CHAPTER ONE - Decision Time

His 180 IQ made him just about the smartest man in America. His position as President of the United States made him the most powerful man in the world. A PhD in Economics from the most prestigious economics school in the world was distinguished with a Nobel Prize for his work on building third world economies. Nothing about Jed Bartlet was small except his physical stature and even that was denied by the shoulders of a man with far more strength that he seemed able to possess. And despite his years battling Multiple Sclerosis, he looked undefeatable.

He sat at his desk in the Oval and read over the statement he would be making the following day. His speech would be televised as part of an awareness show highlighting the needs of abused children. The producers knew the President appearing for this cause was a real coup. To hear the leader of the free world talk would bring in loads of viewers and therefore loads of money that would enable children to get the help they needed.

Across from his desk, his speech writer Toby Ziegler sat saying nothing. The speech was flat, had zero importance and for Toby to author a speech like this was unusual. He didn't write gutless words. Jed was disappointed. "Toby, this speech is soulless. This isn't you. There's no passion in these words and this is a subject deserving great passion."

"Yeah, you're right, but you don't want to get into reality, do you? If you do, then there's another way to go."

Jed was getting angry at the relentlessness of his communications director. "Let it go, Toby. What's your fascination with my father's relationship to me?" His chair swiveled till he was looking out the window at the snow drifting down. "And why did I get scheduled for this thing? I don't talk about my childhood. It's no one's business except mine. It was a complicated relationship."

Toby never knew when he crossed lines, so he barreled in with words regardless of how they sounded. "You didn't let your 'complicated relationship' hold you back. Your father was an abuser. No matter how much you want to deny that, you can't." He kept going, advocating for this special group of Americans. "The kids going through what you went through deserve a President that stands up for them. These children are your constituency just as much as their parents are. Maybe even more so."

The President tossed the lousy speech on his desk. The road to take lay before him, but he wanted to turn back. Remembered physical and emotional pain along with an internal increasing need to tell had him saying, "You know it was more than an occasional slap across my face. Abbey knows. Leo knows but no one else does." For a man of words, he stumbled over continuing. "You want me to confess something I've hidden for decades."

"What are you afraid of? You've been censured. They can't do that again and, in this circumstance, it would be unconscionable."

"Like that stopped Congress before." He stood up, stretched muscles that didn't ache from his Multiple Sclerosis, but felt remembered pain from the past. "I can't put words to it, Toby. I can't say things out loud. He . . ." Just as he predicted, the words wouldn't come out. This was a confession he had to make to himself first and he didn't know what he wanted.

Then it hit him. He wanted freedom from the shame, the embarrassment, the knowledge of his father's hatred and the agonizing memories of each attack on his body. It was time for him to give up the brutality of his personal history. "Saying it out loud scares the shit out of me." That was the biggest truth he'd spoken about his abuse in decades. Putting things into words and sharing those words frightened him for reasons he didn't completely understand. "Let me give this a try but be patient." The man called the orator of his generation stammered, "You will be hearing me say things I've never said before." Deep breaths punctuated his hesitancy. With his back to his speechwriter, he finally meekly admitted, "He hurt me and I mean truly hurt me."

"Yeah, I figured."

With sarcasm that told Toby to stop being stupid, he said, "You did? And how on earth did you figure that?"

Toby stared at the floor. "I just did."

He walked to the window and stared out onto the portico, his back now to Toby. "You got too much time on your hands if you're figuring out my father hit me."

"It's my job to know you and write for you. I write in your voice, not mine. Your voice has been shaped by your experiences and what your father did to you is a big part of that. Your pacifism, your liberation theology, your willingness to take huge political risks for the impossibility of peace in the Middle East - all that is partly because you know real pain and real hurt. He did that to you and you suffered, but it helped create the man you are. While I can unequivocally tell you I hate him, I'm grateful for whatever part he had in making you the man I work for today."

The President sighed and stared at the floor.

Toby approached Jed and stood beside him. "I don't admire people, sir. I basically don't like people, but when I see you, I wish I could be more like you."

Shaking his head with a wry smile. "You don't want my life, Toby. Oh, there are perks. There's Abbey and my daughters. Actually, those are the only perks that matter. Somehow, Abbey got it in her head that I was worth caring about. Can't work that out, but it's true. Even with the arguments we have, she's my saving grace. She was the third non-blood related person to know what my father did to me. Mrs. Landingham was first. You know she was my father's secretary. He hired her." He pointed to the office next door. "Leo was the second."

It was a gamble, but Toby put his hand on Jed's shoulder. "If these kids know they could grow up to be President, then you will change their lives. They got to hear it from you that you have scars. You can't be ashamed to talk about it."

"Toby, I'm one of them." That was a confession he didn't realize he had to make. "I'm still dealing with all the stuff that happened to me." Confession in church always soothed his soul. He was hoping confessing his past to Toby might do the same. "I still occasionally have nightmares. He's been dead for two decades and he can find a way to still haunt me."

The gamble went further. "Tell me what he did. Tell me about one incident but tell me the details. I won't use it in the speech, but it will help me focus."

Jed walked to the bar and poured two fingers of bourbon over some ice. "I don't know if I can. Saying things out loud." The words wouldn't come. "I can't do it."

"Words make it real and you don't want it to be real. Who wants to admit their father hated them?"

The downward shrug of Jed's shoulders told Toby he crossed the line again. "Just stop. Write me a speech and forget my father."

"If that's what you want, but you've never asked me to lie for you before."

Jed downed all the bourbon. "You are a son of a bitch."

"Yeah, and you are the spawn of a bastard. Screw him. Nail his ass to the floor and put it out there. He hit you. You remained a genius. You won a Nobel Prize. You're President of the United States. He didn't win."

"It's not that easy." His mind brought up visions of wounds still visible. Mustering the courage he had, he admitted, "Scars, Toby. He hasn't hit me in over 40 years and the scars are still there. I stopped noticing them until Rosslyn. The new one got me seeing the old ones again."

"You still have scars?" Toby kept pushing the line as Jed poured more bourbon. "Let me see them."

Silence crushed the spirits of both men. Breathing became hard and the wall crashed in on top of them. Toby figured he was going to be fired. Even he knew he was out of line. A full minute passed before Jed placed his glass on the side table. The President put his hand on his back, feeling the exit wound from an assassination attempt four years earlier. Then with unsteady hands, he unbuttoned his vest, took it off and laid it over the back of the couch. The tie was next. His shirttails pulled out of his trousers and the buttons took a lot longer than they should, but then his fingers were shaking. He hadn't turned to face Toby. The shirt slid from his body and he stayed where he was. He couldn't move. "You wanted to see, so come look."

Toby's trepidation almost kept him from approaching the President, but he forced his feet to take the few steps. He was fearful. "Sir, you sure you want to do this?"

Angrily, Jed snapped, "No, I'm not sure, but here we are. Fuck you, take a look," he continued mockingly, "then write about it in my voice."

The marks had paled over the years but weren't hard to see crisscrossing from his shoulders to his lower back. Off to his side was the smaller, almost insignificant looking exit bullet hole from the a at Rosslyn. The scars were far more prominent than Toby anticipated. Here were the remnants of horrific attacks. No wonder the President had trouble putting words to the acts. This was proof of incapacitating pain and soul wrenching humiliation.

The stripes were faintly raised marks. Toby had to remember that these were remnants from almost half a century before. "Good Lord, what did he do to you? I didn't expect this."

He started to dress. "Neither did Abbey. The night she saw them for the first time, she cried for an hour. That was a delightful date."

Toby had to hear the answer to his next question because it seemed an impossibility. "Did he whip you? I mean, like a belt?"

"Great deduction, Toby. However, you left out the actual whip he used on occasion. I grew up on a farm." The first button on his shirt was pushed through the hole. "He nearly killed me once. If it wasn't for Leo and Mrs. Landingham, I wouldn't have survived." The second and third button hooked up.

"Tell me about it."

"No," spit out immediately. "I don't even know why I let you see his work."

"Because you needed to let me see it. You want this, Mr. President. I've never seen anything frighten you like this before. Tell me a story and maybe you can start to let go of the fear. You'll be able to tell these kids that becoming the President of the United States is possible. Can't you see how profound that is? You owe it to them and, just as importantly, you owe it to yourself."

Finally, the President turned to confront his staff member. "So, what do you think now? Was it what you hoped for?"

Toby's head quietly shook from side to side. "I don't like the question, sir. My hopes were that the scars would be really hard to see, that all this angst was a faded memory you had trouble getting over. There's nothing faded there."

"It's faded a lot." He put his vest back on. "I have no idea why I did that. Maybe you're right. It might be time to admit to what I am."

Toby snapped back, "You mean to what he was." Then he sat down without a second thought, a definite politically incorrect move in front of the President of the United States. He nearly fell into the chair.

The President walked back to the Resolute Desk and sat down facing the portico window. "I get angry and I can bellow with the best of them, but talking about this scares me. I do not want to be blubbering on national television while talking to kids about how my daddy didn't like me."

"I'd never write a speech like that. That's not who you are."

Toby and the President sat saying nothing for a very long time. After waiting to figure out how to continue, a knock came from one of the four doors. Jed called out, "Come on in."

Leo McGarry entered, sensed the tension and looked at his best friend with concern. "Are you alright, sir?" The silence notched up his disquiet. "What's going on?"

The President broke the pressure. "Don't worry, Leo. I haven't fired Toby yet and he hasn't stepped over the line any more than usual."

With a wry look, Toby said, "I wouldn't say that. I think I obliterated the line on several occasions."

The President shrugged. "So, we're drawing new lines and that's my fault."

Leo sat across from Toby, "Has a decision been made? Is he going to address the nation about child abuse?"

"That's his decision, not mine."

Both trusted staff members stared at the President of the United States, Josiah Edward Bartlet, great, great, great, great grandson of a founding father, an abused child with the scars to prove it. He kept his eyes on the desktop. "I'll talk, but make it real, Toby. Don't go into details but make it real. I won't lie to children."

Leo was surprised. "You're going to let people know about your father?"

"You were there."

The incident was burned into Leo's memory. "Yeah, I was, but then I ran away from it and left you there alone."

"Don't do that, Leo. You had to get away before you did something stupid like kill him. You were angry enough to."

Leo stopped the conversation. "Toby doesn't need to know about that."

Jed worked hard at looking into Leo's eyes. "If you're going to be uncomfortable, then you'd better leave. I'm going to tell him about that time."

The admission was startling. "You're going to talk about it? You never talk about it. Even your daughters don't know."

"They'll find out tonight. I'm going to tell kids watching that telethon that what happens doesn't have to dictate what you can achieve. I don't know if it will make any difference to them or not. One old man telling them to be brave isn't a tremendous incentive."

Leo wasn't convinced the decision was good. "Sir, your history won't change a thing. These kids need someone close to them to help. That's not you."

"Mr. President, I don't agree. Children need heroes. 'Jed Bartlet is like me. I can be like him.' Heroes are a big part of a kid's life."

Leo mumbled, "You want a cape and a phone booth?"

Toby was getting angry. "Why are you fighting this? He has to tell people."

"People, yeah. Stanley the shrink, his daughters, the staff, but not the world. His entire Presidency will revolve around this from now on. Between the MS and his father, his Presidency will be over and we have two years left."

Jed hated being talked about while sitting there. "Stop it, both of you. I won't politicize child abuse."

"Then don't do the program."

Toby asked the question. "What are you afraid of, Leo? This is more than just politics for you. You're scared of it."

Leo pawed at the floor. "I'm not afraid of it. It's what happened. I saw it. I know what his father did to him." Staring into Toby's eyes he admitted, "I washed his blood off my hands - literally."

Jed's tenuous calm started to unravel. "I can't continue this right now. I can't." He held out his hands and the tremor was obvious. "I have to get some rest. If this shaking gets worse, there may not be a decision to make. MS may make it for me."

Leo jumped in. "And this is the problem. I don't want his Presidency defined by MS and abuse. I want it defined by the China Summit, by the Middle East Summit and the resolution of Social Security. With this, he's a damaged man who got elected and some other stuff happened and it must have been because of everyone else, but not him. With this, he's a puppet we've manipulated. Toby, you, better than the rest of us, know that isn't true. You were in China. If he hadn't risked his life, the North Korea Summit never would have happened. That's what I want people to remember."

The arguing wasn't helping the President. "They'll remember what they want to remember. We can't control that no matter how much we try to." His color began to pale. "Really, I'm not feeling well." He pushed the phone button. "Debbie, could you ask Abbey to come to the Oval soon? I need her."

From her desk, Debbie Fiderer, the President's head secretary, could tell there was a situation. "Sir, should I call for the doctor?"

"Just the one I'm married to. She'll get more help if we need it. Things are going south here."

Debbie hung up and made the call. Dr. Bartlet was in her office and less than two minutes away. However, Debbie instructed Charlie Young, the President's Body Man, to get inside fast and help the President out. Charlie flew into the room where his boss was having trouble while Debbie grabbed a bottle of cold water and other things she kept in case he needed immediate help. She walked into the Oval and went directly to his side. "You going to spew?"

He laughed a little. "Yeah, that might be happening. I sucked down too much bourbon in too little time." "For a smart guy, sometimes you act extremely stupid."

The plastic bag in Debbie's hand was snatched just in time. Jed opened it, stuck his head in the opening and proceeded to let go of the bourbon and whatever it was he'd eaten for lunch. "Shit."

At his side, Leo helped hold the bag. "You'll be okay. You go to the Residence and get some sleep. We'll work on this abuse thing later."

Abbey entered on Leo's words.

Debbie asked, "What abuse thing?"

Charlie picked up the discarded jacket. He waited to see how he could help the man who had become the surrogate father in his life.

Jed had another moment of retching. He shook his head and pointed to Toby.

Abbey took over holding the bag and knelt by Jed's side. "You're debating the Abuse Telethon? I didn't know that was a possibility." She brushed his hair off his forehead. "It would be a good thing to do, but if you're not feeling well, then maybe a postponement would be better. You can still come clean about it, but no one says it has to be tomorrow night."

There were nods from around the room. Jed's eyes closed completely and no part of the conversation registered. Debbie, like Abbey, had her attention on the President. "Dr. Bartlet, should I call for the medic?"

The good wife felt his cheek, but no fever was apparent. However an IV could help a lot. "Yeah, call the medic." Debbie disappeared immediately. Abbey addressed her husband, "Jed, we have to get you to the Residence. Looks like you're having an episode. Tell me what's going on."

"My gut hurts. My right eye hurts." Abbey gave him a gentle hug, He pulled back with a quiet grunt, his face filled with pain. "And dysesthesia. It's not bad, feels like a static electricity thing, but don't touch me."

Toby wondered aloud, "What's dysesthesia?"

Abbey's attention was on Jed but she answered. "It's a skin thing. If you touch him, he feels static electricity when it isn't there. It usually doesn't last long."

The medical team showed up and went into action. The team carefully transported his touch sensitive body up to his rooms. Leo and Toby followed. Debbie remained and, before leaving the group, said to Abbey, "Let me know if I can be of any help."

A path cleared so that the President wasn't on display. The trip was painful and the transfer into bed didn't help. Abbey undressed Jed down to his shorts and helped him into bed. The agony on his face had them all feeling like intruders on a most private situation. His occasional moan didn't help matters. This was not a good sign. The speech for the children was no longer an issue. The state of the President's health dictated his schedule now.

Betaseron, steroids, and saline dripped through an IV. Nothing more could be done for now. It was decided to wait a few hours to determine if this was the beginning of a serious episode or just a mild but compromising exacerbation. Abbey may not have been able to practice medicine since she gave up her license for their stay in the White House, but she was a most capable doctor and watching her husband through the evening, overnight and into the next morning wasn't brain surgery.

Jed was still President and he ordered everyone to leave except for Abbey, Leo and Toby. The two staff sat across from the bed where Abbey sat next to her husband. They were all silent. Jed finally spoke, "We have to decide about the speech."

Abbey answered first. "Jed, you can't be serious."

"Toby can write me five minutes. I can do it from the Oval. This episode might be over in an hour. The dysesthesia is already disappearing."

No one said a thing. The lack of response threw a desperate pall over the room. Abbey spoke first. "Do you realize what you'll be telling people?"

"I'm not stupid." His eyes glossed over. "I can't do it anymore, Abbey. I've been having nightmares and spacing out on what he did. I'm not doing the country any good." A grimace punctuated his statement. "Now, I need to get some sleep. Toby knows about my father. I showed him the scars. Now he has to have the story. Abbey, you're going to tell him everything. Then, Toby will write my speech. If I give it tomorrow, that's preferred. If I can't, then we'll save it for the future. In any case, get Liz, Ellie, and Zoey in on speaker. They have to know." He yawned.

Leo stood up first. "Let's meet in the President's library. We can set up a conference call to his daughters there." They made their way out as Charlie made his way in. He would stay and keep watch over the man he loved like a father.

They left the bedroom and made their way into the elegant Presidential private study where the low lights and warm atmosphere might help soften the subject of their conversation.

Abbey was confused and questioned Toby. "He showed you the scars? He's never willingly shown anyone his scars."

"I'm not sure I'd call it willingly. I sort of pushed him into it and now I'm embarrassed I did."

Leo sighed and sat down. "Let's get the girls setup."

Toby added, "I'll call the kitchen and get something for us to eat."

Abbey started for the door. "I want to be sure Charlie is okay with him. I'll be right back." She left them alone and went back to her husband. Checking up on Charlie was an excuse for her to see Jed again.

As Abbey entered, Charlie stood. "It's okay. Just wanted to see how he was doing." Jed was already asleep and, while at rest, his body wasn't resting well. Pain infiltrated his features.

Charlie took his President watch seriously. "I think he's having nightmares. Either that or something hurts. He keeps making these faces."

"Probably some of both." She sat next to him and gently touched his arm. There was no reaction which pleased her. "Seems like the dysesthesia really is gone."

The body man had rapidly learned to love the President and seeing him in pain was difficult. "Ma'am, is he going to be okay?" I mean, it's getting worse and happening more often. I know we don't have a long time left in office, but sometimes, I think he should tell people he's done and go take care of himself in Manchester."

She petted the bare shoulder of her husband. "I know and there are times I agree, but he has to call the shots. He won't jeopardize the country for his own ego, but then he won't give up without a fight."

The significance of the earlier argument hadn't been lost on the young man who attended Jed's every need. "Ma'am, you know I've been around him for a lot of personal stuff. I've seen the scars. It wasn't hard to figure out what his father did to him. Can I say something?" He inhaled loudly and deeply. "I think he should give the speech. Those kids need him. I didn't have anyone beating me, but I needed a hero and he stepped right up without a second thought. He's already a hero and the more children who see that, the better. Sports guys, actors, singers are great, but he is a real hero. He's mine and I owe him my life."

The sincerity of the words made her to hug the young man. "Thank you, Charlie. He loves you so much. It's all up to his health. If he can do it physically then I think he will."

Then Charlie thought he should let Dr. Bartlet know. "Zoey and her sisters know about their grandfather. They just didn't want you or him to know they knew. It won't be a surprise on the phone. It will probably just be a relief that they don't have to hide it anymore."

She was surprised. "How much to do they know?"

"They know he was abused, but I'm not sure how much information they have on what he went through."

Quietly, she whispered, "Do you?"

It was an intrusion he never felt comfortable about. "Not really. I help him change. I've seen the scars. I only imagine how they got there."

Abbey called out, "Michael?" The agent outside the door entered. "Michael, would you please sit in here with the President. Charlie is coming to the meeting with me." Michael nodded and Abbey took Charlie's hand. "You're with me." She kissed the President's forehead and they left.

Back in the library, the phones had hooked up the girls with those there. Abbey greeted them and said, "Charlie says you all know a lot of this story about your grandfather and your father. We have more to say. Your father has decided to open up about what happened to him and he may do it on national television tomorrow night. We want to be sure we all are working from the same information."

Lizzie spoke up from New Hampshire. "Where's dad? Why isn't he telling us?"

In Baltimore, Ellie knew. "He's having an episode. Is he okay?"

Abbey let them all know. "He's asleep now and I think the episode is waning. He had dysesthesia earlier and that seems to be gone."

They all settled into seats and Abbey accepted the role as moderator. "He wanted to tell you about a specific situation he suffered. Leo was there. So was Mrs. Landingham. In fact, she and her husband had a huge part in his recovery. It was the time your grandfather came very close to killing him. Very close."