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Altered Lives

by: Kara (Send Feedback)

Series: Jed and Abbey Bartlet-The Power of Love #14
Chapters: 052 Word Count: 270672
Rating: ADULT
Character(s): Jed Bartlet, Abbey Bartlet, Ensemble
Category(ies): Angst, AU, Drama, Family/Children, Friendship, Holiday, Hurt/Comfort, Missing Scene, Political
Pairing(s): Jed/Abbey
Episode(s): 2-03 The Midterms, 3-21 We Killed Yamamoto, 5-19 Talking Points, 5-21 Gaza, 5-22 Memorial Day, 6-01 NSF Thurmont, 6-02 The Birnam Wood, 6-03 Third Day Story, 6-07 A Change is Gonna Come, 6-08 In The Room, 6-09 Impact Winter, 6-10 Faith Based Initiative, 6-12 365 Days
Crossover Shows: - No Show -
Summary: A series of challenges and life altering moments begin with Jed and Abbey's return from their second honeymoon to Ireland.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52

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"I appreciate you meeting me at such short notice. I know it's early, but since I just got back from vacation my schedule is jammed to the second."

Admiral Fitzwallace grinned and shook the President's hand. "I never turn down a free breakfast, especially one prepared by White House chefs."

"Well, have a seat and dig in."

They were in the solarium on the top floor of the Residence. It was the Bartlets' favorite room for private family time and Fitz could see why. It was a bright sunny room affording views of the sky and Washington D.C. from the walls of nearly ceiling to floor windows. The walls were painted a cheery yellow, with cooler undertones of blues and greens in the drapes, couches and carpets. Flowers in vivid shades of reds and yellows and pinks and blues grew with profusion in indoor window boxes and large green plants filled in the corners. The Bartlets' love of nature was displayed in pictures depicting scenes from the various national parks across the nation – the crashing surf of the Maine coast in Acadia, the wildlife and wilderness of Yellowstone, the tropical swamps of the Everglades, the austere beauty of a desert night among the sand dunes in Death Valley and the breathtaking glaciers and northern lights in Glacier Bay, Alaska. A long table running along the back of the flowered chintz couch held a myriad of family pictures and in front of it sat a large flat screen LCD television he knew the President used Saturday afternoons to watch his beloved "Fighting Irish". There was a small kitchenette at one end of the room and at the other a corner had been devoted to what looked like a family play area. A small round table with little chairs surrounding it was piled with puzzles and obviously the retreat for the youngest Bartlets who also had a large toy box stenciled with their names pushed against the wall. Another larger table sat in front of a shelf filled with every board game imaginable and, of course, the President's treasured "Texas Hold'em" poker set. The table they sat eating at was in front of French doors that led out to the promenade where there was a gas grill and a patio set where the President liked to grill steaks and the family could dine out of doors just like many families during the American summer.

Over breakfast Jed explained to Fitz why he wanted the now retired Admiral, with whom he'd developed a friendship and rapport, to accompany a delegation from Congress to the Middle East and keep them out of trouble and from making trouble. He was in effect to be the President's eyes and ears. The Middle East was, as it had been throughout history, an extremely volatile place and Jed did not want the delegation making promises that he was not ready to keep or to build greater feelings of animosity.

"You know what these CODELs are like," Leo said. "We don't need any dime-store diplomats gumming up the peace process."

"There is no peace process," Fitz reminded him. "Dime-store diplomats may be better than no diplomats at all."

"We really need a bunch of Congressmen doing back-seat diplomacy?" Jed knew just how dicey the situation was especially with the destabilization of Qumar since the kidnapping of his family. They were working on opening lines of communication behind the scenes and he didn't want this delegation screwing anything up.

"You really want me to go all the way to the Middle East with a whistle around my neck and teach Congressmen how to make lanyards?"

"I need you to go so we can stay out of trouble. It's the best we can do in that region right now. Come back with some lanyards, I'll toss in a couple of new medals."

"I'll go."

"Thank you, Fitz."

As Fitz rose to leave, the elevator door opened and out walked a little girl with tumbling blond curls still in her Dora the Explorer pajamas that held remnants of her breakfast smeared on the front. A bit of maple syrup lay sticky on her chin. She held a shopping bag in her hands.

"Hi, Daddy." She was nonchalant, as if she rode alone on the elevator all the time. The serious look on Jed's face softened at the sight of his daughter.

"Hello, baby girl. Where's your mother?"

Aislinn shrugged but Jed could see from the look of guilt on her face that Aislinn had probably sneaked away.

"I wanna show you my clothes Mommy bought me for school tomorrow." She started pulling clothes out of the bag then looked up at the amused Leo and Fitz and told them, "I'm going to school tomorrow."

"So I've heard," Leo grinned. The fact that Aislinn and Nicholas Bartlet were starting pre-school had turned into a bit of a national event.

"I can alweady write all my letters and numbers and I'm gonna show my teacher."

"You're a smart girl," Fitz nodded encouragingly.

"This is what I'm gonna wear," she yanked out a khaki skort and held it out to the men. "See there's butterflies on it. I like butterflies." The skort was indeed embroidered with purple and pink butterflies.

"It's very you, Miss Aislinn," Leo told her with her affection.

"Yup. And look my shirt has a BIG butterfly." The white T-shirt had a large matching embroidered butterfly and was trimmed in eyelet lace. "I got a backpack too and..."

"Aislinn...Faith...Bartlet," Abbey's stern voice came from the top of the staircase.

"Looks like you're busted, kiddo," Fitz grinned. Aislinn nodded her skinny shoulders, slumping in defeat.

****

"You have GOT to be kidding me," Josh slammed the folder Amy handed him down on his desk.

"Do I look like I'm kidding? It's off the shelf, Josh. We're going to revamp and get the Violence Against Women Act passed once and for all." Amy was relishing this moment. THIS was why she had taken the job as the First Lady's Chief of Staff, to take on the big boys and fight for women and children. Abbey hadn't been up to much of anything other than healing her family last year, but this year was going to be different.

"You guys got the money out of the budget to combat domestic violence. What more do you want?"

"We want the whole enchilada, Josh. And, by the way, is whining simply a knee jerk reaction for you or do you have to work at it?"

"I'm just saying that we have a lot of other things on our agenda."

"And now this is on it too. The First Lady is going to be barnstorming around the country to raise awareness. We're talking stiffer penalties for rape, assault, stalking and child abuse. We're talking money for more shelters, counseling, and programs to get women and their families back on their feet once they're out of abusive relationships. It's going to get passed this time, Josh, the First Lady is extremely committed...and the President is behind it 100% and that means so are YOU."

"You know just because he spent the summer banging the First Lady all over Ireland doesn't mean–"

"That's ENOUGH," Leo angrily stepped into Josh's office and shut the door. "What is the problem here?"

"Josh here was just telling me about how the First Lady pussy whipped the President into doing her bidding."

Josh rolled his eyes at her. "You know I didn't mean anything by it."

"Of course you did. That's the way you think women operate, isn't it. Just what IS your problem with women anyway?"

"All right, enough. Can we please keep this from being personal." He turned to Josh with a stern glare. "I don't want to hear any more talk about how the President and First Lady come to any of their decisions and I especially don't ever want to hear you insinuate that President Bartlet has been in any way 'pussy whipped'. You know damn well that he's wanted to get the Violence Against Women Act passed, but something else always seemed to come up on the agenda. We've always convinced him to shelve it and wait for a better time or the Republicans have destroyed it in committee. We only have a couple more years, he wants to tie up the loose ends and this is a loose end that's been bothering him. Your job is to serve the President AND the First Lady when it comes down to it. If you have a problem with that–"

"No, no, no problem," Josh was quick to assure his boss of his loyalty.

"Good, then you two make nice and start working together."

"Yes, sir."

Leo left the office shaking his head. Those two would either come up with one formidable bill or kill each other in the process.

****

"You know, Isaac, if you'd just listen to me, we could get this leg wound fixed up once in for all." Abbey shook her head as she eyed the infected ulceration on the leg of her elderly African American patient. She had great affection for Isaac Brawley but he also frustrated her. He was a diabetic and she'd had the devil of a time trying to convince him to take care of himself. She'd gone over nutritional charts with him, shown him how to test his blood and how to inject himself with insulin, but simply knowing did not mean doing. Isaac did not feel sick and therefore did not really believe that he was sick. Now, however, he had a wound that was not healing, one of the great dangers of diabetes.

"It's just a little cut. It'll scab over," Isaac protested.

Abbey looked up from where she was cutting away the dead flesh at the edges of the wound, the sweet smell of infection pungent in the air. "You are very close to having gangrene, Isaac. Do you know what that means?"

Isaac shrugged. He knew. "I had friends that lost legs and arms to gangrene in World War II."

"Well, I don't want to see that happen to you. This isn't wartime. We have the tools to help you, Isaac, but you have to help yourself. You have to use the tools we give you." Abbey finished cleansing the wound then bandaged it. "Okay, you know the routine, turn around."

Isaac grinned. "Maybe that's why I don't take better care of myself. 'Bout the only way I can get a pretty lady to look at my skinny black ass nowadays is to give me a shot of antibiotics."

"Tell you what. You start taking care of that wound better and taking your insulin and you can come down here anytime and I'll give you a placebo in the rear."

Isaac's eyes widened as he glanced back over his shoulder at her. "That sounds a little kinky, Doc. Just what you got in mind?"

Abbey shook her head with a soft laugh. "A placebo is sugar water, Isaac. A pretend shot."

"Guess I'll have to think about that." Isaac winced and rubbed his rear as Abbey disposed of her syringe and took off her gloves to write out a prescription. "Maria," she called out to one of the non-medical personnel volunteers. Amazingly enough, with the arrival of the First Lady as a doctor on staff, the volunteer rate had skyrocketed.

"Yes, ma'am?" Maria Gonzalez dreamed one day of becoming a doctor and she worshipped the ground Dr. Abigail Bartlet walked on. She followed the doctor around like a puppy dog hoping to learn from her.

"Could you please take Mr. Brawley here down to the pharmacy on the corner and make sure he fills his prescription for doxycycline."

"Now just a minute. I ain't no child that needs some little girl to hold my hand to take me to the store."

"Isaac, think of it this way. How many of your cronies are going to envy you taking a little stroll with a pretty lady like Maria?"

Isaac turned to the young woman, a big grin creasing his wizened old face. "You may jus be right 'bout that, Doc." He crooked an arm to Maria who cast Abbey a "you owe me" look as she slid her arm through his.

"Make sure he takes these too." Abbey pressed a bag filled with clean bandages, antiseptic and testing strips into Maria's hand, then the two were off.

Nancy, one of the nurses that Abbey had become rather close to, approached her. "You know he isn't going to clean and bandage that wound and he probably won't use the testing strips."

"All I can do is try, Nancy. I've brought the mountain as close to Mohammed as I can. But I think I'm going to see if I can get VNA to stop at his place for a check."

Nancy nodded. "That's probably a good idea, although I'm not sure they'll be able to get through his thick skull either." She turned to look at the clock. "Why don't you take a break. We don't have another appointment for a half hour and by then Jerry should be here."

Abbey looked at the nurse gratefully. Breakfast had been a very long time ago. "I think I'll take you up on that. I'll grab a quick bite and finish up my paperwork."

Nancy nodded and left Abbey in the tiny room that combined as an office and break room. Abbey reached into the fridge and pulled out her lunch smiling at the incongruity of eating a lunch prepared by White House chefs in the dingy office. Sighing, she kicked her shoes off and settled back to take a bite of her gourmet chicken salad sandwich. It had been a busy day, although not particularly taxing – mostly immunizations and sports physicals for the imminent arrival of the school year. Still, it was good to be back. Good to be once again looking in ears and eyes and throats, listening to the beat of hearts and doling out medication and advice. This work was her life's blood. She was born to be a healer, to fix the injured and the ill and while she had enjoyed every moment of her vacation, it was truly nice to get back to work. Neither she nor Jed had the temperaments to keep them away from their work for long, they were too passionate about it, too involved and certainly too committed. People were either doers or watchers and she and Jed were definitely doers. More than that, it had been good to get away from the White House and the television specials and news reports that were obsessed, in their sensationalistic way, with the anniversary of the kidnapping. Something she would just as soon forget.

"Dr. Bartlet! Dr. Bartlet! We need you right away!"

Abbey tossed her sandwich down and was already slipping into rubber gloves as she raced from the office, Nancy's breathless call to her spurring her to action. As she stepped into what passed for a lobby, she watched four young gang members from a local gang they'd seen plenty of carry in a fifth member who was howling and swearing in agony. A blanket around his waist was soaked with blood.

"What happened?" Abbey asked.

"Don't let that bitch near me!" the wounded man shrieked. "I don't want no bitches TOUCHIN' me. Fucking WOMEN!"

Clearly at a loss, the four young men looked from their friend to the small woman standing before them in a lab coat, green eyes firm.

"Look, your friend there is clearly bleeding profusely. Now you can either let me have a look or you can hold him right there and let him bleed to death."

One, clearly the leader, made the decision and nodded to her. "Where do you want Darnell?"

Abbey pointed to an exam room. "What happened?" she asked again as the men stretched him out.

"Fucking bitch!" Darnell sobbed tears and mucus ran down his face. "Fucking little cunt tried to cut my dick off!"

Abbey's eyes widened. She had not been expecting to hear that. She lifted the blanket from the man's lower extremities and saw that he had not been exaggerating. A jagged cut had torn the man's scrotum and severed enough of the penis so that it lay flopping on his right thigh. But, it was still attached. She turned to Nancy.

"Call and arrange for medical transport. I'll do what I can but he's going to need to see a urologist."

"You just lucky I didn't finish the job off Darnell!" A very distraught young woman came surging through the doors making a beeline for the exam room. Thankfully, the U.S. Secret Service was there to stop her. "Don't you fix him, lady!" she shrieked. "You let that damn pecker fall right off."

Abbey shut the door to the exam room while the Service carried off the spitting, furious woman.

"Don't you let that little Hoe near me!" Darnell's hand's moved to cover his mangled groin.

"Don't worry, she's not going to get in here." Abbey prepared a syringe. "Who is she?"

"My girlfriend."

"Really?" Abbey's brow lifted. "You always call your girlfriend a whore, and well, other words that are too filthy to be repeated."

"I call her whatever the fuck I want."

"Well, looks like you called her something nasty one too many times for her to do something like this. Now, hold still, this is going to sting. I'm giving you a local anesthetic to numb the area."

"Shit man. She didn't stab me 'cause I called her a whore...Damn, BITCH, that hurt."

Abbey stopped for a moment her emerald eyes a laser beam. "Darnell, is it?" He nodded. "Well, Darnell, you may refer to me as Dr. Bartlet or Doc or Ma'am, but do NOT refer to me as 'bitch' again." Darnell glared, but could see the good doctor meant business and she was, after all, the one holding a needle near his penis.

Abbey cleansed the wound and fought to get the bleeding somewhat under control before preparing to suture him up. This was one for her journal. The first time she'd ever had to sew a man's balls back together and reattach his penis. Glasses perched on her nose she began the delicate business. "So, are you going to tell me how you ended up in this predicament?"

Darnell snorted. "How you ended up in this predicament," he mimicked her. "I like the way you talk bi...doc. It's a prissy but kind of smart ass." He sucked in his breath with a gasp of pain while Abbey worked. The local hadn't completely taken effect yet, but she had to stop the bleeding.

"Cherise come after him 'cause she found out he's been poking her sister Tanisha."

"Oh, shut the fuck up, Terrill."

"What?" Terrill frowned. "She asked."

"Yeah, well she's holding a fucking scalpel next to MY dick. You don't think she's going to want to finish off the job?"

"I can't." Abbey's brow was knit as she concentrated on the delicate suturing but she could hear the conversation as a sort of background music, the same way she'd heard the music when she was in surgery.

"Cain't what?"

"No matter what kind of heinous thing you've done and believe me, having sex with a woman's sister is extremely high up on the heinous list, I can't finish off the job for her. I have to treat you."

"That's right. You docs gotta take some hypocritic oath."

"Hippocratic," Abbey corrected. "And, yes, we do."

"What's it mean?" Terrill asked.

"It means that no matter how much I might despise someone one or hate what they've done or even hate THEM, I have to do my best to heal them."

"That's bullshit, man."

"Well, yes, but that bullshit is going to keep your friend here with an appendage I doubt he'd want to be without."

That statement brought a very real fear to the forefront and Darnell looked down at the patchwork of sutures holding him together. "Am I still gonna be able to get me a piece when you're done?"

Abbey sighed. "If you're asking me if you're going to be able to have an erection, I don't know. I don't know how much damage was done. You'll be seeing a urologist when you get to the hospital. In fact, I think I hear the ambulance now."

Abbey's work was finished. The paramedics entered, transferring Darnell to a stretcher and wheeling him out while he screamed at them not to let "that bitch Cherise" near him. As Abbey followed the stretcher, she saw that the D.C. police had arrived and were questioning a now distraught Cherise, the girl's anger having evaporated into sobs of pain. Her heart went out to her. While obviously she should not have tried to cut off the genitalia of her boyfriend, passionate rage did not often see clearly. What a horrible thing to have your love destroyed that way. She had no way of knowing that five hundred miles away in Derry, New Hampshire her own daughter was experiencing the same emotional heartbreak.

****

Elizabeth Westin sat on her back porch staring into a mug of coffee as if she might find all her answers in the swirl of coffee and cream. Her gaze moved to the swing set in the yard and she thought about her children wondering for the hundredth time if she was making the right decision. It had only been two weeks. The wound was still raw; the pain suffocating at times and yet there was nobody she could turn to. The shame was overpowering, overwhelming. Doug had destroyed her confidence as a wife, as a lover, as a person. A part of her yearned terribly for her mother – for that one person who would put her arms around her and tell her it would all work out, that it would be okay. With comfort, however, came complications. Her mother was a no-nonsense kind of person and after the comfort, she would be insisting on action, action she had been too numb to make.

She'd thought about her sisters but for differing reasons couldn't bring herself to make the calls. Zoey was just a kid and she was only just beginning to think of her sister as a young woman who might offer comfort and support. Zoey was her baby sister; it was SHE who had spent a lifetime advising HER and helping her and taking care of her, not the other way around. Besides, her loyal, feisty little sister would probably go after Doug with a baseball bat, or more likely a horse quirt, something she would probably get a real kick out of. Zoey didn't like Doug any better than her parents did and she was opinionated enough to make that known. Ellie was a different story. She had actually called Ellie and gotten her machine, but then chickened out and never left a message. Ellie was the least judgmental of the Bartlets and while over the years Elizabeth had seen disdain shine in her eyes when it came to Doug, never had she let on to any dislike, that just wasn't her way. She knew her middle sister would have offered a comforting shoulder, but Ellie was busy with her work and with snatching moments together Sam.

Excuses. She knew they were all excuses. The truth of the matter was, she couldn't tell anyone about what had happened. She was far too humiliated and ashamed and she HATED that she was ashamed. If anyone should feel ashamed, it was Doug.

"Liz?"

Elizabeth turned to see her husband step out onto the back porch and a shudder went through her body. She hadn't seen nor spoken with him for two weeks except to set up this meeting and now just hearing his voice had plunged her back to the day she had innocently returned home from Maine to find her life changed forever.

(Derry, New Hampshire - 2 weeks previous)

Smiling, Elizabeth gazed out the window as her agent took the exit off the highway that would bring her home. It was a glorious summer day; the sun was shining and she'd had one of her agents run into the market for steaks, salad fixings and a bottle of Merlot. She planned to surprise her husband with a romantic dinner. Their relationship had fallen quite flat lately and the two weeks she'd spent at the beach taking care of her younger siblings had not exactly turned out the way she had expected. She had pictured sunset walks on the beach with her husband and curling up in the evenings on the porch swing while they watched all the children play. Instead, Doug had been too busy to return and she had spent far more time with Zoey than she had him. Never an exceedingly passionate couple, Elizabeth had not even noticed the distance that seemed to have grown even further between them until her parents' vow renewal ceremony. Watching them, sucked into the romance of the moment, she had decided then and there to try to rekindle what little flame there had been in the beginning of her relationship with Doug and knew that given Doug's lackadaisical attitude toward anything, if there was an effort to be made it would have to come from her. That was okay. She had long ago come to terms with the fact that she would have to take a lead position in their marriage. So, she had dropped Annie and Gus off in Manchester to visit with their Westin grandparents and planned for a weekend alone with her husband.

She wasn't all that surprised to see Doug's car in the garage on a weekday. He quite often liked to beg off work early to go golfing with his buddies. He'd probably been picked up by one of the guys and that would give her time to prepare her special dinner. She paused by the front stairs leading up to the porch and on a whim plucked a few flowers she had planted there. Humming softly she opened the door that led to a small entryway and stairs leading up to the second floor. She started past the staircase intending to go straight to the kitchen with her groceries when she heard the low undertones of a male voice coming from upstairs. So, Doug was home. Hoping to surprise him, she set down the bag of groceries and still clutching her flowers, she made her way up the stairs. At the top of the landing, she heard the unmistakable sound of a deep moan coming from her bedroom. The kind of moan that was only emanated in extreme pain – or extreme pleasure. She froze to that spot for a moment, her breath catching in her throat. Then she heard it again. The creaking of the bed, a deep male moan and this time a responding feminine squeak.

"Yes, Dougie, oh YES!" It was a voice that was painfully familiar to her.

Heart racing, limbs shaking, Elizabeth moved forward and took hold of the doorknob to her bedroom. Knowing what she would find behind it did not alleviate the shock of seeing her husband's bare ass pounding enthusiastically away into the body of their children's nanny. Fury rising, all she could think of at the moment was that her husband was screwing another woman on HER marriage bed, staining the duvet cover SHE had purchased with their foul bodily secretions.

"You son of a bitch."

Doug nearly jumped out of his skin at the cold fury of his wife's voice.

"Liz! What the hell are you doing home?!" He immediately withdrew from Astrid's body and shoved her away from him. Elizabeth quickly averted her eyes from the woman's wet pubic hair and her husband's equally glistening, shrinking penis. Leave it to Doug to try to switch the blame onto her, but she'd deal with him later. At the moment, her wrath fell on the woman that was scrambling to cover herself.

"Get out of MY bed, you disgusting whore."

"Please, Mrs. Westin," she sobbed. "Please, I didn't mean..."

"Oh, I think you very well DID mean. What are you even doing here? I gave you the whole month off until school..." she paused as it hit her. "Oh my God, you never left, did you?" She turned to Doug. "THIS is why you couldn't come to the beach, because you were back here fucking the nanny. Jesus Christ, this is unreal."

"Liz, please it isn't what you think."

"Really? You're a figment of my imagination?" She shook her head with repulsion. "You both make me sick."

"Liz, please."

Elizabeth ignored her husband who was now struggling into his underwear

"I hope he was worth it, Astrid, because you're FIRED. I'm not sure what HE plans to do with you, but I don't ever want you near my children again." She turned to leave the room slamming the door behind her.

"LIZ!" Doug chased her down the stairs. She kept walking without turning. "ELIZABETH, STOP!" He caught up to her grabbing her elbow.

"Let GO of me." She yanked her arm from his grasp.

"Liz, please it isn't how it looks."

She snorted with derision. "Do you have any idea how pathetic you sound? You're just a walking cliché."

"Look, Liz I know you're upset, but come ON. I love you. She didn't mean anything to me."

"That's supposed to make me feel better? To know that you'd risk losing the kids and me for someone that doesn't even mean anything to you. Cheap price to pay, DOUGIE. I want you out of here."

Panic lit Doug's eyes. Liz was really furious and she was serious. He didn't want to lose his family and he was smart enough to know that without Elizabeth Bartlet at his side, any chance he might have at Congress was gone. Every door she'd opened for him would be slammed just as quickly in his face. "Lizzie, baby, you can't do this. I love you. I need you."

"You sure as hell DO need me, but love me? I don't think so. This isn't the way that you treat people you LOVE."

"Lizzie, think about the kids."

"Don't you DARE bring the children into this!" Elizabeth's control snapped and her blue eyes burned with fire. "Were you thinking about them when you were fucking their NANNY?!"

"Lizzie, come on. I'm not proud of what I've done but we need to sit down and talk. You know it hasn't been easy for me to be married to you – to a Bartlet. To always be living under your father's shadow."

"Funny, you don't seem to mind that when it's opening doors for you. When people who normally wouldn't give you the time of day want you to join their foursomes at the country club."

"That's not what I'm talking about. It's just...Hell, he even paid for this house."

"Spare me, Doug. That money was from him AND my mother and it was for the down payment on this house so we could have a home after we got married. They were helping us, NOT buying us and they never asked for a damn thing in return or held it over your head. It was a GIFT. And you know you were certainly eager to accept it when it was offered."

"I shouldn't have said that. I just–"

"You just wanted to distract me from what I just found you doing in OUR bedroom in OUR bed and to make me feel sorry for you. Sorry, it didn't work. I'm done talking. Get the hell out of here."

"What are you going to tell the kids?"

"I'll think of something. I need time. I need to think about what I'm going to do about you, about us."

"Just remember, I love you."

The three words actually made Elizabeth's skin crawl. "Just get out."

(Derry - present day)

"Lizzie?" Doug touched his wife's shoulder. "How have you been?"

She gave a sad laugh. "How do you think I've been, Doug?"

He nodded clearly not wanting to argue with her. "You said you were ready to talk. Have you made a decision about us?"

Elizabeth turned to her husband. How could he think it was all so cut and dried? Did he not understand what she'd been through these past two weeks, coming up with an excuse for his absence to the children, tossing and turning every night with the vision of him pumping away between Astrid's thighs, pretending that all was well while damn near fumigating her bedroom? Looking at him now, seeing vacancy in his eyes where there should be remorse, she had to wonder if there ever been a time when she'd really believed that he had substance and soul? Had he ever been the kind of man that she wanted him to be?

"There are a few times in a person's lifetime when they know for sure that their life has been irrevocably changed, altered in some way forever – getting married, having a child, saying good-bye to a loved one who has passed – all those life altering moments. That's how I felt when I walked in on you and Astrid. You ripped away every pretense that I'd had about us having a good marriage and exposed it to me in ways that I refused to allow myself to see. And, maybe that wasn't a bad thing because it was an illusion, Doug, and now my eyes are wide open. Yes, we do need to talk and yes, I have made a few decisions."

****

Abbey heard Jed quietly enter the bedroom and squinted at the clock. It was just after midnight but she was still awake. She listened to the water running in the bathroom, heard the toilet flush and watched him re-enter the room in his boxers and T-shirt. He was trying hard to be quiet, so she could see why he was surprised when she lifted the covers to allow his entrance into her warm cocoon.

"You're still awake," he said.

"Mmm..." She snuggled up under his arm. "You're late."

"Yeah, lot of catching up to do. World didn't stop while I was on vacation."

"You okay? You sound funny."

"I'm fine, just tired. I feel like I've been butting heads with Leo all day."

"Are you having a problem there?"

"Just the same old stuff. Leo and I have rubbing each other wrong for a while now. I don't know. It's like he thinks that he's supposed to be the one calling the shots or that I'm supposed to fall in line with his way of thinking or abide by his decisions and that he just doesn't get that while he is my most trusted policy advisor, he is not my ONLY policy advisor and that ultimately the decisions are up to me"

"It was bound to happen."

"What does that mean?"

"Jed, when you started this job you relied very heavily on Leo, especially in military manners. You did follow his lead. He was in the loop while you've always been the maverick on the fringe of the Democratic Party. You needed him to pave the way in. You don't need him so much now, not even when it comes to the military. You've built a rapport with them and they respect you. You've even become friends with Fitz. You don't need him so much now. Leo was bound to feel slighted."

"I still need him."

"I know that. But it has to be hard for him to deal with the fact that you don't need him so much anymore. You've grown so much in this job, Jed. You're so savvy and confident and you've built your own bridges. It's been incredible for me to watch you. But for Leo is has to be bittersweet. It's kind of like how we felt parenting teenagers. They still need you, but you aren't the be all end all to them anymore. They have teachers and coaches and friends who are all giving them advice and you aren't the only one they're turning to anymore. You know it's natural. You know it's right, but it still hurts sometimes."

Jed ran his hand up and down her arm in a comforting manner. "I think we aren't just talking about me here. Are you mulling over the twins starting school tomorrow?"

"PRE-school," she reminded him. "Don't push it any further than it is."

Jed smiled tenderly and kissed the top of her head. It was hard for the mama to watch her chicks grow. "You're right, it is pre-school. 8:30 to 11:30 three days a week. They're only three. It's not like they're leaving the nest yet."

"I know, it's just..."

"You feel less needed. When they stopped nursing, they didn't need to rely on you and your breasts for sustenance. When they started walking, they didn't need you to carry them around everywhere. When they started talking, they didn't need you to try to figure out what they needed or wanted and now–"

"Hey," she tapped his chest with her palm. "You're supposed to be making me feel better here."

He chuckled. "Sorry, I'm just trying to say that while every step leads to more independence, they're still going to need us for a very long time. Now, we'll change the subject. How was it to be back at the clinic today?"

"Very interesting. I have an eighty year old man who wants to come back and get fake shots in the bum 'cause it's the only action he gets and another man who was very nearly castrated. His testicles were pretty much severed and his penis about halfway there. It was literally dangling. Another half inch and it would have been a complete castration."

"Abbey!" Jed's hand moved to cover his privates with sympathy pains. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What are you trying to do? Give me nightmares?"

Abbey laughed her breath warm against his chest. "He cheated on his girlfriend. Let that be a lesson."

"As if I need a lesson." His fingers moved through her hair. "But, please remind me never to ask you about your day right before bed again."

She nodded. "Okay." The word came out on a yawn, as her eyelids grew very heavy. Just having Jed beside her in bed relaxed her and after their little chat, she was feeling much better about the following day so it didn't take long at all for her to fall asleep.

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