Title: Not Everything's Black and White
After a moment's hesitation, Josh knocked on the door to the Bartlet's suite.
"I said, leave me alone, Lilly!" An angry voice shouted from the other side.
Josh swallowed hard. "Dr. Bartlet? It's Josh."
There was a long silence. Then, a soft, "Come in."
He opened the door slowly, tentatively. He let himself in and closed the door behind him. Better to not leave an open invitation. "Dr. Bartlet?"
"Over here, Josh."
He walked across the sitting room and saw her as he came around the sofa. Abby was curled in the corner of the sofa, a bourbon glass in one hand, her face streaked with tears. He shifted his feet and cleared his throat. "I came to see if you‚¶" He glanced at the silent, dark television. "Were you watching-"
"Did I see him on CNN? Yes." Her voice was tight, controlled.
"Abby, I'm so sorry. We didn't know. We got the same tape at the office, just minutes before CNN aired it. The terrorists must have-"
He shuffled his feet again. Abby sipped her drink and stared at the wall. Josh glanced around. "Where's Zoey?"
"She went to check on Charlie."
"Oh. I- um, is there anything I can do for you?"
She finally met his gaze and he had to force himself not to close his eyes against the raw pain he saw there. "Stay with me for a while, Josh. Please."
He nodded wordlessly. Abby got up and poured herself a drink. "Want a drink?" She asked. Without waiting for an answer, she poured one for him as well.
She handed him the glass as she passed by, and settled back on the couch. "Sit down, Josh."
He did, and sipped his drink. "I'm so sorry, Abby. I wish to God there was something I could do."
"I know." She stared into her drink. "I'm sorry to keep you here. I know you have things to be doing. It's just that‚¶"
"You need someone, to talk to. I understand. It'd be Leo, if he were here. He'd sure as hell be better at, you know, this‚¶ than me."
"I don't think he's coming back this time," she said quietly, as if he hadn't spoken.
"Abby, you don't know that," he admonished. "The President is one of the strongest people I know. And the most stubborn. Besides, Leo's with him. Leo won't let him give up. And we won't give up on them."
"No, we won't."
The silence stretched out once again, this time a little less painful for being shared.
"He loves you kids, you know."
Josh blinked. "What?"
Abby smiled sadly. "He always wanted sons. Oh, don't get me wrong, he loves the girls, spoiled them rotten when they were little. But I think deep down, he always hoped for a son. Then you and Sam, Toby and Charlie‚¶ You got to him. Really got to him. And he looks at CJ just like he does Elizabeth."
"I- I didn't know. I mean, yeah, Charlie, but‚¶"
"After the shooting, you know what the first thing he wanted to know was?"
He shook his head.
"Barely out of anesthesia, in so much pain, and all he wanted was to see you. I told him when he woke up, that you'd been shot." She took a deep breath. "He pleaded, with me, with the doctor, with Leo‚¶ The only thing on his mind was seeing you."
Josh look down at the glass in his hands, trying to blink back tears.
"He called you his son."
He looked back up, eyes wide.
"After Mrs. Landingham's funeral, remember when he asked everyone to leave the chapel?"
"I was so worried about him. He and I had been having problems and with the MS and reelection decisions‚¶ I didn't know what to expect." She took another long drink. "I went back in. Not into the chapel itself, but in the foyer, right outside the door." She swallowed. "I won't repeat most of what he said, that was between him and God and I'm ashamed to have intruded on that. But he was so angry. And he wanted to know why God had let his son get shot."
Josh clenched his hands around his glass to try to stop their trembling. "I had no idea‚¶" he whispered.
"I know." She reached out and took one of his hands. "I knew how he feels about you, and the others. And I knew how you all feel about him. That's why this whole MS thing has been so hard on him. It's hard to keep secrets from your family."
He sniffed, loudly. "Yeah. I understand."
She squeezed his hand. "I knew you would." She sighed. "Stay for a while?"
"Yes, ma'am. For as long as you need me."
"Mr. President, wake up." Leo's voice was a harsh whisper.
Jed struggled to open his eyes. He recognized the urgency in Leo's voice and his brain responded to that, if his body tried to refuse. Sight came, and the room came into blurry focus. He turned his head toward the door. They were back.
"Well, look who's awake." Tom said to the men standing behind him. He looked down. "Good morning, Mr. President. I know the room isn't what you're used to, but I hope you've been comfortable."
Jed shifted slightly on the concrete floor; his body had stiffened incredibly overnight. His head still rested on Leo's legs and he felt Leo's hand tighten on his shoulder. He shrugged as well as he could, his wrists still cuffed behind him and his arms had long since gone numb. "Well, if you bring us some coffee and a car, I'm sure we can overlook the accommodations this time."
Tom laughed. "No, I don't think I will. But it is time for you to come with me. Get up."
Leo gently slid out from under Jed even as the President was struggling to rise to a sitting position. "The hell he will," he growled.
"Shut up, old man."
Leo stood. "He's not going anywhere with you."
"Leo‚¶" The warning was clear in Jed's voice.
Tom drew his gun. He held it casually, not quite pointing it at Leo. "Come with me, Bartlet, or I shoot him."
Jed pressed his shoulder against the wall to pull himself to his feet. He stepped forward, moving around Leo.
"Mr. President," Leo said sharply. He put his arm in front of Jed.
Jed turned to face him. "It's going to happen anyway, Leo. I won't let you be hurt in the process."
"And I'm just supposed to let you go? Forget it!"
Jed stared at his best friend with soft eyes. He smiled slightly. "It'll be okay."
"It won't." Leo's voice was almost a whisper.
"Yeah, it will." He nodded firmly. "Whatever happens."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Tom snorted. "Very touching. Come on, Bartlet."
Jed nodded at Leo and walked toward Tom.
"No!" Leo shouted and lunged toward the terrorist.
Tom staggered back a step in surprise, then raised his weapon. He swung, and it connected solidly with Leo's temple. The Chief of Staff fell heavily to the floor.
"You bastard!" Jed dropped his shoulder and rushed the other man, forgetting in his anger the other two with him. They grabbed him roughly by the arms and dragged him out of the cell, slamming the barred door behind them.
Steve opened the door to the bar and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. It was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, so the only patrons were the few lonely hangers-on at the bar. And one young man sitting alone in the corner. He walked toward him.
"Hi. Mind if I sit down?"
"Are you Sloan?"
Steve nodded and sat across from the other man. "And you are?"
"Stan." He gave Steve a searching look. "A friend of mine says I can trust you."
"Yeah, you gave him a break a couple of years ago, hooked him up with some boxing club."
Steve nodded again. That could be any number of young men, juveniles who were basically good kids but facing trouble if they didn't get help. "So, why'd you call me?"
"I heard you were on this case." He glanced around the room. "I know where the President is."
Steve took a deep, calming breath. "How do you know?"
Stan sighed. "My dad's one of them that took him."
Steve raised his eyebrows.
"Man, my mom and dad used to tell me that white people were superior to all other races. That black people were lazy, stupid criminals, Indians were just red niggers, Jews were all greedy and Asians were taking over America. They believed all of it. So did I."
Stan shrugged. "I went to college. I tried to hold onto my hate, but it's hard when you see those people are all human. At the end of my freshman year, my best friend told me he was gay. We'd been through everything together. I was supposed to hate him now?" He shook his head. "I learned more at that school than I ever thought I would."
"Where are they?" Steve asked quietly.
"I heard them talking about the President when I went home last week. I didn't think anything of it," he said defensively. "But they mentioned a warehouse the Order bought last year. I'd be willing to bet that's where they took them." He stared down at his hands for a moment, then slid a piece of paper over to Steve. "That's the address."
Steve put a hand on the young man's shoulder. "You did the right thing."
Stan nodded, but wouldn't look at him. "They're my parents."
There was nothing he could say to that. Steve just tightened his hand on his shoulder, trying to offer what comfort he could. "How can I reach you?"
He pointed at the paper. "My cell phone number's on the back. But, I want to stay out of this."
"Okay." Steve nodded, but he doubted that would be possible. "Thanks for your help."
"I just hope I'm right."
Steve cut off Ron in the middle of his greeting. "This is Sloan. I've got an address."
"19425 NW Lombard. It's a warehouse. My source thinks they're there. I'm on my way now."
"Wait for us. Don't do anything until we get there."
"Right." Steve climbed into his truck, shifting the cell phone on his shoulder as he started the engine. "I'll stay back. You want me to call the SWAT Team?"
"No. I've got the FBI on another line, they've got everything arranged with the Hostage Rescue Team."
"Okay." He snapped the phone shut and slammed the truck into gear.
Jed turned his head, but couldn't avoid the blow. He felt like he's been hanging there for hours, his wrists cuffed to a bare pipe running along the ceiling. His arms had long since gone numb, a welcome relief from the agonizing pain he'd felt as the cuffs bit deep and his shoulders felt as though they were going to be dislocated.
Another blow impacted his chest, drawing a gasp of pain. Unfortunately, his badly abused ribs were not numb. Though he'd never experienced it before, he was fairly certain several were cracked. He longed to slip back into unconsciousness, but the pain kept tugging at him, pulling him back.
So far, he didn't think any of the injuries were life threatening. But he knew, were there to be any serious internal bleeding, he wouldn't know until it was too late. One strike blurred into another until he was aware of nothing but a haze of pain. So when they stopped, it took him several minutes to become aware of it. He slowly began to try to turn his attention outward, to see what there was beyond the pain.
Silence. He tried to force his eyes open, surprised to find it was much harder to accomplish than it had been in the past. His lids felt heavy‚¶ no, they were stuck. He tried harder. They came open, his lashes sticky with blood. He blinked. He must have a cut on his forehead. He wondered when that happened.
He looked around, moving only his eyes. That hurt enough without moving his head. He tried to bring the room into focus. There. Everything was clear, but double. He blinked again. No better. He shrugged mentally. At least he could see. And he saw‚¶
Leo. Leo was sitting on the floor on the other side of the bars, his shoulder leaning against them. Viewing his profile, Jed thought his old friend looked as though he had aged a lifetime since last night. Or was it the night before. He couldn't remember.
He opened his mouth to call to him, but nothing came out. He swallowed dryly and tried again. "Leo." Barely a hoarse whisper.
It was enough. Leo jerked, and turned his head. "Mr. President!"
Jed winced at the sight before him. Blood coated the side of Leo's face and matted his hair. "You okay?" he whispered.
Leo nodded, his mouth slightly open. "Don't try to talk. They said they're coming back. Maybe if they think you're still unconscious, they'll let you down."
The moment stretched on. Jed watched Leo through his lashes and Leo stared back. Finally, when Jed thought he either had to speak or pass out again, the door opened.
Tom walked in with two others. They unlocked the cuffs and brought him down. Jed moaned in pain as sensation came back to his arms. His captors laughed.
The two men each took an arm and dragged him back to the cell. Jed hung limply between them. He glanced to the side and saw a gun in the waistband of one of the men's pants. It was so close. Gathering his strength, and his courage, he pulled his right arm free and made a grab for the gun. He was almost as surprised as the other man when he found it in his hand.
Time slowed. He raised it, struggling to stay on his feet and aim at the same time. Before he could demand that Tom unlock the cell, pain exploded in his side and he fell to his knees. The other one, the one on his left had struck a blow to his already cracked ribs. The sound of bone breaking was audible. He felt the pistol being pulled away and rough hands grab his arms. The cage door opened, and they threw him inside.
He felt Leo's arms around him as he fell, and gentle hands lower him to the floor. He struggled to drag air into lungs that were on fire, tried to ride out the pain that crashed over him in waves. Finally, it receded, and time resumed its normal pace.
Steve glanced back over his shoulder at the sound of footsteps behind him. He saw Agent Butterfield approaching from the other end of the alley where he had set up surveillance. He looked back at the warehouse. There was still no movement.
"Anything?" Ron asked when he reached the detective.
Steve shook his head. "It's been completely quiet. Is everyone set?"
"Almost." The agent touched the speaker at his ear. They waited a long, tense moment. "HRT is in place. They're moving in. Let's go."
"Well, that was stupid," Tom said.
Jed couldn't find it in himself to disagree. He looked up at Tom from his prone position on the floor. The terrorist moved to stand behind Leo, who still knelt next to him.
Tom held out a hand. One of the others pulled a revolver from his jacket pocket and gave it to him. Tom stared down at Jed.
"Really stupid." He placed the muzzle against the back of Leo's head.
Jed's eyes widened and fear filled him. "Oh, God.. No.." He met Leo's eyes.
"There are always consequences for your actions, Mr. President."