Title: Fragments Of A Life

Author: IDreamOfAJ

Characters: This is mostly Huck Ziegler. Molly's here too. Everyone else shows up. And it's CJ/Toby as well.

Spoilers: None really. This starts three years after Season 4.

Rating: PG

Summary: Huck and Molly Ziegler grow up.

Author's note: This is something totally different for me. I hope you enjoy it.

For Angie. I couldn't have done this without you, my friend.

And, for my Dad. Who, even before it was "legal", was never a step- anything. Thanks for helping to make me who I am.

Feedback: Is very welcomed by me!!

Disclaimers: I don't own anything. I did make up a few people here and there, but I don't think I even own them. Please don't sue me.

Fragments Of A Life

2006

His sister is crying. She's clutching that stupid pink flamingo that Aunt CJ had given her. Huck stands absolutely still as Mommy puts the last of his clothes in a suitcase. He doesn't understand what Mommy's saying. He doesn't know what he did to make her send them away.

He likes his room. And his toys. Mommy said they would only be in the boxes until they got to his new room. But he's not sure.

He understands that he and Molly are going to Daddy's house. And Mommy's not coming. If he's been told for how long, he's forgotten. But, it must be a really long time. Because this is the first time that all his stuff is going too.

Daddy walks into the room and picks up his sister. Uncle Josh is right behind him. He takes the suitcase from Mommy and disappears.

"Andy?"

"Toby! Don't. Just... don't."

And then Mommy's squeezing him so much that it hurts. And he starts crying. She tells Huck that she loves him, and he'll have fun at Daddy's. And try to be a good boy. She does the same with Molly, still in Daddy's arms.

Molly tries to hold onto Mommy. But Daddy's strong and he pulls her away.

"Come on, son."

Daddy holds out his hand and Huck takes it. Together they go out to the car where Uncle Josh is waiting.

~*~

Uncle Josh stops the car in front of Daddy's house. He and Daddy start to get Huck and Molly out of their car seats. Huck looks out the window. The front door opens and Aunt CJ comes out.

She reaches the car just as he's freed from his seat.

"Hey guys. How ya doing?"

Aunt CJ picks him up and gives him a big kiss on the cheek. He hugs her neck tightly as she kisses Molly, who's back in Daddy's arms.

They walk into the house. Aunt CJ puts him down, but he stays close.

"I made lunch. Are you guys hungry?"

At Uncle Josh's funny noise, she rolls her eyes.

"Okay. I bought lunch. But, there are cupcakes for dessert."

After they've eaten lunch and Daddy has washed cupcakes off their faces and hands, Huck and Molly carefully climb the stairs to their rooms.

Daddy, Uncle Josh, and Aunt CJ unpack their suitcases and boxes. Arranging all their stuff in the rooms just like they want it. Molly makes Aunt CJ move her stuffed animals at least three times. It's dinnertime before they finish. Daddy tries to get them to stay, but Aunt CJ and Uncle Josh say they have to get going. He hears Aunt CJ whisper to Daddy.

"You're going to have to get used to this sooner or later, Tobus. This is it. They're yours full-time now. I'll come by for breakfast, though."

Huck thinks it's just like all the other times he's spent the night at Daddy's. Except it isn't. Daddy had said this was their home now. They live here now.

2008

"Happy Birthday Huck and Molly. Happy Birthday to you."

Huck looks at all the grown-ups who have just finished singing. This was the best birthday party. CJ had gotten a jumping castle for the backyard. And, she'd made Daddy go in, which was really funny. Daddy had gotten them everything they had asked for. And Mommy had come.

The twins blow out the candles on their cakes. CJ had made sure they each had their own cake. Molly's was cherry. His was chocolate.

He waves goodbye to Mommy. Molly's crying a little. But, Uncle Will has promised her a pony ride on his back. So, she's almost stopped crying. He doesn't understand why Mommy didn't stay. She didn't even eat a piece of cake. But, he's a big boy. And he's not going to cry.

~*~

Most of the guests have gone home. He and Molly are being allowed to stay up late. Huck's sitting in CJ's lap listening to the President. He's talking about a farm. It sounds like lots of fun. But, CJ says there are snakes in the barn.

"And, no. We can't go get one to bring home. Forget it."

CJ's smiling at him. Maybe she'll let him get a lizard instead. He'll have to ask her later. The President's laughing. He tells her that family life certainly seems to agree with her.

"Sir, it's been two months. I think retirement is making you sentimental."

She ruffles Huck's hair and pulls him closer. Tighter.

"But, these guys kinda worm their way into your heart, ya know?"

"Yes. It's one of the joys of parenthood. Now, if you and Toby would just get married... ."

"Mr. President!"

~*~

Huck falls asleep in CJ's arms and wakes for only a minute when she and Daddy tuck him into bed. He dreams of birthday cakes and barns with snakes. And being a worm in CJ's heart.

2009

He hates school. It's stupid. The kids are stupid. The teachers are stupid. School is just plain stupid.

He's trying so hard to ignore the other kids around him that he doesn't realize the bus has stopped until Molly hits him in the arm. He shoulders his backpack and gets off the bus. CJ's waiting for them in the shade of a huge tree.

"Hey guys. How was school?"

Huck growls and stalks past her as Molly tells her about their day. When he gets inside the house he goes straight for the kitchen. There are milk and cookies on the table. He doesn't feel hungry. He just slumps into his chair.

CJ's mad. She's making that face. The one where she looks like she's trying to keep all the yelling inside her mouth. He knows Molly has told her what happened. And now, she's mad at him. Just like that stupid teacher.

"Your teacher gave you a note? Let me see it."

Slowly he pulls the note out of his back pocket. He hands it to CJ. Molly pulls her chair closer to his and sits down. She puts an Oreo in front of him.

CJ's pacing. He can't make out everything she's saying, but he does catch "the most ridiculous thing". His face turns red.

CJ finally sits opposite him. She puts her fingers under his chin and raises his head so he'll look at her.

"Huck Ziegler, you listen to me. Your teacher is an idiot. She has absolutely no business being a teacher. And tomorrow, that's exactly what I'm gonna tell her. Just wait until your father reads this. It's ridiculous."

His eyes light up. She's not mad at him. She's mad at his stupid teacher. He takes the Oreo that Molly offered and pops it into his mouth whole.

~*~

Dad calls a little later and the twins listen as CJ tells him what happened at school over the phone. Huck's listening carefully for Dad's reaction. He can tell by what CJ's saying that Dad's not mad at him either.

He and Molly are really excited when they hear that Uncle Josh and Uncle Will are coming for dinner. And not just because it means that they'll get take-out. They love CJ. But, she doesn't seem to be getting much better with the cooking. Plus, their uncles are a lot of fun.

~*~

That night, after they've been put to bed, Huck and Molly meet in the hallway and make their way to the landing so they can listen to the grown- ups. Just like they do every time Dad and CJ have friends over. They can hear CJ and Uncle Will laughing. And Uncle Josh raising his voice to be heard over them.

"No, no, no. The best part isn't that when asked the name of the president, your son said 'Josiah Bartlet', Toby. The best part is that the teacher actually wrote in her stupid, little note to you that when asked who lived in the White House, Huck said an 'embarrassment to the party'. As if that was the worst answer imaginable."

Even Dad is laughing now. Molly nudges him that it's time to go back to bed. Reluctantly he rises and follows her down the hallway. The last thing he hears is CJ's voice.

"Yeah. She's going to be amazed when she finds out how proud we are of that."

2011

Molly's crying again. He hates it when she does that. He won't ever admit it, but it makes him want to cry. He doesn't blame her for crying now though. It's not fair.

Molly's in the Bluebirds. She says they're way cooler than the Brownies. But, tomorrow is their Mother/Daughter picnic. It's been on the calendar for months. CJ's helped her plan all the food she wants to take. But, now she says she's not going.

Mom called. She's got a meeting or a vote or something. She can't go to the picnic. Now Molly says she can't go because she doesn't have a mother. At least that's what she yelled before she ran into her room and slammed the door. Dad says to leave her for a while. To let her calm down. Huck thinks Dad's just stalling for time until CJ gets home.

He knocks on the door.

"Molls, it's me. Let me in, okay?"

She doesn't answer, but the door opens a crack. He takes that as the only invitation he'll get and goes inside. He sits next to Molly on the bed. He nudges her with his shoulder.

"You can still go, you know."

"No. I'll look stupid. I'll be the only one there without a mother."

"You could take CJ. You know she'll go with you."

"Yeah. But, it's not the same."

"I know, Molly. But... I think... well, I think you'll have more fun with CJ anyway. Don't you remember that one baseball game Mom came to? She clapped. I hit a triple, and she just clapped, like it was any other kid doing that. But, CJ was jumping up and down, screaming her guts out. And CJ's always like that. And she comes to every game."

"Yeah. You're right. I just... why doesn't Mom ever come to our stuff?"

"I don't know."

"I'll ask CJ to go when she comes home."

~*~

Huck's sitting with Dad in the dining room. They're both listening to the conversation in the kitchen. Molly's asking CJ to go to her picnic tomorrow.

Huck can tell by the way CJ's standing that she's mad. Probably at his mother. But, she's trying to act like she's not mad. He knows she always tries to hide her feelings about their mother. She does a pretty good job most of the time.

"Of course I'll go, Molly. I'm sorry your mom can't make it. But, I'd love to go."

CJ's heading for the phone.

"I just have to call Donna and let her know I can't make it tomorrow."

He can tell that Molly's going to cry before the tears start falling. Her whole body clenches up. And CJ's abandoned the phone and is holding Molly next to her. Dad's getting up and moving into the kitchen. Huck figures he might as well go too.

"Molly, what is it, honey? CJ said she'd go."

Dad's stroking her hair while CJ's making little hushing noises. Molly takes a gulp of air and shakes them both off. Huck looks into her eyes and understands. He feels the same way. Molly turns to face Dad and CJ.

"It's just... you're canceling something to go with me tomorrow. Mom would never do that. But, you do it all the time. CJ... why do you love us more than our mom?"

It takes CJ a full second to react to the words. But when she does, it's swift. She's on her knees, holding Molly's arms.

"Honey, I don't. Your mom loves you guys more than anything. But, she's got a really important job. And she can't always do the things with you that she'd like. But, I do love you guys."

He watches Dad say nothing. He never does. Not about their mom. Huck knows that Dad can't stand lying. He's given them enough lectures on the subject. Huck thinks that might be why Dad always stays silent. He won't lie. So, he doesn't say anything.

Molly doesn't look convinced. But, she's decided to drop it. For now. She nods her head and hugs CJ. Dad musses her hair. And she smiles at him. CJ's standing when she asks the question.

"CJ, could I call you 'Mom'?"

He watches CJ swallow.

"At least tomorrow?"

"Molls, if that's what you want, I... of course. You can call me 'Mom' tomorrow."

"What about all the time?"

Huck realizes that he's the one who's asked the question. Molly smiles at him. They've come to the same decision.

"I don't... I... yeah."

They've made CJ cry. But, he knows she's not really sad. There are tears in Dad's eyes. And he looks... proud of them.

"I'd be honored to be 'Mom'. C'mere."

And they're hugging CJ hard. He looks at Molly who's grinning, and up at Dad who has his hand on C... Mom's shoulder. He's glad that Molly will have a real Mother/Daughter picnic now. And he's glad that now it'll be his Mom cheering him at games.

2012

He doesn't think he's seen anything like this. Ever. He's sure he doesn't want to go through this again. Ever.

Mom's been crying on and off for days. Dad's had tears in his eyes as well. Molly's cried. Even Huck has cried a few times. But, he's never seen so many people crying. Hundreds of them. Including all the adults he knows. Except Mother. Huck thinks she must have cried at some point. He hopes so. But, she seems very calm now. Calm, but angry. She's mad at Dad and Mom for taking them to the funeral. He's glad he went, he thinks.

They've only been home for a couple hours. Josh and Will are here. They flew back together and none of the adults seemed to want to say goodbye. So they came to the house. Donna and her new husband, Matt, are here as well. So are Sam and his wife, Caroline. Mom had ordered pizza. They were all talking about old times. When they were all in the White House. Sam was saying how different it is in the Senate than it was in the White House when the doorbell rang. Dad had gone to get the pizzas and had found Mother at the door instead.

So now, Mom, Dad, and Mother are in the kitchen. Josh has moved closer to the dining room. Donna keeps telling him to leave it alone. But, Will and Sam are asking him what's going on. Huck and Molly have moved to the side of the kitchen door so they can listen without Dad seeing them. Mom and Dad are keeping their voices low, so it's hard to tell what they're saying. But, Mother is loud enough to hear. She thinks the twins should have stayed with her instead of going to New Hampshire. Suddenly, it's very easy to hear what Dad's saying since he's started yelling.

"You're pissed? You're pissed that we took the kids to Manchester? What the hell is wrong with you Andy? They loved him. Of course we took them to the funeral."

Mom's trying to shush Dad. It seems to work, but now they can hear him pacing. Josh has inched closer. They can hear Mom talking to Mother, but they can't make out the words.

"A family thing, CJ? That's what you're giving me? That was no family thing. That was a State funeral for God's sake. And my kids were all over the news, sitting with Abbey Bartlet. And they are still my kids. Even if you've managed to get them to call you 'mom'. Don't forget that."

"Andy, I swear to God if you don't... ."

Dad is interrupted by Josh, who barges into the kitchen.

"Are you pissed because Huck and Molly are considered part of the Bartlet family, Andy? Or are you pissed because you weren't on the news with them? Come on. I think you gave up the right to righteous indignation when you packed those kids off to live with Toby six years ago. And don't start on CJ. She has been more of a mother to them than you have. Look at what she's given up to raise your kids. You should be thanking... ."

"That's enough! Josh, go back to the living room. And take Huck and Molly with you. They don't need to hear anymore of this. Toby and I will be right out. Go."

Mom's instructions to Josh are the last they hear from the kitchen. Molly whispers something about Mom's ability to see through walls. He knows what she means. Huck can tell that Josh wants to say more. And that he was reluctant to bring them back into the living room. Donna shakes her head. Matt and Caroline look sort of confused. But, Sam and Will both look as angry as Josh.

It's only a few more minutes before Mother is hugging the twins and telling them she'll see them soon. Maybe this weekend. Molly rolls her eyes. The pizza guy shows up as Mother is leaving. Mom asks the twins to help her in the kitchen. She hands them dishes and silverware, but motions for them to wait a moment.

"Listen guys, I know... that must have sounded bad. But, I think everybody's still off balance. This has been a hard week on all of us. Including you. I know you guys must have questions. And we can talk about it later, okay? After everyone leaves."

Mom smiles and Huck can't help but smile back. Molly nods. They take out the dishes and the pizza and eat quietly while the grown ups tell them more stories about Jed Bartlet. The man they've loved for years. The man they had to bury yesterday.

~*~

It's late. Way past midnight when he sees the crack of light from the hallway enter his bedroom. His door closes silently and he can barely hear the muffled footsteps across the carpet. Molly nudges him over and lies down next to him.

"You weren't asleep, were you Huck?"

"No."

"I couldn't sleep. I can't stop thinking about how mean Josh was to Mother. He was so mad at her."

"Yeah. Sam and Will seemed pretty mad too. Why do you think Mother didn't want us to go to the funeral, Molly?"

"I don't know. Maybe 'cause it was so sad. I don't know. I'm glad we went though. Doctor Bartlet said she was so glad to see us. She told me it did her heart good. Do you know what that means?"

"No. Maybe it means she was happy to see you, I dunno. Are you mad at Josh?"

"No. He was defending Mom, so... . I just wish I knew what he meant about Mom giving stuff up for us. He made it sound like she lost something really good because of us. I know she said he was wrong. That he was talking about a boring job that she didn't want anyway. I just... maybe she was just trying to make us feel better."

"Molly, Mom has a job. She does all that stuff for women. She works when we're at school."

"I know, but she used to be on TV all the time. She can't do that now. She'd never be home for dinner. Maybe she wants to do that."

"I don't think so. I think she likes being here. Helping with homework and stuff."

"Yeah. Maybe. Okay. I'm going back to bed now."

But, she's slow to get up.

"Molls, if you want... I mean... you can stay here. If you want."

"Okay."

They fall asleep eventually. And when Huck wakes up the next morning his sister is still sleeping curled up at his side. He thinks it's funny how small she gets when she sleeps. He can smell the coffee being made downstairs. He imagines Mom and Dad at the kitchen table, reading the newspapers. And then he thinks that the papers will still have pictures of President Bartlet and the funeral. He feels like crying. But, he doesn't. Instead he carefully gets out of bed and goes downstairs.

2013

This is the most boring thing in the world. He can't believe that anyone would want to do this for a living. It certainly seems nothing like what Dad and Mom talk about. He wishes he were anywhere but here.

Molly looks equally bored. And almost as uncomfortable in that ugly, frilly dress as he feels in this suit. The shirt is too small. So are the shoes. But, at least his don't have bows.

Their mother had finally had them for the weekend. It had been five months since the last time. But, she had said she was really busy. She promised something extra special this time. They were going to a rally. They would get to see Mother work.

Mom had said it would be neat. They'd get to see what their mother did. And it would be just like when they got to go with Sam to hear him speak.

Only, it wasn't. Not even close. Sam had taken them to a barbeque. He had given a speech that had been good. Huck and Molly hadn't understood all of it. But, they knew enough to know that Sam meant what he said. And he'd seemed excited about it. And then Sam had eaten with them. Told them stories about working for Dad. And being a little afraid of Mom. He was funny and they'd had a good time.

They were not having a good time right now. Mother had bought them special clothes for this. But, they didn't fit right. Molly had said they could go by Dad's and get clothes that fit, but Mother said they looked fine. When they'd arrived they had posed for pictures with Mother. Then she'd put them at a table in the front. She'd said she'd be right back. It had been almost an hour before they had seen her again. And then she was on the stage and giving a speech. It was a pretty boring speech. Everyone else in the room seemed to like it though because they kept clapping. Huck had finally given up trying to figure out what Mother was talking about and just clapped when everyone else did. Molly had given up on the clapping all together.

Mother had just finished her speech. Huck thought maybe they could go now. But, she was surrounded by people. So, he didn't like their chances. And then Molly nudged him.

"Huck, look. It's Dad. What's he doing here?"

"I dunno. But it looks like he's trying to get Mother's attention."

He watched as Dad finally made his way in front of Mother. She didn't look pleased. She shook her head a couple times. Dad took her arm and moved her away from the other people. Then Mother just threw up her hands and pointed at Huck and Molly. Dad walked towards them quickly.

Huck thought he looked like he'd been crying. Dad knelt in front of them.

"Hey guys, are you having fun?"

Molly beat him to the answer.

"No. This is lame. It's not at all like Sam's thing. Mom was wrong."

Huck was fascinated by the pull of muscles in Dad's face. His neck tightened and he blinked a couple times.

"Guys, something's happened. It's... well, it's bad. If you want to stay with your mother, it's okay. But, if you want to come home, that's okay too."

Huck looked at his sister. She was holding her breath. He knew she was just as afraid to ask the question as he was. Thankfully, Dad looked like he would tell them without them having to ask.

"It's Sam. He and Caroline went out on the boat this morning. We don't... I'm not sure what happened. But, they're... they're gone."

Huck swallowed. Molly shook her head. He didn't understand.

"Gone where?"

He knew he sounded like a little kid. But, Huck just couldn't understand what Dad was saying.

"They're dead."

"We want to come home, Daddy. Please."

It was Molly who had given their decision. In a small part of Huck's mind he thought it was funny that she'd called him 'Daddy'. She hadn't done that in a long time. Not since... well, not since President Bartlet had died.

Dad took their hands and led them over to Mother. She gave the twins a quick kiss on the cheek and turned back to the people she was talking to. All Huck wanted was to go home.

~*~

They walked in the house. The first thing they saw was Mom holding Josh on the couch. Josh was sobbing and didn't seem to hear them come in. Mom waved her hand towards the kitchen and Dad steered them to the stairs.

"Why don't you guys go change. Then come down to the kitchen. I think Josh needs a little time alone with Mom, okay?"

Huck nodded and followed Molly up the stairs silently. When he got to his room, he shut the door as quietly as possible. And then he ripped off the jacket. Pulling off his shoes without untying the laces, he threw them towards the closet. He pushed the pants down quickly and fought to get them off his ankles. He tore the shirt off and the buttons went flying. The socks were last. He threw them too. When he was left standing in only his underwear he picked up the clothes and the shoes and jammed them as hard as he could in the bathroom garbage can. The can was too small for all the clothes so he kept pushing them in. Harder and harder.

He didn't hear the door open. Didn't see his dad standing in the bathroom doorway for a few minutes. He only cared about getting those stupid clothes into the stupid can. He didn't realize he was crying.

And then Dad was picking him up. Carrying him to the bed. Holding him tight.

"It's gonna be okay, son. Shh. It's gonna be okay,"

"It's not fair!"

"I know. You're right. It's not. I'm so sorry, Huck. I'm sorry. It's not fair."

Huck cried for several minutes. Then, he slowly lifted his head and looked at his father through blurry eyes.

"Your shirt's ripped, Dad."

"Yes. It is."

"You ripped it like you did with President Bartlet."

"Yeah."

"I should rip my shirt too."

He was surprised to hear his father laugh.

"Huck, I think you did enough damage to your clothes already. I think Sam would understand."

He hugged Dad hard.

"Why don't you put some clothes on and go downstairs. I'm gonna check on your sister."

~*~

When he got downstairs he could hear someone in the kitchen. It was Mom. She was putting the kettle on the stove. She turned when she heard him. He moved quickly to her and found himself engulfed in her arms. She stroked his back and whispered how much she loved him in his ear.

It wasn't until the kettle whistled that she stood up. Ruffling his hair, she asked Huck to help her with the coffee cups.

He took a cup of tea out to Josh and sat silently next to him. He answered the door when Will came. And again when Donna and Matt arrived. He sat and watched these adults cry. And comfort each other. He listened to their stories about Sam. He watched Mom grab Molly when she and Dad finally came downstairs. He watched Molly cry as Mom hugged her and whispered to her. He let the other adults hug him. He even let Molly curl up next to him in the overstuffed chair that Dad usually sat in. And he realized that all these people were part of his family. And that was why it hurt so much. They'd lost more members of the family.

2016

He can hear the debate raging in the kitchen. He feels safe, ensconced on the sofa. He can listen without actually getting pulled into it. He would laugh if he didn't think Molly might hear him and drag him in on her side. He is on her side. Kind of. Huck thinks she's capable of taking care of herself. But, he also understands Dad's point of view.

"Molly, I've already said 'no'. Absolutely not! That is the end of the discussion young lady."

"Dad, it's not fair! You'd let Huck go. You know you would. Tell him Mom."

"Molls, I have to agree with your father on this one. I just don't think it's a good idea."

"Why can't you guys trust me?! I'm thirteen years old. In some countries I'd be married by now."

"That, right there, that is your doing CJ. I blame you for that."

"I know, Tobus. I know. But, you have to give me credit for backing you up here."

"Argh! I can't believe you're saying 'no'! What happened to my parents? What happened to the people who have taught me and Huck to be independent for... well, forever?"

"First of all, it's Huck and I... ."

"Toby, that, right there, that's you not helping."

"And second, independence stops when you think it's okay to go out with a sixteen year old boy on a date. Believe it or not, I was a sixteen year old boy once, and I'm not letting you anywhere near that. And again, end of discussion."

Huck can hear his sister storming up the stairs. He thinks that Molly is probably right. He would probably be allowed to go on a date. If he had any desire to do so. But, it's different. And he finds it funny that Mom, who is always saying that women can do anything men can is on Dad's side of the argument. He wonders what her sisterhood would say to that. He thinks it's safe to go get a soda now when he hears Mom laughing.

"I can't believe you said 'end of discussion'. Twice."

"I can't believe you wanted credit for backing me up."

"Yeah, but you sounded like, well... like a mean old parent just then."

"Thank you for that."

He hears Mom laughing again. And then she's quiet. Huck gets up from the sofa to get that soda when he sees Mom and Dad standing in the kitchen kissing. On second thought, maybe he'll just go upstairs.

He knocks on the door and waits. After he's heard the third thump, he opens the door. He picks up the books blocking the door and goes in, closing the door behind him. He lies across the bed next to his sister.

"You know, Molls, I don't think it's that big a deal. I mean you said yourself you don't even like Jimmy all that much."

"That's not the point. And you know it."

"Well, then what's the point?"

"They'd let you go. But, I can't go because I'm a girl."

"I don't think it's so much that you're a girl, as it is that you're a thirteen year old girl and he's a sixteen year old boy. They trust you. They just don't trust him. Why isn't he going out with high school girls anyway? I mean you are only thirteen."

"Ouch."

"I didn't mean it like that Molly."

"Yeah, I know. I just... I wanted to be the one to decide, you know? I wanted them to say 'yes' so it would be my choice. I probably would have said 'no' anyway."

"Yeah."

"What did they say after I left?"

"Not much. Mom was making fun of Dad. And then they were kissing."

"They are so weird. I mean, seriously Huck, don't you think we have like the weirdest family in town?"

"Well, if you count Josh and Will too... yeah. I think we'd get that award."

His sister sighs and sits up. By unspoken agreement they head downstairs. He knows that Molly will act put out for about five minutes. But then, everything will be back to normal. He thinks Dad might even take them out to dinner.

~*~

He was right. Dad had decided that they would go out to dinner. As a consolation Molly had been given the choice of the restaurant. Mom had laughed for five full minutes when Molly had chosen the new vegetarian restaurant in Georgetown. But, Dad had been a good sport about it. Mostly.

"I swear those were weeds. That's not food. Unless you're a cow, which I am not."

"Toby, stop complaining. The food was good. And it's good for you to balance out all the other crap you eat. Vegetables once a month won't kill you."

"Yeah, Dad."

"See, Molly agrees with me."

"CJ, you understand that now you sound like my mother. You get that, right?"

"Shut up, Toby."

They are all in the living room. Molly's lying on the couch. He's in one of the big armchairs. And Dad is in his chair with Mom perched on the arm. They decided what movie they were going to watch, but nobody has actually put it in. Huck doesn't feel much like moving and he thinks the others probably feel the same.

"Toby, go put the movie in."

"No."

"Yes."

"CJ, if I get up to put the movie in, you're gonna take my seat. You get the movie."

"I'm not gonna take your seat. And what are you, four?"

"Sticks and stones, CJ."

He looks at Molly. She's laughing silently. He and his sister both know that if Dad does get up, he's lost the chair. Mom does this all the time. She never sits in that chair unless Dad's been sitting in it first. He doesn't get it, but he thinks it's funny. Huck also knows that Dad will move. He always does.

"Fine. I'll get the movie, chair thief."

"That's not nice Dad."

"Thank you Molly. And I am not a chair thief."

But, as soon as Dad stands up, Mom drops from the arm into the chair. She swings her legs over the side and looks like the Cheshire cat. Dad shakes his head, but he's laughing. Huck and Molly laugh too. Once Dad has the movie in, he makes Molly move down the couch so he can sit at the end next to his chair. Huck notices about ten minutes into the movie that Dad is holding Mom's hand. He looks to Molly and laughs when she mouths the word "weird". His parents don't even notice.

2019

He's exhausted. He wishes he could just curl up in a ball and sleep forever. He's tired of crying and watching others cry. He's tired of trying to be brave and strong and all the things he doesn't think he can be. And he's tired of the ache he feels in his chest. He wonders if that's what Dad felt.

He's supposed to be changing his clothes and then going downstairs to help. He doesn't want to help. The service was bad enough. He hates feeling crowded when he feels so alone. There are so many people. All the family is here. The ones he considers family and the ones who are family, at least by name. Even his mother is here. He's not sure why, but he resents Mother being here right now. He wishes he didn't.

There's no knock before his door swings open. Molly comes in and sits next to him. She's already changed from the dress she was wearing into a sweater and jeans. He wonders what Uncle David will make of the jeans. He'd seemed appalled when Mom had told them they could go and change in the first place. But, Mom had told him that the kids had quite enough going on and staying in uncomfortable clothes wouldn't do anybody any good. Besides, she had said, Dad wouldn't care what they were wearing.

"Huck, I was thinking. There are so many people downstairs, I don't think anyone would miss us. We could shimmy down the drainpipe and borrow Mom's car and... I don't know... go someplace else. Any place else."

"What about Mom?"

"Good point. We'll have to come up with a distraction of some kind so nobody will notice when we rescue her."

He looks at his sister for a minute and then laughs. Hard. She laughs too. It's the first time in the last two days that they've laughed about anything. It feels good. Huck nods his head and stands. Molly waits in the hall for him as he changes into jeans and the ripped shirt he was wearing when he arrived at the hospital too late to say his farewells to his father. Together they go downstairs.

~*~

It's been four days since Dad's funeral. He still can't get used to the mirrors being covered. Josh and Will had helped Mom do that. They've been helping out a lot. Huck knows that Mom is glad to have them around. All of Dad's relatives have left. He thinks it odd that it's Mom, who's not Jewish, who is faithfully sitting Shiva. But, she'd said she had done it with Dad for his mother. Molly had wondered where Mother had been then, but Huck didn't have the energy to care.

The doorbell rings and Molly goes to answer it. It's probably Will. He said he'd come by with lunch. Huck isn't that hungry, but he does like talking to Will. He hears his Mother's voice and wonders briefly what she's doing here before he goes into the foyer.

"Huck, how are you doing?"

"I'm okay, Mother. How about you?"

"Good. Listen guys, I came over to talk to you. Maybe we could sit down?"

Huck follows his mother and sister into the living room. Mom comes in from the other side expecting Will and stops when she sees his mother.

"Andy... . How are you?"

"Good, CJ. I'm sorry I didn't call. I just wanted to talk to the twins."

Huck watches Molly's back straighten. She hates being referred to as a twin. She would rather be one of the kids. She thinks being twins makes them freaky. Huck thinks she's a goof.

"Sure, Andy. Anytime. I'll just be in the kitchen. Would you like something to drink?"

"No thanks, CJ."

He watches Mom go into the kitchen. He wonders, not for the first time if she even likes his mother. She seems to like her. But, he's learned that Mom has a pretty good poker face. He turns his attention back to his mother.

"... and I know all that she's done. But, she's not really your family. I mean, she and your dad never even married. So, I was thinking that it's time for you guys to come home. What do you think?"

He's in shock. He's pretty sure that's why he's still sitting calmly on the couch while the world is turning on end. Molly looks like she's trying to figure out a problem from her Trig. book. Mother wants them to live with her.

"No!"

Huck realizes the shock must have worn off because he's standing now. And he's just shouted at his mother. But, he doesn't care. He's home now and he's not leaving. He's not leaving his Mom. He's not leaving the only real family he's ever had.

He doesn't hear the rest of what Mother is saying. He's tuned her out. He goes into the kitchen and explodes. Mom tries to calm him down. She tells him to think about it. This is his Mother and she's just doing what she thinks is best. He sees the two tears creep down Mom's cheek.

And then he's being pushed back into the living room to talk to his mother like a civilized person. He tries. He really does. But, Mother has become demanding. She's not asking them anymore. She's telling them. He watches as Mom's self-control finally snaps.

"Andy, I swear to God, if you try to take these kids against their will I will fight you with everything I have. And I will win."

"CJ, don't try that with me. You have no legal standing. You aren't even Toby's widow."

The room is silent. Molly looks horrified. Mother looks confident. Mom looks like she's ready to kill something with her bare hands. Huck watches as she takes several deep breaths, trying to force some control back in through her lungs.

"Andy, why don't you let the kids think about it? They've just lost their father. Adding another huge change on them so soon isn't easy. Give them some time."

Mother looks like she wants to argue the point but the doorbell rings. Mom goes to get it and greets Will loudly. Mother says she'll come by later and leaves. Will puts the food in the kitchen as Mom apologizes for the mess he's walked in on. But, Will says that's nonsense. He says that's what family is for. And to prove his point he calls Josh to come over as well. Huck hears Will tell Mom that he'll get lunch ready while she talks to the kids.

~*~

He's watching his sister pack. She's only taking a few things she says. Just to see. She's going to live with Mother. Huck had refused. Constantly and consistently. Mom had made it very clear that this was their choice. She had said that she loved them both, but they had to do what felt right for them. She would support whatever choice they made. Huck's decision was easy. He was staying. Molly had weighed her choice for four days.

"I just... I mean she's making the effort. And it can't have been easy for her. I just think I should give her a chance."

"Molls, I know. We've been over this about a hundred times. I understand. Mom understands. It's okay."

"Then why do I feel so bad?"

"'Cause it's a hard choice. And because Dad's gone. And it sucks."

"Gee, Huck. You keep that up and you could be a good writer someday."

"Smart ass."

"You know it. I'm gonna miss you, Huck."

"Yeah. Me too. But, it's not like they haven't invented telephones yet."

Another smack to his arm and he smiles. He loves his sister. He's trying to be supportive. Even though he doesn't really understand her need to give their mother a chance. He loves Mother. But, he honestly doesn't like her very much. She's nothing like Mom.

They hear the car horn outside. They both know that since Josh called Mother about where they would live, that Mother won't speak to Mom. So, she's outside honking for Molly. Huck grabs the suitcase while Molly puts on the backpack and picks up the small overnight bag. They head down the stairs. Mom is waiting at the front door. Huck watches as Molly rushes into her arms.

"Molly, this is going to be good for you, I think. You just remember that I love you so much. And if you need anything, anything at all... ."

"I love you, Mom. I'm sorry."

"Don't be silly Molls. There is nothing to be sorry about."

Mom kisses the top of Molly's head and then opens the door. She gently pushes Molly through. Huck follows his sister to the car. He puts the suitcase in the trunk and says hello to his mother. He hugs Molly and kisses her cheek.

"I love you, Molls. And you can come home anytime you want."

"I know. I love you too. Bye."

"Bye."

Huck waves as the car pulls away. He turns and sees Mom standing in the doorway waving as well. He walks slowly towards the house. He hates how much things have changed.

"Looks like it's just you and me, kid. What do you say we get out of here? Go see a movie? Maybe grab some dinner."

"Sounds good, Mom. But, I'm driving."

He watches her laugh. The light in her eyes brightens. He knows she can hear Dad saying the same thing. She ruffles his hair.

"Okay. But, I pick the movie."

He shakes his head. And laughs too. He thinks maybe things might just be getting back to normal.

~*~

He's writing in the journal his father had given him for his Bar Mitzvah. He had thought it was a dumb gift at the time. But, now he's really glad he has it. He's been writing thoughts and memories in it since Molly left. She's been gone almost three months. He's sitting in Dad's chair. It has the best view of the Christmas tree. He can see the Menorah on the mantle as well. Mom walks in and sees him. She doesn't say anything. Just smiles and nods. She leaves again. He's pretty sure she was wiping away tears as she left.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Josh and Will are coming for dinner. Will's bringing a date, but Mom doesn't think she's the one for him. Donna and Matt are going to Wisconsin today, so he and Mom already gave their gifts to the kids. He hopes that Molly will be able to come over on Christmas morning. She hasn't called much this week. And she hasn't been at the house when he's called. They've both found it weird seeing each other at school but not going home together. But, they've adjusted.

He's just started writing about the time Dad taught them how to throw a baseball when the doorbell rings. Huck puts the journal down and goes to the door. Mom's beaten him to it and she's opening the door. Molly walks in and drops her suitcase and backpack. She turns and goes outside. She comes back in with her other bag and a garbage bag full of wrapped presents. When she's dumped them on the floor too, she shuffles her feet for a moment and looks at the floor.

"Molly?"

"Hi Mom. Umm... I'm home now. If that's okay?"

Mom grabs Molly and hugs her tight. She doesn't try to stop the tears.

"Of course it's okay. Are you okay? Did something happen?"

Molly shifts a little and shakes her head.

"No. I just... I missed you guys. And, Mother's never really at home anyway. So... . She said it was okay if I wanted to come home. So here I am."

Mom doesn't look like she quite believes Molly's story. But, she doesn't look too inclined to ask her about it either.

"Well, Huck, help your sister get this crap out of the hallway."

And with that, Mom kisses Molly again and goes back to the kitchen where she's trying to bake a cake. Huck is pretty sure they'll be going to the bakery just before it closes today. He hugs his sister and helps her put the presents under the tree. Then, he lugs her suitcase back up the stairs. He leaves her to unpack and goes down to finish writing before Mom asks them to run a few errands. Including that trip to the bakery.

~*~

It's well past midnight and he's almost asleep. Until he hears his door open. He turns over and is momentarily blinded by the sliver of light from the hallway.

"Oh good, you're not asleep."

"Well, I'm not now Molls. What's up?"

"I was thinking maybe we could talk."

"Okay."

"Huck, do you think Dad was sad?"

"When?"

"I mean just generally sad. Like he was a sad person."

"No. He wasn't sad at all. He was always smiling and laughing. And he and Mom were always goofing around like kids. Why?"

"Yeah. I don't ever think of him as sad either. I mean he was when sad things happened, but... he wasn't sad all the time."

"Why are we talking about this?"

"Mother wasn't home much. She was pretty busy. And when she was there we didn't have much to talk about. Last night I asked her why she and Dad got divorced. Why they didn't get back together for us. She said it was because Dad was too sad for her. I tried to figure it out. I just couldn't. I don't think Mother really ever understood Dad. Not like us. Definitely not like Mom. I told Mother this morning that I wanted to come home. You know, she didn't seem that upset to see me go. I know she loves us. But, I don't think she understands us that well either."

"Yeah. I know Mom is glad you're home. I am too."

"So am I."

"You should get to bed Molls. The family will be here early tomorrow."

"Yeah. Goodnight, Huck."

"'Night."

2032

He's nervous. He doesn't think he's ever been this nervous before. Huck knows a lot of it is because this makes it real. After today, this is who he is. A writer. His publisher had said there would be many more book signings after this one. But, for him, this is the only one that will ever matter. It's his first one, yes. But, it's the one launching this book. And everyone is coming to New York for it. Everyone.

He knows that they are all here now. They've been here a day or two. But, he's been so anxious about this that he hasn't been able to see them. Not even Mom. He'd sent them all copies of the book. Even Mother. He gave Mom hers two days ago when she got here. And that's the last he's seen of her. Marie told him he's being a loon. And he understands that. It's just... well, it's just that this book is his heart. And he couldn't bear to see disappointment in their eyes. Why did he ever invite them to this thing? He should have known they would come. The "Bartlet Gang", as Doctor Bartlet had called them when he was a child, will always drop anything to be there for each other. That's just what they do. It's part of what makes them so special.

Marie is nervous too. Not about his book. She says it's the most beautiful thing she's ever read. And that everyone in the country would be reading it and loving it soon. But, this is her first time meeting the whole family. She's met Mom and Molly, of course. And he took her down to meet Mother just after the engagement. But she hasn't met the whole family. He's told her that she'll love them. And they'll love her. He knows it.

~*~

They are at his apartment now. Marie has outdone herself on the food and the wine is flowing freely. Marie isn't nervous any longer. He knows she can feel how loved and accepted she is already by his family. He's proud of them. And her.

His apartment isn't that big. Mom and Will are scrunched on either side of Josh on the couch. Donna and Matt have the chairs. Which means that everyone else is on the floor or standing. But, nobody seems to mind. Mom keeps poking Josh, but he thinks she's just doing it for fun.

Will tells him that he loved the book. Coming from a writer of Will's caliber, Huck blushes. Molly says that it wasn't all bad. So, he kicks her. Mom just laughs. Donna says she's sorry his mother couldn't make it. Huck tells her that Mother sent a note. She thought the book was good. Josh rolls his eyes. Huck changes the subject and they all play catch up on what's been going on. But, it doesn't take long since the older generation talk to each other almost every day and they pass on everything to their kids.

Finally, Josh raises his voice. And stands, with a little help from Mom.

"I think a toast is in order."

Josh waits for everyone to settle down then raises his glass in the air.

"To Huckleberry Ziegler. You have written the most amazing book I've ever read. You are so much like your father. Even the shiksa feminista girlfriend."

Mom laughs and says something about Harvard and a jackass under her breath before leaning towards Marie and whispering that that's a compliment. Josh clears his throat but Mom doesn't even try to look apologetic.

"But, I gotta say, I think you're an even better writer than your dad. And that's saying something. I know he's as proud of you today as we all are. So, to Huck. And to 'A Grateful Son Remembers'."

Everyone cheers and claps. Huck blushes again. He loves these people, his family. He wants to remember every detail of this. He resists the urge to grab his spiral notebook and jot down a few notes. And he laughs when he realizes how much his father used to do that too.

~*~

It's almost midnight. Everyone has gone back to the hotels. Marie is almost asleep next to him. She's reminding him to set the alarm so they can be on time to breakfast with Mom in the morning. He tells her he's already done it. Huck turns over and puts his arm around her waist. She squeezes his hand.

"Huck, you did good today, you know?"

"Yeah. It was a good day. I love you."

"I love you, too."

He's pretty sure she's asleep. He's not moving so as not to disturb her. But sleep is far away for him right now. He's trying to remember every detail of the day in his mind.

The bookstore was crowded. His publisher said it was a smashing success. It's funny, but he doesn't really remember much of it. He remembers looking through the crowd and seeing his family. He can recall his name being announced. He knows he stepped up to the microphone. And he remembers the cheer that went up in the back. Led by two older gentlemen. Josh and Will. He can still see in his mind's eye his Mom standing and cheering. Marie clapping and whistling. Molly jumping up and down while his brother-in-law and niece looked on. Donna and Matt and their three kids and spouses. And their kids.

It's hard for him to remember all the details because his mind keeps superimposing images that aren't real. At least, not from today. He can hear himself describe the book as a love story between a man and his children. But, he sees his Dad taking him to Yankee Stadium for his first Yankee's game. He remembers reading a passage of the book. But, he watches Mom waving at him and Molly and Dad on their way trick or treating when he was seven. He recalls glancing back at the last two rows and seeing his family hanging on every word he's written. But, he can now see, behind the others, the rest of his family. President and Doctor Bartlet, Sam and Caroline, Uncle Leo. And Dad.

He smiles at the thought. And finally surrenders to sleep.

The End