Spoilers: This story goes AU somewhere around late season three, but backstory established in the season four episodes "Debate Camp" and "Holy Night" is also fair game.
Disclaimer: The characters and concepts used within belong to Aaron Sorkin; I'm just borrowing for non-profit purposes.
I didn't think much about it, 'til it started happening all the time They say that time is healer, and now my wounds are not the same
Soon I was living with the fear every day of what might happen that night
I couldn't stand to hear the crying of my mother and I remember when
I swore that that would be the last he'd see of me, and I never went home again
I rang the bell with my heart in my mouth, I had to hear what he'd say
He sat me down to talk to me, he looked me straight in the eyes
He said you're no son, you're no son of mine; you're no son, you're no son of mine
You walked out, you left us behind, and you're no son, you're no son of mine...
They say that time is healer, and now my wounds are not the same
- No Son of Mine, Genesis
Not lingering images or words; sensations, a blur of emotions with no concrete base. If there was a coherent storyline, it flowed out of his mind as easily as it flowed in, leaving no trace of its passing but for eddies in the deeper currents of old memories.
Fragments only, gone too fast to snatch at, but through it all a feeling of tightness in his chest. Desperation, urgency. The need to do it right; find the magic word, the secret combination, the pattern behind the random sequence. Looking for the key, the logic, the correct decision, the right move.
That nagging feeling, that niggling sensation that it could all turn out differently if he could just get it right...
Jed woke up.
The dream and the recollection of dreaming faded into nothing, but the edge of urgency cut onwards. Cigarette, he needed a cigarette.
He didn't smoke.
Dammit, he was the leader of the free world, he couldn't stomp out there to that building full of people who worked for him and demand one of them give him a cigarette?
He wasn't supposed to smoke.
He sat up in bed and breathed for a few moments, feeling the heart in his chest hammer away and not really knowing the reason. Panic attack, was this a panic attack? Was that what this felt like?
No, of course not. Just dreams. Just bad dreams.
His heart was winding down, slowly, but his chest still ached slightly from the pounding. It was dark in his room; he'd woken before the alarm again. Since when had he started doing that? It happened all too frequently lately; he couldn't get to sleep, but once he did he couldn't stay there.
And now his pulse was calm.
Jed stood up and made his way over to find his clothes by instinct, all the while hearing Abbey's voice chide him not to stumble about in the dark. He wished she was there, even though she'd still be sleeping. He was gripped by a sudden urge to call her, just to hear her voice, thick with sleep at this ungodly hour and fading down the scale from bright panic into annoyance.
And maybe she wouldn't mind, if he told her how much he missed her. Told her he'd needed to call her, because-
(Nightmares, but he didn't remember, couldn't feel the shape of them, couldn't explain them... Sourceless faceless nameless panic, building in his chest, and he didn't know why-)
And he wanted to tell her that he couldn't do it right. He didn't even know what it was, but the nervousness in his belly kept telling him that he couldn't get anywhere, wouldn't be able to succeed at anything, if he couldn't get it right-
The desire to try and put these nonsensical feelings into words quickly passed. Jed dressed in the dark, and got ready for work.
With their dark suits, over-precise nods and the brisk, curt way they greeted each other, the two men could have been any pair of young urban professionals out on an assignment in the early hours. They were not.
The two Secret Service agents let themselves into the apartment across from their young protectees. Both of its occupants quickly glanced up to ascertain the key was being used by who it was supposed to be, and just as quickly went back to scanning their surroundings. You never relaxed when your relief arrived. Twice as many agents in the house could go from being your strongest point to your weakest if there was a moment when everybody was distracted.
"Anything to report?"
"Negative." The young woman kept her eyes on the quiet street outside as she spoke. "Motion in the apartment at four AM, but it was Osprey." The First Daughter's graduation from college had rendered her old codename of Bookbag somewhat obsolete, and the christening of the home she shared with her new husband as the Nest had provided opportunity to give them both new monikers at the start of their married life.
"She's sick again?"
"Maybe. Lights are out now. Peregrine'll be up for work in fifteen."
It wasn't until the new arrivals were fully settled in that the agents they were replacing made any move to go. Peregrine's detail would arrive for the day with his car; the two of them would remain here with his young wife.
As the other agents left for a well-deserved dose of sleep, Mitch glanced across at his partner.
"You think she is?"
Tony shrugged non-committally.
Mitch answered his own question. "I think she is." He settled down for a long day of waiting and watching, and added thoughtfully to himself "I wonder how Eagle's gonna take it."
Either Tony disapproved of his partner's uncalled for speculation... or he couldn't begin to guess, either.
"You okay?" Charlie asked, glancing up from his computer as his wife - his train of thought still bounced a little on its tracks at the interjection of that word - as she shuffled past in her dressing robe. Mussed up, tired, free from make-up, and as beautiful as he'd ever seen her.
"I'm fine." She flopped back against the bed and yawned. "I'd be better if you didn't wake me up at unholy hours of the morning all the time."
He refrained from pointing out how she'd woken him first half an hour beforehand, because he suspected reminding her that she'd been throwing up was not the way to go in avoiding a repeat performance.
He closed Deanna's email and spun around in his chair. "You're going in today?"
"Yeah." She had her eyes closed, but he knew from experience that it took her ages of tossing and turning before she could easily drop off to sleep. Strangely, even being repeatedly elbowed in the side had yet to lose its charm and novelty.
"Sure you don't want me to come with you?" he asked again. She looked up at him from under her eyelashes.
"And just skip out on work for the morning? I think my dad would have something to say about that."
"We could tell him why," he pointed out.
Zoey pulled a disbelieving face. "Sure, if you want to do that."
"Maybe we should wait until we're sure," he agreed dryly.
"I'll be fine, Charlie."
"Okay." He stood up, shutting the computer down.
"She's okay. Going on about how college is the best thing ever and living in halls is the greatest thing that's ever happened to her. I gotta tell you, it's a real ego boost."
"Hey, you'd prefer her to be living with us?"
And on that point, he conceded. It was weird and a little disorienting still to not have Deanna around, but he supposed she was safer in a hall full of students than living in their old neighbourhood on her own.
"Fair point. I've gotta get to work."
"Yeah. See you tonight, Charlie."
"Yeah." He came over to place a gentle kiss on her cheek, and she smiled with her eyes still shut. He pulled the door to softly and switched the light off to let her get some sleep.
It was still weird having his own Secret Service escort take him to work - even if the limo did come in handy. He would have traded in the transport in a heartbeat for the freedom to go where he wanted and do what he pleased, but he supposed that was behind him now.
Still, he could daydream that one day he would no longer be at a high enough risk to merit a Secret Service presence. The president, he knew, would never have that luxury. Former presidents might no longer have to worry about politically-motivated assassination, but glory-seeking lunatics and those with twisted vendettas paid no heed to term limits. The face of a young black man who married well might fade from the history books, but nobody forgot former presidents.
The weight of the position had always shown clearly in Jed Bartlet's quiet moments, and it was stamped across his features stronger than ever these days. Charlie regarded him worriedly as he arrived at work. The president was staring into space, as he did a lot lately; not the exhausted spacing out that had happened when his MS was at its most punishing, but a sign of preoccupation with some unknown mental torment.
Charlie had to clear his throat for attention. "Mr. President?"
He shook himself out of his fog of contemplation. "Charlie," he nodded brightly.
"Are you all right?" He had to ask it, although he knew what the answer would be.
"I'm fine." He smiled, and the lines of worry in his face momentarily straightened out. "How's Zoey?"
"She's good." He hesitated for a beat too long before giving the answer, but the president didn't seem to notice.
And so the day began.