Disclaimer: Jed and Abbey Bartlet et al are the property of Aaron Sorkin, Thomas Schalmme, John Wells, NBC, and Warner Bros. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Rating: Mainly PG, some NC-17 (will indicate in advance)
Feedback: Yes please!
AN: Many thanks to my 'beta readers' for their advice, suggestions and all the discussions about J and A's thoughts and feelings, also to LM for her advice on MS symptoms.
Even with the sirens and flashing lights, and the police outriders, there were still times when the capital's evening traffic forced the whole motorcade to slow down while Abbey was desperately wishing it would move even faster. She glanced at her watch. Twenty minutes now since she had taken the call, and then sent Lilly with the urgent message that she was disembarking from Air Force One and returning to the White House immediately.
Twenty minutes since her cell phone had rung and Jed's voice had said, "Abbey, there's a problem here–"
She'd laughed, totally unaware of what was coming. "And when isn't there?"
"No," he said, and his voice had dropped slightly, "no, I mean I have a problem – I passed out in the Oval."
Her heart started racing. "What happened?"
"Well, I just got dizzy – and the next I knew I was coming to on the floor with all the staff around me."
Dear God, she thought. She'd suspected that morning that he was starting with a cold and had given him some echinacea and vitamin pills, but this was obviously worse than a cold. "Who's on duty?" she asked.
"Hackett. He thinks it's the flu. But he wants the works – blood, chest X-ray, cardiogram–"
"It wasn't a heart attack, Abbey – I just got dizzy."
"D'you have a fever?" She sensed Jed hesitating and asked again, "Jed, d'you have a fever."
"Yeah." Another pause. "101 point nine."
"Dear God." She said it out loud this time. "Where are you now?"
"In the bedroom – they told me I had to go to bed."
"I should damn well think so. Just get yourself in bed – and I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Abbey, I was only calling because I didn't want you to hear about it from anyone else – I'll be fine – there's really no need–"
"I'm cancelling the trip and coming back, Jed." When there was a silence, she felt a momentary streak of alarm. "Jed?"
"Yeah, okay," he said briefly. "Look, I gotta go – Hackett's coming up here any moment to take some blood – and I need to talk to Toby about–"
"Jed, just get in bed!"
"I am in bed, sweet knees – ready and waiting for you!"
"Jed–" She started in exasperation, then heard the knock on the bedroom door.
"Uh-oh, they're here. Gotta go, honey."
The connection broke and Abbey turned to Lilly. "Get the car back here, Lilly – and tell the captain to stop the engines. I'm going back to the White House."
Lilly looked at her in surprise.
"Lilly, just do it, please. I'll explain when we're in the car."
Now they were just five minutes away from the White House, and her professional instincts had taken over from the initial panic. It could just be the flu. Even though he always had a flu shot in the autumn, the flu virus was highly variable and different strains became dominant without warning. That in itself wasn't a real problem – rest and anti-viral drugs could help to reduce the severity and speed up the recovery period. But in Jed's case, it was the associated fever that could cause the real problem – because it dramatically increased the chance of a flare-up of his MS symptoms.
As the motorcade turned on to Maine Avenue and passed the Tidal Basin and then the floodlit Washington Monument, Abbey breathed a sigh of relief. Nearly there...
In the bedroom, Jed put the phone down as Charlie, Leo and Admiral Hackett came in.
"How're you feeling, sir?" asked Hackett.
"Fine," Jed said, then caught sight of the sceptical look on Leo's face. "Okay – so maybe I have felt better than this – but it's nothing a couple of Tylenol won't solve."
Jed leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes. His head felt as if it was on a different planet from the rest of him, and now he wanted to sleep more than anything else in the world. "Yeah – well, perhaps a limp lettuce would be a better description of how I feel right at this moment."
"I need to take your blood pressure, sir."
"Go ahead. Oh, and Leo–"
"Abbey's on her way back from Andrews – d'you think you could meet her and reassure her that I'm not on my death-bed?"
Leo's eyebrows raised in surprise. "She's cancelled her trip?"
"Yeah. I told her there was no need – but you know Abbey–"
"Yeah. Okay, sir, I'll meet her when she arrives."
He turned to go but Jed called him back. "Leo, keep me in the loop – India – and what the hell Pakistan is playing at–"
"Don't worry about that, sir – Fitz and the Chiefs are on the ball."
"Leo, I need to know–"
"Okay. But you need to get some rest, sir."
Once Leo had left, Jed surrendered himself to the doctor, answering what seemed like a million questions when all he really wanted to do was lie back against the pillows and sleep ...
When the car finally pulled up outside the portico, Abbey reached for the door even before the agent got there. Then, mindful of a group of tourists who were loitering in front of the railings, gawping then cheering and waving when they recognised her, she turned and gave a smile and a wave before she went into the entrance hall and then took the stairs up to the Residence rather than wait for the elevator.
Leo was waiting at the top of the stairs. "Abbey, he's okay, it's just the flu–" he began.
"What happened, Leo?"
Leo turned to follow her as she walked quickly through the second floor's Central Hall towards the bedroom. "Well, we all noticed that that he was pale and sweating when we were doing the run-through of the State of the Union – but he was laughing it off, said you'd given him some vitamin pills – then he went into the Oval to take them – and passed out..."
Abbey's eyes narrowed. "The run-through was scheduled for five thirty – what time did he faint, Leo?"
Leo glanced at his watch. "Well, I guess it must have been about six-thirty–"
"Damn him!" Abbey exploded.
Leo looked at her in surprise. "Abbey, it's just the flu–"
"And he called me twenty-five minutes later! For God's sake, Leo, where the hell was he all that time?"
"Well, we had to go to the Sit. Room–"
"You let him go to the Sit. Room after he'd collapsed?"
Abbey's voice had risen in anger and Leo just didn't know why she was so angry. "Abbey, he insisted – and he was okay – well, maybe not totally – but he had to meet with the Chiefs–"
Abbey drew in a deep breath. "Okay–" She forced herself to calm down. "Okay." They'd reached the bedroom door and she turned to give Leo a tremulous smile. "Sorry, Leo – I – I'm just worried about him."
"Yeah." But Leo's face remained creased in perplexity and she knew that his mind had already started asking questions.
Quickly she recovered herself. "Leo, Jed needs to rest tonight – so short of nuclear war breaking out–?"
"Okay. I'll deal with things, Abbey."
Abbey turned and went into the bedroom. "Hello!" she said, more brightly than she actually felt.
"Hello," replied Jed's somewhat sheepish voice.
"Good evening, ma'am," Charlie said.
Abbey dropped her bags and coat on the chair. "Hey, Charlie – how you doing?" Then she turned to the grey haired naval officer.
"Ma'am, I'm Admiral Hackett. I was on duty when it happened."
He held out his hand and Abbey smiled as she shook it. "Good to meet you, Admiral." She looked back at Charlie again. "Charlie, would you mind getting my bag please?" Then she took the clipboard from the Admiral, put on her glasses and ran her professional eye over the medical details.
"Abbey–" Jed started. But he knew there was no stopping her once she was in doctor mode.
Abbey was still taking in all the facts and figures. "Now – 101 nine."
"When's the last time you checked?"
"About an hour ago."
"Pulse and pressure?"
"The pressure dropped before he fainted, but it's coming back."
"105 over 70."
"I want to put him on an IV/saline and vitamin solution." Finally, she looked at Jed and smiled. "Hey – you still dizzy?"
Jed grinned a little. "I was wondering when you were gonna notice me!"
"Are you still dizzy?"
"He's lying." Jed suppressed a chuckle but Abbey went on, "Give him Flumadine, 100 milligrams, twice a day."
"Thank you, Admiral. Would you mind waiting outside for a minute?"
"No, ma'am." He turned to leave just as Charlie returned with her medical bag.
"Thanks, Charlie." She put the bag on the side of the bed and started to open it. "Charlie, would you mind waiting outside for a minute?"
"No, ma'am. Do you need anything?"
"No, thanks very much."
As the door closed behind Charlie, Jed looked her up and down. "You're very sexy when you're in doctor mode you know that? 'Give me an IV/saline solution and 100 milligrams of Flumadine. Stat.'" His eyes narrowed slightly. "I could jump you right now."
"I could kill you right now."
"My thing's more fun," Jed responded.
Abbey sat down on the side of the bed and started to check his eyes, noting at the same time that his forehead and cheeks were hot and clammy. "It took you twenty-five minutes to call me?"
"Fitzwallace called me in the Situation Room. There was more movement in Kashmir," he said wearily, hoping she was not going to make an issue of it. He was just too tired to fight with her tonight.
She stood up again, and started to prepare a syringe. "I don't care if Canada invaded Michigan, Jed. You call me!"
"I broke the Steuben glass pitcher in the Oval Office."
Her voice softened. "It's okay."
"Seriously – Abbey, I'm fine." It was his way of telling her that it wasn't a serious attack.
"You could've hit your head on something." Sitting down on the bed again, she gave him the shot and he winced and groaned slightly.
"But I didn't."
After she'd finished the injection, she took off her glasses and looked at him. Their eyes met and held with unspoken words between them. Suddenly they were husband and wife again, and no longer patient and doctor. Then she said gently, "Was it like the time in Nantucket?"
"Yeah." He couldn't even remember the time in Nantucket, but it was easier just to agree at the moment.
"Or was it like the time at my parents?"
He shook his head. "I really don't remember." He was too tired now to be bothered to think about it.
"It's all right." She brought her hand up to brush the hair back from his forehead. "Close your eyes. You're gonna be asleep in a minute."
Jed looked up at her. "Fitzwallace says the Pakistanis are giving command control to some nuclear weapons to the field."
He leant forward as she pulled the pillow from behind him and then thankfully he lay back.
"It's okay," she said, leaning over him and stroking his hair. "Leo's in the West Wing. Just go to sleep."
He looked up at her. "I'm really sorry about the pitcher. I was taking the pills you gave me."
"Just go to sleep, baby," she said as she leant forward to kiss his mouth gently.
"I could jump you right now." he said, closing his eyes and finally letting sleep claim him.
"Yeah, sure you could," were the last words he heard.
Slowly, Abbey sank down in the chair by the bed and blinked as the tears that she had been fighting back flooded to her eyes again. Although things looked considerably better than she had first imagined when he'd called her, she still wasn't certain that this wasn't going to lead to a full-blown MS attack. The Flumadine should fight the infection and bring down the fever – but fever, she knew, could trigger off an episode or – worse still – a major relapse. And if that happened?
She shuddered. It could rock the whole administration. The worst-case scenario was paralysis – but even with a lesser attack, it could still all have to come out into the open. And Abbey just didn't know how his staff – the country – even the world – would react.
They'd talked long and hard about it all at the beginning of his Presidential campaign – and made the decision, rightly or wrongly, to say nothing. Up to that point, his symptoms had been mild, and the Betaseron reduced the possible frequency of attacks. Even the minor episode he'd experienced during the campaign had been easily explained by an ear-infection. Outside of the family and the doctors and specialist involved in the original diagnosis, the only other person who knew was John Hoynes – because Jed had felt honour-bound to tell John when he'd asked him to be his running mate.
But if it all came out now? Abbey shook her head slowly. Their deception – and she could well see the press treating it as such – would be coupled with people's shock at seeing the effects of the disease on their President. Not only would he lose people's trust, he'd also be seen as an invalid – because MS was such a misunderstood disease.
Abbey put her head in her hands, feeling suddenly so alone. "Oh God," she whispered, "please let that damned fever come down."
She looked at her sleeping husband. His head had relaxed to one side as he slept, and he looked peaceful enough. But she was still aware of the sweat that glistened from his face and prayed again that he could sweat this thing out of his system before it led to anything else ...