A/N: As much as this episode is a heartbreaker, I'm in love with all the angst it brings (for those wondering, yes, I am a masochist). The title comes from a book I'm reading by Michael Ondaatje; it means to be able to look at something from the top of a hill.
Expect more tags to this episode; my muse is simply going crazy.
Disclaimer: I own nothing from the West Wing; I just like to play at being the President and the First Lady on occasion.
"How we are almost nothing. We think, in our youth, we are the centre of the universe, but we simply respond, go this way or that by accident, survive or improve by the luck of the draw, with little choice or determination on our part." –Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
The walk back to the residence was slow; he felt weak, tired.
He felt old.
The Secret Service agents outside the bedroom door lowered their eyes respectfully as he reached the doors; it made his chest ache more. He shut the doors behind him silently and let his eyes adjust to the darkened room, finding Abbey in the bed, asleep. The doctor had given her a light sedative so she'd sleep; Jed was grateful.
Truthfully, he had no idea how to comfort his wife in this.
He walked to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him and turning on the light. He sank down onto the closed toilet lid, cradling his head in his hands. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will this night away, to wish it different.
But nothing could change the fact that his daughter was gone; his youngest daughter, the baby. Zoey. The ache in his chest intensified; he saw the pictures he'd been looking at earlier in the evening before his eyes again, but this time they were drenched in blood- her blood.
He hadn't realized he'd gasped aloud until the sound echoed around the bathroom, and he startled, the pain in his heart increasing tenfold. They could be hurting his daughter; she needed her Daddy, and he couldn't do a single thing to help her.
He moved in a haze, undressing for bed and changing into a pair of pajamas before brushing his teeth, the absolute routineness of everything forcing a quiet, bitter laugh through his lips. Shutting off the light he entered the bedroom and slid into bed beside Abbey, pulling her into his arms; he needed to feel her next to him as he fell asleep. She barely stirred, just moved closer to him; even unconscious, she needed to be near him.
He didn't remember falling asleep; all he knew was he was awoken by Abbey tossing and turning, crying out their daughter's name.
"Zoey!" she cried, bolting straight up, dark eyes clouded with sleep and anguish, dark locks plastered to her forehead with sweat. Jed sat with her, rubbing her back, soothing her gently. Tears coated her cheeks and lashes, and she buried her face in his shoulder, a choked sob escaping her throat. "It wasn't a dream, was it? She's really gone. Our baby- she's gone Jed."
He tried to swallow the tears, but he couldn't. The emotion was so thick in his throat, in his chest.
"No," he was finally able to reply, voice hoarse. "No, sweetheart, it wasn't a dream."
She began to cry in earnest now, her tears soaking into his pajama top. He held her close, rubbing her back as he tried to sooth her, a few tears of his own leaking from his eyes and landing in her hair.
"She's only a baby," she whispered, voice thick with tears, pulling back slightly and wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Jed she's only a baby."
"You know how much I wish she still was, Abbey," he said softly, pain in his voice. "She's twenty one- she's not a baby anymore."
"She's my baby, though," she whispered, the raw pain in her voice like a stake through Jed's heart. "What if they can't find her, Jed? What if you can't do what they want?"
"It isn't in my hands anymore, Abbey," he whispered after a long silence, remembering she didn't know yet. She pulled back to look into his eyes, her face tearstained and anguished; she looked so vulnerable, it broke his heart.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, confusion present in her features. He took a deep breath, searching for her hand to weave his fingers with. He needed her strength; he needed her support.
"I invoked the twenty fifth," he answered, and the confusion remained for a moment before dispersing. "I had to, Abbey. I can't- I can't be the President and a terrified father at the same time. The country needs a leader- and I can't be that right now. I need to be a father and a husband; I need to focus on my family, and bring my daughter home safe."
"Who?" she asked, finding her voice. With Hoynes having resigned, it wasn't the Vice President who would be acting President.
"Glen Allen Walken," Jed answered after a moment, watching her eyes widen slightly before she nodded, swallowing. "It isn't forever; but for now, it's what's needed."
"I need you," she whispered, barely audible, looking at him with those dark, anguished eyes again. He cupped his hand to her cheek, cursing the trembling that occurred when he lifted it. Abbey barely noticed; the doctor side of her had disappeared as the distraught mother side took control.
"You have me," he replied in the same quiet tone, pressing his forehead against hers. Tears dripped down her cheeks again, and Jed brushed them away with his thumbs gently. "Why don't we take a shower, get in some new pajamas?"
She nodded, and together they pushed back the covers. He led her to the bathroom, having her sit on the closed toilet while he started the shower, helping her undress before directing her under the warm spray. He stepped in behind her, brushing her hair out of her eyes and running his fingers down her cheek.
There were no hidden motives as they showered; they were too tired, too drained, and too pained to do anything other than get clean. They stepped out and helped each other dry; once they'd changed into clean pajamas they climbed back into bed, exhausted.
"Tell me they'll bring her home," she whispered, and he could hear the tears starting again; but he knew she needed to get everything out, needed to try to come to terms with what had happened in their lives tonight. "Please, Jed- tell me they'll bring our baby home safe."
"They'll bring her home to us, sweetheart," he said softly, holding her firmly against his chest, her hands resting over his heart, tangled in the hair she found there. "I know they will."
She fell asleep not long after that, the sedative that was still having some effect on her combining with the exhaustion of the emotions threatening to overwhelm her. He could feel her tears against his chest, and he stroked her hair softly, kissing the top of her head.
From where he was now, he could see that this had been the right decision; he could never be rational when his family was involved. Zoey was his youngest daughter, his baby girl- if the choice was between her and the country, he'd choose her before he could even blink. It had been the right thing to do; he knew that.
The Presidency was important to him, it wasn't even a debate; but fatherhood had claimed him first, and that was what drove him now.
Getting his daughter home safe was what drove him now.
"I think it's a fairly stunning act of patriotism. And a fairly ordinary act of fatherhood." –Will Bailey, S4Ep22, 'Twenty Five'