Title: Between Sunrises
Author: Baked Goldfish
Disclaimer: The West Wing was created by Aaron Sorkin. Not me. Please don't sue, I'm just having harmless fun with his characters.
Spoilers: It's post-Dogs of War (season 5), and takes place during the day (?) between that episode and Jefferson Lives.
Summary: The day Zoey comes home, some people who should talk don't, and some people who've never talked do. Leo POV.
Between Sunrises by Baked Goldfish
The situation room was in the basement. There were two sets of doors, both of which were heavy solid wood. There were no windows. The only lights came from subdued hidden bulbs and the illuminated display on the wall. Somber room for somber occasions, a catacomb for killing.
Troops were still moving in Qumar, according to the map projection. American, Qumari, pushing and pulling over CGI land like dirt over paper. Darkness swallowed the faces and ribbons and badges of the personnel moving pages like the fate of the world hinged on them. Most times, the fate of the world did.
If more than the coffeemaker burbling away or humming with heat was heard, that meant something was wrong. A cough could mean another mission for SOCOM. A steady pen tap could mean it was moments before nuclear war. Leo coughed and took a sip of cold coffee.
When the President left the Rose Garden, he went down to the basement of his house. He wouldn't have noticed Leo except for the glint of the light in his eyes. Nobody else was there to stand up, and Leo didn't see him. "I'm gonna go see her now," he said.
Leo stood, coffee sloshing onto the tabletop as he knocked the table with his thigh. "Sir."
Jed didn't seem to know what to do with his hands. He almost stuck them in his pockets, then decided to smooth down the front of his trousers and jacket. Words seemed to come a little haltingly. "You wanna come?"
The hardness in Leo's eyes softened as he said, "I don't want to impose."
"Okay," he said dumbly; Leo could tell he wanted to say something else. "Okay. I'm just gonna - I'm gonna go change outta this suit. Hey."
"I forgot to ask. I meant to ask before, but I - did you even go home?"
Leo found a napkin by the coffeemaker. He tried to sop up the mess he'd made. It wasn't quite working. "I got some rest. Did you?"
"Yeah," he said. "Listen, Leo. I'm sure Zoey'll want to see you. Come with me."
Upstairs, in the Residence: Leo was sitting on a chair by the bed. Jed was shadowed by suits, a couple of tuxes, and Abbey's dresses and skirts in the closet. Jed was changing his shirt - maybe his entire suit, Leo didn't know. He looked at his hands; his nails needed some trimming.
"I wanna stay longer than they'll let me," Jed told him, his voice muffled by cotton and silk and the air between them. "Ron told me they can't let me stay long, 'cause of security."
Leo knew this speech pattern. It was the one Jed always fell back on when he was nervous: almost childish expository, trying to sound detached when he couldn't possibly be. "Yeah," he replied. Groped for straws. "Josh has a short list."
Ruffling of shirts, cotton scratching fleece. "Short list of what?"
Leo looked up, glimpsed an expanse of bare, open flesh just before Jed pulled an undershirt on. "Candidates."
There was a pause, and then Jed looked at him. "That's good," he said, the words coming out like pulled teeth. "Good. Who's he looking at?"
A wave of the hand, a regretful grimace, and the words, "Finish getting dressed," were Leo's way of saying he didn't mean to bring it up. He stared at the windowsill across from him, and then his hands again, until he heard the closet door close with a soft click. Maintenance seemed to be the only group in this place that could run like a well-oiled machine.
"The car'll be waiting," Jed said, stepping into a pair of well-worn loafers.
"I should really probably stay here," Leo said. He stood up, his eyes focusing on a point somewhere above Jed's right eye.
He reached out and put a hand on Leo's shoulder. "Leo-"
Even as he let himself be pulled into a half-embrace, he was shaking his head. "I'd just be in the way, sir. Besides, someone needs to be here."
"Josh is here. And Toby. Not to mention, y'know, half the NSA." Jed let his hand drop, and headed for the door.
Leo still lingered behind. "Is Abbey pissed at you?" He was fully aware that the last few times he'd asked that question, it had been teasingly. The words now very nearly choked him.
Jed didn't look at him with those lucid, readable eyes of his. His step hesitated, though, and then he pushed his hands deep in his pockets and said, "The car's waiting."
Leo didn't bother going inside the hospital room. He was sure Zoey wouldn't mind him being there, and god knew he wanted to see her - he had to apologize for the damn pen. Damn pen that didn't do anything, just sat there being a pen, all ink and plastic and useless metal. She called him uncle, had a crush on him when she was ten, helped him talk her father into running for President, and he got her a goddamn pen.
He may not have been toeing the party line when he came to the sharp realization that he'd have rather bought her a gun.
Anyway, he didn't go in. It was a family thing, and the last thing he felt was like he was family.
Maybe an hour passed, with him sitting there, alternately pretending to read a DOT report and staring at the faded linoleum, and Ellie came out. He stood, and she flinched back like she wasn't expecting to see him. Leo wasn't one to stammer, but: "Your father - he asked me - I-"
She smiled a little and said, "Yeah. I'm gonna get something to drink. Wanna come?"
Two secret service agents trail behind them, like a couple of wraiths slinking through the ether. This wasn't the way to the cafeteria. One of Ellie's agents went ahead, shoved the door open, led them to an alley behind the hospital. Leo watched Ellie reach into her pocket and pull out a lighter. His fingers touched her hand, warningly. "I can't promise not to tell your father, you know."
She stared at him for a second before shoving the lighter away. "You're both such hypocrites," she muttered; to him, her anger sounded half-hearted. Still, there was a crinkle of cellophane as her fingers brushed against a hastily opened pack in her jacket pocket.
The sun was right above them, blistering hot through the humid air. Leo could feel his shirt already beginning to stick to the small of his back, and looked sideways at Ellie to see how she was fairing. She pulled the jacket closer, not noticing his glance. "I thought you said you wanted something to drink.
She shook her head offhandedly. "Mom and dad could still hear me," she said. "Couldn't really say, 'Hey Leo, come smoke with me,' could I?"
"Yeah." He squinted at her and the way she didn't seem to want to meet his eyes. The air conditioning called to him, and he said, "So let's go get something to drink."
The cafeteria was pretty much empty when they'd come in, and it still was now that they'd finished their coffee. In the back of his mind, Leo knew why; even in a military hospital, it was important to get all non-essentials out or locked away when the President and his family were here.
Ellie was staring at some point over his shoulder, awkward as could be. He was staring at the rim of his empty paper cup. One of the agents spoke into her sleeve, and he could tell that even though Ellie couldn't see it, she knew it had happened. "You ready to head back?"
"Only one of us can be in there at a time," she said.
He shook his head, brought his brows together. "The doctors would let all of you-"
"I mean-" She looked down for a moment, curled into herself as if to take up less space. Then she looked him in the eye and said, "I get why Dad and I never really got along."
There was a cardboard sleeve encircling his cup, so he fiddled with it. He was treading on thin ice here, but he said, "He loves you."
"I love him too." She stilled his hands with her own and said, "And that by itself doesn't mean anything, and you know it."
There was more of that awkward silence - Leo had never known how to talk to Ellie. He'd never gotten the chance to sit down with her before, not like how he'd sat down with Zoey, and Liz was a friend of Mallory's so he'd had to learn how to talk to her. But Ellie was that mysterious middle child, the one who wouldn't know where she fit in until nobody was paying attention anymore. He couldn't remember what he'd gotten her for graduation.
"So, you gonna tell me?" he asked.
"Nah. I probably shouldn't have even brought it up," she said. She sounded like she was pretending, feigning comfort. Leo watched her school her features: clearer eyes, softer set of the mouth, shoulders thrown a little bit back. "Anyway, I just needed a break. So, um, thanks for coming with."
"Yeah," he said, in an offhanded way of saying you're welcome. "Ellie, if you ever wanna talk-"
"I don't need some namby-pamby get-in-touch-with-my-feelings speech, Leo," she said with a dry smile. "It's fine."
He nodded, and pulled his hands from hers. He knew this behavior from her father, that stubborn tragic hero act he never realized he was putting on. "I should probably be getting back to work."
When they got to the elevator, and he backed away, she said, "You're not gonna say bye to Dad?" and he stopped short. Not Zoey, not Liz, not Charlie, not Abbey.
"May be best if I didn't," he said after a while. "This is a family thing."
He didn't say anything for what seemed like forever. When he finally choked out, "Okay," it sounded like he'd gotten his first glass of spring water after a hundred days in the desert.
She smiled weakly, moved to give him a hug. When they parted, he felt her fingers linger over his left hand, thumb gracing over the slim gold ring. "I'll give him your love?"
Ellie had always been the perceptive one.
When the last senior staffer left the office, the sun had long been buried. A huge half moon was in the sky, looking like someone had taken a straight-razor and just cut it right down the middle of its face.
Zoey was coming home soon. Even though it was well past midnight, she would be brought to the bed and the arms and the semi-familiar surroundings that best gave her comfort. Leo pushed one pile of papers from one end of his desk to another, long past the ability to read anything more than the simplest sentences.
A shuffling of noise next door told him that soon was actually a few minutes ago. He waited for the noise to die down; when it did, the door to the Oval opened, just like he knew it would. He stood. "Sir. "
Jed gave him the faintest dismissive wave before sitting on Leo's couch. "Why are you still in the office?"
He sat back down. "Why are you?" Leo chided.
Jed frowned and gave him a look that could have been the evil eye if it tried harder. "In case you forgot, I live here."
Despite the sarcasm, or maybe because of it, Leo could see the weariness. Knees quietly protesting, he got up and sat down on the couch, next to Jed. "How're they doing?"
"Coping," he said. "Liz is mother henning almost as much as Abbey. By the way, they're pissed at me, for, you know, murder and probably getting Zoey kid-"
Jed was silent for a moment. "Yeah," he finally sighed. "So, hey. You left me at the hospital."
He shrugged, leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "You needed to be alone with your family."
A hand was on Leo's wrist, fingers wrapping around bone. And Jed said, "You're part of my family."
Leo looked at him and saw his eyes. He saw bloodshot whites, acting as roadmaps of the past sixty hours. He saw the pain and fear from the last couple days melting with the all the little angers and frustrations from the past year. But mostly, Leo saw that he hadn't looked Jed in the eyes for too long.
The trees and skyline were silhouetted a purple sky bruised by oily clouds. Jed had always liked a cigarette before sleep after a stressful day. Leo thought they might stop for him to smoke, but they didn't.
The Residence was quiet. Leo waited at the door while Jed took his jacket off and dumped it over the back of a chair. "You need anything else, sir?" he asked, his voice as emotionless as he could make it.
Jed looked up at him then, and frowned for a moment. "I'm just gonna take a quick shower. You gonna stick around?"
"Sure." He sat down on the same chair Jed put his jacket on. The sound of water running through old pipes started lulling him to sleep, but the door clicked open just before his eyes shut. He stood up and turned to face the door.
"Oh," Abbey said, taking a half-step back. He glanced away while she composed herself. "He's here?" she asked.
"Shower," he said. The pipes shuddered a little bit, like the water going through them was suddenly massive and misshapen. "How's Zoey doing?" She answered with a demure shrug, and he didn't quite shift from one foot to the other.
"Could you tell him something for me?" she asked after a long minute. "Tell him I'm gonna sit with Zoey while she sleeps. I don't want her getting woken up."
He looked her straight in the eye when he said, "Don't make me read between the lines, Abbey."
"You don't have to," she replied. "Let him do it." She turned to leave.
"I talked him into it," he blurted out.
She hesitated, stood in front of the doorway. "What are you talking about?"
"I talked him into - God, Abbey, it was the right thing to do," he said desperately.
"The right thing got my baby taken away from me, so excuse me if I'm a little bit pissed," she shot back.
"And I swear if either of us had known that would happen-"
"Leo, just-" She held her hands up, closed her eyes, shook her head. "Stop, all right?"
He waited until she was half out the door before he said, "I talked him into it."
She didn't stop walking, and before the door closed she muttered, "I know. You talk him into everything."
Jed draped the towel around his shoulders and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You're pretty much telling me nothing at all happened today?"
"I'm definitely telling you that," Leo replied. "Well, okay, the Department of Agriculture released a report."
"What'd it say?"
"Brussel sprout consumption is on the rise." Off Jed's look of confusion, he added, "Yeah, I'm thinking of getting the FBI to investigate that particular claim."
"Agreed," Jed grumbled. He took one more swipe at his hair, and got up to put the towel away. "You sure nothing happened?"
This fake calm was wearing on Leo. "Sir, how are you doing?"
"I'm okay," he said. He sat down on the bed again, looked at Leo with that forced impassive mask.
"Abbey came in while you were in the shower," Leo began evenly. "She told me to give you a message."
"She said she'd be with Zoey while she slept, and that she didn't want anything waking Zoey up." He watched Jed try to school his features. "Sir-"
"Did she say anything else?"
He watched the muscles in Jed's face try to keep still and stony. "Okay."
Leo stood up and took a step towards the bed. "Jed-"
"I'm just gonna go to sleep, okay? I'm gonna, I have some reading to catch up on, and then I'm gonna go to sleep," Jed said, pulling the covers back. "You should go home."
"I-" He took a deep breath. "Yes, Mr. President."
After he left the bedroom, he went to the kitchen. The mess was closed, and he needed something to drink. The fridge had more than a couple bottles of water; he grabbed one, figuring it wouldn't be too missed.
Somebody flicked the lights on.
"Oh, sh-" He turned around, his hip banging hard into something. Ellie was staring at him. "What're you still doing up?"
She pointed at the Evian he was holding. "Thirsty. Sorry I scared you."
He handed the bottle to her and reached for another one. "I was just startled. Anyway, 'night."
She grabbed his arm. "Is Mom with Dad?"
His face fell as he tried to think of the best way to tell her no. "Sweetie, you're gonna have to talk to them about this, not me."
"I'm gonna take that as a no." She looked to the side and let her hand drop. "Liz has been giving him the cold shoulder too. The kids don't know what to think."
He frowned slowly. "This isn't a conversation you should be having with me."
Ellie peered at him. "Are you a coward, or an idiot?"
"Because either you just don't want to get your hands dirty, which would make you yellow, or you don't get that this really is your business, which would make you dense."
"Ellie, this isn't my area," he ground out. "This has to be worked out between-"
"We both know that's not Jenny's ring you're wearing," she quietly interrupted.
"Kiddo, you're walkin' on thin ice here," he warned.
"Whatever." She opened the bottle and toyed with the cap. "Look. I get that they need to work it out between themselves. Meanwhile, Mom and Liz are able to be all righteously angered together. Dad gets to go brood by himself."
"You could go to him."
"We can't talk to each other," she said. "We're too much alike. We'd sit there being broody together until one of us felt the need to yell. It's you and Mom who know how to pull him out of himself. And since she's, y'know, on the warpath . . ."
He sighed. "Yeah." He opened the fridge and took another bottle. "You gonna try and get some sleep?"
Leo stared in the direction of Jed's bedroom. "Maybe in a little bit. "
He knocked on the bedroom door. He could hear some shuffling inside, most likely papers being moved around.
"'S open," Jed said through the door.
Leo slipped inside and turned the knob so the door didn't click when it shut. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, I just have one more thing."
Jed put the folder he was looking through down and settled against the headboard. "What's up?"
He kicked off his shoes, pulled off his jacket, undid his belt, and walked to the bed. "Scoot over," he said as he loosened his tie and tugged it over his head. He lay down in the warm spot Jed left and pulled the light covers up around them. "I've got meetings before you get up, so I'll have to get out of here early, but I gotta take a nap in an actual bed for once."
"Not that I don't appreciate it," Jed said as he settled beside him. "But don't you have a bed in that apartment of yours?"
"Yeah, but I kinda like it here better." He put his arm over Jed's chest, pulled him closer, and said, "Also, I want you to know something."
"I love you." He shifted slightly so that one leg was between Jed's legs; he knew Jed liked to sleep on his side, but that he hated the feeling of his knees sliding against each other. He pulled Jed's glasses off and put them behind him, on the nightstand, cupped Jed's face so he had to look right at him, and added, "And so do Abbey and the girls, no matter what it looks like now."
Jed looked at him with those vulnerable eyes of his and said, "They blame me. They're right."
"Doesn't matter." He took a deep breath and nearly crushed Jed to his chest. "Zoey got taken from you, too."
Jed tried to pull away as he said, "Leo, they've got a point. If I hadn't ordered - hell, if I hadn't broken my promise to Abbey to begin with - Zoey would never have been taken from anyone."
"Maybe." He let him pull away, looked Jed in the eyes and shrugged. "So it's your fault. They beat her up, fine, it's your fault. She's probably still shell-shocked from the whole thing, and that's your fault too."
"Why are you talking to me like this?"
He looked straight into those aged, bright irises, and said, "If that's what it takes to get you to feel something-"
"I am feeling something," Jed snarled. He sat up and kicked the sheets off. "I hurt them. I keep hurting them."
Leo grabbed his wrist before he could storm off. "Stop. Think about yourself for a minute, would you? They didn't just take her from Abbey and the girls. They took her from you." He pulled Jed back down into the same spot he was in before.
"I have to think of the girls first," he said.
Leo knew the gut instinct of being a father to girls. There was a burning need to protect them from everything, and there was a burning need to act like some unbreakable pillar of strength for them. But Leo also knew Jed. "The girls aren't here," he said, "and they won't be coming."
The tears started before he realized, before he could feel them soaking through his shirt and undershirt. When he felt Jed's hands pressing into the skin of his back, and when he felt the sobs shaking Jed's shoulders, he kissed the crown of his head and murmured, "Let it out, baby."
When he woke up, the sun hadn't risen yet. He hadn't even realized he'd dozed off. He was getting too used to sleeping in two-to-three hour intervals, and he knew he was going to get it from Margaret later on.
Jed had rolled a little bit away from him in the night. It made it easier for Leo to get up and leave. His back ached from the strange, twisted position he'd slept in, so he sat on the edge of the bed for a minute until the pain got duller.
He was finished dressing and out the door in under a minute. Groggily, he headed towards the stairs.
He turned at the sound of the sleep-coarse voice. Ellie was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed, her eyes bleary and squinting. "You're up again?" he asked.
"Was sleeping in the hall," she said, pointing to the chair down the hall a bit. "Where're you going?"
"I got some work to do," he said. "Trying to keep your father's desk clear for the next couple days. He should be spending more time with you guys, I don't wanna bother him."
"Might only have to keep it clear for today," she said, yawning. "Mom's thinking of taking Zoey up to the farm."
He tried to swallow the bitter, cottony taste in his mouth. Morning breath, he thought absently. "She's meeting with Ron?"
"Lemme guess, you wanna be there?"
"Someone should be," he said. "If only to. You know. Be there."
For a moment, he saw something like pity cross over her face. Then she nodded, and it was gone. "I'll let her know."
She nodded again, and almost turned around to leave. But she stopped, and frowned at him. "Hey. How come you never told anyone?"
The early morning hours had him confused. "Told anyone what?"
Ellie rolled her eyes a bit and smirked self-consciously before glancing away. "You and Dad," she said. "Don't make me say the actual words."
"Oh." He shrugged. "Your mother knows. And Jenny."
She yawned again, shuffled over to him, and hugged him. "You should still be in there," she said, her words muffled in his suit.
"I wish I were," he replied, holding her tightly for a moment. "I'll see you, Ellie. Go get some sleep."
She pulled back, her lips curled into a wry smile. "I should tell you the same thing. You look like a zombie."
"Whatever." With one last smile, he turned and walked down the stairs.
Through the windows in the West Wing, he could see evidence of the sun trying to push up through the summer-hazed sky. The light filtering through the pollution turned the clouds dirty yellow and orange, and the city looked like it was on fire. It very well might have been, considering the issues this administration would have to face before the next State of the Union.
Behind him, up the stairs from him, there were undertows of some greater problem threatening to pull him down. He felt Ellie had been trying to steer him in that direction, clue him in to what was going on - and it had, in part, worked. He knew Abbey blamed Jed for what happened. He knew Liz did too, and Ellie didn't. He knew Jed agreed with the older Bartlet women. And he knew, from the way Ellie had reached out to him of all people, that they weren't talking nearly as much as they should have been.
He stopped, looked out the windows, and then looked back towards the Residence. Here he was, stuck between a city on fire and a family drowning in their own self-imposed silence. He couldn't deal with both problems at once, no matter what kind of faith anyone had in him, no matter how much he wanted to deal.
There was a part of him that wanted to go back upstairs and crawl back into bed with Jed. He knew Ellie was probably right about him looking dead; more importantly, he just wanted to be there with him. But he had work on his desk. If he went back to Jed, that work would just grow and grow and grow into more problems for them to face. Best way, he thought, best way to help Jed right now is to keep the Oval as clear as possible.
So the sun kept fighting to break through, and Leo went to work.
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