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Jumping the Desk

Chapter Text

It was a Wednesday. Toby couldn’t honestly say in which week, in March sometime. He just remembers it was the kind of day where senior staff meetings seemed to drag on endlessly, as sleety gray and boring and homogenous as the grayish rain sheeting down outside the slightly oblong but not quite oval set windowed doors surrounding them all from two of out three sides, the only bright spot in the monotony Sam’s surreptitiously doodled image of a distinctly Leo-esque gargoyle, passed hurriedly around the circle between passing Very Top Secret documents back and forth.

The doodle reached the President right around the time the agents changed shift outside the doors, the umbrellas bobbing like striped ducks above the edges of the window panes.

Toby has always admired Jed Bartlet’s ability to keep a poker face in any scenario, outside of actual poker. Still, he’s never quite admired it more than in those final moments, before a cracking sound breaks through the monotony of the Spring storm, seeming to split the very center of the earth with its force.

Toby will retell what happens next enough times in the following days, months, and indeed years that he eventually forgets how many times he’s retold it entirely, but there is one thing he never tells in any of those innumerable versions. One detail he never includes.

He never tells anyone about the sketch, that damn doodle of Sam’s that was impromptly painted reddish brown with its creators lifeblood mere moments after it came into being.

That damn doodle which, in one of the greatest ironies Toby has ever seen before or since, probably will ever see really, caused the President of the United States of America to bend his head from its faux position of attentive listening that fooled everyone but the man he used it to try to fool. That damn doodle that saved the President’s life, right along with its idiot of a creator.

Toby never tells anyone about that doodle.

Doesn’t even think about it again for a good few decades, until they finally put the stubbornnest man he’s ever met in the ground, and Abbey Bartlet reaches an aging hand down to the lid of the coffin, leaving behind a brittle, worn sketch on plain note paper, somehow still as colourful as the day it was drawn.

It sits there innocuously as ever, as Toby blinks at it’s final resting place, right over the place where, through polished wood and time, a heart once beat.

A heart Toby finds himself realizing in a ridiculously late eleventh hour, was perhaps the largest and warmest the world has ever known.
Toby never talks about the sketch. None of them do.

He’s not sure what they could have possibly said in any case. How do you even begin to articulate the absurdity of the thing, of something like that, that a doodle of a gargoyle saved the President of the United States of America from the first presidential assassination attempt of the 21st century?

Toby hasn’t the foggiest idea. But he will always suspect that the only person who could have put semi-articulate words to the entire absurdity would be the person who drew the doodle in the first place.

00

On March 17, in the second year of President Bartlet’s first term in office, a rather hapless, hopelessly incompetent sniper, who apparently had no previous access to a weather forecast, whose motive was as murky beforehand as it was at his trial, set up an improbable sniper’s roost in a tree a hundred meters out from the securest two-thirds-glass-walled room in the world. His technology was substandard, as rusty as the west leaves stained into the sidewalk, yet he somehow managed to avoid the perimeter guards, and infiltrate the Whitehouse with a duck hunting blind of all blessed things.

The secret service spots him in less than two minutes, but everyone underestimates the duck blind, tattered and fluttery and big, big enough to hide a state-of-the-art rifle with a scope strong enough to slice through the slate like rain like putty, strong enough to render a weather report the height of irrelevancy, the kind of rifle that should have sliced through the President of the United State’s brain like putty as well, splattering the oval office with the red and white human paint of the epicentral figurehead of the red, white, and blue.

And it would have worked, the most obvious sniper ever in the history of the world would have succeeded, would have shot the President dead in a staff meeting on a rainy Wednesday in March, when nobody would ever be suspected of plotting an assassination, except perhaps out of sheer boredom.

It would have worked, stupidity trumping over all precautionary reasoning, if it wasn’t for two equally, stupidly absurd facts.

A sketch of a gargoyle, and the previously unknown ability of the White House’s deputy speech writer to somehow move faster than a speeding armour-piercing round.

In arguably the only tragic part of the entire nearly comical affair, that Superman-esque quality didn’t also extend to being invulnerable to bullets.

00

Josh remembers the blood.

He remembers other things, odd little things, like he was watching the whole thing through a distorted, warped lens.

He remembers a cry, louder and more shocked then it ever sounds in the movies. It takes him a while to remember he was the one who uttered it.

He remembers secret service agents pouring into the room like hyperactive ants, Ron Butterfield, vaulting one of the sofas in his haste to reach the President. He remembers the moment Ron stiffens, the moment CJ gasps and Leo bites out a gasped, “Oh my god!” The moment Toby doesn’t do anything at all, frozen in place like a balding statue in a rumpled suit.

Mostly though, he remembers the blood, gushing out through the President’s iron gripped fingers, flowing over the Bartlet’s wedding ring like a raging stream, flicked out in a spray like someone took a pint brush and just went wild, flecked in a bizarrely macabre mural tableau encompassing the leader of the free world, kneeling, head ducked, hair falling in his face, whipped by the wet, gusty wind whistling in through the shattered pane of glass.

Which somehow meant the bullet only nicked one doorframe and one sofa back before finding its home in the crumpled body slumped under the President’s protective crouch, the head lolling sideways, matted, dark strands of hair brushing against the reddened, once white eagle head on the carpet of the Oval office.

Abbey will later tell them all that that nicked sofa probably saved Sam’s life. Slowed the bullet down enough for it to not quite finish the job, in the end.

The President might have to eventually have the window reglazed, but he never bends on the sofa, which to Josh’s knowledge, remains just as frayed from that day till long after President Bartlet completes his second term.

Josh remembers thinking then that they looked almost religious, martyr-like, the President’s hunched form entwined with Sam’s flung out body, one arm still resting close enough to the Resolute desk’s hidden door to almost paint a picture of what miracle happened in that spot mere seconds before, a red halo framing the whole improbably, unforgettable sight.

Josh remembers thinking it’s a shame nobody’s around to take a photo of it. He never quite manages to wash away the guilt of that thought, shock or not.

He remembers other things too, remembers thinking that time really does slow down at times like this, remembers thinking he can almost taste blood in his mouth, remembers moving towards the door, where Mrs. Landingham is crouched with Charlie curled protectively over her, agents pouring in and around them all, remembers hands somehow free of blood, a gruff voice accompanying them, Toby’s he realizes vaguely, attempting to talk to him Remembers reflecting Leo must have been a good drill Sergeant with a voice like that, but that no one stands a chance with the President when he talks like that, not even Leo, so it must all be okay somehow now, because Sam would never dare disobey that voice.

He remembers the rushing of wheels, a gurney thudding past, rickety and somehow weighted down, more red staining everything, the wheels slick with it even out here, by Mrs. Landingham’s desk.

He remembers the flap of air from the President’s unbuttoned suit jacket, remembers wondering why the President was still holding onto Sam so tight if the paramedics were here, remembers Ron and Leo tripping over each other slightly as they converged to cover the President’s back as they all swept from the space, ushered out by a gust of rainy wind that left nothing it its wake but silence, and a frigid brace of air.

Mostly though, he just remembers the blood.

Chapter Text

The Waiting Room walls were painted a particularly nauseating shade of mint green. Leo imagines that someone once thought it looked chic and classy, right along with everything else about the décor of this small room straight out of a 1950s renovation catalogue.

Maybe it reminded someone of their mother’s favourite curtains. Or maybe, he acknowledges wryly, it’s just faded so much in the intervening few odd decades that it no longer resembles what it used to look like. Maybe it once looked quite nice.

Leo rolls his eyes at himself as the thought ticks by. Christ, I’m starting to sound like Margaret. The thought is rapidly followed up with a twinge of guilt, because it’s been nearly two hours since they all stumbled over each other to traipse into this quiet holding pen of despair and silence, and someone should have really gotten up and called someone by now. Not that they had anything to tell them in any case, he thought ruefully.

Still, Leo stirs himself up just enough from his wall décor considering slump in the world’s most uncomfortable chair, and that includes his stint in the service where utilitarian is the name of convenience in furnishing choices, and thinks about getting up to find a phone.

Thinks about it for all of two seconds before a cracked voice drifts from the Spock-esque statue pressed against his left side so tightly the intervening chair arm has probably carved matching semi-permanent grooves in both their sides, causing several heads to turn their way, the most movement anyone in the room has displayed since CJ rose unsteadily from her designated chair next to Josh to firmly stall Toby’s attempt to pass into the floor.

Neither of them has made it back to their chairs in the intervening twenty odd minutes, but they had been still enough Leo had forgotten they were standing up in the first place.

“You know, when I was a boy, my favourite flavor of ice-cream was Mint Chip. Have I ever told you that, Leo?” The President had not, and neither had Jed, but Leo had a feeling this was not the kind of comment that expected, nor required, any response except attentive silence.

“My nanny used to bribe me into going to bed on time by sneaking me a scoop on Sundays. The colour matches this room perfectly. It worked great though.” Inexplicably, a remarkable feat after the current equal parts confusing and disjointed turn of the conversation Leo admits, Jed starts chuckling.

Leo catches Josh’s mouth opening from the corner of his eye, managing to fix a glare in his deputy’s direction without moving his head, before flicking his eyes significantly towards the President. Or more particularly, his suit.

Jed’s voice breaks a bit further on his next words. “It worked great until my father caught me with a bit of it on my chin after church one day when I was about six. The colour he turned when he fired Mandy was rather original I’ve always thought. The colour I turned after that looked rather like this.” His hands raise up towards Leo, who just barely manages to swallow the bile threatening to spew past his clenched teeth.

“Kind of appropriate I guess.” Leo doesn’t even pause to try to understand that statement, the sudden banging of Josh throwing his chair against the wall echoing around the room, somehow louder than the riffle crack that started this entire macabre tableau.

A second crack follows as Josh bangs the door against the wall, the sound of Donna’s heels echoing as she follows him from the room.

Everyone left just looks kind of stunned, although if they looked more stunned than before, it’s only because a mild amount of emotion has found its way onto some of their faces at last.

Leo really needs to call Margaret. And probably Sam’s parents.

A stained hand brushes his hand pressed suit leg, the trembling more pronounced than Leo’s ever seen it, even when Jed’s having an attack.

“He just took a bullet for me Leo.” The voice has a strange, childlike quality. “My son just took a bullet for me. Sam just took a bullet for me.” The childlike quality is gone, the rage returning.

Leo swallows hard. “I know Jed.” Somehow, that is what finally elicits a gasp from Charlie, sitting blank faced at the end of the row of chairs, watching Ron watch the door, as if an explosion is about to blow through them, or at least a very angry Josh Lyman.

The President doesn’t so much as twitch from his newly frozen position, one hand held to his face, another balanced on Leo’s knee, streaks of tacky red goo spreading everywhere.

“Why would he do that?” The genuine level of mystification in that tone is what finally makes something inside Leo snap, something that’s been getting more and more brittle since he first learned of the existence of the esteemed Dr. Edward Bartlet.

He’ll have to put off calling Sam’s parents until after he is less tempted to invent a time travel device so he can go kill Jed’s.

 

00

Abigail Bartlet arrives in a whirl of expensive pink business jacket and once exquisitely coiffed hair, reminding Jed rather starkly of the avenging angels in the stain glass windows he’d gazed at as a boy. She also looks like a woman who just got in from a six-hour car ride across the entire State, because one of her brood needed her.

Jed suspects he’s seldom loved his wife more than he does in that single moment, watching her stride towards the governing body of the free world with determined steps, like a Medusa in two-inch heels. It’s probably a good thing the would-be presidential assassin is safely in custody her husband reflects. The man wouldn’t stand a chance.

Her first words are so predictable, Jed would be half tempted to mouth them along with her, if the situation was even a hair less dire. As it is, he barely manages to find the energy to start from his fixed position in the most uncomfortable chair ever invented by the makers of chairs.

“What’s his condition? Have you heard anything yet? Where was he hit?” Jed feels his face slowly split open, in something that might be a grin as much as it might be a grimace, each as wholly inappropriate for the moment as the other.

Jed Bartlet never really got the chance to hero worship anyone as a boy, too clever and too jaded by the ripe old age of six, too surrounded by inappropriate potential candidates. Live ones anyway.

But there will always be a part of him that will always believe in his beautiful, amazing, brilliant wife’s ability to do anything, to fix anything. To make it all better, to make it all okay.

It’s the part of him that reaches out his arms and clasps Abbey to him for just a moment, pressing his suddenly wet face to the side of her finely scented hair. Answering arms crush him close, again for just a moment. Before they break apart again. Before they face whatever reality is about to be thrown at them.

For that brief moment, for that brief embrace though, Jed closes his eyes, and allows himself to believe that everything is going to be okay.

 

00

“Josh!” Low, sensible heals make a dull clacking noise in the echoy hospital corridor, stalking Josh’s angry strides like the ghost of footprints on a sandy beach just before the tide washes in.

“Josh! Will you please wait for me!” Shoulders slump slightly, steps pause minutely, but the strides hold even more anger, even more rage.

The heels clack faster. “Josh! Would you slow down for a minute!” It’s the crack in her voice that stops him, the unexpectedly commanding note that enters around the edges, the desperation he’s never heard from that soft spoken mouth. Josh stutters to a halt at the same time the heels stop echoing, a muted sob following on the edges of that last reverberating clack.

Donna’s makeup is streaked, ugly smudges of black dripping far down her cheeks. Her eyes are as read as his own should be, Josh suspects. He feels his lip curl. Josh has never considered himself a cruel person, but he will admit that some days, he can get a little carried away.

Problem was, the person who was always there to reign him in was currently bleeding to death in some lonely corner of this goddamn dump. Josh feels his teeth grind with the effort of not turning that into a shout. Even right now, he knows Donna doesn’t deserve that.

“Josh.” The voice is soft again, pained and slightly cracked. “What are you so angry about?” Josh feels himself choke. He whips around, his eyes suddenly ablaze, his arm thrown up to stroke through his thinning hair.

“What am I angry about?!” Josh suddenly doesn’t care if he’s cruel or not. “What am I angry about? Well let’s see Donna, shall we. Some idiot who probably couldn’t have snuck a book out of a library in Nowhere, America just took a shot at the President of the United States of America with a goddamn sniper rifle, and managed to hit a couch. And my idiot of a best friend, who didn’t want to join the Squash team in college because it was too violent for him, decided to take it upon himself to vault the frikking Resolute desk to stop that bullet. What am I angry about? I’m angry that the fucking Secret Service weren’t doing their jobs, that we were all too bored and too stupid to notice anything was wrong, because if they were doing their jobs, if we were all doing our jobs, my best friend wouldn’t be fighting for his life somewhere! So forgive me if I’m a little bit angry Donna!”

Josh can feel his own breath coming out hot and dry in the arid environment that is most hospital corridors he’s ever been in. Donna’s face has crumpled completely, tears going from a steady drip to a gushing flow.

Josh turns around abruptly, his hand brushing over his mouth in frustration. He draws in a ragged breath, then another. Blue eyes stare back at him innocently from the inside of his irises, doleful and childlike. Josh squeezes his eyes shut hard enough to burn. The image doesn’t fade.

“We used to call him Bambi.” Donna’s voice is more than a little cracked, but her response is immediate, grasping on to the opening like a drowning man grasps a life raft. “What?”
“In college,” Josh turns around, his hands coming up to gesture aimlessly between them. “We called him Bambi, because he always looked so wide eyed and innocent, like a fawn caught in a truck’s headlights.” Josh finds himself chuckling somehow. He bites down on his lip. Hard.

He remembers the blood.

“Everyone dismissed him because of it, including me. Right up until he beat Joey Matthers in Debate 101. He wiped the floor with him, never raised his voice or lost his temper, stayed as sweet and polite as you please. Even offered to shake the guy’s hand afterwards.” Josh knows his voice sounds incredulous, even over a decade later.

“That was the first time I spoke to him, properly at least. I went up to him, saying something inane, and he just stands there with his mouth open, looking all of about twelve. He couldn’t believe that someone wanted to be friends with him.” Josh’s chuckle turns rapidly towards a sob. He draws a hand futilely towards his mouth, attempting to contain the ragged gasps emanating from it.

He doesn’t remember stumbling, but somehow he’s suddenly sliding down the wall, Donna following him, a comforting hand finding his shoulder. He doesn’t shrug it away this time.

Josh buries his head in his hands, skin tacky and wet under his tangled fingers. “I brought him here Donna.” Donna’s hand begins to rub patterns on his jacket’s shoulder. “Josh, Sam wanted to come, you know that-“ Josh doesn’t let her finish, his voice raising steadily.
“Yes! Because I talked him into it! I played him to get him to come, played on that lost little deer look that’s never quite left his eyes. I wanted him to come with me, wanted him to be part of this. I was stupid and selfish. I thought I was protecting him.”

Donna’s hand stills. Suddenly, his face is being turned to look to his left, Donna’s make-up smudged face gazing firmly at him, eyes tearful and haunted but also purposeful and oh so kind.
“Josh, listen to me. You wanted Sam to share this with you. You wanted him to be part of this. You care about him, so you wanted him to be part of your family. That’s not a bad thing Josh.”

Josh lets his lip slip out from between his clenched teeth. He can taste blood. “Sam always wanted a family.” He’s not sure where the words came from, or how they all had time to become remotely familial in the chaos of the last almost two years, but he knows-

Footsteps wrench them both out of the moment, sending Josh rocketing to his feet fast enough to nearly unbalance Donna’s sensibly low heels. Leo walks solemnly towards them, his face a mask of practiced frowning.

Josh feels his heart crawl out of his throat into his mouth. “What is it?” The words come out as a whisper somehow. Leo’s face doesn’t change, his steps coming to a halt.

Josh thinks maybe he didn’t hear him. “Leo! What’s happening? Is Sam okay?” Is he alive? Josh doesn’t let himself say it, his every muscle tensed as Leo opens his mouth to speak.

Sam had always been looking for a family, since the moment Josh first met him. Josh likes to think he helped finally give his best friend what he was looking for.

He just prays that that act of brotherly affection isn’t about to cost Sam his life.

Chapter Text

It was an utterly ordinary Wednesday, the midweek blasé more than thoroughly settled over everyone’s shoulders when the doodle was slipped onto Jed’s embossed folder. It has always baffled the President that they live in a country where the leader’s thought having specially embossed leather folders to rest their note pads on was more important than proper plumbing, if the bathroom’s when they moved into the Residence were anything to go by.

He remembers the feeling of hair brushing across his forehead as he bends forward to disguise his grin. It was an amateur move, a poker tell that Leo had worked out decades ago, back when the man had enough hair to worry about a similar problem.

Not that he had one. Leo was always stone cold perfect at poker. Jed has long suspected that simple distinction is rather indicative of which one of them makes the better politician. It certainly isn’t him.

Still, Sam’s art skills, while not having a patch on his writing, were more than enough to have his lips twitching suspiciously, necessitating a bend of the head to conceal his face from Leo’s abrupt head whip mid-drawl, almost as if the man could scent boredom and inattentiveness like a shark scents blood in water.

Jed remembers his hand was coming upwards, reaching to brush away the sweep of hair when he felt the impact. He didn’t hear the shot, strangely enough. Didn’t feel the vibration of the bullet passing close enough to his neck to actually nick the threads on his collar. None of them realize how close a call that was until Jed finds Abbey holding the jacket and attempting not to start hyperventilating in their bedroom, months later. They end up holding each other, tears soaking into the bullet rip until the jacket is as salt stained as it is blood stained.

Jed doesn’t hear the shot that nearly kills him, but he certainly hears the aftermath, the sound of running feet and shouting from outside the glass doors, louder for some reason. The feel of the wind suddenly whipping through the room, scattering the papers carefully laid out on the Resolute desk.

It takes a moment for Jed to register that the weight on his back, smashing his head into the plush carpet isn’t a secret service agent’s. For one thing, it’s far too light weight. For another, he would recognize those perfectly ironed shirt cuffs anywhere.

Abbey has always insisted that her entire brood maintains an up-to-date first aid certification, and while the last recertification had rather rattled the Secret Service, Jed’s never been more glad for putting his foot down about anything than he is about that in the next few moments of scrambling out from under Sam, all thoughts about preserving the c-spine leaving his head at the sheer volume of blood gushing out of Sam’s chest. Later, Abbey will explain to him multiple times what kind of round caused the ricochet that played nine-pins with Sam’s internal organs enough to cause the wound trajectory the bullet produced, complete with diagrams and a PowerPoint. Then, Jed just knows that the feeling of his fingers actually inside his deputy speech writer’s chest cavity, clamping down on something slippery and pulsing and praying for miracle, is the most terrified he’s ever felt.

00

Having his fingers plugging Sam’s actual arteries makes it much easier to stay by the man’s side when the paramedics show up, and Jed is tempted to give Ron a medal for how fast he shuts up at Jed’s single glare when he begins to suggest the President should remove himself from Sam’s person and let someone else take over.

The head paramedic veto’s the suggestion just as quickly, words that somehow sound both professional and anxious at the same time conveying exactly what a bad idea it would be for the President to move at that point. Still, Jed likes to think being the President had some small part to play in getting his way on the issue.

There’s little to no time to marvel at how they fit three secret service agents, complete with guns and radios, the White House Chief of Staff, the President, Sam’s gurney, and two paramedics in the back of an ambulance, just like there was not time for Jed to marvel at how fast his legs are still capable of moving when he has too, how much weight he can still bear, MS and all.

The ride to the hospital was almost entirely a blur, the brush of Leo’s hand on his shoulder at some point, the hot, pulsing feel of Sam’s blood around his fingers as one of the paramedics worked gauze around his steely grip, the blood warring with his own muscles cramping to burn brighter against Jed’s pain threshold.

The snapping sound of a cervical collar locking around Sam’s neck rips Jed’s gaze from Sam’s still face, almost peaceful somehow in the afternoon gloom of traffic and rain. The paramedic doesn’t seem the least bit cowed by the President of the United States piercing her with his self-proclaimed steely gaze, but Jed’s voice can’t help but break slightly as he asks, “What’s that for?”

The austere face softens slightly. “It’s just a precaution Sir, in case his spine was injured in the fall.” It’s a platitude and they both know it, but for a moment, Jed allows the reassurance to melt some of the ice forming and frothing and reforming in his throat.

Amidst the rocking of the ambulance, Sam’s face remains agonizingly peaceful.

00

Unlike some men, Jed Bartlet did not become President of the United States because he desired power. Far from it, his own father leaving far too sour a taste in his mouth in that particular area of ambition for him to ever crave influence over other people for its own sake. But he is undeniably grateful for the office and all the trappings that come with it in those final moments, bursting through hospital corridors, moving down hallways, medical jargon shouted over their heads like volley’s in a tennis match.

Because it lets him do what most fathers couldn’t, lets him hold on to his injured child for just that much longer, lets him stay with this boy who just risked his life to save his commander for a few precious seconds more.

Lets him hold on for just one extra moment, before he finally has to let go.

Before there is nothing more he can do except wait, and hope, and pray.

Chapter Text

When she was four years old, Abigail Ann decided she despised her name. She did not, as her elder sister implied, hate her name. That would be far too pedestrian of a circumstance. No, she despised her name.

She declared this at Thanksgiving, several dozen relatives staring down elegant noses, mouths of half eaten turkey flapping in the candlelight in a rather ungainly display all told.

Her father thought the entire thing was hilarious. Her mother did not.

She can still hear the shrill upscreech of “Abigail!” as her mother attempted to halt her attempts to flounce dramatically past Great Aunt Gertrude’s wheelchair in protest.

Still, from that moment on, she mostly got her wish. Her father kept on calling her Abbey Ann, her mother compromised on just Ann, and Abigail only made an appearance in the time honoured tradition of full-names-mean-you’re-in-trouble-young-lady of parents everywhere.

She can never quite remember where she learned the word despised. Or why she started despising her name in the first place.

00

Abbey doesn’t precisely remember the first time she met Sam Seaborn. Jed’s staff were a rather mediocre lot in the beginning, largely carried over from his two terms as governor. Abbey had nothing against any of them on principle. It’s more that she just didn’t have any opinion on them either way.

Then Leo showed up, and their entire world shifted.

Jed told her Leo wanted him to run for President late the same night, over stolen ice cream from the freezer. Stolen because the girls had long established who got first dibs on all things Strawberry in the Bartlet household.

They’re sitting at the old, stained table in the New Hampshire Governor’s mansion, Abbey exhausted from a day in OR scrubs, Jed regaling her with the finer points of New Hampshire snowmobile profit margins.

She can still here the innocent scrape of the stainless steel spoon across the cracked wax of the ice cream carton, still see Jed hesitantly regard his spoon for just a moment too long, her own breathless laughter brushing the edges of his face with gusts of happy air.

She remembers he took a deep breath first. And then said this. “Do you think I would finally be able to claim first privileges to the ice cream from the girls if I was President?” And then stuck the entire rather large spoonful into his mouth.

Part of her hoped his tongue froze for that, just for springing it on her like that. But then, she hadn’t been Jed Bartlet’s wife for nearly three decades for no reason.

Abbey didn’t even miss a beat, just dug back into the carton, claiming the last strawberry with deliberate slowness, fixed her husband with a completely unfazed expression, and said “Not a chance in hell”, before smoothly sliding the spoon into her mouth.

Neither of them say another word about it. Jed called Leo the next morning.

Which is how Abbey found herself in a rather crappy hotel kitchen at three in the morning, a few days into the more serious part of the campaign trail, a few days after Leo started throwing his weight around, after people in slightly awful ties and awkwardly long dresses started showing up. After Jed started storming around instead of sleepwalking his way through the campaign.

After Abbey started to finally realize that the rest of the world might be starting to realize what she’d known all along. That Leo wasn’t the least bit crazy when he showed up with a cocktail napkin, and expected to actually win this thing.

Three o’clock in the morning, not even her hyperactive teenage daughter was awake enough to join her in an icecream raid, and an airbrushed boy in a slightly rumpled suit costing more than her engagement ring and glasses that looked like he borrowed them from his grandfather stumbles through the kitchen doors. Abbey is never sure which of them is more startled.

And while she had been introduced to all of the new circus of staff Leo had trundled in in trickles and drabs, and she was no where near as bad with names as Jed was. Not that Jed was actually bad with names when he cared enough not to be, but still, it remained that Abbey remembers not having the foggiest idea what this latest lost lambs name was.

Which is how she blundered out with this, in an attempt to distract the wide blue eyes from the definitely-not-hers kitchen spoon held in her left hand. “It’s Josh right?”

The blue eyes got impossibly wider somehow. He looked all of about twelve. A slightly stuttered, more cultured softness filled the kitchen. “Actually it’s Sam, Ma’am, Sam Seaborn. I came down with Josh last week.”

Abbey wasn’t the wife of a politician for nothing. “Well, it’s nice to meet you Sam. Again.” The eyes are still wide, but the cheeks dimple up just a little. “It’s nice to meet you too Mrs. Bartlet.”

Abbey watches his eyes shift back to the spoon in her hand, and there’s the pink, his cheeks flushing a little. He still looks twelve. Sam’s hand works backwards towards the kitchen door handle. He clears his throat. “Well, I’ll just-“

Abbey is never sure why she doesn’t just let him walk out of the room. Maybe it’s because he looks more than a little lost. Maybe it’s the mother in her, the doctor, always needing to take in strays. Maybe it’s the flash of blue over those glasses, blue eyes that in this light, somehow look like they could belong to her husband.

Maybe it’s that damn spoon. Wife of Presidential Candidate caught stealing silverware in the early hours by campaign personnel somehow doesn’t have a very good ring to it.

Either way, Abbey slips the spoon casually onto the counter, hand emerging from the drawer with another offending utensil. “I was just about to steal some chocolate ice cream, if you’d care to join me Sam?”

Sam hesitates, glancing back at the doorway. Abbey attempts to look harmless and lonely, and not at all like someone attempting to bribe a person with ice cream to prevent a potential press leak. “It’s alright Sam. I don’t bite.”

That gets her a bit more of a smile. And a bit more of a blush. “Actually Ma’am, if it’s all the same to you, I prefer strawberry.”

Abbey’s laughter fills the kitchen. Sam looks confused.

Abbey has never spared much thought to what a son of theirs might have looked like, but she rather suspects she just found as close to an answer as she’ll ever get.

They end up sharing the strawberry.

Abbey doesn’t remember the first time she met Sam Seaborn. But after that second meeting, she’s not sure how she ever forgot the first.

00

“Mrs. Bartlet?” Abbey is pulled out of her reverie by the anxious face of Millie, the head of her detail. She suspects that the Secret Service are trained to never let themselves look anxious, but considering the circumstances, she can’t help but admire the woman’s ability to look anything but completely panicked.

She’s under no illusions about her own disheveled state. She’d been at a fundraiser half a state away when the call had come in, and it had been several hours of driving and worry before they’d heard anything definite. Before they’d known who was hurt and who wasn’t.

Before they’d known if anyone was dead. Abbey thought those were the worst hours of her life, right up there with the day her mother died, and the day Jed was diagnosed.

Right now, the doors of the hospital looming in front of her, the hospital where somewhere, that nervous boy with her husband’s eyes, her husband’s passion, and his taste in ice cream was currently fighting for his life, she would give almost anything to get those moments back.

“Mrs. Bartlet? We’re here.” Abbey is grateful for the obviousness of the statement, for the tact it exudes, the moment it gives her to gather her game face.

Leo once joked Abbey makes a far better politician than her husband, but she knows that’s simply because she’s a damn fine doctor.

A good game face means more than votes and poll numbers in her profession. It means lives.

Deep breath. Straightened jacket. Repositioned heels. Ready.

Abbey rises smoothly from the car, powering towards the doors as if the swarm of people in suits don’t even exist. She pauses at the doors, ever considerate even in a crisis. “Okay Millie, let’s go.” A sharp nod of response, and nothing remains but the echo of brisk footsteps, drifting out through a swinging door.

00

When Jed first ran for office, Abbey had a number of reporters suggest she would be giving up her practice in favour of following her husband around the state.

Nobody ever raised there voice when responding to such questions, neither Jed nor Abbey both, but by the time her husband ran for President, such notions were long buried, and no one brought it up.

Abbey never told anyone that she actually had considered stepping down in this campaign, for reasons she wouldn’t be able to disclose anyway. She’s had many occasions to wish she had.

This is probably the first occasion she’s had to be grateful she didn’t, because it makes it far easier to keep a professional mask on, to disengage from Jed’s arms, to look at the blood smearing his suit jacket objectively rather than emotionally. To argue and order her way into the observation room of the operating theatre where Jed’s deputy speech writer is fighting for his foolish life.

To check the credentials of the surgeons operating on Sam, to check the slight drop of her heart when she acknowledges the plural of that statement, what that says about the state of Sam’s injuries.

To remain professional, stone faced and cool in the face of the surgeons’ post-op report, nearly bullied out of them. To be allowed to be the one to walk slowly back to that unfortunately coloured waiting room.

To be the one to tell their little family whether their youngest member is going to live or die.

00

“Abigail.” Her mother never called her anything but Abbey after that memorable Thanksgiving, except when she was in trouble. And being in trouble with her mother almost always involved one thing, the one thing her parents truly could not stand, in any of their children: lying. Obfuscating, deliberate evasion, embroidery, white lies, falsehood, outright untruths, omissions. It didn’t matter. Lying meant she stopped being Abbey, and became Abigail. It was a surprisingly effective deterrent.

Abbey doubts her mother ever had a complete conversation with Jed, her parents’ inability to see past Jed’s desire to marry their daughter to the warm, loving, amazing man underneath his swagger remaining a sore point that never truly heals. The result is rather a lot of stilted family dinners, and she supposes that must be where Jed picked up the knowledge of what Abigail meant in her family.

They’ve always had an equal relationship, not the least bit of power plays, kinky or otherwise, in sight. And yet, for all that she was always the best poker player in her family, she never could manage to lie to Jed.

All he’d have to do was flash those soulful blue eyes, sternness looking nothing but loving and adorable stamped across their depths, and drawl her name, and she crumbled like clay. “Abigail.”

He’s doing it now, the lime coloured walls blurring slightly as Abbey struggles to keep her composure, to bend the truth for a moment longer.

To focus on something besides the blood under Jed’s nails, the surgeon’s words echoing in her head.

Your husband saved his life.

“Abbey.” Now Jed just sounds broken. He hasn’t sounded like that since the night his father died. Abbey feels her composure crack.

We’re concerned about nerve damage.

“Jed…” She’s never been the sort of person who can’t find the words to say something. The ability to articulate a point is practically a survival skill in the Bartlet household. Living with the best verbal duelist in the country, self-proclaimed, is not always easy. Although it’s certainly never boring. Abbey lets herself choke on the inappropriate snort of laughter clawing up her throat.

Jed’s hand finds her elbow, a comforting pressure squeezing into her bunched muscles.

Vaguely, she hears Leo shift almost impatiently behind Jed. Time’s up.

“Jed…Sam has lost a great deal of blood. The bullet knicked three major organs, bisected a lung, destroyed one of his kidneys. The shock from the trauma alone…” Abbey takes a deep breath, tries not to sway into Jed.

“He’s stable for now. It’s really a waiting game now.” Leo blows out a breath, and Abbey lets herself release one as well.

Jed’s eyes don’t waiver.

At this point, it’s unclear how much trauma his spinal column sustained, but it appears to be significant.

“Abbey…the way I applied pressure, the way Sam was lying. There was so little time, no time to think. There was no other choice really, he was bleeding so much. There was no other choice, nothing else I could have done…” The question, the should, is so plain it practically walks away by itself.

Abbey swallows painfully, the lost boy look in those blue eyes reminding her of nothing but stolen silverware and strawberry ice cream. Abigail Ann Bartlet is a damn fine doctor.

She’s broken countless amounts of bad news to families. She’s broken even more good news. She’s never felt more unqualified than she does in this moment.

How do you tell your husband that yes, he did the only thing he could have, that yes, he saved that boy’s life. But that he may have crippled him in the process.

I’m very sorry.

Abbey closes her eyes for a moment, lets a single tear slip out.

“You saved his life Jed. But at this point…at this point, it’s unclear whether he’ll ever walk again.”

It’s not the way she should have said it, it’s inaccurate, vague even, doesn’t reflect the current situation, but the ultimate consequence, the basic, life altering truth of the current status quo.

But somehow, as Leo slips quietly from the room, as Toby kicks a chair and CJ stares blankly at the ugly wall art, as Jed closes his eyes and gathers Abbey close to his chest, as Ron quietly curses a blue streak, Abbey knows it was the only thing she could have said.

Because right here, right now, the facade has cracked beyond repair. Because here, she’s not a doctor. Not the First lady who dared to keep working while her husband was in office. Not the mother of the nation.

She’s just the wife of a man who almost died today. And in some small way, something tinged with wide blue eyes and strawberries, bullets and blood, she’s just the mother of the boy who saved that man’s life.