college English while their husband is a high-profile Senator and raise three kids.

"At least you got a few dances out of Joe," Hillary says, "I haven't seen Bill since we got here."

"If there weren't cameras around, believe me, Joe would be ensconced in a corner with some friends, some pretty girls, and his feet on the table."

"He should exchange tips with Bill - perhaps a primer on how not to get caught."

Jill laughs in surprise. "You just-"

"Admitted in public that my husband's an idiot for an attractive woman? I've had time to get used to it."

"You're more gracious than I would be. I'd call him a cheating bastard loudly and repeatedly, but then again, I'm not you. And Joe's a bit of a harmless lech, but he's my harmless lech."

Gracious? Hillary's not sure about that, but her mood's certainly looking up. There are no Secret Service around, Bill seems to be staying mostly out of trouble, and she's got the new Second Lady to trade husband-wrangling tips with.

Hillary thinks she might enjoy this night after all.