Leo McGarry does not know why there are students in the debate room this early in the morning. For a brief and horrifying moment, he worries that he has somehow forgotten a tournament, but when he rounds the corner and sees who is occupying the room, he knows he hasn't forgotten a thing, except possibly to tell this particular pair of students to remember to sleep.
"Morning, Mister McGarry," Lee says, sounding altogether too goddamn perky at this early hour. Sam Seaborn, Lee's debate partner, sits next to him, shuffling through a stack of bright neon stock paper. Leo can barely see either of them for the file folders and reams of paper that surround the two boys like some kind of makeshift fort, and he has to smile when he sees that one of them has affixed a sign to the outside of one of the stacks. "Fort Necessity," it reads, and if he squints he can just see an asterisk and Sam's much smaller notations, which, if he knows Sam at all, is probably some obscure factoid about George Washington.
As Leo steps closer, he can see why they're so chipper: there's an empty four-pack of energy drinks on the table next to them, and the coffeemaker in the corner is half-full of what smells like the hypercoffee that Doctor Song keeps in the staff room.
Leo chucks his briefcase onto his desk and shuffles over to them. "How long have you kids been here?"
"We never left," Sam says brightly. "We're young men, gathering our rosebuds. Before the ground shall have us. Or whatever."
"Please," Lee says, pulling a face, "don't start that again. You don't know the whole poem and we wasted at least half an hour this morning on that already."
"It'll come to me," Sam insists, but he doesn't continue his recitation aloud.
"Look, you've got months 'til the big tournament," Leo points out. "It's not time for all-nighters yet."
"We've got a practice round in an hour," Lee explains. "We'll be out of here after that."
"I won't have you neglecting your other classes for this," Leo tells them. It's difficult, sometimes, to be stern with them, because they're both so unbelievably earnest, but he feels responsible for them, like they're his own kids, and if he wouldn't let his own kids stay up all night staring at card stock and writing cases and researching, then they can't, either. "Don't you have homework?"
"We have an essay due in lit today," Sam tells him.
"Have you written it?"
"Not yet," Sam says honestly, and Lee elbows him in the ribs and shoots him a look, then mumbles something about how they had a deal that Leo can't quite hear.
"It's a five-paragraph three-point essay on a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay," Sam says, still shuffling through papers. "It'll take half an hour. I could write it in my sleep."
Leo frowns down at them. "Aren't you in the advanced lit class?"
"Yes, of course," Sam says, as though the thought of taking anything else had never occurred to him. Knowing Sam, it probably hadn't.
"Right. Look, I don't need any more crap from Toby Ziegler about extracurricular activities detracting from the quality of your work."
"He's never complained about the quality of my work before," Sam says. "I had top marks at midterms, sir."
"He's probably talking about me," Lee says, frowning. "I'm the one who always gets snide comments on my papers."
"I thought that thing about the platoon of painkillers was actually funny. I did warn you about your overusage of alliteration in your penultimate paragraph of that paper on Proust." Sam stops talking and frowns. "Well. That was entirely unintentional."
"Teacher's pet," Lee grouses. "I still don't know why I let you talk me into that class when I'm already loaded up with political philosophyand Mechanics of Flight, and--"
"I don't know why you took Mech Flight," Sam sighs. "I told you last year that sims would take all your free practice time, and we need it for rounds."
"I took it to shut my dad up," Lee reminds him. "Besides, Sheppard's a good instructor and the class is fun, when we're not subjected to random lectures from Doctor Doctor Doctor McKay."
"I dropped drama for this, and they're doing Pirates of Penzance this year," Sam says snippily. "Mister Fünke cried when I told him. So I thought you were going to explain to your dad--"
"Okay, enough," Leo says, interrupting. "Stop squabbling like married people and go write your essays. And if I see you sneaking back in here before you're scheduled to be here for class, I'll send a junior team to Intergalactics in your place. Granger and Bailey would love a shot to compete outside of novice division."
They both look up at him, horrified. "But sir!"
"My room, my rules," Leo says, pointing at the door. "Out!
It's mostly quiet in the staff room at lunch, which is unusual. Leo glances over at Doctor Song, who jerks her head in the direction of the hallway and puts a finger to her lips. After a moment, he can hear Laura Roslin, the school principal, who seems to be having yet another argument with Jed Bartlet. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes at Doctor Song, who stifles a laugh and murmurs, "This should be good."
Jed and Laura's frequent disagreements will no doubt someday be the stuff of legend, but for today they're just entertainment, especially for a grouchy old debate teacher. "I coach the debate team; I live for this stuff. What's your excuse?" he asks Doctor Song, who pops a potato chip into her mouth and wiggles her eyebrows at him.
"I'm an instigator, darling," she says. "Oh, quiet, here they come."
"Jed, if I've told you once, I've told you twenty times," Laura is saying, " all field trips must be cleared through legal, especially those involving time travel. That means you can't just go gallivanting off to 1870 with your macroeconomics students without filling out all the necessary paperwork! I don't care with whom you are traveling!"
Jed reaches into the refrigerator and pulls out his lunch with a flourish, then glances around the room like he's looking for his podium. "He's a Time Lord, Laura! Don't you think he knows what he's doing?"
At that, Doctor Song starts coughing. Jed turns to glare at her, and she waves her hands in front of her face. "Sorry, hypercoffee's just a bit strong today," she says, but she winks at Leo and grins as soon as Jed turns back to Laura.
"I think you should at least follow protocol while you're on the trips, Jed." Laura adjusts her glasses, irritated. "Last time, you left two students on Raxacoricofallapatorius and it took Ryan and Draco all of three hours to wreak havoc on their economic system. I'm still fending off angry phone calls."
"That little snafu was actually a perfect example of the theory we'd been studying. And we did tell them to stay with the group," Jed says, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Yes, it must really irritate you when your subordinates don't follow the rules," Laura says, raising her eyebrows ever so slightly.
"Hoist with your own petard there, Jed," Leo says, laughing.
"Et tu, McGarry?" Jed says.
Timed Writings With Toby Ziegler is officially Lee's least favorite scholastic activity, he decides as he stares at the blank piece of paper in front of him. A surreptitious glance around the room tells him that he's the only one of his classmates who isn't already writing, but this is the fourth time they've been assigned this particular work, which according to their teacher they have never yet managed to write about elegantly, so they're doing it again, even Perfect Score Seaborn, who will, of course, do very well, so it must be Tuesday.
Lee tries not to let it get him down: writing is really Sam's thing in a way that it just isn't Lee's. He's convinced that if he could just give an extemporaneous speech about this stupid poem, he'd have everyone on their feet, but no, he has to write it down, and all in an hour, too, and who could write anything elegant in an hour? He's resigned himself to mediocrity at this point, really.
Sam keeps telling him that he wouldn't get the comments that he gets on these essays if Ziegler didn't think he had potential. Lee keeps telling Sam that he doesn't find mockery particularly motivational. This isn't strictly true, as the language of General Derisiveness is pretty much the lingua franca of the debate squad, thanks largely to Josh, but so far Sam has not called him on his bullshit.
He's just hoping this class doesn't tank his GPA. He's pulling a solid B right now, but he doesn't see that improving in the near future, especially with Intergalactics looming on the horizon and a major essay due on the same day as the big Mech Flight exam. He sighs and stares at the poem again and vows never to take Sam's advice about scheduling, ever again. Maybe they won't end up at the same college. Maybe he can keep his course catalogue away from Sam's prying eyes long enough to make up his own damn mind about college classes.
He sighs and looks up at the clock. Half an hour to go.
It's not that he's a bad writer, he's just tired of trying to wring any more meaning out of lines he was bored with the first time around. Well, all right, not bored, but this poem was certainly sad enough the first time around, at least in his opinion, and he's been stressed enough lately, thanks very much, with classes and college and too many tests to count, not to mention his parents' long-overdue divorce. It wasn't unexpected-- or even unwelcome-- but it has certainly been unpleasant, and he'd much rather be blasting simulated Daleks out of the sky in Mech Flight or arguing this year's resolution in debate than reading depressing poetry by dead Irish writers.
Things fall apart, he reads, and sighs again. True enough, Yeats, he thinks, and tries to put some new thoughts down on his paper.
After class, he and Sam head to the cafeteria. Sam is jawing on about the essay, which Lee really doesn't want to talk about, so he's grateful to find that Will and Hermione are already holed up at their usual table outside, although it appears that Hermione has taken over half the table with calculus books.
"Hermione," Will says, elbowing a large textbook away from his food, "I hate to be this way, but your exam is in an hour, and if you don't know it by now..." He waves his hand in a gesture of defeat.
"I just want to go over this last problem set," she says, without even bothering to look up.
"Fine, fine, but you can't have the rest of the table unless you've got a flag and an army," Will insists, carefully stacking most of her books into a neat pile, which she immediately rearranges in a long line across the table.
"Don't cross the lines," she says, still not looking up from her book.
Will laughs at her. "What good do you think that will do you? You only put the books in front of you! You've constructed a defense that is completely ineffective. It's possible that you couldn't have planned a better illustration of the Maginot line."
"You're right. Here's my second line of defense: shut up or I'm throwing our round next week."
"You wouldn't," Will says, and Hermione raises her eyebrows.
"Try me, Bailey," she says, going back to her problem set. "It's your loss. Potentially, anyway."
"She's bluffing, but I'd leave her alone anyway," Sam advises, sliding onto the bench next to Will just as Lee asks, "Maginot lines? Really, Will?"
"Sorry," Will says, shrugging. "It was 'A Separate Peace week in junior advanced lit."
"That's a good book," Sam says. "What are you doing for the big project?"
As Will launches into a detailed plan, Lee is momentarily reminded of how relieved he was not to have been in Sam's junior advanced lit class last year. While Lee and his classmates had gone outside to play blitzball for an hour, Sam and Josh had apparently staged some kind of reenactment of the events of the book, and Lee remembers what a tyrant Josh used to be in elementary school when they had school plays-- he had donned an actual beret, grabbed a megaphone, and wandered around shouting about missed cues and dropped lines and could someone please get me some bagels and a juice box?! and made everyone, especially poor Donna Moss, very miserable. The whole thing had ended when Lee, Felix Gaeta, Jim Halpert, and Kara Thrace had shoved Josh into the hallway broom closet so that they could get on with rehearsals in peace. Josh still swears that they owe him.
Lee comes back to the conversation just as Sam offers to give Will his notes from last year, which are, of course, in the debate room, and Lee has to grab his arm and tug him back down. "We're banned from the debate room until our scheduled class time, remember?"
"He can't possibly have meant that," Sam says, but he sits down anyway.
"Mister McGarry kicked you out?" Hermione asks, incredulous. "What did you do?"
"Stayed up all night writing a new case and some disads," Lee says, shrugging. "For some reason, he thought that would interfere with our other classes." He shoots Sam a Look.
"If I'm supposed to apologize for being brilliant, I won't," Sam says, and Lee and Will groan.
"It's all right, Sam," Hermione says, closing her calculus books and stacking them neatly in front of her. "I never apologize for my brilliance, either."
Lee rolls his eyes. "I'll leave you geniuses to it, then. I've got Mech Flight, I should go."
"I'll go with you," Sam offers, tossing his empty lunch container into a nearby bin. "I'm going that way."