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24 March 2010 @ 12:19 pm
Five Things Jed Bartlet Learned (The West Wing, Jed Bartlet)  
Title: Five Things Jed Bartlet Learned
Fandom: The West Wing
Pairing: mostly gen, with some Jed/Abbey
Rating: PG
Word count: ~2300
Summary: "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." -Oliver Wendell Holmes
Notes: So much love for zulu and roga for all their help with the betas and the whapping me on the head when I needed it. Apologies for the Bablefished Latin.

1. Latin

He liked to open the hymnals and flip through the pages, tracing the unfamiliar words with his fingers, letting them slide off his tongue as he read them out loud. He liked the way the way the priests spoke the language, slow and precise, with a deep respect for the language, as if speaking it was a way of becoming closer to God Himself.

Jed was young then, still under his father's watchful gaze day and night, and as he sat on the hard, wooden pews, he would look over these words, strange and beautiful. He wanted to know what they meant, and he wanted to know what they meant. Because for him, faith was about knowledge, about fully understanding what you choose to believe.

His father's stony silence when Jed picked out his classes told Jed everything he needed to know about his father's sentiments towards that particular area of study. It hardly mattered; his father could never stop him from curling up in the furthest corners of the library on rainy days, a book splayed open on the table in front of him, studying the irregular nouns of the third declension, the pluperfect active indicative, the imperfect subjunctive. He scribbled notes on an old spiral notebook with fraying edges, wrote his own translations of his favorite passages, a habit he never really grew out of. His favorites were the early theological texts, the ones that argued for one interpretation of the Bible or another, the ones that opened his eyes to new ways of seeing things he thought he already knew.

His faith had never been a dead thing. It had never been something he took for granted like some of his classmates did, but he felt it deeper now, like a living, breathing thing underneath his skin.

On Sundays, he sang, "Tantum ergo Sacramentum / Veneremur cernui," -- Let us, with heads bowed / Venerate so great a Sacrament, -- and it always made him shiver like he could feel every syllable down to his bones.

2. To Fall In Love

He met Abbey by falling on her in the South Quad. He was trying to walk and finish his econometrics reading at the same time, which was probably not the best idea he'd ever had, looking back on it. And maybe he needed more bad ideas in his life, because that was probably one of the best things that had ever happened to him in his entire life.

The scent of new life was thick and heady in the air, drifting from the blooming trees. Students sunned themselves on the fresh grass, filling the quads with their chatter and laughter. But Jed couldn't really enjoy any of that with them. Jed was studying for a test on multivariate regression, and he wasn't exactly paying attention to what was at his feet in front of him. He almost made it across the Quad without incident (though there was that one moment when a football flew a few by, scant inches from his face), but then he tripped over Abbey's bike and went sprawling, books flying everywhere. He landed on her lap, face pressed into her hair, and she shrieked in surprise.

She didn't hit him afterwards, though she could have and he'd have let her. Instead, she just laughed so hard she nearly doubled over as he blushed, embarrassment heating his face. Her hair hung down to her shoulders back then, swaying slightly as she giggled.

"I'm really sorry about this," he said, gathering his books back up, unable to meet her eyes. He was still thinking of being a priest after he graduated, and girls -- well, he had put a lot of effort into not thinking about that too hard.

"You can make it up to me over coffee," Abbey had said, still laughing, in a tone of voice that brooked no argument.

He looked up, startled, and she smiled in way that seemed to light up her entire face; her eyes, her lips, her cheeks, her nose. She tucked an errant strand of hair behind one ear, which could have made her look girlish, but instead only made her look more than capable of kicking his ass.

If I am going to marry anyone in the entire world, he thought. It will be her.

And when she kissed him after coffee, a gentle peck on his cheek that made him feel warm all over, he knew it was true.

3. The Strong Law Of Large Numbers

He finds math soothing, because it is founded in proofs, in logic, in the basic building blocks of the universe. He knows, for example, that one plus three will always give him the same value as three plus one -- he's read the proof, after all -- and that's never as unstable and shifting as people can be. Leo always treated statistics like a necessary evil, reluctantly dragging his heels through every class, every homework assignment. Jed, on the other hand, had always found it fascinating. At its heart, statistics was about trying to understand the true nature of things, about uncovering hidden patterns in the world around you, about trying to understand the unknowable.

"Can you believe that as you increase the number of samples, the sample average will always converge to the expected value?" Jed asked Leo one winter afternoon on the steps of Bridges House. The world around them was white with fresh snow, and Leo was bundled up in layers and layers, shivering in the New England cold. Leo was always too busy to visit, something about how he was Secretary of Labor or some other silly excuse like that, and so Jed made sure Leo had a chance to appreciate all of New Hampshire when he managed to make the trip.

"That's fascinating," Leo said, deadpan. "You can tell I'm fascinated by the fact that I'm not listening to you right now."

Jed ignored him. "Did you know that if you kept making coin flips from now until infinity, at the end, exactly half will have been heads and half will have been tails?" The entire discipline of statistics was built on that one fact, and what Jed always loved most about math was how complicated and how simple it was.

"How the hell would you be able to tell you had half of infinity, anyway?" Leo asked, snorting.

Jed said, "I knew you were lying about not paying attention," without missing a beat.

After he wins that first election, during that long, hectic December, he finds himself flipping a quarter up and down, up and down. No one is around to instruct him on one presidential procedure or another. He knows it's one of the last moments of quiet he's going to have for a while. The quarter makes a soft ringing noise as he flicks it. Sharp, then fading away.

Leo comes in; the bags under his eyes darker than usual. He slumps in the chair across from the desk and watches as Jed flips the coin. Up and down. Up and down. "How many of those have been heads?" Leo asks. Jed finds himself thinking about the future ahead, all of the uncertainties they face, all the triumphs they could accomplish. He's the president-elect now. He's scared of it at times, what he's been asked to do, what he's been called upon to do. But more often than not he's ready for it. Leo's made him ready for it.

"Does it matter?" he finally says. "I already know how many there are going to be."

4. How To Smoke A Cigarette

He was given his first one by Matt Thornton, who was a few years older and liked to call him "Jedidiah" because Matt was always less clever than he thought he was. They'd been behind the south wall, because that was where they went when they were trying to avoid Jed's father. Matt had produced a pack -- Marlboros, Jed remembers, because the top of the pack had been bright red -- and a lighter. "Stole them from my dad," he'd said, grinning, and he'd offered each of them one of their own.

The first breath tasted disgusting, like sticking your mouth over a campfire, the smoke almost choking Jed as it went down his throat. He didn't know how to hold the cigarette correctly, his fingers cold and uncertain. No one else did, either. But then the next breath was better, and then the one after that almost tasted good. In five years, he was up to a pack a week; pressing his back against the cool stone of the south wall, watching as the dark smoke lingered in the crisp air.

He never smoked in the chapel, because he knew better than that, but Mrs. Landingham still always teased him when his clothes still smelled of smoke. "Those things will kill you one day," she said, eyebrows raised in disapproval.

"Yeah, and so could falling into the Grand Canyon," Jed shot back. He laughed too, because Mrs. Landingham could always make him smile, even when he didn't really want to. And then she rolled her eyes and handed him an extra pile paperwork to file.

He's tried to quit a few times, mostly at Abbey's behest (by which he means her tireless nagging), but it's so easy to give in to the urge when there's an election coming up, when there's a senator giving him trouble, when he's been forced to spend a few hours in the Situation Room. After the MS story breaks and he's at the farm preparing to formally announce his reelection campaign, he likes to smoke at night in the open air, where it feels like there isn't a another soul for miles, though if he tries hard enough, he can hear the soft buzz of Secret Service radios. When he gets back to the house, he knows he must reek of it, but Abbey doesn't say anything when he slides into bed next to her. She hasn't said much to him at all.

"I know they'll kill me someday," he says to the quiet room. Whatever else the MS will do to his body and his mind, it won't have the decency to kill him in the end.

Abbey doesn't respond, her back still turned towards him. He can see the outline of her shoulder, her hip, against the bright floodlights that seep in underneath the curtains. She's been ignoring him for weeks, and he misses her. There aren't many times when words fail him, but the feelings she invokes in him have never been something he could ever fully describe. Beside him, she makes a soft sound that could be a sob or a laugh or a mixture of both, and he tucks his arm around her waist before he falls asleep.

5. The Constitution Of The United States Of America

His father was always proud of the family name, the family legacy. He'd talk about it a lot, lecturing Jed about Josiah Bartlett's place in the the Revolutionary War, Josiah Bartlett's time spent serving as Governor of New Hampshire. Jed could practically recite the entire speech by heart by the time he left for college.

He learned the Constitution in high school, parts of it anyway, the three branches of government, the Bill of Rights, the 3/5 compromise. But it wasn't until college that he read it all the way through, front-to-back, that he really thought about what it meant to hold this document in his hands and understand the words laid out before him. These were the words that held the country together, and that amazed him even then. It's easy to be an idealist when you're young. When you get older, the cynicism sets in, and it helps to have a touchstone, something to come back to when you lose your way.

When he went to London, he brought a copy with him, mostly by accident. He found it stashed away in a box along with the rest of his books, tucked between issues of Econometrica and a beat-up paperback edition of Faranheit 451. He read it again when had a free day to himself, just curled up in a beat-up old armchair in his favorite back corner of the LSE Library and started at the beginning. By the time he got to the First Amendment, his homesickness felt like a tight band around his chest.

Years and years later, he receives a Latin translation of the Constitution before the State of the Union. Tribbey smiles as he hands it over, and Jed spends the some time after he finishes his speech flipping through the pages of it, letting the words slide over his tongue while he's alone in the Residence, the sound of them so strange and the meaning of them so familiar.

"Ego operor solemnly sudo ut Ego mos fidelis fungor Muneris of Praesieo of Iunctus Civitas, quod mos ut optimus of meus Potestas, reservo , servo quod vallo Constitution of Iunctus Civitas."

It had been cold and sunny the day he'd said those words on the steps of the Capitol building, his breath leaving white clouds against the blue sky. Abbey had smiled at him as she held the Bible, not one of those fake, political smiles he'd already come to hate, but one almost like the one she'd worn when he first met her, as brilliant as the winter sun. He thought of the people who gathered there, all bundled up in their coats and hats and scarves, about how this country was founded on the idea that with enough people, you could do anything, anything at all.

On that cold winter day, Jed raised his right hand and said, "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

And for the next eight years, he did.

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(Deleted comment)
thedeadparrot: flyingthedeadparrot on March 25th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's my first time writing this fandom, and the voices are so distinctive that I'm glad they rang true for you. :)
Supreme Dictator of Hyperbole: [H] - save the cheerleadertreelines on March 25th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
"YAY" pretty much sums up my emotions on this one. Also, the line because Matt was always less clever than he thought he was just felt so much like Sorkin, it caused me to pause, in a good way. I always smile a little at seeing West Wing fic on the friendslist. Thanks for sharing it with the masses.
thedeadparrot: joythedeadparrot on March 25th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the comment! I'm so thrilled it was able to make you happy. :)
katedreamsofkate on March 25th, 2010 06:48 am (UTC)
beautiful! I love these interactions and the way you portray jed. especially loved 'latin'. wow
thedeadparrot: going placesthedeadparrot on March 25th, 2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you! My love for Jed is all encompassing, man.
the_jackalopethe_jackalope on March 25th, 2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Lovely. I really liked this.
thedeadparrotthedeadparrot on March 25th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
adpacausadpacaus on March 25th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Very nice. Thanks so much.
thedeadparrotthedeadparrot on March 25th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the lovely comment!
made of robust things: [tww] and he doesn't even tryanjali_organna on April 21st, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. I loved your Abbey section--totally rang true to me to how they would be.
thedeadparrotthedeadparrot on April 22nd, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.