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Dark Days, Empty Nights
Presidential Suite
Summary:  Chapter 4 in the Temptation series...
The conflict continues with sleepless nights and careless words.
Spoilers:  through "Debate Camp"

Dark Days, Empty Nights

Jed woke up with a stiff neck and a backache. As he struggled to sit up, he wondered why he had ever thought that the leather sofa in his private study looked comfortable. Yeah, he could sit on it, maybe even take an hour's nap on it, but it was horrible for a full night's sleep.

Of course, it hadn't really been a full night's sleep. Just a few hours at best, and those had been a very uneasy, fitful slumber. He had stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, trying to comprehend exactly what had happened with Abbey. He replayed the disastrous scene over and over in his mind. Sometimes he could remember every word she had said, and sometimes it ran like a silent film, the words unnecessary because the hatred in her eyes said it all.

The truly sad part was that this particular fight was over nothing at all. He hadn't done any of the things upon which Abbey based her accusations. Well, maybe he had done them - he had been in a relationship with Rachel back in his youth, he was still fond of her, and he had dreamed of her in a very erotic way. But Abbey had put a connotation on those things that was extreme. Nothing had happened and nothing was ever going to happen between Rachel and himself. Could she really find him guilty for the wanderings of his imagination?

Apparently she could and she had.

It was almost as if she had searched his soul and discovered that the dream had set off a series of thoughts that couldn't be dispelled by daylight. For a few days, he had been strangely obsessed. Jed remembered Rachel as a warm, loving person, and she had come to him that way in his dream. With her, he felt that he would be totally accepted, just the way he was. He was tired of bickering with Abbey over his perceived, and, oftentimes, real faults. Rachel represented a clean slate, and, on some level, he wanted that very much.

Well, his slate with Abbey certainly wasn't clean. In fact, it was now filled with so much torment and anguish that he didn't think they could erase it, even if they tried.

Jed couldn't let it matter this morning. He was still the President of the United States and he had a country to run. Somehow he had to get ready to meet his responsibilities, despite the disgusting taste in his mouth from too much Johnny Walker the night before. And he could have sworn there was fur growing on the inside of his eyelids. A physical impossibility, he was sure, but that's exactly what it felt like.

His stomach rumbled to remind him that he had only consumed Scotch for dinner last night. Followed by no dessert. Remembering his ambitious plans for his evening with Abbey, he figured there would be no 'dessert' in the near future. Maybe never again. Jed had the impression that Abbey was angry enough to just walk out on him. Was he angry enough to let her?

He shook his head and picked up his shoes. There was no use worrying about it right now. He had never been able to predict Abbey's reactions, and he doubted he would guess right this time.

As he entered the bedroom, she sat up against the pillows, looking as though she, too, had passed an almost sleepless night, even though she had been able to enjoy the comfort of a real bed.

"Where have you been?" she asked, her voice quiet, almost tentative.

Jed didn't stop walking and his answer was brief and curt. "Around."

She let him get almost to the bathroom before she spoke again.

"What are you going to do?"

The question had many implications, but Jed chose the simplest and most immediate one. "Get ready to go to work."

When he came out of the bathroom, he was showered, shaved and dressed for the day. Abbey was still in bed, wrapped in a protective cocoon of covers, her back turned to him. Jed said nothing and left the room.

That brief exchange set the tone for all that day. Only the most necessary words were spoken, and those were delivered in the most frigid of tones. Jed spent another uncomfortable night on the sofa in his study, wincing at the pain in his back as he tossed and turned in the limited space. Of course, he could have slept in one of the guest bedrooms, but he thought that would send inappropriate signals to the housekeeping staff. He considered it more prudent to just let them think he was working late into the night on some Presidential problem, and that he didn't want to disturb his wife.

When he awoke on the second morning, the thought uppermost in his mind was that Abbey was due to leave today for speaking engagements in Atlanta and Houston, and he could finally sleep in his own bed for the next two nights. Jed gave a small, totally mirthless laugh at what his marriage had become. He had always hated to see Abbey leave on a trip, and he hated sleeping alone. Now, all he wanted was access to the Sealy Posturepedic mattress and the downy pillows on their bed.

He was kidding himself, of course, and he knew it. He wanted his marriage back on track and his wife sleeping beside him. But Josiah Bartlet was nothing if not stubborn, and he wasn't going to apologize for crimes he hadn't committed.


Later that morning, Abbey was sitting in Leo's office, listening to Sam and Leo discuss the speeches she would be making on her campaign trip through the South. They had originally thought that her presence wouldn't be beneficial there, but recent polling information had shown that she would be welcomed by the voters, and she was also going to visit local medical centers. She sighed soundlessly. She might as well go. There was no point in remaining in the White House with a husband who would neither talk nor sleep with her.

She needed to shake off the feelings of anger and dread that had haunted her since that stormy fight with Jed. Maybe it would be sunny in the South. She glanced out the window, the scene beyond obscured by the drops of rain running down the glass. Even the weather was conspiring to make the days more depressing, with cold rain and dark skies hovering over Washington. Just like a bad omen, one that she took personally.

Abbey let her thoughts wander. She had let her anger with Jed grow out of any reasonable proportion the other night. Had it been jealousy? Abbey hated to admit it, but she thought it was probably true. And why? She had known about Rachel forever. But, a tiny voice reminded her, Rachel had always been somewhere else, a nebulous figure that had disappeared into the recesses of memory. A flesh and blood Rachel, working directly with her husband, was a different matter entirely.

And Jed had dreamed about her. How intense had it been? And how could Abbey compete with a perfect lover who could fill his dreams with excitement?

Abbey knew all about fantasies. She was lucky that Jed had never seemed interested in asking her about that aspect of her sexuality. Abbey thought she was like most women in that she had a rich and varied fantasy life. It certainly didn't mean that there was anything lacking in Jed's performance in the bedroom, but he wouldn't have understood that. He wouldn't be pleased to learn that she had created erotic images of herself with Pierce Brosnan, Harrison Ford, John Hoynes, and even Leo. And, wait, there had been that one really strange dream about Toby...

Sam's voice interrupted her thoughts. He was standing up, ready to leave.

"I hope you have a good trip, Mrs. Bartlet," he said.

"Thanks, Sam," she replied. "And thanks for all the help on my speeches. You really have a great talent with words."

Sam grinned and ducked his head. "Thank you, Ma'am."

As he left the room, she thought what a sweetie he was. A cruel little imp at the back of her brain made her wonder why she had never fantasized about him. Abbey gave herself a mental slap and, luckily, Leo's voice pulled her away from her strange thoughts.

"What's wrong with the President?"

Abbey made sure her expression was bland as she countered his question with one of her own. "Why do you think anything is wrong?"

"He's not talking, Abbey, and you know that's just not like him. He's always talking. Even if there's nothing to talk about, he'll start spouting inane trivia and think he's doing me a favor by furthering my education."

"I'm sure he just has a lot on his mind," she replied, not willing to get into this subject.

Leo seemed skeptical. "Come on, Abbey, that's not it. But if you don't know what it is, there's only one thing left to do. I'll just ask him what's going on."

"No, Leo, you can't do that," Abbey said, her uneasiness now evident in her tone.

"So you do know."

She needed to talk to someone. It hurt so much to keep it all bottled up inside. She finally said softly, "We had words."

Leo actually laughed. "Well, of course you had words. You are two of the wordiest people I know. One of you is always on the other about something, teasing or bickering. It's like comic relief for the rest of us, because we know the show always has a happy ending."

Abbey's torment showed in her face. "Maybe not this time."

"I think you're making this more serious than it really is," Leo said.

"I accused him of having an affair."

To her dismay, Leo chuckled again. "Well then, I must not be doing my job right. I didn't think I had left him time to have an affair."

"It's not a joke, Leo. I really accused him of having an affair."

"With whom?" he asked.

"Rachel Hartman."

"Abbey, have you lost your mind? Jed's not having an affair with anyone, certainly not Rachel, and I think I'm in a position to know. Even more than you, I know where he is every minute of every day. But, even if he had lots of time on his hands and the freedom to move around the city, he still wouldn't be fooling around, because, Abbey," Leo paused for emphasis and shook a finger at her, "Jed's an honorable man and he loves you with all his heart."

Abbey wanted to believe it. "I always thought so before."

"You should still think so. And why in the world did you pick Rachel Hartman?"

"Because of what you said, Leo." He looked at her, raising his brows in inquiry. "You said he was upset that she didn't come to the debate camp, and that he was calling her several times a day."

"Damn it, Abbey, I told you that because I thought it was funny. Almost everyone I know jumps through hoops for Jed Bartlet. I find it amusing that Rachel doesn't. She treats him like a regular guy, probably because she's like us and knew him when he was just a kid. She missed debate camp because something else came up, but she treated it like a normal deal and that ticked him off. I like her attitude. I mean, it wouldn't work very well if everyone had it, but it doesn't hurt for the President to get a dose of reality once in while. If Jed said 'jump', to most people, they'd ask how high. If Jed said 'jump' to Rachel, I think she'd demand that he give her a reason."

Abbey refused to be reassured. She said sadly, "But he thinks about her, Leo. I finally got him to admit that he does."

Leo shook his head a little. "Maybe he does, Abbey. But I don't think it's unreasonable for him to take a trip down memory lane."

Her next words were like a plea, begging him to understand. "But I feel threatened by it, Leo. I don't want her in his head."

"I can understand that, Abbey, but if you start trying to be the thought police, you're going to be in for some tough times."


After she returned to the Residence, Leo's words stayed with Abbey. Everything he said made sense, and, even before she had talked to him, she had arrived at the conclusion that she had blown the whole thing out of proportion. Maybe she could just talk to Jed for a minute before she left and try to ease the tension between them. She hated to leave with such ill feelings, and she was afraid they would fester into even deeper wounds while she was away.

With these thoughts in mind, she ventured down to the Oval Office, very unsure as to the type of reception she would receive from her husband. Charlie wasn't at his desk and the door to Jed's office stood slightly open. Abbey looked in and saw him putting on his jacket.

She took a tentative step inside the doorway, saying softly, "Jed..."

He looked at her, his eyes cold. She imagined she could even feel a chill from his glance.

"I'm on my way out, Abbey. I have a meeting to attend."

"Um...okay," she said, stumbling slightly over her words. "I just wanted to let you know that I'll be leaving in a little while. You know, for the campaign speeches in Atlanta and Houston."

He was walking toward the door now, and she suddenly realized he was going to walk right past her.

"I know," he said flatly.

Anger suddenly consumed her. The stubborn jackass wasn't even going to try to talk to her, and she had come to him, ready to concede that she had been out of line.

Now all she wanted to do was get back at him.

Abbey's voice was stronger, more confident, when she next spoke. "So you can have the bed tonight, all to yourself."

He didn't answer, but he stopped walking.

She smiled up at him, a slow, seductively malicious smile. "But you won't be alone, will you, Jed?" She paused and leaned close to whisper, "You'll have your dreams...your very special, secret dreams."

She saw his jaw clench tightly before he turned away without a word and walked down the hall.

She had done it again. And this time she didn't really care.


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