Title: No Matter What: The Chronicles of Joey and Kenny Author: SqueakyTheDuck Series: The West Wing Timeframe: 1990 - 2007 Summary: A story of friendship, self-discovery, loyalty, and finding purpose Characters: Joey Lucas, Kenny Thurman, Jonathan Alvarez (OC), other West Wing characters will be added in later chapters This fic tells the story of Joey Lucas and her longtime friendship/partnership with Kenny Thurman. A quick reference guide to the use of sign language in the story (because that's not an easy thing to convey in a text-based medium): Italics indicate sign language. Regular text denotes speaking out loud. If an italicized word is also bolded, it means the person signing is using their body language to put extra emphasis on that word. In later chapters, when Kenny becomes Joey's interpreter, italics indicate that Joey is signing (speaking through Kenny), and regular text means she's speaking out loud. If Kenny speaks for himself when Joey and hearing people are present, the text won't be italicized, but the implication is that he's both signing and speaking. I figure it's easier to explain that here rather than repeatedly describing it in the text. So without further ado, enjoy my Joey and Kenny origin story! Chapter 1: What Kind of Adventure Summary: It's the beginning of the fall quarter at UCLA, and two of Kenny's classmates catch his attention. He doesn't know it, but the course of his life is about to be changed. September 24, 1990 There was a pulsing, almost frenetic energy in the air as Kenny Thurman walked down the sidewalk, headed for his first class of the fall quarter. A mixture of excitement and nervousness coursed through him like current from a pair of jumper cables, but that might’ve just been the two cups of coffee he’d had this morning. He didn’t sleep much the night before. His brain wouldn’t shut down. There was too much to think about. There was always too much to think about, but even more than usual on a day like this. Today marked the beginning of his senior year at UCLA. Less than a year from now, he would don a cap and gown, walk across the stage, receive his diploma, and then... And then... And then, what? After three years at this school, he still didn’t have an answer to that question. He stopped just outside Bunche Hall—the building affectionately known around campus as “The Waffle,” due to its grid-like appearance—and looked up at the enormous high-rise before him. The twelve-story building stood tall and sturdy, dwarfing the trees that surrounded it. Sunlight glinted off the windows high above. Kenny hefted his backpack, took a deep breath, and went inside. He pulled his folded up schedule from his back pocket and took a quick glance at the names and room numbers on the creased paper. His first class of the day was Public Opinion and Voting Behavior, taught by Mr. Petrocik. Kenny slid the paper back into his pocket and made his way down the hall. When he reached the classroom, he chose a seat towards the back, near a window. Experience had taught him that he was less likely to be called on from this particular spot. He wasn’t sure why exactly, but he wasn’t about to question it. He sat down, unzipped his backpack, took out a notebook and pencil, and arranged them neatly on his desk. Then he leaned forward, bouncing his leg impatiently as he waited for class to get started. Over the next few minutes, students began to file into the room, until it was almost full. Kenny sat quietly and watched each new arrival with interest. He recognized maybe half of them from previous quarters. At this course level, most of the people in the room were political science majors, like him, so he’d taken classes with a lot of them before. Kenny groaned internally when Andrew Martin walked into the room. Andrew was one of those privileged, middle class WASP-y types who thought he was smarter than all his professors and believed that everyone ought to be subject to his superior opinion. In the last three years, Kenny had been in about five different classes with Andrew, so he knew exactly what to expect. A young woman with dark blonde hair entered the room a moment later, communicating in sign language with a man in a suit who looked a little too old to be a student. There was always the possibility he was a non-traditional student, but Kenny figured it was more likely that the man was there as an interpreter for the young woman. His suspicion was confirmed when she took a seat near the front of the class, and the man in the suit went up and stood in her line of sight, near the teacher’s desk. The last few students made their way into the room, filling up the remaining empty seats. Among the stragglers was a tall, trim young man whom Kenny had never seen before. The newcomer glanced around the classroom, bright brown eyes taking in everything, and he flashed a smile in Kenny’s direction before sitting down across the room. Kenny found himself flushing red, and quickly looked down at his notebook. He busied himself writing the name of the class on the first page, and then pretended to keep writing so he wouldn’t have to look up again. The professor began calling the roll, and Kenny’s attention was drawn back to the young man across the room. Any minute now, he would raise a hand in response, and Kenny would know his name. It didn’t take long. “Jonathan Alvarez,” Mr. Petrocik read the name. The newcomer casually raised his hand. “Here.” Petrocik paused for a moment and looked up. “Now, I recognize most of the students in this room; I’ve had a lot of them in my classes before, or else I’ve seen them around the political science department. I don’t remember seeing you before, Mr. Alvarez. Are you new to this school?” “Yes sir,” Jonathan answered. “I just transferred here from UC Santa Cruz.” “All right,” Mr. Petrocik nodded. “Well, welcome to UCLA, we’re glad to have you here.” “Thank you, sir,” Jonathan leaned back in his chair and gave an easy smile, and Kenny’s heart fluttered. Mr. Petrocik continued down the list, and Kenny quickly looked away, hoping Jonathan hadn’t caught his surreptitious glance. He looked for somewhere else to direct his focus, and settled on watching the interpreter at the front of the room. Kenny tried to see if he recognized any signs, but right now, during the roll call, it was mostly just finger-spelling, and it was a little too fast for him to keep up with. It had been too long since he’d signed regularly. The truth was, he hadn’t thought much at all about sign language in almost a decade. The professor was in the L’s now. “Joey Lucas.” There was a slight delay, then the young blonde woman raised her hand. Petrocik peered over his clipboard. “And that’s short for Josephine?” She glanced over at the interpreter as he signed the question, then looked back to the professor. “Yes sir,” she said out loud. “But you prefer to be called Joey?” “Yes sir.” “All right,” Petrocik nodded and went back to his list for a second, then looked up again. “By the way, if anyone else has a different name that they prefer to go by—a middle name or a shortened version of your name, or anything that’s different from what’s on the roll, just let me know, and I’ll make the adjustment on here.” The roll call continued, and Kenny kept his head down, studiously avoiding looking across the room, and trying not to think about how that form-fitting, pastel purple button-down shirt really showed off Jonathan’s lean, well-muscled figure. No. No. Don’t. “Kenneth Thurman.” Kenny started, then quickly raised his hand. “Do you go by Kenneth?” the professor asked him. “Uh, Kenny, usually.” “All right,” Petrocik nodded and scribbled something on his clipboard. “I’ll make a note of that here.” A few names later, the roll was completed, and Petrocik set aside his clipboard and began the introductory lecture. He didn’t waste much time on the syllabus, choosing instead to move the class straight into a discussion. Kenny grimaced and tapped the eraser end of his pencil against his notebook with restless anticipation; he knew what was coming, and he was dreading it. No more than five minutes into the lecture, Andrew Martin spoke up from his seat in the middle of the room, launching into a spiel about how the textbook had got it wrong, because actually... This went on for a while, as per usual with Andrew. A few other students tried to interject their opinions, but Andrew talked them down like he always did. Then Joey raised her hand. “Go ahead, Joey,” Mr. Petrocik said, nodding in her direction. She half turned in her seat, positioning herself so she could look back at Andrew while keeping her hands in view of the interpreter, and proceeded to tear apart Andrew’s entire line of reasoning with the most solid counter-argument Kenny had ever heard in his three years studying political science. Andrew sat there slack-jawed, stunned into silence—a first for him, Kenny was certain—then promptly shut his mouth, looked down at his books, and muttered a half-hearted, “All right, whatever.” Joey raised her eyebrows and gave a satisfied smile, then turned in her seat, facing forward again, and eagerly watched Mr. Petrocik, who looked every bit as surprised as everyone else in the room. “All right,” he said a little hesitantly, “Let’s continue.” Andrew Martin didn’t say another word for the rest of the lecture—also a first for him—and when class was dismissed, he slunk out of the room without sticking around to talk obnoxiously with his frat buddies like he usually did, and Kenny found himself feeling exceptionally gleeful at having witnessed the unrestrained beatdown of someone he so vehemently detested. Kenny collected his things, stood, and slung his backpack over his shoulder. Referring to his schedule again, he saw that his next class was also in Bunche Hall—a lot of political and social science classes were in this building—two floors up, and it was starting in about fifteen minutes. He wanted to say something to Jonathan on the way out of class, just a simple “Hi, welcome to UCLA, I can show you around if you like,” sort of thing, but he thought it might seem weird. He didn’t want to come across the wrong way. He averted his gaze, passed Jonathan without saying anything, and made his way into the hall. Kenny was halfway to the stairwell when he heard someone call his name. He looked back, and was surprised to see Jonathan coming toward him. “Hey,” Jonathan said casually, falling into step beside him. “Oh, hi,” Kenny said. “Looks like we’re going the same way,” Jonathan observed, nodding toward the stairwell door just ahead. “Your next class wouldn’t happen to be Problems in 20th Century Political Theory, would it?” Kenny smiled. “Yeah, it is, actually.” “Nice,” Jonathan said. “Guess I’ll follow you then, if that’s okay. Don’t really know my way around yet. I know what floor I’m supposed to be on, but aside from that...” “Sure, I can show you,” Kenny pretended to consult his schedule again. “Yeah, it’s uh, it’s no problem. I can show you.” “Cool.” When they reached their next class, Kenny purposely chose a seat between two other students. There was no way he could sit next to Jonathan and have any hope of focusing on the lesson. Not for any weird reason, of course. It was just because...because...well, it wasn’t for any weird reason. Kenny pushed the thought out of his head before it could form into anything solid, and tried his best to pay attention as Mr. Rocco went over the syllabus. When the class let out, Kenny ducked out of the room as quickly as he could and made his way downstairs and out the door, breathing a sigh of relief as he emerged into the late morning sunshine. His next class wasn’t until two, so he had a few hours of free time. He began walking, not really certain where he was going, but enjoying the chance to be outdoors on a nice day. It might help him clear his head. “Hey.” Kenny turned and saw Joey Lucas sitting on a bench nearby, beckoning him over. “Kenny, right?” she asked. “Yeah,” he nodded. “And you’re...Joey?” he asked, tentatively finger-spelling her name. Joey’s face lit up. “You sign?” “I used to,” Kenny said. “I, uh...” he paused, trying to remember how to indicate past tense in sign language. “Do you read lips?” “Yeah,” Joey said. She gestured to the spot on the bench next to her, and Kenny nodded and sat down. He continued, signing whatever words he could remember, and facing Joey so she could catch the rest by reading his lips. “In elementary school, I had a friend who was Deaf,” Kenny explained. “I learned to sign from him and his family. They moved away when I was twelve. I haven’t signed much since then. I think I’ve forgotten a lot of it.” Joey nodded. “It’ll come back to you the more you sign.” “Yeah,” Kenny said with a small smile. “Yeah, I’m already starting to remember.” They kept talking, and the language Kenny knew as a young boy began to come back to him as the conversation went on. Joey was patient with him, helping him out with signs he didn’t remember, and they spent the better part of an hour getting to know each other a little bit. “Are you a political science major?” Joey asked. “Yeah,” Kenny said. “Are you?” Joey nodded. “Yeah.” “And you’re not a transfer student, like that new guy, Jonathan?” Kenny asked. Joey shook her head. “You’ve been here...” “Three years,” Joey said. “Three years. Same as me.” Kenny said, perplexed. “It’s strange that we’ve never had a class together.” Joey looked surprised. “We haven’t had a class together?” “No, I think I would remember you,” Kenny said. “That’s true,” Joey acquiesced. Kenny grinned at her. “Anybody who can make Andrew Martin shut the hell up for once is somebody I would remember.” Joey cracked up laughing. “So you have had a class with him before?” “Five.” “Oh God.” “Yeah,” Kenny said. “He’s...insufferable. He thinks he’s God’s gift to classroom discourse.” “Do you guys have a history?” Joey gave him a teasing grin and nudged his shoulder. “Are you...bitter rivals?” “Well, I’ve thought of him as my arch nemesis for about three years now,” Kenny said. “But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know I exist.” Joey laughed again, then glanced down at her watch. “Oh!” she stood and collected her bag. “I have to go. I’m meeting a friend for lunch.” “Okay,” Kenny said. “I guess I’ll see you in class.” “Yeah,” Joey smiled at him. “It was really nice meeting you.” “You too,” Kenny said, returning the smile. Joey started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. “Hey. You wanna see something cool?” “Sure.” “Meet me here tonight after dark,” Joey said, eyes dancing. “Maybe around...nine?” Kenny tilted his head and regarded her with curiosity. There was something mischievous—almost conspiratorial—in the way Joey smiled at him, and Kenny recognized in that moment that his new friend possessed the kind of adventurous spirit that he had always felt he lacked. Whatever it was she wanted to show him, there was a good chance it was against the rules, given her suggestion that they meet after dark. She raised her eyebrows, waiting, and Kenny made up his mind. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll be here.” “Great!” Joey said with a grin. “See you tonight!” Then she headed off to go meet her friend. Kenny slid his hands into his pockets and stood there, contemplative, wondering what kind of adventure he was about to get dragged into.