She took a moment to wonder whether he had spoken before whispering, "What was that, hon?"
"He asked me what was next."
"Yes, he did," Abbey said. "Go back to sleep, baby."
For a moment the President was silent; then Abbey heard him draw a breath to speak.
"Jed, really," she whispered. "We have to sleep."
"I can't sleep in this damn place."
"We can go home tomorrow."
The President sighed and shifted in the bed with a quiet groan. For almost five minutes, Abbey listened to him breathe, and she found it comforting that she could detect the breath he took before he spoke.
"What is it?" she asked him.
"Abbey, what's next?"
"I know, Jed."
"No, I mean what's next?"
"Next, you go to sleep. You can't do anything tomorrow if you don't sleep tonight."
"I never sleep, and I do many things tomorrow."
"You never sleep when you're healthy, and when you're not, you sleep like a baby, and a gunshot wound would indicate unhealth, so go to sleep."
Silence. Which was soon broken by, "It's not really an indication of unhealth, you know."
"I'm a doctor," she sighed without opening her eyes.
"Is unhealth really a word?"
"Go to sleep."
"I'm in perfect health, Abbey."
"I mean, except for the gunshot wound."
Abbey shifted beside him and ran a hand over her eyes. "I have to work tomorrow, too, you know," she said.
"Yeah, doing what?"
"Well, running the country if your sorry ass is passed out asleep on the carpet of the Oval Office. Would you settle down?"
"All right." The President closed his eyes and got quiet for a long moment.
"Jed," Abbey whispered suddenly.
"I was almost sleeping, there," he said.
"Welcome to my world, sweetheart."
"What do you need?"
"You said my name."
"I, uh --" She stopped.
"I think that's the first time I've heard you hesitate midsentence since our wedding. What's on your mind?"
"Jed, I --" she stopped again.
"Twice in one night. You sure you're not the one who's still dopey?"
"I think you're going to need to know what's next by morning," she said quietly. She heard him nod against the sheets, and found it comforting that she could imagine completely the expression on his face.
"Well, certainly I'll have an answer for Josh on that one," he promised, and went to sleep.
"CJ?" Danny said as he knocked softly on the door frame. For a moment, he stood there, staring, and then he took a couple of steps forward. "Hey, CJ."
"Hey, Danny," she said.
"CJ. I just stopped by to --" he stopped, pursed his lips, and then continued. "I just wanted to ask you a question."
"Didn't Leo answer everything?"
"Then what do you need?"
"No -- nevermind." Danny turned to leave, then spun around again to face her. "Yes. CJ. I wanted to ask you --"
"What, Danny?" she asked when he fell silent.
"Nothing. Good night."
Danny was nearly out the door when CJ called him back.
"Danny," she said. "I was curious about something."
When she failed to continue, Danny said, "Did you plan on maybe asking, or are you just going to ponder it to keep your mind occupied tonight?"
"I'm going to have no trouble keeping my mind occupied tonight," CJ said quietly, and Danny instantly felt bad.
"I'm sleeping fine tonight." She had said that, and it was only yesterday that she had, and since then none of them had slept. Danny took a step toward her and waited.
"I wanted to ask you what you ... think is going to happen next," she told him.
"What's going to happen next with what?" he asked.
"You wanted to ask me what's going to happen next ..."
"With the country."
"CJ, let me say that --"
"You know," she interrupted, "I'm just asking 'cause -- you've covered the White House for eight years, and I ... honestly haven't."
"So I'm asking --"
"You covered crappy movies. Among other things."
CJ looked up. "How did you know that?"
"I've had you tailed since birth," he said. "You're not exactly the most confidential creature on the planet."
"You just misused about ten words there, Mr. Reporter. Forget I asked."
"Okay." Danny made it as far as the door before he turned.
"You should get some sleep," he said.
"What do you think is going to happen next?" she pleaded.
"I think President Bartlet is going to return to The White House tomorrow. Your guys are going to be in better moods, because The President's back and Josh isn't doing so bad. I think the press is going to zero in on the piece of paper and you're going to handle it quietly and with a professionalism that has somehow stayed with you these past hours. I think that Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn are going to have their hands full writing the President's remarks, and the President's going to ignore them anyway and say something that'll have even my guys with tears in their eyes. And then I think I'm going to turn around and discover that the White House Press Secretary is asleep on her feet because she didn't understand what night was for. Go home, CJ."
CJ stared at him silently for a long moment before she moved. "Okay," she said, and walked past him. "Hey," she said as she left the office. "What did you want to ask me?"
"To be honest? If you had a pen I could borrow," Danny lied.
"Okay," CJ said, and then added, "I don't."
"You don't have a pen?"
"Not that you can borrow."
"Good night." She walked away from him.
The woman in the waiting room did not look up, and Charlie walked closer.
"Donna," he said again.
"Hmm?" This time she glanced at him. "Hey, Charlie."
"You're still here," he said.
"Did you see him?"
"How'd he look?"
Donna met his gaze. "Alive," she told him.
"Well, then, that's good," Charlie said.
"Then, why are you still here?"
"I need to ... I ..."
"Yeah," Charlie answered. "Zoey won't leave, either. She's got the Secret Service all shaken up because in all her pacing she keeps walking by windows."
Donna laughed a little. "Yeah," she said.
"Donna," Charlie said. "You should go home."
"I will," she promised.
Donna sighed. "I don't know."
"Then you should get some sleep."
Charlie indicated the sofas lining the waiting room walls. "Get some sleep."
"Okay," Donna said again, and stood to walk a few paces to the sofas. Charlie lay a hand briefly on her arm.
"You know what happens next, don't you?" he asked.
"What?" she asked quietly.
"Next, I tell Josh Lyman exactly how many hours his assistant waited for him in this building."
"It's just --" Donna caught her breath and stretched out on the sofa with a sigh. "It's just -- when he goes to the White House to work, he calls me and I meet him there. And as long as he's there fighting his battles, I'm there helping in any way I can."
"Except when I get really bored, in which case I take a little break to read or brush up on my knowledge of US history or sorcery or whatever else ..."
Charlie laughed. "Yeah."
"He's fighting in there," Donna said.
"Yeah," Charlie repeated, and left her alone.
Zoey was waiting for him in the room the President had insisted be allotted for her, since she insisted on staying the night. When Charlie saw her, sleeping as if nothing had happened, he had the urge to lay down beside her. Then he realized the President was in the same building, and he opted to make himself comfortable in one of the chairs beside the bed. He could not resist taking her hand.
It was there that Abbey found them in the morning, both still asleep, both holding on tight, as though to prove to the gunmen no longer alive that they had lost.
"What happens next," her husband surprised her from behind, "is that we wake these children up and take them home. There's work to be done."
"There is, indeed," Abbey said, as a chill worked its way down her spine. She found it comforting that her husband's tone of voice hadn't changed. He was still Jed Bartlet of New England, and he was still the President of the United States. The gunmen had lost, and next there was a country to run.
04 October 2000