Triage
It was a long, quiet ride from the National Cathedral back to the White House. They had left Jed sealed up in the exquisite emptiness of that gigantic space to pray at the very feet of God. Abbey and Leo shared a car that would whisk them away to a destiny neither of them could predict. Abbey was deep in thought. Leo was inside his own head, doing in there whatever it was that Leo did in times of crisis. Probably, she thought, trying to find one last desperate way to convince him to run again. At that second, she hated Leo - not with the familiar fiery passion that often exploded in her like a flash fire and then, just as quickly died, but with an exhausted, throbbing resentment that was even more rancid and difficult to contain. And Jed... would he? And if he did?

For an instant she thought about the ride to the Cathedral less than an hour and a half earlier. Involuntarily, she shuddered. She'd never seen him like that. Almost three and a half decades, and she'd never seen him so withdrawn into himself that she couldn't feel the spark in him. He was dying. She knew it as certainly as she knew that her own heart was beating and breaking. Jed was dying physically, and that fact had consumed her for so long that maybe she hadn't noticed the other death. There were some occupational hazards in being a physician, she thought wryly. You found yourself with a tendency to minimize anything that didn't respond to chemicals or show up under a microscope.

Inside her mind, she heard her own voice as it had said, "There's a good chance that the Democrats may be able to hang onto the White House." She remembered making an impossibly lame effort to sound light. She thought she was being supportive... trying to take at least some of the responsibility for his walking away from this election. By God he HAD, after all, promised her.

"Yeah,," she heard his voice, low and thick, coming from a place far away inside him where even she had never been, "The world will rest easier." He hadn't looked at her, and she knew he couldn't. So she stared straight ahead, not seeing anything, and thought, **Yeah, the world will. I will, but, my love. .. what the hell will happen to you?**

"We're here," he had said, bolting from the car and coming around to her side. He took her hand, and through his touch she felt his pain and his anger and his confusion. God, Jed, she had thought as he clung to her hand and they had moved slowly down the ice cold marble aisle, **What's going to happen to you?**
* * * * * * *
The limousine slowed for its final turn into the White House grounds. Abbey couldn't stand to think about it any more. She consciously chose numbness. She consciously chose not to think, not to feel, not to hope - one way or the other.

"I'll see you later, Abbey," Leo muttered as he climbed slowly from the limo and headed toward his office, head down, hands thrust into his pockets.

Abbey didn't answer. She just headed to her office to wait and get ready. . **. . for what?** For triage, she thought, without humor. Whichever way this thing went, there would soon be blood flowing and first aid to administer, and the blood would be her husband's.

She snapped off the black hat she'd worn to the funeral, and started striding with purpose toward her office. Without so much as a glance in her direction, she strode past Lilly and slammed the door. It never even occurred to her to go to him. She had said everything that she could say. He had heard everything that he could hear. Either way. . .life wouldn't ever be the same again. It was like loosing Delores. Life would never be the same again. There was a hole, a tear that would never be fully mended, and deep in her soul she knew it.

She stood at the window and stared out as the rain pelted down in sheets. Lightening tore the sky to shreds, and the thunder echoed in her spirit through the cavernous hole that had been left when Jed had retreated into himself. The rumbling and pelting and slashing of the storm made Abbey feel sick, as though she was standing on the bridge of a tossing ship in a furious sea of chaos, and the worst part, of course, was that she had no anchor - no safe harbor.

A brilliant wedge of yellow light suddenly split the darkness, and she realized that she had been staring at the terrace outside the Oval Office. The door had blown open again, she thought, irrelevantly. In a matter of minutes, she saw a familiar figure move out of the office and into the driving rain. He stood alone with the rain whipping him like a lash, face upturned, hair blown wildly back by the gale force winds. Tears began to slip down Abbey's face...

Without Jed's being aware, Charlie was moving toward him, a coat in his hands. For one more instant, Josiah Bartlet looked up into the rain, then he turned on his heel and headed back into the White House.

"Oh, my God," she whispered. She knew.
* * * * *
She had flipped on the television set in her office and watched the whole bloody thing - from that first question:

"Mr. President, can you tell us if you will run for reelection?"
Right through to the bitter end. She chose not to feel. She couldn't feel. She had other things to do.

"Lilly," she said into the intercom on her desk, "Get Leo on the phone for me."

Within seconds, her phone rang.

"Abbey," Leo's voice still held a slight huskiness born of admiration and awe.

"How long before he's back here, Leo?" she asked.

"Abbey, I know he promised you, but he's been through a lot..."

"Mr. McGarray, all I asked you for was the ETA on the President's arrival." She snapped, more viciously than she had meant to, "Do you think you can provide me with that information?"

"Approximately six minutes, Ma'am," Leo didn't sound so much hurt as stunned.

"Great." She said firmly, "I'll be right down to get him."

"Abbey,..." she heard Leo's pleading voice as she set the receiver back into its cradle.
* * * * *
Jed was still soaking wet when he climbed out of the car, and he was cold, shaking just a bit. Somewhere around the periphery of his consciousness, he was aware that there was a sizeable group of people standing under the portico. They were applauding, cheering, some of them were weeping, but the only thing he saw was Abbey. For a long moment, they stood there, staring into each other's eyes - the blue and the hazel saying words that neither of them could have said aloud.

"Come on," she finally said softly, and even over the din of the applause, he heard her voice with crystal clarity, as though it were the only voice in the world. She held out her hand for him to take, "Let's get you upstairs and dried out."

He didn't say a word. He just dropped his eyes to her hand, and reached out to take it in his.

"Ron," Abbey said crisply, "Have the corridors cleared. I'm taking the President up to the residence."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Charlie, I'm going to need you for just a little while," she said, quietly, and she and Jed began to move toward the elevator.

* * * *

The door to the sitting room clicked reassuringly behind them, and Abbey turned to Jed, and began to strip off the soaked jacket that clung cold and wet to his shivering body.

"Sit," she aimed at Jed, pointing to the couch.

"Charlie, could you bring me a brandy?" she asked, beginning to unknot his tie.

"I can do this," Jed growled, reaching for the collar of his shirt.

"My way's more fun," she said, helping him unbutton his shirt.

"I thought you were gonna be mad at me," he said, stripping off the dripping shirt and dropping it onto the floor.

"Mad at you doesn't even begin to come close, Buckaroo," she said. Taking the glass of brandy that Charlie brought and handing it to Jed. He sat back for an instant, taking a stiff belt, and then carefully set it on the table beside him.

"Charlie, there's a box in the top drawer of the night stand on the right side of the bed. Would you bring it to me?"

"Yes, ma'am," he said, and moved quietly toward their bedroom.

Abbey moved to the desk in the corner of the room, took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one, and handed it to him. He gratefully sucked in a deep drag, and then slowly exhaled.

"So, when do I get it in the neck from you?" he asked morosely, through another cloud of smoke.

"Not now," she said so seriously that he jerked his head up from the shoe lace he was concentrating on and stared at her. "Someday soon, probably," she said quietly, "And it's probably going to be bad, but not now. .. not today... not here."

"How bad, Abbey? I want to know now," he stared at her with something that might have been fear in his eyes.

"Charlie, would you run a hot bath for the President," she asked Charlie, as she filled a hypodermic.

"I can't tell you that," she said, rolling up the sleeve of Jed's white tee shirt and sticking the needle in. "I don't know myself yet. I just know that the first rule of triage is that the person who is hurt most gets care first." She took one of his hands in both of hers. It was like ice, and she began to rub it briskly to warm it up. "For today, for right here and right now, that would be you."

"You always were the most honest person I've ever known," Jed said, studying her. She picked up the glass of brandy, handed it back to him.

"Sip," she ordered, as she took the throw off of the back of the sofa and tossed it over him. He threw back the brandy, and Abbey snuggled next to him. She felt him move toward her, craving the warmth of her body. She wrapped her arms around him, and began to rock him slowly and gently. By the time Charlie came back into the room with soundless steps, Jed had stopped shivering, and was looking sleepy.

"Come on, babe," Abbey whispered, "Let's get you into a nice, warm tub."

"Okay," Jed answered, rising and then swaying. With Charlie on one side and Abbey on the other, they made their way to the huge, steam filled bathroom that smelled of fresh herbs and Abbey's perfume. It was, by far and away, the nicest thing that had happened to Josiah Bartlet that day.

 

 

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