PresidentMalloy: An hour out of Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the recycled air in his office on Air Force One the only sound, and President Ben Malloy felt his patience fraying away. He'd kept it in check at the base, kept his calm and pleasant facade in place throughout the inspection and a photo op. But now that he was back on the aircraft, nearly snarling at Audrey to keep the press as far away from him as possible, Malloy was giving in to a distinctly bad mood. Most of this month had been spent in travel; he felt he should get back to the West Wing. He was exhausted, though he could barely even admit that to himself. And that made him irritated.
The President stationed himself by one of the windows in the Air Force One office, staring out at the clouds below him, out at an evening sky. On their way to Oregon. Hours on this plane. Damnit.
DCOS Billy: Audrey had come to Billy once they were in the air, to tell him that he had been voted the designated senior staff member to go and essentially kiss up to the President and put him in a better mood. He dreaded this, fearing his job, and perhaps his life, if he wasn't careful.
Not that Malloy had that kind of temper, but you just don't mess with the guy with the armed guards, no matter who you are.
Billy made his approach to the Air Force One office. When he reached the door, he stood facing it for a good minute before he even had the nerve to raise his fist to knock. Tap, tap. He squinted and made a face, awaiting a response.
PresidentMalloy: Malloy closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Reminded himself to hold his temper in check. Still, his voice was rough with fatigue and ill-humor as he raised it to say, simply, "What?"
DCOS Billy: Billy, hearing the response, swallowed. "Sir? It's Billy. I, uh, just wanted to see how you were doing."
PresidentMalloy: It was on the tip of his tongue to tell him to go away. Of course, he had to realize that his instant personality change -- of almost Jekyll and Hyde proportions -- would be noticed by the staff. As soon as it had been safe to drop the public face, he'd stormed through the plane and shut himself up in the quarters he'd been seeing far too much of lately.
Malloy sighed without turning around. "Fine. Get in here."
DCOS Billy: Billy jumped a little at the order, but quickly opened the door, stepped inside, and closed it behind him. He tried to smile, but the look on the President's face made him sheepish.
"Sir? If you're not to busy right now, I just wanted to, you know, see how you're doing." He punctuated this with a small smile. "Do you want anything? Coffee? Tea? Valium?"
PresidentMalloy: A joke that would normally produce at least a smirk on Malloy's face now was received without a change of facial expression. But he couldn't help but appreciate Billy's concern, and the ice in his pale blue eyes melted a little. The President faced Billy, leaned against the wall of the plane, shoving his hands into his pockets. "So," he drew out, not answering the question. "Guess you drew the short straw this time. Who sent you to deal with me?"
DCOS Billy: Billy was nervous and began to ramble. "Well, Audrey did -- I mean, sir, we were all a little concerned when you locked yourself in here. I thought I'd come and see what I could do to help. Is there something I could do? Do you...do you want to talk about anything?"
PresidentMalloy: The President raised his unscarred eyebrow, watching his Deputy Chief of Staff ramble. Finally, Malloy rubbed his forehead, and decided to let the younger man off the hook. "Billy, I'm fine." But he couldn't muster the energy to summon up a convincing smile; it looked more like a grimace.
DCOS Billy: Billy saw right away Malloy's attempt to end the conversation to be left to brood. Billy was having none of it. "Sir, with all due respect, you are quite clearly in quite a bad mood about something, and I'm going to have to ask you to talk about it. Let's clear it up and maybe you can rest a little before we get back."
PresidentMalloy: There were several ways he could deal with this. In the end, Malloy chose the path of least resistance. He tilted his head back against the wall of the plane, hands back in his pockets, and closed his eyes. "I could order you out of here," he said mildly, though he obviously had no intention of doing so. A brief glimmer of his normal humor. Frankly, Billy's kind persistence, though harsh on his patience, was probably just the thing to get him through the rest of this trip.
DCOS Billy: Billy grinned at Malloy's comment. "Yeah, but, sir, once again, with all due respect, I'd have to tell you to shove it -- in kinder words."
PresidentMalloy: "Mmm..." Malloy managed a smirk before it faded off. "If you ever think of a kinder way to put that, let me know," he said, before opening his eyes and regarding Billy thoughtfully. The dark circles under the President's eyes were pronounced; non-stop travel had taken far much more out of the man than any of his all-nighters ever did.
DCOS Billy: Billy's smirk turned into a smile. "I, uh, I'll work on that." He paused, looking more serious. "What's been troubling you?"
PresidentMalloy: He hesitated for only a moment. In many ways, even a year in office hadn't changed the fact that the President kept his emotions to himself, even to his Senior Staff at times. Finally, with another sigh, he gestured Billy to one of the chairs in the mobile office, and took one himself. "I don't know, exactly. I think I've just had enough of this non-stop cross-country travel for now." After a brief pause, he continued, "Not that I have any problem talking with the American people, nor do I object to any of the speeches I've been giving but..." He rubbed his shoulder self-consciously, cracked a half-hearted joke, "But I could stand to spend more time on solid ground."
DCOS Billy: Billy nodded knowingly as he left his spot, leaning against the door and took the seat that he was offered. He looked up at Malloy. "I know. I thought this would get to you. We should try to fit a break into the schedule for you; it's not fair that you have to run around like this. We can send people out to some of these places; you don't need to make all these appearances now. We'll get you home and you can take a break."
PresidentMalloy: Torn between feeling grateful and feeling like he was somehow shirking his duty, Malloy didn't say anything for a long moment. For once, an impassive face wasn't masking his emotions. It was bad enough he'd have to pull out a calm cheerfulness during tomorrow's speech; he didn't necessarily like acting out false emotions, but it came with the territory. And he was surprisingly adept at hiding what he was really thinking. This evening, however, he was too tired to really do anything but agree with Billy.
Finally, the President took a deep breath, inclined his head at the Deputy Chief of Staff, acquiescing. "As you say, Billy."
DCOS Billy: Billy knew the President didn't like to step back from what he felt were his duties, however, Billy could tell that sometimes it was just too much. "Sir, no one ever seems to remember that you're a man; you're human. You're booked like mad without any consideration for your well-being. No one's going to hate you if you have to cancel a speech. Except, maybe Kate and Mark. But you're in charge, and I think it's time, sir, that you start considering your own humanity yourself. I know you don't like to, but you won't last 8 years without it."
PresidentMalloy: The President himself barely ever remembered he was human. He drove himself harder than anyone else ever could. The barest of smirks touched on his lips; he was thinking that Billy and other members of his staff were beginning to sound an awful lot like Evelyn when she wanted him to take it easy.
He didn't like to talk about his own humanity, so he deflected that part of Billy's words to focus on the end. Malloy leaned back in his chair, elbows on the armrests, hands steepled before him. "You sound very certain that this is a two-term presidency, Mr. Archer," he said, amused despite his fatigue and the irritations of the week he was content to bury over for the present.
DCOS Billy: Billy quickly caught on to the President's strategy in the conversation. "You just listen to what I said, Mr. President, and I know this will be a two-term presidency."
PresidentMalloy: He smiled slightly, acknowledging the words. President Malloy folded his arms, stretched his legs out in front of him, and regarded Billy in thoughtful silence. On the one hand, it was gratifying to know the younger man had this much faith in him -- as well as in himself and the rest of the Senior Staff. But right now, given his current weary aversion to travel, he didn't want to think about the re-election campaign and the time spent on the road.
There was a slight change in cabin pressure as the pilot adjusted their course. It was after this that Malloy finally spoke, "After the State of the Union, we'll have to resume some sort of travel. We didn't do as much last year as we'd meant to. We'll just have to... spread it out, that's all."
DCOS Billy: Billy nodded, letting a lighter expression cross his stern face. "Exactly. We won't do anything you're not up to. We'll pace it."
PresidentMalloy: There was a brief moment where Malloy wanted to snap that he'd be up to just about anything as long as it didn't mean being stuck on an airplane more days than not, but he swallowed it back. Reminded himself that Billy was right. And that as much as he detested talk of his own limitations, he was human. But still, it grated on his nerves again. A brief dark shadow passed over his eyes, to be lifted after only a second. There was no reason to get so irritated; it was the time in this godforsaken airplane.
He sighed lightly, nodded. "Besides, we haven't been out of the lower forty-eight all month; we aren't even taking into account the fact we'll probably have more international travel ahead."
DCOS Billy: "Sir, you know what? Don't worry about it right now. I'll see what I can do about slowing things down a bit for a while. That okay? Because you need some down time, literally. Don't get yourself worked up."
PresidentMalloy: A piercing look from Malloy's pale eyes zeroed in on Billy's face. After a moment, he shrugged, reached up to rub his forehead again. "All right, Billy. We'll revisit this in a few days." He forced his shoulders to relax. The workaholic President knew there was very little chance of his getting any sleep that night, but after he spent the next day in Oregon and got back to the District, he'd attempt to rest.
DCOS Billy: Billy saw that the conversation was over. He was still a little nervous about Malloy's mood, so he decided not to push any more buttons. "Sir, with your permission, I'll be going now. Get some rest, if you can. I'll see what I can do for now, and we'll talk more later."
PresidentMalloy: He nodded. "Go on ahead." A brief grin, trying to assure Billy with humor, he added, "And don't forget to listen to your own advice, son. You and the rest of the gang need to rest some, too. Eating and sleeping should take just a drop of priority over anything else tonight, all right?"
DCOS Billy: Billy smiled as he stood. "I don't need sleep, sir. I'm not actually human." His grin widened. He turned, back before leaving. "You sure you don't need anything before I go?"
PresidentMalloy: Malloy rejected all of the sarcastic responses that came to mind about Billy disparaging his own humanity, merely shook his head. "No, thanks anyway."
DCOS Billy: "All right then, sir. I'll see you when we get back."
PresidentMalloy: He nodded. "Okay." Malloy stretched sore muscles experimentally, shut his eyes for a moment. His voice was soft when he spoke again, when Billy was at the door. "Oh, and Billy... thank you."
DCOS Billy: Billy took one last look at his boss as he slipped out the door. "Any time, sir. Any time."