Disclaimer—Recognizable characters belong to Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement is intended. Any similarity to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Author's Notes—To the Sirens. Gals, you are the best. Big huge thanks to Brandy, too, who helped out. Thanks so much, ladies. Also... Amazing what hits you on marathon trips Nashville (when you pass the exit for Old Hickory Boulevard and the Hermitage twice. *g*). I wasn't going to write another one of these, but I think there may be a couple more stories in this series...

Spoilers—Take Out the Trash Day, What Kind of Day it has Been, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Seventeen People, Two Cathedrals

Feedback—Always greatly appreciated.

Archive—If you feel so inclined, just tell me where.

IMPORTANT—Okay, this story is attempting to be a little different... Think 'Noel' flashbacks when you read this... so, it may require a bit more focus than normal. In other words, don't be alarmed if Leo is giving testimony before the Grand Jury and then is all the sudden in a fighter plane. :) (In other words, no. I did not write this while on 'shrooms. Thank you.)

Fight or Flight—Battles come in all shapes and sizes... And you have the choice: fight or flight. Fourth in the Old Hickory series.

"How long have you known Josiah Bartlet?"

"Since the summer of 1961."

"How long has he had Multiple Sclerosis?"

"He was diagnosed eight years ago."

"You've known for eight years?"

"I've known for a year."

"And yet you've known the President some four decades?"

"Yes."

"But you didn't know about his M.S."

"No."

"You've known the President some four decades and you didn't know about his M.S. until a year ago?"

"Asked and answered," said Leo, trying to control his temper.

"I understand you have a law degree, Mr. McGarry, but your job now is to answer my questions."

"And I have."

The special prosecutor, George Carruth, looked at the judge, then back at Leo. "You have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, correct?"

Leo opened his mouth to answer.

"Shit!"

"Pull up, Mac. Pull up!"

"I need some help here, Jersey! I can't shake this son of a bitch!"

"I got one on my six, too, Mac. You get rid of mine; I get rid of yours."

"On three," said Leo McGarry, glancing out the windshield of his fighter jet. "One... Two... Three!"

The two American fighter jets suddenly split off from their somewhat helter-skelter formation. The North Vietnamese planes followed suit. Pulling away from each other some distance, the two American jets then turned back toward each other. Jersey dove beneath Leo's plane, allowing Leo to take out the Vietnamese attack fighter that had been following him. When Leo opened up on the one jet, the other opened up on him. Jersey didn't have the time to return fire, to protect Leo. Several bullets riddled Leo's fighter, starting a fire near the tail.

Leo's breath caught in his throat for a moment, barely noticeable, before he answered Carruth's question. "Yes, I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict."

"You attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings."

"Yes."

"How often?"

"Objection, relevancy," said Leo's lawyer, Stephen Morgan, standing up.

"Your honor," said Carruth, "this man is the White House Chief of Staff. He admits to being a junkie--"

"Recovering addict," said Leo.

"If this man is running the Bartlet White House stoned and drunk, I'd like to know about it, wouldn't you?" asked Carruth. "If President Bartlet has an 'episode' of his M.S. and can't function, and Mr. McGarry, here, is inebriated and high--"

"Leo McGarry isn't on trial here," provided Morgan.

"Oh, yes he is," said Carruth, turning to Morgan. "According to testimony from National Security Advisor Nancy McNally, several military advisors from the Pentagon, and various aides who assist the President in the Situation Room, Mr. McGarry, here, was calling the shots when Bartlet was under general anesthesia after the assassination attempt."

"Mayday! Mayday! This is--"

Leo didn't get to finish his call for help as he tried to control his out-of-control airplane; his radio died. Practically all of his navigational equipment failed. The only thing left to do was eject.

"Mary, our lady of Loreto. My family needs me. My country needs me. Purgatory don't need me yet," he murmured as he punched out.

Oliver Babish stood with Morgan. "It's a witch hunt to put Leo McGarry through more pain than anything," Babish said. "We can call the Surgeon General as a witness and she will say that addiction is a medical condition. He has admitted to attending AA meetings."

"Gentlemen," sighed the judge. She looked to Leo. "When was the last time you had a drink?"

"Seven, almost eight years ago."

"And what drug did you abuse again?"

"Valium."

"When did you have your last pill?"

"Seven, almost eight years ago."

"Move on, Mr. Carruth," said the judge.

Leo watched in horror as his plane tumbled into the jungle in a burning mess. He shut his eyes tightly against the explosion that followed. Another explosion, moments later, made him flinch. Searching the sky, he saw what was left of a plane falling from the heavens.

"Let it not be Jersey. God, please not Jersey."

The victor of the dogfight soon flew near him and he could see that it was an American plane--it had to be his friend Jersey. Cheering, he steered his parachute away from a tree, or tried to. The silk chute got stuck in the treetop, bringing his pleasant, gentle floating ride to an abrupt stop, jerking him back towards the tree.

"You haven't had a drink in seven years?" asked Carruth.

Leo wanted to know how many times he'd have to answer the same question. "I have not."

"How many state dinners have there been at the White House?"

"Objection," said Morgan, sighing.

"Sustained. Mr. Carruth," warned the judge.

"Let's go back to the night of the town hall meeting at the Newseum for a moment. The president was shot."

"Yes."

"You were taken to the hospital when he was?"

"I was in one of the cars in the motorcade headed for the White House. When Ron Butterfield discovered that the President had been shot, all of the cars were turned around and we went to G.W."

"The hospital?"

"Yes."

"Who is Ron Butterfield?"

"He's with the Secret Service."

"And you met with the President before he was given anesthesia?"

"Yes."

"What did he say to you then?"

"He gave some orders."

"Such as?"

"Suspend trading on the stock exchange."

"Because people don't take kindly to having their presidents shot at."

"No," Leo said. "They don't."

"Now, according to procedure, the President is supposed to sign a letter, turning over power to the Vice President if he is to go under a general anesthetic, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"And yet, he didn't."

"We really didn't have the time to draft a letter. Besides the fact that *President Bartlet had been shot*, our staff was spread out. We didn't have the means to write the letter or to have him sign it. Our first priority was making sure the President was okay."

"Your first priority wasn't the American people?"

Leo opened his mouth...

...and cried out when he hit the tree. It was enough to jar him; it was painful. He was still wearing his helmet, so his head was relatively okay. His back, however, hurt like a son of a gun. He was suspended some five feet off the ground, hanging in the tree. Because he had been moving and had come to such an immediate stop, he hit the trunk of the tree several times.

"I'm glad I'm not dead, Mary, but a little help gettin' back to base would be great," he muttered as he hit the tree again.

Fumbling through his jumpsuit pockets, he found his pocketknife. Flipping out one of the blades, he looked down to see what he would land on when he fell. It would be a five-foot drop onto packed ground.

"At least it ain't a rice paddy," he murmured as he set about cutting some of the strings that held him to his parachute.

The Chief of Staff answered, "We were in crisis-mode."

"So, your first thoughts were to the President."

"My first *first* thoughts were about my friend."

"And you knew that he had M.S. at that time?"

"Yes."

"And you never said anything."

"It wasn't my place to say anything."

"Why not?"

"Because it's President Bartlet's illness; it isn't mine."

"Your illness is addiction."

"I haven't had a drink or a pill in seven, almost eight years."

"Now, the anesthesiologist needed to know that he had M.S. before the surgery, correct?" asked Carruth.

"I'm not a doctor. I really don't know that much about procedure."

"What do you know about M.S.?"

"The kind Jed Bartlet has isn't fatal."

"But the kind he has could turn into the M.S. that is fatal, could it not?"

"It could."

"Did the anesthesiologist ever know that Bartlet had M.S.?"

"Yes."

"Who told him?"

"Dr. Abigail Bartlet."

"When did you learn of this?"

"After she told him."

"If you had known beforehand, would you have tried to stop her from telling him?"

"Why would I do a dumb thing like that?"

"Answer the question, Mr. McGarry."

"No, I wouldn't have tried to stop her from telling him."

"Why is that?"

"Because the First Lady knows more about medicine than I do."

"Enough to break laws in three states?"

"Objection," said Babish, standing up.

"Mr. McGarry, here, is a lawyer," said Carruth. "Surely he can give us his... legal... opinion."

"Overruled."

Leo sighed a little and waited for the next question.

He tried to turn in midair so he would hit the ground with the least amount of pain, tossing his knife away so he wouldn't fall on it and stab himself accidentally. Landing hard on his side, he tried to scramble to his feet and promptly fell back over. Shaking his head, he got to his hands and knees before grabbing onto the tree to help pull himself up. Taking a few shaky steps, he nearly collapsed, his leg wanting to give out on him. Bracing a hand on the tree quickly to prevent *another* fall, he waited for a moment, to make sure that his legs were under him, that he wasn't moving, that he wasn't dizzy, before walking again.

"Okay, we were headed west," he said as he retrieved his pocketknife, closing the blade and slipping it back in his jumpsuit pocket. "Then we split off and came back, so I woulda been going... north... My plane went down over there... So to get back to base, south is... this way," he said, pointing in the direction he hoped was south.

As he walked, he wished there was someone with him. He wished he had a gun. And he prayed, to God and every patron saint he knew, that he wouldn't run into the Vietcong.

"I don't know about medical law," Leo said.

"You didn't look into this situation at all?"

"No, because there are other things to do than sit through depositions, delve into this case, and appear before a Grand Jury."

"Such as?" asked Carruth.

"Work to get bills through Congress that can help the American people. Prevent wars. See about keeping the economy strong. Usual stuff you have to do when you help run a government, a country."

"When you help run a country? Or when you *do* run a country?"

"When you help run a country," Leo said firmly.

"So, let me get this straight, Mr. McGarry," Carruth said. "On the night in May, 2000, your first concern was the President. The country came at the bottom of your to-do list. Now, though, when the President is under scrutiny for *lying* to the American people, your first concern is helping to run the country?"

"Please no landmines... Please no landmines... Please no landmines... Please no landmines..." muttered Leo to himself. He didn't even realize he was doing it. He just didn't want to die in the middle of the jungle. Stepping on a fallen branch, it cracked. Leo could have sworn that was the end. He froze when he heard a voice call out to him in Vietnamese.

"Halt!"

Since he was in the middle of his tour of duty, he knew the basics of Vietnamese, and understood what he was told. Raising his hands in surrender, he struggled to speak back to the voice in the language of the land. "I'm unarmed."

A camouflaged helmet suddenly appeared from a bush. The barrel of a gun was trained at him, but the face, covered in dirt and sweat, was obviously American. "You a deserter?" asked the soldier in English.

"No," Leo said, offering his name, rank, and serial number. "I was shot down about two clicks back," he said, nodding in the direction of his plane.

"Sergeant Hatfield, U.S. Army," said the soldier with a crisp salute, which Leo returned. "We'll get you back to your base, sir."

"Have you ever been shot at, Mr. Carruth?" Leo asked.

"You aren't the one asking the questions, Mr. McGarry," Carruth reminded.

"I have been shot at. Several times. I've been shot *down*, out of the sky twice. It's unnerving in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle. It's even more unnerving in the middle of Rosslyn, Virginia surrounded by the U.S. Secret Service. The other thing--the White House was inundated with telephone calls that night, and, as I understand it, so was George Washington University Hospital. Letters poured in by the tens of thousands to the White House and to the hospital. I wasn't the only one who had the President's well-being as my first concern that night."

The Army medic treated Leo while Sergeant Hatfield informed his commanding officer of the Air Force pilot's existence. "You might have a hairline fracture in your leg, but I don't have the technology to tell that here. You'd have to be flown out," explained the medic.

"I'm sure it's not that bad," Leo said.

"We don't have a chopper coming to airlift for another hour or so."

"I really don't think that's necessary--"

"Lieutenant McGarry?"

Leo and the medic both got to their feet quickly, and both offered smart salutes.

"At ease. How is he?"

"Probably fine," answered the medic.

"Good. I'm Colonel Reece, Lieutenant. I've called your base," Reece said. "Your C.O. was worried, apparently the flier you were with didn't see you eject. They are eager to talk to you."

"Where are we, exactly? How far from base am I?"

"First things first, Lieutenant."

Leo regarded the colonel warily.

"The Red Cross has petitioned your C.O."

"The Red Cross, sir?" Leo asked. He felt as though he had just hit the tree again, like he had the wind knocked out of him.

"Your mother is... A Boston doctor has contacted the Red Cross, to arrange for temporary, emergency leave. They're sending the medevac helos now. ETA is half an hour. You'll be flown to Saigon and then put on a plane and sent back to Boston."

Leo wavered a little. He knew his mother had been sick off and on for three years. He didn't know, however, that it would ever come to his having to return home immediately.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," Reece said sympathetically before leaving.

"Why don't you sit down, Lieutenant?" asked the medic, reaching out to Leo in case he fainted. He had paled considerably and the medic couldn't rule that possibility out.

Stay tuned...

~Scenes from the next installment:

"I'm a pilot in the Air Force."

"Not any more."

 

Chapter 2

 

 

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