Series: Return to Me #7
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 10405
Character(s): CJ Cregg, Leo McGarry, Ensemble
Category(ies): AU, Post Administration
Crossover Shows: - No Show -
Summary: "Don't make me come in there and get you; you won't like the result."
Abbey stood on the front porch as the SUV unloaded a few yards away from the house. Jed stood beside her, deeply inhaling the cool October air.
"I'm nervous for him," he admitted.
Abbey squeezed his hand tighter. For the rest of their lives, Jed would be more protective of Leo than he had ever been.
"Between you and CJ, I don't think anyone will get close enough to him to do any permanent damage."
"Very funny. I do not smother him."
"Right and I don’t smother you."
"Abbey!" Josh took the porch stairs two by two, coming to a stop before bowling over the couple. "Sir.” He nodded toward the President. “Is everything alright? You brought Zoey all the way from California and not CJ. Charlie seemed more than a little upset."
Donna appeared behind her counterpart, rubbing his back soothingly. "Sir, ma'am."
"Calm down, Josh. Everything's fine." Abbey smiled at the nervous Chief of Staff. "Everyone come inside; we've got dinner ready if you're hungry."
"I'd just like to know what's going on." Toby grumbled. "Why isn't CJ here?"
"Toby," Jed said firmly. "CJ is inside. Let's go inside."
Charlie and Zoey brought up the rear and Abbey embraced her daughter.
"How are you feeling, honey?"
"Fine, mom. Are you and dad okay? What's happening? You were coming out to San Francisco in a few weeks anyway. Something is not right because Charlie has not been himself for a couple of days."
"I know. I'm sorry to bring you all the way out here, but your father felt it was important for Charlie to be here and we knew he wouldn't even consider making the trip without you."
"What aren’t you telling me?"
"You should just lay down sweetie. I know it was a long trip and your condition is delicate. Your room is all made up."
"Thanks." Turning to Charlie, she kissed his cheek and took her leave.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Charlie looked at Abbey.
"I can't believe you dragged Zoey out here like this Abbey. Whoopdee doo, Leo’s alive. The world is not going to stop spinning on its axis. Some of us still have to deal with the everyday."
"Charles Edward," Abbey intoned her best 'mother voice.' "What is your problem? This is a happy time. A very happy time for the family."
"The family? Was he thinking about the family when he ran off to Cuba? Annabeth found his body crumpled in a hotel bathroom; and I can't even tell you what the last year has been like for CJ. Come on, Abbey, you cannot be okay with this."
"Of course I am not OK with it. If I could get my hands on a CIA agent, I would kill him. This wasn’t Leo’s fault and he came back to us as soon as he could.”
"You bought that line?"
"What line?” she put her hand on his arm. “God, Charlie, after eight years in the White House, you can't possibly be surprised at deceit from a government agency."
"Leo wasn’t supposed to do this; he was never supposed to hurt us. It was almost the death of Jed."
Abbey closed her eyes at the mention of her husband. Jed was torn apart by Leo’s death, but he seemed to be bouncing back well since he and CJ appeared at the front door yesterday.
"We have to go inside before they get suspicious. I swear you better put a smile on your face. If you can't do it for me, do it for CJ. It will kill her if she knows your disappointment.”
"Don't worry, I’ll be fine. I just don't think this group will ever really trust anything again."
Abbey threw him a sideways glance. That wasn’t going to end anyway but bad. Meeting everyone else in the den, Jed had done a good job getting everyone settled. Toby sat in the far corner of the room, looking very uncomfortable. Who could blame him; the last time he had been in the presence of the President, he was losing his job and nearly his freedom. Josh and Donna sat holding hands in the oversized chair. Charlie crossed the room and sat next to Sam. Annabeth, an unexpected addition Abbey hadn't noticed previously, was swallowed by the wing chair by the window.
"Well, I think I've held you in suspense long enough."
"Are you feeling alright, sir?" Sam asked with concern etched on his face.
"Better than I've felt in a while," Jed waved his hand, dismissing Sam's worry. "I know you all have important jobs. I wouldn't have brought you here without good reason. Abbey, will you get CJ?"
"Yeah," Josh said. "Where is she?"
"I'm right here. Calm down, Joshua."
Josh jumped up, embracing his predecessor. "Will everyone please stop telling me to calm down? You look fantastic, the California sun agrees with you. Did Danny tell you we had dinner the other night…damn if he couldn’t stop talking about you? Now I can see why. If my heart didn’t belong to another I might have to fall at your feet and be your love slave."
Laughing, CJ kissed his cheek. "Good to see you, too, mi amour." Working her way around the room, she hugged Donna and Sam. Making eye contact with Charlie, she shook Annabeth's hand and rushed to hug Toby.
“Hey there you bastard.” She whispered in his ear.
“Good to see you too, Claudia Jean.”
"Back to the task at hand." Jed said, bringing the attention back to himself. "I have recently been informed of some shocking news. I think you will agree with me, however, that it is news worthy of celebration."
"Will you just tell us, already?" Toby piped up from the back. "Some of us have lives to get back to."
Josh snorted. "Yeah, those ungraded papers are really going to change the course of the civilized world."
"Shut up, Josh I’m here and I just want to know why. CJ's glowing and Charlie has a grudge. They work together. What the hell is going on?"
"I see a year in the private sector hasn’t changed your temperament a drop Tobus. Jed, we’re making everyone even more nervous. The surprise speaks for itself. Come out now."
They all looked toward the kitchen, followed CJ’s eyes, and nothing happened. Josh smirked.
“I'm starting to feel like Candid Camera. What is going on?”
“Don’t make me come in there and get you; you won't like the result.”
Leo McGarry walked slowly out of the kitchen. Annabeth promptly stood, and hit the floor.
“Christ.” Sam came to help her up.
Everyone else just sat there, as if frozen in a time warp. Toby spoke up first.
“I can say with absolute sincerity that I didn’t see this one coming. Welcome home.”
He came to hug Leo and everyone else slowly moved into action. There were hugs and kisses, but Josh held back. Leo looked at him as he tried to get Donna’s arms from around his neck. For her size, she had a serious grip. He looked at the man who had become like a son to him, the man who took him all the way.
“Don’t touch me.”
“I need to explain.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Josh, Leo is alive.” Donna said. “What else matters?”
“What else matters? Oh God, I need air.”
Josh stumbled out the house and Donna ran after him. So did Charlie. Leo wanted to but no one would let him. Instead, he tended to Annabeth. He took her hand, leading her into the kitchen as his friends stood around and watched. Sam broke the silence.
“What's going on?” he asked.
“The CIA faked Leo’s death.” Abbey said.
“Why would they do something like that?”
“We can't tell you why just yet but you will know in a few days.”
“What you really need to know,” Jed added. “Is he was not a party to this. They did it without his knowledge or consent. He would never leave us like that. It was just as hard for him as it was for us.”
“I beg to differ on that one sir.” Sam replied. “Everyone seems entirely too calm for what I just witnessed. Leo McGarry is alive…my God.”
“I'm glad he’s alive.” Toby said. “His funeral was one of the hardest I've ever sat through.”
“Ditto.” CJ said. “Take a walk with me Toby.”
“It seems to be the recurring theme of the evening. I think I’ll make a drink first.” He turned to the President. “Do you still keep a good scotch sir?”
Jed nodded toward the liquor cabinet and Toby walked over. CJ told him she would meet him out on the porch as Jed walked over to his former Communications Director.
“After you talk to CJ, I think you and I should have a conversation.”
“I was actually going to avoid that.”
“I insist Toby.”
“I'm sorry sir but you can't do that anymore.”
“Then as a friend?”
Toby looked at him, sipping the Glenfiddich and savoring it. He wished he could toast a drink with Leo tonight.
“Alright. I have to talk to CJ.”
He walked out of the house and he and CJ stared at the night sky. They didn’t say a word to each other, but she reached for Toby’s hand.
“I can hardly breathe.” She whispered.
“It’s not that cold out here.”
“Ha ha. The past 36 hours have been…”
“I can only imagine. God, I never thought I would be here again. You haven’t returned my calls in a while.”
“Work Toby, it really has been just work. How's Columbia?”
“Good. Everything is good for me. Leo is alive; I don’t have to ask how you are. Just tell me how.”
“Promise not to leak it to the New York Times?”
“Ooh, who’s got jokes now?”
“He secured democracy in Cuba. God, I know it sounds like the plot of a James Bond movie. The CIA spiked his water, put him in a coma, and he woke up in Havana.”
“Castro would never go for democracy.”
“Castro is dead. It will all be revealed next week. Make sure to watch the news.”
“Castro is dead? Am I going to be smoking Cubans in the near future?”
“Legal ones, yes. You think Josh is going to be alright?”
“I think Josh may be holding up the Bartlet’s wall tonight. And I think I might be getting drunk with Charlie.”
“He's so angry and I don’t know what to do. He held me up for a year and I can't even help him. All I can think about is Leo being back. Is that horribly selfish?”
“No. That’s love.”
They both heard the scream coming from inside the house just as Josh, Donna, and Charlie came back up the driveway. Charlie broke out into a run, calling out his wife’s name. They all ran in behind him. Zoey Bartlet was on the kitchen floor, surrounded by a puddle of water.
“No,” she moaned. “Its too early, this can't be happening. No! Charlie!”
“I'm here. Somebody help!”
“Uncle Leo?” she looked at him. “Oh God, Uncle Leo.”
The Secret Service came into the room and they helped her up off the floor. Charlie, with Jed and Abbey in tow, went out of the kitchen and headed for the door. They had already pulled the SUV up to the front stairs. He came back in the room for just a split second and pointed at Leo.
“If anything happens to my wife or my son, you are going to wish you died.”
He walked out and Leo just stood there. Annabeth was still clinging to him and CJ felt she needed to do something about that. She came over, taking his hand and pulling him away.
“We have to go to the hospital.” She said, waking everyone out of their shock.
“Can we all fit in one car?” Donna asked.
“We’ll lap it.” Toby replied. “I’ll take Annabeth.”
They walked out of the house together, laughing to quiet the severity of the moment. Tonight was going to be full of surprises and bad things were not welcome at the family reunion.
The Secret Service escort got the Bartlet clan to Elliot Hospital in record time. Zoey was top priority and both Charlie and Abbey scrubbed in to be with her.
The rest of the family followed twenty minutes later but were assured that they could do nothing but wait with Jed. Josh paced until Donna figured he would wear a hole in the ground, while Jed sat as serenely as an expectant grandfather could sit. He had been here before but it was no secret that Zoey was his favorite, and Charlie was his son. This day was very important to him.
“We have spent way too much time in hospitals in the last decade,” Sam said, daring to mention what everyone else was thinking.
“At least this time, it’s a happy occasion,” Annabeth replied.
“I would say this definitely tops assassination attempts, car crashes, massive heart attacks, and election night deaths.” Toby said, turning to look at Leo. “I guess we can drop the last one from the list.”
“That’s alright with me.” Leo replied.
“Why don’t you head back to the house?” Jed suggested, breaking the tension. “Toby can stay here and keep me company, right Toby?”
Toby stared at him with wide brown eyes, but could find no room to object. He didn’t know why he thought he would get out of Manchester without having the conversation. That was what almost kept him in Brooklyn, except he was really afraid that something was wrong with Jed. It must have been if he got a call. He wasn’t going to lose him without talking to him once more.
“Are you sure, Jed?” Leo asked, attempting to gage his best friend’s reaction.
“Go, go.” Jed waved off his worry. “You have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll call when there’s news. I know these things can take a long time. Ellie was in labor with Melinda for almost 22 hours.”
CJ put her hand on Leo’s arm and they shared a look. She knew Charlie’s parting words weighed heavily on her lover, but Jed was right. They could do no good here.
“Call as soon as you know anything.” CJ said. “Anything at all. Tell Charlie and Zoey we love them.”
“I will, I promise.” He gently pushed Leo and CJ toward the exit. “Now go before I call in an agent.”
“Fine. We’re going.”
Everyone silently followed them from the room. Josh and Donna opted to ride with Sam; Josh couldn’t handle the proximity to Leo right now. Annabeth asked for a ride with Leo and CJ couldn’t help but bristle. She knew the blonde wisp of a woman meant no harm, but she just couldn’t help it. He was her man and she had no intention of letting him out of her sight. Unlocking the doors to the Focus, CJ waited inside the car as Leo held the back door open for Annabeth.
“I didn’t know Zoey was upstairs,” Leo said, breaking the silence on the way back to the farm. “I didn’t even know she was pregnant.”
“I said something about it when we met you at Lafayette Park.”
“Baby, you honestly expected me to remember the words coming out of your mouth as I beheld the most stunningly beautiful sight I’d seen in almost a year?”
CJ met his gaze and he saw the tears glistening in her eyes.
“Leo…” Why did he have to say things like that when she couldn’t jump him here and now? She could have pulled over and blown him, it was definitely on her mind, but their passenger might not appreciate it.
He wiped away one tear that fell and pulled one of her hands from the steering wheel so he could kiss it. In the back, Annabeth cleared her throat. She didn’t want this scene to go any further before they remembered their passenger. Leo placed CJ’s hand in his lap, holding on to her for dear life.
“How’s life in the East Wing, Annabeth?” Leo asked. “Do you like working for the First Lady?”
Momentarily distracted from her horror at what she had witnessed between a married woman and the man she harbored feelings for; Annabeth discussed the trials and triumphs of being Communications Director for Mrs. Santos. Soon, she had talked away the twenty-minute ride to the farm and allowed CJ and Leo to be alone with their thoughts. Inside the house, Donna organized dinner, which was quickly turning into a midnight snack. Every few minutes, she looked over at her lover who hadn’t said anything in over an hour. Josh stood with his back to the archway of the kitchen, trying to breathe slowly. Donna had poured him a drink, but Josh kept his hands firmly against the wall as well.
“So have you found a new place?” Sam asked
Donna looked to Josh before answering.
“We found a condo we like across from Logan Circle Park. It’s a little out of the price range, but if Josh liquidates some of his father’s assets, we could be first time home owners after the first of the year.”
“That’s great. I’m glad you guys found a place to call home. The market is crazy right now; I thought I was going to be living in the Hotel George penthouse suite as long as Leo lived in the Watergate.”
The front door swung open, revealing the man of the hour and his two companions. Both Sam and Donna were grateful for the reinforcements.
“Something smells good,” CJ said by way of greeting. “I’m starving.”
“If everyone wants to grab a plate, it’s ready to eat,” Donna said, silently indicating Josh’s position to CJ.
CJ approached him and he flinched when she touched his shoulder.
“Come on, Josh. You need to eat.”
“You should be Vice President.”
Leo’s head popped up at the statement obviously aimed at him. Josh hadn’t spoken to him all night and now this.
“Don’t you already have one?” he asked
“Eric Baker is only Vice President because we thought you were dead. He should not be in your rightful place.”
“I don’t think so, Josh.”
“Why not? I know there are no Constitutional provisions, but we can work around that. Between the resources Toby has at Columbia and I have in Washington, we can figure something out.”
“I don’t think so,” Leo repeated.
“What could you possibly want to do more than be Vice President?” Josh’s tone was incredulous. First Leo shows up from the dead and then he doesn’t even want to assume his rightful place?
The rest of the occupants of the kitchen saw Josh teetering on the edge and hoped Leo remembered how to bring him down gently. Sam had already put his plate down and was ready to catch the Chief of Staff when he fell.
“Actually Josh, I have my eye on a condo in San Francisco.”
“What is so important about San Francisco?” Josh’s voice went up another octave. “You can’t leave D.C. after all these years. Your daughter is in D.C. Your life is in D.C.”
CJ stepped toward Leo, wrapping her arm around his waist. Despite the gravity of the current situation, Leo smiled at the contact and his arm snaked around her back.
“My life is anywhere CJ is. After being dead for a year I have my priorities straight. I couldn’t live that life forever.”
“She can be Second Lady.” Josh frantically waved his hands. “You think we don’t want her back there too! This would be perfect…I’m telling you perfect! Tell him CJ!”
“I'm sorry, Josh. So much has changed in a year. You of all people know that.”
“Of course things have changed. Leo is alive for God’s sake. He can be Vice-President. I didn’t kill him. I didn’t kill him and it’s not my fault.”
“Is that what you thought?” Leo asked.
“I KILLED YOU! I PUSHED, AND I BEGGED, AND I FORCED AND YOU DIED ON ME! OH GOD! OH DEAR GOD!”
Sam sprang into action, grabbing him before he fell on the floor. Leo watched the whole scene and couldn’t help but notice how much it reminded him of the scene with him and Jed just hours ago. Josh was sobbing in Sam’s arms and they just stood there. Even Donna seemed frozen, hated that she couldn’t help him. He needed to do this himself…he had just started to move on from Leo’s death.
“C’mon buddy, we need to get up off the floor. We are going to go upstairs and take a breather.”
He helped him up and they started to walk upstairs. Leo reached out and rubbed Josh’s shoulder. He threw his glass on the floor, listening to it shatter before he stormed out of the back. CJ followed him out. Leo stood in front of the banister, looking at the stars and smoking a Marlboro Light.
“Smoking is hazardous to your health.” She said.
“You're kidding me right? Look at what I’ve done, Claudia Jean. Josh is a mess and Zoey is in premature labor. Annabeth doesn’t want to let me out of her sight and it is all together possible that Charlie is going to kill me. I love these people and this is what I have done to them. What kind of man does that make me?”
“Don’t do this Leo. I am not going to let you keep judging yourself. You were poisoned and kidnapped…no one planned this but the CIA. It is not going to be easy for anyone.” CJ sat on the banister and looked at him. “Look at me Leo.”
He did, and again saw the love in her eyes.
“We love you and we are so happy that you are back. Josh is going to be OK; he just needs a good night sleep.”
“And Charlie? My god CJ what if something happens to their child? I will never be able to live with myself.”
She pulled him into her arms and just held him. Leo exhaled and let the warmth of her body and spirit warm him. They kissed and again the Earth stood still. It almost seemed as if they were breathing for each other, their mouths never coming apart as the kisses deepened and intensified. CJ moaned into his mouth as she felt his hands slide under her shirt and rub her back. He didn’t think he would ever get over the joy of being able to touch her skin again. They came apart slowly when Leo felt a presence. He turned and looked at the tearstained face of Annabeth.
“Annabeth? What’s the matter? Oh God, is it Zoey?”
“Donna wanted me to tell you guys to come and eat. It’s been a really long day.”
She ran back into the house and Leo looked at CJ.
“What the hell happened between you two on the campaign trail?” she asked.
“Nothing. You get close, how can you not in that environment? It was like having Margaret around again; I enjoyed the companionship. But there was nothing romantic there, at least not on my part.”
“Your part doesn’t seem to matter. You have to talk to her.”
“I gotta talk to everybody baby. All I want to do right now is sleep.”
“OK. You get some rest and I’ll handle everyone.”
“You gonna take care of me?” Leo asked. He rested his forehead on her chest, sighing as CJ massaged the nape of his neck.
“I always will. C’mon, you have been overwhelmed the past 48 hours.”
They went into the house together. Leo said a quick goodnight and headed up the stairs. That left Sam, Donna, CJ and Annabeth. Josh was tucked into bed, given a mild sedative prescribed by his doctor, and was in dreamland. CJ just hoped he remembered Leo was still alive in the morning.
“Jesus.” Sam muttered. “I am at a complete loss. Today…I can’t even believe I witnessed what I witnessed today.”
“When did he get back?” Donna asked.
“He sent me a letter; God it was just yesterday. I met him in Lafayette Park in San Francisco. We came to Manchester this afternoon.”
“Why you?” Annabeth asked, unable to help herself. “Why didn’t he contact Josh, or the President?”
“Does it matter?” Sam asked.
“It matters to me.” Annabeth replied.
“Leo and I have been together since the first year of the administration. It was serious and it was intense, but our jobs came first. We never got a chance to have our time. We are going to have it now.”
“You were going to stay in Washington if he wouldn’t have died?” Donna asked.
“Probably. There were plenty of offers. Leo promised me the night of the convention that he would do one term, and then we would finally get married. I wasn’t going to give him up because it got harder. The Bartlet Administration was no picnic in the park. Anyway, as Vice President, I could be his official escort and no one would be suspicious of anything. We had always been good friends.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sam asked.
“Does it matter? We had enough going on Sam, don’t forget that. It happened the way it happened…that is the past. All I care about now is that he is back.”
“You're married.” Annabeth said.
Ok, CJ was getting really sick of her and Donna could tell. She tried to defuse the situation.
“You know what; it has been a pretty long day. I think we should call it a night. Sam, can you show Annabeth Ellie’s old room? You can sleep in there for the night. We are going to head back to DC tomorrow as soon as we know that Zoey is alright.”
Annabeth nodded, getting up from the table. Sam kissed CJ goodnight and they walked out of the room.
“You just saved her life.” CJ said. “Come outside, I need a smoke.”
“You haven't done that since Bartlet for America.” Donna said as they went out the back door.
“I deserve it tonight.”
They stood on the porch and CJ lit up. Donna watched the smoke come from CJ’s mouth and the cold air come from her own.
“Annabeth had a bit of a point. How does Danny feel about all this?”
“He was livid when he came home early and found Leo and I cuddled up on the couch. To add insult to it, I never told him about our relationship. Leo was gone; I didn’t want to talk about him with anyone. I could have built my foundation anywhere…I went to San Francisco to get as far away from Washington as I could.”
“And your marriage?”
“I care about Danny; I love him. But Leo is the only one I want to be with. What has happened is sad but I get another chance and I never want to hurt Danny…that’s killing me on the inside.”
“Hey, you never have to explain to me. I know what it’s like to love a man and have to make many hard decisions because of it. I remember how I felt after Josh was shot. You have to live your life for you.”
“He is never going to get over what he did to us.” CJ said. “How could they do this to him? They had no right to take his time.”
Donna put her arm around CJ and they stood in silence. She would have to go and check on Josh soon.
“I need to check on Leo.” CJ put out her cigarette.
After a few moments of silence, the two women went back into the house.
“So,” Jed said. “The leak…”
Toby groaned, actually groaned aloud, in the waiting room of the Labor and Delivery department.
“Sir, your daughter is in labor. Leo is back from the dead. It’s two o’clock in the morning. We have spent the past several hours discussing Santos’ foreign policy.”
“I know all of this. I have been here, too, Toby.”
“Yes, sir. It’s just…do you not think we could delay this talk until another time?”
“No. I think we do it now. You leaked classified information. That doesn’t go away.”
“You think I don’t know that? You think I didn’t wonder if I would ever see or speak to you again. God, sir, I did what I felt was right, and I know we will never agree on that, but do we have to talk about it?”
“No, we won’t ever agree that you did the right thing. I have my convictions and you have yours. You know this. It’s always been that way. Nevertheless, you are family. That doesn’t go away either.”
Toby looked at him. Well his face turned toward the President, but it was still hard to look Jed Bartlet in the eye. To be sure, Toby had no regrets about what he did. He just regretted the President hadn't done it himself.
“We can agree on that.”
“Good. That’s all I needed to say.”
“Sir?” Toby looked to the ground.
“For the love of God, Toby, please call me Jed.”
“I will after I say this… I never properly thanked you for the pardon…”
Jed waved his hand.
“I was so damn pissed at you. But you weren’t going to prison just because I was pissed. I had to think about Huck and Molly. How are the munchkins anyway?”
Toby smiled, remembering his own day in the delivery room. God that was a horrible and wonderful day.
“Andi has them in a Y tee ball program. Molly plays first base and Huck’s an outfielder. Don’t tell anyone, but…”
The door to the waiting room swung open with such force, Toby and Jed were both sure there was some sort of national emergency.
“It’s a boy!” Abbey announced, running to hug Jed.
“We knew that already, dear.”
“Shut up. He’s perfect. Ten little fingers and ten little toes. The picture of his mother, without the ghastly complexion. Where did she get that coloring?”
“Slow down, sugar pie. Back up. Is Zoey okay? Did Charlie make it through without fainting? What’s his name? How much does he weigh?” Jed was acting like a first time grandfather on his fourth time around.
“Zoey is wonderful. Exhausted, but happier than I’ve ever seen her. Charlie withstood the entire thing like a trooper, but he does have a few bite marks in his hand that may require stitches. The baby weighs 4 pounds and 7 ounces…”
“That’s awfully small…” Toby noted.
“Try to not be yourself Toby. The hospital has a fully equipped NICU and he’s breathing on his own. It’s the best possible outcome. They named him Edward Leo Young. They’re calling him Eli.”
“Eli,” Jed beamed. “Sounds very Presidential, don’t you think?”
Leo awoke at four am. Turning over, he saw CJ sprawled out in the rest of the king sized bed. She obviously sensed his movement, because she immediately curled into his chest, trying to cocoon herself in his warmth. Silently chuckling at that, Leo brushed the hair away from his face and kissed her forehead. He knew he had no chance of getting back to sleep, and he would have loved nothing more than to hold her until the sun came up, but those extra cups of coffee from yesterday had caught up with him.
Rolling out of the bed, CJ tried to hang on before giving up and resuming her previous position on the other side. He reached for his robe, well, Jed’s robe, technically. It had the Jed Bartlet smell to it, but he chose not to dwell on that. The door did not squeak when he opened it; the breath holding trick had worked again. Coming out of the bathroom, he promptly ran into Donna.
“Oh God,” she whispered. At least she had enough sense not to scream like he was tempted to do. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be up at this hour.”
Leo shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep. Some things never change.” He grasped her hand. “Thank you for keeping Josh sane. I’m sure you’ve held him together with your own two hands at times.”
Donna smiled self-consciously while the blush crept up her face. “I just did what I had to. Sam has been a real blessing. Josh is really grateful to have him back.”
“You’ve gone above and beyond Donna, I know you. Even before the relationship, you would have done just that. But it’s funny what love does, isn’t it?”
Turning a deeper shade of red, she nodded. “He’s going to be alright now, though.”
“Do you mind if I look in on him a moment?”
She shook her head. “I was just going down to the kitchen to get some cocoa. Take your time.”
“Thanks.” he said, kissing her cheek.
Again, with the breath holding routine, Leo made sure the door to Josh and Donna’s room did not squeak. Everything in the damn house squeaked. Making his way over to Josh’s sleeping form; he could tell in the dim light the sleep had worked wonders. Before, Josh had been a shadow of himself, but he hoped a night’s rest would revive the anxious young man. He ran his fingers through Josh’s hair as he had when Josh was just a boy.
“I’m so sorry, son. I don’t know how I’m ever going to make this up to you. It wasn’t your fault.”
Josh stirred in his sleep and Leo stilled his movements. He prayed he wouldn’t wake up; he needed the respite from the waking world. As the younger man settled back down, Leo resumed stroking Josh’s forehead. How could he have let this happen? Josh was a brilliant, extremely talented man; one that Leo was proud to have had a hand in shaping. He was also a fragile man. A lifetime of injury had made him too susceptible to pain. Leo cringed at the thought of causing this human being, whom he loved as his own, more heartache.
“Leo?” Josh mumbled.
“Shh… Go back to sleep.”
“What? Leo, why are you here?”
The sound of Josh’s voice almost broke Leo’s heart. The same man who could advise the President of the United States sounded so childlike and innocent. Why hadn’t he left before Josh awakened?
“I was just checking on you.”
“Good,” Josh whispered. “I’ve really missed you. Donna promised you were looking out for us. Wow, here you are.”
Involuntarily, tears sprung to Leo’s eyes and he squeezed Josh’s shoulder. Josh’s head lazily rolled to the side to see Leo’s strong hand clasped around his upper arm and he sat up, almost knocking heads with Leo.
“Oh my God,” he breathed. “Oh my God, I'm not dreaming. It wasn’t a dream. Where’s Donna?” He glanced around for his security blanket. “Donna?”
“She went downstairs to get some cocoa. I asked if I could see you. We didn’t really get a chance to talk earlier.”
“Yeah,” Josh rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “I had a bit of a nutty; that’s what CJ always said. Sorry about that but I gotta tell you…I never expected this in my wildest dreams.”
“Hey, kid, don’t apologize. If anyone’s doing any apologizing, it should be me. I’ll be doing it for a long time to come.”
Josh sighed hard, apparently thinking this over and finally shook his head.
“Not to me you won't. Look Leo, I know you, if it wasn’t important, you wouldn’t have gone.”
“That’s kind of you but if I was any type of decent human being, I would have tried harder to contact you and CJ.”
“Oh my God,” Josh said for what had to be the tenth time in the past twenty-four hours. “CJ. You know she’s married, right? To Danny Concannon. Are you two…? Since when, were you two together in the White House? Whoa, did I miss something?”
Leo’s withering stare silenced any further comment. He stood to leave the room.
Josh just grinned.
Leo walked out of the room, running right into Charlie. Leo paused as the young man stumbled a bit. For a moment, he truly feared Charlie was going to slug him, but then he noticed…Charlie was drunk.
“I have a bone to pick with you.” He pointed at the older man’s chest. “Do you know what we all went through; thinking you were dead? I had to take care of the girls because you just left them. We mourned for so long…were still mourning. None of us thought dad would ever recover. It was selfish and I hate you for it.”
“None of it was my fault. I hate what happened as much as you do, kid.”
“Kidnapped by the CIA.” He smirked but it sounded like a loud raspberry. “That is worse than the dog ate my homework. You will never have any idea what CJ went through. I was the one she called in the middle of the night when she woke up in tears. I’m the one who was there for every tear and fear. All she wanted was you, but oh no, Leo McGarry had to run off and save the world one more time.” Charlie frantically waved his arms, nearly tumbling over.
“I am never going to be able to get that time back Charlie. I…”
“My son is named after you, you know. That is how much I love and admire you.” More chest poking. “Men I admire are not supposed to do what you did. You hurt us and I need to hate you.”
“No, you don’t. It…”
“But I don’t, I love you. We missed you so much…CJ, Margaret and I. We talked about you all the time and…” he stopped suddenly, as if he lost his train of thought.
“Charlie, maybe you should…”
“You, you have to be Eli’s godfather. If I die, do you promise to love and care for my son? As long as you promise never to go to Cuba again. Promise me that.”
“I absolutely promise.” Leo held up his hand. “Charlie, being Eli’s godfather would be an honor.”
“If Josh asks,” Charlie leaned in closer and lowered his voice. Leo could smell the whiskey. “Tell him Zoey insisted. He thought he was in there for the role. Shh.”
“My lips are sealed. Now really, you have to get some sleep. You have to see your son in the morning. I would really like to go and see him and Zoey myself.”
There was a loud crash; Leo and Charlie looked over the banister. Toby was lying on the steps. He tilted his chin and looked up.
“Oh my God Leo, you're alive! I nearly forgot. We drank to your memory tonight.”
“So, come down here and help me up.”
Leo and Charlie went halfway down the stairs, picking Toby up under the arms. He made it upstairs on his own. Donna was right behind the party.
“Damn, I missed you.” Toby pulled an unsuspecting Leo into a bear hug.
“Me too.” Charlie joined in the hug and Donna just looked at the scene, wide eyed.
“Help me Donna.” Leo muttered.
“Right. Um OK guys; let’s give Leo some air. He will still be alive tomorrow and we can hug him more then. I promise.”
She managed to pry him out of Toby’s embrace and he shook himself off. Abbey came out of her bedroom and cut her eyes.
“Go to bed! Some of us are trying to sleep. If I have to come back out here, you are not going to like it.”
Charlie and Toby snickered but they rushed to their rooms. Donna took her cocoa and Leo went back to his room. There CJ was, still sound asleep. The melee outside didn’t seem to bother her at all. He climbed back in bed with her, pushing the hair from her face and softly kissing her lips.
“I love you.” He whispered, kissing her again.
“Mmm, I love you too.”
Snaking his arms around her waist, Leo pulled her closer. He was kissing her softly and though she did not fight it, CJ grumbled a bit.
“Leo, I'm trying to sleep. I'm so tired.”
“We have all the time in the world to sleep baby. I want to show you how much I love you.”
Smiling, CJ lifted her arms and let Leo take her shirt off. He took his off too and her even closer.
“I never thought I would feel your skin again, Claudia Jean.” He murmured against her mouth.
CJ deepened the kiss, stroking his back. Leo rolled them over and his body rested comfortably between her thighs. The couple had always loved foreplay, and banter, but all either of them cared about right now was being close. The rest would return in time. The bed squeaked violently as Leo thrust in and out of her. It made CJ giggle…everyone would know what they were doing. When Leo hit her sweet spot, she could have given a damn about the bed.
“Oh God Leo, right there. Harder! Oh Leo!”
He didn’t disappoint. Soon, in addition to the squeaky mattress, the headboard slapped back and forth on the wall.
“Oh God Claudia Jean! Claudia Jean! Claudia Jean!”
“Leo!” she squealed. “Uhh, uhh, Jesus Christ!”
They climaxed and everything stilled. Leo laughed a bit, moving his body to the mattress and looking at her. The tears brimmed in her eyes; she turned to him and they fell. Leo’s fingers were gentle wiping them away.
“No more tears for you.” He whispered.
“Tears of absolute joy.”
He took her into his arms and they held each other tight. CJ relaxed, letting sleep take her again. Leo kissed her and said another prayer of thanks for being with her. There were more rough patches ahead. He still had to face Mallory and Jenny. Not even mentioning the rest of the world was going to have to get used to Leo McGarry being amongst the living again. He would be able to stand tall with CJ and his family by his side but he was still fearful of what would happen over the next couple of days. By Monday, he would be himself again.
It could only be charitably described as mid-morning when CJ and Leo entered the kitchen, hand in hand. Hoots and hollers greeted them; even Toby wolf-whistled.
“Way to go, Leo,” Josh exclaimed. “You da man!”
Leo grinned in good humor and more than a little pride, but failed to stop his blush.
“I could have lived without all the banging,” Toby groused. “I was afraid you two were about to come through the wall.” Pausing, he met Leo’s gaze. “But I’m so fucking glad you’re alive, I’ll let it slide this time.”
“That’s very generous of you, Toby,” he nodded. “Is there any food left for us?”
Up to this point, Jed sat silently in the corner, content to observe the exchange. As overjoyed as he was to know Leo was alive; a hard road lay ahead and he was grateful CJ would walk with Leo through fire.
“I had to fight them off to keep them from the last of the blueberry pancakes, but in the end, I was victorious.”
Jed stood, proudly presenting a plate of pancakes to Leo. CJ smirked; there were none for her, but that was okay. Anything that put that gleam back in Jed’s eye was just fine for with her.
Leo grasped the plate in one hand and Jed’s arm in the other. They sat side by side at the kitchen table as CJ scrounged in a bowl of fruit. No one knew what to say as Leo ate his pancakes as if it were an every day occurrence. Of course eating had been a daily activity while he was gone, but for this group of people, the ones who stayed at Arlington well after the service was over, eating blueberry pancakes was nothing short of a miracle. Leo finally noticed the silence and after making eye contact with Josh, he grinned.
“So… What did I miss?”
The absurdity of it all dawned on Sam first. The Deputy Chief of Staff burst into laughter. The glee spread like wildfire until everyone in the dining room was laughing. Leo looked at them, grin on his face.
“What did I say?”
There was more laughter as Charlie came over with his cell phone.
“Here is your godson.” He showed Leo the first pictures of Eli.
“Oh, he is beautiful. Looks just like Zoey, better coloring though. She was always so pale.”
“That’s what I said.” Abbey said.
“I think he looks very Presidential.” Jed said.
“Don’t start.” Leo squeezed his shoulder.
“I'm starving.” CJ grumbled. “I can’t believe you guys didn’t save me a thing. This is worse than when we were in the White House.”
“You ought to be hungry,” Josh said. “You burned close to everything you ate for the past couple of days. You woke me up out of sedative sleep Claudia Jean. Those things are strong.”
The guys were laughing again. Annabeth rolled her eyes.
“Can we please talk about something else? I just ate.”
“Must be nice for you.” CJ replied. “I'm going to the kitchen. Abbey let’s see what we can dig up before you go to the hospital.”
They went into the kitchen and the room got quiet again. Leo looked over at Annabeth, studying her fingernails as if they were the world’s most important thing.
“I was hoping we could take a walk.”
“I’d love to. It’s a beautiful morning…or should I say afternoon.”
Leo pushed the empty plate aside and walked with Annabeth toward the front door. He preferred the back, and walking out by the stables but that was his special spot with CJ and he would have had to go through the kitchen to get there. These two women needed to be far apart for the time being.
“This is such a lovely farm.” She said. “You know I have never been here before.”
“It seems strange. We have to talk about some things and it’s a bit tough for me.”
“Its me Leo,” she slipped her arm in his. “You never have to be afraid to talk to me.”
“I owe you a huge apology. I owe one to everyone, but especially you. I know you found me…”
“OK, we don’t have to talk about that. It was the single most horrible moment of my life. I didn’t want to lose you.”
“Yeah. Annabeth, I have loved CJ for a damn long time. Its bad enough I had to fake my own death; I won't pretend to feel something for someone when I do not.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She pulled away a bit.
“I'm sensing you wanted things for us that were not to be. I just…”
“You used me?”
“Annabeth! Nothing happened between us…I would never use anyone. I don’t know what you're feeling but I'm sorry if I led you on.”
“I have missed you every single moment of every day.” Tears sprang to her eyes. “To think you were somewhere alive and thinking of someone else.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was supposed to tell you about CJ. She was in my suite one night when you stopped by and I was supposed to tell you.”
“She is a married woman; she moved on really fast. She didn’t love you like I did Leo.”
Leo took a deep breath. He knew she was angry, and would not fight with her right to be. He also was not going to let her talk bad about CJ, who had suffered a pain he hoped Annabeth could never even imagine.
“I love CJ. She loves me, and I never meant to hurt you. I'm sorry.”
“You really are. You lie to me, lead me on, die on me, come back, and tell me you're in love with another woman. I never want to see you again…you're dead to me. The Leo I knew is dead.”
“I wish it didn’t have to be that way.”
“I wish a lot of things.” She laughed, but it was mirthless. “I'm going back inside and packing. Have a nice new life Leo.”
She walked away from him and Leo watched her. It was never his intention to hurt any of the people he cared about. CJ told him; she told him Annabeth might have feelings for him and he laughed it off. She was giving, caring, and a nurturer…she no more had feelings for him than Margaret did. CJ was not adamant in her attempts to get him to gauge the situation with Annabeth but he now wished he would have just listened to her. There were now two people that they both cared for who they hurt beyond repair.
“She’ll be alright.”
Leo looked up, startled by the sound of another voice in his bubble. He managed a small smile for Donna.
“She wishes me dead again. Is that coming up close on alright?”
“Women have their hearts broken. We move on because we have to. She will be alright…I’ll make sure.”
“Ask Charlie, Donna. The miracle worker role is thankless and the pay is lousy.”
“Tell me about it.” she grinned. “But the victories make it worth it in the end. You're going to break some hearts over the next couple of days Leo; I don’t even know who I think I am trying to tell you that. You are so loved. The people who loved you still do and always will. In a month or so, it will be like you were never gone.”
“From your lips to God’s ear.”
“We have to go soon…the White House waits but the rest of the world doesn’t. Walk back with me?”
She took his hand and they walked back to the house together. Annabeth was not in the dining room but most of the guests were still sitting around the table, talking and laughing about old times. CJ seemed content with an omelet and the smiles the conversation brought to her face made Leo forget about everything else. Charlie and Abbey were on their way out to the hospital. This started a round of hugging, kissing, and promises to call that seemed to be neverending. When they walked out the front door, the guests turned their attention back to Leo.
“They should be here in a few to take us back to Air Force One.” Josh said. He got up and hugged Leo. “Promise not to be a stranger. You don’t have to be Vice-President, but you have to be in San Francisco either. Please.”
“I still have a lot of thinking to do Josh. I’ll be in touch.”
He hugged Sam and Donna too, stopping short at Toby.
“Aren't you leaving Toby?” he asked.
“Not with them. I'm taking a commercial flight out tomorrow afternoon. I just wanted to spend a little extra time if that’s alright.”
“Its just fine with us.” Jed said, hugging all his departing children. “We love to have the company. Right CJ?”
“Right.” She smiled at Toby.
“I think I am going to walk off those blueberry pancakes.” Leo said. He needed some more air. “Jed, wanna take a walk?”
“Yeah. It’s been a while since you’ve seen the place; we have some new additions. Come on.”
They walked out with their arms around each other and CJ could not help but smile. She knew how glad Leo was to be back with her and with them, but nothing could compare to the light in his eyes when he was with his best friend. She looked at her own, halfway down the table and still looking at the kid in class with his hand raised that no one wanted the teacher to call on.
“Cat got your tongue, Tobus?”
“I'm still in shock. He’s alive. He talked, laughed, obviously engaged in rigorous exercise. Do you know what it felt like to hear he was dead? That’s a dumb question. You didn’t even call me to cry. I wanted to hold you and cry with you, and you didn’t even call.”
“I couldn’t. I was White House Chief of Staff and you were a convicted felon.”
“I was your best friend!” he exclaimed.
“We’re going to fight now? Is that what you want? You want to fight with me because you broke the law…because you betrayed us. Dammit, just shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking it.”
Toby smirked and CJ threw an apple at him. Toby ducked just in time, the fruit smacking into the wall. He looked at her with wide eyes.
“Jesus! What the hell are you doing?”
“Don’t piss me off Toby, OK? A lot has happened in the past few days and I don’t need your shit.”
Toby got up and went over to her. He sat down next to her, trying to take her hand.
“Don’t touch me. I am so pissed at you.”
“I know, I know. But I love you and I am not giving up on our friendship. It’s been a year CJ; you have to forgive me.”
“Leo faked his own death and you forgave him. What I did couldn’t be worse, could it?”
“No.” the tears pooled in her eyes and her lip trembled. “What happened to Leo was not his fault…you consciously betrayed me.”
“I did not betray you! I saved people’s lives. To hell with it.”
He got up and walked toward the front door. CJ stopped him; Toby turned back and looked at her.
“Don’t leave me again.”
“I am never leaving you again.”
She jumped up from her chair, turning it over. She rushed into his arms and they held each other tight. CJ cried and Toby whispered he would never let her go. He missed her so much in the time they were separated…seeing her in the last days of the Administration was a blessing and a curse. He was sure he was never going to see her again.
“I love you.” He could barely breathe.
“I love you too. Don’t let me go.”
As Leo followed Jed out the back door, he had to blink back tears. He had cried too damn much the past few days, but the farm brought back emotions he had forgotten. Since his early twenties, Leo had been coming up here; almost forty years.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Jed said halfway to the barn, putting his arm around Leo’s shoulders.
Leo smiled, settling into his friend’s embrace.
“Remember the time you thought we could fix the barn roof?”
Jed laughed, fully and loudly, leaning in to kiss the side of Leo’s head.
“I learned my lesson on that one, didn’t I? I am not a man that works with my hands.”
“I should hope you learned something. You almost fractured your leg. I, on the other hand, had no desire to break my body. I had a date that night.”
“Ah, yes, I had almost forgotten about the lovely Melissa. I wonder what happened to her.”
“She moved to Nebraska and became an Anglican priest.”
Jed gazed at Leo, the question in his eyes.
“I finally got to see my 300 page FBI file.”
“Did you find anything else?”
“They have art from 1981. You held me while I wretched in the street.”
“So long as that’s the worst photograph. I seem to recall one rowdy afternoon in late May, 1968.”
Leo blushed with a smile on his face as he recalled that day.
“I don’t think they were tailing us that early.”
“Don’t sell yourself short. They definitely put you on their radar when you started the University Socialists, spring of ’67. Those rallies always drew nice sized crowds.”
“Ah, the things we do to get laid. Who knew a socialist could get so many women?”
“You seemed to; lucky bastard. I figure they picked me up when I started protesting against the war after you left.”
“Probably before that. I was always dragging you to something or other when I got you out of South Bend. Save the goodie goodie act for someone who doesn’t know you.”
“Do you seriously think I give a damn at this point? The FBI could post naked pictures of us and I would still be shouting from the rooftops that I’m glad you’re back.”
“Well, that would be uncomfortable, sir. Athens and Rome was an adventure but we promised not to make too much about it.”
“Swear to God, Leo, I love you, but you call me sir again and I will have to beat you.”
“Like you could.”
“What was that?”
“Go ahead and try it,” Leo challenged, grinning evilly. “I can take you.”
“Take me? This coming back from the dead thing has a bit delusional, my friend. You haven't taken me once.”
“Yeah right, remember the big fight?”
“That doesn’t count…I thought we established that.”
“We did no such thing.” Leo countered. “How could we establish that me kicking your butt didn’t count? I mean, not that it was the first time, but it was the biggest.”
Jed just started to laugh. It was that hearty Jed laugh, the one that started way down in his diaphragm and made his stomach shake with joy. Leo laughed too and they were standing in front of the barn, laughing like they had so many times before…laughing like teenage boys with a secret. Hell, that’s all they were anyway, at heart they were teenage boys in love with life and all it had to offer.
“Monday isn’t so far away.” Jed said, bringing the laughter to an end.
Leo looked at him, tears creasing his hazel eyes. He studied his best friend hard. He aged a lot during his Presidency; his hair was all white now. His face though, he still had that boyish charm and those sparkling eyes. They had been through so much and there was more to come.
“I don’t care anymore.” Leo replied. “There are some people who are never going to forgive me for what happened. I just hope Mallory is not one of them…everyone else can kiss my ass. I have you, CJ, I’ll see my daughter soon and that is all I need.”
“Everyone here is behind you Leo. We will always be and you know that. If you need a place to hide out for a while until the dust settles, Abbey and I are happy to have you.”
“Yeah, I know.” He squeezed Jed’s arm. “CJ has got to get back to work, and with Charlie here until Zoey and Eli are ready for travel, the faster we get back to California the better. So DC on Monday and I want to be heading back to the West Coast by Wednesday.”
“You two aren’t going to stay out there permanently are you? I never want to be possessive but we can’t have you all the way out there…Cuba is closer for God’s sake.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me how you really feel Jed.” Leo smirked. “Go for it.”
“I'm being serious. I know you want to be with CJ and I am happy for you, but she is not the only one who missed you every minute or everyday.”
Leo nodded because he knew that. He also did not want to be far apart from Jed and the rest of the family, and as soon as he and CJ dealt with mass hysteria of his miraculous resurrection, they would have time to discuss it. A light rain started to fall but Jed and Leo took their time walking back to the house, arms around each other. Neither man was sure he would be able to let his best friend go, but there were a few more days before they really had to. Halfway to the house, they watched CJ and Toby come out on the porch and sit together on the porch swing. It looked as if they were deep in conversation.
“It looks as if we are not the only friends needing to get reacquainted.” Leo said.
“Yeah. Things have been upside down for a lot of us Leo. I don’t think we need to worry about that too much anymore. It’s all going to be alright. Welcome home.”
“Thank you sir.”
“Gotcha.” He grinned.