Disclaimer: I fringe motels, I fringe hotels, I fringe inns. Therefore, I am an inn-fringer. But the West Wing ain’t mine, y’know?
Author’s note: a short fic about love and parts of speech
conּjuncּtion: 1-the state of being conjoined
and: conj 1-used to join similar elements
but: conj/prep 1-outside, without, except
Spoilers: up to and including season three.
Pairing: well, at its heart it’s a Jed/Abbey, but Jed doesn’t show up. Leo helps define a problem.
Conjunctions By bluejeans
Abbey Bartlet had felt many words running around in her head in the past weeks, unattached clauses that didn’t make much sense as they stirred around in her skull: MS, grand jury, White House, marriage, a deal, I’m going to win. Sometimes the words mashed together until she was afraid she would go mad. There were days when she couldn’t remember what order they belonged in, and they wouldn’t leave her alone.
Peace is what she needed, what she craved, so she tried to stay away from the one person who would normally be her comfort: the source of the words. It didn’t seem to work, but she didn’t have any better ideas. At least that way he didn’t give her any new words to muddle the situation
It was in this wandering state of locution confusion that she found herself one Tuesday evening. The President of the United States was off somewhere or other, trying to use more words to explain himself to a public that was almost as furious at him as she was, so Abbey felt safe in the West Wing.
She was aimless that evening, exchanging pleasantries with random staffers and following her feet wherever they guided her. When they finally stopped, she felt a flash of betrayal at where they had led, for she was standing outside a door belonging to a man she wasn’t fond of at that moment. While he hadn’t done anything overwhelmingly stupid of late, he had started the whole mess, and that was enough.
Abbey was about to order her feet to turn away when the man came sweeping in from the hall. In his single-mindedness he nearly walked past her and into his office, but at the last moment recognition sparked and he stopped in his tracks.
“Abbey,” Leo McGarry said as he turned toward her. “I’m sorry, I almost didn’t see you there. Was there something you needed?”
She eyed him thoughtfully. It was late, and he had long since abandoned his jacket. But his suspenders still matched the tie that had a stranglehold around his neck. She gave him a wiry smile. “I’m mad at you,” she said.
“Well,” he answered, “you’d better come in then.” He opened his office door and stepped aside, indicating that she should go in ahead of him. When both were in the darker room, he closed the door and wordlessly gestured at the couch. She sat as he took the adjacent chair. He rolled his sleeves to his forearms and waited for her to speak. For her part, she was content to look placidly across the room until he broke the silence.
Which he did. “Well, are you going to tell me why you’re mad at me, or is this one of those things that I should already know about?”
She finally looked at him. “Oh, I’d say that you should already know about this one, Leo.”
“Ah.” He paused. “Then in the interest of self-preservation I’ll take a stab at it, but I’ll warn you that this is entirely a guess.” He continued after another beat. “You’re not really mad at me, but at your husband. And as he isn’t here now to take the blame, and you two haven’t been speaking anyway, you’re here to take out some of your substantial and unjustified anger out on me.”
“It’s not unjustified,” she said.
“But you’re right about the other part.”
Somewhere a clock ticked. It may have come from the nearby Oval Office, where an unseen timepiece was always loudest at the most critical moments.
“Abbey, do you know why Jenny left me?” Leo said suddenly, with the air of a man asking a rhetorical question.
“Because you’re a jackass, and I thought we were talking about me.”
“Because,” Leo continued, “Because I didn’t understand – and I am a jackass, thank you, but I was that long before I met Jenny, and I’ll get back to you – because I didn’t understand conjunctions.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Conjunctions?”
“Yes. Words that connect things, join them, make them one.” He hesitated and then sighed heavily. “Abbey, I loved Jenny; I love her still.” He rubbed his face, and when he looked up the lines there were heavier. “I loved her, but . . .
“I loved her, but I had battles to fight. I loved her, but I had an education to get. I loved her, but I couldn’t watch Mallory. I loved her, but I couldn’t help my addictions. I loved her, but I couldn’t remember our anniversary. I loved her, but being White House chief of staff was the most important thing I would ever do.
“The word ‘but’ always got in my way. It divides things, puts one thing over another. The word ‘love’ always came first, but was never what ended up happening in the end. My actions were never because of love, but despite it.”
He stopped and waited for a reaction.
Abbey looked down at her hands. “Leo, sometimes I feel that Jed and I are so disconnected now. It seems we don't even have the words to speak to each other.”
“You do have the word; it is ‘and,’” Leo whispered. “ ‘And’ makes things equal. ‘And' brings together separate forces, often powerful forces, and makes them stronger by making them one. You have ‘and.’ Tell me what Jed Barlet would say.”
“I love you, and . . .” Abbey faltered. “And . . .”
“ . . . and I’ll support all your goals,” Leo prompted.
“I love you, and I’ll be there for the children. And I’ll be sure to make you laugh everyday. And I’ll make you the center of my universe. And I’ll make you my queen.”
Abbey stopped and searched her friend’s still face. “But not anymore,” she said dully.
“I love you,” she started again, and pressed her eyes shut, “but I’m running for President again, despite our deal. Oh, and by the way, you can find out about it at a press conference.”
“Are you sure that’s what he said?” Leo asked.
“It feels like it.”
“Has he ever used the word ‘but’ in your relationship before?”
“Then try it again.”
Abbey looked troubled. “I love you, and . . . but . . .”
Leo sighed and sat up. “Fine, Abigail, listen to me, listen to your self. ‘I love you, but I can not forgive you for being true to who you are. So perhaps I do not love YOU after all.”
“We’re emphasizing nouns now, are we?” Abbey spat.
Leo rolled his eyes and looked heavenward for patience. “You want to be mad at me, Abbey, that I can deal with. I’m a man of ‘buts.’ I can weigh one thing against another, and can take the hits because I know which one will hurt the least. And you being mad at me is painful, but I can survive it. Jed Bartlet can’t, because he is a man of ‘ands,’ and always has been, and always will be. The two of you are conjoined in a way that I could never approach with Jenny. He reaches out to you, and in doing so can no longer survive alone. Abbey, he loves you and is running for President. Those two things are mutually inclusive. He can do both.”
Leo paused for breath. “You’re an ‘and’ person too, Abbey. You love him, and he is running for President. What more do you need?"
Abbey looked levelly at the man across from her, and he grimaced and looked away, temporarily lost in his own dark thoughts.
“You’re not just a man of ‘buts,’ Leo.”
“You’re the chief of staff, and a good friend.”
He said nothing.
“A start, at least,” she continued as she stood to leave the office. At the door she paused. “Are you going home soon?”
“Nah. The President will be back in a few hours, and there are a few issues we need to go over.”
Abbey shook her head. “Go home, Leo. You always talk to my husband, but there are a few things I need to discuss with him. And tonight, for the first time in quite a while, I may have the words.”
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