Title: "Not Tonight"
Author: Dafna G. (email@example.com)
Written: June 2001
Spoilers: "The War at Home"
Archive: Ask first, please.
Summary: Jed returns from Dover and gets a visit from someone he hasn't seen in a long time.
More notes after the story.
Not Tonight by Dafna G.
Jed Bartlet paused outside the door to the residence.
"Everything all right, Mr. President?"
He shook himself. Get a grip Jed, he thought. "I'm fine, Jeff, it's nothing."
The guard, whose name was not Jeff, stepped back, his face switching from concern to a polite blank. "Yes, sir."
Oh great, Jed thought. Now he'll probably have to fill out a report. Form 5410b: "The subject appeared depressed last night as he returned from greeting the caskets of the men he sent to Colombia to die. "
Jed looked at his watch as he walked into the bedroom. Too late to call Abbey, even with the time difference.
He looked up. Leo McGarry was sitting on his couch. Not unexpected. Leo McGarry was sitting on his couch wearing blue jeans and a faded Michigan sweatshirt. He wondered if he was still hallucinating.
All the way back from Dover he kept seeing the flag-covered caskets. They kept coming and coming and then the noise from the helicopter made him think of old newscasts from Vietnam, when he and Abbey would sit on their couch and try to pretend that Leo wasn't over there, that he was never in any danger of coming home in a flag-covered casket.
He must be hallucinating. He hadn't seen his chief of staff wear anything but a double-breasted suit in a long long time.
He blinked his eyes rapidly but this un-Leo was still there.
"Jed, come here," Leo said softly, and that's when Jed knew. This wasn't his chief of staff. This was *Leo*.
"Sit down, you look like hell."
Yep, definitely Leo. Jed took his jacket off and sat down opposite him.
"Abbey called you, didn't she?"
Leo nodded. "From the plane. She said you were too stubborn to tell her to stay, but that you shouldn't be alone."
"She said you needed to be with someone who didn't call you 'Mr. President.'"
Jed looked up. "*You* call me 'Mr. President,'" he said accusingly.
"Not in my head. And not tonight."
"Ah, is that why -- " Jed waved in the general direction of Leo's clothes. "I mean, I didn't even know you still *owned* jeans."
"Yep, you got the idea." Leo's face was grave, but Jed thought he could see a glimmer of humor in his eyes. "Tonight I am not the best-dressed chief of staff in the history of the White House -- "
"I'm just a guy you know from Camp Marist, the really suave camp counselor from Southie that all the chicks dig."
Jed laughed out loud for the first time in what seemed like months. "I thought all the chicks dug the ultra-sophisticated counselor from Exeter."
"Nah, I just let you think that so you'd give me a ride into town."
They both chuckled. And then Jed sighed.
"It was bad," Leo said. It wasn't a question.
"It was bad." He sighed again.
"It was -- " Jed wasn't sure how he meant to finish his sentence.
They sat in silence a minute.
"You never talk about Vietnam," Jed said suddenly, unsure of why he said it.
"I've told Abbey some stuff," Leo said, taking him completely by surprise.
"Years ago. When she was doing her residency." Leo paused as if he was thinking whether he should tell Jed this. He shrugged his shoulders.
"She called me one time. It was the first time one of her patients had died -- not just someone she'd been helping out with, but someone who'd been under her primary care. She wanted to talk about it, and she figured I'd know what it felt like.
"So we talked about it. About death and guilt and responsibility and all the crap that goes with knowing it was your fault that someone died."
Jed started to speak, but Leo waved a hand at him.
"Even when it isn't your fault, but age or a failing heart, or bad intelligence or a war we never should have gotten into in the first place, or God or whatever. You still feel it's your fault."
"So we talked. And then she called again a few months later, and a few times after that." Leo looked away for a second. "I probably told her more about what happened to me over there than anyone."
"You never told Jenny?"
"Not the bad stuff. Not really."
"Same reason I didn't tell you. Same reason Abbey didn't come home and tell you about her dead patients."
Leo paused to take a deep breath. "It's about love, I guess. You want to protect the people you love from all that death and guilt. It's easier just to not talk about it."
"I wish you had." Jed couldn't believe his best friend had shared this with his wife and not him.
"Oh, Jed. I know you do. But I came back and you and Abbey were so happy and you'd had your first daughter and she was so cute and I was just relieved that anyone anywhere could be that happy. I wanted to wrap you all up in tissue paper and keep you in my pocket and take you out to look at sometimes."
Jed reached out and took one of Leo's hands in both of his.
Leo looked embarrassed. "I can't believe I just said that."
"You wanted to protect me, I get it." Jed squeezed his hand. "It's OK."
"Yeah, I wanted to protect you, and then a few years later, Abbey did to. We didn't want you to have to deal with death and dying and pain." Leo laughed, a bit bitterly. "And then what do we do? We make you president. No pain there, no sir."
Jed lifted one of his hands and touched Leo's cheek.
"It'll be OK."
Leo cleared his throat. "Hey, aren't I the one supposed to be comforting you?"
Jed sat back in his chair. "This helps. Quite a lot, actually."
"Well, good." Leo said. "Let me know if we ever go to war, I can tell you about the villages I dropped bombs on."
Jed went still. For a moment, he was back at Dover, except instead of one line of caskets coming his way there were hundreds.
"Oh God," Leo said, his face ashen. "I take it back. I don't know why I said it. Jed, I'm sorry. I take it back. Pretend I never said it. Jed, for god's sake, say something."
Jed shook his head, banishing the image of Dover. He was in his bedroom, with Leo, and he was safe for the moment. They weren't at war, and they weren't going to be because his best friend had earlier that day stopped him from doing something so monumentally dumb. He had blood on his hands, but it wasn't the blood of an entire nation.
He sighed. He couldn¹t remember ever feeling so tired and yet unable to go to sleep.
"So, tell me, what did you do in Vietnam, when someone under your command died?"
"What did I do?"
"Well, I know what my wife did to deal with death. She apparently called you. What did you do?"
"Ah." Leo thought a minute. "Got drunk, mostly."
"I did a lot of dope, too." Leo looked around, as if there might be a stash hidden somewhere in the presidential bedroom. "Had sex sometimes."
"We could do that," Jed said, not quite believing he was saying it.
Leo looked like he couldn't believe Jed had said it either. "Um, no. I don't think so."
"No?" Jed took time out of being exhausted to be a bit offended.
Leo leaned over and took Jed's head in his hands. He kissed Jed gently, and for a minute, Jed was really back at Camp Marist, kissing this wonderful boy from Boston. Leo kissed him again, and then leaned back.
"If you really want to have this conversation, we'll have it," he said. "But not tonight."
Jed nodded. "I'm still too tired to go to sleep, though." He wasn't making sense but Leo seemed to understand what he meant.
"Want to play chess?"
God, no. Jed didn't want to think about anything the least bit military. He shook his head.
"No," Leo agreed, "bad idea."
"I think there's a Scrabble board around here somewhere," Jed suggested.
"OK," Leo said. "Dirty words count double?"
"Sure." Jed said, standing up to find the board.
Leo's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "No Latin words."
"You're just saying that because you know I'm much smarter than you," Jed returned with the board and began setting it up.
"I'm just saying that because you cheat, my friend." Leo smiled up at Jed, and it was like the room had suddenly gotten brighter.
"I don't cheat. It's not my fault you don't know the Latin word for hockey."
"That's because there is no Latin word for hockey, Jed."
"Whatever you say, Leo." And Jed smiled.
Notes: This is what watching reruns does. I was hoping for inspiration to work on my threesome WIP, but this popped out instead. Not really in the same universe as any of my other stories, though the stuff about Camp Marist and my thoughts about when their first daughter was born and when Abbey did her residency and so on come from the same back-story research I did for the WIP. Good to see that Excel timeline being used somewhere, I guess.
-- Dafna G. (firstname.lastname@example.org) http://www.geocities.com/beruriagreer/
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