HERE'S A NICE LONG CHAPTER FOR YOU GUYS! THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING - THERE'S SOME FAMILY STUFF HERE - I PROMISE THERE'S LIGHT COMING - BUT JUST ENJOY THE JOURNEY NOW. REVIEWS ARE SO APPRECIATED!


Henry looked away, as if intruding on someone's intimate moment. Watching his daughter openly grieve – there – on the floor – after struggling with her mother – he couldn't.

Wanted to give her some privacy.

As the sobbing began to subside, Elizabeth's voice brought his attention back. "Emma, I'm right here…" Elizabeth reached her hand out and touched Emma's back.

And it was as if a cornered tiger took the place of his daughter. From her knees on the ground, Emma whipped around, her eyes shooting daggers at her mother, spewing angry words, "Don't. Touch. Me!"

Elizabeth recoiled, leaning backwards from the ground and Emma rose to her feet. Holding her hands up in surrender, Elizabeth said, "I'm sorry, Emma, I'm sorry... I didn't…"

"NO!" Emma yelled. And suddenly, Henry felt afraid for Elizabeth. He'd been trying to remember that Emma was not the little girl anymore that they remembered. Even just physically, she was taller, older, and, at that present moment, he realized she was stronger. He moved toward the two women, ever so slightly.

But Emma took a step back, pointing down at the pictures on the ground. Without breaking eye contact with her mother, Emma hissed, "How could you keep that from me?"

Elizabeth started weak, "I wasn't keeping it from you, Em. I was…"

"hara'" Emma yelled.

Henry watched with caution. But he saw something shift in Elizabeth's body. Her feet arched, her hands found the ground, and with each movement as she stood to her feet, he felt strength and anger begin to take root.

And Elizabeth snapped back, "You know I know what you just said, right?"

"I said it to you, didn't I?" Emma said, and then hissed, "You want it in English too? Bullshit!"

Both women held each other's gaze as Henry tried to step in, "How about we just take a…"

Elizabeth interrupted him with her voice escalating with each word "What do you want from me, Emma?" She threw her hands up in the air, "Do you want me to apologize? Want me to ignore you? Want me to be there for you? What the fuck do you want from me?"

Emma just pursed her lips together.

"I want to be your mom, but every time I do, you push me away. It's a mother's job to protect her daughter, and" Elizabeth gestured to the photos, "that's all I was trying to do."

When Emma didn't respond, Henry opened his mouth to try and step in, but Elizabeth held her hand to him, and said, "No, we're having this conversation now." Then, to Emma, she continued, "I will do whatever you want me to do. You want me to just go on with my life, I can do that. You want me to sit with you at night, I'll do it. But we cannot go on like this!"

Elizabeth was breathless, and the quiet moment lingered.

Until Emma quietly said, "I don't know."

Elizabeth shook her head, her own voice falling, "I don't know what to do, Em. Tell me what you need."

Emma looked away from her mother, and shook her head just like Elizabeth had. "You think I know what I need?" Her voice broke, but only for a second, "If I knew how to make everything right again, or even just what I needed right now right here in this room with you right now, then I'd fix it. I'd tell you." Emma turned towards the door, "I don't know."

Then Emma was gone, back toward the residence.

Leaving Henry alone with his wife. Who stood looking at her feet. He reached over for her, and she shook her head, pulling away, "Henry, I've… got to get some work done." She walked to her desk.

He read the situation. He knew if he pushed her, there were two outcomes. One, she'd realize that he was there for her, and she'd melt and cry and come to bed and fall into a restless few hours of sleep. Or, she'd push him away even more than she did now. All the frustration and anger would turn towards him. And they'd just fight longer tonight.

"Try to get some sleep, babe." He decided quietly.

She didn't look at him, but the "thank you" that she replied conveyed her knowledge of his decision. And she was telling him it was right.

He barely slept that night, tossing and turning, getting up to sit outside Emma's room to see if she needed anything, or to just be there if she woke up. It wasn't as if the house they now lived in didn't seem cavernous and overwhelming. Going back and forth, each time realizing Elizabeth's side of the bed was empty – after a few hours of doing that, he'd pulled the pictures out of the nightstand. Those ones that he'd always had there since Emma was born. A picture of Elizabeth, exhausted from labor, in the hospital, holding the tiny bundle. A picture of all three of the kids holding their new baby sister, Jason's face showing his displeasure of being replaced as the baby. The picture of her first tooth she'd lost – smiling so big to show off her missing tooth. Her first day of school – her backpack swallowing her up from behind as she'd gotten on the school bus that day, her little braids already messy with curls spilling out, curling around her chin.

By the time Henry was done reminiscing, it was light outside, and never too early for coffee. Quietly sipping on his cup in the living room area of the residence, he read the paper – purposefully skipping over the parts about his family.

When the door to the living area opened, he looked up, expecting Elizabeth to stagger in, ready for a change of clothes and a big cup of coffee.

But he was surprised to see his middle daughter walk in. "Well, good morning!"

"Hey!" She said quietly, walking over to the kitchen to pour some coffee. "I hope it's ok I'm early, but since Stevie and I are going to take Emma out shopping, I thought…"

"I forgot about that." The events from the night before had allowed him to completely block out anything other than what happened. He folded the paper next to him and took off his glasses, "Noodle, I'm not…"

She reached over into her purse and pulled out a white paper bag. "I snuck a muffin in here – I thought you might appreciate something other than health food."

He opened the bag like a toddler opened gifts at Christmas and took in the wonderful scent of… "Banana nut?" He guessed.

"What else is there for you, Dad?" Allison joked, sitting on a chair facing him. She neatly crossed her legs and settled into her coffee. Taking a quick sip, she then said, "And don't worry, I brought one for Mom too, so you don't have to share."

Henry had already consumed a fourth of the crumbly muffin, and gathered all the remnants that fell onto his shirt. "Well that's good, because I sure wasn't going to share today." Glacning at the wall on the mantle, he said, "I know you girls were planning on going out shopping, but Noodle, you do know that it's like 6:30 in the morning – that's…"

Allison shook her head, "I know. But I wanted to talk to you about all of it."

Henry nodded, chasing the wonderful muffin with a steaming sip of coffee. "I know it's been a lot lately, and your mom and I are really…"

"Dad." She interrupted him with a smile, "I'm kind of an adult now." He could see that. She'd been away at college for a while. She had taken an internship in Milan, renting her own apartment, finishing up her classes – thinking about a Master's degree or starting her own fashion company. "And I know I don't know everything there is to know about being an adult – that would be very un-adult-like of me." She smiled at him. "But I just mean that I understand that you and Mom are kind of consumed with…" she pointed out of the room towards Emma's room… "all the things that are coming up because of this. That's why I wanted to talk to you."

They'd always made it a priority to talk with their kids. Answer any questions they could. That was just how it worked in the McCord family.

"Ok, shoot, Noodle."

"I know when Mom came back from Iran, things were hard for her." She started, "I know certain things would set her off, she was really concerned about all of us being safe, and then that panic attack…" Henry could see it all as if it were happening right then. "So I know that there are going to be things that really, well, that, like are going to be harder for Emma than we… Stevie, Jason, and I… know. And we, well, I, but the others and I have talked about it – we want to make sure that we don't do anything that's going to… make it harder for Emma."

Henry was grateful for his older children at that moment. For them to be thinking about their youngest sister – and their parents – in such a deep way – meant the world to him.

Allison continued her ramble, "And Jason said it was stupid for us to plan to go out shopping, what with all the people and cameras that are probably going to be there. He suggested ordering things online but…" Allison flipped her hair and smiled at him, acknowledging the humorous drama it added, "Since I'm the fashion expert here," She shook her head, "I mean, I just thought like, maybe she should get to be a normal teenager for a second? Get out of here, make sure she doesn't feel isolated again from the world? And we just want to spend some time with her as sisters."

He waited for her to take a breath – then waited just a bit longer.

"Oh, that's all I've got" she said with a smile.

Henry leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and playing with his wedding ring – a habit. "Noodle, I think what you're doing now is what everyone in the family is doing. You're making sure that you do everything you can to make this…" he hesitated, "as…" the word easy kept coming to mind. But after the night before, nothing about anything would be easy at all. He just skipped over it. "And I think that right now, you just have to be there for her. Be her sister. Don't be her therapist – and don't be her parent – just like – going out and doing this with her will really help. And then, when things get difficult or things come up, just remember that you don't have to handle this all on your own, ok?" Allie nodded. "You can always come to us about things that are difficult."

"Thanks, Dad." She smiled and gestured at his shirt, "You've still got some.. stuff on your…"

As he started to brush the crumbs off his shirt, he heard Elizabeth's voice, "Oh, so now you're trying to hide the evidence from me."

"Don't kill him, Mom, I brought you one too."

Elizabeth snatched up the bag from Allie, smelled the muffin, and then kissed Allie's head, "You are my saving grace this morning."

"Coffee's hot." Henry motioned to the half-full vat of coffee.

She leaned over and kissed him, "You're the best."

Henry just sat back and watched. Watched as Elizabeth sat and had coffee with their daughter – talking about her recent trip, asking about new fashion tips – asking about her hair – talking about the future – hearing his wife laugh or look concerned about something Allison said.

Stevie meandered in there at some point, her usual sullen self until a few sips of coffee permeated her sleepiness. From Stevie's work with the human rights association to Allison's new venture in fashion, he loved watching his wife with their children. Elizabeth, looking exhausted, still was engaged with their daughters. He felt maybe this was what she needed to help her confidence with Emma – with something so difficult, she needed to be reminded that she was a great mother.

After about twenty minutes, Allison excused herself, which left Stevie to continue talking about her job, asking policy questions – getting her mother's advice in a way that seemed more like grilling – but a familiar one that both parties settled into quite easily.

But for a second, it all got quiet when Allison walked in with Emma.

He watched Elizabeth's shoulder's tense just a bit. She sat up straighter. And looked away.

"We did what we could with the belt I brought…" Allison said, walking over with Emma. "I've scouted out a few places that we can get some pants that will fit…"

Henry could see just how skinny Emma was next to his daughter. Allison was slim by all meanings of the word. Emma must've been wearing some pants of Allison's, but they sagged and the long-sleeved Georgetown shirt that Henry thought belonged to Stevie hung over Emma like a bag.

He remembered that night at the air-field. When he'd caught a glimpse as the doctors had begun working – her ribs stuck out, skin pulled tight over her bruised body.

And he could see that Emma's eyes were bloodshot. Dark circles under her eyes only accentuated her drawn-out cheek bones. Her hair was pulled back into a braid that hung over her shoulder.

Stevie handed Emma a cup of coffee. "Here. Waking up in the White House really deserves something even stronger, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to start today off by giving you alcohol."

Emma took a sip, and grimaced. "Thanks, but I just…"

Stevie's eyes opened wide, "Oh, I didn't even ask if you liked coffee! I'm so sorry!" Stevie reached for the cup.

"No! I do…" It was as Emma moved toward the couch that Henry saw where the wincing was coming from. "It was just hot."

"Oh good!" Stevie exclaimed, "I was so worried!"

"Coffee's a funny thing to be worried about." Emma said, offering her sister a smile.

Elizabeth sent him a look. A look that said she didn't believe Emma either. Confirming his own gut feeling. But she shook her head only slightly.

"Your sisters were just telling us all about your clothing adventure they've got planned," Henry began.

Allison let Emma sit in her chair, and soon Henry had his middle daughter next to him, telling the whole group all about the places she had planned – and talked with security about – everything was set.

"All this fuss," Emma shrugged her shoulders, then bit her lip. "I really don't need anything…"

Allison was quick to hush Emma, saying that she couldn't borrow their clothes forever. They may be sisters, but that's where the line was drawn. Henry was pretty sure Allison didn't want any excuses to come up and ruin the day.

But Henry did have to be the dad once in a while, "I know you want to get an early start…"

"Avoiding as many people and cameras takes skill and early morning shopping trips" Stevie piped in, "I'm speaking from experience here, guys."

"Well, just as soon as you're cleared from the doctor, Emma, you all are free to go." Henry stated, and watched as Emma tensed up. Fingers curled tighter around the coffee cup. He tried to play it off, "I know, it's just a formality, and hassle, but we'll just get it done with and then you can go out and buy what I feel like might be most of the clothes in DC."

"I'm feeling fine." Emma stated.

"Wait," Stevie said, turning to Emma with wide eyes, "Have you seen the doctor's facilities here?" When Emma shook her head, Stevie continued, "Ok, well, first of all, let's just talk about the fact that we have a doctor's office full of everything and everyone literally a few floors down. Not to mention that there's an adorable doctor that works there."

"Oh, do tell." Allison countered, "I mean, can we all come with you, Em?"

"Um…"

"Oh," Allison backed off, "I mean just to the waiting room – of course – nothing personal!" She smiled, "We just want to see the hot guy."

"Allison definitely wants to see him." Stevie said, "I've seen him, and Allison will NEED to see him."

Elizabeth shook her head and smiled as she stood up, "Girls, you all may go down there, but please, one of you use your head." She walked over to the sink and put the cup in, "I really don't want some sexual harassment case on my desk from the White House Physician…"

"Oh, Mom." Allison said, jumping up to grab her purse and hurry the others along. "We'll be good."

Elizabeth took a deep breath, and sat down next to Henry. Her fingers curled around his. The girls were headed to the door, Stevie and Allison chatting Emma's ear off when Elizabeth piped up, "Emma." Her voice was just pointed enough to cause Allison and Stevie to whip around. Emma kept her back to Elizabeth. Elizabeth continued, stating matter-of-factly, "Your debriefing is this afternoon at three."

Emma's back tensed. And her voice came back as clipped as Elizabeth's had been, "Where?"

"CIA." Elizabeth stated. "Your detail will take you there."

Both of the older girls looked at Henry and Elizabeth, then back to Emma, who still was not turned towards Elizabeth. Their eyes were wide and confused. Henry just motioned with his hands to stay calm, not to worry, shaking his head.

"I don't want you there." Emma said, and Henry watched Emma's fingers digging into the excess jean material at her side.

"Didn't think you would." Elizabeth chuckled sarcastically, but Henry could feel her tension as she squeezed his hand, "I've got a country to run. You don't need to worry."

"Good."

"Glad that's settled." Elizabeth said through pierced lips.

After a few seconds where nothing else was said, Henry urged Stevie, "Don't want to miss that doctor, do you?"

The girls hurried out, and Elizabeth released his hand. He squeezed back and said, "I guess that is one way to handle it."