Nightmare Scenario

By Nomad
June 2003

Spoilers: Heavy spoilage for "Commencement" and "25".
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. However, they're sort of between owners at the moment, so...
Author's Note: Post-ep to "25".

He couldn't find the right picture. He was searching, searching, searching through piles of pictures, and he couldn't find it.

Zoey as a baby.

...the hospital, Ellie bouncing up and down and tugging on his arm demanding to see the baby, a Christening outfit that was surely too small to even fit a doll, howled tears at four AM and Abbey kicking him in the side and threatening to divorce him if he didn't get up, dammit...

Zoey's sixth birthday party.

...making cookies in the kitchen in New Hampshire, Zoey with flour on her nose, scrambled early-morning shopping expeditions for a forgotten Home Ec. class, Abbey coming home and catching them both eating cake mix from the bowl...

Him and Zoey, playing chess.

...Zoey with her 'prawns' and 'horses' just because she knew it drove him crazy, the time the board got caught on the corner of her dress and they spent two hours crawling around trying to find the bishop, chess competitions at school and Zoey begging him not to beat up her nervous opponent even though it was quite obvious he'd cheated...

Zoey and Ellie, out in the snow.

...snow angels, and then a snow dog in case the snow angels got lonely, and then a snow cat because the cats would feel left out, and then a snow elephant just because there had to be...

Zoey at a White House function, Charlie on her arm. Zoey's sixteenth. High school graduation. A day at the beach. Zoey and Annie. Zoey and Abbey. Zoey and Ellie and Liz. Zoey and her school friends. Zoey's first date. Zoey at camp. Zoey in pigtails. Zoey, being carried on his shoulders. Zoey in a stroller.

Pictures, pictures, a million pictures, a billion memories, and none of them the one he was looking for. He couldn't find it. It had to be that one, couldn't be any of the others but that one, except he couldn't find it.

And then he found it.

And then he sat down, and he cried, and he couldn't stop crying.

He knew it, right down deep to the core of his heart, when he saw the look on Ron's face. The rest of the conversation happened, but in the aftermath, he knew that he'd known it right then.

"Ron..." he began warningly.

"Mr. President-" Ron choked. Ron Butterfield choked. "Mr. President, we got a lead on the kidnappers-"

And then Leo was beside him, taking his arm. "Jed..."

He turned to look at Leo, and the eyes that reflected his held all the desolation of the world. He could feel himself shaking his head mutely, but he could only manage one word. "Zoey...?"

"They found her," he said, and the words fell like slabs, devoid of any fraction of the joy that should have suffused them.

He couldn't ask it, couldn't ask it, but the words were there, burning a hole on his tongue, in his mind...

"Is she-"

-all right? That was the question that hung unspoken in the air, because there wasn't any other he was capable of asking.

And Leo looked him in the eye. He would always remember that, forever afterwards, the fact that Leo had looked him straight in the eye. It had cost him his soul to do it, but he'd done it. "She's dead, Jed," he said softly. "Zoey's dead."

And then Leo was crying - he was crying, Leo was crying, what the hell kind of world could it be that Leo could be crying? - his face crumpling in on itself. "I'm sorry." The words burned out of him in a sob. "I'm so sorry. Jed, I'm so sorry."

There were people around him, he was aware of people around him, but it was distorted, through a fog, through a glass. He was vaguely conscious of being on his knees, but not how he'd got there, if he'd fallen, if he'd knelt, and Leo was wrapping his arms around him, right there in the middle of the corridor... there was a wetness on his face, but he couldn't tell if these were Leo's tears, or if he was crying, he didn't feel like he was crying, he couldn't feel anything-

He didn't remember much, after that.

The picture seemed to stare at him accusingly. It had to be that particular photograph, because he remembered Zoey saying to him "Hey, that's quite a nice one." Sounding vaguely surprised, as if it was ever possible there could be a picture of her that wasn't beautiful.

Zoey had liked that one. Maybe she'd liked some of the others better, but he remembered her saying she liked that one.

She looked too grown-up to be his baby girl. Too grown-up, and still so young... he traced his fingers along the lines of the photograph, seeing through the young woman to the infant beneath. His Zoey. His baby girl. Their baby girl, who they'd named Zoey because she was so full of life.

So full of life...

The words twisted so bitterly, painfully, and he laid back on the bed, folding his arms over his eyes. Zoey was dead. His baby girl was dead. She was gone, taken from him forever. He felt like the air was being sucked out of him, his lungs were crushing from the inside out, and he couldn't breathe...

"Dad! Dad, wake up!"

He came awake with a start, and Zoey was looking down at him.

"I can't believe you fell asleep, dad," she chuckled.

He sat up with a groan, and found he wasn't in the Residence at all, but on the old couch in New Hampshire. He sat up, rubbing his face groggily.

"Oh. Oh. I was having a dream..."

Zoey's face grew sober. Of course, she would know exactly what kind of dream he'd been having. He'd been having them ever since she'd first gone missing from the club, and even now she was safe and well and returned to them, the nightmares hadn't faded.

"I'm okay, dad," she said softly, touching his cheek. "You know I'm okay."

"Yeah." He smiled, and pulled her into a tight bear hug. "It's just... I thought we'd lost you..."

"I know, dad. I'm so sorry-" Her voice was muffled against his shoulder.

He pulled back, and looked at her sternly. "Don't you ever say that. You were kidnapped, Zoey! You can't think-"

"I know, I know," she murmured, allowing him to ruffle her hair. "It's just... oh, I was such an idiot. Trusting Jean-Paul... if I hadn't been with him, if he hadn't slipped that stuff into my drink-"

"Then we don't know what would have happened," Jed reminded her gently. "Maybe they would have tried to take you anyway... and maybe they would have hurt you doing it. The important thing is that you're safe."

Zoey looked down. "Molly isn't," she said softly.

Jed sighed sadly. His daughter's guilt was irrational, but she would bear it, just as Charlie would continue to feel responsible... and he would continue to have nightmares. They all wore their scars, as did the rest of the world. For a few days, the world had almost lost a president. For a few days, a couple had almost lost their daughter.

But still, he could smile, because this wasn't the nightmare scenario. His daughter was alive, and safe, and returned to him. All other scars would fade, with time. He straightened up.

"Did your mother send you to get me?"

She grinned, for a moment a child again. "Yeah! You slept the whole afternoon away, snoring like a big ol' grizzly bear there, dad. Annie had to leave the room, you got so loud!"

"Well, we grandparents need our sleep, you know," he grumbled good-naturedly. It was so good to have his family around him, to be back home in New Hampshire, taking time to recover from the trauma of the last few weeks. He was glad now he'd let Leo talk him into this.

Abbey smiled at him warmly as he entered the front room. He slipped over to her side, and rested his arm around her waist as they watched Zoey laughingly join Annie and her sisters at the table.

"Our girls," Jed said softly.

"All of them, safe and sound," Abbey said, beaming.

He turned to look at her. "I'd say we're a pretty lucky pair, all right."

"That we are, babe," Abbey agreed. "That we really are."

They kissed, and Jed was annoyed to be interrupted by a dull pounding sound. For a moment it seemed oddly sourceless, until it resolved itself into a knock on the door. "Who's that?" he frowned. He glanced across at the girls, and was struck by the odd sensation that they looked younger than he remembered. Playing together here, they were still children, not the grown-up young women they seemed in the outside world.

"Maybe it's Charlie," Abbey offered from beside him.

The knock came again, and a voice floated through from outside, muffled but instantly recognisable. "Mr. President?"

He frowned. "Leo came to Manchester?"

The girls were giggling together - a light, floating, musical sound that he didn't ever want to forget, wanted to commit to his memory as the most wonderful sound of his life - but the sound seemed to be coming from a distance, getting further and further away...

"Sir, you need to-"

"-wake up."

His eyes flew open. Leo was looking down at him with concern. "Mr. President?" He hesitated. "Jed? Are you...?"

He smiled faintly, without humour. "No. No, I'm not." How could he be?

He sat up, the echoes of the girls' laughter haunting him as the dream faded. He picked up the photograph where it lay on the bed beside him, and gazed at it.

His baby girl...

"That's a beautiful picture of her," Leo said. Jed looked up at him.

"It was one of her favourites."

Leo gripped his shoulder gently, in silent commiseration. Jed sighed heavily, and pushed himself up. He tucked the picture carefully into his breast pocket.

He couldn't hide up here all day, much as he might want to. Abbey was waiting for him. The whole world was waiting for him.

After all, they had a funeral to go to.