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Crisis of Conscience II: Pathway to Escape
Presidential Suite

Summary: Sequel to "Inescapable". Abbey searches for understanding as Jed battles his conscience.

Spoilers: through "Posse Comitatus"


Pathway to Escape

Pulling off her glasses, Abbey closes her book and glances at the little clock on the bedside table. It is past midnight. She wishes he would come to bed. She hates lying here alone, night after night, waiting for him to come and finally succumbing to fatigue before he joins her.

It has been almost two weeks now. Obviously, something is wrong, but she is unable to say just what. He has withdrawn again, something at which he has come to excel.

She had hoped this was over. That they would never again experience the type of impasse that plagued them in the previous months. But, deep in her heart, she is always fearful now that something will shatter their fragile peace.

It all began so long ago, and it no longer mattered who did what, or who said what, now that it was over. She had certainly set things in motion by challenging him about not honoring their deal. Then, he followed the public disclosure of his MS with that stunning announcement about seeking a second term. She had reacted with cold anger and bitter words, distancing herself from him. But, as always, his will had proved stronger than hers, and she had relented, finally accepting that he was going to run again. Finally accepting that he was ready to sacrifice his health for his job. She had been reluctant to push too hard, unwilling to see if he was prepared to sacrifice their marriage as well.

They had worked through the strain of the Congressional investigation, but it had been hard. As the hearings progressed, he became possessed by a dark and dismal anger. He had suffered when they attacked her for taking care of him. And he had suffered just as much, if not more, when they attacked Leo.

The opposition had dominated the news coverage when he took the censure, saying that it confirmed how weak he was, unable to lead, determined only to protect himself. Some of them said he did it for her benefit. Others thought that he had done it to save Leo. But she knew differently. As if waking from a bad dream, he had suddenly come to the realization that his actions had, quite simply, been wrong. And that he could not morally defend them.

When he had told her that he intended to accept the censure, she had wept for him, and suffered at the pain in his eyes. But she could also see that he was resigned to his decision, and that night, after so many tortured, sleepless ones, he finally slept.

Things had slowly returned to normal. The strain caused by her anger and his indifference eased, but they were careful with each other. When she looked back on the worst days, she was appalled at how close they had come to destroying their relationship. She vowed to never let that happen again, and, in that spirit, she made the decision to voluntarily surrender her medical license for the duration of his Presidency.

She still wasn't sure if he understood her motives, but she knew he had been deeply touched.

"I love you very much," he had said.

She believed him. She had always believed him.

Why, then, had his behavior changed so dramatically over the past few days? It was as if he had returned to their earlier state of unarmed warfare. Withdrawn and irritable, he said little and avoided her. On the rare instances when he didn't turn away, she saw that his eyes were cold.

She turns her head and looks again at the clock, wondering what he is doing so late at night. Is he avoiding her, or avoiding himself?

Abbey is suddenly unwilling to wait any longer. She slips out of bed and pulls on her robe. Leaving their bedroom, she sees that the agents are standing guard in the hall outside his private study. She walks past them and opens the door to find him sitting alone, apparently unoccupied.

"Jed," her voice is soft. "It's late."

His eyes meet hers briefly before he nods and turns his face away.

She is shocked into complete silence by his austere appearance. She is alarmed at how strained he looks. How very tired. How haunted.

Her immediate instinct is to go to him, to make him talk to her, to discover the source of his obvious pain. But, with the simple act of turning his head, he has shut her out.

She sighs and closes the door.

It is late. Perhaps too late. Now she can only wait.


Sleep is an impossibility. Lying in the darkened room, she tries not to let the worry and frustration overwhelm her. She doesn't know the time, but each minute is an agony of waiting. Why doesn't he come?

At long last, she hears the door open as he comes into the bedroom. He is trying to be very quiet, and she does not speak, waiting for him to approach her and fearing that he won't. She stays still when the mattress quivers slightly as he gets into bed. His breathing is shallow, and, without even seeing him, she somehow knows that he is still tense with some unspoken emotion.

"I'm sorry," Jed's voice is the merest whisper of sound.

She turns toward him and reaches for his hand in the darkness, holding it between both of hers.

"I love you, Jed. Please don't shut me out."

He remains silent, and she curses herself. Years of experience have taught her that she cannot rush him. He will not surrender his thoughts easily.

"There are things..." he pauses, as though he is unwilling, or unable, to say the words. "There are things that I can't tell you. Some things I have to handle alone."

"I know." She brings his hand up to her lips and kisses it gently. It is all she can do. This is the nature of their lives now. She can comfort him, and possibly encourage him, but there are parts of him that she cannot comprehend. And burdens she cannot share.

He pulls in a deep breath and continues, "It's this job. I used to think if I did something as the President, that was someone else, not me. It was the act of the Chief Executive and I could exist separately from the office. But I can't. I can't escape it anymore."

"I imagine if you do this thing right, you can't leave the room and just stop being the President. You carry the office with you." Abbey is surprised to hear herself saying these words. It is tantamount to encouraging the exact behavior she wants him to avoid.

"Well, it's a damn heavy load."

"That's why only very special men get to do it. And you are very special."

She wants to believe that makes him smile. Certainly she hopes that it eases his mind a little. And she is rewarded when he laces his fingers with hers and squeezes her hand.

"I love you very much," he says quietly, leaning over to kiss her.

She believes him.

They lay side by side in the silent darkness, and she prays that he can get some rest, some respite from the weight of his thoughts. Very soon, his fingers relax their grip on hers and she knows he is asleep.


Sleep should offer him escape. But even in his sleep, the demons find him.

The music starts and the colorful pennants wave. Jed is once again at "The Wars of the Roses", trying to hear the finale, but the song always fades away. The actors move upon the stage, and he sees their lips moving, but the only thing he hears is the staccato burst of gunfire. The pennants dip and swirl before his vision of falling bodies. He wants to shout at them to stop, but the music suddenly swells, obscuring the sound of his voice. He stands powerless as he watches all the flags turn red, as if stained by blood.

Then the music stops, leaving a profound silence, into which falls a single mournful cry.

The cry is always his.

And tonight it awakens her.

She turns on the lamp to see him shuddering restlessly, sweat beading on his forehead. He is hard to rouse, and, when he finally opens his eyes, he does not focus on her immediately. The shreds of his dream are still too vivid. Looking into his face, she is suddenly aware that this is no ordinary nightmare.

"It's real, isn't it?" she asks softly.

He sits up, immediately on guard. But he does not turn away. Finally, he nods.

"Tell me."

Jed starts slowly and she does not interrupt him as he confesses his disturbing story. But even the confession is incomplete...to protect her, he must omit the names and change the places, but the story is real.  And to share it is a relief of untold proportions. 

He trusts her.  She will listen and forget. She will speak quietly and tell him how much she believes in him.

She will love him.

She will be his escape.


Feedback appreciated.

Click here to read the third installment, Crisis of Conscience III: Waiting.