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Playing Chess With Fate

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Pawnee, 2025

“They're literally my favorite band. You seriously haven’t heard them?”

“No,” Sonia answers, reaching up to tuck her a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “But my mom usually picks the music, and she’s really into somebody named Sarah McLachlan.”

“Yeah,” Oliver says with a sigh. “My mom’s still got a lot of the mix CDs your mom made her.”

Sonia rolls her eyes along with him at the idea of people still listening to CDs. Parents are so embarrassing.

Oliver scoots a little closer to her on the bench and hits play on the video he’s been looking for. “Here, listen to this.”

Sonia glances down at the screen, then something catches her eye and she looks up to find her mom and her Aunt Ann watching them through the glass. When her mom gives her a thumbs up she blushes and looks back down at the video. Seriously, parents are the worst.

Washington D.C., 2026

When their parents announce they’re moving back to Indiana, Sonia cries. She doesn’t want to leave her school or her friends, and no amount of her parents insisting they’ll all make new friends makes her feel any better.

“Aunt Ann and Uncle Chris are moving back too!” her mom says, like that’s some big bonus. “So you’ll already have Oliver and Leslie, they’re your friends.”

“No they’re not,” Sonia says through tears. “We barely know them.”

“But you and Oliver hit it off so well last year when we went back to visit, don’t you remember?”

Sonia rolls her eyes and storms out of the living room, ignoring her mother calling after her as she retreats to her room and slams the door. It’s a long time before someone knocks on her bedroom door, but when Sonia calls out a muffled, “Go away!”, the door opens anyway.

“Hey, kiddo,” her dad says, smiling hopefully at her as he closes the door behind him. “You okay?”

“No,” she answers, but she sits up and wipes at her wet cheeks. “My life is ruined.”

“I know it feels that way now,” her dad says, reaching out to push her hair back away from her forehead, “but I promise that your life isn’t ruined. You’ll have your brothers, and you’ll get to see your Grandma Marlene all the time.”

“We’ll never see Aunt April and Uncle Andy again.”

“Sure you will,” her dad says. “April and Andy both grew up in Pawnee. You never know, they might even move back there someday too.”

Sonia rolls her eyes and shrugs away from the hand her father rests on her shoulder. “I’ll never see any of my friends again.”

Her dad nods a little sadly, which doesn’t make her feel any better, but at least he’s not lying to her. “Your mom and I are sorry about that, kiddo. We know it’s going to be hard on you guys to give up your friends and start over. But this is a big deal for your mom’s career. She’ll be in charge of all of Indiana.”

“I know what a governor does, Dad,” she says, arms crossed over her chest and scowling at him.

“Of course you do,” he answers with a little sigh. “It’s in your blood.”

Pawnee, 2030

“Mom! I can’t find my blue sweater,” Sonia shouts over her shoulder as she digs through her closet, knocking clothes off hangers in her haste. Finally she gives up and backs out of her closet, blowing her bangs out of her eyes as she turns around to search her dresser again.

When she spots her mom standing in her bedroom door with the sweater in her hand Sonia rushes forward, grabbing it and pulling it on. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” her mom says, then she steps forward and reaches out to fix Sonia’s hair. She straightens her collar next, then grins and pulls her close to hug her tight. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Mom,” Sonia groans, squirming in her mother’s grip. “I’m going to be late.”

“Don’t be silly. They can’t start without the delegate from China.” Her mom steps back and smiles at her again. “My baby girl, representing a major world power at the Model U.N.”

“Geez, Mom, it’s not that big a deal. Oliver’s going to be there too.”

“But he’s only representing The Bahamas. That’s not even a real country.”

“Mom,” Sonia says, rolling her eyes. “Can we just go already?”

“Yes,” her mom says, looking at her Gryzzl wrist computer. “Because I have an appointment at 10:00, and I want to get a picture of you in front of the State House before your first session.”

“No pictures,” Sonia calls as her mother strides out of the room, pretending not to hear her.

When they pull up to the State House Sonia spots Oliver out front with a couple other boys from the Model U.N. She does her best to pretend she doesn’t see him, but her mom spots him anyway.

“There’s Oliver. Oh, he looks so handsome in his tie,” she says, nudging Sonia. “Don’t you think?”

“Gross, Mom,” Sonia says, but she steals another glance at Oliver anyway. She sees him all the time because he’s always at their house hanging out with Stephen and Wesley, but she never really talks to him. Aside from Model U.N. they don’t really have anything in common, and anyway she has her own friends.

She knows her mom and Aunt Ann are hoping that she and Oliver will get together eventually. They’re not exactly subtle about it, and it’s humiliating enough that she barely talks to Oliver if she can help it. Besides, he’s a year ahead of her in school, so there’s no way he’d notice her even if she wanted him to.

Which she definitely doesn’t.

Once she finally manages to shake her mom she makes her way to the auditorium and starts searching for her seat. She’s nearly at the front of the room when she looks over and spots a familiar face staring back at her.

“Hey,” Oliver says. Sonia looks past him, but she doesn’t see his friends around anywhere.

“Hey.”

“I saw you out front with your mom.” Oliver grins and Sonia feels her ears turn pink. “That was some photo shoot.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get close enough to get roped into it,” Sonia says.

“She’s the governor, I guess she can do what she wants.” He glances over his shoulder like maybe he’s looking for his friends. Or maybe he’s just expecting her mom to appear out of nowhere with her camera. Sonia wouldn’t put it past her.

“Well, I better find my seat,” Sonia says, gesturing over her shoulder.

Oliver grins again and points in the opposite direction. “You’re in the front row. With the rest of the superpowers.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Oliver says, but she’s already hurrying down the stairs, face turned away from him so he won’t see her blush.

Pawnee, 2033

Her mom’s been crying all morning, which is pretty embarrassing, because the whole town knows who she is, so everyone in the auditorium is staring at them. When she’s not crying she’s taking pictures of Sonia and her brothers in their graduation gowns, dragging them from spot to spot and bullying them all into exactly the right pose before she lets them go again.

“Seriously, Mom, how many pictures of us do you need?” Stephen asks as their mom corrals them into a group in front of the high school sign. She raises the camera, then lowers it again to glare at them.

“Sonia, you should be between your brothers. Come on, guys, we’ve been through this.”

Sonia rolls her eyes and squeezes between Stephen and Wesley. None of them bothers to fake a smile for the picture.

“Dad, please make her stop,” Sonia says when their mom suggests they do individual shots ‘just in case the interior shots don’t turn out’.

“Babe, what do you say we give them a break,” their dad says, stepping close to their mom and easing the camera out of her grip. “Let them go say hi to their friends.”

All three of them scatter before their mom can argue. Once she’s safely out of camera range Sonia stops, searching the crowd for her friends. Instead she spots her Aunt Ann and Uncle Chris headed toward her, both of them grinning and waving.

“Sonia Knope-Wyatt,” Chris says, beaming at her for a second before he hugs her. “Congratulations!”

“Thanks, Uncle Chris,” Sonia says when he lets her go. Ann hugs her next, then she looks around, Sonia assumes for her mom.

“Mom and Dad are over there,” Sonia tells her, gesturing in the direction she left her parents.

“Great, thanks,” Ann says. “But actually I was looking for Oliver. You haven’t seen him, have you?”

“No,” Sonia says, and she’s not blushing, because she doesn’t care about Oliver. She’s barely even seen him this year, because now that he’s going to college he’s too good to hang around their house, even though he’s going to school right in town.

“Oh. Well, he probably ran into a friend from school or something.” Ann beams at her for another second. “Which is probably what you want to be doing too. We’ll go find your mom and dad.”

“Okay,” Sonia says, waving as they walk away across the lawn.

She turns away to keep searching for her friends, but when she spots Oliver walking toward her, her stomach does a weird flip-flop. Which is just dumb, because it’s Oliver, and she’s known him her whole life. He looks pretty much the same as the last time she saw him. His hair’s a little longer, though, just brushing his collar and sort of curling at the ends. She catches herself wondering if it’s as soft as it looks and shakes her head, hoping he’ll blame the flush in her cheeks on the heat of the day.

“What are you doing here?” she blurts out before she can stop herself.

Oliver’s smile is kind of lopsided, and it should annoy her, but mostly she just thinks he looks weirdly cute. Which is annoying on its own, mainly because she has a feeling he’s laughing at her. “Nice to see you too.”

“I just meant...I mean, don’t you have better things to do than hang around a high school graduation?”

Oliver shrugs, then he kind of ducks his head and smiles, like maybe he’s embarrassed to be here after all. “I’m done with finals, so not really. Besides, my mom seemed to really want me here for some reason.”

Sonia’s pretty sure she can guess the reason, though she’d sort of hoped they would have given up on that fantasy by now. Still, she’s going to Georgetown at the end of the summer, so this is probably their last-ditch effort to make their dream of becoming in-laws come true. She always figured Oliver knew what her mom and Aunt Ann were up to, but he looks genuinely confused about why his mom made him come, and she’s not about to let him in on the secret.

“Well, I better get inside before they start the line-up,” she says. “See you.”

“At the graduation party,” he calls after her, and when she glances over her shoulder, he gives her another little smile and a wave. Sonia swallows against the sudden swell of butterflies in her stomach and does her best not to trip on her way across the lawn.

Washington D.C., 2037

Four years at Georgetown is a little like not leaving home at all. Her folks still have their house in Pawnee, and they all still go home for the holidays, but now they they’re both senators and all their kids are gone, they’re spending more and more time at their house in D.C.

It feels like kind of a cop-out to stay in her parents’ house while she’s in school, but it’s one less thing to worry about, and anyway she kind of likes having her parents there to lean on. It’s the reason she chose Georgetown over Columbia in the end, not that she’d ever admit it where her mother could hear.

It’s no surprise to either of her parents when Sonia announces that she’s thinking about going into politics. Of the three of their kids, Sonia’s the one who always listened when they talked policy at home, even if she didn’t always understand it. She got into student government starting way back in middle school, and she always wanted to tag along when one of her parents was out on the campaign trail.

Her mother lines up an internship for her before she even graduates, and the day after her last final Sonia reports to the Hart Senate office building for her first day as an Congressional intern. She’s not working for either of her parents, because there’s no way that would end well, but she’s still there thanks to nepotism, which makes her no different from most of the other interns on the Hill.

The pay’s lousy and the hours are worse, but she knows what she’s in for, thanks to growing up with two politicians. Knowing what to expect doesn’t make it any less exhausting, though, and when she drags herself home at the end of her first week, all she wants is a hot shower and her bed. Instead she walks into her parents’ living room to find Oliver sitting on the couch talking to her dad.

“Sonia, there you are,” her mom says from behind her, and Sonia turns to watch her mom coming out of the kitchen carrying a bottle of wine. “Look who decided to drop in for dinner.”

She feels like she’s being set up for something, but her brain’s too fried to figure out the how and why, so instead she smiles and says, “Yeah, hi, Oliver. I’m just going to...go change.”

Before they can stop her Sonia bolts for her room. She knows they’re probably holding dinner for her, but she also knows that the wine cellar is stocked, so they won’t notice if she takes a few extra minutes to wash her face and do something about her hair. A little cold water on her face helps wake her up and brightens up her complexion, so she doesn’t bother with more than fresh lip gloss before she trades her work suit for a pair of jeans and a Georgetown t-shirt.

Once she's done she stares at her reflection in the mirror, taking stock of the flush in her cheeks and tucking a few fly-away hairs back into the loose ponytail at the back of her neck. She doesn't know why she's worried about how she looks; it's just Oliver, and it's not like she didn't just see him at Christmas. She sees him every time they go home to visit, but in Pawnee it's all their families together at once, and Oliver usually hangs out with her brothers while she keeps his little sister company and answers all her eager questions about college life. This is the first time it's just been her and Oliver, and it's not a date, because her parents are here, but it sort of feels like one.

She stalls as long as she can before she heads back downstairs, and this time when she walks into the living room she finds Oliver alone. He stands up when she walks in, and if she didn’t know better she’d think he looked nervous. But that’s impossible, because she’s never seen Oliver nervous about anything.

“Hi,” she says again. “I had no idea you were in D.C.”

“Yeah, I had an interview at George Washington University. I’m starting med school in the fall. Well, hopefully,” he adds, flashing another smile, and this time he definitely looks nervous.

“Med school, wow,” she says, then she winces at how ridiculous she must sound. “I mean, that’s great.”

“It will be if I get in,” he answers. For a few seconds he just looks at her, then he laughs and shakes his head. “It’s good to see you, Sonia. You look good.”

“Thanks,” she says, her hand smoothing over the ponytail she pulled her hair into before she came back downstairs. “You too.”

“Oh, good,” her mother says from the doorway, and Sonia looks over at her. “Honey, you couldn’t find something a little nicer to put on?”

“Mom,” Sonia says through clenched teeth.

Her mother waves a hand in her direction and takes a seat in one of the club chairs across from the couch. “Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re all family here, right?”

Oliver’s been calling her parents ‘Aunt Leslie’ and ‘Uncle Ben’ his entire life, just like Sonia’s always called his parents ‘Aunt Ann’ and ‘Uncle Chris’. So it’s impossible to tell if this is another thinly veiled attempt on her mother’s part to make them fall in love through the power of suggestion. Then again, it’s a pretty safe bet that she invited Oliver to dinner the second she heard he was applying to George Washington University. It’s also possible she mailed him an application to GWU along with a letter of recommendation the second she heard he was applying to med school, so Sonia knows better than to put anything past her.

She doesn’t say anything else embarrassing, though, so by the end of dinner Sonia manages to relax a little. They spend most of the meal talking about what’s going on back in Pawnee. A lot of it Sonia already knows, because Stephen’s still there doing coding for Gryzzl, and if he doesn’t check in at least once a week their mom threatens to call in the National Guard. Sonia’s pretty sure she can’t actually do that, but none of them are willing to call her bluff.

Oliver doesn’t spend the night, though for a while Sonia thinks her mom might try to keep him by force. Eventually she gives in and lets him call a cab, though, and he goes back to his hotel and saves Sonia an awkward breakfast with both her parents and the guy who’s alternately been her cousin, her brothers’ annoying best friend, and the guy her mom apparently sold her to in marriage when they were babies. She can’t even look at Oliver without remembering all the embarrassing hints her mom’s dropped over the years, and she wonders if his mother does the same thing to him.

Still, they’re both adults now, even if she’s technically still living with her parents, so she doesn’t argue when her mother suggests she keep Oliver company while he waits for his cab. They sit side by side on the top step leading up to the house, shoulders brushing together every time Sonia leans forward to look down the dark street for any sign of a car coming.

“So which one of your parents do you think will run for president first?”

Sonia looks over at the sound of Oliver’s voice, mouth open in surprise. Because sure, her parents are both career politicians, and she knows they’ve at least discussed the possibility, but no one else is supposed to know.

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Come on, my mom and your mom have been best friends for like twenty-five years, and our dads have known each other even longer.”

“Point taken,” she says, grinning when he laughs. “I mean, I know they’ve talked about it, but I don’t know if the conversation’s gotten that far.”

Oliver nods and glances over his shoulder to make sure the front door’s still closed before he answers. “I’d put my money on Aunt Leslie.”

“Me too,” Sonia admits. Not that she doesn’t think her dad would be a great president too, but her mom’s the one who’s been giving inauguration speeches since she learned how to talk.

“I guess you’d work on her campaign,” Oliver says, like it’s a foregone conclusion. “I mean, since you’re following in her footsteps and all. And then someday you can run too. You’ll be just like the Bushes.”

“Don’t ever let my mom hear you compare us to the Bushes,” Sonia says, a little more fiercely than she intends. “But seriously, I don’t know if I’ll ever get that far. Right now I’m just an intern.”

“And I’m just a guy with a pre-med degree. Doesn’t mean I can’t be a doctor someday.”

A cab pulls up in front of the house while he’s talking, and he stands up and gestures over his shoulder to the cab. “Looks like my ride’s here. Listen, Sonia, it was good to see you.”

“Yeah, you too,” she says, surprised to find that she means it.

“So I’ll let you know if I find myself back in D.C.,” he says. “We can catch up some more.”

“Sure. Okay.”

“Great.” Oliver smiles at her, bright and happy and looking more like his dad than she remembers, then he jogs down the stairs to the cab. When he reaches it he turns back to wave at her, and Sonia waves back and ignores the way her heart stutters at the thought of seeing him again.

She doesn’t expect to hear from him. ‘I’ll call you’ is just one of those things people say, and she knows it doesn’t mean anything. So she goes back to her internship and tries to keep up with her friends from school in the little spare time she has, and she doesn’t think about Oliver until three months later when he emails her to let her know he’s enrolled at George Washington University and he’ll be in town in a week.

Sonia agrees to meet him for coffee out of curiosity, mostly. She still hasn’t figured out what he wants from her, but she knows if she tries to blow him off her mother will just invite him home and she’ll have to see him anyway. So she shows up at a coffee shop just off M Street, glancing around the Sunday morning crowd until she spots him at a table near the back of the restaurant. When he sees her he smiles that broad grin he inherited from his dad, the one that would probably take him far if he’d decided to go into politics.

He stands up as she approaches the table, wiping his hands on his pants like maybe he’s a little nervous. It’s kind of cute, and it makes her feel a little better about the knots in her stomach as she reaches the table and smiles back at him. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he says, stepping forward to wrap her in a tight hug. “Thanks for coming. It’s really good to see you.”

He's almost a foot taller than her, and her cheek ends up pressed against his chest, his sweater soft against her skin. She breathes in without meaning to, the familiar scent of his cologne making her a little dizzy. Her heart stutters in her chest and she realizes she's squeezing just as tight as he is. Damn it, she thinks to herself as he lets her go and pulls out a chair for her. Her mother can never find out about this.

~

It takes a month of meeting Oliver for coffee and occasional dinners before she admits to herself that they’re dating. She keeps it from her mom for as long as she can, but eventually she runs out of excuses to keep him away from the house.

“It’s just dinner,” Oliver says. “I’ve had dinner with your parents a thousand times.”

“It’s not about dinner. It’s about my mom being right.”

“Right about what?” Oliver asks, shifting until she’s fitted a little more snugly into his side.

“About us,” she answers. “My mom and your mom. They’ve been trying to fix us up since we were ten. Didn’t you know that?”

“Is that why you acted like I was contagious all through high school?”

“I did not,” Sonia says, sitting up far enough to look at him. “You really thought that?”

“What else was I supposed to think? I was over at your house all the time, but you mostly pretended I didn’t exist.”

Sonia frowns at him for a few more seconds, wondering if she’d missed some signs back in high school that Oliver had a crush on her. “Yes, that’s why,” she finally says, settling back down on the couch next to him. "And as soon as my mom finds out about us, you'll understand."

“Think of it this way,” Oliver says, turning to press a kiss to her forehead. “At least we already know your parents like me.”

Pawnee, 2042

Sonia insists on a small wedding, just family and the friends that are close enough to count as family anyway. What she gets is a huge, formal affair with most of the town in attendance. There’s press out front, and not just local press, either, because apparently the wedding of a presidential candidate’s only daughter is newsworthy.

“We should have eloped,” she says as she and Oliver stand in the garden, waiting for the photographer to arrange the wedding party into yet another pose. “Just think, we could be on a beach somewhere right now, drinking champagne and working on our tans.”

“Aunt Leslie’s head would have exploded,” Oliver whispers back, grinning like he’s actually enjoying all this.

Not that Sonia isn’t enjoying some of it. She likes the fact that she’s officially Mrs. Oliver Perkins-Traeger – though there’s no way she’s taking his name, and they’re going to have to figure out that hyphenation nightmare before they have kids – and she likes that everyone who loves them is here. She just wishes it didn’t involve so many pictures.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she answers, and when Oliver laughs and pulls her close, Sonia grins into the kiss.

~

“I can’t believe you went through with it,” April says later, sidling up to Sonia when she finally manages to sit down long enough to take a single bite of her room temperature dinner.

Sonia looks over at Oliver, his arm on the back of her chair even though he’s facing away from her while he laughs with Stephen and Wesley about something. Probably how weird it is that they’re technically brothers for real now.

“Worth it,” she says, turning back to smile at April.

“I guess,” April answers. “I mean, he seems like he turned out okay in spite of his mother. Still, with a gene pool like his, you never know what you're going to end up with if you have kids.”

Sonia laughs and glances around the ballroom until she spots Oliver’s mother. Standing next to her own mother, of course, heads bent together and beaming over at them as though they single-handedly arranged this whole thing. Maybe they even have a point, but that’s a secret she’ll take to her grave.