Series: Return to Me #6
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 1880
Character(s): Jed Bartlet, Abbey Bartlet, CJ Cregg, Leo McGarry
Category(ies): AU, Post Administration
Crossover Shows: - No Show -
Summary: Getting up from his chair, he went over to the bookshelf and grabbed the frame. Leo stood and followed, his eyes watering as Jed returned one of his most prized possessions.
The mile and a half dirt road to the Bartlet farm never seemed as comforting to CJ as it did today. Manchester no longer had anything to do with the stresses of work, just the comforts of home and family. Truth be told, the Bartlets and the rest of the old senior staff formed much more of a family to her than her blood relatives had ever been. Especially Jed. Every few weeks he called to discuss the weather, her foundation, and when her next visit to the farm would be. She drove the rental Ford Focus holding Leo’s hand, not sure she would ever be able to let go.
“What did he say when you told him you were coming?” Leo asked, breaking her train of thought.
“He was happy. He’s been begging me to come East for a few months. No matter how suspicious he was about me bringing an uninvited guest, he didn’t say anything. I know how to handle the President.”
“I’m sure you do.”
As they ascended the steps, Jed Bartlet flung open the door.
He stopped abruptly, swaying slightly. Leo stepped in, wrapping his arms around his best friend before the older man could fall.
CJ wanted to joke; to say she’d never seen Jed speechless before. But as she saw the energy flowing between the men’s gazes, she knew it wasn’t appropriate. Moisture pricked her eyes as Jed caressed Leo’s face, tracing the lines that measured his life experience.
“Jed?” Abbey said, coming in from the kitchen. “I thought I heard…”
Jed turned to his wife, tears streaming down his face.
“Oh my god,” she breathed. “You miserable son of a bitch.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that buddy.”
“Not in front of Jed. I thought we promised to keep that just between the two of us.”
He managed to get a small smile from the former First Lady as she wrenched him from her husband’s arms. She took his wrist, silently measuring this pulse.
“My heart rate and blood pressure are fine, Dr. Bartlet, so you can let go of me. The CIA took good care of me.”
“The CIA?” Jed spoke for the first time since finding his best friend with life and breath in his body at the front door. “I am going to kill Hutchinson.”
“He didn’t have anything to do with it.” Leo paused before presenting the good news, as if his very life wasn’t enough reason to shout from the rooftops. “Sir, we’ve secured Cuba.”
“Cuba? Cuba?!” Jed shouted. “We thought you were dead and you were in Cuba?”
Leo put his hands up in an attempt to placate Jed.
“I’m sorry, sir. It wasn’t my idea…”
“I don’t give a damn whose idea it was and stop calling me sir!”
“Jed!” Abbey put her hand on his shoulder. “Calm down. Let’s sit so Leo can tell his story. Claudia Jean, I want to know why you flew all the way from San Francisco to accompany an old man to see his best friend.”
CJ colored slightly. Along with many members of the Bartlet administration, Abbey had no idea of their close personal relationship.
“Solidarity between former Chiefs of Staff, I suppose.”
“I'm not sensing not.” Abbey replied.
Leo smirked at the response, taking CJ’s hand and pulling her to him.
“Oh for the love of God,” he said, kissing her temple. “Give it up.”
As she had done countless times in the past twenty-four hours, CJ melted in his embrace.
The expression on Abbey’s face teetered between utter shock and concern as she glanced down to find CJ’s wedding band. She had always suspected something in the White House…it was hard to pull a fast one on Abbey Bartlet. She had even confronted CJ on it once, the night of her birthday, but the Press Secretary was enigmatic in her response. After a while, other things more pressing than CJ’s love life took over and Abbey gave up her quest. After Leo died and CJ married Danny it completely slipped her mind.
“Well, we do have plenty to talk about. Come on, let’s go to the study.”
Jed and Abbey walked ahead of CJ and Leo, she was squeezing Leo’s hand to reassure him but he could not stop trembling. As long as he lived, and he hoped he had a couple of decades left after this, he would never forget the look on Jed’s face.
“Tell me how you are Jed.” He said, melting into the old familiarity of their couch.
“Uh uh, I am going to ask the questions. Cuba Leo? You faked your death and went to Cuba.”
“I didn’t; the CIA did. They put something in my heart medication that made me slip into a coma. In the hospital they came for me and a pile of rocks is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Fidel Castro is dead.”
“What?” Abbey sat on the edge of Jed’s chair.
“The announcement will be made in a few days. We secured democracy in Cuba and now I'm back.”
“OK, let me see if I have this straight and this is not some freakish dream. The CIA faked your death, without your knowledge or consent. You were shipped to Cuba and brokered a democratic state as Castro lie dying. Now it is done, and you are back.”
“Pretty much. They didn’t seem to give a damn how it would affect the people I loved. They kept saying I was the only man for the job.”
“You didn’t try to escape?” Abbey asked.
“To what?” CJ asked a question of her own. “We all thought he was dead…everyone had moved on with their lives. He was alone.”
Jed Bartlet took a deep breath and looked at his best friend. He could not believe he was staring at Leo McGarry in the flesh. He smiled suddenly.
“I have something for you.”
Getting up from his chair, he went over to the bookshelf and grabbed the frame. Leo stood and followed, his eyes watering as Jed returned one of his most prized possessions.
“Mallory gave it to me. It’s not mine Leo, it’s yours. I can't believe you are even standing here.”
They held each other for a long time and the women silently left the room. In the kitchen, Abbey poured CJ a glass of wine and they sat at the counter.
“How’s Danny taking it?” she asked.
“About as well as any husband whose wife’s former boyfriend he never knew she had returned from the dead.”
“So, not so good.”
“We’re getting divorced.”
“How long has Leo been alive?”
“One day. Jesus Abbey, I can't even talk about it. I…”
“You loved him, and you kept it to yourself all those years.”
“No, Margaret knew. Charlie knew; I think Toby may have known. It wasn’t appropriate at the time to make it known to the public.”
“We weren’t the public sweetheart. I would have been there if I knew you were hurting like you must have been.”
“You were there. I cannot believe we are having this conversation. God, this is surreal.”
Abbey nodded, sipping her wine.
“We have to get everyone here. Leo doesn’t need to be traveling all over trying to find everyone. Does he have a place to live?”
“No. He is going to have to be declared alive again so he can get all the money willed to his loved ones. That’s inconsequential right now though. He has to be back in Washington on Monday to report and to get his life back.”
“That gives us a few days to get everyone here. What are we going to tell them?”
“The family needs them.”
“Yeah.” Abbey nodded, grabbing the cordless phone from the wall.
“11 months. Everyday I woke up and prayed you weren’t really gone.”
“I know. I wanted to call, write, but it would have been disastrous. I had to finish what they started if I wanted to get back to you.”
“Since the White House Jed. It’s been so long I can't remember not loving her.”
“Well the whole world thinks Jenny is your widow. You have to call her.”
“I know.” Leo nodded. “I have to see my daughter and my granddaughter. Josh, Toby…Toby. Jed, how much time did he get?”
“Six years in the federal penitentiary. I pardoned him on my last day.”
“Good. I won't justify his actions, but…”
“Yeah. Can we get back to the very married CJ Cregg?”
“Fuck him. I love her and she loves me and I'm sorry but stealing her from Danny is not going to keep me awake at night.”
“Some things never change. She was devastated; barely consolable and I could never figure out why. I mean we all were, but CJ…damn.”
“I will never live down the guilt of what I have done to the people who love me.”
“I don’t care. You're alive. They’ll be mad for a few minutes but you're here.”
They hugged again and Leo smiled. It felt so good to be close to them again. It felt good to smell the smells, see the house, know that he walked amongst the living again. He could help but inhale Jed’s scent; remember the soap and shampoo he had used as long as they had been friends. Jed was doing the same thing and it was hard for them to pull apart.
“You look good.” Jed said. “You're in good shape?”
“The best. What about you? The MS?”
“I still got it. But it hasn’t worsened and the stress free life has been good for me. In January I will be doing some humanitarian work in Africa, on the AIDS crisis. There is still a lot for old men like us to do Leo.”
“First I need a vacation. I've done my share for a little while.”
CJ and Abbey returned from the kitchen, smiling with their arms around each other.
“When those two smile that way,” Jed whispered. “We are usually in for something.”
“The family should be here soon.” Abbey said. “They are gassing up the plane now. It will go to California to get Zoey and Charlie, then to New York for Toby, and finally DC for Josh, Donna, and Sam. I tried to contact Will Bailey but I wasn’t able to get through. I guess he can find out on CNN like the rest of the world.”
“Mal and Jenny?” Leo asked.
“Oh yeah right. You are on your own with that mission. Are you hungry? I think we should make some lunch.”
“Yeah. Jed, where’s the chess set?”
The President smiled and they went to the library to pass the hours away like they hadn't in so long. Leo would need the peace of mind before the bombardment. None of them knew how this would turn out but the next 24 hours would be very telling.